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.
* - Letting the milk boil over on the stove (with added sugar and cardamom), and then serving the warm sweetened milk to everyone, is an Indian housewarming custom. I thought Elves might like it. I made up the bit about the bread, though.
Chapter 2: Under Siege
Just as the inhabitants of Imladris are beginning to settle down, Orcs show up.
Thank you, Ulan, for beta-reading this!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Erestor’s office is still bare, and like his rooms, almost comically empty and large. In the future, perhaps, it will be tastefully decorated, full of bookshelves and small luxuries, but for now he has a desk with drawers, a chair and a small shelf, all still smelling of the oils they had been rubbed with to cover the smell of the stain. He does not mind; it is larger than the office he had had in Lindon, and bright and airy and pleasant enough. He also has a large window, and the flowering stems of the plants outside peek into his office, scenting it with the perfumes of late summer. If he concentrates, he can faintly hear Elves moving about the House attending to their tasks, a bee buzzing around the flowers by his window, and the laughter of Elflings in the garden. It is tranquil, a word he had rarely been able to apply to bustling Lindon.
He sands the draft reply to a letter from Círdan and sets it aside for Elrond to look at later, makes a small mark next to the item on his list of tasks for the day. Next, he pulls out the records from their first official Council meeting, prepares fresh parchment, and is about to work on an agenda for the next meeting when he is interrupted by a knock on the open door. He looks up.
Lord Glorfindel is standing in the doorway, dressed in green and brown patrol clothing. Erestor spares a moment to think that it is a good thing Glorfindel’s cloak has a hood to hide his riot of golden curls, bright and eye-catching despite being restrained in a simple braid, for otherwise the patrol attire – so carefully chosen to blend into the woods - would all be for naught. “Yes, Captain Glorfindel?”
The blond Elf enters the office, and Erestor sees that he has a sheaf of parchment in his hand. “You did say at council that I was to make sure you had a copy of the patrol and duty rosters, when I gave you the budget sheet and personnel list.” He waves the papers.
“I did, yes. You are more prompt than I had expected; we have many soldiers, and I thought it would take you longer to prepare these with your other duties.”
Glorfindel shrugs. “I’m not overfond of paperwork, but it is part of my position. Besides, I am about to leave for patrol, and I wanted to get all my other duties out of the way first; otherwise they will niggle at my mind and annoy me the whole time the way the branches poke at my - ” He pauses, giving Erestor a strangely endearing sheepish smile, and finishes, “my back.”
“I’m quite certain that wasn’t what you originally meant to say, Captain.” Erestor doesn’t smile outright, but he knows his amusement must show in his eyes. “I can quite understand the sentiment. I never enjoyed patrols much either.”
Glorfindel’s cornflower-blue eyes widen in surprise. “You were a soldier? A warrior?”
Erestor raises a dark eyebrow. “Why is that so hard to believe?”
He is fully expecting some fumbling excuse about scholars and warriors being mutually exclusive, or a comment on how he does not look the type. Instead, Glorfindel simply says, “Forgive me, Counsellor, I was simply surprised; I have known you for some time now but did not know you were once a soldier. You never seemed to enjoy the idea of the soldier’s life.”
“I don’t. I wanted to guard Lindon and serve the King, and in my younger days foolishly thought the military was the best way to achieve that. I have since learned that while I can tolerate the soldier’s life and was skilled enough, I have no fondness for it, though I still bear the military nothing but respect. I have also learned that my talents lay elsewhere, and that I derive more personal satisfaction from my current work.”
Glorfindel nods, placing his papers on Erestor’s desk. “I am glad for that. We have many skilled warriors, but I think Imladris would be a lot more chaotic without you in charge of its administration.”
It takes Erestor a moment to reply, “I thank you, for your words and for the prompt paperwork.” As Glorfindel grins at him and makes to exit the room, Erestor adds, “Be safe on your patrol, Captain.”
“Thank you, Counsellor.” As he leaves with a jaunty wave, the office once again seems bare.
Erestor should have known it was too good to be true. While they are all breaking their fast on freshly baked fruit rolls and milky tea one morning, not long after the Last Homely House is completed, two Imladrim scouts barge into the hall, panting and looking frantic. Elrond rises in worry, but before he can say a word the scouts deliver their message.
“Orcs, Lord Elrond! Orcs approach the valley.”
Glorfindel jerks upright, knocking over a butter dish. “From where?”
“Everywhere! Two or three companies approach. One of the patrols heard them mention a valley of Elves. They know we’re here.”
Elves all over the hall begin to rise, panicking, but Elrond holds up a hand. “Silence! Do not panic. They cannot find this valley; it was chosen for how well-hidden it is. Glorfindel, double the patrols. I want the Orcs killed before they even approach any of the entrances. Erestor, send word to Amdír and Círdan. I will write to Gil-galad and let him know of our situation, and we will need volunteer couriers to carry these messages through lands that are now more dangerous. As for everyone else…” He looks around the hall, meeting the anxious gazes of the gathered Elves. Many of them are refugees from Eregion and know well what Orcs are capable of, what it is like to flee for your life and watch your home burn and your fellows die.
“Remain calm. Now more than ever, Imladris needs you. It is unlikely that the supply wagons from Lindon and the mortal farms will get through, and we must all work together to ensure that we can survive a siege. We cannot risk leaving the Valley while this danger is present. If any of you wish to write to your kin in Lindon, approach Erestor before lunch.”
He leaves the table, and the valley erupts into a flurry of activity. Erestor follows him, and Elrond turns to his Chief Counsellor with a wry grin.
“It is a good thing Imladris is nearly self-sufficient. Or so you tell me, Chief Counsellor. I suppose we shall find out.”
Erestor scowls in response, smoothing his robes. “I did not intend for our self-sufficiency to be tested so soon and so thoroughly.”
“Or our security measures.” Elrond sighs. “I suppose it was only a measure of time. I had been intending to gather my company and go back out to keep Eriador safe in another month, but now we cannot leave save in direst need; such a large force issuing forth would only reveal our location and leave the valley vulnerable. I suppose it was too much to hope for a peaceful respite.”
Footsteps echo against the polished floor and they turn. Glorfindel is running towards them, though he slows to a walk as he approaches and bows politely.
“I have done as you asked, Lord Elrond. But I must speak to you of my fears.”
“I shall take my leave, then,” Erestor murmurs, but Elrond bids him stay before turning back to his Captain.
“Speak your mind, Captain. I shall try to allay your fears as much as I can while remaining truthful.”
The golden-haired Elda takes a deep breath. “You call me Captain of Imladris, but you know I was once Glorfindel of Gondolin. And the situation we find ourselves in now is a little too reminiscent of my first life for my liking.”
Ah. Understanding brightens Elrond’s grey eyes. “You fear that I will be like my great-grandfather.”
“Yes. I was loyal to King Turgon, so much so that despite my own misgivings I trusted in his wisdom and did not openly speak against him or question him. As we fled to the pass that day, I deeply regretted that.” His face is calm, but his eyes are on the floor. He so rarely speaks of Gondolin or its Fall that Elrond and Erestor say nothing, their faces identical masks of quiet understanding.
“I will not make that mistake again,” Glorfindel continues. “You insisted on there being multiple entrances and exits for the valley, well-hidden and well-guarded, and have said that Elves may come and go as they wish, but we were not under siege then. I agree that it is folly for anyone save warriors and messengers to leave now, but please, do not block off the entrances and exits to keep the valley safe and hidden. We can guard them. And when the siege is lifted and we are free, please let Elves come and go freely again.” He raises his eyes, and Elrond is struck by how haunted they look. His healer’s heart aches to help Glorfindel, but he knows that medicine is not what the reborn warrior needs. He needs to see that his new life will not become an echo of the old one, that Elrond will not make the same mistakes that Turgon did.
“Peace, Glorfindel.” Elrond steps forward and takes Glorfindel’s face in his hands, pulling gently; the taller Elf lowers his head, and his Lord kisses his brow. “I give you my solemn word that I will not follow in my great-grandfather’s footsteps. Imladris will close itself off only so long as we are under siege. I will not seal off the ways into the valley; I will trust in you and your warriors to guard them, and to join with the High King’s forces and liberate us. Should the worst befall us, we will have ways to get out, but I do not think that will be our fate. The moment we are free and Eriador is safe, we shall raise these measures and all Free Peoples may come and go at their whim.”
After a long moment Glorfindel says, “Thank you, my Lord Elrond.”
Elrond waves it off. “I appreciate the fact that you told me what was on your mind. Loyalty and propriety are all very well, but it is a relief to me to know that my advisors are not above questioning me in defence of what they believe to be right. Even so, from all that I have learnt of him, I do not believe King Turgon would have heeded your words then. Do not blame yourself, Glorfindel. You above all did everything you could to ensure safe passage for the survivors; if not for you, I would not stand here today.”
“Thank you,” Glorfindel repeats softly. He bows his head. “I take my leave, Lord Elrond, Chief Counsellor.”
Erestor watches him go, then turns to his Lord. “It gladdened my heart as well to hear that, Lord Elrond. If you had indeed given the order to seal off Imladris permanently and make it into a new Gondolin, I would have had to refuse.”
Elrond simply says, “Good.”
Sauron’s forces lay waste to Eriador, and they try long and hard to find and enter Imladris; they have a vague idea of where the valley is, but they cannot find the entrances; the Elven warriors of Imladris keep vigilant patrols, and slaughter any Orcs who approach any of the entrances to Imladris. Instead, they have laid siege to the hidden valley for three long years. The forces of Imladris are vigilant, and Gil-galad’s Lindon regiments are lending what little aid they can, though they have their own battles to fight.
Thankfully the Orcs are not yet organised enough or numerous enough to cover all of Eriador, and Gil-galad’s forces have been keeping them scattered and beating them back, slowly but steadily. Supply wagons are, of course, out of the question, but a few brave and skilled messengers have been able to get to his camp and back during moments of respite. Elrond smooths out the latest missive and sighs in relief.
“Gil-galad is rallying, with the arrival of the forces sent by Tar-Minastir. He thinks victory is in sight, and tells us to prepare a hot breakfast for him.”
Erestor grumbles and mutters unflattering things about the High King under his breath. He has not taken well to his new home being besieged for so long.
“What’s that, Chief Counsellor?” Elrond’s grey eyes twinkle mischievously. “Are you disrespecting the High King of the Noldor?”
“If the High King wants a hot breakfast he had better bring the supplies for it himself. We are already stretched and I am worried.”
“Ereinion has always been rather fond of slices of cured bacon* for breakfast, with eggs and smoked kippers.” Elrond wrinkles his nose; like most Elves, he prefers a lighter breakfast of fruits, fresh bread or light pastries, butter and cheese, with the heaviest options being eggs or porridge. Moreover, there are cows, sheep, goats and chickens in the Valley, but no pigs. As for fish, Elves tend to prefer it fresh.
“Well, if Gil-galad wants such a meal he can drive his own herd of pigs down into the valley before him.”
They both pause for a moment to take in that mental image, and share a chuckle before resuming their work on the supply lists.
When the High King’s troops and the Orcs face off at Gwathló, Glorfindel is leading the Imladrim. Elrond had foreseen the desperate Orcs retreating towards Calenardhon and then Imladris, and had spent hours poring over maps in his council room with Glorfindel and Erestor, working out strategies. The Peredhel himself itches to set out and lead his men to meet his King and lover, but as Erestor has reminded him, he cannot risk it - Imladris needs its Lord. The community is still young, and while many of them have already seen Elrond’s military prowess in Eregion, now they need his guidance as a leader, and the forces staying behind to defend Imladris need a commander.
And so it is Glorfindel Balrog-Slayer who leads the contingent of Imladrim to Calenardhon by hidden ways. Their arrival is fortuitous, as it turns out; Gil-galad and Ciryatur have nearly routed the Orc forces, but auxiliary Orc forces have arrived, throwing themselves fiercely into the fray and buying the other Orcs time to fall back towards the mountains. The new Orcs drive a wedge between the main forces and the second Númenorean force to the south, and for a few moments Gil-galad is worried. It is at that moment that Glorfindel and the Imladrim burst forth from a concealed rock passage to the east and fall upon the Orcs, as the forces from Lindon and Númenor cheer and surge forward, swords and spears gleaming. By day’s end, the Elves and Men are bloodied but victorious, singing in triumph.
Several days later Gil-galad, Ciryatur and Glorfindel ride down into the Valley at the head of their triumphant forces, backlit by the setting sun, and the noise of hooves is drowned out by the cheering. As they enter the courtyard where all of Imladris is assembled, Elrond comes down the stairs, resplendent in the only formal robe the tailors have had the time and resources to create so far, a simple circlet upon his brow. He bows with his right hand over his heart in the traditional Elven greeting, his eyes sparkling.
