Part 2 - By the Fire

Elrond huddled closer to the fire, hoping that the flames' warmth would somehow thaw the numbness that permeated his body. It was something more than cold that he suffered, for no elf would be so badly chilled by a mere soaking in the rain. He missed the presence of power. The ring: Vilya. It was barely more than a piece of gaudy jewellery now and the absence of its energy left him feeling empty and drained. The logs cracked and popped and the flames threw long shadows into the hall.

He heard Glorfindel's footsteps approaching across the darkened open space of the Hall of Fire. His lips rose in a slight smile at the effort it must be costing his friend to walk so loudly in order to give due warning of his arrival.

"Here, this might help," said Glorfindel, pressing a cup of warm red wine into Elrond's hand and seating himself in the high-backed chair on the other side of the fireplace with a cup of his own. Elrond took a sip of the wine, savouring the spicy dark liquid.

"How is Bilbo?" he asked, feeling a twinge of guilt that a guest in his house was sick and he had not tended to him himself.

"Resting. He was very distressed earlier."

"I have no healing to offer him. It is a pain and a loss I cannot take away." As he spoke the sense of helplessness suddenly overwhelmed him in shocking intensity. He found himself gulping for air, his hands shaking so that the wine spilled a little over the brim of the cup. The composure he had struggled to regain for the past hour deserted him. "All my power is gone, gone," he gasped out.

"Elrond," said Glorfindel softly. "You underestimate yourself. The greatest power was never in the ring, but in you."

Elrond glowered and shook his head, bristling with anger. How could Glorfindel presume to understand? What power had been his had always come from the ring. It had been a part of him for centuries. But despite the withering look, the other elf pressed on.

"The ring could have made Imladris a fortress. You made it a refuge, a sanctuary, the Last Homely House. You opened its doors to dwarves and men and hobbits.

"You are a warrior of skill and strength, but it was your skill in command that made the difference on the battlefield. The soldiers trusted you and loved you and were ready to fight for you.

"And you are a healer, whether you have power or no. For it does not take power to hold a wet cloth to a fevered brow, to bathe a wound or to sing a lullaby to a sick infant, yet I have watched you do these things for many elves. It was your presence, not Vilya's, that comforted them.

"And I have watched you risk your heart on your mortal foster children, knowing you must watch them age and die and still not holding back one jot of love. That is a power greater than that of any ring, Elrond - and it has given this world a fine King."

As he heard Glorfindel's words, he knew they held truth and the aching cold ebbed away. He stared into the purple depths of his wine cup as tears escaped him silently.

Glorfindel's tone brightened. "I would have been aghast if they had told me I - a great warrior - was being sent back from the Halls of Mandos to teach elflings their tengwar and to rescue future kings who climbed too high up trees; to rescue ailing hobbits and to coax the son of Earendil from his gloomier moods."

"I am sorry, old friend, it was selfish of me not to use your skills better," whispered Elrond. "I should perhaps have sent you to ride south with my sons. But if Frodo and Mithrandir had failed, your strength would have been needed here."

"And gladly would I have fought and died by your side at the last, but nay, that is not what I meant," said Glorfindel. "For what I have learned from you Elrond, is that the kindest deeds matter more than the mightiest. Those things I spoke of are the greatest achievements of both my lives." Glorfindel rose to his feet and rested a hand on Elrond's shoulder. He gazed out into the darkened hall, not meeting the other elf's eyes, his voice choked as he went on.

"We will miss you sorely Elrond. Without your presence this place will truly fade. But that is the way things are - and you cannot stay. Nor should you. Happiness and healing await you."

Elrond could think of nothing to say in response, but he nodded and he knew that Glorfindel understood how much the words meant to him. He sat back in the chair, closing his eyes for a moment and heard Glorfindel begin to hum a tune. It was a pleasant tune, gentle and lyrical. Soothing.

The absence of the ring's power was still a painful emptiness, but for now at least another power filled its place - the power of friendship and love. It would suffice. He was content. Music and comforting sleep washed over him.

The End.

A/N: From The Hobbit: "He was as noble and fair in face as an elf-lord, as strong as a warrior, as wise as a wizard, as venerable as a king of dwarves, and as kind as summer."

A/N 2: Thanks to those people who reviewed part 1 even before I'd got part 2 posted. Hope you enjoyed the conclusion.