The doors of the Last Homely House stood open, and Glorfindel paused between them, coming out into the morning sunlight with an unhurried stride. He raised his face to Anar and for a moment bathed in the remembered glow of Laurelin - so long ago, so bright in memory.
Others, perhaps, still wept at the loss of the Trees, but Glorfindel had learned in Mandos that weeping was in vain. Transience did not make the Trees less fair, their deaths did not make them any less wondrous, nor did it make the sun any dimmer. So Glorfindel stood in the golden dawn and laughed for joy.
Westward he looked, wishing Elrond well in Aman, imagining Fornost in all its tumbled ruin, whence Elladan and Elrohir had gone on errantry with King Elessar's men. Scouring the Downs, doubtless even now they battled orcs, or drove the wailing shades of Wights far from the barrows of the North.
Three weeks they had been gone, Glorfindel thought, and his mood descended like a cold dew. Weeds had sprung up in the tracks of their horses. On the winding, treacherous track down into the valley leaves had gathered, and there were now too few elves left in Imladris to keep them cleared. Moss grew on the white markers by the path.
Slowly, very slowly, but far too fast for the time sense of one from Valinor, towards whom the changes of Middle Earth reeled with shocking suddenness, the valley was falling back into wilderness.
Glorfindel shifted restlessly. He yearned to ride out after his young lords. Not to drag them back to dull duty, but to join them. Though he had a lifetime behind him, and death, and memories of fire, yet he was in this second life little older than the sons of Elrond themselves, and no less eager for the rush of glory and great deeds.
His oath called him. Elladan and Elrohir were formidable warriors, but still he had sworn to protect them, and how could he do that, constrained to be keeper of this fading haven; this empty and melancholy ruin?
Striving to reconcile himself to this fate, he strolled down the silver grey stone of the steps and turned along the path to Elrond's physic garden. Here too the door stood open, and the plants sprawled, dishevelled. Strawberry runners invaded the lungwort, bees hummed hugely among straggly mint topped with purple flowers. Asalil and athelas struggled vainly against a mass of lemon scented balm. Fallen blooms and snails scattered richly over the paths. Here too, it seemed that no-one had walked since the Ringbearers departed.
Sighing, Glorfindel bent down to pick a dandylion from a bed of chamomile. Once, he thought, holding the yellow flower, he had owned a cloak, like this - rare and heavy, sky blue within, and without so diapered with Celandine blossoms it had seemed all golden. A symbol of his lordship, it had been; stiff, confining, over warm. He had been glad to shed it as he had shed so many other matters of pride before Namo's measuring gaze.
Now it seemed he would have to take it up again. If Imladris was to survive it needed a Lord, and not one absent four months out of five hunting orcs.
"Who do I deceive?" he straightened and laughed in defiance, his fingers all tacky with white sap. "A Lord is nothing without folk. Will I weed the flowerbeds and clean the paths myself?"
West, he looked again, and saw in his mind the straight seas lying limpid about the shores of Tol Eressea, and the grey ship of Elrond coming in to port, leaving all cares behind.
"I said I would take care of them," he whispered, to the memory of Turgon's heir, "Your sons. I remained for them, to keep them safe, that you might not suffer their loss as you suffered their sister's."
Closing the door of the abandoned garden, he turned back to the front of the house. A breath brought him the scent and taste of damp thatch greening on a workshop, the cold ashes of the blacksmith's forge, windfall apples lying rotting beneath the trees. Anger shook him with Balrog fierceness. "Yet how? Tell me how I can be with them, and yet meet Rivendell's need? Have I given up my home only to be useless here?"
On the great steps, still alone, Glorfindel sat down, and he laughed no more. He picked yellow petals from the flower he held and strewed them on the steps, where doubtless they would lie tomorrow, withering. Rarely had he felt so hopeless, and it seemed that he struggled once more over the abyss, with a demon of a colder sort.
At that moment, over the sounds of sparrows nesting in the roof, there came the bright metallic jingle of harness. He rose and forgot despair, for surely that was the Twins returning?
Before long the trees of Imladris were circled by fountains of birds, and the noise had grown strong enough for an army - the crunch of hooves on dry leaves, the shivering ring of mailcoats, and voices singing out in the Nandor Sindarin of Lorinand. Then trumpets rang a sweet peal of silver notes, and out onto the river bank there came the first ranks of a riding of elves such as had not been seen since Amdir's day. Lorien elves, grey clad and green clad, with white gems in their hair and silver wrought on their quivers. Both archaic and oddly savage they seemed to him, their eyes untouched by light.
Manwë's Eagles! thought Glorfindel, wishing he had time to return to the house and exchange his moss-stained tunic for more fitting garb. But Celeborn had already spurred past the banners of Lorien and Thingol, and was dismounting with familiar ease, a look of pleasant reminiscence on his face.
In memory Glorfindel lifted his cloak of celandine, felt its weight and splendour, wondered if now was the time to put it on. "Lord Celeborn?" he said, as soon as the Sinda had passed the reins of his horse to an attendant.
"Lord Glorfindel," said Celeborn, giving him an opaque look, something less than challenging, but still an exploration of strength. "I have left some of my folk clearing the paths ere the next unwary traveller breaks a leg on them. It would be well to send up shovels. Where may I house my people?"
Glorfindel laughed, as he would have laughed at an arrow in flight, admiring the swiftness and surety. "I did not expect you here," he said, "How fares Lorien? Are Elladan and Elrohir aware of your visit?"
"The land of Lorien grieves for Galadriel and will not be consoled," said Lorien's lord, taking off his gloves and tucking them in his belt. "It fades without her, and it pulls at me to do likewise. That I may not, I felt a new beginning was called for. This is it."
"And your grandsons?" said Glorfindel protectively, not moving from the door, where he held back this invasion with his mere presence.
"Their lordship is evident." Celeborn put his foot on a broken roof tile which lay shattered on the steps. "I see they care so deeply for the valley they are not here to greet me."
"They are young."
"I know," the flick of a genuine smile surprised Glorfindel with its warmth, "And not yet weary of pointless heroism. Why do you linger here, Golden One, when they may even now be in peril?"
"Because..." the arrow's flight is only amusing when you are not its target, