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Fire and Flail

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The more time Glorfindel spent in Rivendell, the less repose he had.

The valley of Rivendell, with its steep paths allowing glimpses of mountains and cliffs, reminded him powerfully of his last days in Middle-earth. As the days passed and the season changed from summer to autumn, memory became all the more pressing. And his ease grew less.

On the night of a full harvest moon, Glorfindel was weary enough to lie down on his couch and try the paths of sleep. Elvish sleep cast the one who rested down into elvish memory, rememberance as crisp as living the events again. What made Glorfindel battle sleep like the returned shadow was that, against his will, the only memory that came to him since he had set foot in Rivendell’s evocative valley was a dark one. The more he suffered the memory, the more inescapable the dream of it became.

It was a dream of the last time Glorfindel had lived in Middle-earth, in the valley city of Gondolin. It inevitably dredged up the dream of his last hours there, enduring a terrible battle after the city’s destruction. In memory’s trance, he stood again on a perilous alpine path, guarding the rear of a company of refugees. He heard once more the bawling roar that heralded the attack, and felt anew the scorching gouts of Balrog-flame that made the fleeing folk of Gondolin shriek in new terror. He relived unsheathing his sword and flinging himself against the terrible demon, twice his height and four times his strength. Again he fought the awful, crude fight that ended with his blade sunk in the Balrog’s gut, and his sword-hand seared with the demon’s fiery blood. For a proud moment, Glorfindel shouted in victory as the Balrog toppled back. But, inevitably, he was caught by its flailing limbs and dragged into their fall, their fall, their fall….and their landing.

Glorfindel awakened in such horror that, at first, he thought himself perished once more. With his hand on his own chest, he soon realized that the ribs were not burst and bloody. He could – and did – rise, and feel each of his long, clean-muscled limbs, as strong and supple as they had been the day he had fallen. When the Valar rebodied an elvish spirit, they did well.

He had taken on his new body in Aman, and the fire of his good heart had burned so bright that, on learning his friend Olórin was returning to Middle-earth to fight evil, he asked to accompany the Maia. Olórin had allowed his disciple to escort him to the valley of Rivendell, and encouraged him to pledge his sword to Elrond’s aid. His unprecedented return, so tall and fair, had rather overshadowed Olórin in his humble form, even as it raised the hopes of Rivendell.

And it would all be useless, Glorfindel knew, if he could not conquer his spirit’s pain. How could he be a defending warrior if memory alone undid him?

Outside his window, the harvest moon rode low on the horizon. Its light, and the sound of laughter, drew Glorfindel to look down from his casement. There were a pair of elf-men on one of Rivendell’s gracious paved pathways. In an open space, they paused for a passionate embrace. Following a long kiss, one of them sent his hands down to the other’s croup. Even from his window, Glorfindel heard one of the two declare, "You will not deny me after that. If you do, you are wicked. I will hunt you down and punish you…" There was the sound of a teasing smack, a hand quickly slapping flesh. Both the fellows laughed. Then they were gone, one with a flash of silver hair, the other subtler and darker.

Witnessing the sensuous encounter, tinged with discipline, Glorfindel frowned at first. It seemed indulgences outside the Laws and Customs of the Eldar were still practiced here in Middle-earth. More, he had recognized one of the pair, though he did not know the sons of Elrond well enough to tell them apart at such a distance in the moonlight. He guessed that it was the merry one, Elrohir. It might have been Elladan, if he had had enough to drink – Glorfindel could not see Elladan behaving so loosely otherwise.

He softened as he thought more about the pair below. Perhaps they were improper. But this was not Aman, where there was healing for all sorrow. He knew that Elrond’s sons were both warriors. Maybe the one who was "indulging" was also gaining some consolation for darkness he had endured.

Feeling his braided hair damp with sweat after his nightmare, Glorfindel undid his locks and combed them. He did not feel that the consolation he had just witnessed was for him. But something else might be. There was, he knew, something between an indulgence and a torment done by the Elves of Middle-earth. Glorfindel had endured it once before; the rite of ansereg.

