Recipient's name:Red Lasbelin
Title:The Long and Winding Road
Request: 5A Elves sailing with a focus on Imladris elves. Can either be at the Havens, or final days in Imladris. Glorfindel's my fave.
Author's notes: Surprise! Here you go dear, more about people, less about plot, just the way (sort of) you try and get me to write them and I wail and say ‘but where is it meant to GO?’ I hope you like this, it is offered with much love. Have a blessed 2018.
Title courtesy of The Beatles.
Summary: Conversations before sailing – Galadriel is resentful, Elrond is worried, and in no universe where I have ever written will Erestor be happy about leaving Middle-earth.
"Well, it could be worse. Nothing wrong with being notorious."
Galadriel drew the finely woven woollen cloak around her and frowned. "Thank you, Gildor, I have been many things, but notorious has not been one of them. Not often," she corrected herself.
"See? Something different. You'll love it," Gildor said cheerfully. They were sitting on the open veranda along the front of Círdan’s house, the part that was sheltered from the wind. The old boards creaked softly, and soft sea sounds murmured to the shore. The sun had just been swallowed by clouds and Gildor knew his cousin would soon move inside. No one who had crossed the Ice all those Ages ago was fond of cold weather, but now that the Rings of Power were no more than pretty pieces of jewellery with a long history, she and Elrond showed increasing signs of physical strain as well. This, of course, was why they had no choice but to sail.
Well, there was another option, Gildor corrected himself. They could always stay here and fade into the land, become a part of Middle-earth for as long as the world lasted. Galadriel had threatened to do just that, but Celeborn finally did something useful and bullied her out of that dangerous mindset.
She was glaring at him now. Even at the height of her powers she had been unable to frighten him, so she was wasting her time and they both knew it. Still, if it made her feel better. "I will not love it," she told him with dignity. "I will tolerate it. That's all. That and the endless family reunions. I still think you could at least have come back with me. All the fuss will be over when you finally get there, and you'll slip back in with barely a ripple of notice."
This had occurred to Gildor, but he had lived too long to make the mistake of owning up to it. "I'm not making excuses, Tanis," he said for possibly the fifth time. "I need to go out on the road and round up the last of the strays, make sure no one gets left behind because they weren't where they could hear the news. I'll be on the boat with Erestor and your grandsons."
"Making sure none of them change their mind? Elrond asked you to stay, didn’t he? Be honest."
"I'm not worried about the twins," Gildor said. "They've given Elrond their word and they'd be too scared to break it, he might find a way to come back and fetch them. And Erestor may not be happy, but he's resigned. Also, he won't give either of them an excuse for a rethink. No, I just have work to do. And in between I can help out in the valley." He pulled a face. "Anyhow, the family pressure shouldn't be that bad. I mean, most of them might still be in Mandos. It might be quite peaceful."
"It's been a long time, even by our standards," she pointed out. "They should all be out by now, at least those who didn't get stupid at Alqualondë and who wanted rebirth.
"I wonder what rebirth’s like? Seriously. I never liked to ask Glory. A brand-new body and your memories coming back slowly... not sure I'd enjoy it. Maybe people decide not to reincarnate once they find out what's involved."
"My brothers might be there, they've never been afraid of new experiences."
He noted the wistful tone and smiled to himself. Artanis Nerwen still had a soft side: she loved all her brothers. And he was very fond of her, despite their ages-old bandying of words. "I'm sure Finrod will be there," he said, deciding to be helpful for a change. They had been very close, she and Finrod. "That's how the story goes anyhow, and it had to come from over there. So there's that to look forward to. Just as I have my mother - I've missed her since she sailed back. I wonder if she got in trouble."
"I wonder if she cared? She never seemed to mind much what people thought." Which was as good a description of Lalwen as any really, he supposed.
"She wouldn't care, Tanis. Nor should you."
"I don't care what they think," Galadriel said with a bit of her old fire. "I care very much that they'll see me come tamely home without knowing or caring about the whole story."
"They'll know the whole story eventually," he promised. "Erestor is threatening to write it down. He says he'll have to find something to break the boredom, so an honest history of the Eldar in Middle-earth might help pass the time." He risked a glance at her and grinned. "For a fee he might even be willing to keep certain facts out of the narrative."
"He might find his way unexpectedly into the Halls if he does that. I can think of several people who'd rather not have him share what he knows. He has a way of sniffing things out.... very valuable when he still worked for me. Where is he anyhow? Did he have another of those fights with Glorfindel and leave without saying goodbye? I wouldn’t be in such a rush to get back. He'll be overseeing my grandsons - that's the closest to herding cats that I can imagine."
"For my sins I'll be expected to help with that each time I pass through the valley," Gildor said dryly. It was no hardship, he and Erestor worked well together and were close, if not as close as he would once have liked. "I hoped Glory would also stay, he's a stabilising influence, but..."
"He's tired too," Galadriel said. "He was sent here for a purpose and it's over. It’s time to go. I swear they do these things to us deliberately."
"Probably." Gildor was less paranoid about the Valar than some, but he was practical too. "Still, it would have helped. And I did think if he and Erestor got to spend some time together now the war’s finally won, they might resolve their differences."
"There’ve been too many deaths for Erestor, he once told me," Galadriel said softly. "There comes a time when giving your heart to a warrior can be too much to ask. I don't think Glorfindel understood that, you know. He saw the wonder and horror of the First Age of Arda, not what came after -- on and on and on, death upon death."
"That was why he was sent back, Tanis," Gildor said quietly, deferring to the bleakness in Galadriel's voice: the woman had lost a daughter to those dark times and her granddaughter had been the victor's prize at the end - he knew not to say that to anyone, but it was how he would always see it. "Erestor knew that."
"Knowing in the heart and knowing in the head can be two different things," Galadriel said, drawing her cloak closer. Her face was pensive for a moment, then she straightened her shoulders, smoothed her expression. "Gildor, do you think you could find me an extra throw of some kind? And don't let my grandsons know. They keep acting as though I'm about to break."
"That's misguided of them," Gildor said with a grin, rising. "I thought by now everybody would know you're indestructible."
"Do you want a cushion for your back, Ada?" Elladan asked, his hand already reaching for a cushion on the unoccupied chair beside his. Elrohir had gone off to look at a sea bird he suspected had an injured leg, which was a euphemism for ducking out for a few hits of pipeweed.
"Damn it, Elrohir, there's no call to treat me like an aged, infirm human," his father growled. Elrond sat up straighter, pulling the light blanket he had round his shoulders closer, ready to dispose of any unwisely offered cushion the moment it came near. Elladan sighed. The old man was in a difficult mood, or more difficult than usual.
"It's Elladan, Ada? And I'm not treating you like an infirm anything, earlier you said yourself that chair was damned uncomfortable."
Elrond glared at him. "Oh, so you are. No idea why you feel the need to go around talking like your brother. Liked it better when you were young, blue beads on opposite sides of the head to make it easier to tell you apart."
Elladan thought about it. "So, what you're saying is Rohir is more considerate than I am then? Offering you a cushion and all."
"He fusses," Elrond snapped. "I had not expected you to start too, even if you were running around for a knee rug of all things for your grandmother."
"She threw it at me," Elladan said wryly. "She's being difficult with everyone. Grandfather's muttering about going home before the ship sails. Something about a hundred years or so with her on the other shore seems less onerous these days."
"It took him this long to work that out?"
Elladan wasn't sure if he dared laugh at that or not. His father had always been a bit unpredictable, but since the passing of the rings he had been far more so.
"It's very frustrating," Elrond said quietly.
Elladan wrinkled his brow, trying to follow the new line of thought.
"I don't know about your grandmother, I'd not be incautious enough to ask, but my body refuses to do what I expect of it. Go for a walk, it tells me the wind is too cold. Look across at the opposite side of the estuary, everything seems blurred and too far away. I lived here once, I know it's not. I wanted to hike up to the top of the hill behind the house, but realised I'd not make it half way... I cannot decide if the Ring gave me strength beyond my days or if the loss has drained me."
