A Little Less Formal

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'A Little Less Formal'

 

A Little Less Formal


The ship docked around mid-morning, and the first thing that struck Glorfindel was the intensity of it all. Colours clashed and jumbled, a cacophony of smells and sounds assaulted his senses. Horses drew carts, dogs barked, elves called out to one another in loud, carrying voices. The contrast to the tranquil little house on Tol Eressëa was almost shattering.

The port was called Mithlond, pronounced Meeth-lund by the two returning mariners whose unexpected passenger he was. Their Sindarin sounded strange to his ears, very unlike that which he had learned in Gondolin, and he practiced the name several times in his mind.

Despite the uniqueness of the occasion, Círdan of Mithlond asked few questions. Instead, he offered the reborn elf his hospitality while word was sent to Gil-galad, High King since the fall of the Hidden Realm, to inform him of the coming out of the West of the hero of fabled Gondolin. The Lord of the Falas was no stranger to Glorfindel. He recalled meeting him long before in his other life, shortly after their arrival at what was to become Nevrast. The Telerin had changed very little in the centuries that had passed since then, although the cycle of life had turned and he was beginning to show traces of a beard.

Mithlond was built along the water’s edge, a collection of imposing buildings separated by small, open squares and stretches of grass. A late afternoon walk disclosed that, unsettlingly, although the streets bustled with people, especially down near the main harbour, there were no warriors or defenders of any kind to be seen. Glorfindel followed the road up into the hills above the town for some considerable distance, but all he found was a solitary, bored-looking elf sitting on a rock in the sun, his only weapon an unacceptably light bow. At the sight of Glorfindel he straightened up and nodded a greeting, but otherwise displayed no concern at the presence of a stranger.

When he mentioned the lack of security to his host over dinner, Círdan’s pale grey eyes had expressed surprise.

“This is the western edge of Lindon,” he said, almost as though this explained everything. “The whole land lies under the High King’s protection. Times have changed, my lord. There is no need for armed guards in the streets.”

Which was fine and well, but Glorfindel had never passed a night in Endor without the certainty of an armed watch. When he finally slept, it was with a dagger under his pillow.

Breakfast was some kind of grain cooked in milk, producing a creamy paste the sight of which curdled his stomach. He excused himself with a shake of the head, afraid his response would appear rude but having no idea what to call the mess or how to explain that eating it was beyond him.

“The fruit is good,” Cirdan said mildly, indicating a bowl containing apples as well as an unfamiliar yellow fruit with fuzzy skin, which he later learned were called peaches. As he selected an apple, Cirdan added, “The king is sending an escort for you. They should arrive within the next hour. He has his residence and seat of government further down the coast in the new palace.” He pronounced it ‘New Palace’, in a way that hinted at displeasure. “Perhaps you would like to sit outside and enjoy the morning air while you wait?”

The idea of a properly constituted, armed escort was a relief. Glorfindel took two small, red apples and, after a moment’s thought, a slice of coarse-textured bread topped with a few shavings of pale cheese, and went out through the side door indicated by Cirdan. It opened onto a small, private garden that looked out across the sea. A bench in a sheltered corner caught the morning sun and he went to sit there and eat.

He had not tasted an apple in centuries, not since Vinyamar, and the sweet, tartness was unexpected and unfamiliar. They had taken saplings to Gondolin but the fruit had withered in the mountain cold and the little trees had eventually died. He had seen none on Tol Eressëa, and had not thought to ask.

The Lonely Isle had been his home after his return from Mandos. He had no memory of the period between lives, just a sense of cool grey and of peace, an almost-memory of rest within earshot of running water. He had woken as though from sleep in a little house that looked out over green fields dusted with tiny pink and yellow flowers. Those who cared for him explained that he was on Tol Eressëa, home to those who had travelled West at the lifting of the Ban. It was then that he learned of the defeat of the Enemy and of the Pardon, and the return of many, though not all, of his compatriots.

He met none of these re-settled elves. His only company were the two Teleri who cared for him, feeding and even bathing him until his strength returned. There was also an older woman, Thalaiel, who arrived every evening for the first few weeks and spent the night in a chair in his bedchamber so that when he woke screaming from the nightmares, it was always to shaded light and a calming voice.

