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The Harad Expedition

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HIRAETH: (noun) A homesickness for a home you can't return to, or that never was.

 

There had been a great many missteps in the weavings of Arda’s history. Bringing the elves over the sea to Valinor was widely regarded as a mistake, and the return of a doomed few to the lands of their ancestors was an even greater one. The idea that any elf would journey across the Sundering Sea yet again, defying death to do so, must be the height of folly.

. . .

It would be highly inappropriate for the King of Arda, Highest Amongst the Valar, to play favorites. That is why when he bestowed upon the Vanyar his gifts of music and poetry, it was not preferential treatment, it was simply his duty to pass along these talents

Now with these gifts, which were in no way proof of favoritism, it reasonably followed that the Vanyar also had a prodigious vocabulary. This wasn’t the Noldor’s vocabulary, with a hundred or more specific terms to describe the color, clarity, and composition of a gem or for orderly designations to classify the world around them. These were beautiful, flowing words that painted masterpieces with the pen and captured the feelings of the elfin soul.

There was one such word that described the subtle and elusive feeling of a homesickness for a home that you could never return to, or maybe was never your home at all. Glorfindel felt this way now.

To the Vanyar, homesickness was more of a wistful longing for a past self, for a younger, more care-free time. The Vanyar has never truly lost a home to mourn. They had followed Orome to Valinor with their whole heart, and never looked back.

Glorfindel had, of course, lost his home. He had lost his home in the most spectacular and public of fashions. Multiple times. He always had been a terrible Vanyar, he supposed.

One would think life after rebirth would be colorful, yet it seemed to Glorfindel he was still trapped in the fogs of Mandos. He stood alone in the center of the grand council hall, kneeling now before a new king.

Everything was new now, from the languages to the lay of the land. Gone were the ornate armors and rich velvets of Beleriand’s Noldor. Instead, unknown lords of a new age draped in light, gauzy robes gazed down at him from around the room. Their expressions ranged from awestruck to incredulous, a few bordering on hostile. All were equally uncomfortable for Glorfindel.

“Glorfindel of Gondolin, you say?” echoed the new king - well, perhaps not so new anymore.

“Yes, your Grace,” stuttered Glorfindel, never before feeling such pressure to be himself.

The tension in the room was smothering. “He would not be the first fair face claiming to be an emissary from the West,” murmured one lord nervously. A rumble of agreement swept the room, and Glorfindel began to worry he was loosing his identity battle.

“Nay, I can vouch for this ellon,” came a voice from the back, “but as for why he is standing before us now, I am as much in the dark as you.”

“Galdor!” Glorfindel’s eyes lit with hope, clinging to the familiarity of his old friend like and anchor. His gaze flitted back and forth between his old friend and the king as he steeled himself to deliver the lines he practiced at nauseam during the journey East. “It is by the grace of the Valar that I stand before you now. It would seem that they are not ready to let me rest quite yet.”

“By the grace of the Valar?” demanded another lord incredulously, fixing Glorfindel with a piercing gaze. “What grace have the Valar ever shown the dispossessed and those born free of their rule? Tell me, in their infinite wisdom, why have the Valar deigned to send you back to us?”

Glorfindel was taken back by the venom in the other's voice. “I cannot tell you why it was I who was sent back, for that I do not know, but I can tell you for what purpose I stand before you now. The Valar have given me a great gift in this second life, but I fear in exchange I come before you now bearing dark tidings. Sauron has returned. He sits now on his throne in Mordor gathering old allies back to his side.”

“You are mistaken,” declared another. Elrond—Glorfindel realized—for he would recognize Eärendil’s son anywhere even had the Valar not told him of the boy’s place at the King’s right hand. “Sauron was destroyed in the Fall of Númenor, one of the few blessings that came about from the destruction of my brother’s kingdom.”

“Elrond, son of Eärendil,” Glorfindel addressed him, reveling in the kind gaze so reminiscent of his father, his grandmother, “I am truly sorry, both for your loss and for the message I bring, but it is you who is mistaken. Sauron is very much alive, and is once again turning his gaze toward dominion over Middle Earth.”

“This is grave news indeed. Disastrous, even, had we not been forwarded,” mused the king.

“And what aid are the Valar prepared to send to dispose of one of their own who seeks to enslave the children of Eru on Middle Earth?” asked the sharp-eyed elf who had questioned him earlier.

Glorfindel stared blankly, unsure how to answer. He, too, had questioned the Valar’s wisdom in sending just him back, but that did not mean he was ready to admit it aloud to an audience.

“How many forces will they be sending? What other elves have been reborn? Surely you cannot be the only one who desired to return to Middle Earth,” the elf pressed.

“That is enough,” demanded the king. Annoyance flickered across the king’s face as his antagonist turned Elrond for confirmation. Elrond raised a hand, silencing his agitated companion.

"It would appear that we are, again, alone,” Elrond concluded. A flicker of emotion passed between the two, some ulterior message in his words meant just for knowing ears. "Friends," Elrond said, rising to address the small council, "the Valar, in their, ah, grace, have thought to warn us of this new threat, but it will fall to us to fight for this land that we will not abandon."

From the king's other side, another advisor nodded in agreement - Cirdan, Glorfindel recognized, from reputation if not personal acquaintance. When the shipwright spoke, his voice was soft, but carried a commanding lure that Glorfindel felt himself gravitating toward. Glorfindel noticed with interest the gleam of a large, red, gem worn on his ring finger.

"It will take all of our strength, all of our courage, and likely old alliances and new for us to make a stand. I have marched on the Gates of Hell before, I shall do it again. To the jaws of death I shall charge with our king, hopefully but likely not for the last time, for I still believe in the power of the Eldar. I hold hope, who is with me?"

Rumbles of assent vibrated throughout the room, accompanied by a few more enthusiastic shouts of 'for the glory of the High King.' Gil-Galad smiled, nodding at the display of deference. "We will need to send diplomats to the far realms of elves and men. I am hesitant to invite these leaders to our capitol for fear of Sauron realizing we are gathering powers to plot against him. Best not to show our hand so soon. Cirdan, you will send emissaries to Oropher in the Greenwood. Hopefully he will be reminded of your distant kinship to his former king and more inclined to listen."

Cirdan nodded. "That would be for the best, your Grace."

The king turned then to Elrond's agitated companion but, seeming to think better of it, then turned to an elleth at the far end of the room. "Narien, you will seek King Amdir along with Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel in the Golden Wood."

"I will leave at first light, your Grace," replied Narien, taking her leave of the small council room.

Gil-Galad tasked Galdor with assembling a team of ambassadors to send to the Kingdoms of Men, after which many of the other advisors filtered out of the chamber. Glorfindel stayed. Having never been given a chair, he shuffled awkwardly from foot to foot. Elrond had stayed as well, accompanied by his grumpy shadow.

"You would not have been wrong to trust me to take this message to Galadriel. We were friends once, you know," the other elf accused, not quite meeting the king's eye.

"Oh?" asked Gil-Galad, some of his formality melting away in the empty chamber. "What was it you once called her? A second-rate witch with a Sindar-kink hiding her rotten-heart behind a tarnished, fool's gold façade?"

Glorfindel's eyes widened, half expecting Finwe's granddaughter to materialize in the small chamber to strike down the two elves who dared speak of her thusly. The others did not seem half as worried.

"Well, we always did have an odd relationship. Besides, if I recall correctly I was bereaved when I said that and grief always did bring out the worst in me."

"Everything brings out the worst in you, Erestor," admonished Elrond. The other elf - Erestor - shrugged and smiled conspiratorially at his friend.

"Besides," Gil-Galad continued, "It is Amdir we need to convince. Given old alliances, I think we can agree that a refugee of Nargothrond would make the better representative than the alternative."

For once, Erestor did not have a snappish response, allowing Gil-Galad to continue. "There is something else," he said tentatively, turning toward Elrond. The other had been standing at the window, arms folded, gazing down at the bay below. Glorfindel wondered if his mother used to stand thusly in her tower, eyes searching for signs of Earendil on the horizon. Glorfindel had not been given a full account of history after his death, but he knew enough to know that young Earendil and his wife had not led a life free of heartbreak and strife.

Gil-Galad clasped Elrond's elbow, turning the other elf to face him. Glorfindel stiffened at that casual touch, feeling oddly protective of his princess' progeny. Across the room, Glorfindel noticed Erestor's eyes narrow at the touch as well. It struck Glorfindel that where Elrond went, Erestor seemed to follow with sharp eyes and sharp tongue. He wondered how much that irritated the High King.

"I want you and your people to return to the capitol," Gil-Galad demanded.

"What?" exclaimed Elrond. If he had been expecting anything to come from this conversation, the king's request clearly was not it. "You can't be serious, Gil!"

"Imladris is too remote to be defensible. I want you here, where it is safe."

"Imladris is more important than ever," argued Elrond. "There is strategic value in not having all of our power in one place. Furthermore, I am closer to Moria and Lothlorien."

"Moria has closed it's gates to us since - well, since long ago - and the road to Lothlorien is not an easy one. What if Sauron were to come upon your canyon and cut Imladris off from the remainder of the realm."

"That depends," said Erestor spitefully, "would you send your armies to Elrond's aid, or only one small company?"

"I would never send my full army forth and leave the city open to attack, regardless of the circumstances," replied Gil-Galad coolly. "Furthermore, if Sauron was marching on Imladris and you had knowledge of the threat, I would expect Elrond to notify me or retreat. Preferably both.”

