The senior librarian, sitting at his desk on the other side of the room, winced as Erestor closed the brittle scroll with a practiced flick of his wrist.
“I have no idea,” he admitted with a sigh, pushing his black hair out of his face as he added the history to the small pile of books, scrolls and extraneous pieces of parchment on the table beside him. “I can find no record of any such thing happening before, so I have no idea why it should now. Did Círdan say anything useful?” His tone was dubious. Círdan was rumoured to be on confidential terms with the Lords of the West, though Galadriel always maintained the degree was hugely exaggerated.
Gil-galad shook his head, rubbing the area between his eyebrows with his fingertips. “He just says it’s the Way of the Valar, whatever that means.”
Erestor gave him a sharp glance. “Head hurt?” he asked in sympathetic concern.
Gil-galad grunted and leaned back in the chair, causing it to creak softly in protest. “Whatever the reason, he’ll be here tomorrow evening.” He pushed the literature around vaguely. “Was there anything useful in there about him? Details about his background and so forth?”
Erestor selected a thick tome and opened it carefully, leafing through till he came to the item he had read earlier. “Here you are,” he said. “Glorfindel of Gondolin, lord of the House of the Golden Flower, son of…”
“What kind of title is that, anyway?” the king interrupted irritably. “Can you imagine giving any of this lot here a title like that? How Turgon got them to agree to some of those… mind, how he managed to talk them into shutting themselves away in that gilded prison in the first place, I’ll never understand.“
Erestor glanced pointedly towards the table near the window where the king’s loremaster, Elrond Eärendilion, was sitting writing a letter, then sat back and waited for Gil-galad to remember that one of his kinsman’s titles was, in fact, Prince of Gondolin. Amber brown eyes met deep blue as the flood of words came to a premature stop and memory prompted a nervous glance towards the window. They shared a solemn stare, and then Erestor’s lips twitched and Gil-galad gave a slightly sheepish chuckle.
Elrond gave no indication of having heard a word.
“All right, whatever,” the king conceded. “Lord of – all of that. Distant kin to Turgon, senior warrior, commanded the rearguard in the final stages of the Tears, held back a balrog so that Elrond’s grandparents and father, amongst others, could escape Gondolin. Now, is there anything in there to explain why the Valar would send him back here and now?”
Erestor had been scanning the text while Gil-galad was speaking and finally shook his head, closing the book.
“Nothing,” he said. “Nothing at all.” He put his elbows on the table between them and rested his chin on his hands and gazed at a point somewhere past Gil-galad’s shoulder, thinking. The king, who enjoyed few things more than watching his advisor, sat appreciating for the umpteenth time the long-lashed, amber eyes, the smooth black hair that shimmered when the light caught it, the fair skin, high cheekbones, sensual mouth…
“What?” Erestor snapped.
Caught staring – and not for the first time either – Gil-galad blinked and flashed his most charming smile. “I like watching you think,” he said with complete honesty. “You seem to go so far away, then your face changes as though someone lit a lamp behind your eyes and I know you have the answer. You always have the answer eventually,” he added, looking hopeful.
Erestor shook his head. “Not this time, Ereinion,” he said tiredly. “This time we’ll just have to remain in the dark and explore the possibilities together. We need to get him settled in and then play it by ear.”
“There are few things I enjoy more than the opportunity to explore possibilities in the dark with you,” Gil-galad said with an absolutely straight face.
Erestor returned look for look. “Tonight you’ll be doing that alone, I’m afraid. I suppose, in courtesy, Elrond and I need to get together an honour guard and go and meet your guest on the road. At the very least we can make sure he has a properly managed, formal entrance into your capital.”
“Not even for you would I go through that again.”
Gil-galad, in the process of divesting himself of formal robes and ornamentation, turned as Erestor let himself into the room and strode directly across to where the flask of dwarf brandy was tucked discreetly away behind the wine decanter.
