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Not A Substitute But A Fortification: 3. Silver and Black
Ecthelion was at least half Telerin. That had been obvious from the first moment he had come into view. He was dark-haired and tall as a Noldo, but fair-skinned, lithe and well-knit, and as soon as he spoke Glorfindel knew for sure: there was sea-music in his voice, though no trace of an accent in his speech.
And so it was with mixed guilt and pleasure Glorfindel had admired him, resigning himself to studying the youth for any resemblance to the Teler he had killed at Alqualonde. There was none, and Glorfindel knew it was a stretch to assume any kinship between the weatherbeaten sailor he had killed and this beautiful youth. Ecthelion was singularly fair, a youth of black and silver, and despite his habitually inscrutable expression there was a marvellous spark of intelligence in the silver eyes that kept his regard from seeming hostile even when he was rudely staring.
He overcame the rudeness quickly, but his eyes were often upon Glorfindel as they spoke. Part of Glorfindel, schooled to wariness by his sojourn in the wilds, was made nervous by the other's regard, but the thought that this person he thought so interesting was interested in him as well disconcerted him in an entirely different way that had a strong element of pleasure in it.
To Glorfindel's delight, Ecthelion seemed interested in continuing in his company. He made himself pay attention as the other showed him the encampment, knowing he would need to know these things later, but mostly he liked the sound of Ecthelion's voice as he spoke. His innate music made even the serious and slightly dull things he told Glorfindel with somewhat more earnestness than they merited sound fascinating, and Glorfindel nodded eagerly to hear the schedule of how they travelled, giving no sign that he had traveled with a large host before and knew fine well that it was essential to the health of the beasts of burden that they have long rests every few days, such as the lengthy stay they had enjoyed in this encampment.
"But you can cover a great deal of ground during the times when the host is on the move, surely," he said encouragingly when Ecthelion stopped speaking.
Ecthelion made a face. "It seems to me as though we move very slowly," he said, "but then I have never journeyed far with a great host like this, so I have no basis for comparison, really."
An inappropriate comment about the Teleri's lengthy journey took shape in Glorfindel's mind, and he wondered at it, never having been an unkind person. He dismissed the thought, and replaced it with a hastily-thought-up question to fill the silence: "How is it, to be last in the marching order behind all the great hosts ahead?" he asked, and regretted it immediately. He hadn't intended to let on that he knew anything of the hosts ahead, and stood in dread a moment waiting for Ecthelion's reply: if the other asked what he knew of Feanor's host, he didn't think he could lie.
But Ecthelion was looking somber. "It is difficult," he said. "The leaders must have quite a task in blazing trails large enough for us all to pass, it is true, but when it rains the roads are churned to muck by their passage, and when it does not rain, the roads are beaten to dust and we are fair choked. And to add to it, foraging is impossible for us, as they have already stripped away everything of use by the time we pass, and our parties must go farther and farther afield." He shrugged. "Still, I cannot say if it would be better to be ahead: doubtless they face hardships which we do not."
"Doubtless," Glorfindel echoed, but remembered his own experiences at foraging, and privately disagreed. His stomach growled as he remembered the venison his party had once brought back.
"Speaking of hardships," Ecthelion said, giving him a look, "are you hungry?"
"I am always hungry," Glorfindel said, with an embarrassed laugh. "I am trying to get used to it." He had eaten almost without pause for the last three days, secluded and finally at rest in his aunt's tent, and it was strange how he could not be sated. He had never been a heavy eater, but the long deprivation had left him constantly ravenous.
"Had you a difficult journey?" Ecthelion asked, looking concerned.
Glorfindel made a face and nodded, but could think of nothing to say that wouldn't give away just where he had come from. Ecthelion looked sympathetic.
"If you don't mind my saying so," he said, "you don't look as though you've been eating well." Glorfindel shook his head again. Ecthelion made a wry face. "Supplies are a little short," he said, "and it won't be time to eat for another several hours, but I know the quartermaster, and he won't refuse me. Not for you."
"Oh," Glorfindel said, suddenly guilt-stricken, "don't put yourself out on my account. I am not perishing from want. My aunt has fed me very well since I arrived." But his belly was not as moved by guilt as he was, and rumbled again.
Ecthelion laughed, although he quickly tried to look grim. "Have no shame," he said. "I lost my sense of shame about manipulating the quartermaster some time ago." He pulled his face into an expression of guilt. "The quartermaster thinks I am still growing," he said. "And so he is soft-hearted, and gives me more food than I warrant. I have tried being noble and refusing, but it is very wearing, always being hungry."
"Are you still growing?" Glorfindel asked, looking him up and down curiously. Ecthelion was easily Glorfindel's height, but was likely a few years younger: it was obvious from his rawboned frame that he had not yet reached his full size breadth-wise. He would be a big, broad-shouldered man when he was done growing. "You look like you could use more to eat."
Ecthelion made a wry face. "I don't think I am," he said. "It's ages since I had to get new trousers." He plucked at the seam of the slightly threadbare leggings under his long tunic. "You?"
