2. Chapter One
July 2953 Third Age
'I will be away for as short a time as possible, Haldir,' said Galadriel, one hand caressing her horse's burnished chestnut neck as they stood a little way from the White Gate of Caras Galadhon.
'I know, Lady,' said Haldir. 'Lorien's needs come first in your heart as they do in mine.'
A light warm breeze lifted their hair and enveloped them with all the rich scents of summer but preoccupied as he was, Haldir didn't notice any of them. He glanced appraisingly at the group of eight elf-warriors, a whole company of the pellarim, and the two elf-women who stood waiting with their horses a short distance away, provisioned and dressed for a journey.
'It isn't too late for me to accompany you,' he said. 'I briefed Rumil and Orophin as a precaution; I have only to fetch my gear…'
'No, Haldir. Celinn and his company will take care of me and my household. He is after all one of your best captains.'
'I would trust Celinn with my life as I trust him with yours. But there are new dangers rising in the mountains. Will you not let me travel with you?'
'Haldir, while I am at Imladris I want you here. Besides, there is something I will need you to do, and as it is something of a burden it would be better if you didn't attempt it straight after a journey to Imladris and back.'
Haldir watched her, his clear blue eyes narrowing against the bright sunlight. 'Whatever it is, it is done,' he said. 'Only say the word.'
'It is not for now, but for when I return from the White Council,' she said. 'Haldir, Thranduil has sent to say that neither he nor any of his household will attend, and I wish to keep him informed of what is discussed. Oh, I know he doesn't care to know it; he thinks keeping far from the rest of us is Mirkwood's greatest safety. But we need to bring him closer. In the times ahead, none of us will be able to indulge in the luxury of isolation. Unless we unite, we may not have the strength to defeat whatever dangers may threaten us all.'
'And what do you want of me, Lady?' said Haldir.
'When I return,' said Galadriel, 'I want you to go to Mirkwood to lead an embassy to Thranduil. It would show him honour if we send the Guardian of Lorien to attend him in person, rather than a messenger with a packet of letters. He may be more willing to hear about the deliberations of the Council from you than from any other, Haldir. And you could put before him once again our proposals for an alliance between Lorien and Mirkwood.'
Haldir did not answer at once. He seemed a little paler than before, his already straight back a little straighter. When he spoke there was a strange note in his voice.
'Lady, since it is so important, would you not wish to see King Thranduil yourself? Or perhaps Lord Celeborn, who is his kin, might be a better ambassador than I? Surely your words or my Lord's would weigh heavier than those of a mere guard.'
Galadriel examined his face without haste. Haldir returned her gaze with his usual robustness, but something had closed down in his eyes.
'Firstly, Haldir, you are not a mere guard,' she said quietly at last. 'You are Guardian of Lorien, and by sending you, the chief architect of our defences, in times of such peril, I would hope to indicate the urgency of this matter to Thranduil. As to Lord Celeborn or myself visiting Mirkwood in person, I fear that would not be acceptable to its King. We have had little to say to one another for many long years, and I doubt that I or my husband would be welcome at the stone gate of his halls without an invitation.'
Haldir nodded slowly, smiling a little at the image of Galadriel or Celeborn arriving unbidden at the Elvenking's door.
'Then send one or both of my brothers, Lady. Rumil and Orophin have been to Mirkwood many times and could speak ably on your behalf, and our defences could remain in my hands.'
He spoke reasonably, as if it made little difference to him what Galadriel decided; but his hands hidden in the folds of his cloak were clenched almost into fists.
Galadriel smiled at him. 'You are most resourceful today, Haldir,' she said. 'But despite your suggestions, I truly believe there is no-one who could do this task better than you.'
She leaned over and laying her hand on his arm, said gently, 'Tell me, my dear, is there some reason why you don't wish to go to Mirkwood? You know I would not give you a duty your heart could not endure, if it were within my power to release you from it.'
Haldir shook his head once, sharply. 'No, Lady,' he said firmly. 'There is no such reason. I will go to Mirkwood as you have asked.'
'Thank you, Haldir,' she said. 'As always, I am grateful for your loyal service. If I am not delayed too long at Imladris, you may be able to travel to Mirkwood and back before the snows.'
But despite his quick acquiescence to her wishes, something still troubled her. Her eyes searched his face, trying to understand his strange mood, but now Haldir was speaking formally, indicating that her escort was ready to leave, and wishing her a safe going and a safe coming home.
