"I'm not ashamed of anything," Glorfindel said, "and I grow weary of your castigation." They reached Oiolairë 's stall and the horse snorted in greeting. Glorfindel began unbuckling the horse's support harness.
"Well, you might have strained your equipment in that fall," Erestor persisted.
"I did. Rendered inoperative. You don't have to worry about being disturbed in the night ever again."
Glorfindel seemed deadly serious and Erestor looked at him carefully. "Did you really hurt yourself?"
Glorfindel's face cracked into a smile, widened, fell into laughter. He said, "You have to admit, Restor, it was funny."
"I'll admit no such thing," Erestor said, but he too smiled inwardly as he remembered the astonished look on Ardan's face as the hook came loose in his hand.
"In any case, I came to apologize. I realize that I have been insensitive to your situation. I have the perfect solution."
"You plan to glue it to your leg?"
"That might work, but not what I had in mind," Glorfindel chuckled. "Whenever I am . . . uh . . . occupied, I'll tie a scarf to the door knob. That way you can be alerted and go somewhere else for a while."
"So very thoughtful of you," Erestor said sarcastically.
"Actually it was Ardan's idea. Seems he was shaken up to have you discover us like that."
"I'm glad someone has sense."
"You know, Restor, it's most peculiar. I think I'm falling for him. Whenever he's around, I feel very compelled, as if I can't get enough of him."
Erestor narrowed his eyes. "Have you felt this way about anyone else before?"
"Yes," said Glorfindel, "but not in the same way. This feels, well, strange. I can't put my finger on quite why. Maybe it's what love feels like."
"I would counsel you to resist it, Findel. It doesn't sound right to me," Erestor said.
Glorfindel shook his head. "That's your answer to any tug of the heart."
"You do not know what is in my heart," Erestor said. "If you value my friendship, I would ask that you leave it alone."
"Very well," Glorfindel said. He took the stallion by the halter, snapped on a rein, and led him out of the stall. The horse stumbled a little, then jerked his head up, eyes rolling. Glorfindel soothed him with soft nonsensical words, then led him up and down the hold, speaking to him all the while. The language was calming to Erestor as well.
It took a little while for Oiolairë to get used to the gentle roll and pitch of the ship. When he seemed steady, Glorfindel led him up the ramp. The horse took the climb several plunging steps at a time until he was on the deck, blowing nervously. Glorfindel led him in a tight circle, which he widened until they were traversing the deck from one side to the next. Oiolairë 's hooves echoed on the wooden planking with a hollow, clicking sound. His stride grew longer as he relaxed and was able to keep his balance. Erestor followed along next to Glorfindel, once again impressed with the warrior's skill in handling this large, unpredictable animal.
The sailors on deck were watching with great interest. Several of them came forward. "He's a beauty. Can I pet him?" asked one.
"Yes, if you approach quietly with a friendly spirit," Glorfindel replied. The man walked up slowly and Oiolairë allowed his touch.
"Beautiful animal," the sailor enthused. Soon several others were gathered around him, petting and crooning to the beast as if to a child. The horse actually seemed to like the attention.
"Good boy," Glorfindel said, while stroking the horse's nose. "This is not natural for you at all, but you are so clever. You learn quickly how to walk on a ship." The horse pricked his ears forward and flared his nostrils, seeming to drink in the smells about him. The wind shifted, causing the main sail to flap about for a moment. Suddenly Oiolairë snorted, then backed up several steps. He made a low rumbling sound, which had a note of warning. He must be afraid of the sail, Erestor thought. The horse shrilled that strange note again and half-reared. The sailors who had been petting him quickly moved away.
"Steady, steady," Glorfindel said. Erestor turned around and saw the two Lorcastrans coming down the rope ladder off the mizzen mast. They reached the deck. Erestor detected a faint scent. It seemed familiar. What was it? The two men slowly approached, their dark, braided hair blowing about their faces. Oiolairë squealed. He backed up again, fighting against Glorfindel.
"Hold! Stay where you are," Glorfindel called. The other sailors all turned their heads to stare at the newcomers. The two men halted.
