"My father remembers you," the tall elf said as the two set out on their expedition. The prince glanced back at the tall blond warrior falling into step behind him. They were heading away from the bulk of Oropher's troops to scout the shadows of Amon Lanc. Oropher would continue south and they would rejoin him in a few days.
The armies of the West were gathering to bring the battle to Sauron's gates, but all would be for naught if the evil still resided in the south of the Greenwood instead of the fastness of Mordor. Ereinion, the High King Gil-galad himself, had requested Elrond's best scout for this foray to the citadel of the Enemy; Elrond had chosen Glorfindel. "Seek out the fastness of Dol Guldur and ascertain if the Evil One is in residence. My heart says he has fled south to the better defensible lands of Mordor, but we must be sure so as to eliminate an attack from our unprotected rear," Elrond instructed. Glorfindel had left for the Greenwood within a mark.
"?," a noncommittal grunt sounded from the second elf as a momentary slip on slick rain-moistened leaves caused him to fight for balance. "What did he say?"
"Well, he said that he didn't actually interact with you … or even with Turgon … much." The tall elf jumped to the next tree with a soft grunt, swaying for a second as he found his balance on the moss-covered branch. "Father found his way to Melian's realm, requested permission to reside there, and stayed there until Doriath was destroyed."
"I don't recall meeting him. Ooof!"
"You doing all right back there?" Thranduil called back.
"Fine. I think you trained the branches to push out a bit more so that I would be scraped, scratched and always off-balance"
"Nonsense, oh great warrior, I don't have that power over the trees of the realm," responded the woodland elf as he lithely slid down a thick branch toward a small fire-opened glade ahead. "If you are being scratched and scraped, the trees made that decision on their own. I can suggest things to other elves residing in the Greenwood, but the trees and animals keep their own counsel."
Glorfindel shook his head and redoubled his efforts to keep up with the prince who was sinuously winding his way along through the branches ahead of him. "So your father met me?"
"I don't think he actually met you, rather you were pointed out to him when he was a member of a delegation to the sons of FŽanor shortly after they arrived. He told me your tale when I was a youngling, though. I remember being overwhelmed by your story and filled with what I'm sure was a bit of hero worship."
"Hero worship, mmmm?"
"Don't get your head all swelled. It was short-lived."
Glorfindel looked back, momentarily shocked, then his eyes crinkled as laughter overtook him. "Yes, well, heroism is highly overrated," he said with an ending chuckle as he got himself back under control.
The two elves continued along their forest road, dropping down to ground level in areas of young trees or thin growth, climbing back to the high reaches as the trees grew thick once more. After many hours of travel, they reached a sunlit glade. Thranduil jumped down from a low branch and after a quick look around, he walked to the center of the open space where the quickly darkening sky was clear of the lacey high branches.
"We can rest here until dawn. Although we're close to the seared lands, those lands scarred and changed by the evil now living in our ancient fortress, here there is usually safety and little overspill. There's a fast-running creek a quarter mark or so east of here. We should keep any fire minimal and allow it to die down as soon as we've fed, but the night will be mild. We can still drink the water here, it is fresh which will not be the case as we get closer to Amon Lanc, but we will have to set a schedule for a watch - creatures of evil sometimes pass through here under cover of darkness.
Glorfindel nodded. "Want me to fill the water skins?"
"You do that while I dig the fire pit and start collecting wood. I will reassure the trees that we mean them no harm while you're filling the skins." They separated to their tasks.
Late that night after a meal of rehydrated venison and berry stew accompanied by baked roots, they doused the fire by covering it with dirt and reclined, gazing at the stars above. Ešrendil was sailing above them and Isil was due to rise soon.
"You're a bit of a curiosity," Thranduil said softly, addressing the sky above them instead of the elf at his side.
"A curiosity? Really? Am I to be placed on a side shelf and dusted every few suns?" Glorfindel sat up, shifted toward the prince and handed a wine skin to him. "Try some of this. Elrond brews it from a combination of fruits. It's strong and sweet, like the swift rivers originating from your mountains."
Thranduil pushed up and sat facing his companion. Taking the skin, he poured a generous helping into his mouth and swallowed. A choked cough forced its way past his lips. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve and gasped, then continued. "I can't see you ever being pushed off to any side shelving for parlor maids to dust off periodically." He shook his head, took one more pour from the skin and handed it back to his companion as he scanned the glade with a piercing gaze. "Elrond brews a potent vintage."
"He might be a warrior of grim repute and high skill, but he is also a talented healer. An elf who mixes medicines can also brew other types of liquids, such as very potent liquors." Glorfindel took another pull from the skin. He shook his head, golden hair catching the soft rays of the starlight. "Still … I admit that even though I am looked upon as a curiosity, I don't feel like one. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that title."