In ansereg, two elves of the same kind set themselves to a trial, one meting out pain for the other to endure as a warrior should. Ansereg could be strict and pure. It could also have a very sensual aftermath. It had been Glorfindel’s misfortune to experience a rite that made sensuality itself the torment, and he had not had reason to seek it out again. But running his hands through his hair in the starlight, thinking on what he had seen below, it came to Glorfindel that the Elves of Rivendell were sad and wise. Surely, they did the rite of ansereg at its finest and purest. Eager to find his strength again, and ashamed of his own failing, he thought he would make a discreet inquiry on the morrow.

Even after his near-sleepless night, Glorfindel was, dutifully, up at dawn. Olórin was leaving Rivendell that day to travel to Lórien, and Glorfindel wished to see him off.

"You leave so soon. Surely you do not feel unwelcome here?" Glorfindel asked, looking down at Olórin. He had only just gotten used to seeing his once-fair, noble mentor in the body of a wrinkled mortal greybeard.

Olórin donned the tall hat that he had acquired from a mortal peddler and shook his head. "It is autumn already, and I would get to Lorien before winter. It’s a season I’m sure you remember – and I will find out about. Elladan had a rhyme about it. "When ice is black and trees are bare, ‘tis evil in the Wilds to fare." Cheerful as he always is, that fellow. But a good sort." Very kindly, Olórin turned his blue eyes, narrowed between drooping brows and crows’ feet, to Glorfindel’s. The elf’s pure grey eyes carried the lightest shadows beneath them. In a low voice, Olórin said, "You are an Elf, one of the children of Illuvatar, and there are joys and sorrows with that. You are troubled, I can see; the old trouble again, I wager. Your own kind may help you as I could not. Sometimes one must return to where a wound was taken to find if it is truly healed – and to find its cure."

"For wounds of the mind, you mean," said Glorfindel.

"For wounds of the heart." They looked into each other’s eyes a moment more. Then the mentor released his student. "You are strong; I trust you to be well. I had long counsel with the Lord and Lady here last night. It ended with a game, the pair composing a name for me to wear here in Middle-earth. The next time you see me, name me Mithrandir!" So it was that they parted amidst laughter. Then Glorfindel took up the charge his mentor in rebirth had set him, to be well of his heart’s wound.

Standing in the stable-yard as Olórin – no, Mithrandir – rode off, Glorfindel considered how this might be done. He might, of course, face a Balrog again. But evil was as diminished as good in Middle-earth. There were no more Balrogs, not even any dragons, unless he abandoned his charge to defend Rivendell and went out questing. He was disturbed from his thought by a roar of laughter. One of the sons of Elrond, Elrohir, was calling after a silver-haired rider in the company going to Lorien. Their own ribald farewell made the stable-hands laugh and scandalized Glorfindel again, even as it showed which of the sons of Elrond had been at his sport last night.

It came to Glorfindel that, if Elrohir did not stand back from lust between elf-men, he might answer Glorfindel’s discreet query. Glorfindel gladdened at the thought. He was fond of Elrohir. The son of Elrond had not seen Glorfindel as a rival, but had greeted him like a long-lost brother, giving him the best horses to ride and being free with his mirth and song. Glorfindel considered it a shame that Elrohir’s twin, Elladan, was so different. Though no less gallant, in his way, Elladan’s mein was serious, even grim, reminding Glorfindel of another dark elf in his past.

Once the stable-hands quit chaffing Elrohir, Glorfindel walked over. "Well met, Elrohir. A merry morn after a merry night, it seems. If I may ask; though unwed, you are one for pleasures of the flesh?"

Elrohir smiled broadly in greeting, even as he patted a horse he was escorting to a stable. "I am guilty as noted, good Glorfindel. I do not know if you approve of that sort of thing." He turned around to face Glorfindel, his own face also betraying some weariness. His heavy-lidded eyes were sensuous rather than sad, and his smile took a rakish tilt. "Though with your fair face, I certainly hope you might!" "I follow the laws and customs of our people. But…I take it you engage in ansereg, then?" With Elrohir’s tastes, it seemed like a natural progression to Glorfindel.

To Glorfindel’s surprise, Elrohir became curt with him. "Oh. That. I don’t subscribe to it, myself. My courage is never in doubt," he said, with the untroubled brashness of one who had always conquered his foes. "I think ‘tis a waste of time and an excuse for dreams of cruelty and power."

