Eregion has fallen, and the refugees have fled to what was meant to be a military outpost and small settlement on the edge of Eriador. Imladris is as yet a collection of crude huts and tents and cookfires around the foundations of the central House and smaller dwellings, with livestock milling around and newly sown fields, but Erestor – lately of Lindon, now of Imladris – thinks it will become a fine Elven city, given time.
(And building materials, sufficient food and fresh water and clothing, round-the-clock patrols, secure trade routes… his work seems endless.)
For now it is a drafty, muddy valley that had been peopled mostly by the refugees from Eregion and many of Lord Elrond’s soldiers before Erestor and the other settlers from Lindon had arrived, bringing supplies, resources and the approval for it to become a permanent settlement.
Erestor watches the other Elf in the large tent with some curiosity. He knows of Glorfindel Losglóriol, of course – who has not heard of the fabled Balrog Slayer from fallen Gondolin, sent back to Endor by the Valar themselves to announce the Istari and aid the peoples of the Light against the Darkness? Erestor had witnessed Glorfindel’s first meeting with Elrond, was even briefly introduced to him at Gil-galad’s court, though he had been one among many advisors then and it did not seem as if Glorfindel had registered him. And then Erestor, as Elrond’s assistant, was sent to oversee the construction of the new outpost on Elrond’s behalf, while Glorfindel, bound to the line of Turgon and Eärendil, had joined Elrond and Gil-galad’s war council and then fought in defence of Eregion.
Erestor remembers all this, but everytime he beholds Glorfindel he remembers that simply knowing something versus seeing it for yourself is like comparing a child’s drawing to reality. He had always thought that the legends had exaggerated, but if anything they had not been enough to adequately prepare him for Glorfindel’s beauty. His hair lives up to all the bards’ descriptions of it, flowing down his back in a thick fall of bright golden sunlit curls. He is taller than most Elves, broad-shouldered and strong, and he seems taller still because of the air of strength and power and light that envelopes him. He smiles easily and often, and while his features are noble and handsome, there is nothing remote or reserved about them; his face is open and friendly, although Erestor assumes he looks different in battle. His blue eyes shine with the light of those who have seen Aman, beheld Elbereth Gilthoniel and the Trees in their glory, but even beyond that he seems to glow with an inner strength and power. In short, he is rather easy to pick out in a crowd.
Now here they both sit as the right and left hands of Elrond Peredhel, tasked with helping him create a new Elven refuge. Elrond is a fine leader, never shirking his responsibilities and spending whatever free time he has in the healer’s tent, even though he only spends a little time in Imladris between leading Gil-galad’s military patrols in Eregion and is often exhausted. He even pushes up his sleeves and often helps with the livestock, and seems quite fond of the chickens. As his personal assistant and friend, Erestor has mentally added ‘making sure Elrond gets sufficient food, drink and rest’ to his private task-list. For now, though, he lets Elrond read over the tallies and reports they have brought him while Erestor himself studies Glorfindel, who has been ordered by Elrond to stay in Imladris.
He had feared that the reborn Elf would be arrogant, demanding the respect due to his fame and delegating all his responsibilities, but from all accounts Glorfindel is as fine a leader as Elrond. The soldiers are well-disciplined, helping with the construction when they are not training and patrolling, and Glorfindel can often be found alongside them; that is something Erestor can respect, that Glorfindel never asks his men to do what he himself would not do. He carries out every small task Elrond asks of him, and is unfailingly polite. He is often present at their meetings, providing his memories of the building of Gondolin, which have proven immensely helpful in planning out Imladris. Erestor had not known that the House of the Golden Flower had been in charge of Gondolin’s honey production, among other things, and had kept bees and clover fields alongside the small plot of farmland they had been allocated for personal use. Neither had he known how strictly regulated the production and distribution of resources in Gondolin had been; one of these days, he thinks, he will have to collate the various rather colourful histories of Gondolin and get Glorfindel to help him sift out the truth. It will have to wait, though, for the work seems endless.
Since they aim to have Imladris as self-sufficient as possible, he and Glorfindel often have meetings with the various Elves and Men from nearby settlements who are in charge of the fields and livestock. Erestor talks about what he hopes to achieve, Glorfindel relates what he knows and the human farmers add their valuable input, while Erestor carefully writes everything down to be discussed and implemented later. They have already purchased livestock and seeds, constructed terraced fields, cleared land, and tilled and sown fields, and now it simply remains to be seen if their efforts will yield sufficient crops.