"The Prince's animal is skittish," one of the Lorcastrans said. His voice had a slithery quality that caused a shiver to run up Erestor's spine.
"He was fine until you showed up," Glorfindel said in exasperation. Oiolairë squealed again. He threw his head from one side to the other, then reared, while Glorfindel attempted to control him.
"Back away," Erestor said to the two men. He walked towards them menacingly, with his hand on his knife. They stood their ground, arms folded. One of them smiled revealing a gold tooth which flashed in the light. Erestor advanced until he came within an arms-length of the man. They stared a challenge at each other. The man's pupils were like pinpricks. The effects of black magic. It had to be. Erestor could smell it on him.
"Fetch the Captain," Erestor said over his shoulder. He heard a soft pelting of feet up the deck.
Meanwhile Glorfindel managed to turn Oiolairë's head upwind. He put his hand over the horse's nostrils, then led him down the ramp, disappearing below deck. There was one last rumbling snort, then silence.
Captain Armalak appeared yelling, "What in Mandos is going on here?"
"Maldomas and Tethra here frightened the horse," one of the sailors said.
"We have done nothing wrong. We didn't even get close to 'im," the gold-toothed Lorcastran said.
"I told you the rules of this ship, Maldomas. No disturbances," the Captain said, shaking a finger at them. "It seems the horse don't like you. Keep away from him."
"Yes sir," they said, but to Erestor it did not sound sincere. As soon as the Captain's back was turned, Maldomas tilted his head back with a most disrespectful sneer.
The next day passed without incident as they traversed the immense Bay of Belfalas. Erestor found Ardan's red headscarf tied to the doorknob after lunch and again after dinner. He shook his head at his friend's carnal appetite. It seemed awakened by Ardan's proximity while he was serving the meals. Dinner was hardly bearable with the little touches and the lascivious looks exchanged between them and Captain Armalak's winking conspiracy added to the whole mess. Truth be told, it made Erestor feel lonely. He realized he had become used to Glorfindel's company, annoying as he was. He had wanted to discuss the Lorcastrans with him, but Glorfindel was otherwise occupied.
That evening, after he again discovered the red scarf on his door, Erestor went out to the deck, leaned his elbows against the gunwale, and stared moodily out at the horizon. The wind was brisk; they were making good time. Erestor cheered himself with imagining the Mettarë preparations in Lindon. About now, the elves would be out in the winter cold cutting holly and pine. Red-cheeked and singing, they would haul the boughs home where they would wind scarlet, silver, and gold ribbons around them before hanging them up over the doorways, along the walls, and down every banister. The hunters would be coming home with deer, pheasants, and fat geese. The cooks would be bustling about the kitchen, filling it with fragrant smells. By now, the head cook, Erelas, who had a notorious temper, would have begun a tremendous fight with his assistant Thelin over some bit of trivia, and Erestor would have been called down to the kitchen to sort it out. In the concert hall, Lindir and the other musicians would be tuning up in a delightful cacophony of sound. Even more than usual, at this time of year the castle was filled with music and song . . . and practical jokes. Last year that rascal Glorfindel had led a raid on the butteries, making off with all the pies until Ereinion had ransomed them with four barrels of strong red wine. The resulting party had left nary an elf fit for duty in the morning. Erestor included.
He remembered watching Glorfindel that evening, resplendent in a blue velvet jacket that echoed the flashing color of his eyes until they seemed to rival the heavens. He was drunk: laughing and flirting with everyone, and in general being the notorious Glorfindel. But occasionally he would glance at Erestor with an expression impossible to read. He remembered the feeling of loss when he watched Glorfindel leave with his arm around Gildor.
The memories made Erestor feel heartily homesick. It was good that they'd soon be back and he could put this whole journey out of mind. Before he had left, Ereinion had said to him, 'Look on this as an opportunity to reconcile your differences with Glorfindel.' Unfortunately, Erestor would have to report to the King that his differences with Glorfindel were alive and well, even if, secretly, he had a renewed appreciation for his companion's many talents. Still, Glorfindel was a rogue. Erestor yearned to go back to his quiet routine, unmolested by thoughts of the golden warrior, who even now was banging a young Haradrim senseless in their cabin.
