"Manwe’s orc! Damned thing!"
It wasn't as though Glorfindel was still concentrating on his book. It had been one small vexation after another since Erestor came back from his walk with Aragorn and proceeded to prowl their sitting room with all the grace of a sleek but angry cat. "What now?"
"I've just ruined this shirt. There are splinters along the edge of this table and it's scraped a very visible line along the sleeve. Oh, and there's a hole too."
Erestor liked good clothing but seldom obsessed over it. Glorfindel suppressed a sigh and put the book down. "Ery, come here."
"What? I'm busy. I need to find..."
"Never mind what you need to find.” Glorfindel beckoned, a quick movement of three fingers normally reserved for tardy young warriors. “Here."
He received a deadly look from slitted amber eyes, but Erestor complied, going to stand beside the cushion-laden chair that Glorfindel had claimed for his own almost as soon as they arrived at their lodgings in the King's Guesthouse in Minas Tirith. He took Erestor's arm and turned it so he could see the damage to the fine silk.
"Made a bit of a mess of it, yes. I hadn't noticed a problem with the table. No need to bother our hosts, I can see to it myself. It’ll just need a little sanding, nothing extreme. Was this a favourite shirt of yours? I don't remember."
Glorfindel let his hand briefly trace the outline of Erestor's wrist with its deceptively fragile bones before weaving their fingers together. The talking was just so many words strung together, soothing noises such as one might use to a horse, aimed to ease the tense lines alongside Erestor’s mouth.
"You're going to ask for sandpaper so you can repair a table? Here? After we were presented to the staff as great elf lords?"
"I'm not really a great elf lord?" Glorfindel asked politely, raising an eyebrow. “And here I thought I still had a title.”
Erestor glared at him again. "You know what I mean."
Glorfindel grinned up at him and patted his knee meaningfully. "Come. Sit here. Let’s talk."
Erestor pouted, which years of experience told Glorfindel meant he complied under duress and was determined to have the fact noted. Once that formality was seen to, he perched stiffly where indicated, a familiar weight in an unfamiliar pose. Glorfindel shook his head and put an arm round Erestor's waist, pulling him closer. "Here. Relax, you. You'd swear we were playing Tavern Lout and the Unwilling Serving Maid. Guess which I'd be?"
"Unwilling Serving Maid, of course. Being physically intimidated." Erestor tried to sound grumpy but couldn't quite stop his lips from twitching.
"Not my first thought, but... Get off me, you vermin?" Glorfindel aimed with limited success for a falsetto voice.
"Watch your mouth, wench." Erestor countered, swallowing down a sound that was suspiciously close to a laugh.
"Here, I'm a good girl. I don't do this kind of thing?"
Erestor spluttered and shook his head. "Valar, you are such a bad actor!"
"I'm sorry, I can't seem to find inner conviction. I see my hands and they are just not maidenly." Glorfindel held up a hand as proof and Erestor finally had to laugh outright. The tension left his body and he settled down with his head tilted back against Glorfindel’s shoulder. They sat together, the laughter fading to the easy silence of a couple who had been together for a long time. Outside, afternoon in Minas Tirith went on, with all its associated clatter and buzz of voices. Somewhere close by birds twittered.
"Enjoy your walk?" Glorfindel asked casually. "I know how you love all the noise and colour here. I think you come to visit the citadel as much as to see Arwen."
Erestor’s hesitation was marginal but noticeable to someone who knew him well. “It was a good walk. I stopped first to pay my respects to Aragorn and he decided to take an hour off for a change and come with me.”
Somewhere beyond those words was the thing responsible for the tension, the over-reaction to a string of small annoyances that would not normally make him do more than tut with frustration. Glorfindel made an encouraging noise but otherwise kept quiet, waiting. “We went to the big, undercover market, then we had to stop while he talked to traders, asked how business was going. You can see they love him,” he added with a half smile. “They try not to crowd him but everyone wants their chance. He’s a good king.”
“It’s been a long road. People instinctively know that heroes don’t often translate well into rulers, but he has,” Glorfindel agreed, resting their linked hands on Erestor’s knee.
“Long road, yes.” Erestor was quiet, thinking. Then: “We ran into Faramir while we were there. He’d come down to buy flowers for Eowyn’s grave. It’s their custom, to mark an anniversary with flowers at the person’s resting place. His granddaughter was with him. He has to walk with a stick now.”
Glorfindel looked up sharply. He had liked both of Denethor’s sons from their first meeting. “Something’s wrong?”
Erestor shook his head. “No, no. Just old age, I suppose. He’s grown very stooped, I think he’d be shaky on his feet without an aid. His hair’s completely white now, and his skin – it’s thin and papery, lined…”
“It comes to them all, Ery,” Glorfindel said gently. Somewhere here was the heart of the problem, he could feel it without yet seeing its shape. “And he lost Eowyn what, less than five years back? They were inseparable, it often ages the one left behind even more. All part of their journey.”
“From birth to greatness, then the wheel turns and it’s back to dependence. And then… what then, Glory?”