As time passed and he regained his strength, the dreams of fire and thunder and pain beyond description drew back a little. Life resumed. His days were spent quietly; he went for walks that progressed to long runs through the meadow and up into the little wood on the opposite hill. He was given a sword very similar to his old one and began training with it for the exercise, and he swam in the nearby stream in swift-flowing, crystal clear water. Every activity was a reminder to him of the wonder of life and the joy of a once-broken body grown fit and whole again.

He remembered his previous life quite clearly, but it was as though it had happened to someone else. There was colour and movement, faces, voices, but few strong emotions. He remembered his cold, correct father, his older brother and sister, both lost in the Crossing. He remembered the horror of the Ice and the green, rocky land that had awaited them at its end. He remembered warfare and the withdrawal within the ring of mountains to what was always, for him, a gilded cage of suffocating closeness, a memorial to an unbending, autocratic king’s memories of a better place and time.

The only strong emotion, the only picture from his past that he truly ‘owned’, was wrapped around a fragment from the very end of that life, of his mother falling from the narrow mountain pass above the turmoil of fire and destruction from which they fled. Her last desperate cry had been his name; it still rang in his ears and shriveled his heart.

‘…Nana…’

Sick horror twisted his stomach. Thankfully, at that moment the memory was interrupted by the sound of horses, many horses. He sat up a little straighter in the strange-fitting clothes that he had found upon waking, took a few deep, calming breaths, and waited to be summoned.

~*~*~*~*~

In his experience, the word ‘escort’ implied warriors. Instead Glorfindel was faced with a short, exquisite creature wearing loose trousers and a surcoat of dark green cloth embroidered extensively in peacock shades. His glossy black hair was braided and twisted with sea-green beads and ribbons - he looked for all the world like a male courtesan. He listened in disbelief to Círdan’s calm introduction.

“Lord Glorfindel, this is the king’s seneschal, Erestor Imerion, come personally to escort you.”

Amber-gold eyes studied him. “My lord, I am honoured to meet you,” the seneschal said gravely, bowing slightly. He had a pleasant voice, low-pitched and melodic. “His Majesty extends his welcome and looks forward to meeting you this evening. May I introduce Elrond Eärendilion, the king’s lore master?”

Lore master?

Another elf stepped forward on cue. He was dressed with more restraint than the seneschal, and had a drift of dark, smoke-fine hair and sea-grey eyes. “Lord Elrond is Princess Idril’s grandson,” Erestor elaborated. As he spoke, Glorfindel noticed the slightly olive hue to the lore master’s skin, and recalled how this had set the man, Tuor, apart from the firstborn. There had been speculation throughout Gondolin as to the lifespan of the half-mortal child, but for this to be his son Glorfindel could only assume he had taken after his mother’s kin.

Glorfindel bowed low as was proper before royalty. His father had been kin to Turgon through marriage, but it had been a tenuous link and he was reluctant to claim kinship. Perhaps later. He studied the elf for a moment, searching for familiarity, something to anchor him in a sea of increasing unreality. There was nothing. Save for the unusual complexion, the face that looked back at him, delicately boned, full-lipped, was that of a stranger.

~*~*~*~*~
Glorfindel followed seneschal and lore master outside. He carried with him all he owned in the world: the sword that already fitted his hand as though it had been with him from the beginning, and a woven bag containing two changes of clothing. Horses and riders were drawing up in vague order, waiting for them to take leave of Cirdan at the top of the steps. Glorfindel, after thanking the Shipwright for his hospitality, returned to a question that was bothering him.

“The king’s seneschal… what does he actually do? I’m unfamiliar with the title.” He kept his voice low, slightly embarrassed by his ignorance.

Cirdan slanted a glance after Erestor whose attention appeared to be elsewhere. “Master Erestor's looks belie his abilities, and his duties are many and varied,” he said in a careful voice, equally low. “The king has every confidence in his judgement.”

Glorfindel wondered at the distinct hint of disapproval in his tone.

At this point Elrond cut in. “The seneschal’s job is to oversee the running of the king’s household and to assist the Council in formulating policy.”

Erestor, who had clearly heard every word, opened his mouth, but before he could draw breath to speak, Elrond caught his arm and steered him firmly down the steps. He was discreet, but Glorfindel saw the quick shove that accompanied the apparently friendly gesture.

A glance at the horses dispelled all curiosity about the interchange, as well as any lingering illusion of the familiar. The great warhorses he had expected, battle steeds bred for strength and heart, were nowhere in sight. In their place were a selection of attractive-looking animals, shorter and slighter than he recalled, their bridles and even their manes decorated with ribbons and… bells?

