Erestor rested his hands on the railing of one of the iron-wrought balconies that overlooked the western approach of the Valley. A breeze that smelled of snow and pine trees lifted his hair and in his heart a light green-gold melody danced, not touching but drifting sweetly. The cold pebbled his nipples delightfully and he felt calm, peaceful, understood. He could take out each memory, one by one as if they were jewels, and hold them up to the light, explore each facet. How he had loved the magnificence of them, of Maedhros most of all. Maedhros the Tall. Maedhros the Fair...
It is not too late...
It was too late. They had been vanquished, sucked into the Void and devoured by the emptiness, the Dark. They could not live still in that emptiness...
Can they not? The Elvish soul is bound to Arda....
A whisper...White fire. Distant. Like stars exploding in the immenseness of the Void... Burnished bronze hair, long, streaming out in the wind....*
He saw them then, as once they had been. How they had blazed! Like suns. No, brighter. Brighter than Eärendil for his borrowed Silmaril was but a shadow of Fëanor’s flaming soul. How could such fire be quenched?
Perhaps it is not...
He stared at the drifting leaves, falling golden and russet to the still green lawns. But he did not see them. Instead he remembered a darkness open in the ground, a crack in the earth, a chasm...for a moment he saw a comet fall, blaze, a stream of bright red fire ... But he knew there had been a choice, and he had turned away at the last.
How have the Valar allowed this?
He pushed himself away from the balcony, shaking himself out of memory and nostalgia. There was a pressure in his head that had been there for days, he realised, and that he thought had eased with the rough pounding he had given and taken...but it was back already.
He smoothed his hands over his hair and rubbed his temples; there was a high-pitched whine in his ears against the background beat of blood. He frowned slightly and strode down the passage and opened the door to his own room so it slammed against the wall and banged shut. He poured himself a glass of cold, clear water with a steady hand, and drank it all, felt it ice-cold in his chest, his belly, let it ground him.
...these thoughts, these strange thoughts...were alien, he did not think like this. And however much those memories played over and over, he remembered too the atmosphere of unreal hysteria that surrounded so much of that time; the Oath, the blood, the blind relentless hate that flared in their blood...Always a strange undercurrent of Power had surged about the Sons of Feänor and now, an echo of a lesser and diminished Power eddied about him now, an insidious whisper, the tinny imitation...
Glancing up, he caught the image of his hard, lean body in a mirror that hung over the fireplace, reflecting the light. His own long severe face emerged from the dark of his room; he thought it hard, and strange perhaps with his amber eyes and distinct brows. Cheekbones sharp, like knives, he had been told. He frowned disapprovingly at himself and stared. His face seemed to float in the glass, against darkness, and the flickering candle flames seemed disembodied.
It is not too late...They are still there, in the Void...
He smiled at his reflection and lifted one fine black brow in sardonic appreciation. He raised his glass to himself and did nothing. Let the insidious voice of Ash Nazg whisper on. If it thought he was listening, it might not pester anyone else.
Almost idly, he wondered if he was the only one to whom it spoke. And knew it would not be.
He stared at himself in the glass, noticed how the scar was almost invisible, that scar that served always to remind him of his fealty and now it throbbed as if Maedhros himself knew what was offered. He lifted his glass in silent salute to those who had gone and burned like stars, like suns in the Void.
He turned and went out onto his balcony. It was cold outside, frost on the air and the stars were hard and bright.
A quiet laugh somewhere in the garden and he saw two figures emerge from the shadows, so vital, so full of power. They were their own. Except they were not. One was owned by revenge and the other owned by his brother. He stepped back so he could watch the Sons of Elrond as they passed below. Sons of Thunder. And how Elrohir was like his distant cousins. All gone...their fabulous magnificence gobbled up by the hungry Dark. And he wondered if It knew that Elrohir had that same hard brilliance, and if it hungered for him too...
And they passed beneath his balcony and then passed into the House.
...He would be yours...
Elrohir? he thought, surprised.
Silence. Not Elrohir.
Do not dare, he threw back at Ash Nazg. It had crept beneath the secret of his heart.
Draining his glass, tight-lipped and angry, he crashed back into his room, slamming the glass down as he left, and strode purposefully down the corridor.
