Little enough that was green had remained in the lands about Eregion even before it was breached, and now, after, all is overrun. The holly trees are cut down, chopped and hacked away, their bodies parceled out and set alight by elf and enemy alike over the two years of siege. Eregion's walls stand in pieces. Eregion's people, those who could, have fled the city for what little protection Elrond's troops may offer. They are pursued, but not so heavily, nor with such dedication as Elrond had feared. The Enemy's forces are consolidating their victory. The elves are granted that much, that Sauron must tarry to finish his claiming and his despoiling.
Elrond turns his troops and those they hope to save away from the city they have lost. Their supplies now are all that remain of the final shipment brought through Khazad-dum, before the gates were shut. That way is closed to them. Neither will Elrond lead the refugees west across open land, however the thought and haven of Lindon calls him. Sauron knows Lindon well, and hates it, the more for having turned him away. He will allow them no retreat in that direction.
And so they go north, following the courses by which Elrond's troops had come, backtracking their steps through lands that little resemble those of that first journey. There is a place, at the waypoint where two years past they had turned south, where the ground dips and the mountains rise. There the grey-elf scouts had found passage down between the rocks. Elrond has sent them ahead, now. If the valley there will hold them- if the other ways of ingress and egress may be defended- if indeed Eregion's survivors can last so far- That valley is Elrond's hope, held close and tight as a firefly in clasped hands.
They travel slowly, constrained to the pace of the wounded, but Erestor's heart beats always with the desperation of a hunted animal. The foothills allow a measure of protection when they must camp, but they camp under tent fabric or open sky, and it is difficult to construe protection from hillsides when stone walls have failed.
In lieu of safety, he watches Celeborn. Celeborn is not Erestor's lord, he owes him no official obeisance. Three years since, he would have offered none. He remembers the discontent when the Lady Galadriel and her daughter fled to safety through the mines, only weeks ahead of Sauron-the-betrayer's armies.
But unlike his wife Celeborn had remained. And unlike the Celebrimbor, Celeborn has survived. And because of him, so too has Erestor survived.
Celeborn's dismount is halting. Erestor stands at his horse's shoulder, as though to offer report, but his hand is ready and strong when Celeborn's feet hit the ground. The silver lord's stance stays rigid for a moment, leaning on horse and elf both as he breathes, until the worst of the pain had faded and the jolt of connecting with the ground had ceased to pulse so hot and dangerous in his side.
"I will speak with Lord Elrond. I would as lief offer these people no further reason to doubt their leaders."
Lord Elrond, though, is much in need, and the camp assembles slowly. Erestor, having acted as seneschal before, finds his heart grow calmer as he works to bring things into order. By the time dusk passes into night weariness is finally eclipsing fear. Still, he follows Celeborn to Elrond's tent, with its sigil of Lindon and the High King.
"You gave me to understand your injuries were minor."
"It is small enough. But-"
And the 'but' was clear to see, a darkness at the center of the wound, and red streaking out from it.
"It will have to be cut larger now. And drained, and washed until the blood runs clean. You should have sought the healers."
"Will you help me?" He must catch something in Elrond's look, for the twist of his lip is rueful. "I do not ask it out of pride."
Elrond let out his breath. "No, I know you do not."
The spectre of Celebrimbor is ever present, and the memory of his desperate speeches drowns out the memory of his delicate silverwork, and is drowned in turn by the memory of his corpse, struck through with arrows as the banner of the enemy. Eregion's survivors need no further spectacle of the fallibility of leadership.
They will do this between themselves.
Fire is necessary. There is no hiding their camps, there is no stealth in the movement of civillians, and though the air is not yet winter-chill, no one is immune to the drain of the elements. And there are things, not orcs, new horrors that well like the darkness, and the campfires may keep them at bay.
In the center there are a few larger tents, for the wounded, and the young, and for Elrond Half-Elven, whom some from Eregion view with frustration and some with hope. There are pockets of smiths, of families, gathered around the fires, and some of the Lindon troops merge with them, or move between. In wider circle, the smaller soldier's campfires make the perimeter, and the scouts face outward into the night.