Glorfindel watched the exchange with curiosity. Animosity simmered in the air between the king and Elrond's advisor, both ready to snap.

Elrond sighed and took Gil-Galad's hand to cradle it in his own. "I appreciate your concern, but I am not leaving my home. Imladris is important, Gil. I can feel it."

The king opened his mouth, but Elrond quickly cut off the protest.

“It’s not worth your time to argue, Gil.”

"Very well," sighed the king, "in that case, Lord Glorfindel will accompany you."

Glorfindel started, until that point not entirely sure that the others remembered him.

Elrond turned then to Glorfindel. "Would that be amenable to you?" he asked with that kind smile that conjured memories of childish laughter and willow whistles in a far-away home where celandine bloomed on sharp, snow-covered peaks.

"I admit,” he continued “I am overwhelmed, perhaps even shy, upon coming face to face with a hero from my childhood. Though I was raised on tales of your deeds and the sacrifice you made for my family, now that you stand before me I cannot conjure the right words to thank you or to welcome you."

"Very amenable," replied Glorfindel, blushing, "and no words of thanks are necessary. Seeing with my own eyes that your father survived and started a family of his own is reward beyond what I could ever imagine."

"It is settled then," grinned Elrond, appearing younger than his years. "To Imladris we will go, the last homely house east of the sea, and what excitement will follow in our wake I am eager to see!"

Glorfindel smiled, finding his new lord’s joy infectious. What excitement indeed?

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.

Chapter Text

MONACHOPSIS: (noun) the subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place.

 

 

 

It was a lovely afternoon. The sun hung lazily in the sky, a gentle breeze swept through the valley bringing with it the first scent of rain, and Lord Glorfindel of the House of the Golden Flower was most definitely not hiding behind an overgrown tangle of Wisteria in the garden. 

If one cared to look, they would have found the reborn lord curled on a long-forgotten marble bench made soft with moss, cloak and scarf pulled up around his ears and book in hand. Creeping branches intertwined to form a sequestered alcove, only letting the most determined rays of light through their leaves. This had been his sanctuary since first stepping foot in Imladris. 

Glorfindel smiled, recalling his new lord's  near-childlike excitement upon introducing him to his new home.

 

. . . . .

 

"Just one more bend in the canyon, then you will have your first glimpse of the valley, Lord Glorfindel!"

The party had been traveling for weeks after leaving Lindon, but no matter how long it had been or how many times he had asked his new lord, Elrond had yet to drop his former title. Glorfindel cringed, but the excited grin on Elrond's face softened Glorfindel's rebuke.

"I can hardly wait, my Lord. I must say, this canyon brings to mind the hidden tunnels to Gondolin. I have no doubt the view at the end will be just as breathtaking."  

Glorfindel was rewarded with a warm smile that could almost be Idril's if he glanced from the corner of his eye.

"You may find Imladris to be somewhat more welcoming, and certainly more open," replied Erestor, not bothering to look at Glorfindel. 

Upon learning you will be living and working closely together, one may feel the desire to endear yourself to this new acquaintance. Glorfindel certainly did and as such had quickly befriended Elrond, not to mention many of the guards. Erestor, it appeared, did not share this desire. Luckily, an upbringing during the darkening of Valinor had taught Glorfindel to smile through anything.  

"I am hoping so. Believe it or not, I never found much time to travel between fighting Morgoth and living in a secluded city. Funny, right?" Erestor's blank look suggested that he did not, in fact, find it funny.  

"After we are able to raise the military, perhaps we can schedule joint training with Lothlorien. It is one of the most beautiful places in Middle Earth, after Imladris of course," suggested Elrond.  

Glorfindel laughed and shook his head. "Not that you are biased, though."  

"Nooo, never," replied Elrond seriously. Erestor rolled his eyes, but this only caused the two lords to laugh harder.  

Glorfindel's laugh caught in his throat as the small party finally exited the narrow canyon. He shaded his eyes as the few sharp rays of sunlight that filtered in through the winding stone walls gave way to a bright, wide open valley and green pastures.  

As his vision adjusted, he took in more of his new home. Waterfalls tumbled down sheer cliffs in white ribbons to join the glacier-blue river and ornate, elven-crafted bridges and halls twisted across the valley. Dense congregations of moss and ferns blanketed the surrounding earth, beckoning Glorfindel to get lost in the soothing sea of green vegetation and golden sunlight.  

“So, was he biased?” Erestor pressed as Glorfindel stood rooted in place, awestruck.

“No,” he replied breathlessly, “not biased at all.”

Erestor smirked as he nudged his horse onward. The party broke into a gallop as they neared home at long last.  

Though it shouldn’t surprise him with the size of the settlement, it gladdened Glorfindel to see the love between Elrond and his people. In a selfish way, he was proud of what baby Idril’s grandson had become. If he only had this one connection to his past life, he couldn’t have asked for a better one.

As they road rode toward the main house, Elrond paused to greet every elf they passed by name. Glorfindel eventually became accustomed to the curious gazes that lingered as their eyes slipped from their lord to the strange blonde by his side.

“I am afraid staring will only get worse from here on out,” called Elrond.  

“Oh, and why is that?” Glorfindel questioned.

  “We are nearing the Great House, and well, welcoming a reborn hero of the first age is not exactly an every day occurrence. We are but a rural outpost of Lindon, usually the most exciting news is when Gildor and his wandering company are in town. Plus, it is a small valley and gossip will travel fast.”  

Glorfindel's heart clenched. Hero. It was hardly what he would call himself.

 

. . . . .

 

After the council of the king, Glorfindel had sworn himself to Elrond to serve him as he served his family a lifetime ago. While Lindon’s generals would be organizing an offensive against Sauron, it was decided Glorfindel would prepare Imladris for the battles to come. The mountain outpost may have been founded during the last elven war, but was more of a haven to the wayward, displaced, and weary than a military outpost.

Despite being welcomed with open arms, Glorfindel was unsure if he would ever be comfortable being called a hero. How could a hero sit peacefully amongst the blossoms and the sunshine while his king and friend’s lay dead, bodies rotting beneath the sea?

When Elrond thanked him during their first meeting, Glorfindel flushed, too in rapture of the idea of Elrond's existence altogether to care what he said. Now when elves flocked to him, eager to meet the Hero of Gondolin, he would shrink away, always offering some nicety and a polite excuse as to why he was needed elsewhere. Eventually Glorfindel found himself avoiding the main house altogether. 

Not that Glorfindel was hiding, of course.

Though the aggressively friendly inhabitants of the valley had been quick to accept him, he still had yet to acclimate to his new home. It was nothing in particular that anyone did. It was the change in dialect and apparent fad of rapid, excited speech. It was the food, cooked with foreign spices and vegetables Glorfindel had never tasted. Even the land and the air seemed to have a different aura, as though time and the loss of their northern continent had forever altered their melody. Everything was almost as Glorfindel remembered it, but just off enough to be disconcerting.

The Vanyar had a word to describe that subtle, disconcerting feeling of being slightly out of place, as though you had a nagging feeling there was somewhere else you should be but no way to get there so you fumbled along as best as you could. Glorfindel suspected this word was invented by some poor Vanya who had taken a wrong turn and wound up in scientific debate regarding mineral density with a group of Noldor. 

Strangely enough for a Vanya, Glorfindel had never minded the company of his eccentric Noldor brethren.  Many of the Noldor were more beloved kinsman than his own family. If he closed his eyes, he could still hear the melody of Ecthelion's flute mingling with the tinkling water of the great fountain, Idril's soft voice as she sung her first – her only –child into a peaceful slumber, and Turgon's infectious laughter as he slung an arm around Glorfindel's shoulder, the king oddly relaxed in those private moments away from the court. Of course, that was all in the past. 

Glorfindel absent-mindedly scratched at the scars running down the length of his leg and torso. He couldn't feel the worst of his burns, which since waking on the swan ship months ago had already started to fade into tangle of thick, white knots and gashes. While this was no small blessing, it didn't help the fact that the flaking, healing skin around the deeper wounds itched like mad.

His famed golden locks now hung just past his shoulders, a stark contrast to the images of him depicted in paintings and tapestries around Imladris. He had not instantly realized that much of his hair was charred almost to ash – it had been the hellish scent that had alerted him to it. Glorfindel has quickly chopped of the dead locks and if anyone in Middle Earth questioned the change, they were too polite to say so to his face.

He could only assume that whatever dark magic fueled the Balrog's flames was powerful enough to seep into his second life. Glorfindel tried not to consider the alternative, that the Valar may have willfully pulled him forth from the Halls of Mandos unhealed.

Glorfindel's self-deprecating diatribe was cut short by a rustling on the other side of his hidden alcove, followed shortly by Galion, Elrond's assistant, stepping into view. Glorfindel quickly wrapped his scarf tighter around his neck, concealing the scars from view.

"Um, my lord, begging your pardon, but if you have a moment?" Stuttered Galion, still somewhat awestruck by the reborn hero despite providing him with assistance the past few weeks.

Glorfindel tried to smile reassuringly at the younger elf. "What can I do for you, Galion?" 

"If you are not otherwise engaged, Lord Elrond would like to invite you to join him for lunch, sir."

Glorfindel winced. "That sounds lovely, Galion. Lead the way."

 

. . . . .

