Part Seven: The King
He had fallen into a deep sleep and was dreaming of the forest around Imladris. He was walking through it, searching for a dragon’s egg. One of the twins was with him, still very young, and this was a kind of treasure hunt. He could hear distant banging as though someone was chopping down a tree, which happened only under controlled circumstances in the hidden valley, and followed the sound through bushes, pushing aside brambles and branches…
He woke abruptly, sitting bolt upright in the unfamiliar bed. It was still dark outside, and someone was knocking on the door.
Erestor sat confused for a minute trying to adjust to his surroundings, then pushed back the covers and hurried across to the door, the shirt brushing the tops of his thighs. He turned the handle, his mouth open, the words forming, and found his eyes at chin level to a tall, broad-shouldered elf with springy, almost curly dark hair.
“Damn it! I spent half the night hearing people ask about the dark haired beauty Elrond arrived with before someone asked your name and my aunt gave it. I’d never have thought to look for you. You’re the stubbornest elf alive, I was sure you’d stay till the last ship sailed.”
Erestor stared blankly. After a moment time and place seemed to dawn on the former high king of the Noldor in the east, because Gil-galad said more calmly, “Did I wake you? It’s – the party ran late, yes.”
Stepping back slowly, Erestor retreated into his room, heart thudding. Ereinion Gil-galad, big, solid, no longer dark ash on a shattered mountainside, entered and closed the door behind him, shutting out the dim light cast by the hallway lantern.
“Light?” he asked, waiting.
Erestor came back to himself abruptly, hand scrabbling around on the night stand seeking the strange, streamlined tinder and flint. He lit the small lamp with its shade of finely rubbed alabaster, and soft yellow light filled the room. Gil-galad looked around, frowning. “Where is everything? Is this all you brought with you?”
“The rest of my bags will come later, when I find somewhere more permanent… apparently Círdan’s arranged storage for several of us.” Erestor was still trying to keep up.
The name was a mistake. Gil-galad bristled, his voice rising. “Círdan? I don’t know what happens in my foster father’s head some days, he must be getting senile. Why did he not tell you where I was? What are you doing at an inn anyhow?”
Erestor finally felt the bed against the backs of his knees and sat. “Gil, it’s been — three and a half thousand years? I would hardly presume, and as for Círdan, you know he never approved… You weren’t there to greet me so I drew the logical conclusion which is that you chose not to resume our – liaison.” It was like someone else was speaking and he was on the outside listening. “I would never do something to embarrass you, and of all people you should know that. I made a career of keeping our connection discreet.”
“Liaison, connection…” Gil-galad was all but spluttering his outrage. “I loved you, you asshole. And you dismiss it as if it was a…”
“Don’t you ‘ssh’ me, you skinny baggage! You think I’m that shallow?”
“Well, you can be. Bloody shallow. Sometimes.”
“That was three and a half thousand years ago. You said so yourself. Do you think we learn nothing in the Halls?”
Erestor stopped in mid word to consider this. “They… teach you things, Fin said? About coming to terms with yourself and your mistakes.”
“Only bloody mistakes I made were using Aeglos and not my sword and thinking you had a grain of sense under that black hair.”
“No, not much teaching. Clearly. Will you keep your voice down? You’ll get me thrown out of here!”
Gil-galad subsided with a snort and dropped down onto the bed beside him. They stared at each other in the lamplight. Erestor broke the silence, reaching a careful hand up to touch errant hair.
“It’s really you?” he asked softly. “I mean, we hear about people being reborn and I’ve had Glorfindel for proof, but…” But this was what Valinor was supposed to be about, finding those who had been lost. Celebrían had been a unique case. As had Arwen.
“Glorfindel?” Gil-galad glanced around the room as though expecting a large, blond survivor of Gondolin to leap out of the closet or from behind the chair.
“They sent him back. To Imladris. About a thousand years after you … left. We’re good friends. He’ll sail when Elrond’s sons are ready to leave.”
“I heard they sent him back, yes. I’ve been hearing about Elrond’s family. Shame about Bri. She was a good girl, I was fond of her. Not a bit like her mother.”
Erestor had hoped to find Gil-galad alive, prayed for it, but the reality was a little … overwhelming? He searched for signs of difference, change, the otherness of one who had known death. Gil-galad was leaning forward, hands between his knees, hair half shielding his face. Even death had not tamed that hair, he noted. “Galadriel’s all right, just very practical,” he offered. “We get along. I had a lot of contact with her, working with Elrond as I was.”
