Glorfindel returned to Imladris as arranged, and one of his first actions when he got home was to place the abalone shell on his bedroom windowsill where it would catch the light of the full moon and where the morning sun turned its interior to bright glowing gold. If he was a little subdued, a little introspective, no one thought to question it, nor comment on the increased time he spent in the library pouring over old books, especially those dealing with legends that had their roots in events at the end of the First Age.
Life went on as normal in Elrond’s valley, autumn followed the summer of the Mithlond visit and in its turn gave way to winter. There was no call for another high level visit to the Havens so although Glorfindel kept his ears open for any opportunity he might take advantage of, none arose. After his return he was often lost in thought, dreaming of ink-black hair and flawless skin, eyes that were deep, shimmering pools a man could drown in. The rational portion of his mind still insisted that there were no creatures half elf, half fish, and yet he had met Erestor and had the abalone shell to prove it.
One spring morning he was down at the archery butts getting in some practice when he heard the horn calling from the upper watch station, announcing visitors from one of the other elven holdings. He debated for a moment, but archery was his weak point and an excuse to postpone the exercise was always welcome. He left the bow and arrows stacked neatly against a tree and went up to the house to find out who had arrived and from where. There was the chance they came from Lórien, in which case there might even be a letter from Galadriel, his cousin.
He used one of the side entrances to the house and made his way along a maze of corridors to the reception area, arriving just after the visitors. There was a small crowd gathered, because people in isolated settlements will always be curious, and he heard someone say that Elrond had been sent for. He spotted the identifying totem on its pole that one of the party still carried and was disappointed to see the stones and waves of the Grey Havens rather than the trees of Lothlórien. He recognised one of the visitors, a tall elf who stood out above the crowd, but as he was about to go over and speak to him, Elrond came hurrying down the stairs.
“Galdor, a pleasant surprise. What brings you so far inland? Is everything well at the coast?”
Galdor stepped forward, hand outstretched, and they clasped forearms in greeting. “All’s well enough, though it’s been better. I’m here to accompany lacework and pearls, brought here for barter. It was Círdan’s hope that we could agree a fair trade in return.”
Glorfindel bit back a smile, hearing the resigned distaste in the elderly elf’s voice: Galdor clearly felt the role of salesman was a task below his station and skills. He was about to turn away and force himself back to practice after a detour through the kitchen when the crowd eddied and shifted and he found himself looking directly at Erestor.
For a moment he stopped breathing and it was as though the reception area fell silent around him. All he could do was stand and stare, trying to process what he was seeing. Erestor stood off to one side near the young man with the totem, surveying the scene. He was dressed for the road in neutral colours, a long sleeved shirt under a heavy tunic, a muted blue travelling cloak, trousers tucked into knee high boots. Boots? Glorfindel felt his mouth drop open. Erestor considered him with unchanging dark eyes, then nodded gracefully before turning his attention back to the conversation between Galdor and Elrond.
It was impossible to be discreet about accosting a guest in the entrance to Imladris, and Glorfindel had the presence of mind to realise that if he greeted Erestor by name or in any way showed that he knew him, there would be questions to which he had no answer. Instead he waited quietly, trying to keep out of Elrond’s sight, and listened to the greetings and exchanges.
Melpomaen bustled over to speak with Elrond about accommodation – the Last Homely House had a name for hospitality, which was maintained in part by Melpomaen’s skill at finding suitable corners to tuck in even the most unexpected arrival. The group from the Havens was led away, and Glorfindel was left with his mind whirling, filled with questions that would have to wait till evening to be answered.
Dinner came and was an unsatisfactory affair as only Galdor sat at the top table and talked with Elrond, while Glorfindel, whose place was there, could see Erestor further down, picking at his food and listening to the conversation around him rather than joining in. The final course was about to be served when he finally gave in and leaned towards Galdor. “Over there, with the black hair. I feel sure we’d met before, possibly when I was in Mithlond. Who is he?”
Galdor followed his glance and frowned. He looked almost uncomfortable. “I can tell you less than I’d like, Lord Glorfindel. My lord must have included him in the party at the last minute – in fact he caught us up on the way across the downs with a few extras to add to the consignment. Pearls. We’ve not met before, he lives further down the coast. I’d not seen him at the Havens, though it’s possible you met him there. These traders are a strange bunch. They come and go and their ways aren’t ours.”
“I had a look at the pearls,” Elrond said. “They’re very fine, unusually well matched.”
“You must take another look,” Celebrían said with the sweetest smile. “I do believe we have an anniversary coming up soon.”
The conversation moved on in laughter, leaving Glorfindel to finish dinner no wiser than he had been before.
