Snow was falling in soft flakes, covering everything with a layer of pristine white. Now, at the end of winter, this was a welcome sight, when all that remained of the season’s earlier beauty were dirtied heaps of shovelled snow, lining paths of muddy slush criss-crossing the courtyard. Glorfindel picked his way carefully around the worst puddles, mindful of his polished boots and clean trousers as he was about to meet lord Elrond for his daily report. Not that his lord was likely to pay any heed to the captain’s apparel, as Imladris was much more relaxed about such matters than Glorfindel’s former home, Gondolin. But Glorfindel would rather err on the side formality, still not feeling entirely familiar with the customs of the Hidden Valley.
Turning a corner, Glorfindel was passing below the porch of the laundry when something heavy dropped onto his shoulder from above. He started, and then laughed, reaching up to pet the cat who was now rubbing his head against Glorfindel’s.
“Boron, you rascal! You gave me quite a scare. Are you begging a ride to avoid the snow?”
Soft purring and a gentle bite into his hand was the answer, and Glorfindel continued, steadying the small shape with one hand while keeping his rolled-up parchments out of the reach of inquisitive paws with the other. The cats of Imladris had been somewhat of a novelty, being more present and better-tolerated everywhere than Glorfindel was accustomed to, and perhaps for this reason, also more trustful.
Boron stayed on his shoulder until Glorfindel reached the door to Elrond’s study in the main house. There, he jumped down and vanished through a small flap set into the opposite door. Amused by the antics of his feline companion, Glorfindel brushed off his shoulders and tugged his coat straight before knocking and entering - another custom Glorfindel still was uneasy with, no matter that he was the commander of Imladris’ military forces: in Gondolin, entering a superior’s office without prompting had been inconceivable.
“Good morning, my lord.”
“Good morning, captain.”
To Glorfindel’s surprise, Elrond was not at his desk, but resting on a chaise longue with his legs up and a cushion under his right knee. Even more surprising was the sight of him in his shirt sleeves, as Glorfindel could not remember ever before having seen his lord without over-garments, be it formal robes or a long coat. He seemed surprisingly vulnerable, clad only in trousers, tunic and waistcoat.
“Are you alright? Did something happen?” Glorfindel approached with a worried frown.
Elrond rubbed the bridge of his nose. “It is nothing, just an old nuisance that plagues me from time to time. But you have not come to hear about my ailments, but for your report; what do you have for me?”
Laying the letter he had been reading aside, Elrond heaved himself upright and made his way over to the desk. He walked with a noticeable limp, which did not look to Glorfindel as if it was ‘just a nuisance’. Elrond’s pinched features were hard to miss, and he looked tired. But as he clearly did not want the subject to be addressed, Glorfindel began with his usual oral overview. While Elrond looked through the lists and guard post logs, Glorfindel allowed his mind to wander back to Elrond’s ‘nuisance’, wondering what had happened. He had seemed perfectly fine the evening before, and Glorfindel could not remember having ever noticed something amiss with his lord. But then again, it was not as if Glorfindel really knew Elrond well.
About twelve years ago, Glorfindel had found himself released from Lord Námo’s halls, brought before the Valar’s council, and sent back to Middle-earth in quick succession. Before he knew it he was following an unknown-to-him High king, one Gil-galad of Lindon, across the country to war with an enemy who was unpleasantly familiar. Glorfindel had been given the order to fulfil his erstwhile vow of protecting the descendants of his former king, and therefore had expected to become a personal guard or such of one or several of these descendants, or serve at their side. Upon their arrival at the Lindon stronghold of Imladris, at the eastern border of the realm, Glorfindel finally met the sole survivor of the line of king Turgon: Elrond Half-elven, the grandson of Idril, Turgon’s daughter. Finding this Elrond as the lord of the did not come as a surprise. But Glorfindel had not expected to be left behind, when, a few weeks later, the same lord set out with his king and all the forces Lindon, Imladris and the Men who had joined the Last Alliance could muster. Instead, Glorfindel had been appointed military commander of the stronghold, tasked with guarding a peaceful valley instead of fulfilling his vow. At least he did serve his lord in this function. But the lord remained a stranger to him, and when Elrond finally returned after the long years of war, Glorfindel found himself in an awkward situation. Elrond had come back to the home he had founded and shaped for half of an age, but due to the demands of war, this home had changed considerably. Now it was Glorfindel who was more familiar with the daily running of it, he who had been a complete stranger to this time and place when they had first met. During the past few months, they had learned to work well together, but it was not an easy or comfortable relationship. Glorfindel sometimes felt a bit ill at ease with Elrond, as they only ever met formally at meals and for meetings. Elrond had never been anything but friendly and open in their dealings with the day-to-day running of the settlement, but his personal manner remained remote and grave.
