Actions

Work Header

The Harad Expedition

Chapter Text

ENERVATE: (adj., verb) lacking physical, mental, or moral vigor.

 

 

Wind swept through the valley carrying with it salt from the southern seas and sulfur from the north, mingling to create that sharp metallic scent of home. It wasn't a valley, truly, for a valley had mountains and these were no mountains, nor where they quite hills. Rather, the plains were scattered with great, sprawling mounds of black rock jutting up from the sea of emerald moss and jewel-toned lichen.

Some were tall, sharp spires cutting into the sky. Others were long, low piles of boulders resembling sleeping beasts. On the largest crag there rose a great stone keep, looking for all the world as though it belonged there, having grown straight from the black precipice itself. 

Small feet pounded against the walkway, running with the carefree abandonment of childhood as the wind playfully whipped his hair about his face. He skidded to a halt in front of his favorite view point, elbows scraped against stone as he struggled to pull himself up to the top of the parapet. In a few more years, he would be tall enough to see over the wall without standing on the tips of his toes.

Beneath the soaring walls of Keep Himring the whole world spread out before him, from the sharp peaks of Mount Rerir to the dense forests of distant Doriath. Though the chill night air burned his lungs, it made him feel invigorated, alive.

To the north, flames flickered to life on the horizon.  

 

. . .

  

Erestor woke with the usual heavy weight of his memories sitting on his chest, making it hard for him to breath. By the time he convinced himself to get out of bed, he was already tired again. Sleep brought no rest – this was a bone-deep weariness that tugged at his limbs and seeped into his soul.

He was tired of the circling darkness, always cast out but never truly defeated. Erestor was old enough to have seen the darkness come creeping back time and again, regardless of the efforts of the free people of Middle Earth. It mattered not who ruled, whether they were just, wise, or ruthless. It was always the Darkness who took power in the end. 

He was tired of not having answers when others turned to him for wisdom. Erestor prided himself on his uncanny ability to simply know things, regardless of the situation. In the past his knowledge and council had kept him alive, now it secured his place in Elrond's household. What was he to do when others came to him asking why the Dark Lord had survived? Why had their efforts been in vain? Why, when Eru thought to cast down the nation of Numenor, had he not thought to also protect the peoples of Middle Earth by also casting down Sauron the Abhorred?

 In a more immediate, tangible sense, he was tired of Glorfindel. Erestor was tired of those three syllables—combined to make an astoundingly pretentious-sounding name—on the lips of every resident in Imladris. Why hadn't he scheduled Glorfindel to meet with the textiles guild when the day before he was seen consulting with the equine husbandry masters? If it took him so long to approve the coming year's crop rotation, why didn't he ask Glorfindel for assistance? Didn't he know the returned lord was an expert in horticulture? Did he know why the ancient lord was returned at all? Why him? Why just him?

Over a month had passed since they returned to the valley with the legendary balrog slayer in tow. During that time, Erestor had tried to squelch the rumbling dread in his chest, but it was proving difficult when he was reminded of the walking theological dilemma at every turn. If Glorfindel truly was the only one to be reborn, what did that mean for the other Noldor still in the Halls of Mandos? What did it mean for the Noldor who remained east of the Sundering Sea? When would the Valar's forgiveness come for them?

'No heed was given to our House's plight before the Darkening, no aid given in our times of torment, and there will be no mercy to come. We are alone in the world, except for one another.'

Erestor shuddered, harsh words uttered an age before ringing in his ear. Slowly, still reeling from memories of fire and ash carried on once familiar winds, he prepared for the day.

 

. . .

 

It was almost midday when Elrond's summons came. When Erestor arrived, he was unsurprised to find that heavy refreshments had already been laid out. No doubt the half-elf chose this time specifically so he could have an early lunch.

"You called for me, oh gracious Lord?" Erestor asked in mock reverence.

"Ah yes," said Elrond, looking up guiltily from the pile of pastries he had already begun inspecting. "Thank you for finally showing the respect we both know I deserve—though the effect would be better if you didn't ruin it by snorting while I speak, really, you sound like a congested donkey.

