The aging structure known simply as ‘the house’ sprawled along the bottom of the cliff in a variety of styles and textures, colours and shapes. Seen from above, chimneys jutted at unexpected angles and birds had their homes in sheltered corners, new nests built upon old, mimicking the house which was really a series of buildings co-joined to other, older buildings. The roof was mainly thatched, although there were tiles in odd places as well, their predominant shade being a dull slate green.
Caves honeycombed the cliff above the house, some large enough for practical use, others no more than shallow indents where an elf could sit quiet and look out across the rooftops at the valley or follow the course of the tumbling river. It was to one such hollow that Erestor made his escape on those days when the past spoke loudest, a snug crevice just below the point where the cliff straightened and became almost glass-smooth, disallowing further upward movement.
The late summer air smelt of rock up here, with overlays of valerian and sweet summer lilac, plants that needed minimal soil to root. The birds and the river far below gave background harmony to the bees that still droned lazily even though the sun sat low; the vista promised peace and calm. Once he had been a soldier and the heart’s choice of a king, but that was a very long time ago, over a thousand years. Now Erestor served officially as archivist to the household that had formed around the family carrying the last strains of the high lines of Sindar and Noldor on this shore, the descendants of kings. Mainly the work satisfied him, most days now he was content with his lot.
The task had begun as a matter of organizing the small store of books available to a wartime refuge, a means to pass the time while he waited for comrades recovering from injury in the security of the hidden valley. Not originally a warrior by inclination, he had sought but not found justice for his dead in the fighting after Ost-in-Edhil fell and his parents and sister died. Lightning reflexes and an unexpectedly lethal skill with a blade had kept him in the forefront of the fighting for nearly two years. There had been no chance to mourn before, and he found he liked the solitude for thought the task offered.
The books provided time to heal, time to make peace. Months passed and their number grew. Finally Elrond, who blended a love of learning with a quite formidable sword arm, had sent for him and asked whether it was his wish to go back to being a soldier. If not, perhaps he would be prepared to stay and help build up a library of works about the elves and their doings in Middle-earth, with maybe a few notes about dwarves and men should such come their way? A collection to be kept safe in this final great haven that would be the king’s fall-back position should the tide of darkness some day turn against Lindon.
Soldiering had been born of necessity, not choice.. All his life he had loved books, devoured stories of faraway places and unknown people, feeding an endless, wide-ranging curiosity. And he loved Imladris, loved the tall cliffs and dancing waters, loved the rank upon rank of trees that marched down the valley, the deer, foxes and wild goats that shared the refuge with them and showed no discomfort at the presence of their two-legged neighbours. Absently tidying back errant black curls that had slid free of their clasp, Erestor had considered the view out the single window in the lord’s study and nodded.
And so the great Library of Imladris had begun. It had opened up the best of all worlds for Erestor, giving him a place once more to call home and a job that fed his love of information. An added bonus was that it required regular trips to Mithlond to buy or borrow books. He had never seen the great port city and capital of Lindon before and, although he loved the ruggedness of the valley settlement, he found the sea and the soft hills behind the domes and arches of the city also drew him.
Years passed, and a chance encounter at a court function introduced him to the most unlikely of companions. Later, animated exchanges led inexorably to nights of naked passion, a passion kept heady and intense by the necessity of regular returns to Imladris, a ten day journey to the east. The grande misalliance, as they laughingly dubbed it one night of sweat and stars spent outdoors just above the beach, was their business and no one else’s. No one suspected, no one ever heard the tale, and at the end no one thought to question his ashen face and dry, haunted eyes after the great, final battle that saw the last High King’s reign end in fire.
For a time after the turning of the Age he had wandered aimlessly, alone or with others of the Wandering Companies, but the years had passed and the Valley of Rainbows and the work he had left began calling him home. Elrond welcomed him back with no questions; soon it was as though he had never left.
