The Dance of Shadow and Flame

Tear of the Ocean

Disclaimer: Nothing is mine.

The valley was regaining its luster. Troops were organized, and new inhabitants were finding their places in the household. The council was busy, for the Chief Councilor had fallen ill. Ever since Lord Glorfindel came back from the gates of Mandos.

"He is fatigued," said Elrond, when a pale Glorfindel was sitting up in bed one morning and thought to ask about him. "You need not worry. Rest and heal."

But Glorfindel knew healing would be long in coming.

"Do you dream still, Glorfindel?" Elrond asked one morning, tending to Glorfindel. The blond elf looked up wearily. Ever since his return, he was perpetually pale, weary. Surrounded by gifts of whispering visitors who dared not disturb him, he sat motionless in bed, bathed in the white of day.

"Yes," he whispered. And he said no more.

Elrond did not ask further. He no longer knew how to talk to him.

The public bath of Imladris was modeled after those of Gondolin, but they were a thing of the past; few elves of this age ever thought to use it. Erestor was among those few.

He watched the setting sun. The golden light broke against the kaleidoscopic walls; scattered rays danced in fractured mirrors across aquamarine waters.

For days he had been absent at duty. Elrond had proclaimed him sick at heart. But they both knew it was a lie.

Erestor lowered his hands, watched the water glimmer over them.

The door creaked. He started.

Glorfindel stood at the threshold, looking at him in mild surprise. Wrapped in a thin white robe, he looked pale, drained. He hesitated, but did not turn to leave; he slowly stepped toward the bath. Nearing the edge of the marble floor, he crouched down next to Erestor's robes. Long hair slid carelessly into the water.

"My room is cold."

Erestor rolled his eyes. "Get in the water then. It is warm." He made ready to rise.

Glorfindel tilted his head. "If I go in, you will run away."

Erestor tensed. But he did not rise, for the water was his sanctuary. Glorfindel could not touch him here; he did not belong in here. To his pool of tears, his sea of memory.

So he remained as Glorfindel crouched at the edge, and they were at a stalemate. Poised on land and water, watching each other, one starting where the other began.

Glorfindel's eyes moved. Erestor's gaze followed.

The scars.

He stepped back. They took long to fade. They were too deep. And they still burned.

"How did you get those scars?"

Erestor did not know what to say. So he said nothing.

Here stood the Lord of the House of the Golden Flower, and the Black Pearl of Eregion; haunted by the shadows of the night and the inferno of day, they had faded into legend, forgotten into memory. And they now stood before each other, naked and broken; there was no escape.

With a shaky breath, he steeled himself, and waded forward.

"I have tormented you long enough, Glorfindel of Imladris. Be on your way. I shall no more haunt your dreams."

He had announced his quittance. The game was over.

But the golden-haired elf shook his head. Continued to watch him.

For the path to truth had just begun. And he would tread it to the end, even if it led to the bottomless abyss.

Glorfindel's eyes followed the lithe elf as he stopped beside him, fumbling with the robes on the marble floor. Erestor faltered as a gentle hand reached out to stay his movement.

Bare feet dipped into the water as Glorfindel hung his legs over the pool. Slowly taking the stiffened head into his hands, he rested his chin on the crown of the head.

We are both so very young, you and I.

Narrowed blue eyes stared into the glass wall, the fragmented prisms of the golden light.

"We have both seen shadow and flame, and we have both been slain by what we lived through." The whisper scattered against the parting rays. "But let us not waste our second chances dwelling in fear."

You are broken, as am I. And you are the darkness, and I am light. You crouch in the shadow, as I burn in eternal flame. And we are the same.

Erestor slowly pulled away.

With a soft splash, Glorfindel stepped down into the pool. Golden strands bloomed in dancing waters.

The sun was changing its hue. A brilliant amber light, shedding the last of its warmth.

Erestor slowly reached up, parted the river of black across his body.

"This was when I was an elfling." His voice was submerged. He traced a wide horizontal scar under the ribs. "A shovel – from my mother."

Sunlight shifted.

"She had seen through the dark lords' trickery, so they came after us before she could warn the court. She fled with her three children, but they were too close behind."