Fifteen hundred years was a long time, he reminded himself, even as elves measured its passage.

Elrond indicated a black stallion being held by a young elf who Glorfindel thought was a member of Círdan’s household. “A gift from the king, my lord.”

This was not strictly true, as Glorfindel discovered some weeks later. The idea of giving away one of his favourite mounts had not occurred to Gil-galad, but Elrond knew his cousin was a generous elf and Erestor, who would have to explain it all later, had agreed it was an excellent idea.

Glorfindel stared at the animal. How could this beast carry an armoured warrior into combat? All he had been told before his departure was that it had been decreed by the Mighty that he was to return to Endor to ‘protect and serve’... although what and why had not been made clear. The natural assumption was that war was coming, and soon. Why else send a warrior?

“Our horses were not built like these - they were much bigger,” he said unthinkingly, assessing what was before him in the way that had become habit over centuries of hardship. “Such thin legs… How do they manage in battle?”

Elrond seemed about to speak but Erestor moved forward smoothly with a courtier’s practiced grace. “There are skirmishes with outsiders of course, hill folk and Easterners mainly, but there has been no major battle in over a thousand years, my lord. Our horses are bred now for speed and stamina.”

“Ah.”

Being on horseback was a new experience for his reborn body. He had natural ability, but the muscle memory born of experience was sorely lacking. They were already well along the road that led up into the hills above Mithlond before he found his centre of balance and could take the time for a good look at his other companions.

Instead of the anticipated force of well equipped, experienced warriors, he was surrounded by young elves armed with short swords and the occasional throwing spear. They were dressed in what appeared to be a uniform, something Turgon had often considered for his personal guard, but had never implemented. Several were in charge of banners and pennants displaying emblems unknown to him. He felt very isolated, very alone, very out of place.

Once they left Mithlond, his overriding sense became one of vulnerability. The well-maintained road followed the contours of the land and was crowded on either side by thickets within which a small army of orcs could have hidden with ease. Several spots were almost classic ambush sites, with the tree-lined slope rising on one side and a straight drop down to the sea on the other. No one else seemed in any way concerned about any of this, so he held his tongue - and at times his breath - and remained focused and alert.

Gil-galad’s seneschal rode alongside him, keeping up a stream of information about the places they passed: planted fields, fishing villages, a foundry that apparently supplied farm implements… After a while, Glorfindel found the even voice almost reassuring. It seemed calm and solid in a world that looked as though it might prove intangible should he reach out a hand to touch it. His head hurt, the horse was clearly accustomed to a firmer hand than his and demanded almost constant attention, and the unfamiliar cut of the trousers and tunic he was wearing pulled and chaffed in unexpected places.

Elrond kept to his right, drawing ahead of him where the road narrowed. His dark hair floated out in a smoky cloud about him, fine strands sparkling in the sunlight. He rode as though he had been born on horseback, turning to pass regular comments to Erestor with whom he appeared to be firm friends. He had a charming smile and a quick, dry wit, and bore no apparent resemblance to any of his grandmother’s kin.

“You must favour your mother’s family,” Glorfindel said, the words sounding terse and abrupt as he gritted his teeth and surreptitiously fought to persuade the black horse to remain on the road and not attempt a route up into the treeline. “I knew your grandmother and served your great-grandfather and you seem nothing like either of them.”

Elrond glanced back over his shoulder, his eyebrows raised. He and Erestor exchanged a fleeting look and Glorfindel saw the black head shake once, briefly, “They say I take after my mother’s side in looks,” the lore master replied succinctly. “She came from Menegroth.”

The ensuing silence lasted until Erestor finally began describing the settlement at the Mouths of Sirion where the refugees from Gondolin and Menegroth and other disasters had found shelter for a time near the end of the previous Age. Too late, Glorfindel realised his words could well have been taken as a criticism instead of the polite curiosity that had been his intent.

They stopped briefly beside the road for a light meal which, to his relief, contained little more unusual than bread, cheese and cold meats. There were also some small, round, dark things with a sharp odour that an apparently delighted Erestor identified as ‘olives’ imported from the south, but Glorfindel declined to sample them. Elrond busied himself with the escort, talking and laughing with them while Erestor and Glorfindel shared the brief repast in semi-silence before taking to the road again. The seneschal, he noted, looked tired.