Now, nearly three millennia since its inception, the library at Imladris had expanded beyond even Elrond’s wildest dreams into the acknowledged repository of the writings of the firstborn concerning not just their own business in Middle-earth, but histories of men, dwarves and any number of other beings that walked the face of Arda. Representatives within other elven realms or at the courts of the kings of men were charged with acquiring and sending back to Imladris any work fitting the criteria laid down by the elves whose centuries’ long task it was to order and expand the facility.
Elves travelled from Lorien, from Círdan’s holdings in the remnant of Lindon, even from the Greenwood, latterly renamed Mirkwood, to research, to study, or to write histories and scientific treaties and tales of adventures in far lands. Meanwhile, around this centre of information and learning, the life of the valley went along much as it had from the start.
Erestor had long since stopped doing copy work himself. He still read many of the new additions before delegating them to be cleaned, bound, translated, copied or whatever seemed most appropriate, which meant by this time he had acquired a vast store of quite random knowledge. Otherwise, he oversaw the housing and care of the books, controlled the smooth functioning of the establishment, and promoted interesting selections for the senior members of the household to read. His occupation had expanded from senior archivist to include oversight on Elrond’s behalf of many of the projects taking place in the valley. Other than a frequently indulged love for riding, which was the closest thing he had to a hobby, his hours allowed little time for leisure, but that suited him well enough.
Some mornings he would study himself in the mirror while he brushed his hair, and the face that gazed back at him with its wide brown eyes and scattering of freckles looked far too young to be anything as weighty as a senior archivist. In public he tried to give the role the dignity it deserved, which meant he often seemed reserved to new acquaintances although those who knew him better could tell of a playful sense of humour and a fondness for late night discussions over good dwarf brandy.
He had mourned his love long and deep in private, rousing himself at last to find the world had changed around him as had his place in it. If at times he was a little – bored, if at times he missed the excitement of blood singing in his veins, if at times he was lonely despite the distractions of work and friends, he told himself to be both thankful he had good memories to look back on and grateful for reaching a status far above anything his parents could have hoped for him.
Over the years Elrond had come to rely on his advice and good sense more and more, eventually giving him a seat on the little Council that discussed and directed the affairs of the valley. As yet he had no real title there, he was just one of Elrond’s advisors, but it was to him their half-elven lord was wont to turn when all others had expressed their views and he wanted to hear the voice of calm practicality. By now Erestor’s well-considered advice was seldom disregarded.
Perhaps there had been a dream, now forgotten, but Erestor had woken that morning with a sense of restlessness. The day proved to be one where memories of the smell of salt on the air, the fresh wind whipping at his hair, and the feel of a horse’s rolling muscles beneath his thighs were seldom far away. A headlong gallop down valley in the late afternoon might have helped clear his head but would have raised questions in such a close-knit community, so he discarded temptation in favour of sitting in the late sunshine and watching the world go past below until he had made peace with his lot in life once more.
He was almost ready to return to his alcove in the corner of the reading room when he heard the sounds below of someone taking in stride the ladder carved into the rock where the side of the ravine rose straight with no natural footholds. Curious, he waited. It was surely not the right time of day for the dye vats, and the few pelts being cured required no more than one watcher.
A pair of broad shoulders and a head of yellow-gold hair came into view further down the wide ledge. A lean but powerful body heaved itself over and upright in a single fluid movement, and the pack slung over one shoulder was shaken back into position with a single easy shrug. The elf stood tall, looking to left and right as though searching for something, and blue eyes paused a moment on Erestor. A half smile, a dip of the head followed, both of which Erestor returned. He was about to ask the new arrival – both to the ledge and to Imladris – if he could be of assistance, when Glorfindel formerly of Gondolin apparently spotted what he sought. Setting off briskly, he made for one of the shallow caves scraped from rock, well past and above the furrier’s shelter and the dyer’s outpost.
The last sight Erestor had of him when he finally set off home was of a tall figure sitting cross-legged and very upright, apparently watching the trees and water much as Erestor himself had done earlier. Other than the pack, there was nothing in his actions for the archivist to question.
