The Old Ways
5. The King's Hand of Light by Justice
Glorfindel adapted back to life in the King's court with remarkable ease. Before the end of the three-day deadline ordered by Ereinion, he had traded his farm to a Sindarin neighbour in exchange for an ox and cart with which to haul his belongings into town. Sunset on the third day found him in Círdan's bathroom. He needed to bathe in a more courtly setting than a wooden tub by the hearth in his farmhouse, he explained to Elrond, and wash his hair with courtly soaps, and perfume his skin with courtly oils, if he was expected to be a proper courtly Elf. The entire process would take at least three hours.
Elrond was helping. A courtly Elf needed an assistant, Glorfindel said. A courtly Elf did not heat his own bath water or wash his own hair. So it was Elrond's duty to fetch the boiling kettle from the fireplace, though it was heavy and difficult to carry, and lather scented soap over Glorfindel's golden head. The second task was both easier and more enjoyable. It allowed an opportunity to secretly check and see if Glorfindel's hair was growing any faster.
Once Elrond was done lathering, Glorfindel handed him a cup of bathwater to wash away the soap. The water, by some wonderful product Glorfindel had produced from his old collection, was bright pink and smelled of lilies. "Will it make your hair pink?" Elrond asked.
"No," said Glorfindel, and then, "At least I hope not..."
Elrond poured the water. The pink did not stick. He poured more until the lather was washed away, and Glorfindel's hair shone bright in the fading rays of sunset. Pink droplets glittered on his skin like liquid jewels as he stepped from the bathtub. And in the seconds before his body was covered by a towelling robe, Elrond could see clearly the three scars, on wrists and stomach, made more prominent by hot water. He pinched the flat skin on his own wrists between his fingernails to mimic the marks in little red crescents. But only secretly, so Glorfindel would not see.
A knock at the door came when Glorfindel was halfway finished dressing in his courtly robes, a task that also required Elrond's assistance. Before he had time even to ask who it was, the door opened and Ereinion stepped inside.
"I've been waiting over an hour," Ereinion said. "What are you doing in here?"
Glorfindel leaned toward the mirror in a lazy way and answered, "I am getting ready. It takes time to bathe and dress and fix my hair and face. I can't be about here looking as if I just walked in from a farm, can I?"
"It's no matter. I'm tired of waiting. Come with me."
"I was dressing," Glorfindel continued. "And you just barged in here. Not very considerate. I'm not fully dressed yet."
"Being fully dressed hardly impacts your usefulness," said Ereinion. "You're fine as you are."
"Glorfindel, I honestly don't care if you're wearing regal velvet or a scrap of rag. You're coming with me now."
It seemed for a moment that Glorfindel would argue further. He opened his mouth with a breath, but then closed it again and thinned his lips into a guarded sneer. "Fine," he said. "But you can wait while I do my eyes at least. I'll be quick." He turned back to the mirror, picked up the little kohl brush, and outlined a quick sweep of black. Then, watching the reflection of Ereinion's impatient pacing, added a dusting of white powder to his face as well. "I cannot do this half prepared," he hissed to Elrond as he stood. "It's an insult."
"When will you be back?" Elrond asked.
Glorfindel only shrugged in answer.
Ereinion was silent the entire walk to the bedroom. He stayed a constant pace ahead, opening the door and then closing it again once both he and Glorfindel were inside. He only spoke once the door was shut. And then, by the puzzled look on Glorfindel's face, the words were not what had been expected.
"Why are you treating Elrond like that?"
Glorfindel blinked uncertainly. "Like what?"
"Like a servant," said Ereinion. "You have no right to keep him as your personal attendant. It's spitting in the face of all tradition to have a boy of his lineage waiting on somebody like you." He accented the last word harshly.
"Ah yes," Glorfindel said with a nod. "You can take that up with Elrond, if you must. Believe me, it wasn't my idea. I fully intended to go to the markets this morning and find some mongrel boy in need of employment. But Elrond insisted that he could do anything I needed, and begged me not to choose another. This is what he wants to be doing. It's odd, I know, but if it makes him happy..."