 

It appeared Glorfindel was not the only one accompanying his lord for lunch. Glorfindel realized this with a start when, after already having been seated for several moments with his food, he finally noticed Elrond's taciturn advisor curled on one of the plush chairs like a large, agitated, jungle cat. He was glaring at Glorfindel with those gem-green eyes narrowed to slits. Glorfindel gulped, a nagging feeling that he had done something wrong but could not remember what playing at the back of his mind. 

"Lord Glorfindel, did you hear me?" prodded Elrond.

Glorfindel jumped. "I am sorry, my lord, could you repeat that?

"I have been thinking about what you said to me during our chess game the other night." Glorfindel stared at him blankly. "About wanting to see more of Middle Earth?" Elrond reminded him. "I was thinking, there may not be much time for that once this war begins in earnest, so time is of the essence. It just so happens that Erestor is about to leave on an errand that will take him across Middle Earth and through the elven realms of Greenwood the Great and Lothlorian on his return to Imladris."

"Not the Greenwood," Erestor interjected.

"Fine then, around Greenwood the Great and through Lorthlorian on his way back."

Glorfindel looked to Erestor. The other was delicately blowing on his tea, but Glorfindel could see him studying Glorfindel right back through the corner of his eye. His interactions with Elrond's Chief Counsellor had been limited since arriving in the valley. From scheduling Glorfindel to attend various guild meetings and ensuring the armories were stocked to overseeing food storages and library curation, it seemed as though the Counsellor had a hand in nearly every sector of Imladris' business. Despite this, Erestor was scarcely seen outside of his office in the library. On the rare occasions Glorfindel did cross his path, it was typically when the other was following closely behind Elrond, whispering in his ear with that rapid fire speech.

"I appreciate the thought, my lord," replied Glorfindel, "but I am hesitant to burden Master Erestor during his journey."

Erestor's head swiveled to stare pointedly at Lord Elrond. 

Elrond smiled at him warmly. “Don’t fret, Lord Glorfindel, you would never be a burden.” The thing about Elrond was that when he said these things, it was not merely to placate but rather a heartfelt declaration. The elf lord was never less than sincere. Glorfindel wondered if Erestor was the same, which would certainly explain why the other did not chime in to agree with their lord.

"You should inform him of the nature of this trip before you sell it any further," muttered Erestor.

Elrond sighed. "I suppose you are right. Glorfindel, I know you have been diligent in studying your missing history after the Fall of Gondolin. Do you remember reading much about the city of Ost-in-Edhil?" 

Glorfindel frowned. He was fairly certain Ost-in-Edhil had fallen centuries prior, but it was possible he was mixing this up with a different city. "Ost-in-Edhil was the capitol of the elven kingdom of Eregion, ruled by Celebrimbor, Galadriel, and Celeborn. It fell after Celebrimbor was deceived by Sauron's treachery and the one ring was forged," he recited. 

Erestor stared resolutely into his tea. "It was much more than that," he corrected lowly.

"Maybe this conversation is better paired with wine," interjected Elrond, quickly moving to pour a glass for Glorfindel and then for Erestor and himself. It did not escape Glorfindel's notice that Elrond remained perched on the arm of the advisor's chair, hand resting gently on the other's shoulder. He had seen kennel masters act similarly when working with untrained hounds who were liable to lunge at unsuspecting passerby’s.

"In the early years of Ost-in-Edhil, Celebrimbor founded the Gwaith-i-Mírdain, a fellowship of craftsmen," Erestor continued. "The Gwaith was comprised of the most brilliant artists and inventors of the age, be they Noldor, Sindar, Dwarf, or Man. It was the culmination of overcoming centuries of prejudices and past harms for the sake of creating a better world for future generations. Such an alliance between the races has not been seen since the fall. It is a pity they are remembered by many for the deeds of Sauron when they had worked toward so much more."

Erestor paused to sip his wine, giving Glorfindel the opportunity to observe him without the other's scrutinizing gaze. His midnight-black hair fell in curtains around his face, shadows playing across the angular planes of his drawn expression. Sharp eyes gleamed from under knit brows and pursed lips suggested he was not accustomed to smiling easily.

Even his robes, a heavy wine-red velvet that must have been smothering, seemed designed to intimidate. Delicate stars spun from gold, the garment’s only adornment, were embroidered onto the neckline and hems of the garment, mirroring the gold flecks in his otherwise dark green eyes.

Glorfindel jumped as Erestor's eyes briefly flitted back to him. Fortunately, the sharp gaze quickly slid away again as though adverse to the intimacy born from holding eye contact for too long.

"Many remember them for the rings of power forged under the tutelage of Sauron in disguise, but in truth this was but a fraction of their accomplishments," he said, swirling the wine in his glass and staring into the cold ashes of the fireplace. "Though we tried to recover as much of their work as we could after the fall, many of their inventions were lost. Between the invading army carrying off whatever caught their fancy and treasure hunters coming to claim whatever was left, it is not unusual for the Gwaith's work to surface again in the hands of men. Most of these relics were not meant as weapons, but could still be dangerous in the wrong hands. Therefore, when stories of these treasures make their way back to us, I am sent to… ensure they find their way home."

Glorfindel stared at Erestor in shock. "You steal them?" he exclaimed.

"One cannot steal what rightfully belongs to them," snapped Erestor with resolution, the steel edge in his voice taking Glorfindel by surprise.

Elrond worriedly fiddled with a star pendant that hung around his neck. “With the threat of Sauron lingering over us, it is more important than ever that we do not let these relics fall into the wrong hands," he explained diplomatically. "The journey won't be dangerous. Erestor is skilled in what he does and will be a good guide."

"The journey will absolutely be dangerous," snapped Erestor incredulously.

"In that case, will it not be better to have someone watching your back?" asked Glorfindel, careful to keep his tone neutral and unthreatening. It didn't help that Elrond was grinning smugly at Erestor.

"You do not need to convince me of your value," Erestor sighed. Glorfindel smiled tentatively at him, thinking perhaps the other was not as offended by his presence as Glorfindel originally thought. "Our Lord Elrond has already decreed that you are to join me in this endeavor, regardless of my feelings on the subject."

"And you will be joining him," Elrond interjected, glancing back and forth between his advisor and his new captain. Glorfindel deflated somewhat, any budding hopes of being able to work together with the advisor dwindling.

"You will have the remainder of this afternoon and tomorrow to prepare, then we will leave before first light the following morning," instructed Erestor, finishing his wine.

"As you wish," replied Glorfindel, not bothering to hide the dejection in his voice. Erestor glanced at him sharply, but did not immediately reply.

"I will help you gather supplies after this," he added haltingly.

Galion quietly entered the room upon realizing the trio had finished their wine. "Would you like me to fetch another bottle, my lord?" he asked.

"No, we are wrapping up our lunch, but thank you," dismissed Elrond.

"Thank you Galion," replied Erestor, beaming at the young assistant. The sudden shift from his previously icy demeanor instantly put Glorfindel on guard. "And how, if I may inquire, has your day been?"

"Just fine, Master Erestor, though better once my duties are done this afternoon," the young elf grinned.

"Your work is not too taxing, is it?" inquired Erestor. Elrond, Glorfindel noticed with amusement, was also watching his advisor with mounting suspicion. Yes, there was certainly some other scheme at play that he was not privy to.

"Nay, it is only a burden when the sun shines and the trees are calling me to join them," Galion smiled.

"No one could fault you for that. Tell me, Galion, what is your least favorite task of the day?" asked Erestor, leaning forward and whispering conspiratorially.

Galion glanced at Elrond, a nervous giggle threatening to bubble forth. "Well," he whispered back, "I have never loved feeding that giant pet bird that our lord keeps. It is very nasty for being so brightly colored, and even if I cannot understand it's language I know it is cursing me every time I enter the room."

"Ugh, who would? That bird is a menace!" exclaimed Erestor. "I'll tell you what; from now on, Elrond will feed the parrot himself. Would that be better?"

Galion's gaze flitted nervously back and forth between his lord and the counsellor for a moment. "'Tis not a great burden, I will still tend to the bird."

"Nonsense," replied Erestor in a business-like manner. "I am in charge of assigning duties to members of our household, isn't that correct, my Lord Elrond?"

Glorfindel shifted nervously as a venomous smile played on Elrond's lips. "That is correct."

"So it is established--I assign household duties, and from now on feeding that bird will not be on your chore list."

"Thank you, Master Erestor!" Galion exclaimed, shooting an apologetic glance at their lord.

"Do not mention it," replied Erestor with a wave of his hand. The boy finished gathering the plates from lunch and left the room beaming.

The door had hardly closed before Elrond was glaring at Erestor. "Helyanwë was a gift from High King Elendil," he snapped.

"Helyanwë is a wretched feathered rat and I am still appalled by his apparent lifespan. If he is such a great gift then you can take care of him yourself," replied Erestor with a grin.

"I fret over you, I try to look after you, and this is how you act. There is no need for you to isolate yourself the way you do," admonished Elrond.

Erestor rolled his eyes. "Truly, you have a love for the dramatics. I am perfectly happy with my life as it as is. The next time you think about meddling, remember this moment."

"Eru forbid I look after my friends," muttered Elrond.

Glorfindel chuckled. He had a feeling he was missing important information to the story, but enjoyed watching the two friends banter nonetheless.

Erestor smirked. "I am off to prepare for the journey. You had better look after my plants while I am gone."

"I'll enjoy watching them whither and die," Elrond shot back.