Glorfindel leaned his head against the padded back of the chair where sunshine pooled from the open window. Outside he could hear the pattering fall of the fountain in the courtyard and further off were voices and the sound of children’s laughter. Despite the midsummer sun, the high-ceilinged room with its heavy, dark wood furniture and ornate drapes was quiet and cool.
“And then they give back the Gift and pass on to that part of the Halls of Silence where mortals go to be reunited with those they love? That’s what they believe anyhow and it feels right to me.” He left unstated the implication that he would know because he had spent time in Mandos and there were some kinds of knowledge based less in fact than soul-deep certainty. All he now remembered of the Halls was peace and silence, but it was enough.
Long-lashed eyes the colour of good brandy studied him. “He’s getting frail, Glorfindel. And Estel – Aragorn – has at least twice his years.”
Glorfindel waited again for wherever this was going. Erestor straightened up and drew slightly away from him, the earlier signs of tension returning. “A long journey, yes, and – and I looked at him today, really looked at him. I don’t see him you know, he’s Estel-who-became-Aragorn and is now King of Gondor. I notice what he wears, I would know if he was unhappy or worried or hurt, but I don’t look at him any more than I do you. I know how you look. I thought I knew how he looks.”
Another day this would be something to tease him with, but Glorfindel let it pass and reached for the heart of it. “And how does he look?”
“Old,” Erestor said flatly, “he looks old.”
Glorfindel pulled him back against him, insisting until Erestor finally complied. Even after so long, the feel and scent of him this close was always a heady thing, no matter how serious the moment. “He is old, Ery. He’s the oldest man in his kingdom. It’s part of the grace laid on his line.”
“And he will die soon, won’t he?” Erestor asked quietly, close to his ear.
Glorfindel rested a hand against Erestor’s cheek briefly before starting to stroke his long black hair. He wore it loose in the city of men where elven fashions were whatever the elves themselves decided they would be and where its shimmering fall was much admired. Back at home in Rivendell where status was told by such things, there would have been braids and knots and jewelled clips. “He will give back the Gift of the One as his people used to in the old days,” Glorfindel told him, although he knew Erestor the part-time historian was aware of this. “He will know when it’s his time. I don’t know how they do that, but he will.”
“And Arwen? What of her then? Their lives are intertwined, where his journey ends, so does hers. That was the choice…”
“That’s the word you need to remember, love,” Glorfindel reminded him. “Choice. She chose this…”
“But she had no idea what she was doing,” Erestor said, the old sense of outrage stirring.
Glorfindel petted his hair. “Ssh, no, I know she didn’t. Elrond knew it too, that’s what was eating at him when he sailed. And isn’t it why we’re here? Not just wanting to savour every last moment we can on this side of the sea, but also to support her until her time comes?”
“I saw it as supporting her whenever she had problems dealing with her role as Queen – for a girl with such a shining ancestry she’s lived a quiet life. But yes, you’re right I suppose.”
“And you’ve helped and advised her, which you’ll keep doing for as long as she needs you.”
Erestor nodded and began toying with one of Glorfindel’s side braids, letting it slide again and again through his fingers. “We’re dining with them tonight,” he said finally. “I don’t know what to say, where to look. Once something is thought it can’t be un-thought….”
“No, I know,” Glorfindel agreed. “But we can take note of the little things that are too easily overlooked and add them to all the other good memories of the time we have left with them.”
“And not let her see I know, even though she must surely be thinking of it?”
“Especially as she must be thinking of it, yes,” Glorfindel said gently, taking Erestor’s hand again and raising it to drop a quick kiss on the back of his fingers. “If she wants to talk, she will. We’ve known them both all their lives, the best we can offer now is acceptance and kindness.”
“Sometimes I forget you were a great lord with people to answer for,” Erestor said with an almost-smile. “Kindness and acceptance?”
Glorfindel nodded, relieved by the way the worry was starting to leave Erestor’s face. “To him it’s natural and to her – Arwen wasn’t totally blind when she decided her future, she’s seen mortals pass on before. You need to reconcile with your own horror here, not make it hers as well.”
Erestor tilted his head back and studied him seriously for a moment. “I would never make the burden heavier, of course. Thank you for reminding me. I think you can kiss me now.”
“Will that finish the conversation off properly and give you some peace?” Glorfindel teased, tidying back already scrupulously tidy hair – Erestor’s hair was well trained; it took a good strong wind or some fairly heady passion for it to get out of control.
“I don’t know,” Erestor said pensively. “We should try, and I can let you know what I think.”
Erestor slid under the covers beside Glorfindel and leaned across him to put out the lamp before lying down, his head going instantly to the hollow of Glorfindel’s shoulder. “Last night of messing up my bed so the maids don’t realise we only use one,” he said with a yawn.
Glorfindel tightened his arm around him, shifting closer. “Did you want us to use your room? I didn’t mean to take it for granted we’d always sleep in this one...”
Erestor’s laugh was soft, sleepy. “No, I like this side of the suite. You hear the birds first thing in the morning and the view’s better. There’s no trees on the other side. And getting up early never hurt – I nap till it’s time to go for breakfast anyhow.”
“Ha. And I thought you were being a hero and staying up once you left.”
