Belonging

My Fanfiction  ~*~*~  My Livejournal  ~*~*~  Main Page ~*~*~  My Links  ~*~*~  Email

'Belonging'

 

Belonging
 

They were two days out from Mithlond when the first snow fell, casting a fine cloak of white across the north of Middle-earth. Glorfindel, who normally delighted in nature's twists and surprises, gave the lowering clouds an outraged glare and drew his cloak about him frowning. He had learned his aversion to snow and ice on the Helcaraxë, a lesson never forgotten.

Erestor's enthusiastic catalogue of 'oh look at...:the trees, the sky, the road, the birds...' met for the most part with non-committal grunts and the occasional dour response, offered whenever Glorfindel became aware that his companion seemed to be talking for both of them. Erestor was a child of the winter months; Glorfindel's nemesis brightened his eyes, brushed his cheeks with a soft pink glow, and filled him with an almost childlike - and often annoying - delight.

Despite the weather they managed excellent time, pushing for home before winter's grip had a chance to tighten across the land. The dark months had grown progressively harsher in recent years, Glorfindel thought, and even elven endurance would be tried by one of the snowstorms that had been all too frequent the previous year.

When they stopped for the evening's break, they were no more than a few hours' ride from the Crossroads, the place where the King's Road, the great highway that traversed Endor and linked the northern and southern kingdoms of Elendil's descendants, bisected the Great East Road upon which they travelled. Glorfindel would have preferred to press on but horses, unlike elves, needed regular rest, and it was his experience that too many hours in the saddle made Erestor irritable.

"There's no one around, the wind will blow the smoke away. We don't need a big fire, just enough to melt snow for tea-water. There's not much fresh food left, but we could try heating the lembas."

Glorfindel looked up from where he was encouraging the newly-lit fire, puzzled. "You can't heat lembas, Ery. You just - break bits off and eat it."

"I have eaten lembas before, you know." Erestor was kneeling with his back turned, scratching in their pack. He came up with a leather pouch which he opened and sniffed at appreciatively. "Lovely - tea. Nothing better. And yes, you can heat lembas - makes it more filling. You feel as though you've eaten something solid."

Bent forward, blowing gently on the flames, Glorfindel discreetly rolled his eyes. "Of course lembas is solid - 'waybread sufficient to strengthen any elf no matter how long the road'..."

"You ate it crossing the Ice, yes, I remember."

Glorfindel contrived to look hurt. "Well, yes we did, and on watch above Gondolin, too - where anyone lighting a fire would have been executed for treason."

They exchanged glances. Erestor said nothing, his opinion of Gondolin and its customs clear in his eyes. Glorfindel greeted the silence with relief; he always felt constrained to defend the often indefensible when his former home was mentioned. Moving with his habitual grace, Erestor came to kneel beside the dancing flames and, before Glorfindel could stop him, batted aside his warding hand and decanted a goodly portion of dried leaf into the water.

"It's nowhere near boiling..."

"Doesn't matter, it will be soon."

"It's going to taste terrible, Erestor."

"No it isn't. Stop fussing, Findel."

Erestor left the pot to boil and went over to the horses to begin his usual evening 'fussing' as Glorfindel fondly called it; throwing blankets over brightly-woven saddle cloths, rubbing noses, helping to expose snow-covered grass beneath trees. Glorfindel meanwhile stayed close to the fire, his arms clasped round up-drawn knees, and watched him.

After several veiled but curious glances, Erestor finally had to ask. "You never stay close to the fire at home, but each one we've lit, you've all but sat on top of. and I cannot believe you're that cold."

Glorfindel quirked an eyebrow at him and grinned. "I can remember nights in front of the hearth - blankets, wine. us. It's true, fire holds rough memories but it's still better than snow."

Erestor gave his horse's neck a final pat and went over to crouch beside the reborn elf. He rubbed his gloved hands, then held them to the small, crackling blaze. "Even after the Balrog?" he asked, eternally curious. Erestor had a knack for asking questions normal people avoided; Elrond maintained it was what made him such an exceptionally useful assistant.

Glorfindel rested a large hand on the back of Erestor's neck and shook him in a friendly kind of way. "At least it was warm," he said amiably. "I learned all I need to know about cold on the Helcaraxë. If I hadn't, Gondolin winters would have got the message across. Breaking the ice in the well every morning gets tired fast. Snow is wet, slushy, irritating."

"But... but it's beautiful, too," Erestor said softly. He leaned into Glorfindel, rubbing his head against his shoulder with almost cat-like affection. "Look how it takes the fire's light and breaks it into rainbow shards? Pick up a handful, mould it, listen to it - it squeaks, almost like a living thing. The way it cloaks the world, cleansing it, making it ready for spring."

Glorfindel shook his head, smiling reluctantly. Erestor's pleasure was infectious. "You see it your way, I'll see it mine," he suggested. "When we decided to escort your cousin to Mithlond to see her sail, I hoped we'd be back in Imladris before all this." The final word was accompanied by a vague gesture that took in white-decked trees, wet ground grown sludgy near the small fire, the low wind, and at their back the ancient forest - a place he found unwelcoming, even by daylight.

"I love winter," Erestor said cheerfully, leaning forward to examine the contents of the pot. "When I was young - an immeasurable time ago, agreed - my greatest ambition was to travel north to see the snow giants."

"The what?" Despite himself, Glorfindel laughed aloud. "Come on, Res, there's no such thing."

"Oh, no, I know that now, silly," Erestor replied, pushing at him playfully. "But I really believed in them when I was a child. We saw very little snow around Nargothrond anyway - not sure why that was. I heard it used to bank up around Doriath's borders. The Maia wouldn't allow it into her nice, green forest, so rumour said."

Glorfindel glanced at the heavy clouds overhead. "Now that would be a handy trick. And it was probably the truth - it matches with everything I ever heard about Melian."

The pot was boiling, and he moved it aside onto a flat rock to steep. At that moment his ears caught a hint of discordant sound far along the road, while at almost the same instant Erestor straightened up, fully alert.

"The trees say Badness," he exclaimed. "Something comes."

Trees refused to speak to Glorfindel since his return. No one had ever been sure why, unless it was that his reborn state confused them. Erestor, on the other hand, had a strong empathy for them, unusual for one of the Noldor.

Two pairs of hands moved as one to kill the fire. Leaving Erestor to hide all trace of their presence, Glorfindel went to speak soft words to the horses, asking their silence as he led them deeper into the forest. Erestor collected their pack, used a fallen branch to obliterate such obvious signs as hoof prints in the snow, then hurried to join him. It was dark under the trees, but Glorfindel had first seen life in a time before moon or sun and he had quickly found shelter, a snow-free hollow amongst ancient roots. Erestor landed hard beside him, and they settled close together, his back against Glorfindel's chest, the reborn elf's arms around his waist.

"See, snow has its uses."

"What...?"

"Used it to kill the fire. What do you think is out there?"

"Shh, no idea."

"Not riders, definitely not..."

"Erestor, quiet."

"But I just..."

"Do you never shut up? How did you survive the First Age? Hush!"

The sounds drew closer, booted feet and coarse voices rising and falling on the wind. "Yrch," Erestor breathed, leaning his head back so that his lips were close to Glorfindel's ear.

"A dozen at least." Glorfindel kept his voice equally low. "Possibly more."

"What are they doing this far from Angmar? And openly on the road, too."

Glorfindel shook his head, knowing Erestor would feel the movement. "No idea. Lost perhaps. Hush now, let them pass."

The elves fell silent, waiting. Erestor's life had taken him through several wars and into many of the wild places of Middle-earth, he had battled orcs before, while Glorfindel was himself the measure of any five of the creatures, but sheer numbers made for difficult odds. The orcs drew level with them and Glorfindel became poised and still, but they kept on without pause. The fire had been small, the wind had quickly dispersed the smoke, and there had been no meat cooking, a scent that could draw orcs from an alarming distance. The sounds faded as they continued along the road.

Silence returned, but when Erestor moved as though to get up Glorfindel tightened his grip. "Not yet," he said firmly, his voice still barely audible. "Just in case - there could be a handful of them up beyond the treeline and we'd be none the wiser."

"The forest would know," Erestor replied confidently, though still keeping his voice down.

"This forest is very old and probably very fed up with all of us - orcs, men, elves, dwarves, anything that goes on two legs." Glorfindel said this with conviction. Had he been a tree, this was how he would have felt.

"Probably," Erestor agreed, sounding amused. "Though it would still know and tell me. Elves might be an annoyance, but no self respecting tree would fail to give warning of the presence of Yrch." He turned carefully to offer Glorfindel something which he had apparently been holding the entire time. "Here," he said, and his eyes sparkled in the shadow. "I salvaged the tea. It's still hot. I thought if you had to spend the night sitting in the snow, we might both want you to have something warm to drink."

~*~*~*~*~

They passed the night in the Old Forest, giving the orcs time to move well ahead of them on the road. Glorfindel woke to pre-dawn stillness and the rise and fall of breathing where Erestor's back pressed against his chest. He brushed errant strands of black hair out of his face and was yet again touched with wonder that the gift of rebirth had also included this chance at love.

Not perhaps the partner his family would have hoped for, he acknowledged with a grin. Love between males had been deeply frowned upon in their day, and particularly in Gondolin, a city of intense restrictions governing almost every aspect of life - and love. In the Second Age he was told it had become tolerated, the High King's preferences being what they were, until in Third Age Imladris it was accepted as something not common but of no less value than the love between male and female.

He recalled the adjustments, closer to culture shock, of the first years after his arrival in Elrond's valley, smiling to himself as he stroked Erestor's hair. Whatever the Valar's reasons for granting him a second life in such a unique manner, one consequence was that he had finally met the other half of his soul.

"What are you thinking?" Erestor asked. His voice suggested he had been awake for some time.

"I was about to wake you. It'll soon be light -- hear the birds?"

"Mm. But what were you thinking? You were smiling."

Not for the first time, his words made Glorfindel blink. "How do you know that? You're facing away from me."

"I can feel when you smile," Erestor said with sublime assurance. He paused, then glanced back, his eyes dancing. "Of course, you smile a lot so it was a fair guess. But I know."

"I was thinking about my first years in Imladris. The way my mouth went dry and my brain emptied every time I had to speak to you. I made a regular fool of myself."

He felt Erestor's laughter. "Oh yes. Yes, you did. I decided you were either simple-minded or you had conceived a infatuation for me..."

"No such thing! Just thought you were... very attractive. Not the kind of thing we were allowed to think in Gondolin. I had no idea what to do about it."

"Well, when you finally worked it all out, you got pretty imaginative about it," Erestor remarked smugly, pressing back against him with a suggestive wriggle.

Glorfindel grinned and gave him a reluctant shove. "Not here - your trees are watching us."

There was no suggestion of hot water for tea. The trees close to the road had been sullenly accepting, but even Glorfindel could feel that the forest depths were of a darker nature and would not tolerate fire. Breakfast became a hurried affair; lembas and a mouthful for each of miruvor. Even the horses seemed ill at ease, eager to leave the cover afforded by the trees and be off.

More snow had fallen during the night, although they had been too well sheltered to be troubled by it. The road lay before them, a line of pristine white bordered by pallid trees. Glorfindel gave it a grim look. "Slowly," he told Erestor. "We'll need to take our time on this. No point in rushing and having a horse step in a rut. The surface is in a sorry state."

"Cardolan used to be responsible for this section," Erestor said succinctly, urging Glamor forward. Cardolan had fallen to the Witch King's hordes and was no more. "And honestly, Findel, I've probably ridden more snow-covered roads than you. All that's needed is to take it slowly and trust your horse."

They set off, each wrapped in his separate thoughts. Glorfindel relived memories of icy mist, shifting, cracking terror, endless snowfall, but kept the catalogue to himself, suspecting Erestor would find an aversion rooted so deeply in the past to be childish. What his companion was thinking he had no idea; Erestor was having one of his rare, quiet days and rode in unaccustomed silence, his fine-boned face and up-tilted amber eyes unreadable.

~*~*~*~*~

Close to midday Erestor, who had spent the last hour mentally restructuring his work schedule, roused to point ahead and ask, "Findel - what's that in the middle of the road?"

They slowed to a walk, then stopped altogether.

"Into the trees. Move!"

Glorfindel was urging his horse off the road as he spoke, and Erestor followed. Once safe from prying eyes, they both dismounted. Passing over Bara's reins, Glorfindel went on ahead, soundless as snowfall despite his size. Erestor led the horses, his hand near his sword, his every sense alert for trouble.

Eventually a melodic whistle signaled the absence of danger and he hastened to join Glorfindel.

A wagon stood in the road, contents scattered and broken about it. The horses that had drawn it, two big draft animals of the kind favoured by mortal farmers, lay slaughtered, great hunks of flesh carved out from haunch and shoulder. Erestor compressed his lips briefly before speaking softly and soothingly to the animals in his charge. Nothing was more unnerving to a horse than the scent of blood from one of their own kind. He left them at the roadside and walked slowly over.

The mortals had fought hard, died hard, and the orcs had made sport of their prey before the end. In Erestor, pity and rage vied for predominance: pity won. There was no place now to vent anger, even though his sword hand itched. Glorfindel came to stand beside him, his face sombre. "Only three of them," he said quietly. "They had no chance. Can't understand why they didn't hide."

"They must have been trying to protect their cargo, whatever it was," Erestor said with a glance towards the wagon. "They obviously valued it."

"Things? Res, why would anyone be willing to die for things?"

Glorfindel looked so honestly perplexed that Erestor almost smiled. Noble born, kin to royalty, the idea of defending one's personal possessions to the death was foreign to him. He was made for greater things, had been trained to die for nothing less than the honour of his city and his king. An unexpected rush of tenderness made Erestor place a gentle hand on a muscled arm, sliding it to the crook of Glorfindel's elbow.

"Some have less than others, which makes their need greater," was all he said, his voice kind. "Anyhow, I doubt they knew what was on the road behind them until it was too late."

He looked at the bodies again, the two men close to the wagon, the near-naked woman at the side of the road, and gestured indecisively. "What should we do...?"

"We have to bury them, sweets," Glorfindel replied. He sounded tired. Erestor knew how upsetting he found the deaths of innocents, those caught up in the fighting that had plagued the north since the rise of Angmar. Glorfindel placed an arm around his shoulders briefly and squeezed. "And thank you for not telling me I was too spoilt to understand why." He rested his cheek against the top of Erestor's head momentarily, then released him and went over to the wagon.

What had not been deemed worthy of looting had been cast aside, much of it broken. Clothing, household items, even a few pieces of furniture, all destroyed. "I think they were relocating," he called to Erestor as he searched. "Not goods for trade, just homely stuff like pots and linen."

"All they had," Erestor said quietly, joining him. He pushed a few things around but had little heart for any kind of a search. "What are we looking for?" he asked finally. "It feels - invasive, rifling through their effects."

"This."

'This' was a shovel, which lay buried beneath the splintered remains of a small chest. Glorfindel hefted it a few times, checked the quality of the attachment of head to handle, and nodded. "It's not very strong, but it'll do."

He dug the hole off the road where the trees began. The ground was hard, but the steely muscles that had been sufficient to challenge a Balrog prevailed. He worked carefully to avoid damage to the shovel, the only digging implement they had been able to find. Erestor meanwhile gave in to his impulse for order, collecting the strewn objects and stacking them neatly in the wagon. After this, he went in search of stones. He had lived a long time, he understood the needs of a roadside grave.

Glorfindel was strong, but it took time for him to dig a hole both wide enough for three and deep enough to afford protection from scavenging beasts. While he was still busy, Erestor sought and found a goodly length of cloth in the wagon, and set to swathing it about the woman. He worked with as much care as though she still lived, lifting and turning her with gentle hands, tidying back her disordered hair as though she could feel when his fingers caught in the tangles.

