The road from Mithlond to Forlond offered a breathless view across the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Lhûn to the blue-green shores of Harlindon in the south, while the steeply climbing slopes of the lower arm of the Ered Luin rose treeclad on the landward side. It passed through scattered settlements, occasionally curving inland to run between earthen banks and little patches of farmland that lay amongst autumn-hued woodland.
Erestor rode through all this at a steady pace paying little heed to the view, stopping briefly at nightfall to arrange for a meal in one of the fishing villages before riding on through the night with regular breaks for Den to rest. He caught up with the royal party late in the afternoon of the second day where the road passed through a heavily wooded area, a good ambush spot anywhere else but considered safe this deep within the kingdom of Lindon. The riders at the rear, all neatly turned out in the blue and silver tunics of the royal guard, glanced at him and made space for him to pass, one gesturing up ahead. As though Gil-galad was likely to be anywhere else.
As expected, the king was riding at the head of the column, with Elrond slightly behind him and behind them both a young guard carrying the royal standard. Erestor edged Den around the bannerman and came up next to Elrond.
“I just got a message to catch up, that you were on the Forlond road. Something about an important errand. What in the Void is going on?”
Elrond gestured ahead to Gil-galad’s broad back. “You need to ask him, he tells it better than I do.”
“Isn’t he talking to you? That is a very uncompromising back view.” Erestor had known the king for a very long time, and was an expert in reading his body language by now.
Elrond shrugged. “I had an opinion.”
“Not always a good idea,” Erestor said with his sweetest smile before urging poor Den forward one last time and coming up alongside Gil-galad, whose horse, a brown stallion of evil repute, immediately lunged over and tried to nip Den. It took them a moment to sort the horses out, or rather for Gil-galad to sort out the stallion, which he did efficiently with the ease of long practice.
“You wanted me?” Erestor asked when things had calmed down.
Gil-galad gave him a morose look. “What took you so long?”
“You will have to buy me a racehorse if you need me to come charging after you at a moment’s notice,” Erestor told him cheerfully, deciding a little humour would not go amiss as Gil-galad seemed more put out by something than annoyed or upset. “Why are we going to Forlond?”
“We are going to Forlond because that’s where the boat from Valinor landed,” Gil-galad told him as though he should have known this.
“I thought that was purely one way traffic,” Erestor said carefully, trying not to look startled by this unlikely prospect. “What are they doing, sending colonists over like the Númenóreans?”
Gil-galad turned a little in the saddle to scowl at him. “Oh, I could wish. No, just three passengers apparently.”
“Three passengers?” Erestor tried to think if there was something about the number that should have been relevant to him, but came up blank.
“Yes. No idea who the other two are, but the messenger was very clear about the third – glassy eyed and overawed, to be accurate.”
Erestor waited politely. Gil-galad was like this; he would get to the facts in his own way and his own time. He was currently glaring at the horizon as though it had offended him personally. Eventually it was too much, even for Erestor’s steady nerves. “Damn it, Gil. Who?”
“Name might be familiar. Glorfindel.”
“Glorfindel?” A gust of wind threw a hint of raindrops against his cheek and Erestor, not a fan of being caught out in the rain, actually ignored it.
“Gondolin? Hero who killed a Balrog?”
“You have got to be joking! Gil, is this another of your practical jokes?”
“No jokes,” Gil-galad said grimly. “Seems they meant to land at Mithlond, on Círdan’s side by the shipyards, but that storm we just had blew them off course and they ended up docking at Forlond instead. How do you think that looks? The Valar send one of the greatest heroes of the previous age back to us and he ends up at a busy commercial harbour where no one has a clue what to do with him.”
Erestor rode beside him in silence, thinking. Eventually Gil-galad reached across and poked him. Erestor frowned and slapped at his hand. “You’ll set that mad horse of yours off again. What?”
“What’s going on under that black hair? You’re wearing your analysing look.”
“If he’s a reborn hero of one of the great tragedies of the last age, and one of Turgon’s lords to boot… don’t you worry just a little about who his fellow passengers might be? And why he’s here.”
At starfall they stopped for the night. The tents and food had been sent on ahead so when they arrived at the camp site, a stretch of meadowland overlooking the sea, everything had been prepared and the evening meal was almost ready. There were a handful of lords and officials with Gil-galad as well as Elrond, and the tents made a pretty show with their many coloured walls and fluttering banners.
