"Therefore, in simple terms, activity is increasing in the west."
Elrond creased his brows. Glorfindel drew a sweeping arc across the map and pointed south. "And they are making a loop down this way."
"Clever for their brain capacity," remarked Erestor drily. Elrond nodded as other advisors began to murmur among themselves. He shifted his gaze to Glorfindel, who stood by the map and watched the advisors with a distant eye. He looked haggard. As orc activity increased, the seneschal's working hours did as well. His guards looked relatively fresh after day-long trips, but he looked tired, golden hair dusty and weather-worn. Elrond called the advisors together for a solution.
"We say take a shortcut down and meet them," said one advisor, motioning to himself and two others. Other advisors from the side shook their heads.
"There is no guarantee that they will be of threat to us. Especially if they are going down south. Besides, the shortcuts are treacherous."
"Vilya can protect-"
"Vilya is not functioning at its fullest!"
"Do you say we sit back and wait for them to attack us?"
"We are a hidden sanctuary! We cannot advertise unwanted war!"
"This is clearly-"
Elrond raised his hand. The squabble died down, albeit somewhat reluctantly. Elrond turned to Erestor, who had remained silent throughout the debate. "What say you, Lord Erestor?"
Erestor's eyes flickered toward the captain of the guard. Glorfindel met his gaze calmly.
"Go after them," said Erestor. Silence hung. Elrond cleared his throat.
"No side-tracking, no ambushing, but plain tracking?"
"Yes," said Erestor simply, and scanned the map. "If the orcs are smart enough to make this kind of diversion, they are smart enough to expect an ambush. What they will not expect," he said, drawing a trail mimicking Glorfindel's earlier one, "is an attack from behind."
Elrond nodded. The other advisors murmured among themselves, obviously impressed. Erestor looked intently at Glorfindel. Elrond followed his gaze.
"What say you, Lord Glorfindel? Think you that your guards can track them down straight?"
"No, my lord." Glorfindel smiled.
The murmurs halted. All eyes riveted on the golden elf. The blond youth whirled around, pointing at the map.
"This is a good three days' travel, my lord. My guards are weary and few in number, and after such extensive travel, they cannot manage a good battle. Many of them are already injured from the past fortnight."
All eyes turned to Erestor. He continued to stare at Glorfindel, unfazed.
"However," continued Glorfindel, "this feat is possible if we separate them – and this can be done without the efforts of my guards." He looked at Erestor. Erestor nodded.
"Vilya," he said simply.
Glorfindel nodded. "Yes, if we catch up with them here-" he drew a circle at an overpass, "-the orcs can be easily defeated, and by this I mean-" he pointed toward a stream that crossed the overpass, "-water."
Elrond's eyes sparked. "Yes, Vilya is strong enough to summon water," he said brightly. "And if we can send out a scout to see their progress, I can flood them at the precise location and divide them. Splendid!"
Glorfindel glanced at Erestor. Erestor glanced back. No more words were said.
Elrond glared at the golden-haired elf as he sauntered into the study, and proceeded to perch himself atop of the elvenlord's writing table. Elrond waved a parchment in his hands.
"What is this?"
"A report, my lord," answered the blond youth, swinging his leg. Elrond scanned the parchment once again before dropping it down onto the table.
"Glorfindel, are you abusing your power to play games?" he tapped his fingers against the surface wood. "You should have given this to me before the council meeting."
The youth shrugged. "I thought you had appointed me seneschal due to my experience?" he looked around the room distractedly. Elrond huffed, and pulled on a braid of his hair, doing little to conceal the fact that he would rather be pulling on the strands of a certain blond elf at the moment. Glorfindel watched on, expression unreadable.
"Glorfindel, of course I trust you," said Elrond patiently, "but we were all alarmed into thinking this was war." When Glorfindel did not budge, he sighed, exasperated. "You did not tell us they were so outnumbered."
Unfazed, Glorfindel leaned close to Elrond. Blue met gray, and gazes locked.
"Even one orc can take out a pillar to a castle," he said, voice low and sinister. "And the castle will crumble."
Elrond looked up without blinking. "We do not speak of orcs, do we, Glorfindel?"
Glorfindel slowly drew back, and shifted his gaze to the window. His eyes reflected the pale gray light of day, dancing, fleeting.
Elrond rose. His eyes challenged the golden-haired elf, and Glorfindel slowly looked back, his face a tumbling array of emotion, shifting like troubled waters. Silence stretched.
At last, Glorfindel sighed, breaking the silence. He held up his hands. "What do you want, Peredhil? You want me to kill orcs or do you want me to suck my thumb while someone else does it?"
Elrond raised a brow. "You're not the only one who can fight off orcs."
"Yes, Elrond, vain as I am, I know." Glorfindel blew on a stray strand of hair across his face.
"I do not speak of vanity." Elrond moved closer. Glorfindel's shoulders stiffened as dark eyes bore into him. "I speak of your fatigue. Your excessive training. After hours. In the moonlight." He drew back, watching Glorfindel's eyes flicker. "And you refusing to be healed just because you have Vanyarian blood – that is vanity."