He could still hear it, the hoof beats. And the panting of his mother's breaths as she pulled him by the hand, through the mazes of the house – and the moan of despair, as she ran into the dead end of the stables.

He closed his eyes.

"She killed her children before killing herself."

The vision was imprinted in blood; the splash of crimson on the wall where the infant brother had been hurled. His baby sister turning blue as his mother strangled her, as small Erestor reached despite the shovel protruding from his gaping stomach. And his mother, his gentle, beautiful mother, pounding her head into the wall, again, again, again, until there was nothing but a slithering red mass upon darkened wood.

He trained his eyes upon dark blue. He felt strangely distant, a dry island in the midst of the ocean of tears.

"This was in pre-adolescence." He slowly fingered an array of short scars that peppered his abdomen. "A kitchen knife – my father had gone mad. Which was why we were left in peace, my mad father and his three mutilated children. He stabbed me sixteen, no, seventeen times, I think."

The waters lapped against the scars.

"I crawled out of the house with my entrails hanging. The healers said – well. But I survived."

Glorfindel was still. Just like the statues in the gallery, but he was breathing, alive, as his hair swirled gently about him, swaying with the ceaseless waters. Amber strands of light struck him from the side, and his glassy eyes were an ancient bronze, the fierce and beautiful glory of the dying of the light.

If only his father had had that kind of light.

"I went home to find my father eating my brother." Erestor's voice was flat. "When he saw me at the door, he momentarily regained his sanity – I think – and ran out."

He could still hear the thump as the body hit the bottom of the backside cliff.

The waters danced around them, a lapping sea of amber light.

"This was in early adolescence. Eregion was falling." Erestor traced a long diagonal scar spanning his left shoulder to the right side. "My aunt freed us – my younger sister and I – from our captivity. But she fell behind." He blinked. "I don't remember how I got the sword wound – I think it went through her."

Shadows slanted on the dark side of the waters.

"I escaped with my sister," Erestor whispered. "By then, all refugees had left the city."

The waters moved in unsteady glimmers.

"But she cried every night with hunger – I crawled off in search of food. And when I returned with nothing, I found that hunger had driven her back to the city where our former enslavers had dwelled." He slowly raised his hands, wearily ran them down his face. "It had burned to soot."

And the ravens were screeching, forever screeching.

"Her body was already bloody meat by the time I found it under the ravens. Ravens were all that was left of the city – swarming in the skies."

He closed his eyes. A hesitant smile broke. He shook his head.

"I don't know why I told you that one," he whispered.

With a weary sigh, he opened his eyes. Glorfindel stood still before him, and his eyes were fractured mirrors. Embraced in the lapping waters, as if he had always belonged here, in this heart of his sanctuary, his womb of tears.

Erestor lowered his hands onto unsteady waves. "The rest of the scars are invisible now."

He stepped away, backing toward the edge of the round pool. And he smiled, this black pearl of Eregion. Shining under a sheen of tears, he smiled.

"You see, Glorfindel," he whispered, gently. "Not all wounds can heal."

The waters turned, shattering droplets of ancient bronze. And Glorfindel came near, breaking the glimmering waves, and gently wiped away his tears – and Erestor stood weary, listening to the moaning of his heart.

At last, he looked away. He was done.

Slowly he turned his back on the taller elf, and grasped the level floor. Before he could leap out of the water, strong arms encircled his shoulders, and he was drawn back with a splash.

"Erestor…" the whisper was a lilting song, full of sorrow.

Erestor stood frozen still, as the body behind his own pulled him closer, closer. Then he uncoiled, leaned back with a tired sigh. Gaze lingering upon the last of the scattered rays, he reached up, wearily stroked a golden head buried in his shoulder.

"Don't cry, Glorfindel," he whispered, hushed, silent. "Don't cry."

After he had spoken his first words since then – putting his arms gently around the shaking elf, Elrond had called him by his long-forgotten name, the Black Pearl of Eregion. The tainted, darkened shadow of what had once lived, glowed, dreamed. And he had called him beautiful. And Erestor had cried, cried into his arms, and Elrond had wiped his tears away, and whispered that every pearl was begotten of a million tears.

And beneath them both, gold and black swirled gently in the wavering waters, locked in an eternal dance.

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