While they waited for dinner, Gil-galad declared he needed to stretch his legs and set off around the camp, trailed by lords. Erestor left them to it and went in search of washing water and a clean tunic. When dinner was eventually served, it proved surprisingly good considering the circumstances. Erestor, who had been subsisting on waybread, a few beef strips and dried fruit, tucked in and paid very little attention to the conversation around him until the first edge had been taken off his appetite.
When he did start listening, he found it was what he would have expected in a small gathering of lords all trying to impress the king and, in most cases, failing dismally: Gil-galad was not easily impressed. He also noticed that Gil and Elrond were still not speaking.
It took a while to move unobtrusively over to the Herald’s side and by that time the meal was almost over. Erestor made a show of looking at Elrond’s fruit salad, the alternative to the cake with honey-ginger sauce that had been his own dessert choice. “So, why is he upset with you?”
Elrond pushed the bowl over without being asked so Erestor could taste. “I disagreed with him.”
Erestor digested this. “Gil never has a problem with people disagreeing with him, I do it all the time. What about?”
“Glorfindel.” Elrond said succinctly.
Erestor, about to take another spoonful of the salad – nicely done, with a touch of sweetness added to the juices – stopped. “I’m sorry? We haven’t even collected him yet.”
“Yes, I know, but there you have it. I say that I should be the one to greet him and take him into my home, being the great-grandson of his king, and Gil just says ‘I am the high king of the Noldor – ALL the Noldor over here. Not just some.’”
Erestor continued sampling the fruit salad until Elrond impatiently took it away from him. “Sorry – forgot. Not mine. Mine is very nice. You can have a mouthful if you like. Does it not occur to either of you that this is childish?”
Elrond paused, not quite ready to call the high king childish. He and Gil-galad got along very well, but there were limits, lines in the sand. At least there were for someone raised by Maglor, who had firm opinions about young people and manners, no doubt due to having so many younger siblings. “I think he was a bit – hasty?” he suggested. “And never stopped to consider the facts.”
“Gil always considers the facts,” Erestor said, dropping a good sized morsel of cake in beside the fruit salad and adding a spoonful of sauce before Elrond could jerk the bowl away. “He just decides to ignore them sometimes. Anyhow, this is silly. Come for a nightcap when everything’s quietened down and get it sorted out. You never know, the hero of Gondolin might have ideas of his own about where he belongs.”
Elrond looked at his bowl glumly. “I was trying to tell you I don’t eat ginger. It makes me cough.”
“How can ginger make you cough? You don’t inhale it, you ingest it,” Erestor said helpfully. A thought struck him. “King of all the Noldor over here, not just some? Does that include Galadriel? I think he forgot to tell her.”
Gil-galad’s tent was a white monstrosity with red and gold trim, kept mainly for overnight hunting excursions when the king had leisure and was feeling restless. After dinner, with the obligatory socialising that a campsite insists upon finally over, Erestor prowled around, looking to see what had been brought along by way of comforts, then made himself a nest amongst a huddle of cushions. Gil-galad, who had followed him in, headed for the divided off sleeping place to divest himself of his outer garments.
“Don’t get too comfortable,” Erestor warned, “Elrond’s coming by for a drink before bed.”
Gil-galad stopped in his tracks. “Elrond? Why?”
“Because you two need a united front when you arrive at Forlond, otherwise you’ll give everyone something to gossip about plus you’ll confuse our guest – or guests.”
“He needs to rein in his ego. Just because he has a connection to Turgon doesn’t mean…”
“Great grandson. I’m his great grandson,” Elrond informed him, ducking in the entrance and fastening it shut behind him. “Wouldn’t you think he’d feel more at home with a member of the family he died protecting?”
“Way I heard it, he was protecting everyone escaping along Idril’s secret way, not just the important ones.”
Gil-galad could be difficult when he wanted to. Erestor, who had found a bowl of candied nuts in his search, ate them delicately one at a time and kept quiet.
“Of course he was protecting everyone, he died to save them. But he was there because of my grandparents,” Elrond declared in a very determined voice, proving he could be every bit as difficult as Gil-galad.
Gil-galad glared at him then looked around. “Wine. Isn’t there wine? Erestor?”
“Over there on the table near the lamp,” Erestor said. “Are you actually asking me to get up and serve you two like a Haradrim concubine?” He got up anyhow and poured them both wine, adding a cup for himself once he’d sniffed it and identified the vintage. He handed the cups around then went back to his nest. After a hesitation the other two followed him and sat, Elrond stiffly, Gil-galad sprawling against heaped cushions. They drank in silence.
