The Day of the Dragon

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'The Day of the Dragon'

 

The Day of the Dragon

"There's a what?"

Erestor moved his hand so the quill no longer hovered over the sheet of expensive parchment in front of him and stared up at Elladan in confusion. It had to be some kind of joke, but he couldn't see the humour in what Elrond's first born was saying.

"Down the valley in the turnip field. You know, just below the lake where…"

"I know where we grow turnips, Elladan," he said calmly, recalling the pen and placing it back in its holder where it dripped unheeded onto the little bed of sand below it. "And you would know this - how? You saw it yourself, you noticed it fly overhead and tracked it perhaps? Or you…"

"My father says so," Elladan interrupted. "He passed me on his way to the stables. He said ‘Tell Erestor’, so that’s what I’m doing.”

Erestor glanced out the window. The sky was clear and the sun shone, it was a rather pleasant autumn day. No sounds or signs of upsets, no smoke on the horizon. "So your father told you to come tell me there's a dragon down the valley in one of the turnip fields. Was he alone? Your father, I mean."

Elladan was starting to look agitated. "No he wasn't alone, Erestor. He had Caedion with him, and Glorfindel. Glorfindel looked a bit like you do - puzzled."

"As well he might," Erestor said a little tartly. "I very much doubt he expected to see another dragon this soon after Gondolin. Elladan, do you have any idea how busy I am? I have no time for - whatever this is."

"It isn't a joke," Elladan said in the tones of someone who expects to be disbelieved. Despite his best efforts, a history of adolescent pranks was likely to haunt him for a very long time. "If I wanted to make something up, I'd do better than this. I'd tell you the kitchen was on fire or something."

"And from you I'd not only believe that, I'd assume your personal involvement," Erestor snapped, rising from behind his desk
to stare out the window. "Look. Out there."

Elladan came to stand beside him and look outside. "What? I don't see anything. Restor, there really is a …"

"That’s right,
you don’t. Because there’s nothing out there. No dragon has been seen anywhere near Imladris in more centuries than I can recall. In fact they're only found in the far north now, somewhere up along the Ered Mithrin. A tiger or an oliphaunt now, I might be convinced if you tried hard enough, but…"

"Smoke. Over there. Coming from round the bend in the river." Elladan didn't sound triumphant or in any way gleeful. If anything, his expression was quite worried. "Erestor, my father's down there with only two others, I don’t even know if they’re armed. Come on, we have to gather a party and follow him."

"Caedion likes a spear, Glorfindel fights with a sword," Erestor mused, not really thinking about his words, his attention on the billowing black smoke staining the autumn sky. "A spear may perhaps be helpful, but I never heard of anyone taking out a dragon with a sword before. Have to get too close… don't recall what King Fingon used…"

"Erestor, come ON. If I'm wrong, if I'm making this up, you can settle it later, tell my father, do what you wish. But we can't stand here talking about it. There is a dragon in Imladris, and we have to do something about it before someone gets killed."
 

~*~*~*~*~

In the end a small army of elves made the trip down the valley to investigate, the horses following one another's tails as they trotted in single file along the narrow path. The Bruinen rushed past beside them, white water churning over rocks on its way to the next shallow waterfall. The news had spread like wildfire and there were more elves on foot behind the riders. Celebrían had even been ready to join them, but a momentary caution made Erestor tell her to remain at the house in case there was trouble needing a cool head. The implied flattery worked. 

The narrow gully within which Elrond had built his stronghold followed the river for a ways, before opening into a broad, protected valley which, despite rolling hills and acres of forest, easily supported crops and livestock and was dotted with little settlements which had sprung up in response to community needs. The valley remained
hidden for some time while they followed the twists and turns of the river. The smoke, however, did not. Whatever the cause, Erestor felt sure their help would be needed to put out the fire.

They caught up with Elrond, Glorfindel and Caedion,
who were watching something from the edge of the woodland. Only Caedion, an ancient former warrior now in charge of trade agreements, looked round at their approach and he did no more than nod before turning back. Elladan, who was in the lead, held up his hand, signalling a halt. The message was passed back and the line of horses slowed before spreading out amongst the trees. Erestor dismounted and went forward. 

The wood opened onto farmland and offered a clear line of sight to the turnip patch. They grew at the foot of a hill which was itself planted with barley. A small fire burned near the edge of the field, consuming one of the reed bundles left there to dry. Smoke disproportionate to the size of the blaze billowed up into the sky. Early afternoon sunlight gilded the fields, danced off the waters of the Bruinen and turned the scales of the dragon standing in the almost exact centre of the field to gleaming bronze. It had its back to them and appeared to be listening to something.

"Where the hell did that come from?" He had the presence of mind to whisper, though it would take a very deaf dragon not to have heard the approaching horses. Practicing stealth in the heart of their valley had occurred to none of them.

"No clue," Caedion grunted, making space for him. "More important question - how do we send it back?

Erestor shot a look at Elrond who was frowning at the unwelcome guest. He must have felt the scrutiny because he turned and nodded. "It dropped out of the sky about an hour ago. I sensed it just before it landed. It must have been flying overhead and - pure chance - was in exactly the right place to look down and see us. I don't think it's moved far since. Just - taking stock of its surroundings."

"Oh, look, it's still a baby." Arwen had pushed her way to the front of the crowd that had collected behind her father and his closest advisors and was standing on tip-toe to look past Erestor's shoulder, not a difficult feat as they were around the same height. 

Elrond looked round, annoyance etched on his face and in his voice. "Elladan, what is your sister doing here?" he asked sharply, which was hardly fair as Arwen was more likely to order her brothers around than the opposite. A family confrontation loomed, giving Erestor an excuse to move over to Glorfindel who leaned against a tree seemingly oblivious to the rest of the world, his eyes fixed on the intruder. 