As the door closed, Elrond turned back to Glorfindel with an apologetic smile. "Please excuse us, Lord Glorfindel. I have known Erestor since I was young, and I am afraid it is far to easy to slip back into childish antics with old friends. A word of warning: Erestor is a wicked and malevolent creature. Never ask anything of him without expecting it to be turned on you in some way. Unfortunately for Erestor,” he smirked. “I do not care about losing that battle. I am more concerned with winning the war.”

Glorfindel chuckled. “The best of luck to you my lord. I suspect this is not a fight I should meddle in.” 

“Meddle is such a nasty word,” scoffed Elrond with a wave of his hand. “All you need to worry about is being yourself.”

Glorfindel laughed nervously, not entirely understanding his lord’s response but also not entirely sure he wanted further explanation. "Thank you for allowing me to join in this journey,” he said, opting instead to change the subject. “I promise you will not be disappointed."

"Glorfindel I would never worry about you disappointing me," smiled Elrond warmly. "Simply enjoy the scenery, learn more about this new land, make a few contacts when you return home through the Golden Wood." He paused for a moment, making Glorfindel wonder what it was he was holding back. "Whatever danger arises, look after Erestor, and Erestor will look after you. He has a good heart beneath everything," he finally added. 

“First you tell me he is wicked and malevolent, then you tell me he has a good heart?” asked Glorfindel, shaking his head ruefully. “I miss the first age, when the line good and evil was easily distinguished.”

 “There was never a line between good and evil,” replied Elrond, smiling sadly. “The only ones who could believe that are those who were too blind to look so they simply trusted the line was there.”

Glorfindel thought about arguing, but decided it would not be worth the effort. "If you say so, my lord," he conceded. "If you will excuse me, I should probably catch up to Erestor." Elrond nodded farewell as Glorfindel rose. Unsurprisingly, the other had not waited for him and was already halfway down the hall.

"You keep plants, Erestor?" he asked by way of greeting. He was panting as he jogged up to the advisor, excited at potentially finding common ground with his traveling companion.

"I find their company more agreeable than most," replied Erestor coolly.

"Herblore is fascinating! I also kept plants in my previous life. House of the Golden Flower, and all," he beamed, pointing redundantly at his house sigil that had been embroidered into most of his tunics that Elrond had commissioned for him. Erestor looked at him blandly but did not bother formulating a response.

The other elf turned, continuing his journey toward the courtyard. He didn't glance back to see if Glorfindel followed. “First we must stop by the stables. The  Master of Horses will need to be alerted of our journey so he can ensure our mounts are ready for travel.”

“I can help with that,” replied Glorfindel eagerly, his longer strides easily matching the advisor’s quick pace. “I also bred horses in my past life as well—the finest in all of Gondolin.”

“Of course you did,” sighed Erestor.

Raindrops fell on the pair as they hastened across the courtyard. It was a soft, gentle rain that Glorfindel decided was quite agreeable. Erestor stalked along next to him, looking for all the world like a wet cat, specifically the scrawny black cat that once hunted mice in the Golden Flower’s gardens.

Glorfindel debated whether or not it was worth the return trip to Mandos that could result in sharing this bit of information. Of course, it was possible that being likened to an angry feline was actually a term of endearment in this age and Glorfindel simply did not know it yet. It was also possible that Erestor could take something usually insulting as a compliment.

Unfortunately for Glorfindel, neither of scenarios were true. Erestor was not placated in the slightest as Glorfindel tried to explain that he was actually quite fond of the little black cat that carried the strong resemblance. As he bore the outraged insults thrown his way for the entire courtyard to hear, Glorfindel was forced to agree that Erestor was, indeed, a wicked and malevolent creature. 

 

. . . . .

 

Glorfindel watched as dark storm clouds spilled over the mountain peaks and crawled into the valley, eventually blotting out the sun and sky altogether. The rain, it turned out, was not a fickle summer rain but rather a true spring storm in all of it’s tireless glory. 

It had rained all the next day as Glorfindel followed Erestor around, jumping at the barked orders as they prepared for their journey.

It had rained the day after that as the pair pulled their hoods over their heads, leaving behind the warmth of the Hall of Fire and comfort of their beds for the wilds of Middle Earth.

It continued to rain the entire week, keeping conversation at a blessed minimum as neither were keen to yell over the constant sound of raindrops pattering in leaves above them.

Many storms would begin to wane after such a drawn-out performance, but not this storm. There is a popular phrase—‘it is always darkest before the dawn’—that this storm must have been particularly fond of, for after a week had passed the rain gave way to what could only be described as a torrential downpour.

Chapter Text

KAIROS: (noun) the fleeting, crucial moment in time and place during which the opportune atmosphere for a thought, decision, or action occurs. Alternatively, the weather.

 

 

 

From the fortress on the hill, one could see the entirety of the Eastern highlands. It was defensible. It was exposed. It was a strategic point. It was hauntingly isolated.

The wide open spaces caused his stomach to clench, the hair on the back of his neck standing up in response to the lack of shelter. Somehow without the presence of great stone outcroppings and looming mountains, the air grew heavier, oppressive, making him feel inexplicably claustrophobic.

If one traced the Andram Hills westward, they could see almost to the Fens of Sirion. It was said that the hidden kingdoms of Nargothrond and Gondolin, glittering pillars of Noldor society, were sequestered away in those mountains and canyons. Doriath loomed even closer, walled off to all Noldor but a select few. No help would come from the west of Beleriand. No help would come from the Western Shores. They were alone.

Ragged lines of refugees slowly trudged under the portcullis and into the keep. A few wagons in various states of disrepair were interspaced amongst the elves, but most belongings had been abandoned without a thought when they were forced to flee south after the disastrous Nírnaeth Arnoediad. The noises from the courtyard, though soft, seemed amplified on the empty plains. 

Ash drifted lazily through the air, catching in hair the way snowflakes in Himring once had. Ash fell across most of the continent since the Sudden Flame. Ash had been covering his hair and shoulders when a squire pried him from his parents’ graves for the last time, some explanation about abandoning their home falling on deaf ears. His lord hadn’t come to find him. Maedhros hadn’t spoken since returning from the battlefield, defeated.

Looming clouds rolled up from the Bay of Balar hundreds of miles to the south, building into mighty storms that blacked out the sky. The rain began suddenly, great torrential downpours so heavy it almost hurt. When the thunder cracked above, Erestor was sure it would split the world in half. The earth trembled in response and lightning lit the landscape, from the distant Ered Luin to the Andram Hills. It was the first time in weeks the ash had been washed from his skin.

 

. . . . .

 

Erestor woke with a start, physically shaken by the crack of thunder that rolled along the mountainside. Sparks of anxiety coursed through his body as his mind whirled, attempting to make sense of his environment while shaking off the cobwebs of dreams. Slowly he pieced together the past few days; the assignment from Elrond, the trek along the Old Hollin Road, the persistent rain eventually building to the storm raging outside the walls of the small cave where he and Glorfindel took sanctuary.

Erestor glanced over to where he expected his companion to be sleeping and was momentarily startled to find the bedroll empty. A quick sweep of the cave revealed that Glorfindel was sitting bolt-upright against the back wall, staring wide-eyed into the torrential rain and winds beyond their little shelter and cocooned in his new traveling cloak.

The cloak, a gift from Elrond, was wildly impractical and Erestor had thrown a right fit about it but naturally no one listened. The material was adequate, Erestor supposed: a finely-spun light wool to provide warmth and repel most rain. The color, a rich green, was a shade too vibrant for their surroundings and with the downy cream underside of the cloak Erestor was glad it was not his job to keep the garment clean. The thick, gold stitching was where Erestor drew the line. Intricate patterns of flowers and whorls started along the hems and softly faded into the green field of wool, all tied together with an expensive-looking golden pin.

Currently, Glorfindel had a ratty scarf wound tightly chest to nose, his hood pulled down over his brow, and even his toes tucked under the voluptuous folds of the cloak. By all appearances, it looked as though he were trying to drown himself in fabric. Erestor was sure there were easier things to drown in, but he was also hesitant to debate manners of death with one so much more experienced in the subject than he.

"Glorfindel," hissed Erestor, "get some rest. We need to be ready to ride as soon as the storm breaks."

Glorfindel didn't respond. He obstinately ignored Elrond's request to humor him and take care of the dispossessed warrior ringing in his head. Having ensured that the other was, indeed, safe, he rolled over and treated himself to about four-and-a-half minutes of rest before the guilt kicked in. Crawling begrudgingly to the back of the cave, Erestor propped himself up against the wall next to Glorfindel. 

"Hey, are you alright?" asked Erestor, shaking him slightly.

Glorfindel swallowed heavily and nodded in the most unconvincing manner. 

Erestor sighed. He wrapped an arm around Glorfindel, jostling him in an attempt to maneuver the blonde until his head was resting on Erestor's shoulder. Due to height difference and the uneven wall they leaned upon, his success was moderate at best.

Fortunately Glorfindel did not seem to mind. The sweet scent of mountain wildflowers greeted him as Glorfindel leaned into the embrace, golden head nestled into the crook of his shoulder.

Erestor awkwardly rubbed Glorfindel's back. "It's an impressive storm, isn't it?" He was treated to a noncommittal noise and nothing more. Strong fingers traced the delicate embroidery around hem of the ornate cloak, hands too nervous to stay still.

"You like the cloak," he stated more than asked. "Elrond will be tickled by that."

"It's a lovely garment. Elrond had it made from an old Gondolinian design," replied Glorfindel almost shyly. "I told him he shouldn't have."

