The Old Ways
4. The Malachite Leaf, and Other Subtleties
Elrond could not be sure if it had been a dream or something he had watched, half awake. While Glorfindel lay still sleeping beside him, he blinked and saw Maedhros and Erestor standing over the bed. Maedhros held a knife in his hand. Erestor was pleading with him. Elrond could not hear the words.
He tried to shout, but like in so many nightmares, he had no voice. His body was frozen in place. Maedhros raised his knife. Erestor's hand flew to Maedhros' wrist, begging him to stop, but he shoved Erestor roughly aside. Then he turned to look down at Elrond. For a brief moment, their eyes locked.
"Mada," Elrond tried to say. His mouth moved, but no sound came.
Maedhros nodded to Elrond, as if merely acknowledging his presence, then shifted his gaze to Glorfindel. He flexed the wrist that held the knife.
If it was not a dream, and Elrond really did see what he vaguely remembered seeing, then a knock at the door might have saved Glorfindel's life. Maedhros turned toward the sound, and Erestor, fearfully clasping his sleeve, pulled him toward the glassless window. "We'll be caught!" were the only words Elrond remembered hearing.
At a second knocking, Elrond found himself suddenly very much awake and sitting up in bed. Erestor and Maedhros were nowhere to be seen. He glanced around fearfully, even ducking to check under the bed, but they had disappeared. It might have been a dream, after all.
As Elrond looked, Glorfindel lifted his head from the pillow with some effort. "Who's there?" he called.
"Círdan," said a muffled voice. The door swung open, and through it came Círdan, as promised. He wore the look of a man both rushed and worried. "Elros thought you were in this room."
Glorfindel yawned. "Needed a bit of rest. Is it dinner time yet?"
"Maedhros is gone," said Círdan.
The effect of that statement on Glorfindel was like a bucket of cold water. He sat upright, staring in shock, and shouted at Círdan, "What?!"
"Ereinion took him to the guard house early this morning. When he went again to take some food, just now, he found the cell open and Maedhros gone. Maglor is also gone from his room, and we can't find Erestor anywhere. It looks as if he was the one to help them escape."
Erestor was gone, and Maedhros and Maglor with him. Their flight was confirmed by a fisherman, who had gone down to his dock in the dead of night to investigate the strange sound that had woken him. What he saw was an empty space where his skiff should have been. Out on the water, barely visible by starlight, three figures in the stolen boat bobbed on the waves. They were a half-mile from shore already. The fisherman, too upset over the missing skiff to take time to consider who might have stolen it, waited until morning to make a report to the sheriff. The sheriff sent him to make a report to the King.
The King thanked him for his vigilance, told him he had done a great service by informing on the whereabouts of escaped criminals, and promised him a reward sufficient to purchase a new skiff plus something extra for his trouble. Three days later, once he was certain that the three sighted in the boat had indeed been Maedhros, Maglor, and Erestor, Ereinion announced to his citizens that the villains at large had left the island. No-one had been harmed, and lives were no longer in danger. Children could play outdoors again. Good people could walk the streets alone. Glorfindel could come out of his hiding place in the cramped storage area above Círdan's room. Elrond was disappointed; he liked setting up fort with Glorfindel under the beams made of splintery brown wood and the roof tiles of white clay. He liked sharing bits of food from bowls placed on a blanket on the floor. That was how people ate in Valmar, Glorfindel told him.
Elrond said nothing about his watching-waking dream of Maedhros and Erestor. No-one would have believed him if he did. According to the fisherman, Maedhros' whereabouts could be accounted for all day. First, the fisherman had only seen three figures in a boat. Then he claimed to have thrown a rock and hit one of them in the head. But now his story was that Maedhros had held him captive in the fish house for the whole day, tied to the cleaning table, and had threatened to gut him like a fish. It only made sense that if Maedhros had been in the fish house, he could not have been in the bedroom with a knife. Elrond must have dreamed it. He had all kinds of strange dreams now: some bad, and some good.
The last night in the hiding place, he dreamed that he was the most beautiful and beloved Elf in the entire world. He was older in the dream, and wearing a magnificent outfit that looked rather like Glorfindel's party suit. Glorfindel was with him. They walked down the carpeted corridor of a grand palace, a palace like Elrond imagined must have existed in the great realms of Ereinion's green book, and courtiers bowed as they passed. Ereinion stood waiting at the end of the corridor, beside a door that led to the dining hall. He handed Elrond a bowl full of candies, grapes, and pearls. A six-pudding banquet in Elrond's honour followed the presentation of the gift, and then all the guests stripped off their fine clothes and went swimming in an enormous fountain with foaming lilac water. Elrond woke up smiling. It had been his best dream in a long while.
The sound of rain pattered on the roof tiles. The air was cold; Elrond could see his breath. He rolled over on his floor mat to look at Glorfindel, who was still sleeping soundly next to the chimney. Quickly, he wrapped his blanket around his shoulder and crawled across the floor to where Glorfindel lay. It was warmer to curl up next to somebody than to lie alone.
"Hú... vanim..." Glorfindel mumbled in his sleep.
Elrond poked him on the shoulder. "Glorfindel? Are you having a dream?"
Glorfindel blinked and yawned, stretching his arms above his head. "Mmm... yes," he said.
"What kind of dream?" Elrond asked.
"A good one."
Elrond smiled. "I had a good dream, too. What was yours about?"
