3. Black Sky and Red Tower
Ereinion welcomed Elrond home with a look of unqualified relief. "Elrond," he sighed, crushing him in a protective embrace. "Oh, thank the stars you're back... Círdan said you were at... safe... but still I couldn't help but worry."
"I'm alright," said Elrond. He wiggled to free himself from Ereinion, who was also crushing the maps he had carried so carefully all the way back from Glorfindel's house.
"I couldn't sleep worrying about you..."
"I am alright. Honest." He managed to squirm around so he faced forward, but Ereinion picked him up and started toward the kitchen. "I've had breakfast, too. You can put me down."
"I told your brother everything this morning," said Ereinion, who was clearly not paying attention. "Everything I know about your ancestry. I should have told you this when you first arrived. I'm sorry I put it off... it was wrong to do so."
"But I already..."
Ereinion carried Elrond into the breakfast room and sat him down on one of the plain wooden chairs. He sighed, and his face was serious. "As you probably guessed last night, your parents weren't Elven. Not as Círdan and Erestor and I are."
"I know," said Elrond. "I know about them. And my grandparents, too."
Taken aback, Ereinion blinked and let his mouth fall open.
"Glorfindel told me," Elrond quickly added. "This morning. See? We made a map." Carefully, he untied his large map and spread it over the tabletop. "It's called a map biography, Glorfindel said. There's my name, and my mother's name, and my father's name, and even your name way up here... You're my cousin somehow. Look. Oh and we also made one for Erestor, for his birthday."
"Glorfindel... told you all this?" Ereinion asked. His eyes wandered suspiciously over the map.
"Mm-hmm. He told me all about everyone while we were writing the names and making the drawings."
"Oh," Ereinion said flatly. "What did he say about... hmm. Not important." He sat down in the chair opposite Elrond and regarded the map with a glare of suspicion.
Elrond felt his stomach sink. He had expected Ereinion to be impressed by the map, happy with it, and as proud of it as he was. Not this strange loathing. "Is something wrong?" he asked quietly. "Did... did we spell your name wrong? I couldn't remember if it was with AI or EI."
"No, you have it right. It's nothing," said Ereinion, and he shook his head and forced a smile. "What exactly did Glorfindel tell you about your parents?"
Elrond looked down at the map, glancing between 'EÄRENDIL' and 'ELWING'. "He said their names. And where they lived, and what they did, a bit."
"Did he tell you how they died?"
"They were lost at sea." Elrond's eyes fixed on the little boat drawn beside Eärendil's name. "They went out sailing one day and never came back."
"And how you and Elros came to live with Maglor and Maedhros?"
"He said they must've been around when my parents died, and just decided to look after us because they're part of our family."
Ereinion's frown faded somewhat as he sighed a relieved sort of sigh. "Right," he said. "Good. That's good."
"Ereinion..." said Elrond, "if my parents were lost at sea, nobody knows if they're really dead, right?"
"Not for certain, no... nobody can ever say for certain when things like that happen. But the chances are so small. They've been gone five years."
"But they might be alive. Maybe they found an island somewhere. Maybe they got all the way to Aman and decided to stay there."
"Don't dwell on it, Elrond," Ereinion said quietly. "It's not good to give yourself false hope."
Even though it was past dinner time, Elros was still trying to sleep when Elrond entered the bedroom. Howler was running around on the floor, growling and wrestling with one of Elros' shoes. He barked when he saw Elrond.
"Nnn..." Elros rolled over and pulled the covers up to his eyes. "Make him be quiet..." he said, and waved a floppy hand at Howler, who continued barking.
"You should get out of bed," said Elrond. He poked the end of his rolled-up map toward Howler. The dog stopped barking long enough to sniff it.
"Too tired," said Elros. He rolled over again, onto his back, and let out a long yawn. "Dog kept me up all night. He wanted to play, then wanted to go pee, then wanted to sleep, but he got up after a few minutes and kept jumping over me, then he wanted to play again, then he started barking so I went to the kitchen to get him some food, then it got so windy he started shaking and whining, then he peed on the floor, so I took him outside again, then he tried to run away... Where were you?"
"Oh. You should've said you were going, I would've came too. Ereinion made me get up really early this morning so he could tell me a bunch of things Mada already told me ages ago."
Elrond froze, then slowly turned around to look at his brother. "Mada told you... what?"
Elros yawned again. "You know. Like about our family and Elves and Men. It was boring to have to listen to him. And he kept asking if I was alright, like I was going to get upset when he told me things I already knew... I'm not a baby."
"Oh," said Elrond. He sat down on the edge of his bed, feeling suddenly light-headed. Elros already knew about being Halfelven. Maedhros had obviously told him long ago. So why hadn't Maedhros told Elrond?
"I said the only thing Mada didn't tell me was how our parents died. So I asked Ereinion that, but he wouldn't say."