One head, bright golden, stands out as it moves between. Erestor is sent to find him, the Lord of Gondolin, and tracks him to a knot of soldiers. They are questioning him as Erestor moves into earshot. One leans in, calling, young and curious.
"The fire, it does not trouble you?"
Glorfindel blinks."The fire? Why might- Oh! For the manner of my death? No, strangely not at all. It never has done. The fire of him was quick, and I've greater memory of falling than of burning. Yet it has not left me a fear of heights either, much though it might be expected. " He trailed his hand quick and sure through the yellowest flame, the cool point of the fire.
An older elf, with browner hair: "Is the hero of Gondolin without fear, then?"
He laughs. "That would be folly! I fear the things any soldier must, with such odds and so many of Eregion's people to shepherd. But the great fears, that live inside a being and answer to no reason-" He teased the flamepoint again. "Then I will offer this, the smallest spider conjures in me imaginings of her largest kin, and I've little love of woodpiles for it!"
His questioner ducks his head in embarrassed amusement, but Glorfindel leans forward, smiling, eyes bright. "It is even worse in the dark!"
The campfire glows bright in the laughter of the elves around it, and Glorfindel seems to glow in echo.
Spider stories. An unexpected use for the light of Valinor. But true, Erestor would warrant, at least as far as the fear itself. An elf of Valinor, even only of Valinor following his re-embodiment, might have good reason to fear spiders- and darkness.
"My lord? Lord Elrond asks that you come."
Glorfindel bids his goodnights and withdraws from the circle, and Erestor sees that the laughter and ease his presence have created remain behind.
Celeborn's torso is bare beneath the heavy cloak he holds about his shoulders, and his posture evinces both strength and pain. Glorfindel is sent to the head of the low cot, Erestor to its foot. At Elrond's instruction, Celeborn folds his arms high across his chest, and settles where Glorfindel may hold him fast.
"Truly are you called golden-haired. It is a beauty and a brightness sorely welcome."
"My thanks! A compliment indeed from the namer of radiant garlands." A glance up at Elrond. "A moment." And with one hand he unbinds the cord keeping his hair in its high tail, and shakes it out so that it falls around them both in a curtain of fine gold waves. An amused look passes between patient and restrainer, not without a note of thanks. Glorfindel re-settles his grip about Celeborn, clasping his wrists. Celeborn leans back into that hold, into the spill of Glorfindel's glory.
Erestor holds Celeborn's legs, and turns his face to watch the lamp, staring until the flame dances behind his eyes even when he squeezes them shut. Beneath his hold, the muscles of Celeborn's thighs tense and strain, but he neither kicks nor cries out. Erestor guesses at Elrond's work by the catch of breath, the shift of cloth, the splash of water. The herbs Elrond is using overwhelm other smells, and Erestor is grateful for it.
At last comes the muted clatter of rags against the small basin, and Elrond's assurance that the wound is clear. Glorfindel murmurs something too low for Erestor to catch, and he can feel Celeborn's rich laugh through his hands.
He lets go, and steps back, several paces. From where he stands he can see the edge of one campfire through the thin gap in the tent fabric. He watches the shadows of elves pass in front of the fire. He feels Elrond behind him before he speaks.
"Thank you. You do your lord credit."
"He is not-"
"He said as much to me. He will not claim lordship over those from Eregion, not being their chosen leader, but he will lead them to safety, and do himself damage in the process?"
Erestor finally looks, and Lord Elrond's expression is open. No longer the distant, rescuing judgement of Lindon, Erestor sees only the amused frustration, and something almost of solidarity.
Elrond clasps his forearm, and the touch seems to break the tension in him, and the worst of it bleeds away.
Further off among the campfires, and low, someone is singing. On the cot, Lord Glorfindel's arm remains about Lord Celeborn's shoulders, and their heads are together, silver and gold. Lord Elrond's eyes are the deepest, warmest grey.
In the night outside, other voices rise to join the first.