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'East of the Sea'

 

East of the Sea


The sound of hoofbeats broke the morning hush that hung over the Bruinen’s tree-lined banks, the sound heralding a small group travelling at speed. The riders crossed at the Ford with barely a break in stride, breaching the rushing water that was the last line of defense set by the Power that dwelt within the nearby valley. The water remained calm beneath the horses' hooves, for the riders were elven and as such welcome in the realm beyond. Intruders would have found a less placid river, rising up in outrage against them.

The riders gained the far bank, their hair streaming back in the wind of their passing, mirroring their horses' tails and the snapping banners of yellow and blue that they carried high and proud. All save one in that company had the smoke-dark hair and slender build of the Sindar. The other was fair, with hair like noon sunlight deepening to gold. The riders surrounded him in a protective phalanx, close yet apart, allowing him space to ride in company yet still be alone with his thoughts and memories.

Tall he was, broad-shouldered and strongly built, his face fair and open, his golden hair braided and twisted in a style that spoke of another age and place. As he rode, his eyes and ears drank in the snow-kissed land and the sound of falling water that grew ever closer as they rode. He breathed in the scents carried on the crisp winter air and wondered how it was going to be, living in this land, being a part of these people.

For a moment an image of fire and smoke returned, the song of the nearby waterfall was transformed into a roar like thunder, and dull red horror rose up within him, temporarily blotting out the sun's unexpected warmth, the air's clean sweetness. He drew breath slowly and carefully, concentrated on his horse’s solid mass and smooth rhythm and slowly the flashback ebbed and was gone again.

Once the world had settled, he reminded himself that he would soon have new memories to overlay those final moments of fear and rage above Gondolin. He had been told there was work for him here in this new, soon-to-be home, people who had need of his experience even more than his sword arm. He was by nature friendly, well-liked back in Gondolin, and Círdan had said these were good people, his cousin's great-grandson, his wife and children...

A sudden rush of wings accompanied by shrill chirping made him look up, startled. Their passage had disturbed a flock of birds, little brown things unlike any he recalled from Gondolin, and they were circling now in an angry confusion of feathers. He watched them, smiling, then reached out with his mind and for a moment was one with their small world, lifting on sunlit air. They rode on, leaving the birds behind, but the soft smile remained to tease at Glorfindel's lips. He threw his head back and breathed in deeply, taking in green scents overlaid by snow, the hint of water on the mountain air. This was a good place, he decided. It should not be hard to belong here.

~*~*~*~*~

The day dawned bright and clear, no hint of snow or inclement weather. Imladris was astir: word had been sent ahead warning of the approach of the honour escort, Círdan’s compliment at a time when elves did not yet hesitate to ride alone, except in the dark southern corner of the Greenwood, about which there was an uneasy air. This was the first time a reborn elf had been sent back out of the west, and in the absence of protocol, the Shore Lord had been careful to treat him with all the respect due an emissary of the Mighty.

While the senior members of the household waited on the steps in front of the main entrance to the Last Homely House, jostling carefully for position and expressing low-voiced hopes that breakfast would not be too inconveniently late, Celebrían, Lady of Imladris, was engaged in a last minute inspection and had turned her attention to her children.

“But I distinctly said that you were to dress your hair properly ---- braids, jewels, like the lord of the valley’s son, not like an off-duty farrier.”

The lady of the valley was herself clad formally in cloth of silver with gold brocading, an outfit so grand it quite overwhelmed her fragile blonde beauty. To look at her, no one could have guessed she had spent the past few days dressed in an old grey robe and almost reducing the household staff to tears in her efforts to see the Last Homely House scoured till it shone.

Elrohir coloured, but had the sense to hold his tongue. One of the warriors had a taken a tumble off his horse and he had just come from learning how to set a triple break of the fibula. Next to him Elladan half raised a hand to the thin warrior’s braid falling past his right cheek, but thought better of it and let it drop. Perhaps he had some vain hope of not drawing his mother’s eagle eye. If so, he was sadly disillusioned.

“Elladan, what are you wearing? You are your father’s heir! That outfit is barely suitable for breakfast. And your hair!”

Elrond chose this moment to catch Erestor’s eye and gesture towards himself, an eyebrow raised enquiringly. He was wearing a simple robe with a pattern of leaves, green on green, embroidered at cuff and hem. Nothing told him apart from his household except the silver circlet on his head. He needed no more – he had a King’s air of quiet certainty. Erestor fluttered his fingers and smiled quick reassurance, trying to tell him he looked well enough, and was distracted by a soft giggle behind him.

“Nana spent days looking up norms and customs in Gondolin,” Arwen whispered. “I think she would have liked to rebuilt Imladris out of white marble. Instead she just settled for dusting it. I told her the House is so old it probably needs dust to look authentic, and anyhow Gondolin probably wasn’t spotless, but she just got cross. I don’t know what all the fuss is about, it sounds like such an awful place, Restor.”

Privately Erestor agreed that Gondolin had always sounded a grim kind of place to live, regimented and restrictive despite its physical beauty, but he understood well enough what was motivating Celebrían. She had been raised on stories of the heroes of the First Age and was clearly in a full-blown panic. The warrior who had slain the balrog on the Christhorn Pass was coming to live in her home, and to make matters worse, he was kin to both her and Elrond.

“Your father’s next,” he whispered back with certainty, and Arwen giggled again.

Elrond had however been raised to believe the best defense was attack. He interrupted his son’s attempt to justify his dress sense, his tone light but firm. “Elladan, why don’t you and Elrohir take horses and meet them on the path? I can think of no better escort for the last stage of the journey than my sons, his own distant kin. That way,” he added, turning to Celebrían with the sweet smile that responsibility was reducing to a rare pleasure, “he would hardly expect them to be dressed as though ready to welcome Eönwë bearing a message from great Manwë himself.”

Celebrían drew breath as though to argue, then nodded, smiling in return, a hint of relief in her clear, blue eyes. “He’s my mother’s cousin, too,” she reminded him, her voice softer. “I - think she might like that gesture?”

“Adar, that is so unfair!” Arwen pushed past Erestor, barely coherent in her outrage. “Why should they get to meet him first while I have to stay down here and wait, just because I’m the girl? That is so not fair!” She turned to her mother in appeal. “Grandmother would not have stayed here tamely and…”

Erestor felt a rush of sympathy at the way Celebrían’s frantic attempts to get things right were being thwarted by her family. Before he could say anything, Elrohir spoke up. “I don’t see why Arwen shouldn’t come with us. She would make it seem less like a warrior’s greeting, and anyway she looks prettier on a horse than Elladan.”

The tension that had been growing broke into laughter and Elrond shrugged slightly. “This is turning into a deputation,” he said. “Although you have a point, Elrohir. Arwen shall ride with you. And Erestor,” he added. “My seneschal’s presence will make this seem less like what it really is – my children being eaten alive by curiosity.”

Erestor blinked. He was unsure how he felt about any of this. He had told the twins the story of Glorfindel the great defender when they were tiny and had later read the tale to Arwen, showing her the same pictures in the book her brothers loved. At the time he had thought it would be a wonderfully romantic thing to meet this best known of Gondolin’s lords, but it had been no more than a dream, an idle fantasy about some day in the Undying Lands… And now he was almost here and if truth be told, Erestor doubted the reality would match his innocent fantasy.

Celebrían’s relieved smile suggested that King Turgon, too, had had a Seneschal to do his bidding and see to matters affecting his household and guests – Elrond was ever the born diplomat and he understood his wife. With a half bow to her, Erestor addressed Elladan. “Give me a few minutes to change into something more suitable for riding, and I’ll meet you at the stables. Let’s see if we can help our guest feel less like a curiosity."

~*~*~*~*~

The trail down from the moors above the valley was Elrond’s defensive masterpiece. It curved and twisted back on itself, passed against sheer rock in places or between thick tree cover. Some parts were graveled to make them hard to cross quickly, and it was overhung sufficiently for it to be easy to keep the most cautious visitor in clear view at all times. The residents of Imladris, or at least those who had occasion to leave the valley, swiftly learned where to ride on the verge and where dismounting and leading the horse was the best choice.

Erestor rode beside Arwen with her brothers ahead of them. The air was very still, carrying the sounds of birdsong and the eternally rushing waters of the Bruinen even above the sound of their horses’ passage. “Should we go about half way up, wait there?” he asked, raising his voice to include the twins in the conversation.

Elrohir looked back, an eyebrow raised in a manner startlingly similar to his father. “I don’t know, Erestor. How about the place where the trail turns and you can see right out across the valley? It would give him a really good first view of Imladris.”

“Ooh, yes,” Arwen said at once. “That would be perfect. So we could show him where he will be living without making a big fuss about it.”

“Elladan?” Erestor asked. All three would follow his instructions, having grown used over the years to him occasionally standing in for their father when decisions needed to be taken, but it was still courteous to offer the final voice to the Lord’s heir.

Elladan, who was by nature easy-going until roused, shrugged and nodded. “If Wen likes it, we’ll do it,” he said. “Otherwise we’ll never hear the end of it.”

“I am not a nag,” Arwen snapped.

“Shrew.”

“Not today,” Erestor and Elrohir said almost simultaneously. The two could go on for hours if left unchecked.

“Hush, I can hear something. Let’s hurry.”

ooOoo


The trail led downhill between trees and rocks, angling down into a steep, tree-filled ravine. He was about to ask how far they still had to travel and where the houses were when they rounded a sharp bend and he saw a sudden vista of fields and little clusters of buildings within the embrace of the mountain's grey-green walls. The sun sparkled off snow, and for a moment he forgot he preferred summer.

He had no time to look his fill, because they were no longer alone on the trail. The horses were being reined to a halt, his own following suit. Four elves stood waiting under the trees: a pair of almost identical twins, a very young girl with blue eyes and dark hair, who reminded him of someone he could not at once put a name to, and behind them an elf with light brown eyes and the blackest hair Glorfindel had ever seen. He wore it fastened back from his face but loose down his back in a manner that would have been thought undisciplined and lacking dignity in Gondolin. Glorfindel rather liked it.

The black haired elf gave one of the twins a less than discreet shove, noticed Glorfindel was watching and rolled his eyes. The young elf, who had been staring at him with an expression of undisguised awe, stepped forward on cue, opened his mouth - and closed it again. The girl giggled softly, while his twin carefully looked past him as though nothing untoward were happening.

Clearly older and less impressed, the other elf shook his head and stepped forward. "Lord Glorfindel, I think what Elladan was trying to say was 'welcome to Imladris'. Yes?" He gave the youngster a level look and got an embarrassed nod in reply.

"Sorry, Erestor."

"Yes I know. I won't tell your father. I can't speak for your sister though. You'd best think up a bribe." He returned his attention to Glorfindel, who was sitting his horse and trying very hard not to laugh. "These two are my lord Elrond's sons, Elladan and Elrohir - no need to try and tell them apart yet, it'll come soon enough. And this vision of innocence and decorum is their sister, Arwen. My lord thought it a friendly gesture to send them on ahead to meet you."

The vision of innocence and decorum, who had her skirts hitched up and snow in her hair, gave him a wide smile. "Welcome, my lord. I hope you will be very happy living here with us." She stepped forward and offered her hand as she spoke and he took it, bowing over it as courtesy required. She quite ruined the formality of the moment by shooting her brothers a look of gleeful triumph, instantly winning his heart.

Keeping the laughter in check, Glorfindel turned his attention to their companion. "And you, my lord? Are you also a member of Lord Elrond's family?"

The elf’s face lit up with amusement and he laughed, a low, mellow sound that suited his slightly husky voice. He shook his head and smiled up at Glorfindel. "Hardly, my lord. No, I am just plain Erestor, Lord Elrond's seneschal. He thought it would give things a touch of decorum if I came with them. There is a more traditional welcome party waiting at the house, of course. All lined up, right on the front step."

Glorfindel had a flash of uncertainty at the thought of a formal ceremony when he was still disoriented from his journey across the sea and brief sojourn in Círdan's house. Erestor must have seen it, because he smiled again reassuringly, which was when Glorfindel noticed the dimples. "Oh, it’s not as bad as it sounds. They just want to make sure you know how glad everyone is to have you here and how honoured. It's very important to Lady Celebrían, she feels her mother will expect it. Normally we're very informal down here. I hope you'll be comfortable with that? Prince though he is, Elrond was never one to stand on ceremony."

It took him a moment but then he remembered and understood. Elrond's wife was the only child of his formidable cousin Artanis, now called Galadriel. She had never been particularly easy to please.

"I think the informality will more than suit me," he promised Erestor, hoping for another smile. "It's exactly as I was thinking on the way here, it won't be a difficult place to settle down in, not difficult at all. It would be easier though," he added, turning to Elladan with a friendly look, "if people talk to me. I'm not the first person to kill a Balrog, you know."

"No," Elladan said, words bypassing his brain to trip off his tongue. "But you're the first person to come back and tell us about it."

Erestor closed his eyes as though in pain and murmured, "Oh ‘Dan." Even Arwen was suitably stunned and clapped a hand over her mouth, but not in time to mask a very unladylike snort. Glorfindel looked down into Elladan's horrified grey eyes and surprised himself by grinning.

"That’s much better than respectful awe," he observed. "Perhaps while you're still talking to me you could tell me how far we are from your home? It’s been a long journey. I may have been riding since I was a boy, but my new body still needs time to get used to the idea."

Erestor’s unusual eyes sparkled. "I think we'll have to introduce you to the hot baths as soon as we practically can. Hero or no, you're going to ache all over for days."

They were all grinning now, Lord Elrond's children, Círdan’s honour guard, the Seneschal, who looked far from the part of a household administrator to Glorfindel. He suspected there might be a good story there.

"You're - just like us, aren't you?" the other twin, Elrohir, said thoughtfully, looking him up and down. This was the first thing he had said and Glorfindel gave it the dignity it deserved.

"I think so, yes. Well, almost. Just a bit taller, perhaps. And blond. And quite old."

"And not really like us at all," Arwen finished off helpfully, getting ready to mount her horse, "but you'll fit in here anyway, people usually do. Won't he Erestor?"

Glorfindel’s eyes met Erestor's, an action that was unplanned but seemed somehow natural. Erestor's gaze lingered on him a little longer than necessary and when he looked away his lips were curving into a small, inward-looking smile. ""Oh yes," he said, "you'll fit in here perfectly. You survived being greeted by these three, after all. In my experience, things can only get easier after this.”

~*~*~*~*~

AN: Birthday fic for Minuial Nuwing, with thanks to Red for the last minute high-speed beta.