The only incident of note occurred about an hour after lunch. The road passed through a place where a tree-topped cliff towered on the landward side with a steep, unbroken drop to the ocean on the right. The setting epitomised danger. Glorfindel’s hand dropped to his sword with an instinct born of experience. His escort, however, rode into the shadow of the overhanging rocks chatting casually, strung out untidily along the road. Only the standard bearers maintained their places.

“You, tighten up there!” The words were out before he had even thought to speak. “You are not a bunch of untrained farmers - even if your arms suggest it. Keep your form.”

He became aware of Elrond speaking to one of the riders in an undertone and of Erestor's amber eyes on him as the elves fell silent and shuffled into some semblance of formation. He felt a flush of embarrassment rising into his face. He had been out of line there and he knew it. These were not his warriors to order; he had merely responded to the habits of over half a lifetime.

It was on the tip of his tongue to apologise, but he suspected it would only add to the discomfort he sensed around him. And he really was not all that sorry. The display had been shoddy. An enemy hiding up amongst those rocks could have picked them off at leisure… He glanced across at Erestor, but the seneschal was staring straight ahead, his lips set in a firm line.

They rode on for a time in silence. Presently Erestor seemed to draw himself up and his quiet voice resumed, discussing the vineyard they were passing and comparing the final product to the popular wines imported from the south. Glorfindel was infinitely relieved to listen and occasionally nod. Anything was better than the silence in which his thoughts stirred and shifted, and the voice in his mind whispered ‘this is not real, none of this can be real.’ The colours, the sounds, the scents, nothing was as he remembered it. On Tol Eressëa he had longed to return. Now that he was here, he was learning fast that his memories were inadequate to the reality.

It was late afternoon when they reached the outskirts of a large town built about a sprawling structure of warm, red stone. As they swept through the entrance, an imposing archway with a guard station to one side, the grounds spread out before them, green and lush and impeccably landscaped. The escort turned off to the left, leaving Glorfindel to follow Erestor and Elrond past an ornamental lake set about with benches and up to the main entrance where attendants waited to take their horses.

He had an impression of pillars, tall windows, a collection of buildings rather than a single structure. The only security besides the guardhouse at the gate were the two elves who flanked the entrance, wearing what looked like ceremonial armour. Elrond followed his glance and spoke to him for the first time in hours. “Members of the king’s personal guard. The armour’s just for show. Pretty, but useless.”

“Ah.” He knew he was saying that a lot but most of the time he was at a loss for words, everything was just so foreign and new to his eyes. He would have had endless questions had he known what to ask.

“We had rooms prepared for you overlooking the sea,” Erestor said, his tone business-like. He had made the journey to Mithlond and back with barely a break, but he still managed to look and sound calm and competent. “Up on the second floor. If you’ll follow me…? You’ll want to tidy up before you meet his majesty.”

They went inside, up a broad stairway, and were making their way through a warren of passages before Glorfindel remembered. “Clothes. I only have what I was given in Valinor, nothing formal...”

They stopped outside a door, which Erestor opened before answering him. “Lord Cirdan organised some necessities, just to tide you over for a few days. Everything should already have been brought up.” He gave Glorfindel an unreadable look. “We hope you’ll soon feel at home with us, my lord. In time, our ways might seem more tolerable.”

There was a definite edge to his voice, but before Glorfindel could respond he turned and left in a swirl of green cloth and ebon hair.

~*~*~*~*~

 The rooms were light and airy: a small sitting room, a bedchamber and an ablution area. The walls were painted palest yellow, and the drapes, rugs and furnishings were in a variety of deep jewel shades. There was a spectacular view of the sea and a stretch of white, sandy beach. When he leaned out of the window he could also see, off to his right, a small harbour.

Hot water was brought, subtly scented with citrus, and he washed away the dust of the journey. When he had finished, he donned the clothing thoughtfully laid out for him on the bed - white trousers and tunic and a blue surcoat trimmed with touches of gold embroidery across the chest. There were also soft, ankle-length boots made of something light and pliable, which he later discovered was called suede.

He tidied his hair as best he could. Most of his needs had been anticipated, but a hairbrush or comb had not been provided. He had to smooth it with his fingers as he had become accustomed to when on patrol. Then he sat in the comfortable chair beside the window and watched the sea, waiting for someone to tell him what to do next.

~*~*~*~*~

He was summonsed by a very young elf who stared up at him with undisguised awe when he answered the soft rap at the door. It took two attempts before he managed to stammer out, “They are waiting for you on the terrace, my lord.”