Galadriel held him briefly in her arms, but although he was solid and warm he seemed at the same time strangely absent. She received his salute, and when he turned away from her she felt the little gust of air as his cloak bellied out behind him.
She wanted to take hold of his arm and pull him back, but she knew he would reveal nothing of his true thoughts to her, and so there was nothing she could do but glance back at him once or twice as she rode away. Her last thoughts as she made her way along the green lane were that she would miss these summer months in Lorien, but most of all she would miss Celeborn. It was little more than a ten-year since they had last been apart, and that had been for the previous meeting of the White Council.They had already said their farewells, far from the eyes of those who stood beside her now. Her skin remembered the touch of his hand on her body last night, but now her face was composed and still, so that no-one could guess what had passed between them. That she kept for herself, though all the rest she gave to Lorien.
But as she passed through the White Gate and out into the forest, she couldn't shake the last glimpse she had had of Haldir just before the path had turned and he had disappeared from sight. As usual he stood tall and straight, shading his eyes against the slanting sun so that he could see her until the last possible moment, but his head was held up with a kind of defiant pride which hurt her heart for some reason she did not understand.
Although it was many days since they had left Lorien and they had journeyed without cease, Galadriel and her escort rode straight-backed and unwearied in the shadow of the Misty Mountains. Among men a party containing women might be considered slower than one without them, but Galadriel and her two attendants were as hardy as the elf-men, and it was she who saw the first sign that orcs might be near and with them, strangely, a troll a long way from his usual haunt in the trollshaws.
Her curved elvish sword despatched several orcs, her gold hair flying about her as she cursed them in the ancient tongue, fearfully beautiful amongst the fighting elves. Her elf-women lit strips of cloth torn from their long riding skirts to wrap round the arrows so that they could be sent to the enemy on fire. The troll proved stubborn, but at last the archers found their marks and the creature fell, bellowing with pain.
In the ringing silence that followed the end of the conflict Galadriel knelt and wiped her bloodied blade on the grass.
'Lady, are you well?' asked Celinn, touching her arm. She turned and looked up at him, and he saw her fierce smile and the flush on her cheeks.
'I am well indeed, captain,' she said. 'It's many a long year since I've fought our enemies. I find that it enlivens me.'
They disposed of the stinking carcases, then rode a few miles further towards the Redhorn Gate before stopping to eat and rest.
Sirion and Gwirith were set to watch, and Celinn glanced round as they moved away from the main party. As if he felt his look, Gwirith turned and his blue-grey eyes burned Celinn momentarily with their gaze. Then he was gone. Celinn did not watch him walk away, but his hand strayed to the ring on the first finger of his right hand, matching the one he had put on Gwirith's finger a month before at their binding.
An hour later they were on their way again. Celinn had been unable to speak a word to Gwirith, but even with his eyes closed in the falling darkness he could sense his presence near the back of the column, and could feel a stream of Gwirith's energy flowing towards him. Celinn wondered when they would have time to be together. Even at this punishing pace it would take many days to reach Imladris.
They came into Dimrill Dale, which the elves call Nanduhirion, and there they looked on the Mirrormere, a long oval lake shaped like a great spear-head. Before they began to climb the pass called the Redhorn Gate, they saw the place where Silverlode rose in the mountains, a torrent of water cascading down an endless ladder of short falls, around which rose a smoky white spray. Three great peaks looked down on them impassively: Celebdil, Fanuidhol and Caradhras, the mountains of Moria.
'Here is the fount of our Celebrant,' said Galadriel, using the name the Silverlode was called in Lorien. 'In this cold home he is born, and even in summer we can feel the bite of the ice in the Golden Wood.'
They rode unspeaking, silenced by the massive deep-rooted mountains, whose feet were wrapped in grass and trees, while their shoulders were rocky and bare. The air thinned as they climbed, and everything became marvellously clear. Here in this pure landscape it seemed impossible to believe that danger was all around them, but they had only to look north-west to see the stain that hung over the southern part of Mirkwood, over the tower of Dol Guldur. Galadriel glanced at it quickly, and it felt as if something was looking back at her, recognising her and what she carried, veiled and hidden on her hand. She did not turn away but looked all the more, pitting herself against the darkness which dared not show itself.
When at last she looked away, her eye fell on the clean sheer rock of the mountain, and she breathed a sigh of relief that she was on her way to a council which sought to confront that darkness, in Dol Guldur and Mordor both.
