“…and then you go down past the place where they make the pots and through the trees, he said. It’s right there….”
Glorfindel, drowsing lazily on a bench in the sun on a wonderfully warm summer’s morning, heard the words somewhere on the edge of consciousness. He had missed most of the conversation, but something in the elfling’s tone forced him back to full wakefulness. Being careful not to move and draw attention to himself, he waited for the response.
“Ada said we weren’t to.”
“No.” The voice of reason. “Ada just said we must not go down to the river where it runs fast over the rocks next to the House. This is a pool. That’s different.”
Glorfindel sighed softly and sat up, “Elladan. Elrohir.”
Breathless silence, followed by quick, scuffling sounds. The warrior got to his feet and looked around. Nothing. No sign of anything resembling an elven prince. However, he had been given a fair idea where to look. His swift strides took him along the path and up the few steps that led to one of the many entrances to the House, but his speed was such that it took him round the corner and straight into an approaching elf.
Erestor, knocked quite off balance by the far larger elf, fetched up against the wall with a thud causing Glorfindel to turn back to him, an expression of dawning horror on his face. “Erestor? Are you all right? Forgive me, that was so….”
“…clumsy, unthinking? Running indoors is the kind of thing I expect from an elfling. Where are they?”
“What, the twins? Well that’s where I was…”
“No, not the twins,” Elrond’s senior councillor snapped, pushing back the hair that was hanging forward loosely on the left side of his face and resembled nothing so much as a curtain of black silk. He bent to retrieve the hair clasp dislodged when he had reached out a hand to save himself from falling, then favoured the blonde warrior with a frown. “I was enquiring after the army of orcs about which you were undoubtedly rushing in to warn us.”
Glorfindel sighed. Erestor disliked summer, had no pleasure in those long, hot lazy days. He was a child of the winter months, a fact borne witness to by his delicate skin, which responded badly to overmuch exposure to the sun. The heat of the last week had made him – prickly. “I was trying to head the twins off. They were on their way to some pool – from what I overheard it must be down below the Middle Falls. I was too slow to catch them this side, so I was trying to get there ahead of them. If this is the place I think, then it’s far deeper than Elladan realises.”
“Elrond expressly forbade them from going near the river without the company of an adult who could swim.”
“Ah, well, I imagine that would exclude you then?” Glorfindel ventured, daring to tease the irritated elf.
Erestor, who was fastening back his hair while keeping pace with him through the maze of passageways, shot him a deadly glance from the corner of an eye. “I swim very well when I have to, Glorfindel. I just prefer to keep out of the sun on days like this.”
Glorfindel nodded. “Perhaps a moonlight dip some night?” he suggested.
The black-haired elf snorted softly, but declined to dignify the invitation with an answer.
Their route took them out through the kitchens, from where they followed a winding path that led away from the sprawl that was the Last Homely House, the former fortress that had been steadily expanding along the cliff face for nearly two thousand years. They headed down the valley to where houses and tiny settlements blended amongst rock and tree, and fruit and vegetables grew in small allotments, cared for with the skill and love that came naturally to elves in their dealings with all living things.
After all but tripping over a family of chickens who seemed to believe they had the right of way over elves, the pair crossed rocks and loose stones to reach a lower path that took them down to a small huddle of cottages grouped around a communal kiln, This was where the more utilitarian of the valley’s pottery – mainly everyday plate and water jars – was manufactured.
“There they are,” Glorfindel exclaimed, pointing.
The twins must have seen them at more or less the same time and, apparently acting on instinct, turned and ran into the bushes. Had Glorfindel been alone they might have stopped and tried to offer an explanation for their presence, but Erestor was not only their father’s advisor but also oversaw their tutors and produced all manner of unwelcome activities to fill their leisure. He knew the boundaries within which they were permitted to roam and would have been far more difficult to convince.
“…so undignified,” Erestor muttered as he hitched up his ankle length robes and ran after Glorfindel who had taken off like a hare at the first sight of the elflings.
“I think I know a quicker way down to the river,” the golden warrior said over his shoulder.
“Our last shortcut through woods nearly ended in disaster,” Erestor reminded him darkly. They had wandered around for hours, reaching home shortly after midnight. Embarrassingly, no one had believed they had been lost.
Glorfindel, who had hoped the former debacle was finally dead and buried, groaned to himself. “It was almost dark last time, and I mistook the path. This is totally different.”