Dusk covered the bottom of the narrow gorge far earlier than it did the high lands; the sky was indigo and the first stars already bright by the time Erestor arrived home. So deep and so narrow was the ravine that sometimes the stars could even be glimpsed in the afternoon on those days when the sky was a particularly deep shade of blue. This anomaly should have suited an elf well and was greeted with quiet joy by those ancients of days still remaining in Imladris, but Erestor was of the second generation born after the Crossing. With no personal memory of life under starlight, he merely found it curious, preferring the rainbows etched by sunlight in the mist above the falls.
He had been casually dressed for his afternoon’s excursion and needed first to change for dinner, which meant he arrived when most of the household were already seated for the first course. He took his place at the top table and noted as he offered a soft apology to his lord for lateness that Elrond’s sons were missing, that Arwen had done something – strange – with her hair, and that the soup was mushroom, which he loathed. Before he could decline, however, a bowl was placed before him. Resignedly he took up his spoon and began eating.
Conversation was minimal this evening. Celebrían ate in terse silence while Arwen pushed food around her plate and sulked, both of which told their own tale. Mother and daughter had been at odds for weeks now over Arwen’s friendship with a less than suitable young archer, and he assumed it had all come boiling up again today. Trying to walk his usual careful line between his women, Elrond was engaging Caedion about the chances of acquiring a stallion or two for breeding purposes from Fornost. The main course – river fish on a bed of spinach and cress – was almost finished when something said by Dólharno, the head of the small, specialized corps of warriors who kept Imladris safe, caught his attention.
“… nothing special at all. The balance was a bit off someone said, and the hilt’s the standard one. Said he’d sort it out himself, make it suit his needs.”
“So he’s been using practice swords till now?” This from Echon, who fancied himself as having an eye for potential warrior material. “I was watching him work out a few days back, never seen anything faster.”
“Oh yes, he’s fast all right. Polite as you like, too, but – not keen to learn modern ways of fighting. It’s all twist and curve with that sword, and his footwork worries me. Not solid enough.”
“Are you talking about Lord Glorfindel?” Elrond asked, interrupting his monologue on the quest for a larger work horse. “Is there a problem? I thought I instructed he be completely outfitted with whatever weapons he found necessary?”
He put his knife down as he spoke and turned his full attention to Dólharno, who shuffled in his chair. He always seemed ill at ease with Elrond. “My lord, yes, and I asked him what he wanted, explained we don’t go much for armour at the moment, but a good sword … and he went to the store and picked up a few, hefted them, and settled on something not very remarkable as I was just telling Echon.”
“But you were meant to have one forged to his specifications,” Elrond said sharply. A thousand years after having laid aside arms to concentrate on healing, the warrior within had still not been completely quelled, and he was also notorious for not suffering fools gladly. Around them the muted hum of voices dropped perceptibly for a moment.
“With respect, my lord, I offered to do so and he told me there was no need, any sword with the right weight and reach would serve him.”
“Well, it’s true that except for so-called great heroes, most of us manage well enough with any old sword so long as the balance suits our height and strength,” Caedion growled, chasing the last of his fish around the plate determinedly. “Sounds sensible.” He was a veteran of several wars, and spoke with the authority of experience.
“But… but he isa great hero,” Arwen interjected, swallowing frantically to be able to make her point. “He saved Grandfather and all those people…”
“My thought, he was just in the right place at the right time,” Dólharno said. “Gondolin should never have been left open to attack like that, and if her warriors were as good as we’re told, they’d have pushed Morgoth’s forces back over the mountains. When we were under siege here during the first war, we managed to hold the Ford, and to…”
Erestor considered the muscle twitching in Elrond’s jaw. He wondered if it were possible Dólharno was unaware of how their lord felt about having the reborn hero of lost Gondolin in their midst at the will of no less than the Valar themselves. Before he could diplomatically change the subject, Caedion said, obviously with similar intent, “Where is he tonight anyway? Skipped dinner? Not like him. Good appetite, seems to like our food.”