At last they came down on the west side of the Misty Mountains. They stopped in Hollin near the middle of the short summer night. Celinn took the watch himself with Aiglin, his brother.
'Put someone else to watch with me, and go you to Gwirith,' whispered Aiglin, but Celinn shook his head.
'Not tonight,' he said. 'We're too close to the mountains.'
They looked out at them, a vast blue shadow blocking out the light of the stars. After a while, Celinn got up to make a circuit of the camp. When he was nearly half way round he heard a tiny sound, no more than a breath, and whirling round, he brought his sword to rest at the base of his pursuer's throat.
'Celinn,' said a calm voice. Celinn's sword came down and he watched Gwirith step out of the shadows.
'Another moment and I might have hurt you,' said Celinn.
'I'm sorry. I wanted to see you.'
'And I you,' breathed Celinn, stepping closer to him. In the soft light of the stars they looked solemnly at each other. 'You know I can't show us any special favour, Gwirith. I had to take the watch myself.'
'I know it,' said Gwirith. There was a long silence. The air quivered with electricity between them. 'Celinn, I…I miss you,' whispered Gwirith at last.
Celinn let out his breath in a little gusty sigh and pulled Gwirith against him left-handed, his sword still ready in his right. 'I cannot think of it now, Gwirith. The Lady is in our charge. I dare not turn to you, or I might lose myself and forget my duty.'
Gwirith nodded slowly. 'Of course,' he said. 'You're right. So…you don't wish me to walk with you?'
'Go and rest,' said Celinn. 'There will be time for us when we reach Imladris, if not before.'
Gwirith nodded again, then pressed his lips to the back of Celinn's hand. 'Be careful,' he said softly before turning away and disappearing silently into the darkness.
They caught two brace of coneys and roasted them over a fire that night. Galadriel ate with relish and seemed merry as usual, but when Gwirith came to sit beside her and began to speak of Eregion, as Hollin had once been called, she became pensive.
'Each time I return here and see the holly trees in the empty valley,' he said, 'I can scarcely believe this is the same place where I was born, and where Ost-in-Edhil stood, the fair city of the elves. Now only a few broken stones remain, and even the echo of those who dwelt here is gone. Does it sadden you, Lady, as it does me?'
'It does, Gwirith. Lorien is fair and its crafts are wondrous, but I can't forget Celebrimbor and the jewelsmiths of Eregion.'
Her voice was calm and steady but a shadow crossed her face as she spoke.
'And yet without Eregion and the love of the Noldor for beautiful things, maybe we would not be where we are today, seeking to halt the evil designs of the one who taught them the making of the rings of power.'
'Sauron is a liar, Lady!' said Gwirith bitterly. 'When he came here so long ago as Annatar, Lord of Gifts, he deceived us all with his fair guise. He promised knowledge which would help the jewelsmiths make ever more beautiful things. It may have been foolish to trust him, but it was done without evil intention. To love beauty is not wicked, and Celebrimbor could not have guessed the use to which the rings would be put!'
'You are right, Gwirith, but there are those who say that Celeborn and Celebrimbor and I should have turned Annatar away when he came to us; that we were all too easily seduced by his promises. Maybe it's true that those elves and their kin who never crossed the mountains and never made the Great Journey desire little and are blessed in their simplicity, and so would be immune to his charms.'
'Who can say?' said Gwirith. 'I grew up here and so did my brother Luinil, and neither we nor any of those I knew were of a mind to do evil, and yet evil came. Light and darkness are one; I've learnt that from loving Celinn. Who would have thought the evil that was done to him would have given birth to our love for each other? And who would have believed that Annatar, the fair, silver-tongued Annatar, was the Dark Lord disguised?'
'Fate works in ways we cannot foresee,' she said. 'Let us hope the road we are on now will lead us to the defeat of evil, rather than its increase.'
'You don't have to greet them in the courtyard, the Hall of Fire is welcome enough,' said Glorfindel gently.
Elrond sighed. 'That would be less than courteous,' he said, avoiding his eyes. 'Maybe you could send one of my sons to fetch me when our guests are sighted on the valley road.'
Glorfindel nodded and left Elrond to his work. He found Elladan in the stables, watching Elrohir treating a horse with a lame leg, and passed on Elrond's request.
'Let me finish this, and then we'll go and watch,' said Elrohir.