Glorfindel liked Elrohir even better for this, though it made him ashamed of his own need. "I used to think the same myself. But I am deviled by …a fear. And all I try for healing, soothing draughts or calming thoughts, cannot aid my trouble. This fear, I must face again. If you cannot help me, are there any in Rivendell who might?"

Elrohir was silent for a long time. Finally, he growled, "You cannot do better than my brother."

Suddenly, Elladan’s disturbing intensity made sense. Elrohir saw the comprehension dawning on Glorfindel’s face and, mistaking it for a different set of thoughts, grew even sharper. "I can see you like that well – as you might. Well, you’re in luck. He is surpassing wise as well as fair. Honorable, too. But do not expect me to take you to him. Now that you know, I can see you will find him yourself, and directly." With that, he turned on his heel, flinging his loose brown braid over one shoulder, and left Glorfindel astonished.

Glorfindel stroked the disturbed horse Elrohir had left and murmured into her equine ear, "I wonder what that was about. Jealousy, and something else…" It was not unknown, for kin to be reluctant to surrender their kin into the arms of another. Apparently Elrohir had the same idea about ansereg that Glorfindel did – and had been open to finding Glorfindel desirable. But then, why recommend his brother? Perhaps, despite Elrohir’s evident reluctance, it might be true that Elladan was the best he would find there. Glorfindel went off to seek Elladan, thoroughly determined that any ansereg he engaged in should be chaste.

Glorfindel had spent some time with Elladan, though Elrond’s other son did not soften upon acquaintance. Two days after Glorfindel and Olórin arrived, it was Elladan who sat down with them for a discussion of the evil creatures known to roam. Glorfindel had felt himself a bit above that – nothing could compare to the Balrog he had slain or the dragons of eld – but took care to seem courteous. For he felt that Elladan’s sharp glance saw right through him and to his hidden fear. Olórin seemed to value Elladan’s sayings greatly, and spent much of his days in Rivendell in the company of Elladan and his father. Glorfindel wondered if it was not a further weakness in himself that he had not taken to Elrond’s other son. Now, added to this, there was Elrohir’s jealousy. It would be harder to talk with Elladan about this, but Glorfindel did not falter as he went to find him.

A few queries led him to Elladan’s study. He had never been in this room before, and glanced about when Elladan let him in. The morning light fell full on Elladan’s desk, reflecting off a great piece of golden parchment waiting there to be trimmed. After Elrohir’s jealousy, Glorfindel was more aware of Elladan’s appeal. He had the same handsome face as Elrohir, matched with a penetrating gaze. Elladan let him in with economic grace, his expression not changing from its austere reserve.

He stayed grave until Glorfindel, after a few pleasantries, said, "I have heard that you are wise in the ways of ansereg, here in Rivendell."

The words that had closed Elrohir off opened Elladan. He smiled lightly, and modestly lowered his head over the parchment, which reflected warm light over him. "Someone is kind. I engage in it, though there is, as with all lore, ever something new to learn."

Glorfindel took the plunge. "Myself, I seek a rite of ansereg. Can you help me?"

Elladan’s eyes darkened as he looked up. "Maybe, if I know what it is you seek."

The quiet, sunlit room recalled the time Glorfindel had spent in counsel with Olórin. As if his mentor’s presence lingered, Glorfindel unburdened himself. Elladan heard him out before he replied. "This is all well and good, save for one thing. It sounds like you need to kneel and face suffering. I myself prefer to kneel. I know who might aid you. I must warn you, though, that he honors his bond with his perished wife beyond any consolation." Elladan raised a dark eyebrow. "Do you understand me?"

"Most clearly." Glorfindel’s heart lifted. Not only would he find what he sought, he would do it without distancing Elrohir or having to cope with Elladan’s intense attentions. "Who is he?"

"You know him already; one of the seven loremasters here. His name is Erestor. Come, let us find him."