"Their boat was lost at sea," Elrond said hollowly. "Glorfindel told me."
"Oh. Well that's not bad. The way Ereinion looked at me when I asked him made me think it was something really terrible."
"It is terrible!" said Elrond. "When you're lost at sea, you run out of water and you die of thirst. It takes a long time!" He felt suddenly angry at Elros, and angrier at Maedhros, for their secret conspiracy of knowledge. It had hardly been Elros' fault that Maedhros had told him, but why had he not shared what he learned? Why had he known their history all this time while Elrond had been allowed to carry on stupidly, in his false security, until the granted truths of his life cracked and fell around him? Disgusted, he fell backward onto his bed and lay staring up at the ceiling.
"I meant terrible like getting eaten by wolves or something," said Elros. "Or getting their heads cut off by orcs."
"Shut up," Elrond snapped. "You don't know what you're talking about."
"I know more than you!" shouted Elros.
And that was the exact cause of Elrond's anger. Elros did know more. Or at least he had. The unfairness made Elrond's fists clench. Elros had always been Maedhros' favourite, though it had never bothered him so much. He knew he had been Maglor's. Then, he reasoned, if Maedhros told Elros, Maglor should have told him. He felt suddenly angry with Maglor, too.
As he stared hard at the ceiling, watching dust particles float through the sunbeam falling onto his feet, he heard Elros slide out of bed. Footsteps crossed the floor, and the door opened and closed. Howler's playful barks took off and faded down the corridor. Grumpily, he turned over to lie on his side. Directly in his line of vision, on the bedside table, lay an old green book. Ereinion must have put it there for him.
Elrond grabbed the book and flipped it open more roughly than he intended; his hand made a small tear across the top of the title page. Guiltily, as his anger was not directed toward this innocent book, he set it down on his pillow and turned the next page with care. He read;A last gasp of divinity turns back
To a time when poems had the power to steal a heart
To a time when a touch on the hand meant purest love
And we were content.
It was a book of poems. He turned to the next page.In those streets, an old wind stirs the memory
Of ancient life and sorrow,
Flying like sparks between gate and tower.
Fickle as snow.
Those who remain will sing to brand the city
With the fire of lost bodies,
So that in further years
They, too, will shed history
Onto listeners among the stones.
They were sentiments that Elrond did not fully understand, but he knew it was a poem of sadness and regret, looking back to things lost. The words rang very true to him, somehow. He had lost things in his life so far, some of them before he even realised what he had missed. His parents were gone. The first four years of his life had disappeared without a trace. He had never known the great cities and civilisations of the world, never seen Eithel Sirion or Eglarest or any of the places Glorfindel and Erestor and Ereinion sadly recalled. They had all disappeared before he was born. He missed them more for it, he thought, with a longing that could never be sated. The others had memories of these places, but he had only the haunting words of poems written by a man long dead. No matter what came in the future, he would never know the beauty and power of what had been lost.
He turned the page again. There was a picture with this next poem, of a high tower on a distant hill, standing in a ray of light.You can see, child, in your dreaming eyes,
Unmatched splendour of a land long gone:
Unused sword on empty throne,
Silver light by moonless skies.
You can hear, child, in your dreaming mind,
Fair faint chimes from the secret locked tower.
Ghostly voices mourn the hour,
Echo fading song and line.
You will weep, child, when the grasp is gone,
When the mist comes down around your soul,
Western law denies your goal
Banished, too, from Tirion.
"Banished, too, from Tirion." Elrond read the last line over again, aloud to himself. Was Tirion the Secret City? It seemed hardly secret, if Glorfindel had been there and so many of the names on Elrond's map were from there. He unrolled the map over the end of his bed and leaned over the coast of Valinor. Tirion was prominent in black ink. Beside the name was a drawing of a tall tower on a hill. Similar, Elrond saw, to the drawing in the book. And, he noted, Ereinion's father's name was written under Tirion. He had been born there, and could never return by the sounds of the poems. Had the city been destroyed? Or had only some been forced to leave? It was one of those things, again, that Maglor ought have told him and Ereinion likely assumed he already knew. Elros, perhaps, already knew. That possibility brought a new surge of anger.
He would not be made to look an idiot again. The book would give him the clues he needed; he was sure of it. He turned back to it, flipped to the next page, and went on reading with a burning determination. Sometimes aloud, but sometimes with an imaginary voice in his head. He imagined Fingon reading the poems to him, as the old King must have read to Ereinion eighty-six years earlier. In his mind, Fingon's voice sounded rather like Glorfindel, but with Maglor's stronger Quenya accent. He read straight through to the back cover.
Erestor was generally credited with introducing the concept of underwear to Balar. He came from a cold and damp northerly climate where such things had been necessary. However, as Balar was as warm on the first day of spring as Hithlum had been in the height of summer, Elrond found the whole idea of underwear somewhat ridiculous. He was warm enough wearing a little cape over his tunic and breeches. Wearing itchy woollen pants and vest would only make him uncomfortable.