Elladan stretched his arms luxuriously above his head, yawning loudly. 'I hate councils,' he said. 'Everyone always looks so miserable. Like you do now, Glorfindel. What's the matter?'
Glorfindel tried to adjust his expression, but both Elrond's sons were watching him.
'Tell us,' said Elrohir. 'Don't think you can fool us with that face.'
Glorfindel sat down on the wide window ledge. 'It's your father,' he said. Immediately he had their full and concentrated attention. 'I fear something troubles him, but he deflects every attempt of mine to discover what it is.'
Elladan and Elrohir glanced at each other, then back at him. 'We've noticed it,' said Elrohir. 'He works as hard as ever, harder even, but underneath it all he seems weary, and somehow aimless. He's been like that since he came back from Lorien.'
'Yes,' said Glorfindel, remembering how he found Elrond sitting chilled to the bone in the terraced garden long after sunset a few days after Midsummer. 'He will not talk to you either?' Both Elrond's sons shook their dark heads.
'You know how stubborn he is,' said Elladan.
'This council will do nothing to improve his mood,' said Elrohir.
Glorfindel shrugged his shoulders and stood up.
'I must go, there's still a lot to do.'
Elladan got to his feet. 'We'll be off to watch the road.' He reached out and laid his hand on Glorfindel's arm. 'Stay close to him, Glorfindel,' he said quietly.
'Of course,' murmured Glorfindel, turning away so that they could not see his face.
Curunir was the first to arrive. He was more dignified and imposing than ever, and asked to be shown to his rooms at once so that he could rest after his journey. Elrond thought he sensed a strange restlessness behind the grand manner, but he had too much respect for Curunir to comment on it. Cirdan was next, with a small escort of three elf-men from Lindon. He said little, but Elrond felt his piercing blue seaman's eyes looking deeply into him. Erestor saw Elrond's discomfiture and despatched Cirdan and his party to their quarters with his customary suavity.
There had been no word from Mithrandir who as always was a law unto himself. Elrond fervently hoped he would arrive in time for the council meeting the next day. Thranduil of course would not attend, so there was only the party from Lorien to come.
Elrond felt a wave of weariness, a feeling with which he was becoming more and more familiar. From deep in his consciousness, a niggling voice spoke again of giving up everything and taking ship for the West. Celebrian would be there to meet him, and maybe even Gil-galad. Feeling himself drifting into reverie, he forced his mind ruthlessly back to the present.
'By Elbereth, not today,' he muttered under his breath.
'What did you say?' said Glorfindel at his elbow. Elrond jumped.
'Nothing, it's nothing, Glorfindel.'
'Come and wait in the Hall of Fire. Your sons will fetch you when Galadriel's party is seen.'
It was dark when Galadriel shook Elrond's shoulder and roused him from sleep. Only half-awake, he smiled at her dazedly, but almost at once he was on his feet, talking incoherently.
'Valar, what must you think? ...Glorfindel swore to me…what hour is it? ...Galadriel, I'm so sorry…'
Galadriel took his hands and pulled him down gently on to the padded couch.
'Elrond, they did right not to wake you. Do you think I care more for ceremony than for your well-being? Calm yourself, my dear.'
'I will calm myself when I've seen Glorfindel. I told him I wanted to be there to greet you.'
'Leave Glorfindel alone,' Galadriel said. 'He is worried about you.'
Elrond snorted impatiently. 'There's nothing wrong with me. He thinks he's so subtle that I don't notice him fussing over me like a mother hen.'
Galadriel burst into laughter. 'You have always been stubborn, Elrond. Why won't you let him help you?'
'Help me with what?' said Elrond irritably.
In answer Galadriel reached out and gently stroked his forehead. 'With this weariness that is afflicting you.'
Defeated, Elrond bowed his head. 'It's nothing,' he said dully. 'I've been very busy these last months, that's all.'
'Elrond,' said Galadriel, her voice no longer gentle, 'we have much to do. You won't be fit to attend the Council if you are blind to your own difficulties.'
There was a long silence. The fire that always burned in the hearth made its loud breath heard, but Elrond was oblivious to it.
'I am weary,' he said at last. 'Weary of Arda. My heart begins to long for the Havens, and a ship to take me home.'
'It is not yet your time,' said Galadriel gently.
'I know it,' said Elrond, 'but my body seems not to.'