"An old man and a younger, father and son from their looks," Glorfindel said from behind him. "She was most likely the young one's wife. Why are you...?"

"Her death had so little dignity - I'll not see her buried half naked." Erestor's voice shook slightly with anger.

Glorfindel grunted agreement. "Fair enough. Though we need to finish before there's more snow, please."

Erestor glanced at the sky. "Not yet. Anyhow, I'm done."

They placed her between the men. The wind had risen, the sky was cloud-dark. The horses stood close together under a tree, making occasional, insecure noises that drifted across to the elves. Erestor sympathised with them; he, too, found the ancient forest an unsettling presence. Glorfindel, standing tall and erect, extended a hand palm down and repeated the words of passage as he had heard them uttered by the Dunedain, a warrior's blessing, consigning the dead to the care of the one they named the Keeper of Souls.

When he was finished, Erestor said tentatively, "They worship the Earth Mother, too. I think that would be Yavanna. Would it be out of order..?"

"I don't think the Valar have much to do with the Secondborn," Glorfindel considered. "Still, you're right-- they weren't warriors. Perhaps something - more general?" He turned back to the three still forms and after a little thought continued, "In the name of all that is holy to you, I wish you safe journey and peaceful rest in the care of your gods. May your passing be marked and avenged, may the Mother's blessing rest on you and yours."

He glanced at Erestor as he finished speaking, smiling in response to warm eyes and an approving nod. Erestor had learned early that Glorfindel came from a family not much given to praise and a community that assumed no one who did what was expected of them required commendation. He made a point of always letting the reborn elf know when he though he had done something in any way exceptional.

They packed the soil back, Erestor using a flat stone, Glorfindel the spade. It took them a while but nowhere near as long as digging the grave. When they were finished, Glorfindel tramped the earth down firmly and then they both set to piling the stones and small rocks together, forming a mini-cairn. When there were no more rocks, they stood back and surveyed the result.

"Flowers," Glorfindel said finally. "The Secondborn place flowers on a burial site, donít they?"

"Think so." Erestor looked around. "Not sure where we'd find flowers here in the middle of winter."

"Not really the middle - it's still early winter."

"Well, it's after the first snows."

"Yes, Erestor." Glorfindel's voice took on a tiny but discernable edge. Erestor shrugged, stopped being pedantic and moved off amongst the trees in search of something suitable - attractive foliage perhaps, or a few remaining scarlet leaves. A flash of colour led him to a thicket of young holly bushes, the plant which shared the first few letters of his name, and for which Glorfindel had nicknamed him in reference to what he termed Erestor's "prickly brightness". After a little work with his knife, he returned to place scarlet-laden boughs atop the cairn. This time it was Glorfindel's turn to smile and nod, Erestor's to bask in approval.

They were discussing the possibility of trying to move the wagon and the dead horses off the road, when the trees finally relented and reached out to the more accessible of the two elves, whispering insistently of something young and alone. Erestor stopped in mid sentence and looked around, confused.

"You see what you can do about the wagon," he said. "I need to find - something."

"What...?"

"It's all right, you get on with things here --- the forest is just ... fussing ... about something," Erestor said, shaking his head insistently and gesturing for silence. He drew neither sword nor knife so Glorfindel, although puzzled, let him go. Erestor moved quietly, not quite certain what he was looking for. The trees, having given up their secret, stayed annoyingly silent and ignored his attempts to question them further. Eventually a sound that seemed not to belong outdoors in the middle of nowhere caught his ear and he followed it back in the direction of the road.

The child was still a babe, this much was clear although Erestor found it hard to assign age to mortals, especially children. Sleepy eyes gazed up out of a tiny face, honey-coloured curls peeked out from under a bright hat. It lay within a wicker basket, an arm currently struggling free of the blanket that was tucked snugly about its tiny form. Erestor favoured the western horizon with a jaundiced glare. The Valar seemed to take an unholy pleasure in complicating his life.

"Findel? Can you come here, please? There's something you need to see."

He felt rather than heard Glorfindel arrive behind him, sensed his indrawn breath. The three of them stared at one another for a moment, then Glorfindel knelt down and reached out a hand as though approaching a new-born foal. "Hello there," he said softly in the Common Tongue. "It's all right, no need to be scared now."

"Right - its parents are dead and it's in the middle of nowhere with a couple of total strangers."

"Hush up, Erestor. You're scaring it."

The baby's eyes widened, and tears began to well.

Sudden realisation crossed Glorfindel's face. "Did Nana find you a safe place then?" he asked gently. "That was very brave and wise of her. It's all over now, we won't hurt you." To Erestor he said in Sindarin, "He must have been asleep - she must have hidden him here and then led them away, distracted them..."

Their eyes met and Erestor shivered, pictures of the young mother's end forming in his mind. Raped, tortured; he wondered if she had tried to hold back her screams for fear of waking her child. He shut out the images, horror twisting his stomach. Orcs had a taste for indescribable cruelty and a relish for the results. It was a miracle the infant had not been woken by its family's death cries.

Glorfindel picked up the baby, who was beginning to cry in earnest now that it understood there were no familiar faces, and sat rocking it and making comforting, humming sounds. Erestor glanced towards the road, frowning. "We need to get done here, Findel," he said brusquely. "And - less noise. We need less noise. I'm sure they won't be back but..."

Glorfindel gave him a dark look then rose to his feet, holding out the still-crying infant. "Quite right, sweets," he said, smiling just a little too brightly. "Less noise is good. So maybe you can sort this out while I see to the wagon. Oh - by the way... I think he's wet."

~*~*~*~*~

A search of the wagon yielded baby clothes and other essentials, after which Erestor set about changing and cleaning a small, wriggling, and very unhappy little one. After this he tried walking up and down the road, shushing and patting in a way that seemed to make little impact on the crying. Nothing more was said about noise, although Glorfindel was sorely tempted. The baby - a girl, Erestor had coolly informed him, not a boy after all - finally closed her eyes tightly and shivered into silence. Eventually, to Erestor's intensely expressed relief, she fell asleep.

While Erestor was exploring his child-minding skills, Glorfindel managed to push the wagon to the verge and then, with a great deal more effort and not a little cursing, dragged the dead horses some distance from the informal grave. They would serve as nourishment for wolves and other predators, distracting them from the sad remains that lay buried beneath the heaped stones. By the time he was half way he was sweating with the effort and ended up stripped to the waist, his hair tied back out of his face.

When he was finished, he used handfuls of snow to clean off the sweat, blood and general grime while Erestor went to check on the horses. Then they sat on a fallen branch and shared lembas washed down with cold, clear water, and considered their options.

"Don't be silly, it's not a pet, you can't just - take it home and keep it."

"That wasn't what I meant at all, don't be insulting." Glorfindel was normally good-natured, but it had been hard work, his back hurt, and he felt irritable and snappish. Civilian deaths always unsettled him badly; they made him feel he should have been able to do - something - to prevent them.

The infant had woken briefly when Erestor eased her back into the basket, before settling into sleep. Glorfindel studied the tiny face in something close to wonder while they talked. He had seen mortal children before, of course, for there were usually a few Dúnedain living in Imladris for one reason or another, but he had somehow never before had contact with one so young and felt a strongly protective urge towards her.

"We have to find someone to look after her, one of her own kind who might be able to track down her kin," Erestor told him firmly. "Plus we have nothing suitable for her to eat, so we can't waste time. How many days are we from Fornost?" He had an air of wanting to get things settled fast.

Glorfindel shot him a startled look. "Erestor, we are not riding all the way to Fornost..."

"But - that's our best choice. We can approach the king directly, leave her in his care..."

Glorfindel had met the king of Arthedain on several occasions, and had also heard the rumours about his personal life. He shook his head decisively, determined to leave Erestor with no doubt as to the futility of argument. "No. We should take her to Bree. It's only a few hours' ride and anyone looking for word of her family would be sure to ask there."

