Call of the Raven
Erestor had been enjoying solitude in the gardens when a familiar blob of yellow hair intruded his peace. He sat up on the grass, watching Glorfindel slide out of nearby foliage before lazily seating himself upon a rock next to Erestor. Leaning back onto his palms, Glorfindel looked up toward the sky, seemingly at ease.
Erestor followed his gaze. Perched atop a high poplar was a beady-eyed raven.
"I think that is the only one here so far," he mused.
"We should be glad of that." Erestor's reply was curt.
Glorfindel let out a soft laugh. "'Tis a pity," he reflected, "that our first gatekeeper is so unappreciated."
"A messenger of death does not suit Imladris." Erestor did not back down. Glorfindel was smiling.
"Well, it may be death's companion, yes, but not its cause." Long legs swung casually down from the rock. "Contrarily, the raven is what cleans up the mess."
Sharp eyes rested on the tall elf. Erestor did not move. "There is no mess to clean up here," came out the monotonous reply.
"Thankfully, no, there isn't," agreed Glorfindel. His eyes were looking into the distant horizon. "It is the last remaining sanctuary, after all."
A thin smile surfaced on Erestor's pale lips.
Sanctuary did not exist.
His voice was light as he looked back at the raven, and moved his gaze onto the grass. "I fear that blood-soaked creatures simply will not do as a keeper of any realm."
Glorfindel brought his gaze down at last.
"But even as they see the horrors of the world, they possess the sky, and they will forever have the sky, no matter how much we, land-bound, hate them for it." His tone was soft.
Erestor's tone was low, strained.
"You seem quite fond of this bird."
The emotionless voice rang out among the trees, ringing against the darkened sky. The skies were gray today. They were always gray in Imladris. Ever since the war.
"I do not think fond is the right word."
What a pity.
Erestor's eyes narrowed in sarcasm. But he did not voice it. He looked away.
Erestor's ears caught a distant flap of wings. And suddenly, he became aware of Glorfindel's position, blocking the exit from the hidden patch of grass among the bushes.
He stood, and Glorfindel also rose. Erestor was trapped.
The slender elf let out a thin breath. What game was this intruder playing? And suddenly, his heart boiled with dark malice. This elf had no right.
Blood veins protruded through pale knuckles.
The tone was raw, blunt. He knew, and they both knew. Courtesy was but a comical façade here. And Glorfindel stood his ground.
The raven took off into the skies. A screeching wail spread against the clouds. Erestor's body tightened as if pulled by a rope from all sides. His breaths were shallow.
"Glorfindel." He blinked to focus his distant gaze. The darkness in them was fading, leaving behind a trembling glimmer of light. Glorfindel was watching. He looked away, dropping his gaze.
He had lost this round.
"Let me go." A voiceless whisper.
Glorfindel slowly shook his head. His voice rang with a touch of sadness.
Cold fire burned in Erestor's veins. Defiant, he raised his eyes. And realized that he had made a mistake.
A raven circled above them, black and graceful, as it glided under the gray skies. Just as they had circled over their heads, crying out death when blood splashed and marred the ground...
The slender elf's eyes shut involuntarily, and he lowered his head. And the waves came crashing against his ears, the screams and wails and curses as he ran betwixt life and death. The shredded bodies stared up at him, and he could only hear his own ragged breathing as he ran, ran through fire and ice, and collapsed, weeping, at the welcoming doors of Imladris. And the raven continued its cry, tearing into his bloodied hands.
The tumultuous howls faded into a distance as warmth approached, and Erestor felt strong hands wrap around his arms. He froze as if turned to stone. Cascades of gold streamed into his vision and the warmth came nearer, but he refused to face the deep blue eyes that looked into his, as a gentle whisper was breathed upon his fevered head.
"You cannot hide forever."
Time slowed to a standstill. And gold was wavering before his eyes, a rich field of ripened sun. And a haunting song of yore beckoned to him, beckoning with its nostalgic melody.
And then it shattered; everything was screaming and winding itself backward, and the crash exploded. And as the tall elf stood alone in the gentle breeze, the black figure was moving swiftly past him, flying into the darkened halls.
Above the stilled figure of the golden elf, the raven continued its circled flight, cleaving the gray skies with a piercing cry.
Nothing happened after that. They continued to hold regular meetings with Elrond and without, for Glorfindel was soon overseeing all outdoor affairs of Imladris concerning security and borders, as Erestor ran the domestic and political matters. The pair had become the two highest authorities of Imladris who flanked the elvenlord, and Elrond was content to leave them at that. Of course, he was watching them. But it was of no matter to Glorfindel.
Whenever they met to discuss affairs that required the two's overlapping attention, their talks were swift and efficient, for they were both intelligent and understood each other well. As remarkable as it was to watch the two advisors' dazzling exchange of ideas, however, their words were short, gestures strained. Amid this exchange, they had to mingle, look at each other, talk to each other, eat together. And the tension was mounting. Something was waiting to explode.
And Elrond was watching them. And they both knew it.
"He is not ready, Glorfindel."
Glorfindel was polishing his bow in the archery field when Elrond approached him. Glorfindel did not look up as he experimentally pulled on the string.
"Nobody becomes ready."
Elrond shook his head.
"You are being cruel to him."
"Perhaps I am."
The solitary raven cleaved the sky. Glorfindel pulled his bow, aiming upwards, eyes narrowed upon the target. But his fingers did not release the arrow.