But of course he said nothing of this to Erestor, who still held the title of best-dressed Elf on the island. The best-dressed Elf on the island was more of an authority than a newly-turned nine-year-old when it came to clothes. Elrond put on everything Erestor laid out for him, without question. Today he could endure underwear for the sake of a very attractive new birthday gift in the form a tunic, bright turquoise with silver trim, and proper trousers, long and grey and tight-fitting, like grown-ups wore. Elros had been given a matching outfit, though his tunic was red and gold.
Erestor's present to himself was a very fashionable new mantle made of tawny brown velvet, knee-length and fastened so it hung over one shoulder, and a darker brown floor-length frock-robe with sleeves so tight the damask creased and squeaked when he bent his elbows. Elrond had to help him lace it down the sides; it was also very tight across the chest. Fitted to the point of being impractical, Erestor explained, was the new style. He had to practice sitting down, and only managed to do so on the very edge of a chair while he leaned his shoulders back and stretched his legs out in front. It was lazy, regal pose that suited the outfit. All he needed was a silver wine goblet to twirl in one hand while looking bored. Elrond made a note to fetch him one at the party.
Then he made a second note to ask Erestor if he would forcibly redress Glorfindel in the event that Glorfindel showed up for the party in his usual rags. Erestor's clothes would be very tight on Glorfindel, who was somewhat taller. It would coincide with the new fashion perfectly.
By afternoon, Elrond's doubts turned to wide eyes and awed silence. Glorfindel arrived early, alone, with hair intact. And he looked like a king of the old world that Maglor used to speak of in stories. His awful button-up garment had been replaced by a proper robe of shining silver and green. It not only reached the floor as it should, but even had length to spare and pool behind him. On his golden hair rested a thin circlet of silver. He wore silver earrings, and wide gold bracelets on each wrist. His eyes were lined black, his skin powdered white, and his lips painted red. He even carried himself differently, trading the careless swagger of a farmer for more precise and delicate mannerisms of court.
If Erestor had been the king of the beach, then Glorfindel was certainly the king of the entire island. The real King, in his fashionably tight but plain velvet tunic, looked like a lesser courtier despite his crown. He scowled at Glorfindel's sensational appearance. Elrond pretended not to notice. He could think of no reason, after all, to be dissatisfied with Glorfindel in any way. He was perfect. But Ereinion, already frowning in annoyance, stepped forward to block the door. Glorfindel bowed his head and smiled sweetly.
"Afternoon, my dear lord. You are looking well."
"And you look like an overrated whore," Ereinion hissed, "though that is hardly surprising. What are you doing here?"
"I was invited," said Glorfindel. His smile never faltered. "By our young Elrond. It is his birthday."
Elrond nodded his agreement. "I asked him to come."
Reluctantly, Ereinion stepped to the side, if only for Elrond's sake. His frown of distaste stayed firmly in place and followed Glorfindel through the hall. Glorfindel smiled, winked, and patted Elrond on the shoulder.
"Come on, Elrond," he said. "I have a present for you."
Elrond followed without hesitance. Years down the road, he would name the day of that party as the day he first fell in love.
"Now I realise these may be a bit much for a pair of nine-year-olds," Glorfindel said. "But I would like you and your brother to have them."
Across Elrond's bed, he unrolled a length of fabric. From its crinkled depths came two identical hunting knives. Elrond's mouth dropped open at the sight.
"They're Doriathren knives," said Glorfindel. He picked one up and held it out at arm's length so Elrond could see. "They were given me by a friend a long time ago, and were the first weapons I ever learned how to use." A quick spin and slash at the air emphasised his words. "However... I have had no call for fighting in my life. They sit uselessly in my house. A real shame. So I thought, since there are two knives, of Doriathren origin, and two of you, of Doriathren heritage..." Resting the knife on his fingertips, he turned to face Elrond.
Elrond picked it up as gingerly as if he were handling butterfly wings. But his weak, uncertain grasp was hardly adequate to take the blade. It was far heavier than he expected.
"Use both hands," Glorfindel prompted. "It's a big weight if you're not prepared for it."
Using both hands this time, Elrond took the knife from Glorfindel. The white wood handle was as long as his forearm and easily accommodated his double grip. The blade of the knife, longer than the handle, seemed almost like a sword in his hands. He moved it, slowly and carefully, up and down and side to side. "Is it sharp?" he asked.
"Yes, very," said Glorfindel. "Or at least it was when I last checked. But that was near five hundred years ago." He picked up the second knife and thumbed the edge. "This one seems sharp."
Carefully, Elrond set his knife back onto the bed. He stepped back, eyeing it with an uncertain gaze. "What... do I use it for?"