“Well, isn’t this nice?” Erestor asked, finishing the nuts. “Fresh air, no city smells…”
“I’ve never seen an actual hero before,” Elrond admitted. “I know my father talked about Glorfindel, but I paid less attention than I should. We were small, we wanted to be sailors – or I did. Ros wanted to have a herd of cows. Don’t ask.”
“You had cows in Sirion? I don’t remember that,” Gil-galad asked after trying to catch Erestor’s eye for confirmation.
“No. That was the point. We’d only heard about cows.”
“Himring,” Erestor supplied. “There were cattle in Nevrast too. Gildor told me once. They used to have good cheese and butter.”
“You remember anything your father said about Glorfindel?” Gil-galad was never too keen to hear what Gildor, that royal spinner of tall tales, might have said.
“He was about seven feet tall with a great mane of golden hair and a voice like thunder?” Elrond suggested. “Don’t look at me like that, Erestor. My father was only seven at the time – mortal age, not ours.”
“I’ll believe the part about being seven feet tall,” Gil-galad said. “Well, maybe a bit less but not much. After all, he battled a Balrog after fighting all day. He must have been built like that statue of Fingolfin in the main square.”
The statue of Fingolfin was of an immensely heroic figure with bulging muscles and a memorable scowl. Erestor raised an eyebrow. “That would be – unsettling. One of Fingolfin’s arms is definitely longer than the other.”
“Stop being practical, you know what I mean.”
“Tall and brave and heroic…”
“And dead, let’s not forget that.”
“Well, people are reborn all the time over there, the energy re-embodied. It’s not a strange thought.”
“Coming back across the sea is,” Erestor said. “I’ve never been sure what I thought of the idea of rebirth. Are you exactly the same, with the same memories and needs, or does it change you, make you more — spiritual?”
Gil-galad shook his head. “I don’t think I ever heard they were strange in any way. Probably need plenty of peace and quiet so soon after Mandos – which is why living at the palace would be a good idea. Much more space.” He gave Elrond a pointed look.
“Wouldn’t it be more comfortable living with someone you have a proper connection to?” Elrond retorted. “Not a total stranger who happens to be the current high king of the Noldor in a place you’d never heard of called Lindon.”
“If it’s peace he’s looking for, he might be happier over the strait with Círdan,” Erestor suggested, sipping his wine. “Where is he, by the way? I knew someone was missing. It’s not like the old fox to miss out on the excitement.”
Gil-galad gave him a look. They often disagreed over his foster father. “He took a boat up there, faster than travelling overland. I wasn’t sure how Glorfindel would feel about going down to Mithlond by water and…” he dropped his voice, “…couldn’t face the idea of being stuck in a boat with that crowd all the way to Forlond.”
Elrond shuddered. “No, and he’d have to put up with them on the way back too. He’s a great lord, he wouldn’t be used to something like that. They had proper privacy. My grandmother used to complain about the lack.”
“He’s likely never been on a boat in his life,” Gil-galad added, rather unnecessarily. “Walked across the Ice and then they locked themselves up in Gondolin while everyone else was battling to survive.”
“You might want to avoid mentioning that,” Erestor suggested. “Don’t even think it too loud.”
Elrond gave him a startled look, shaking back the web-fine hair that was forever getting all over the place. “You think he reads minds?”
“Lord, I don’t know,” Erestor said frowning. “Probably not? Though he was reborn, anything’s possible. I’d swear Galadriel reads minds.”
“No she doesn’t.” Gil-galad sounded horrified at the possibility.
“Seven foot tall blond warrior who reads minds…” Elrond looked impressed.
“We don’t know that,” Erestor pointed out. “The mind reading, I mean.”
“You sure you want him in your nice little house by the sea?” Gil-galad asked politely, swirling his wine in a way that set Erestor’s teeth on edge.
Elrond glared but then subsided with a sigh. “Might need to get used to him first, and him to us? Erestor’s idea is best. Círdan’s good with the unusual.”
Gil-galad was about to speak but Erestor caught his eye and held it firmly, willing him to change the subject and let it be. The king’s eyebrows moved up, then down. He looked around the tent vaguely. “Anyone think we could get in some hunting in the morning? Or should we just press straight on to Forlond? Pretty sure Círdan will have things under control by the time we arrive.”
