29. The Lines Are Drawn
A smudge of paint had been smeared on his face, at Elrond’s raised eyebrow, he cursed, “Glorfindel thought it would help ease my tension if he poured a bucketful of paint on me. But with his proverbial luck, he managed to empty the bucket on Anárion, Elendil’s younger son, who was walking with me.”
Elrond got to his feet from behind his overloaded desk and drew a chair for Erestor. The chief counsellor sank into it sighing. There were dark circles underneath his eyes again as well as the pallor of someone who has not seen daylight in days.
“Gil’s overworking you,” Elrond murmured as he firmly massaged the tense shoulders, “Ask him to let you leave for Imladris and prepare for the great council. You are always in better spirits there.”
“Yes,” Erestor sighed, “But I cannot in good conscience leave Lindon when I know he cannot manage without me.”
“You mean as his mate?” Elrond asked curiously, “You and I have been working for days on end since the arrival of the Gondorians. And whenever we retired, it was in the after lunch hours.”
“I do not mean in that way,” Erestor mumbled, “Gil has never had a problem with me staying away from his bed because of work. In the beginning I tried to apologize, but he is, well, he has cooled down except for the public appearances’ sake. I meant my absence from the administration.”
“I would miss you,” Elrond admitted, “And you will leave us foundering in the councils.”
Before the council, Gil-Galad hosted a great ball in honour of his guests. But this was not like the victory banquet after Eregion. This had a sinister taste to it, with the men arrayed in armour, their faces cruel, the dwarves in their chain mail, their axes pinned to their belts and the elven lords silently conferring in the corners.
Gil-Galad opened the banquet with a smile that did not reach his eyes, despite the presence of his bonded-mate on his side. The King was attired in white, elegant robes that enhanced his natural beauty.
To his right sat Erestor and to his left sat Elrond, his herald. To Elrond’s left sat his human kin, Elendil and his sons. Beyond them sat the dwarves led by mighty Durin of Moria. At the far end of the table, Galadriel had assumed the role of the hostess. To Erestor’s left sat Thranduil, who alone was representing Greenwood for the banquet. Beside him sat Amdir, who had finally given the go ahead for the engagement. Oropher remained behind in Greenwood readying the lands for what he promised to be the mightiest of all revelries in Middle Earth. Celeborn was with his cousin.
Gil-Galad looked over at Galadriel and smiled. She tapped her silver spoon against the plate and the dishes began to be served.
Gil-Galad watched as she talked politely with Durin and his kin, her blue eyes twinkling with good humour. His gaze wandered over to the men, Elendil was engaged in a conversation with Elrond. Gil-Galad smiled proudly as he watched his heir explain patiently his complicated heritage to a befuddled Elendil. Isildur was conversing in a low voice with Anárion, his handsome, yet dark, features set in a scowl.
Gil-Galad moved his gaze to his right. Amdir was talking with Glorfindel, seated near him, merrily. Thranduil and Erestor were silently fighting over the plum pie, which was being decimated at an alarming rate. Gil-Galad admired Erestor’s deep scarlet robes that brought out his pale features so strikingly. Though right now, Erestor was scowling at Thranduil as the Prince neatly snatched a piece from Erestor’s hands.
“They are both connoisseurs of that pie,” Elrond remarked catching Gil-Galad’s unnerved look, “My apologies for their lack of table manners,” he spoke to Elendil smiling.
“No,” Elendil laughed, “The pie is almost over,” he remarked, “And they are fighting over the last piece.”
Thranduil and Erestor looked at each other and spoke at the same time unwillingly, “You take it.”
They stopped their silent wait as they heard their neighbours laugh aloud.
“Is it at our expense?” Erestor asked an eyebrow raised that reminded Elrond of Maglor so.
“It is indeed,” Amdir noted, “For you are worse than elflings squabbling over a trifle.”
Erestor lifted his head haughtily as Thranduil offered him the last morsel. Gil-Galad laughed and leant over to kiss him on the mouth. Elrond hissed in warning, these humans did not approve of single gender love, from what he had seen of them. Not all men were as open to these relationships as Aldor’s clan had been.
Erestor pulled back, his eyes meeting Elrond’s in sudden fear. Thranduil and Amdir were still talking quietly in Sindarin, though the Prince’s eyes flicked over to Elendil worriedly.
“The food is excellent,” Elendil offered politely as he broke the sudden silence.