A thin sliver of light showed beneath Glorfindel’s door as he expected and he banged once on the door. He did not wait but threw open the door to find Glorfindel, as he had surmised, sitting at the table in his room, strewn with papers and report and rosters and looking irritated and unusually grumpy. Erestor almost stopped for he had never ever seen Glorfindel anything but patient and kindly.
Glorfindel threw Erestor a startled and irritated glance. ‘Erestor! What do you mean barging in here like this?’ he snapped and Erestor was surprised. Erestor himself was known for being short with folk but Glorfindel was elevated to almost god-like status by the inhabitants of Imladris. He frowned but Glorfindel continued with barely a pause. ‘And what in Manwë’s name were you thinking earlier, talking about how Maedhros was betrayed by the Noldor, by Cirdan? What did you hope to achieve by that?’
Erestor frowned at the sudden turn. Had he said that? He could not recall but Glorfindel looked almost incandescent...
‘I did not say that,’ he objected. He shook himself... A little blush of heat on his back crept between his shoulder blades.
‘Maybe I did say that,’ he admitted, throwing himself into the chair opposite Glorfindel. He may have been goading Gildor even further at the time. But he would never admit he was wrong. Instead he looked contemplatively at his fingernails and focused on the reason for his visit. ‘I have come to warn you to put a guard on the Hobbits. For their safety.’
‘Erestor, I have already done that. I am pleased it is so discrete that you did not notice. Now, if you have come to irritate me you are doing well,’ Glorfindel clenched his pen so hard it almost broke. ‘Now thank you for telling me and now clear off and plan your next banquet or whatever it is you do.’ Erestor saw that he had gritted his teeth and his lovely blue eyes normally so full of joy and so fearless, were seething with fury.
Erestor cocked his head slightly in surprise- he had never seen Glorfindel angry. He decided he quite liked it. There was a slight flush on his high cheekbones and his full lips were pressed together but the fire in his eyes was barely suppressed, furious it was true but it hinted at the passionate soul beneath that sophisticated and beautiful veneer.
‘And I don’t like the way you just barge in as if you never have to knock like everyone else,’ Glorfindel added. He shuffled some papers pointedly and banged them on the table.
‘Why are you bothered?’ asked Erestor provocatively, almost unable to help himself. He narrowed his sharp amber eyes and cast his gaze quickly about the room. ‘It’s not like you would ever have anyone in here,’ he said deliberately scornful, ‘and you have nothing I haven’t seen before. Plenty of times,’ he added with a staged leer.
Normally Glorfindel would have laughed at that but this time he threw a quick, nervous look at Erestor and then quickly looked away. Erestor paused. ‘You don’t have a Dwarf in here do you?’ He peered under the bed melodramatically. ‘Or young Thranduillion?’
Glorfindel drew his breath in sharply and glared at Erestor. His blue eyes were very blue, ice-blue, thought Erestor more than a little speculatively. He let a smile touch his lips and imperceptibly tilted his head so his long hair sifted over his shoulders.
‘It is Ash Nazg that makes you fiery,’ he said, knowing it would annoy Glorfindel even further. Knowing...he thought to himself in surprise, why on Arda was he set on provoking Glorfindel?
Glorfindel lifted his head to stare. ‘You dare say that?’ he demanded rising to his feet.
Erestor rolled his eyes. ‘Very well, do you prefer I say Isildur’s Bane? Although it is less his bane, than ours, may he rot in some nasty corner of the Hells with a Bal...’ He stopped. ‘With a bag of stoats in his breeches,’ he said slowly seeing the flare in Glorfindel’s eyes, and even he had to consider before awakening that wrath. ‘It should be Celebrimbor’s Bane, or Gil-Galad’s. Why do we name it after that greedy stupid Man...’ He shook himself, wondering why he felt the hot fire kindle in his breast. Surely he was in control? Surely Ash Nazg was a lesser Power and he was so aware of it? It could not have hold of him?
But when Glorfindel took a step towards him, Erestor too rose to his feet, looked him in the eye and it burned like ice. But Erestor was no child and did not step down. He never did. Fëanorian, he told himself, like a battle cry, his blood firing and thundering through his veins.
‘Not only do I prefer,’ said Glorfindel cold to Erestor’s fire, coming closer and Erestor lifted his sardonic black eyebrow and let his thin lips curl into a smile that was almost predatory. ‘I insist.’