Erestor had seen this topic pursued before and decided to cut off speculation about what they really ate in Gondolin before it could begin. “I think he went for some air, I saw him taking a walk.” What Glorfindel was doing up above the house was his own business, Erestor saw no need to mention the destination.
“He does that a lot,” Celebrían offered softly, speaking for the first time. “He told me he wanted to get the feel of the valley, meet the trees and the water. My father does that.” She had mentioned before that Glorfindel reminded her of her father, that ancient prince of Doriath who had fought battles under starlight before the rising of the sun. She made no reference to her mother, distant kin and of similar age to the lord from Gondolin, but then Galadriel was unique.
Caedion grunted and nodded while Echon, less diplomatic than some, said, “My father was like that, too. It’s the old ways, getting to know the land first instead of letting it grow around you until you fit in with it as we do.”
“We should do a Gondolin night,” Arwen exclaimed. “Have the kinds of food they ate and the music and… would anyone know what they wore? Is there a book, Erestor?”
“There are books on customs in Gondolin, of course. But an inadequate attempt at recreating Lord Glorfindel’s home might be the last thing he needs right now.” Erestor said this firmly. He was well-acquainted with Arwen’s determination, which he usually, although not always, admired.
“He’ll seem less strange in time,” Elrond said in a slightly worried voice, speaking to no one in particular. “He’s still living very much in the early part of the first age, perhaps even before then. He was born under the light of the Trees, of course… like your mother, dear, yes,” he added hastily to Celebrían. “He has been gone a long time, and it will take a while for him to adjust to our modern ways. In the meantime, I would take it as a personal favour,” with a hard look at Dólharno, “if everyone tried to make him feel comfortable rather than treating him like an exotic new species.”
Erestor, who was feeling a good deal of sympathy for the soft-spoken newcomer, nodded and turned his attention to the dessert that had appeared before him almost as soon as his plate was removed. Baked quince. Again.
After dinner he spent a while tidying away his correspondence and bringing order to his desk, a task forbidden his assistants. He had come a long way to actually have assistants, he thought, surprised at his own surprise after so many centuries. When he was done he walked through the general section of the library, the shelves and pigeonholes allocated to books freely available for anyone’s perusal, mainly novels and lighter reading. The specialist works, geography, botany, history, science, were kept in separate archives, as were language studies and original copies of rare works. Everything was in good order. A party of young elves sat reading together, possibly engaged upon a joint project, and the thin, silent scholar from the Greenwood kept his usual corner, a book propped open while he took notes. Erestor nodded to him and received an uncertain bob of the head in return.
He went to sit in the Hall of Fire for a while, helping himself to a cup of wine from the table by the door. Near the hearth, a group was working on a chorus of some kind, Lindir was playing a desultory piece on the big harp, looking vaguely bored, and someone unseen was singing an ode to Nimloth that Erestor knew ran to twenty-four excruciating stanzas. He sought out one of the darker corners, drank his wine in solitude, and left, depositing his cup on the tray for used utensils.
Once outside he wandered down to a paved area, forbidden to children, which overlooked the racing river. Spray leapt high as the water thundered past, heading for the waterfall just ahead, and the air was cold. Erestor stood watching with sightless eyes, trying to place what it was that bothered him, the feeling of there being something he should do before seeking his bed.
It was only when he turned to face the house and the cliff rising behind it that he remembered Glorfindel and wondered if he had finally come back down for dinner. It was true, the rehoused warrior never missed a meal. Erestor started to wonder what had taken him up to the heights so late in the day and also what had been in the bag. A final detail slid into place, something seen but not previously registered. He had been wearing a sword.
Erestor remembered Elrond explaining the general ways of the valley to the newly-arrived lord, including the fact that no one went armed within the confines of Imladris, and recalled the warrior agreeing in his soft, accented voice that yes, he could see there would be no call for weapons in a protected settlement such as this was. And yet, he had been armed.
