Title: The Forgotten Tree
Part: 5 / ?
Rated: PG for now, later R
Genre: Silmarillion to LoTR: generally encompassing the entirety of Tolkien’s canon, from Gondolin to Imladris.
Warnings: Oh, there will be angst. And slash. And wars. And other things.
Beta: The incredible levadegratchets
Summary: Erestor's story as hitherto edited by Pengologh of Gondolin
Disclaimer: Own nothing, made nothing.
Notes: I promise, on all that is dear to me (thirty year tawny port, radishes and oak trees) that it will not take three months for the next chapter to be edited and posted.
Previous chapter here
The Forgotten Tree
Chapter Five: Tarnin Austa
“Some held that it came of love itself, and of the freedom of each fëa, and was a mystery of the nature of the Children of Eru.” - from Laws and Customs of the Eldar
Gondolin changed gradually, slowly, like the seasons. Glorfindel watched his vines; Erestor watched the trees in his mother’s garden, and they were both mesmerized by the myriad ways that nature marked its progress – one day green and growing, the next day brown and sleeping. Erestor progressed equally slowly in his weekly lessons with Glorfindel; they spent more time talking than learning the intricate movements required for Erestor to learn the art of combat.
Yet Erestor learned what he could and Glorfindel allowed his own thoughts to dissolve into the quiet memory of routine. The distance of time from the battle took Glorfindel’s mind away from the piercing immediacy of his desires. He gave his passions to his vines and whispered secrets to the grapes, sunlight filtering through the thin vines into the vault of the warm soil, storing his footprints. The wine held the record of Glorfindel’s days.
Years passed as they both went about their quiet, daily practices. Gondolin was thrown into an uproar with the arrival of Tuor and the human’s steady courtship of the king’s daughter, yet very few of them disapproved, and none loudly. Tuor’s coming filled the jagged cracks of their grief, and Tuor’s love eased the pained madness in Turgon’s eyes. The city walls and their fastidious guards secured the rest.
The elves of Gondolin marked time by the feast of Tarnin Austa, they had little need for calendars otherwise, but the feast was a night of remembering and proof that Arda turned and turned, and would go on turning despite losses, just as the sun rose on the morning of mid-summer.
And so it was that Glorfindel remembered something from the piercing madness he’d endured after his return to the city. It returned to him like a misplaced key, dropped in a familiar crevice – the last place he should look, and also the first.
This night was Glorfindel’s favorite of the year. He dressed carefully and walked along the city streets with Galor until they arrived and parted ways at the massive doors of Turgon’s palace. The doors were flanked by pale, but skillful, reproductions of the trees that held the memory and light of their old home. Glorfindel wandered by himself for a while; the palace was handsomely decorated for the feast, vines and flowers spilled from every corner. Glorfindel could not see where the walls ended and the gardens began. The air, both inside and out, smelled of green – as it only did in a Gondolin summer. The city was fertile, overflowing with its abundance, and Glorfindel felt inordinately fortunate to be there, to have made it so far in their broken journey, while so many had not.
He hid behind a potted tree and occupied himself from this secret vantage by watching those arriving for the feast. He could see quite clearly down the hall, but no one could see him.
In the shadows of the vines, at the base of a column, no one sought him out. He watched guests as they passed, and he listened to their words, guessed the speaker’s next thoughts, wondered what they desired. If he peered between two branches, Glorfindel could see the sky beyond the opened doors of a balcony and spread out across the sky, the faint, early evening stars. The stars were matched by gems, silver and gold from the necklaces and swords that caught the light from the candles and lamps throughout the hall. There was a glint of brightness on all who, unknowingly, passed by Glorfindel. He noted Ecthelion and Alda entering the hall and going straight away to pay their respects to the king and Eärendil, now six years old and able to pick out the differences in grapes when Idril brought him to visit the vineyards, though his small hands preferred the waters of the city’s clear fountains.
Glorfindel would go see them all soon, but for now, a sweet breeze blew from the balcony.
Glorfindel missed the sea. He imagined the vale beyond the city wall to be an expanse of water. The encircling mountains were islands in shadow. Closing his eyes, Glorfindel could believe that the mountain wind held the sweet thickness of salt, a scent he remembered from his youngest days in the distant land that was now closed to them all. The journey to this place, this safe enclosure in the mountains, had taken so long.
“I’ve forgotten something,” Glorfindel whispered to himself.
He pushed away from the wall and started to make his way toward Ecthelion. Still caught up in the questions of loss, the details and the sharpness of the night seemed to fade. Glorfindel made his way to the other side of the enormous hall, but he did not hurry. Those who passed by him smiled, inclined their head in greeting, and Glorfindel returned each gesture, but he did not encourage further conversation.
He was about to make a decision, but he did not know what choices he was given – this or that. If he’d been in another mood, if he had not stopped to look at the stars, if the mountains had not reminded him of the sea, things might have gone differently; Glorfindel could have toiled through the upcoming year in the same manner he’d worked through the others, carefully noting everyone else’s desires.
Glorfindel was almost to Ecthelion when he, Alda and Turgon turned to see someone who approached behind Glorfindel’s shoulder, and Glorfindel turned to see for himself who it was that caught their attention.
It has to be some stranger, Glorfindel thought, a distant lord who made it through The Pass, past Ecthelion’s guard, his own guard and Turgon’s gates. This city saw its share of unusual visitors, though it was said to be closed. He could not place him, not right away, but when Glorfindel’s heart seemed to pull, the strangest sensation, it all came rushing back.
Glorfindel raised his eyes to the ceiling and laughed, loudly, stupidly, at his own foolishness. The stranger was Erestor, and he was dark and beautiful as he moved toward them, through the crowd, the music and the murmurs in the hall.
Ecthelion laughed too, out of habit, as he bent to whisper something in Alda’s ear, all the while watching Erestor approach with an expression of joyous pride.
“Erestor,” Glorfindel said, as the well-known stranger came close.
Erestor touched his arm. “If you’re laughing at me, I will go back to my house and waste the vigil reading. It was my mother’s doing. She said it was time that I took my position seriously and then she tortured me the better part of the afternoon.”
“No – it’s not that,” Glorfindel grew quickly serious, tripping over his words. “I didn’t recognize you, and then I remembered something that I had forgotten, and it was a series of things that made me laugh, not you.” He’d never seen his young friend like this, black hair gleaming in the candlelight. His dark eyes shining; he was beautiful in his rich fabrics. Erestor was carefully arrayed in the finest jewels of his house, the sword at his side. The mouse had become the heir to his house in a matter of hours.
Erestor frowned, and tugged his sleeve. “You look like you’ve seen a spirit.”
Glorfindel wondered suddenly whether it was possible to witness future memories in reverse, like Alda’s visions, recollections flowing backward. He felt both doomed and enlightened. If Erestor was a horse, he would know what to do with him, the language he should speak with space and gesture. As it was, he could only utter half truths, concealed in jest. “You smell very nice,” Glorfindel said, and forced a smile.
Erestor laughed, and looked at him curiously. “You’re supposed to protect me from the sorceress, not admire her handiwork.”
“But you clean up so nicely,” Glorfindel said, brightly. It was impossible to speak with any real feeling, so their conversation was forced, stilted.
“Saying that I will not speak to you all night doesn’t hold much meaning during the vigil, you’d agree?” Erestor leaned closely, conspiratorially. The bright clasp of his cloak belonged to his grandfather. His hand rose up toward Glorfindel’s face, and there was the ring on his lovely fingers. Glorfindel caught the hand before it came too close, but found it difficult to release.
“You’re acting so strangely,” Erestor said, as his attention drifted to Ecthelion motioning them closer. “We should find wine, immediately.”
Glorfindel followed him over to the others and was relieved as Alda pulled him to her for an embrace. At the time, Glorfindel knew nothing, but this what he later learned from Erestor:
When Alda saw them together, she viewed a bright cord, brilliant in its light, that stretched between them and pulled them close. She saw them together in a different place; a dark and rocky hillside, and the feast seemed to fade from view. Knowing no other explanation, in the half-truth way of premonition, Alda assumed the cord would bind them together when everyone else had long passed.
Certain that Glorfindel’s strength would see to her son’s safety when there were none left to guide him, she pulled Glorfindel to her in that midsummer feast and whispered in his ear. “Do you see Erestor?”
Glorfindel pulled back and searched her face. “I didn’t recognize him when he first entered.”
“He outshines us all,” she said.
They both turned to look at Erestor beside his father. “He seems an old lord from ages past, from our old home,” Glorfindel said. “Such a transformation you wrought in an afternoon. How did you pull him away from his scrolls?”
“I told him he would displease Idril if he did not make an effort.”
Erestor turned toward them both and smiled. Glorfindel looked away quickly.
“You’re uncharacteristically quiet tonight,” Alda said, watching Glorfindel look at everything but Erestor.
“The air has changed.”
Alda studied him, but Glorfindel would not turn toward her. “The breeze smells of the sea. Perhaps it carries some word to us?”
“If so, it is a private message because I cannot hear it,” Glorfindel said. So many were coming now to greet Erestor, who had little clue what to do with the attention. “Erestor is the perfect mixture of you and Ecthelion.”
“Erestor is his own creature,” Alda replied. “I tell him that he was formed from my longing. He has not his father’s desire for war, nor yours, Glorfindel.”
“I was hardened to the sight of blood by circumstance, not nature. My skill with weapons came as a great surprise after my earlier failures. Erestor has the luxury of choice; we can thank our city for that. Even so, he needs to ride more and practice more.”
Alda frowned. “There’s time enough for that, if not here, then elsewhere. Experience is the most useful teacher. Erestor must first fill his mind so he can carry our libraries with him and compose our songs.”
“There will be songs composed for him after this night,” Glorfindel said, without thinking.
Alda laughed, a deep, rich sound with no artifice. “I think it would please him greatly if yours was the first.” The cord glowed faintly. It was done.
And so it was.
“I will go find my seat,” Glorfindel said, and hurried away.
The lord of the Golden Flower endured the rest of the feast with restless unease. He sat beside Galor and did his duty with a full cup, distracting himself with the stories that the wines told his mouth: their struggles and their soils and their histories. He did not, no matter how much he wished otherwise, look at Erestor.
Glorfindel left the feast early and returned to his quarters. Soon the rooms would be filled with smaller parties of gathering guests, weaving from house to house, some lingering and spending the hours of silence together when the bells tolled the beginning of the vigil.
Glorfindel stood in the throughway and stared upward at his empty house, lit from top to bottom in anticipation of the visitors it would welcome that night. He remembered when they all first came to Gondolin, the careful sketches Galor offered for his approval as the house grew, a living thing, rock placed atop rock, until the structure stood as if it had always been there, the spirits of the rooms waiting for their hands to offer them solid composition and shape, like a seed growing to full flower in the miniscule crack of a rock.
As he contemplated the house, Glorfindel imagined himself, incorporeal, weightless, wandering from room to room, as if he were searching for a wall that they had forgotten to construct, a corner that had been neglected. It was the most peculiar sensation.
Eventually, he walked up the front steps and allowed himself to follow his imagined path, from the entrance hall to the kitchens – it was strange to find the cavernous room empty, but everything prepared in advance and laid out on the stone slabs as if the occupants had been removed suddenly in the middle of their work – and then on to the upper floors. Glorfindel found himself peering in dark corners as if he might find something there he’d forgotten.
He stared at a sketch of his mother, another painstaking recreation of Galor’s hanging above a small table in a seldom used bedroom on the upper floor, for so long that Glorfindel became alarmed when he realized that he had been hearing the echo of voices coming from below for a long while without acknowledging the sound as the arrival of his guests.
