Waiting for the Ferry

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'Waiting for the Ferry'

 

Waiting for the Ferry
 

The sky was painted in dawn colours: indigo down to rose and palest green, a flare of persimmon shot through with soft gold. The waters of the Gulf of Lune were calm, gently ruffled by breeze and current. Seagulls swooped and shouted, always hungry. It was a perfect morning, just rather earlier than Glorfindel would have preferred.

The private harbour that served the palace was starting to come awake and greet the day. Gil-galad was easy to spot, a solitary figure in a charcoal cloak, his dark hair loose about his shoulders. He was on the wooden pier that served the ferry, standing close to the edge with his arms folded, staring out over the water to where sunlight already glinted on the open sea.

Glorfindel looked around quickly to make sure the two-man honour guard he had fought for (and won) were in attendance and found them further down the quay, looking over the edge at something. One saw him and said something to the other and they hurriedly straightened up. Glorfindel hesitated for a moment then went over to them. "Problem?"

Two helmeted heads shook as one. "The ferry had trouble with the sail, my lord. They're sending a new one down from the Point."

"Again? All right. What are you two looking at... oh." A grey seal lounged casually on the step just below the water line. It glanced up at him and then turned its head away in boredom. "Is it hurt?"

"Doesn't seem to be, sir. Just waiting for the sun, we think. It's an old one, probably knows its way around here."

Glorfindel smiled down at the disinterested animal. "Enjoy your sunbath when it arrives, old man," he said, resisting the urge to reach out and pat the seal, which was likely to leave deep teeth marks as a reward. To the men he said pleasantly but firmly, "You might want to move back over near those bales. You want people to see you're on duty here, not out for a morning stroll."

Not that there was any possible threat to Gil here in the heart of Lindon, but it was important they be seen to stay vigilant. The long peace after the War of Wrath was almost over and watchfulness had to be second nature in times like these.

Gil-galad didn't look round as he approached, but Glorfindel knew from years of experience that he hadn't missed his arrival or the interchange with the guards. "There's an old seal down there," he said, gesturing back the way he'd come. "We think he’s waiting for the sun."

"I wondered what they were looking at. Hoped it wasn't dead, not a good way to start the day."

Glorfindel stopped next to him and also looked out to sea. The water was a deep blue, with green undertones nearer shore. He could see the line where the river met the sea, too, and the way the water took on a different hue on either side of it. "Not very, no, but if you're looking for omens, this one's all right. Looks set to be a nice day."

"Yes it is. Wind might come up later."

There wasn't much to say to that, so Glorfindel didn't try. He let it be and watched the sea for a few moments then said, "I didn't know you were going so early. Share your ferry when it gets here?"

"Whenever that is. At this rate we'll reach South Mithlond in time for lunch."

Glorfindel's lips twitched into his ready smile. "They might have known there was a problem but been willing to take a chance. I doubt they thought their first customer this morning would be the King. You do have your own boat, you know."

"Yes, and by the time it's been readied and the crew rounded up, the ferry will have come and gone and come back again. The whole point was to avoid all that trouble just for a little trip over the strait."

"No, I know. In future it might be worth us taking the extra trouble even if you're not going far."

Gil made a non-committal noise that Glorfindel knew usually meant thanks but no. "Just think about it."

A seagull flew past with something in its beak, chased by a small flock of its fellows. They wrestled at the morsel and conversation became impossible for a few minutes due to the noise. Gil folded his arms again and watched, inscrutable. Glorfindel followed the to and fro of battle, grinning. "Think I've found our new strategist - that one with the missing tail feathers.*

"Couldn't do worse than Hallion did with the job. Sending him for a discreet look at Ost-in-Edhil's defences was one of the better things you've come up with this year."

"Glad you noticed, I thought so too."

They exchanged glances that were almost but not quite smiling. "Convincing his wife it was a promotion though - have to give Erestor the credit there."

"He has a way with bending the truth when he needs it." Glorfindel tried to sound disapproving, which he was of course, though he had a sneaking admiration for Erestor's gift of getting people to believe what he wanted them to do was their own idea or would be to their advantage.

"He'd be a good diplomat if his interests managed to coincide with mine," Gil-galad conceded. "Trouble is, he’s more likely to rewrite policy and explain later how he just expanded on what he understood to be no more than suggestions."