Glorfindel laughed. "Nothing yet, I hope. It's just something to have and keep in your room all wrapped up for the next five hundred years."
"Oh," said Elrond, and he sighed in relief. "Good." He stepped forward to touch the satiny wooden handle again. It was easier to appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship of a hunting knife when he knew he would never have to do any actual hunting. A slow smile spread across his face. "Thank you," he murmured, and turned to wrap his arms tightly around Glorfindel's waist.
"I'm glad you like it. But there's one thing I have to ask."
Elrond looked up. "What?"
"Don't tell Elros about them just yet," said Glorfindel. "He's not as... ah... careful as you are. The knives are well-made, but they're also old and very valuable. So I want you to keep his safe until he's old enough not to break or lose it, or accidentally cut his fingers off."
Elrond laughed. "I will." He helped Glorfindel roll the knives back in the fabric, and they hid the bundle under his bed.
"Did you give Erestor his map?" Glorfindel asked.
"No... there wasn't..." There was no time, Elrond thought. Erestor had given him his present, then he had helped Erestor to dress, and it had seemed an awkward thing to give a crude, handmade scroll to someone so perfectly fashionable. "We were too busy getting ready for the party."
Glorfindel grinned. "Ah, of course. Our dear Erestor would have bought himself a new outfit, wouldn't he?"
"Brown," said Elrond. "Really tight. That's the new style, he said. But I like yours better."
"Mine is old," Glorfindel said. "Quite a bit older than Erestor, in fact. Left over from a time when courtiers flaunted their wealth and status through extravagant excesses of fabric. The exact opposite of this new fitted style, which I believe comes out of a necessity to conserve everything on our island of limited resources. In those days, at the height of Fingolfin's power, it was almost like a contest to see who could show off the largest garment and waste the most imported silk. You see the front here..." He gestured to his feet, where a wide fold had been stitched up, looking as if whoever made the robe had cut it far too long. "It started as just a little thing, for decoration. Some tailor folded the hem to the outside instead of in. But then it grew a bit bigger, and a bit bigger, until soon the style was to have an extra quarter-yard of fabric folded up around your ankles. The same sometimes happened with cuffs. It was meant to show that you had more money than sense, if you spent all that gold on something that served no purpose."
"Why did you do it, then?"
"Because I had far more money than sense," Glorfindel said with a grin. "I owned hundreds of robes like this. Still have about thirty stashed away at home. After all that money spent, I couldn't bear to part with them, even though they're outdated and really no use to me."
Elrond stared longingly at the shimmering fabric, the luxurious drape, and the perfect embroidery. "You should dress like this all the time."
Laughing, Glorfindel held his arms straight out at his sides. The tips of his sleeves fell down to the floor. "I would," he said, "but for the obstacle that such styles don't lend themselves to rutabaga farming. As you can see."
Elrond grudgingly agreed. But, he thought, there might be a chance he could convince Glorfindel to wear the grand clothes while not actively digging up vegetables in the field. He would have to remember to mention this next time he was at Glorfindel's house.
Elrond tried to stay as close as possible to Glorfindel throughout the evening, but as guests arrived and the party progressed, that proved impossible. King-of-the-Island Glorfindel was holding court in a corner of the dining hall, and for someone who allegedly favoured a rutabaga farm over city life, he certainly seemed to enjoy being the centre of attention. Shrieks of laughter rose and fell from the crowd gathered around his makeshift throne. Elrond could hear snatches of stories, terribly amusing stories by the sounds of things, but he never managed to get close enough for his liking. Whenever he strayed too far into the inner court circle, someone would pick him up and carry him off, admonishing that the tales being told were certainly not for a child's ears. A respectable-looking lady even went so far as to cover those childish ears before she clucked her tongue and carried him off. So Elrond, discouraged, had to settle for sitting off to the side with Erestor and Ereinion.
The King looked wrathful. A dark glare of loathing, aimed squarely at Glorfindel's court, twisted his face. He growled in his throat at every swell of the crowd's laughter. And though he did make an effort to smile as Elrond approached, the forced cheeriness soon died. Elrond decided to sit on the far side of Erestor. Erestor had discovered that if he hitched up his frock-robe so that the side slits came to his waist, he could sit upright. His underpants were showing.
"Are you enjoying the party, Elrond?" Erestor asked.
"No," said Elrond. A sudden lump formed in his throat as he said the word, as if realising only then how disappointed he was.
"What's the matter?"
Ereinion snorted. "That's obvious. Glorfindel pulling his usual Queen of Ëa routine. Never mind the rest of us who have to sit through it. Listen to that!"
"Would you like me to tell him to stop?" Erestor asked dryly. "Because I'm sure he'd listen..."
"Do you know where Elros went?" Elrond asked. His question was ignored.
"He's talking about my father again," said Ereinion. "I know he is."