“Indeed,” Thranduil joined conversation smoothly, “The cooks have outdone themselves, Lord Gil-Galad. I find myself much tempted by your pies.”
“And are all elves tempted only by pies?” Isildur asked scornfully, his spoon clattering down onto his plate.
Elendil’s hand ghosted onto his son’s clenched fist. But Isildur was still staring at Gil-Galad in revulsion.
“Prince Isildur,” Elrond said apologetically, “Our customs and laws vary. In our realms, love between two souls is a cause of celebration. Lord Erestor is my cousin’s bonded-mate.”
Isildur said harshly, “So the Elven King chooses his counsellors after bedding them.”
Erestor looked over at Gil-Galad, but the King said quietly, “My apologies, Prince Isildur.”
Anárion sneered, “So my brother has hit the truth,” he looked over at Erestor disdainfully, “This is the famous Chief Counsellor’s dirty secret. Favours granted for unnatural practices.”
Erestor looked again at Gil-Galad who sat stonily.
Elrond broke in, “Lord Anárion, you do not understand our customs. Lord Erestor is the king’s lover.”
“So he is not as abased as we humans consider whores?” Anárion finished, “Maybe not, for he surely chooses the best.”
The rest of the table was watching the conversation tentatively. Glorfindel was being restrained by Círdan who sat next to him. Thranduil’s hand had clasped Erestor’s in a show of support. Elrond felt a stab in his heart as he watched Erestor’s pain at Gil-Galad’s silent betrayal.
“Prince Anárion,” Erestor spoke after a long moment, the full weight of his gaze resting on the human, “I assure you that I have no need of abasing myself thus to be the chief counsellor. I am a proven warrior and a counsellor and I am ready to defend my worth.”
Isildur snarled, “My brother shall not lift his sword against a whore!”
Elendil looked at Elrond despairingly.
“Lord Isildur,” Durin’s deep voice broke in, “It is unseemly to insult your host underneath his own roof just because your customs differ.”
“Tell me not what to say, uncouth smith,” Isildur sneered. The dwarves with Durin began muttering angrily, but Galadriel and Durin held them back.
“I will not consider my friend’s insult light,” Thranduil remarked as he sipped his wine, “He is the last heir of the elder house of Finwë, a house that has suffered much in their relentless fight against the enemy. I would duel you to death, Lord Anárion, if it was not for the fact that you lead a people. However I will ask for first blood.”
“And what right have an uncivilized wood elf to talk of duels to me?” Anárion demanded angrily.
“Mortal prince, what right do you have to insult the last scion of the true line of Ingwë, High-King of Aman?” Galadriel spoke softly.
Anárion opened his mouth angrily, but Elendil broke in saying, “My apologies on my son’s behalf, Lady.”
“I accept the duel in my brother’s stead,” Isildur said firmly despite Elrond’s and Elendil’s warning looks, “Name your place and time, wood elf, so that you may die defending that whore’s honour. Perhaps you too have partaken of him.”
Amdir cut in sharply, “I wish that you take back this insult, human, for Prince Thranduil is the noblest of us Eldar remaining in Middle-Earth in his lineage. I demand an apology.”
Isildur said haughtily, “I see not why I should apologize to one so besotted by the charms of a dubious nature.”
Erestor got to his feet and bowed saying, “It is folly to stay any longer when conversation has become so poor. I will retire now,” ignoring Gil-Galad’s imploring looks, he walked away, his back ramrod straight.
“If Prince Thranduil had not claimed the right of duel, I would have done so,” Glorfindel said harshly as he shot Gil-Galad a sharp glance before leaving the hall. Círdan followed him murmuring his excuses.
Gil-Galad looked at Elrond, who said quietly to Elendil, “I mean no offence, but the Prince will do better to reject the duel.”
“I cannot hold him back,” Elendil murmured softly.
“It is indeed my misfortune to have to defeat one as fair as one of our women,” Isildur taunted.
Thranduil raised his goblet saying graciously, “I am honoured by your comparison, Lord.”
Elrond bit back a smile at Thranduil’s nonchalance, but he had reason enough to frown as the prince continued blithely, “But I am sad that I cannot repay your comment frankly, Lord Isildur.”
“Prince Thranduil,” Gil-Galad broke in, “I will not have my guests insulted.”
“Lord Gil-Galad,” Amdir broke in, “I will not have my kin insulted.”