"He wants to be hauling your bathwater?"
Glorfindel nodded again. "Yes. Please, ask him if you don't believe me. You think I'd choose somebody that young? I'd wanted one at least thirty or thirty-five: one who can carry a kettle without spilling. But Elrond insisted."
Reluctantly, Ereinion turned away to drum his fingers on the dresser-top. "I'll talk to him tomorrow," he said after a pause. "Let him know that it's not expected of him to wait on you in any way."
"He knows that, Ereinion, and-"
"He should have a servant of his own," Ereinion interrupted. "Between him and Elros, they need somebody to tidy up after them, make their beds, wrestle them into the bath, help with studies, and somebody who isn't you, before you say what you look like you're about to say."
Glorfindel scowled. "I think I have better things to do with my time than help children wipe their bums. What I was about to say was, 'Pity Erestor went mad,' because he was doing an admirable job of all those things on top of his own duties."
"Oh," said Ereinion. "Right... Well, I'll tell Elrond that if he goes to help you find a servant- and I don't mind you having one so long as it's not Elrond- he can find one of his own, too. I think he'll like that better than carrying kettles for you."
"You might be surprised..." Glorfindel muttered.
"Because it seemed to me that Elrond's offer to be my attendant came more from jealousy than any real desire to be a servant. You see how he's latched on to me now that Maglor and Erestor are gone. I think he's worried that if I pick up some mongrel servant boy, he'll have to compete for attention. It sounds silly, but he's been struggling to make himself seen in the shadow of Elros all his life, and now he's-"
"Stop saying that," Ereinion said suddenly.
"What, about Elros and Elrond? Well it's true. You've seen them."
"No, I mean... what you said before. About... about the..." He paused to take a breath. "About the 'mongrel boys'. I don't want you saying that."
"Why not?" Glorfindel asked, giving a small laugh. "It's what they are."
With a sigh that might have contained a curse, Ereinion pushed his hair back from his face. "I don't care what you call them in your mind or mutter to yourself when nobody's listening, but I don't want to hear that word. It's crude. Nobody says things like that any more."
"Your father did," Glorfindel replied flatly.
"Well we're not in Eithel Sirion now, are we?!" Ereinion snapped back. "Maybe you've not noticed, but the fate of our people, all of us, regardless of ancestry or whatever it is you think is so important, rather depends on us surviving together on this rotten island! Maybe in Eithel Sirion everyone could have the luxury of sneering down at everyone else because they happened to look different or speak a different language. But now you have a soldier of Gondolin married to a scullery maid from Doriath, or a Sindarin chieftain living next door to a man who followed Fëanor out of Aman, whose daughter is betrothed to one of Círdan's sailors... None of it matters at all! Noldorin or Sindarin or Doriathren... the distinctions will be meaningless in a thousand years when we're all so intermarried nobody can rightly say where anyone belongs. And have you even considered what Elrond thinks of your prejudices? If you show such disregard for those who are merely half Sindarin, what can he expect you to think of an ancestry like his?"
"Oh, for..." Glorfindel sat down heavily on the end of the bed. He crossed and uncrossed his legs while slowly leaning back until he was propped up on his elbows. "Elrond is a different case altogether. He's descended from royalty. It's acceptable for them, for political reasons. And besides, he looks fine. I can't say the same for the lower sorts; I still think they're unnatural-looking little beasts. If Eru meant for Elves to have brown hair, he would have made them that way."
Ereinion was silent for a long moment. When he finally spoke again, it was quietly. "Honestly, Glorfindel, I expected more sympathy from you, who doesn't even know the name of his own Noldorin father."
Immediately, Glorfindel sat back upright. "That's entirely different! Vanyar and Noldor are far more similar, both the high kindreds of Valinor, and they marry each other all the time! Finwë and Indis, for example, or your aunt's parents..."
"Still... it's a bit funny for you of all people to disapprove of half-Sindarin 'mongrels', isn't it?"
