Beyond Doubt: Changes

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'Beyond Doubt: Changes'

 

Changes
 

At the beginning of autumn in the year after the Secondborn journeyed to the Land of Gift, the High King, Ereinion Gil-galad, made arrangements for his cousin Elrond, the Half-elven descendant of the kings of Gondolin and Doriath, to spend a half year living amongst and learning the ways of the kindred of the Wandering Companies.

The reasons behind this decision had less to do with familial fondness than with a series of reckless actions and dubious pranks that implied the lack of a steadying influence in Elrond’s life since his brother’s departure. This behaviour finally caused the King to decree that all the skill and knowledge in the world were of no value without personal discipline and that, accordingly, his cousin’s training in the healing arts was to be resumed at a later date. The time had come for change.

~*~*~*~*~

“… as regards general morale, the mood prevalent at this and the three previous outposts leaves much to be desired.”

Gil-galad laid the neatly written account down on the table before him and sighed. The rumours of boredom and general misconduct within the army were clearly outlined in the bluntly worded report penned by Erestor, the junior military advisor who in a previous Age had gathered information for Gildor Inglorion. The document carried the marks of ten days spent in transit; the words left nothing to hopeful imagination. Originally sceptical, Gil-galad found himself impressed with the dark-haired Elf’s skill at persuading confidences out of relative strangers, and the practicality with which he assessed a situation.

Thoughts of Erestor led obliquely to Elrond and to the startled realisation that the day lay closer to sunset than he had realised. Yet another interminable formal dinner beckoned, but first he needed to take leave of his cousin who was due to leave at dusk to spend the following months under the tutelage of whichever Company the Wanderer saw fit to place him with.

Pushing back his chair, Gil-galad rose, pausing a moment to tidy the heaped papers and scrolls on the table before him. He and the room fitted one another in some indefinable way. A glance around revealed shelves of well-read books and a fiddle lying propped in a corner. The walls displayed a uniquely personal collection of art, disparate pieces that had caught his fancy. Pride of place was held by a view from the palace roof, the work of a talented amateur.

Across the room, the window seat lay buried under rugs, cushions and the heavy, embroidery-rich surcoat he had removed shortly after his mid-morning arrival. Glancing down at the comfortable pants and old shirt he wore, Gil-galad sighed and went to retrieve it.

Dressed once more with public formality, he remembered to straighten the silver circlet he habitually wore so that the scrollwork sat neatly above his ears. Passing the table on his way to the door, he anchored Erestor's report under a small, brightly painted stone, a shy gift from a child of one of the kitchen staff, and hurried out.

~*~*~*~*~

He took the longer route, walking away the stiffness brought on by hours spent poring over reports and petitions. He moved briskly but without haste, nodding greetings where required but stopping to speak to no one.

Passing the guest apartments near the gate, he noted that the lamps had already been lit. Currently they housed a high level delegation from Lórien, the evening’s guests of honour, as well as a small party from a settlement north of Mithlond who would be the morrow’s main focus. The ornamental lake was plunged into gloom, the surface broken by a lone duck heading for shore. The benches were deserted save for an elleth who sat gazing at the water, apparently lost in thought. Gil-galad resisted an impulse borne of simpler days in Balar to stop and ask if anything was amiss. Common sense told him it was most likely a matter of the heart, and that concerned enquiries from the King would be at best embarrassing.

The wind off the sea was crisp, full of autumn’s promise. The trees already marked summer’s end with shades of red and gold, orange and brown. Cirdan - Círdan of all people - had expressed concern about Elrond being sent to spend the winter living off the land, but Gil-galad approved Gildor’s decision. This view remained unpopular not only with Círdan but also with Glorfindel, but he remained unmoved. Elrond had spent his youth roaming from camp to keep with Maglor and was nowhere near as delicate as their concerns seemed to imply.

Passing the library garden, he noticed how swiftly it had grown. Benches that could previously be seen from the path were no longer visible. Roses, geraniums and flowering shrubs supplied colour, while herbs such as rosemary, thyme and peppermint had been planted for their bracing scents. Down on the beach he could hear a drill in progress, shouted instructions and unison responses carrying to him on the still air, and he felt the pull of the familiar. Sometimes, less often these days, he would go down and join in, a warrior amongst warriors, but there was no time now. There never seemed enough time anymore for the things he really wanted to do.

Regretfully he turned away from the barracks and the sea, and continued to the section of the garden informally reserved for the residents of the palace’s private wing.