“Welcome, High King. Welcome, Admiral Ciryatur of Númenor. And welcome back, Captain. I thank you all for delivering this Valley from harm.”
Gil-galad dismounts and embraces Elrond. Further back, high on the steps, Erestor feels a weight lift from his shoulders. The siege is finally over.
… Now they have to clean the battlefield, bury and mourn the few fallen Elven and human warriors, burn the Orcs and restore the plantlife - and throw together a victory/memorial feast on short notice and with limited rations. Really, Elrond could have used his foresight for something useful and notified the cooks as well as the warriors. Erestor sighs and slips away.
At the feast that night, High King Gil-galad names Elrond Peredhel his heir and declares that Imladris is no vassal state of Lindon; rather, it is a settlement in its own right, with Elrond as its Lord. In the ensuing celebration the Elves close to the High Table avert their eyes with small grins as Gil-galad kisses Elrond’s cheek, takes his hand and pulls him from the hall, Elrond laughing as he has not done since the siege had begun.
* I know that today bacon refers only to slices of cured pig meat, but historically bacon originally meant particular cuts of pork of any type, fresh or cured. (In England a side of cured pig meat was known as a flitch.) Bacon didn’t acquire its present meaning until the 17th century. Therefore I have decided that in Middle-Earth bacon still means pork in general, hence Elrond specifying that Gil-galad likes strips of cured bacon.
Chapter 3: Mutual Pining Begins
See chapter title.
Beta-ed by Ulan. <3
Imladris is thriving. In the years since it was built and liberated from besiegement, under the leadership of Elrond and his council it has managed full self-sufficiency, even producing surplus crops. What goods they cannot grow or make, they trade for with various other settlements of Men and Elves. They want for nothing; the Imladrim artisans produce many beautiful items that are traded to Lindon and Lindórinand and Moria, and they receive many luxuries in return. And despite the continuing unrest it is still just peaceful enough for trade lines to be established with the far East, bringing them exotic goods and spices.
Erestor appreciates these luxuries. One of his most treasured items is his quill box; made of silvery mallorn wood from Lindórinand, carved with intricate curving latticework vines on the lid by Imladrim artisans, and blooming with blossoms formed of inlaid mother-of-pearl from Lindon, it is a marvel of Elven craftsmanship. It had been a Yule gift from Elrond; he had been in a particularly generous mood that year, since Gil-galad had been visiting. Erestor often wonders why Elrond bothers ordering the best guest suite prepared for the High King whenever he visits, for it is common enough knowledge in Imladris that Gil-galad spends more time in Elrond’s chambers than his own. None in Imladris are unaware of it, and none begrudge the leaders their romance, but Erestor knows there are lords in Lindon who think that the High King ought to marry an elleth and sire blood heirs.
He shakes himself out of his ruminations as Melpomaen approaches, bearing the latest correspondence from the other Elven realms that had arrived with the latest trade wagons. The markets will be doing thriving business, and Erestor makes a mental note to give the scribes some time off. He had once worried that the steep, winding paths down to the Valley, crossing the Bruinen in places, would be difficult for trade wagons to manage, but it turned out that the paths are only just wide enough if the merchants are willing to get off and manually turn the wagon on some of the hairpin bends. Still, the market in Imladris is tempting enough that merchants and traders are willing to brave the road there and be thoroughly checked by the border guards.
“Anything marked as urgent, Melpomaen?”
“No, Chief Counsellor.”
“Very well. Tell the scribes and junior counsellors that you may all have tomorrow off to go to the markets.”
Melpomaen’s face lights up. “Thank you!”
“Run along, child.” Melpomaen darts into the office he shares with several scribes and junior counsellors and Erestor turns to the correspondence, shuffling through it and sorting it out, setting aside letters from Galadriel, Gil-galad, Círdan and Amdír. He pauses and stares at the mail from Amdír; apparently Lindórinand is now called Lothlórien.
How annoying. Erestor cannot help but wrinkle his nose at the amalgamation of Sindarin and Quenya roots into one word. Besides, now he will have to re-label his files.
There is a meeting before lunch, and if he works hard he can have the important points in the letters from each Elven ruler summarised and ready to present. Erestor hates meetings right before lunch; almost nobody is fully present, instead looking forward to the end of the meeting so that they can leave for their midday meal and the accompanying break.
He smooths out fresh parchment, undoes the annoyingly elaborate knots around the packet from Lindon, and settles in to work.
Elrond is the only one already seated when Erestor walks in with his arms full of parchment, black robes of office swirling around him.
“Good morn, Erestor.”
“Good morning, Elrond. The merchant caravans have arrived safely and are settling in and setting up stalls, so I’ve given the scribes and counsellors tomorrow off and will put the usual market day duty rosters into effect.”
Elrond nods, smiling. “Yes, and I believe there are merchants from Harad amongst them? I’m looking forward to seeing what they have.”
“The note from the borders seems to be quite enamoured of their foodstuffs.” Others begin to file in, and Erestor sits up straight and sorts out his papers.
There are other Counsellors, of course; trained scholars with diplomatic and administrative experience, who help Erestor run Imladris. But the full Council also consists of the heads of the various guilds, representatives of the farmers, Glorfindel and his senior officers, and others. Thankfully this one is a minor Council meeting, so in addition to the other Counsellors – and Melpomaen, who takes notes – only Glorfindel, the Master Healer, and the head of one of the crafting guilds, Mistress Naudwen of the Weavers, Embroiders and Lace-Makers, are present.
Everyone seems bemused by Lothlórien’s new name, but makes a note of it. Naudwen’s reports of the guilds and their production are mostly satisfactory, though Elrond sighs deeply at news of the Alchemists’ Guild’s latest explosion. Their guild-house is constructed with thick walls and a thin, light roof, so that the roof can easily be blown off but the walls contain the explosions that are a daily occurrence, and many of them have no eyebrows. Personally Erestor thinks the lot of them ought to be dunked in the Bruinen and relegated to stirring the breakfast porridge.
He runs the meeting with his usual stern efficiency, giving everyone a chance to speak and encouraging the better ideas but shooting down any suggestions he feels are silly or of little import, ensuring that they get through everything on the agenda. Elrond intervenes only rarely, to add his opinion and either support or counter Erestor’s statements.
The general consensus is that Imladris is doing well, and Erestor smiles with quiet pride, nodding to Glorfindel as they rise to take their leave.
Glorfindel has been curious about Erestor ever since their first meeting, when the tall, dark-haired Elf had reacted quite calmly when faced with a reborn Vanya from the First Age, unlike many of his brethren. Even Elrond had looked at him with wonder in those first days, although it rapidly faded as they learnt to work together, replaced by more well-earned (in Glorfindel’s opinion) respect for his current abilities and responsibilities. Many Elves had looked at him with that awe in their eyes upon first meeting him, and for quite a while afterwards, but Erestor had only raised an eyebrow in mild surprise and regarded him assessingly. It had been… refreshing, to say the least.
He has quietly observed Elrond’s Chief Counsellor ever since, admiring his dedication to his work and to Elrond and Imladris, the stern but fair way he treats the scribes and junior counsellors. Despite his position he, like Glorfindel, sees few tasks as beneath him, and occasionally they have helped in the kitchens together before feasts, exchanging polite smiles while grating fruit zest or peeling potatoes. He treats Glorfindel with the same level of civility he extends to the servants and to visiting dignitaries alike, although Glorfindel cannot help but wish for the same level of quiet friendship and affection that Erestor shows a select few like Elrond, Isteth, Lindir and Melpomaen.
And if he sometimes admires the other’s beauty, what of it? Elves appreciate beauty and Erestor is beautiful, with his Noldor-dark hair and pale skin, his long, slender fingers and graceful movements. His features are elegant, with high cheekbones and a straight nose, enticingly shapely lips and green eyes that conceal all the depths of the forest within them. He is perhaps more reserved than many other Elves, but his small smiles seem all the more precious for that.
Glorfindel watches Erestor smile as the meeting breaks up and everyone begins to file out, and smiles to himself as he files the memory away.
Elrond’s office is lined with bookshelves and cabinets, maps and artefacts, as befitting a lore-master. It is also more cosy and welcoming than Erestor’s own office, with soft, comfortable chairs on either side of the desk, thick rugs in front of the fireplace, and a balcony with flowering vines entwining around the balustrade, scenting the air with their fragrance. Set near the back of the house, it is not too far from the orchards, and so when the fruits ripen the whole office smells very pleasant. Elrond always has a pot of tea ready, and Erestor takes a sip of the sweet warm drink, enjoying the hint of vanilla and honey blended with the tea.
“It is long past time we sent an envoy to Lothlórien.”
Erestor nods, humming in thought. “We should send a small shipment of the new lace as a gift too, and perhaps some metalwork. Glorfindel seems an obvious choice to lead the envoy, to me. Aside from his fame, he is related to the Lady Galadriel and he is of high rank here. He can also be well-spoken and charming when he wishes, and is intelligent enough to handle diplomatic work. The other captains should be capable of managing our forces while he is away; he has set up a sensible system.”
“All this is high praise indeed, coming from you,” Elrond smiles. “I did not know you thought so highly of Glorfindel.”
“I have no reason not to respect him; he is a valued and responsible colleague and does a good job at keeping us safe. We have a decent working relationship.”
“I had originally thought to send you. Perhaps you should still go with him?”
“I have no desire to cross the Misty Mountains or sleep in a tree, Elrond.”
“How undiplomatic of you,” chides his Lord, though not without a smile. “They’re called flets, I believe.”
Erestor shrugs dismissively. “Flet, rickety excuse for a tree-house, they are one and the same. There is no reason to subject the travelling party to my ill-humour if I am made to sleep on some planks bound to tree-branches, shaking every time the wind blows and being rained on.” He shuffles his notes, aligning them neatly before sliding them across to Elrond. “Shall we ask Glorfindel if he wishes to go, then?”
Glorfindel, ever-responsible, agrees readily, and so Erestor soon finds himself standing in the courtyard, watching Glorfindel mount his horse at the head of a small party.
“The Valar guide you and guard you on your travels, Captain,” he says politely, and Glorfindel smiles down at him.
“I shall bring you back something pretty, Chief Counsellor,” the blond Elf replies, his smile teasing, and Erestor smiles back a little bemusedly.
“That won’t be necessary, Glorfindel, but I thank you for the thought. Good relations with Lothlórien will suffice.”
Glorfindel tips him and Elrond a salute before clicking to his horse and turning, giving the order to ride out. Erestor watches them ride over the bridge and turn out of sight.
In Glorfindel’s absence it is Lieutenant Morfinnel who commands the guards and writes up the rosters and brings reports to Erestor.
Imladris’ forces are separated into four loose regiments, each under the command of one of Imladris’ four senior officers: Glorfindel himself, Captain of the Imladrim, and his three Lieutenants – Morfinnel, Caragnîn and Bregolon. The guards are stationed around Imladris, guarding the various paths into the valley, and go on scheduled patrols to sweep the surrounding area and keep it safe and free of evil things. A small group remains on active duty in the barracks, ready to respond to any emergency within Imladris itself. When not on duty they train almost daily, and many other inhabitants of Imladris, though not part of the guard proper, are also highly trained and regularly practice in the guards’ sparring areas. Erestor occasionally rises early on the week-end and goes to the yard to practice in relative privacy, since there are usually few others around at that time of the morning.
Although most military paperwork now goes to the other counsellors, Erestor is still the one who receives and approves their quarterly reports and budget sheets. In theory this should mean that he sees more of Morfinnel, but she tends to run into his office, hand him the papers, hurriedly enquire after his health, and then dash into the other office and bother Melpomaen. Whenever Erestor peers in, she is seated on a corner of Melpomaen’s desk with her legs swinging, chatting with him and asking questions and interfering with his work, though he never seems to mind. The other scribes and counsellors shoot them surreptitious amused or knowing looks.
Erestor approves, he supposes. Morfinnel is Sindarin, slightly shorter and darker of skin than many of the Noldor, quicker to anger and to laugh. Her hair is nearly as unusual as Glorfindel’s; it is jet-black, like many Noldorin, but thick and curly, almost unruly, where most Elves have straight or slightly wavy hair. She is fierce and skilled and loyal and rather boisterous, and he is not too sure what she and shy Melpomaen see in each other, but they seem happy enough.
After the fourth or fifth time she visits – she has stopped even bothering to use paperwork as an excuse – Erestor falls into step with Melpomaen as they leave for the evening meal.
“You and Morfinnel?”
Melpomaen flushes lightly. “We’re good friends.”
