1021, Third Age
A sharp knock at the door startled Elrond from his study of the book of herb lore that Erestor had brought back from his latest trip to Mithlond.
“Come in,” he called, struggling to keep the annoyance out of his voice. He had suffered from continuous interruptions all day, all over trifling details that could have been handled without his intervention, and now just when he had thought all was settled - here was another visitor. The smile that lit up his face when he saw his visitor, however, was genuine.
“Glorfindel, you are back!” greeted Elrond, rising from his seat to clasp his captain’s arm. “How went the patrol?”
“Well enough,” replied Glorfindel, sinking down into a comfortable chair with a sigh of relief and taking a grateful sip from the goblet of wine that Elrond handed to him. “We located an orc den on the western approach to the High Pass and cleared it out with minimal injuries on our part.”
He went on to give a detailed report and concluded by handing Elrond the map that he had marked up with the latest signs of orc activities. Throughout his narration, however, Elrond noticed that Glorfindel fidgeted incessantly, his long fingers either tapping against his armrest or tugging at the fabric of his tunic. This was most unlike Glorfindel, who was usually very controlled in all he said and did. Clearly he was agitated, but about what Elrond could not guess. He knew better than to press Glorfindel to confide in him before he was ready; instead he heard his captain out patiently and waited.
He was not surprised when Glorfindel did not rise to leave once he had completed his report, but instead stared moodily into the half-empty wine goblet, twisting it in his fingers.
“Is there something else you wished to talk to me about?” prompted Elrond, after a lengthy silence. He gazed at his captain in puzzlement as he took a lengthy draught from his cup and set it down on the desk, letting out a gusty sigh as he did so. In Elbereth’s name, what was bothering him?
“I wish to be wed,” announced Glorfindel abruptly.
To say Elrond was stunned would be putting it mildly. He had not even been aware that Glorfindel was courting anybody, let alone had grown close enough to another to commit to a betrothal. Nevertheless, once he had recovered from his shock he was overjoyed for his captain, for in the dozen or so years since the returned warrior had arrived in Imladris, he had often wondered if Glorfindel was lonely, considering his single-minded devotion to duty. He smiled warmly.
“I must congratulate you, my friend. That is wonderful news. Who is the lucky Elf?”
Now it was Glorfindel’s turn to look surprised. “I – I know not. That is why I am here. To ask you to invoke The Seeking.”
Elrond stared at Glorfindel in confusion. “What do you mean?”
Then the meaning of Glorfindel’s words sank in: The Seeking. Elbereth! Surely that couldn’t mean what it sounded like? Glorfindel did not seriously expect him to make such a vital choice for him, did he? Only his long years as one of the wisest counsellors and diplomats on Middle-earth enabled Elrond to school his features and voice to prevent his incredulity from showing when he asked his next question. “Are you asking me to choose a mate for you?”
“Aye,” replied Glorfindel. “Is that not how you do it here?”
Elrond shook his head. “I have never chosen for another. All in this household are free to wed whom they will. I know of no Elven realm where it is otherwise.”
“And yet in Gondolin a warrior’s lord would choose for him,” replied Glorfindel steadily. “How can a warrior be expected to choose for eternity when he spends nearly all his waking hours on duty? When a warrior expresses a wish to be wed, it is up to his lord to seek the will of the Valar and identify the one who is that Elf’s soulmate.”
“But that is not the custom here,” argued Elrond. “And what if I went ahead and chose a mate for you? How am I to tell that Elf that he or she is to bind to you? What if that Elf had no desire to be wed? I will not force another into bonding. That goes against all I believe in.”
“That is not how it works,” assured Glorfindel. “Have you truly never heard of this custom?”
“Nay, I wish you would explain it to me.” Elrond was completely at a loss with how to deal with this strange request and he hoped that learning more of the custom would give him a clue as to how to proceed. He leaned back in his chair and gazed at his friend thoughtfully. It seemed that he did not know Glorfindel quite as well as he had thought.
“I am surprised that you should be so taken aback by my request,” began Glorfindel after another sip of his wine, “for I learned in conversation with Celebrian that Elrohir’s bonding with Legolas came about after a visit to Eryn Galen that was undertaken specifically to improve relations with Thranduil through a marriage with his son. How can you object to asking the Valar to reveal my soulmate to you if you have brokered a marriage for your own son?”
Elrond smiled inwardly as he remembered that tumultuous trip. “I do not deny that we went to Eryn Galen in the hopes of an alliance between the houses. However, I would never have gone through with the binding if there had been no love involved.” He paused, lost in memory and then chuckled. “And would it surprise you to learn that we had hoped for a marriage between Legolas and Arwen, rather than Legolas and Elrohir?”
With a bark of laughter, Glorfindel said, “Truly? That must have been an entertaining visit. I wish I could have been there.”
“Aye,” smiled Elrond, “I will never forget when Celebrian and I took Arwen aside for a quiet word, a fortnight into our stay, to find out if she would be amenable to the marriage. She looked at us with such affront and coolly asked why we thought she would want to marry the Elf whom Elrohir had been bedding ever since our first night there.” Elrond shook his head reminiscently. “I was so blind; I had not noticed their attraction at all.”