Elrond said pleadingly, “The King meant that he would not allow insults by anyone at this table. Cease, and let us enjoy the food and the wine.”
Amdir nodded curtly to Elrond before getting to his feet and walking away stiffly. Thranduil followed suit though with more grace. Elrond glanced at Galadriel who had held the other end of the table without mishaps.
“Leave, I will take charge” her voice told him though her eyes were focussed on Durin merrily as he related an anecdote.
Elrond hesitated but her next words were enough to decide his course of action, he is in the library, and will need you. Elrond made his excuses and left hastily.
He made his way to the large halls of the library. Erestor was at a window, looking out blankly. His gaze seemed to be more inward than outward.
Elrond approached him quietly.
“Elrond,” Erestor turned to face him, his black eyes filled with pain, humiliation and fear, “Do you think I made a mistake? You warned me once. And so did Glorfindel.”
Elrond stood next to him and said softly, “Isildur is a fool, Thranduil will humble him.”
“Answer me, Elrond!” Erestor begged, doubts rising in his eyes as he averted them from Elrond.
“You were right to accept Gil’s proposal, he loves you. But he has always borne the title of the High-King. And that makes him suffer the hurts of those close to him as he has to remain impartial,” Elrond said gently, tightening his hand’s grip on Erestor’s shoulder.
Tears fell down the pale cheeks that Elrond admired as Erestor whispered, “What is the worth of a love that cannot make him speak for me? Thranduil loves me more, for he was moved enough by my plight to avenge me. I waited, waited desperately for him to answer to those accusations. He did not, he sat as unmoved as cold stone.”
Elrond did not reply as he gathered Erestor into his arms tightly letting him weep his sorrow away. Elrond knew that he would have killed Gil had they not been cousins. How could anyone be so blind to their bonded-mate’s plight and still claim love?
“Did I make a mistake, Elrond?” Erestor asked again.
Elrond’s tears fell onto Erestor’s forehead and the chief counsellor’s hands snaked comfortingly about him. They stood in silence, the rise and fall of their hearts the only sound in the room. From the threshold of the room, Gil-Galad watched with an inscrutable expression on his face. He turned sharply and found himself facing Galadriel.
“You should have defended him,” she said quietly.
“I,” he paused, “I had a duty to my guests.”
“Once you told me that pride is not worth the price of a marriage, Gil,” she paused, “I tell you the same. He is far more important than your guests.”
“He will not be able to forgive me,” Gil-Galad turned back to watch his cousin soothing Erestor gently.
“He will, Gil, my cousin Macalaurë had a very forgiving heart, and his son will have the same heart,” Galadriel sighed, “I pray that it will not be his failing as it had been his father’s.”
“What shall I do about Thranduil’s challenge?” Gil-Galad ran his fingers over his sword absently, “I cannot let that proud human be defeated. It would endanger the alliances which are frail enough.”
“You cannot do anything about that,” Galadriel smiled wryly, “To ask Thranduil to withdraw is folly unless you wish to oppose the Sindar strength. They are united. And moreover even the Noldor are considering themselves insulted. Allegiance to the house of Fëanorions deep in our blood, Gil. It has become a case of elven pride. Isildur will have to resign himself to a humiliating defeat.”
Her words were proved true as the human lost to Thranduil miserably in the duel, the crown prince of Greenwood had fought only with his weaker left hand, so confident had he been.
Erestor, who had been seated next to Círdan, rose to his feet and gracefully accepted Isildur’s haughty apology. But those close to him saw that the pain in those black eyes was yet not subdued.
“Lords of the free people of Middle-Earth,” Gil-Galad began gravely, “We are here to discuss the ever growing threat of Sauron. Our human allies in Gondor have suffered much at Mordor’s hands, and the King of Gondor himself has come to this council.”
Elendil acknowledged Gil-Galad with a curt nod and began a long and impassioned speech of Sauron’s menace in the western provinces.
“Lord Elendil,” Durin cut in, “What you speak of is the darkness under which every free soul struggles. It is not confined to Gondor alone.”
“Yet it is Gondor that suffers the worst,” Isildur barked sharply, disregarding Elendil’s hand on his wrist.
“Prince Isildur,” Elrond said firmly, “We understand Gondor’s peril, more so because we have ourselves fought longer against the enemy than you have, though with the same success.”