Erestor raises an eyebrow. “She seems very fond of you.”
“She is lovely. But she is a warrior, and – and I have nothing to interest her.”
To Erestor, Melpomaen’s large, sad brown eyes put him in mind of a sad puppy. He wishes fervently that Lindir was here, or someone else better suited to this sort of thing. “You have your own sweet, sincere self, Melpomaen. Do not sell yourself short; from what I have seen of her, I do not think she will take kindly to that. Besides, I have seen her sometimes in the library; warriors are allowed to have interests outside the sword, after all. Bring her a book and some sweetmeats, next time. And don’t wear that abandoned-puppy expression, it suits you ill.”
Melpomaen smiles sheepishly. “Thank you, Chief Counsellor.”
“Melpomaen, if you are old enough to have romantic entanglements, you are old enough to call me Erestor.”
The younger Elf’s smile widens. “Thank you, Erestor.”
“Now,” adds Erestor, “when shall we tell your brother?” He takes far too much joy in the way Melpomaen’s face drops, dreading his brother’s teasing.
Erestor regrets pushing Melpomaen to tell Lindir after the Master Minstrel subjects everyone in the Hall of Fire to the most trite, unbearably sappy love ballads from his vast repertoire for several nights running, shooting cheeky grins at poor Melpomaen. He stops attending.
He often walks past the training grounds to meet with the heads of the crafting guilds, and has grown used to seeing Glorfindel there. It feels strange, somehow, to not see the familiar golden head directing fighters or sparring with them as he walks past the barracks, or seated across from him at the dinner table, or laughing in the Hall of Fire. Erestor had not realised just how much Glorfindel was a part of Imladris until he left, for even when he went on patrols it was for a week or two at the most. Now it has been well over a month.
Why do I even care? he wonders slightly irritably. We are acquaintances. He is fair to look upon, surely, and a reliable colleague, but no more. Then he stops and re-examines that thought.
Hm. Glorfindel is certainly fair to look upon, and Erestor has grown accustomed to seeing him around the place and in Council; he has an unusual beauty, especially in Imladris where so many Elves are dark-haired. And Elves, after all, appreciate beauty in all its forms. That is all there is to it.
Erestor nods to himself and goes to speak to Isteth about some books.
The scouts from the patrols send word of the envoys’ return several days before they ride across the bridge, looking travel-weary but happy. Glorfindel is at their head, smiling at Elrond and the guards. The dimming of his smile as his gaze sweeps the courtyard, however, is barely noticeable; Elrond puts it down to weariness.
He embraces his captain and tells the party to go and wash and rest, that there will be plenty of time to speak with them afterwards, and they gratefully acquiesce. As Glorfindel heads to his chambers he feels eyes on him and pauses, turning.
Erestor stands just inside the corridor, arms full of books and parchment, clearly on his way somewhere. He nods at Glorfindel. “Welcome back, Captain Glorfindel.”
An answering grin, huge and happy, splits Glorfindel’s face. “Chief Counsellor Erestor, it is a pleasure to see you. I hope you will forgive my presumptuousness, but I have brought you something pretty after all.”
“I do hope you aren’t referring to yourself, Captain. You and your clothes are in dire need of a wash.” Erestor’s lips curl up a little, taking the sting out of his words.
“I am glad to know you think me pretty, but that is not what I have for you.” Ignoring Erestor’s indignant huff, Glorfindel drops his pack and begins rummaging through it until he withdraws a package wrapped in linen scraps. He presents it to Erestor, who has to pause and juggle his armload until he is able to take it and unwrap it.
The linen wrappings fall away to reveal a beautiful silver inkstand, with intricate scrollwork forming the sides and two delicate square glass inkwells. Erestor’s breath catches.
“Glorfindel, this is beautiful. But it is too much, I cannot take it.” He makes as if to give it back, but Glorfindel’s warm hand wraps around his as the warrior gently pushes it back towards him.
“You cannot return a gift once given, Counsellor. I saw this and I thought of your desk covered in files and papers, with only that one quill-box to brighten it. Now it shall have company.” He sees the hesitation still present in Erestor’s expression. “Just accept it and say thank you, Erestor, for I will not take it back. I have no use for it.”
Erestor cannot help but caress the mirrored silver base, the fine glass of the inkwells. “Thank you. This is truly lovely and I shall treasure it.”
“I am glad you like it.”
They stand there in the corridor for a moment longer before Erestor shuffles his armload and Glorfindel picks up his pack once more. “I should go and – well.” Glorfindel gestures to himself; the mud- and grass-stained leggings, the dirtied cloak, his sorry-looking boots. Despite it all, he still cuts a fine figure; Erestor thinks he could pass for one of Oromë’s Maiar.
Internally shaking himself for such silly thoughts, he nods and bows his head slightly. “I shall see you at dinner, Captain.”
Glorfindel’s name is well-deserved; sometimes Erestor suspects that Arien favours him above other Eldar, for him to be so bathed in her radiance.
His monthly meetings with the heads of the crafting guilds – they can never seem to agree on anything – take him past the training grounds, and he has developed the habit of sneaking glances out of the corner of his eyes as he goes. On the training grounds Glorfindel is often, for some ridiculous and Valar-blest reason, shirtless, his skin golden and sun-kissed. His muscular torso glistens with perspiration as he whirls, defending himself from two Elves at once, beautiful and deadly in his grace. His eyes are intent, focused, tracking each movement of his opponents; Morfinnel and Caragnîn, his assailants, are very skilled and quick on their feet, but even so he is holding both of them at bay. Their blunted practice swords glint in the sunlight, moving so fast that they are quicksilver blurs.
When Erestor catches himself thinking up trite similes involving Glorfindel’s hair and Arien, he silently berates himself and continues on his way along the paved path. The sound of metal clashing against metal follows him, but he resolutely faces ahead.
As he catches his breath after disarming his opponents, Glorfindel turns, but the black-clad figure is already turning down the sloping path to the guilds.
Lunches tend to be simple affairs, and so Glorfindel rarely sees Erestor for long at luncheon; the Chief Counsellor appears only long enough to fill a plate with bread and cheese and perhaps some fruit or cold cuts of meat, and then he disappears back to his office or personal rooms.
Glorfindel likes sitting with his warriors during lunch, instead of up at the high table; the atmosphere at their table is always pleasantly boisterous. Today he notices that Morfinnel is absent – he has not seen her since the previous day, come to think of it, as she had no scheduled duties today – and enquires as to her whereabouts. Sniggers erupt around the table.
“What? Have I missed something?”
Caragnîn takes pity on him, breaking her habitual silence and disdain for gossip. “She has been mooning after that assistant of the Chief Counsellor’s. Mel-something. He seems interested and has even brought her gifts, but seemed too shy to ask her to spend more time with him. So she lost patience, had the kitchen staff pack them a meal, and dragged him off on a picnic.”
Glorfindel absorbs this information as he breaks his crusty bread roll in half and reaches for the butter. “That seems sweet enough, and I am happy for her.”
“That was yesterday, and we have not seen them since,” Bregolon adds, and more sniggering follows. Glorfindel cannot help his own smile as he bends over his bowl. Good for Morfinnel; she deserves joy, and perhaps quiet Melpomaen will temper her own more fiery tendencies.
Besides, a small part of him cannot help but be relieved that despite the amount of time they spend together, there is apparently nothing between Erestor and Melpomaen. He files that feeling away, unwilling to dwell on it or pick it apart, and focuses on enjoying the hearty stew instead, redolent with rosemary and thyme and sage. His guards laugh around him, and he relaxes; it is good to be home.
Chapter 4: The Last Alliance
Sauron still has to be dealt with, and Elrond pays a heavy price.
As always, thank you for being my beta-reader, Ulan. <3 I apologise for the grammar-related headaches that have caused us so much grief!
I've changed the fic rating due to the battle and associated violence, and the aftermath.
Quiet seasons of peace and joy cannot last forever, and even as the activity of Orcs and other foul things increases across both Eriador and Rhovanion, Elrond foresees the fall of Númenor too late for anything to be done. The official news of its fall arrives soon afterwards and Elrond mourns his brother’s kingdom, the shining jewel of the Sea now submerged in its watery depths.
“It felt like my last link to Elros,” he admits softly, late one night. Gil-galad, who had ridden to Imladris upon hearing the news, holds him close and kisses his forehead, stroking his hair comfortingly. It had been hard enough for Elrond when his twin, his last remaining family member, had passed on to the mysterious final destination of Men; but at least then he had taken solace in the bright legacy his brother had left behind, in glorious Númenor. They had all observed and worried about the corruption befouling it, of course, but had held out hope that the best of Elros would prevail in his descendants.
“Hope endures. Elros’ line survives in Elendil and his sons, and we should look to them,” Gil-galad reminds him, and Elrond heaves a sigh and nods, straightening. The King leans in, pressing their foreheads together, and they sit like that in the flickering firelight for the rest of the night.
But then there is Sauron to contend with, and war is upon them once more.
Dread has settled over Imladris like a thick, stifling cloak. Gil-galad and Elendil had led their forces to Imladris three years prior, and the valley refuge had given itself over to war preparations. Now that they have forged weapons and armour aplenty, honed each warrior into a deadly fighting force in his or her own right, it is nearly time to set out.
The training yard, usually such a cheerful, energetic place, is now serious and subdued. The Hall of Fire is dim and quiet after dinner, with the friends and families of soldiers wanting to spend time with them before their departure. In Elrond’s council room, battle plans and strategies have long been finalised but they are hesitant to leave for their beds, as if it will somehow put off having to ride out tomorrow.
“Let me come with you,” Erestor pleads softly. “You need strategists and administrators, and you know I have military experience.”
“No. Erestor, there are many with military experience, but you are the only one capable of running Imladris in my absence. Besides, Isildur has left his son here and I entrust him to you.”
Erestor nods, and grips his Lord’s hand. “Come back safely, Elrond.” He has felt protective of Elrond ever since they first met many centuries ago in Lindon and formed a bond beyond that of lord and assistant; he will not lose his friend now.
“I have a mighty guardian, Erestor.” Elrond smiles at Glorfindel.
“I will make sure he comes back, Counsellor. Fear not.”
“As will I,” adds the High King, smiling. “Relax, Erestor. You have ever been a worrywart. I do not think it is an idle boast to say that we at this table are perhaps the best warriors in Arda today, and our soldiers are a force to be reckoned with indeed. If Sauron underestimates us, so much the better. We will send him to the Void, Maia or no.”
Erestor settles for glaring at Gil-galad. Worrywart indeed. Gil-galad and he have often clashed at Council, his own quiet, fastidious nature at odds with the High King’s laid-back, easy-going, confident outlook upon life, but their verbal snipes do not diminish the real friendship and loyalty he feels towards his King. “Make sure you all come back.”
It is more emotion than Erestor has outwardly shown in a long time, but this war council has him on edge. Everything has him on edge. Whose bright idea was it to name an alliance the Last Alliance? Probably Gil-galad. How ill-omened. And Glorfindel is mighty indeed, but they go to war against one of the Maiar, grown dark and powerful. Fear and anxiety claw at his chest and he cannot shake the knot of cold, hard fear in the pit of his stomach, the certainty that this battle will claim a high price. Elrond is the one gifted with foresight, but Erestor knows that this battle will change everything.
Elrond wishes his foresight was more reliable, that he could simply ask questions about the future and know the answers. But no being save Eru can ever be truly certain of what is yet to come in the Song of the Ainur, and Elrond’s visions come when they will, sometimes frighteningly vivid and sometimes vague and nebulous. For some reason he had foreseen the abundant potato harvest the previous year, and yet now when he turns his thought to the Last Alliance all he sees is the confusion of battle, the press of bodies, the ringing of armour and swords and the shouts of effort and rage and fear and pain. Joy and foreboding. It frustrates him beyond anything, but he hides it; he is the Lord of Imladris and the Herald of the High King of the Noldor. He must be seen to be confident and calm and capable.
Glorfindel has fought in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, had seen firsthand how accurate its name was. Unnumbered Tears. Grief and pain beyond measure, compounding the sheer horror of battle itself. It infuriates him that while Morgoth is gone from the world, Sauron remains; have the Elves not suffered enough?
He is calm and confident in his own ability; the Valar, after all, have returned him to Arda for a reason, and imbued him with gifts beyond other Eldar. He has not had reason to call on these gifts yet, but he supposes this battle is the reason for them. Still, he fears for everyone else. He knows that victory in battle comes at all too high a cost, that even the survivors do not come home unchanged, that there is little glory in war for all its necessity. Sauron has endured since the First Age like a cockroach, and Glorfindel prays that they can defeat him and his forces once and for all.