Glorfindel did not reply, but kept his eyes fixed on Ereinion, a fire of loathing kindling within them. "Do you have anything to drink?" he asked sharply. "I think I'm going to need a large amount of spirits tonight." In jerky movements, he began pulling off his robe and tunic.
"Oh..." said Ereinion. "Uhhm... Yes. Wine. Right here."
"Then you'd better give me the whole carafe."
Ereinion passed him the wine at arm's length, taking care to keep a wide gap between them, then quickly retreated back to the dresser alcove. He crossed his arms rigidly across his chest as Glorfindel took a mouthful directly from the carafe.
"Has this been watered down?"
"I prefer it mixed half and half."
"Well, no wonder you're so..." The words trailed off as he took another drink.
"You don't have to drink it."
"Oh yes I do," said Glorfindel. "But you're going to have to get me something more substantial, also. There's no way I'll be drunk enough with just this swill."
"Glorfindel, I don't want to bed you," Ereinion said quickly, looking down at the floor as soon as he had spoken.
Glorfindel stared at him. "...What?"
"I don't want... um. I just don't want to." He gave a weak smile, which came out looking more pained than anything.
"Oh," said Glorfindel. In the space of a second, he seemed to fly from surprised to raging, as he slammed the wine carafe down onto the bedside table and shouted, "Stars, Ereinion, why didn't you tell me earlier, before I went to all this trouble?!"
Ereinion stepped back, and his weak smile fell. "Well, to be honest, I didn't think you'd be so disappointed."
"I'm not disappointed! I'm angry! There's a difference!" Without giving Ereinion a chance to ask why, he continued, "I spent two hours this afternoon getting ready for nothing at all! You'd be upset, too, if you'd wasted two hours on you!" He hit the edge of the bed with the palms of his hands, as if it were the cause of his anger.
"...That doesn't make any sense."
"Of course it does!" He grabbed his tunic from the floor and used the sleeve to roughly scrub away the careful lines of black kohl around his eyes. "Wouldn't have bothered..." he muttered; "Could have told me before..."
"Glorfindel," Ereinion said softly. "I'm not sure I understand why you're suddenly so upset over not having to do something you didn't want to do in the first place."
"Why did you ask me to come here?" Glorfindel asked, his voice hard. "You did ask me to come here tonight."
Ereinion took a breath, paused, and said, "Erestor's gone. I need an accountant. I want you to take your old position. That's all."
"And you couldn't have told me this earlier today?"
"I thought I'd-"
"Or," Glorfindel interrupted, "three days ago when you came to my house? You didn't seem to want an accountant then."
Ereinion made a frustrated, growling noise. "I was angry at you, wasn't I?! After your horrible antics at the party and on the beach... I just wanted some kind of revenge, and I thought that would be the best way to make you suffer. It was stupid. I know. I'm sorry. I should have just given you a few good smacks across the face."
"Yes. Maybe you should have." His voice had softened, but Glorfindel gave no indication otherwise of letting the argument drop. He leaned back and stared at Ereinion with an open contempt that dared him to try and break the smothering silence.
A tense minute passed.
"You're free to leave," Ereinion said at last, straining to hold a note of pleasantness in his words and forge a fragile truce.
"To where?" asked Glorfindel. "I have no bedroom. No, I think I'm happy right where I am. You brought me here, and here is where I'll stay."
"In my bed?"
Glorfindel gave a smug smile. "Yes." With a great show of extravagance, he kicked off his shoes and lay back on the bed, folding his hands behind his neck. His gaze still held some defiant challenge.
"You can never just let it go, can you?" Ereinion asked quietly.
"Let what go?"
"Pride. Status. The last word. Whatever it is you hold so dear. You can never admit you're wrong, and never win graciously when you're right. And it is about winning with you. Everything is. It's all a terrible sport, to see whom you can overpower and what new heights of control you can reach next. Each moment we spend in each other's company is part of the twisted game you play in your mind. What new treachery can you accomplish this time? How can you best use me to your advantage, just like you used my father? I think you'd kill me, too, if you had the choice."