The sense that had come to him during dinner of how isolated the returned hero must feel in this strange place and new time was joined by curiosity and a trace of concern. He stared past the lantern-lit house and up at the cliff face. There was a light burning in the furrier’s cave where someone was always on watch in case a stray draft fed the smouldering coals. Otherwise, all was darkness. He paused, every instinct save one telling him this was nothing to do with him. The exception was the little voice in his head, sounding uncannily like his long dead lover, which sometimes surfaced to tell him when to take a chance, when to do the unexpected. As ever, he heeded it.
He began walking slowly along the paving, then took the path that led up past the house to the vegetable gardens and the stables. A twig caught at his surcoat and as he lifted the cloth free, he wondered if he should change. He was dressed with some formality in a deep charcoal surcoat, calf length, trimmed and laced with gold and worn over a dress robe of pale grey with darker embossed leaves, the wide sleeves banded in black and gold. Good for dinner – Celebrían liked them to dress for meals in the dining hall – but scarcely suitable for climbing. He shrugged. Some things should be done while the impetus still remained. A return to his rooms, time to think, and he would likely leave Glorfindel to his own devices.
Probably a good idea, common sense suggested, but now he had come this far he was loathe to turn back.
The passage up the rocks was awkward enough to tempt him to tuck his skirts up around his waist. He had a faint memory of his mother carrying food and wine to his father, moving with easy grace up the steep, rocky slope behind their home, unencumbered by her trailing skirts. Women were probably trained to it by their mothers, he decided. He had several women friends, but had never been close enough to one in a way that would offer this kind of inside information.
The ladder proved tricky, but Erestor was nothing if not stubborn and he managed, stopping half way to regain his balance and wonder what he was doing. The rock against his cheek was still warm from the sun, and the loudest sound was the river far below – the river and … something else, a sound from above, faint, eerie, blending with the night.
He reached the top of the ladder and almost tumbled onto the ledge, where he sat for a time while he got his bearings. The sound was closer now, clearer. A voice, half singing, half chanting. Erestor had no doubt who he was hearing, his only question was whether it would be wise to intrude. The words were indistinct, the rhythm suggested Quenya. He had an unimpressive grasp of the formal version of the language, which he had been told bore small resemblance to that spoken in Aman. He had found little call for it as even the oldest manuscripts, save for a mere handful, were in Sindarin. Elu Thingol had done his work well with his edict against the tongue of the West.
Before finding his feet, he looked down at the dark, sprawling mass of the house. Because it was built against the cliff, there were no back windows to shine light, and those few underneath the eaves were mainly unlit. The river was motion under the stars, a different kind of darkness. The song, if song it was, continued faintly, and the night wind made soft shushing sounds around it, no louder than the river far below. Erestor shook his head, swinging back long black hair. He had no business here.
He was turning over the idea of going along to look in on the furrier’s cave, which would make a tale and a half later for the elf on watch, when his foot dislodged a few loose pebbles. They fell almost soundless over the edge, but the voice stopped at once. He stood quite still, waiting for it to resume, but then off to the left he felt – something. Moments later a quiet voice said, “Good evening, Erestor. May I help you?”
Glorfindel was a tall shape, black against a dark sky. Erestor could make out few details, but the Elda stood easy and – waiting – further down the ledge. There was nothing threatening in his aspect, but Erestor was chillingly reminded of how very ‘different’ everyone said he was, and that what had set him apart in his first life was the ability to fight and kill a balrog. He shook his head again, this time in annoyance at himself. “Good evening, my lord,” he managed in what he hoped was a casual tone. Here he stopped, unable to think of an explanation for his formally-clad presence at this hour.