After dinner he walked with deliberate aimlessness around the Hall of Fire, but although the other guests were there, sharing wine and talking quietly together, there was no sign of Erestor and he had no reason to ask for him. Finally, defeated, he went outside for some air and to think where else he could search. The night was pleasant, the air softening towards spring though still with a strong bite. The river called loudly because it had picked up speed and depth, bringing snowmelt down through the valley. It looked beautiful, the strong, swift flow of it and the way it leapt down the falls, but it was bitter cold.
A texture to the shadows caught his eye and he found he had been looking at Erestor without seeing him. He was standing above the water gazing down into it as though he had never seen a river before. Glorfindel was sure he had made no sound, but the dark head turned and eyes that sparkled in the dim light regarded him.
Glorfindel was reminded of the strange, almost eerie sense of speaking with something ‘other’ down on that beach. The air around Erestor seemed to contain him, set him apart. He drew a firm breath, reminded himself this was no Balrog, there was no fire, no whip, and as this was Imladris, he had to assume no dagger. He went over.
They looked at one another. “There is so much fresh water,” Erestor said. “Never have I seen so much. We drink by the harbour or go to the well near the beach. But there is nothing like this.”
Glorfindel shook his head. “Just… how?” he asked, gesturing downward. “And why are you here?”
Perfect eyebrows arched slightly. “You told me about your valley, Glorr-findel.” He sounded amused. Glorfindel tried once again to place the soft accent, but to no avail. It was unlike any he had heard before. “I came to see for myself. And to see if there are any more golden elves.” His smile was wicked, and sent sparks dancing through Glorfindel’s veins. “Am I not welcome?”
“Of course you’re welcome,” Glorfindel said quickly. “But how…?”
Erestor reached out and placed a hand on Glorfindel’s chest, palm resting just above his heart. Dark eyes searched his face, hesitated on his mouth, then locked with his. “Does it matter? It simply –is.”
Glorfindel took a breath and it was as though the air had drawn back and there was none left for him. “… you had a tail,” was all he managed to get out in the face of that look, the hand on his heart.
“And now I do not,” Erestor said calmly, running his tongue lightly over his lower lip. “Would you like to see?”
All the blood in his body seemed to rush down and pool in his groin, leaving him hot and achingly hard. They stared at one another. Glorfindel placed a hand on Erestor’s shoulder, not thinking, just reacting. Erestor began walking backwards towards the shadows at water’s edge, moving with the same ease it took to go forwards, never breaking eye contact. Finally he turned and led them into the shelter of the bushes that grew along the bank of the Bruinen. He leaned back against a tree and smiled again. The rest of the world vanished: all Glorfindel could see was the white flash of perfect teeth and the gleam of dark eyes. He tangled a hand in that enticing black hair, pulled Erestor’s head sharply towards him and kissed him, hard.
Erestor’s first response was tentative, unsure, but then strong arms went round Glorfindel, the lithe, hard body pressed up against him, a leg twining around his – a leg, not a tail, not something shimmering and alien. He shut his mind to it and they kissed until there was no breath left and they had to break apart, panting. Erestor’s eyes were wild, hungry. His mouth paused to mark Glorfindel’s neck, then they were on the ground and pulling at clothing and there was smooth skin under Glorfindel’s hands, a body that writhed and twisted at his touch. He brushed over a nipple that was full and erect against his palm and he rolled it between finger and thumb. Erestor growled, thrust against him, fingers clawing at his shoulders. Desire flared, consumed him, wiped out all thoughts of tails or other possible wrongness.
They joined in another deep kiss, and somehow during it Erestor was on top, sitting astride him but leaning in, body pressed close, and still kissing him. There was fumbling at the ties to his pants and then cool air shivering his skin and drawing his balls even tighter, but there was no time to think. Erestor straightened up panting and reached back to close a hand around his sex, guide it in against him, push…
Glorfindel’s eyes flew open. He took in Erestor’s urgent face and lust-darkened gaze, the jewelled necklace that he had worn on the beach glinting in the dim light…. Somehow he was already naked, though Glorfindel had no memory of helping him remove more than his shirt. It was hardly important. He shrugged his pants down to his thighs then cupped Erestor’s buttocks, spreading him before thrusting up violently into tight velvet heat. He heard himself cry out and Erestor tossed back his midnight hair and made a low, dangerous sound, halfway between a growl and a gasp. He slid his hands up over Glorfindel’s chest to his shoulders, flicking his nipples in passing, and for a moment longer the world stopped. Then Glorfindel thrust again and Erestor bared his teeth and began to move, riding him with a feral urgency that swept Glorfindel up and carried him into a haze of red light and searing need.