"I did not-"
"Be quiet," said Ereinion. "I don't want to hear anything you have to say. It's meaningless, and it wastes my time. All you ever do is argue unchangeable pasts and speak tormenting words in false logic. Do you know how tiresome that is? Three days ago, I hated you for it, and for all your evils, but now I simply don't have the energy. I don't care about you one way or the other. You're a sad and pathetic shell of a person, grasping at the faintest remaining shards of whatever glory you think you once possessed, though that life is never coming back to you. You wasted it on a ridiculous gamble for power, and lost it all. How often did you think and plot and plan, for all those years, about what wonderful things you'd do if only my father were dead? And then once he was dead, how long did it take you to realise that without him, you had nothing at all? The whole kingdom died that day. He left you an empty fortress to be lord over rats and crows. Instead of giving you all the power in the world, his death took away every selfish thing you loved. Aren't you sorry you killed him now?"
"Your father died in battle, Ereinion," Glorfindel said thinly. "I don't know how you could think I had anything to do with that."
"Surrounded by balrogs, I know, and I told you to be quiet. That's what I thought for a long time: that he was simply outnumbered and outfought, brave to the end against impossible odds. It's what everyone says. But then I started to consider it more carefully. My father was not a stupid man, and not a foolish general. He would not put himself in danger like that without a good reason. And I think the reason was that he wanted to die. After so many years of you telling him to give in and let himself fall, he went ahead and did it. He walked into the fire, and did nothing. That's what the few of his men who actually saw it told me. He let the balrogs catch him. Their whips of flame had him tangled in a second. Why do you think he would do that, unless he wanted to die?"
For once, Glorfindel had no answer.
"You are a leech, Glorfindel," Ereinion continued, "draining life out of everything that is decent. Eithel Sirion was destroyed on account of you. You won't do the same thing here. In fact it might do you well to remember that you wouldn't even be here if not for Círdan's incredible generosity, welcoming you with love and forgiveness even when you treat him with nothing but disdain. Consider that. Good night."
He turned and left with no further words, escorted down the corridor by the sound of a wine carafe smashing against a wall behind him.
Elrond had only been pretending to sleep. He had lain awake in the window-glassless room, waiting for Glorfindel to return, but was sitting upright in an instant as soon as the door opened and orange candlelight flickered through the darkness.
"Yes, it's me. Go back to sleep, Elrond, I'm only here for a moment."
"You're not coming to bed?"
Glorfindel shook his head. He had crossed the room to stand in front of the dressing table, where a basket of things still unpacked from the farm stood waiting. As he rummaged through, he muttered indistinct words to himself.
"What are you doing?" Elrond asked.
"Just getting something. Nothing important. It's late; go back to sleep."
Going back to sleep, or rather going to sleep at all, was not something Elrond wished to do. Instead he settled halfway, leaning back onto his pillow while still watching Glorfindel closely, and ran his tongue quickly over the backs of his teeth to keep from asking 'What are you doing' again. Glorfindel had pulled a knife from the basket. The words slipped out anyhow.
"Glorfindel? What are you-"
"Nothing, Elrond, I already told you that. Close your eyes and count the stars if you have to. It's past midnight."
"What are you doing with the knife?"
Glorfindel turned around. He held the knife in one hand, and tapped the palm of the other with the blade's point. "I am going back to Ereinion's room."
The honest simplicity of the words made Elrond light-headed. There was no heavy dread, as he had felt in the farmhouse when Ereinion threatened violence, but a quieter sort of uncertainty. Glorfindel was so calm. "You're not going to... do anything, are you?" Elrond asked him.
"No," Glorfindel laughed. "I mean, no, I'm not going to murder anyone, whether he deserves it or not."
Slowly, Glorfindel ran a hand up the back of his head, fingers combing through golden strands. "Ereinion has a better mirror. I was going to cut my hair."
"No, don't!" Elrond shouted. He snapped his head up and stared at Glorfindel in shock. "Don't do it! It looks nice now! Short hair is ugly! Why do you want to cut it?"