The main stair of the Golden Flower abode led directly to the entrance, spilling down the upper galleries like water. The front hall was much smaller than the echoing rooms of Turgon’s palace, which gave Glorfindel no chance to escape as he descended the stairs at the exact moment Erestor arrived at the door. Glorfindel almost turned and retraced his steps back to the sketch of his mother. Instead, he gathered his courage, nodded in greeting and immediately turned to go in search of Galor.
“Why did you leave early?” Erestor asked.
“I wanted to come here before all the rooms were crowded.” And the rooms were crowded already, but everyone was involved in other conversation, greeting Glorfindel and returning to their drowsy arguments and laughter. Glorfindel thought he might be a ghost, as present as he seemed in his own house.
“You usually like crowds. Maeglin made a spectacle of himself, you should regret that you were not there to see it.”
“That’s not surprising,” Glorfindel said, and took a seat on a couch as Erestor dropped down beside him, all limbs and uncomfortable grace. “Why are you not with your family?”
“We’re back to that again. Were you always this maddening? Last Tarnin Austa, we walked the quiet city together and we looked at things and you found it difficult to not speak. This is our habit. Would you rather I not be here?” Erestor seemed fully perplexed.
“No.” Glorfindel felt an unbelievable sadness at the thought of Erestor leaving. “No, not at all.”
“Then tell me what troubles you. You have not danced, you have not sang, you have not spoken. You’ve sat and thought all night.” Erestor briefly stood, carefully removed the clasp from his cloak and tossed the garment to the side. When he returned to his unstudied lounging, a formal layer removed, he seemed more the Erestor Glorfindel knew, but his richness still shone. His black hair brushed Glorfindel’s arm, and Glorfindel quickly pulled his arm away from the slight touch. He wanted Erestor to leave and he also wanted him to stay. He could tell no one of this shameful longing, not Alda or Galor; Ecthelion was out of the question. As for Erestor, he could sense untruth the way many sensed an approaching storm.
“Some strange music has caught me,” Glorfindel said.
“Did you discuss this with my mother?”
Erestor considered this. “What was her advice?”
“She said I should compose a song.”
“Gorfindel, that would be a first,” Erestor exclaimed. Then he leaned closer and whispered, “Would you like for me to write it for you?”
“Not all of us are as skilled at that sort of thing as you Fountain sorts.” Glorfindel felt himself relax a bit. Here was his friend, if he were fortunate this desire would pass, whatever it was, and he would be able to keep Erestor close to him, as he had always been.
“It’s strange to see you pensive; let me bring you wine,” Erestor said, and rose again. He was always in motion. He never sat anywhere for long.
Glorfindel watched him move across the room and he realized that he could watch Erestor for a morning, a week, a year, an age. He would never tire of watching him. Gondolin was beautiful, the city’s inhabitants were beautiful – yet Erestor made all that various beauty seem tarnished and worn. Glorfindel sighed, closed his eyes and pressed his head back against the couch. This is dreadful, he thought, Maeglin’s desire for Idril, worn so fiercely that none could miss it, is more acceptable than what I want.
He could be sent away from the city for his thoughts. His House would ruined, but worse of all, Erestor would shrink in horror away from him. He laughed to himself as he thought of asking Maeglin for work in the mines.
Erestor returned too quickly, and not quickly enough. He sat close and placed a cup in Glorfindel’s outstretched hand. Erestor’s cheeks were already flushed with strong wine; he spoke more rapidly than usual, quietly, “The time will soon be upon us. May I stay with you until morning and walk with you to the walls?”
“Are there no other young lords with whom you wish to pass the night?” Glorfindel asked, instantly regretting his words.
Erestor seemed to consider this. “No, like my father, I prefer your company.”
“Your father is with others of his House tonight.”
Erestor’s worry quickly dissolved into genuine hurt. “Do you really wish for me to leave?”
Glorfindel had no choice but to look at him closely. “Of course not. Never.” Erestor didn’t seem convinced, so Glorfindel took his hand and continued, “Listen, my mouse, I simply want you to live.”
That seemed to cheer Erestor a bit.