“Captain, I see you have changed the rosters covering the downriver guard posts.” Elrond’s clear voice interrupted his musings.
Glorfindel threw a glance on the parchment. “Yes, we needed to make a few adjustments, considering the changes in the available guards. There is quite a number of convalescents capable of guard duty by now, but not on a full schedule. With these changes, it is possible to pair a fully able guard with two or more convalescents while maintaining an uninterrupted schedule.”
Elrond nodded. “I see. Good thinking, captain! It is important to include also those with diminished capacities. This is setting an excellent example.”
He looked up with a smile of such genuine kindness that Glorfindel could not help but stare at him. “Thank you. I am just doing my duty in dispersing the necessary tasks as fairly as possible,” he managed to say.
“Maybe, but I do not appreciate your work any less for it, captain.” Elrond leaned back, looking at Glorfindel as if he was seeing him for the first time. He sighed.
“Captain, I have been remiss in my duties as lord. I fear I have never taken the time to get to know you properly. I do not even remember if I gave you a proper welcome when you first arrived. It was a chaotic time, why, it still is!” He chuckled ruefully.
Glorfindel cleared his throat, pleased but also perplexed by the sudden change of Elrond’s demeanour, which mirrored his own musings of earlier. “It does not matter, my lord. Your people made me welcome, and it was easy finding my place. Considering how little I knew about everything when I arrived, I might have easily been a liability. At least here, I could be of use.”
“More than useful. I know I have to thank you for the uninterrupted protection Imladris has seen, which had allowed it to become the sanctuary it is today. For this, I will forever be grateful. Do not think I would not have counted myself lucky to have a warrior of your renown at my side in battle, Glorfindel. But back then, all we knew was that you had been reborn but a few weeks before. With no previous experience, we did not know what you had kept from your previous life. Did you still possess your old abilities and cunning? Did you still have the strength of arm, the endurance for battle? There simply was no time to find out, with the king pressing so hard to move on. So I left you here. I still think it was a wise decision, for now that so many have fallen, your experience and ability is even more important. Coming back, I could not have been more grateful to find things as they were, and find you settled so well as the commander of our defences. I knew, of course, how things were going, from Erestor’s correspondence, but it was something else to see it with my own eyes. Thank you so much, Glorfindel.”
Glorfindel blushed, but he did not care: he understood now that it had been Elrond’s approval he had wanted all the time, and the perceived lack of it had doubtlessly been part of his insecurity. But now that he had it, and even more so, Elrond’s clear appreciation, he felt the tension and awkwardness drain away. It was a wonderful feeling.
“Thank you, my lord. I am happy that I could serve you so well.”
“And I am happy that you will continue to do so. But one other thing, Glorfindel: no ‘my lord’-ing, please. We do not stand on formality in Imladris, as I am sure you have noticed already. My name is Elrond, and I want you to use it.”