Glorfindel followed the messenger on a roundabout route that brought them out on the seaward side of the palace. It was early evening, his favourite time of day. The sun was near setting and soft colours were beginning to tint the sky. The air was clear and fresh with the scents of sea and flowering shrubs, and the ocean shushed softly in the background. The careful paving of the terrace was broken by glowing mosaic designs, flower-filled tubs were set at intervals against the stone balustrade and the area was hung with strings of unlit lanterns. Broad steps led down to an expanse of smooth, green lawn.

It was like walking into a painting.

A small crowd was gathered at the far end. Erestor, now dressed in pale orange, stood a little apart from them as though waiting. The young elf managed to attract his attention, but before the seneschal could reach Glorfindel he was overtaken by a tall, broad shouldered elf dressed in a deep scarlet robe and wearing about his head an intricate circlet made of a silvery metal that seemed to glow from within. He had dark hair, piercing blue eyes and, as Glorfindel immediately discovered, a smile of almost irresistible charm.

“My lord, welcome,” the elf said, hands outstretched in greeting. “Sorry for the long ride. If we’d used our heads, you could have come down from Mithlond on the ferry. Hope the rooms Erestor picked out for you are all right?”

Nodding in bemusement, he allowed his forearm to be clasped in greeting. In Gondolin, in Vinyamar, things had been done with almost ritualistic correctness, and formal receptions in Turgon’s palaces had been just that - formal. This casual outdoor gathering was beyond his experience. He wondered how and when - and where - he would be presented to the king.

Erestor reached them looking harassed, followed by Elrond. Surprisingly, the quick look the lore master shot Glorfindel was almost apologetic. “Sire, I thought you and Erestor had agreed on a reception line? If you stay here talking, they’ll all come flocking over instead of waiting their turn.”

His arm was released and the tall elf grinned at Elrond, his eyes bright with mischief. “Yes, yes I know. We’ll get to that in a minute. I hate those things,” he added to Glorfindel. “Always the same - a string of people whose names leave you almost before the next face arrives.”

‘Sire?’ He looked and acted unlike the kings Glorfindel had known or seen before - an imposing list ending with Turgon - but his voice, deep and rich and very self-assured, was unarguably royal.

Erestor, his face expressionless but with a distinct glint in his eye, proceeded to exert some control over the situation. “Lord Glorfindel, this is Ereinion Gil-galad, High King of the Noldor in Middle-earth.” His eyes flickered to the lore master and he nodded almost imperceptibly before adding, “Elrond, could you escort his majesty and Lord Glorfindel over there?”

‘Over there’ proved to be a flower-decked frame hung with silken cloth in shades of scarlet and gold. The king went meekly, apparently undismayed at the steel in his seneschal’s voice. Elrond touched Glorfindel’s arm lightly as Erestor hurried off. “Let’s get settled while he rounds everyone up.”

“… but being Galadriel there’s no telling when or if she’ll turn up,” the king was saying as they caught up with him. He sounded amused and almost proud. “Sent her word as soon as I heard from Cirdan, but there’s been no time to hear back from her yet. It’s a long ride to Ost in Edhil.”

“I think you would have known Lady Galadriel as Artanis,” Elrond said quietly. “We sent a messenger, but it will be days before she can be here. This…” He gestured towards the small crowd that, at Erestor's urging, was starting to form some semblance of a line. “This was the best we could manage at such short notice.”

“I don’t expect the Lords of the West to keep me informed of their every whim,” Gil-galad cut in cheerfully. “You arrive, no warning, Cirdan says not to ask you too many stupid questions… fair enough. Seemed a good idea to round up my Council and their families and a couple of nobles and give you all a chance to say hello.” The dark blue eyes belied the casual tone. They were serious and thoughtful as they rested on him. “Once they’ve met you in the flesh, so to speak, there should be less call for invasive curiosity.”

~*~*~*~*~

Time seemed to stand still. As Gil-galad had said, the line felt endless. Names, faces, titles; all blended into a single amorphous swirl. At some point a cup was pressed into his hand, wine, sweet and unexpectedly light. The multi-coloured lanterns were lit, bathing the terrace in soft light as the sun finally set and darkness drew in. Soft music began, performed by unseen musicians.

