It was one of those protracted winters. Too long for energetic tastes, too mild for the adventurous. The gardens lay in their dead-seeming slumber without complaint; the House itself grumbled only occasionally, of only the strongest winds. The river was merry enough, too quick to freeze, too busy to much care for its brief passage through Imladris.
The stores of wine, grain, cheese, and other foods showed no shortage, and the hunters who supplied the House throughout the year were returning from their expeditions with no lack of venison. The deer were having a good year, and so were the Elves of Imladris.
Yet for all this, it was winter. Outside was too disagreeable for those of any physical tenderness; inside, too flat for continuous residence. Always were the people walking the long halls of the place, eager for some exercise without the fight of the wind. The library had become a parlor, and the dining hall an all-day, all-night venue that never saw its doors close. Music and laughter, story telling and dance: there was surely no dearth of entertainments.
Despite the unending selection of tunes and tales, the slothful creep of the season and unvarying pursuits of the day were trying on the less patient of souls, especially among the young.
Elves of any antiquity, however, were accustomed to these ‘dawdling times’ as they were sometimes referred to. And long had they found a solution. When the work to be done did not fill the day, and the flow of wine and song ceased to engage, then it was time to break the monotony of eternity with a celebration. Of course.
In fact, the recent years, early in the Third Age, had revealed a distinct lack of any excitement, and to make up for this the Lord and Lady of the place had accustomed themselves to these parties, these fetes, these take-us-away-from-the-boredom festivities. Any excuse would do. An anniversary of note, a holy day, any excuse so long as it would suit the eve and uphold the flow of drink.
“What’s it to be this time?” Celebrian therefore asked her husband as they sat together in an empty room of the House, making lazy, drawling sorts of notes on bits of paper. What to eat. Who to fit into the grand dining hall. What to do drink and what to play. And what excuse, what need, this time, to celebrate.
Lowering his brows in a contemplative but not displeased frown, Elrond scoured his dull and restless mind. “How long has Glorfindel been with us?”
Somewhat taken aback, Celebrian set down her thin quill, smearing the paper, and sat up straight in the lounge chair. “Why I do not know, my Lord; was before my time. Just before the Alliance, was it not?”
“Yes . . .” Elrond agreed, thoughts following some unseen path.
“What are you thinking?”
“He never received a proper sort of welcome,” Elrond finally revealed. “Too caught up were we: the assemblage, the great muster of troops for an event greater than any of us.”
“And yet,” Celebrian observed with a small smile, “he is your Captain, your fine and upstanding Golden Elf.”
Elrond slowly nodded. “When he’s not making trouble, that’s true enough.”
“Trouble,” Celebrian repeated with a tinkling sort of laugh, a very pleasing sound. “You mean his flirtations? They are harmless enough, methinks. He uses his looks and his station to whatever advantage interests him, as does any Elf with any ambition on this earth.”
“You speak truth,” Elrond credited her. “I feel a sort of regret for his rushed and hurried entrance to our lives. He wasn’t there, and then he was, and rushed into the battle with the rest; we barely had time for hellos. But now, it seems little need for it; I do not think his ego needs support from such ostentatious displays of respect and honors . . . but the people like him, and it would please them, do you not think?”
“I think it would.”
“Let it be settled then. A celebration. In honor of Glorfindel.”
= = = = =
In such a close atmosphere as the Last Homely House in winter, it barely took any hours for word of the upcoming feast to reach every ear in the valley. It set a new life to the place, like fuel to a mellowing fire. Everyone had their own devices and drives. There were those obsessed with proper dress, who insisted on commissioning new raiment for the auspicious event. There were those who prided themselves on music, and so set at once to their instruments, composing original pieces to premiere at the evening. Others merely looked forward with excitement to the food, or the dancing, or anything-so-long-as-it-was-a-break-from-the-ordinary.
Also were the Elves considered to be closest to Glorfindel asked to write speeches.
This was a tradition in the Last Homely House that stretched back to its foundations over two thousand years before. At every party, every gathering, every banquet of every type, speeches were given.
It would go like this: the people would assemble in the grand dining hall. Before they even took their seats, someone would stand atop the high table to welcome them with wise and witty and friendly words. Then the guests would find their places while the minstrels played. As the wine was being served, someone -- usually Elrond -- would stand, and speak about whatever honor was to be acknowledged, and by the time he was finished, everyone would have their drinks and he would propose the first toast of the evening. Then the minstrels would play as the first course was brought from the kitchens by whichever youths whose names had been pulled. So the evening would cycle. Eat while there’s music. Between courses, a speech.