"Lie down, Elrond, and I will tell you a story."
Elrond lay down again, but warily. He kept his eyes on the knife in Glorfindel's hand.
"In Valmar," Glorfindel began, "the law is enforced by officers in service of the crown. The most infamous group of those is called the King's Hands of Light by Justice, and their purpose is to scour away lawlessness and immorality. They are not the soldiers you would call if your cart was stolen or your property damaged, because they do not concern themselves with events that have already happened. They are only interested in finding those in the act of lawbreaking. And those who are found are in no hurry to offend again after the punishments given out by the King's Hands.
"They patrol the streets in small groups of four or five. Their reputation has grown so notorious that even the most respectable citizens will take wide detours to stay out of the path of anyone wearing the fearsome white and gold uniform. The King's Hands cover the whole city, but they are generally interested in the poorer areas, where they can find a constant supply of petty criminals to drag away. Their favourite targets are those who compromise the moral righteousness of the city. Those who live a life that reflects unfavourably in the King's eyes. Prostitutes in particular. According to the King, prostitutes do not exist in Valmar. So anyone suspected of such activities is dealt with quickly and severely to keep the King's truth. Those arrested are taken to prison, where they have all their hair shaved off, so that when they are released, they have no choice but to crawl into the gutters as beggars while the good citizens pelt them with garbage and mockery. A whore cannot work with an ugly, cropped head. That is what the King's Hands say. Now... do you understand the meaning of this story, Elrond?"
"No." It was a warning, it seemed, but one that did not entirely make sense. The King of Valmar was far away and had no power over Glorfindel on Balar. His Hands mattered little. But still, a story about cropped heads could mean nothing good. "It's about people getting their hair cut off," said Elrond. "But that's not you. You didn't say why you want to cut your hair off."
Glorfindel gave a faint smile. "Because I don't deserve to keep it." And he gathered a handful of hair at the back of his head, raised the knife, and sliced it clean off.
When Ereinion left Glorfindel, he left the house entirely. It was a relief of sorts to be outdoors and alone on a cool, cloudless night. Thoughts were less cluttered in a wide-open space. A temper was less heated with no walls to confine it. He mindlessly threw rocks off the cliff until his arm was sore and his frustration was swallowed by the water below. Every stone depleted it. Glorfindel's words sank to the bottom of the sea.
By the time he returned, all windows in the house were dark save one. A candle was still lit in Círdan's bedroom. He followed the light without thinking, until he was leaning through the shutters and looking down at Círdan, who sat on the bed below.
"You're up late."
"So are you," said Círdan. He had something in his hands: a roughly hewn wooden bowl, and a shard of sharp rock that he used to smooth the surfaces.
"One can never have too many." He set the rough bowl down beside two other finished pieces on his bedside table.
"Why do you make those, anyhow? Every time I come to see you, you're carving another bowl."
"Idle hands lead one to evil deeds. Honest work is the path to Enlightenment."
Ereinion rolled his eyes. "I knew you were going to say something like that..." Hoisting himself up by his hands, he knelt on the windowsill before leaning forward and rolling down onto the bed.
"You'll crack the plaster one of these days."
"I'll fix it if I do."
Círdan shifted sideways to allow Ereinion more room to sit. "Why are you wandering about at such an hour?"
"Glorfindel. Specifically, that he's in my bed and refuses to move."
"And how might he have come to be in your bed in the first place?" Círdan asked. When Ereinion gave no answer, he continued, "Might this be a problem for which both of you share the blame?"
"It's possible," Ereinion said vaguely. "Is it my fault if he misinterprets my requests?"
Ereinion growled. "Oh, fine, I did deliberately mislead him. But my final intention was perfectly innocent. He's the one that leapt over the edge and started screaming at me." Sighing, he rubbed his eyes and forehead. "I'm not sure how, but for a minute he actually made me feel like a terrible person for not forcing him to be my consort against his will."