Erestor felt his own fists clench, and his hard coils of sinew and iron muscle bunched. He felt his amber eyes narrow and lifted his chin in expectation. He was no servant or soft councillor; in deed, he was a match for Glorfindel should it come to blows, verbal or physical...He almost flinched at the alien thought; this was not at all what he intended. He had intended to show Glorfindel how Ash Nazg had seized him...
Glorfindel stood close, almost trembling and his blue eyes were ice. Suddenly he grabbed Erestor by his thin shirt and pulled him close. Close enough that he felt the bang of blood in his veins, felt the throb of arousal against his own thigh.
‘Are we going to fuck?’ Erestor grinned in ferocious delight.
Glorfindel stopped suddenly, breathing hard. He seemed to tremble and then abruptly pushed Erestor hard, so he stumbled and fell back into the chair. With outrageous cheek that only he could do, Erestor puckered his lips and made a loud smacking kissing noise that infuriated Glorfindel further.
Glorfindel stood over him, fists clenched, breathing hard. ‘By Elbereth, you are the most irritating man I have ever met in all my life.’
‘Just this life?’ Erestor grinned irrepressibly, although his heart was beating wildly, and he had been poised to fight back. ‘Or both? You knew Turgon and by Eru, he was irritating. So I am flattered.’
At the mention of Turgon, Glorfindel looked like he had been struck. He took a step back and his face, aways so full of fearless joy, was suddenly vulnerable and there was such pain in his eyes. ‘How dare you speak of him in such a way, Erestor. Whatever your proclivities, they are not mine.’
Glorfindel sank into his chair and looked away out of the window where the moon had risen over the mountains and turned the snow silver.
A sudden high pitched whine sounded in Erestor’s ears, and he found himself saying, ‘You deny yourself great pleasure, my friend. Perhaps you could imagine that I am Turgon...’
‘Erestor! Do not say it!’ Glorfindel’s blue eyes blazed and even Erestor paused...and then ploughed on fearlessly. There was a crackle of Power. Blue-burning-ice.
‘Imagine I am ...’
‘If you dare...’
‘Did he not have my hair?’ Erestor pulled his own long, thick hair over one shoulder, circling the heavy horsetail and pulling it through the circle of his forefinger and thumb. ‘His eyes were blue as I recall, but I could keep my eyes shut.’
Glorfindel was staring at him, lips parted and eyes wide, furious. His fists were clenched on the arms of his chair and there was an angry flush to his cheeks.
Erestor smiled. ‘You have never looked lovelier. I have never wanted to fuck you until now. Come.’ He let his long hair slide through his fingers, spread it so it fell in a gleaming sheet. ‘Think how we will look together.’
‘And if I did,’ Glorfindel was suddenly defiant. ‘What would Elrond think if we turned up in his council tomorrow holding hands?’ He narrowed his blue eyes then and shot a final barb. ‘What would Elladan think?’
It was like cold water and Erestor paused for a second but nothing touched his smooth face. His head cleared suddenly and he breathed in through his nose sharply. How had he let it go this far?
Slowly, and with a gentler smile than before he replied, ‘They would think you a sly dog and envy you.’ But it was the light teasing of their normal conversation and not the heavy barbed warfare of earlier. Erestor leaned forwards then. ‘This is Ash...’ he paused, not wishing to rile Glorfindel further, not now when Erestor was seeing clearly. ‘It is the Ring. It is making us behave like this. Both of us.’
Glorfindel stared at him, almost shaking...and the blue-ice flashed and suddenly dimmed, like a flame that does not catch.
‘You come too close.’ Glorfindel’s face was still closed, burying the hurt so deep. It made him vulnerable, Erestor thought and still he was not completely clear of Ash Nazg’s malevolence.
‘What were you thinking about when I came in?’ he watched Glorfindel’s lovely face closely. The full lips stayed closed but he blinked slowly, a sure sign, Erestor knew that he had caught the scent. He always did.
‘You said I was irritating,’ he reminded Glorfindel. ‘I said I was flattered as you had known Turgon.’ He paused, letting Glorfindel follow his thought. ‘Why did you straight think of my proclivities? I did not mention anything that could have been so construed.’
‘You are doing it again,’ Glorfindel said angrily and Erestor sighed. Sometimes, for a twice-born lord of the Noldor, Glorfindel could be remarkably obtuse.
