The Dance of Shadow and Flame

Too Late


It was a dark day. Elves stood about the courtyard, anxious to leave and fearful for their safety. There were dark tidings. Elrond had creased his brows and held his horse at bay.

Glorfindel made the last rounds about the stables before going back to check on the guards. He had released more than half of them to escort the entourage to Lorien. He appointed one of them, a famous warrior of Telerin descent, to be the captain of the guards. He had no rank or order among his guards otherwise, for warriors among Imladris had no systemized army structure. There were the guardians, and there were some powerful warriors of old, and then there was Lord Glorfindel.

"The people do not fear," Elrond said, at last giving his signal to depart. As elves mounted their horses and goodbyes were said, Glorfindel stood by the elven lord's horse. "They trust their safety so soon after the war. And the burden upon your shoulders grows heavy." He turned back to Glorfindel, after adjusting a strap on his quiver of arrows. "The dark forces are still strong."

"I am enough," Glorfindel said. And Elrond know this to be true. He looked into the youth's eyes.

"It is not Imladris which worries me."

Glorfindel smiled and petted Elrond's steed. "Safe journeys, Elrond."

Elrond smiled ruefully. Glorfindel called to the guards. The entourage began to move out, surrounded on all sides by watchful warriors. Elrond cast a glance at the head of the line of advisors who stood in the courtyard. Erestor stood, eyes dark and unreadable.

Elrond had announced that he would scour the lands of Eregion one last time on his way back. Those who had no knowledge of the whereabouts of loved ones asked him to search for the main palace, look for someone with a red scarf, someone who goes by a certain nickname. And Elrond had turned to Erestor, and invited the councilor along.

Erestor had refused.

"There are no more survivors," he said flatly. Somehow Glorfindel knew Erestor would know better than anyone. Erestor dismissed the idea, and Elrond spoke no further of it. He only promised the scour the ruins one last time, just to make sure. Erestor did not reply.

Elrond left for Lothlorien with a large band of elves on that cold autumn morning. Erestor watched his retreating back and whirled away as soon as he was out of sight. And Glorfindel watched in silence.


Erestor rubbed his eyes. He had spent the night awake, reading scroll after scroll. Judging by the upcoming shift in Imladris demography, there were many adjustments to be made. Yawning, he scanned the latest proposal regarding the installment of new sewing quarters in the east wing and stamped a seal of approval.

Stretching languidly, he rose to his feet. He needed a nap, but there was much to be done. He grabbed a handful of unread scrolls and left the writing table. Perhaps a walk in the sun would clear his head.

The autumn sun was crisp and golden. The garden was peaceful; though the lord of the valley was absent, there were no anxieties among the inhabitants. The council was an unconquerable fortress led by Lord Erestor, and they had Lord Glorfindel.

Erestor halted.

In the middle of the courtyard was Glorfindel. Ever dressed in his light green tunic, his sword at his side, he held an elfling in his arms, smiling as he spoke with the giggling child. Golden hair spilled onto the grass in a sway of gold and green, and rich laughter reverberated in the peaceful afternoon sun. He was a page out of the children's books, an image from the fairy tales – an everlasting, non-breathing, fragile peace of dream. He was idyllic scenery; around him, air did not hum, time did not exist.

Coward.

The tremors in his heart did not quell, hard as he tried. It was a lie, all of it.

Glorfindel raised his eyes, those beautiful, dishonest eyes. Erestor bit his lip.

"Would you care to join us, Lord Erestor?" His voice was low, melodic. He was trying, testing. Perhaps afraid. Erestor could no longer read him. The screams in his head were so heavy. He wanted to fall. And drag this glorious hypocrite down with him.

The child perked up. "Lord Erestor!" he called, bouncing on Glorfindel's lap. "Come, come! Lord Glorfindel's telling a story!"

Erestor raised strained eyes toward the two. The world was spinning. He stepped forward, and leaves flew in a dizzying dance before his eyes. He shook his head. Glorfindel was watching him, a golden visage in the tranquil sun. In another place, another time. Holding still those fragile lies he bound together. Erestor's heart burned.

"What story are we to hear?"

He could hear Glorfindel's smile. Ever polite. "'Twas a simple recounting of the wars we had."

"Yes, of course," breathed Erestor. "Wars make great pastimes, don't they."

The sunlight dulled. The world began to slowly collect around him. And Glorfindel was watching him, unreadable.

"After it is said and done, every great tragedy makes a great tale," he said smoothly. Erestor smiled.

"Told by the greatest storyteller, I am sure."

Glorfindel laughed. "Thank you, dear Councilor." His eyes were hard. The world solidified.

Erestor met his gaze, unrelenting. Glorfindel looked down at the elfling in his arms.

"I believe it is time for your lessons, little one. I will continue tomorrow."