“The bells will ring soon,” Glorfindel continued. “Let us rise and enjoy the evening. Stay near to my side and we will be silent together through the night. At dawn, we will go to the wall together, always near, as I promised you long ago.”
Erestor nodded, but it was obvious he sensed Glorfindel’s deeper mistrust. “You’ve changed from moment to moment this night.”
“I do not mean to.”
“You’ve spoken to no one and soon we will not be able to speak at all.” Erestor looked about the room. “Let’s salvage what we can before the bells ring.”
And so they did. They laughed and danced and spoke – more often to each other – until the time neared for the first bells to ring out. They’d planned their path, deciding before the hour was marked that they would pass the vigil together exploring the city in silence until they made their way to the eastern wall at dawn.
As they left the house, their route took them past the North Gate. Glorfindel’s presence brought the guards to attention. He felt sorry for the poor souls on duty through the night, but Glorfindel had paid his price in the early years of the city when he was an untried and fatherless lord. It was a simple matter to gain respect from his House, the Golden Flower was known for its kindness, its fairness.
Erestor trailed behind Glorfindel as they walked, the dark richness of his clothing blending into the shadows, silver and diamonds glowing in the moon’s light. He seemed to be growing accustomed to the decorated sword at his side, and Glorfindel smiled as he thought of their lessons. Not content with the night, his thoughts moved forward to the next day, and all the things he might teach Erestor.
The vigil began with the ringing of a heavy bell in Turgon’s tower.
“Peace be with you this night,” Erestor said, unfathomably – it was not their custom – before the last peal finished sounding.
It was commonly believed that Tarnin Austa offered a new beginning. The silent vigil was a time for reflection where one could remember the past and compare their troubles to the hope of future brightness. Erestor was too young for troubles, or so Glorfindel thought – he had not considered the phantoms of an overactive mind – but he honored the solemnity of the occasions when many of those born within the guarded walls did not. Erestor understood their history; he read of their mistakes, of their regrets; he understood their need for secrecy in this place, and their longing for their old home. He had been born with this understanding, so the night seemed to be made for him.
Past the North Gate, they walked the crooked path to the Square of Folkwell, the only place in the city that reminded Glorfindel of the gardens of his younger years. With secret words, the old oaks in the square thrived and grew as high as the city walls. Leafed in midsummer green, their boughs were hung with colored lanterns. Few Elves were out this long night. Low music from surrounding houses filled the grove. The lanterns glimmered against Erestor’s face, catching his dark eyes like a prism.
Erestor wandered over to the foot of his favorite tree and motioned for Glorfindel to sit beside him.
It was impossible to make any distance between them, though Glorfindel tried. Erestor drew closer. They sat there quietly, staring out through the leafy enclosure toward the carefully kept lawn until Glorfindel felt something tapping on his knee, a soft beat that echoed the low melody traveling from a house across the square.
He glanced up to find a wry smile on Erestor’s face and could do nothing but sit very rigidly, uncertain and perplexed, unable to breathe until Erestor removed his finger. Certain he had Glorfindel’s full attention, Erestor shook his head as if to say, How strange you are tonight, and brought the same finger up between them to bid Glorfindel to wait and watch.
Erestor closed his eyes, leaned his head back against the tree’s smooth bark and inhaled deeply, held it, as if he could capture the spirit of the long night by stealing the fragrant air and not letting it go. Then he cupped one hand to his mouth and spoke silent words into the curved shell of his palm. Glorfindel watched his dark lashes above the sharp angle of his cheek – the moment was caught, suspended – until Erestor closed his fingers tightly, suddenly, as if something might escape. His opened eyes and smiled, greatly pleased with his success, as he dropped his fist to rest again on Glorfindel’s knee.
Glorfindel was too intrigued to be bothered by the touch this time. He waited to see what would happen.