At the end he got Erestor onto his back, legs around Glorfindel’s shoulders, and fucked him slowly, a hand clasped around his prick, stroking him steadily, not too fast, listening to the gasps and hisses different speeds and motions drew from him. Eventually it was enough and he sped up, not taking his eyes off the pale face within that tangle of black hair. Erestor came, thrusting up wildly into his hand, semen startlingly warm over his fingers. The tightness that held him sheathed pulsed around him and it was all he needed. Three, four, five harsh thrusts and he came, and the intensity of it was so great, it was like nothing he had ever experienced before.
And Erestor lay beneath him, still breathing heavily, lips parted, and watched him. And even with his eyes closed in ecstasy, he could still feel that unfathomable gaze.
While they dressed, keeping under cover and now paying more attention to the night sounds, a hundred questions came back and scrabbled at Glorfindel’s mind. How had he got here, had Círdan really sent him? What did he want, and why? And what had happened to him, how had he changed? This wasn’t like a werewolf surely, those evil creations of the Great Enemy. Nothing in Círdan’s tale of Ulmo’s children suggested any such thing: this was something else entirely. He glanced over at his companion, who was slower in dressing, dealing with each item of clothing with careful deliberation – something new, something still being learned. No clothing in the ocean, his mind whispered.
And then Erestor’s cool hair brushed his arm, clinging and drifting, and the embers of desire flared again. Whatever had happened, he decided, reaching out to touch silken strands, Erestor was physically as normal as any elf now. And when he was ready he would tell his story. Until then, Glorfindel was prepared to bide his time and not brood too deeply on the memories of their first meetings.
Somewhere there had to be a logical explanation. Eventually. If worse came to worst, he could always speak to Elrond.
Erestor proved to be the same on land as he had been in water: fey, strange, unpredictable. He distanced himself from the group from Mithlond almost at once and set out to explore the valley with a determination that took him into every nook and cranny of it. He wandered the tree-lined slopes and the cleared farmland, asking questions about crops and the reasons for growing one thing with another. He stalked the sheep and the cows, studying their habits as though he had never seen such creatures before, which only Glorfindel knew was no less than the truth. He spent time at the stables with the horses too, which he seemed in equal parts drawn to and made uneasy by.
As the one responsible for the valley’s security, and with its considerable fighting force under his command, Glorfindel’s days were busy, so it was a relief that Erestor seemed content to amuse himself. Sometimes during the day though, he would sense a presence close by and turn to find Erestor there, waiting. Sometimes he had a question, at others he simply seemed to want to be close for a while, and would wander off when Glorfindel grew busy or when something else roused his curiosity.
Most nights he passed in Glorfindel’s rooms, naked and inventive, giving himself over wholly to passion, though he never stayed till morning. Glorfindel had no idea what he did with the rest of the hours of darkness. He had a room, but he was not one to be confined by four walls for long.
Occasionally a night would go past with no sign of him. The first few times this happened, Glorfindel was concerned and went looking for him. Once he found him in the Hall of Fire, listening to one of the bards singing about the beauties of Ost-in-Edhil, drinking in the words with speaking eyes. Glorfindel left quietly, not wanting to break the spell of the music. Next time he was sitting by the river watching the stars and made it clear he was disinclined for conversation. At a loss, Glorfindel left him and went to bed.
Another night he tracked him down to one of the balconies, curled up in a chair and watching the moon on the water. Glorfindel went and stood beside him at the railing, looked down at the churning, rushing river. “My bed felt empty without you,” he said, trying to give it a light touch this time, fearing it would seem he believed Erestor should spend every night with him and have no other interests. Last time he had let his impatience show and felt ashamed afterwards.
Erestor shot him a curious look. “But it was empty before I came here, yes?” he asked. “And yet you slept well enough.”
“Usually empty, not always,” Glorfindel corrected him, stung. Dark eyes laughed at him, but there was a warning in their depths. He did not have to be told not to touch. “Anyhow, I was missing you. Were you waiting for something, or…?”
Erestor became serious. “We watch the light bless the water,” he said. “Tomorrow night the moon will not be the same, but you will still be you.”
He turned his attention back to the Bruinen. After a while Glorfindel took the hint and left him. Almost like an addiction, Erestor was a fire in his blood and nights without him left Glorfindel aroused and restless, but he had no choice but to accept it as Erestor’s way. As he took himself in hand in the dark, he at least could be reasonably certain that Erestor too was alone; he had a defiant, singular air about him that discouraged uninvited conversation.