“You missed me at dinner and wondered where I was?” Glorfindel suggested, and Erestor twitched, recalling the rumour that Galadriel could read minds. Perhaps it was common to those born across the sea…
He stopped this line of thought, out of patience with himself. “That is true my lord, at least in part,” he acknowledged. “I wondered if you would like me to arrange for the kitchen to keep you a plate of food or if anything was amiss, but when I got up here I thought it best not to intrude. I was about to leave…”
The voice sounded, unexpectedly, as though it danced on the edge of laughter. “My needs are few, Erestor. And yes, it is an intrusion, but no harm done. As for food, I brought bread and fruit. I expect to be here until closer to breakfast.” Not waiting for Erestor to frame a response, he went on, “Would you like to join me for a while, make your climb worth the while? It’s just along here…”
As he spoke he made a wide, beckoning gesture with hand and arm as though embracing air, then walked back along the ledge, every movement fluid with grace. Erestor paused for the space of a heartbeat, then followed.
The cave was not much larger than the one where Erestor had watched the river earlier, a shallow scooping out of the rock face where the ledge tapered and would soon fade back into the cliffside. Glorfindel had already gone in and was seated at ease, his back against rock. A small lamp burned very low at the back, shedding just enough light to pick out a few items, including the sack Erestor had seen earlier. There was something that at second glance turned out to be a small grindstone, plus a flask – oil, perhaps – and, atop the pack, an apple. He took a step forward then stopped, hardly needing Glorfindel’s swift inhalation to ward him. A glint had already caught his eye as light touched the cold metal of the sword lying on a rumpled cloth on the floor.
He sat opposite Glorfindel with his legs curled under him and to the side, eyes moving from weapon to warrior. Glorfindel looked as though he had been carved out of the rock, like those giant statues currently being raised on either side of the Anduin on the borders of Gondor, or like one of the artworks that graced the meditation areas within the house. His hair, now unbound, hung loosely over shoulders and chest, he had taken off his jerkin and rolled up his shirt sleeves. He had removed his boots as well, Erestor realised, his eye lighting on a well-shaped, bared foot.
Glorfindel sat through this scrutiny with legs crossed, hands resting lightly on thighs, He seemed to be thinking. Finally, as though he had almost forgotten about Erestor, wide blue eyes, dark in the night, found and fastened on his face.
“They let me have this sword,” he explained. “I brought it up here to sharpen and name.”
“Name?” Erestor felt as though he had missed an important point here. “And – they would sharpen it for you in the armoury, surely?”
His father had always insisted he see to it personally that his knives and sword were sharp, but they were not part of an established military force back then. It had all been far different to the way things were done in a place like Imladris.
Glorfindel was smiling at him. “Yes, of course they could,” he agreed in that light though potent voice with its lilting accent. “But not under starlight, and not as I would sharpen it. Not in a way the sword would remember and hold to. And they could not name it for me, nor draw the runes.”
Erestor opened his mouth, then closed it again. All his life he had loved discovering how things worked, what people did in ways different to those he knew, and he had found very young that you often learned most by keeping quiet and encouraging others to talk. He looked down at the sword, curious, and noticed for the first time that a stylus of some kind lay beside it on the cloth, a length of metal with a rounded, wooden base. A graver, he realised.
“We seldom do such things now, my lord. Just choose the sword for weight and length and practice till it fits the hand well. I have read though how in the past there was often more to it than this. There were some famous swords…”
Glorfindel nodded to himself, approving his honesty perhaps, and then his hand went to the sword’s hilt, hefting it and placing it over his crossed legs, resting on his knees. He shifted his position a little as though seeking light, although there was no moon yet and the only illumination came from the stars and the glow of the tiny lamp. “There is more to a sword than a sharp edge and a good balance. It must also have virtue. You can remain if you wish, if you are curious. All I ask is silence while I work and that you leave quietly if the night grows too late.”
His hand went out, seeking a rag that lay beside the stylus. He touched it, examined his fingers and then, apparently satisfied, wiped it over the metal. Oil. Finished, he reached next for the graver.
“Would you like me to bring the lamp closer?” Erestor asked, half rising.