"Ah," said Glorfindel, and he yawned again. "Nothing you need to know... Why don't you tell me of your dream instead?"
Grinning, Elrond sat back to share his perfect vision. "I was the best person in the world," he said. "You were walking with me in a huge palace, and Ereinion gave me a present, and then we went swimming in a fountain."
"That sounds very nice, Elrond."
"Do you think it might come true?" he asked.
"You and Círdan both said I have a power to see the future in my dreams. Do you think this one was a dream about the future?"
"I don't know," said Glorfindel. "These things are impossible to say. It could mean that you'll grow up to be admired and respected by many. Or it could be just a dream."
"Oh," said Elrond. It had seemed so real, and so natural, as if only waiting for the right moment to happen in truth. "What about the swimming?" he asked.
Glorfindel put on a thoughtful face and pretended to consider this carefully. "Well. I'm not sure about the fountain part, but I think the regular kind of swimming in the sea could be arranged for today."
"Now?" asked Elrond.
Glorfindel looked at the roof. "When it stops raining and the sun comes out," he said.
By the time the sun came out in late afternoon, the air was warm and Glorfindel, as promised, finally left his hiding place to take Elrond, Elros and Howler to the beach for swimming. Ereinion and Círdan followed. Ereinion's face was set with a perpetual scowl, full of anger toward Glorfindel still left over from the party night, prompting Glorfindel to wisely ensure that Círdan was standing between the two of them at all times. Wisely too, he ignored Ereinion's subtle but constant stream of barbed comments. Mostly.
Elros was first to undress, tossing his clothes into a careless heap on the sand and running after Howler through the curling edges of the waves. Elrond likewise removed his clothes, but stayed on the beach to wait for Glorfindel. Glorfindel stripped down only to the high-waisted, knee-length breeches he had been wearing the past few days.
"Are you going swimming with your clothes on?" Ereinion asked.
"I prefer staying covered, thank you," was Glorfindel's curt answer.
Ereinion snorted. "Ha! Strange that of all of us, the whore's the only one who won't drop his pants!"
Even from where he stood a few yards away, Elrond could see Glorfindel's jaw clench and his shoulders tighten.
"Ereinion," Glorfindel said. "This is the sixth time so far today that you've called me a whore. Your vocabulary seems somewhat limited."
"I was always taught to call things by their proper names," Ereinion replied.
Glorfindel's voice snapped back like the bite of a whip. "Then you ought call me Cantarwa, or did your selfish father not teach you proper respect for your elders?!"
There was a brief pause, a fraction of a second in which Ereinion had time enough to shift from shock at Glorfindel finally breaking to defend himself and the fury of being insulted. But before he had time to fully react, his opponent seemed to have reconsidered and changed tactics. Glorfindel spoke again, in a sweeter voice accented with a mischievous smile. "Besides," he added, "it's been fair years since I was last sold as a whore."
Of all the things Ereinion might have been expecting Glorfindel to say, this was not one. He let his mouth drop open, gaping like a halfwit, until he had enough presence of mind to stupidly mumble, "What?"
Glorfindel's smile widened. "Have I never told you this story?" he asked, almost mockingly. "Oh, it's a grand one. You should hear it."
He stepped closer to Ereinion in a move that bordered on a threat. Elrond, too, inched his way forward. He was clever enough to guess that whatever was about to be said would be something that should not be heard by children. He prodded a smooth stone with his toe, making certain he looked safely indifferent while his ears strained to hear Glorfindel's words.
"This happened after your father died," Glorfindel began. "After that battle, everyone left Eithel Sirion and followed your uncle to Gondolin. My friend and I - his name was Amaril, or perhaps it should be Emeril in Sindarin; I'm not sure - were the last to leave. Everyone else fled in a hurry to travel under the protection of Turgon's soldiers. But we stayed a few days, and were able to load up a cart with all the abandoned treasures we could carry. And we could carry quite a lot.
"Of course there was no point in us going to Gondolin, as your uncle made it very clear that I was unwelcome in his good city, so we decided to set off south-west to find you in Eglarest instead. I think we must have had some noble intention in mind, such as delivering you your father's old prince's circlet. Which we did; do you remember?"
Ereinion made a grunting sound, which may have indicated a memory along those lines. Glorfindel continued, regardless. "The entire north, and particularly the north-west, was a hazard in those days. Chaos. Elven power and influence was almost gone. Bands of ignoble mortals were everywhere, so we considered ourselves very lucky to have not encountered any even as we came as far as the Narog. The two of us, all alone with our wagon of treasures, would have made a legendary target. But we had already reached the Nenning and turned south before we saw another living person.
"...Now I should mention before I say anything else that, early on in the journey, I'd started wearing my full court costume every day. If I wore plain travelling clothes, Amaril made me walk along with him, water the horses, cut a path through the tall grasses, gather firewood for camp, you get the idea. But if I took the time to fix my hair and face in the morning and clothe myself in palace silks, then he was far too chivalrous to let one who looked so queenly do anything but sit on the wagon seat and drink brandy all day. So I got away with looking pretty while drinking myself stupid, and he did all the work. It was a good arrangement.
