Even Quicker Than Doubt 24

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'Even Quicker Than Doubt'

 

Chapter 24

Lindon S.A. 32

‘In response to the current dispute, it is my decree that the arable land between the boundaries of these two towns will be held in common to both, the revenues to be divided equally…’

Gil-galad leaned back in his chair for a minute, took a slow, deep breath and closed his eyes. He had been working steadily since arriving home from Forlond, and was starting to wonder if the pile of documents, requests and reports industriously supplied by Thenin was in fact bottomless. The Sinda had arrived home hours ahead of his King, and Gil-galad already regretted sending him back by ferry with Galadriel instead of allowing him to make the journey on horseback as he had requested.

Turning to the next item, which came from a watch station high in the Ered Luin, he read it with the same thoroughness that he brought to even the most mundane administrative detail, and frowned. Unaccounted for - probably misappropriated – items were becoming too much a fact of life in the garrisons. Dipping quill in ink, he scrawled across the report in bold lettering: ‘Henceforth, to avoid a repeat of the current dispute over figures, a monthly inventory of arrows in stock is to be sent to the head quartermaster …’

He had two rather arbitrary piles of documents to his left. One would be returned to Thenin as requiring further attention or the drafting of a response, while the other contained those items, already bearing His Majesty’s signature or margin comment, that were, in his opinion, ready to be dispatched. After a moment’s thought, he placed the report on this second pile, wondering as he did so if this watch station would remain operational for very much longer. He had a suspicion it would be on Glorfindel’s list of places that no longer justified a military presence. He suspected that Glorfindel would produce such a list – possibly several such lists – within a matter of days.

He picked up another report, this time from a Fleet officer, which outlined a troublingly similar situation. A pattern was emerging, he realised, that he would need to mention to Glorfindel. It suggested the beginnings of a problem with discipline. This led him to wonder a little uneasily how Círdan, who controlled the Fleet, was going to respond to taking instructions from the blonde. The Telerin had originally been very much in favour of giving Glorfindel control of the army, although that had been before discovering the reborn Elf was sleeping with his foster son. Still, the King thought, a polite reminder along those lines would not be out of place.

After selecting a round of bread from the plate that had been sent up from the kitchen – this one topped with his favourite combination of cheese and bacon - Gil-galad rose and strolled over to the window that looked out towards the stables. Mingled in with the moaning of the wind and the associated rattling of shutters, he could hear indistinct voices from the floor below. He smiled to himself. No one understood why he had designated the space above the palace baths for his workroom but, on the too-frequent nights when he worked late, he enjoyed the sounds of activity below. It gave him a sense of being not wholly alone.

He had his own private bathroom, of course, but he rather liked visiting the baths. He made regular use of the area set aside for senior courtiers and members of his inner circle, taking the popular view that it was the ideal place to socialise and unwind. A view not shared by Glorfindel, he recalled with a fond grin. The blonde loathed the baths. Clearly feeling exposed and vulnerable, he was in and out as quickly as he could manage, barely pausing in the cold water plunge pool before hurrying to dress. Relaxing in the warm water and chatting with fellow bathers held no appeal for him.

Of course, Gil-galad mused, the idea of public baths as a social gathering place was a fairly recent innovation, although he seemed to remember them existing in Nargothrond when he was small. The concept of socializing whilst wearing nothing more than a small towel – at most - was certainly new and unwelcome to Glorfindel. Unbidden, an idea fell into place. Those apartments in the palace possessing their own bathrooms were few and jealously guarded, but, with careful management, Glorfindel’s new position with the military might well serve as an excuse to insist he be given new, more appropriate quarters. With, coincidentally, his own bathing facilities.

The King remained looking out across the twilit grounds, gloomy under the cloud-filled sky, and feeling rather pleased with himself for having thought of a way to procure the perfect gift for his lover. He was enjoying a small fantasy about Glorfindel’s possible response to the news when movement on the edge of vision caught his attention. He looked down, to be confronted with a sight that had become a nightly occurrence in recent weeks; Elrond, taking an early evening walk around the perimeter of the palace.