Erestor was in another study. Glorfindel stood quietly and allowed Elladan to explain the situation while he and Erestor took each other’s measure. Compared to Elrond’s handsome sons, Elrond’s senior loremaster was not especially alluring – indeed, not exceptional to look upon at all. Glorfindel looked deeper to see what this might mean. He perceived that, whereas Glorfindel’s young form housed his old spirit, Erestor had had no such renewal. He showed the wear and slight fading of three Ages in Middle-earth. Glorfindel stood before his peer in age, one whose keen-eyed expression combined good nature and sadness. This one would remember the battles and horrors of the War of the Jewels. He gave Elladan a side glance of increased respect for bringing him to this one who, Glorfindel felt, had a certain rightness about him. Someone like this, kind, experienced with the lore of old, and chaste, was the right one to help him. It felt almost destined.

Where Glorfindel saw their similarities, Erestor saw their differences. He eyed the splendid elf-lord up and down and said, "Your sorrow is grave and no mistake, my lord."

Startled at the reappearance of his honorific, Glorfindel protested, "You don’t need to call me that; merely Glorfindel is enough."

"You’re getting used to it here, I see! We stand on little ceremony, compared to the time we now call the War of the Jewels."

"Then I will ask you directly if you would master a rite of ansereg for me, as Elladan describes it."

With his mix of respect and informality, Erestor said, "I can but try. When’s good for you?"

Hungry for the healing that was within his grasp, Glorfindel said, "As soon as possible."

Remote with reminiscence for a moment, Erestor emerged to say, "The more things change, the more they stay the same. Are there any things you do not wish in the trial?" Seeing Glorfindel astonished to be asked, Erestor reassured him, "You want the trial for a reason. When this is so, I find it helps to know such things." Elladan, still standing by, nodded as if this was nothing out of the ordinary.

Glorfindel was taken aback by their shared mercy, even as it made a past memory of his more appalling. The one other time he had known what someone claimed was ansereg, it seemed he had been abused further than he knew. With that past in mind, Glorfindel said, "Nothing that’s drawn on, you know, a night and a day – not like that."

Erestor nodded. "Sensible. And?"

Glorfindel put some bluster into his voice as he said, "Leave my braid alone."

"That can be arranged. Is there more?" asked Erestor, smoothly.

Glorfindel looked away. "Nothing below my waist."

Erestor lifted one hand in a gesture that both distanced and reassured, saying, "You need fear not. Especially with me." Erestor paused. "All this notes what you would not have. Perhaps I can ask what you wish I would do?"

Glorfindel met his eyes directly, and his bright gaze was terrible. "Torment me with fire and flail."

Both Erestor and Elladan bowed their heads, silent before the terrible wish. Then Erestor described how it might be brought to pass.


 

The three elves nearly filled the chamber of ansereg at Rivendell. The chamber was small, a mere twelve feet about. Every wall of the octagonal room was covered in finely worked wood. In the four points of the compass, there were cupboards, each with a gracious lantern above them. Two benches balanced the space on each side, worn to smoothness after the passing of many watchers; Elladan was sitting on one of them. Across from the heavy oak door, there was a tall, narrow window, its milky white glass enhanced with a few insets of crimson crystal. Erestor stood before this window. The window was only slightly lit by the second night of the harvest moon outside, the crystal insets showing only the most subtle glint of blood-red. The chamber’s floor was an intricate, spiralling picked out in black and white tiles, with a delicate iron grill at its heart. A trailing pair of black iron chains were permanently fixed to the ceiling. Over time, the chains had scarred the central tiles of the floor. Glorfindel stood between these chains, shifting his bare feet on the silky, worn tiles.

Now that the hour for the rite had come, Glorfindel’s terrifying memory had retreated before a more immediate anxiety. He had not thought it possible to feel near to terror in the company of two who wished him well, yet he did. That morning, he had left both Erestor and Elladan after their negotiations. Erestor had warned Glorfindel to not eat overmuch and drink no wine until the rite was done. He had spent the day rambling Rivendell’s glades. As he walked, it came to him that much of his fear had been anticipating others thinking he was weak for his memory-suffering, yet none had. The three he had spoken to had not remarked upon it, and there had been a quiet mercy in it. At the appointed hour, he had gone to the remote chamber to find the one who would try him and the one who would guard him, waiting clad in black and silver. Glorfindel, lacking the distinct garb (and reluctant even now to wear the livery of a Son of Féanor), had settled for richness as his way to honor the rite, in a tunic with a cloth of gold panel in front. Entering the chamber, he had sensed the seriousness of what was to come, the somberness of a battle-healer’s tent mixed with the sanctity of a rite to the Valar. Before he removed his footgear and took up the chains, he noted strange items set to one side on the empty bench. Some of what he glimpsed was unknown and refined, while another part of it - a thick blanket, a wooden bucket of water, a healer’s kit – was both quotidian and troubling.