"Back to the Nenning. Early afternoon on the same day we had turned south, we were surrounded by bandits coming up suddenly out of grass as high as Amaril's chest. Not too many, maybe only eight, but they were armed and we had no chance of fighting off all of them. We knew it was better to try and bargain our way out. They wanted gold and gems, of course, but also clothing. The bandit chiefs liked to compare themselves to Elven kings, and they liked to dress the part. I remember the leader of this group was wearing a too-small tunic of Elven design and some kind of Doriathren banner as a cape.
"Amaril let them look at our wagon, treating them like peaceful traders while they held him at knifepoint. They spoke in some strange ugly noises, and didn't understand a word we said, but the leader's pointing and grunting was clear enough. Amaril told him, 'Yes, yes, you can have that, and that too, and all of those, yes.' It was easy for him- those weren't his clothes and jewels the bandits wanted. But I'd been drinking brandy all morning and wasn't about to let some dirty thieves take everything I'd struggled to save from Eithel Sirion. Luckily, they thought my protests were endearing.
"The leader in the Doriathren banner cape turned to Amaril and made a gesture that said no, he wanted none of our treasures from the wagon. His band would leave all that untouched. If- and he made a new gesture- Amaril let them have me. I was all he wanted."
Elrond had stopped moving and stopped pretending to be disinterested, as he stared at Glorfindel openly, and hung on every word of this strange tale. He had an idea of where the story was going, shocking as it was. Was such a thing even possible, and, more importantly, had Glorfindel done it?
The story went on. "Amaril had no idea what to say to this. He'd convinced himself that if we gave them enough valuables, they'd let us go on our way without trouble. So the chief's gestures grew more and more emphatic, and all he could do was stand there with his wide eyes and open mouth. I was annoyed, and drunk- which is a bad combination, by the way- so I said, 'Oh, how bad could it be?' and hopped down off the wagon. I figured I'd entertain them a while, an hour or two, then Amaril and I could continue our journey without losing the clothes and jewels. I told him to take the wagon and go on without me; I'd catch him later. I think he was too shocked to argue.
"So Amaril went along south, and I went a short ways east with the bandits back to their village, which was little more than a camp. They were so kind to me the whole way. The chief kept smiling and patting my arm and saying soft things that I think were meant to be compliments, and as we walked he offered me a skin of some very strong wine. So they weren't bad people at all, really. We went into the big village hall, which was a long log-framed building with animal skin walls, decorated with stolen Elvish treasures. Candlesticks, tapestries, a plush footstool, a carpet rolled up to use as a bench... I guessed at least two thirds of everything they owned and wore had once belonged to somebody else. The chief introduced me to his son- at least I gathered this was his son- who was wearing the outer part of a lady's winter travelling gown, backwards, over a silk nightshirt and smith's leather breeches. He took one look at me and stepped behind his father to hide.
"The father and son spoke to each other a moment. I had a chance to look around the hall, and curious observers that kept popping out between the hanging skins or leaning blatantly through the door had a chance to look at me. Most of them looked like the same sort of people as the bandit Men: short and stout, with coarse, dark hair and small, dark eyes set deep into round faces. Only a few, six or seven women that I could see, were clearly of a different kind. They were taller, and slender, with light brown or golden hair and pale eyes. They stared at me blankly, and it made me uneasy. I looked back to the chief. He was saying something to his son in a harsh voice, waving his hand at me, while his son shook his head, 'no, no'.
"This was when I started to think that maybe I wasn't brought here for any short stay. Those pale women must have come from someplace else; they might have been travellers as well, kept like any other stolen goods from ambushed caravans. I believed then that the chief meant for me to marry his son, not just spend an hour with him. And that, I would not do. Could not do. They hadn't yet realised that I wasn't a woman, looking as I did, and when they found out, I knew well enough that it would be... ah... ill-received. So I thought it would be a good time to take my clothes off."
"Why?!" Elrond shouted. It had not been his intention to say this, or anything at all, but his mouth was already forming the word before his mind had a chance to second-guess. His cheeks turned red immediately. "I mean..." he added, "if you're worried they'll see you're a... not... Why would you take your clothes off so they can see right away?"
Glorfindel smiled at him, a sly kind of smile, and answered, "Because, Elrond, it's far easier to run when you're not wearing enough fabric to make a tent. And yes, I did run. I pulled off my court clothes and, after pausing just long enough for the look on the chief's face to turn from confusion to fury, ran like I never had before and never have since. Some of the bandits chased me a while, but their legs were on the short side and they couldn't match my speed. But at least I left them with that one fine outfit. It probably ended up on the chief, who would be too fat to wear it fastened, though I doubt he'd mind. Whatever the case, I caught Amaril the next afternoon. We continued, and found our way to Eglarest with no further incident." He turned to Ereinion with the flash of a menacingly bright grin. "Then I gave you your circlet."
"Then you gave me my circlet," Ereinion agreed. His words were sharply edged with a growl.
"Aren't you glad that I went to such lengths to keep it safe for you?" Glorfindel asked.
"I'm amazed you went to such lengths to invent that ludicrous story," Ereinion answered. "I think you're just trying to shock me."
Glorfindel laughed. "Everything shocks you, Ereinion. You're so closed-minded. I remember you actually cried when you found out your father and Maedhros had been lovers. And that was when you were sixty-five."
The words that Ereinion angrily shouted back might as well have been whispered for all Elrond heard. This news of Maedhros was enough to inspire the worst kind of curiosity. He stepped forward far enough to grasp Glorfindel's arm and ask, "What? What about Maedhros?"