Opening his fingers slowly, one by one, Erestor revealed a blue light glowing at the center of his hand. The light was very faint, and could not be seen at all if their eyes were not fully accustomed to the dark shadows beneath the oak. Glorfindel knew this small magic, though he hadn’t the skill to try it himself. It was the shape of words, the presence of them, Alda’s strange power born of her kind’s wisdom and the sea. The ephemeral object was the sort of thing one might give a child that would not sleep when all the songs have been exhausted, or a gift to someone very close – a wish.
Erestor passed the blue light to Glorfindel’s hand, where it pulsed warmly. It was as if Glorfindel held a piece of Erestor. It was, in a way, like touching Erestor’s heart.
I wish, Glorfindel thought, that you will always be safe.
The light flowed upward, through the trees and came to rest amongst the lanterns. They tilted their heads and watched the glow shift in vibrancy from blue to violet between the boughs until a mist spread out from its core and dispersed the light into a wispy fog that vanished toward the night sky.
Erestor’s joy was uncontainable. He covered his mouth so that his smile wouldn’t spill into speech. He was thrilled at his creation and seemed to take it as a sign that Glorfindel’s earlier mood was vanquished, that he was a welcome companion this night, for the root of the gift could only find success when the recipient shared a deep connection with its maker.
Glorfindel’s shame lifted a fraction as he watched Erestor’s joy. He still felt desire, stronger than before, if were possible, but there was something else beneath it. Glorfindel needed time to examine this thing, whatever it was, to find the correct word for it. He adored Erestor: his hair, his voice, his peculiar expression when he focused all his energy on a thought. He not only adored the young, brilliant lord dressed in his finest, he adored the simply dressed scholar that often forgot to brush his hair when he was following a story that needed to be finished.
Before he could stop himself, Glorfindel reached out and touched Erestor’s cheek and he told himself that he did this because he couldn’t use his voice to thank Erestor properly for the gift. Erestor leaned into his touch. The grass beneath them was a comfortable carpet where they sat for some time, shoulder to shoulder, in silence beneath the oak.
Trapped within their separate thoughts, they eventually rose and spent the rest of the night wandering the quiet streets of the city. As they passed the Arch of Inwë, Glorfindel fell back to allow Erestor to lead them where he wished. He did not take the direct path to the southern wall, but followed the King’s Way, slipping through alleys to bypass the Square. When they arrived at the Way of Running Waters, Glorfindel realized that Erestor had purposefully led them in a winding route that bypassed all the Fountain residences.
Erestor sat on the edge of an actual fountain, another of his favorites, the bright enameled tiles glittering in the depths. The structure was not large and was erected some distance from the main fountains in this place. The water in the pool seemed removed, distracted, and the fountain itself seemed misplaced, as if the builders could not find a proper setting for it – so they simply put it in the next available space, removed from its cousins.
Glorfindel had few options when it came to joining Erestor so he rested on the edge of the cool tiles near Erestor, facing him. Something shifted in those hours before dawn, the air seemed charged, fragile, as if it could break, the same feeling Glorfindel had as a storm formed beyond the encircling mountains. Tarnin Austa always brought change, for the world could crumble in the morning and the night knew no regrets. And things that were remembered during the vigil could be forgiven as dawn broke.
Erestor’s skin was pale against his dark clothing. When Glorfindel looked closely, he saw that his black hair was burnished in red, here and there. Like the shadows, Erestor was stitched together from light and dark, by a thousand variations and pieces.
Glorfindel began to work through those pieces, finding mysteries he had not expected, but it was hard to meet Erestor’s eyes. Of all the things the chief of the Golden Flower had endured to reach the city, to build it, to protect it – he was terrified of only this – Erestor’s eyes, and the story he might find there.
Erestor, sensing this, put his hands to either side of Glorfindel’s face and gently, in the flickering reflections of the fountain, drew their gazes together.
But something happened before Glorfindel could look away, or rise up, or warn Erestor to leave him be with a glance. Or drown in black ink. Something was about to happen, and neither of them would remember until the end of their days, for such is the way of Tarnin Austa.
Every so often, in the silence of the vigil, the spirit of summer would come to one, or a few: the very brave or the ill-fated, or those whose time would do some good for many. The spirit would visit unlucky lovers, or those whose sadness was too great to bear, and she brought with her many stories, all true. Her gift was the secret cure for despair.