"A bit of both?" Elladan suggested sitting back in his chair. He risked a glance over the water - he could see the buildings and little side alleys quite clearly. "I think the Ring might have kept at bay that tiredness I've heard really old elves speak of? But mainly I think it drew so much on your energy, became such a part of you..." He paused and then took a chance. "Ama used to say it lived off you, like a parasite? She - wasn't fond of it, of either of them."
Elrond snorted. "I know your mother's views on Celebrimbor's rings, Elladan. She loathed them. One of the few things where she was far more her father's daughter than her mother's."
He fell silent, his eyes taking on a faraway look. "She never wanted me to use it after the war, when I admitted Ereinion had left it to me. That was even before we married. She said it would need something to fuel it, just as the Silmarils had. They each held a little of Fearon’s strength, but the Three were different, they needed to find their source and bind with it.... I remember I laughed and told her she was being fanciful."
Elladan tried but could not think of any word less suited to describe his mother. "And now it's gone," he said finally.
"And now it's gone," Elrond agreed. "And sometimes now I look at my hand and almost fancy I can see through it." He made a movement that was half shrug, half shudder. "It leaves no way for me to put off joining your mother and explaining about Wen."
"Mother will understand," Elladan said, and meant it. He suspected she would understand better than any of them. She was the only person he knew who believed Luthien had done what was right for her and it was no one else's business but hers and Beren's. He had tried to keep that in mind during the recent family drama. Arwen's choice though had aged his father regardless of the Ring's status, it whispered to the mortal strain in him and reminded him of the brother who had gone down that path ahead of her, both lost now forever.
"That's why you're in the first group to sail," he went on, before things could turn to talk of his mother and how life in the West might have changed her. Ada always maintained she would be perfectly fine, but he was less sure. He made his voice brisk and matter of fact. "I know you would have liked to stay and make sure everything was done right at home, but it's no more possible than for Grandmother to stay on in Lórien." Which must be driving her crazy, he almost added.
Lórien was already getting a bit strange, he'd heard, now the Ring no longer held back time. Elves who had been content to stay there for as long as possible, perhaps even stay and fade rather than sail, were moving slowly out through the newly opened woodland, and the first groups had begun crossing the mountains to Imladris. Erestor had preparations underway to deal with an influx.
"And you will come, when everything's seen to and - Arwen no longer needs you?" Elrond asked. It was unlike him to keep checking and rechecking something already arranged, but Elladan supposed the fact that he and Rohir had taken time to think it through first might have been a bit unsettling. Personally, he liked riding with the Dúnedain, he liked their company, but as his brother had pointed out, life would eventually become far too tame. If they were going to live out their days in peace and safety it may as well be with their own people in Elvenhome, and for a far longer time than Middle-earth and mortality had to offer.
Elladan picked up the cushion and pointedly put it behind his own back. "These chairs – I wonder if Círdan’s ever sat in one himself? Yes, we'll come when it's time. You don't seriously think Erestor would let us stay behind, do you? He’ll be difficult enough without Glory to torment. If he has to sail, he'll make damn sure we do as well.
The loose gravel of the tiny beach near Círdan’s house crunched under Glorfindel's boots, the sound unexpectedly loud. The water was more river than ocean and clumps of reeds grew down to it, nesting place for water fowl and a trap for unwary fish. The wind blew stronger here at the water's edge, cutting through the light cloak he wore. He felt and recognised it for what it was, just as he did the ever-present tiredness - symptoms that whispered his reborn body had outstayed its time on this shore, that his work was done and it was time to go home. Which he would. Soon.
The figure at the end of the beach turned to watch his approach. The wind pulled at Erestor's hair so that it looked like a separate living thing, in constant motion while he stayed absolutely still. His face was still too, expressionless.
"It's horrible down here," Glorfindel told him when they were close enough to speak without shouting. "There must be better places to watch the sea from."
"I went for a walk," Erestor said, as though this were self-explanatory.