"Is Arwen right?" Erestor asked him softly. "It does look rather small, doesn't it? Though I have no idea how size relates to age in dragons."

Warm blue eyes glanced at him in a way that adjusted the distance between them, including Erestor in his space. "I've not seen one that small before," Glorfindel replied, his attention back on the reptile. "That doesn't mean it's not dangerous."

"Like a night adder," Erestor agreed, moving closer so their arms almost touched. "Death-dealing from birth. What's it doing?"

"Getting comfortable with its new home," Caedion growled from behind them. "It was walking around when we got here, but it's been standing there for a while now."

"It's watching something." Arwen had evaded her father who was now talking to her brothers and had come over to Erestor. "I think it’s lost, Restor. So pretty. I never knew dragons were pretty. Look how the sun shines on its…"

"That is a dragon, Arwen," Erestor snapped. "It can be as pretty as it likes, it's also deadly." He seldom raised his voice either to her or her brothers. Arwen was startled into silence at his tone. A peacemaker by nature, Glorfindel seemed about to intervene when the dragon stirred. The long neck extended, the head moved from side to side, the spines along its back stiffened. Caedion laid his hand on Erestor's arm to gain his attention, but before the ancient warrior could speak, the dragon broke into a run, wings flapping hard. It didn't go far. 

The dog, one of the big animals that helped with the sheep, must have been keeping as still as the dragon and for as long. Thinking the beast had forgotten her, she began to run, making for the shelter of the trees. Dragons are wily beings; this was what it had been waiting for. It rose into the air then swooped straight down again, catching her up in long, curving talons. The party hidden
amongst the trees watched with horror as it flew off, its beating wings and her frantic barking echoing around the valley.

The turnip field gave onto an expanse of wild grass offering summer grazing for the sheep. The meadow sloped gently upward until it ended abruptly where the mountain rose like a grey wall. There was no hesitation, the dragon went straight up, balanced a moment on a boulder, then vanished from sight.

"Cave," Glorfindel said briefly, blue eyes meeting Erestor’s. He looked as though he might say more, but then the blood-chilling howls began and he fell silent, his face grim and shuttered. Erestor stared at the spot where he had last seen the dragon and kept his mind deliberately blank. 
 

~*~*~*~*~

Elrond’s Council traditionally met in a small room just off the Hall of Fire. This time, in addition to his usual advisors, he had rounded up those older elves who might have some experience of dragons, a couple of lore specialists, and an expert on animal behaviour with a special interest in the exotic. This last was a Silvan elf named Talvenlithyrn, who was careful to sit a little aloof from the warriors.

“How big do they need to be before they can set fire to something larger than a bundle of dry reeds?” Elrohir asked. He wasn’t a regular at council meetings, leaving such lessons in leadership to his brother while he tried to concentrate on his studies as a healer. Sober and serious pursuits did not come easily to Elrohir, but he did his best.

“Clearly bigger than this one,” Elrond replied. “It’s hard to guess their ages, but this is perhaps half grown at most. Young enough to get lost, potentially strong enough to carry off and kill a full grown elf.” 

“It seems to like sheep,” Erestor said dryly. 

Glorfindel had been frowning into his cup of mint tea, a faraway look on his face. Now he stirred, glanced Erestor’s way. “Sheep?” He had never seen sheep before coming to Imladris, and it was no secret he was fond of the valley’s flock of longhorns.

Erestor pushed dark curls back from his face and stopped himself from shrugging and saying it was better than elves. “After the dog, it took two sheep. I’m hoping this means it’ll sleep for a while. The flock’s been driven deeper into the valley – a brave task under the circumstances – and we just have to hope it won’t try its luck with the cows next. I’m not sure that’s something I’d like to see – or hear.”

“Are we going to sit here and talk till it gets bored and flies off to the next valley?” Caedion was impatient, he liked action. “Has no one in this room ever seen a dragon brought down? It’s been done before. Big elf, long sword, though I’d say a better way might be an arrow in the eye. The trick would be getting it to keep its head still and at the right angle for long enough…”

“Getting a clear shot at it’ll be a problem,” Elrond agreed. “Do you have any ideas, Glorfindel? You’ve seen dragons in battle.”

Glorfindel turned his golden head and gave Elrond a steady look. “I’ve seen it done, but not under circumstances allowing for a day-long conference. Mainly people were just doing the best they could.”

“Rush it when it’s feeding?” Elladan suggested hastily. Glorfindel was famously good humoured, but the edge to his voice was a warning that the casual reference to Gondolin’s fall had been ill-
considered. “Confuse it, distract it, and have someone ready to take a shot at it first chance he gets?”

“Have archers stationed around, ready to move in.” Caedion sounded more enthusiastic than he had in some while. “Draw its attention, give them a chance to get a clear shot. Just keep enough distance so we don’t get roasted.”

“Feeding on what?” asked Erestor, always practical. Silence
greeted the question. Finally the Silvan cleared his throat and said diffidently, “Perhaps – perhaps one of the sheep would be willing to sacrifice itself? Or a cow? Cows are larger. It would be more likely to feed on the ground than try and take a cow to its lair.”

A chorus of consent greeted this. Erestor, who liked cows, was tempted to speak in the poor beast’s interests. When the voices died down Elrond said, “Very well, that’s what we’ll try. Elladan, you’re in charge. Round up a group of warriors, look for speed and agility, skill with a sword will be useless. And we want the ten best archers in Imladris. As soon as you get them in place, we’ll be ready to begin.”
 

~*~*~*~*~

“Arwen, what are you doing here? This is for warriors only, it’s no place for…”

“Elrohir’s over there and he’s not much of a warrior either. I’m better with a sword than he is. And I wanted to see.”

Arwen had left her horse deep amongst the trees and was standing on the edge of the slope down to the meadow, watching the solitary cow grazing. It was an old cow, thin. Talvenlithyrn said she’d not be long for the grasslands now and that for the good of her clan she would be willing to leave ahead of her time. In other words, he thought she would make the best sacrifice. 

“Poor thing,” Arwen said. “I wonder if she’s scared. And what are you doing here? You’re not taking part either.” She made it sound like an artistic performance of some kind. Erestor’s mouth twitched. He had had quite a discussion with Elrond about his omission, plus a few quiet words with Glorfindel who firmly upheld the Lord of the Valley’s decision. 

“As your father’s seneschal, apparently I’m too valuable to the running of Imladris to be put at risk in this encounter. Or so I’ve been told. I had no idea your grandmother hunted boar, by the way? I wasn’t eavesdropping, but I could hardly avoid hearing you and your mother.”

Arwen tossed her long, dark hair and looked unrepentant. “ My grandmother’s as good as any man at most things, if not better. In the old days, girls were allowed to do anything they wanted. Look at Aredhel?” Remembering, she looked quickly to make sure Glorfindel was out of earshot. “And like I said to Mother, I can’t see any reason why I should be forced to stay safe at home when both my brothers are here. I mean, Elrohir is…”

“Not much of a warrior, no. You said.” Erestor hid a smile. “What he is though is an excellent archer, which is why he was included. And Elladan is a warrior, recently promoted and acting in your father’s place.”

Arwen pouted, to no avail. Erestor had only lived in Imladris for a few centures, but through regular visits during his days travelling with Gildor’s people he could claim to have known her and her brothers all their lives. He took their various fads and escapades in his stride, even after he settled in Imladris to work as their father's seneschal and was quite immune to Arwen's wiles.

“Glorfindel’s important too,” she pointed out now, “and he’s here. And Father’s over there, so Elladan isn’t really acting for him.” 

Erestor sighed. Sometimes her mouth was altogether too quick for her own good. “Glorfindel has seen worse things than half grown dragons and his being here gives the other warriors confidence. And your father is just watching – rather as we are. It’s his valley after all.”

“Where’s the dragon?”

“I have no idea. Hopefully it’ll be tempted down by the cow. She’s in plain view of that cave it vanished into when we first saw it.”

“It’s lost. I think it’s scared too, like the cow.”

Erestor rolled his eyes. “Don’t be fanciful, Arwen. Hungry, that’s what it is. We may as well sit over there on the rocks – this might take a while.”
 

~*~*~*~*~

It took most of the afternoon. The sun was low, and the cow had lost interest in the grass and seemed ready to be herded home when some one called a low-voiced warning and all heads turned towards the cliff.

The dragon stood on the boulder that shielded the mouth of its cave, surveying its valley. Even from a distance, it looked satisfied. “No one’s warned it that elves aren’t just another easy meal,” Erestor murmured. “It left home before it had that lesson. This might be in our favour.”

“How do you know?” Now the dragon was in view, he noticed Arwen was less flippant. She was sharing her attention between her brothers, him, and the bronze creature that basked in the late sunlight, furling and unfurling its wings. 

“We’re not invisible, it can see a couple of elves not far from the cow. It’s not worried. It thinks we’re just prey, bigger than dogs, smaller than the cow. It’s not old enough to understand weapons. I hope.”

She nodded and moved closer to him, biting her lip. Elladan was sending his archers further back, more deeply under cover. Erestor thought he should have done this already, and the way Glorfindel was deliberately not looking at either Elladan or Elrond suggested he felt the same. Glorfindel was always very careful to avoid the impression he was judging someone else’s command decisions. Erestor loved his lack of ego, even when he thought it was misplaced.

Elrond made his way over to them frowning. “What is that idiot doing?” he asked irritably. Arwen shot Erestor a worried look but said nothing. Contrary to popular belief, she knew when to keep quiet.

“I don’t think he remembered quite how big it was when he deployed them originally,” Erestor suggested. Elrond grunted, crossed his arms and watched his son give orders. “Always harder when you know how it’s meant to be done, isn’t it?”

Elrond gave him a hard look. “Is that about me not letting you
get involved in this?”

“No, just mentioning.”

“And why is my daughter here? Arwen, why are you here? Does your mother know where you are?”

Arwen had been waiting for this. “Oh yes, Ada, of course she knows. She says I’m just like Grandmother.” The smile was disingenuous. Erestor would have been instantly suspicious. Elrond, who doted on her, just grunted again. 

A long drawn out cry stopped all conversation. High up on the cliff the dragon had its head back and was calling, a sound like metal on slate that set Erestor’s every nerve jangling. He had heard a dragon call before, deeper and louder than this but with similar effect. His stomach twisted. An instant later the creature launched itself into the air and was dropping down to the valley floor with rapidly flapping wings. 

“Stand ready,” Erestor heard Elladan call as the dragon swooped low above the trees and across the meadow, moving like a falcon. Instead of heading for the cow as expected though, it went straight at Elladan. 

Arwen shot to her feet, both hands clasped over her mouth, her eyes huge. The next few moments were a confusion of warriors scattering, arrows flying and Glorfindel’s voice raised above the uproar, shouting, “Hold your fire, man down!” Elladan was on the ground, his arms shielding his head, the back of his tunic shredded. The dragon, with a couple of arrows sticking harmlessly between
its scales, had turned and was storming back, bellowing angrily. 

Glorfindel picked up a stone and hurled it at the beast, to no effect. “Here! Here!” he shouted, trying to draw it off while Elladan struggled to sit up. Ignoring him, the dragon landed. It stood over Elladan, beating its wings and shrieking, For a moment no one seemed to move, except Elrond who tried to go to his son and who Erestor instinctively grabbed hold of and held onto. Then hair swayed like a line of molten gold, sunlight glinted off a drawn sword, and the hero from Gondolin who had once faced a balrog ran at the dragon. 

The confrontation was over so quickly Erestor only put the sequence together after. Glorfindel cut low and towards the back of one leg for the alleged weak spot behind the knee and was caught and flung off his feet by a flailing wing. The dragon turned back towards Elladan, but Arwen picked up a hefty-looking stone and shied it with deadly accuracy at its head. “Shoo, get out of here!” she shouted, bending to find the next missile. It proved unnecessary. Glorfindel had found his feet and launched himself forward. The dragon yelped – there was no other word for it – and butted him over as it fled the scene, charging over Elladan as it went.

Erestor released Elrond and sprinted down the short incline from the trees to where Glorfindel and Elladan both lay on the ground, Arwen and Elrond just behind him. The rest of the warriors were regrouping and the archers, belatedly aware their prey was escaping, unleashed a volley of arrows up into the late afternoon sky. Whether or not any struck home was a moot point; the dragon fled for home apparently undismayed.

“Are you all right?!” Glorfindel was doubled over, his hands clasped to his chest. His usually neat hair was disheveled, his leggings scraped and torn from the way he had landed. He coughed and continued coughing, nodding hard. Erestor put an arm round him, not sure what else to do. “Are you hurt?”

“Knocked the wind out of me,” Glorfindel gasped. “Might have - broken rib. Damn thing – like being charged by a bull….”

Erestor had been in any number of battles and skirmishes and was good with injuries, but he was at a loss as to what you said when your very new – suitor? – had just been knocked over by a dragon. He settled for rubbing Glorfindel’s back with one hand, the other resting on his arm. He could see Elladan being helped up by his father, his sister, and at least three warriors, while Elrohir stood staring up at the rock behind which the dragon had its lair. 

“I think I got it somewhere in the head,” one of the archers said. “Not sure about the eye though.”

“Doubt you did,” Caedion told him brusquely, on his way across to offer Elladan water. “Kept flying, didn’t it? Time for Plan B. Whatever that is.”
 

~*~*~*~*~

“There’s about half a glass left in the bottle. Share it?”

“May as well finish it before I walk you home, yes.”

They were on an open balcony that overlooked the river path. During the day the view made it a popular meeting place, but at night it was cold, dimly lit and a bit damp, no match for the nooks and alcoves available in the Hall of Fire. Glorfindel had expressed a wish for fresh air and quiet, so after some thought they had retired there with their bottle of wine and glasses Erestor had purloined from the Hall.

“Are you sure your chest feels all right now? I still think someone should have looked at that rib.”

“Nothing seriously wrong with my ribs, Erestor. Honestly. I’m just bruised, nothing to bother anyone with. Sitting out here and relaxing with you is all the healing I need.” 

Pausing in the act of reaching for the wine bottle, Erestor’s response was serious. “You were really brave, trying to chase it off of Elladan like that.”

Glorfindel looked surprised. “I was just doing what I was meant to - if there’s a man down, you defend him till help comes.”

“Yes, I know that, but except for you they were all running around like headless chickens. Never seen anything like it. You were the only one who knew what he was doing. I was – I was proud.” Erestor felt himself colouring slightly at Glorfindel’s smile. He was responding like an adolescent, knew it, and was enjoying every minute of it.

Leaning down to pick up the bottle, he poured the remaining wine, sharing it with careful equality between them. He returned the bottle slowly and carefully, placing it where his foot was least likely to make contact with it. He and Glorfindel were still at the stage in their relationship where one wanted to
seem witty and endearing after a few drinks rather than sloppy and uncoordinated. Glorfindel might have seen him unsober once or twice, but not recently, not when there was a chance of sharing a goodnight kiss. Or two.

“Elrond’s quite upset
with Elladan, isn’t he? Well fair enough, this is a big problem, but…”

Elrond had vented his displeasure while stitching up three deep gashes in Elladan’s back after laving them generously with an antiseptic that Elladan swore hurt more than the dragon’s talons. 

“He’s upset because Elladan got himself injured,” Erestor explained. “He always shouts at them when they do something stupidly dangerous and almost get maimed. They’re used to it.”

Glorfindel looked broodingly out into the darkness. “My father seldom raised his voice. When he did, it meant I’d gone too far and he was thinking of asking the city Elders to sort me out.”

Erestor made a non-committal sound. He was never sure about these throwaway comments about life in – that would have been Tirion, surely, not Gondolin. Glorfindel had been a blooded warrior long before they settled in Gondolin. “In Gondolin, that was,” Glorfindel said helpfully, sipping the last of the wine. “If you were still living under your father’s roof the law regarded you as an adolescent and under his authority.”

“Ouch.”

“It was a bit, yes. Not at all like that in the rest of the world, was it?”

“Not that I’ve heard tell,” Erestor said carefully. He was keeping his voice down even though they were clearly alone and the loudest sound was the ever present chattering of the river flowing past. “Was it like that in Tirion too, or was this something new in Gondolin?”

“King Turgon wanted order,” Glorfindel replied simply. “We were a city under siege, there was no space for non conformity.”

Moving closer, Erestor leaned his head against Glorfindel’s shoulder and nodded. “I remember you saying so, yes. No individuals, everyone fitting in as part of a team. You must think we’re complete savages.”

Glorfindel chuckled softly, “Yes, just a bit. You’re – quite exotic. I rather like that about you.”

Teasing moved to kisses with very little transition. Erestor turned in Glorfindel’s arms and settled across his lap, his hand caressing cheek and chin, occasionally straying lower to play with the top fastening of his tunic or trail fingertips the length of his neck. Glorfindel held him carefully as though afraid he might offend and cause Erestor to call an end to the evening. Love between members of the same gender had been one of the many things proscribed in Gondolin, and they went at Glorfindel’s speed as he got used to being allowed, nay encouraged, to act on his impulses. 

Time moved at the pace set by such situations, and the world beyond the couch they shared faded. Erestor was mainly interested in what Glorfindel’s hand was doing. It had started off stroking and rubbing his back in broad circles, but had dropped lower now to rest on his hip. Questing fingers toyed with the hem of his loose tunic and he moved closer, sliding an arm around Glorfindel’s neck and out of the way, turning slightly to offer better access without being blatant about it. 

Although anticipated, the shock of cool fingers on his bare skin was still startling, sending a rush of heat through him. He was already half aroused and this was all the impetus required to bring him to full hardness. He made a low, involuntary sound and moved his mouth to the side of Glorfindel’s neck, sucking sharply. Strong fingers tightened on him, thumb stroking, exploring the soft skin at his waist.

It took a moment to realise Glorfindel had stilled, another to find his eyes were open and he was looking past Erestor at something behind him. ‘I don’t believe this!’ Erestor thought, trying to smooth the irritation from his face as he turned his head, fully expecting to find they were no longer alone. While there was no need for secrecy, he and Glorfindel had agreed to keep how things stood between them private for a while, giving themselves, Glorfindel in particular, a chance to find their way without having to deal with outside speculation or pressure. He supposed that state of affairs could hardly last forever. 

He heard the horse before his eyes adapted to the dark and distance so that he could see them. One of the twins, Elrohir if the horse was anything to go by, was riding down the river path with Arwen seated behind him. They were both dressed in plain, dark clothing and the horse even seemed to be making an effort to trot quietly.

“What do you think that’s about?” Glorfindel murmured. His hand started to move over Erestor’s skin again, but absently this time, his eyes on the horse as it made its way into the trees before vanishing from sight.

“I don’t know, but it’s trouble,” Erestor said with certainty. “Elrohir alone I’d ignore, but trouble follows Arwen around like a pet goose. Something’s up. Why would they be going down the valley at this time of night? What’s down there?”

“Elrohir’s armed with a bow,” Glorfindel said thoughtfully, moving his hand up to rest on Erestor’s shoulder instead. He almost objected but responsibility sneered at him, and he sighed and straightened up on Glorfindel’s lap. Another night. Tomorrow, perhaps.

“Do dragons sleep at night?” he asked doubtfully, busy trying to enforce order on his hair. The clasps that normally held it back from his face had been no match for Glorfindel’s caresses, and it now tumbled in black waves over his shoulders and breast.

“I don’t know,” Glorfindel replied, expertly fastening one side back for him, “but I think we need to go and find out. Should we tell Elrond?”

Erestor had a long history of keeping quiet and sorting things out himself where the twins and their sister were concerned. He shook his head firmly as he reluctantly rose. “No, no need to worry him. We’ll fix it ourselves.”

“Not very good timing, was it?” Glorfindel asked him softly, getting to his feet and then pausing with a hand on Erestor’s upper arm. Erestor looked up at him and forgot to be worried long enough to smile. “Not good timing at all, no,” he agreed quietly. 

Glorfindel ducked his head and kissed him swiftly but meaningfully. “We need to pick this up again later. First chance we get.”
 

~*~*~*~*~

There was a good moon, the sky was clear and there was starlight, making it easy for elven eyes to follow the path at night. They found Elrohir’s horse where the trees began to thin. He had been tied to a low branch, which was a very unusual thing for an elf to do. Normally one just asked the horse to stay, expressing the request through soft words and touches. Glorfindel pointed wordlessly. Elrohir and Arwen were moving in a straight line across the meadow and were already near the cliff. Elrohir’s bow could just be seen, but he had it over his shoulder, not to hand.

The valley dozed around them; the air was still and cool and carried a hint of rain. Trees rustled and whispered, somewhere one of the herd dogs barked. Erestor stared. “What in the name of the Pit do they think they’re doing?” he asked at a loss.

“Dragon hunting,” Glorfindel said succinctly. “We’ll follow them on foot. Not making poor old Galu a target.”

“Oh that’s why Rochthrosg’s tied up…”

“Yes. Exactly.”

They barely reached the tree line when the sound Erestor had been praying they wouldn’t hear split the air; angry shrieking, even more chilling when heard in the dark. Glorfindel seemed about to run forward but then measured the distance. “I hope they know what they’re doing,” he said grimly. “We’ll never catch up in time. And that answers your question – dragons don’t necessarily sleep at night.”

The dragon stood with wings outspread, darkness against the rock. “Damn thing looks more like a giant bat than anything else,” Erestor muttered. His eyes returned to Celebrían’s children and he moved from a walk to a jog, the long grass swishing softly at his passage. Keeping pace, Glorfindel somehow managed to make barely a sound.

"Not a comfortable joke, Erestor. They piled over the walls when they came for Gondolin – I got in a few stabs at one but they’re good at covering their stomachs. They’re deadly, and if those eyes light on you and can hold you…”

“I saw Glaurung at Nargothrond,” Erestor
reminded him. “I got lucky, he didn’t see me. I know they’re death with wings, Findel, but this one – it’s young, not like those you saw yet. I don’t think it knows how to place a bind spell on anyone – or if it does, it’s not… What is that fool of a girl doing?”

Arwen had stopped walking and stood with her hands on her hips, looking up at the dragon. Elrohir
was ahead of her and had to walk backwards to get level with her so that they could face the beast together. It had been tossing its head around, but now it stopped as though a hand had touched it and looked down, straight at the two young elves.

Glorfindel put a firm hand on Erestor’s arm and said very, very quietly, “Not sure we should be drawing its attention right now. We’re going to sit down here in the grass and keep still, all right? Give them a few minutes.” As Erestor started to object he said, “Let’s give them a chance. If things don’t look healthy, we’ll distract it. All right? Now – just sit.”

Reluctantly Erestor sank down amongst the long, fragrant grass. Glorfindel knelt behind him, a hand lightly on his shoulder. It was something he had noticed; Glorfindel liked to touch him. Not in a sexual way, just for closeness’ sake. He moved into the touch, his eyes on the boy and girl. Elrohir was removing his bow and putting it down at his feet. Arwen held out her hand and he took it. They stood statue-still, looking up the cliff where on its ledge high above the dragon watched them. The world seemed to hush, and then in a rush of wings it was no longer on the side of the cliff but in the middle of the field, not far from the two elves. It stood with wings extended, then threw back its head and made a sound between a howl and a bellow. 

“Glorfindel…” Inarticulate, Erestor tried to pull free of Glorfindel’s deceptively passive grasp on his arm.

“Wait.”

“What??”

“Wait. It hasn’t attacked them.”

“Yet.”

“Yet, yes. Hush.”

Standing tall, Arwen held her free hand up towards the beast. Neither of them moved until she turned to her brother, nodding. Elrohir stepped forward, approaching the dragon. Erestor had noticed the bag earlier but paid it no heed, being more concerned
with the bow. Now he saw Elrohir walk right up to the dragon, place the bag on the ground and bend down as though looking at something. The beast towered over him - even half grown they were enormous creatures - but he acted as though he was approaching something common and everyday, like a cow. 

“What the hell is he doing?” Erestor looked up at Glorfindel helplessly. The night had leached most of the colour from his hair and eyes, but it couldn’t disguise the tiny laughter lines around Glorfindel’s eyes as they crinkled just slightly. “You think this is – funny?” 

Glorfindel chuckled softly. “Not funny, no. And it can go horribly wrong, of course, and that’s where we’ll come into it. But right now --- you want to know what’s he doing? I think he’s examining it.” Erestor realised he must have looked quite blank because Glorfindel grinned briefly and added, “For wounds, I suppose. General injuries. Infection. That’s what they do, isn’t it? Healers?”

Erestor’s mouth opened, but he had no words for how he was feeling so he closed it again and stared down the meadow. Glorfindel was right. Elrohir appeared to be examining the dragon’s vulnerable belly and lower chest, and the beast was standing still with its eyes fixed on Arwen and permitting it. “He was always more interested in working with animals than elves or mortals,” Erestor said finally. “I don’t think he’s told Elrond yet. Probably worried he’ll be disappointed.”

Listening to his own words, he began to wonder at his sanity. No one examined a dragon, least of all in a field in the middle of the night. He said as much to Glorfindel who shrugged. “Where else would you do it?” he asked reasonably. Erestor thought he was probably being careful not to laugh and smacked his arm, just in case. Glorfindel grinned and closed a large hand around his wrist, but his attention did not leave the tableau near the cliff.

Elrohir was searching in the bag now and came up with something which he seemed to have trouble opening. Finally successful, he went on his knees and began applying the contents to the dragon’s underbelly. Finished, he stepped back, and then back further when Arwen spoke to him. They joined hands again, this time bowing their heads. There was a feeling of -- something –- on the air, old energies stirring, power rising from the earth. And a low humming sound, soft at first but increasing, a tune that spoke into Erestor’s mind and bones of clean air, of the wind from the north, of ice and snow, of bare rock… Home, a voice seemed to whisper to his soul. Home. 

When the dragon moved it startled them all, even Elrohir and Arwen. It stamped its feet and flexed its wings, stretching them out and up as though trying them for strength. Then it took off, moving at a run. Elrohir leaped forward and grabbed his sister by the shoulders, pushing her to the ground with him. Even as they fell, the humming continued.

The dragon barely missed them, taking to the sky with an unexpected grace for such a large creature. It spiraled upward above them, then began to fly in wide, lazy circles. For a long moment it seemed to hang in the air, a dark shape against the moon, and then it made a low swooping turn and with a final shrill cry it took off, heading northwards. Home.

Arwen got up, pulling her brother with her. Faces to the sky, they finished singing the dragon on its way. It did not look back.

“Are you two insane? What in the Void did you think you were doing? Do you have any idea what’s going to happen when your mother hears about this? Do you never stop to think, either of you?” Erestor had no memory of crossing the meadow. He seemed to have gone instantly from kneeling in the grass and staring up at the sky with Glorfindel to almost within shaking range of Celebrían’s children. 

“It was hurt and lost, Restor,” Arwen exclaimed defensively. “I tried to tell Father but he wouldn’t listen, kept telling me how we had to get rid of it while there were still sheep in the valley and before anyone got killed. I tried to tell you, too. It was frightened, that was all. And hungry,” she added, her voice starting to shake. Erestor thought she might finally be taking in the here and now reality of the moonlit field, the soft night breeze, and the real likelihood of having to explain this to her parents.

Erestor reached her and caught her into a tight hug. “You fool of a girl, you could have been killed,” he said through clenched teeth. Out the corner of his eye he saw Glorfindel arrive – he seemed not to have seen the need to run. Elrohir stood very straight, a young warrior confronted by a potentially angry legend.

“You all right?” Erestor was annoyed to hear Glorfindel ask. “That was a bit closer than most people want to get to a dragon, for sure.”

“And there’s no need to sound as though you admire them,” he snapped, not letting go of Arwen. “You’ve not taken a minute of this seriously…” He stopped as a thought occurred to him. “Did they tell you what they were planning?” he asked suspiciously. “Is that why you just ‘happened’ to see them leaving? If you’d kept quiet, I wouldn’t have noticed…” 

Glorfindel raised an eyebrow at this and Erestor felt himself colouring. Fortunately the darkness would cover it. “Well, how could I? I had my back to the path. Well?”

“I don’t think I’d have been as sanguine about it as you seem to think if they’d come and told me they planned to offer aid and succour to the dragon.” 

“We didn’t tell him,” Arwen cut in hastily. “I tried to tell Father and I also tried to talk to Caedion, but they were rushed and didn’t listen properly. Elladan was hurt, so…”

“So she came to me and we talked about it,” Elrohir joined in. “I thought we were the ones who’d injured it but she said no, she could feel the hurt before we started shooting at it. I – I
also knew it was scared, Restor,” he added, “but no one takes me seriously except Dan, and he was too busy being in charge – I mean, too busy.”

“We thought if we focused really tightly it might understand we wanted to help.” Arwen
went on. “They’re not closed off like cattle and sheep, they think and talk like us – just mainly in their heads.”

Elrohir nodded. “Wen could reach it best, so she talked to it while I had a look at the injury. There were a few marks that might have been from arrows, but the problem was an older wound that had got pretty inflamed. I put some antiseptic cream on it – they use it on horses so I thought it would be all right.”

Erestor was still processing earlier information. “You talked to it?” He stared at Arwen as though at a stranger, not a maiden he had rocked to sleep when she was a babe. 

“Well, I could sort of understand its thoughts before, when we first saw it. It wanted to go home, Restor.” Arwen almost looked embarrassed. “It just didn’t know how. We made a dragon song for it – about the north lands. That’s where they come from, it said so in the dragon book you gave me when I was small. I talked to it, told it Elrohir wanted to help, and then we sang pictures to show it where home lies.” 

She turned big, earnest eyes on him as she spoke, and Erestor glared at her, trying to remember the book about dragons and what might have been in it. “If you tell me it just wanted its mother…” he began threateningly.

“So you decided to put together some basic healing essentials, come out here, examine it as you would a sick horse and then – send it off home?” Glorfindel asked Elrohir, his voice neutral. It crossed Erestor’s mind that he would find that tone unnerving were Glorfindel his superior. The normally attractive Quenya accent had become elite and distant. “Why at night? We had a saying in Gondolin about actions not suited for the light of day.”

“Because someone would have stopped us?” Elrohir admitted frankly. “Any time Wen and I go anywhere together, people ask questions.”

“I wonder why that might be?” Erestor muttered.

“Because people jump to conclusions and are not fair.” Arwen was a child of moonlight, it made her dark hair shimmer and gave a trace of silver to her eyes. Erestor thought of the song and a shiver brushed his spine. He had never seen Melian, nor Lúthien the beautiful, but at times Arwen had the look of a being from a far older time.

“Life isn’t fair,” he said more calmly. “What do you intend telling your parents, or didn’t that form part of your plans?”

“We don’t have to tell them, do we?” Elrohir asked uneasily. “I mean, the dragon’s gone, no one got hurt, so there’s no need to say anything, is there?”

Just behind him Erestor heard a low snort of laughter which he almost echoed. “So, what then? We go back to the house and pretend nothing happened? And when people notice the dragon’s gone, we just look – what? Surprised?”

“Yes, but - Mother will fuss...” 

Even Elrohir, ever the optimist, could hear how lame that sounded. Arwen rolled her eyes at him, and Erestor was about to pour further scorn on his hopes when Glorfindel cleared his throat. “I don’t think telling Lord Elrond will be an issue, somehow,” he said mildly.

Erestor started to say something and bit it back hastily. It wasn’t the sort of comment to build a relationship on. “We can hardly plead ignorance, Glorfindel – well, I can’t, I see him every day. I…”

A firm hand at the small of his back stopped him. “No. Over there, my lord seneschal. We have company.”

The white horse crossed the meadow towards them at a walk, tossing her mane and tail, plainly happy to be out in the night. Her rider sat her easily, looking around at his valley under moonlight, his posture suggesting his mind might be elsewhere than on his destination. Elrond dismounted a short distance from them and walked the last few paces through the shushing grass. He had clearly retired for the night before coming out; his hair hung loose, a soft, waving fall of dark silk that reached to his waist, and he wore a long, open surcoat apparently thrown on over sleeping attire. 

No one seeing them together could have failed to realise he and the two younger elves were close kin, particularly Arwen. He regarded them all with unfeigned curiosity.

“So?” he asked, his voice soft as the night. “It’s gone, has it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And the pictures I saw – bare crags, clean, cold air – that was you two, was it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Hmph.” He
silently considered his progeny, both of whom stood quietly respectful, clearly expecting the worst. After a while he turned his regard to Erestor and Glorfindel. “And you two just happened to be passing?” The query was accompanied by an eloquent gesture that took in their situation – on the edge of an otherwise deserted meadow in the middle of the night, well away from habitation.

Erestor was still trying to find the right response to this when Glorfindel said with complete ease, “We were about to take a walk before turning in when we saw them heading into the woods. Erestor was concerned, so I suggested we follow.”

Elrond gave him a disbelieving look but let it pass. He studied the cliff face then looked up higher at the stars as though seeking inspiration. “I’m sure you’re ready for bed after this,” he said finally, placing his hand briefly on Glorfindel’s shoulder. “Thank you. And you, Erestor. You know better than most the kinds of harebrained schemes these two are capable of. Would you excuse us now, please? My children have a few things they need to explain to me.”

As they said their goodnights and moved off, the
last thing Erestor heard was Elrond saying in that same dangerously tranquil voice, “So, Elrohir. You’d rather work with animals, would you? You seem to have the touch.”
 

~*~*~*~*~

The trees sang softly to the rising wind, otherwise the night was quiet. It was late and no one seemed abroad amongst the clusters of homes surrounding the Last Homely House. Horses seen to and stabled, they walked in companionable silence back to the house, Erestor’s hand tucked in the crook of Glorfindel’s arm. They lived on different levels and walking Erestor home took Glorfindel well out of his way, but it had started to be a tradition with them. 

“I forgot about the Maiar blood,” Erestor confessed when they reached his door and stopped. “I was so busy worrying, I didn’t stop to wonder if maybe they would have a sense for how to deal with a young dragon.”

“Oh, I never thought about that,” Glorfindel admitted, “not till I saw Elrond with them and remembered their heritage. No, I just assumed no dragon would stand up to Galadriel’s grand children. Much easier to go find another valley.”

As they shared laughter, Erestor was very aware of Glorfindel smiling down at him, his eyes warm and twinkling. Erestor loved the smile lines on his face that made his expression so naturally friendly and engaged. Their eyes met and held, then Glorfindel bent his head and found his lips. They stood kissing without haste for a while, an almost lazy matter of tongues joining, hands caressing through cloth, before Glorfindel pulled him closer almost roughly and the night caught fire.

They finally moved apart and stood half laughing, still touching each other lightly, Glorfindel’s hands still roving over his hair and back. Erestor felt flushed and his lips tingled, in fact his whole body seemed to be tingling. He reached long fingers to sketch a caress down Glorfindel’s cheek. “You need to go before Lindir comes home and finds us here.” Lindir was Erestor’s neighbour, usually the last out of the Hall of Fire.

Glorfindel’s face grew serious. “That motto I mentioned to Elrohir, about things hidden from the light of day? You’ve been very patient with me, Erestor. You know it’s not shame that makes me want privacy… don’t you?”

Well, Celebrían knew. Which might or might not mean Elrond knew. And then there was Gildor... Erestor took Glorfindel’s face between both hands and drew his head down for a final, lingering kiss. “Don’t be ridiculous, you know I understand. We’ve talked about it and there’s no rush, it’ll happen when it’s time. And truly, I have no urge for Lindir to be the first to know – it’d be a bit like putting a notice up outside the Dining Hall.”

They both laughed. “True enough. Do we keep quiet about the dragon, too?”

Erestor shook his head. “I have no idea. Wait till breakfast and see if Elrond says anything, I suppose. I’ve seen the twins do some strange things in the past, and Arwen is unique unto herself, but this is outside my experience. Do you think it’ll come back, Findel?”

Glorfindel had tidied his hair and straightened his clothes as they spoke. He shook his head. “It’s young, with luck it’ll forget. What we’d do if it came back when it’s grown, I have no idea though.”

Erestor snorted. “That’s no problem. We’ll all just take an extended
seaside holiday in Lindon and leave Arwen to deal with it.”
 

~*~*~*~*~

The further north Handra flew, the more familiar were the smells. Slowly the landscape altered, tall trees and green farmlands falling behind as she approached a land of deep green mosses, low shrubs and snow-capped mountains. Further north she went, still following the pictures in the song but responding also to an instinct that said more to her than home, spoke another, more important word. Hopeful, she flew on, even though her wings were tired and it was a long time since she last ate.

She had to rest for a while on a rocky crag where nothing grew. Birds flew past and she tried to make fire at them, but she still had to grow into that and she could feel them laugh at her. One day she would be big and they would be sorry. She dozed a while to escape the hunger and when she woke it was night. There was no food, so she had to carry on without. The discomfort on her underside puzzled her for a time. The cause was now a distant memory, but after a while she remembered the pain and how He had made the hurt feel better
while She had looked inside and told Handra not to be frightened. 

The air was cold and welcoming, the moon sparkled off the snow below her,
lighting her journey as she followed the road They had painted. It was near dawn when there was a change, a sense of Something more, and then a voice calling, deep as struck brass, a sound that warmed her all the way through. Turning, she followed the sound, down between the mountain peaks, past the rock shaped like a bird’s beak, and there on the broad ledge in front of their cave she stood, just as She had promised back there in the strange green place where the air smelt wrong.

Mama!

Words and concepts were still difficult for Handra as she was very young, though she understood the mighty creatures of light and glory who had spoken in her mind were Great Ones, greater even than the snow giants her mother had so often warned her of. She would never be able to explain her adventure to anyone, by the time she was old enough for the words to be there, the details would have faded. But right now, that mattered not at all. 

She landed breathless, tired, hungry but happy. Mama raised a great, clawed foot and cuffed her, anger and fear and love all jumbled up in her greeting. Handra ran to nuzzle against her and everything was as it should be at last. 

Finally, Handra was home.
 

 

~*~*~*~*~

Beta: Red Lasbelin

Translations:

Galu - good fortune, blessed

Rochthrosg - brown horse

Talvenlithyrn - field of the ash trees