Lindon, S.A. 1697
The late afternoon sun was sparkling off the water of the Gulf of Lhûn, creating shards of light to dazzle the eyes of the unwary. Up on the palace roof, it touched and lit the hair of the solitary Elf gazing idly out across the bay to the open sea, turning blonde locks to molten gold. He stood motionless, his folded arms resting atop the low wall that surrounded the roof area, apparently lost in thought.
The voice of the sea and the whispering of the wind masked the sound of the all but silent footsteps approaching behind him. Nonetheless, an instinct born of long years with danger as a constant companion nudged him, causing him to glance back sharply over his shoulder. His face lit immediately with a welcoming smile.
“When did you get back?” he asked. “I had no idea we were due a visit.” His voice carried the accent of a former time; Quenya was no longer spoken in Middle-earth, had not been for many centuries now, save for purposes of ritual or study.
Elrond Eärendilion, who had been moving as silently as he was able, acknowledged defeat with a wry nod. He would long since have given up attempting to catch Glorfindel unawares, but an innate stubbornness insisted that he at least try.
“I got here a little over an hour ago,” he answered. “I spotted you from the stables – there’s no way anyone could miss that hair. I was on my way up here, but Ereinion caught me. As ever.” He grinned briefly. “He met me before I had even reached the stairs. Barely greeted me before the questions began. Eventually I asked if I could at least go and change and get cleaned up – I’ve been days in the saddle. I came here first; I was afraid you’d have left.”
“Nothing wrong with smelling of horse,” Glorfindel said, sniffing judiciously. “I’m very fond of horses. You look tired though. Want to go and find something to eat?”
Elrond shook his head and came to lean next to Glorfindel, standing close enough for their shoulders to touch lightly. “Later. Let’s stay here for a while first.”
Following the blonde Elf’s example, he looked out over the bay. Childhood experience had given Elrond an ambivalence towards the ocean, his father’s first love and the instrument of his mother’s departure. Of late, however, he had tried to see it more through the reborn Elf’s eyes. To Glorfindel the open sea represented freedom, a fascination that was almost certainly a reaction to years spent hemmed in by mountains. He never spoke ill of Gondolin, but Elrond knew the gilded cage had often left him feeling constrained and suffocated.
They had talked about that confinement many times, along with other memories from the warrior’s previous life, and by now Elrond had a resident’s familiarity with the intricacies of life in the Hidden City and the pristine beauty of distant Tirion. He had also shared a little of the horror of the crossing of the Helcaraxë, and knew a selection of bawdy songs and tales from Nevrast that had not formed any part of his formal education into the history of his kindred.
Unfortunately there had been less time to share in one another’s thoughts and memories than either Elf would have liked. Since their first meeting at Mithlond shortly after Glorfindel’s almost mystical return to the Hither Lands, life had been far from uneventful. The open warfare that had broken out around that time continued, showing no sign of abating. Despite Elrond’s best efforts at the head of Gil-galad’s army, Eregion was in ruins, its towns and villages destroyed. The land was burnt and bleeding and survivors fled in all directions.
Most of these refugees continued to stream into Lindon, although a number had chosen to cross the border into the woods of Lorien to join the Lady. Galadriel, responding to a dream of indescribable horror, had fled Ost-in-Edhil mere days ahead of Annatar’s army, taking her young daughter and travelling unescorted in the dead of night – proof yet again that none of Finarfin’s children could be said to lack courage. More recently, in response to rumour and the advice of bone-weary warriors heading in that direction, some of the homeless had begun instead to make their way to the new fortress in the north that was being created and held in the name of the High King by his heir, the Mariner’s son.
None of this involved Glorfindel, much to his discreetly-expressed disgust. The King had decided that, whatever the reason for his return, Glorfindel’s life was too precious to be risked to the vagaries of battle. Rather than send him into unknown territory where he would be called upon to ride with an army trained and deployed in a manner unfamiliar to him, Gil-galad had instructed that the reborn Elf be properly prepared for a less active, though equally crucial, role. Accordingly, instead of passing his days in weapons training and combat preparation, his first few months in Lindon had been spent immersed in exhaustive – and exhausting – study.
He had to relearn geography, for the shape of the land that he recalled from the First Age had been reordered during the War of Wrath. Once he could orient himself on a map, he was taught about the various Elven states, along with the complexities of the current political order. Details of Lindon’s trade links with the Dwarf realms followed, along with information concerning the unexpected spread of Men across Middle-earth, particularly in the south. He was also introduced to the composition and traditions of the High King’s army, which included an invitation to sit in on military councils. Initially he did no more at these meetings than listen, but he was soon invited to take part in discussions and offer suggestions of his own.