He looked up to see another Haradrim, the sailor Lornis, walking up to him. "My lord Elf," he said in that beautifully resonant voice, "may it be permitted to join you?"
"Of course," Erestor said. Lornis tilted his head respectfully. He came up to the gunwale, where he rested his forearms. Anor was dipping below the horizon, casting long shadows that accentuated Lornis' strong profile with its hooked nose and sharply angled cheekbones. He wore a whip-thin goatee around lips and chin. A handsome man, like many of the Haradrim. For a time they watched the sea together in silence, then Lornis said, "Ah, there it is. Do you see it, Lord Erestor?"
Lornis gestured. "White glint in the distance with blue haze at its feet."
Erestor shaded his eyes. "Yes."
"Is the White Mountains, called Nered Lassta in our tongue. They march down nearly to the sea close to Cape Anfalas. We round it tonight. It's been a good strong wind making our journey quick. Sing praises to Manwë."
"Indeed, Manwë be praised," Erestor said.
"You seemed deep in thought," Lornis said.
"Yes, I was thinking about preparations for Mettarë back home - thinking that I was sad to be missing it."
"Ah yes," Lornis said. "We celebrate Anor's return too, though Mettarë is not our name for it. This is the time that I miss my family the most. I anticipate seeing them when we go home after this run."
"You have a family?"
"Yes, very big one. Wife, four sons, two daughters, and my old mother, she still lives with us. One son is married with two children."
"That is larger than most elves have. Where does your family live?"
"On Númenor, in the port city of Rómena."
"Ah yes. Beautiful city. It has been many years since I was last there. Over five hundred, in fact."
"You would find many changes. Not all for the good." Lornis lowered his voice. "The King and his followers grow arrogant. They envy the First Born, I think, and envy breeds hate, and that leads to evil."
Erestor recognized the language of one of the Faithful. "You are wise, Elendil," he said.
Lornis smiled, a brief flash of teeth. He made the circular sign of the elf friends over his heart. Then he lowered his voice. "Those Lorcastrans, they are up to no good. I can feel it in my bones. They keep to themselves and speak in whispers. The ship is small place, not good for secrets. I have been watching them as you asked. I can tell you, they do something together at night." He smiled wryly. "Not that. Something. I think they are practicing magic. There is a smell."
Erestor snapped his head up. "A smell? Of flowers?"
"It's time we discover what they are doing and put a stop to it. Can you watch them tonight and come wake me if you suspect they are up to mischief?"
"Thank you for your service, Lornis. Please excuse me, I must attend to something."
Lornis inclined his head. "My lord," he said.
Suddenly, Erestor had a bad feeling. Glorfindel had been occupied entirely too long in their cabin, even for an elf of his appetites. The puzzle was beginning to shape into a pattern. He hoped he was wrong. He climbed the steps to the cabin door, noticed the piece of red cloth still hanging from it. He turned and looked about the ship. It was dusk. A sailor was going about lighting the lanterns; a small group in the stern was listening to someone playing a lute, but otherwise, there was little activity. He pressed his ear to the door. No sound. None at all. Ever so faintly he could detect Ardan's jasmine scent. His heart misgave him and he decided to enter, even if he caught them in the act. Erestor turned the knob. The door wouldn't open. It didn't have a lock; there must be something blocking it. Erestor rushed it with his shoulder and managed to open it a hands-width. He could see that there was a trunk in front of it. He shoved again and was able to squeeze past the obstruction. Erestor heard the sound of a lid slamming. He emerged into the room and was overwhelmed by the jasmine smell.
A fully clothed Ardan suddenly straightened upright. He was standing next to Erestor's trunk. Glorfindel was sprawled face down, unmoving on the bed, completely nude. Was he dead? Erestor didn't wait to find out. Filled with rage, he flew across the room pulling his knife as he went. He shoved Ardan up against the wall and pressed the knife against the young man's throat. "What are you doing?" he snarled.