One evening he was reading a whimsical book about dragons, complete with fantastical drawings, when Erestor arrived, letting himself in unannounced as usual. Glorfindel put the open book on the table beside him and rose smiling. “I saw you in the kitchen, what were you watching?” Erestor was always watching something, sometimes curious, sometimes almost wistful. People were starting to get used to it, and as word had gone out that there was a connection between him and Glorfindel, stories of his latest fancy tended to get carried back.
“I wanted to understand bread,” Erestor said. “I know the taste from – before – when I was very young. I thought if I watched, I would remember more.”
“Your mother would have baked bread probably.”
It was tacitly agreed between them that there would be no questions about how Erestor had come to be there, walking on two legs like any other elf, nor discussions generally about his past, not yet anyhow. Any attempt brought out the worst in him, manifested in a caustic tongue and cold stares. Acknowledging he had a mother seemed innocuous enough, but the look Glorfindel received warned that this was too close to some line only Erestor could see.
There might have been words but Erestor caught sight of the book and was at once distracted. He came over to see it and after a minute touched one of the illustrations very carefully with just the tip of his finger. He looked a question. Glorfindel frowned, glancing down. “It’s a made up drawing of a dragon?” he offered. “The real thing is nowhere near as pretty. But the book is all in fun, anyhow, so the illustrations fit the mood.”
Erestor hesitated a long time before speaking. “Explain books.”
“Explain them?” As the words left his mouth Glorfindel mentally kicked himself. Of course there wouldn’t have been books wherever it was he came from. For a moment the unease and the memories of a moonlit tidal pool nudged at him but he flattened them before they could creep closer and disrupt the evening. They had the whole night ahead of them he reminded himself, and hardened at the thought. “The words tell you a story or give you information and sometimes there are pictures to help you better understand what you’re reading. You’ve not had much to do with books, have you?”
Erestor was still touching the picture, fingertip tracing the lines as though that would explain everything. “I had a book once,” he volunteered. “There was a dry place where I kept things safe, but one day – someone said we had no use for such things and threw it in the water. It was broken after that.”
It was the closest he had come in referring to his past. “Did your book also have pictures?” Glorfindel asked, keeping his tone easy, making it sound normal: one book.
Shining hair swayed as Erestor shook his head. He always wore his hair loose. The clothes, Glorfindel suspected, were as conventional as he was prepared to go. “There were no pictures. Just the marks – like here.” He pointed to the words, his forehead furrowing.
“I saw some of the small ones had books…” Adults were nervous of Erestor without being quite sure why, just that he was different in a way that was impossible to define. The only adult who found him comfortable was Celebrían, but then one had to consider her parents. Children on the other hand seemed to like him. He asked blunt, straightforward questions about obvious things in a way that was familiar to them. They had even started bringing treasures to show him and he was unfailingly patient with them.
“Children learn to read early here,” Glorfindel explained. “We know that once they can read, a whole world opens up for them. All the information in the library is there for them, anything they want to study…”
“A place where we keep many books.” An unfamiliar world, Glorfindel thought, far more incomprehensible than aspects had been to him after his rebirth. He could at least guess how things had progressed from one custom to the next; not everything was new.
“Show me?” Erestor said, turning towards the door.
Glorfindel caught his wrist lightly, shaking his head. “In daylight. They close the library to all but scholars at night, it’s a way to make sure there aren’t too many candles.” At the confused look he added, “Books burn easily. We have to be careful.”
“They are soft things,” Erestor agreed. “Water, fire… Tomorrow then.”
“If you want to learn to read, I could try and teach you.” Glorfindel had not planned the offer, but once it was out nothing would have made him take it back, not when it made those watchful eyes light up, that too-serious face soften.
“Are there a lot of words?” Erestor asked eagerly. “Will it take long?”
“Not the first stages, the ‘how’ of it. But there are as many words as there are stars in the sky, you may never see them all.” He cupped Erestor’s face as he spoke, ran his thumb down the centre of his full lower lip.
For a moment Erestor looked worried, then he dismissed whatever the thought was and nodded. “Tomorrow,” he repeated. “After you show me the li-brary. But now…” His eyes lit with sudden, wicked mirth and he sank slowly to his knees, running his hands down Glorfindel’s body, coming to a halt just below his waist where the casual pants he was wearing fastened. He undid the lacings deftly and slowly exposed him, like a child unwrapping a gift. Glorfindel was erect before his bare flesh was even touched, hard and pulsing while Erestor knelt looking at him. His tongue suddenly slid over the head of Glorfindel’s penis, lingering for a moment, then he drew back, pretended to consider the taste. Finally he nodded. “Good,” he said, fingers hooking around the backs of Glorfindel’s thighs, jerking him closer.
Then his mouth opened and he swallowed Glorfindel in with a scrape of teeth, and books and learning and everything their lack said about Erestor’s past vanished in fire-shot mist.