Sometimes Glorfindel has small questions about modern Elven custom or other things that have changed since he last walked upon Arda. He often brings his questions to Erestor, who answers them to the best of his ability, but they are still little more than acquaintances with a working relationship. Erestor suspects he may have to continue working closely with Glorfindel in the future, given Elrond’s reliance on them and the sheer amount of responsibilities they already bear. He cannot help but wonder, though: what could Glorfindel be like when not in captain’s uniform?
He realises that his gaze is lingering on the dip in Glorfindel’s collarbone, exposed in the loose white shirt he wears, and snaps it up to a more appropriate level; disconcertingly, Glorfindel is looking straight back at him and their eyes meet.
“You have a very measuring gaze, Counsellor. I feel like a badly spelled report. Do I meet with your approval?” He has a unique accent, which Erestor assumes to be a result of Gondolin and the other’s native Quenya; it wraps around his words, rolling the consonants slightly.
Erestor’s lips quirk up. He raises his quill, tapping it against his lips, and studies Glorfindel’s face with an exaggerated expression of assessment. “Hm. I suppose you’ll do.”
Glorfindel’s face lights up when he smiles, and the tent seems brighter somehow. Erestor takes a sip of cool spring water and returns to the maps, feeling a little lighter himself.
What stores of money and precious things they had brought or salvaged from Eregion or sent for from Lindon are now mostly gone, bartered to the Dwarves for good stone and labour and to Men for seeds and livestock and other necessities, but Erestor thinks it is worth it to at least have the main House nearing completion, and many of the smaller houses already finished and inhabited. His rooms and office, of course, are not finished or furnished yet, and in any case Elves do not move into a dwelling until it has been completed and the rites have been performed. So he completes his work while sitting on a folding chair outside his tent, waiting for the carpenters to finish bedsteads and wardrobes and desks. A young ellon named Melpomaen, just barely past his majority, brings him his papers, runs errands for him and takes over his simpler tasks, and a quiet, serious, studious young elleth named Isteth has been granted temporary custody of the few books they have while the library and its bookshelves are being built. Perhaps one day they will have a library to rival Lindon, but for now they have a few neat stacks of books in a chest in Isteth’s tent.
Sometimes Isteth, too, follows Erestor around and asks to help. He shrugs and acquiesces, setting them to going around and tallying supplies and liaising with the artisans. He expects them to tire of their pursuits after a week, but to his pleasant surprise they prove themselves to be serious, hard workers despite their youth.
I seem to have acquired assistants, he later realises with amusement.
In fact, he notices wryly, they have all gained younger tag-alongs, like returning from the woods with burrs on one’s leggings. Glorfindel, of course, is often followed about by children, watching him with wide eyes and asking him about his former life, their parents or minders within hearing distance and trying to look like they are not listening. The slightly older ones beg him to teach them how to fight, to take them on as warriors, and he smiles and ruffles their hair and tells them to wait until they are old enough to officially sign up. Some of them have just come of age or have already received some training, and those he takes under his wing on the training grounds. One of them is a fiery Sindarin elleth named Morfinnel, about Melpomaen’s age and highly talented with the sword and bow, and as Erestor passes the training fields on his way to the farms he often sees the two of them training alongside other Elves from Eregion and Lindon. Even the older, more experienced warriors with a campaign or two under their belt are not immune to Glorfindel’s legend; they vie for a chance to spar with him and speak with him and learn from a warrior who took down a Balrog, even if he hadn’t quite lived to tell the tale the first time around.
Even Elrond has acquired a little shadow. The quiet, sullen youth, orphaned by the struggle in Eregion, had been introduced as a boy but had since declared himself a herself in the wrong body. Elrond had simply asked Minuial, who minds the children when their parents are busy, to find her a dress. Now Níriel, as she has renamed herself, follows Elrond about when he is in the healing tents, fetching him water and fresh bandages and salves and learning to recognise feverfew and yarrow and vervain and their uses. Elrond takes her under his wing and teaches her of healing, and gives her herbal infusions to help or hinder the development of her body where appropriate. Níriel blossoms.
They gather around the communal cookfires at night, lingering over their evening meals and soaking in the warmth. The minstrels and bards in their settlement perform nearly every night, and between songs and tales there is laughter and conversation. Lindir, Melpomaen’s elder brother, is perhaps the most talented of their bards, his clear voice a true pleasure to hear and his fingers coaxing magic out of the one harp saved from Eregion. Apparently Lindir had fled Eregion with nothing but his brother, the harp and a flute, which speaks volumes about his priorities. Melpomaen had saved a couple of books and neither of them had had any food, so evidently it runs in the family.