= = = = =
So too did such grand events need planning, of course.
Once Elrond and Celebrian had laid out the basis for the evening in various lists, these were handed over to the most competent Elf in the land, Elrond’s Chief Counselor.
Erestor took to the task without any of the shared excitement. He found such evenings to be a droll mockery of socialization, where no one acted as they truly felt because there was such pressure to be attractive and intelligent, and humorous if at all possible.
Erestor considered himself lucky to have one out of three.
But he was accustomed to such festivities and it was true that he handled some things that other Elves might not be able to. Most were too conscious of having some sort of grand success. Erestor’s idea of success where such events were concerned involved lack of fire, lack of broken glass, and lack of screaming children. He was not, in truth, difficult to please. And with such low standards, he was assured of success no less than half the time. At least nothing had ever caught on fire.
So, he spoke at length with the cooks about what sort of foods were most readily available for such a large affair, and what wines were best to serve with them. The Head of the Kitchens was an old maid who had been there as long as Erestor and who shared many of his personal opinions. Needless to say, they got on rather better with each other than with most, and there was never any distress between them. And once they’d had their first meeting, Erestor left her to her own devices, a detailed outline of the meal in hand.
Next to deal with would be the minstrels’ petitions. There would be more than could be accommodated on one eve; there always were. So, Erestor met with Master Lindir, who -- though he was filled with a great love of words and music -- was respectful of Erestor’s professional manner and dutifully helped to narrow down the list.
Erestor, though he grumbled, was actually more content than he appeared to be with these assignments, because it meant he was doing considerably more to keep himself busy than he had been. His only objection being that the affair, ultimately, served little purpose but to use up more food, candles, and wine than was needed. His common arguments of the possibility of winters turning bad later on in the year were never heeded, and he had nearly ceased them altogether.
This time, however, he was particularly disgruntled. ‘In Glorfindel’s Honor?’ he was heard to huff to himself in an outraged tone. ‘Bah.’ Some people willingly led themselves to believe that Erestor felt himself overlooked, jealous. That he had always envied Glorfindel’s favor among the court. Or that he was just naturally bad-tempered.
While the latter was admittedly true, Erestor in fact had no wish to be the center of a crowd’s attentions, and did not even attend the events unless Elrond specifically requested it of him.
Which the Half-Elf always did.
But he certainly was not happy with the prospects of this event, believing that Glorfindel’s head had swelled quite enough without any encouragements like a feast in his honor.
= = = = =
When the time came, everything went perfectly according to plan.
Erestor never faltered in such things.
Decorations, place settings, seating arrangements, food, drink: not a speck out of place, not a single feather ruffled.
The evening started with Elrond’s sons, grown but not yet old, standing upon the high table to welcome the hoard of ‘guests’ (as though none of them lived there anyway) with loud and witty (though unoriginal) salutations and backhanded compliments for the Elf of the hour.
If anyone noticed the marked agitation of the Chief Counselor standing at the rear of the crowd, no one said anything.
If anyone noticed how uncomfortable he was in his seat, not three chairs down from Glorfindel himself, no one said anything.
If anyone noticed that he was particularly short with his answers, no one accused him of irritability.
And if anyone noticed his steadily growing frown as the speechmakers of the evenings listed Glorfindel’s high praises, they turned away and said nothing.
Erestor could be like that.
In truth, Erestor was nearly blind with rage. Could none of them, NONE of them, see what Glorfindel was? Were they all truly so lost in their adoration of one so undeserving?
He was so intent on his thoughts that he nearly missed the crowd calling for another speech, as though this was the grandest entertainment they’d ever had. Erestor casually stood, his chair sliding carefully back. “I have something prepared,” he said coolly, pulling several papers from his pockets.
The people cheered. Truly, Erestor was greatly respected among them, and though his speeches were rare in such a public setting, they were greatly enjoyed, for his wit was surely the finest among any in the Valley.
He tried not to make a face at their chicken-like chirping and clucking. He forced a thin smile and turned to Glorfindel, holding up two papers. The crowd finally quieted for him. “Glorfindel,” he addressed the handsome Elf, all smiles this evening, “I must admit that in my preparations, I was overwhelmed and have here written two speeches, but could not decide upon one. So, you shall choose. The one in my left hand or the one in my right?”
Glorfindel laughed at this and turned to the assemblage at large. “What shall it be?” he asked them.
The people tittered, some whispering to their friends, others shouting out their preferences. Some shouted “Left!” while others voted “Right!”
