Beginnings

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'Beginnings'

 

Beginnings

After peeking out from behind the clouds for less than an hour, the Sun dipped and vanished, and as if at the shuttering of a lamp, black night fell. For Erestor the day had been busy and full of relentless irritations and he was glad to see its end. After eating a very light dinner and paying a brief visit to the baths, he had thankfully sought at last his haven from the world, his small but comfortable suite of rooms in the ‘old part’ of the House.

Clad in a faded old nightshirt that had at one time been blue but was now closer to an indeterminate shade of grey, and with his black hair fastened in a thick braid down his back, he prepared to pass the hours before bedtime peacefully with a book. Granted, the selected volume hardly qualified as entertainment; it explored classic security strategies in dry, dusty detail, and formed part of his preparation for a scheduled conference on the current state of the valley’s defenses. Reading, however, was a joy to him, and was one of the better ways that he knew of to relax.

The small sitting room had several comfortable chairs, but when alone he always sat on an informal heap of cushions piled on the floor near the fireplace. In some undefined way this nest reminded him of his childhood, conveying a vague sense of security and warmth. As he approached, the cat glanced up from her place on an old, rumpled blanket near the hearth, then resumed cleaning her two small kittens. Despite the fact that he paid them no more than casual heed, there was always a cat about the place; he suspected the fact that his rooms were cosy and warm and normally quiet was passed along on some kind of feline grapevine. However, this was the first to birth a litter beside his fire, and Erestor had been fascinated in spite of himself.

Although he had firmly resisted the urge to confer names upon either the mother or her young, concern regarding the number and size of the newborns had caused him to go so far as to mention them to Elrohir, who had a great fondness for cats and more than a little of his father's famed healing skills. Elrohir had assured him that it was perfectly normal for a first litter to comprise of only two or three kittens and, although amused at Erestor’s interest, had come past that evening to take a look for himself and proclaimed them healthy if slightly undersized.

That had been several weeks earlier. Now Erestor offered a nod of greeting to his hearth-guests as he sank down cross-legged onto the cushions and set out quill, ink and notepaper to one side before opening the book on his lap. He had just finished arranging everything to his satisfaction and had read perhaps three paragraphs when there was a soft knock at the door. The cat raised her head in surprise, then looked at him almost as though asking what he intended to do about this unwonted intrusion.

With a sigh, Erestor laid aside the book and got up, being careful to put neither it nor his feet anywhere near the ink. Getting stains out of the lovely old rug would be difficult if not impossible, especially as it had barely stopped raining for over a week. Briefly he thought with envy of Lórien, where it rained only at the Lady's bidding, but even as the thought formed he reminded himself that Elrond's way, which offered no interference to the natural order of things, was better. It might be inconvenient, but it meant they remained within the world, instead of slowly sundering from it as was the case with the Golden Wood.

He opened the door to an Elf whose impeccable appearance reminded him forcibly of his own casual attire. Long, golden hair was dressed in a neat arrangement of knots, twists and braids that must have taken hours to complete. The visitor wore a simple dark tunic and pants, somehow managing to make them appear exceptional. He was not strikingly muscular, yet there was an aura of strength about him, implicit in the way he carried himself; cat-like balance and confidence in every movement. Erestor was of average height, only a little shorter than Elrond, but this Elf was a good head taller, forcing the Councillor to look up.

"Good evening, Lord Glorfindel," he said, attempting to insert just the right note of inquiry into his voice. "How nice to see you. Is there a problem?"

From their first meeting, he had made a point of trying to behave with as much normalcy as possible when dealing with this legendary Elf. Glorfindel had fought at the Battle of the Tears and had died in single combat with a Balrog during the escape from Gondolin. This act, which had held open the escape route for those few survivors of the destruction, had made him an object of fascination to most of the younger generation of Elves. Erestor privately found it more than a little disconcerting to deal with someone who had been sent back from Mandos, but, in his opinion, this new arrival to Third Age Imladris had enough adjustments to make without being expected to endure any more open-mouthed awe than was strictly necessary.

Glorfindel paused before replying, his expression hesitant. "I'm sorry to disturb you, Councillor," he began, speaking with the indefinable accent and slight formality that were reminders of the distance in time between his first life and the current Age. "There was something I wanted to discuss with you, if you can spare a little time."

Erestor told himself firmly that the reborn Elf had no interest in the fact that he was wearing an old robe and mismatched socks, or that his hair was pulled back into a loose braid like a young child. It was evening, after all, this was his home, had been for centuries...

Thoroughly annoyed with himself for being so needlessly and uncharacteristically sensitive, the dark-haired Elf stood aside for his guest to enter. After a cursory glance about the room, Glorfindel saw that several candles had been arranged to illuminate the cushions, book and writing utensils on the floor near the fire, obvious indications of work in progress. He turned to Erestor apologetically.

"Forgive me, I can see that you are busy. We can leave this until tomorrow. It was a mistake – I have no business intruding on you at this hour."

Erestor shook his head at once. "I was making notes for a discussion on defense - one to which I believe you were also invited? A break from work is never unwelcome, my lord. Please, have a seat." He mentally ran through the limited resources available and added, "I can only offer you some extremely ordinary red wine - not for the discerning palate, although I'm fond of it...?"

Glorfindel flashed him a quick, utterly engaging grin. "That should suit me well enough," he said. "No one ever accused my palate of being discerning. My father despaired.”

Leaving his guest to be seated, Erestor busied himself with glasses and wine flagon. When he had finished, he discovered that Glorfindel was still standing and appeared to be staring at something. Following the direction of his gaze, Erestor determined the object of his attention was - of all things - the cat and her little family. The former confidante of a king, Elrond’s senior Councillor knew when to be quiet. He handed Glorfindel a glass and waited until the warrior looked away from the huddle by the fire and turned to him with an expression that was almost embarrassed.

"I know they are apparently tame and seem to live within the House, but. – well - I have never seen creatures like this before," he admitted candidly. "Yesterday I saw some elflings playing with one and realised I had no idea if that was in order, if they were dangerous or not. I mean, they look very placid," he added hastily, seeing Erestor's startled look. "I just could not help but notice that they seem to have… very sharp teeth?"

Erestor bit back a desire to laugh while he nodded slowly to himself. Yes, he doubted there would have been cats in Gondolin, or in Nevrast either for that matter. There had been housecats at Gil-galad's court but, now that he thought of it, the older Elves had seemed ill at ease with them, quoting some fireside tale that associated the little creatures with Morgoth. Like many other innovations, he suspected that the idea of keeping pets had been introduced by Men.

"They are called cats," he explained in a pragmatic voice. "There are wild varieties, some of which you may even have encountered - huge, predatory creatures - but these are house tame. I think they first lived amongst Men and then found their way to Elven communities. They have sharp claws and teeth and will scratch and bite to defend themselves, but they can be affectionate company."

"Cats," the Elf lord from the First Age repeated, testing the word. He sipped his wine while he stood with his head slightly to one side, watching. "And their young are always...so small?"

Erestor shook his head. "They are much smaller than this at birth, my lord. These are already over three weeks old. They were born a few days before your arrival. Would you like to stroke her?" he added, seeing Glorfindel made no move towards the animals.

The warrior looked almost anxious. "Would that be all right?" he asked. "She will not be - upset?"

Erestor raised his eyebrows and shrugged slightly. "Oh, she might. If she does she'll simply ignore you and draw back. Just don't touch her babies till she's comfortable with you, that’s all. Come."

He led his guest across the room to the fireplace, and knelt down to stroke the mother cat lightly in what he hoped was a reassuring manner. He normally respected her space and she was unaccustomed to overmuch attention. He found himself hoping she would accept the newcomer. Glorfindel, he suspected, would feel awkward if she rejected him. He was a little surprised to find that it mattered to him that this should not be the case. Not by ‘his’ cat. It would be highly embarrassing.

Glorfindel slowly followed his example, kneeling down on the other side of the little group and reaching out his free hand - a large, capable hand with long, competent-looking fingers - to stroke her as he had seen Erestor do. For a moment the cat appeared to consider the situation, then she settled down more comfortably with her kittens and began to purr. Glorfindel withdrew his hand immediately, as though he had been stung. "Why is she doing that?" he asked, startled.

Erestor couldn’t help but chuckle. "We call that purring. She’s doing it because she feels safe and content. Go on, you can stroke her some more if you'd like. And the kittens too - that is what we call a baby cat. But gently, very gently."

They sat like this for a while in a silence that was broken only by the crackling and hissing of the fire and the purring of the cat. The distant sound of the rain falling outside seemed very far away from the warm, candlelit circle they inhabited. Erestor sipped his wine and covertly studied his guest, feeling the last of the stresses of the day fall away. As well as warm blue eyes under winged eyebrows, regular, fine-boned features and a friendly smile, he noticed that the celebrated hero had a faint scattering of freckles over the bridge of his nose and across his cheekbones. Somehow the very ordinariness of this made him seem approachable and far less intimidating.

"What did you want to see me about?" he asked eventually, reminded that this visit had not originally involved introducing the newcomer to Imladris to these representatives of the feline population. Glorfindel, who had been watching the kittens in fascination as he stroked them, looked up, startled. For a moment he seemed puzzled, then his face cleared and he smiled.

"Oh, that," he said a trifle bashfully. "Ever since I arrived, everyone has gone out of their way to help me settle in and feel comfortable. I wanted to contribute something in return to express my thanks. You once mentioned the histories of Gondolin were written mainly by people who would have had no access to the king's inner circle and that they were probably filled with inaccuracies. Would it help if I scrutinised some of these books and made notes of anything I remember differently? I make no claims to be an historian – but I was a member of the king’s Council.”

He paused after this rather long speech, taking another sip of his wine, before adding slowly, "I know I should have waited until tomorrow and gone to your office to speak to you, but the nights are long and lonely and my thoughts are ... not always the best company. I realise the books will have to wait till morning, but I thought it would be…pleasant to talk for a few minutes. I hoped you would not mind."

Erestor offered one of his rare, beautiful smiles and stretched across to the cushions, managing to retrieve the two largest. He passed one to Glorfindel, and moved back to sit on the other himself. The floor was getting harder by the minute.

"And instead of a brief chat in the doorway, I offer you a seat on the floor and a glass of fairly rough wine," he replied, still smiling. "You are more than welcome to join me of an evening, my lord, if I haven’t put you off with my slightly unconventional hospitality."

Glorfindel smiled back at him. "The cushion makes a good seat and the wine tastes of sunshine and honest labour,” he assured the Councillor. "And the company and conversation are very much appreciated.”

The cat chose this moment to rise without warning and take the few steps necessary to reach Glorfindel's lap where, after a cursory lick of a paw, she settled bonelessly and resumed purring once again. The golden warrior looked down at her with an inscrutable expression, then turned to Erestor and said in a soft, pensive voice, "It's… very different to Gondolin, of course. But I think I will start to feel at home here far sooner than I had expected."

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Finis

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beta - Uli

AN: Originally a drabble for Aglarien but it grew.