Erestor's brow wrinkled. "Bree? Elves aren't supposed to go into Bree... Elrond feels very strongly about that."

Glorfindel slanted an eyebrow at him. "I'm sure he'll understand, sweets. And we'll be very circumspect."

Erestor thought about it, looking pensively at the sleeping child. Eventually he got to his feet, brushing his clothes down to remove traces of leaf mould and snow. "Bree it is then," he agreed with a sigh. "Let's go, Warrior. She was shivering earlier. We need indoors and a fire before she learns to hate snow as much as you do."

Glorfindel hid a smile. With any luck Erestor would eventually convince himself Bree had been his idea all along.

~*~*~*~*~

They reached the mortal town called Bree late in the afternoon, well before the gates closed against the night. They had slowed briefly where the King's Highway leading north to Fornost bisected the East Road, but when Erestor opened his mouth to speak he was forestalled by a challenging glare. There was no argument - Glorfindel had made up his mind, and Erestor knew when to stop pushing.

Once over the ditch and though the gates, the town spread out around them, its narrow, winding streets branching off the main thoroughfare in all directions. Glorfindel seemed to know where he was going and Erestor fell in behind him, content to follow. Imladris regularly sent out small scouting parties to sweep through the empty spaces left in the wake of the destruction of first Rhudaur and then Cardolan, and they often travelled as far as Bree. Mortal settlements were off limits to armed elves, but there was a general sense that this prohibition was at best loosely adhered to. Erestor and Glorfindel had been together long enough for a "don't ask, don't tell" policy to apply to anything that might be awkward for Elrond's administrative assistant to know about.

They rode slowly through crowded streets, skirted a busy marketplace where the last business of the day was in progress, and passed an inn outside of which loudly cheerful men sat downing some kind of beverage out of large, pewter mugs.

"Beer," Glorfindel said over his shoulder. "Made from fermented grain."

"Is that what you were all drinking down the valley at Heron Point?" Erestor asked with a suspicious glance.

"Um, yes, yes could well be."

"I have smelt it, yes," Erestor acknowledged dryly. "On your breath when you finally crawled into bed."

"You should try it, you'd probably like it."

"You said that at the time, too. Amongst other nonsense."

They turned into a quiet street at the end of which stood a large, red brick house with a gated driveway.

"Wait here."

Glorfindel passed the baby over, dismounted smoothly, and entered the property through a side gate. Erestor quizzically watched him vanish from sight. "Nooo idea where he's going," he crooned softly to the babe, who Glorfindel had nicknamed Nínima -- Snowdrop. "Seems to know his way around here rather too well though, doesn't he?"

Nínima reached up and touched his face with tiny fingers. He glanced around; no one was watching so he kissed them lightly and smiled at her.

Glorfindel reappeared and beckoned. Clucking softly to the second horse, Erestor trotted over to join him. They rode down the driveway and past the house to a walled enclosure with stables along one side. Snow lay light on the ground, and a small group of discontent chickens pecked and moved on, grumbling to one another. At the far end, where a spread of jasmine frothed over a dividing wall, a man waited: broad-shouldered, stocky, with streaks of grey in his dark hair and a short beard already more silver than black. Erestor found the combination fascinating and rather regretted that elven hair did not change with age as happened with mortals.

The baby changed hands again as he dismounted and looked around. While he did so, the man joined them. "He also from Karningul?" he asked gruffly in the Common Tongue. Erestor glanced sharply at Glorfindel, took his cue and nodded politely in reply. "There's stabling for your horses here," the man continued, "And no one will look too hard if there's a lamp burning down here later in the night. Though it's said your kind have no need of light - able to see by starlight, or so it's told."

"We thank you for your hospitality, as always, Gawan," Glorfindel interjected smoothly. "We'll be out of here at first light, I promise. All we need is to see the young one home and a place to spend the night."

Incurious eyes considered the baby, and there was a small shrug. "Your business is your own, m'lord. We owe our prosperity in part at least to the vigilance of you and yours. No one will disturb you back here."

~*~*~*~*~

"Well we can hardly wander into that inn and just ask if anyone is waiting for a family to arrive from - somewhere west of here."

"Wonder where they came from anyway?"

The horses had been rubbed down and were already settled for the night. Glorfindel had disappeared for a time, returning with coarse bread, yellow cheese, a few apples and a bowl of meat soup with a single spoon. They took turns eating the soup, leaving behind a small portion into which Erestor crumbled lembas, making a kind of meaty cereal for Nínima. Glorfindel, instructed to keep her still while she was being fed, had been delighted to discover she was ticklish, and Erestor had been forced to hide his own amusement and speak quite strongly before the meal could continue.

Now he paused with the spoon hovering near Nínima's mouth and looked thoughtful. "They didn't come from the coast - we would have passed them on the road."

"I think there's farmland to the north," Glorfindel offered. He lay on the thick cloak that served them as a bedroll, knees drawn up, casually plaiting straws together. The loft stretched off into shadow behind him, the piled hay giving it an oddly outdoor, hilly look. Their end, where the ladder led down to the last couple of stalls, looked smaller, cosier to Erestor, the space tamed by the reborn elf's size.

"I suppose if we found someone to look after her for a few days, they would know who to ask?" Glorfindel suggested doubtfully, reaching out a hand to steady Nínima who was nominally leaning against his hip. She seemed to be at the stage where she could sit unaided, but was not yet ready to walk.

Erestor frowned, spooning the soup mixture into a willingly open mouth. "That might be best. Finding her family could take time, and we would have to talk to - rather a lot of people. I still think Fornost might have been a better choice..."

"Too far out of our way, and no reason to believe that was their destination." Glorfindel flipped the twisted straw at him, and Erestor rolled his eyes and made a tutting sound.

"Stop that. All right, anyway, it's done now. Do you have any ideas who we could approach? Not this household - she needs more warmth than I think your friend would offer."

"Nothing wrong with Gawan."

"No. Just - not interested in children, I think."

"Mm, true," Glorfindel agreed, touching a tiny hand with one finger. Nínima grabbed hold and shook him, making them both laugh. "Someone who would like children. Someone with a good-sized family then?"

"No." Erestor put down the spoon and, while Nínima chewed, took a quick mouthful of bread and cheese. "Not someone too busy to look after yet another child," he explained after a moment, swallowing hard. "Someone fond of children, with perhaps only one. Or even - none, a childless couple possibly?" He was always amazed at the size of mortal families.

They were quiet for a while, except for Nínima who gurgled and chattered away at them in her own private language between mouthfuls. Finally Glorfindel said, "There's a woman called Megan, a healer. I never met her myself, but I've taken injured men to her door and I've seen her and her mate. He's a carpenter, they have no children but someone mentioned she sometimes looks after her sister's young ones. She has a name for kindness."

Erestor stopped with the spoon midway to Nínima's mouth and stared at Glorfindel, his eyebrows delicately raised. "Never been here in either of your two lives, have you, Warrior?" he asked blandly.

Glorfindel offered him the sweet smile that set butterflies dancing in his stomach, and reached out to touch a straw to the tip of Erestor's nose. "Who, me? Would I break one of Elrond's most dearly-held rules?"

"Of course not."

"Precisely. Of course not."

~*~*~*~*~

"Why can't we just keep her overnight?"

"No, absolutely not. Overnight will run into 'till we leave here', and next thing I know we'll be on our way to Imladris and she'll still be with us - 'just till spring' or something. I know you, Findel." Erestor was busy wrapping Nínima snugly while they talked. His tone was brisk, though the glance he threw Glorfindel was affectionate.

Glorfindel, who sat with his hands clasped around an upraised knee, was not convinced. "And why are you using that? That's a saddlecloth, it smells of horse sweat..."

"No it doesn't." Erestor glared at him challengingly. "I shook it out nicely and it hardly smells at all. It's been too cold for anything to sweat, and Glamor is a nice, clean horse anyway. This is lovely and warm and it looks pretty. Girly."

The item in question had an exquisitely worked picture of deer in a forest, embroidered in rich, warm colours and with a border of green leaves and golden apples. Glorfindel opened his mouth to argue further, but Erestor was right about it being warm so he let it rest. Instead he began to unwind the strings of tourmaline and pearls that were woven through his braids. "Here - put this in the basket with her. Something pretty for when she's older."

Erestor glanced at the silk-strung strands and shrugged slightly. "Might be able to sell them to pay towards her upkeep if there's need," he conceded. "Not sure how much value they put on gems though, their main coin is gold, isn't it?"

"I want her to have something nice," Glorfindel insisted, adding another strand. "There, maybe they'll let her keep one."

"Oh for... scratch through the pack, I'm sure I have something decent in there somewhere. Those aren't very good pearls, you know."

Glorfindel rummaged through the pack, coming up with stones that might have been either rubies or garnets or possibly a combination of the two - elves valued gems for their shade and clarity, not for any value intrinsic to rarity. "Maybe they could sell this one then," he said, tossing it over. "It has gold beads in-between."

Erestor twitched slightly; he was fond of this particular hair ornament. He emptied a handful of gold coins from his old silk purse, then returned two, sliding the jewellery in after them. He tucked the purse carefully into the bottom of the basket at Nínima's feet, then looked up at Glorfindel.

"Right, I think that's it. You remember where this person lives, of course?"

Glorfindel nodded, swinging over the side of the loft and onto the rickety ladder. "Pass her to me when you get halfway. Let's go, Nínima. Time to see your new home."

They stepped out into white twilight. The sky shaded through opalescence into dark purple, snow decked the leafless trees, the grass, the top of the wall. Even the jasmine was white, draped down over red brick. Erestor's face lit with a smile, and he went over to pick a few heavy sprays which he tucked into the basket, being sure to place them beyond the reach of grasping hands. To Glorfindel's puzzled look he said with just the smallest hint of embarrassment, "Well - she's a girl. Flowers seem right. So they know at once."
 

~*~*~*~*~

It was almost dark when they reached their destination which turned out to be on the far side of Bree, something Erestor said Glorfindel could have mentioned at the outset. He was surprised they managed to pass through the narrow cobbled streets without drawing undue attention, despite the unlikelihood of two males carrying an infant in a wicker basket. Then again, it was his experience that men seldom noticed elves unless they chose to be seen.

The cottage stood slightly apart from its neighbours at the end of a short lane. A wooden gate in the low hedge gave entrance to a small, snow-shrouded garden in which the path had recently been cleared and the red-polilshed doorstep had a well-swept look to it. Light glowed warmly from behind the drawn drapes of the front room, and there was clearly a fire burning in the hearth; smoke could be seen exiting the chimney.

Erestor looked down into the basket then around the neat little garden. "What do we do now? Knock and run away? We need to be sure they find her quickly - we can't just leave her out here in the cold."

Glorfindel reached past Erestor's shoulder to touch Nínima's soft cheek with a careful finger. She wriggled slightly but was quiet. He was about to speak when somewhere behind the house a dog barked and a soft trill of laughter floated back on the clear air. "I'll go take a look, see if that's Megan," he whispered, squeezing Erestor's arm and moving off towards the side of the house.

Erestor reached out a hand to stop him, but changed his mind. It might be better, he decided, to sort this out himself. As Glorfindel soundlessly rounded the house, he moved closer to the door and turned his attention to Nínima. "Fare you well, little maid," he murmured, smiling as he bent to drop the lightest of kisses onto the child's forehead. "This garden speaks of peace, the trees are happy - you'll be safe here, little princess."

Nínima made a soft, sleepy sound and Erestor felt a small, annoyingly sentimental tug at his heart. Placing the basket carefully on the doorstep he rapped firmly on the door then, spotting a bell, decided to make doubly sure and rang sharply on that as well. Several things seemed to happen at once. A startled cry from somewhere behind the house blended with the pealing of the bell, and Nínima, realising she had been put down, began to howl. Before he could try to pacify her, Glorfindel ran up to him with long strides, grabbed his arm and kept moving. Erestor had lived a long time partly by knowing when not to ask unnecessary questions. Without a backward glance, he fled.

"But she saw me," Glorfindel explained for the third time once they were several blocks away and had slowed to a sedate walk.

"Findel, you're useless." Erestor tried to sound annoyed but couldn't help laughing. "How did you ever manage reconnaissance back when you left Nevrast?"

Glorfindel grinned briefly from beneath the shadow of the cloak which was still drawn up to conceal his bright hair. "Oh, that? Yes, well there's a good reason Turgon gave me command of the rearguard."

~*~*~*~*~

"You're sure she'll be all right? This - Megan is a kind person, you say?"

Erestor was with the horses, double-checking feed and water, examining the stalls for drafts or leaks, and making a fair amount of soothing noise. Outside the wind had risen and was howling across the open yard, while somewhere a door or shutter thudded regularly in time to the gusts. The roof creaked disturbingly.

In the loft, Glorfindel had removed his boots and his green suede jerkin and was combing the tangles out of his long hair. On his way up, he had managed to find a moment when Erestor's back was turned so that he would have no idea of the surprise planned for their night's lodging. He looked around, pleased with the result.

"You're fussing worse than I did." He came to the edge and hung over, trying to see movement in the shadows below. "Stop worrying now - I knew you'd do this. You're the one who said we couldn't take her home with us. I doubled back to make sure she'd been taken into the house, remember? She'll be perfectly all right. Now come and see, I've made us a bed fit for kings."

"Well Imladris is no place for a mortal child to grow up," Erestor pointed out, moving to the ladder. "Like lives best with like, I think..."

Near the top he stopped climbing to stare. Glorfindel grinned to himself and waited.

Amongst the hay he had created a nest, protected from prickling and roughness by their bedroll and cloaks. On an upturned bucket a candle flickered merrily, shedding a golden glow from within a glass flute. It made their corner of the loft with its low, slanting roof look cosy and inviting. The bedding was faintly scented with lavender leaves picked from a bush he had found near the kitchen door, and bunches of jasmine placed next to the bucket in an old mug added their fragrant magic to the air.

Erestor swung up through the opening and looked around, shaking his head slowly. He gave Glorfindel a disbelieving look, then sat to remove his boots and outerwear, placing them neatly against the wall near the ladder. Catching his eye, Glorfindel beckoned imperiously and Erestor joined him, being careful not to upset the 'bed fit for kings' as he crawled across it.

"Very nice," he said approvingly, pausing to prod an improvised pillow made from bundled clothing wrapped within his own good tunic. "Even flowers, I see?"

"Flowers, candlelight, snowfall outside, us and warmth inside," Glorfindel agreed, his eyes and voice a caress.

Erestor nodded, but gave the candle a dubious look. "Are you quite sure that thing's safe?" he asked. "Hay is highly flammable, you know."

Glorfindel, who was used to having cold water dumped over his attempts at romance, smiled brightly. "Oh, it's quite safe - that's why they use the glass covers. It sort of. screws into a groove, so it fits firmly in place, and the top has a very small hole... and I cleared the straw away from around the bucket, you'll notice. There were lanterns too, but the oil smells - I though you'd prefer this." He reached out as he spoke and started work on the fastenings of Erestor's tunic; the broad belt of twisted cords and the tiny pearl buttons. Erestor put a restraining hand over his, and looked up with huge, worried eyes.

"I -is this a good idea? I think we should stay dressed, Findel. You never know what might happen. And I'm. really not sure about that candle, no matter how safe you say it is."

"Erestor," Glorfindel said with a sigh, "Nothing is going to happen. We are here alone with only the horses for company. No one is going to come tramping in and intrude on us, and even if they were to do so, the men of Bree are good and hospitable people and not ill-disposed to elves, especially to elves from the place they call Karningul. Now would you just settle down, hush, enjoy the pretty candlelight, and let me undress you. Please?"