"Which has never happened, no."

"Absolutely not. I make policy, not suggestions."

"Yes, you do. Where is he anyhow? I haven't seen him for days. Did he go off to join Elrond?" Erestor was involved with army supplies, but was not above taking days off to see to other interests when necessary. Sometimes he explained beforehand, sometimes not.

Gil shook his head, took off the plain silver circlet he was wearing, pushed his hair back and replaced the circlet at a slightly different angle. It was the one that pinched, Glorfindel remembered. "No, not this time. He went off with Gildor. South. I told you."

"No, I don't think so." Glorfindel frowned, thinking back.

"Of course I did. Yesterday. At lunch. You were drawing circles on the map and I told you they'd gone south beyond Lond Daer."

"I was marking off watch stations on a small version of my office map, which is work and comes ahead of listening to court gossip."

"I do not gossip."

"Oh come on, Gil, of course you do. You love a little discreet gossip. And any time I hear Erestor's name outside of a formal briefing, that's how I label it. People talk about him all the time."

Gil-galad snorted. "There’s something in that. Maybe it's time for my aunt to come back from Eregion then. She always gives people plenty to talk about."

Glorfindel's smile grew fond. "She was always like that, even back in Tirion when we were young. I wish they would come back to Lindon. I doubt Celeborn's any happier in Ost-in-Edhil than he was when Erestor and I were out there, which is not at all. And with all the tension in the East, I'm not sure Eregion's any place for little Celebrían."

"Well, she's hardly little anymore," Gil pointed out practically. "She's almost as tall as her mother and must be getting on for her first true year?"

"She's still very young and times are dangerous," Glorfindel retorted firmly.

Gil-galad was very fond of Galadriel's daughter, not least because she was a girl as he had predicted and not the son her politically ambitious mother had wanted. He frowned now and nodded. "True enough, though I think Celeborn might be trying to balance the dangers on the road against the risk of staying where they are. Not like them to stay in one place so long though."

"It's a family power struggle, her and Celebrimbor. They can deny it till the cows come home," Glorfindel said, not for the first time. "And in the end, Celeborn will let her have her head with politics so long as there’s no obvious risk to Celebrían. Just worried this time. I - don't have a good feeling about Ost-in-Edhil."

He knew Gil also had a sense of unease about Celebrimbor's glittering city out below the Misty Mountains; it had been growing by the year, ever since Celebrimbor welcomed Annatar with open arms. They were of one mind here and there was nothing really to discuss.

"I wrote to her,” Gil said quietly. “Told her it was time to come home. Haven't had an answer yet."

"Telling Artanis to do something has that effect," Glorfindel reminded him. “It’s a sure fire way of sending her in the opposite direction.”

"It was a royal request. The least she could do was acknowledge it. Mainly though I was hoping to get Celeborn's attention without being obvious about it."

Glorfindel quirked an eyebrow. "Not bad, that. Almost up to Erestor's exacting standard. Remind me, why have he and Gildor gone south?"

Gil-galad was looking down past the breakwater where the curve of the land finally cut off his view of the coastline. "Where are they? We’ll be here all morning at this rate. If Círdan wasn't expecting me I'd go back and get some work done. Come. Walk. Can't stand around like this doing nothing." He set off down the quay, supremely confident that Glorfindel would follow, which of course he did.

They passed the two guards, then Gil-galad cut across cement flags and around a stack of wood to where the small ships were berthed that carried messages up and down the coast. He slowed down to take a look before finally answering. "I had an idea someone should poke around down there, make sure the Easterners didn't have some kind of a forward base. The Númenóreans alienated the locals to where they'll support anyone who might send an army in to protect them. Anyhow. I didn’t have enough to run past the council, so I asked them to go mingle and listen. Told them to stay out of trouble."
"You told Gildor to stay out of trouble?"

Gil-galad jostled him cheerfully. "Don't give me that look. Why not?"
"Because you'd be wasting your breath, that's why not," Glorfindel said, deciding to pass it off lightly. Finwë’s grandson was a law unto himself, with a sense of absolute autonomy that was a sore point with the High King. He suspected Gil was – not exactly jealous, but very aware in his dealings with Gildor that his own life held far less real freedom.