Ardan had turned white. "Nothing, nothing at all, my lord," he stuttered.
"You were doing something you had no business doing," Erestor said. "What's wrong with Glorfindel? Speak or I'll cut your throat!"
"He's sleeping," Ardan squeaked. "Worn out."
"I know him better than that. He hears like a wolf and will wake if a leaf drops to the ground. He wouldn't sleep through this! What have you done to him?" He pressed the knife harder into Ardan's throat. A thin line of blood trickled down.
"I meant him no harm! I love him," Ardan cried. "Please Lord Erestor. I'm under orders and I dare not disobey."
Thankfully, Erestor heard a groggy moan from the bed. "You've drugged him," he snapped. "You had better tell all and you'd better do it now or I swear I'll cut you and drop you off the side for the sharks to rip apart. Start praying to Ossë!"
Ardan made a choking sound. "Knife . . ." he managed to say. Erestor eased up on the pressure against his throat.
"Will Glorfindel recover?" Erestor asked.
"Yes. It's just a sedative."
Erestor removed the knife from Ardan's neck, grasped him by the shirt collar and flung him down hard on top of the trunk. The boy landed with a thump; he looked up at Erestor with terror in those beautiful wide eyes. His black hair was loose and hung down over his shoulders. The jasmine smell was overwhelming. Erestor couldn't help noticing how lovely the boy was. It made him angrier. He grabbed a chair and drew it up close. "Ardan, I am going to ask you questions. Believe me, I can tell if you're lying, so don't even try it. I've got my knife to hand. Don't doubt that I can use it."
"Yes," Ardan said. He put his hand to his throat and coughed.
"Who are you working for?" Erestor said.
"Princess Ilien," Ardan replied.
Erestor sat back. "Interesting. Is she Lorcastran?"
"No, she's not."
"Then why did she hire you?"
"I'm, I'm not sure." Ardan dropped his gaze to the floor.
"You'll have to do better than that, Ardan," Erestor growled.
"Please . . ."
"You know more than you are telling me," Erestor said. "I'm afraid Ardan, I must have the truth, all of it. What is the Princess's involvement with the Lorcastrans?"
Ardan sighed. "Not many know this, but the Minister of War, Azgara, is Lorcastran. He told Princess Ilien that he would kill her brother, the Prince, if she did not obey him. The Prince is in a very dangerous position at present."
"I can see that," Erestor said. He remembered meeting Azgara and disliking him immediately. He had been right to trust his intuitions. He also remembered Glorfindel saying that the Princess was afraid of him. It was satisfying to see the puzzle fitting itself together.
"Believe it, my family is loyal to the Prince," Ardan said with some pride. "We have worked for the royal family for several generations."
"Then what were you doing in my trunk?"
"The Prince's message to King Gil-galad, I had to replace it with one from the Princess."
"That does not sound like the action of a loyal subject," Erestor growled. He brandished the knife.
"Please, Lord Erestor. Azgara has my father hostage and he controls the Princess with threats and dark magic. I must comply. I didn't want to do any of this." A tear tracked down Ardan's cheek. "I am in a knot with no unraveling."
"Did you succeed in replacing the message?" Erestor asked.
"I went through your trunk when I first came aboard and couldn't find it. I had to give Glorfindel a truth potion to find out where you had hidden it," Ardan said. "If you hadn't come in . . ."
"Get up," Erestor demanded. "Give me the letter from the Princess."
Ardan lifted the trunk lid. Erestor could see that the secret compartment had been opened and was now empty. Ardan retrieved two envelopes that looked alike with identical red seals. "I dropped them when you came in," he said. He handed them both to Erestor.
"Do you know the contents of the one you carried?" Erestor asked.
"No," said Ardan. Erestor held his gaze. The boys' eyes were clear of deceit. Erestor was trying to decide what to do next. Obviously, he would have to determine which was the real and which the fake message.
"Is the Captain involved in this scheme?" Erestor asked.
"I don't think so," Ardan replied. "I never spoke to him about it."
"Do you know why Oiolairë's groom wasn't there to help him board ship?"