Erestor rolled his eyes. "Well, stories about a High King are a bit more exciting than stories about turnips."
"Rutabagas," said Elrond. Erestor and Ereinion ignored that as well.
"Look," said Erestor, "what if you just pay no attention to him, we'll have some wine-"
A sudden howling chorus of laughter and crash of applause made Ereinion slam his hands down on the bench. "That son of a dog!" he hissed. He leapt up, eyes flashing and fists clenched, and stalked from the room without another word.
Erestor sighed his disappointment. "Well Elrond... fancy going to see if the cake is ready?"
Elrond ignored him. He stood up and walked away, in the opposite direction from Ereinion, to begin a search for his brother. Elros and Howler, at least, might pay him some attention.
"His entire life's purpose is to mock me!" said Ereinion. "Everything he does, everything he thinks... Is there even one moment when he is not calculating exactly what damage he can do, and which way would be most effective to do it?"
He slammed his wine goblet down on the table, then seemed to reconsider, picking it up again and taking another drink. "How am I supposed to compete with that level of dedication? Should I live my life in anticipation of what he might do next? Waste every hour planning strategies of how to counteract his assaults? Is it even possible to teach myself not to be so hurt, even when I know all he ever wants to do is cause me pain? That he has spent the last two hundred years actively causing pain, and is now a grand master in the discipline?"
All Círdan could offer was a comforting, if misplaced, smile. "He wasn't thinking of you, Ereinion."
"I know!" Ereinion shouted. "He never thinks of me! Never even considers that perhaps his horrible antics cause me harm and grief! It's all a ridiculous game to him! See how far he can push me before I snap entirely! Well tonight I think I have! I'll take no more of this! No more! If I have to chain him or whip him or lock him away until the least possibility of him ever tormenting me again has passed, I will do it! One step further, Círdan, one more word from him, and I swear I will!"
Círdan spent a moment in silence, tapping his fingertips together. "What I meant was," he finally said, "I don't think it's you he wants to anger."
"Well, who else?" Ereinion snarled.
"If he wanted to hurt you in specific," said Círdan, "he would do it directly. Listing your father's faults or mistakes, trivialising his death, blaming him for whatever he feels your father is worth blaming. He knows how proud you are of your family, and that's where he'd attack you. But what he's doing now, reminiscing about the good old days and telling his scandalous stories from the bedrooms of royalty- I think that's meant to inspire jealousy. In someone somewhat... closer to your father."
A sudden understanding washed over Ereinion like a wave. "Oh," he said feebly. He sat down at Círdan's side and wrapped both hands tightly around the stem of his goblet. "I see."
The first time Maedhros met Glorfindel was the year after Fingolfin's death. He went to Eithel Sirion to offer his condolences to his cousin, and found a carefully crafted web of destruction. Fingon, once strong and fearless, had degraded into a shadowy remnant of his former glory. He sat on the king's throne, worrying the king's crown with his shaking fingers, utterly broken by his father's death and his son's departure. He was lost. He turned to his advisor for every decision that faced him.
The advisor, a snake of a Vanyarin man, gave the same advice over and over. "Do nothing. Sit and wait for death. You are finished. You have nothing. You are nothing." Fingon followed those words without question. Maedhros supposed he would have died, a long and lingering death on that throne, if not for the fortunate timing of the visit.
Maedhros had two days to rally his cousin's spirits. Two days was all it took for Glorfindel to draw up the official papers proclaiming him banished from Hithlum forever on charges of treasonous interference. At their parting, Fingon could not even remember signing the order. But there was hope for him, which Maedhros kindled. "Do not let your father's legacy fall to dust," he said. "Do not let your kingdom fall. You are stronger than this, Findekáno. You must take back the power of the old kingdom, for the sake of those who depend on you." Then he kissed his shattered cousin goodbye. Fingon's body felt like glass in his arms, cold and brittle.
Before he left, he delivered a promise to Glorfindel. If they met again, Maedhros would kill him. He swore by his father's name.
Glorfindel laughed hollowly at the threat. "Your cousin did that long ago," he said. And Maedhros could see; his eyes were lifeless as a corpse's.
The next time they met was in the chaos of the Havens of Sirion. Maedhros almost failed to recognise his cousin's old advisor, who had traded palace silks for the comfortable linens of a seaside village. Glorfindel stood, sword awkwardly in hand, barring a road at the village's centre. A look of brave determination was set in his soot-streaked face. But when he saw Maedhros, the bravery melted into panic and cowardice. He froze, then bolted like an animal. Maedhros followed.
There was no time for begging, no pleading for mercy. Only a sharp slash across the stomach: a slow and painful way to die. Maedhros left him, gasping and writhing, to bleed in the shadow of a rotting tree. He was satisfied that the wound was sufficient to prevent Glorfindel from returning to the village, and that he lay too far to be found in time, if there were any survivors to find him.