With Laslech.

Gil-galad stood quite still, bread raised halfway to his mouth, and stared, while his mind struggled to catch up. The last time he had seen the dog – and yes, it was quite definitely the same dog – she had been waiting to be placed on board one of the ships currently making their way to the New Land. And yet here she was, being taken for her customary walk as though nothing had happened. Elrond also gave no indication of this event being in any way unusual. His main concerns seemed to involve keeping his swirling, wind-disordered hair out of his face with one hand while controlling the lead with the other. He was looking down at the dog, and appeared to be talking to her.

The High King of the Noldor remained by the window while he finished eating his sandwich, then walked slowly back to the document-laden table. Absently licking his fingers, he contemplated the work still awaiting his attention and sighed. A brief search amongst the apparent chaos finally produced the plain silver circlet he wore as a kind of badge of office while conducting the day-to-day business of rulership. Setting it firmly on his head, he went out into the winter dusk to find his young cousin and ask him a few pertinent questions.

~*~*~*~*~

Sipping her tea, Galadriel recalled Celeborn’s predictably irate response upon her return with an amusement that she had been far from feeling at the time. Relief at receiving word from Ereinion regarding her whereabouts had dissipated overnight, given way to annoyed exasperation at her for leaving with no explanation for her absence beyond a brief note which had read ‘gone to Forlond, be home later’.

After the briefest of greetings, they had spent the best part of an hour shouting at one another - he regarding her lack of either consideration or common sense, she concerning his apparent obsession to be a party to her every thought. Eventually he had reluctantly assured her that he was not sufficiently insecure to need to be informed of her every movement and she had grudgingly acknowledged that perhaps, in this case, a discussion would have been more appropriate than a one-line note. The resulting reconciliation had been immensely satisfying, but had left no time for her to assess her visit until late afternoon when Celeborn left to call on one of his numerous relatives.

With the house to herself, she took a cup of chamomile tea and went back to curl up amongst the covers and cushions of the still-unmade bed. She reclined, propped up on an elbow so that she could contemplate recent events while observing the curious phenomenon of the rain clouds ending abruptly out over the open sea, the calm waters of which remained sunlit long after dusk covered the wet, windswept shore.

Her impromptu journey to Forlond had proven even more successful than she had anticipated. Firstly, she had been able to say farewell to Elros, whose steadiness and determination so resembled his fore-mother Melian - a contrast to his brother whose demeanour was startling reminiscent to that of wayward, unpredictable Lúthien. Secondly, besides being able to confirm the truth of the rumours regarding Glorfindel and her nephew, she had, as hoped, come to a thoroughly satisfactory arrangement with Lord Círdan.

As she had anticipated, he foresaw little difficulty in having her letters forwarded to Tirion. Kings generally received their mail, after all, and one of the letters in the small package she had brought with her was addressed to her father. She had been in some doubt regarding her second request, which involved sending a gift to her grandmother in Alqualondë, but the master mariner had been unexpectedly amenable.

However, as with all favours, there was a price. Speaking quietly to her as she was leaving Master Edhelûr’s house to catch the ferry home, Lord Círdan told her that, after some thought and a brief conversation with Elros’ senior advisor, Silbaron, he had arranged to have the dog, Laslech, removed to the dock serving the Lhûn ferry. All that he requested was that she oversee the animal’s return to Elrond.

For once in her life, Galadriel had been – temporarily - speechless. Not that she objected in principle; she had been appalled to discover the animal was going with Elros. In fact, she had seen it as one more example of life’s many sad injustices and had said as much to Círdan as they walked together to the pavilion. She recalled that he had fallen quiet, seemingly distracted by some activity on the water, and at the time she had thought nothing more of it. It now appeared that her casual observation had provided a solution to a potential problem. In the very near future, Círdan would be attempting to guide Elrond in the use of his unique abilities, but from all accounts relations between the two of them were anything but amicable. She could see how a peace offering of sorts might be very much in order.

The sea-filled silence was abruptly broken by the sound of horses travelling at speed along the road behind the house, almost certainly heralding Ereinion’s return home. Galadriel stretched and, finishing her tea, smiled to herself as she pictured Glorfindel’s response upon discovering the surprise awaiting him in his room. She had searched for Elrond on her return, but no one seemed to have any idea where he was. Finally she had written a brief note and instructed Thenin to have both it and the dog placed in Lord Glorfindel’s rooms. Findel would sort it out – and Ereinion would be more inclined to believe him than Elrond, who might well be suspected of having stolen the creature. 

~*~*~*~*~

Elrond was known for his unpredictability, but he had an instinctive understanding for the needs of a young animal and had provided Laslech with a routine that was all but immutable. Anticipating the general direction he would follow, Gil-galad took a shortcut that brought him out through the healing wing, from where Elrond and the dog were easy to find. They had stopped in front of the new library and Elrond was sitting on one of the benches watching the sea while Laslech investigated a newly-dug flowerbed.

The roar of the ocean masked the sound of Gil-galad’s approach, and he had almost reached them when the dog suddenly lifted her head to sniff the air before rushing over to greet him, trailing her lead and barking ecstatically. To Elrond’s hastily offered apology, Gil-galad made no response beyond a raised eyebrow and an absent-minded pat for Laslech. Instead, while the Half-elf was attempting to enforce discipline, the King stood watching pale light shimmering on distant water.

“They’ve been granted good sailing weather,” he commented when he eventually had Elrond’s attention. “Clear skies and a following breeze. The Mighty are making sure of a smooth passage for them.”

Elrond nodded. He was about to explain that he knew this as he had been in Forlond the previous day, but thought better of it. Glorfindel, who could be trusted with a confidence, had already expressed pointed disapproval at the risks involved in travelling the coast road. Instead he said, “Glori said you were catching up on work, Sire. Have you finished or are you just taking a break?”

Save for the night when he had put his cousin to bed, he was still not quite ready to try his luck at calling the King ‘Ereinion’ to his face.

Gil-galad nodded briefly, still gazing out to sea, ignoring the moisture-laden wind tugging roughly at his hair and clothes. “Taking a break I suppose, yes.”

He turned his attention to Laslech, who had calmed down and was now sitting between them wagging her tail, then fixed the young Half-elf with a stern look. “Something you feel you want to tell me?” he asked mildly. When Elrond merely looked confused, he gestured to the dog. “Laslech. How did she get here? And please don’t tell me she threw herself over the side of the boat and swam to shore.”

“Why would I say that?” Elrond asked, apparently genuinely puzzled. “Glori gave her to me, of course.” He paused, his face lighting up with amusement, “She chewed his boots, and I found a puddle in his room when I went to fetch her. I cleaned it up, sort of, but – he’s not happy, is he? It’s his own fault. He should have let her out first before coming to find me.”

“Glorfindel…”

Yes, that made sense.

Elrond was studying him curiously. “No one told you, did they?”

“No, Elrond, but then again that happens to me quite frequently. So… Glorfindel decided to return the dog to you, even though I made Elros’ wishes on the matter clear to him?”

Elrond blinked – not quite as effectively as Erestor did it, he was sure, but he had been practising The Look before his mirror for the last few days. “No, of course not. Círdan arranged it and sent her back on the ferry with Galadriel. I was still…she couldn’t find me, so she left her in Glori’s room. I don’t think he had much else to do with it.”

Perhaps not, the little voice that concerned itself with such things as insecurity and jealousy whispered to Gil-galad. But the warrior would have been more than willing to involve himself in a venture that would contribute to Elrond’s happiness. He frowned the voice into silence. “Let me see if I have this right. Círdan reached an arrangement with Elros and sent the dog back on the ferry with my aunt, who left her in Glorfindel’s room because she couldn’t find you.”

Elrond nodded, suddenly less certain of his facts than he had been earlier. He had imagined that Círdan’s actions would be accepted as respectable beyond dispute.

“I assume Glorfindel asked him to do this?” Gil-galad mused, making it sound more a statement of fact than a question.

Elrond watched his cousin out of the corner of his eye, his innate caution warning him to think before he spoke. He shook his head. “No Sire, I shouldn’t think so,” he said carefully. “He told me Galadriel left him a note – I had the impression that was all he knew about it. He seemed to think it was quite funny, though… Maybe you should ask him?”

Gil-galad, looking once more out to sea, nodded slowly. “Yes, yes I’ll do that. Later.” After a thoughtful pause he turned back to Elrond, his infinitely charming smile in place once more. “Meanwhile, you seem to have inherited a dog and I’m glad for you. Come and join me for breakfast tomorrow and I’ll tell you about your brother’s last few days here – whatever you haven’t already heard from Glorfindel. And you can tell me your version of what happened between the two of you and Eönwë. Elros has a tendency to understate things.”

~*~*~*~*~

Glorfindel proved easy to find. He was in the courtyard, passing the time before dinner by listening to a young minstrel who was playing a light, delicate tune reminiscent of leaping water, accompanied by lyrics that spoke of spring time and new love. Gil-galad, who disliked sugary love songs, pulled his expression straight lest the musician take the sneer personally. He beckoned the warrior over and Glorfindel complied immediately, greeting him with a smile that was polite and correct, with just the tiniest hint of intimacy.

“Not your kind of song, I know,” he said, indicating the minstrel. “But he has a really good voice. He’ll become more versatile with time, too. He’s still very young. Not quite Maglor, I know,” he added with a grin. “But promising. I think his name is Lindir…”

Gil-galad grunted something that might have been agreement, then jerked his head towards one of the doors opening off the courtyard. “In there,” he said briefly. “We can’t talk out here.”

The room appeared to be a repository for the lamps, chairs and cushions that were brought out after dinner to transform the courtyard into an entertainment and social venue. After lighting a lamp from the wall sconce, the King pushed the door half-closed and turned to face Glorfindel, who was watching him curiously.

“The dog,” Gil-galad said tersely.

It took a moment for Glorfindel to understand the reference, but then he smiled, relieved. He had thought the matter more serious. “Oh, you saw her, did you? I was going to tell you later. Seems that Círdan and Galadriel decided she belonged with Elrond, not Elros. When we got back I found her asleep in my room… probably from boredom after killing my favourite boots.”

“I heard mention of my aunt and of Círdan, yes, but I cannot help but wonder if the idea did not originate elsewhere…with you perhaps?” Gil-galad asked bluntly. “After all, you wanted me to speak to Elros about her. At the time I thought you accepted his reason for keeping her a little too easily.”

Glorfindel’s eyebrow twitched. “I had nothing to do with this,” he interrupted, his tone unusually sharp. “As I understand it, Círdan formally asked Silbaron if it would be in order to give Laslech to Elrond as a parting gift between brothers. Galadriel’s note implied that he worded it so that refusal would seem petty. I doubt anyone had time to fuss about it either,” he added, remembering the scene of controlled chaos as the travellers began embarking on their allotted vessels. “If you think I went against your decision, I can show you the letter…”

His voice trailed away into insecurity and there was silence in the room save for the clear voice singing in the courtyard. The wind caught the door, pushing it open and causing the flame in the wall bracket to flicker violently. Eventually Gil-galad cleared his throat and, eyes straight ahead, muttered, “Sorry. I expressed myself badly. I just thought… It would be very like you to want to look after Elrond’s interests.”

Glorfindel’s eyebrows shot up, but he kept his voice steady. “Elrond and I are friends. More than that, he is the great-grandson of my lord and has my fealty. Of course I wanted to help. As it happens I wasn’t much use, but fortunately Galadriel and Círdan were. Yes, someone needs to look out for his interests, Gil, and he has gone out of his way on my behalf more than once.”

He stopped, deciding this was not an opportune moment to mention his concern about Elrond's growing relationship with Erestor, especially as he doubted the Half-elf had confided details of their visit to Forlond to his cousin. Personally, Glorfindel liked Erestor - in fact, if he was honest he was far from immune to the black-haired Elf’s charms - but his instinct was to protect Elrond from any threat that might present itself . And that included fortune hunters and the politically ambitious

After another long pause, during which Gil-galad examined his fingernails and Glorfindel waited, the King said, "Glaur, you and Elrond…is there something we need to discuss?"

Glorfindel stared at him, not quite sure he had understood the question. When he was certain that Gil-galad was, in fact, serious, he burst out laughing, and kept laughing until eventually he had tears in his eyes and was holding his ribs.

"Glorfindel, stop it."

"That's…that’s probably enough, yes… it's …not that funny…" he admitted in sobbing gasps.

"Would you stop?" Gil-galad grasped Glorfindel's shoulder and shook him.

The blonde, face flushed, blue eyes tearing, struggled for control. "Gil, that is ludicrous…!" he began, before he was once again overcome.

The King took a deep breath and exhaled audibly, then stood back shaking his head, a smile tugging at his mouth despite his best efforts to suppress it. Glorfindel finally pulled himself together, straightened up and said, still chuckling, "Gil, in all seriousness, I have enough problems without adding a secret affair with Elrond to the list."

Gil-galad gave an involuntary snort of mirth. The point was probably valid. Being Elrond’s love interest would be a full time job. In honesty, he was glad to have finally broached a subject that had been bothering him for some while. Glorfindel’s denial was sufficient. There was no circumstance under which he could imagine the reborn Elf looking him in the face and lying.

"I did rather hope I was overreacting," he admitted, not quite hearing the question in his own voice. Glorfindel, however, did, and was instantly serious.

"You didn’t really believe there was something going on between us, did you?" he asked, his eyes meeting Gil-galad's light, clear ones. "We talk, we share our thoughts, we solve problems together, nothing else. I'm sorry if you thought… Why would you think that, anyway?"

Glorfindel was tall, but he still had to look up at Gil-galad, and something in the tilt of his head, the honest concern, made him look very young. No, not young, Gil-galad corrected himself, unsullied perhaps. Like clear spring water, untouched by any stain. He reached out, meaning to place his hand on Glorfindel's shoulder but his fingers moved of their own accord to wind gently instead in the bright gold hair. He drew a breath.

"I think I spoke from fear of the possibility," he said slowly. "No matter how much we enjoy being together, no matter how well our bodies fit, in a lot of ways you are a complete stranger to me. Yet you hold no mystery for Elrond. Every time you say or do something that surprises or confuses me, I find myself thinking that he would have expected it, he would have understood. I suppose…"

He looked at what he was about to say, Ereinion Gil-galad who seldom said a word without first considering it. And said it anyway, the words leaving his tongue even quicker than doubt or caution.

"I suppose I’m afraid that you could never trust your heart to me, that you would want someone like Elrond, someone who understands how you think and what you want from life… Someone who would be open with you in his turn. That despite how much I love you, love alone may not be enough for you."

He had said it - badly, perhaps, but he had said it anyway. Gil-galad abruptly felt an intense, vulnerable awareness of himself, right down to the weight of his braided hair and the discomfort of the silver circlet cutting into the skin above one ear. Other than being taller and more solidly built than most Elves, and possessing what he believed to be a passable sense of humour, he had always suspected there was very little else to recommend him to anyone who was neither ambitious for power nor blinded by the glamour of a crown. Up until this moment, however, he had never been called upon to put this theory to the test.

He waited somewhere between hope and terror for Glorfindel’s puzzled frown to resolve itself one way or the other, waited in a room, too small and still, within which each sound was clearly defined: the rushing wind mingled with the swell of the ocean, the sputtering torch flame, the music and conversation drifting in from outside. Then Glorfindel’s face cleared and softened into a smile that Gil-galad knew well; he had seen it on the night they first made love, and the time the blonde had finally beaten him at chess and on the day he had eventually managed to disarm Glorfindel while sparring – a smile of delight, proud and yet tender.

He reached out to touch Gil-galad’s cheek lightly, almost wonderingly, with the tips of his fingers and said, “You don't have to understand me, Gil. I don't even have to understand you – though sometimes it would help. I think love is usually in spite of, not because of. What we have here and now is all I need. You are all that matters, all I will ever want.”

Gil-galad found himself smiling back. He twined the lock of golden hair more securely around his fingers and tugged gently, not even sparing a glance for the open door, before leaning forward to place a quick kiss on warm, responsive lips. Understanding would come in time, for them both. Right now there was love, and that was the best possible beginning.

~*~*~*~*~

Very much later that same evening, Glorfindel finished putting his clothing away in the drawer reserved for him, the candlelight bathing his naked form in pale gold. He removed the final clasp from his hair and, as he walked towards the bed, shook it out around him in a shining cloak, combing it through with his fingers. Smiling, he got into bed and settled against Gil-galad with a contented sigh, his head on the King’s shoulder. Gil-galad pulled him closer and they spent a few minutes settling so that their bodies fitted together comfortably.

Lying on his side, Gil-galad ran his hand lightly down over Glorfindel's chest, his fingers casually following the line of his ribs as they moved lower to the well-defined muscles of his abdomen. He lay stroking smooth flesh, relishing the feeling of the warrior’s skin which was always warm as well as being surprisingly soft to the touch. There was nothing sexual in his intent; that would follow shortly – probably very shortly, he acknowledged to himself with a grin. For this time though, he was content to lie and simply enjoy being alone at the end of the day with the person he loved.

The window shook as an exceptionally hard gust of wind rattled rain and sea spray against it and, instinctively, the couple in the bed drew closer. Gil-galad slid his arm around Glorfindel's waist, drawing him closer, and his hand came to rest in the small of his lover's back. He moved it in lazy circles that took in the contrast between bone and muscle and the softly inviting curve of buttock. Glorfindel turned his head to press a kiss against Gil-galad’s shoulder before resting his hand on the King’s chest and extending a single finger to toy casually with his nipple.

Gil-galad lay listening to the rain, feeling at peace with the world and very aware that he was in the one place where he could be himself without artifice or fear of judgement. No matter what the future held, whether an eternity of days that would finally see him cross the sea to the home of his father's people, or the more foreshortened ending Galadriel had hinted at, he was content. He could ask no more than what he had now, this strong, warm place that sheltered his soul as surely as the walls of his palace sheltered his body from the ravages of the storm without.

Glorfindel flicked the nipple casually in a bid for attention. “What are you thinking?” he asked, tilting his head to look up enquiringly. Gil-galad responded by aiming a kiss in the general direction of his cheek, which found his mouth instead and was transformed into something considerably more thorough than originally intended.

“Not thinking,” the King told him when the kiss finally ended. Glorfindel, who had turned to lie on his back, reached up to cup his cheek, smiling playfully. Eyes the warm blue of a summer sky offered tenderness and the beginnings of desire. Gil-galad paused before seeking another kiss, tracing the outline of Glorfindel’s lips with his thumb. “Not thinking at all,” he repeated with certainty. “Just savouring the moment. Just loving you.”

~*~*~*~*~

Epilogue

~*~*~*~*~

Beta - Enismirdal, Ilye Elf