"Time and place," Erestor said darkly, removing his hand.

Glorfindel nodded with supreme confidence. "This is the time," he stated, returning to his task. "And, believe it or not, this is going to be the place. Come on, we've done all sorts of things before, but I don't think we've ever made love in a hayloft."

~*~*~*~*~

Time passed, and found Erestor naked on a bed of sweet-smelling hay, paying no heed to the wind that gusted and whistled beyond the softly-lit loft. About one point he had been adamant. The candle was gone, replaced by a more prosaic but infinitely safer lantern. A heap of clothing lay to the side of the improvised bed, and Glorfindel was leaning over him, separating the final twists of newly-unbraided hair with gentle fingers.

"Come, get undressed," Erestor said with a lazy smile, tugging playfully at a blonde lock that had drifted across his face. "This is all a little one sided. I feel quite - shameless - at the moment."

A kiss, deep and thorough, silenced him.

"That's the whole idea, yes," Glorfindel murmured. "You just lie there and let me play with you for a while, all right? I'll remove whatever needs to come off when it's time."

"Mm."

The light flickered, shadows danced. Erestor's fair skin had taken on warm hues from the golden light, his peaked nipples darkened to bronze. Glorfindel, running a hand slowly over naked flesh, paused there. "Here, for example," he said very quietly, rubbing his thumb around and across. "This is always a very good place to play, no?"

Erestor mumbled assent, pressing up invitingly. Thumb and finger rolled, tweaked sharply, and he groaned. Glorfindel moved on, his lips seeking where fingers had toyed, the slide of peaked hardness against his tongue sending desire flaring through him. His hand trailed slowly over Erestor's ribs, silken skin, ripple of bone, then rubbed slow circles over Erestor's flat stomach.

"Lovely firm tummy," he murmured, teasing Erestor's navel with a fingertip. He released the nipple with a final flick of tongue, scooted down, smoothed his lips over quivering skin. "Perfect belly button, too, have I mentioned?" Erestor squirmed at the touch, hissed approval. Glorfindel did it again, his hand sliding lower, thumb and forefinger tracing Erestor's hipbone with feather-light pinches. "I know you like this too," he whispered. "Very sensitive here. And here."

He glanced up as he spoke to see dark eyes watching from under long lashes, and smiled. Kiss-swollen lips curved a reply.

Leaning up on an elbow, he considered the erect evidence of Erestor's desire, and nodded. Making a tassel of his blonde hair, he trailed it teasingly from tip to base. Erestor shook his head distractedly and growled softly. Glorfindel chuckled. "One thing at a time. We'll get back there in a minute." Kisses, sharp, sucking, placed from knee to groin, the final one hard enough to make Erestor jerk and cry out. Glorfindel kissed the same spot gently. "You make as much noise as you like. No one will hear you in this wind. Just - don't scare the horses."

Erestor laughed shakily. "That depends on you, doesn't it? I... oh!" He stopped speaking as Glorfindel's mouth and tongue found his balls and the smooth space behind, savouring lingeringly before moving on to nip the inside of his thigh.

"Your clothes. off," Erestor grated, pulling at Glorfindel's shirt. His hand dropped lower, seeking the lacings to his pants. "Better get this off, too, before something breaks," he added with a husky laugh, touching where cloth and cord strained against far more than they were designed to contain. He began rubbing Glorfindel through the fabric, his fingers stroking and pressing rhythmically. Fire flared and spread; Glorfindel covered the hand with his, pressed, wordlessly asking for more. Placing moist kisses at Erestor's waist he said urgently, "Don't undo it yet. You like this, don't you? You naked, me clothed? You open and ready, vulnerable? The night air kissing your skin?"

Erestor shivered at the words, nodded. His eyes were closed now, his hand busy. "Open your shirt, at least," he whispered, increasing the up and down movement of his hand, squeezing rhythmically. "I need to feel you, your skin against mine. Need to feel you. please?"

The lantern chose that moment to flicker violently and Erestor's eyes darted towards it. Before he could say a word, Glorfindel patted him and crawled over to check all was well. He was busy unfastening his shirt when a seductive voice behind him purred, "You want this, am I right? Want to do what I'm doing? More than what I'm doing?"

Erestor lay watching him, all creamy skin, sleek limbs, night-black hair. His hands roved his naked body, fingers travelling knowingly down the insides of his thighs, sliding up to caress his balls, tease his jutting erection, before moving higher to flick at already-hard nipples.

Glorfindel's hands slowed, stopped, and he nodded. He had no idea how it was that after all this time Erestor still had the power to make his heart race and his mouth go dry with lust. The dark-haired temptation smiled wickedly, touching the tip of his tongue lightly to his lips, dark eyes intently following the progress as the shirt fell open, revealing the reborn elf's well-defined chest, the hard muscles of his abdomen.

"And you want this, don't you?" Glorfindel asked in a low voice, rubbing a hand over the bulge at his crotch.

Wordless, Erestor held out his arms and he came into them, their mouths seeking and clinging. They kissed hungrily, their bodies moulding together, moving as one. Glorfindel's hand found its way to Erestor's arse, holding him in place while grinding against him, aware of little else beyond the roiling heat centered in his prick and in Erestor's hands rubbing urgent circles on his back. Finally he cupped Erestor's face with his hand, fingers stroking, constantly in motion, unable to keep still. He licked Erestor's still questing lips, kissed his cheeks, his eyelids, before finally resting forehead to forehead, breath coming swiftly.

"Ready?"

A nod, then movement as Erestor tried to sit up. "... salve?"

"Hush, I know where it is. Turn over, all right? Is that all right?"

"...wanted to watch you."

"You can watch me another time. Tonight I want you to feel me, really feel me."

"Yes, Fin." Instant submission.

Twisting his hair into an untidy knot at the back of his head, Erestor turned onto his stomach, the bedroll moving untidily beneath him. Glorfindel checked that the small jar of salve, moisture-laden and slick, lay within easy reach, then took a moment to devour Erestor with his eyes. His body was all curves and planes, perfectly proportioned, his back dipping to a narrow waist above a firmly rounded backside. Glorfindel took a breath, then another. The world shrunk to the circle of light and his love lying ready, eager to be used.

"Beautiful. So, so beautiful."

Still half-dressed, he straddled Erestor, leaning forward to kiss the now-exposed nape of his neck - a place Glorfindel always found infinitely erotic. A line of kisses followed, butterfly-light, down to the dragon tattoo in the small of his back. Erestor grunted, wriggling in anticipation, his behind moving enticingly.

"Too good to resist," Glorfindel chuckled softly, ducking his head to nip curving fullness. Erestor tossed his head restlessly and gasped aloud.

Kneeling, Glorfindel tugged his pants down about his-thighs and liberally applied the salve to his cock, sliding his hand up and down, breath hissing with pleasure. He moved over between Erestor's thighs, his hands sampling silken firmness, fingers digging urgently into soft flesh. Erestor moved back against him eagerly, legs parted, hips undulating.

"Yes, so good, love your hands on me."

Glorfindel, willing, eager, to make the moment last, slid a salve-tipped finger over Erestor's entrance, dipping in, circling, withdrawing, and watched the slicked skin glisten.

"Get on with it, damn it. Stop playing. The hay's pricking me."

"Oh for the love of." Glorfindel straightened up, closing his eyes briefly and puffing out an exasperated breath. A stinging slap to Erestor's right cheek elicited a jerk and a yelp, both of which went straight to Glorfindel's groin. "I give up!" he exclaimed, somewhere between lust and laughter. Lust won. "You're impossible, you know that? You wouldn't know romance if it bit you on that gorgeous bum. Pricking you? True enough - might well be a prick involved in all this. On your knees then - let's go."

A second smack followed, for emphasis.

Obedience itself now, Erestor drew his knees under him, elevating his rear invitingly.

"Not play around, you said," Glorfindel asked breathlessly. "You won't be wanting any fuss then, just aim and push, right?"