Glorfindel had been asked to take off the tunic he had chosen with such care. Then, he was given leather thongs to wind his braid into a club and fix it at the back of his neck. Despite this, Erestor surveyed Glorfindel and clicked his tongue. Gesturing at Glorfindel’s trim trousers, white and gold like the tunic, he said, "If those were darker, or less rich, I would let you keep them on. Lest they be spoiled, you should take them off, with what we have planned." These set aside, he was relieved that nothing was said about his linen loincloth. And so it was that he had come to stand between the chains, his feet in the smoothest spot in the room.

From the corner of his eye, Glorfindel saw Elladan move, and turned to see him drawing up his hood. Henceforth, he would say nothing unless there was a problem with the rite. Glorfindel turned back to see Erestor pausing for a moment’s meditation, his stance stiffer and sterner. Remembering what he had been told, Glorfindel’s clear voice broke the silence. "I am ready to begin the rite."

Erestor bowed his head in acknowledgement. Then, he walked a circle around Glorfindel three times. "The circle is marked, a watcher awaits, and the rite begins," he declared. "All here are bound by the laws of ansereg. Whatever comes to pass, keep your hands upon the chains, to show that you can bear what is meted out to you. Is it understood?"

Though he was stripped of all his clothes, the strict propriety they were observing made Glorfindel feel shielded. "It is. My lord," he said, surrendering to the hour.

Erestor accepted this with a curt nod. "Then stand tall. Gaze straight ahead. Clasp the chains high. Fire you wanted; fire you shall receive." This gentle command troubled Glorfindel instantly, for Erestor moved to the items waiting on the side and busied himself. It was maddening to listen to him shift and open things, but Glorfindel did not shift his gaze from the window of milk and crimson glass.

From Erestor’s side, the query came: "Were you burned before? When you fought the Balrog to your death?"

"Yes." As he said it, Glorfindel realized it was the first time he had admitted this directly, aloud.

"Terrible, is it not? Makes you want to shriek," Erestor said, even as he reached out to touch Glorfindel’s arm. Feeling wetness slide along his arm’s skin, Glorfindel assumed that Erestor was putting water on him to keep him from being burned by a torch or some such.

He heard Erestor take another item. Almost directly in his ear, Erestor said, "When you were burned, was it like this?" Glorfindel half-turned to see Erestor holding a small taper. Before he could protest that no, the Balrog’s fire had been incalculably greater, Erestor held the taper’s flame near Glorfindel’s arm – and the clear wetness on his skin caught. Orange light danced on his skin. He was afire!

With a shout of alarm, he released the chain with that hand. "Keep hold," Erestor admonished him. The flame went out of its own accord even as he spoke.

Glorfindel stared at his own arm in shock. From the smell in the air, he now knew that the clear liquid had not been water, but potent spirits, which had burst into dancing flame for a few seconds. Fine hairs he did not know he had were incinerated; the skin that had carried the fire was pinkly alive; and yet…

For a second time, Glorfindel took up the chain. His lordliness returning, he made a gesture with his chin, as if to say; Continue. Erestor did.

What followed was a torment like an improbable dream. With thousands of years of art at his disposal, Erestor sent strokes of fire down Glorfindel’s other arm, along his chest and sides, even running down his back. It was terrible, to feel the flare and the panic, see the light, be brushed so briefly by the heat – yet it could be borne. Glorfindel inhaled the smell of fire deeply, then opened his eyes to see the wonder of it, the fire that pained without damaging.

When Glorfindel could take it without flinching, Erestor glanced at Elladan, who gestured mysteriously. Erestor took up the flask of spirit and laved Glorfindel’s entire chest. He felt this layer of spirit going on more heavily, not half-evaporating as the strokes along his arms and sides had, catching in the lines of his muscles. Erestor did not command him to keep his eyes open; he forced himself to watch as the treacherous taper’s flame brushed the fumes in the air a finger’s breadth above his dampened skin. In an instant, his whole front was veiled in flame, for an instant. He cried out. It was as if a plate of blazing armor had been pressed against him, branding him for an instant. The pain continued after the fires danced extinct, the points of his chest near-screaming, each muscle-groove throbbing. Glorfindel sank to his knees with a groan, skin pulsing with retained heat, yet still clasping the chains.