Despite his general exhaustion, on most nights Erestor makes an effort to stay, watching the performances and getting to know the other Elves over wooden bowls of stew and simple clay mugs of tea. He is to serve these people, after all, and help Elrond rule them; it would behoove him to know many of them by sight, if not by name yet.
It is a good thing they are creating here, Erestor thinks; a new thing, a lasting thing. A settlement and a refuge. It is young and raw yet, bare stone and exposed timbers, but he can already see that it will be beautiful, that his work is worth it.
Nearby he sees Glorfindel mingling, more effusively than he himself had done. His hair shines like molten gold in the firelight, a beacon amongst the mostly dark-haired Elves, and he stands head and shoulders above many of them, joining in the dancing with more enthusiasm than skill; the fast-paced, more relaxed dances of the Second Age are different from the slow, formal First Age dances, but Glorfindel does not let his stumbling feet deter him. He glances up, breathing heavily, and their eyes meet for a moment; he smiles, but Erestor has already turned away.
It is done.
The House is finished. It is stunningly beautiful, with high ceilings and tall stone pillars ending in gracefully curving capitals, great halls with marble floors and high arches and sculpted cornices, huge airy chambers with arched latticework windows and many, many balconies. There are many wings and floors in the sprawling buildings, connected by deceptively delicate-looking bridges and walkways. In fact, ‘house’ seems too simple a word to encompass this huge collection of buildings, but it is not quite grand enough to be a palace. Some of the smaller walkways and gazebos are still incomplete, but they can move in now. Work halts for the day while their Dwarven construction team takes them on a tour of the main building.
The great library is mostly empty yet, but it is large and beautiful and Erestor, Isteth and Elrond are looking forward to filling it up. There are bedchambers and sitting rooms and offices aplenty, council rooms and schoolrooms and an entire Healing Wing, with a laboratory for the distilling of medicines and salves. There are cold-rooms delved into the cellars to keep foodstuffs and medicinal herbs cool. The kitchens are a marvel, wide and roomy with several work areas, stoves, ovens and appurtenances for preparing feasts worthy of the Elven lords of old. Erestor remembers being underfoot in his mother’s kitchen, and smiles a little.
And perhaps most importantly, they have plumbing, which Erestor has dearly missed. The Dwarves have even rigged up some sort of complicated pipe and valve system that taps into an underground hot spring to provide heated water. In Lindon he had had to heat the water himself if he wanted a hot bath, and now all he has to do, apparently, is turn a tap with a red enamel rune set into the handle. Eru bless Dwarven ingenuity.
Viewed from the outside, the sprawling House combines imposing strength with beauty and a soft, welcoming, dreamlike quality. The gardens are young yet, but the bushes and saplings and flowerbeds are already growing, and at the back of the House is an orchard. A stream from the Bruinen runs close by to provide irrigation, and the soil has proven to be fertile; the House will be nestled in Yavanna’s beauty and in Ulmo’s blessing, for the House is also set amongst clear, sparkling waterfalls. In the soft morning light, the waterfalls are a pale gold where they are not refracting tiny rainbows, and the creamy walls of the House glow. There is a deceptively graceful stone bridge leading to the House over the Bruinen, and the rope-and-wood construction that had served as a bridge until the stone one was built is still visible beyond it.
The fields for crops and livestock, the dairies, and the cottages for those who will tend to them are all further down the Valley, hidden by the rise the House is built on and the layout of the Valley. There are also terraced fields, painstakingly cut into the cliffs. Between the farms and the House lies the village: stables, forges, crafting guilds, guard barracks, various cottages and storehouses and the beginnings of what will one day be a fine marketplace in the square. Small guard outposts have been carefully placed throughout the winding paths to Imladris and around the hidden valley to keep it safe. Many of the Elven farmers and artisans have already moved into their cottages, the better to get a start on Imladris’ needs, and have begun turning out furniture and tending to the farms. It isn’t quite bustling yet, but all it needs is time and peace.
“It’s fine work we’ve all done here, even if it’s in the Elven style,” grunts Kvasir, the Dwarf in charge of the various Dwarven construction teams, and Elrond and the other Elves cannot help but agree. “Never let it be said that a Dwarf did shoddy work. But you’ll be wanting to send for a Dwarven construction team every few centuries or so, Lord Elrond, to keep it sound.”