Elrond then turned a piercing gaze onto Glorfindel. “And that leads me to ask why, if I could not even recognise my own son’s soulmate, you think I will be able to choose wisely for you?”
“You were too close to the situation,” Glorfindel persisted. “Your own hopes and aspirations were too involved to be able to focus solely on what was right for Arwen or Elrohir. But that is not the case here.” He leaned forward and laid a hand on Elrond’s arm, an earnest light in his eyes. “Please let me explain The Seeking to you and hear me out with an open mind. If when I have finished you still feel unable to help me, then I will accept that, but do not turn me down without truly understanding what I am asking of you.”
With a pat of Glorfindel’s hand, Elrond nodded. “Of course. Forgive me if I sounded judgemental. Do explain.”
Glorfindel drained his cup and eyed the jewelled goblet as he twisted it in his hands. Eventually he looked up and met Elrond’s eyes. “I suppose I should not be surprised that no one remembers the custom of The Seeking,” he began. “The Elves of Gondolin as a rule chose their mates as you do here, but among those of us who were warriors, it was not so simple. We were patrolling the bounds of the realm for much of the time and quite simply never got to spend enough time with a potential mate to learn if that Elf was truly a soul mate or just a passing lust. Therefore if a warrior felt the urge to marry, it became the custom that he would ask his lord to choose his mate for him. I myself was asked to choose mates for several of the warriors of my household. Of course, if those of us who were the lords of our houses wished to marry, we would ask Turgon to choose for us.
“Right from the start, Turgon had the same reservations that you have just expressed about the practice. He did not wish to see an Elf binding himself for eternity with one who was not his soulmate. Therefore he devised The Seeking, which is essentially a ritual that enables the lord to open himself fully to the voices of the Valar, to hear to whom they wish the Elf in question to be bound.”
“And what exactly is that ritual?” asked Elrond, leaning forward eagerly, intrigued in spite of himself.
“For three nights, the lord must seek the will of the Valar in his dreams. Before sleeping each night, he must invoke the powers, then drink a tea made from ôlrîf root.”
Elrond nodded. Ôlrîf tea had long been used by healers to induce a deep, refreshing sleep. A stronger mixture was known to cause visions. “Go on,” he murmured.
Glorfindel continued. “Well, there really isn’t much more to it than that. The lord then waits for sleep, beseeching the Valar to reveal the warrior’s soulmate. If he dreams of the same Elf for all three nights, then the Valar are deemed to have spoken. If no name is revealed, then the warrior has no soulmate on Middle-earth; that Elf is either in Mandos, in Valinor or has not yet been born.”
“But what if an Elf is named, but does not wish to be wed?” asked Elrond.
“To my knowledge that has never happened,” replied Glorfindel. “But once the Elf has been named, the pair must enter into a month of courtship before they can be formally betrothed. The warrior is released from duty for that time in order to devote himself to the courtship. If the Elf chosen has no wish to be bound by the end of that time, then he or she will remain free.” Glorfindel smiled in remembrance. “However, I have only ever witnessed great joy as a result of The Seeking. Even the most unlikely of couples have ended the month blissfully in love and impatient to be bound.”
Meeting Elrond’s eyes levelly, Glorfindel concluded, “So will you do it?”
Elrond rubbed his chin thoughtfully and pondered his captain’s words. What was there to lose? Ôlrîf tea was essentially harmless. At worst, Glorfindel’s soulmate would not be revealed and things would go on as before. At best, his captain would find true love and no one deserved that more than him. Of course, there was the possibility that the chosen Elf would not want to wed Glorfindel, but as Elrond had no intention of forcing anyone to wed against their will, he did not see that being a problem.
“I will do it,” he announced finally.
If he had had any doubt as to the rightness of his decision, it would have been dispelled by the sheer joy that blazed from Glorfindel’s eyes.
Three days later
If it were possible for an Elf to purr, then Erestor would be purring right now. Still bathed in the afterglow of a most heady night spent taking his pleasure in Lindir’s exquisite body, he had just concluded some highly successful trade negotiations with a delegation from Círdan. So masterful had Erestor been that Círdan’s Elves had agreed to every one of his demands and even voluntarily offered to send an additional consignment of their finest silks. Yes, Erestor was in fine form today.
He briefly considered rewarding Lindir with an unprecedented second night in a row in his bed, but then his thoughts veered to Galdor, Círdan’s fair ambassador. Yes, perhaps Galdor deserved some recompense for the earful he was bound to get from Círdan when he returned to the Havens.
He had just started collecting together the documents that lay scattered on the council room table, when he was interrupted by the door opening. He looked up to see Elrond enter with a somewhat distracted air.
“Ah, there you are, Erestor. I am glad to find you still here,” Elrond greeted him. Erestor wondered why Elrond didn’t seem able to meet his eyes. Further proof of Elrond’s strange behaviour came when instead of walking up to Erestor and getting straight to the point, he wandered over to the fireplace and made minute adjustments to the portrait of Gil Galad that hung there.