"No? What title would you prefer then? First-born? Second-born? Warrior? Scholar? Musician? Tutor? Commander? All these are titles you have held through the years of your lives, yes?"
"Today, at this hour, I suppose the appropriate titles would be scout, second-born …" he reached out and stroked his thumb firmly down Thranduil's cheek, "… and l-lover," he continued, a momentary stutter in his words. He reached out to the woodland prince and put his arms over the other elf's shoulders in a loose embrace. "For you, and only you, will I accept the title of lover," he finished in a harsh whisper as he tightened his arms and pulled Thranduil closer.
Their lips met, tentatively at first, the kiss strengthening as Thranduil shifted closer to the older warrior, cupping the back of his head with one hand, stroking his jawline with his other. Their breaths mingled, arms tightened and their chests met and aligned as Thranduil shifted, straddling Glorfindel's hips between his knees. The kiss deepened and a low moan came from Glorfindel. Their tongues clashed as each fought for dominion over the other, but the shuffle was short-lived.
Clumsily, they separated, pulling off their clothing and casting it to the side. They stood, joined again in a tight embrace, soft sounds of need sounding from each as their desire for each other flared. Their grasp upon each other strengthened.
"Here we are safe?" asked Glorfindel as he licked the side of Thranduil's neck, then began to suck near the prince's collarbone.
"Yes, or as safe as any can be in the Greenwood these days," responded the slighter elf. "I will be warned if danger approaches, although perhaps it already has." Thranduil moaned, common sense overtaken by the desire to lie with the reborn warrior.
He pulled his cloak from the pile of clothing and arranged it over the ground, turned, and stretched his arm out to Glorfindel in invitation. "You are beautiful, Glorfindel," Thranduil said as they embraced again.
"Thranduil," the warrior murmured as the two became a single figure, glimmering in the stark light of white Isil. Vingilot sailed onward and Isil followed. Darkness fell over the two elves, but they cared not. Their night was broken only by the warning song of a solitary owl as dawn approached.
Daybreak found the two lovers sitting next to each other sharing a meal of berries, nuts and grains. A small pot of water was suspended over a low fire from a makeshift tripod, steam rising from the liquid. Thranduil reached out, throwing a handful of herbs into the simmering water.
"Tea will be brewed shortly. The coals are almost burned through, but they should be enough."
Glorfindel nodded, stretching his body in the early morning light. "I need to loosen up," he mumbled as he got to his feet. "Care to join me?"
A short time later a solitary buck wandering by the glade stopped to gaze at an unusual sight - two elves whirling and dancing around each other in a complicated dance of hand-to-hand combat, blades and bodies shining in the strengthening sunlight. He shook his head at the scene and continued toward the stream on the far side of the trees.
Glorfindel, breathing hard, raised his hands to stop the exercise. "Good … much better at least. Now, we should probably get our task finished and begin our return to your father."
Thranduil picked up the water container. "I'll get water to douse the last of the hot coals; if you look around and make sure that everything is untroubled and undisturbed. Amon Lanc is still several hours ahead of us. My people have moved away from its cursed presence several times now, first joining with Amdir then moving northward, ever northward, away from the evil that our home had become."
"Yet I must see it. Is it possible to actually enter the citadel?" Glorfindel's handsome face had suddenly turned grim and fey, and he had the mien of a fell warrior for the first time in Thranduil's presence. The younger elf was momentarily taken aback, looking at the tall elf with whom he had made love only hours before with new eyes. The tender lover had been replaced by the deadly warrior, one of the most renowned warriors in all of Middle Earth.
"Although there is a small postern entrance, it would be very unwise to use it. Even if the fortress is only populated by servants, they are still numerous, but even more so, our presence there might alert the Enemy to our plans."
Nodding, Glorfindel gathered their few items and as they took to the tree branch roads above once again, the glade gave no outward sign of the previous night's activities.
Thranduil now headed south, Glorfindel following his lead. As they moved farther from the glade, the trees began looking sickly and ill-formed. A stench of rotting dead clung to the land and shreds of fog stretching tendrils toward the two elves as they continued their journey. It was late afternoon when the prince halted and silently motioned the warrior to join him.
He pointed ahead and the mists parted for a moment, showing a dark and foreboding fortress of towers, crenellations, steep roofs and narrow windows ahead of them. Gateways were barred by jagged stones and pointed iron grills. Bridges were broken or narrowed to single thin spans. There was no sound of water, call of bird, or rustle of leaf. Nothing moved and no sounds penetrated to where they stood, mesmerized by the sight ahead of them.
Glorfindel stood still, his nostrils quivering as he tasted the air. A shiver ran down his spine and he turned his head, looking at his younger companion. He took his time, carefully looking over the entire area, but seeing no easy way into the citadel, he turned. A single nod from him and they retraced their steps, leaving the remains of the once-glorious abode behind them.