But now, as he sat in the dining hall flanked by four armed guards, he bitterly regretted not finishing the job properly. It was a lesson from his father he should have studied more diligently. Do it right the first time, if it is worth doing at all. How did he live? he wondered. Was he found, out of luck? Or did I underestimate his stamina, and he was able to stumble back to the village? Was the cut not as deep as it looked? Were we followed? Was he helped by animals? He dismissed the last option as too improbable.
With the guards holding him back, he could only stare at his sworn enemy with a burning hatred. Glorfindel laughed and accepted a cup of wine. Over the rim, their eyes met. Glorfindel's haughty smirk was half hidden by the cup, which he raised ever so slightly to Maedhros' presence. A thorn of the past came back to sting him again.
"While you sleep," Maedhros muttered. "I'll be there."
"Quiet," said the guard to his left.
Elrond put himself to bed quietly, not bothering to return to the party to say his good-nights to Glorfindel or Erestor or Ereinion. He dreamed of the Secret City that night. He could see it on a distant hill, like the picture in the poem book. He could hear the chimes, and a strange song that sounded like slow, mournful words layered over quick ascending and descending scales on flutes and harps. The tower, shining with silver light, beckoned him. There was no moon or sun in the sky, and the stars were faint pinpricks.
But as he walked, the sky darkened. Not with time, but with every step he took. If he walked slowly, the dark came more slowly. If he ran, the dark ran with him. The tower's silver light was fading, and the song with it, replaced by the sound of crashing waves. Hurry, Elrond told himself. The tower... the locked tower... the secret is inside... I need to know...
He had the key in his hand. He opened the door. The dark inside the tower was so thick he could hardly see, but the scarce light that remained was enough to show him a rough wooden staircase spiralling upward. Urgently, he began to run. Sandy wooden stairs creaked beneath his feet. Sometimes, through the darkness, he could see old wooden rooms branching off at his sides. They seemed hazily familiar, as if from a secret and forgotten part of his past. But he had no time to stop. The top of the tower was so near. The top of the locked tower held the secret. He kept running upward.
He burst out onto a sandy wooden platform in the heavy, thick darkness. But instead of Tirion, this tower overlooked the sea. The darkness was so thick. He strained see a boat bobbing on stormy, white-capped waves. A single row boat battered by the storm. A single man in the boat. "Erestor!" he shouted.
In the boat, Erestor turned slowly to look up at Elrond.
"Erestor!" Elrond shouted again. "You must get to shore! A storm is coming!"
But Erestor only stared back, blankly. He began to stand. Elrond held his breath. For a moment, Erestor stood still in the rocking boat, holding Elrond's terrified gaze. Then, he lifted his arms out away from his body, and let himself fall backward into the churning water.
"NO!" Elrond screamed. "ERESTOR!"
Erestor's body was covered by the waves. They were no longer black water waves, but red, like blood. The tower had moved Elrond so close that he could see the bright redness and the flickering flames reflected on the water's surface. It was on fire. The tower was burning. Its shining white sides had turned to red and flame like the water. The heat and smoke were suffocating. Blindly, Elrond stumbled back to the trap door in the sandy wooden floor. He cowered beneath it, sobbing, as the fire flew around him. He was on a stone floor, in a corner made by wooden walls. Elros was sleeping at his side. They were trapped by the inferno.
"HELP ME!" he cried. "MALO, HELP ME!"
Through the smoke, he could see a figure approaching. It was a man with long auburn hair, his armour dented and charred and spattered with blood. His right hand was missing. It was Maedhros.
"Mada!" wept Elrond. "Help me!" He held up his arms for Maedhros to take him, hold him, carry him away from the terror. But Maedhros, grim-faced, only raised his bloody sword above his head and swung it down in a flash of red.
Elrond woke up, screaming.
His skin burned under the weight and heat of the blankets that suffocated him. He sat up, throwing them off, and gasped in the cold darkness. His forehead was slicked with sweat and his heart was racing.
Across the room, Elros sat up with a groan. "...Elrond?"
Elrond choked on a sob. The dream was still so vivid in his mind. He could still feel the heat of the flames around him, and hear the cracking fire. He could see Erestor falling into the black water. "Erestor..."
"What..." Elros began to ask, but Elrond was already out of bed and stumbling in his shaking body to cross the room to the door.
"I have to see Erestor," he told Elros. "I had a dream." His voice shook like his body.
In the torchlight of the corridor, Elrond ran. He stopped only at Erestor's door, and banged his fist on the wood. "Erestor! Erestor!" He needed to see him, and needed to see that he was safe. He needed someone to say it had only been a dream.
The door remained firmly closed. Elrond sank down beside it, shaking and weeping, slapping the palm of his hand against the flat wood. He heard another door, not far away, creak open.