He had heard. The crashes, the screams, the incoherent shouts and frantic wails – he had heard them all. He had run to the room, only to find it locked. Then Elrond had run to his side, had promptly broken down the door, and swept in, leaving Glorfindel standing in the hall. Elrond alone was allowed in through that threshold. And Glorfindel had been left outside, pacing, as screams continued – begging not to take her away, that he would take her place, just don't take her away, lock him up if they wished, please give her back. Pleading, weeping, screaming in terror and pain – and the crashes had subdued, and Glorfindel had stood, eyes burning into the carpet, as repressed sobs broke into the silence and soaked the walls. And long after Elrond had left, and dusk had fallen, he had stood still, facing the dark door that was shut before him – and had not moved. And had not looked at Erestor when he appeared the next breakfast, silent and graceful as always, with bandages hidden under his long dark robes.
"Do you hate him, Glorfindel?"
Cool blue eyes finally left the circling raven, and came down to meet the calm gaze of the elvenlord.
"Do not patronize me, Peredhel," drawled a low voice. "I may be in the body of a youth, but you forget the ages I have lived through."
"You're acting like an elfling. As if you hate him." Elrond gazed upon him steadily.
Perhaps he did.
Glorfindel looked away, and resumed polishing his bow. He did not answer.
He did not speak to Elrond about Erestor after that. And Elrond did not mention it.
Yet he watched on as the smile faded from the warrior's bright face. He did not sing as he polished his sword. He did not bow with a charming twinkle in his eye as he showed young maidens around the mazes of corridors. His words became short, laughter sparse. His voice no longer leaped with buoyant joy as he smiled to admiring youths. And a look unfamiliar to inhabitants of Imladris had come to rest in his eyes, a gaze that looked beyond the here and now as he silently treaded the sanctuary. A somber grayness was beginning to weigh upon his carefree gait as he moved through the gardens at dusk, an apparition embraced by ancient phantoms. And when he walked into the halls, hair wavering in a slow trail, others would watch on in hushed silence as the golden elf faded into the shadows, his slow steps leaving behind woeful whispers of the dark.
The laughing, smiling, joking Glorfindel of Imladris was disappearing. Not many dared to look into his eyes any longer, for the bright fire that had burned and entranced them had died.
And Erestor's expressionless dark eyes were becoming more restless by the day, more terrified, more bright.
It was not like him to be clumsy. Glorfindel sighed as he pried himself off of the gnarled bush. He reached down to untangle himself from the thorns, and the pain returned, flaring through his leg. He gritted his teeth.
Though highly uncharacteristic of him, the distraction had been inevitable, and the injury had not been unexpected. It was an anniversary, after all. And what was the point of anniversaries if they did not bring back distracting memories? He almost laughed at the thought. Ah, memories. Such a sweet word, that.
Perhaps he should not have gone out on patrol on this day. But he could not stay to face Elrond's knowing gaze, his comforting touch. The memories were his alone; no other in Imladris could share the woeful song he carried in silence. So he had smiled upon the worried face of the elven lord, and had left with a sword on his hand and a hushed tremor in his heart. And he had galloped out far into the forest, amongst the valley, madly digging his heels into the horse's flanks, burning away the images into the wind, engraving them deeper into his skin.
Slowly he straightened his back, and took a step toward the house. The sun had already set.
Searing pain tore at his flesh, and he pressed his lips together. Grasping a nearby tree branch, he began to take tentative steps, leaning onto trees as he crossed the garden.
Well, well, well.
He could have chuckled at the coincidence. Alone in the middle of the garden stood Erestor, young and unguarded as he stared. And he slowly, reluctantly, moved forward.
With a rueful smile, Glorfindel shook his head. He would not take advantage of the young elf's kindness. Not tonight.
Perhaps it was more about his own pride than that of Erestor. Glorfindel was not so young that he failed to recognize his vanity.
"I am well. Just need to lie down in my room."
Erestor hesitated. And he bowed, moving away into the shadows.
The sky was a dark shade of blue by the time Glorfindel reached the entrance of the house. He panted, clutching the doorframe, sweat outlining his brow. And then, a sleek shadow moved behind him. And the pain in his leg was lessened.
"You needn't trouble yourself."
He was met with silence. And Glorfindel did not try again. He was also not so young that he disregarded the pride of others.
Erestor's eyes were focused on the dark hallway as he helped Glorfindel to his room. Glorfindel did not object when Erestor closed the door behind him and locked it. The blond warrior sank down on the bed, and looked up expectantly.
The young advisor stood before him, uncertain. A thin film of moonlight shafted in through the window. A crescent moon was rising.
Glorfindel tipped his head, gaze locked on the black abyss that stared into him. He held out his hand.
The young elf complied.
When Erestor was only a breath away, Glorfindel slowly reached up and took hold of cold hands.
Erestor tensed. But he did not move away.
Glorfindel's eyes held a haunted light as he gazed upon the slender elf, and the pale face that floated in the darkness. The pale face, as pale as his had been. Just that there was so much blood...
His eyes scoured the elf before him. The lips that had cried the same tale that he had. The ears that held the same songs that he had. And the trickling moonlight that kissed the dark hair. A silver tear from the skies, just like that night. And the silver warrior had been beautiful, so beautiful, as he bid him farewell.
One hand rose, and rested against the soft fabric of the advisor's robes. A hushed heartbeat.
He closed his eyes. His whisper fell away into the hush of darkness.
"Do the ravens call to you too?"
And crumbling before the fallen warrior, the black shadow bowed his head in tremulous silence.