Galadriel sighed. 'You've let yourself lose hope, my dear. You believe there will be no more joy for you.'
Elrond covered his face with his hands. They sat together unspeaking for a long time. At last he looked at her.
'You have the ruthless insight of a surgeon,' he said in a ragged voice. 'And your treatment is as painful.'
'I'm sorry,' said Galadriel in a voice that shook a little. 'The matter we will debate tomorrow is too weighty to allow us the luxury of subtlety.'
Elrond nodded. 'You are right,' he said, getting to his feet. 'This is no time for self-pity.' He held out his arm and she took it, letting him lead her towards the dining room.
'Did Gwirith accompany you?' he said hesitantly, as they went out into the hall.
'Yes, he did,' she said gently. 'Both Gwirith and Celinn were part of my escort.'
She felt the muscles of his arm contract under her hand, and steeled herself to say,
'And there is some other news you must hear before tomorrow.'
He stopped in the middle of the hall, under the high, decorated roof. He did not want to hear this, she knew that, but she had no choice but to tell him.
'There is something which has concerned me for a long time. I haven't spoken of it for many years, but now I am more sure than I was that someone close to us may not be as they seem.'
'Go on,' said Elrond heavily.
'We believe there is evil stirring among the Dunlendings. Aragorn and the Dunedain have been working ceaselessly there, and they say someone of authority is behind the disaffection. My mirror has shown me many signs which are in agreement.'
'But there is no-one whom we would consider a threat in Dunland,' said Elrond. 'And why has Aragorn not spoken to me of this?'
Galadriel looked at him without speaking, and he said irritably,
'No-one deals with the Dunlendings, you know that. This search will lead you nowhere, Galadriel.'
'Curunir employs men of Dunland at Isengard,' Galadriel said quietly.
Elrond shifted so suddenly that her hand dropped from his arm.
'Are you suggesting…Galadriel, how many years have you harboured this foolish doubt about him? Curunir is the most learned of all of us. His wisdom is beyond anything you or I could attain.'
'He is wise and learned, but he is proud,' said Galadriel. 'He is tormented by Sauron's return and determined to defeat him. Is it not possible he would think it fair to use his own cunning against him?'
'Galadriel, it cannot be! He wouldn't corrupt himself by using dark powers, even were it to further our cause.'
Galadriel said nothing.
Elrond felt a flame of anger course through him, and it was only by the exercise of great self-control that he restrained himself from unforgivable rudeness.
'I'm sure you must be hungry,' he said coldly. 'Let us go and eat, and we will discuss this later.'
Galadriel inclined her head and accepted his arm again. Her white dress hushed along the wooden floor as they entered the dining room.
That evening Elrond walked slowly along a winding green path in the summer twilight, pondering what Galadriel had said. Surely she was wrong to be suspicious of Curunir; the greatest of the wizards, he would never betray the trust of those he had worked with for so long. They relied on his deep and ancient knowledge, both of his own magic and of Sauron's.
The elf-lord descended a flight of stone steps and began to walk alongside the Bruinen. The river's voice seemed full of melancholy tonight, and gradually Galadriel's doubts began to insinuate themselves into his mind. What if she were right, and Curunir were working with the enemy, for however praiseworthy a motive? How much damage might already have been done to their cause? Elrond's gut lurched: could Estel be in danger? For no more than an instant, there was a shocking relief in the thought. Elrond gritted his teeth. By Elbereth, what had he become? Just because he had seen the way Arwen had looked at Estel before he went into the Wild, was no reason to fantasise about the possibility of his death.
Elrond sat down on a stone bench in the shelter of an oak tree, overcome once again with weariness. He knew his dark thoughts drained him, and tried to will himself out of his fey mood, leaning back and closing his eyes. He slowed his breathing and at last found himself relaxing a little. He must resist these black imaginings and find his strength again. There was too much at stake for him to give in to weakness in the days to come.
He was just about to get to his feet when he heard voices approaching along the riverside path. He was in no mood to meet anyone, so he became very still and waited from them to pass, trusting the gathering darkness to hide him.
The voices were almost level with him when he recognised them, and his heart gave a great beat. He struggled against the desire to leap up and greet the two people who would soon have passed by, but he forced himself to stay motionless. However he could not avoid hearing their conversation.
'I thought the time apart would never end, sweeting,' said Celinn.
'It could have ended earlier if you weren't so careful of your honour,' said Gwirith balefully.