“You can pour me one as well,” the king told him, dropping the last item of outer clothing onto the nearby chair. Clad in a thin linen undershirt and very little else, he left the heap of garments to be retrieved and put away by his personal servant the next morning. Striding over to the long window opposite the bed, he drew the drapes back slightly and stood looking out over the palace garden towards the moonlit sea.
Erestor filled two glasses and went to join him, silently passing him the less full of the two. They stood drinking in silence for a few minutes, and then Gil-galad glanced down at him.
“Really that bad, was it? The reception was… awkward enough.”
Erestor breathed out a long, heartfelt sigh and moved closer to Gil-galad, who put a strong arm loosely around him and began to absently rub his shoulder.
“You had to be there,” he declared, shaking his head. “Ereinion, I’m reasonably personable, I can carry a conversation, my manners are acceptable – my parents made certain of that. And yet in the hours we spent together on the journey here from Mithlond, that blonde said barely a word to me, just left me to prattle on until I ran out of inspiration. I’d have sworn it made no difference to him, talk or silence, save that when I stopped he simply looked at me expectantly until I began again.”
Gil-galad opened his mouth to say something placating at this point, and Erestor interrupted him. “Oh yes, I know. He’s completely disoriented, everything’s strange to him, his memories must be horrific. Yes, I know all that. But the only time he seemed interested in anything was the one time the escort lost formation. Then he had a few soft comments to pass about lack of discipline…”
“He lived in very dark times and under very different circumstances to us now,” the king said reasonably, putting his glass down on the windowsill and beginning to one-handedly unfasten Erestor’s soft hair from its formal arrangement. The shorter elf jerked his head away, but a large, firm hand on his arm kept him still as the removal of clasps and ties continued. He submitted and stood in silence sipping his brandy and staring broodingly at the view.
“He’s…exceptionally attractive,” Gil-galad ventured after a time.
Erestor snorted, coughing on a mouthful of brandy. “Like a well-executed painting or sculpture. The outside is all clean, pure lines and wonderful colour – blue eyes, golden hair, skin like pale honey – but inside? Inside he looks out at us and disapproves the new world he sees around him.”
“Oh, I don’t think it’s that,” Gil-galad said, retrieving his glass after placing the last clasp on the windowsill. He bent in an attempt to nuzzle Erestor’s long neck but his lover made a sound of irritation and moved away.
“Ereinion, he looked at the escort and asked why they were armed like farmers. He looked at the horses and said their legs were too thin. He looked at me and asked who and what I was…”
“Yes I know. Elrond mentioned that.”
“Oh Elrond,” Erestor said on a half-laugh. “Apparently Elrond bears no resemblance to his grandparents or great-grandparents. It was implied that this was a serious lack. And when I asked why the Shining Ones had seen fit to send him back, he told me that it was not my place to question the decisions of the Mighty. As though dealing with a nagging child…”
Gil-galad gave a deep sigh and turned abruptly to cross the room. After rummaging through two drawers he found the well-worn pair of loose pants that he had been seeking and pulled them on in silence after taking another large swallow of brandy. He then put an old and rather worn-looking surcoat on over his undershirt, pushed his hair back behind his ears and, finishing the brandy, said peremptorily,
“Right, come along then.”
Erestor, who had been watching all this with an air of mild curiosity, looked at him blankly. “Where?” he asked, a hand going instinctively to his hair which was tumbling loose down his back to a spot just above his behind.
Gil-galad gestured impatiently with the hand still holding the cup. “Don’t start fussing with your hair, no–one’s going to see us. Come on, let’s go. You need a bit of fresh air and moonlight to settle your nerves. And I need some exercise after that endless reception. “
“I wonder what it’s like – being dead.”
“I’m in no great hurry to find out, not even to satisfy your cat-like curiosity,” Gil-galad said with a fond glance. They were walking along the beach on the firm sand close to the waterline, hands clasped and fingers linked. The moon was slightly more than halfway to fullness and, despite the clouds chasing across the night sky, the beach was bathed in soft light from both moon and stars. The wavelets lapped softly just short of their bare feet.