His hands were spreading Erestor wide as he spoke, then with no further preparation he entered him in a long, slow thrust. Erestor responded with an almost feral moan, rearing shudderingly back against him.

"You all right?"

"I'm - yes - fine... Aah, that's good... yes, so hard..."

Glorfindel glanced down. "Best sight in the world - you, stretched tight around my cock. Love this..."

He grasped Erestor's hips and rode him hard and fast, and the loft filled with sounds that formed a counterpoint to the wind: flesh against flesh, rustling hay, harsh breathing, curses, jagged gasps of pleasure.

"Arg, Morgoth, yes... oh just there, yes..."

"Got the spot. I always get the spot. Don't come... want to suck you when I'm done..."

"Oh!!!"

Each touch to his prostate drew throaty, inarticulate sounds from Erestor as he twisted and writhed. Glorfindel came at last in a series of gasping thrusts and collapsed shuddering atop Erestor, where he lay panting.

Erestor gave him a moment, then elbowed him in the ribs.

"...suffocating..."

Glorfindel turned on his side, drawing Erestor with him, and waited while his heartbeat slowed. He remained buried inside of him, breathing in the scent of his soft, dark hair which had already begun to escape its impromptu bundle. Finally, reluctantly, he withdrew, shaking Erestor's shoulder.

"On your back, sweets."

Erestor moved away from him with a low moan and lay with arms and legs spread wantonly. Despite the cold, his skin was streaked with sweat. Glorfindel rested the palm of his hand to Erestor's cheek and pressed a soft kiss to his lips. "Now - time to be quiet," he said in the deliberate tone he might use with a nervous horse. A kiss to the cheek followed, after which he began exploring an elegant ear with his tongue. "Close your eyes, concentrate on what I'm doing, enjoy."

Erestor made soft sounds and moved his head about, but otherwise did as he was told. Satisfied, Glorfindel caressed his throat with his mouth, then took time to suckle lingeringly at first one nipple then the other. Erestor tangled his fingers in Glorfindel's hair, urging him to suck harder. Glorfindel chuckled softly and wrapped his hand around Erestor's cock, stroking with a determined rhythm.

"Please, come on, enough, do it, do it..." Erestor's body was bucking and twisting, he tightened his grip on Glorfindel's hair, tugged, tried to induce his mouth lower. Glorfindel moved from one taut nipple to the other, then back, all the time watching what his hand was doing. Only when he was sure Erestor was close to the edge did he relent and take moist-tipped hardness into his mouth Erestor gave a growl that was pure desire and, his fingers still tangled in Glorfindel's long, golden hair, gave himself over to lust, hips writhing, back arching, finding his release minutes later with a long, wordless cry.

There was some shuffling and not a little grumbling while they got comfortable.

"It's wet here, move over."

"Don't push."

"My hair - get off my hair, OUCH!"

"Sorry, sorry."

They finished up with Erestor lying with his head on Glorfindel's chest, an arm around his waist. Eyes closed, Glorfindel stroked his back and hair tenderly.

"Sorry," Erestor finally whispered, wriggling even closer, his fingers idly toying with the fastenings on Glorfindel's shirt.

"Hmm?" Glorfindel tried to remember what his lover was meant to be sorry for this time.

"You always try so hard to make everything nice and romantic and I always end up saying the wrong thing."

"Well, as long as you notice. I don't expect more," Glorfindel said with hard-learned practicality. "It's a good start. Give it a thousand years or so and you'll be scattering rose petals over the sheets for me, too."

"Not my fault a bug got in there."

"Ery, a romantic would have pretended not to notice there was a bug."

"Oh, right. Knew I got something wrong there."

Glorfindel laughed and kissed the crown of his head, hugging him. "It's all right. I love you the way you are."

Erestor looked up at him, mock-serious. "That's as well, you know, because you seem to be stuck with me." He snuggled closer, searching for warmth against Glorfindel's broad chest. "Despite the odds, we seem to have a forever kind of love."

~*~*~*~*~

"That was quite smart actually," Erestor grumbled later, struggling back into his clothes. "Keep most of your clothes on, get me naked, leave me to pick the hayseeds out of everything before I can go to sleep."

"Hmph." Glorfindel was already half asleep, as was his way after love. He lay under the warmer of their cloaks which he had selected for the cover, his hair casually tied back out of his face. "Was nice though, wasn't it?"

"Beside the point."

Erestor was on his knees, fiddling with the clasp of the small window set low beneath the slanting roof. It opened and the wind whipped in, stirring the straw, and he hastily let it fall shut, hurrying to extinguish the lantern - just in case. Muttering about the smell of the oil, he returned to the window and Glorfindel heard scratching sounds, followed by the opening of the shutter. Silver light slanted in, only to be blocked by shadow.

"It's stopped snowing. The moon's out."

"Hate snow."

"Oh, no you don't Findel. You don't hate anything unless it's dark and bad. You're my Golden Elf, remember?"

"Snow - dark and bad," the Golden Elf said with certainty. "And damn cold. Come to bed. It's late. We have to make an early start tomorrow."

"No, come and look. This is wonderful."

"Erestor, it's snow, it's..."

"Dark and cold, yes. But come look anyway. Humour me. I do that for you all the time."

Glorfindel sat up with a sigh. He could have argued with justification as to who spent more time giving way to whose whims, but it was late and he still felt the warm satisfied afterglow of their loving. He left the bed and went to join Erestor, draping an arm around his shoulders as he hunkered down to share the view.

The snow had indeed stopped, and the wind had shredded the cloud cover. Stars shone in the clear expanse and the moon hung full and bright, bathing everything in shades of silver, grey and blue-white. The world lay stark, black shapes lined in white; trees, walls, hedges, rooftops.

"We did the right thing, didn't we?"

"Yes we did. She'll be fine. I'll check up on her next time I'm not in Bree."

Erestor snorted and they looked at the view from their vantage in silence for a while. Glorfindel moved his arm down to Erestor's waist and tugged, drawing him half onto his lap.

"You can see almost to the gate from up here."

Glorfindel nodded, his cheek against Erestor's, aware in a content, uncomplicated way of the line of their bodies leaning together. "That you can. The whole town seems asleep. Hardly a light anywhere."

"They rest early - not like elves."

"Not like elves, no. Children of the sunlit hours."

"There are worse things than sunlight."

"Sometimes it's very clear you were born here, not in the west."

"Why? Because I like sunshine?" Erestor tilted an upward glance.

"I also like sunshine," Glorfindel retorted. "And well you know it. I love the warmth, the way it brings colours to life. But - we knew the stars first, before all this."

"Then this should look - right to you. And beautiful."

"Don't push it, you."

They laughed together and Erestor snuggled closer, his arm around Glorfindel's waist. They watched the night a while longer, the air chill against them after the earlier heat. Finally Glorfindel pressed his cheek swiftly to the side of Erestor's head, rubbed briefly. "All right," he conceded. "It might be almost pretty when you look at it from a distance like this, with someone warm and cuddly beside you."

"Cuddly?"

"There is nothing wrong with being cuddly, Ereg - prickly creature that you are."

"Puppies are cuddly."

"You're cuddlier than a puppy. You're my Kitten."

"If you start calling me that again, I will hurt you."

"You could try, yes."

"This is romance you know - for me, anyhow." Erestor looked up at him seriously. "Us together in the night like this, sharing, laughing, being close, being warm."

"I know." Glorfindel kissed him softly on the temple.

"No, really. And - and I do love the special things you do, like ... this and, and the rose petals... but..."

"But you're a practical person and this is more natural to you."

"Something like that, yes. Don't know why you love me sometimes. Must be very irritating." The last was said in a semi-audible mumble.

Glorfindel looked out across the town sleeping in the moonlight then down at the bowed dark head and tightened his arm around Erestor. "Extremely irritating, yes," he agreed. "Three hundred years of misery. No idea why I put up with it. None at all."