Glorfindel checks and double-checks his sharpened weapons and his armour, goes over supply and organisation lists for the troops, and prepares to go to war once more.
Imladris’ forces have assembled with Elrond and Glorfindel at their head, a mass of Elves in shining mail and smooth crested helmets with spears and pennants, ready to ride out. They are the last to leave; Gil-galad’s and Elendil’s forces have already filed out, and Imladris will bring up the rear. Níriel is also accompanying them, together with other healers and scribes and counsellors.
Erestor stands with the rest of Imladris’ inhabitants to bid them farewell, his face impassive. He watches them ride out as Lindir sings the songs of farewell and blessing for a departing army, calling upon the Valar to protect them and bring them home safe and whole. Riding to war is never easy, he knows, but neither is staying and waiting for their return. He sees Melpomaen standing with his brother, his expressive features a mask of sadness and worry as he twists his wide sleeves in nervous fingers; Morfinnel, of course, is riding out as well, to fight at Glorfindel’s side.
Erestor watches the bright crest of Glorfindel fade, blocked from view by distance and the huge numbers of Elves following him.
He turns to the young human prince by his side. The boy’s rounded ears and rougher features are so strange to Erestor, but he is still a child, one who looks like a lost little waif without his father and brothers. No matter their race, a sad child is a sad child.
“Come, Valandil. Let us get you some lunch, and then we shall pick out some nice things for your rooms.” Valandil had only recently accompanied a contingent of Gondorian Men to Imladris to join their King, and has been staying in his father’s quarters.
The child follows him obediently, tucking his sticky little hand into Erestor’s. The Elf does not protest this affront to his personal hygiene, but simply tightens his grip.
“Ada will come back safely, won’t he?” asks Valandil quietly.
“If the Valar will it,” Erestor replies.
Well. Relations with the Woodland Realm and Lórien will be tense.
The inappropriate thought floats into Elrond’s mind as he stands by the High King’s side, at the funeral for the kings Oropher and Amdír. Oropher’s body is on a great pyre, for the Silvan Elves burn their dead and then dissolve the ashes in the Sea, but they could not recover Amdír and his ill-fated army. The night air is filled with the sounds of lament and songs of mourning, and the crackling of pyres. Even Gil-galad is subdued, wondering if he could have changed this somehow; perhaps if he had tried to be more understanding, more accommodating, instead of insisting that they follow his leadership and his strategies, the two great Elven Kings and their armies would have lived. Victory has come at a very high price.
Elrond senses the turn of his thoughts and lays a hand on his arm. “There was nothing you or I could have done, Ereinion. Their choice was their own.”
With the High King and the Herald absorbed in each other, Glorfindel is the only one who watches the young Prince Thranduil – now King Thranduil – step up, clad in the rough-spun white linen wrap of Silvan funeral mourners, and lift a burning brand to the sorrowful accompaniment of the singers. He touches it to the pyre. The dry twigs and kindling quickly catch fire, and Glorfindel catches a last glimpse of Oropher, wrapped in a white linen shroud, before he is enveloped in crackling flames.
He also sees the bereft expression on Thranduil’s face be replaced by a look of pure loathing directed at Gil-galad and Elrond, and a shiver runs down his spine.
“Sieges. I hate sieges. Why did it have to be another Valar-forsaken siege?”
Seven long years pass, and they mourn bright Anárion as well as many others.
The night before what will be their last battle at Barad-dûr, in the High-King’s tent, Elrond holds Gil-galad tight in their shared bed, burying his nose in his lover’s hair and inhaling the scent of woodsmoke and almond oil and something uniquely Gil-galad.
“What troubles you?” the King asks softly, and Elrond sighs.
“Nothing. Just a sense of foreboding.”
“No. I wish I’d had a clear vision; I feel as though I am going into battle blind. No matter how hard I try to peer into the future, I… I feel grief. That is all my foresight will tell me, that I will fight and that I will grieve. And I fear that it will be for you.”
Gil-galad sits up, pulling his lover with him. He kisses Elrond’s forehead, his cheeks, his lips. “Listen to me, Elrond. We cannot change Eru’s song. If I die tomorrow, you must go on. I do not intend to leave you, and I will fight as hard as I can to stay with you. But if I should die, or Glorfindel or any of your other warriors, you must stay strong. The Elves will need strong leadership.”
Elrond bows his head. “Let us not speak of this.”
“I am the High King. You are the Herald and my heir, and lord of a refuge. It is our duty to speak of this, to plan for the future. Elrond, look at me.”
Elrond raises his head. Without breaking their gaze Gil-galad slips his sapphire ring off and takes Elrond’s hand, sliding it onto his finger. The Peredhel gasps, staring down at it.
“Vilya. Ereinion, you cannot do this.”
“Sauron will expect me to bear it; he will not look for it on your hand. If I should fall, Elrond – no, listen to me – if I should fall, you must be the keeper of Vilya. Remember me by it. Protect your fair Imladris; it would be a grievous thing indeed, if it fell to the Enemy. And if I survive this battle, as I certainly intend to do…,” he grins. “Keep it anyway, as a token.”
“Ereinion Gil-galad, a Ring of Power is not a token one gives to a lover.” Elrond’s voice is stern, but Gil-galad only laughs at him.
“So stern! I feel as though I am about to be lectured by a schoolteacher, for all that I am your elder. Keep it, Elrond.”
They are hemmed in by shoving armoured bodies and flashing weapons, Elves and Men and Orcs and foul things, and dark Barad-dûr looms over them all like a great carrion-crow perched on a height above the battle. And Orodruin is in the background, always there, belching forth noxious fumes and vapours and spurts of flame.
Elrond had intended to stick close to Gil-galad, but the press of battle has separated him from both his King and Glorfindel. He ducks, weaves, parries, swings and feels his sword slice through flesh and encounter bone, yanks it free with a spray of dark blood and turns to meet the next enemy. He sees a flash of bright gold out of the corner of his eye and turns; Glorfindel has lost his helmet, and his hair, though braided back, gleams like a vengeful beacon as he cuts a graceful swath through the Orcs. They whirl in tandem, Elrond ducking to hamstring an Orc behind Glorfindel while Glorfindel decapitates the Orc which had been swinging at Elrond, fighting back to back in what is now second nature after so long at war together. And between killing Orcs and goblins, they search for the shining helm and mirrored shield of their High King in the grey light that filters through the overcast sky.
They leave a trail of fallen Orcs as they hasten towards Gil-galad, Círdan and Elendil, and no sooner have they reached each other near the foot of Barad-dûr than a great soundless boom occurs, reverberating through the plains of Mordor. They all fall back, silence settling over the massed armies as Sauron himself, Gorthaur, the Deceiver and corrupter, steps out to do battle. Elrond feels his blood turn to ice in his veins. He had seen and fought Sauron at Eregion, but at the time Sauron had worn the disguise of fair Annatar, retaining that semblance even in battle. Now he is tall beyond imagining, clad in dreadful black armour, eyes burning like flames behind the dark visor, and he gives off an almost unbearable heat. Perspiration begins to bead along Elrond’s brow. It is stifling inside his armour.
Elendil steps up alongside them. “It has been an honour fighting alongside you all,” he says softly. The five of them – Glorfindel, Elrond, Círdan, Gil-galad and Elendil – spread out, and the Adversary laughs, high and cold and cruel. Before he can speak, they charge as one.
Out of the corner of his eyes, Elrond sees Glorfindel glowing. He often seems to be lit by an inner light, as Gil-galad and Elrond himself are, but now he is literally glowing, his sword a line of clear white flame. But there is no time to observe and ponder as Sauron turns and, despite his enormity, gracefully and almost effortlessly parries all five of them and their blows. He swings a scimitar in one hand and an enormous morning star in the other, and though Elrond moves back to avoid it he is not quick enough; it slams solidly into his torso and knocks him back several feet, soaring through the air to land hard against a boulder and fall to the ground. Everything hurts.
Dazed, he opens his eyes and sees Glorfindel as a figure composed entirely of fierce golden light, seeming almost like a Maia himself as he faces Sauron. For a moment, as he struggles to breathe and fights the urge to vomit, he dares to hope that Glorfindel with his Valar-given gifts will be a match for Sauron, that with Gil-galad, Elendil and ancient Círdan they might very well defeat him.
But then a great troll lumbers into the fray and swings at Glorfindel, and more Orcs and foul things swarm in to separate him from the others. Caught between the troll and several Orcs, he is distracted by staying alive and can do nothing as Elendil falls, alive but gravely wounded. Only Círdan still stands with his foster-son against Sauron, ducking and parrying and thrusting, and for a moment Elrond thinks they will prevail –
- and as Círdan too is flung back by the morning star, as Gil-galad is still pulling his spear Aeglos back for another attack, that evilly curved scimitar, glowing red-hot with the heat of Sauron’s hand, swoops in and right through the High King.
Men prevail where Gil-galad, High King of the Noldor, failed.
Elrond forces himself to his feet, wincing as he places weight on a sprained ankle but knowing he must go after Isildur. Every step, every breath, is agonising; he thinks he may have a couple of cracked ribs and possibly a concussion, and can feel blood drying, thick and mixed with sweat, in his hair and against the back of his neck. And worst of all is the pain within his chest, entirely separate from his cracked ribs and laboured breathing; everytime he looks at his lover’s fallen body it worsens, like being hit with the morning star all over again.
Elrond looks at the ring on his finger and remembers Ereinion’s words last night. Only last night. Only last night they had lain in each other’s arms. He will never feel Ereinion’s warmth again, or his kiss, or hear his booming laugh.
He shuts his eyes briefly and takes several breaths, painful as they are. Then he makes himself go after Isildur and towards Mount Doom.
He learns, that day, of the weakness of Men.
Glorfindel is panicking, searching for his Lord, when he finally sees Elrond stagger out of Orodruin. He races towards the Peredhel and catches him one-armed – his other arm is dislocated, from bearing the brunt of a troll’s club against his shield – just as Elrond’s body finally gives up, and they stumble towards the healing tents.
Elrond shifts against him, half-conscious. “Keep me awake,” he manages to mumble. “Concussion.”
Glorfindel says the first thing that came to mind. “The first time I carried your father, he peed all over me. Seemed awfully pleased with himself, too.”
The Half-Elf’s lips twitch. “’ll try to control m’self.”
The rest of the walk to the triage area is a blur. Elrond recognises Níriel’s concerned, tear-stained face bending over him and Glorfindel leaves him with her, confident that his Lord is in good hands. He submits himself to another healer and lets out a strangled yell as his arm is wrenched back into place. His cuts and bruises are cleaned with linen pads soaked in some stinging liquid, and then cold salve is smeared on them; the healer peers at one deep cut before deciding that it does not need stitches. Morfinnel, sitting on a cot nearby with a leg and an arm in casts, waves at him with the unbroken arm; her woozy smile makes him suspect too much painkilling concoction, and her head is bandaged. They are surrounded by other wounded Elves and Men, and the whole area smells of sour perspiration and the metallic tang of blood, minty salves and sharp herbs, infection and death. The air is still and unpleasant.
Glorfindel finally allows himself to acknowledge what the High King’s death means, aside from the personal loss. Gil-galad had never married or sired an heir, for reasons obvious to those close to him, and while he had named Elrond his heir – and Elrond has the right lineage – Glorfindel doubts that he would want to take up the mantle. There is Artanis, of course, but from what he has heard, she has given up her dreams of power and queenship and is content in Lórien with her family. The Noldor are now without a ruler, and greatly reduced in number.
And aside from those lofty concerns, there are more immediate ones; even thinking of the task ahead fills Glorfindel with grief and dread. The survivors must be organised. They will need to comb the battlefield for more survivors who were unable to move, make lists of the names of the dead Elves, sort those into the ones who had come from Lindon versus the ones from Imladris, and the Men must do the same. Messengers must be sent ahead to inform Lindon’s Council, Erestor, Galadriel and the others of the death of Gil-galad. He wonders whether the lists of the dead should be sent with them, or whether they should wait and deliver them in person; after all, some might succumb to injuries after the messengers’ departure, so perhaps they should not send the lists ahead. He does not want to deal with such concerns; he is not as good at mastering his emotions as Erestor.
Erestor. Valar, how Glorfindel wishes he were here. He would have taken over all these tasks that Glorfindel quails at the prospect of doing, for all that he had done the same after the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, and done them quickly and efficiently, not letting his grief interfere with his ability. And, perhaps, he would know how to comfort Elrond over the loss of his lover.