As they stopped on top of a low hill, Glorfindel turned, looking south once more.
"Why have you stopped? You cannot be thinking about trying to enter the ruin, it would be suicide."
"I'm experienced at suicide in the service of my king," Glorfindel replied. "But no. I think I got what my liege needs. I think your father would have my head decorating his war pike if you accompanied me on a scouting run through this evil place. If Ereinion requests it of me, however, I'll return here and enter the citadel, exploring it to the last room. I was born under the lights of the Trees and trained in warfare and combat by the emissaries of the Valar. I have skills that you, indeed that most elves, do not have."
"Would those 'skills' keep you safe within a place of such evil?" Thranduil asked, angered by the older elf's seeming assumption that he wasn't as competent as the reborn elf.
"Maybe not, but I would rather not place you in danger unnecessarily," he said, turning and pulling Thranduil into a hard kiss, biting the lower lip of the younger elf sharply. Thranduil gasped as Glorfindel continued. "I've only just found you. I would rather not lose you so quickly and in such circumstances." The two kissed again, breaking apart when they needed to draw breath. Putting his forehead against Thranduil's, Glorfindel grasped his companion's upper arms tightly. "We must return to your father's forces and then I must ride quickly to find my King and liege. They need this information as soon as I can get it to them."
Thranduil pulled away and they resumed the process of retracing their steps toward the north. Arriving back at the glade where they had shared their love the night before, they bathed quickly in the stream's cold water, washing the stench of evil and decay from their bodies. "Although it will soon be dark, we cannot remain here tonight," Thranduil said, as he fastened his points and adjusted his cape and travel pack. "You are expected back as quickly as possible to get your information to Gil-galad. If we travel through the night, we may be able to meet up with Father by daybreak."
"One sleepless night it is. I must get the information to Ereinion and your people must also be free to join the alliance at the appointed time," Glorfindel responded. "The coalition is still on shifting ground and will only gain strength when we have all gathered before the Black Gates." He reached out and pulled the elven prince into his embrace. "This will have to hold me until we meet again in battle," he growled, releasing the slender Sindarin. "If we both survive the days to come, I hope we again will have time to spend together. But now, let's take to the trees and rejoin your father quickly."
The two elves clambered up into trees and up to the high branches, beginning their race back along the upper roads used most often by the elves of the Greenwood. They hastened to join Oropher as he marched south, before he left his lands. As the night passed and dawn broke, Glorfindel allowed his thoughts to move to the upcoming battles. He glanced at his companion as the early morning light began to filter through the trees.
"Thranduil," he called softly. The prince stopped, turning toward him. "I will find you, there, in front of the Black Gates, I swear. I will find you. I refuse to lose you so soon after having found you."
Thranduil stepped close, his hands framing the taller elf's face. "I am counting on it, meleth nin. In that place of death and horror, I will need the light of your fea to remind me of my home and also that we are warriors, all. I hope we will not be called upon to sacrifice ourselves in battle as you were, but we have you to remind us that we can be reborn to walk the fair lands once more, to hear the voices of the trees and feel the wind. I thank you for that, my love. Now, we must run."
By mid-morning the two of them had located and intersected with Oropher's army. They joined the king and his most trusted commanders and Thranduil gave his report. After his son's report, Glorfindel was motioned over and asked several pointed questions for additional clarification.
"Very well," Oropher said finally. "The evil may well have left my forests and moved south, but so shall we. We shall follow it and destroy it in Mordor. Are you marching with us, Lord Glorfindel? Or are you returning to Gil-galad to join his forces instead?"
"My orders are to return to Ereinion, Highness. I will retrieve my horse and go west to join my King and his forces. I will see you again in the Black Lands." They clasped their arms together in a warrior's grip and, with the woodland king's permission; he jogged to the back of the ranks where a small group of mounts was kept in readiness. There, his horse was awaiting him. As Glorfindel readied himself to mount, he heard Thranduil call his name. He mounted and turned his horse to face the younger elf.
"Travel safely, Lord Glorfindel," the prince said formally. "I look forward to our drawing blades side-by-side as we defeat this evil and cast it from our lands forever more."
Glorfindel nodded. They had said all that was necessary when they had stayed within each other's arms that night in the forest glade. Now it was time for him to return to his King with his reports. At the top of a nearby hill, as the two elves separated onto their separate paths, he coaxed his horse up to its back legs as a salute to the forces walking away from him, towards the south. From the edge of the column, he saw a singular figure raise his hand in farewell. The sunlight glinted over the pale gold hair of the Sinda as he turned away from the Noldoran warrior and marched away beneath the eaves of the forest. On the western forest's edge, Glorfindel began his journey home, keeping the memory of Thranduil bright in his dreams.
Chapter end notes:
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