'You know that's unfair,' said Celinn. 'If you were captain, you would have done the same.'
'Yes,' admitted Gwirith.
To Elrond's dismay, the Lorien elves stopped a little way from where he sat.
'Forget the journey,' said Gwirith's voice, low and husky with emotion. 'We're here now. I can't wait any longer, beloved.'
There was a rustling of cloth, followed by a soft groan from Celinn.
'How right I was not to let you touch me before, heart of my heart,' he said softly. 'Already I am lost.'
He groaned again, more deeply, his breathing becoming quick and ragged.
Stumbling in the darkness, Elrond fled back along the green path towards the house, desperately hoping he had not been noticed by the trysting pair. So shaken was he that he missed the way among the trees, and when he finally emerged at the foot of the stone steps leading to his chamber, he was breathless and his hair was slipping out of its braids. Never before had he found the steps so arduous to climb, and he had to stop halfway up to rest. At last he reached the terrace outside his chamber and five paces later was leaning heavily against the back of his big carved chair.
He needed to sit down but although he tried to pull out the chair he couldn't find the strength to move it, so he tried to cross the room to the bench by the fire but the edge of his cloak swept a pile of parchments from his desk on to the hearth. Almost weeping with frustration, Elrond eased himself to his knees and gathered them together, but when he had finished, he found he couldn't find the will to rise to his feet. The night blue velvet of his cloak pooling around him, he bowed his head until his loosened hair swept the dark red carved tiles on the hearth, his hands pressed down so hard in front of him that the patterns began to imprint themselves onto his skin.
He did not know how much later it was when he realised that someone was saying his name, gently and repeatedly, only inches away from his ear. He thought perhaps the voice had been speaking for some time, but he could not be sure. Somebody must have stoked the fire because he was much too hot, so hot that he could taste the sweat on his lips and feel it trickling down his neck. He thought he should really get up off the floor and have a bath, once he had dealt with his unwanted visitor, but he was just too tired to make his body obey him.
He felt someone's arm round his shoulders trying to raise him up, and with a sigh of relief he began to relax but then the pain of his stiff muscles hit him and he groaned out loud.
'Elrond,' the voice said irritably. 'What in the name of the Holy Ones are you doing?'
'Glorfindel,' said Elrond weakly. 'I suppose it had to be you.'
'This is hardly the time for histrionics,' said Glorfindel harshly. 'Why don't you just go to bed?'
Elrond flinched as if Glorfindel had struck him.
There was a long, difficult silence, and then Elrond said quietly,
'Please go, Glorfindel. I can make shift quite well for myself.'
'You can't even get up off the floor,' said Glorfindel in an angry, shaking voice. 'Don't be a fool, Elrond. Let me help you.'
'If this is your idea of helping me,' said Elrond, pausing for several seconds to catch his breath, 'I can assure you, I'm quite able to forgo it.'
And making a great effort, he caught hold of the edge of his desk and hoisted himself to his feet. Glorfindel stared at him in disbelief, but Elrond returned his look defiantly.
'Now get out and leave me alone,' he said curtly, and began to make his way to the small bathroom within his bedchamber, all the time pressing one hand to the wall for support.
'Elrond, you have a fever, this is madness,' countered Glorfindel, but Elrond needed all his concentration for the task before him, and did not answer him. Glorfindel watched him move into the bathroom, then the sound of water gushing from the taps filled the chamber and the big silver mirror misted over with steam.
With the slowness of exhaustion, Elrond stripped off his clothes and, leaving them in a heap on the floor, gathered up his hair and knotted it roughly before fastening it with a wooden pin. For a moment Glorfindel gazed at his naked body with a kind of helpless hunger, all anger gone, but Elrond's eyes were closed against a wave of dizziness and he did not notice.
'Elrond,' said Glorfindel in a voice of pleading.
'Are you still here, Glorfindel?' said Elrond wearily. 'I don't need you. Just go away, will you?' He turned his back on him and climbed into the bath, closing the taps and sitting with his head tilted back and eyes half-closed.
'You'll never manage by yourself,' said Glorfindel. 'How could you be so stubborn when your presence is needed at the council tomorrow? Not that you would give a moment's thought to that when you're in this petulant mood.'
Elrond made a sound of anger under his breath. 'If you're not gone by the time I open my eyes,' he said with dangerous quiet, 'I swear by all that is holy, I'll send you to Lindon to serve Cirdan and you will never look on Imladris again.'