Some time after Elrond had left, Gil-galad and Erestor lay wound together in bed, the night quiet around them. Even the sounds of less than sober revelry further down the meadow had faded into snores. Gil-galad idly stroked Erestor’s back, occasionally sliding his fingers through long, unbound hair. “You’re very clever,” he said admiringly.
“Mm?” Erestor responded like a cat to being stroked and was close to falling asleep.
“Getting him to agree Glorfindel should stay with Círdan for a while.”
“Clever, yes. Persuaded both of you, didn’t I?”
Gil-galad tugged a lock of hair. “Not me, no. Over there with Círdan is almost the same as staying with me.”
“No it’s not, but you can tell yourself that if you like,” Erestor yawned.
Gil-galad chuckled and pulled him in closer. Erestor obligingly moved to lie half atop him, an arm round his waist. “You need a bigger travelling bed, this only has space for one and a half elves.”
“Well, you don’t take up all that much room.”
“No short jokes please. It’s too late to fight.”
“You might come up to the hero’s armpit if you’re lucky.”
“Oh be still, Gil, you’re not funny.”
They lay quiet for a bit, then Gil-galad said, “Always seem larger than life, all those first age heroes.”
Erestor turned his head, kissing Gil-galad’s shoulder. “Don’t let the idea intimidate you. People get romanticised over time, I don’t remember any giants. They must all have died before I was born or something.”
“They weren’t on Balar anyhow, not while I was growing up. I don’t remember much before then.”
“You told me once you remembered Finrod? Was he a giant?”
“How would I know? Doubt I came up higher than his knee.” Gil-galad turned over abruptly, rolling Erestor onto his back in the process. The bed creaked alarmingly under them.
“What…? Oh come on, Gil, I’ve been on the road for almost two days. It’s late!”
Gil-galad leaned over him, looking down in the dim light. “You and all your talking, the boy’s wide awake again. If you’d just kept quiet when we were done, we’d be asleep now, all three of us.”
Erestor wriggled half heartedly but rested an affectionate hand on Gil-galad’s shoulder, fingers sliding under his hair to caress his neck. “Doesn’t take much, does it? Well I hope you know there’ll be no hunting tomorrow, because I refuse to rise with the birds. You’ll know who to blame.”
“No need to rise with the birds,” Gil-galad assured him, moving suggestively. “I have a different kind of rising in mind.”
The stay in Forlond was brief, a disappointment to the lords who had been looking forward to food and entertainment fit for royalty. Gil-galad had a short conversation with the other two arrivals, a pair of sailors who had ferried returnees over to Tol Eressëa and been so homesick they had been allowed to return to Endor with their illustrious passenger. Then, after a brief meal, the whole party turned for home, Círdan again preferring the sea route.
“He seems – sweet.”
“Nice voice. Just as well, don’t think he’s stopped talking since we got on the road.”
“That’s not fair, Gil, he just wants to learn about his new home. Wouldn’t you?”
“Might shut up and spend a while just looking at it?”
Gil-galad once again rode at the head of the column, Erestor at his side. Elrond and the new arrival from Aman were three horses behind them, talking animatedly, or at least the Balrog slayer was. Elrond was restricting himself to answering questions, which still meant he had to add a good deal to the conversation because there were a lot of questions. It was midday and cold, the sky heavily overcast. The group of lords who had gone to Forlond to greet the returned hero were mainly riding with their hoods up and their heads down, waiting for the rain.
“He’s – not a lot as I expected,” Gil-galad admitted in a low voice.
Erestor pulled a face. “Gods, Gil, he isn’t much as I expected either, and my expectations were a lot more realistic than yours and Elrond’s. I thought a typical warrior with Vanyar looks…”
“Well, you got the Vanyar bit right.”
“Yessss, you could say that.”
They were quiet for a while, riding side by side with a complete lack of formality. No one was fussing much about protocol, especially not with rain threatening.
Erestor couldn’t help himself. “This is up there with your stories about the City of Gold and the snow giants. Seven foot tall with a mane of blond hair and a voice like thunder.”
“Yes, yes. Though that was Elrond. And possibly reads minds.”
“You’d better hope that one’s wrong too,” Erestor said delicately. “Otherwise we might meet the side of him the Balrog had time to get to know.”
Of one accord they looked back carefully over their shoulders to where Elrond rode with his new companion. The reborn elf was speaking animatedly, gesturing with both hands, the reins draped loosely around one. The wind teased merrily at the riot of golden curls that reached to his waist, and every so often he put up a hand to check that the strange little green hat he affected remained perched jauntily to the side of his head.
