This is a repost from Ao3, as a start to my attempt of having all my favourite stories published up here, too.
Slight AU where Glorfindel's identity is not (immediately) revealed after his re-embodiment and return to Middle-Earth, and his coping with "things" doesn't go very smoothly... (By the way, I think that the former is a headcanon that could be supported in many ways; but since I don't know how my dear giftee imagines this particular detail, let's say it's an AU). Also, my style may be slightly altered by the fact that I've just read three Oscar Wilde books in a row. Either way, on to our little tale!
/ written for iaearcanvennamar for the 2017 Tolkien Secret Santa-exchange /
"Part of the attraction of The Lord of the Rings is, I think, due to the glimpses of a large history in the background: an attraction like that of viewing far off an unvisited island, or seeing the towers of a distant city gleaming in a sunlit mist. To go there is to destroy the magic, unless new unattainable vistas are again revealed."
J. R. R. Tolkien in Letter 247
It is one of those nights when the wells of past break open, and the voices of the Fair People rise above the endless river-chatter. The winds pick them up to scatter them through the woods – a capricious enchantment. They fill rots and scrogs and caves and pits, they pervade streams and dewdrops, they are there in the laughing breeze that runs through the King's hair, they land with the flies that feast on the Captain's emptied cups.
Their wholesome rapture could make one weep.
The night – undisturbed (not nearly as dark as nights are today). The skies – untainted (a luxurious shade of velvety black). Fireflies swarm in the air like flocks of birds after harvest, chasing currents of sweet smell; they are ever-moving, ever-changing like the Moon; and yet here they linger.
This deep in the embrace of Ered Lúin, the air you breathe is sharp and clear. Restless eyes, tense bow-strings and sharpened lances guard the towers and gates of the Last King. Yet far away to the East, over the graceful line of snowy peaks, over the highwalls and hogbacks and steep mountain-passes, something gathers. Darkness – or the lack of it; no one could tell if the Shadow is dark, or only hollow because it comes from the Void itself. Yet there it is – an ever-greedy, ever-looming shade that smells of blood.
Every now and then, the wind picks up that smell, and somehow, it seeps in; chewier than the toughest weed, lasting as the thickest fog in the month of Hithui.
And it grows.
(Soon, children would start fearing it with the other monsters from their dreams when their bedtime stories end, and the candles are blown out).
"You are back from patrol," says the King. "Yet no one received your report, is that correct?"
His voice is shrill by nature, chiselled and forged by declarations of law, smoothed and layered by customs of court, hammered and trampled by commands that saved lives (not enough) and ended others (too many). There are many tones and colours and layers in that voice – displeasure, at its finest. Surprise – perhaps. Detached observation – most certainly. And just a hint of fatigue.
But the Captain has a shield, one that upholds the words of kings.
"Indeed," he says, eyes still on the starless sky, fingers still clawing upon the marble parapet – restless, tortured, as if hoping to break it. "Highness," he adds slowly, as if tasting the word.
"Why call me that if you do not think highly of me?"
The observation forms in the kingly mind by itself, and materializes within a heartbeat. It has nothing to do with the sort of phrase Kings are expected to utter, and it feels terribly out of place. Heavily it clings onto the sweet-smelling air, as all thoughts that should have never been put to speech. For what answer could be given to such a one?
Nay, King o' mine; pardon my rash and ugly words. I meant no discourtesy, my sword is at your feet, my heart is yours and I am at your service.
Quite the contrary, o King! – accompanied by one of those courtly bows that creases the folds of one's cloak into ridiculous patterns.
Or mayhap –
Scandalized I am, Highness; never would I stoop so low as to question your word and authority…!
That may yet sound satisfying to kingly ears. Yet alas! The Captain merely laughs. His laugh jingles like silver bells, and its melody is too merry to pass by.
"That is but an expression of common courtesy. Highness."
"You do not even care to deny it!"
Again, the King's voice is a colourful cascade of emotions; richer than the sound shifts in the Ñoldolantë, sharper than a wraith's blade in the dead of night, deep and intense as an Eagle's gaze, if you've ever seen one. (There's nothing deeper).
The kingly voice holds anger, doubtless – yet wonder conquers; and wonder is a blade that pierces through any shield. Even the Captain's, that is made of ash and smoke and celandines and regret – and a hunger for justice that could burn a hole in one's stomach.