Despite his size he moved quietly across the soft grass, but the dog still heard his approach. She charged up to greet him with exuberant noises, unrepentantly jumping up at him in a manner that she knew to be forbidden. She was a friendly, intelligent creature, although perpetually willing to test the bounds before subsiding into obedience - rather like her master, Gil-galad thought dryly as he patted her. She continued to dance alongside him, clearly excited that he was paying her home a rare visit; he wondered briefly how she would take to her new quarters.

“All right Laslech, enough. Down.”

Elrond sat on the patio before his suite of rooms, a habit since his brother’s departure across the sea. He was oiling a knife and at the King's approach laid down the rag beside the oil flask and placed the weapon to rest with its blade across his thigh. He was dressed in what appeared to be a compromise between court fashion and an urge to fit the evening’s journey; scandalously tight black leggings, with a kingfisher blue undershirt and a grey, wide sleeved tunic that had seen better days. A leather sword belt circled his hips, and he wore unexpectedly sensible-looking mid calf boots. Newly-washed hair tumbled loose, shimmering strands catching the light.

Grey eyes surveyed Gil-galad coolly. “Making sure I really leave, Sire?”

“Don’t bother to get up on my account,” the King grunted. Reaching Elrond, he sank down into a crouch, pushing Laslech off when she took advantage of his reduced stature to lick him. On reflex he reached for the knife, testing the blade against the ball of his thumb. He returned it with a curt shake of the head. “Another few passes with the stone for that.”

Elrond frowned down at his handiwork. “What’s wrong with it? It was sharpened this morning…”

“You’ll not skin so much as a rabbit with that blade,” Gil-galad informed him. “And you’re past the age to have others see to your weapons for you. Sharpen it before you leave.”

Elrond studied the blade intently, then put the knife aside on the cloth. He was not about to argue matters of weaponry with a tried warrior. “No time now. You said they would come for me at dusk, remember.”

Gil-galad shrugged. “See to it when you arrive then,” he said pragmatically. “Embarrassing but necessary. And yes, at dusk. Morning would have made more sense, but who am I to second-guess Gildor’s much-vaunted wisdom?”

Beside him Elrond nodded then proceeded to stare moodily into nothingness. They sat in the silence until, sensing the dinner hour moving ever closer, Gil-galad finally asked, “All right, out with it. What?”

Elrond’s face remained closed for a minute, then took on the expression of uncertain vulnerability it had worn so often in the early months after Elros’ departure. “Bainon was meant to look after Laslech while I was gone. We talked about it - when to feed her, walking her every night… He was meant to come and fetch her and her blanket and bowl earlier...”

Bainon was one of a number of well-born young Elves who had attached themselves to Elrond over the last year. Gil-galad held a medium to low opinion of this circle of hangers on, but thought Elrond’s cynical lack of illusion would keep them at a sensible distance. Apparently not far enough if someone had managed to let him down.

“And?” he prompted, his eyes going to the dog who lay nearby with her head on her paws, her eyes half closed.

Elrond’s eyes narrowed and darkened. “Suddenly he can’t take her after all. He has to go to Forlond on business for his father. Also, he has a whim to try out for the Fleet…” Hurt mingled with anger and was quickly suppressed. “He waited until just before you arrived to tell me.”

“I doubt he’ll make the Fleet,” Gil-galad said tartly. “Glorfindel expanded the list of qualifications for new officers. Don’t seem to recall family status being among them.”

This drew a reluctant laugh. “Yes, I thought of that. You’re probably right; he’ll get what he deserves. But I have nowhere to leave her… I need someone I can trust to feed her and talk to her - someone who likes dogs. I thought of one of the grooms, at least they like horses, but…”

Elrond’s dilemma was clear. Elves cared for all living things that did not serve the forces of evil, but seldom kept pets. They might think well of the dog, but not to the extent of willingly taking her into their homes and giving her of their time.

Gil-galad was trying without success to think who on his staff might be persuaded to take charge of his cousin’s dog for a few months, when Laslech suddenly lifted her head and began lazily to wag her tail. Moments later a tall, golden-haired figure appeared, walking swiftly towards them.

The past year had wrought small but noticeable changes in the soft-smiling, shy Elf Círdan’s mariners had found adrift in a Valinorian vessel just off the breakwater at Mithlond. Adapting an army accustomed to offensive warfare into one better-fitted to the protection of borders and the hunting down of bands of Orcs and mercenaries had brought confidence in its wake. Although the warmth remained, his gaze was level and sure now, and he carried himself with conviction.