“Call you our race young and unworthy, Lord Peredhil?” Isildur asked snarling.
“Young, yes,” Elrond looked over at Erestor who had remained adamantly silent where he would have normally been using his talented diplomacy skills, “But I will never call my brother’s race unworthy.”
Isildur began to say something but Durin cut in again saying, “Come, Lord Isildur, we need to act now, and decide! This argument will lead us nowhere!”
‘Why are we suffering from Sauron’s menace? Because of the elves and their greed!” Anárion said loudly, “It is they who should ride against him and not us, the lesser races!”
Elrond groaned silently as Glorfindel retorted, “Those who have not yet learnt wisdom would do better to remain silent.”
“The Dwarves will join this war though we shall not abide by elven command,” Durin said steadily.
“Never would we ask you to abide by our commands when there are so many worthy leaders in your own flanks,” Elrond said bowing to Durin.
Elendil said loudly, “So will Gondor though our conditions are different.”
“And what may those be?” Glorfindel asked.
“The crown prince of Gondor wishes for an elven consort while he is away from his family on the battlefield,” Elendil said quietly, his eyes meeting Gil-Galad’s.
“For someone who saw our customs just the last night, Prince Isildur is large hearted,” Thranduil remarked.
“He may choose his consort from my warriors,” Gil-Galad said wearily, Elendil’s sons would drive him mad.
Isildur got to his feet and walked slowly, pausing before Gil-Galad as he said, “Then Gondor will fight this war, Lord.”
“He is mad!” Glorfindel said furiously as he burst into Elrond’s study later that day, “What was Gil thinking?”
“Gil needs the men to make the alliance work, they are great warriors despite Isildur’s nonsense,” Elrond muttered as he rubbed his eyes tiredly, “That prince is more evil than Sauron himself sometimes.”
“I hope you are not talking of me,” Thranduil leapt in through the window and stretched himself before the fireplace languidly.
“No,” Glorfindel paused his pacing to kick Thranduil’s ribs experimentally, he winced as his toe jarred against hard bone, “You need to regain your health soon, my prince. You are weaker than you used to be.”
“Yes,” Thranduil said emphatically, “I will need my strength soon! And I cannot fail.”
“So you are worried about the war?” Elrond asked curiously looking at Thranduil, “I had expected you to be the least concerned amongst us!”
“Not the war, you idiot,” Thranduil rolled his eyes, “I mean my betrothal! I need to look my best there, Anoriel looks very resplendent these days, I cannot afford to look like an unworthy mate!”
“So you remain unconcerned about the war?” Glorfindel asked amazed, as Thranduil started humming a soft tune.
“The war, Glorfindel, we will win the war when we have a Balrog Slayer around! Do you think the dwarves would have pledged their aid for a cause they did not consider likely to triumph?” Thranduil reasoned, “No, the only thing I worry about is the fidelity of your alliance with Gondor.”
The door opened and Erestor arrived, looking harried than usual. He slumped into the chair across Elrond and said wearily, “I could strangle him with my own bare hands!”
“What did he do now?” Elrond asked sympathetically pouring Erestor a cup of tea.
Erestor sighed, “He came to our chambers, I was talking about the alliance proposal from the Dunedlings to Gil. He just barged in and reminded Gil of his promise. Gil whispered his excuses to me and left the room leaving me alone with that rascal. He wanted the fool to discuss matters with his chief-counsellor. And that fool said he wished the High-King’s consort to be his consort!”
Glorfindel shouted, “WHY! HOW DARE HE! I WILL GO AND STRIP OFF HIS INNARDS!”
Erestor shook his head wryly, “I doubt that would be beneficial to the alliances.”
“What did you say?” Elrond asked him his heart hammering, “I wish that I could pound some sense into Gil. He is so easily manipulated by Galadriel’s wiles.”
“She has not part in this,” Erestor said forlornly, “I said Gil’s promise extended only to his own warriors and not to his courtiers. He refused to see reason, so I got tired, drew my sword, exited the rooms, came here.” he rested his head on his hands sombrely, “I would have Gil’s innards for this had it not been such a crisis. Now, of all times, we cannot afford infighting.”
“Only the dwarves have demanded nothing,” Elrond noted.
“No,” Glorfindel smiled tightly, “They have demanded a lock of Galadriel’s golden hair. She was very busy charming them since yesterday. But then she has always got along well with them.”
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.