After a while it dawned on the former warrior that he was now numbered amongst the planners, those whose place it was to look at markers on a map and determine who went where to fight and die. The real work was done by a thinly-stretched army under the overall command of the Heir – Elrond of Sirion. By this time, he would have liked nothing more than to have ridden and fought at Elrond’s side but, realising that Gil-galad was both well-meaning and immovably determined in his decision, Glorfindel gritted his teeth and made the best he could of the enforced inactivity.
“How goes the war?” he now asked dutifully.
Elrond tilted his head, dark hair drifting across Glorfindel’s broad shoulder, and raised an eloquent eyebrow at him before turning back to watch the sunlight on the water. They had been soul-mates from the day of their first meeting; the Half-elf was only too aware of how much the legendary warrior resented what he regarded as his current impotence.
“It goes as it goes. We lose more than we win. They fight us to a standstill at every turn. Eregion may never be habitable again – they burn the woods and salt the fields and poison the water as they go. We do what we can. Right now…” He paused, choosing his words carefully. “Right now my main concerns involve defense rather than assault. Have you heard about the valley I discovered in Eriador?”
Glorfindel nodded. There had been some discussion as to the worth of this almost inaccessible cleft in the earth, but Elrond’s reports had been glowing and Gil-galad, who trusted his cousin’s judgement, was a far-sighted monarch and agreed that a stronghold in the midst of what was fast becoming enemy territory was more than desirable – if Elrond could hold it.
“I got the impression you were using it primarily as an infirmary? I also heard talk of it being as a temporary base where your warriors could rest up for a couple of days before returning to battle?” he offered.
Elrond shook his head, his face serious. “I emphasised that, of course. Not even the most ignorant voice on the Council is going to argue against the need for a well-defended infirmary after all.”
Elrond glanced around to make sure they were quite alone then leaned closer, bringing his dark head nearer to Glorfindel’s blonde one. His tone changed, became eager, intense.
“We discovered it by chance. We were leading a party of survivors to safety, and we took a wrong turn and had to make our way along the edge of a ravine. It was so deep we could see nothing below us but the tops of trees. Someone stopped to answer nature’s call and clambered down a way in search of privacy.” He smiled at the memory. “Her son later came and told me she had seen a river far below, and what looked like small patches of open land amongst the trees. It took days to create a path to the bottom that a horse could follow… Anyway, they were the first residents – not warriors, just a group of terrified civilians, many of them children.”
While he spoke, he watched Glorfindel carefully from under long, dark lashes, but the reborn Elf’s face was expressionless. Glorfindel’s reputation might emphasise his status as a heroic warrior, but he was also a Tirion-born lord with royal connections, the surviving head of a renowned family and formerly a member of Turgon’s Inner Council. He had been taught from childhood to keep his thoughts to himself.
“Anyway,” Elrond continued after a pause. “After that we started encouraging people to go there rather than to Lindon. One of the first things we did was set up an infirmary, that’s no less than the truth. What I played down in the reports is that we also have some passable shelters built, and we’re already housing a fair-sized refugee population.”
“You’re not just telling me all this to ease your conscience for being less than honest with the Council, I hope,” Glorfindel interrupted, his blue eyes twinkling in denial of his stern expression. “What is it that you want from me, Elrond? Must I try and persuade the King that now would be a good time to found a new city?”
“Not a city,” Elrond said firmly, his grey eyes dark with memory. “I have seen what can happen to a city. When we arrived, Ost-in-Edhil was a burnt-out shell with the body of its lord as its primary decoration. No, this is a shelter, a refuge. Somewhere that the survivors of what’s being done in Eregion can head for. It’s defensible… given time it can be made self-sufficient. Eventually it could also serve as a permanent garrison for at least part of the army…”
“You want me to help you convince Gil-galad of this?” Glorfindel broke in, interrupting the flow of words. He was willing to help but not certain how much use his obviously biased support would be. Their friendship was something well-known and often remarked upon.
Elrond, however, shook his head before flashing his companion a dazzling smile. “Not a bit of it. That’ll be my problem. No, I want you to come back with me and have a look around.”