As he leaves to look for the scribes that had accompanied the Imladris army – if any of them have survived – he sees the healers bending over one of his own warriors, holding the bloodied Elf down as he thrashes wildly. One of them tries to force a concoction down his throat, but before she can succeed he falls back to the cot and lies still, his eyes open and unseeing, his face pale and waxen and slack under the blood. The healers feel for his pulse, and find none.
Glorfindel stares at his face, makes a mental note of his name so that he can tell the deceased Elf’s family, and moves on, scrubbing a hand across his wet eyes.
Messengers have ridden ahead with news of the High King’s death, and so Erestor and the rest of Imladris know what to expect. They are silent as Elrond and Glorfindel ride in, at the head of a much smaller army than the one which had set out nearly a decade earlier.
Erestor searches their faces, worried. Elrond looks… numb. He gives commands and has clearly been driven on by duty, but his face is drawn and his eyes look at nothing. Beside him Glorfindel looks whole, much the same as when he had left, except for his armour bearing clear signs of repair and – Erestor pauses. Glorfindel has always been cheerful, exuding a certain joy in life even when not actually smiling; Erestor has never seen him look so subdued.
Most of the Elves look fine, really, from this distance. The slow journey home would have given many of them time to heal from their physical wounds, although he does not know how they have reacted to the horrors of war. Only time and Nienna’s blessings can heal those wounds.
Melpomaen, beside him, lets out a cry and runs forward, and Morfinnel swings down from her horse with some difficulty; it looks like she has broken limbs, although Elves recover faster than Men do from such things. Still, there is a scar down one side of her face that had narrowly missed her left eye, and her long dark curls are shorter now and uneven in length, as if some of them had been hacked off. She clings to Melpomaen, and that seems to shatter the brittle calm; Elves surge forward to greet their loved ones, and there are tears and smiles and cries of grief and loss and pain. Erestor shuts his eyes briefly, not looking forward to speaking to the families who have lost someone.
He slowly makes his way to Elrond and Glorfindel, who are as the eye in a storm; they stand quietly while Elves embrace each other all around them, turning to face him.
“Hello, Erestor,” Glorfindel says, and Erestor nods at him before turning to his Lord. Elrond says nothing, and Erestor and Glorfindel exchange a glance. Then they each take an arm and guide him into his House. Saelbeth, who had accompanied the army, has the list of the dead, and afterwards Glorfindel will take it from him and inform all the families. For now, he has to see to Elrond. Speeches can wait.
Chapter 5: Elrond meets Celebrían
Galadriel visits Imladris, wanting to see it for herself. She brings her daughter along, and Elrond is instantly smitten despite still mourning Gil-galad.
As always, betaed by Ulan. <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The seasons pass, as they are wont to do, bringing the Second Age to an end. Gondor and Arnor wax in strength and glory, and Imladris continues to flourish. Although it is not widely spoken of, Erestor and Glorfindel are aware that Elrond now bears one of the three Elven Rings of Power and that it has played a part in the protection of Imladris, and in its balmy summers and relatively mild winters.
It is a time of peace and plenty, and so several Elves marry and many children are born. In addition to his duties as Chief Counsellor, Erestor instructs the older ones entering scribe’s training in lore and politics, and counts himself lucky that he does not have to deal with the sticky, squalling young ones. Still, he is grateful for this time of peace, for the time it has given all of them to heal from the Last Alliance and grow.
Moreover, trade lines have been established with Harad, greatly enriching the markets of Imladris with spices and silks and exotic fruits and even rare materials such as ivory. Erestor even purchases some of their books from a travelling merchant, and slowly teaches himself the Haradaic language in the evenings. Moria, too, flourishes, and so mithril hair-ornaments are in vogue amongst the Elves.
The old Master Healer chooses to sail West, and so Níriel takes over his position; although she is relatively young she is highly skilled, having been trained by Elrond, and has proven herself many times over; and so the appointment is met with joy and congratulations. Meanwhile, Melpomaen and Morfinnel continue to court, and rumours are flying around the Last Homely House about Morfinnel’s recent visit to one of the jewellers who specialises in rings.
Their routine is disrupted with the latest letters from Lothlórien, in which the Lady Galadriel rather imperiously tells of her desire to visit fair Imladris and see it for herself, after having corresponded with it for so long and having heard so much about it. The news throws Imladris into a tizzy, and Elrond and Erestor send back hurried replies assuring her of their great joy in hosting her and how much they look forward to it, and asking if they should send an escort and if she requires anything in particular. For while Galadriel has never officially taken the title of Queen, she is the daughter of Finarfin, and one of the few survivors of her generation. Few on Middle-Earth are older than her - though Círdan is perhaps older than everyone - and she is greatly respected and feared. To meet with her disapproval would be most unpleasant.
She sends back a note informing them that she and her daughter will be passing through Moria, will be guarded by a small group of Galadhrim and require no escort, and that Imladris should expect them by early spring. Sure enough, in spring the scouts ride back with news of her approach, and as the daughter of Finarfin rides into Imladris, Elrond and his household are assembled to greet her. Erestor surreptitiously squeezes Elrond’s shoulder; the Peredhel has had a premonition that this visit heralds a great change, and is uneasy.
Galadriel rides at the head of her escort, bathed in late afternoon sunlight, and Erestor thinks that her kinship with Glorfindel is very apparent in Anor’s rays. Where the sunlight blazes on Glorfindel, limning his skin in golden light and turning his hair to molten gold, it softly caresses Galadriel and coaxes out the light of her hair, both gold and silver at once and neither, glimmering softly with its own radiance even when in travelling braids. She sits gracefully on her dapple-grey mare, her eyes cast down and focused on the path, and as she nears Erestor sees that she is stunningly beautiful. Not in the way that a smiling, pretty elleth, wearing her best dress and crowned with flowers, is beautiful; no, her beauty of is a more distant sort, like the clear stars in the night sky or the slender crescent moon, or perhaps the sun on a wintry morning. Erestor’s gaze is again drawn to her flowing hair, and he remembers that Fëanor himself had coveted it.
She dismounts gracefully and stands, wrapped in a dove-grey cloak clasped at her throat with a graceful swirl of mithril and moonstone, waiting for the rest of her party to dismount and join her. Imladrim stable-hands hurry forward to lead the horses away. Like most of the Elves born at the dawn of the First Age, Galadriel is very tall. Erestor suspects, though, that even if she were short, she would still have seemed tall simply due to the regal way she holds herself, her queenly bearing and mien.
She leads the Lórien delegation forwards, stopping before Elrond, and raises startlingly piercing blue eyes to his face. Elrond bows, hand over his heart, in the traditional greeting.
“You are most welcome in Imladris, Galadriel, Lady of the Golden Wood.”
She inclines her head. “I thank you, Elrond Peredhel. Long have I desired to look upon this hidden valley.” Her voice is deeper than is women’s wont, but still melodious. Her gaze sweeps the Elves ranged behind Elrond; Erestor shivers as it rests on him, feeling as though she is peering at the back of his skull and judging what she reads there. She favours Glorfindel with a small smile, and then turns to look out at what is visible of the valley from the courtyard.
“This place is truly beautiful, Eärendilion. It is a place of refuge and learning, and it brings restfulness.” Then she turns, standing aside somewhat so that they can see the woman standing behind her.
“This is my daughter, the Lady Celebrían.”
Erestor hears a sharp intake of breath and looks to his right; Elrond’s eyes have widened slightly and he seems transfixed. Erestor glances between his entranced Lord and the smiling, beautiful silver-haired Lady before them, barely listening to Galadriel’s introductions of her Galadhrim warriors and mentions of the gifts she has brought, mostly fine Lórien glassware and silk and some woodwork. Ah. Oh, Elrond.
Galadriel, Celebrían and their party have all been lodged in sumptuous guest rooms, and Erestor has to go and oversee the preparations for the welcome feast that night. Still, he spares a moment to check on his Lord.
He knocks on the door to Elrond’s chambers and, upon hearing “Enter!”, walks in and sees that his Lord is not alone. Glorfindel is in the Half-Elf’s sitting room, shooting Erestor a half-amused, half-worried look from where he is seated on the couch, and Elrond… Elrond is pacing up and down, looking more stressed than Erestor has seen him in a long time. He isn’t sure whether to be amused or worried.
“I have not seen you this flustered in a while, Elrond.”
Elrond is nearly wide-eyed when he spins to face his Chief Counsellor, and Erestor bites back a smile. “Did you see her?”
“Who? Lady Galadriel? Yes, all of Imladris saw her. I should warn you, Elrond, she has been married since the First Age,” Erestor replies teasingly, and Elrond glares at him.
“Her daughter! Celebrían, the Silver Queen.” He sounds almost dreamy for a moment, and Erestor has to laugh; Elrond looks as lovestruck as Melpomaen once had, so many years ago. He has always admired the air of calm and dignity and wisdom that Elrond exudes, but he also knows how quickly such things desert Elrond when matters of the heart rear their head.
“The Haradrim tell tales of a god of love and desire, whose arrows pierce hearts and so cause sudden, consuming infatuation. It looks like his arrows have well and truly pierced you.”
“It looks like Elrond would like to do some piercing of his own,” Glorfindel adds teasingly, and is taken aback by the fierce look Elrond shoots him.
“I would treat her with the utmost respect and honour, for she deserves all of that and more.”
“You want to court her,” realises Erestor.
Elrond opens his mouth to reply in the affirmative, and finds the words stuck in his throat. “I…” Abruptly, he collapses onto the couch next to Glorfindel, pain etched in his features. “I don’t know. No. I cannot. Not so soon.”
Gil-galad. Of course. Erestor sits on Elrond’s other side and rests a hand on his shoulder. “There is nothing wrong in moving on, Elrond,” he says softly. “It has been a long time since his death, and I know he would not begrudge you joy and a new love.”
“No, he would not,” agrees Elrond, staring unseeingly into the unlit fireplace.
“You do not have to rush into anything, Elrond,” Glorfindel adds quietly. “Wait and see. Get to know her first. Take all the time you need to heal and move on, so that if you ever do decide to court her you can give her a heart that is whole.”
“I cannot,” Elrond says softly. “Not wholly. Ereinion will always have a place in my heart. And it would be unfair to expect anyone else to put up with that, would it not? Besides, I do not think her mother would approve,” he adds almost wryly.
“Let the Lady Celebrían herself be the judge of that,” suggests Erestor. “I know little of her, but her parents are accounted among the wisest of the Eldar, and there is wisdom in her glance as well. I do not think she would spurn you for having loved and lost before meeting her, so long as you remain faithful to her in the future. Besides, Elrond, I have never seen you like this. And I remember when you first came to Lindon, when Gil-galad began to pursue you.” He smiles. “Your initial attempts to deny any reciprocity were most amusing.”
Elrond begins to smile as well, remembering those early days, and realises that now he can think of his time with Ereinion without grief or pain, but simply with fondness and the mild ache of missing him. “You have both given me sound advice, and I thank you. I will take my time, and gain a better understanding of her and of my own heart.”
Erestor nods approvingly, and Glorfindel slaps him on the back. “Good. Now go and get ready for tonight’s feast; she will be there, after all, and you must look your best!”
The welcoming feast they have organised for Lady Galadriel is very different from the simple celebration they had had when the House was finished. The dining hall gleams, its tables and statuary clean and its tapestries brushed, the chandelier and braziers and Dwarven light-crystals softly illuminating every corner. Elegant streamers of gold and silver crisscross the ceiling, and there are huge vases full of fragrant flowers at regular intervals and even wide, shallow brass basins of water, in which float water lilies. A few Elves dart here and there, rearranging tables and chairs and setting out fine crystal and silverware.
Erestor brushes off his dark green robes as he exits the kitchens and comes up to the dining hall, and is making one last circuit to ensure that everything is in place when Elrond arrives. The Peredhel is dressed immaculately in robes of deep purple silk, his circlet in place atop intricately braided dark hair, but Erestor can see the tiny stress lines around his eyes.
“Showing off your wealth?” he says softly, teasingly.
Erestor straightens Elrond’s collar and gestures towards the robes; such deep purple is one of the more expensive dyes, obtained from a type of crushed seashell found in far Harad.
“It had not occurred to me; they are new and I thought it was a suitable occasion. Should I change, do you think?”
“Relax, Elrond.” Erestor smiles, squeezing his friend’s shoulder. “You look fine. Everything will go smoothly, I promise.”
“It isn’t just Lady Celebrían’s opinion I worry about, it is her mother’s. The Lady Galadriel can see into minds, and I have a great deal of respect for her. If she should not approve of me…”
“What could she possibly disapprove of?” Why does it always fall to me to counsel lovesick Elves?