The elfling pouted in disappointment. Glorfindel smiled and stroked his hair, and the small face slowly lit up again. Hopping off of the warrior's lap, the elfling bobbed his head at the two elvenlords, and scuttled toward the house. Erestor watched distantly. He was now within the bounds of this reborn youth, a part of his page of lies. And the tranquility was still held together, the golden visage still beautiful before his eyes. Glorfindel looked up at Erestor, unmoving. The sunlight was cold.

"What do you seek of me?"

Erestor did not know.

Glorfindel slowly rose to his feet. Moving with grace as his ever-present sword slid on the grass, he straightened his back and looked down at Erestor. Deep blue was whirling, a tide of majestic currents beneath the surface. Erestor could not read them – they were too powerful, too great. Overwhelmingly laid bare.

"It is true, yes, shamefully so, that I threw myself down the abyss." His voice was low, measured. "But foolish as I still am, I am trying my best to live."

"As am I." Erestor gritted his teeth. His voice was thin. "And honestly, for that matter."

Glorfindel chuckled mirthlessly. "Honesty," he said, opening his arms with a sweeping gesture. "Honesty is overrated, dear Councilor. When has honesty helped you when-" he stopped. He shook his head, raking back strands of hair. Erestor crossed his arms.

"When I was in the court of Eregion?"

"Forgive me," murmured Glorfindel, looking away. "I am weary."

Erestor's eyes glittered bright. "Nothing to forgive, my lord."

"Erestor-"

"Honesty must have helped you greatly when you were in the court of Turgon."

Glorfindel's face hardened. "Do you wish to speak of my previous life, Lord Erestor?"

Erestor's voice became light, animated. "Dear Valar, no. Not without the approval of Lord Glorfindel, the sole voice of Gondolin." He laughed.

Glorfindel was silent. Leaves whirled around them, a dance of death. Erestor smiled.

"Only those who do not tell the truth fear the truth." Venomous eyes glowed. He turned away, and began to walk toward the house. "But fear you not, Lord Glorfindel. I shall not taint your loved ones – they surely held the same noble qualities you possess."

A trembling breath tumbled about his feet, and Erestor smiled to himself grimly. It was not fair, he knew. And he was dragging himself down the pit. There was no escape.

The sunlight diminished, and the tranquility was broken. The lies have been shattered, and no one was the happier for it.

Brisk steps slowed. Glorfindel did not call, nor move after him. He stood where he was, silent. Instead of the white-hot anger he welcomed, there was only pain, a tearing stab through his heart – it was hot, this pulsating agony. Throbbing, bleeding. When it would run dry and stop pulsing altogether, he would not know. Erestor slowed to a stop.

"Glorfindel…" he turned back around.

The resurrected lord stood there, young and old and beautiful and scarred. He saw no one through him, or beyond him – he was watching him, Erestor. And his deep blue eyes were sparkling with brittle scars.

Erestor bit his lip.

"I-"

"Lord Erestor!"

They both turned. The Advisor of Literatures ran through the gardens, waving a flapping scroll in his hand. He began shouting before he even came near.

"Danger, my lords! Attack at the borders-" he panted and came to a halt as Erestor snatched the scroll from his hand and scanned. His face paled. He looked over the scroll once more, checking the date.

"When was this brought to us?"

"Yesterday, my lord," panted the advisor, "I had put it on your desk but it was still there when I went to ask you about it this morning."

Erestor's jaw clenched. He must have missed it this morning when he was scooping up the scrolls. He glanced up at Glorfindel, who stood now transformed; his eyes were calm, body alert. He understood perfectly.

"What of Lord Elrond's entourage?"

"They escaped," said Erestor, clutching the parchment. "The warriors you sent with them repelled the attack, but they were too far out to return to the valley. They went ahead toward Lorien."

"And now the enemy marches hither," murmured Glorfindel. "How far in?"

"Near the river," gulped the Advisor of Literatures. When Glorfindel began to stride toward the stables, his eyes widened. "My lord, no!" he cried. "There is an army of them! They seek to lay siege!"

"And I will answer them," answered Glorfindel, not looking back. Erestor reached out, and faltered. But Glorfindel stopped, turned around. Waited.

"It's too late," Erestor whispered. "They come prepared for war. You must not ride alone."

Glorfindel smiled. Erestor saw that in his eyes again – that deep movement of majestic undercurrents, a powerful wave that moved beneath those eyes. A fierce call for life, a battle for hope. And he was beautiful.

"I have seen too late, dear Councilor," he said softly, "and even then it was not too late."

And he whirled, and was already exiting the courtyard. "Hold the guards, my lords. The House of Elrond will stand with or without Glorfindel."

And with that, he was gone.

Erestor stood pensively still, white knuckles clenching a wrinkled parchment, as the neighing of a horse and a fierce cry rang solitarily against the sky, and the advisor at his side had left to warn the others – and yet he stood alone in the garden, his black robes tapping gently against his feet as grass whispered around his ankles.