Reeling, Glorfindel looked up at Erestor, hardly aware of him as a person, more as a force, dark, tall, and noble. Halving his own height by kneeling almost made Erestor seem as tall as the Balrog had been. Yet he had endured. Erestor turned to the side once more, and Glorfindel staggered up, ready to endure more.

Erestor shocked him out of his exalted state very simply, dashing him with the bucket of cold water. After the flames, it felt like ice. Glorfindel yelped and writhed. The cold confused him and made him feel scorched anew, then the water quenched his skin’s pulsing.

Gasping, Glorfindel opened his eyes and met Erestor’s glance. Erestor had stripped him, tormented him with secret fire – and now had a twinkle in his eye after drenching him and seeing him doubly shocked. For an instant, he teetered between outraged pride and the beginnings of humor. When he relented, Erestor smiled fully, and they laughed together for a long moment.

When Erestor could speak again, he told Glorfindel, "Breathe, that’s it. Did you expect that?"

"I thought, torches, threats, hot iron – not candles and buckets!" They laughed more, until Glorfindel added, "And alchemy, too. I did not think I could burn and live."

Erestor’s eyes still sparkled, but he compressed his mouth. "There’s something else for you to live through yet." Quiet as a shadow, Elladan had taken the bucket away and given Erestor something else. Now, Erestor shook out his wrist with a snap. Once he had Glorfindel’s attention, he held something up that made Glorfindel feel fear anew, even as he realized that he had not been the only one to compare a Balrog’s torments to ansereg.

Erestor held the perfect miniature of a Balrog’s flail. It was worked in black leather braided with strands of red and orange, each braid-strand narrowing. Each strand was as long as Erestor’s arm. Erestor whirled it once and snapped it; the flail seemed an arc of dark flame as it span swiftly.

"Fire and flail?" Erestor asked.

Still off balance, Glorfindel inhaled. "Fire and flail. My lord." And bowed his head to what was to come.

Later it came to Glorfindel that there was no good order for what he had requested. Had the flail come first, he would have screamed in triple agony under the flames. As it was, having suffered the fire first, his hide was shrieking with sensitivity. The flail dashed the water from Glorfindel’s skin, and its cables thickened like cruel snakes from the touch of moisture.

Beneath the snaking strikes, Glorfindel shouted aloud in agony, as he had not dared in the fight where he had surrendered his life. Beneath the lash, he roared out his pain, his defiance, finally his deep-buried anger at the life that had been wrested from him, the fair city that had been lost, the brothers in arms and ladies fair who had fallen. As they had fallen, after his cries, so too fell his tears, freed in their turn by the agony. He clenched the chains as if he had melted against them and poured out his surpressed anguish in a terrible cry. Without thinking, he uttered the battle-cry of despairing Húrin; Aurë entuluva!

"Day shall come again," murmured Erestor, translating the phrase. "The trial is borne."

Slowly, Glorfindel unclenched the chains. He lowered his arms to see the shapes of the links pressed into his palms, red and white against the flesh where he had clasped the metal, and a few lines of the flail that had curled around to blaze against his arm. This, too, he had endured. His heart soared, as if he had stepped off a cliff and found himself flying, instead of falling. Overwhelmed, he reached out and embraced Erestor.

Erestor, shocked himself at the embrace, returned it stiffly and said, just above the taller elf’s shoulder, "It was all you; all your courage."

"Truly splendid," said Elladan, who had been a silent shadow for the proceedings. He stood and placed a hand on Erestor’s shoulder. Seeing Glorfindel’s giddiness, he said, "I shall be his esquire, to tend him and clothe him, unless you would."