They tramped through puddles and sent gulls scattering, though not far. The guards kept their station and early workers watched, curious. Gil-galad was a regular down at the harbour, but normally he was in transit. The wind was getting up a little, tugging at their hair, and Glorfindel wondered if he should have brought the other cloak. He had never liked the cold, not since his experience with the Helcaraxë. "Talking about people staying out of trouble - with that military buildup just over the Misty Mountains, the roads are less safe even up here. When are you sending for Elrond? You'll be wanting an escort, won't you?"

Gil sighed gustily. "I suppose we'd better, before things get any uglier."

"He had a whole range of mortal ailments he wanted to try and find cures for, and I suppose that takes time. He'd have to watch the progression of treatments and make changes in the regimen..."

Glorfindel was fascinated by all of this and had a regular correspondence with Elrond when he was away on such excursions. Gil-galad, who was supportive of Elrond's vocation without necessarily wanting the details, shrugged. "He won't like it, we'll probably interrupt him in the middle of something vitally important that non-healers would have no hope of understanding."

Glorfindel grinned. "Even if it's not, yes. He was looking forward to this and it seems a shame to bring him home early but rather safe than sorry."

"You're full of platitudes this morning," Gil-galad noted.

Glorfindel gave him a look. "And you're prickly and awkward, so we fit pretty well together don't we? You didn't sleep well, did you?"

"Is this where I say I could not sleep alone in that big, empty bed?"

"That's about the shape of it, yes. You should have opted for me waking you up when I came in instead of going to my own rooms."

Gil-galad picked up a stick and began slapping it against his hand as he walked. "I was up reading reports till late enough that you might as well have, but I hadn't planned it when you told me you were going on night manoeuvres with the Sixth. Did you get any sleep at all? You're coming along to speak to the Fleet captains, right?"

The sky had changed from rosy gold to a pale greenish blue that blended into the deep azure of the sea. Glorfindel loved the ocean, especially in the early morning when it seemed to fill the whole world with its voice and scent. Belatedly, he realised Gil was waiting for a reply. "Oh, yes, yes it's been organised, I can't not show up because I got hardly any sleep. I'll be fine. I'll nap on the ferry if it ever gets here."

They reached the end of the line of streamlined vessels, all of them deserted at this hour of the day, and stood together at the water's edge. "This is ridiculous," Gil-galad said finally, watching a produce boat being loaded further down the harbour.

"Sorry?" The King was in the habit of assuming Glorfindel knew what he was thinking and starting a topic at some random midpoint.

"Us." Gil-galad gestured generally, taking in themselves, the harbour, the waking Gulf. "Look at us. King of Lindon and his senior commander. Stuck here waiting for a damn ferry. It's ridiculous. Could you imagine Turgon?"

Glorfindel laughed. "No, somehow not. For a start, I can't picture him taking the ferry like everyone else. He'd use the royal transport and it would be waiting and ready before he set foot on the quay if they knew what was good for them."

"I need to be more kingly, don't I? Not waiting in the morning mist for the public ferry to get round to picking me up." Gil was trying to sound serious and annoyed but they both knew he was laughing.

"Well, probably," Glorfindel said. "It would be easier for me if you always used your own boat and kept a company of guards available day and night, but I've learned to settle for what I can get when it comes to your security. And people like that you're not above coming down with just two guards and taking the ferry like everyone else working at the Palace."

Gil-galad shrugged. "Well it's just a short hop."

Glorfindel smiled to himself. He knew Gil loved these occasional escapes from protocol and rank for a taste of life amongst ordinary people. It was a small thing but it made him happy and was one of many reasons he was generally loved as well as respected.

“Yes, I know. Just a hop," he said fondly. "I know how you think, remember. You don't see the point in inconveniencing the captain and crew for something like that and no one would dream of bothering you on the ferry, so why not? Even if times are growing dark and unsure, you'll not act like a King under threat."

"Because I'm not, Glaur," Gil-galad said, meeting his eyes. He had been joking but was now serious. "There's no safer place than Lindon and if I start thinking I need protection from my own, then it's time to hand over to Elrond and go find myself a nice little fishing village to retire to."

"The Mighty help the village. It'd be fine for the first two weeks, but then you'd get bored and need to start developing the harbour or building a bridge..."

"I’m no Turin - no bridges."

"Maybe not. I think he had a beard?"