"No," Ardan said, "but I can guess. I suspect he was bribed. Maybe they hoped the horse would be injured while boarding. For some reason they don't want your king to receive this gift. Perhaps they want to embarrass Prince Du-phersa."
"Perhaps," Erestor said.
There was a quiet moan from the bed. Ardan's eyes cut to the right. "He should wake soon. It was a light sedative. Believe me, I had no desire to hurt him."
"You said you were in love with him," Erestor said. "Is this what you do to someone you love?"
"I told you, they have my father," Ardan said defensively.
"And how were they to know whether or not you completed your mission? You could have tossed your fake message into the sea."
Ardan nodded towards the door, then looked anxiously back at him.
"You are being watched, aren't you?" Erestor said softly. "I thought as much."
"And the perfume . . ."
"The Lorcastrans, they gave it to me to bewitch Lord Glorfindel. It has an amazing effect. I've had to fight off half the crew." Ardan ventured a look at him through his eyelashes. "I've had to sleep in the Captain's cabin . . . for protection."
Erestor nodded. He knew the truth of Ardan's words. The scent was making him dizzy, making him hard. He had an overwhelming desire to knock Ardan down, rip off his clothes, and pound him into the floor. Ardan might have that effect even without a magic potion. With one, he was irresistible. Erestor summoned control, practiced over hundreds of years.
"Hmmm," he said, "Well now, Ardan, what am I to do with you? I can't decide whether to string you up from the yardarm, or give you a sword and tell you to take out those two witches and then kill whomever emerges victorious."
Ardan looked at him sadly. "It doesn't matter. I have betrayed everyone I love now. It would be a kindness to kill me."
"No, you don't get out of it that easily," Erestor said. He tapped his finger against his lip, deep in thought.
A drop of blood snaked down Ardan's neck. The boy put his finger in his mouth and then rubbed it along the shallow cut. "Here, get up," Erestor directed. He reached into his trunk, pulled out a white cotton rag, and tore a long strip from it. He came over to Ardan and tied it over the cut around his neck. "There now. If anyone asks you about it, say that Lord Glorfindel likes it rough."
"He does," Ardan said with a little laugh. "But not that rough."
"Enough," Erestor replied.
"Does this mean . . .?" Ardan asked hopefully.
"It means you are working for me now and you are going out of the frying pan into the fire. I have another agent here, so if you betray me, I will know instantly. Understood?"
"Yes," the boy nodded. "What can I do?" He seemed eager to atone. Erestor could almost feel sorry for him.
"You'll tell the Lorcastrans that you've succeeded in your task here and that you wish to join them. You'll need to be convincing, Ardan. Then try to find out what they are doing here. Come back and tell me."
"I thought they were only here to make sure I carried out my task," Ardan said.
"I suspect that they are doing something else as well," Erestor said. "You'll have to be good at deception." He smiled a little. "Better than you were with me."
Ardan hung his head. "That alone should convince you that I am not practiced at deceit," he said.
"Yes, quite. However, I am very skilled at what I do," Erestor said. "Don't think that sentiment for a beautiful boy will cloud my judgement."
"No, my lord. I must go now. I've got to make breakfast for the second watch."
"Be off with you, then." The boy headed towards the door. "Oh Ardan," Erestor said, "I suggest you wash that scent off before the entire crew goes insane and they take turns at ravishing you."
"I can protect myself," Ardan said grimly. But he looked tired; there were circles under his eyes.
"Come back and sleep here tonight. I'm sure it will please Glorfindel and I want to keep an eye on you."
Ardan smiled at him. It was lovely to see. Then he slipped out of the room.
Erestor sighed. He weighed the two envelopes in his hands. There was nothing for it, he would have to break the seals and read the contents. It might prove important to their errand. Ereinion would understand, he hoped. Besides, he was skilled at repairing a broken seal. He smiled at the memory of past intrigues.