"Oh," said Glorfindel, "it's nothing young boys need to know about."
"But-" Elrond started, though he gave up his protest as quickly as it came. The closing moment, the moment when the grownups realised he was listening and paying attention to things he should not hear, had come. It was always impossible to go back once the curtain had fallen.
Glorfindel took his hand. "Come on. I'm not in the mood for swimming any more. Why don't we go to my house and find some fresh clothes? I've been wearing the same thing for four days."
Elrond went. Being with Glorfindel was always better than not being with Glorfindel, even if being with Glorfindel meant no swimming.
Glorfindel let Elrond choose the new clothes. Now that Elrond knew Glorfindel owned a large collection of beautiful things, the task was a great pleasure. It took an hour just to unpack it all from trunks that had been locked for sixty years. The floor was covered in silks when Glorfindel said, suddenly and unexpectedly, "Ereinion's coming."
Following his gaze, Elrond looked out the window to see Ereinion, alone, coming up the road. "What does he want?"
"I don't know," said Glorfindel. "But he's never come here before. Elrond... go into the bedroom and hide behind the curtain. Whatever he's come here to say, I want him to say it without knowing you're still here. He'll tether his wrath if he knows you're listening."
Elrond obeyed the request gladly. He slipped behind Glorfindel's curtain, keeping even his shoes hidden, and allowed himself only a thin sliver of an opening through which to spy. Whatever truth and fury was about to be spoken, he would hear in full.
It seemed a terribly long time before Ereinion came to the door. At a harsh knocking, Glorfindel let him inside. Elrond heard him say, "What are you doing? What's all this?"
"Clothes," said Glorfindel. "My old clothes, just unpacked. I was choosing what to wear."
Glorfindel did not answer. "What brings you here?" he asked instead.
There was a pause, and Elrond watched Ereinion fidget with a clasp on his shirt in the shy moment it took him to resolve what he was about to say. "Everything that belonged to my father... or my family at all... I want it. Everything that's rightfully mine, I want. Everything you took from Eithel Sirion in that wagon of yours. I want every carpet and tapestry and dish and jewel and fur, down to the last coin. I am the only living heir, and it belongs to me."
Glorfindel laughed. "That's a bit much, coming to my house and demanding I give you everything you've not thought of since you were ten years old."
"I want what is mine. And that includes everything you have here."
"No," said Glorfindel. "That includes a small portion of what I have here. What you see- these clothes- this is all mine. The tapestries and dishes and furs, as you say, I lost years ago, or Amaril took. I had to abandon some things in Eglarest, and others were destroyed at the Havens of Sirion. I have your father's wedding suit, which I will give you, and a few of his rings. But I have to tell you, Ereinion, that he was never one with much interest in personal wealth. Even less so toward the end of his life. He wore simple clothes, few jewels if any, and decorated his bedroom with books rather than ornate furnishings. His armour was the most valuable thing he owned, and it was destroyed at his death. So whatever notions you have of kingly riches owed you, you should forget now. Everything I have that might be rightly yours can fit into a small rutabaga sack. In fact I'll put it into one, if you want. But what you see here is mine."
"It belongs to my family," Ereinion said coldly.
"Look, this is nonsense. I was not some low stable boy in Eithel Sirion. I had the means to purchase my own things, you know."
"You were my father's bondsman, and as such-"
Even through the curtain-gap, Elrond could see the exaggerated gesture of Glorfindel rolling his eyes and shaking his head. "Yes, yes," said Glorfindel, "I know what you're about to say. That such a bondsman is unable to express ownership, either of land or goods, and all property truly belongs to his lord, and so on. But, you know, your father did not acknowledge oaths or bonds. So my duty is nullified."
"I AM NOT AS STUPID AS YOU THINK!" Ereinion shouted, with force enough to cause both Glorfindel and Elrond to step back in alarm. "I know he did not recognise sworn oaths! And I know he granted you titles and property! But I also know that you never swore your oath of servitude to him, but rather to my grandfather! And what you may not know is that, at my birth, my grandfather named me his heir in place of all others! He knew my father did not want to be king! The crown only passed to him as regent because I, at ten years old, was far too young to take that burden! He knew that in the event that my father was named king, all the riches and power of the kingdom would somehow find their way funnelled through him into your conniving hands! He refused to allow it. So he appointed me as his successor, and I inherited everything he owned. Including... his servants. You were bonded to my grandfather, and therefore, at his death, to me. And I have come to claim everything that is mine."
Glorfindel muttered something that was too soft for Elrond to hear, and he stepped back, retreating into the kitchen alcove. Ereinion followed him. Both moved behind the wall, out of Elrond's sight line. Elrond could no longer watch them without emerging from behind the curtain. He could only hear half of what was quietly spoken.
Ereinion's voice said, "...entirely within my right... only way... hardly a chore..."
Glorfindel's voice said in return, "... never have the courage... prove nothing at all..."
"...think you are only playing the role of palace courtesan..." said Ereinion.
"Consort," replied Glorfindel. "...always preferred consort... more appropriate..."
Ereinion laughed loudly and mockingly, which covered Glorfindel's next words. Then, suddenly, he shouted, "SIT DOWN!" Chair legs scraped against the wooden floor; Glorfindel must have obeyed the order. Elrond could stand no more. Carefully, he pushed the curtain aside and crept to the edge of the wall to peer into the kitchen.