If just one in the city were to break the silence of the vigil, the spell would disperse and summer would flee – perhaps that was why she came so rarely. If the silence was honored, summer was free to speak in her own language, to tell her secrets. This spirit, for her richness, knew the birth of spring and the death of autumn; she was the vine that linked them. Summer held all memories, even the memories that had not became memories yet. In that way, she knew the future, but only the fragments of it that would be stored or cherished in some creature’s heart. For good or ill, summer kept the things that shaped the borrowed lands of Arda.
As Glorfindel’s gaze met Erestor’s, summer came down from the treetops and sat beside the fountain with them. The rule of silence having been followed, and sunrise not too far away, she dipped her hand into the pool and lifted a cord from the water. The cord glowed brightly, but Glorfindel and Erestor did not see it. They saw nothing but each other.
Images came to them slowly, as if the thoughts traveled from some great distance, from the pool where all memories are kept. What they saw belonged to the spirit of summer. Glorfindel would be the first to remember this moment, a year in the future through the flames at the Christhorn. What seemed to take forever by the fountain would come back to him, all at once. He would remember then, see, and know in an instant that his story wasn’t finished. But there would be no time to assure Erestor of this.
Erestor would try to rid his mind of all memories in the ages in to come, but in his heart there would be a resonance of what the spirit showed him that night when he was very young, sitting by a fountain with the only thing he would ever desire. The secret knowledge, the images he saw and immediately forgot, would give him hope, even if he was unaware of the source. The memories would force him to live, when he hoped that he would not.
Summer gave them this gift because she saw that they would soon love, and summer knew no rules, and had no reason to know their love was not allowed. She only saw that they would endure pain and death to keep it, and the dark one would fare the worse.
Their story was told to them in the hour before dawn, and they were lucky that no one stumbled upon them, for they were fixed like stone, staring, expressions shifting with their thoughts: wonder and pleasure, happiness and anguish, fear and desperation.
As their story drew to a close, the first light of dawn crept over the hillside. Beautiful peace crossed their faces, and it was here that they found each other again, the gorgeous song of Tarnin Austa rising from the voices along the eastern wall. The song of summer was thought to be the strangest, and most splendid, of all the music of their kind, a gift from Ilúvatar himself; a piece of Valinor that survived their crossing.
Within the deep mystery of the music, Erestor and Glorfindel slowly came back to the knowledge of where they sat, and the dawn light gently spreading across the grass-veined, stone pavement. Of whom they watched, they did not need to come to full awareness to know – for the hour had been filled with stories of each other, and some magic lingered as they approached complete wakefulness. What wonderful and dreadful things they would accomplish together, or if not together, then because of their love. Erestor’s eyes were wet, but a smile formed, just barely, at the corners of his mouth. Glorfindel’s eyes seemed to be too-bright in his knowledge, in the certainty of their path.
As the sun’s brightness fully crested the eastern wall, other voices in the city begin to join in the singing. The fountains seemed to lose their nighttime hush. Erestor bit his lip and glanced over his shoulder, looking around as if he might find a stranger there, or something he had lost.
Glorfindel stretched his legs, stood, and began to stroll around the small square as if the answer to their lost hour waited in the dark pools of the other fountains. Erestor gestured to his own mouth, asking permission to speak, but Glorfindel stared toward the distant wall and the sunrise and it took some time for him to notice.
He glanced toward Erestor with a start. “Of course. Yes, we can speak now.”
“Good.” Erestor whispered all the same. “What just occurred?”
Glorfindel returned to their seat by the fountain and stared at his boots. “I have absolutely no idea. It was dark. You and I left the grove, we walked around the city, it was an hour or so until dawn. I followed you here. Now it’s morning.”
“That is all I remember.”
“What’s the last thing you recall?” Glorfindel asked.
“Your eyes,” Erestor said, seeking out his last memories, and quickly looking away once he found them.