After leaving Elrond, Glorfindel called in at the kitchens, for a snack and some company. The kitchens were the true heart of Imladris and the best place to meet and get to know people, for everybody seemed to stop by at some point. The large table in the corner was never empty, and there was always a pot of tea or a jug of wine and some nibbles to indulge. Today, he found the head cook and the steward, Erestor, discussing supply questions, as well as a familiar black shape at Erestor’s side. Glorfindel slid onto the bench, smiling down at the feline busily kneading the steward’s thigh.
“You really do know where you are comfortable, eh, Boron?”
Erestor chuckled. “That he does. I have met my share of affectionate cats before, but this one is quite special. Are you not, my little pod?”
“Pod? How did he come by that name?” Glorfindel helped himself to a cup of tea and a piece of nut bread spread with butter.
“To be honest, I cannot remember. Probably looked like one when he was tiny. The fluffy kind, you know.” He held his cup out to Glorfindel who obediently refilled it.
“How is it going? Have you met with Elrond?”
“Yes, he approved of the changes I made to the roster, to better include the convalescents.”
“I told you so, remember?” Erestor blew at his tea before taking a sip.
Glorfindel nodded. During the war years, Imladris had changed a lot, becoming a refuge and infirmary for those wounded fit for transport. Erestor, acting as Elrond’s deputy in addition to his steward’s duties, had worked closely together with Glorfindel to secure the smooth running of everyday life with a much reduced workforce. They had become good friends in the process, and Erestor had been a continuous source of good advice to him. Now, after the defeat of Sauron, things were slowly settling back again, although this was a difficult process since so much had changed. Countless losses in battle had left their mark in all elven realms, and even more elves were in the process of relocating to the Blessed Lands, while the death of the High king without a designated heir brought additional political and structural changes. Many considered Elrond as the natural successor to Gil-galad, an heritage Elrond had refused. But even so, for all intents and purposes Elrond was considered these days to be the leader of the remaining elven realms. Not for the first time, Glorfindel wondered how hard it must be for Elrond to carry such a responsibility, one he probably never expected, and to guide them all through these chaotic times in the aftermath of the war.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Hm? What?” Erestor had been immersed in the lists the cook had left him with.
“About Elrond. Has something happened to him? He was so different today, and I am wondering how that came about.”
Erestor cocked an eyebrow at Glorfindel. “Different in what way?”
“You know how uneasy I often still am around him. He is always so serious and distant, and I never know if he truly approves of my decisions. Today, he openly approved for the first time of a change I made. He has never disputed anything I suggested or had already implemented before, but I never knew if he agreed or was just humouring me as long as nothing adverse happened. Now he also became quite personal, about my arrival and my time here, and thanked me for my services.”
The black cat got up, ambled over to Glorfindel and rubbed his head against Glorfindel’s arm until he started to scratch it between the ears.
“He also smiled at me, Erestor. It is the first time I have seen him smile so warmly, and I cannot help wondering what has happened to him. This is not the Elrond I know. I know he has a twin brother, but I believed that one already dead, instead of switching places.”
Erestor rolled his eyes in mock annoyance at Glorfindel’s feeble joke. “No, there was certainly no switching of places, although you have a point with ‘the Elrond you know’. What you have just experienced is a glimpse of Elrond’s real self, of the man he was before all the changes the war has brought about, and the burdens he now carries. He hides behind politeness and distance, you know. It is not easy for him to adapt to this new role and this new life, and Elrond the leader deals with it by functioning with efficiency and by rising to any demand and any necessity. The man Elrond, with his perfectly normal worries and fears, gets lost among those demands. Only when he feels really at ease with somebody does he allow himself to open up.” Erestor smiled. “It seems that he finally feels comfortable enough also with you, which makes me happy on both his and your behalf. I told Elrond all the time that he does not need to stand on ceremony with you, that you would understand.”
“This you have to ask him for yourself, I would rather not disclose such personal things.”
Glorfindel snorted. “Thank you very much for helping me feeling less awkward around Elrond! This does not help at all, better you had not mentioned this!”
Once again, Erestor’s eyebrow rose, accompanied by a mischievous twinkle. “But how would you then know what to ask Elrond?”