Glorfindel nodded, stopping beside him to share the view. Across the water the remains of the heart of Mithlond stretched, buildings crumbling with age, trees and plants growing where once there were streets and order. Certain places had survived the turn of the years: some homes were still occupied, or had been until recently, and the palace and a few of the surrounding buildings were intact and served as a hostelry for elves waiting their turn to sail into the West. Glorfindel had been told this was due to there being a convenient ferry station to bring them over when it was time to leave.
"So many memories, over the river there," Erestor said softly. "I hate seeing it fallen to ruin like this. If I don't look too hard, I can almost see it again as it once was, when Lindon was a great kingdom, strong enough to withstand Sauron."
"That was a long time ago, Ery," Glorfindel said. He had returned to Middle-earth after the height of Lindon's power and lacked the nostalgic attachment many elves still held for the last High King's capital. "Like so much else we had here, Lindon's time has passed. Maybe one-day Men will find this haven again and marvel that they knew nothing of this city, or that their ancestors had forgotten, and build their own town and harbour..."
Erestor turned narrowed eyes on him. "I'm sorry, was that meant to be comforting?"
Glorfindel caught himself before his imagination could dig the pit deeper. "Sorry, just letting my fancy wander. I came to tell you that if the wind stays constant we'll be sailing tomorrow. In case you have any other goodbyes still to say."
Erestor's eyebrows quirked minutely. "The wind won't change. They've been waiting for it to turn out of the east; now it's started it'll blow for days. It gets very annoying after the first three."
"Sometimes I forget this was your home almost as long as the valley was," Glorfindel said ruefully. "I've always known you as Erestor of Imladris."
"No one’s family is originally from Imladris," Erestor said with a shrug. "Some of us just settled there later than others,” Erestor had spent the first six hundred years of the Age with one or other of Gildor's companies, making him a relative newcomer in Imladrian terms.
"You're prickly today. Please don't, it's not the memory I want of you when I'm over there -I’ll feel a bit like Galadriel, thinking how she shouldn't have thrown the vase at Celeborn."
"Did she really or was that just someone exaggerating?" Erestor asked. "Not saying it couldn't happen - if it did he was lucky it was nothing more lethal - but..."
"Gildor says she as much as admitted it to him, so probably true yes. She isn't happy right now and she’s making the world suffer."
"I know how she feels," Erestor said. "We have no choice in this and that never feels good."
"Strictly speaking you do have a choice."
Erestor looked scorn at him. "Oh yes, of course we do. Get on the boat or stay here and eventually fade or die of loneliness. Generous to a fault, the Valar. It's different for you, you were born over there. Twice. This is my home."
Glorfindel gave the water a pointed look and hoped Lord Ulmo was a stranger to irony. "It's what we do, it's what we always planned to do," he said instead. "From the very first, there was no idea of staying here forever - just it's taken a lot longer than planned. And no, I'm not stupid, I understand it's different for me, having family and familiar things waiting over there, or Elrond who's tired and in need of healing. I know it's a foreign land in many ways, but everyone you care about will be there. It takes time -- it took me time to readjust when I got here...."
"You're back digging that pit for yourself again," Erestor said, finally deigning to smile.
"It's what I do around you, from the day we met," Glorfindel admitted also smiling. "I never seem to get the words out right when I need to explain something. You're quite intimidating for such a short person."
The slap on his arm was half hearted at best. He caught Erestor's hand and held onto it. "I worry when you talk like this. I imagine that final boat, with Círdan steering it into the harbour at Avallónë, the boys and Gildor and a bunch of latterly rounded up strays aboard, and no sign of you."
"I said I would sail," Erestor reminded him. "They need someone to help get everyone off safely and make sure what we mean to take with us makes it over the sea. That has to be me. It can't be Elrond and I'm his seneschal so that makes it my job."
He bit his lip at the end of the sentence and was abruptly quiet. Gulls shrieked and the water lapped. A water fowl flapped up out of nearby reeds and vanished. "A long, lonely job," Glorfindel said eventually. "With a lot of responsibility and a voyage you dread at the end of it for your reward. I'm sorry, Ery. If I could make the ending different for you, I would, but the only other way parts us forever."