“Twin sons, I heard. And there was something about a daughter, but some kind of scandal?”
Erestor could not have loved Elrond’s daughter more had she been his own. He gave Gil-galad a withering look. “Arwen stayed to follow her heart. Lúthien did it and they made songs of it, why is this a cause for gossip instead?”
“Lúthien’s mother was a Maiar so no one was taking any chances?” hazarded Gil-galad and they exchanged grins. One of the first things that had drawn them together had been their irreverent sense of humour.
“Anyhow, there were a lot of people at the dock when I arrived, many of them to greet Elrond who, last time I looked, is your cousin, but I did not see you. What was I – what am I meant to think?”
“I was away hunting!” Gil-galad’s tone was aggrieved. “I knew he was expected – word gets around, though they were mainly talking about Olirin’s return and Gildor and my aunt finally coming home. I knew I’d have plenty of time to catch up with him, didn’t have to be there on the damn jetty with the rest of them, waiting for a glimpse. And why didn’t he tell me you were here either? He’s as bad as my foster father…”
“Would you keep your voice down? And why would he tell you? He was off in Imladris most of the time, well away from the rumours. He had no reason to mention me as soon as he’d finished saying hello. Later maybe yes.”
“So let me get this right. We were such a minor event in your life you never once said anything after I died? To anyone?”
Even in the soft light from the lamp, Erestor could see the hurt outrage in his expression. Still trying to catch up with being awake and sitting on the edge of the bed with a very alive former high king, he started to wonder how this had suddenly become his fault.
“That is such a crock. Not minor at all, but we were careful. It wasn’t the kind of relationship someone in your position could get away with… We agreed, damn it. And no, I didn’t talk about it afterwards. What, you’d want me to go down through the centuries talking about back when I was being fucked by the king?”
His hand flew to his mouth, then changed direction to grab Gil-galad’s arm as he made to rise. “No, sorry, I’m sorry, didn’t mean it to come out like that, I just – I would never have traded on it, used it as a fireside story. It was too important for that. Too — not something I wanted to share.”
The room was very still. The sea was too faint, it should have been louder, he had lived beside the sea for all those years in Mithlond and it had always shouted in the quiet hours before dawn. But this was a different sea, tamed, polite…
Gil-galad was watching him, the flash of quick anger dying back as fast as it had come. That too hadn’t changed. “I’m here now, Ressie,” he said, and his voice was warm, like the yellow light and the comfort of the room. “Really here. I waited for you all these years, not about to walk out in a fit now. Knew if you lived you would finally come home. I was afraid you might die and I would never find you again.”
Erestor’s fingers still gripped his sleeve, the knuckles white. “Are you – really you?” The words were a whisper as he studied the face for so long seen only in dreams. Same light blue eyes, same dimpled cheeks and broad mouth, same firm chin. He reached over to touch where a thin white scar had always been: the skin was clear and smooth.
Gil-galad read the unasked question. “I still look for it,” he answered with unusual gentleness. “When I look in the mirror to do my hair, my eye goes there first. I got that scar when I was a boy. And there are others missing. And the Avari clan tattoo on my arm – I had that redone, but the colour isn’t the same.”
He rested his hands on Erestor’s shoulders, his eyes serious. “Those of us not reborn in new forms but rehoused as we were before look the same, but the marks of time and injury are missing. I – I think I would like my scars, they say who I am, how I’ve lived, but it is how they do this. You spoke of Glorfindel. The same who died killing a balrog?”
Erestor nodded. Now they had both calmed down, he seemed to have caught up, just barely.
Gil-galad went on softly, his touch lighter now, fingers stroking cloth, feeling out the shape beneath. “He was not sent to you horribly scarred and burned, I’m thinking? No? Even so. Anyhow,” he added, “in my case sending me back without a few changes would have been a bit awkward. It was very quick, but I suspect what was left might not lend itself to opening the dancing at a court function.”
Erestor hesitated. “Ash?”
Blue eyes blinked. “Ash? That’s it?”
“Just ash. I know. I sat vigil on the mountain that night while everyone else was running around like a bunch of chickens with their heads chopped off and Elrond was telling anyone who came near him that if they wanted a new high king they could go ask the Valar… He was upset.”
“Glad to hear he was upset. It’s nice to be missed,” Gil-galad said straight faced, but his lips twitched, spoiling the effect, and the eyes that held Erestor’s danced, mirth in their depths, mirth and… something more. The something more made Erestor’s breath catch in his throat. Gil-galad did not miss the response, his fingers gripped Erestor’s shoulders tight again.