“I don’t understand the point of the hat.”
“Yes, but you never follow fashion, Gil. You can afford not to, you’ve been king almost since you were old enough to order your own clothes. He says they’re all the rage in Tirion. I might have to see about getting one made.”
Gil-galad made a sound of disgust but let it go. Everyone knew Erestor was fond of fashion experiments, some of which were more successful than others. “Vanyar, yes. What does Galadriel say? Words like ‘effete’ and ‘precious’ spring to mind, except for Turgon’s wife who she always said was a self-righteous…”
“Yes, well, that’s just her way,” Erestor said hastily. “What she means is finely built and fond of intellectual pursuits. And I’ve always liked the idea of Elenwë. At least she had the balls to go with her husband unlike the rest of them.”
“That wasn’t her best idea, was it?”
Erestor rolled his eyes. “You’ll forget one day and joke like that with the wrong person and I will be on the sidelines laughing. So. What we have been gifted by the Valar is Glorfindel, a lord of lost Gondolin and a hero of note – if a little short and on the lighter side weight-wise.”
“He’s about your height, yes,” Gil-galad agreed. “Bit broader across the shoulders, though you’ve got the better bum. Plus bright blue eyes, a heavy Quenyan accent, and a fondness for fashion.”
“And a question for everything,” Erestor finished, listening while Elrond tried to give a concise explanation of the shipping trade up and down the coast: the newcomer had declined the chance to go down to Mithlond by boat, citing inexperience with water as Gil-galad had anticipated.
“Need to get Elrond to ask him about the Balrog story sooner rather than later. Cannot see how that would have been possible.” Gil-galad was well built and looked after himself, but seemed to have no illusions about his chances against a Balrog.
“Force of will?” Erestor hazarded. “And he was born in Aman – twice now – and that’s meant to add strength and merit isn’t it? And wisdom and lost gifts and…”
“You have to stop believing the rubbish Gildor tries to turn your head with,” Gil-galad growled. “Anyhow. He might be happier staying with Elrond rather than with Círdan and his people. Doesn’t seem the mystical, communing with nature type somehow. Mention it before we get back, will you. I can’t, I tried to talk Elrond out of it originally.”
“I was there, yes.” Erestor pondered a while, then asked seriously, “Why do you think they sent him, Gil? I mean. besides as an advisor and symbol of the Valar’s good will as he’s already explained.”
“He looked embarrassed about that,” Gil-galad said. “Quite liked that about him. Why? No idea. There’s dark things moving in the east and south; maybe they just thought we were in need of reassurance, a talisman.”
“Reassurance? Look what happened to Gondolin.”
“Shhh,” Gil-galad hissed, but he was laughing and the look he shot Erestor was affectionate. “Yes, quite, but they died heroes and there isn’t an elf child living who hasn’t been put to bed with the story of Glorfindel’s fight on the pass.”
“A tale everyone knows, all about being willing to defend your own and not giving way to fear.” Erestor glanced back again. They were riding under low hanging branches now, and Glorfindel had plucked a handful of bright autumn leaves which he was trying to attach to the hat. “A symbol, yes, I can see that. Maybe even more so because he doesn’t look the part. He looks – almost ordinary.”
“Anyone can take a stand if they have to, yes. And good warriors don’t all look like – like…”
“Don’t look like that statue of Fingolfin, no,” Erestor agreed with a quick smile. “Or like you. All right. A talisman then. Someone to bring us luck.”
“If he doesn’t talk us to death,” Gil-galad grinned.
“This might be a good moment to rescue Elrond then,” Erestor said, pulling his hood up as the first drops of rain smacked into the side of his face. He minded that less than when it got in his eyes. “You need to get to know him and now’s as good a time as any. He seems pleasant enough. And I have a question I need to find a way to ask diplomatically.”
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Gil-galad said darkly. “But yes, fall back and get them up here. What’s the question? Just so I have warning.”
“He can distract us from the miserable weather. Gods, I hate rain. No, I was just wondering… Glorfindel. Golden hair, right? I’ve always been curious about that. What do you think – is there a polite way to ask if his family ever called him Goldilocks?”
AN: thanks go to Hhimring for answering questions and making me think. Written for Burning_Night for the lotr_community‘s 2013 Yule fic exchange.
Beta: Red Lasbelin