There was even a table set off to one side, well laden with food. Glorfindel had no idea how guests managed to move about chatting to friends while simultaneously controlling a plate and a cup, still less how they managed to eat. He was absolutely certain he would drop something. The king, who seemed to have no difficulty in dealing with the contents of the well-laden plate brought to him personally by Erestor, asked him once or twice if he was not hungry, but he declined. He could only hope a more conventional dinner would be served elsewhere.

He let Gil-galad control conversation, contributing nods and a few words where appropriate. The sheer number of new faces was overwhelming. In Gondolin, he had only been exposed to those of his own social rank, the members of his House, and the warriors with whom he patrolled. Being of a friendly nature and ready to talk to anyone whether noble or artisan who crossed his path, he gained a greater circle of acquaintances than most, but nothing had prepared him to be the centre of this gathering of strangers. He stayed close to the king, tried to ignore the covert stares that followed his every move, and waited for it to be over.

And then quite suddenly it was. At some signal that he must have missed, everyone began to disperse. The king wished him a good night and a pleasant rest and wandered off deep in conversation with two guests who looked vaguely familiar to Glorfindel, though their names escaped him. He noticed Erestor involved in an intense discussion with two elves who were removing the remaining food from the serving table and realised, belatedly that his last chance at what would pass for dinner was about to vanish.

“…and perhaps she could try something that looks a little more appetising than gulls’ eggs for garnish,” Erestor was saying. “Although, on the whole, the presentation was very adequate. You can tell her that his majesty was satisfied.”

He had almost reached the table when Erestor spotted him. For a moment he seemed confused, then his face cleared and, after a quick glance off to his left, raised his hand and snapped his fingers. An elf, in what Glorfindel was starting to realise was the standard dress for palace employees, hurried forward.

“Lathron, please show Lord Glorfindel to his rooms - the new suite on the upper level,” the seneschal said briskly. To Glorfindel he added, “I’m sorry, I forget how confusing the palace can be in the beginning. If you need anything else, Lathron will arrange it for you. No need to come down for breakfast tomorrow, I’ll have it sent up.” A smile lit his face and made his amber eyes sparkle. “This went well, didn’t it? We thought it would be better than an endless sit down dinner.”

“It was… unusual,” Glorfindel admitted frankly. “Unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Things are done rather differently in Lindon from the way I remember them.”

Erestor briefly closed his eyes and his jaw seemed to clench, then his face smoothed into the composed expression to which Glorfindel had become accustomed. “Yes, I suppose they are,” he agreed flatly. “Good night, my lord. I hope the sound of the sea doesn’t disturb your rest. If it does, be assured that I can arrange a room on the other side of the palace. We would like you to be comfortable with us.”

The tension was back in his voice. Before Glorfindel could mention how much he had loved the sound of the sea in Vinyamar or even thank him for the trouble he had taken throughout the day, he was off in pursuit of a pair of giggling girls who were attempting to dismantle the flower-twined canopy under which chairs - unused - had been set in case the king and his guest should choose to sit. Glorfindel suspected Gil-galad did very little sitting around.

A slight movement reminded him of the elf, Lathron. Giving up on the idea of food, Glorfindel followed him back into the palace and up to his rooms.

~*~*~*~*~

Night settled over the palace. The sounds that had marked the day slowly faded, leaving only the ever-present murmur of the ocean. Glorfindel was unable to settle. Not only was he hungry, but he was in a strange environment where nothing felt right. He worried, too, that sleep would bring a return of the nightmares from which he would now waken to darkness and the unknown.

He prowled his rooms for a time, then sat at the window and watched the moon on the water. Finally, he decided what he needed was fresh air. Maybe a walk would relax him and help him to rest.

After a few false starts, he found his way to the only place he knew - the terrace, now silent and deserted, where he had earlier undergone the ordeal of being introduced to Lindon society. The lanterns had been dimmed, the only light came from a torch beside the door and the half moon riding almost directly overhead. He sat on the top step of the series that led down to the garden and looked around. He could see part of the beach as well as the stables and other, unknown buildings.

The sound of a footfall behind him made him turn. Elrond was crossing the terrace towards him clad in a simple robe and carrying, of all things, a plate of food. Glorfindel rose, uncertain, and was greeted with a wry smile. “I was out for a walk and one of the watch told me you were here. I thought you might like a snack - I don’t remember you eating earlier?”

The night was quiet, save for the sea and the spluttering of the torch. He could think again. There was a night watch? He had seen no one. “I’ve never had to walk around juggling a plate and a cup before. It seemed safer not to.”