~*~*~*~*~

They departed Bree under a cloud-dark sky after a breakfast Glorfindel fetched from the kitchen: oatmeal with cream and honey and hot, sweet tea. Erestor placed another of the gold coins beside the empty bowl, due payment for food, shelter, and a bed fit for kings. He said nothing to Glorfindel but his smile was soft and they shared a quick embrace. Sometimes words were superfluous.

The ride home to Imladris, or Karningul as the citizens of Bree named the legendary home of the elven folk, was uneventful. The road east was a dark and dangerous route to the unwary; since Rhudaur's fall, orcs and men in the service of Agmar roamed the land. Glorfindel had originally wanted a larger escort to secure the home journey, but Elrond had agreed with Erestor that two elves on fleet horses made for unlikely prey. Erestor quite enjoyed being vindicated in this, though he diplomatically said nothing. The occasional smug glance was another matter entirely.

When they reached the Bruinen, it was as though the very air changed. Elrond's power lay over the Ford, and to them both the sense of homecoming was palpable as a touch. Erestor smiled across at Glorfindel as their horses splashed through the water, and blue eyes sparkled in answer.

They took the steep, zigzag path down into the hidden valley in single file, dismounting to lead the horses over the places where snow-covered gravel slid loose beneath them. Glorfindel had the lead, and Erestor lost sight of him round one of the many artificial bends in the trail, created so that it would be fully defensible should intruders evade the watch on the Ford. Rounding an outcrop of boulders, he found elf and horse stopped, gazing out over the valley below. He was about to ask what was amiss, then saw where Glorfindel was looking and kept silent.

There were only two such vantage points on the trail, the one lower down and less panoramic, and this one. For no more than a dozen steps, the heartland of Imladris lay spread out before them. Trees marched down to the river, waterfalls leapt and danced, the farmlands and little communities that dotted the valley were visible, all sights normally hidden by the walls of the gorge that gave the settlement its name.

The trees were dusted with snow, not laden like those on the high land along the East Road, and the fields, grazing lands and wild areas were outlined in white, a pale patchwork of greens and browns fading into blue-grey along the rock walls that encompassed all. The morning sun shone out of a clear, pale sky, and the entire scene glittered and shone at though sprinkled with diamond dust. Glorfindel turned with a slow, easy smile that started someplace behind his eyes.

"And snow can be beautiful, too," he said quietly, his voice one with the sounds of their valley; the birds, the rustling of the trees, the rushing water. "I had forgotten. This was how I first saw Imladris. Snow-kissed. Sparkling."

"And we met you further down the trail, me, Arwen, the twins, those few whose parents had seen your battle on the pass..."

"And you had snow in your hair and sunlight in your eyes," Glorfindel finished. "And I knew I had found something I never knew I lacked. And that I had come home at last."

Erestor nodded, remembering the day, the tall, well-set, courteous elf with the shining hair and summer-blue eyes who had looked at him and into him and slid effortlessly into his heart. "Love makes all things beautiful," he agreed. "Haylofts, lamplight. Even snow."

"Especially snow."

~*~*~*~*~

The Legend

"Once upon a time there was a carpenter named Sam, the best carpenter in all of Bree, and he had a wife called Megan. She was a healer, a kind and wise woman who cared for the pains and suffering of others."

"Great-grandmother! That was Great-grandmother Megan"

"Yes dear, it was indeed. Hush now."

'"They had been married for a score of years and were very happy together, except for one small sadness - they had no...?"

"Children."

"That's right, Rosie. They had no children. Brand, stop pushing your sister."

"Even Megan with all her knowledge had no idea why they could not have a little baby of their own to raise and love. But the years moved on and their love for one another was great, and after their fashion they were happy.

"One winter's eve, when the first snows lay thick upon the ground, Megan went out to pick herbs to add to a potion for a sick neighbour. She had just finished when something made her look around, and she found herself staring at THE MOST BEAUTIFUL being she had ever seen in her life. Tall he was, and very strong, with hair the colour of new wheat in the field and eyes that, even from across the garden, she could see were the blue of summer skies. He was clad in the greens and browns of the forest, and his cloak was grey as morning mist.

"Megan got such a fright that she cried out in alarm, which startled the beautiful creature who turned and fled. She was about to run after him when she heard the door chime, and the dog finally began to bark. He had been still before, as though the being were an old and trusted friend - and who knows, perhaps he was.

When she reached the front of the house, hoping to catch up with the stranger and to see who had rung the bell, there was no one in sight. For a minute she looked around the garden, puzzled, and then she slowly became aware of something she often heard in dreams - the sound of...?"

"A baby crying," both children answered at once.

"Yes," their mother said, smiling at their enthusiasm. "She could hear a baby crying. There on the doorstep was the most unlikely sight; a wicker basket such as farmers use to carry eggs, and in it a tiny baby girl, who was crying as though her very heart would break.

"Megan took the baby inside to the front room - right here - where a fire burnt in the hearth as it does tonight and everything was warm and cosy. She lifted the baby out of the basket and held and comforted her, and finally her crying stopped. At that point, Sam arrived."

"Great-grandfather..."

"And the baby was our Grandma."

"Be quiet Rosie, I want to hear."

"Mama said you're not to push me..."

"That's enough, both of you," their mother said firmly. "Sit still, otherwise there will be no more story."

Silence.

"Sam stopped in the doorway to stare in disbelief. 'Woman, where did you find the babe?' he asked.

"'The Fair Folk have left her with us,' she told him, tears of joy streaming down her face. 'I saw one of them - a great and beautiful prince - just before I found her. Look at her? Is she not perfect?'

"Her husband, being a practical man, went to examine the basket. 'Woman, have you seen what is inside here?' he asked in amazement. 'Look at this blanket, a coverlet fit for a princess of the Fey Ones. These deer look as though they could walk right out of the picture, the apples picked out in golden thread are perfect - this is a work of art. And this?'

"He held up a purse made of silk with a strange and cunning design picked out on it in gold. He shook it, opened the delicate silk tie. And out of the purse fell jewels, strings of them - tourmaline, pearls, rubies, garnets, gold - and two simple gold coins, bearing the head of a king long dead. They both stared, then looked from one another to the child, uncertain.

"'These must be kept to form part of her dowry when she's grown,' Sam said at once. 'The gifts of the Others are neither to be sold nor dealt with lightly.'

"'But why us?' asked Megan in wonder, holding the baby close to her heart."

"The flowers, what about the flowers?" Rosie asked.

"He hasn't found them yet, silly, he looked at the jewels first," Brand said scornfully.

"I knew that."

"Sam looked back to the basket and, for the first time, noticed jasmine tucked in at the bottom. He removed it carefully and, despite the manner of its treatment, it still bloomed freshly, its scent filling the air. 'Faerie gifts,' he murmured. 'Jewels, cloth of unsurpassed beauty, and then this. Snow blooms.'

"'She is ours now,' Megan said determinedly. 'They brought her here for a reason. The flowers might be to help us learn her name. Snow flower you say, the flowers that bloom during the snow time. Well, Jasmine is a fair name for a maiden, especially one honoured with such royal gifts as these.'

"'No,' Sam said stubbornly. 'Jasmine may be a fair name, but not one for daily use amongst us. We need another winter flower, but simpler, more homely, a sound more fit for daily use. Something like... Snowdrop.'"

"Snowdrop," the children agreed, chiming in together.

"As he said the word, the baby laughed for the first time, a bright, happy gurgle of sound, and the new parents looked at one another, overjoyed. 'Snowdrop,' Megan repeated. 'Yes, look, she likes that. Snowdrop it will be - our winter flower, the Fair Folk's gift of joy.'"

 

~*~*~*~*~

Finis

~*~*~*~*~

 

Ereg - holly, Glorfindel's occasional name for Erestor. Something bright but prickly
Nínima - Snowdrop
Karningul - mortal name for Imladris, the Westron translation

Beta - Ilye_Elf, Red Lasbelin