Erestor’s eyes narrowed warningly. "And that would matter because…?"
Glorfindel was getting that most unelven of things, a headache. "Do you really want to fight one more time? Get to it fast, I'm out of your hair tomorrow and when you finally get over there you'll find me easy to avoid."
"I thought it was a fair question, I'm not trying to fight with you. We thought we had something special for a while, but we were wrong. We're friends, sort of. Well, we're not enemies anyhow... not recently..."
"You're the one digging a pit this time," Glorfindel warned him.
"Well, you know what I mean."
Glorfindel sighed. "Ery, I never know for sure what you mean - except tying your fate to a soldier wasn't on your list of goals. You were very clear about that. The rest I just flail around and guess. Sometimes I'm right. Usually I'm not."
"Dark, dangerous land and almost everyone I cared about ended up dying. You going off to fight Angmar was like all my old nightmares taking life again. I never understood how you couldn't see that."
"I saw it. What I couldn't understand was why you wouldn't see it was what I was here for and support me. You're one of the bravest people I know - it wasn't too big a stretch."
"For you, perhaps. We've seen different things. I wasn't going there again, for my sanity's sake."
Glorfindel had the words dancing on his tongue, demanding to know what he could have done differently, but swallowed them. That had been a long fight with no resolution, no reason to think it would turn out differently this time. "Anyhow, it would matter," he said instead, going back to where they had branched off into this old hurt. "You matter to me. Your being alive and safe and where I can see you now and then - that matters."
"If it mattered so much, you'd stay."
Of all the things Erestor might have said, this was the least expected. He hesitated, and left it a heartbeat too long. Erestor shook his head. "Of course, I'm sorry. I know you're tired and ready to leave. That was selfish of me and makes no sense anyhow. We're something that was, not..."
"Just for once how about you let me answer the question myself instead of you displaying your wildly inaccurate psychic powers," Glorfindel said firmly. They were still somehow holding hands, the first time in over a thousand years. Erestor opened his mouth to speak, caught his eye and closed it again. "Good. Yes, I'm tired. Yes, my body says enough is enough, it needs the light and energy of home. That doesn't mean I can't manage another century or so. We can’t pick up where we left off, obviously. But --- I think we could revisit it, talk it through without the shouting, see where we are now? And at least I can help with Imladris. The main reason I wanted to sail with Elrond was because I knew you'd not want me there as the valley emptied out."
"Time to talk and no more shouting," Erestor said slowly, tasting the words.
"No more shouting," Glorfindel agreed. "Though if you can't understand why I wouldn't give way to you, and I can't understand why you wouldn't give way to me...."
"At least we’d have no more unanswered questions, which are always the things that drive me mad," Erestor said. "I've lain awake enough nights going over and over this." His face lit up, "And at least there'll be someone around that Elrohir might even listen to."
Glorfindel grinned. “He’s going to be a bit surprised. They all will.”
Erestor was suddenly very intense. “Don’t say a word to anyone, just that you’ve decided to stay. Please. Gildor will give me no peace.”
"That’s fair enough. The Mighty know, there was enough gossip when we broke up. A bit of discretion this time round can’t hurt. And perhaps I can help you prepare for your new world," Glorfindel said seriously. "If I do nothing else right but manage that, it will be good enough reason to stay."
Erestor pulled his hand free and tucked it into the crook of Glorfindel's arm. "Sorting out our differences is one thing," he said firmly. "But me happy to sail West? There I think you're aiming too high."
As Gildor had predicted, Galadriel decided to come inside. They found Elrond in what he seemed to recall had once been a reception room but was now an indeterminate waiting space with chairs and a few books piled on a table. It was a desultory kind of space, not one thing or the other, but it was out of the cold, not crowded like the visitors’ sitting room which was packed with people, and had potential if anyone had spent some time on it.
While she and Elrond talked, Gildor stood by the window watching the water and mentally working through his list of things to do as soon as he left Mithlond. Movement caught his eye and an idle glance turned into a stare.