"He's a troubled and difficult sort. And you know you'd be better off simply leaving him alone. Instead, you put yourself in his path for a challenge, he can't help but attack you, you respond with exactly the sort of fury he tries to provoke, and the cycle goes on."
"What am I supposed to do instead?" Ereinion asked angrily. "Just let him wreak havoc as he pleases? He hates me, Círdan. And judging by his past behaviour, I don't think he'll put any holds on how far he goes to damage me or my authority."
Círdan shook his head. "He doesn't hate you."
"Then he's doing an admirable impression," Ereinion said with a bitter laugh. "I know. You've told me before: he doesn't truly hate me, he hates himself more, he needs to be forgiven for past evils and treated with acceptance in order for him to allow himself to be a better person... I know, I know, I know. Those are the kinds of things that are easy to say but difficult to prove. You see it, but I just can't. It's not that simple."
Again, Ereinion rubbed at his eyes, while Círdan watched him in silence.
"Would you like me to prove this to you?" Círdan asked after a long while.
Círdan gave a soft smile. "Willpower is an amazing thing. If by gathering evidence to support my position I can achieve a measure of peace between you and Glorfindel, I will find a way to do it."
"I'll be happy to see you try," Ereinion said bitterly. "Only don't hold too much hope."
But by the next morning, in the warmth and brightness of early sunlight and after a cup of tea, Ereinion found his mind to be persuaded more to Círdan's line of thought. He could, he considered, prove himself to be a fair and honest sort by apologising to Glorfindel for all wrongs past and present, forgiving him his errors, and offering a fresh start on friendly terms. There was a strong feeling of personal goodness to be had through these thoughts. There was also a strong feeling of smug satisfaction in telling himself that Glorfindel was like a wayward child who needed to be dealt with very delicately, by more reasonable adults.
So he went to his bedroom in purpose to find Glorfindel and convey his new feeling of good will. Glorfindel was in the bed, still asleep as Ereinion had expected, surrounded by kicked-off blankets and tangled in the one remaining sheet. On a nearby table lay a long dagger, a shard of obsidian, and a wooden bowl full of short, golden hairs.
Ereinion cleared his throat, took a breath, and said loudly, "You filthy, lying, goat-fucking, hypocritical bit of horse shite!"
Immediately, Círdan sat upright, looking both surprised and horrified at the sight of Ereinion standing at the end of the bed. Glorfindel merely grumbled tiredly as he rolled over and hid his head beneath a pillow. "Ereinion," said Círdan.
"Your famed morality astounds me," Ereinion answered flatly. "No wonder you were so keen to find our good Vanya last night. If he's so willing to fall into bed with whomever will have him, the temptation must have been overwhelming. How stupid of me to expect you to resist it simply because I did."
"Was this your great plan to bring him and me closer together? Make him your lover, so we can all live happily under this roof as some sort of misguided family?"
"Ereinion, if you'll let me explain-"
"I don't think that's necessary," said Ereinion. "I'm sorry to have disturbed you after what must have been a very satisfying night. I'll go elsewhere."
"You're not giving me a chance to-"
"I have no intention of doing so."
He turned and left, staring hard at the ground as he did. A faraway buzzing echoed in his ears, pulsing in time with the blood that pounded through his head. Wherever he needed to be, it was not in that room, or anywhere that he could imagine. There was no safe and sane place left in the house. But his feet knew the way, and steered him somehow, until he found himself sitting on the floor in the corner of a far room, stuck between a cabinet and the wall like a sulking child. He pressed his eyes against his knees and squeezed his hands into fists. Only one thought came to him: Círdan and Glorfindel.
It was over an hour later that Glorfindel found him, still in the corner with his chin in his hands. "I've been looking everywhere for you," Glorfindel said.
Glorfindel, as far as Ereinion could see from his vantage point on the floor, was wearing one of his old, patterned farm outfits again, but had added a bright purple scarf around his head. Never before had he looked so much like a Sindarin washerwoman. "Why are you wearing that ridiculous outfit?"
"I find it comfortable and practical," Glorfindel answered sharply. "Why are you hiding in here like a little boy scolded by his mother?"