“Still, I wish I understood better,” Erestor admitted. The walk had led to him feeling calmer as Gil-galad had known it would, and he was beginning to reassess the journey with the fabled defender of Gondolin in a slightly different light. “I was annoyed because I felt so ill-prepared and useless, but he seemed so – empty somehow. I have no idea what I expected, but not that.”
“My impression was that he seemed lost almost,” Gil-galad said slowly, “We need to remember he has been returned to a world changed out of all recognition, even down to the geography. Everything he remembers has gone.“
Erestor nodded thoughtfully. “Elrond asked amongst the remaining survivors from Gondolin, but there is no-one left who knew him personally. Not a single soul to say welcome home.”
Gil-galad shot him a look. “Well, I certainly said it. This is his new home after all. Though I know what you mean. Tell me, Erestor, when you think of home what comes to your mind?”
Erestor fell silent for a while before turning the question back to him. “I always wanted to ask you that,” he admitted. “You seem to fit everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Or am I presuming too far?”
He glanced at his companion as he spoke, and strong, roughened warrior’s fingers tightened around his hand in answer.
“No, no, I don’t mind. Not from you.”
They had almost reached the rocky outcrop that marked the end of the small beach below the palace and paused, preparing to turn back. Gil-galad looked down at Erestor and reached out a hand to gently tidy back the locks of hair that had blown across his face.
“I was moved around so much when I was young,” he said quietly, his deep voice almost blending with the sound of the ocean. “’For years the place I thought of as home was anywhere I had slept for more than ten consecutive nights.”
They had similar experiences and shared a smile at the memory, then Gil-galad’s face sobered and he said, still stroking the silky black hair with the tips of his fingers, “I learned early that home is where the people you love are, the ones you worry about when you’re apart. For Glorfindel, there is no home left. Gondolin has gone, vanished as though it never was, and everyone he knew is either dead or somewhere across the sea. And yet he was sent here instead of being reborn in Aman as is the norm. I think we were both right – empty and lost. He must feel so terribly alone.”
They began walking slowly back the way they had come, still holding hands. Judging his earlier responses and actions and finding himself lacking, Erestor nodded. “I suppose I could have been a lot more patient with him. Anyway, Elrond agreed to spend some time with him over the next few days, introduce him to a few people and help him get settled… I suppose I should have been the one doing that. Elrond’s very busy…”
The king laughed and pulled his hand free so that he could put his arm around Erestor to give him a quick, affectionate hug. “As though you have nothing to do. No, he’s better with Elrond – at least they have his family in common, even if my cousin fails to resemble his grandparents. And I think once he’s settled in you’ll find Glorfindel has a good heart and a generous spirit – why else would the Valar have thought well enough of him to send him back? I suspect his grief he will not forget; but it will not darken his heart, it will teach him wisdom.” He looked down at Erestor, still serious. “ But what of you? You haven’t answered the question yet. Where do you think of as home?”
Erestor, a native of lost Nargothrond, had changed his definition of home several times over the years, but it was fairly clear to him by now. “This is home,” he answered instantly. “Here, this beach, anywhere that you are. Rock crumbles, the future is beyond our view, but, no matter what might happen, for me going home will always mean going to where you are.”
Gil-galad glanced around quickly, ascertained they were alone on the beach and bent his head to kiss Erestor softly. His lips brushed the black-haired elf’s mouth gently before his tongue sought entrance and briefly but thoroughly explored the warmth and sweetness so willingly offered. They drew closer together, their arms around one another, and stood for a few minutes kissing in the moonlight with the ocean as a backdrop and their only witnesses the moon and stars.
The king finally, reluctantly, broke the kiss. Stepping back, he brought a hand up to caress Erestor’s cheek while looking down tenderly into the clear, amber eyes shimmering softly in the moonlight.
“Home is where the love is,” he agreed. “Here where we are. Always.”
Beta: Red Lasbelin
AN: Dedicated to Alex Cat.