Glorfindel remained silent. The gray of the day was whirling in his eyes, a terrible white light. It was stretching, crashing like the nightmares that plagued the youth every night and made him more haggard, more hollow. Elrond wanted to sigh.
"Whose forgiveness do you seek?" he whispered.
Glorfindel flinched. Swirling daylight crashed, and hard blue eyes turned away. He swung his legs off of the table. Hopping off, he whirled around, and bowed curtly. "Good day, my lord. My guards will be out shortly."
Elrond's voice was calm behind his back. "I will be leaving for Lothlorien soon."
The air stilled. Glorfindel turned, looking surprised. He looked searchingly into Elrond's eyes. And then, he nodded.
The orcs were panicking. They were separated by a strange onslaught of floodwater that appeared out of nowhere, and now two groups were separated by more than water – they were forced to climb inland, toward the mountainous terrain. Behind each slope crouched a band of elven warriors, waiting for the captain's signal.
Glorfindel grimly counted the number of the enemy as he pulled his bow. As he had feared, the orcs had followed the trail of the latest influx of refugees. He would have to clear up the path before Elrond's entourage left for Lorien, and keep it clean. The orcs were not aware of the whereabouts of the Last Homely House, of course; Vilya, weak as it still was, held up enough power to keep the refuge hidden. But as refugees heard of an elven sanctuary, orcs and trolls gathered as well, and there was a slaughtering to be made. The hidden valley could not afford to be found by unwanted eyes.
The concern that plagued the councilors of Imladris was that there were many refugees to be protected, and not enough warriors to protect them. Imladris population was unbalanced; it had an overwhelming number of scribes, smiths, artisans, cooks – those who had led peaceful lives before the war. Warriors were rare and few. Most had perished in the great war, or fell while protecting the trail of refugees.
Just like Glorfindel.
Elrond provided Glorfindel with all the resources he asked for. But contrary to the wishes of a worried advisory board, Glorfindel kept the population of the infantry at a minimum, and refused to take in more recruits. And while the legend of Gondolin stood at a stalemate with the entire advisory board of Imladris, Elrond had turned troubled eyes toward Erestor, and the chief councilor had remained silent. And Elrond had conceded.
Perhaps it was vanity. Or perhaps it was punishment. Glorfindel no longer knew.
He raised his signal. War cries ensued. Glorfindel let his arrows fly, watching with detached calm as orcs began to scamper about, confused by the battle cries.
There was no need for close combat. There was no need even to rise to their feet. The orcs fell in confusion and fear, entangled in horrific cries – and even before they could fall in bloody heaps, the raging river returned, swallowing up the traces of battle. And as the dark creatures fell, the waters calmed, and gently, gently – the tide lapped against the forest floor, washing away the blood, soothing the land of its scars. And soon, there was nothing but tufts of grass and dirt, as if there had never been battle.
Glorfindel watched in a daze as his guards shouted victory calls. The battle ended as quickly as it began. His battle tactics and Elrond's magic were unmatched. He smiled wryly. It was too easy.
He looked around the forest. The guards were already preparing to leave. Their feet crunched on fallen leaves; the foliage here was forever crisp, burgundy and rich red. Blood was not permitted to stay. Foul creatures were washed clean from the land. The river sang peacefully, bearing no resemblance to the angry tide that had just swallowed body after body.
The peace would last. Glorfindel knew that as long as Imladris had Vilya and Glorfindel, it would never see battles worse than this. It was not vanity, he knew. It was a deep-intuited knowledge, a prophecy whispered to him from the heart. There would be no need for more troops. Glorfindel of Gondolin would be guardian of Imladris, and the Last Homely House would remain a hidden refuge. There would be no bloodshed, no treachery, no war. Only peace.
Glorfindel looked down at his young hands, untainted with blood. There were no more princesses to protect, no more kings to follow. No more deaths to mourn. No more friends to lose. Though the idyllic peace was deceptively similar to the one of the White City, the wars that ravaged his dreams were long past. No matter how hard he swung his sword, an unbridgeable gap of time separated this peaceful land from his home. He would never go through treks in the bitter cold again, warm his hands in frail fire as companions huddled close with frozen breaths and weary smiles. He would never sing again by the sparkling fountain and play pranks on fellow captains of the court. He would never argue in court to free himself of conspiracy, march to certain death at the battlefront, following the distant song of his companion who would come out alive to tap him gently on the shoulder with a weary smile. Never watch his home burn, fight in ragged desperation, climb to meet a breath of fire and welcome death, for all was over and he had nothing more to lose, nothing more to fear. He would no longer need to fight as he once did – nor be able to redeem himself. Would never be able to seek forgiveness.
This was Imladris. The war was over.
The knowledge washed over him like a cold, breaking wave; and standing alone at the quiet forest, he wanted to weep with loss.