"Well, Elrond is like that," Erestor replied breezily. "He is kinder than he has any right to be. Don't know where he gets it from."

Glorfindel softly smiled at this, but moment passed as quickly as it came. When another roll of thunder shook the cave he quickly buried his face again, desperate fingers clinging to Erestor's thick traveling tunic with a grip so tight it felt as though he may as well have been clinging directly to the skin beneath.

"Does it remind you of the balrog?" asked Erestor tentatively.

Glorfindel looked up at him curiously, startling blue eyes much too open and trusting for Erestor's comfort. "No, I hardly remember anything about the city's fall. Trying to recall those last few days is like trying to recall a dream after waking. I can remember a few details, but even then it feels as though they happened to someone else and I am just an onlooker," he admitted softly. "It reminds me of the ice.”

Oh. Feanorian guilt, that inheritance from birth, clawed at Erestor's stomach.

"Would you like to tell me about it?" asked Erestor. He assumed - he hoped - that Glorfindel would say no. For a while it seemed like he would. Despite the knot in his stomach, Erestor knew he had made the right choice in offering to listen when Glorfindel tucked himself further into the embrace. It was one of the few times Erestor was irritated about being right.

"I remember we would walk and walk for days, no light—not even stars through the constant storms and snow flurries," Glorfindel began. "The only sound was the whistling of the wind, until suddenly there would be a sharp crack. Sometimes there would be a roaring cascade of ice crashing down. Other times, it was only a crack, the ice opening up beneath you and swallowing whatever unlucky soul was standing there, then silence. Sometimes I prayed it wouldn't be me who was swallowed up by the shifting glaciers, but more often I prayed that it would be."

Erestor clutched Glorfindel tighter, allowing his cheek to nuzzle against the crown of the other's golden head. He fought the urge to apologize. For one, he had not even been born yet. More importantly, how could any amount of eloquence or restitution begin to make amends for such an experience?

“We elves are creatures of light,” he said gently. “Our souls were not meant to dwell in the darkness of memory, but to face each sunrise with hope in our hearts.”

“Pretty words. Do you believe them?” prodded Glorfindel. 

Erestor laughed at the boldness of the question. “Maybe on a good day? I don't know, but they were told to me by an elf considered much wiser than I, so they must have some merit.”

“Memories are as dangerous as they are comforting,” Glorfindel sighed, shifting his position as he shifted the subject. "From the beginning this has seemed like more than a simple job. You lived in Ost-in-Edhil, did you not?"

Erestor started, glaring down at Glorfindel slightly longer than was necessary before eventually relenting. "Aye," he admitted. "I lived there for longer than anywhere else I have called home."

"May I ask you something," Glorfindel asked tentatively. Erestor gave him an exasperated look, but didn't explicitly tell him no.

"Were you a part of the Gwaith-i-Mírdain?" he prodded. 

"No," Erestor responded flatly. Glorfindel must not have accepted this response because he continued to stare at him with those unnerving blue eyes, waiting for Erestor to continue.

Erestor sighed dramatically. "Much to both my parents’ chagrin, I never had much skill in craft. I was not a member of the brotherhood. I was the Chief Advisor in Celebrimbor's court. I was there with him from the beginning, when Ost-in-Edhil was just an unlikely dream. I should have been there until the end,” he finished softly.

"So this is personal?"

"I am simply the best qualified for the task,” Erestor corrected loftily. “I am well-versed in the languages of Middle Earth, am skilled at detecting objects of elven make, and am no stranger to surviving on my own in the wild.” 

It could have been an echo, a trick if the cave, but Erestor would have sworn he heard the other giggle. He glared sharply at Glorfindel, who was currently bending at the neck and waste to accommodate his headrest as though he were some defeated contortionist.

"Are you comfortable like this?" he asked, partially concerned but partially curious.

"Not really."

"Then say something! Or just move, you oaf!"

"No, this is fine," he mumbled, fingers once again clutching tightly at fabric.

Erestor huffed, pausing momentarily before taking pity on the elf beside him. "Here," he said gently, trying to guide the other to lay down. "You can rest your head in my lap so that I can continue to hold you, like so, but you won't be burdened by your needless excess of height."

 "When we get back to Imladris, we should find you some real friends so you don't do things like accost a perfect stranger every time there is a light spring shower,” he continued, prodding at the arm Glorfindel had wrapped around his middle. “I imagine it is unbecoming of a Lord of Gondolin."

"Erestor, are you trying to call me pathetic?"

 Erestor paused. "Well," he said slowly, "Elrond did suggest that it would be better if I did not say such things to peoples' faces."

 Glorfindel laughed, seemingly unoffended. "Have you no respect for your elders?" he teased.

"Elders?" exclaimed Erestor indignantly. "I have over a thousand years on you! Your time in Mandos does not count."

"It absolutely counts! I was born during the Years of the Trees, making me undeniably older."

"In what world?!" 

A vein of lighting chose that moment to light up the sky, followed shortly by a deafening crack of thunder. Glorfindel buried his face into Erestor's stomach, clutching desperately at the folds of his tunic.

"Shhh, it will be okay, I have you" whispered Erestor, holding Glorfindel close and rubbing soothing circles across his back. "Did you count the time between the lightening and the thunder? The storm is right above us, it will be moving away soon enough."

Glorfindel nodded, but kept his face hidden. Erestor smiled, slipping back into memories of comforting two decidedly smaller, non-golden haired elves during a thunderstorm in a similar manner.

"You know," he said, running his fingers through wavy blonde tresses, "Elrond was afraid of storms when he was younger as well."

"Really?" Asked Glorfindel, voice muffled by the night robe.

"Mm-hmm," continued Erestor. "On Amon Ereb we could watch the most spectacular thunderstorms roll in from the south and the west. It was like the storms held all their rain and all their thunder only to unleash it over the open plains. You could see lightening for hundreds of miles on all sides of you."

"Sounds lovely," Glorfindel said insincerely. 

"Elrond used to think that the wind and the rain would sweep away Amon Ereb and everyone in it. We did not yet know that he had the Sight." 

Glorfindel frowned. "That must have been difficult for him as a child." 

Erestor nodded. "None of us understood it. Maglor used to tell him that the stars looked down on all the beings of Arda, that they took joy in our joy and felt sorrow for our sorrow. Their watch was almost never-ending, except when the thunderstorms appeared and blocked out the skies. Then, sometimes a star would get lost in the clouds, coming too close to the boarder between the heavens and the earth, and would fall down to the ground. That was the lightening. The thunder was all the other stars yelling at their friend to come back home, and as long as we were not outside where a star could fall on us, they wouldn't hurt us."

"So, you followed the Feanorians? Even in the first age?" asked Glorfindel tentatively.

"I was born in Himring. I would not say followed, for it implies that there was some other trail I could have taken should it have struck my fancy," replied Erestor carefully.  "My life was determined by the time and place of my birth, but that does not change the fact that I would have died for my lords in a heartbeat."

Glorfindel paused to digest this. The silence stretched on longer than Erestor would have liked, but eventually inevitable follow-up came. "How old were you when you met Elrond?" asked Glorfindel. Erestor had to give it to him, it was worded much more politely than if he had been the one conducting the interrogation. 

Sighing, Erestor glanced down at him. "Are you asking how old I was when I met Elrond or how old I was at the time of the Kinslaying?" Glorfindel didn't respond. "I was almost one-hundred-and-three when I met Elrond and Elros in Sirion." After a pause, he added, "I was seventy-one when Doriath fell."

"Seventy-one?" exclaimed Glorfindel.

"For what it is worth, I stayed behind in Amon Ereb that time."

"But you were at Sirion?"

"I was at Sirion," Erestor nodded.

"Why?" asked Glorfindel, failing to keep the horror from his voice.

"It was the last path left to us," replied Erestor numbly. 

"You cannot believe that," prodded Glorfindel.

Erestor shrugged. “We saw the Silmarils as our only chance of redemption."

“What proof do you have that the Valar required those stones in exchange for a pardon?” 

“What proof did we have that the Valar took any notice of our struggles? What proof did we have that the Valar cared for anything other than ‘those stones?’”

Glorfindel drew the dilapidated scarf closer around him as though it were some kind of armor. Even with their voices level, Glorfindel was apparently much less comfortable with conflict than Erestor. “There may have been reason behind their actions, if not honor, but that didn’t mean you had to follow them down that road.”


“I assure you it was an act of desperation, not honor,” hissed Erestor. “Do you think I am proud of what I’ve done? I will not deny my crimes, but fear not, I find them just as contemptible as you.”

“I remember feeling trapped, like there was no air left to breath, like no matter how hard my lungs struggled they were left wanting,” Erestor continued, “It felt like there was no other way. Beleriand was shrinking as Morgoth was pressing in on us. Many of our allies were dead or gone over the mountains into Middle Earth. Those who were left despised us, flaunted our damnation and our lords’ birthright in our faces. Our people were dwindling. We were out of time.”

“There is always another way,” replied Glorfindel firmly.

Erestor closed his eyes, unable to face the other. “That is easy for you to say, safe in your gilded halls hidden from Morgoth’s eyes. Tell me, the night my parents died in The Battle of Sudden Flame, was there wine and dancing in Gondolin? Or was it just another quite night? Maybe you crawled into bed early with a smile on your face, feeling warm and safe. That is not a luxury many of us had. And then after my lord took me in, fed and clothed me, you would have me abandon him.”