(There had been Elven construction teams working with the Dwarves, and Erestor thinks that they should be perfectly capable of maintaining the place, but he says nothing.)
“I still think we should have dammed the Bruinen altogether,” Kvasir adds, and Erestor mentally shudders. “But you’ll not need to worry about the waterfalls or the river, we’ve made sure of that. Not unless there’s exceptionally heavy rain, but we’ve built in some measures for that.”
Elrond gives the Dwarves their final payments – pouches full of fine pearls from Lindon – and they return to their little camp, some distance away from the Elves; work on the outlying areas, such as the gazebos, will resume the next day. The Elves, and the few Men who had stayed to help out, follow Elrond back into the House and congregate in the great Hall of Fire. The Eldar are not overly ritualistic, not like the Naugrim, but they still have a few customs of their own that must be followed.
Thorndur, the unofficial head cook, had been allowed to start making use of the kitchen early for this. He comes out now, bearing a freshly baked round loaf of bread. Behind him his assistants fiddle with a stand, placing a pot of milk over the fire and standing back, waiting for it to boil.
“Counsellor,” Glorfindel says softly, and Erestor turns. The warrior looks slightly lost, and embarrassed.
“Yes, Lord Glorfindel?”
“I recognise the custom of letting the sweetened milk boil over on the hearth in a new house, for impending prosperity; it is a custom we brought from Valinor. But why is there bread?”
“Ah. I do not remember when it started, but by the early Second Age it was part of our housewarming custom. We crumble a piece of waybread for the birds, to show that we have come home and no longer need subsist on travel rations, and we bake a new loaf of bread in the new oven and break it upon the hearth. We offer thanks, and then we eat. I know we’ve had an outdoor oven and decent meals for a while, but it must still be done.”
Glorfindel laughs out loud, suddenly, and every head turns to look at them.
“What amuses you so, Glorfindel?” enquires Elrond.
“The bread,” explains Glorfindel, still smiling broadly. “Your custom. I think we started it when we reached the site of Gondolin. We were heartily sick of travel rations, so the first thing we did after setting up tents was to construct a crude oven. Young Idril particularly disliked dry waybread, so she gleefully crumbled the last pieces that she had and flung them to the birds before demanding the first fresh loaf. She would be amused to know her childish actions have become part of our traditions.”
There is general laughter, though Erestor also notes a wistful, almost hungry look in Elrond’s eyes upon hearing of his grandmother.
“Well,” says the Peredhel, “then I shall do this with a heart that is doubly glad; first that my dwelling is completed, and second, that I follow in my grandmother’s footsteps.”
He walks to one of the huge windows and crumbles a small wafer of waybread outside, letting the crumbs fall and dusting his hands off. Sparrows are already flitting down to eat the crumbs. Then he walks back, accepts the crusty, golden-brown loaf, and carefully breaks it open; steam rises from the fluffy white bread. He places it on the hearth as well, and as he steps back the bubbling milk begins to boil over. The Elves begin to cheer, but they quieten as Elrond sings the brief, traditional song to the Valar in his fine, clear voice, thanking them and asking for their blessing and protection.
Thorndur’s assistants hurry forward to ladle the milk into clay cups and pass them around, and more warm bread is brought out for everyone to share. As Erestor sips his warm, sweetened, cardamom-spiced milk* with enjoyment and a deep sense of relief – the House is done, they have actually accomplished this – Elrond clears his throat and waits for the excited chatter to die down.
“I wrote to High King Ereinion Gil-galad when the House was nearing completion, and he replied with his congratulations to all of us for building what he called the Last Homely House East of the Sea. I think that is a fitting name. And so, in the year 1697 of the Second Age, I welcome you all to the Last Homely House.” There are cheers and applause, but he holds his hand up for silence. “I am immensely grateful to all of you, for all the hard work you have put in. We have accomplished a wonderful thing very quickly, and you should all be very proud of yourselves. From helping to carve and haul stone and ploughing and sowing fields, to carrying water and twisting rope and carding wool and flax, every one of you has contributed to the building of this House in some way and it will not be forgotten. I thank you. Go now and take down your tents, pack your belongings, and settle into your chosen chambers in your new home. Tonight there will be a feast to celebrate!”