The two black-clad elves exchanged a glance that was too quick for Glorfindel to read it. Erestor put some heartiness into his voice as he said, "Very good. Take fine care of him as he will have it. Salve him with this, will you?" Erestor handed Elladan a jar. Addressing Glorfindel, he said, "Between that and your warrior’s stamina, you won’t have a mark on you in the morning. Those little arm hairs take a week or two to grow back, though. Not having had a drenching myself, I am off to the bath-house." He met Glorfindel’s eyes, with the same nervousness he had shown at the start of their negotiations. "Will I see you at the morning table?"

Glorfindel did not know how bright his own smile was as he said serenely, "Indeed, friend. And a thousand thanks." With that, he left.

Somewhat bewildered, Glorfindel turned to Elladan, who had taken off his black cloak. "Did I say something wrong, to make him so shy of me?"

Elladan said, "Say rather that you are nearly too right. You bore it all so well, and the way you look…you are almost shining. Beautiful and terrible. I think it is a little much for him. It almost is for me." Elladan reached up and undid the thongs holding Glorfindel’s braid wound tight. The cable of hair tumbled down to the small of his back, so that Glorfindel flinched. "Untouched, as you asked."

Glorfindel was reeling so much that he hardly noticed when Elladan proffered a fresh loincloth for him to don, then helped him into breeches and boots again. This done, Elladan slicked salve over all the pinkened skin above Glorfindel’s waist. The cool, creamy ointment was deliciously soothing, so much so that Glorfindel forgot that he was still being touched, by another man, with the hour of ansereg done.

Elladan laved Glorfindel until his hand began to tremble. Lifting his hand, he said, "Take a moment to let your skin absorb the salve before you put this fine tunic on. While we wait…" Glorfindel realized of a sudden that Elladan had not moved away. He was still in place, a hand’s length away, close enough that Glorfindel could feel his uneven breathing. "Do you want anything?"

All Glorfindel’s unease about ansereg returned to him in a rush. He whirled about and said, unaware of his force, "Did you and he plot to undo me? Soften me with fire and flail, then cast me in your lap?"

Elladan stepped back, looking riven. "Never! I did not say aught to Erestor – how could I? I knew you were fair, I am not blind, but I never desired you until I saw what you endured. I would be honored to please you for naught in return, to have the memory of it."

Glorfindel looked at him fully. In the low lamplight, Elladan’s eyes were the darkest grey, and his hair was nearly black against his fair skin. In that honest hour, it hit him like the Balrog’s flail anew why he had shied from Elladan. Elladan was, through Elrond, the distant kin of a far less heroic elf. His serious, dark nature hearkened back to the one Glorfindel had known called Maeglin. As Olórin’s pupil, he could see far into someone. And, as he had once seen an abyss of ferocity in Maeglin’s eyes, there was something more in Elladan’s.

Elladan showed himself far better than his past kinsman. Gripped by desire, he kept enough mastery of himself to draw back before Glorfindel’s silence and say, "If not, here is your tunic, and I shall go."

His anger melted before this. Glorfindel asked, gently, "Why do you offer me this, when you love another? I cannot perceive who it is. But it burns in you, as if you were wedded."

Elladan looked down, undone by Glorfindel’s dazzling, deep-seeing gaze. "I love one who I can never have. Perhaps, in the arms of one I might have, I will be freed, if I venture it."

Glorfindel was moved by Elladan’s gentle acceptance to move beyond his heavy fate, something Maeglin had never been strong enough to do; moved enough to stand on the brink of what had been unthinkable at the rite’s beginning. What Glorfindel contemplated was not what he would normally have done. But he had been set on fire without a singe, had shrieked and bled and stood up with his strength renewed; other impossibilities seemed called for. And he thought how, through the gentle, virile desire before him, another dark memory might be redeemed and expunged.

"As for me…I am no wanton. But…seeing how serious you are…if you can accept that it would be for once only. For the memory, as you would have it, as well."

Elladan’s reply was to give Glorfindel something he had never received from another male, a deep kiss. Coming together, it was as if they submitted to each other. Glorfindel drank Elladan’s sorrow; in turn, he felt the loremaster’s silver tongue searching out his own pain. Gently, Elladan pressed the black velvet of his torso against Glorfindel’s sensitized body, giving a new sensuous pleasure, as an extension of all the sensation before.

Having no idea how to proceed, Glorfindel murmured, "What did you think of, when you asked to serve me?"