Glorfindel was indeed sitting on one of the kitchen chairs. His eyes were closed, and Ereinion's hand was at his neck. Ereinion, who stood closely over him, spoke in fierce, low tones.
"Tell me why I should not," Ereinion said, and his hand began to slowly move down Glorfindel's bare chest. "I can do whatever I like with you, if you belong to me. You know the rumour going about, before you came to live on this farm out here, was that you would do anything for the right price? It inspired wild fantasies among some. Anything at all... for a price... So how is this. I will let you keep up your mask of wealth. My father's things I will take, and the jewellery, and everything else I will examine to decide what you may have. Most of your court clothing, you may keep. In return for this kindness, you will come back to live with me in the town. Is that a suitable price for you?"
Eyes still closed, Glorfindel bowed his head and gave the slightest nod.
"I thought it might be," said Ereinion. "So cheaply bought." He bent in lower to press his lips to Glorfindel's cheek, though Glorfindel turned sharply away from the kiss. In an instant, his hand was back at neck level, poised to choke. "Don't you dare turn from me," he hissed.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Glorfindel murmured.
Glorfindel opened his eyes. "Because Elrond is standing behind you, and this is not something he should see."
If Elrond had been Morgoth himself, Ereinion could not have had a more horrified look on his face as he whirled around. He stepped back, distancing himself from Glorfindel as best he could in the small room, and as he did he folded his arms protectively across his chest to hide his hands in shame. "El... Elrond..." he stammered. His guilty breath came so erratically he looked like he might choke on it. And Elrond wished he would.
"How... long have you been there?"
"Since before you arrived," said Glorfindel, as he stood and grabbed the nearest robe off the table to cover the nakedness of his upper body. "He was behind the curtain, in my bedroom. I'm sure he heard everything you said. Isn't that lovely?"
Elrond nodded, slowly. He kept his eyes fixed on Ereinion. Half of him wanted to flee the wicked scene, and the other half wanted to attack the King with all the strength he could muster. Indecisive as he was, he could only manage to stand and stare.
Ereinion looked from Elrond to Glorfindel, who had his back turned, and then again to Elrond. "Oh," he said, limply. For a second, he seemed to deflate and shrink, as if all the strength in his body scattered grain by grain like sand on the breeze. It took him a moment to gather it all again. Then he hardened his eyes. "I meant what I said. All of this... everything... It's mine, and I want it."
"Then take it," said Glorfindel. "Please, go ahead. I shan't stop you. Take whatever you want. Except you should know that I promised Elrond a present for helping me sort through this mess, and I don't think you should take away his reward on account of your grudge toward me."
"What present?" Ereinion asked. He looked to Elrond
This was the first Elrond had heard of any present or reward. He had been helping for the honour and joy of just seeing all those wonderful clothes. But out of support for Glorfindel, he tried his best to look as if he knew what was happening. He raised his chin to Ereinion in defiance.
"I promised Elrond that, in thanks for his work, I would let him pick a few things he liked best to keep for himself," Glorfindel said. "All I ask now is that you let him do his choosing before you take it all away. You wouldn't want me to break my promise, would you?"
"Um," said Ereinion, but before he could speak further, Glorfindel interrupted.
"Come on, Elrond. This is as sorted as we're going to get today, so go ahead and pick two presents. Any two things in the room. They're yours to keep. You were looking at that velvet cape, weren't you? And the pendants?"
Slowly, Elrond walked to the centre of the room, and looked around at everything draped over the floor and furniture. There seemed to be so much more of it, so many perfect items, now that he was forced to pick just two. He needed more time. Had he known this would happen, he would have been considering carefully all the while they unpacked. Even that, he thought, would not have been enough. So how could he possibly make a choice in only seconds? He glanced at the jewellery boxes, which he knew contained some of the finest pendants and rings he had ever seen. Ereinion flinched. Don't worry, he thought to himself, I don't want your stupid jewels.
He looked at the velvet cape, deep green and trimmed with black, and moved on. It was too large; it would fall floor-length on Glorfindel. If he had to pick something now, he wanted it to be something he could use now. He was sure he wanted fine clothes like Glorfindel wore to the party, but he wanted them to fit. He needed something smaller. Across the room, thrown over a storage box, he remembered seeing a pair of black breeches with delicate silver embroidery in a diamond pattern down the side seams. They were cut shorter than usual, and when he held them up against his body, they came to just above his ankles. The waist was drawstring, which meant he could pull it tight enough to fit.
A pair of pale brown slippers, decorated with sparkling beads, sat on the floor beside him. He slipped them on. They were too big by far, sticking out two inches behind his heel, but at least they were the backless kind he could wear around the house without looking too ridiculous. He could stuff the toe with rags, or perhaps tie them on with ribbons. He took them off, picked them up, and turned back to Glorfindel and Ereinion with his choices.
Glorfindel started laughing immediately. "You see, Ereinion!" he said. "You looked so worried for a minute there, afraid he would choose something far too valuable, but what does he pick? A pair of your father's underpants and my old shoes! Good boy, isn't he?"
Ereinion forced a weak smile of relief. "Very..."