Summer blue eyes caught Elrond’s in a flick of greeting, before Glorfindel offered Gil-galad a quick, intimate smile. “You’ll be late for dinner,” he said with feigned severity. “You still have to change, fix your hair…”

Gil-galad quirked an eyebrow at him. “Just need to throw on a formal robe, brush my hair… Not planning on too much fuss tonight.”

“You need to look like a King, you always tell me,” Glorfindel pointed out, schooling his face to seriousness.

Gil-galad was unimpressed. “I am a King,” he said equitably. “Loose hair will hardly make me less of one.”

Glorfindel grinned briefly and joined them on the patio, taking a cushion from a pile in the corner and sinking down onto it. He bore all the signs of a busy and productive day outdoors: grass stains and traces of mud streaked his clothing, the small braids that held his long hair back from his face were in the process of unraveling, and there was a shallow cut across one cheek.

Elrond took in his appearance with raised eyebrows. “I thought you were meant to inspect them, Glori, not go out and train with them.”

“I do that too,” Glorfindel told him with a happy smile. “It works better if they see I’m actively involved, not just sitting in an office giving orders. Right, Gil?”

Gil-galad, who would have gone off after stray Orcs and wild men in a flash if his Council could be persuaded to agree to it, grunted. Apparently the High King of the Noldor in Middle-earth was too valuable a personage to risk in border skirmishes, a fact that was a source of regular irritation to him.

“Know anyone who might want to look after a dog?” he asked, changing the subject firmly.

Glorfindel frowned, his eyes going to Laslech. “I thought that was all arranged?”

“Was. Aravilui’s son picked the last possible minute to pull out. The whole family’s unreliable.” As he spoke he recalled the small parcel he had unobtrusively been carrying in one hand, which he now shoved towards Elrond with a quick, charming smile. “Here, almost forgot. See how you like it.”

“Probably thinks all will be forgiven once you’ve married his sister,” Glorfindel muttered with unaccustomed sharpness. Elrond shot him a startled glance, but returned to unwrapping the gift when Gil-galad merely snorted and dealt the warrior a half-hearted shove.

“Gondolin wit - no place for it at this court. We’re plain, simple Elves here.”

The declaration earned him a hoot of derision from the former inhabitant of that fabled city, interrupted by a low, wordless exclamation from Elrond as the last of the wrapping fell away, revealing a flat pewter flask, elegantly shaped and decorated with intricate scrollwork. A shake determined it to be full, a twist of the stopper and a sniff were followed by a fit of coughing.

“For emergencies only,” Gil-galad said dryly, grinning.

Glorfindel looked from him to Elrond and the flask, then back. “What is in there?” he demanded.

“I don’t - I don’t know what it is, but it could - could strip paint,” Elrond told the warrior between coughs, vehemently sincere.

Gil looked offended. “I’ll have you know that’s best quality miruvor,” he declared. “The Hooded Owl’s finest.”

“Ah,” Elrond and Glorfindel responded in unison. The establishment had a reputation known even to Glorfindel, who seldom touched anything more than wine with dinner or an infrequent mug of beer. The King received a keg of that beverage from Forlond at the beginning of each month and seemed convinced that Glorfindel enjoyed it almost as much as he did.

“It should help keep off the chill,” Glorfindel said after a moment’s thought, eying the flask. “Life outdoors can be rough - I took my turn at watch often enough above Gondolin in the depths of winter...”

“Glorfindel, he will be with people accustomed to living outdoors the year round,” Gil-galad said, trying to sound patient and being a little too obvious about it. “Not alone in the wild somewhere.”

“Thank you, Sire, it’s a beautiful flask,” Elrond cut in, turning the subject with more discretion than was his wont. He realised that his cousin and Glorfindel must argue at times, but the evidence unsettled him. Glorfindel’s eyebrow twitched slightly, but he took the hint, turning his attention to Laslech who was lying close enough for him to reach over and gently tug one of her silky ears.

“So, what are you going to do with this girl?”

Elrond frowned. “I’ll have to ask someone at the stables - depends who’s there when I get my horse, and...”

“Horse?” Gil-galad interjected. “Where did you get that idea? The Companies keep few horses, if any. You’ll be on foot while you’re with them.”

Elrond stared at him, for once speechless. The fact was so obvious that it had somehow managed to escape him. When he had gone with Erestor to watch Elros sail, they had left their horses at the meeting point with their escort of warriors and walked the final distance to Forlond with the members of the brunette's former Company. In fact, Erestor had even mentioned that the use of a horse during one mission had been an unusual advantage

As though reading his thoughts, Gil-galad added, “Did your friend Erestor ever mention keeping a horse in his time with them?”

Erestor was a sore topic. Elrond strongly suspected that he had been sent to investigate the current spate of thefts and petty misdemeanours plaguing the army purely as an attempt on Gil-galad’s part to separate them. No amount of reassurance from Glorfindel would convince him that the decision had not strictly been Gil’s, and that this was an obvious deployment for someone who had formerly gathered intelligence for Gildor Inglorion. Lacking proof, the matter had lain unresolved within him, a tiny festering ember of frustrated discontent.

Now, unwilling to discuss Erestor with someone who patently had so little appreciation for his qualities, Elrond shrugged and turned away. The first thing to catch his eye was the pack lying near the door and he froze, visions of carrying it day after day flashing before his eyes. “I should take a few things out of there… it’s heavy. I didn’t realise…”

“Two changes of clothing, warm cloak, extra boots, underwear,” Gil-galad listed. “You don’t need much more than that. Blunt knives and court fashion - you’re not aiming for a good first impression.”

Elrond flashed him a scathing glance from under dark lashes. “I hope I know better than that,” he retorted. “Sensible clothes, no party robes. And I still think that knife looks all right…”

Glorfindel glanced at him with a warrior’s automatic concern. “Blunt knives…?”

Elrond had no chance to reply. Laslech, who had been enjoying the blonde’s attention, rose abruptly and looked about intently. The birds had fallen quiet, and the air was filled with the soft roar of the ocean. A sprinkling of stars shone in the darkest portion of a sky that shaded from palest amethyst through to indigo. The Time of the Elves the Secondborn called it, or so Elros had once told Gil-galad. Moments later a figure came into view between trees that stood stark and dark against the fading light. The dog moved closer to the Half-elf, awaiting instructions.

“Quiet girl, all’s well.” He rested a hand on her neck, and she subsided at once. Elrond had spent months training her to do this, and was proud of the result; she obeyed when he told her someone could be trusted, but still kept careful watch in case he had been mistaken in his judgement.

The newcomer was an Elf of indeterminate age, tall with pale, silky hair and clad in the sensible, nondescript clothing favoured by the Wanderers. Gil-galad rose to his feet with a polite nod and stepped back. Close beside him, Glorfindel murmured, “I thought Gildor would come himself. I’ve not seen him since Tirion.”

Gil shook his head. “No, it’s better this way. Avoids setting him apart even more than his birth and rank do already.”

The Elf inclined his head courteously to the High King before turning his attention to the youngling who matched the description he had been given. “Elrond Eärendilion? My name is Meduivîr, I was sent to guide you. Are you ready to leave? ”

Elrond offered a quick bow in return. “I’m ready. If I can have a moment to greet my cousin…?”

Meduivîr nodded, a brief inclination of the head. “Quickly, if you will,” he replied. “We need to take the ferry as far as Mithlond and it sails on the turn of the tide.”

Elrond stowed the flask in his pack, retrieved the unsatisfactory knife, then turned to face Gil-galad. They studied one another for a minute, then the King’s lips twitched into a smile. “It’s only half a year,” he pointed out. “Barely any time at all. Go, take all you can from the experience. Make sure you give equally of yourself in return.”

Elrond nodded, suddenly very unsure now that the time had arrived. Gil-galad rested a hand firmly on his shoulder and said quietly, “Honour the house training Maglor gave you and always remember who you are, Gil-ion, son of a star. Send me word where you can.”

Elrond, his resentment temporarily forgotten, was horrified to discover a lump in his throat and a suspicious wetness afflicting his eyes. He blinked quickly and cleared his throat. “Thank you, Sire, I’ll do that.”

“You’re probably old enough to call me Ereinion,” Gil-galad pointed out gruffly, giving the Half-elf’s shoulder a light shake.

Elrond tried a smile. “I need to feel my way into that,” he admitted. His expression became earnest. “Laslech - can you find someone to look after her? Please? I should never have trusted Bainon but he really seemed to like her and…”

“I’ll look after her.” Glorfindel had been leaning against the wall beside the window, trying to be unobtrusive. “You can’t just vanish and let a stranger take her in, and she’s known me since she was a pup.”

Elrond turned to him, his face lighting with gratitude. “You really don’t mind?”

Despite having spoken without thought, Glorfindel proffered a sunny smile and shook his head. “No problem,” he declared. ”I’ll see to her.”

“Aren’t you going over to Harlond to inspect the garrison next month …?” Gil-galad asked, slightly taken aback.

Glorfindel silenced him with a look. “We’ll manage fine,” he told Elrond firmly. “Even if I end up taking her with me.” He was about to say more, but found himself enveloped in an unexpected hug.

“Thank you,” Elrond breathed in his ear. “She would have hated living with the grooms.” He hurriedly released Glorfindel from the unaccustomed embrace as the lump in his throat showed signs of returning. “Um… her blanket and bowl are by the door, she eats twice a day - Meluieth in the kitchens knows what and how much/ And…”

“And she’s used to a walk in the evenings, yes I know,” Glorfindel smiled. “Go. You have nothing to worry about. She and I will find our way.”

As he spoke he unfastened the sheathed knife he habitually wore alongside his sword. It had been a gift from his cousin Galadriel, which meant it was of the finest workmanship available in Lindon: the hilt of polished bone was ridged and ornamented to offer a firm grip, the blade honed to razor sharpness. The leather sheath was worked with a design of flowers tinted a light but unmistakable yellow.

“Here,” he said. “Take this. Blunt knives - what will they think of us city dwellers?” When Elrond stared in confusion at the proffered gift, Glorfindel stepped forward and attached the sheath to the Half-elf’s belt, buckling the strap firmly through the empty slot next to the short, business-like sword he wore.

Meduivîr moved restlessly, unwilling to intrude on the farewells but aware that the ferry might soon leave without them. The movement caught Glorfindel’s eye, and he nodded briskly. “You need to go,” he told Elrond. “Take care, try and stay out of trouble. And look after my knife.”

Elrond still looked troubled. “Erestor…” he began, not sure what to say or how to say it.

“I’ll let him know where you are and for how long,” Gil-galad assured him. “He requested further instructions; I’ll add a personal note. Now go, you’ll miss the ferry.”

Elrond settled the pack on his back and bent to give Laslech’s head a quick rub. “You take care of Glori,” he told her softly. “Be a good girl. I’ll be home soon.”

Meduivîr turned to retrace his steps to the path that would take them around the palace and eventually to the cliff stairs above the harbour, but Elrond, his voice steady, all emotion firmly locked back down, said, “We can take a shortcut past the stables. It’s quicker.” To Laslech who had moved automatically to follow him, he spoke sternly, pointing towards Glorfindel. “You stay with Glori, girl. Sit now. Stay.”

Ignoring the small whine of protest, he squared his shoulders, adjusted the pack again, and moved swiftly into the shadow under the trees in pursuit of Meduivîr and the unknown future that awaited him. Within moments the remaining two Elves and the dog found themselves alone in the evening stillness.

For a few minutes they stood watching the empty space beneath the trees, then Glorfindel shook himself firmly. “Come on girl,” he said to the dog, bending to give her a reassuring pat. “Let’s go find your things. Then we can take a look at your new home.”

~*~*~*~*~

It was a long night for the King. An eight course dinner interspersed with speeches was followed by a performance celebrating in music and dance the many ties between Lórien and Lindon. This was followed by an informal meeting with three of his Councillors, which meant it was far into the night before Gil-galad finally escaped to his rooms.

His first stop was the bathroom where he divested himself of his heavy, formal robes and washed what he deemed the more essential parts of his anatomy. Refreshed, he pulled on an ancient pair of sleep pants that lay neatly folded on the small bench beside the bath and went through to his bedroom, grunting a tired greeting to Glorfindel who was, unexpectedly, still awake.

Sitting on the stool before the dresser, he set about unfastening braids and knots preparatory to attacking his unruly hair with forceful brushstrokes. “You didn’t miss much,” he observed finally when the blonde warrior remained silent. “The food was the usual and the music - bit like a cat’s chorus, though it seemed to go over well.”

Gil-galad had strong opinions about music, with clearly defined likes and dislikes. He enjoyed good tunes with clear lyrics, not the type of fluty wailing favoured in the South.

Glorfindel nodded, unsurprised. “I ate in my office. The leftovers are better - you get it all on one plate instead of course after course. It’s… interesting.”

He was twisting a lock of hair around a finger as he spoke, winding it and then letting it slide loose, his habit when uneasy. Before the King could ask what was wrong, a soft sound from the corner near the window finally penetrated his consciousness and he squinted into the gloom beside the chair. A blanket had been laid on the floor and upon the blanket sat a very satisfied looking dog.

The hand holding the brush slowed, paused, then resumed its task. After a moment Gil-galad asked in a carefully measured voice, “Explain to me in small, simple words - why is she in here?”

He had always been fond of Elrond’s pet, of course, but there was a place for everything...

Blue eyes studied him from under dark gold lashes. “Well, this is her first night without Elrond, so I thought she should be with people she knew. I could hardly leave her shut in somewhere alone in the dark. Could I?” The speed and fluidity of the explanation suggested a carefully rehearsed speech.

As Gil-galad’s expression started to set in stubborn lines, Glorfindel straightened up, pushed back the shining hair that fell around his shoulders and chest. “If you really don’t want her here, I can take her to my rooms,” he offered. “I can sleep over there instead… Not how I planned the night, but there is no other way out that I can see or think of."


Glorfindel had a spacious and extremely comfortable apartment on the opposite side of the private wing, with his own bathing facilities and a sweeping view of the ocean. They had fallen into a casual arrangement based around the King’s schedule, whereby Glorfindel spent perhaps half his nights in the royal suite and the rest alone. Their time together was precious to the warrior, his suggestion less serious than placating.

Gil-galad glared at Laslech disapprovingly. She sat up even straighter in response to the attention, her tongue hanging out of her mouth and her tail wagging happily. She knew a pack leader when she saw one and had adored the King since puppyhood. He finally rolled his eyes ceilingward and sighed gustily. “I imagined you’d find someone to look after her, not do it yourself, Glaur.”

“Why would I do that?” Glorfindel asked, genuinely puzzled. “You were there - I told Elrond I would take care of her.”

“You said you would see to her. Not the same thing at all.”

“He knew what I meant,” Glorfindel insisted, his slightly raised chin an indication that he was about to get stubborn.

Elrond would have had no doubts at all as to what ‘Glori’ had meant, Gil-galad thought a touch sourly. Not that he was jealous of their friendship, of course. That time was long past. Aloud he asked almost mildly, “And I assume there’s some reason she can’t sleep in the sitting room?”

Glorfindel’s brow furrowed slightly. “She’s not used to that, Gil. And she’ll be no trouble. She always sleeps in Elrond’s bedroom, she knows to stay on her blanket and not be a bother.”

Gil-galad was not well acquainted with Elrond’s love interest, but he had seen enough of Erestor to suspect Laslech would have learned her place fast had she attempted to overstep the bounds. If those intimidatingly cool brown eyes were anything to judge by, the same might well apply to Elrond himself. “I suppose Erestor has her trained, yes,” he conceded, thinking aloud.

Glorfindel frowned and shook his head, taking the comment seriously. “Elrond has never mentioned her trying to get on the bed or anything like that. And Erestor had nothing to do with her training. Anyhow, he’s away most of the time”

This was no more than the truth and owed nothing to happenstance. Glorfindel claimed to like the vastly attractive former Wanderer, but went to considerable effort to keep him and Elrond apart. The lessons of court life in Gondolin had been well-learned; he would say nothing to Elrond without proof, but the blonde warrior harboured deep suspicions regarding Erestor's interest in the unofficial Heir

Privately, Gil-galad disagreed. He thought Elrond the least gullible soul he had ever met, unlikely to be fooled for long by even the most carefully concealed ambition. It was his experience that putting obstacles in his cousin’s path only made him more determined, therefore he refused to pronounce an opinion either for or against Erestor. Despite this, he suspected that Elrond held him rather than Glorfindel responsible for the dark haired Elf’s regular absences. Friendship, rather like love, could be blind, Gil-galad reflected. Glorfindel and Elrond saw one another as all but faultless.

Dismissing concerns about exclusive friendships and dubious love affairs, he set aside the brush, shaking his head vigourously so that the hair lifted and fell heavily about him as he strode to the bed. Throwing himself onto the mattress, he caught Glorfindel about the waist, pulling the blonde down beside him with a chuckle at his startled yelp. “So... besides becoming Laslech’s foster parent, what else can you tell me about your day?”

Glorfindel pulled free, scrabbling to turn and lean up over him, smiling the smile that Gil loved, the one that started in his eyes long before it finally reached his lips. “My day? Oh, I went along with one of the new units. We hiked down the coast as far as Gaernaith. Light armour, no rations. I need to do this kind of thing more often.”

“You enjoyed yourself, yes. I can see that.” Gil-galad ran a finger along the now clean scratch. “And this?”

“Brambles. But the berries were good.”

“Hmph.”

“And tonight while you sat through dinner, I wrote up my notes on the exercise. I have a meeting with the captains tomorrow - we need to discuss a few things. Then I got Laslech her dinner and took her for a walk. I had a good day all round.”

Gil-galad, whose day by contrast had been long and irritating, rested a hand behind Glorfindel’s head and drew him down for a kiss. They were quiet for a few minutes, tasting one another after time apart. Glorfindel, however, had not yet finished talking. Drawing back a little, his hair falling softly around Gil-galad, he asked, “Are you sure he’ll be all right? They say this will be a hard winter…”

No question as to whom the ‘he’ referred to was. “Elrond lived through harsher winters in Maglor’s care,” Gil-galad said firmly. “We discussed this before. The first few days might take a bit of an adjustment, but after that he’ll be fine. He wants to do this, Glaur,” he added more gently. “And he needs focus. It’ll be good for him.”

The blonde looked unimpressed. “He wants to do it because that used to be Erestor's life, and that makes it seem glamourous to him.”

Gil-galad gave a brief laugh and shrugged, trying for a kiss and grazing the edge of Glorfindel’s jaw instead. ”Well, whatever the reason - it’s good experience. Teach him independence and a bit of discipline.”

“He’s already independent.”

“No he’s not. He’s impulsive and likes his own way… a very different thing.” The King had an edge to his voice. “I should know, I’m the one who ends up pacifying people now that Elros is no longer here to rein him in.”

Glorfindel opened his mouth to retort but thought better of it, swallowing down the beginnings of an argument that had the potential to take up the better part of the night. Instead he reached to tug at the bed covers, shuffling back and under them. “Come on, let’s get into bed. It’s cold.”

In truth it was no more than cool, but the survivors of the Helcaraxë held in common a dislike for the cold. In winter Gil-galad had seen his formidable aunt Galadriel hooded and swathed from neck to ankle after the fashion of the Secondborn. Smiling to himself at the image he joined the warrior, burrowing under the covers beside him.

The next few minutes were given over to organising pillows, sharing coverlets and generally getting settled. Finally, lying on his side to face Gil-galad, Glorfindel smiled and reached out to touch his lover’s cheek. “You forgot the lamps. One of us will have to get up later and see to them.”

“In a minute.” Gil slid a hand along Glorfindel’s arm and down to his waist. Lips met, brushed, returned, parted. The kiss deepened. For a while the only sounds in the room were those of soft breathing mingled with the murmur of the ocean drifting in through the open window. They drew closer, their bodies adjusting to one another; Gil-galad insinuated his arm under Glorfindel and around his shoulders, drawing him near. Time passed, then the small movements slowed and stopped and the timbre of their breathing altered. Finally, unable to contain himself any longer, Glorfindel uttered a sound suspiciously resembling a giggle.

Gil-galad moved away from him. With a single, convulsive motion he jerked an arm free of the bedcovers and leaned up to look along the bed. In the centre and about half way down a dark shape lay dead still, eyes closed.

“What the hell is this?” Gil-galad began, trying to sound angry but unable to keep a tremor of laughter out of his voice. He gave the shape a hard shove with his foot. “Hey. Off there. What do you think this is?”

Laslech recognised the undertone of laughter and sat up, enthusiastically wagging her tail. Spotting Glorfindel who lay shaking with suppressed laughter, she rose and made her unsteady way up the bed. Flopping down with a contented sigh between the two stunned Elves, she tried to lick his face. Fending her off, Glorfindel finally managed to get his voice under sufficient control to choke out, “Hello girl, I think you’ve got this a bit wrong. You sleep over there - on the floor.”

“This is simply not going to work out, sweetheart,” Gil told him with a frown. “Not at all. Shut up now, stop laughing,” he added, trying to keep his tone severe. “Get her off here. Don’t fuss over her - she won’t go back to her blanket if she thinks she’s welcome here.”

“She’s not going back,” Glorfindel said in a sure if rather shaky voice. “She’s lonely. She wants company.”

Gil-galad refused to dignify this with a response. Instead he got out of bed and, taking Laslech firmly by the collar, escorted her onto the floor, across the room and over to her corner. “There,” he said loudly. “Blanket - your place. Bed - my place.”

After delivering a warning glare he went around the room, dousing lamps and closing the window against the chill air. Returning to bed he got back under the covers and reached for Glorfindel who moved back into his arms, still laughing. Gil-galad growled and gave a long lock of golden hair a warning tug.

“And as for you - if you don’t stop that, you can go sleep over there with your girlfriend.”

He cupped his companion’s cheek with a hand and leaned closer, but Glorfindel shook his head and pulled away.

“I’m not kissing you…”

“What?”

“She’s watching us.”

Gil-galad’s expression became grim and he stated to sit up. “I’ll soon see about that…”

“No, no, come back down here. It’s all right, she’ll go to sleep soon. Just - wait a while longer till she’s asleep…”

“This is ridiculous!”

Glorfindel smiled and tightened his hold on Gil’s shoulder, drawing him back down to the bed. Soft, teasing kisses to the side of his neck served to distract Gil-galad from his intention of removing the offending animal to the sitting room.

“Maybe if we’re very, very quiet…” the warrior whispered, his voice once more shaking with mirth.

“Very quiet,” the King muttered, slightly mollified by the attention.

“Like mice?” Glorfindel persisted, moving lower so that the kisses followed the line of Gil-galad’s collarbone.

“Big mice, yes.”

Glorfindel’s weapon-hardened hand slid down unexpectedly and grasped. “Ah - there’s a big mouse. Just - there….”

Gil-galad jumped, startled. “Gods! What happened to foreplay?”

“Foreplay?” the blonde asked on a gust of laughter. “I think foreplay belongs back in the days before we adopted a dog. The word for tonight is speed, my friend. Speed and stealth.”

“…absolutely no finesse.”

Glorfindel sat up grinning, his hair falling about him like a rippling cloak, and punched Gil-galad’s arm. “Oh come on. I thought everyone secretly wanted a lover who would roll over onto his hands and knees, push his bottom up in the air and say ‘Climb on, let’s go’?”

Stunned silence was followed by a snort of laughter. “That has merit,” Gil-galad admitted. “We can try that. Might be something to this pet-keeping business after all. Climb on, you say?”

The words, a signal since puppyhood, reached Laslech who was dozing obediently on her blanket. Springing cheerfully to her feet, she trotted over to the bed and jumped up, running straight into Glorfindel crouched on knees and elbows. The warrior over-balanced and fell onto his side where he lay howling with laughter while Laslech stood over him, licking his face in delight.

Gil-galad, his ardour cooled, sat with his arms clasped loosely about his knees and gazed past the activity on the bed beside him. “All right, Laslech, you win,” he said finally with a long sigh. “I give up.“ Giving Glorfindel an abrupt slap on the rump, he got off the bed. “Right, you. Come along with me.”

“Where…?”

“Bathroom.”

Glorfindel looked blank.

“We’re not about to get any peace here,” Gil-galad said firmly. “This is Elrond’s dog to the last hair - no point in arguing with her. That business about climbing on and getting on with things? Not happening here. We need a closed door between us and her.”

“No, Gil, not a chance. I am not having sex on the bathroom floor,” Glorfindel exclaimed, outraged.

“I have news for you - yes, you are. You’re a warrior. Commander of the King’s forces, no less. You’ll survive. Look at it as an extension of today’s exercise - living rough.” He grabbed hold of Glorfindel’s wrist and tugged determinedly. “Come on, let’s go. Before I finally run out of patience and send you both down to sleep in the kitchens.”
 

~*~*~*~*~

The door closed behind the still-arguing Elves. After some initial puzzlement, Laslech lay down on the bed and stretched out contentedly. They seemed happy enough and she knew they would come back eventually, she could smell that this was their Place. She missed her own Elf, of course, but she knew he would come back in due course. He went away sometimes for whole days, but he always returned. Until then, she had food, good friends, and a lovely bed.

There was little more that a dog could want.

Strange sounds emanated from the other room, but in their way these, too, were comforting. They reminded her of her Elf and the Other One. They made those same sounds quite often, too. On such nights, she was expected to sleep in the hallway outside the bathroom. This was far better. Closing her eyes, Laslech settled contentedly amongst the covers and drifted off to sleep.

~*~*~*~*~

finis

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Beta - Ilye_Elf