“On fine days it is often Erestor’s habit to take his work outdoors so that he can enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. Sometimes he comes here to the rose garden, but his most favourite spot is a flat rock amongst a small thicket of trees overlooking the river. One fine morning he was sitting there with his back against a tree, engrossed in a financial statement, when he heard a voice.
“What does a person need to do to get attention around here? Find a stick and start prodding?”
Startled, Erestor looked around but saw no one. He frowned.
“Don’t trust the evidence of your own ears?” the voice continued. “Insecure, I call that. Well, that’s what my mother would have said, anyway. Down here.”
A frog sat in between the rocks at the water’s edge. It was large, muddy green in colour with brown splotches, and had a broad, amiable face and beady eyes. It appeared to be watching him.
“Yes. Over here. That’s right.”
Erestor went quiet inside. “What…?”
“Well you’re the bright one. What’s your name? Mine’s Glorfindel. I’m from Gondolin, perhaps you’ve heard of it?”
Erestor considered: he had drunk no alcohol since rising, he had spent little time in the sun, his health was, as always, excellent, he had slept well the previous night – no reason at all to be having hallucinations.
The frog hopped closer, giving every evidence of agitation, and Erestor annoyed himself by starting back against the tree. “Gondolin? Glorfindel? You’re an elf, aren’t you? Surely you know about Gondolin – beautiful hidden city on a hill, all that?” The frog shuffled a little, almost awkward. “They’re – all right there, aren’t they?” it asked softly. “It looked pretty bad when we were leaving. Could see the flames from the cliff path.”
Erestor put disbelief aside for the moment. “I think it was completely destroyed,” he confessed. “And of course it’s under the sea now.”
“The sea?” The frog was outraged. “The sea wasn’t anywhere near Gondolin. What can you be talking about… what did you say your name was?”
“Erestor,” he replied automatically. “Seneschal of Imladris. And no, Gondolin wasn’t near the sea, but that was before the War of Wrath. The Valar came with an army of Vanyar, chained Morgoth and sent him through the Doors of Night. While all that was going on, the land was broken and the sea flooded in and…”
“Ohhhh.” The frog shuffled some more as though embarrassed. “They told me about that in Mandos. I forgot.”
“Assuming you are in fact an elf in a frog’s body,” Erestor said carefully, trying not to listen to the words coming out of his mouth, “the natural question would be – why?”
The frog (Glorfindel, hero of the Hidden City, saviour of Elrond’s line?) bounced forward, landing in front of him with a firm plop. Erestor compressed his lips briefly but held his ground this time. Ridiculous to be afraid of frogs, or so he could remember his Nan telling him many centuries ago.
“It’s a test,” the frog told him confidingly. “Manwë and Námo wanted to send me back here, thought I could be of use in some war Vairë saw in her weaving. But Varda felt it wasn’t right – we don’t get sent back to this side of the ocean after we’re reborn. There was a ….” He wriggled, considered his words, “…a bit of a disagreement? I mean, Valar don’t have stand up rows, right? And Varda won. Which Lord Námo told me she does a lot. And so I got sent back, but I can only resume my real body if certain – conditions – are met.”
“Conditions?” Erestor asked faintly, torn between cat-like curiosity and concern for his mental health. As always, curiosity won.
“Umm, yes.” Silence followed, broken by the occasionally low croak. Erestor, famous for being able to wait people out in council, did what he did best. Finally, “Have to find someone who knows my past and who thinks I could be some use here?”
Erestor considered. “Well, you were lord of the House of the Golden Flower, and in the escape from Gondolin you fought and killed a balrog while the refugees including Idril, Tuor and their son Eärendil – my lord’s father – escaped. And then… well, you know how that ended. I don’t have to say it right out, do I?” He spoke quickly, not giving himself time to think too much. “And, I’m sure you could be of great use here in a – normal elf body.”
“And that person has to kiss me in greeting.”
Silence fell between elf and frog.
“You mean like – on the lips?”
“And stop croaking. You had no trouble speaking before.”
“It doesn’t have to be a big kiss? Not much more than a peck. No tongue or anything. And then I’ll have my real body back again.”
“…what?” Erestor was still stuck on ‘no tongue’.
“Quick kiss,” the frog said with exaggerated patience. “On the lips – she was quite specific about that. And then I get my body back, minus the scars and burns and…all that.”
“You’re a frog,” Erestor said flatly. “And – you’re green.”
“Only for now. I really look quite different to this.”
Erestor glared. “One would hope so. What, may I ask, do you look like when you’re not a frog?”
The frog seemed to sit up straighter. Its eyes positively gleamed. “Oh well, I’m tall, I have blue eyes and golden hair – part Vanyar, you know – and… I look after myself, good muscle tone. I used to get my share of compliments.”
Erestor studied the frog. He disliked frogs, true, but he was rather partial to blondes, something about the contrast to his own dark locks. Well, if this was the work of the Valar… “No tongue?” he checked.
‘Croak. I mean, no tongue. Promise.”
The frog hopped up onto his lap and Erestor forced himself not to cringe. He took a deep breath, then another, while he and the frog scrutinized one another from far closer than he had ever imagined he would be to an amphibian. Trying to keep his mind absolutely blank, he bent down and brushed his lips against the broad green mouth. The frog moved forward, increasing the pressure, and suddenly a long, sticky tongue parted his lips and delved expertly within.
Making horrified sounds, Erestor jerked back and pushed the frog away, deaf for a moment to the larger-than-frog thud that followed. Pressing flat against the tree, eyes squeezed shut, he scrubbed frantically at his mouth with the back of his hand. When he finally looked, he was confronted by something in its way even more shocking than a talking frog. In front of him, pushing himself up into a sitting position, was an elf, long limbed, steely muscled, and stark naked save for a hip length fall of golden hair.
Erestor’s eyes travelled up and down the sight before him, and then the full impossibility of the situation overcame him. “Bastard!” he shouted, punching a convenient bicep and almost breaking his fist in the process. “No tongue, you said!”
“I had to.” The voice sounded just the teeniest bit like the frog’s, though it had more depth and richness than any amount of croaking could produce. “That was part of the deal. I’m sorry I lied to you, but I was getting desperate. Everyone else left as soon as they saw they were being chatted up by a frog. I was starting to think I would never get my body back. Just – did what I had to.”
After the elf children had scampered off wide-eyed with awe at the ‘history’ they had just been told, a figure rose from a half-concealed bench amongst the rosebushes. He stalked over to where Elrond’s first born sprawled easily on the grass, looking well pleased with his creativity.
“Perhaps it’s time Glorfindel found out who dyed his horse’s mane and tail bright orange and painted the word ’balrog’ on its left flank? It’s months since Beltane, but he’s still mightily annoyed.”
Elladan blinked and looked up, startled. ”You wouldn’t…?”
Erestor tilted his head to the side and smiled. “Wouldn’t I? Include my name in one more of your ridiculous stories, and we’ll just have to see, won’t we?”
Beta: Red Lasbelin