Elrond sighs. “I suppose I am being irrational. You are right, as usual. We shall see what the night brings.” Others begin filing in and he moves away to his place at the High Table. Lindir winks at Erestor as he makes his way towards the musician’s dais in the corner. His garb is typical for a minstrel of Lindon: a tight-fitted tunic and leggings in jewel-bright tones, trailing ribbons of contrasting, equally bright colours from his sleeves and shoulders and hair. Erestor will never understand how they do not become tangled up in his harp. Other minstrels join him and make themselves comfortable, and they strike up a soft melody as the seats fill. Erestor moves to his own place and sees several of the Galadhrim enter, being led by Morfinnel and Melpomaen. Servers are already bringing out bowls of nuts and dried berries and crisp salads, platters of bread with small dishes of butter and soft and hard cheeses.
Glorfindel joins them, giving Elrond an impish look. “Ready to go a-wooing?” he asks. In reply, Elrond discreetly treads on his toes.
The last of the Galadhrim enters, and as a hush falls over the hall he announces in a clear voice, “Galadriel, Lady of Lothloríen, and her daughter the Lady Celebrían!”
Galadriel enters gracefully, looking like a vision of radiance. Her long hair is unrestrained by braids, held back only by a mithril circlet, and she is dressed in fine Lórien silk and lace of purest white, girt at the waist with a belt shaped like golden flowers. Elrond’s gaze, however, is drawn to Celebrían, entering after her mother just as gracefully. She is clad similarly, in silk and lace of a pale icy blue, but instead of a circlet she wears a crown woven of niphredil flowers in her silvery hair. Perhaps feeling Elrond’s eyes upon her, she smiles at him as she approaches, and Erestor feels Elrond tremble minutely. He cannot blame his Lord; Celebrían is as unbelievably beautiful as her mother, but warmer somehow, less removed.
Galadriel takes her seat in the place of honour next to Elrond, and as Celebrían approaches Erestor quickly shuffles aside with a quick bow to let her have his seat on Elrond’s other side. He feels like a youth in the schoolroom again, although back then he had disdained the flirtatious games his classmates had played, holding himself aloof from them. Now, however, he finds himself involved.
Somehow Elrond manages to give his speech, and Galadriel rises and speaks of greater ties between Imladris and the Golden Wood. She also speaks of staying for a year; while outwardly Erestor maintains his usual calm, neutral expression, he rejoices at this opportunity for Elrond. Due to the curve of the table, he can also see Glorfindel’s expression from where he sits on Galadriel’s other side; the blond is less restrained, grinning rather worryingly as Galadriel seats herself and a smattering of applause breaks out. Erestor raises an eyebrow at him, trying to convey Control yourself, and then has to fight not to leap out of his seat when he hears Galadriel’s voice in his head, even though she is now seated and to all appearances serenely and silently buttering bread.
Elrond Eärendilion is lucky indeed, to be surrounded by such friends.
Er… Erestor isn’t really sure how to respond, so he settles for aiming his thoughts in her general direction as best as he can. Can you read everyone’s minds? My Lady? he hastily adds. But there is no reply except a faint mental impression of merry, tinkling laughter. Erestor sits ramrod straight and focuses on the delicate soup he is being served, doing his best not to look to his right or think about Elrond or Celebrían.
Elrond himself seems to be managing well; he had spoken to Galadriel and asked after Celeborn, and is now asking Celebrían about their journey to Imladris. After making some further polite small talk, at a lull in the conversation Celebrían turns to Erestor. “I am sorry, I do not think we have been introduced.”
Because Elrond was not thinking straight when you arrived. Erestor stops picking the tomatoes out of his salad. “Well met, my lady Celebrían, and please accept my apologies. I am Erestor, Chief Counsellor of Imladris.”
“Well met, Erestor o Imladris.”
“I hope your rooms are to your liking?” he ventures, and she favours him with a bright smile.
“Oh yes. I particularly enjoy the view of the gardens; they are beautiful.”
“I am glad to hear that; feel free to walk in the gardens and fields at your leisure, and I shall arrange for our head gardener to speak with you if you wish.”
That seems to please her, and then Elrond asks her a question about Lothlórien. On Elrond’s other side, Galadriel seems to be reminiscing with Glorfindel. Around the Hall the Galadhrim are seated amongst the Imladris Elves and apparently chatting animatedly with them, the musicians are playing excellently with occasional breaks for food, and everything seems to be going well. As servers begin to bring out the spiced quail and roast pheasant with sauce and baked fish with greens, Erestor hears Galadriel compliment the food and the hall to Glorfindel and heaves an internal sigh of relief. This is essentially the first state visit paid to Imladris by a ruler who is not in love with Elrond, and Erestor is glad that his beloved valley home is acquitting itself well.
He glances at Elrond and Celebrían as he helps himself to some fish and quail; the food is all excellent, of course, and he makes a mental note to praise Thorndur afterwards. As he turns to look for the pitcher of cordial, he sees Níriel – now Mistress Níriel of the healers – send Elrond a knowing, amused glance; clearly their Lord’s infatuation has not gone unnoticed.
Although Elrond seems not to have considered it, Erestor has realised that a marriage alliance between him and Celebrían would be excellent for politics, given how close their realms are. Lothlórien has never held Elrond culpable for Amdír’s death, unlike Thranduil of the Greenwood, and they have always maintained cordial relations; a marriage would secure that.
But more than any political reason, Erestor can see a light and joy in Elrond’s eyes that he had thought extinguished with Gil-galad’s fall, and he hopes that Celebrían will return Elrond’s feelings, that Elrond will find joy and, this time, be allowed to keep it.
After an excellent dessert of berry tarts with cold, sweetened cream, various small sweet pastries and an array of fresh fruits from the Imladris orchards, everyone trails Lord Elrond into the Hall of Fire. Elrond chats politely with Galadriel, telling her of their minstrels and how the gatherings around the communal cookfires when Imladris was being built had inspired this Hall, and she speaks in return of the huge flet set aside specifically for the minstrels’ performances in Lothlórien and of Celeborn’s skill with the lyre. Her voice is warm when speaking of her husband, and Erestor is reminded of his earlier remark made in jest, of how Galadriel had been married for millennia.
They relax and enjoy Lindir’s song, telling of a great hunt in the woods of Doriath, and after that another young singer comes forward to sing a lament of the Last Alliance. Her voice wavers in one or two places, but overall it is a fine performance; when she sings of Gil-galad’s fall, Elrond bows his head.
Lindir comes forward again, smiling at the assembled audience. “Let us take the joy with the sorrow. We have had our lament, and mourned the past. Now let us dance and make merry.” Perhaps Erestor is imagining it, but it had seemed as if Lindir’s gaze had darted to Elrond for a moment, quick as a flash.
Smiling Elves come forward, choosing partners and lining up as Lindir calls out the dance. Erestor takes a now-abandoned seat and watches Elrond ask Lady Galadriel, as the guest of honour, to dance. She smilingly accepts. Glorfindel claims Celebrían’s hand with a roguish smile; from what Erestor can hear, he is regaling her with a tale of some mishap or other that he, Galadriel, Aredhel and Aegnor had gotten up to as youths in Valinor.
As the music starts they begin to move, sidestepping, swaying forwards, clasping hands, spinning away with a clap. It is an old, formal, graceful dance, and quite pleasing to watch. Erestor makes himself comfortable with his drink, watching Melpomaen and Morfinnel dance past. He turns as Níriel joins him, nodding in greeting. Níriel smiles back, dimples showing in her cheeks as she slants a mischievous gaze at Lord Elrond.
“He is smitten. It is good to see.”
“It is, though he ought to be less obvious,” Erestor mutters, though not without similar warmth in his expression; the dancers have switched partners, and as Glorfindel leads Galadriel away Elrond has Celebrían’s hand clasped in his own, their gazes locked as they begin to move. Elrond is practically glowing as Celebrían smiles at him.
“Why?” Níriel is also watching them fondly. “Why ought he hide his feelings? Who here would begrudge him some joy? Imladris loves him, Chief Counsellor. He is not just a good and fair and wise leader; he is a good person. We all mourned for him when he lost the High King.” Her gaze turns distant, her smile slipping away. “I was there. I held him and bound his ribs, washed him clean of blood, nursed him through a fever where he repeatedly called for Gil-galad and wept. I helped him lay out what was left of the High King’s body. I watched him grow numb and ride back to Imladris full of grief which he would not share.”
Erestor reaches across the settee and presses her hand quietly. She takes a deep breath and smiles at him once more.
“I love him, Counsellor Erestor. He is as my father and brother and mentor and Lord, and he has done so much for me. He does his best to ensure that the rest of us will know peace and happiness in this refuge. He deserves happiness of his own.”
“He does,” Erestor agrees softly, turning back to watch Elrond and Celebrían again. Elrond says something to her in a soft voice before they step backwards, and she laughs merrily as she turns and claps and they approach each other once more. Glorfindel and Galadriel pass them, a vision of golden beauty together, but for once Erestor is barely distracted; instead he watches his friend and shares in his fragile, newfound happiness.
NB: I know that technically the first White Council meeting took place in Rivendell in the Second Age where they discussed the Elven Rings, and it was there that Elrond first met Celebrían. However, as I intended Elrond to be Gil-galad’s lover until the latter’s death, I had to push back his first meeting with Celebrían to after the Last Alliance and therefore greatly shorten the duration of their courtship. So let’s just pretend that the first White Council meeting actually took place in Lindon, and Erestor was not present.
Chapter 6: Spring and Winter Festivals
I am so sorry for the delay! I actually moved from Singapore to Australia at the beginning of February to join my partner, and have been busy packing and unpacking and setting up a new house and furnishing it and having a housewarming (we did the milk ceremony from the first chapter, actually!), and commencing postgraduate studies and dealing with a temperamental WiFi and laptop... Anyway. Sorry! I suspect updates will be a bit more sporadic from now on.
My lovely beta Ulan has produced an absolutely STUNNING piece of art depicting Erestor at the winter market here! It's like Erestor has stepped out of my mind onto paper! ♥
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Some cities of Men tell legends of vampires, descendants of Thuringwethil who still dwell in dark places and come out at night to feed on cattle and humans. They say that the vampires cloak themselves in shadow and shun the sunlight, and that should a vampire still be abroad when Arien rises, they will turn to ash.
Blinking in the sunlight, huddled in his dark cloak, Erestor almost sympathises with the vampires. The Spring Festival is in full swing and the sun shines brightly, but the chill of winter lingers in the wind and the noise and gaiety is a bit too much for him to deal with after an inadequate amount of sleep.
Cup of elderflower cordial in one hand, fruit tart in the other, he wanders over to the games arena and seats himself next to Melpomaen, watching a team of laughing children quit the field. The younger scribe smiles at him.
“You know how it is. You keep thinking that you’ll just finish one more chapter, and next thing you know it’s almost dawn.”
“I told you not to start that book after dinner.”
Erestor shrugs, finishing his tart. In truth, although Elves can manage on inadequate sleep for quite a while, Erestor has spent the past few weeks working late to prepare for the arrival of Galadriel and her entourage and ensure that everything goes smoothly during the Spring Festival; with Galadriel and Celebrían here, Elrond had naturally been on edge, wanting everything to be perfect. And although all the preparations and his own work had been completed by the previous day, he had wanted some time to himself and had brewed a pot of tea and curled up in bed with a book. It had been a pleasant night, being able to finally relax with no looming pile of paperwork or correspondence or Elves wanting his input on something or other for the Festival, but Erestor is beginning to regret it now.
On the other side of the field, an open-faced pavilion has been set up for Elrond, Galadriel and Celebrían to watch the festivities in comfort. He can make out the gleam of Galadriel’s hair from here, the brightness of their festive attire, and checks to make sure that the teenaged elleth assigned to wait on them is still there. Elrond and Celebrían appear to be absorbed in one another, while Galadriel appears to be spinning, or at least doing something complicated with a drop spindle.
A group of young children are wandering around the festival with baskets of sweet biscuits, nuts and candied flowers, with a slightly older elleth bearing a tray of drinks and herding them along. They stop by the seats, and Erestor gladly helps himself to a napkin full of little biscuits and warm, freshly roasted and salted nuts. He and Melpomaen share the snacks in easy silence as they watch armoured Elves file onto the field and get in formation, and then he inwardly cringes. He’s arrived just in time for the Noldorin sword-dance, and Glorfindel is leading.
Lindir leads the musicians in a slow, heavy beat, and the Elves begin to move. The dance is ancient and heavily stylised, a more graceful version of sword drills passed on from Tulkas himself. At the front Glorfindel turns, bringing his sword in an elegant arc to rest lightly on the shoulder of the Elf behind him, and Erestor notices the tiny spring blooms woven into his thick fall of golden hair. It should clash with his ceremonial armour and weapon, with the way he is sidestepping his partner Bregolon as they bring their swords up to meet with resounding clashes above their heads, but instead it only serves to soften his appearance somehow without detracting from his strength. He is truly a sight to behold, an Elven-lord of old, a vision of grace and beauty and strength unified as he whirls with his sword.