Círdan, candle in hand, padded quietly down the corridor. "What happened?"
"I had... a dream..." Elrond gulped in breaths of air between his sobs, but it seemed hardly enough. "I need... I need Erestor..."
Círdan gave a soft knock on the door. "Erestor?" When there was no answer, he turned the knob and pushed it open.
Erestor's room was empty. His bed was still made; he had not been in it all night. "Strange..." said Círdan. "That's not like him..."
Ereinion, carrying another candle, hurried to join them. "What's wrong? Erestor?"
"Not here," Círdan told him. "His bed is empty. Did he say to you he was going somewhere?"
"No..." Ereinion shook his head vaguely, staring at Erestor's empty bed. A hardening shadow seemed to cross his face. "But I think I know where he is."
Elrond pulled himself up from the floor, still shaking, and followed Círdan and Ereinion. "Don't worry," Círdan told him with a pat to the shoulder. "We'll find Erestor; he can't be far. I'm sure he's only in the kitchen for a bit of bread, or out in the garden after too much wine. Glorfindel was still out in the garden, last I saw. He'll be fine." But Elrond had the familiar sinking, snaking feeling in his stomach, and he knew, no matter what Círdan said, that Erestor was not fine. What he saw in his dream had been more than the simple threats of a nightmare. Erestor was in danger somehow.
Ereinion did not turn down the way that went to the kitchen and the back garden. He continued on straight, to the darker end of the corridor. Elrond knew where they were going; he came this way with Erestor every day. At the end of the corridor, behind the locked door, was Mada's room. Ereinion took the door's key down from a peg on the way. But as he put it into the lock, even before he turned it, the door swung open easily.
Elrond was unable to see exactly what happened next. Círdan tugged at his arm, leading him back, saying, "I think we should return to bed, Elrond." But Elrond held his ground and stayed where he stood. Ereinion had gone into the room, and he could hear Maedhros shouting and swearing. Then, shuddering as if he had been dreading it, Erestor's voice. It was not Erestor as he usually was, rational Erestor, but a shrill, pleading Erestor. And it was a frightened, naked Erestor who was dragged out of the room by his hair and left to cower by the doorframe at the King's wrath. Elrond saw him, if only for a second, before Círdan stepped between them and held his arms before Elrond like a protective fence. And Elrond saw, partly, Maedhros swing his good arm and deliver a solid blow to the side of Ereinion's head.
"Círdan!" Ereinion cried. "Grab him!"
Círdan hesitated a moment, looking from vulnerable Elrond to raging Maedhros as if torn between protecting the one and subduing the other.
He answered Ereinion's call and grabbed one of Maedhros' arms. Ereinion, taking the other, managed to slam Maedhros against the wall and knock the wind out of him. Two against one, when the one was gasping to breathe, was an easier fight. They pulled him away and out of sight. Elrond did not know where they went.
On the floor, Erestor hugged his knees to his chest. His hair hid his face, but Elrond could hear; he was crying. It was a disgraceful sight. The wretch who sat now terrified and weeping on the floor did not deserve to be the same Erestor who had, only hours earlier, been so grand and regal. Elrond had been cheated. He wanted Erestor, the real Erestor, not this shadow of weakness.
After a long minute, he coldly asked, "Why were you in Mada's room?" though he knew exactly why. He wanted the shell of Erestor to lie and deny it.
"Go away, Elrond," Erestor answered in a breaking voice. "This doesn't concern you. Get out of here."
Elrond did not move.
"I said go away!" Erestor shouted.
"You will not speak to him," a voice behind Elrond said. It was Glorfindel's voice; Elrond recognised it instantly. The hand wrapping protectively around Elrond's shoulder was Glorfindel's hand.
"You are a traitor, Erestor, a conspirator and a liar. Were any King but Ereinion on the throne, I would advise you to flee for your life. You know your crimes. How dare you speak to Elrond now?"
"I've done no worse than you," Erestor sniffed.
"I at least stand by my allegiance," said Glorfindel. "May Manwë curse you." He spat at Erestor's feet. Then, nudging Elrond along, he said, "Círdan asked me to look after you. Come on."
They left Erestor by Maedhros' door.
The first pink tendrils of sunrise had started to touch the horizon when Glorfindel sat Elrond down at the breakfast table and gave him a cup of milk and a bread roll. Between sips and bites, Elrond told him everything about the dream. He still remembered the details perfectly. Glorfindel listened intently, frowning with concern.
"I think you should tell this dream to Círdan," Glorfindel said when Elrond's story was done.
Glorfindel sighed. "Elrond... have you ever thought about something or seen it in a dream before it really happened?"
"I don't know," said Elrond. "Sometimes. Maybe. I had a dream about Howler, didn't I? But sometimes I get these feelings, like I know something bad is going to happen. I just know. Then... it does."
"You should tell Círdan that, too."
"But why?" asked Elrond.
