The Dance of Shadow and Flame


Disclaimer: Nothing is mine.

The Imladris inhabitants spoke of a phantom – a different person, this Lord Glorfindel. He declined to train soldiers, as they were not his subjects to command. When he showed up on Elrond's door one morning and handed him the honorary pendant of Seneschal, Elrond said nothing. Glorfindel bowed his head and turned away.

He did not laugh, and yet he smiled, ever gentle. He did not walk the halls with glowing confidence, and yet he did not haunt the halls in silent grief. He embraced the children, and yet he had no tales to tell. He spoke no more of his beloved home. He was ever flitting, pale and unobtrusive, a phantom ever ready to depart.

And day by day, Lord Erestor planted his feet firmly upon the earth, and his darkness grew heavy, his black gaze fathomless.

"You do not speak to him," Elrond commented one day to Erestor, as the blond elf had left wordlessly after a council meeting. It was after concern had been raised about the bickering of inhabitants in the south wing.

"No need," Erestor had replied, not meeting Elrond's eyes.

That night, the disputes were resolved, and harmony was restored.

The young advisor's shoulders were burdened with the resettlement and expansion of the Last Homely House. Every day at dusk, Glorfindel would walk into the halls and find the slender elf moving briskly through the corridors, scrolls piled up to his chin. And Glorfindel would stride toward him, snatch half of it – Erestor never let him take more – and walk with him, commenting about the advisor's apparent obsession with overwork. And Erestor would remain silent, throwing out a short grunt or two occasionally. And upon reaching the advisor's study, the younger elf would direct Glorfindel to stack up the scrolls here, organize some there, pass certain documents for special keeping – and Glorfindel would sit on his companion's desk and swing his legs, ignoring his companion's eye-rolling, and read some documents of interest and throw out questions, which were answered brusquely. And it was enough.

Elrond had raised an eyebrow at Glorfindel when he did not rise to go after Erestor one morning, after breakfast. And Glorfindel had stared back, making a point of drinking idly out of his glass.

Glorfindel later told him that it was no longer necessary. And Elrond did not ask further.

"We made a bet," said Glorfindel one day, looking out the window.

Elrond rose from his table, putting down the scrolls he was reading before being interrupted by a certain balrog slayer who was notorious for barging into rooms – or perhaps it was only Elrond's room – and approached the elf by the window.

"Whoever can be free of nightmares first wins."

Elrond raised an eyebrow.

"Well," he mused, "I must say, that is one I have not heard of before."

As interesting as it sounded, the lord of the valley was compelled to warn Glorfindel that it was not a safe bet to make. And Glorfindel scoffed that the elvenlord was treating him like an adolescent.

"But you are an adolescent," replied Elrond solemnly, before dodging a swing from Glorfindel.

And the rest of the afternoon was spent on squabbling over who was older – literally, and figuratively.

All the leaves had fallen. In the crisp air, elves moved about in a hustle, preparing another trip to Lorien; this time, it would be a heavier shift in Imladris population, as the previous one had been deemed a success. Elrond would be taking a great number of weavers, and return with minstrels.

Glorfindel knew Elrond would ask the question. He was waiting for it.

"Come with me?" Elrond said one dark afternoon, as his departure neared. Glorfindel stood still, uncertain.

"Perhaps what you need is not sanctuary," said Elrond, "but a return to the past."

Glorfindel knew of which he spoke. He knew more than the Peredhil himself did.

The Golden Woods beckoned, whispering tales of yore. There he would be surrounded by the children of those who shared his legacy. There he would be comforted by its enchanted songs, songs that few of this world now knew.

"Perhaps," he replied. And Elrond knew he would come.

Until another dark afternoon found a raven screeching outside of Erestor's window.

It had been so sudden. The brilliant-minded, sharp-tongued advisor's outbursts had been sparse and few, and most of them had forgotten. Until the tranquility of the valley was cruelly broken out of its complacent peace. And it was the day before Elrond's departure.

Elrond came running, cleaving the crowd outside of Erestor's chamber, when he saw Glorfindel exiting the room. He turned and stared at Elrond. The elvenlord did not need to be told what Erestor had heard. He hastened into the room.