Glorfindel shook his head. “There is no need, I can see well enough. I left the lamp to burn for company. I used it to warm the oil for sharpening, it works better than cold for metalwork. For most things, in fact.” The smile turned inward at some private joke.
Erestor sat back down. An owl called somewhere close at hand, and he saw a blur of movement as winged death fell from the sky and far below a life ended. He jerked minutely at the sound, aware of his isolation and of how very quiet the night was this far above the activity of the house and the rush of the river.
Ash-pale in the night, the golden head bent over the blade. Stylus touched metal and moments later the song began. Glorfindel’s voice stayed low and bell-clear, and the air itself seemed to vibrate with the timbre of it. His hand moved steadily, independent of the song, and his face grew intent, closed to everything but the design he drew in the metal. Erestor could see the muscle of his forearm flex and strain at the pressure he was using. His other hand rested flat and firm above his knee, holding the blade immobile. The air around him began to glow softly as though he drew down the light from the stars and wrapped it about him like a cloak. The tip of the stylus shimmered too, a diamond twinkling in starlight.
The song wound through the air and inside Erestor’s head. He had no idea how long it lasted, all he knew was that when it ended his head rang as though in the aftermath of a great bell tolling. He let out a breath he had been unaware of holding and felt almost dizzy. When had he stopped breathing, he wondered? He looked over belatedly at the Elda, who was studying his handiwork with careful attention, his head tilted slightly as though he listened as well as looked. The star glow seemed to have faded except for faintly about his eyes, as Erestor saw when he was eventually favoured with a glance.
“Look,” Glorfindel said, slanting the sword towards him.
Erestor could make out what seemed to be random whorls and lines scratched into the surface of the metal. “It’s too dark…” he began.
Glorfindel considered him with slightly raised eyebrows, seemingly amused. “Your generation lacks the eyes for starlight,” he said, not accusingly, simply stating a fact. “You grew up with sunlight in the day and bright lamps everywhere at night. Come, sit here. Look closer.”
Without rising Erestor moved across to sit beside him, close enough to feel the faint warmth that emanated from him. Glorfindel pointed carefully, and now that he was closer Erestor could see the detail of the fine, careful lines and curves. He squinted at them. They looked familiar but not completely. He looked up at the elf beside him, who was watching with a waiting kind of air. “I can see them now,” he said, keeping his voice soft out of respect for what had gone before and would no doubt follow when he had been educated. “Are these runes? They look as though I should be able to read them, but… ”
The golden head shook, and strands of very soft hair brushed Erestor’s face with a touch like gossamer. “You would not recognise them, no,” Glorfindel told him. “These are the old marks, from long before Rúmil made the Sarati. He was a kinsman of mine, did you know? When I was young I wanted to be a scholar and studied with him for a time. No, our fathers brought these to Aman when they crossed the first time from this shore. Not writing as such but signs of power, potent with meaning and not to be used lightly. Even Fëanor never thought to try and alter them, although he was all for new innovations without end…”
The runes extended about two thirds of the way along the blade. Erestor studied them, fascinated. He felt like a child again, being told the tale of the Music for the first time. “What do they… Can I ask what they mean?” he amended himself, uncertain as to the degree of the mystery being shared with him.
Glorfindel indicated with a dip of his head, and Erestor obediently drew closer still, so close that their shoulders touched. This,” Glorfindel said, pointing beside the first mark with the tip of the stylus, “is for the strength of the auroch. These two here signify will and truth. Placed together thus, they stand for justice. And this rune is for the swift summer lightning that strikes without warning from a clear sky.” He smiled then unexpectedly, and the warmth of it seemed to wrap them both around. “A small fancy of mine, that last,” Glorfindel admitted. “But the sword will know what I meant.”
Erestor nodded slowly, quietly awed. “And you can see clearly enough by starlight to carve something this intricate?” he asked wonderingly. “Have we really lost so much? I have to strain my eyes to see the detail.”