With a sigh, Erestor stopped for a moment to kick off his soft house shoes. Barefoot, he sped after the golden warrior, dodging round bushes and trees with unerring skill. A born sprinter, he soon passed Glorfindel, following the combined sounds of the twins moving through the undergrowth ahead of him and the rushing of the river. Concern spurred him on. Besides the depth of the nearby pool, he knew that the river itself was far from safe at this point as it rushed down from the Falls.
He finally spotted his lord’s sons through a gap between the trees. They had been running as fast as their far shorter legs could carry them, but now, under the shadow of bushes leaning out over the water they halted and drew breath. Or at least that had been the idea, but one of them, impossible to tell which from behind, had been unable to stop in time and had gone too close to the edge of the bank which, in this spot, cut down sharply into the river. For a moment there was a wild flailing of arms, followed by a shriek as the small figure overbalanced and fell forward into the rushing water.
Without pausing, Erestor ran past the second elfling who was standing helpless with the beginnings of terrified tears welling in his eyes and leapt straight into the water. The current was indeed strong and the river ran swiftly, but it lacked the potentially fatal vigour of winter. It proved a simple matter for Erestor to find and catch hold of the struggling elfling – who he identified without surprise as Elrohir, who more often than not was the unintended victim of many of his twin’s misadventures.
When Glorfindel arrived, it was to be presented with the sight of one twin standing on the river bank howling in fright while the other, making only marginally less noise, was being hauled up onto dry land by Erestor who, as soon as he could draw breath, yelled, “Manwë’s balls, what is in your heads?! Do either of you ever think?”
The oath, legacy of a past spent in the employ of the late High King, had an immediate impact on both elflings. By the time a now grimly silent Erestor had Elrohir standing upright, had checked him briskly for injuries, and had none too gently wrung some of the water out of his hair, the brothers had fallen quiet save for intermittent sniffs and restrained sobs. They watched the councillor anxiously. Erestor seldom raised his voice; when he did it was normally time to take cover, a lesson understood by young and old alike.
Glorfindel caught Elladan’s eye. “And you ran off when I called, because…?” the warrior enquired in a polite voice.
Elladan tore his attention away from Erestor and his twin to focus on a potentially greater threat. Erestor might be furious, he might set any manner of punishment, but he could be relied upon to keep a misdemeanour, properly punished, to himself. Glorfindel would have a warrior’s regard for chain of command, which was something that had been carefully explained to them by Thenin, who was tutoring the young of Imladris on the theoretical side of the arts of war. The hero of Gondolin would be far too likely to inform their father. Elladan looked down at his feet and shuffled the dry leaves beneath them.
“We just wanted to sit by the water, Hîren…” he attempted.
Glorfindel’s dark gold brows drew down, and his face looked suddenly forbidding. “No, I think what happened here was that you wanted to go swimming, you knew you were not allowed to do so unsupervised, and you wanted to avoid me asking awkward questions.”
Erestor clicked his tongue impatiently. “They wanted to do something forbidden, you tried to call them on it, they did what you would have at their age – they ran. However,” he continued, stepping back from Elrohir and trying to squeeze excess moisture from his own long, black hair. “I can outrun all three of you – as I have just proved.” He sounded thoroughly satisfied with himself. Giving up on his hair, he beckoned Elladan over. Standing the brothers side by side he stepped back and surveyed them. Turning to Glorfindel, he raised an eyebrow.
“What do you suggest we do about this?”
Glorfindel paused, distracted by the sight of the dripping wet advisor, whose robe was clinging to his body in a most suggestive manner. Suddenly aware that all three of them were waiting for him to speak, he forced his attention back to the twins.
“I think their father should deal with this,” he declared.
Erestor appeared to consider this. “No,” he said finally, shaking his head. “I think not. It would only worry him and I think we should avoid that. After all, it is not as though this will ever happen again. Will it?” he added sharply to the two younglings.
Identical dark heads shook vehemently. “Please don’t tell Ada,” Elrohir begged in a small voice. “He would be sad we forgot what he said.”
Erestor nodded. “Yes, he would indeed be sad you chose to ignore a warning given for your own protection,” he agreed dryly.