Elladan fell to his knees and pressed his warm face against the white silk at Glorfindel’s loins. "The glimpse I had of your manhood, seeing it through the wet linen of your loincloth. With my mouth, I would give you release. Others have told me I am surpassing at that. You would be well pleased."

Glorfindel reached down to try and draw Elladan up again. "Ai, son of Elrond, that is too much. You should not lower yourself like that. Is there a more honorable way to do it? Something less humiliating than you lowering yourself to serve the privates of the one who was flailed?"

Elladan glanced up, grey eyes dilated with excitement, and writhed for an instant as if Glorfindel’s words gave him a pain he treasured. "Yea, it is humbling. But it makes me want it all the more, when you speak of it like that."

Marvelling at this, Glorfindel asked, "Do you like doing it?"

"If you sit here, away from the last of the water, I will show you how much!" In a trice, he was sitting widely on the bench where Elladan had watched him. The laces that Elladan had fastened tight, he now undid again. Elladan’s hand, still smooth from the salve, unfolded the loincloth and drew out his most private parts, stroking his phallus as gently as if it was a fruit that might bruise. It was all as astonishing to Glorfindel as the rite of ansereg had been, yet linked in its intimacy, and no part of it more so that seeing Elladan’s dark head bend low to take him in.

From that moment, Glorfindel only stopped Elladan from doing one thing. He reached down to shift Elladan’s hand away when it strayed too far back for his comfort. Elladan moved away obligingly, even as he dipped his head lower, taking Glorfindel in so deep that his lips brushed the golden mat of hair where phallus met loins. Glorfindel closed his eyes, feeling his hips sliding to meet Elladan’s warm, rhythmic suckling. Where Elladan’s skin brushed his, he could feel his heat, and he found himself breathing in time with Elladan’s lusty gasps.

Soon, Glorfindel felt his peak building terribly, like a waiting stab of lightning. He felt he could not, could not shame Elladan that deeply, however hungrily he knelt. "Draw back, I must spend," he gasped. Artful Elladan slid his hand as a sleeve around Glorfindel’s rod as he took his mouth away. It only took three firm strokes to make Glorfindel spill.

After he quit seeing stars, Glorfindel leaned up straight, feeling Elladan stroke his rod clean with the discarded loincloth. His head clearing, he felt that his years, and the grace they brought him, were fully his once more. His trousers laced again, he knelt to the floor beside Elladan and embraced him. "Thank you. You have set me more free than you know. The only other time I thought I engaged in ansereg, it was with one—" Glorfindel said nothing about who, not wishing to shame Elladan, "who, in the rite, forced me to meet his lusts. And they were vile, dark as his heart. Now, I can set him as naught, as well as the Balrog."

Still holding Glorfindel’s shoulders, Elladan leaned back and gazed on him in wonder. "And you have done me more honor than I imagined. Forgive me! I had heard rumors of such ill-use of ansereg, but I never thought such a thing could happen to an Elf of Aman."

"I was not of Aman, then; I was as I am now – of Middle-earth." Glorfindel placed his hand on the edge of the bench and swayed up. "And here I will remain, for a time." He leaned, of a sudden, on the wall.

"Are you all right?" Elladan asked, springing up to aid him.

Glorfindel was smiling. "I am tired – tired as I have not been since I landed on these shores. And, ai, it is good." With his limbs loose and free in relaxed weariness, he turned and, himself, took the initiative for a long kiss of parting.

That night, Glorfindel slept fearlessly.

His rest was profound. He arose with the dawn. Early, he walked through Rivendell’s valley, head high and proud, singing quietly. Coming across another of Rivendell’s endemic trysting couples returning from some arbor of hidden lust, he gave the blushing pair a warm good-morning. The trees were aflame with gold and crimson leaves, and the cold air carried the water-scent of cool mist and dew.

Able to concentrate, he saw how easy it would be to defend the well-sited buildings, and how worthy the Homely House was of such defense. He strode about the House, even to its outlying workshops and smithies. A kiln was already burning; soon artisans would be at work.

Glorfindel paused in front of the kiln. Behind the kiln’s mouth, a bright fire burned hot enough to make a dull roaring noise.

Even gazing into the heart of the fire, he was at peace.