Erestor straightens, resolutely moving his gaze over the field and admiring the strength and grace in the movements of the other Imladrim. As the dance comes to a close and Glorfindel flourishes his sword in a salute to Elrond’s pavilion, however, Erestor’s eyes are inexorably drawn once more to the broad handsome face framed by golden braids and crowned in white and golden flowers, to the joy in those clear blue eyes.
He feels quite warm, suddenly, and downs his cordial in one long swallow.
Glorfindel bows in Elrond’s direction and turns to look at the rest of his audience, pausing when he sees Erestor, but the Chief Counsellor is apparently engaged in conversation with Melpomaen. He watches for a moment longer before turning away; Bregolon brings him a cup of chilled, refreshing elderflower cordial, and he downs it gratefully before immersing himself in the festivities.
Morfinnel is running in the adults’ egg race, and Melpomaen has promised to cheer for her; Erestor tags along and watches, although privately he thinks it is a waste of good eggs. Cheers break out as she crosses the finish line with an intact egg in her spoon, followed closely by others. There are some collisions; he winces at the mess of egg yolk and fragments of egg shell all over a couple of the contestants, who grimace and run off to clean up, laughter following them. Melpomaen goes to hug and congratulate Morfinnel and kiss her cheek, and then one of the cooks announces in a booming voice that lunch is ready and everyone turns and heads towards the feast tables en masse.
Erestor follows at a more leisurely pace, knowing the food is plentiful enough that he need not hurry. He feels a warm presence fall into step beside him, and knows who it is even before he turns.
“Well met, Chief Counsellor.”
“Well met, Captain. You performed well today.”
Glorfindel’s face breaks into a huge grin. “Thank you. I did not think you were watching.”
Erestor shrugs. “I arranged most of these activities, I like to ensure that they go smoothly. You and your warriors did well; please pass on my commendations for me.”
The warrior seems to deflate a little. “I will. I hope you are enjoying yourself as well, though, instead of simply keeping an eye on proceedings; it is a festival, after all.”
The corners of Erestor’s mouth turn up in a small smile. “I am, and I thank you for your concern. My sour expression is entirely due to inadequate sleep.”
Azure eyes search his face, and he resists the urge to look away. “You look…” Glorfindel pauses for a moment. “You look perfectly fine to me. Did you have so much work to do that it could not wait? Surely you have enough counsellors and scribes to share the load?”
Erestor hopes he isn’t blushing. “No, it is my own fault; I wanted to finish a book and by the time I was done it was dawn.”
They reach the tables, piled with freshly picked fruits as well as bread, butter, and hard and soft cheeses. There are the last of the hazelnuts and chestnuts, bowls of hardboiled eggs, crisp salads of leafy spring greens and morel mushrooms, platters bearing cooked hare, pigeon and trout, and a variety of savoury meat pies and pastries, as well as a gently steaming cauldron full of a simple spring barley stew. Erestor glances over at the table of sweetmeats and dessert pastries, including a rhubarb crumble that he has been looking forward to, but can barely see it; it is practically swarmed by children. He cannot help his small smile; this, more than any number of riches or luxury trade goods, is the true measure of Elven peace and prosperity. He knows how Elven numbers have dwindled, with all the wars and so many sailing West, but the birth of so many children in even this watchful peace, here in this refuge, is truly something to rejoice over.
He can feel Glorfindel still watching him, and gives the blond an enquiring look. Glorfindel, surprisingly, looks somewhat abashed. “It is only – I am glad you have time to yourself. I know how hard you work, and with Elrond so distracted lately and all the festival preparations, you have been working more than usual. Melpomaen said as much to Morfinnel, and she mentioned it to me.” Erestor spares a moment amidst his bemusement to think that he really ought to tell Melpomaen not to discuss his superior’s working hours with his lover, but his thoughts scatter as Glorfindel rests a hand on his shoulder, squeezing lightly, before wandering off to fill his plate.
Erestor is left staring after him for a moment, before he collects himself and turns towards the stack of wooden plates. As he is helping himself to pastries and some of the soft cheeses that he is fond of, Galadriel comes up behind him; he sees a flash of her brilliant hair and gown out of the corner of his eye and turns, wondering why he is being ambushed by blondes today.
Galadriel smiles at him, dusting crumbs off her fingers. She is as radiant as always, glowing in the spring sunlight; clad in a gown as green as young spring leaves with a belt of golden flowers, she looks like an embodiment of spring herself. Erestor makes himself meet her piercing gaze.
“You are uncomfortable around me.” Surprisingly to the point.
“I am used to my thoughts being private,” he replies.
“Mm. You are quite a private person,” Galadriel agrees. “Will you walk with me, Chief Counsellor, or would you rather enjoy the festival by yourself?”
Well, he can hardly refuse her. “I would be honoured to accompany you, my Lady.”
She smiles at him and takes his arm, gently leading him back towards her pavilion. “This is a lovely festival. I commend you on your hard work.”
“Thank you, my Lady.”
“In fact, I hear that you are essential to Elrond’s running of Imladris. He has spoken very warmly of you. I could use one of your talents in Lothlórien, but I do not think you will leave Imladris.”
Erestor shrugs, never sure how to respond to such compliments. “I helped Lord Elrond build this place; I take a professional pride in keeping it running smoothly. I could not leave it.”
“You love Imladris.”
“Strange, for one who was born by the Sea to find such peace so far inland. But then, you have lost much to the Sea.” Her gaze is piercing, and Erestor wonders if she can see his entire life, written out on the inside of his skull like some maker’s mark.
“Such a morbid image,” she chides him gently, and he flushes. “It is a festival, Erestor. You need not guard yourself so; you should enjoy the day. I thank you for accompanying me.” She releases his arm and turns back to her pavilion, where Elrond, Celebrían and Lindir are seated with plates of food and glasses of cordial, Lindir gesturing animatedly as he tells some story or other. Erestor bows slightly and retreats, absent-mindedly picking sorrel leaves out of the salad and eating them as thoughts of the past surface. He shakes his head as if to dispel them, and finds a spot on a sheltered bench from which he can comfortably watch the proceedings. After a while Isteth wanders up to join him, knocking her shoulder against his gently as she seats herself.
“You look pensive.”
“It is nothing, child. Memories.”
Isteth does not prod, or protest that it has been centuries since she could have been considered a child. Instead she hands him a bowl. “I saved you the last of the rhubarb crumble.”
“Thank you.” Erestor takes a mouthful, savouring the taste of the rich crumbly topping against the slightly tart rhubarb. Isteth smooths out her kirtle and picks at her own bowl of early berries with fresh cream, and they watch the children flying brightly coloured kites in companionable silence.
The months pass, and Elrond slowly, tentatively begins to court Celebrían, with her permission and Galadriel’s quiet approval. He brings her on picnics and rides to the Bruinen, or for late supper and star-gazing, and commissions rich gifts for her. They also spend long hours together simply talking, of every subject imaginable. Sometimes Erestor is invited to join them for a private tea, along with Glorfindel and Níriel – he suspects that Elrond wants Celebrían to get to know his friends – and he enjoys debating politics and lore with his friend’s silver-haired love. Celebrían’s intellect matches Elrond’s, she is wise and gentle and kind, and Elrond is so clearly head over heels in love with her that Erestor wants to laugh. Celebrían is more restrained, but he sees Elrond’s affections reciprocated in her clear blue eyes and soft smiles, and rejoices for them both. All of Imladris rejoices for them, in fact, for Níriel had spoken true on the night of Galadriel and Celebrían’s arrival.
Celebrían loves gardens and growing things, and chafes at being indoors for long, often walking in the gardens and orchards surrounding the Last Homely House. She makes friends with Galaril, the head gardener, and Galaril allows her to plant rose bushes in the gardens and tend to them. Occasionally she even rides out with the patrols, helping them bring down game, for she is an accomplished archer. She slowly explores most of Imladris, including the farms, and the residents soon warm to her; she is as queenly and elegant as her mother, but without the air of distance that hangs about Galadriel when one first meets her, and displays kindness and genuine interest in everyone she meets.
Erestor quietly decides that he likes her on her own merit, not just as Elrond’s lover. For her part Celebrían seems to grow fond of him, and takes delight in gently teasing him. She joins him in his office sometimes, always checking to see if he is busy first, and tries to draw him out.
“You have so much work,” she marvels. “What do the other counsellors do? They seem so busy when I look in on them, and now I suspect they are secretly playing word-games with each other and leaving poor you to do all the work. Say the word and I shall have them running laps.” This last is added entirely teasingly; at least, Erestor hopes so. It would be rather counter-productive otherwise.
“They are quite busy, I assure you. They each have their own specialisation; I simply oversee all of it, and all their final reports come to me.”
“Still, our Chief Counsellor in Lothlórien does not have quite so much paperwork. You are busier than my parents, I think, and your Council is bigger.”
“But you have a Head of the Treasury, for example; that role is filled by Senior Counsellor Boridhren and myself, here. Your Chief Counsellor’s main job is as an advisor and a diplomat, and the daily running of Lothlórien is more spread out; the outlying areas are ruled mostly independently by governors, who then report to your parents, whereas we oversee all of Imladris. Besides, I suppose I am somewhat of a perfectionist, and I like to be aware of all the everyday details of this valley.”
Celebrían smiles at him. “I can see that. Elrond is lucky to have you, and I doubt anyone would ever question your efficacy. But I do hope you have enough time to yourself, Erestor, time not only to rest but to enjoy yourself. Elves were not made to sit behind a desk all day.”
Erestor ducks his head a little. “I thank you for your concern, my lady. I have adequate recreational time, I assure you.”
“I am glad to hear that. Now, would you object to joining Elrond and myself for lunch tomorrow by the Bruinen? You may bring some work if you wish, but I have never seen you in the sunlight aside from festivals and I am beginning to doubt Elrond when he says you will not fade away under Arien’s rays.” There is a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, but her smile is fond.
“I will join you, if only to assure you I will not fade away,” he replies, giving in and smiling back.
Celebrían dances at the Beltane fires, and Elrond’s eyes shine as he watches her, her hair flashing in the firelight. Galadriel, as ever, betrays nothing but mild amusement from where she is seated with Isteth, with whom she spends much time speaking of lore from past Ages.
Yule approaches, and Erestor wraps himself up in thick woollen robes. He takes to wearing fingerless gloves while working in his office, so that he can keep his hands warm and yet write without a layer of wool making grasping a quill difficult, and his fireplace is always lit.
The traders come again, and Erestor fastens his moneybag to his belt, bundles himself up in cloak and scarf and thick fur-wrapped boots, and walks down to the Yule markets, boots crunching softly in the light snow. He can hear singing coming from the market square, alongside the general bustle and noise that signifies market days. As he gets close enough to make out individual stalls with brightly coloured awnings, he can also smell warm bread and pastries, spiced mulled wine and mead and cider, and the fresh pine scent of the woodcarving stall near this end of the square.
It seems as if half of Imladris is here. Melpomaen and Morfinnel are huddled by a brazier and seem not to have noticed him, and several other Counsellors are gathered around an artwork stall; they wave to him, and he nods back.
He hands a copper coin to the ellon standing behind a cauldron of hot mulled wine and wraps his gloved hands around the warm clay cup, inhaling its pleasant fragrance before taking a sip. It is delicious, of course, flavours bursting on his tongue; it warms him from the inside out, the usual sharpness of wine chased away by the spices and sliced fruits and sugar, and he takes another mouthful, closing his eyes and enjoying the taste.
He sips the wine as he walks down rows of stalls, admiring cleverly carved wooden figurines, bright strange foodstuffs from far lands, bolts of richly dyed cloth, beautiful vases, fine furs and sparkling jewellery. He pauses at a stall selling leather-bound books and writing implements, purchasing a new journal for himself and a fine quill as a gift for Melpomaen; the large raven feather is tucked into a pretty, elaborate silver nib. Melpomaen goes through quills at an almost unbelievable rate, and Erestor hopes this one will last for a while.