I will have him, Glorfindel thought, though he did not know from where this new and shameless resolve stemmed. I will have ever piece of him. But he will come to me first, or not at all. If Erestor approached him, he would feel no guilt; he would not have to live with the knowledge that he’d tempted Erestor into something he did not want. If they were meant to come together, if Erestor felt the same of his own accord, the laws would have no bearing.
“I feel very strange,” Erestor said. “Like I’ve misplaced something.”
“We lost an hour, of that I’m sure.”
“Glorfindel,” Erestor said, his voice quite serious.
“What is it?”
“Why did I have to chase your attention this night?” Neither had ever missed seeing the sunrise with all the others on this day, not Glorfindel since the city was only foundation and heaps of stone, nor Erestor since he was born. There seemed little use to join them now. “Have I offended you in some way? I had no intention to do so. I’ve turned my actions around, looked at them from every angle I can imagine, yet I cannot find where this distance” – he moved his hands between them, as if he measured the space –“came about. You have been my teacher and my protector, but the role I treasure most in you is my friend. My dearest friend. It’s always been this way.”
Glorfindel could think of no honest answer to give him. Erestor would sense a half-truth and worry all the more. Nor could he disclose his true thoughts.
“I will never leave your side,” Glorfindel said after a time. “Wherever you go in this city, or later still beyond these walls – if Turgon ever opens the gates – I will haunt your steps like your mother’s favorite hound. You’ve never displeased me, save in your lessons.” They both smiled at this. “Through light and dark, I will be close to you, watching. If you ever need me, call, and I will cross any distance to find you. I’m singly yours, Erestor, and I have been since before your fëa found your beautiful body in this place. Truer words have never left my mouth.”
“Do you swear an oath to me?”
“I swear on all I hold dear.” Which is you, Glorfindel thought.
“I see.” Erestor toyed with the hilt of the sword he still wore at his side. He’d grown more accustomed to its weight throughout the night. “Then why . . .”
“Stop asking questions to which you know the answer.”
“But I . . .”
“I said for you to leave it alone!”
And Glorfindel stood. “I will see you at your father’s house tonight. Make good use of your day.” Glorfindel did not look back as he walked quickly from the fountain and through a small, vine covered archway that led out into the street. Erestor’s questions both infuriated him and made him fearful; his blood rose in strange hope. He’d never raised his voice to Erestor before, but Erestor knew better than to keep pressing – or he should know.
Glorfindel’s shoulders rested a bit, the tension easier to bear now that he was away from him. Groups returned from the wall and the city became filled with sounds, more apparent for their long absence the night before. Many spoke in greeting as Glorfindel passed them in the street, a much loved lord, great in his kindness. And depraved, he thought. How their smiles would fade if they knew he walked steadily homeward with the shine of Erestor’s hair, the slope of his chin, the outline of his black lashes – fathomless eyes, all these images filling Glorfindel until he had no other duty, no other purpose than to think about Erestor. How could he work, filled with this madness?
Galor greeted Glorfindel at the door. “Good morning, Glorfindel, my great chief. Our king, Turgon – you might remember him – missed you, last night and this morning. Tuor requested special council – you and I, in his home, this night. I have no idea, meaning not the remotest knowledge, of what he wishes to discuss. Meaglin wishes for you to a approve a new shield design, he created it last night in the silence of the vigil, happily, for Idril’s sake, he occupied himself with that task, though I asked for it last year at Tarnin Austa. Your steward would like leave for a week, his daughter is to be wed and he’s requested that you officiate the ceremony. I’ve uncovered a few lost scrolls that might catch your interest; you may pass them along to Erestor when you’re through with them. And your vineyard is showing signs of damage from the late spring frost.”
“Galor, I haven’t removed my cloak yet,” Glorfindel said.
“Would you like help with that?”
Glorfindel stared at him.
“No, of course not,” Galor continued. “Shall I find you in an hour?”
“That would be preferable.”
“Good then, Ecthelion waits for you in the library.” Galor took Glorfindel’s cloak and vanished down the hall.