Glorfindel turned to lean with his back against the wall and stared at Elrond, who was apparently quite serious. “The King will never allow it,” he said finally. “You know how he feels about this. My place is here, advising, using my strategic skills. I make suggestions, I examine reports of battles and help determine what went wrong and why…”
Elrond pulled a face. “You’re here because the Valar sent you back and Ereinion has no idea why and he’s worried he’ll be the cause of harm coming to you. You’re like a talisman, haven’t you noticed? A sign the Valar favour our cause. Of course, an army of Vanyar out of the West might be an equally good omen, but that would apparently be too much to ask of them – you’re all we’ve got. That’s why he feels he needs to be careful with you.”
Glorfindel stared at him, speechless at being described as a kind of mascot but also fighting down an irresistible urge to laugh. It was hardly funny, but the sheer enormity of the blasphemy was of the kind to induce guilty mirth. Glorfindel had been raised with all the proper respect for the Shining Ones, but the Half-elf’s patent and well-known lack of respect for the Mighty often had this effect upon him.
Elrond propped his chin on his hand and looked up, meeting and holding the reborn Elf’s eyes, twilit grey looking deep into summer blue. “I have no idea what I’m doing. I know next to nothing about defensive structures or sealing off access routes, the basics of making a place impenetrable. You do. You lived in Gondolin. You would know all about this. And you would look at it all with a warrior’s eye, not with the kind of hopeful amateurism that’s currently being brought to it. Will you come back with me? Please?”
“Elrond, there’s little I wouldn’t do for you – you must know that by now – but the King would never allow…”
“If I can persuade my cousin to let you, would you go?” Elrond asked bluntly, his expression searching.
Glorfindel paused for no more than a moment, which was all the time it took for him to imagine being on horseback and riding hard along the road away from Lindon and into adventure.
“If you can persuade the King, then yes, of course I’ll go. Only,” he added, forestalling Elrond’s delighted response by raising an admonitory finger. “Only because you are the great-grandson of my lord and it would be unacceptable for me to refuse a solemn request from you. Not for one moment would I have you think that I have any desire to shirk my vital duties here.”
Elrond gave him a dry look. “Yes, of course. Constrained by tradition as well as sheer good manners, aren’t you? Your reluctance is noted. I’ll be sure to mention it to Ereinion when we discuss this. I should also point out to him that if we aren’t seen to be making use of your unique skills, the Valar might be tempted to take you back – leave us to get on with things without the benefit of a symbol of their goodwill.”
Glorfindel nodded slowly, unsmiling, his eyes inward-looking. “That’s all I am, aren’t I? A symbol, a token of the power of the Valar. Something out of a bygone age, a reminder of a legendary city. Nothing more.”
Elrond shook his head and reached out to place a hand lightly on Glorfindel’s arm. “More than a symbol,” he said quietly, a smile stealing across his tired face, lighting it with a charm and sweetness often hidden under layers of irony and light sarcasm. “A sign of hope. And a clear eye and an ordered mind, and a generous spirit that offers encouragement and support to all who come to you in need.”
They stayed thus in silence for a space, eyes sharing truths that lips were hesitant to utter. Elrond finally broke the stillness. “Ereinion told me once that when it was time for you to take the place you had been sent to fill, he would know it. Well, this is the time and this is the place. With me. Teaching me how to safeguard my valley and its people. What could be of greater value or need right now than a safe haven from the horror?”
Glorfindel raised an eyebrow. In his mind he could already hear Gil-galad shouting. The King’s temper was legendary. Elrond, however, had an enviable reputation for being able to charm his royal cousin into submission. Glorfindel had a suspicion Gil-galad usually knew he was beaten before he began, but felt compelled to go through the motions.
“This valley,” he asked, strongly suspecting he would be visiting it sooner rather than later, and that his immediate future had finally been decided. “What have you called it? There was nothing in the reports but I’m sure it already has a name.”
Elrond smiled as he answered, a touch of pride in his voice. He looked and sounded rather like a parent speaking fondly of a difficult but much-loved child. “It’s this steep gash in the earth – stand on the edge and look down and all you see is an uninhabitable chasm. It’s damp and overgrown, the river’s swift and dangerous, and in some places the drop is so sheer that the only way to build houses is going to be literally into the side of the cliff. So we’ve called it Imladris – the valley within the ravine.”
He paused and looked up at the tall blonde Elf. He had trusted Glorfindel instinctively from the day they met, with the same totality he had offered his long-departed twin. “I think you have to see it first to understand what I mean. There’s something about it – in the rocks, the trees, the river’s song. Something that says that if I can keep it safe I can make that valley into what I’ve looked for almost my whole life – a place I can call my home.”
And so it began.
AN: for Red Lasbelin
Beta: Ilye Elf