The sun had disappeared.


It had been long since he last galloped to battle alone, knowing he may not return. Since he last raised a sword, faced death surrounding him – and it was welcome, this knowledge of death. For there was no uncertainty, and all was clear as the wind whipped his hair and the trees sang with life and he could hear the great song coursing in his veins, a heightened thrill of life and joy before the face of death. The border between life and death where all things become clear, and there is only one thing or another. And even that, the Valar had blurred. Meddling beings, those Valar.

He smiled ruefully. He was beginning to sound like that hotheaded young Oropherion.

But there were things that could only be known, only be shared, with the coming of certain things. And among them was Death. How he had cried and begged the Valar. How he had cursed them. But it was not to be. He had searched everywhere – but he could not find him.

Perhaps this time, the Valar would take pity.


"My lord."

The silence was timid. Erestor continued to stare out the window, back turned against all the advisors. Black eyes tremble with white ice.

The Advisor of the Literatures cleared his throat.

"The troops await your command."

Thick silence blanketed the study. Erestor's table was upturned, documents strewn about. His hair wavered in a tangle of black as the darkened day breathed cold winds into the window.

"Bid them hold."

The advisors started. The Advisor of Policies stepped close.

"Left like this, even Lord Glorfindel cannot win."

"Bid them hold. These are Lord Glorfindel's orders." The Chief Councilor did not move. The advisors sighed, restless. Neighing of horses could be heard outside. Warriors were encircling the Last Homely House, spears raised. Hooves pounded the ground.

"Lord Erestor, surely you know you are the voice of the house?"

Erestor turned. The advisors started. Their Chief Councilor's eyes, the bottomless, silent depths, were tremulous with light, terrible and bright, pulsing with life. Biting down the flesh of lips, the raven-haired elf repeated, his whisper suppressed: "Bid them hold."

"What will you do, then?" another advisor blurted. "Wait until he is found dead?"

Erestor's eyes flickered in his direction. "The reason we are still standing is Lord Glorfindel," he snarled. "And we will honor his wish."

The advisors fell into silence.

"But," breathed the dark-haired councilor, "as troops guard the house, a search party has been dispatched."

The silence cracked. Advisors looked at one another with relief.

A raven cleaved the sky. Erestor swirled around, and glanced at the bird. He reached out and swung the window shut.

"For two hours we wait," he said, locking the glass, "and if the party does not return with him then, troops shall progressively widen their ring about the house, and double as a rescue watch. I shall lead them."

The relief froze into silence.

"Lord Erestor, no," said an advisor, emphatically. "We cannot have you fall as well."

The young councilor looked around the semicircle of advisors about him, his dark eyes swallowing the silence. He was suddenly once again the young dark elf before Lord Glorfindel's arrival – his lithe body seemed to shrink, crystallizing into a mass of darkness, reverberant with bottomless power. His voice was lowered, slick with promises untold.

"Lord Glorfindel shall not fall."

With cool dark air following his trail, he swept up the grayness of the room as he passed the advisors. He reached the door. Another advisor called out.

"Proceed with caution, my lord." It was a hopeless warning. "You are our Chief Councilor."

Erestor paused. The air around him seemed so gray. So gray.

"And I shall take responsibility for my failures."

And he was gone.


Twilight.

Erestor was strapping a bow onto his back when neighs of horses sounded from afar, and cries were heard. Elves spilled onto the courtyard, and troops narrowed their ring about the house. The search party had returned.

Muffled cries suddenly exploded. Wail, shouts, groans. His heart dropped cold.

The House of Elrond will stand with or without Glorfindel.

Erestor ran among the others.

I am Glorfindel of Imladris now – and here I shall stay.

He gritted his teeth. Liar.

Maidens sobbed, children whimpered. Elves ran about, and soldiers were dismounting – healer, shouting for a healer. Carrying a limp body amongst them.

Don't you dare die on me.

The last of daylight seeped away through his whipping hair. The world was darkening. Gray.

And on a stretcher, a tumbling mass of bloody gold.

Grief rocked the valley. Erestor stood frozen. Healers shouted for others to back away, and the stretcher disappeared toward the healing ward. And among the frenzied people, flocking and running, he caught a glimpse of the stretcher as it moved away. As clear as he had seen the raven that day - among a dripping mass of red, a pale hand hung limp.

The world lurched.

Erestor staggered against an advisor who caught his arm. The world was a dizzying whirl of gray – and among it all, the only speck of color was that brilliant red and gold, and even that was gone. He could not breathe.

Frenzied shouts began to die away, and anxious footsteps began to scatter about, at a loss. Terror grew as the Chief Councilor stood deathly still; panic spread like wildfire. And even as councilors began to disperse the people, and the cries were hushed to a fearful murmur, the black-haired elf stood still in the courtyard, eyes vacant, as a raven circled the sky.

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