"Come over here, Elrond." Glorfindel held out his arm in a welcoming gesture, and Elrond came to him. "You deserve something more than second-hand underpants and shoes. Here, you'll like this..." He reached into one of the boxes and pulled out a shining golden disc, the size of his palm. On one side, it was inlaid with tiny pieces of blue glass in a chequered pattern. The other side was a mirror framed in more of the same. "It's not very valuable- the metal is only an alloy made to look like gold, and it's adorned with glass instead of gems, but I thought it was pretty. It reminded me of the central market in Valmar. Craftsmen there make one grand piece to sell to some lord, and then dozens of cheap imitations of copper and glass to sell to everyone else who wants to play at being rich. It does look a bit Vanyarin, doesn't it, with that design on the back, though I bought it in Mithrim. Anyhow. You should have it." He put the mirror disc into Elrond's hand.
"Thank you..." said Elrond. Quickly, he ran his thumb over the ridges of glass, and then dropped it safely into his pocket before Ereinion could say anything to take it away. The next thing he knew, his arms had found their way around Glorfindel's waist. Glorfindel held him tightly in return.
"Wonderful," said Ereinion. "Now that you have your presents, Elrond, you can help me collect my things."
"Will I get another present?"
Ereinion smiled too brightly, and took no notice of Elrond's scowl. "Of course."
"Then no," said Elrond. "I don't want anything from you." He turned to press his eyes against Glorfindel's arm, ignoring the hurt look on Ereinion's face.
"You should help him," Glorfindel whispered close to his ear. "I'll help, too. We'll pack up everything he says, and take it into town."
It seemed cowardly to Elrond to give in so easily and hand everything over at Ereinion's demand. He would rather fight. But if Glorfindel could bear it, then he could as well. He nodded in agreement, but did not yet release his embrace.
"What would you have us pack first, my dear King?" Glorfindel asked.
Ereinion surveyed the landscape of disorganisation. "My father's wedding clothes," he said. "You said you had those... I want them."
"Well yes," said Glorfindel. "I'd already guessed that. Anything else less obvious?"
"Everything that ever belonged to my family!" Ereinion shouted back. "Varda, Glorfindel, do I have to list each individual item?"
Glorfindel sneered. "Yes."
"Fine. Fine. I will." Rubbing his forehead with both hands, as if the gesture might summon some old memory of family treasures, Ereinion began to pace. "The leaf pendant," he finally said. "The malachite leaf."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"The malachite leaf pendant," Ereinion said loudly, "which was given to my father by Lúthien as a token of esteem on behalf of the kingdom of Doriath, which I believe you once tried to steal from him out of ridiculous infatuation with the princess, and which I might very soon decide is worth your thumbs if you do not hand it over immediately."
"Oh right," said Glorfindel. "That malachite leaf. Elrond, see if you can find it, will you?"
Elrond opened the nearest jewellery box. "What does it look like?"
"Well, it's made of malachite, and it's shaped like a leaf," Glorfindel told him. And then, a moment later, added, "It's green and silver. About as long as your little finger."
As Elrond searched for the leaf, Ereinion continued his list. "My mother's wedding ring. My father kept that in a separate box, apart from his own rings, which I also want, but I want her wedding ring in particular."
"Your mother had no wedding ring," Glorfindel answered, shaking his head.
"I've seen it," said Ereinion. "My father showed me. It was gold-"
"Ereinion, I was at the ceremony. There were no rings for either your father or your mother. Believe me, I remember this. It caused a sensation to break from tradition like that, and your grandfather complained mightily, but they had no rings."
"It was gold," Ereinion repeated, more forcefully. "A wide band, which she kept on a chain because it had originally been made as a man's ring, and she died before she had a chance to have it resized. It had no stones, but the gold had been worked in four tiny and perfectly detailed scenes... scenes of..."
His voice trailed off as Glorfindel abruptly turned and left the room.
Elrond looked up. Glorfindel had gone into the bedroom, and from the sounds of his movements, he was searching for something. It took him only a moment to find it. He returned, clutching a ring on a chain in his right hand, and thrust it in front of Ereinion's face.
"This ring?!" he hissed.
"Yes... that's it. Thank you."
Before Ereinion could take the ring, Glorfindel snatched it back, covering it with both hands. "Of all the arrogant lies!" he spat. "This is not your mother's wedding ring, contrary to your father's vile dishonesty! What he said and why he said it, I can't even begin to guess, but this is not yours! It is my mother's wedding ring. She swore no oath to your grandfather, she is not your slave, and you have no right to it. The ring stays with me!"
"But..." Ereinion sighed, confused. "I remember him showing me... twice... he told me..."
"I don't care what he told you!" shouted Glorfindel. "Perhaps you're misremembering? Perhaps he once showed you my mother's ring? Or perhaps he was so ashamed of his fallacy of a marriage that he invented a story around a ring for your mother so he'd have something more romantic to tell you than, 'I had to marry my cousin because I could do no better'!"
It took Ereinion's fist only a fraction of a second to collide with Glorfindel's jaw, and hardly any longer for Glorfindel to fall to the floor, landing on his back beside a pile of crumpled shirts. The blood began to flow immediately from the side of his lip. In the stillness of the silent seconds that followed, Glorfindel looked too shocked to speak or even move. Blood trickled down his chin to drip onto his bare chest where his robe had fallen open, and he seemed not to notice. Ereinion's face, surprised at first by what his fist had impulsively done, quickly settled back into a scowl of anger. Elrond watched them both carefully, almost forgetting even to breathe.
"I want those bracelets you're wearing," said Ereinion. His voice was quieter than before, and it carried a cold sting. "Those are good quality gold, and likely worth more than half the rest of this room combined. My father gave them to you. Now I want them."