‘What were you thinking about when I came in?’ he prompted gently.
‘I was putting together the patrol for tomorrow....’ Glorfindel began defensively. Then he stopped, frowning. ‘No...I had become distracted,’ he said wonderingly. ‘I was thinking of Turgon...remembering the bells of Gondolin. I was remembering Idril... She was lovely,’ he said softly and Erestor watched sadly. He had always known.
‘That Tuor,’ said Erestor, sending Glorfindel a sly sideways glance. ‘He was a cunning bastard.’ And suddenly he saw a flicker of deep loss on Glorfindel’s face and something else...something he recognised...A darker hope fed by Ash Nazg.
His own hope he had dispelled and now he must do the same for Glorfindel. Erestor sighed and it surprised him for it came from somewhere deep, deep inside, buried as deep as Glorfindel’s thin spear of misery.
‘You are troubled,’ he observed very gently. ‘As was I. And I thought I was in control of my thoughts. I was not.’ And then he asked again. ‘What were you thinking when I came in? My question is not idle, I promise you, my friend,’ he said quickly, holding his hand out towards Glorfindel appeasingly. ‘Think what we have seen this day, what we have discussed. I was too much in memory and found myself thinking....of things I thought impossible.’
Glorfindel stared at him for a moment and then shook his head, looked down. ‘Too much in memory,’ he agreed.
Erestor waited, and allowed himself a moment of regret that the long, golden hair would stay pristine and the ice-blue eyes would not kindle in passion as they had a moment ago in fury. It was a waste, he thought and smiled slightly. Not for him, but someone should enjoy such glorious magnificence, he thought a little sadly, a little bitterly. It would have to be a woman of courage and beauty for Glorfindel, he thought. Like Idril.
‘How much we have lost,’ he murmured. ‘Such magnificence. I remember the sunlight on the spires of Gondolin. The white stone of Nargothrond, and Himring’s bleak elegance.’ He reached out and lightly, so gently, touched Glorfindel’s cheek, he was warm. ‘Were they not glorious? Fingon and Maedhros. Do you rmember? Turgon and Echthelion. Finrod. Fingolfin.’ Erestor turned his head and looked out of the window to the mountains that were nothing like those of his youth. ‘And how we are diminished by their loss.’
He gazed for a moment, West and felt the fury in his heart that he thought had long ago settled and slept. It surprised him to feel it still there. ‘They cannot come back,’ he said softly. ‘Whatever the Ring is whispering to you, my friend. They cannot come back. Your loved ones are over the Sea. Somewhere. We hope.’ And he saw the moment that Glorfindel’s empty hope died. He did not say that he knew his beloved lords were not there; one cast himself into the gouged hole in the earth, blazing like a comet and the other, lost so far and for so long that Erestor doubted he still knew his own name... but sometimes in dreams he thought he heard a song drift on the wind...It was why he himself could not leave.
Ah. He shook himself. Too deep in memory indeed! And still he was afflicted. But it was his own loss and regret and not Sauron’s tawdry trinket.
Glorfindel had covered his eyes with his hands. Then, so quietly that Erestor could barely hear him, he said, ‘I was thinking how wrong it was, how fair was Gondolin. I was thinking how it should be built again and I be its King.’ It was said with such honesty it took Erestor’s breath away, and Glorfindel’s beautiful face so open and full of joy normally, was closed in grief. ‘This time I thought, it would not fall...This time, I would be there in time. I would know...’ He passed his hand over his eyes and breathed out softly through his nose, an exhalation of longing so poignant, such yearning for what was passed.
Erestor knew that longing, that grief. There was not a day passed when he did not miss the diamond-bright burning of the Noldor in their pomp. Diminished indeed.
‘We must learn which is Its voice and which is our own,’ Glorfindel looked up, suddenly meeting Erestor’s amber eyes. ‘And we must guard each other’s hearts, Närmófinion, for I find I do not know which is my voice, and which is not my own.’
Närmófinion. It jolted Erestor to hear it, and he wondered if Glorfindel knew how it still pierced him to hear that name though the one who gave it to him no longer drew breath, no longer looked fire upon him...and how he longed to hear it spoken... But he merely let his amber eyes focus on the snow on the mountain peaks, where the sunrise gilded it and made them gold.
Närmófinion- Cunning Flame. Quenya.