"Same reason. Why are you looking for me, though? I have nothing to say to you."
Glorfindel allowed a tight smile. "I'm sure you could think of a few good words if you tried. But if you can't, that's fine, because I'm only here to apologise to you. Then I'll leave."
Warily, Ereinion raised his head. "You're..."
"I'm sorry," Glorfindel said in a stiff voice. "I'm sorry I'm continually saying things that you shouldn't have heard, if they caused you to be upset. I realise that you may not be quite ready to learn some of the finer details of your father's past. I am also sorry you caught Círdan and me asleep this morning, and that you had no choice but to make a wrong assumption about us based on the fact that we were sharing a bed. I can only promise that the most scandalous thing to happen all night was that I stole his pillow. Not that you would know this, because you didn't bother to listen to his explanation. I'm sorry we made you so unreasonably angry."
For a moment, Ereinion could only blink. "You know," he said slowly, "you're very good at insulting me in everything you say. I suppose that's the only way you can ever bring yourself to apologise. Either that or you just lie outright."
"I'm not lying. If you want to know the full truth about last night, here it is. Círdan came to your bedroom some time after you left, knowing that I'd be there. We talked awhile, discussing things past and present, and he helped me realise the errors of my behaviour and that I ought to apologise to you. He helped me cut my hair. Then we went to sleep. That's all. You'll remember that he was fully clothed and I had only taken off my shoes and over-robe as we lay in bed. I have absolutely no interest in him of the kind you fear, and he has none in me. Or in any other person in the world, come to think on it. Our bed-sharing was entirely innocent."
"Why did you cut your hair?"
"Because I had a strong desire to do so."
Sighing, Glorfindel leaned against the wall. He stood a moment before sliding down into a sitting position with head tilted back and eyes closed. It seemed a long while before he opened them again. "Because... I think I wanted to destroy something. And vanity seemed as good a target as any."
"But you've done it before."
"I know. When I lived on the farm, I did every year. At the end of summer. Out of guilt for the past. All that time, I thought I had risen above my previous faults, and I felt so... pure and enlightened, I suppose, for recognising my flaws and working to correct them. Then last night you made me realise how completely wrong I was. Weak and imperfect as ever. Maybe even worse. I think I would have done whatever you asked or... implied. I'm sure I would have. I'd hate myself for it, and I hate myself now just for knowing what I would have done, when I thought I was all grand for rising above all that. So I had to cut my hair. I deserve worse, but I'm also a terrible coward besides being a soulless shell, as you rather accurately called me, so I'm afraid I'll have to face my baseness one small step at a time."
He reached up to pull off the purple scarf, and Ereinion pressed his knuckles to his mouth to keep from speaking any word or even a sound of surprise. What remained of Glorfindel's hair was uneven and choppy, and less than an inch long all over his head.
"They cut the hair of low criminals in Valmar, you know," Glorfindel said quietly.
"I'm not entirely sure. Identification, humiliation... because they can? It's just what's done."
"You consider yourself a criminal, then?"
Glorfindel gave no answer. But he stood after a moment, and motioned for Ereinion to do the same. "Come with me. If you'll leave your sulking spot, I have something for you."
"You can't bring it here?"
"No, too heavy. And too many. Some things, I should have said."
Ereinion gave Glorfindel a frown and a questioning glance, but stood as requested. And he followed to the spare bedroom. Baskets and sacks of all manner of things, from clothes to books to tools, lined the walls. With no word of explanation, Glorfindel took up one of the book baskets and shoved it into Ereinion's arms. "Here."
Unprepared for the weight, Ereinion nearly dropped it. "What the... Stars, Glorfindel, what is this?"
"I told you they were heavy, didn't I?" said Glorfindel. "They're books. As you can see. Books from Eithel Sirion. I don't know why I kept them. But you can have them now."
Ereinion set the basket on the floor and looked up, carefully watching Glorfindel, who seemed to be far too interested in the sleeve of a shirt dangling from one of the sacks. "What books are they?"
