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I only just saw it was Nilmandra's birthday, so I hope you don't mind me adding this little story in her honor.
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Endymion, Book I, John Keats
Striding into the room where his senior equerry had said he'd left a visitor, fully expecting to see his long-time companion, Legolas, Aragorn came to an abrupt halt and stared at the one who stood looking out the window toward the green fields of the Pelennor. Too tall to be Legolas, broader of shoulder, and the long fall of hair down his back was of a burnished gold. "Lord Glorfindel." For it could be no other. Aragorn, King of Gondor and the United Realms for three sun-rounds, put a hand to his heart and inclined his head. "I thought you had sailed with Elrond."
At the first word of greeting, Glorfindel had turned to face Aragorn. He too put a hand to his heart and bowed, giving the Man the honor due his office. "Aragorn. You look well!" Glorfindel was wearing riding clothes, as if he'd just arrived, the dust of the road still on his cloak and boots. "Indeed, I saw him to the ship and watched it until I could see the sails no longer."
"Elladan and Elrohir." There was a pang of fear for his brothers not of blood. "They fare well?"
A smile curved Glorfindel's mouth and warmed the sapphire eyes. "Well indeed! They have taken over the governance of Imladris, along with Celeborn."
Aragorn came closer, still puzzled, and let it show to his one-time mentor. "Forgive me, but I did not expect to see you again once you left Rohan with Lord Elrond."
Pulling off his gloves, Glorfindel slapped them against his thigh, sending up a small puff of dust. "There is naught to forgive, Estel." He grimaced and shook his head. The boy had yet another name now, one he had more than earned. "Forgive me. Elessar." The look he gave Aragorn was approving. "Your kingdom grows and flourishes."
Which was as neat an avoidance as he'd ever heard, but Aragorn was not so easily put off anymore. "Yes, and I will be pleased to make time to show you around, but 'tis no small thing for an elf-lord of old to grace my home. Especially when I had been lead to believe he would be bound to leave with his liege lord."
"Is that what you believed?" Glorfindel snorted, and shook his head. "I am not forsworn, if that is what you fret at with my being here."
Aragorn smiled, pleased with the less formal speech from an old friend. "I do not fret," he said with a sharply arched eyebrow. "I am merely curious."
Elves. There was no rushing them and they did love to banter. "Will you join me outside to continue this conversation?" He lead the way as Glorfindel nodded, and lead him out of the stuffiness of the family receiving room (still not as oppressive as the formal receiving room) along a long corridor lined with paintings of long-dead people Aragorn assumed were ancestors. He'd not had the time to ask as yet or do much of anything about the stuffy décor of the family quarters. "Legolas and his people have begun planting gardens such as the city has never seen." Aragorn led them through the arch of a high stone doorway to a walled garden. "It's early yet, but you can see it will be beautiful come full spring."
Strolling around the garden, Glorfindel could easily see the work of the Silvan Elves in the saplings that already reached tall branches towards the sky and the flowing river of flowers that held the promise of color to come. The garden lacked the stilted formality Denethor had favored and instead harkened back to the woods of Ithilien. He nodded and touched the graceful curve of a bubbling fountain, letting the water play over his hand for a moment. "I have come to ask your permission, Est… Elessar."
Aragorn waved the mistake away. "Old friend, please. Call me Estel as yet when it is just we two. I find the name Elessar brings a weight with it that I would not carry into my private time just yet."
A graceful incline of his head - Aragorn was still much the same - and Glorfindel faced the man. "I would ask that you allow me to stay here, and serve as I have since I arrived upon these shores."
"But you served Elrond's house." Surprised was a beginning, but astonishment was closer to what Aragorn felt. "Will you not still serve his sons?"
"Imladris has changed too much for my comfort." The blue eyes met the grey gaze steadily. "I find it sadly reduced." Many of his friends had sailed when Elrond left. Glorfindel smiled and gave a shrug. That was the way it was and would be in the Fourth Age. The time of the Elves was past. "Elladan and Elrohir are making Imladris their own, as they should. They don't need me there as a constant reminder of the past." He bent to smile at a shy pansy, just peeking out from behind a bold bush of heather.