Erestor heard Glorfindel moan again. The warrior turned over, face up, and threw his head side to side, seemingly in the throes of a bad dream. Erestor put down the packets, then sat next to him on the bed. The smell of jasmine hung heavily in the air. For so long he had been watching Glorfindel from afar and here the elf was, spread out before him. Erestor ran a hand down the side of Glorfindel's face, brushing away the golden ripples of hair. Without the fear of being caught, he was able to gaze his fill at the gloriously naked body. Irresistibly drawn, Erestor stroked a hard pectoral muscle, gently pinched a round, fleshy nipple, then ran his finger down the indentation delineating the center of Glorfindel's chest to his navel. From there his hand crept lower, across a flat abdomen to twine in curly blond hair. Glorfindel murmured; his eyelids fluttered. Erestor sighed. Truly, this elf was the most desirable being he had ever seen. Glorfindel lips moved as if he would say something. Erestor gazed at his beautiful face, took in those full, curving lips, slightly blushed with rosy color. He had often wondered . . . just what it would be like . . . to kiss them.
At that moment, Erestor lost control. He leaned forward and touched his lips to his companion's, finding them everything he'd imagined. He pressed a little harder, nipped at the lower lip. He felt a slight movement as Glorfindel opened his mouth. Heat surged through Erestor's loins. He threaded his fingers into Glorfindel's hair as he sank deeper into the kiss. It felt so right, as if they were made to fit together like this. With a sigh, Erestor settled down beside Glorfindel and explored his warm mouth. He tasted sweet with a hint of something bitter. The sedative, most likely. Glorfindel returned the kiss sleepily, and then he put his arms around Erestor's back. The kiss deepened as their tongues discovered each other. Erestor never wanted it to stop. He threw a leg over Glorfindel's loins and pressed against him, feeling the warrior's burgeoning length against his thigh. Suddenly Erestor was out of his mind with lust. He wanted to tear his own clothes off and revel in the dance of the flesh. He wanted to feel Glorfindel moving deep within him while their mouths were joined, to feel them breathing in each other's ecstasy. He wanted to hear him cry out as they shared a shattering climax. He devoured Glorfindel's mouth.
"Ardan," Glorfindel murmured.
Erestor's heart somersaulted. Abruptly, he sat up. What was he doing? No. He couldn’t do this. He couldn't. He had lost his head. But, it had seemed so right.
Glorfindel opened his eyes. For a moment, he looked puzzled, then smiled sweetly. He put his hand to Erestor's cheek. "Erestor," he said softly. "I thought I was dreaming, a most wondrous dream. I never expected it was you . . .but why did you stop?"
"It seems you were dreaming of someone else," Erestor said sharply. "He isn't here. He drugged you, then tried to steal the Prince's letter to Ereinion. He might have killed you. You should be ashamed that you let down your guard so thoroughly."
"What?" Groggily, Glorfindel raised himself on his elbows, looked around, then met Erestor's glance. "No, it can't be," he said. He put a hand to his temple. "Ai, my head."
"You'll get no sympathy from me. Reprobate! See what your appetites have done?" Erestor got up from the bed and began pacing.
"It seemed you had an appetite yourself, just a moment ago," Glorfindel said, rather grumpily. "I liked it. Why don't you come back here and finish what you started?"
"Don't you care what has happened?"
"Of course I do and I'm sure you'll tell me all, with frequent mentions of my inept wickedness. But first, I want to know what you were doing just now."
"About to make a mistake," Erestor said. "We've both been doped with an aphrodisiac and I was about to succumb. Believe me, it won't happen again. Now to the problem at hand. It appears our suspicions were correct." He related everything that Ardan and Lornis had told him.
"It's coming back to me now," Glorfindel said, "I heard some of your conversation with Ardan, but I thought I was dreaming it. That rascal! I should have known. Ilien told me his family's shop was the best place to replenish our supplies. Told me to ask for him personally. It all falls together now. So, you were completely right and I should have listened to you. You may curse me with whatever ill names suit your fancy. Are you satisfied now?"
"No," Erestor replied. "However, that will suffice for now. I need to learn the contents of those letters." He found a small penknife in his trunk, then pulled down the secretary from the wall. "Findel, could you hand those to me and light a candle."