“And you had no guilt about it, you just left me to get on with it, yes.” Erestor said, using his thumb to poke just below Glorfindel’s ribs.
Glorfindel twitched back from the assault and smacked his hand. “Don’t you get physical with me.”
“You don’t want me to get physical with you? Oh, and here I was thinking you’d like a bit of fun before we got some sleep. Well, that’s fine then.”
“There’s physical and then there’s physical,” Glorfindel said firmly, leaning over him and pinning his hand against the mattress. “The good kind and the bad kind. I’m always up for a little of the good kind.”
Erestor chuckled and moved suggestively under him, something that could still be relied upon to make Glorfindel shiver. “Yes, that’s obvious.”
“You have my permission to get physical,” Glorfindel told him, placing a lingering kiss on his cheek. “I misspoke myself. Go right ahead.”
Erestor slid his free hand up to the back of Glorfindel’s neck beneath his hair, his touch raising goose bumps. “I respond well to instruction. Sometimes. You said not to get physical with you. Of course nothing was said against you getting physical with me...”
Some considerable time later, after washing up with cold water and much soft laughter, they lay spooned together, Glorfindel stroking his hand lazily over Erestor’s shoulder and arm. The night was as quiet as it ever was in the busy, densely populated citadel. It reminded Glorfindel of Gondolin in that way of many people existing in a surprisingly small space. Voices and faint footsteps still came and went outside, because the window looked out towards a popular thoroughfare from which they were only separated by a flowerbed, a few paces of grass and a little stand of trees. Somewhere a cart rumbled past.
“She looked happy tonight, didn’t she?” He had thought Erestor was drifting into sleep. His voice was low, almost diffident.
“Arwen? Yes, she looked happy. They always fit well together.” He bent his head and kissed Erestor’s shoulder as he spoke.
“There’s grey in her hair.”
Glorfindel resumed stroking the smooth, warm skin. “Yes, I noticed that. A lot of years have passed, Ery-sweet. It would be sadder and stranger if she never aged, if she looked as we do even though she’d given up her birthright.”
“They still think she’s strange here, don’t they?”
He let it be for a while, toying with Erestor’s hair. “I think – I think she will always be alien,” he admitted at length, reluctantly. “She never had time to get to know people as anything less than their queen, plus she’s an elf – it would take them a long while to know what to make of her. It makes friendships hard to build. I had hoped she would get along with Eowyn in the beginning, but...”
“But they had absolutely nothing in common, no, I remember. She’s fond of some of her ladies though – even political placements will throw up like minded companions now and then.” Erestor moved back against him, a cat looking for petting. “But mainly it’s her husband and family she’s closest to.”
Glorfindel remembered that seemingly endless journey from Rivendell to Gondor at the end of the war, the anticipation written clear on Arwen’s face, as clear as Elrond’s pain. “That husband, those children, were what she wanted, the reason she gave up a life bound to the life of Arda. It’s right that they should be the centre of her world.”
“But if she lost them...”
“She won’t lose them, love. Remember? Her time will be bound to his. That was what she wanted, and there’s nothing in her eyes or in the way they are together that tells me she regrets it.”
Erestor turned round abruptly, looking hard at him in the dim light of the room – Minas Tirith was a stranger to total darkness. “And that’s enough? Truly?”
Glorfindel cupped his cheek, returning gaze for gaze. “Love is always enough,” he said. “If I had nothing else in the world but you, it’d be enough for me. And when he leaves, she will follow in time to the same place.”
“Wherever that is.”
Glorfindel smiled, shrugged. “Wherever Lord Namo in his wisdom decides that is, yes. Would you argue the wisdom of a Vala? No, wait, don’t answer that.”
“No. We don’t want arguments about my tendency to blasphemy, not at this hour of the night.”
Glorfindel wrapped his arms around Erestor in a brief, tight hug before loosening his grasp. “Sleep. You have to be up early again tomorrow. And stop worrying. It’ll be all right. It’s how it is for them all and they accept it and live full lives to compensate for the shorter time. She has wonderful children and a husband who loves her deeply. She’s at peace. We should be as well.”
“Need to learn to let them go,” Erestor said very quietly.
“We do, yes.” Glorfindel kissed his forehead. “And we’re not good at it, but we’ll learn. For Arwen’s sake even more than our own. She needs to see it’s normal for us as well, her own people. She’s known you all her life – when she has doubts or fears, she has to see in your eyes that she has no need to be afraid. And that she will never truly be gone, because she will be remembered with love by so many for as long as the world survives.”
“A time for all things,” Erestor murmured, moving his head into the curve of Glorfindel’s shoulder. “A time for peace and for joy, for sorrow and for letting go.”
“And a time for sleep,” Glorfindel said firmly, caressing the back of Erestor’s head briefly.
There was stillness while Erestor considered this, then he sighed and moved his arm around Glorfindel’s waist, a wordless signal that talking was over.
Glorfindel, who had been ready for sleep, found himself lying awake and holding him while trying to imagine knowing there would come a long night with such a different dawn as awaited Arwen. It was late before he set himself to wake with the first birds so he could take the other bed and let Ery rest. Emptying his mind he curled around Erestor who had turned away from him, and followed his love into sleep.