Finally, Glorfindel lifted a hand to wipe the blood from his face. He stared up at Ereinion, eyes narrow and fierce, and said, "No."
"You're not in a position to say no. Take them off, and give them to me."
"No," Glorfindel repeated. Then, "I can't."
"What do you mean, you can't?" asked Ereinion. "They're not fixed on; you've not been wearing them for the past sixty years. You took them off before, and you can take them off now."
Glorfindel glared. "I can't. I am unable, Ereinion, to take these bracelets off. Are you too thick to understand that?"
"Are you too thick to understand that if you don't take them off, I'll take them off of you, and I surely won't be as gentle as you might like?!"
"I can't," Glorfindel repeated simply.
Ereinion paced. He rubbed his hand, as if only then realising how it stung from the impact with Glorfindel's jaw, and how the skin on his knuckle had split. "Why not?" he asked. "Why can't you? If I'm as thick as you say, then please, explain to me exactly why you are incapable of a task so simple as removing bangles from your wrists."
"For religious reasons, I am unable to remove these bracelets. I cannot take them off, and I will not."
"Oh for..." Ereinion muttered, and Elrond was certain he heard the King swear.
"You can complain all you like, but it won't help."
"Take them off," said Ereinion.
"Glorfindel... take them off, now. You're being stupid."
"My religious laws are hardly stupid!" Glorfindel hissed.
"TAKE THEM OFF!" From the table at his side, Ereinion grabbed a long-bladed cooking knife, holding it between him and Glorfindel at a dangerous angle as his eyes burned and his breath came at an angry speed. "Take them off, Glorfindel, or I swear I will cut them off!"
"Yes," Glorfindel said softly, "free me from my shackles like your father freed Maedhros. How appropriate."
These words nearly caused Ereinion to drop his knife. His hand slipped as the threat echoed back to him and he realised what he had said. Some of the colour drained from his face. "I didn't mean..." he choked; "I didn't... I meant... the gold, the metal, not..." He set the knife back onto the table, not even looking at it, as if its mere potential had suddenly made him ill.
"I don't care what you meant," said Glorfindel. "Any words you say will do an injustice to your ignorance. Ereinion, do you know why I wear these bracelets?"
Ereinion silently shook his head, and Glorfindel lifted his hands to display them. "I told you it was a religious law," he continued, "and by that law, one is forbidden from showing injuries, scars, or other flaws." Slowly, he unfastened the left bracelet, then the right, and slipped them off.
Elrond gasped at what he saw. His hand flew to his mouth, and he bit down hard on the side of his finger to keep from making a sound. The skin at Glorfindel's wrists was ruined. It was twisted somehow, as if it had been pulled apart. Dark ridges separated sunken creases of pure white. Permanent marks had been notched into the joint at the base of his hand, below his thumb. He turned his arms, back to front, so all could be seen.
"What..." Ereinion forced out in a whisper, though his hand, like Elrond's covered his mouth.
"CHAINS, EREINION!" Glorfindel screamed at him, sitting up suddenly and furiously, like a snake about to strike. "I was held in chains by your grandfather's gaolers, and here is your proof! Iron leaves scars! Your father freed me, and I thank Manwë that he was neither a stupid nor entirely insensitive man. He saw how destroyed I was at the sight of my torn and bloodied skin. He had those bracelets made to cover my wrists, so that I need never show my scars. But take them!" He picked up the bracelets, hurling them at Ereinion with all the force he had. One struck the King's shoulder and the other his chest, before both fell to the floor in a clatter of metal. "Take them, if they are so precious!" he shouted. "Though I can promise they will mean nothing to you compared with how dear they are to me..." Then he fell back to the floor, no longer harsh and defiant, but broken and sad. His hands covered his face to wipe away tears already slipping from tightly closed eyes.
Elrond could not move. Like in his waking-sleeping dream, his body was frozen. For a terrible, stretched moment, the room was still save for Glorfindel's sobbing breaths. The silence hummed in his ears. Then Ereinion, so hesitantly, bent over to retrieve the gold bracelets at his feet, and moved forward in a clumsy shuffle.
"For mercy's sake, Ereinion, leave me alone," Glorfindel whispered hoarsely. "You've won. Take it all. I don't care any more... But leave me alone here to live out my wretched existence in peace. Please."
Carefully, Ereinion knelt and set the bracelets down by Glorfindel's shoulder. "You should keep these," he said softly. "They were made for you, so probably wouldn't fit me anyhow... No sense in me keeping something that wouldn't fit. Is there? You should wear them." He cleared his throat, and shuffled again backward on his knees, leaving Glorfindel alone on the floor.
It took only a quick movement for Glorfindel to slip his bracelets back onto his scarred wrists and fasten them shut, first left, then right. "I wore these bracelets every day for more than three long counts," he said, but softly, almost as if speaking only to himself. He pulled himself up into a sitting position again and looked at Ereinion. "It was the kindest thing your father did for me, giving me these... though I don't think he ever knew how important it was."
Ereinion nodded in a weak reply. He stood, steadying himself on the table for a moment before crossing to the door. "I still want you to come back to the town," he said, speaking halfway to the air outside and looking at neither Glorfindel nor Elrond. "You can have three or four days to pack up everything you have here. Bring it all. We can look through it some other time, and I will find my father's things."