“I know it is not as simple as right and wrong,” conceded Glorfindel, fiddling with the wad of Erestor’s robe clutched in his hand to ease his discomfort, “but I was at Alqualondë, and it was horrific and incomprehensible and there were some tragedies I thought we would need to bare only once. I can't comprehend how any one of the Eldar could think to stoop that low for a second, and then a third time”

“We weren’t always monsters, Glorfindel, but it is a terrible thing to live without hope,” Erestor replied, tiredness evident in his voice. “I will not try to pretend we were justified and I can assure you I neither seek nor expect forgiveness for my deeds.”

Glorfindel was silent again for a time. It struck Erestor that he knew very little about Glorfindel beyond his deeds told in books and songs. Perhaps he was of the rare cautious, intellectual nature that took the time to reflect before formulating an answer.

Finally he shifted so that he could look Erestor in the eye. “I wish things had been different. For Gondolin. For you and your people. For everyone under Morgoth's shadow," he whispered softly. "For what it is worth, I don't think it is not my place to condemn you."

"That is all I can ask for,” replied Erestor in a steady, business-like tone. He was carefully studying the golden embroidery of Glorfindel's cloak, running up the hem of the garment, past the predictable golden flower pin, around the edges of the hood where it lay complimentary against his golden brow, even his skin seeming gilded and sunkist. Anything to avoid meeting Glorfindel's eyes and the unnerving lack of contempt to be found there.

Long moments stretched between them where the only sound to be heard was the persistent fall of rain. Erestor was beginning to feel his eyes glaze over when he noticed that  Glorfindel was once again fiddling with his shirt, a nervous gesture Erestor had taken to mean Glorfindel had something to say, but was fighting with himself as to whether or not he would actually say it. He did not need to wait long.

"Erestor?"

"Yes?"

 “May I say something?”

“You already are saying something, Glorfindel.”

Glorfindel hesitated, unsure if it was permission to continue speaking. "It seems to me as though you do not often seek the presence of others and could have easily left me to my silence, so I guess what I am trying to say is thank you for your kindness tonight. It was unexpected and unsought-after, but greatly appreciated."

Erestor looked down at him a moment before responding. "During my many years I have come to the realization that I am quite content with my own company. I have also come to the realization that many others do not feel the same about my presence. It seems more pleasant for all parties if I mind to my own business and let others mind theirs."

"Your presence is not so objectionable,"  whispered Glorfindel, barely loud enough to be heard over the rain.

A smile played on Erestor's lips, and Erestor let it. "Thank you," he replied, softly dragging his fingertips down Glorfindel's brow and to his eyelids, coaxing them to close. "Sleep now, and I will watch over you. When this storm lifts, we must travel south with haste."

With tired fingers Glorfindel carefully pulled the sorry scarf up around his ears, likely hoping to block out the thunder outside. His lashes fluttered before eventually settling at half-mast, eyes glazing over in reverie.

Erestor nestled his charge close to his chest, arms wrapped protectively around him. Lightening flashed, briefly illuminating their little cavern and reflecting off of the tangled mass of golden waves sprawled across his lap. It was surprising to learn that holding Glorfindel like this, feeling the warmth of his body and the gentle rise and fall of his steady breaths, was almost relaxing. It was also surprising how endearing Erestor found it that Glorfindel even in his sleep, trusting as he was, clutched at Erestor and nestled closer to his stomach when the thunder roared.

Warmth blossomed as happiness nagged at the edges of Erestor's consciousness. He kept these feeling close to his chest, small and tightly wound, where they would be safe. All the old, familiar ghosts settled around him. He did not know by what right he could still find joy when so many others were dead and gone; some dead by his hand or the hands of those he loved, others dead who he had loved but been unable to protect. It did not matter if the fight was against Morgoth, Sauron, or each other; most wound up dead just the same. He considered, briefly, listing their names--the ones he knew, at least. It was a practiced routine, but one he found he did not have the energy for at the moment. 

He heard as much as he felt another rumble of thunder, more distant this time as the storm drifted away. Leaves whispered to one another as they danced in the wind while the rain still fell heavily outside and ran in rivulets down the entrance of the cave, colliding with the earth in a melodic symphony. It was easy to lose one's self in the din of the storm.

Fingers twined through Glorfindel’s messy locks of hair, anchoring him to the present. Head lolled against the cold, stone wall, he quietly watched the storm travel onward while Glorfindel slumbered in his arms and memories of past homes swirled in his mind.

Chapter Text

SAUDADE: (noun, Portuguese)

A feeling of longing, melancholy, desire, and nostalgia; a vague yearning for a happiness that has passed, or perhaps never even existed.

 

 

 

 

The storm, having exhausted all of it's best efforts, finally broke around mid-morning as dark clouds crept away over the far hills like some great defeated beast. The two travelers prepared to set out once again, but not before Glorfindel pleaded and cajoled Erestor into taking a morning nap. It was with no little amount of guilt upon waking that Glorfindel had noticed the dark bags and drawn expression on Erestor's face. When their eyes met there was no cool aloofness, just exhaustion. It was no surprise that the other elf was tired, Glorfindel reasoned, after staying up all night apparently for the sake of Glorfindel's comfort.

 

While Erestor slept, Glorfindel tip toed out of the cave following the sound of bubbling water. It did not take him long to locate a small creek whose banks were swollen with rain water. After searching a few more moments for a pool deep enough to accommodate him, Glorfindel promptly removed layer after layer of traveling clothes, carefully peeling his under layers from the blistered skin running along his left side.

 

He groaned as he sank into the creek, allowing the cold water to soothe his burns and wash away dust and grime from days on end of travel. Glorfindel set about carefully washing his hair and cleaning any open wounds, singing wordlessly as he went. The cold mountain water was infinitely more pleasant the salt water during his sea voyage and he even allowed himself time to luxuriate in the numbing water after he finished his task.

 

Eyes closed, floating in the improbably turquoise water, Glorfindel smiled as he realized he felt at peace with his surrounding for the first time in a long time. The mountains, though not as sharp and imposing, brought to mind the mountains that had once watched over Gondolin. The trees, open and friendly, spoke to him of the passing winter and flowers waiting to bloom. Even the company was not as bad as Glorfindel feared.

 

Upon waking in the cave earlier that morning, Glorfindel had marveled at the peace he felt at having another by his side. As consciousness crept over him, he had gradually become aware of graceful fingers delicately scraping along his scalp and sending shivers down his spine as they wove through his hair. Erestor had been humming, rather tunelessly if he was being honest, but sweetly all the same. True to his promise, the raven-haired elf had watched over Glorfindel and kept him safe from the night terrors.

 

A smile had crept over his features then, and he tried to keep his eyes closed to savor the sensation a few moments longer. Erestor, unfortunately, must have been more perceptible than Glorfindel gave him credit for. Whether the other elf felt the smile on his face or sensed a change in his breathing Glorfindel did not know, but all too soon he felt the wayward locks of hair being tucked away from his face and Erestor's soft voice washing over him, coaxing him into wakefulness.

 

With a start Glorfindel realized he could hear that voice now, muffled though it was by the water. He scrambled to sit up and, panicking, made a desperate grab for his clothing.

 

"Erestor, I am at the creek. Give me a moment," he shouted back.

 

Rather than giving him a moment, Erestor began running directly toward him. "Glorfindel, you lord of lackluster wits and ill-conceived notions, was it only a momentary lapse in brain function when you decided to wander off alone or has your mind been permanently addled since your return?" he shouted as he tromped through the underbrush, bringing to mind a small but very angry animal. Whatever gentleness that had come over him while holding Glorfindel the night before had vanished.

 

"Erestor please, I am bathing, wait for me to dress!" exclaimed Glorfindel, trying to quickly pull a base layer over his shoulders to hide the flame-branded skin.

 

"For Eru's sake, we are Eldar. We are not meant to feel shame of our bodies," snapped Erestor, walking into the clearing. He did, much to Glorfindel's relief, keep his eyes trained on the ground.

 

"I am sorry, Erestor, it must just be a Vanyar peculiarity," called Glorfindel as he finished tugging on his leggings and wound the scarf carefully around his neck. Gathering the remainder of his clothes in a sloppy bundle, he crossed the distance to the other elf in a few long strides.

 

Glorfindel was startled to see how heavily the other was breathing. "You cannot disappear like that," he admonished, shaking Glorfindel by the arm. A frantic fire was lit behind his usually cool eyes.

 

"I'm sorry, Erestor, I wanted to let you rest."

 

"I am plenty rested!" snapped Erestor. "Now if you are quite finished tending to your golden hair, come back and pack up your gear so we can stop dallying." Perhaps he was worried Glorfindel would continue said-dallying because instead of releasing him, Erestor proceeded to drag Glorfindel back by the arm. Glorfindel smiled at the insistent fingers tugging at his sleeve and allowed himself to be led back to their camp.

 

. . . . .

 

When they finally did leave the cave, the pair were forced to go on foot while leading their horses through the thick mud left in the wake of the storm. Though the air was still cool and crisp with the scent of rain, sunshine was beginning to peak through the clouds. Echoes of thunder reverberated off of distant mountains, but was no longer close enough to pose a threat.

 

The pair walked side by side in silence through the grassy meadows between the River Bruinen and the Misty Mountains. They were close enough that Glorfindel could reach out and take the other’s hand should the need arise, yet he suspected that this would be met with some scrutiny. Erestor was quiet, even more so than usual. Glorfindel was disappointed, but at least his traveling companion had not reverted back to cold hostility.