"Círdan has, for a long time, been renowned as a great seer," Glorfindel explained. "He has the power to know some things before they happen. He has revealing dreams, or sees visions in the air. It's a rare gift. Some have what you described- your 'sense' or 'feeling' of coming danger. But very few can see the future in dreams. Elven dreams almost always exist in the past. From what you said of your dream, the part about Erestor being in trouble... I think you might have some of this power. Círdan can help you realise it."
The idea that he could see the future made sense to Elrond. It felt no stranger than being told he had a nose. On some level, however hidden, he had known for a long time. He nodded in acceptance. "But then..." he said, "in my dream I saw Erestor fall out of a boat and let himself drown. Will that really happen?"
"I don't know," said Glorfindel. "But I don't think so. Círdan always speaks of his dreams and visions as symbols. For example, he had a dream before the Havens of the Falas fell to Morgoth's army. He didn't dream of orcs destroying the city, as it really happened, but of a single orc defeating a single Elf in combat while a great wall of trees and vines crumbled to dust behind them. He correctly interpreted his dream to mean that the orcs were more powerful than his army, and that they would destroy everything that had been made. The cities were evacuated except for their soldiers. That's how we all came to Balar. A quarter-year later, the soldiers joined us here. They reported that, just as Círdan had said, Morgoth's army was too powerful to fight. They stood no chance. They fled to the safety of their ships as they saw the thousands of orcish banners coming over the hills. So you see, your dream about Erestor could mean any number of things, not necessarily that he will fall out of a boat and drown. You said he let himself fall from the boat. We might interpret that to mean he is letting himself be harmed, and that any danger that befalls him is a result of his own actions. Perhaps he was sitting in a lone boat because he will not let anyone help him. There can be many ways of looking at it."
"So..." Elrond said slowly, "if my dream means that Erestor is letting himself be harmed, will he be safe now that Ereinion found out about him and Maedhros?"
Glorfindel shook his head. "I don't know. It was your dream- what do you think?"
The snakey feeling was still in Elrond's stomach. "No," he said sadly. "I think he's still in danger."
"You will have to tell Círdan that, too."
Elrond nodded and put his head down on the table. He was so tired, torn between desires to help the old, strong Erestor and turn his back on the weak Erestor he had seen in the corridor.
"I think it's time to go back to bed," Glorfindel said softly. "You've had a rough night, and I've not been to sleep at all yet."
Elrond let Glorfindel pick him up out of his chair, and he wrapped his arms around Glorfindel's neck. "Can I sleep with you?"
"Of course," said Glorfindel. "But only on the condition that you show me to a spare bed. Ereinion wasn't kind enough to allot me one last night."
"The room next to me and Elros is empty. It has no glass in the windows, though. Círdan's waiting until summer to get glass, then he says it'll be my room so I don't have to share with Elros any more." He paused to reach back and open the kitchen door for Glorfindel, whose arms were full. Then he continued, "Glorfindel... the other part of my dream... when I was in that burning room with Elros and Maedhros came... could that be something from the future?"
"Mmn," Glorfindel said, shaking his head. "I don't think so."
"It was just a dream, Elrond," Glorfindel said quickly. "That's all."
Elrond sighed. It had felt like much more than a dream. "Glorfindel?" he asked.
"Remember when you said a long time ago that Erestor was in love with Fëanor? Do you think he's in love with Maedhros now?"
"No," said Glorfindel. "I think he's infatuated with Maedhros, and finds a secret thrill in being with him, but I don't think it's love, no."
"Oh," said Elrond. "Good."
Glorfindel tapped his foot against the door next to Elrond's bedroom. "This one?"
"Yes." Elrond opened the door, and Glorfindel carried him inside to set him down on the bed.
Carefully, Glorfindel undressed, until he was wearing only the gold bangles on his wrists and a pair of loose breeches that came to his knees. Sometime over the night he had acquired several ribbons in his hair, and he pulled them out now to lay them aside with his clothes. He used his fingers to wipe away smudges of black from around his eyes. The red on his lips had long since disappeared, and the white on his face remained only in a few streaks. Watching, Elrond began to undress himself, only stopping when he realised he was already wearing his night clothes.
Glorfindel climbed into bed with a groan. He lay as if exhausted, his golden body stretched out atop the white covers, then rolled onto his back. Elrond, lying down to join him, noticed for the first time the top half of a curving, red scar peeking up from the high waistband of his breeches. He almost questioned it, but thought better, and said instead, "Good night, Glorfindel," even though the morning sun had already come up to shine clearly through the glassless windows.
"Good night, Elrond," Glorfindel murmured.
It was a long time before Elrond could fall asleep, and in that time he lay where he was, staring at Glorfindel's sleeping face. He thought to himself that if there were a perfect being in the world, surely Glorfindel was it, strange scar or no.
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.