"Just book books. You know, the sort that people have... to write in." He took a breath and cleared his throat. "Your father's hour-books."
"My father's..." Ereinion hissed, inhaling sharply. He glanced quickly between the books and Glorfindel, searching for any sign of trickery, certain that he was about to be the butt of some cruel joke. When Glorfindel did nothing, he flipped open the top book and read its title page.
"This is... written in code."
"Mm," said Glorfindel. "They all are. Fingon wrote all of his personal records in code, to keep them personal."
"Can you read it?"
"No. I can pick out and guess at words here and there, the easy ones, but he never taught me the key to reading it fully. It's some sort of shorthand that he created, to allow himself to write quickly and with secrecy."
Ereinion sighed. Perhaps it was a great joke, after all, to be presented with his father's diaries only to find them unreadable. He flipped open the few on top of the basket, vainly hoping that one would have been written plainly, but finding nothing. "Is it the same code in all books?"
"Yes," said Glorfindel, and then corrected himself; "I mean, I would assume it is. I never asked or looked closely enough to be certain."
"So it could be deciphered, with time..."
"If one were so dedicated."
"I am." Slowly, he stood again, keeping one of the books in his hand. It had been bound in leather, which at one time must have been a rich golden brown but had since faded from age and use. The corners and a spot on the cover had worn through. The paper was rough and yellow-grey. It would have been a cheap book, made quickly and with little care from whatever materials could be found in Hithlum. But the writing was there. His father's own penmanship, with its neat, slanted tengwar and unfamiliar symbols, was still clear.
He looked to Glorfindel, who still stubbornly refused to meet his eyes. "Why did you keep them? Out of all the treasures of Eithel Sirion, why would you take the time to save these books? They're old and worn and written in a code nobody can read, and essentially worthless. You can't sell them, and they're no decorative works to be displayed as a show of your wealth. On top of that, they're heavy and take up space that could have been filled with jewels or silver. Why would you bother?"
"I just... thought..." Glorfindel said haltingly. "I thought you might want them."
Ereinion stared at him. "What?"
"I thought you might want them. If you could ever read them, or even if you couldn't, because they were something very personal of Fingon's. Of course, that box isn't all of them... he had hundreds in all by the end, one a year, or more. I only took some. I thought of you, and what you would want, and how it would be a shame to leave the books there in the tower for orcs to destroy. That just seemed wrong... And now I'm getting all nostalgic and stupid, so I think you'd better leave before I accidentally say something nice to you."
Grinning, Ereinion stepped forward to catch Glorfindel in a crushing embrace. He felt Glorfindel's body freeze and tense, fighting an urge to flee; he held tighter. "You don't have to say anything nice," he murmured. "This... these books... It's the single greatest thing anyone has ever done for me. Thank you. Thank you..."
"Oh," said Glorfindel. "Well. Good." He shifted his weight to pull back, but Ereinion held firmly.
"I don't hate you, Glorfindel," he continued. "You're infuriating and sometimes I want to strangle you, but I don't hate you." He sighed. "I'm sorry we're at such odds all the time. You used to be my favourite person, you know, after my father. Back when I was Elrond's age and didn't know any better. I remember being so happy, when I was living in Eglarest and Círdan said you had arrived out of the north, but when we met again after all that time, everything had changed... You had been like my second father. I thought I was getting that back. Instead, you treated me with such hostility, and I had no idea what I had done to deserve it. I have an idea now, but then..."
Glorfindel shook his head. "No. It's not what you think."
"Some other time. It's irrelevant and meaningless and I'm beyond it now."
"Alright..." With another sigh, lighter than the first, Ereinion dropped his head onto Glorfindel's shoulder. He could feel Glorfindel shifting uncomfortably again, though this time without pulling away. "Do you think we could ever try to be like a family again? Or are we too late for that?"
For a long moment, Glorfindel only stood, silently breathing. "We could... try," he finally said. Awkwardly, he lifted his arms, and placed his hands with a tentative familiarity on Ereinion's back.
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.