Glorfindel kicks off his boots and looks around his chambers. The walls are smooth plaster for now –although Erestor has promised that options for paint or wood panelling will be available in the future, and the weavers are working hard on cloth and tapestries - and the window arches are beautifully carved. He has a small balcony, which will be nice for sunbathing; a potted plant or two would look nice, but he has never had much luck with growing plants himself. There is a newly carved bedstead and a simple mattress with a rough linen sheet, his pack of clothes and chest of armour, and a small, lopsided, uneven reed mat, very like the ones which he remembers seeing the children weave. Aside from that, the rooms are empty and the bare floor is cool and smooth under his feet. The whole room has that clean, smooth smell that only a newly built house exudes.
Elves like to be surrounded by beauty, but there will be time enough to acquire tapestries and rugs and polished, highly carved and inlaid wooden furniture. For now, Glorfindel thinks, his chambers may be relatively bare but are beautiful in their potential.
He remembers Gondolin and how it gleamed when it was finished, a replica of Tirion that they had left behind and so all the more beautiful for that. But in some ways Gondolin had been stagnant, resistant to change, always looking back towards their lost past and trying to recreate it, hiding away from the changing world outside the Echoriath. Glorfindel had loved Turgon and been loyal to him, but he can admit his former liege’s faults. He has not known Turgon’s great-grandson for long, but he already thinks Elrond will make a good lord, perhaps better than his forebear.
The hidden city of Gondolin had embodied their lost past. The hidden valley of Imladris is the future.
Their feast would have been considered a fairly simple celebratory meal in Lindon or Eregion. But to the Elves of Imladris it is a bounty, made all the more so by the fact that nearly everything has been produced or gathered by themselves.
There is fresh bread and new-churned butter, and crisp vegetables that had been carefully tended and harvested by the children. There is a simple chicken and barley stew and even a deer brought down by the hunters, roasted on a spit and flavoured with herbs. And for dessert there are small, simple cakes eaten with fresh cream and wild berries gathered from the surrounding woods, and lumps of honeycomb from the new hives, oozing fresh, sticky sweet honey.
Elrond sits at the head of the tables and watches the Elves – his Elves, now – eat and drink and sing and make merry, and smiles. The hall is simply decorated with flowers and greenery, and he knows many in the High King’s court would turn their noses up at this rather rustic celebration. Still, he would not trade this for the polished celebrations of Lindon. Gil-galad has entrusted him with a huge responsibility, and Elrond is proud of this new refuge and the Elves who have worked so hard to create it.
Eventually, when the food is mostly gone, he rises and clears his throat.
“Some among you have distinguished yourselves by your dedicated service. Two of you in particular have been my strong right hand and my steady left hand throughout this endeavour, and I would ask that you continue this as Imladris grows. Lord Glorfindel of Gondolin, I name you Captain of my Guard, if you will accept.”
Glorfindel steps forward and bows, his right hand over his heart. He is dressed simply, in a light blue tunic and undyed trousers and no adornment save his long golden hair, which glows in the firelight as if burnished, and yet to the assembled Elves he still looks like the reborn Elf-lord of yore that he is; there is an inner light about him that would outshine any ornament. “It will be my honour to serve you and guard you, my Lord Elrond Eärendilion.”
Elrond smiles gently at him, resting a hand on his shoulder. “And it will be my honour to be guarded by one such as you.” He turns towards the corner where Erestor is sitting with a cup of wildflower cordial. “Counsellor Erestor of Lindon, step forward. I name you my Chief Counsellor, if you will accept.”
Erestor hands off his cup to Melpomaen as he steps forward, conscious of the many eyes upon him. “I accept, my Lord Elrond, and will be honoured to serve you as best as I am able.”
“Then I shall consider myself very well served indeed,” Elrond smiles.
He proceeds to name others to various positions – Thorndur and Isteth, of course, are confirmed as head cook and head of the library – and soon the household of Imladris is complete.
As the last senior counsellor steps away Erestor signals to Thorndur, who brings out a cask of fine aged wine they had been saving for just such an occasion, and a great cheer goes up.
“Let us make merry,” Elrond concludes, and Imladris settles in for its first night of revelry. Lindir, Master Minstrel, picks up his precious harp and moves to the musicians’ dais in the corner, followed by Imladris’ other minstrels, and they strike up a lively tune. Elves whirl gracefully, dancing to the minstrels’ accompaniment, and several voices are raised in song.
Erestor joins in on a couple of the large circle dances, and then they wrap up with a farandole, twisting and winding around the Hall and in on each other. By the end even he is laughing, suffused with joy as he looks around at the smiling faces in the newly built hall and thinks It is done. I helped make this happen.
There will be more work on the morrow, of course, but for now he, like everyone else, will celebrate.