10. Intimations of Flammability
"Rochael is a little frisky today," commented the stablehand as he handed Elrond the reins.
Elrond frowned. Frisky? Rochael was never frisky. The closest the placid gelding had ever come to being frisky was a kind of sedate enthusiasm. Yet the big bay did indeed look unusually alert and perky (like Erestor after too much tea), quivering in excitement as Elrond swung onto his broad back.
"Safe journey, Master Elrond," called the stablehand cheerfully as Rochael practically danced out of the yard.
Scarcely two hours later, as they entered a wood, Rochael began to shy from objects that were clearly not there. He also appeared to be convinced that every other fallen twig was a venomous snake.
Not long after, Elrond found himself lying in the dirt at regular intervals. On the eighth occasion, Elrond decided that he completely regretted not acting on his gut instincts when that insufferable groom had called his horse "frisky" (an understatement, Elrond thought).
Elrond's legendary patience finally wore out after sprawling in every conceivable position possible in every conceivable kind of terrain, and developing so many bruises that Elrond was quite sure he must be as uniformly purple as an aubergine. Snapping a command at the unrepentant and still very energetic Rochael, Elrond began the trek back to Minas-en-Elenath-on foot-thanking the stars that he had not gotten terribly far.
As luck would have it, he chanced upon a deer that had caught its leg among a tangle of brambles. Being the kind, compassionate healer that he was, Elrond freed the poor animal and prepared to stitch up its wounds.
He reached into a saddle bag and pulled out the small wooden box that held all his tools and powders. He opened it, only to find it full of rings, ribbons, and other feminine decorations. Frowning, he examined the box in greater detail, and found a little chip in one corner that he did not recall ever seeing. Strange, he mused, and then a further thought struck him. He got up quickly and began to undo the bundle that held the artifacts he was taking to the Havens. The sword had been replaced by a poker, the banner by an apron, and the dagger by an imaginatively shaped piece of charcoal.
But who would do such a thing, wondered the annoyed Peredhel. And it merely reinforced his suspicion that someone had had the gall to do something to his favorite (well, only-Elrond believed in frugality--but that was not the point) horse.
* * *
Why hadn't she thought of this sooner, wondered Ellie as she scrawled a picture of a filled bath. Ellie, in a sudden fit of inspiration, had indicated her wish to communicate using drawings (and was proud she'd thought of it before the Elves), and Neldor, ever helpful, had brought her the slate and some chalk. It would greatly convenience her, especially considering that Neldor was no longer always nearby. Particularly just then, when Ellie realized with horror that she had not taken a bath for heaven knew how many days. Granted, she didn't smell, but it was the principle of the thing that mattered.
Well, that looks reasonable, she thought, holding up the slate to admire her work. Stepping cautiously out of her rooms she scanned the corridors. No elf-women, good. And the male attendant she'd spotted hovering around recently stood conveniently in a nearby corner, patiently watering a potted plant. Ellie felt bad about bothering the man, but she really, really had to take a bath before she died of mental anguish. Thankfully the man spotted her almost immediately, and upon being shown the slate, nodded, and disappeared down a corridor with efficiency unheard of in the modern world, very nearly colliding with a figure going in the opposite direction.
" Hello, Neldor," greeted Ellie, unable to keep back a grin at the attendant's look of abject terror at Neldor's positively poisonous glare. One wouldn't think that such a friendly person would be capable of such ferocity, but Círdan's entire household (with the exception of the lord himself) seemed to hold Neldor in mortal fear. Neldor, smoothing down his hair, returned the greeting in his own, Elvish way, tongue running like water over words that Ellie despaired of ever pronouncing.
They sat down by a window, and Neldor fished out a book from one of the pockets of his apron.
"What's this? I can't read Elvish!" cried Ellie as the book was pushed into her hands. Neldor smiled, and gestured for her to turn the pages. Ah, a picture book! No, wait, thought Ellie, leafing through it. More like some kind of illustrated encyclopedia of... a place? White towers, mountains, gate upon gate upon gate. Bells were jangling riotously in her head.