“Yes, I was just about to retire to the library and produce the fair copy of the trade agreement for all delegates to sign,” responded Erestor, eying Elrond with a slight frown. “You will be glad to hear the talks went very well.”
Shifting the portrait slightly to the left, Elrond commented, “Aye, I guessed as much when I saw the thunderous expression on Galdor’s face.” He gave a tut of annoyance when he stepped back to inspect the picture and nudged it a little way to the right. Erestor gazed wonderingly at him.
“Elrond, is there anything the matter? What did you wish to see me about?”
Abandoning the portrait, Elrond turned to face the counsellor, although he still avoided meeting his eyes. “There is nothing the matter as such, but I did wish to speak to you about a personal matter.”
“A personal matter?” echoed Erestor. “What is it? There is nothing wrong with Celebrian or your children I hope?” He waved Elrond to one of the easy chairs by the fireplace and took the opposite chair.
“Nay, nothing of that sort,” assured Elrond. “It is… I … have you heard of a tradition in Gondolin called The Seeking?”
Taken aback by the abrupt change in tack, Erestor gaped open mouthed at his lord for a few heartbeats before recovering himself and thinking back over all the books of lore he had read on the doomed hidden city. The term The Seeking struck a chord in his memory, but it took a few moments to recall where he had seen it before.
“Ah, yes!” he exclaimed, remembering an ancient text he had once come across on a visit to Mithlond. “It is some obscure binding rite for warriors, if I remember correctly. I didn’t take much note of it when I read about it, for obviously the practice has completely died out now.”
Elrond cleared his throat awkwardly. “Well, not quite, as it turns out.” When Erestor cocked his head enquiringly, he went on, “Glorfindel approached me a few days ago, saying he wished to be wed. He asked me to invoke The Seeking.”
With an incredulous laugh, Erestor said, “Well, I hope you explained to him that we don’t arrange marriages here in Imladris.” He drew breath to carry on, but the words died on his lips upon seeing Elrond’s expression. “But you didn’t, did you?” he resumed slowly. Erestor hadn’t risen to the position of chief counsellor by being slow on the uptake. His success was largely due to an uncanny intuition that allowed him to predict what another person was about to say or do, often before the person in question even realised himself. That intuition stood him in good stead now. He leapt to his feet as it hit him with full force what this conversation was really about.
“Elbereth preserve me!” he cried. “You can’t seriously expect me to go along with this lunacy!”
“Wait, Erestor, hear me out!” Elrond too sprang to his feet and clutched the counsellor’s arm before he could sweep out of the room.
“Nay, this is ridiculous!” scoffed Erestor. “I am perfectly content with my life as it is. I have never wanted to marry and I certainly won’t be persuaded to by some drug-induced dream that you had. You will just have to tell Glorfindel that I won’t go through with it.” He snatched his arm out of Elrond’s grip and would have stormed out, but Elrond halted him.
“Hold, Erestor, you will listen to me.”
Elrond rarely used that stern tone of command on him, but when he did, Erestor knew that to ignore it would carry very serious consequences indeed. Reluctantly, he turned to face the lord of Imladris once again.
“That’s better. Now come and sit down and hear me out.”
Erestor sat down, breathing heavily through his nose, and watched while Elrond walked over to a small table and poured out two glasses of miruvor from a crystal flask. He took the proffered glass and swallowed it down in a single gulp, then held his empty glass out for Elrond to take. With a wry smile, Elrond took it back.
“I suppose you deserve a second glass, in the circumstances,” he chuckled.
When they were both seated once again, brimming glasses in their hands, Elrond continued. “I will confess that I did not really expect my dreams to reveal Glorfindel’s intended. I just thought that I would have three nights of deep sleep and vivid dreams and at the end of it I would have to inform Glorfindel that his soulmate had not been revealed to me.” The grave stare that Elrond now turned on Erestor quite shook the counsellor. “Instead I had visions of such clarity I can remember each detail perfectly. I was shown not just you, but you together with Glorfindel and you were both quite obviously in love. Every night I saw you both and you looked so right together. I cannot ignore what I saw.”
Elrond leaned forward and grasped Erestor’s shoulder. “All I ask is that you allow Glorfindel to court you for one month. If after that time you still have no wish to marry, then Glorfindel will leave you be.”
“Just one month?” repeated Erestor, unable to deny his lord when he was so serious.
“And after that month I can return to my life as it was before?”
“Aye, if you so wish. All I ask is that you give Glorfindel a chance and don’t avoid his company. If at the end of that time you still do not wish to marry him, then I promise neither I nor Glorfindel shall press you further,”
With great reluctance, Erestor nodded his head. “Very well, as you deem it so important, I shall give Glorfindel his month.” His shoulders slumped suddenly as another thought occurred to him. “Ai, Manwë give me strength! This means I shall have to remain celibate throughout the month, does it not?”
A merry smile lit up Elrond’s eyes. “It does. Unless you succumb to Glorfindel’s charms, that is!”
“Well that’s never going to happen,” muttered Erestor. He grimaced then swallowed down his second glass of miruvor in a single gulp. All of a sudden his good day had turned very sour indeed.
To be continued...