Glorfindel rose from the bed, picked up the envelopes from the trunk lid and came over to where Erestor had drawn up the chair by the makeshift table. Erestor looked up at him and then his glance strayed lower. "You must put on some pants. I can't concentrate while staring at your . . . parts."
"What's wrong with my parts?" Glorfindel asked.
"Nothing. That's why I can't look at them."
"You are exasperating beyond measure, Counselor," Glorfindel said. "I wake up to find you ravishing my mouth in a most familiar fashion, then just when I'm warming up to the idea, you become a block of ice. I'd say I have just cause for grievance."
"Ssshh," Erestor said. He was carefully fitting the penknife under one of the wax seals and then with an expert flick of the wrist, bringing it up off the paper intact.
Glorfindel sighed. He searched around the room until he found his leggings, which he pulled on with a snap of fabric. Then he lit a candle and brought it to the table. Meanwhile Erestor had managed to remove the other two seals and was unfolding the letter.
"I'm glad you're on our side," Glorfindel commented.
Erestor scanned the letter. "This one must be from the Princess. It looks like Prince Du-phursa's signature but says nothing of great import. Lots of florid niceties, wishes for more trade between our peoples." He looked up at Glorfindel. "No mention of the horse."
"Peculiar," said Glorfindel. "What of the other?"
Erestor dexterously opened and unfolded the other letter. "Ah yes," he said, "this is the one the Prince gave me. The letter begins with greetings and polite inquiries about Gil-galad's health. Mmmm, from there he launches into a recount of troubles: unrest among his people caused by the Black Serpent cult that spreads murder and dissension. He says it has infiltrated his Court and is growing stronger; he now fears for his life."
"Apparently he was on the mark there," Glorfindel said.
"Ah, here's the crux of it. Listen," said Erestor. "The latest reports from my agents have led me to a terrible conclusion. The dark rumors are true. It is none other than the Great Enemy coming to power once again. He has rebuilt Mordor and sends forth his servants to harass our borders. He corrupts the neighboring tribes by telling lies and making false promises. Now, I am told he is unleashing a new weapon. Long ago he subjugated men to his will by giving them Rings of Power. For an age, those men seemed to disappear. I regret to report that the greatest of them was one of my own countrymen. His name was Murazor, son of the Númenorean king Tar Ciryatan. They say that over one thousand years ago the Enemy lured him to Mordor and no one has seen him since. Now the rumors speak of a terrifying being who is invisible to our eyes and must shroud himself in rags to walk among the living. It is said that Sauron has sent him to seek the elvish rings and that Murazor is coming to Lindon. You must protect yourself. The horse I have sent is a great gift as he has been trained to recognize the servants of the Enemy and will warn you of their presence. May he serve you well. I hope this convinces you of my earnest wish to renew our acquaintance, to seek counsel together, and perhaps an alliance against this menace now returned to plague us. Yours in deepest friendship, sincerely, etc. Du-phersa, of Númenor, High Regent to Umbar."
"So there it is," said Glorfindel.
"Indeed, our worst fears come to pass," Erestor replied. "What shall we do?"
"I'm inclined to march down to the hold, haul those two Lorcastrans out by their nasty braids and drop them over the side," said Glorfindel. "Who knows what mischief they are working."
"We have no proof of anything, except the word of a horse," Erestor said. "And that won't hold up in any court with which I am familiar. I say we watch and wait."
"Mmm, as ever the elves do," Glorfindel said. He picked up Erestor's hand, then held his gaze while he bent and kissed it. "As ever I have done with you."
Erestor pulled his hand away. "Don't be absurd. We care not a fig for each other. You had better hand me that candle so I can reattach these seals. Then for Mandos' sake, open the door and air out this room before we do something we'll forever regret."
Azgara- means to wage war in Adfnaic
Elendil - in this context means "elf-friend"
Nered Lassta - supposedly White Mountains in Haradrim. Totally made up by the author, as were most of the names in this chapter. The name Murazor is not the author’s or Tolkien’s. It comes from an RPG game.
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