A young elleth is walking around with a basin to collect empty cups; Erestor carefully drops his cup into the basin and moves on to the next row of stalls, pausing briefly by a stall selling bright, exotic spices to inhale the strange but pleasant smells; he recognises cinnamon, pepper and nutmeg, but there are other scents he cannot quite identify, earthy and fiery. He moves on, stopping at a stall selling jewellery and curiosities from Harad. He selects a small hair-clasp for Isteth, simple but elegant, and a rather more eye-catching colourful brooch for Lindir that features some stylised, exotic Haradaic bird with magnificent tail-plumage, wrought in gold and colourful cloisonné; the swarthy human stallowner wraps them up carefully in soft paper and fabric scraps as he juggles his packages and counts out coins, and as he tucks them into his pocket he wonders if he ought to get something for Celebrían. While their acquaintance is still young, Elrond is already devoted to her and it is almost certain that she will be the Lady of Imladris soon. Besides, he thinks that he might be able to call her friend, and he also has a brooding suspicion that she is likely to have a Yule present for him.
He examines the jewellery on offer again, finally selecting an interesting-looking necklace; the chain is formed of beads of silver and turquoise, and it is hung with small, strange silver Haradaic coins. It should suit her, and is unique enough that at the very least she will be amused by it.
The merchant names a slightly higher price than he had expected – turquoise, after all, is only found in far Harad, and fetches high prices here – and they haggle in Westron for a few moments before fixing on a suitable amount. The necklace gets wrapped up and tucked into a drawstring pouch as Erestor counts out more gold and silver coins; he thanks the man, slips the pouch into another pocket and turns to look for something for Elrond. A flash of white catches his eye and he examines some beautifully delicate pottery work with strange but fascinating blue-glaze designs, finally settling on an interesting white-and-blue teapot for Elrond; the Peredhel is as fond of tea as Erestor himself is, and will doubtless make good use of it. It would be far too unwieldy for Erestor to carry, so he arranges to have it sent up to the House addressed to himself, adding a few extra coins for the man’s trouble before thanking him.
“Gifts for a winter festival? When is it?” asks the Man. He is wearing a woollen cap pulled down low over his ears, dark curls peeking out; in fact, he is wrapped in several layers of thick wool with only his face visible, and has a small glowing brazier in the space behind the tables displaying his jewellery and pottery. Erestor knows that Harad and Rhûn are much, much warmer than Eriador, and he feels a stab of sympathy for the Man.
“Yes, gifts for my friends. The festival is in about two weeks.” He knows that the merchants who have further to go, like the ones from Harad, will be leaving in a few days, before the heavy snows begin. “You are welcome to stay in Imladris for the winter and our festival. Will it not be easier to travel in spring?”
“Thank you, no.” He pauses, seemingly trying to remember the Common words. “I have family. Wife and children, at home. We have no winter, Harad is very warm, but we have the New Year. I am not there, they be sad. I leave soon with other Harad and Gondor merchants.”
Erestor nods, trying to remember the Haradaic he has taught himself. “What is your name?” he asks in Haradaic.
With a small, surprised smile, the merchant replies in kind, “Arun. And you?”
“Erestor.” It takes him a moment to work out how to translate his position. “I am the first vizier of Imladris.”
The merchant’s dark eyes widen slightly as he looks Erestor up and down. “In Harad, viziers do not go to market by themselves.”
“Here you will meet the ruler of Imladris in the market. The teapot is a gift for him.”
Arun grins broadly. “My wife will like to hear that. Her brothers make them. They will tell all their friends, that their pottery is being used by an Elf-lord in the West.” He is making an effort to speak slowly and clearly, to accommodate Erestor’s own halting grasp of Haradaic, and the Elf smiles at the thoughtfulness.
“They sound lovely. Did they travel with you?”
“No, my wife runs our shop at home, and our youngest is too young to travel. But my two eldest, they are twins. They will be old enough next year, and they want to come with me and see Elves.”
Erestor smiles. “I will like to meet them.” Another Elf has approached the stall and is examining the jewellery, and Erestor decides to let the Man deal with his customers. “I wish you will have a good New Year with your family, Arun.”
“And you have a good winter festival, Erestor,” Arun replies in Common, smiling.
Erestor bows his head slightly before heading towards the pastry stalls.
The smell of fresh bread and spices warms him almost as much as the wine had. He selects a twisted bread roll, a pasty filled with spiced meat and potatoes, and a small sweet, sticky roll dusted in ground cinnamon, which are all wrapped in paper for him as he hands over some copper coins. Arms full of packages, he is heading back up to the House and looking forward to an afternoon spent in his rooms with the pastries, tea and a book when he sees Glorfindel at a nearby woodwork stall with Caragnîn and Bregolon, laughing over a figure of a soldier that apparently moves its lower jaw when its arm is moved up and down.
Glorfindel, his yearly Yule conundrum. They are friends mostly because of Elrond and a good working relationship, even if Erestor sometimes wonders what it would be like to be closer to Glorfindel. Despite the random and rather surprising gift of the lovely ink-stand on his desk, Erestor has never received any Yule gifts from the warrior and has never given any in return; he gives gifts to people he considers family and close friends, and as much as he would like to consider Glorfindel among them, the captain seems to mostly treat him as the amusingly quiet but reliable Chief Counsellor.
With a last backward glance at the group, he walks on.
The wrapped teapot is delivered to Erestor’s rooms the next day, but tucked along with it is a little volume of illustrated Haradaic folk tales, and inside the teapot is a small packet of tea leaves. Erestor smiles, running his fingers gently over the book’s cover, and settles in to read it.
Elrond and Celebrían had tried their best to coax Erestor into a snowfight, but he had been steadfast in refusing, and so they had joined Glorfindel and his warriors in a free-for-all mêlée instead. Elrond is beginning to regret his decisions; the tips of his nose and ears are red and freezing despite the rather silly hat pulled down over his ears, and his hands are numb even through his gloves. Glorfindel had, at some point, managed to stuff a handful of snow down the back of his clothes, and he can still feel the cold, melting wetness along his spine and even down near his unmentionables. And that had apparently served to ruin the last vestiges of awe and reluctance to hit him in the others, making him even more of a target.
Why did I agree to this? he wonders, forming more snowballs automatically and dodging one of Caragnîn’s projectiles. Celebrían rises suddenly from behind a snowbank, and he thinks, oh.
Her eyes are shining and full of joy, her cheeks flushed from exertion and the cold, and her body curves gracefully as she takes aim and flings a snowball at Bregolon. Elrond’s eyes suddenly glaze over, vision blurring. He blinks, and the clouded images resolve into –
Celebrían, still in the snow, but she seems older, different somehow. She is standing in the courtyard, smiling down at – Elrond’s breath catches.
Two young ellyn, perhaps barely at the cusp of their majority, are laughing and building a very lumpy snow-elf. They look identical to each other and resemble Elrond himself, Elrond and Elros, but then one of them turns towards him and shoots him a fond, happy smile that is a miniature version of Celebrían’s own.
“Ada, come and join us!”
Elrond stares at them, drinking in the sight for several long moments before turning back to Celebrían. She has a bundle in her arms, he notices, and then it moves and he realises that it is a baby, wrapped up warmly against the winter chill. Celebrían moves the wool aside and the most beautiful girl-child Elrond has ever seen pokes her head out, blinking sleepily before focusing on him. She has black hair, too, but blue eyes like her –
Like her mother.
Elrond takes a breath, and is smacked right in the face with a snowball, with more pummelling him from all sides.
“Focus, Elrond!” laughs Glorfindel, as Elrond’s vision clears. He shakes his head as if to refocus on the present, and sees Celebrían watching him with concern.
Later, he mouths, wondering if he even ought to tell the elleth whom he is courting that he has foreseen their children; it seems vaguely pressurising, somehow. But Celebrían would not let anyone make her feel that way, and besides, he cannot bear the thought of hiding something like this from her clear gaze.
Imladris sparkles on Yule, both inside and out. On the outside it is dusted in snow, making it look like an elaborate marchpane confection. And inside it is decorated with holly and mistletoe and other winter greenery, with silvery ribbons and glass ornaments and ornate lamps. Celebrían laughs joyfully when she sees the Hall of Fire bedecked for Yule; apparently the Winter Solstice is a more subdued affair in Lórien.
Galadriel leads the Yule procession, followed by Elrond and Celebrían and a few guards carrying the new Yule log, and then the rest of Imladris. They place it in the hearth and prepare the kindling, and Glorfindel steps forward with the saved piece of the previous year’s log. Elrond receives it and the assembled Elves wait for him to light it; to everyone’s shock, he turns and presents it to the Lady Celebrían. Galadriel raises an eyebrow, and Erestor’s lips part in surprise.
The Yule log is meant to be lit by the lady of the house, but if the lord of the household is unwed, then he takes on that duty. Elrond has lit it every year since Imladris was founded, save for the years when he had been on campaign with the Last Alliance and the duty had fallen to Erestor, highest-ranking Elf in Imladris in the absence of Elrond and Glorfindel. For him to give the duty to Lady Celebrían is a declaration that he considers her the lady of the house, or at least the future lady; it is almost tantamount to a proposal.
Celebrían regards the proffered piece of slightly charred wood with wide eyes for a moment, then her gaze flicks up to study Elrond’s face. He meets her steady gaze and asks, “Lady Celebrían, will you do the honour of lighting the Yule log of the Last Homely House?”
For a long moment, everyone holds their breath.
Celebrían smiles at him, reaching out to take it. “I will.” Sweeping towards the hearth in her silver and blue gown, she waits for Glorfindel to hurry forward with a lit taper. She lights the piece of wood, kneels and carefully sets the new Yule log alight, and steps back as it flares up to the accompaniment of cheers.
With a last piercing glance at Elrond – though perhaps Erestor is imagining the hint of amusement – Galadriel leads the Elves in the traditional Yule song to Elbereth and Yavanna. Elrond and Celebrían, however, are silent, smiling at one another.
Before they proceed to the feast, Morfinnel steps forward. Erestor is so used to seeing her in her uniform or in tunics and trousers that it is surprising to see her in a crimson dress; what is even more surprising is that she is blushing to match her finery. “Lord Elrond, I beg permission to delay us all for a few minutes. I have an announcement. Well, a question.”
Behind Erestor, Melpomaen goes rigid as Elrond laughs. “Granted.”
Erestor moves aside with a smile, discreetly nudging a stunned-looking Melpomaen forward as Morfinnel approaches. Murmurs break out as Morfinnel takes her lover’s hand. Her voice is soft but clear.
“I am no silver-tongued wordsmith; that is your talent, my love, and I regret that I cannot give you poetry or pretty words to describe the light and joy and strength you bring to my life. But I would lay my life down for you, Melpomaen. I love you. I would have our lives joined for always, if you will have me.”
Melpomaen’s eyes are suspiciously bright as he nods, seemingly unable to speak; he pulls her close and kisses her, and Erestor feels his own eyes prickling as they place silver rings on each other’s hands, surrounding by clapping and cheering Elves. Lindir wolf-whistles before Caragnîn elbows him in the ribs, and Galadriel is actually laughing.
At the feast Melpomaen and Morfinnel are still gazing at each other, and Erestor suspects that they have not actually tasted the food they are consuming. At his own table, Elrond and Celebrían are shooting each other similar, if slightly more surreptitious, looks, and Erestor decides to start making arrangements for two weddings instead of one; it never hurts to be prepared.
I spent way too much time looking up seasonal produce in Western/Northern Europe. Now I know exactly what they eat in Imladris at different times of the year, and what will be more available as trade flourishes and they figure out hothouse cultivation. Also, re: Arun and Erestor, the mistakes in Erestor’s Haradaic dialogue are all deliberate. I’m a linguistics nerd (among other things) and I know several languages, and while present tense and haggling is easy, stuff like future tense or conditional stuff like ‘if’ can be really tricky. And while I found reading and writing, say, German, easy, I had a lot more trouble following a conversation in German with a native speaker unless they slowed down for me. So that was basically me geeking out and writing something that’s only meaningful to me, I suspect. I apologise if it was jarring for anyone.
I have waaay too many headcanons about how they celebrate all their festivals (spring, midsummer, harvest and Yule festivals, plus Samhain and Beltane), so you’ll eventually be subjected to all of those. The markets were definitely inspired by my experiences at Christmas Markets in France and Germany. The coin necklace is something still worn by South Indian women today, although we wear gold ones (in fact, here's mine), but when I was volunteering at an exhibition of artefacts found in ancient Afghanistan, I was struck by the fact that they had similar ones (if clunkier and more archaic, and a bit more spaced out), with more Roman-style coins on them, something like this. So the necklace is based on that, since in my mind the Harad Road is basically our Silk Road.
Marchpane, the Elizabethan forerunner of marzipan in our world, would have been incredibly expensive and rare, since they’d only have gotten white sugar from Haradrim traders and they really are pretty far, so it’s strictly a festival delicacy. You’ll see more of it later, as Erestor has a sweet tooth. And that concludes today’s history lesson!