"There are enough paperweights on Lieutenant Elrond's desk," the Captain says. His voice is not merry now, but puzzled and somewhat proud, as if he was the only one to know that all reports were predestined to end up as paperweights. "I did nothing and saw nothing throughout my patrol; and with the time of war approaching, scribbling down 'nothing' and putting your royal seal on it seems a terrible waste to your humble servant. Highness," He adds, but his tone is levelled down when the sentence ends, in such a manner that Highness sounds like a discordant, unnecessary addition in his patchwork of thought. "Your eyes wander far and free, and you know more about what gathers o'er those mountains than I do. Yet as days go by, I cannot help but think that you care less."
Suddenly, the King understands what Lieutenant Elrond means when he furrows his brows as if a storm would suddenly pass by his forehead and says silently insolent.
"Who are you, and what gives you the right to say that?"
The King misses anger from his own voice, not to mention the heart – but something holds his pride at bay, something makes him want to listen to this quizzical stranger who comes from nowhere, heads to nowhere and is no one's son; and all he claims to be is an enemy of the Dark One.
Who knows what horrors had he survived, Lieutenant Elrond oft says. He is deep in thought, those times, and the end of his quill tickles his chin. I hold my questions back, Highness. (a true utterance of Highness, there, that swells with love and respect). The time may come when we learn who our Captain is, but I see no malice in him.
(Lieutenant Elrond is strangely partial when it comes to mysterious outsiders).
"No rights were given, o King," the Captain smiles. Disarming, that smile. "Yet the urge to speak one's mind is innate, I fear."
"And cruel is the law that forbids it," says the King, and if Kings were allowed to laugh at themselves, he would probably do so.
(The Captain laughs instead).
"Highness," he says, his voice gentler than any voice has the right to be (and the address rings true, for once), "I shall tell you a tale one day, if I may."
"And what about?"
The two lean figures are standing next to each other now, with only the thin parapet between them and a cruel fall, closer than they have ever been. Their shoulders nearly touch.
The kingly fingers are drumming an absent beat into the marble where it would echo for an eternity. (No one has ever heard of a lay where a King listens to tales before going to battle).
"I do not know what tales are about. Highness."
The King raises an inquiring eyebrow. Then a commanding one.
"The story takes place in a marvellous city, far away from here, above the skies and across the Sea," says the Captain. Deep wells of sadness open in his eyes, and the King has to look away lest he'd drown in them. "A city, where idiots governed the blind."
The voice hardens, the wells are poisoned with scorn, and the King would like to feel offended, but he cannot.
Instead, he asks,
"Is there a nosy hero in that tale, who would have a smart taunt in stock even for Manwë himself if he left fair Taniquetil and came to stand before him?"
"There are many heroes in that tale," the Captain says. He looks strangely like Lieutenant Elrond now, yet 'tis his hair – strands of shining gold – that tickles his chin, not a quill. "Some of them nosy," he admits. "Some of them proud. Some of them just stupid. There are some who drown in their own designs, some of them are pierced by swords and lances, some of them eaten by monsters, and there is one hero in particular who masters the art of hubris and stupidity, and falls down to fiery death with a flaming demon because he did not take care to wear a helmet."
The voice is unnaturally light again, and the Captain laughs.
"Yet their King! Their King is the greatest wonder of them all, the peak of their stupidity; for blinded in wrath and despair, he values his treasure and gold above all, the way dragons do; and alas! the dragons themselves bring his death. The dragons and their fire. Yet hear me, o King: the biggest fools from that doomed City live yet on, and some of them wander these lands still, in the form of flesh and blood, ready to write reports and pass on their stupidity. Would you care to hear such a tale? Highness?"
"Not if I already know the ending," the answer comes unintended. The King wants to hear the tale; yet there is something unexplainably determined about it all; and there also lingers a strange sense of familiarity in the air. "Perhaps another day," he adds, the sort of courtesy one gracefully grants to those who seem incapable of it in return.
His urge to leave is too sudden, and the matter of reports, duties and courtesy are all forgotten. Something gnaws on the kingly mind, like the worm that wriggles its way deep into a rotten-ripe apple.
But nay. That could not be.
(He would ask Lieutenant Elrond tomorrow, as he always does when a suggestion seems terribly likely and incredibly stupid at the same time. Carelessly, he would ask. Jokingly; then he would examine Lieutenant Elrond's reaction, which would help him decide if the crown has addled his brain).
The kingly mind is settled, then; and a lone nightingale resumes his song in the bushes.
The Captain leans over the parapet, his gaze searching distances minds cannot fathom and hearts cannot bear.
He then lies over the cool, forgiving marble, his face hid in his hands -
And soundlessly, he weeps for his City, and for all the idiots that governed the blind.
"What a terrible era in which idiots govern the blind."
-is among my favourite lines from William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar