Harbinger

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'Harbinger'

 

Harbinger
 

It was the sea that called him, the sea and the wind raging outside the bedroom window. Sea and wind were his parents’ elements, the great ocean for his father and the open sky for his mother, and either could make him ill at ease at unlikely moments. This time they sang in concert with another, more tenuous thread, and the sounds combined were what woke him.

Careful not to wake his companion he left the bed’s warmth, tugged on a tunic and slung a cloak around his shoulders, all the while struggling to retrieve the voice and words that had called him from sleep. The room lay in deep shadow, only hinting at the elegant furnishings and rich hangings daylight would reveal. This suite was reserved for visiting royalty, but then Elrond was twice royal and the choice appropriate for Gil-galad’s Viceroy in the North on a visit to the capital to mark the birth of the firstborn child of an old friend.

There were the faint sounds of flint on tinder, though the light did not quite reach the window. Glorfindel’s voice came from behind him, barely audible and still husky with sleep. "The sea's so loud it’s like being on board ship. Where did the wind come from? The weather was fine earlier. Did it wake you?"

"Not the wind, no." Bent forward, elbows resting on the windowsill, Elrond continued gazing out the window into darkness. "It was the strangest thing, Glory. I could have sworn ...."

He could see Glorfindel's reflection now, darkly in the glass. He moved up behind him, an eerie shape with ash hair and shadowed eyes, the light robe he kept for visits to the bath house drawn tight against the chill air. The ghostly form came closer, then Glorfindel’s arm slid about his waist as he leaned his chin on Elrond's shoulder. He was warm from the bed, the hard planes and muscle of his warrior’s body reassuringly solid.

“I felt the wind in my dreams,” he said close to Elrond’s ear. “I woke knowing this was the time I was sent for, and here you stand, awake and watching the night. You could have sworn what?”

“I could have sworn I heard my brother’s voice on the wind,” Elrond told him, “coming from a far way away. Where do the Secondborn go when they die, Glory? Were you ever told? Truly, I mean.”

There was movement and a powerful hand cupped his head briefly, stroking and releasing. “You’ll have asked others and had the same answer. They go to their own place within Mandos, and from there to somewhere known only to the One. I’m not sure they can speak to us from there, even to close kin.”

“We were twins,” Elrond said quiet to the window glass. “It’s different. I don’t know, perhaps Elros himself is the real message, some connection ....”

“So you also think this might be more than just a storm?”

Elrond nodded slowly and his reflection nodded back, eyes shaded, face pale beneath a hood of fine, dark hair. “It doesn’t feel normal, does it? The wind came from nowhere, and there should be rain, but – not yet. And the sea is raging.”

“It had to come. I was told to wait wherever seemed appropriate and change would provide the catalyst.”

“And Gil asked what you meant and you had no answer – I remember.”

“And he was most royally unimpressed by that,” Glorfindel said, laughter in his voice. “It took a while before he believed me when I said I had no idea what to expect, just that there would be a sign.”

“I don’t suppose a storm could be called a sign, not here on the coast,” Elrond said thoughtfully. “Not in and of itself.”

“I had strange dreams, you heard a voice,” Glorfindel responded. “Will you walk outside with me a while? I want to taste the wind, feel the earth under my feet.”

Elrond wondered at the rather Sindarin request, but thought this might be Glorfindel’s Vanya side showing again. He turned away from the window, bracing his hands behind him on the sill. Glorfindel’s hair was lamp-lit gold now, his eyes deep blue. “It’s like ice out there so you might want to get dressed. I doubt some late-leaving kitchen maid would be happy to see you with your robe blowing up around your waist.”

Glorfindel raised an eyebrow, eyes dancing. “No? That’s all you know about young women then. And while we’re about it, you might need more than a cloak.”

Elrond turned so his hair fell forward and hid his face from view while he fought a quick, determined battle with the tide of heat that he felt suffuse his features. No, despite his years he knew very little about the thoughts of young women. There had never been time. Firmly pushing aside the recurring image of an unknown girl with silver-blonde hair and blue eyes, he set about getting dressed.

~*~*~*~*~

The wind hit them like a giant fist when they stepped outside. Elrond wanted to go up on the roof which offered a magnificent view, but Glorfindel had been against it and was clearly right. Trees swayed and bent dangerously low, their branches whipping and tossing, while things unseen rattled and crashed and thumped around them.

“Go to the harbour wall?” He had to shout to make himself heard. Glorfindel nodded and kept hold of his arm as they walked. They used a side entrance into the garden, and as they rounded the corner to the sea side of the palace, the wind roared at them, snatching breath and words, tugging violently at clothes and hair. They exchanged glances then left the shelter of the palace half-running, their heads bowed into the gale.

The wall had been built to protect the unwary from the drop down to the private harbour that served the palace. There were viewing points at intervals with benches and they made for one of these. When they reached it and leaned over the cold stone ledge, the sight below stunned Elrond. The sea was almost up to the cliff stairs.

“The water’s never been this high, not since the harbour was built,” he shouted above the roar of the tide. Despite the weather, the harbour itself was busy. The lamps had all been lit and men were pulling the smaller vessels up as high as they could or making those that rode at anchor doubly fast and adding insulation between their sides and the quay.

Glorfindel paused to look over his shoulder, then left without a word to walk further down the garden where he stood looking out to sea. Elrond let him be. He had no idea what the Elda, twice-born in Aman, was doing, but there was a stillness about him that contrasted forcefully against the wild weather. The wind tossed his hair, pale against the dark sky, and pulled at his clothes, but he stood unmoving, hands on hips, looking westward where the clouds hung low and lightning flickered with an uncanny, red glow.

Elrond still had the sense of Elros being close, which was even stranger than the red-stained clouds. He mainly remembered his brother on anniversaries, not just begetting days or the Fëanorian holidays, most of which hadn’t survived the compromise that was Lindon, but also on days like the one that marked the destruction of their first home. By the time they were old enough to make a point of it, in part at least to annoy Maedhros, neither could really remember Sirion, but it remained a last grasp at their stolen roots. Otherwise, Elros had sailed over three thousand years ago and months sometimes passed without Elrond thinking of him at all. Life moved on.

“What’s he doing?”

The voice made him jump, but it was only Erestor, black hair fastened firmly atop his head, one long-fingered hand holding his cloak closed. They both looked at Glorfindel. Elrond often had no idea what his lover was doing. Even in their intimate moments, close and heated within his bed, there was a part of the Reborn that remained untouched and untouchable, not as a rejection, just private space, jealously guarded. Elrond, who kept his own inner thoughts close, understood enough not to press, but at times he wished he knew more of the things a lover might be expected to share. “He’s listening to the sea?” he suggested.

“Well he might want to come listen to it from inside,” Erestor said practically. Nothing much surprised him, a fact that Elrond sometimes found downright irritating. “We saw you from the terrace. Gil says come up and have some wine. No point in trying to sleep through this.”

“Sorry you had to come out in it. Give us a few more minutes and we’ll be up. Has he seen the harbour?”

“I’m trying to talk him out of going down to help,” Erestor said a touch grimly. “You know how he hates to sit on his hands when there’s work to be done. He’s restless, too – says dark things are moving in the West and the world’s being stretched.”

“I said bring them in, not go out and join them.”

The words were brusque but tone good natured and Erestor just shrugged, pulling his cloak closer while the wind howled around them. “We were waiting for Glorfindel,” he explained. “I think he feels whatever it is you do.”

“Something comes.” Elrond said it quietly, more to himself than his cousin, but he was still heard.

“You too? It feels like someone has a leash around the world and is pulling tight.” Gil-galad stared moodily at the sky for a moment or two then strode off to take another look at the harbour. A tree branch with a spray of leaves tumbled and flew past them. Erestor, whose real work took him off into dangerous corners of the world, pulled him out of its way before Elrond even saw it coming. Eyes intent, Erestor swivelled gracefully, tracking it, lips parted ready to shout a warning if it veered too close to his king.

Thunder rolled across the sky, tangible as a physical force, ending in a crack that hurt the ears. Elrond looked up on instinct as though there would be more to see than clouds. Somewhere half buried in the past lay memories of the night they had watched in awe as Vingelot swooped low in pursuit of dragons, silver-shot light spilling from the prow, and Maedhros said only that it was time to send the boys to the safety of Balar. There was no vast, eerily lit airship this time, just lightning streaking the sky and dazzling the eyes, but the air tingled as it had that night.

Gil-galad returned, hair tugging free of its bindings, cloak snapping in the wind. “Right,” he told Erestor. “They need to leave that now, get away from the water. Anything that can’t ride out this sea, they need to let go of.”

“They’re buffering the boats they can’t beach --” Elrond began, but was cut short by a crash as a pot holding a pretty tangle of red flowers was swept from the terrace balustrade.

“Don’t think that’ll be enough,” his cousin said, head jerking briefly to find the source of the noise. “They need to take what’s important and get out of there now. I can feel it.”

“The ships are their livelihood ...”

“Do I look stupid? I know that. I grew up on an island. Another thing I learned there – ships can be replaced, men can’t.”

It was said with less heat than it might have. Gil-galad could be short on patience but there was no rancour in the words and he was already looking around to see what else needed to be done. Erestor caught his arm hastily. “We’ll catch up with you on the way back, Elrond. Then we can share that wine.”

“We’ll take you up on that,” Elrond replied. He wondered if the king of Lindon should be wandering the harbour in these conditions, but .Gil-galad was notoriously casual with his own safety and impatient of what he termed ‘fussing’. There was no point in saying anything, especially if Erestor had already tried and failed.

He watched them follow the wall to the harbour steps. Just before they reached them, Gil-galad raised his arm and shouted something above the howl of the wind and moments later, two guards fell in behind them, one carrying a lantern. The night felt colder when they left; his cousin had the kind of personality that filled a room and warmed the space around him. After a final glance over the wall at the progress on the stairs – even Gil-galad was keeping close to the cliff in deference to the wind - he turned towards the immobile figure standing alone, looking out to sea.

Pushing against the wind, Elrond joined Glorfindel but said nothing. When foreshadowing touched him, he also liked to be left alone and now offered the same courtesy. He listened to the sea crashing until Glorfindel finally moved closer and put an arm round his shoulders, not quite the lover, not out in plain sight, but seeking closeness nonetheless.

“The air feels wrong,” Elrond said, his arm going in turn round Glorfindel’s waist, feeling tightly coiled muscle, a body poised on a knife edge of tension. “The night sounds wrong too, and this storm – where is the rain? ”

“The rain will come.” Glorfindel’s voice was certain. “And the sea will rise up. Can you feel it? As though it was pulled tight somewhere and when it’s released, it will spring onto the land.”

“Gil-galad’s down at the harbour getting them to leave the boats and salvage what they can carry. Whatever you’re feeling, it’s speaking to him, too.”

“It spoke to you as well,” Glorfindel reminded him, “only in a different voice. What was Elros trying to tell you, love?”

Elrond thought back. It was easier to clear his head when he was close to Glorfindel, whose quiet strength was like a wall and who found nothing too strange, no matter how unusual. Of course, he had seen death ... “Time,” he said after thinking about it. “Time has changed.”

Glorfindel rested his cheek against the side of Elrond’s head. “That might be one explanation ...”

Nameless dread hovered just out of reach, and Elrond shivered from a cold that owed nothing to the wind. “While Erestor and I were talking, what were you watching out there?”

A clap of thunder almost drowned out his words, and he leaned forward instinctively, but Glorfindel still heard him. “I could always feel the western road. As long as I’ve been on this shore, I’ve had a sense for where home lay. Galadriel also has it, as does Gildor.”

“And now?” A blast of wind carried moisture but he couldn’t tell if this was spray or the first drops of rain.

“And now I cannot find the road. And the sea is in pain.” Glorfindel’s voice shook slightly. Elrond turned to study his face, a hand still resting at his waist. Even here in the gloom beyond the range of the torches that flickered up on the terrace, he could see the lines of tension around Glorfindel’s eyes and mouth. The good humour and joy in life that were never far from the surface had faded into the night as though carried off by the storm. The reborn lord looked older, like a statue carved in the previous age. Elrond reached up and traced the line of his lips with a fingertip. Glorfindel blinked and his expression softened.

“Something has happened, something beyond imagining. Sending me back here was only one of many steps on this same path. I was told I would know when the time came, and... that time is now. There will be good in the darkness though, They promised me that and They stay true to Their word. Danger and fear and dark times, yes, but light as well and a great work to do. That was the promise.”

“So assuming the palace doesn’t lose its roof or drown under a great wave tonight, things will be....”

Without warning the night exploded into whiteness and then went black. He hung suspended somewhere between the worlds and even before his vision had a chance to clear, he heard the screams.

The scene was unlike anything he had ever imagined. The same black clouds and howling wind that assailed Mithlond raged on in a day-lit land. He saw broad streets and fair houses, a tall mountain dominating the background, and everywhere people running, screaming, crying. He watched in horror as a child tripped and fell and was trampled under the feet of those coming after. He looked around for the cause and saw vast waves rising up to swallow the land, engulf the houses and blot out the light. A richly-dressed woman with wild hair and frantic, angry eyes sped past him, heading for the mountain. The land quaked, thunder roared in the darkening sky and far away, beyond his sight, a crashing, grinding noise was rising louder, louder....

“Elrond, what in the name of ... What do you see?”

He came back to Glorfindel’s hands hard on his shoulders, holding him steady. He gasped for breath as though he had been under water, under the waves he had just seen drowning a city. His eyes went at once to the ocean and he shuddered. “I don’t know where I was. It was still day, maybe today, yesterday, I don’t know. The sea was coming in, flooding the land, and there was panic, people running with nowhere to run to - a white city with a tall mountain behind and the sea before ... Glory, what did I see?”

“... I think you’re describing Númenor.” Glorfindel’s voice was hesitant, but even before he finished speaking, Elrond knew. That was why he had heard his brother’s voice: they had been Elros’ people, the city below the tall mountain his capital. Elrond’s stomach abruptly flipped over and he had to fight down the nausea that so often stalked those moments of Knowing, as he had called them since childhood. The darkness flickered again, and he could see a ship riding an angry sea, white sails shredding in the wind.

He clutched at Glorfindel’s arms for balance as the vision faded and looked around, more urgently now. “Gil, he needs to get back up here. And the palace is too close to the water, we have to get further inland. The sea – it was covering the houses ...”

“The palace is on the top of a cliff,” Glorfindel said calmly. He moved so that his body blocked the wind, offering Elrond what shelter he could. “We’ll be safe enough here, though if the sea keeps rising like this, we’ll have damage all along the coast. There is no personal threat to us, we would both feel it, Gil-galad would feel it even more, these are his lands and Finarfin’s line sense things just as you do.”

“And you,” Elrond pointed out, trying to match the way Glorfindel managed to speak under the noise, a battlefield skill he had never quite mastered. “None of this surprises you.”

“I’ve crossed behind the veil, there are things never forgotten once they’ve been touched or tasted. Are you all right?” Strong hands clasped Elrond’s, and he frowned. “You’re like ice. We need to get inside – here comes the rain.”

The drops were still fine but had more body than spray. Elrond nodded, suddenly feeling worn and tired. “Just – aftermath. Far-seeing never comes easy. As long as you’re here, I can breathe. And if you say the palace won’t be washed away, I suppose it won’t.” He managed a laugh at the end that was less hollow than he expected.

Glorfindel moved closer, ducking his head to find Elrond’s mouth in an unexpectedly public kiss. His lips were warm and firm, his mouth sweet, and the kiss was grounding and lightening at the same time. When he paused for breath, his face was serious. “I will always be your friend and here to help you find balance, but us – you and I – are only for a time. With your bloodline, you must marry one day, carry on Luthien’s heritage, and my place in your life will change.”

“No one can marry me off against my will like the virgin daughter of one of the Edain. I have Gil as a shining example there.”

“That’s a level of stubbornness most of us couldn’t hope to aspire to. Don’t argue, Elrond, we’ve been through this before. I knew it even before I first kissed you. We have this time, it’s ours and for my part I want to use it well, but – in the end what must be will be.”

The face of the girl with the silver-blonde hair was there and then gone again. To block it out he pulled Glorfindel back to him for a second kiss. Their bodies fitted together, two halves of a whole, and the cold retreated, taking with it the sick fear, the dark tingle of fast-moving fate.

“You can stay out here and give them something to talk about for the next month, or you can come inside out of the damn rain and drink wine while Erestor fusses about his hair being wet and frizzy – something it would never dare do.” Gil-galad had come up behind them and stood with arms crossed, a waiting expression on his face. It was starting to rain in earnest now in big, stinging drops, but he seemed oblivious to it.

They parted hastily. “The real storm’s still coming,” Elrond said, the images of destruction clear and immediate. “This is just the edge. History is moving.”

Piercing eyes that were pale blue in the light considered him and then moved to Glorfindel. “This is what you talked about when you arrived, isn’t it? The catalyst?”

Glorfindel nodded, his arm still firmly about Elrond. “I think so, yes. After a cup of that wine you’re offering, Elrond will tell you what he saw. And after that – we wait.”

“What are we waiting for?” Erestor ducked under Gil-galad’s arm and stood close to him for shelter, not caring who saw: he was impervious to gossip. “And can we not do it indoors? It’s raining.”

“We’re waiting for a ship,” Elrond told him, drawing air deep into his lungs. “A ship with white sails, carrying the answers. But right now – Glory’s right. I’m ready for wine and good company. The sea has to rage and the storm has to blow itself out. Time enough tomorrow to see what the future brings.”

~*~*~*~*~

Finis

~*~*~*~*~

AN: Written for AinA 2012
Beta: Red Lasbelin