Erestor laughed at his old friend and snatched a savory pie on the way to his usual arm chair by the fire, a buoyancy he revealed to few but Elrond bubbling to the surface. He curled in the chair in a manner most undignified for the Chief Counsellor.

"Elrond, promise me that if you ever remodel your office, I can keep this chair." 

"Mellon, just have the carpenter build you a chair for your office," chuckled Elrond.

Erestor shook his head mournfully. "Wouldn't be the same."

"Very well, be dramatic," chastised Elrond. "So, how is my Chief Counsellor on this fine morning?"

"Exhausted. I fear 'fine' is in the eye of the beholder."

The shadows under his eyes and the tightness of his expression came into focus. Elrond frowned and rested a hand on his friend's forehead. "Have you eaten anything suspect? Angered anyone enough to hex you or tamper with your tea? Are you also chilled and listless?"

"I am not – Elrond do not shine that light in my eye! -- I am not poisoned or listless," Erestor hissed, swatting the hand away, "I am just not sleeping well."

 Elrond signed. "Have your dreams returned?" 

"I am fine, just restless is all," Erestor answered, avoiding Elrond's critical eye.

"Very well, I will make you a sleeping drought. I just wish you would talk to me about it."

Erestor glanced at his oldest friend guiltily. "Not that you ever cease to amaze me, but you are taking this impending war much better than I expected. Aren't you afraid?"

"Of course I am," replied Elrond softly. "This war will come, and by now there is nothing we can do to stop it, fretting won't change anything. Just remember—we have both survived worse."

Erestor nodded, unable to argue. "You are right, of course. It is just that every night when I close my eyes, I see fire, and ash, and the faces of those we have lost."

Elrond nodded. "I know, mellon. How about this: we make a promise to each other—and we both know that you and I take our promises seriously--that no matter how terrible the days ahead of us are, we will both survive to bicker over chess and brandy another day. This won't be the last war, it will just be another in a long line of battles during our otherwise dull lives."

Erestor looked at Elrond with his earnest blue eyes and soft smile, as though he truly believed everything would be alright again one day. Sometimes Erestor questioned their friendship, wondering whether a fea as mangled and tarnished as his should be allowed such a gift. Elrond had every right to hate him, yet Erestor wondered if he was even capable as such feelings. Selfishly, Erestor was grateful for this.

Pushing his guilt down, he smiled at the other. "Very well, El. It is a promise. You always did have all the answers, didn't you?"

Elrond grinned. "Sometimes the simplest of answers are the best. In the meantime, I have some business that will hopefully take your mind off your pessimistic brooding."

Erestor perked up. "Is this Imladris business or...?" he inquired, pausing hopefully.

"Other business."

"Excellent. So what is it this time? A mirror that deludes it's unfortunate user into thinking they have visions like the Lady Galadriel herself? Celebrimbor's personal smithery tools? I hear he hexed them to critique any poor soul who used them—himself excluded—in the disapproving tone of his grandfather. Imagine the insults those things could hurl!”

 Elrond couldn't help but chuckle. That sounded like Celebrimbor. "Nothing that… inventive. It's jewelry of some sort."

"A cursed amulet? A charm for luck? Nothing wrong with the classics."

"Not sure exactly, I just know that it is powerful."

"Not sure?" demanded Erestor. "What do you mean 'not sure?' You tell His Grace that he is losing his touch in his old age."

“You’re older than him!” exclaimed Elrond in.

“Barely.”

“Besides, this task does not come from the King.”

“Oh?” asked Erestor, interest piqued. “I didn’t think Círdan used his ring that often.”

“Not Círdan, Galadriel.”

“Hum…”

“Hum, indeed.” 

“Wait a minute, why didn’t she come to me herself? We lived side by side for hundreds of years before the city fell!”

“Maybe she didn’t want to talk to you…” Elrond drawled.

Erestor shrugged, not sure if he could argue. Most days, he didn't want to talk to himself either. 

"She didn't tell me any specifics," continued Elrond, "just that of late she has sensed a strong presence of elfin magic coming from the Bay of Umbar. I know this is not the first time we have had to reclaim artifacts of the ruins of Ost-in-Edhil from humans, but with the looming war the task is even more urgent" 

"I can gather a few supplies and be gone by morning, if that is your wish."