"Doubtless." Unconvinced, Aragorn was still searching for words when Glorfindel took a step closer.
"Estel. My original vow to watch over this family was not to Turgon as so many believe."
"No?" That was a surprise. Aragorn had always heard it was the oath to a king long dead that had brought the ancient one back to the shores of Middle-earth. Then again, Glorfindel had gone through the secret passage to the mountains, not remained with the king and his burning city. "Was it to Idril?"
"Not Idril. Her mother, Elenwë." A sigh and Glorfindel gestured around. "The days before the coming of Sun and Moon are long lost to most, but I remember as if it was yesterday."
Aragorn had always marveled at the perfect memory of the Eldar, and thought it must be both a joy and a burden. As a child he had loved to hear the tales from those who had seen events firsthand, but as he had grown older he realized the weight those memories carried. So many of the older elves had become bitter as time had passed and the lands faded, leaving what they had once loved as dust and ruin. "I well remember your stories." A wry smile as he recalled how vivid Elven stories could be. Glorfindel's had been especially realistic. "They kept me awake more than one night."
A rueful smile curled Glorfindel's mouth. "Yes, and Elrond let me know very well that my tales of dragons and adventure were sometimes too much for one so young." He smiled. "You always were so curious, even to the detriment of your wellbeing."
What could he say to that? It was but truth. Aragorn shrugged and wandered back to the fountain. "I know Elenwë was Turgon's wife, but how came you to make an oath such as this?" Gently trying to lead the Eldar back to what was surely the point of his visit.
Glorfindel arched an eyebrow. "May I sit?"
"Of course!" Aragorn offered a wry smile as he sat. "Forgive me. I still am unused to such things." He was unaccustomed to the manners of court after so long wandering as a Ranger. Such niceties were wearying but necessary, or so he kept reminding himself.
"May it ever be so." Glorfindel's eyes twinkled as the man laughed. "It is good to see you happy, Estel." He sobered. "Such days as we dreamed of back then."
Uncertain of which days the elf meant, Aragorn only nodded and waited. Patience was required when speaking with Elves, for they loved words and the play of wit, but with one as ancient as Glorfindel, there was also the factor of time. Thousands of years were like mere seasons to the Eldar who had once walked in the light of the Two Trees.
"Elenwë was my father's sister." Glorfindel's lips twitched. "The Vanyar blood is strong, or so my mother's mother would complain with great asperity whenever she saw another grandchild with golden hair."
"A Noldo, an ancient family of pure, unbroken lineage." Glorfindel snorted, gaze distant. Unbroken until her daughter had fallen in love and married a Vanya. "Matriarch of all her family, there was no dissent. It simply was not done. Her will lingered even into our family and spilled over to all relations." The sapphire gaze focused on Aragorn suddenly. "When Elenwë decided to take her child and follow Turgon, there was uproar from her Vanyar family, as you can imagine." He shook his head. "No others of the Vanyar followed, not even Amarië… though she dearly loved Finrod."
Aragorn could indeed imagine. The uproar from Arwen's family had been far quieter, but the grief had been that much deeper for it. They would never see her again, at least not until the world was broken and remade. "She must have been very brave."
The approving nod warmed the elf's gaze. "She was. Idril was not even thirty, and many counseled Elenwë to turn back and follow Finarfin. To return to her family with no disgrace." He sighed. "She would not be moved. It was probably the one thing that Daernaneth approved of in her besides her choice to marry a Noldo." Glorfindel bowed his head, letting a long swath of silken golden hair fall forward. "It took us time to ready for that march across the ice. To grow food and gather furs and all that we thought we would need, and during all of that the weight of the Doom was heavy on our shoulders." He looked up and met Aragorn's gaze. "But we were determined."