As the cries subsided, and elves began to disperse, Glorfindel stood outside the door, staring at the gray sky through the windows in the corridor.

When at last the cries died away and the light of day had faded to dusk, Elrond exited the chamber, weary and wavering – and when he saw Glorfindel, he hesitated, and held the door open.

"He is ready," he said.

Glorfindel did not enter.

Elrond watched in despair as the tall warrior elf looked into the dark opening, eyes blazing in twilight, and turned away, disappeared down the dark corridor with a whisper of phantoms in his trail.

Late that night, Elrond opened his doors to a pale Lord Glorfindel, voice emotionless as he bowed.

"I shall not be accompanying you on this journey," he said.

Elrond nodded. He asked nothing. And Glorfindel turned away.

Elrond watched uneasily. Nothing was close to being over. War was ever raging in the hearts of survivors in the midst of peace.

"…and the addition in the east wing will be complete by the time you return, but the petitions about an expansion of the library-"

"Erestor." Elrond waved his hand. "Let us forego this. I know you will do well."

He stood from his desk, and approached the advisor. Erestor was visibly pale as he stood with his last report, moments before Elrond would leave to join the others waiting in the courtyard. There was no time to waste; the entourage needed to return before the roads became laden with snow.

Elrond gasped Erestor's hand. With a smile, he led him toward the other side of the study, entering his bedchamber. And went to the corner by the bed, standing at last before a large chest. He swung the chest open. Erestor could not see the interior, for the elvenlord was bending over it.

Elrond turned around. Erestor blinked as the elvenlord watched him with that benevolent smile, his lips laden with rich understanding. Erestor looked down upon his palm.

On it rested a semitransparent black crystal, about the size of a grown elf's thumb. It blackened against his hand, but its edges absorbed the light of day. He slowly held it up to the light, watching the glimmer of white filter through it. When he lowered it again, it was once again simple and dark, a bottomless prism. He raised his eyes wonderingly.

"I found it in the ruins," said Elrond.

"It's…not from the palace, is it?" A fearful whisper.

"Yes, it is." Elrond smiled. "The very stones of Eregion."

Erestor stared down at the finely cut crystal; never before had he seen the dark walls of his nightmares cut into such crystalline beauty. When – why – questions swirled in his eyes, crystallizing toward the single stone that was the essence of his tears, the demon of his nights.

Elrond looked up at the younger elf, and smiled.

"It suits you."

Erestor bowed his head, fingering the crystal, and Elrond pulled him into a slow embrace. And his hands remained in black rivulets of hair, tenderly stroking the silken threads, as Erestor finally raised his eyes – almost fearful, glowing with that hollow white light, pulsating with life.

"Do you still dream, Erestor?"

The warm black head slowly nodded. Elrond rested his chin on top of the soft black nest, and his gaze was distant.

"Are the scars fading?"

Another mute nod.

"You are not creating new ones?"

A hoarse whisper. "I promised you."

Elrond smiled. "Aye, you did. And I know you will keep that promise." He pulled back, and gazed searchingly into Erestor's eyes.

"Glorfindel will not be leaving with me."

Erestor's breath stilled.

Elrond ran gentle fingers through his hair. "He came to me last night – he decided to stay."

Erestor swallowed. Elrond watched as his eyes drooped mournfully. The young elf bowed his head.

"Light and dark cannot coexist." The voice was weak, but determined. Elrond shook his head.

"Shadows lie at the edge of candlelight. They yield and dance, shoulder to shoulder. One begins where the other ends."

Erestor bit his lip. "But they cannot become the other."

Elrond tucked away a strand of hair tenderly. "They do not have to, Erestor."

The younger elf fell silent. Elrond continued to stroke his hair.

When Erestor opened his lips again, his whisper was fearful. "Do you think I will win the bet?"

Elrond smiled, and tucked away the last stray strand of hair behind the young elf's ear. "I hope you both win," he murmured, "and I know that you will both lose."

Erestor closed his eyes as Elrond placed a gentle kiss on his forehead. His breath trembled, and his hand remained firmly clasped around the black prism, and the past that was forever captured in the timeless eternity of the crystal.

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