"Gondolin?" she ventured, and immediately regretted it as Neldor squealed (yes, squealed) and thumped her on the back, grinning insanely. Oh dear, she thought dismally. Now he thinks I've-Glorfindel has-- remembered.
Calming a little, Neldor pulled out a scroll from another pocket, unrolled it to reveal something that looked very oddly like a toothy cow, then watched Ellie closely, as if expecting some sort of reaction. Ellie stared awhile at the horned beast (colored in arbitrary swirls of red and green and black) before shrugging apologetically. "I'm sorry, I don't know what that is."
The healer, though obviously disappointed, shook his head and smiled, then appeared to withdraw into his own thoughts.
Just then came a sharp rap on the door, and the attendant entered - with a large bowl of soup. Ellie couldn't suppress a groan. Was her drawing truly that bad? "I'm sorry, that wasn't what I wanted, but I thank you," she told the bemused attendant, shaking her head.
Neldor, guessing her predicament, picked up the slate. Then, frowning, he turned it upside down. Ellie, with great difficulty, resisted the temptation to bury her head in her hands. This could take a while.
* * *
Mandos meandered through the gardens, doing his best to avoid stepping on sleeping visitors and occasionally asking for directions from one of the hundreds of spirits who swarmed like flies (albeit mostly invisible ones) over the flowers and fountains.
He finally found the Master of Dreams lounging beside an enchanted pool (of something that was definitely not water), idly poking at the swirling, iridescent liquid with a twig. Lórien seldom bothered to come up with original dreams or visions unless there was a real need, mostly doing he did what he was doing now-simply stirring up memories and fantasies and presenting them in slightly different forms.
"Greetings, brother," said Lórien, without looking up.
"Greetings, Irmo," replied Mandos, coming to sit by the other Vala. He leant forward, peering into the pool. The Children dreamed of cows? Burning cows?
Lórien smiled languidly. "Such imaginations, the Firstborn." He sat up, abandoning his work, and unhurriedly turned to look at Mandos. "You seldom come in person, Námo. This must be important business."
"Indeed," said Mandos, feeling he should really get to the point before his brother's mind drifted elsewhere (and where his mind drifted his physical manifestation tended to follow). "There has been a problem with one Glorfindel of the House of the Golden Flower, one of the re-embodied ones...he was in Estë's care, I believe?"
"Oh yes," said Lórien. "The one with the pretty yellow hair that went so well with the geraniums."
"Then you might recall that he disappeared somewhat... abruptly?"
"Yes," replied Lórien, "But that happens on a fairly regular basis. Just recently Manwë whisked away a fellow called Ecthelion to only he knows where, probably to sing at his feet or something. A pity-he made such a lovely lawn ornament, too. We thought something of that nature had happened to this Glorfindel, or that he had been sent back across the Sea as had been planned. Since his healing was nearly complete and sufficient warning had been given to our Oversea contact, we were not overly alarmed. But I see now this is not so."
Mandos nodded. "I fear that something most regrettable has happened to Glorfindel," And he proceeded to tell Lórien about what had transpired.
Lórien thoughtfully chewed on the end of the twig as Mandos spoke, but otherwise seemed as unruffled as ever. That was the good thing about Lórien-never surprised (after all, the Master of Dreams was no stranger to strangeness), seldom judgmental, and always so very calm.
"I see," he said eventually. "So, what must be done?"
"Glorfindel must understand that this is only a minor and temporary inconvenience. He must be made aware that he is to carry out his duties as previously briefed."
Lórien nodded slowly. "It shall be done," he agreed. "I assume Manwë knows of this?"
Mandos twitched and made a noncommittal noise that might have just passed for a "Yes" in Valarin. Well, it would eventually be true.
"Ah, Master Elrond! Back so soon?" greeted the stablehand in his gratingly jovial voice as Elrond limped into the yard, dragging his (still very energetic) horse behind him.