They would have had to have been determined and bold. Aragorn had always wondered, as he listened to the story, if he would have gone against the very Powers to seek lands unknown by those crossing the ice. "Did you realize then the implications of what the Valar declared?"
Glorfindel was silent a long moment, but he nodded slowly. "We did. Pride, Estel. Such pride we had." Some would say he still did, but it was not that same pride that looked now upon the King of Men. "I swore to Elenwë, to protect and watch over Idril, but at that time I did not realize how far that vow would reach."
Aragorn arched an eyebrow. "That it would have you return to Middle-earth?"
"Was that the cause then?" Glorfindel's laugh rang through the garden. "Ah, Estel, ever have you asked me that."
"Ever shall I until you give me an answer."
"Perhaps one day."
A sigh and Aragorn spread his hands, shifting as a curious bee circled his head. "But how does this lead you here?"
"Can you not see it?" Glorfindel shook his head. "No, forgive me. I forget that men have different customs and that always it will be the male who carries the lineage in a family. It was not so for the Vanyar."
Aragorn was silent a moment, contemplating that. "Ingwë was High King."
"In name." The smirk was telling. "For what reason did the Valar break one of their sacred rules, much to the dismay of us all?" Glorfindel shook his head. "That Finwë might remarry and not be alone." At the waiting look, he added, "Finwë married Ingwë's sister."
"You're saying the power behind the throne…"
"Is not to be discounted." Glorfindel snorted. "Ever."
Shaking his head, for the conversation had gone so many directions it was like trying to gather many threads to weave a complicated pattern, Aragorn returned doggedly to his question. "I still don't see it."
"The answer is right before you, husband." Arwen smiled for the men as she entered the garden. They both stood as she walked to Aragorn. She took his hand and turned to look at Glorfindel. "Though never did I expect this."
"Did you not, Undómiel?" Glorfindel put his hand to his heart and went to one knee. "Did I not promise you long ago that I would watch over you and your brothers?"
The memory of thousands of years ago was as clear in her mind as yesterday. "I remember, but…" A glance to Aragorn showed her he was as much surprised as she. "You told me one day another would stand by me and I would not need you."
"And there he stands."
"Yes." She looked to Aragorn, and their gazes tangled, closing out all the rest of the world.
Glorfindel watched with a smile, and it was a long moment in the peaceful garden before the couple turned their attention to him again. "Why then am I here?"
"I do wonder." She sat, Aragorn at her side. "I never expected to see you kneel before me."
And still he remained, unmoving under their gazes. "I meant to stay in Imladris, but much changed, and I saw your brothers did not need me haunting what remained." He met the twilight gaze and held it. "T'was your father who reminded me of those words long ago. He asked before boarding the ship what it was Elenwë had requested that bound me so to your family. I had not thought of the actual vow for so long that it was a surprise when I did recall the words."
Arwen's voice was soft. "What was it she asked of you?"
Eyes closed, Glorfindel bowed his head. "I had thought then that perhaps she meant her future children, but when she died I realized that could not be." He opened his eyes and held Arwen's gaze. "She asked me to watch over her daughters."
The garden was silent, with only the laughter of the water in the fountain and Aragorn's soft breath breaking the evening dusk. "There were none after Idril."
Glorfindel nodded. "Eärendil. Elros and Elrond. Elladan and Elrohir." The sapphire gaze lighted on Arwen with all of the wonder he had felt when he had first held her as an infant, only hours old. "And then finally, you, Undómiel."
Tears burned her eyes, unexpected and not entirely welcome. Arwen stood suddenly, and shook her head. "I have forsaken that life. Ada…"
Aragorn closed his eyes at the pain in her voice, but remained where he was. Her pride was great in this, and she did not always suffer his comfort.
A deep breath and she said, voice steadier, "Adar told me how it would be. I knew what I accepted when I chose this path."
Glorfindel's gaze was steady, with no sadness in the blue depths. "I do not offer you pity, Undómiel. I have made choices in my life that others called foolish, yet do I hold to them."