He stood staring out at the river, arms folded, face inscrutable, and the twins waited. Elladan started to fidget after a while, but stopped when Elrohir nudged him. Finally, apparently reaching a decision, Erestor turned back to them. “Very well,” he said judiciously, maintaining his dignity despite dripping wet hair and clothing. “I will say nothing to him – this time. Should I ever see you near the river unattended, however, he will hear of that and this and much, much more besides. I am far too lenient with you two.”
“Thank you, Erestor,” two voices said as one, and the twins turned, preparing to leave.
“One moment,” their father’s advisor said sharply, using a tone that caused them to stop in mid-step as though turned to stone. “Lord Glorfindel called to you and you saw fit to disregard him. An apology is due for that inexcusable rudeness. He must be wondering what the Valar were thinking to send him back to live amongst such barbarians.”
“Sorry Hîren,” said the two-voices-as-one, identical faces looking up at the golden warrior with solemn, worried eyes. Erestor was a known quantity who had always formed an integral part of their lives but, glorious, heroic and good natured though he appeared, they had far less experience of the reborn elf.
Glorfindel, understanding their uncertainty, crouched down so that they were on eye level. “I accept your apology,” he said in a completely serious voice. If Erestor could keep a straight face, so could he. “And if the Chief Councillor feels it is in order not to mention this to your father, then so be it. But he is also right when he says this must never happen again. If we had not followed you, who knows what might have happened.” He directed this last to Elrohir, who had the grace to drop his eyes and nod.
As Glorfindel rose and the twins again prepared to make good their escape, Erestor added almost casually, “And you have three days to prepare an essay for me discussing the political developments that led up to the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. You may work on it together, as it is a somewhat advanced project. Two thousand words, please.”
The look of horror on their faces remained unspoken. When Erestor used that tone, they had learned the futility of argument. Even pleading would serve no purpose. As they hurried off between the trees their clear young voices drifted back, debating names of elves in the household who might be old enough to be of some help in researching the ancient battle.
Glorfindel turned to Erestor, grinning. “A hard lesson, but one they probably won’t forget – for at least a week. They’re a little young to have learned much about the Tears though, aren’t they?”
Erestor laughed softly. “It was part of Thenin’s lesson plan for next week,” he explained. “I have just pre empted him a little. I wonder if it will occur to them to ask you about it?”
Glorfindel chuckled, watching the black-haired elf busily attempting to knot his very wet hair back out of his face. “If you give me your robe, I can wring it out for you,” he suggested. “Then, if you put it on the grass in the sun for about half an hour, you’ll be able to wear it back to the House.”
“I think not,” Erestor said rather briefly. “Perhaps you can lend me your tunic? It will be decently long on me…”
“But not necessary,” Glorfindel protested. “Just take the robe off, like I said. Your underclothes should dry on you quickly enough in this heat. It shouldn’t take long, It’s lovely here beside the river. We can sit and talk and…”
“…no underclothes…” Erestor muttered, making much of watching a fish eagle winging up over the trees.
Glorfindel had another look, more openly this time, and started laughing, his face alight with delight. “Do you mean to tell me that under that oh so correct robe you are actually – butt naked?”
Erestor turned on him and tried to glare with dignity. He almost succeeded. “Well, you try wearing something even halfway formal in this weather. Add undershirt and leggings and it becomes completely unbearable.”
“You sat through a council meeting bare as a newborn under your robe…”
Refusing to admit to embarrassment, Erestor scowled at Glorfindel who by now was almost doubled up with mirth. “Don’t just stand there laughing, you irritating creature. Give me your tunic. I refuse to perch naked on the edge of the Bruinen like a woodelf for the next half hour, and I cannot go back looking like this.”
Stripping off the pale green, sleeveless tunic, Glorfindel held it out, still grinning broadly. “I have an idea this might create almost as much talk as wearing a wet robe that shows every line of your body…though I’m willing to bet you’ll carry it off so well no one will think to question it,” he added hastily as Erestor stood holding the tunic and staring at him, wet black hair gleaming in the dappled sunlight, eyes slitted determinedly. He might have been – less than tall, as he preferred to phrase it – but he was nothing if not intimidating.
“I’m willing to swear to it having been a popular summer fashion back in Gondolin,” the warrior suggested placatingly.
Erestor sighed. “Glorfindel, turn your back and let me get changed, please. You’ve seen all you are going to see for today.”
The golden warrior obligingly turned around and stood contemplating the trees and thought about two words that may or may not have been merely a slip of the tongue.
Beta: Red Lasbelin