Thinking to himself, Glorfindel reasoned that Erestor was a fairly logical person and did nothing without motive. According to old beliefs, the speech in his right hand would be the one associated with thought and precision. The one in his left hand would be associated with emotion and more intrinsic sorts of thoughts. Against his better judgment, Glorfindel told Erestor, “Let’s hear the Left!”
The crowd cheered, as though this were the most brilliant decision of the night.
Erestor faltered a moment, his smile cracking. He pocketed the extra speech and, with careful fingers, unfolded the other.
As he spoke, he tried to keep his voice free of emotion. It worked. At first. After that, his feelings were more noticeable in the low and scratchy tone of his voice, and he put out of his mind the audience’s reaction, occasionally looking to meet Glorfindel’s wide blue eyes.
“What ill-conceived notion of intimacy
Allowed of my senses this abduction
And let fall all walls to the intricacy
Of your clever and wicked seduction?
“Burning, lustful blue-black eyes,
The twist of golden tresses falling:
These charms alone invent not sighs,
Nor induce a traitorous body’s calling.
“Hot words of passion on the breeze
Or hastily scribbled scraps of paper
Never before have proved to please,
Have been found as firm as wintry vapor.
“But your pretty, bold persistence
Won over, at first, some measure of respect;
That, the catalyst to chip at my hard resistance
And give me pause, and inspire me to reflect.
“Soon following this bobbed a hope most buoyant
(A curse that, in future, I shall avoid)
But your attack was as strict as a Captain’s deployment
And won my favor, though I acted annoyed.
“Strove I as a bee for nectar-sweet honey
To earn thy false wooing words in ever greater number,
(Just as dark clouds hide that which is sunny)
Unknowing that waking, you’d charmed me to slumber.
“As sure as a potion brewed to perfection,
In mooning dotage, I bowed to this sleep;
Allured by myths of resurrection,
Flocking to your glow with all the rest of the sheep.
“Calmly I surrendered to thy spell
As a Beauty fated for the spindle;
One innocent touch and down I fell,
But with my flesh, you caught my heart in the swindle.
“Passion with ardor, and love with devotion,
All inundated with lust’s selfish longings;
Your instrument became my body; your toy, my emotion;
And I blind always to the crime of thy wrongings.
“For love blinds like a sickness,
Wounds like a sword
With impatient quickness
And leaves no reward.
“You had won what thy sought for,
Attained your set goal:
That body words fought for,
That used cage for my bruised soul.
“Unknowing, indifferent, that my heart was encumbered,
You took me as long as thy body would rouse
And I, dazed in my blind slumber,
I spoke of ‘forevers’; you answered, ‘for nows.’
“Just when reason had fled me
You chose to leave too,
Boasting you’d bed me
To only Eru.
“Deluged with the anguish of a lover betrayed,
Forever my spite and quick anger, you earn.
For this fatal knowledge, what wouldn’t I trade:
Alas, what you have not loved, you cannot spurn.
“Lie is too harsh a word for your fine craft;
No, never spoke of love, though I loved you;
I imagine you reveled, I imagine you laughed,
But now, I shall always be above you.
“Yet for all time your mark has burned me
Roiling inside are a thousand feelings all a’riot.
Unknowing in what direction you’ve turned me;
Within, hot as summer; without, winter’s quiet.
“Yet for all your swindling, your conman’s art,
I give thanks for thy instruction.
I have learned much from being apart.
I have learned much from your seduction.
“Having discarded prudence and killed all sense,
I once asked, ‘Again?’ You answered, ‘Never.’
That was how I learned the difference
Between ‘For now’ and ‘Forever.’”
When the barely reined voice suddenly dropped off into nothing, the silence all throughout the Hall rang loud as a waterfall in the congregation’s ears. Erestor’s hands fluttered a bit as he refolded the papers and laid them carefully upon the table. Then he looked up again, strong in what remained of his pride. He picked up knife and glass to clang them together as if calling for attention, though he already had it. He set down the utensil and lifted the goblet to the assembly. “Please stand and raise your glasses.”
No one did so. They were much too shocked to make any sort of reaction whatever.
“I’d like to propose a toast,” Erestor said, almost calmly, though with a flittering sort of anxiety marking the undertones of his voice. He turned to raise his glass in Glorfindel’s direction. “To Glorfindel,” he said, voice sturdy with honesty and rumbling with revulsion. “For teaching an already world-weary scholar so much. Your harsh instruction shall not be forgot any time soon, I promise you.” He drank down the wine and then turned, leaving the room to its silence, seeking out a more solitary quiet of his own.
= = = = =