"How do you think I'd look with a beard?"

Glorfindel pretended to consider this. "Hmm, could be interesting. And a little grey in the hair like mortals get in their middle years."

"Look more regal, would I?"

"Well, if you wanted to be king of one of those little strongholds you've got Gildor looking into, yes, that'd work." He was laughing now and so was Gil.

"Must get pretty hot down there in summer, but yes, it’d be a good place to start. I'd have to take Elrond along. Every good mortal king needs a trustworthy healer-magician."

"Oh yes, I can see him in the role," Glorfindel chuckled. "White linen, tasteful gold jewellery, an inscrutable air."

"And Erestor could go along and wear multicoloured silk and eye makeup and look expensive and dangerous. Add to his reputation."

"Gods, with that imagination you could be a bard. Just don't sing."

"Thank you for your support." Gil's singing was a standing joke between them.

"What would my role be there? Chief of Warriors?"

"Don't know." Gil looked him up and down, taking in the casual tunic and pants, the comfortable mid-calf boots, the traditional scarlet cloak and the braided hair. "You might not look fierce enough to convince them. Maybe you could take charge of Palace entertainment and my - personal - amusement."

"Royal concubine?"

"You said it, not me."

Glorfindel slanted a look at him. "You implied. And my memory's quite good enough to retain that till tonight, when I might not feel right about being personal amusement to royalty."

Gil-galad offered his most charming smile. "Good dinner, couple of glasses of wine..."

"You're not very imaginative really, are you? Seem to remember you've tried that one before."

They turned into the wind and set off back to the ferry dock. The harbour was coming alive now, with several small craft preparing to set sail – commercial transports and a fishing boat as far as Glorfindel could see.

"Well, it worked," Gil-galad said smugly."And you're still here, so how bad could it have been?"

"Nothing wrong with the royal ego this morning either," Glorfindel said, but his eyes were affectionate.

"Ferry's coming." Gil-galad lengthened his stride marginally, not rushing, just covering more ground.

"It is?" Glorfindel looked back over his shoulder just as the blue and yellow sail hove into view. "How on earth did you know that?"

"Escort's moving to the landing area. They could see it coming before we would have, even facing that way."

"Tricky, aren't you?" Glorfindel grinned, pushing his cloak back over his shoulders and tugging to make sure the two simple gold clasps fastening it to his tunic were secure.

"Runs in the family, ask my aunt," Gil told him. "That's where we got our reputation for brilliance – simple really, we notice things. You staying for lunch over there? If not, we can ride back together."

"No, I’m going down the coast in one of the new Fleet vessels so they can show me if it's as fast as they say. I'll see you at dinner tonight."

"Fair enough." Gil-galad caught a dock worker's eye and pointed meaningfully at an untidy tangle of rope as he passed it. "Tonight then. Dinner in my apartment. I'll supply the food and wine, you just show up with your hair loose. We'll take it from there."

Watching the first golden rays streak across the estuary as the sun rose between two peaks of the Blue Mountains, Glorfindel rolled his eyes. "So there's another late night in my future. Though at least I'll get to spend it in a bed this time, not on the floor."

“Memory like a damn mûmak,” Gil-galad muttered. “That was centuries ago. I’ll never live that down, will I?”

Glorfindel raised his eyebrows as they reached the boarding area for the ferry, his eyes laughing. “Live it down? Not likely, not after I caught you out so thoroughly. That night’s etched in my memory.”

The air was still crisp and cool but the dawn quiet was over. In a moment Glorfindel would need to give a few instructions to the guards about seeing the King securely back after his meeting with Círdan, while Gil-galad would chat with the few passengers waiting for the ferry, asking questions about their work, why they were crossing the strait at this time of the day, but now he slowed his steps and caught Glorfindel’s eye, his face serious. “Some things are so perfect they deserve to be held onto, cherished, kept as a reminder. That’s as it should be. Always.”

And then the day swallowed them up and drew them apart till well into the evening, but at odd moments down the years the colours of dawn and the squall of the gulls brought the memory back to Glorfindel, and with it came a single word that made him smile and nod. Always.
 

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finis

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For Red Lasbelin. Birthday, anniversary and whatever fic. Late. Very, very late. Unbetad, probably riddled with typos and bad grammar, but longer than expected and written with much love.