Glorfindel swallowed audibly. 'I'll go, if you promise to call me if you have need of me.'
It was as if he had not spoken. Defeated, Glorfindel stooped down to pick up Elrond's clothes but Elrond shouted, 'Get out!' in a cracked and desperate voice.
Glorfindel turned and left without a word. He shut the door smartly behind him and for a moment he leaned against the panels carved with stars and moons.
'How is he, Glorfindel?' said Galadriel's gentle voice beside him.
'He can barely stand, Lady. He's burning with fever.'
'It is the Sea-longing,' she said sadly.
'He hasn't suffered from it since Celebrian went over Sea,' said Glorfindel. 'Something has been troubling him; he's been melancholy for some time. But I didn't know it had gone so deep.' He hesitated, then went on tentatively. 'Did…something happen when he was in Lorien, Lady? I only ask because when he came back to us, he was…changed. And when Aragorn came home, something passed between them, and that was when this weariness began.'
Galadriel looked at him for a long moment as if weighing her answer.
'Glorfindel, I will tell you,' she said at last, 'but only because the need is great. If it were not for the Council, I would not pass on such a confidence.'
'What is it, Lady?' said Glorfindel anxiously.
'On the journey to Lorien, he broke his long solitude and celebrated the night of the equinox with another. There was no binding and they parted friends, but I fear Elrond's loneliness has been sharpened rather than tempered. As for Estel, you must have seen how he looks at Arwen. Elrond fears he will lose her if she returns Estel's love, and if his sons choose a mortal life too…Glorfindel, what's the matter?'
The elf-lord had become very still. He did not answer her, keeping his face turned away, but she reached out with her fingers to his cheek and made him look at her. He lowered his gaze but not before she had seen that his blue eyes were drowned in unshed tears.
'Tell me, Glorfindel,' she said gently.
'No,' he said, with careful dignity. 'It is nothing.'
Galadriel leaned closer, looking into his face for a long moment.
'You offered yourself to him, and he refused you,' she said softly.
There was a long aching silence.
'Every festival,' whispered Glorfindel at last. 'It has become a…source of amusement to him.'
'But not to you.'
'No, not to me, although I never let him know it. Galadriel, why is love more painful than the sharpest blade? I am a warrior and face enemies without flinching, but against this I am powerless.'
Galadriel sighed. 'I am so sorry, my dear. You must have suffered alone for a long time.'
Glorfindel bowed his head. 'It is nothing,' he said again. 'Please, forget I spoke of it. There are more important matters, especially now.'
'Maybe one day he will see you clearly at last,' said Galadriel.
'Not today, when he is angry with me again,' said Glorfindel, low-voiced, the tears suddenly spilling out on to his cheeks. He gave a shuddering sigh and wiped his face quickly with the palms of his hands.
'Glorfindel, you know it was the only way,' said Galadriel. 'Only rousing his anger could call up his strength tonight, when he fears he may have lost everything.'
'I know it,' whispered Glorfindel. His robes made a little draught as he turned and moved noiselessly down the dark corridor. Galadriel followed him calmly.
Half an hour later Elladan and Elrohir ignored their father's protests and lifted him out of the bath.
'We've brought you some iced water,' said Elladan.
'And some feverfew since the evening is rather warm,' said Elrohir.
Elrond let them lay him in the bed and drank it without a word, and even allowed them to help him dress in some loose white trousers. He refused sheets and blankets.
'Why would I need them when it is only a month since Midsummer? You're right, it is a hot night,' he said.
Both he and his sons contrived not to notice the intermittent shivers that wracked his slender frame.
1. References to Dimrill Dale, Redhorn Gate and the Silverlode taken from Fellowship of the Ring Allen and Unwin (1974) p270 and p316.
2. Pellarim = from elvish, pella, beyond the borders, and –rim, people of. Composite word I made up to describe the Galadhrim whom Haldir mentions in The Fellowship of the Ring: '…we dwell now in the heart of the forest, and we do not willingly have dealings with any other folk…But there are some of us still who go abroad for the gathering of news and the watching of our enemies, and they speak the languages of other lands. I am one.' Ch 6 Book 2, p325, George Allen and Unwin (1974)
3. For the purposes of this story I am assuming that Celeborn and Oropher have kin in common dating back to the time they both lived in Doriath. This would obviously make Celeborn a relation of Thranduil and Legolas also.
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