"Give it a day or two. Glorfindel will be coming with you."

Erestor froze, meat pie half way to his mouth. "I'm sorry, I think I misheard you," he replied, trying to pretend he hadn't just choked on flaky pie crust.

Elrond, who had survived the melodramatic ways of Maglor and would blink at nothing less than a convincing faked death, continued.

"Haven't you noticed? He has been melancholy. I fear that introducing him to the whole of Imladris so soon after his return has proven to be a bit overwhelming. This will do him good."

"He is melancholy because everyone he knew is dead," replied Erestor dispassionately. "Sending him out into the wilderness, crawling with orcs and other foul beasts, with only a cynical librarian for company is hardly a recipe for happiness."

"Glorfindel has expressed interest in wanting to see more of his new world. He's not some helpless child, Erestor, he is a formidable warrior."

"He is an unnaturally blonde  Vanya Lord who probably failed out of finishing school, took a wrong turn during the Age of Trees, and somehow found himself amongst Fingolfin's host in Beleriand."

 "I hope you are kind enough not to say that to his face. Besides, you might just find yourself grateful to have his sword at your side. Maybe it will do you both good," suggested Elrond gently.

"Don't do that," Erestor whispered, all levity vanished. "I am tired of you looking at me like I am one of your patients to be healed."

Elrond sighed. "That was not my intent. I can’t help it if hundreds of years of training are hard to suppress.”

“Well you better help it,” snapped Erestor. He tried hard to remain calm, but  there was a roaring in his ears that threatened to drown out Elrond’s voice and his own sanity. “Listen, El, we have known each other almost our whole lives— there are not many elves I can say that about—and it would kill me if I thought you considered me some delicate little soul to be protected. I am fully capable to looking after myself.”

“There is no judgement, Erestor, I just worry. You have lost much—I know this, I can relate on a very personal level, if you will remember—but it was different after Ost-in-Edhil. Eru, some mornings I thought I would wake to find you had thrown yourself into a fiery chasm or some such nonsense.”

Erestor shifted, uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was suddenly taking. “You worry yourself needlessly, Elrond,” he muttered, pouring them each a distracting cup of tea. “I recovered, and how could I not under your smothering care.”

“It has been over 1500 years. I have watched you toil by my side, working endlessly to ensure Imladris thrives, but rarely have I seen you partake in festivities nor do you go out of your way to endear yourself to the other inhabitants here. This is your home, give yourself permission to make a life here."

Erestor opened his mouth to protest, but was quickly silenced by Elrond. 

"No, I have had enough of your arguments," he admonished. "Glorfindel is going with you and that is final. Humor me and look out for him. Besides, I will rest easier knowing you have someone looking out for you as well."

"But Elrond, he annoys me," whined Erestor, already coming to terms with his defeat.

"Yes, as does harsh sunlight, raucous laughter, rain of the wrong intensity, and half of the elves in our acquaintance," snapped Elrond, utterly devoid of sympathy.

Erestor sighed. It was hard to be agitated when Elrond loomed over him, glaring in what surely would have been an imposing manner to another elf, looking for all the world like his father's son. Maglor also had a tendency toward oppressive concern for others.

"I suppose there is no use opposing you on this, is there?" he asked, resigned. 

Elrond smiled slightly, not entirely able to hide the smugness from his victory. "No, there is not. I wanted to give you the courtesy of discussing this with you first, but after lunch I intend to send for Glorfindel so we can begin planning your journey in earnest."

"Why is it you never ask of me small, simple favors?"

"Fine," grinned Elrond. "Do this for me; before the end of the day, I want you to learn something new about an elf you don't already consider a friend. Ask questions, get out of your shell."

Very well," Erestor muttered, "but you are going to regret that."

 Elrond chuckled. "You don't scare me, Res. For one, I'm taller. For another, I know you were terrified of chickens until well after your hundredth year."

Erestor responded by hurling a cream puff at Elrond's expensive robes, but this only succeeded in making the elf lord laugh harder. Outside, rain began to fall at an annoyingly moderate intensity.