Elrond’s eyes sparkled. “Oh I know,” he said, laughter in his voice. “My first few tries were a disaster. You should have told Ereinion. He’d have understood. There were chairs - you could have sat for a bit.”

Tell the king he wanted to sit down and eat rather than stay at his side? Glorfindel had a brief vision of Turgon’s possible response to this. His expression must have reflected the thought, because Elrond said softly, “It would have been fine. Ereinion’s style of kingship is - uniquely his, I’ve been told. He doesn’t normally expect people to stand too much on ceremony around him. He knows he’s king; he knows they know. He doesn’t seem to see the need to make an issue of it.”

Glorfindel had seen the air of casual confidence without really thinking about it, but now it made sense. He nodded slowly and made a start on the food - cold chicken, some kind of meat wrapped in pastry, small rounds of crisped bread with various, anonymous toppings. After a couple of exploratory mouthfuls, he realised he was starving and gave the plate his full attention.

Elrond sat near him, watching the moonlit sea and in no apparent hurry to leave. Eventually he said in a thoughtful voice, “This must all be so confusing for you. I have no idea why you were sent back or how well they prepared you for what you would find, but I can understand the changes must be immense. We need to be more sympathetic to that, and we will be, but it would also help if you gave us a chance. Erestor did his best at very short notice.”

Glorfindel was finishing off a chicken leg and was unable to speak but raised his eyebrows in query. “No idea why I’m here,” he finally managed. “I woke on Tol Eressëa, I rested, I rebuilt my strength. Then Lord Námo sent a messenger to tell me that I was to return to Endor, that I was to sail the following day. Rebirth is strange enough - I thought this must happen often, until Cirdan told me otherwise. And of course I know things will be different. I…”

“You probably don’t do it deliberately,” Elrond said carefully, “But you give the impression of thinking everything you see is not just different but somehow inferior to what you remember.”

Glorfindel finished the chicken, shaking his head vehemently. “Not inferior, just - sometimes puzzling. All right, bewildering. Everything has changed. The language is different, the clothes, the manner of doing things. Simple things like the correct way to greet someone - or taking time to ask after family, to find out if we knew one another’s relatives…”

“And when I declined to discuss mine, I looked rude to you?” Elrond finished off. “When to me you seemed invasive?”

They looked at one another and, unexpectedly, Glorfindel felt his lips curving into a smile. “Yes, I suppose so,” he admitted. “So we both assumed certain things. I need to stop doing that and to look at this rather as a visit to a foreign land - which, in a way, it is.”

Elrond nodded, smiling back. His eyes sparkled in the moonlight and his fine hair seemed to catch the light and shimmer when he moved. “A foreign land, yes, but it will feel more like home every day you spend in it,” he said. “We’re not all that unlike your memories, we just do things with perhaps a little less formality.”

Movement on the beach caught Glorfindel’s eye. Two figures came into view, walking close together at the water’s edge. The moonlight made identification easy. The tall, strongly-built form of the king was unmistakable, as was the shorter, slighter figure at his side. Erestor's hair was loose, lifting in the slight breeze, as was the king’s. They were both casually dressed and appeared to be barefoot. The seneschal had his head tilted to look up at his companion and they were laughing. When they drew level with the buildings on the left, they crossed the sand, headed up towards the palace and, hand in hand, disappeared from view.

There was silence on the terrace as Glorfindel considered and dismissed the chances of spotting Turgon in a similar situation. Círdan’s comments about the seneschal’s duties came back to him and took on new meaning, as did Elrond’s response. Glorfindel had been raised to see kings as distant beings, above such things as moonlight walks and holding hands. He found he rather liked this alternative view. He glanced at Elrond, who was plainly amused though attempting to look impassive, and shrugged slightly. Somehow the action seemed to shift a little of the weight that he had been carrying.

“A little less formality might be a good way to describe it, yes,” he agreed, finally steeling himself to sample the ‘olive’, which he had recognised and moved to the side of the plate. It tasted tart and almost musky, but was actually rather good. He could get used to it.

He returned Elrond’s smile and said, “I’m quite sure I can adapt to it. In fact, I think there’s a strong chance I might even grow to like it.”

Elrond nodded approvingly. “I know you will. And to prove it, when you’ve finished eating, we’re going down to the kitchen and I’m going to introduce you to something very special - a dwarf brew made from barley.” He smiled at Glorfindel’s look of disbelief. “The king’s very partial to it. They call it beer.”

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Finis

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