 

While walking, Erestor paused on multiple occasions to consult the map, each time seeming more and more agitated. Eventually, Glorfindel decided the behavior was worth addressing.

 

“You know, I hope you are not taking advantage of my lack of geographic knowledge to lose me somewhere in the wilds of Middle Earth,” teased Glorfindel.

 

Erestor looked at him sharply for a moment before recognizing the jest for what it was, simply a jest, and relaxing slightly.

 

“Thank you for the vote of confidence, my lord, but I know exactly where we are. It is where we are going that I take issue with.”

 

Glorfindel huffed at the purposefully baiting tone and use of title. “Somehow that does not put me at ease.”

 

Erestor sighed, kneeling on the ground and unfolding the map for Glorfindel to review.

 

“Before the end of the day, I suspect we will encounter a barrier to our path. Ideally we would travel over this pass here,” said Erestor, pointing to the spot on the map, “and then through Lothlórien, but it is much too early and the pass will still be snowed over.”

 

Glorfindel watched almost indulgently as Erestor allowed two slim fingers to trail lightly over the Misty Mountains “If we stay too close to the mountains, we will have two rivers to cross, both of which will be running high and fast from the snow melt. On the other hand, if we stick to the banks of the Bruinen, we will become lost in swamps before reaching the Great South Road.”

 

Glorfindel waited breathlessly as Erestor’s fingers lingered over Tharbad and the swamps. “I know of one location along the river where we can safely cross,” he continued eventually, his fingers slowly coming to rest in front of the small dot labeled ‘Ost-in-Edhil.’

 

Glorfindel looked at Erestor uncertainly. The other's face had become a mask of cool complacency, too closed and too calm to be anything but practiced. “But you are familiar with the area, are you not?”

 

“Aye, though I have rarely returned since the sack of the city.” Erestor looked away, refusing to meet Glorfindel’s eyes.

 

"Why not?" asked Glorfindel. "I have often thought that if I could go back to the Hidden City, at least once, perhaps it would help me accept that it is gone and move on with my new life."

 

Erestor laughed bitterly. He paused, and for a moment Glofindel wondered if he would be ignored. "I suppose that is the problem," Erestor finally admitted. "I do not think I want to move on. Moving on means admitting that the Ost-in-Edhil and the ones I cared about, that the one I loved, are all gone, and there is nothing I can do to change that.” 

 

"What happened to its people after the city fell?" asked Glorfindel tentatively. Of this, the history books spoke little, at least as far as Glorfindel could find.

 

"They perished, mostly," whispered Erestor. "Galadriel led a small group to Lothlorien years before the fall. After Sauron officially declared war, a few made it to Lindon or Imladris. They mostly sailed after everything was said and done, but a few are still scattered throughout the wide world."

 

"And the one you loved?"

 

"Dead."

 

Glorfindel stared at him silently. "Then there must be other routes,” he said finally. “We can start at the base of the mountain, then follow the rivers until we find another ford."

 

Erestor shook his head, still not quite meeting Glorfindel's eye. "We don't have time for guesswork," he replied. "Besides, both us and our horses would need to be excellent swimmers given the state of the rivers during this season."

 

"We will manage," Glorfindel promised, grinning reassuringly. "Besides, I learned how to swim from Ecthelion, and he was half Teler. Did you know they would dive into deep canyons beneath the ocean floor searching for pearls? A river will be nothing."

 

Unsurprisingly, Erestor did not look impressed. "Somehow I find it difficult to trust the instruction of someone who drowned in his own fountain," he snorted.

 

For a moment, Glorfindel was sure that he had misheard him. There was an odd ringing in his ears which made it hard to think, to comprehend what other meaning there could be behind Erestor's words because certainly it couldn't mean that Ecthelion had drown during the attack. Not Thel, who had lovingly taught little Idril and later Earendil how to swim, who had once earned an enraged lecture from Turgon when he filled the king's fountain with soap and he, Glorfindel, and Egalmoth proceeded to get outrageously drunk amongst the suds, who swam so well most assumed he was distantly related to Osse. It felt wrong.

 

He was vaguely aware of Erestor looking at him with growing alarm on his face but found it difficult to focus on anything around him. The next thing he knew Erestor had pushed the map away and was now kneeling in front of him, speaking in that rapid Sindarin almost too quickly for Glorfindel to follow. It was too fast, too loud, too close. Glorfindel couldn't breath. He pushed Erestor away, eyes unseeing as the other fell backward onto the ground.

 

"You're wrong," Glorfindel whispered hoarsely, but why would he be? Glorfindel knew Ecthelion was dead, it shouldn't matter how. Tears dripped unheeded down his face.

 

"Glorfindel, I am so sorry," Erestor pleaded, "Please, I thought you knew. It was cruel of me to say that, regardless. Glorfindel, please say something."

 

Glorfindel shook his head, dejectedly sinking back onto the grass. Erestor crawled over to him and for the second time in as many days he found himself pulled into the other's lap and held close.

 

“I did not know,” he whispered, voice cracking. “I couldn’t bring myself to read of my friends’ deaths. Without knowing, I could almost pretend that all was well, that they were simply at peace in Valinor. You must think me a coward.”

 

“Never,” Erestor assured softly. “Sometimes it is easier to live in happier memories and forget the worst of the past. Not better, just easier.”

 

“There is a word amongst the Vanyar—suadade. It means a nostalgic longing for something that has been loved and lost. I know I can never return to Gondolin, yet I find that is ever where my head and heart dwell. When I close my eyes, I can go back there,” murmured Glorfindel. “with Ecthelion and Turgon, Idril and Tuor, and everyone else who was lost. It may not be real, but it is home.”

 

Erestor cradled him tightly. "For what it is worth, he accomplished feats that would be counted as heroic even among the greatest of the Noldor."

 

Glorfindel didn't say anything, unsure if he found it comforting or not. Tears continued to fall from his eyes as Erestor once again ran his fingers soothingly through Glorfindel's hair.

 

 "It is said that when Ecthelion marched into battle, his voice struck fear into the hearts of the enemy and they fled before him. After the gate had fallen," Erestor continued, "he retreated, already wounded, to the Square of the King, where he was followed by Gothmog, the Lord of the Balrogs. Their duel was fierce, and though he had no shield and walked with a limp, it is said that he fought Gothmog back many times. Finally, beaten down and divested of his sword, Ecthelion lunged at Gothmog, piercing him with the spike of his diamond helm and throwing them both into the King's Fountain to their deaths. It is possible that the War of Wrath could have been very different had Morgoth's general not already been defeated. The Free People of Middle Earth owe your friend a great deal."

 

Glorfindel nodded, not quite consoled but regaining his facilities now that the shock was wearing off. "That sounds like Thel. He always was a perfectionist, never happy unless he was the best."

 

"I truly am sorry, Glorfindel, both for your loss and for my insensitivity. For what its worth, I don't always mean to be such an ass, it just happens." Erestor paused a moment before asking; "Is Ecthelion at least the type who would find some sort of ironic humor in his end?"

 

Glorfindel smiled sadly. "No, I don't think he would. Perhaps some tragic beauty, but not humor."

 

Erestor sighed. "Well, you have my word; if ever meet the ellon, you can let him slap me in front of everyone who happens to be in the room."

 

"Seems fair," nodded Glorfindel sagely, still sniffing slightly.

 

Erestor rose slowly, helping Glorfindel to his feet. "Perhaps you can tell me more of him that while we walk.”

 

Glorfindel nodded. "You know," he said, gathering his horse's lead, "There have been times I have thought you and Thel would have been friends, in another life."

 

"Really?" asked Erestor in interest.

 

"Aye, you are both sharp to a fault. Since I have avoided reading many of the texts that focus on Gondolin since my return, I am not sure how he is portrayed in writing. As a friend, though, you could not find anyone more loyal. He was reticent, particularly around strangers, but he did not intend to come across as aloof as many assumed. He was kind, and he loved animals. He would often let hours fly by as he sang to the birds or chatted about the changing of the seasons and impending wildflower blooms with the trees and the squirrels."

 

"He would fit in well in Imladris," Erestor smiled.

 

"Indeed," agreed Glorfindel. "And above anything, he loved Eärendil with all his heart. Not even Idril spoiled that child as much as he did."

 

"It is clear he meant a lot to you," replied Erestor softly.

 

Glorfindel nodded. "I loved him. He, Turgon, Aredhel, they were my family when I had no family of my own. You know, I fancied myself in love with Turgon for a time in my youth."

 

"What?!" Erestor shouted excitedly. "You and the future king of Gondolin?" Glorfindel grinned at receiving the reaction he expected from the other when dropping this bit of information likely excluded from the history books.

 

"Aye," nodded Glorfindel. "As you know, it was not destined to be and I soon learned that platonic love could be just as deep. I was happy when he married my favorite cousin. Elenwë was one of the few members of my family who I kept up correspondence with after moving into Fingolfin's household in Tirion."

 

"So you and Elenwë were related," Erestor exclaimed, more of a statement than a question.

 

Glorfindel nodded again. "I suppose it is killing you knowing this and not being able to update the books in the library immediately."

 

"More than a little," admitted Erestor.

 

"Turgon never truly recovered from losing her," Glorfindel continued. "Once Gondolin was settled, after Idril had grown and did not need him as much any more, the two of us would often spend our nights on the balcony; two old ellon sick of company but who didn't want to be alone, listening to the music float up from the Square of the King, drinking wine and talking about all the many pointless things you encounter when running a city."

