It had been a busy day. He had been arranging for additional quarters in preparation for more refugees that were said to be coming. It was a massive project that weighed upon him in addition to the expansion and reorganization of the Last Homely House. And at the end of the day, he had sought out respite from the din of the halls, succeeding in finding a new corner in the garden surrounded by bushes. And curled upon the grass, he had promptly fallen asleep.
It was dark when he was awakened by a gentle shake on the shoulder.
"Erestor." The whisper was soft.
He rose, bleary eyes staring into the concerned gaze of a taller elf. And then, he was being pulled into the house.
"You work too hard, my friend."
Golden threads of hair swirled in his vision as he blankly let himself be guided down the hall.
"Why do you never sleep in your room?"
And then there he was, standing before the dark door to his chambers. Erestor pulled out of the taller elf's grasp, and took a step back. His eyes were clear now, alight with a ghostly glow, the white beacon of forbidden knowledge. He shook his head.
You do not understand.
He turned around and hastened away. Away from the door, and from the elf that stood before it.
Perhaps I fear that you may understand.
Erestor was, after all, brilliantly perceptive. Even about himself.
Days passed, and no new refugees came.
"I have an ominous premonition about this," muttered Elrond, stacking documents that needed to be signed. "You can sign those for me, by the way."
Erestor stood by the elven lord in silence, watching Elrond pace about. The golden afternoon was casting a languorous slant of sunlight upon the valley.
"They should have been here days ago." Elrond stopped and swiped back a stray braid, cursing as it snagged on a clasp of his collar. As he got to work untangling the braid, uttering a string of curses under his breath, Erestor watched on, torn between amusement and concern.
"Can you see nothing?"
Elrond shook his head. "It is not clear. Vilya is not functiong with full power. The dark forces are still strong, and-" he stopped, and looked at Erestor. The Chief Councilor was heading out the door. "Where are you going?"
"To send scouts," was the quiet reply as Erestor slipped from the room.
Glorfindel was already waiting on horseback when Erestor stepped out into the courtyard. There was no one flanking him. Erestor met his eyes blankly.
"You are vain."
Glorfindel answered with a roguish smile and a bow. "Thank you for your concern, dear Councilor."
He spurred his horse and galloped out of the courtyard. Erestor shot a dark look toward his retreating back.
Darkness was falling. The hush of the house was broken by neighing of horses, wailing of infants and cries of relief. Feet were heard rushing about as elves spilled into the courtyard.
Erestor slowly raised his head from his knees, realizing that the sun had set. He lowered his feet from the windowsill, and stopped when he saw a tall figure before him, facing the halo of twilight. Exactly like a statue he had seen in the gallery.
But this elf was looking down at him with a strange expression, so unlike that graceful statue with the solemn look of longing and tragic fierceness. With skin that tingled with life, he was embraced by a mist of twilight that breathed an eerie song of yore. This was the real Glorfindel.
He sometimes had trouble distinguishing. Glorfindel, and Glorfindel. Perhaps neither of them was real.
Evading the unreadable gaze, Erestor's eyes traveled lower, and flinched at the sight of black blood oozing down the length of Glorfindel's armor. The tranquility of the statue melted into a smile.
"I didn't have time to take off my armor – Elrond needed help gathering the wounded. I'll clean up the mess later."
Ignoring the blood stains that were spreading on the dark carpet, Erestor looked back up at Glorfindel's face. "Are you injured?"
Glorfindel shook his head. The faint vapors embracing him unfurled.
"Why did you not wake me?"
"You looked tired." Another smile. "Fear you not, my lord. The refugees are safe, and I have seen to their lodgings and welcome in your stead. Lord Elrond has asked me to bring you to your sleeping quarters."
Blue eyes were twinkling in the fading light. And suddenly, he was indescribably ancient, this smiling elf. The mist of twilight that coiled around his body continued to whisper in hushed silence, and he was so alien and distant that Erestor suddenly could not touch him. He looked away.
"I will be helping in the healing ward," he muttered, and rose to his feet.
Glorfindel watched Erestor turn away from him, begin to stride down the hall.
The lithe silhouette stilled.
"You cannot keep running away."
The air was frigid. And then, the footsteps softened into silence.
In the darkened halls of Imladris treaded a soundless shadow, outlined by a solitary candle. The candle flickered as the elf walked, and golden fire and black shadow entangled with muted footfalls.
Long hair swirled as the figure came to a stop before the healing ward. A pale hand emerged from sleeping robes, and opened the door.
Moonlight shafted in through the windows, enveloping the House of Healing in deep blue. An orderly array of beds held elves who were injured on their flight to sanctuary before the solitary warrior of Imladris came to their rescue earlier that day.