“You mourned me? And you looked for me when you docked?” His voice dropped lower, intimate. Erestor barely nodded as the fingers gripping his shoulders hooked and drew him closer. Before he could speak, argue, ask, Gil-galad’s mouth claimed his in a way instantly familiar from a time long past. He had always said no one kissed like Gil.
There was no space for argument, the kiss sapped his will to do so and had it not, the hands tangled in his hair and travelling over his back would make sure. Gil-galad broke the kiss and drew back, towering over him for a moment. They shared a long look involving request and consent, and then he nodded, his hands moving down Erestor’s arms towards the hem of the shirt.
“We need to talk,” he said quietly between audible breaths, “and we will. Later.”
It was a long, intense and satisfying reunion, and the night was finally winding down to morning, so close that the birds would soon start calling. They lay together limp and for a time sated, talking quietly. Erestor was unwilling to fall asleep, still half-convinced that if he closed his eyes, Gil-galad would be gone when he woke. Knowing that souls were reborn in the Undying Lands was one thing, actively experiencing this reality was another entirely.
“So? What do you think of Valinor?”
He thought about the question for a bit before answering. “I haven’t been here long so to say I dislike it doesn’t seem fair. But I can’t say I feel at home. Oh, the inn’s fine, though they have their problems here too. I’m used to being busy – I had no idea what to do with the rest of eternity and spending it doing nothing is a depressing thought.”
“You weren’t going over to Tirion with Elrond then?”
“He wants me to, but I thought I might settle here, it’s where everyone without good family connections stays. It – seems nicer than Tirion, though a long way from home.” He paused again. “I’m worried Elrond will want to start getting to know Brethil as she grows older if he’s over there and with nothing to fill his time. He’s not at ease over here either.”
Even in the dim light, Erestor could see the frown. “Do you think seeing her again would be wise?” Gil-galad asked. “The whole point of letting her return without memory was so she could become a new person, create a new history. At least that’s how I understood it. He needs to respect that and not be looking for something that’s gone. My aunt too. Let the child grow in peace.”
“She may have forgotten, but he hasn’t,” Erestor said, moving closer and resting his head on Gil-galad’s shoulder. “I don’t think he means to try and remind her, but finding her gave him purpose – gave the three of us purpose, I suppose – and now that’s done, letting go means there’s no goal, nothing to strive for. If I feel like this, I can’t begin to imagine how it is for him or Galadriel.”
“Need to distract him till his sons arrive then, don’t we?” Gil-galad said, getting his arm round Erestor and starting to play with his hair. “Gods, I’ve missed you. It’s been a long wait.”
Erestor kissed his shoulder. “Distract him how? More visits to Tirion, more new family connections? Do you know anything about why his parents won’t see him?”
“Oh, I doubt they’ve refused outright. I think Elwing just needs a little time. Must feel a bit strange. Imagine – you have this small child and then two Ages of the world and a lot of grief later, someone shows up and says ‘remember that little boy? That was me’. It was pretty much like that with my parents too. Total strangers.”
“Awkward.” He was quiet a bit, fingers tracing patterns on Gil-galad’s broad chest. “It’s awkward for all of us one way or another, really. It’s not – it’s not exactly a homecoming.”
“I wasn’t born here either,” Gil-galad reminded him. “I was born over there during the Exile, raised with the idea that we could never return. After Lord Námo cut me loose I had to work out where I belonged – huge extended family, some still in the Halls, some reborn, some never left here, whole bunch of former and current kings. It’s what you make of it, Res.”
Erestor sighed, closed his eyes. “And I probably need a bit more time to find out what that is. My Mentor thought a wife and children would be the answer… and a hobby.”
Gil-galad snorted with laughter. “He doesn’t know much about you, does he?”
“Not a whole lot. Still, I can’t live in this inn forever. They’re worried they might have to close once the ships stop sailing West. What about you? Tirion? Family responsibilities? I suppose I’ll have to move there now.”
Gil-galad pulled him closer, smiling. “I visit Tirion, but no. that’s not where I live. Don’t know what time they serve breakfast here, but let’s try for a few hours sleep before that. Then, if you’re interested, you can come with me and I’ll show you my home. I think you’ll like it more than Tirion. Elrond might too.” He laughed softly, kissed Erestor’s temple almost chastely. Well, it had been a long night. “Who knows? Maybe you’ll like it enough to stay.”