Now she looked to Aragorn, and at that he stood and went to her. Taking his hand, she grew calmer. "What is it you offer?"
"To abide with you so long as you will have me."
Memory cast her back to her youth, when she had been less sure of herself, to a time when he had knelt just like this, and promised to watch over her and her family. "You cannot stay on these shores forever, old friend."
And still his gaze was unwavering. "The bond I would offer is to you, Undómiel, last of the daughters of Elenwë."
"To stay with her all of her days?" Aragorn's voice rumbled in the garden, deep and full of something even he could not name. A hope perhaps that he had never dared for.
"To abide so long as she will have me."
Aragorn wanted to speak, to urge his wife to accept this bond. He knew how his life would end, that one day he would know that it was time and would willingly lie down to accept the Gift of Men. He feared, oh how he feared, that Arwen, for all of her depth of understanding, all of her years and great wisdom, would not see how it had to be until the very end. And then it would be too late for him to do anything to help her.
He remained silent, only squeezing her hand and gazing at her. This was her choice, just as the other had been.
"I could tell you to go away at any time and you would?"
Glorfindel gazed at her a long moment before answering. "I will use my judgment as well, but if you truly mean that you no longer wish me here, I will depart."
Despair that she had not realized, a heaviness that had lingered since parting with her father, lightened, and Arwen smiled and held out her hand. "I accept your service, Glorfindel."
He took it and lifted the hand to his lips. "So meet it be."
As he stood, Arwen's smile grew mischievous. "I hope you told Bronwë about this."
"Of course!" As if he had ever considered not consulting his wife. "She has no wish to leave these shores so soon."
"We will arrange quarters for you." Aragorn hesitated. "If you wish to remain in the city, that is?"
Glorfindel nodded. "I do so wish, though I expect Bronwë will be off to see Ithilien. She is not overly fond of cities."
"She can help with the gardens." Arwen sighed and looked around, past the garden walls to the city. "There is still so much to be done."
"Three years has seen much change." Glorfindel smiled, knowing what would cheer her. "I have letters from your brothers and Celeborn for you both."
"I hope you won't regret this, Gofi." Arwen laughed as the ancient elf grimaced over the childhood nickname that had followed him relentlessly down to the current age.
"You would teach that to your own children?" He huffed at her twinkling smile. "I know many tales of you both as younglings."
Aragorn pursed a lip, thinking of all he had done as a youth in Imladris. "I never called you aught but Glorfindel."
"True. YOU were a well-mannered child."
Arwen scoffed. "Half of the mischief we did we learned from you, Glorfindel."
"Only half." He winked and bowed again. "If I might, I'll take my leave and see where Bronwë has wandered off to."
"I'll let my seneschal know that you will find him later and he'll arrange for quarters for you."
"My thanks, Elessar. Undómiel." Glorfindel's bow was of a court that had not been around for thousands of years, but his smile was bright as he left the couple to the evening and the garden.
"That was unexpected." Aragorn hugged his wife to him, pressing his cheek to hers. "Yet I cannot think it but for the best."
Arwen shook her head and sighed as she sank into his embrace. "Adar thought of me." In essence, her father had sent his most trusted friend to watch over her knowing he could not.
"He loves you and always will, Arwen."
She leaned back in his arms, and brought fingers up to trace over his cheek and chin before pressing her forehead to his. "I am the most fortunate of women."
This doom she chose, forsaking the Blessed Realm, and putting aside all claim to kinship with those that dwell there; that thus whatever grief might lie in wait, the fates of Beren and Lúthien might be joined, and their paths lead together beyond the confines of the world. So it was that alone of the Eldalië she has died indeed, and left the world long ago. Yet in her choice the Two Kindreds have been joined; and she is the forerunner of many in whom the Eldar see yet, though all the world is changed, the likeness of Lúthien the beloved, whom they have lost.
The Lost Cantos, The Lay of Leithian, by J.R.R. Tolkien
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