"Yes," said Elrond shortly. "Rochael is a little too frisky today, I am afraid. Have you got another mount I could use?"
"Well, there is the donkey," began the stablehand doubtfully.
"I take that as a no, then," remarked Elrond dryly. "No mind, I will see if the King will grant me the use of one of his precious steeds."
"Grant you use of what?" Gil-galad came sauntering into the yard at that moment, dressed for riding, his little dog held in the crook of one arm. He blinked as he took in Elrond's disheveled appearance. "Gracious, Elrond, what happened?"
In response, Elrond very pointedly handed the stablehand Rochael's reins, and coughed. The stablehand swept a low bow and disappeared (as far as it was possible to disappear with a large, spirited horse in tow).
"Well?" Gil-galad raised an eyebrow, and absently stroked the yawning hound.
Elrond told him, trying not to snarl, and presented the contents of his healer's kit and bundle as evidence.
"Oh dear," said the High King, poking at a particularly lacy ribbon with a gloved finger. "Have you any idea why this has been done to you? And who do you think might be responsible?"
"It was clearly calculated to delay me, if not out of sheer spite," replied Elrond grimly. "And there is only one person who is capable of such childishness, though I do not know who he persuaded to carry out these deeds."
"Hmm. At least, the loss of those valuable artifacts is probably not permanent." Gil-galad gave that aggravating smile that indicated he was highly amused. Elrond wondered how much the High King knew about his (admittedly very immature) rivalry with the Sindarin healer. Probably everything, knowing him.
"I will have the matter investigated," soothed Gil-galad. "Rest a little, replace your kit, do something about those dreadful bruises, and you should best be on your way. If you need a mount, take my new grey mare- her stall is just opposite Rochael's. Mild, gentle, and goes like the wind."
Elrond nodded, sighing. Gil-galad might be vain and overly fond of ridiculous-looking pint-sized dogs, but he was certainly efficient. He decided, though, that whoever had dared to lay their fingers on his beloved instruments deserved a private talking-to.
* * *
A few dozen ambiguous drawings and some bad miming (of scrubbing under the arms-which very nearly gave the attendant a fit and Neldor a stitch in his side) later, Ellie eventually got her bath.
Mind pleasantly stupefied from the steam, relaxed and nearly as squeaky clean as a sterilized workbench, Ellie contentedly strolled back into the sitting room. Neldor was nowhere to be seen, and Ellie assumed he had gone off on some healerly duty or another. Perhaps I'll take a nap, then, she thought (after all, it wasn't as if there was anything else to do), and turned to walk to her bedroom-only to have something unbearably bright and hot flash before her face, very nearly scorching the tip of her nose.
Ellie shrieked and leapt back. It was Neldor, holding a flaming brand. Recovering from her scare, she caught fleeting expressions of smugness and puzzlement pass over the healer's face before being finally replaced with a look of almost angelic innocence.
"Neldor! What are you doing?" Ellie demanded sharply. Neldor, putting on an injured air, murmured something that could have been an apology, crossed quickly in front of her to light the sconces on the wall, then nodded briefly and left the room before Ellie could say another word.
Frowning, Ellie glanced out the window. Sunlight still poured in, and a chaffinch obligingly sung from a nearby perch. Hours from sunset yet. What exactly was Neldor up to?
* * *
Neldor, tucked away in his study, sat with quill poised over the last written page of his patient records. After a moment's meditation, he wrote, "Patient recognizes his city of origin from pictures, but does not recall the creature that caused his death. Another possibility might be that the creature was not accurately represented. Patient's response to flame was entirely normal-- perhaps the stimulus was not sufficiently strong?" Sighing, Neldor put down his quill and kneaded his temples, thinking hard. He remembered the existence of a recipe of a certain concoction, that, when lit, produced a great (if brief) flare and copious amounts of smoke. The elves seldom used it, citing its danger, but Neldor was certain he could safely modify it for his own ends.
A/N: Many thanks to the good folk of GoI for their excellent beta-work, and especially to Gandalfs_apprentice for suggesting the title.
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.