Glorfindel shrugged. “Our fathers needed to,” he said simply. “And the light of the Trees was something beyond beauty, but… nowhere near as bright as you might have been led to believe. Your needs are different, and so your sight is tuned to sun and moon. As it should be now. Everything should fit its time and purpose, not so?”
Erestor thought this discussion about the runes was the most he had ever heard Glorfindel say on any one subject. But then, he was the hero returned and was treated with the slightly uncomfortable deference his legend inspired. It did not make for casual converse. He looked again at the blade. “Space for … two more?” he hazarded. “Three, maybe?”
“And of course there is still the other side.” Glorfindel was laughing at him, but with the kindness all who met him noted, even those who reckoned him singular and withdrawn. Self-contained might better describe him, Erestor thought. Not yet at ease in his new land and role, but always courteous, always pleasant, while knowing how he liked to do things and clearly unconvinced everything from the elder days should be discarded in favour of current practices. What had he just said about Fëanor and new innovations? Not what he had said, more the way he had said it. There had always been change, some less desirable than others. Erestor did not need centuries of reading to know that.
“What goes on the other side then?” he asked, moving back a little to give the Elda space to work. “More of the character you want the sword to own?”
Glorfindel looked surprised. “Her character was not for me to choose,” he said firmly. “These are part of the promise she offers. There will be more, and I will write them here and on the other side. And her name. And then I think the night will be done.”
“Ah yes, most definitely. My previous sword was male. I suppose he was left where we fell.” For a moment Glorfindel looked pensive, but quickly threw it off. “This is a new sword for a new day, and one of the reasons I chose her was for the sense of the feminine strengths within her. A sword to protect and defend, not made for adventure and sudden attack. Does that seem right to you?”
The half moon must have been edging up over the cliff, because the night was definitely lighter. Either that or Erestor’s eyes had finally adapted as they should. There seemed more colour to Glorfindel, hints of gold in his hair, blue in the eyes that waited expectantly, an eyebrow raised slightly in query. “That seems right,” Erestor agreed, speaking slowly, giving it thought first. “We do not go out seeking enemies now. We just try to protect what we salvaged from the fire.”
For a moment that fire returned in memory, a mountainside, a battle, a monstrous shape, searing light. And then it was gone, but it must have left the marks of its passage on his face, because a strong hand rested briefly on his shoulder before returning to the sword held cradled.
“I am not arrogant enough to believe I am the only one with losses to mourn. Perhaps when we know one another better, you will tell me the tale of yours?”
Without waiting for a reply, Glorfindel turned his attention once more to the sword, seeming to measure in his mind’s eye the best way to fit what he needed in the remaining space. Then, after a glance up at the sky and a few silently-mouthed words that could have been a prayer, stylus touched metal again and the calm voice resumed, singing songs of power. Erestor sat quiet, at one with the voice and the night and the gift of starlight, while time flowed past him and through him, meaningless until the night’s work was finally done.
When he finished it was almost dawn and sunlight caressed the upper peaks of the Misty Mountains. Glorfindel, tired but satisfied, held his sword up to catch the early morning light. “Tirissë,“ he said with pride. “Safeguard of the weak, defender of the just cause.”
“The guardian,” Erestor murmured. He had heard the name earlier, in the dark hour before the first strands of light, and it had resonated within the web of sound and sparkling imagery the song had woven before his waking eyes. “The spirit of the sword.”
Glorfindel looked at him, surprised perhaps. “You understand that?” He sounded delighted, a teacher with an apt pupil. “Yes, hiding within the metal. The songs, the runes, were just to draw her out. Now she knows her name and her place.” He glanced out and down in the direction of the house far below them, and a smile lit his eyes, much as the sun was starting to light the sky. “And after tonight, so perhaps do I.”
AN: So there it is, my baby. It’s lived in my heart for a long while, but it was time now to stop tweaking and send it out into the big, cold world. Dedicated with love to Miniual Nuwing and Red Lasbelin – just because.
Beta: Red Lasbelin