"Fine," said Glorfindel. His tone was flat and emotionless.
"Good." Ereinion nodded, leaning forward against the doorframe.
Carefully, Elrond slipped up beside him. "Um. I found your leaf."
"Oh..." said Ereinion, "Elrond, thank you..." He took the pendant by its chain, letting it dangle between his fingers and catch the golden light of sunset on delicate silver veins. "Beautiful, isn't it?" he asked. "And perfectly crafted. Hardly a seam at all between metal and stone." He ran the tip of his finger down the central vein of silver, tracing the smoothness. Then he dropped the leaf into Elrond's hand.
"I promised you a present, didn't I," he said. "This is as good a present as anything. It came from your foremother Lúthien, you know... It would be right for you to have it. Here." Smiling, he closed Elrond's fingers over the pendant. "Now it's yours."
Elrond stared down at his closed hand as Ereinion left. To his right, he heard Glorfindel get up off the floor and shake out his robe. Glorfindel had stopped crying. Now, as Elrond cautiously peeked over at him, he was smiling. The smiling mouth was at odds with the red eyes.
"Well!" he said brightly. "Wasn't that exciting. Curses and threats and all. Never a dull time when Ereinion's about. Now tell me, Elrond, what should we make for supper? I'm hungry after all that fussing."
"I don't care," Elrond muttered.
"Green beans, I think. In vinegar. Maybe fried onions, too. How does that sound?"
Glorfindel sighed. "Elrond, come over here. Sit down at the table. Please?"
Elrond went to the table and sat, still staring down at his closed fist. The pointed end of the leaf dug into his palm.
"What's the matter?" Glorfindel asked, kneeling down beside Elrond's chair. "I'm sorry you had to watch all that. I wasn't expecting Ereinion to be so... Noldorin. But tell me what's wrong?"
"I found the leaf," said Elrond. He opened his hand to show. There was a little mark on his skin where the leaf's point had been: a triangle of white surrounded by pink. Just like a tiny scar. "Does the skin on your wrists hurt?" he asked.
Glorfindel laughed softly. "No. Not at all. I know it looks awful, but it doesn't hurt. The scar skin is stiff. It's like the tough skin on the bottoms of your feet; it doesn't like to move or bend. But other than that, I feel nothing."
Elrond set the leaf pendant down beside Ereinion's shunned knife. He prodded it with his fingertips, aligning it perfectly with the wood grain of the tabletop and making a spiral of the delicate chain. Glorfindel, still kneeling beside the chair, said nothing, and the silence only grew heavier as Elrond turned the leaf to the side, on its back, to the other side, and made the chain into a circle. After a minute, he could stand it no more.
"You shouldn't let him yell at you like that. It's not right."
"I know," said Glorfindel. "It wasn't very nice. But I can no easier stop him from yelling than I can force you to tell me why you're so upset. I agree, all that fighting was an ugly way to act. And I am sorry you were here while it happened. But it's all fine now, isn't it?"
"He hit you."
"He hit me. Yes. But then I threw the hard metal bracelets at him, so we're even. I think one hit him on the nose, didn't it?"
"No, just his shoulder," said Elrond.
"That'll have to do. But here, Elrond, don't look so sad..." Glorfindel placed his hand on Elrond's back, urging him closer. And Elrond, though he tried stubbornly at first to resist, eventually allowed himself to slide off his chair, wrapped in a warm embrace. He let his body sink tiredly against the soothing, strong comfort of Glorfindel's chest and arms.
"I'm alright," Glorfindel murmured to him. "There's no need for worry."
Elrond tried to nod, but could only let his head droop further.
"Everything will be fine, Elrond. I promise. We'll go into town, like Ereinion says. We can pack everything back up tomorrow. Nothing's going to change. I'll just be living in town. That's all. It'll be better this way."
"I miss Malo," said Elrond. A hard lump followed the words up his throat, sticking behind his tongue and calling sudden tears to well in his eyes.
Glorfindel kissed his hair. "I know. I know you do. But I'm here now. I'll always be here to take care of you."
"You were there before, weren't you?" Elrond asked. "Where my parents were. Before they died. I remember you. You had long hair then."
Like a flinch at an old memory, Glorfindel tensed. "Yes," he said, after a breath. "I was there."
"Where was there?"
"Avernien," said Glorfindel. "Where the Sirion runs into the sea."
"What was it like?"
"Just a town by the water. Like the town here, only surrounded by trees."
"What happened?" asked Elrond. "Why did we leave?"
Glorfindel took another slow breath. "It was destroyed."
"There was a fire, wasn't there," Elrond said. "That was in my dream. I was in a wooden room with sand on the floor, and there was a fire... It wasn't just a dream, was it? I was remembering that."
"There was a fire," Glorfindel agreed. "The whole town burned. We all came here afterward."
"And Elros and I went with Maglor and Maedhros..."
Glorfindel's embrace tightened protectively. "I can tell you about them, Elrond, if you want to hear, now that they're gone. How you came to be in their care. It might resolve some of your dreams. Or it might worsen them. It's not an easy story."
"Tell me," said Elrond.
Somewhere, deep inside, he already knew the cruel history he was about to hear. Pieces of it that had been buried for years had at last wound their way back to the surface in nightmares and flashes of recollection. He was beginning to remember. He clung to Glorfindel's robe, and relived the scenes that he had for five years been fearing to believe.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.