He neared the window, where a black-robed elf sat curled upon his chair, bathed in moonlight.
Turning away from the sleeping guardian, he approached the nearest wounded elf, and bent to rest his hand upon a fevered brow. Stroking damp strands of hair, he closed his eyes and breathed a prayer. An ancient language caressed the wounded, and the whispering elf was bathed in gold, an inner light that radiated from his body. The sleeping elf murmured, and smiled. And fell into a deeper sleep of dreamless peace.
He rose, and moved onto the next elf. He bent down to stroke fevered brows and whisper a prayer; and thus he treaded among the sleeping bodies in the darkness, lit by a solitary candle in the shadows where the moon could not reach, breathing a prayer to each of the wounded and weary, an ancient tongue of peace and blessings of a faraway land, a faraway time.
"You did not tell anyone that you could heal."
The golden glow was coldly extinguished. His body was once again dark and oblique against the dance of the candlelight.
Blue eyes met black. Time was rapidly winding itself back to the present.
"I heal little."
"No healer can heal all."
But the reversal of time was stilled, distorted like troubled waters; standing before the abyss that challenged him, sang to him, time was not. All was infinite, and there was no escape.
"Yes, that is true. The wounds of the heart must mend on their own."
"Not all wounds can heal."
Glorfindel let out a deep breath. "Then what can be done?" His voice was soft. "The dreams will continue to haunt you, no matter where you hide."
Bare feet touched the floor as the sleek shadow righted itself. Black hair spilled fully into the moonlight.
"True." The voice was even. "But disguising yourself will not set you free."
Glorfindel's body tensed.
Erestor's voice was softer this time. "Are the songs you sing really of the White City? Are those stories of joy and valor your own, Glorfindel of Gondolin?"
Glorfindel did not answer. Erestor let out a mirthless laugh.
"It still burns, does it not?" He stared directly into the eyes of the shadowed elf. "You are not any freer than I."
It burned, those songs, those tales of yore. Despite the placating tone, the innocence of the question – the pain was raw, and there was no salve. And Erestor knew it. Erestor's presence alone hurt. Just as Glorfindel's presence hurt him.
The warrior's vibrant laugh, his twinkling smile, were poor cover for the wild fire that ate away the soul within. He brought back the flames, the crumbling walls – and Erestor did not know how to fight them.
Fighting, he could do. Erestor was no novice when it came to war; he could battle orc, troll, goblin, man, elf – but he did not know how to fight something that attacked only in his dreams. How could he fight the cry of the ravens? How could he repel the screams, the sobs that broke his dark nights? How could he erase the mangled bodies, the hollow eyes that stared at him through the blood?
He could not win this battle. And so he ran away. He had no choice but to run away.
Met with silence, he let out a small sigh. "What can be done?" he echoed, a tint of sarcasm bleeding into his voice.
Bathed in silent moonlight, he looked away into the window, into the darkness illuminated by the arc of white.
The moon was so bright. So bright.
Erestor closed his eyes.
"Tell me, child of Valinor." His voice was soft, weary. "Can you ever heal completely?"
Give me an answer, if you have one. Save me, if you can. Challenge me, if you dare. For you and I will destroy each other.
Glorfindel remained silent.
Erestor felt his heart grow duller, and pressed it with a cold hand. Had he sought answers? No, he knew Glorfindel held no salvation for him. His demons were his own. And this warrior had walked into his territory and had thrown questions, sought to distort his tranquil reality – and the ripples were becoming too violent to suppress. There was no escape from those eyes; they haunted him, those emotions that lay themselves bare with brutal frankness. Passing him in the halls, seeing him in the armory, he would always turn to him with a smile, and his eyes would change into that sea of unveiled nightmares. And when those eyes looked into his, Erestor always awoke with a muted scream, unknown terror clenching his heart. And with a trembling breath and a desperate prayer, his nights would be soaked in mournful longing of a long-lost melody, fevered wishes Erestor himself could not understand.
For the first time since his survival, he was beginning to pray. To wish, to fear.
This had to stop.
With a soft rustle, he stood. He took barely a step when Glorfindel spoke.
"Do you suffer still, Eregion's child?" His voice was void of emotion. The candle threw a distorted shadow against the wall. Erestor did not meet eyes again.
"Fight your own demons. Do not seek to gain solace by touching mine."
In the silence that followed, he was gliding past the golden warrior when Glorfindel spoke.
Two shadows mingled. And standing in the threshold of darkness and light, Erestor laughed softly.
"Dear Vanya, what is there to forgive?"
As Erestor stepped into the shadows where the blue of the moon could not reach, his heart trembled to hear a silent cry from behind, a deafening wave of palpable grief that washed over his body like a sea of tears.
And from that night forward, Glorfindel's nightmares began.