Glorfindel shook his head. "I think I am as grown as I am going to get," he said. "It is only because I went so long without eating at all that I am hungry all the time now."
"Was the journey so terrible?" Ecthelion asked, concerned. "Have you any news?"
"News?" Glorfindel bit his lip, trying to look thoughtful rather than frightened: now would come an awkward question he couldn't answer.
"News," Ecthelion said. "Of Tirion. Is that where you came from?"
"Oh," Glorfindel said, grasping for an answer, "no, I wandered long in wild places before I came to the host of Turukano. I have no news other than to tell of my own ineptitude if left to myself." He shook his head, worry clutching at his midsection and compounding the hungry twisting of his stomach. It was an evasive answer. But Ecthelion nodded thoughtfully, looking a little disappointed. Perhaps he had family in Tirion, Glorfindel supposed. Better Tirion than Alqualonde, and his belly twisted again in guilt.
They slipped between several tents, rough-pitched tarps secured over wagons of supplies. A man was speaking, as if holding a conversation, and as they came around the corner of a tent, there were two men crouching in the middle of an open space, intent over some small object. Glorfindel thought they were playing dice until he saw that there were a number of small wooden tokens, and one of the men was rearranging them, counting out loud.
"I thought so," the other said as the first finished. "Well, that's good then." He turned his head and looked up as Ecthelion stepped around the corner of the tent. "Ehtel, my boy, I was wondering if you'd visit me today."
"I wasn't going to, Finivoron," Ecthelion said, "but I came upon a new friend." He tugged at Glorfindel's sleeve so that he stepped forward. "And he was hungry." Glorfindel noticed that Ecthelion's accent had shifted: no longer was he speaking clear, unaccented Quenya, but now he had a trace of the same accent as the quartermaster.
The quartermaster stood up and looked at Glorfindel with an expression that was nearly alarm. "Oh my," he said, "where is your mother, child?"
The question astonished Glorfindel by being painful. He managed a laugh. "I am not a child," he said, and put his hand to his gut and wondered how such an innocuous question could hurt so much.
"No?" said the quartermaster. "That's just what Ehtelion says. I say you are, the both of you, and it's a shameful time when we can't even feed our children." He moved to a box and opened it, and handed a small flat loaf of bread to each of them. "There, will that hold you until dinner?"
"You spoil them so," the other man, still crouching by the wooden tokens, laughed.
"Someone has to," the quartermaster said, closing the box and turning back to his task. His face was sad. Ecthelion thanked him and politely took his leave, and Glorfindel followed him. It took most of his willpower to keep from eating the entire loaf of bread right there. He contented himself with nibbling a bit of a corner.
Ecthelion had put his bread into a pocket of his garment, and paused to look back at Glorfindel. "What do you want to see next?"
Glorfindel chewed a moment, not wanting to be hasty with the food. "What ought I to see?" he asked.
"Well," Ecthelion said, "I've showed you the supply area." He looked around. "I probably ought to show you the smithy." His face took on a grim cast. "Have you a sword, or any kind of armament?"
Glorfindel nodded, his chest tightening oddly. "A sword," he said. A good sword. A terrible sword. A thirsty sword. But he kept his mouth closed.
"Is it sharp?" Ecthelion asked. "Is it in good repair?"
"Yes," Glorfindel said.
"That is well," Ecthelion said, and led him along a worn path. "Here is where to come if you require repairs to it. It is very fortunate you already have a sword. We are desperately short on arms and on steel. If we need new weapons, we must go to Feanor's host and barter for them. He is not generous, but we have not much to give him."
Glorfindel surveyed the little smithy, where a grimy smith was carefully repairing a broken harness-buckle while a tired-looking apprentice hauled apathetically on the bellows. He cast a sympathetic look at the apprentice, remembering the hours he had spent in that same thankless task, and then turned to look at what the smith was doing with some interest. Disappointed, he bit his tongue; he was no smith himself, having left his father's service when it became apparent he was never going to be any good at the work, but even he could see that the man hadn't heated the metal enough. But this was not the way to make friends, and so he merely bowed cheerfully when Ecthelion introduced him. The smith nodded, absorbed in his task, and the apprentice made a gesture more like a shrug, and they went on their way.
"Have you a sword?" Glorfindel asked, looking at the other's narrow waist, belted with a woven strip of fabric around his slightly shabby robe.
"Yes," Ecthelion said. "I have not yet used it in anger, but I keep it sharp."
Glorfindel nodded, and lapsed into silence, nibbling at the corner of his bread again. He couldn't stop eating. "Oh," he said, forcing himself to take the bread away from his mouth, "where were you headed when I interrupted you?"
"Oh," Ecthelion said, "well... I have the day free and had thought... there is a place I like to go, when I have nothing else to do, and I was simply going to go there and sit and think a while."
"We should go there, then," Glorfindel said.
"If you would not be bored," Ecthelion said.
Glorfindel laughed. "No," he said, "I am rather tired. I would like to sit and think a while."
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