"Oh, that's novel. And right before you sail – I wonder how that works?"
Galadriel, who had been picking over her current grievance about how the mementos of Lórien would be decided on without her input, broke off what she was saying. "Don't exaggerate, Gildor. There is nothing unusual left, just variations on a theme."
Gildor came back and dropped into a chair, his legs draped over the arm. "If you say so, Tanis."
"What?" asked Elrond.
Gildor shook his head. "Nothing, apparently. Just a variation. You'll see."
Voices and footsteps approached the room and then Erestor came in the door followed by Glorfindel. There was nothing untoward or unusual about that and neither Galadriel nor Elrond paid them much attention beyond Elrond nodding a greeting. Glorfindel murmured something to Erestor then came over to where they were sitting and cleared his throat. Galadriel straightened, her eyes suddenly alert.
"Elrond, if it's all the same with you, I think it might be best if I stayed a while longer. Imladris will be a major undertaking and at least if I’m there Erestor won’t have to worry about what your sons are likely to do next. I mean, yes, they'll listen to him - Gildor too, as family - but he'll be away much of the time..."
"Most of the time," Gildor amended more to himself than anyone.
“Yes, exactly,” Glorfindel said enthusiastically. “So really, I hadn’t thought this through when I said I was ready to leave.”
Elrond hesitated, looking a little puzzled, then nodded hastily. "Yes, of course, no trouble at all. That seems reasonable. If you're sure ...?"
Glorfindel looked relieved. "Quite sure. Erestor and I discussed it, and it makes the most sense. And home isn't going anywhere, a few more years won't matter."
"Very sensible," Galadriel said briskly. "Two heads are always better than one. Before we leave, I must give you a list --- Celeborn seems determined not to listen to a word I say about what to pack."
Gildor’s famously far-sighted cousin hated surprises. When faced with them, she liked to ignore them or pretend there was nothing untoward happening.
“You’d best tell Círdan yourself,” Erestor said over his shoulder. He was leaning his elbows on the windowsill and looking across the water at what remained of Gil-galad’s city. He avoided eye contact with meant Gildor hadn’t been seeing things, they had indeed been holding hands.
Glorfindel twitched. “I’m aware of that, I --- yes, I realise of course. Come with me, help me convince him I haven’t deliberately been wasting his time. He likes you.”
The raised hackles were habit, of course. It took a while to stop being routinely defensive with someone who could be way too smart with his mouth. Gildor was glad he would be around to watch some of this. They went out discussing the various merits of Glorfindel travelling to Lórien or waiting for Celeborn to visit. Erestor thought he should make the journey. Glorfindel disagreed. It all sounded quite normal but there was an undercurrent.
Elrond looked at Gildor and Galadriel and spread his hands. Gildor shook his head and smiled widely. "See? Was that not novel?"
"Not at all," replied Galadriel. "Something old, just paused and resumed.”
“I’m not arguing the timing,” Elrond said. “I was worried about Erestor having to oversee all that alone. With you and the twins, of course, Gildor. Just – them. Why now?”
“Your trouble is you think the twins are flighty and I’m easily distracted…” Gildor began.
“You are,” Galadriel interrupted. “But at least curiosity will keep you tied to Imladris for a while. Why them? Change is wonderful for focusing the mind. Just as I predicted.”
Gildor gave her a look, in the way one only can with family. “Tanis, if it makes you happy to pretend you saw this coming, go ahead, but…”
Aquamarine eyes considered him. “If it makes you happy to think I’m pretending, I don’t mind at all. Much. I just regret I won’t be there to see your face when you get back to Imladris and find I left instructions for them not to prepare Glorfindel’s old rooms with the wonderful view for Celeborn after all.”
“Are you saying you knew Glory would stay till the end?” Elrond asked, startled. He clearly hadn’t.
Galadriel smiled sweetly. “I might have thought Celeborn would prefer a valley view,” she said. “Or I might have known Glorfindel would still need his rooms. The truly satisfying part though is neither of you will ever know for sure.”