 

Erestor smiled. "That does not sound like a bad way to spend an evening."

 

"Sometimes we would play a game of chess or risk, but more often than not we just drank wine, complained, and occasionally swapped riddles."

 

"Maglor loved riddles as well. Unfortunately he passed that down to Elrond."

 

Laughing, Glorfindel replied; "I seem to remember that about him from Tirion."

 

Erestor smiled, reminiscing about his previous lord. "I suppose it is inevitable that Elrond would have learned traits from him. It was obscene how much Maglor doted on the twins. Ours was not a lavish life, but when it came to love and attention, those children wanted for nothing."

 

"It makes my heart happy to hear that. What about you? Were you always as close with Elrond?"

 

"Begrudgingly," snorted Erestor. "Elrond was the perfect child. Quick to learn, quite talented, and eager to please. It was incredibly annoying."

 

"Is there anything you wouldn't have found annoying?" teased Glorfindel.

 

"Not likely. Elrond's twin, Elros, was the exact opposite, which I also found incredibly annoying. I suppose it didn't help that I had been the youngest before their arrival," explained Erestor. "I wasn't the only child or even the only orphan - there was a rag-tag bunch of us between the refugees of Himring, Thargelion, and Amon Ereb - but even after my hundredth begetting day I had still been the baby."

 

Glorfindel laughed in earnest. "Was someone jealous?"

 

The remark earned him an exaggerated eye-roll. "It would not have mattered if I were. I was subjected to the Feanorian logic that the next oldest must watch the new children - at least in the rare moments Maglor wasn't by their side. Fortunately as you have seen, it is difficult not to warm up to Elrond."

 

"That is certainly the truth," chucked Glorfindel. "I look forward to learning any new riddles from him that I may have missed in the past age when we return."

 

"Good," snorted Erestor, "You can be the one to trade riddles with Elrond from now on."

 

"Come now, it is a great way to pass time!" exclaimed Glorfindel. "Give this a try: What is at the beginning of the end, the start of eternity, at the end of time and space, was in the middle of yesterday but is nowhere in tomorrow?”

 

"Death?"

 

"Eru no, you morbid thing," laughed Glorfindel, "It's 'time.' Are you purposefully bad at this?"

 

"Yes, if I wasn't I might find myself stuck in a riddling duel with Maglor," replied Erestor. "Listening to his terrible puns was bad enough."

 

"Puns? I can only imagine your pain," laughed Glorfindel.

 

"Thank you for your acknowledgement," Erestor said solemnly. "Unfortunately, Maglor had the superior sense of humor between him and Lord Maedhros."

 

"Oh?" asked Glorfindel, eager to hear more.

 

"I don't know if it was everything that he had been through, but Lord Maedhros' sense of humor can only be described as horrendous," shuddered Erestor. "I remember once when I was young, not too long after my parents' death, I woke for some reason or another and went to seek Lord Maedhros in his office. He was likely working on something important, but stopped what he was doing to sip mulled wine with me and tell me jokes to take my mind off of everything."

 

"He gave you mulled wine as a child?" asked Glorfindel, scandalized.

 

Erestor shrugged. "It was but a splash. It helped me fall asleep quicker and probably helped with the jokes as well. Sometimes I think I only laughed because I did not know what else to do in the face of such sheer absurdity."

 

"What were a few of the highlights?" asked Glorfindel, unsure if he truly wanted to know. 

 

"What has two wings but can't fly, two legs but can't walk, and two eyes but can't see?"

 

"What?" asked Glorfindel tentatively.

 

"A dead bird," replied Erestor with a slight twisted delight.

 

Glorfindel shook his head. "That is truly terrible."

 

Erestor laughed. "What did Orome say to the elves when he wanted them to follow him to Valinor?"

 

"I don't know, what did he say?"

 

"Elves, follow me to Valinor!" cackled Erestor.

 

"Please stop, you are done," laughed Glorfindel, understanding what Erestor meant by absurdity.

 

"What is worse than a rotten apple?" asked Erestor conspiratorially.

 

"Do I want to know?" countered Glorfindel.

 

"It's Morgoth. Morgoth is worse than a rotten apple."

 

Gem-green eyes glittered as he drank in the horror on Glorfindel’s face. It occurred to Glorfindel that this is what friendship with the raven-haired elf was - equal parts sweetness and sharp edges, but always on the inside of that cold barrier he presented to the rest of the world. The thought warmed him.

 

"You know," said Glorfindel ruefully, "I think I am starting to understand more about why you have no acceptable sense of humor."

 

Erestor laughed harder. "I am well aware that the jokes are terrible. You know, I am not sure if that is one of my worst childhood memories or one of my best," he said shaking his head.

 

Glorfindel smiled at the other, delighted to discover that when Erestor laughed, his nose scrunched and small wrinkles appeared at the corner of his eyes, smoothing his usually sharp features. It was an unexpected surprise to be able to observe his companion openly enjoying himself like this.

 

"What, why are you looking at me like that?" asked Erestor, still laughing.

 

Their eyes met, full of joy long denied, and for a moment it was easy to imagine that they were both thousands of years and dozens of deaths younger. Dark eyebrows rose in mock criticism, waiting for a response.

 

"Tis nothing, it is just good to laugh," replied Glorfindel breathlessly.

 

"Aye, it is," Erestor smiled.

 

Miles disappeared beneath their feet as the sun staggered on from morning, to noon, to dusk. Occasionally they chatted amicably, but more often they walked on in a comfortable silence, close enough that shoulders could bump against one another while navigating the old, overgrown road.

 

The dense greenery gradually subsided, finally allowing the last golden rays of sunlight to peek through the trees. Towering cedars dripping in moss and ferns gave way to twisting oaks and airy beech until finally, the forest dwindled away altogether.

 

Glorfindel froze, staring out at the scene below him. A wide river valley strewn with gleaming white boulders and emerald shrubbery lay beneath them. Sweeping fields—impossibly grand after a week spent in wooded semi darkness—raced out to meet the open horizon. Clusters of holly trees, branches dusted with white spring flowers, littered the landscape. In the distance, at the roots of a jagged mountain range, great crumbling towers crept toward the sky.

 

Erestor materialized by his side, a silent, solemn presence. “Welcome, Lord Glorfindel, to Ost-in-Edhil.”

 

Glorfindel gazed at Erestor, cold and silent in the fading light. He could be a statue if not for the slight flutter of hair in the breeze. A wistful melody danced on the wind, soft as a memory and heavy with longing.

 

Glorfindel frowned. “Erestor, are there usually lights burning in an abandoned city?”

 

Gold lights danced like enchanted stars between crumbling white towers, almost imperceptible in the warm glow of sunset. Erestor peered through the waning light and swore under his breath. Without so much of a glance back at Glorfindel, he swung himself onto his horse, the urgent pounding of hooves clashing with the rising music.

 

“Erestor!” shouted Glorfindel, quickly leaping on to his horse in pursuit. “Erestor, don’t run toward the unknown source of light,” he exclaimed in exasperation.

 

Traces of civilization grew as he flew down the road. Beneath the clinging vines, he could almost make out the traces of archways and pavilions of what must have once been a grand city.

 

Glorfindel followed as Erestor and his mount flew over the remains of a vast bridge, barely heeding the crumbling stone beneath his horse’s hooves. He vaguely realized that this must be the river crossing Erestor had referenced, but the thought left him as quickly as it came.

 

The city was growing denser around them and the music he had heard on the bluff now bounced eerily off the many towering walls of charred white stone, growing louder with each echo. It was at that moment that Glorfindel began to recall the many stories of Wraiths and Barrow Wights that inhabited abandoned castles and knolls outside of the Hidden City.  

 

“Erestor,” panted Glorfindel, heaving as his horse darted sharply between winding alleyways, “it is not wise to charge into an encampment without knowing what we will face. It could be a trap or ambush… or some dark magic.”

 

“Nay, I know exactly who we are facing,” snapped Erestor, charging forward into a grand plaza lit by sparkling, floating lights and warm bonfires.

 

The second thing Glorfindel noticed upon entering the plaza was the delicate elven arches stretching up to the stars, now covered in moss and bright bursts of blue flowers. The third thing he noticed was the intricate mosaic covering the plaza floor, an unfamiliar design doubtlessly from one of the many other cultures that made up Ost-in-Edhil’s population.

 

The first thing Glorfindel noticed was undoubtedly the host of dozens of elves gathered around various camp fires strewn across the plaza. At their center, perched jauntily on an upper tier of a long-dry, crumbling fountain, came the source of the haunting melody. The elf had deep, honey blonde hair and a voice to match, but it was his eyes that gave Glorfindel pause. It seemed to Glorfindel that they reflected equal parts joy and sorrow, hope and longing.

 

The elf stopped singing as Glorfindel and Erestor came to a stop in front of the company and rested his harp casually under one arm. He cocked his head as he surveyed the pair, a lopsided smile playing on his lips as his gaze settled on Erestor. Glorfindel watched apprehensively as several emotions flickered across Erestor’s face.

 

“Well hello, Res,” chirped the strange elf. “I see you still remember my old haunts—I’m flattered.”

 

Erestor fixed the elf with a level gaze, the effect of which was only slightly ruined by the need to look up at the elf perched on top of the fountain.

 

Finally, after a pause that bordered on rude, Erestor sighed. “Hello, Gildor,” he replied.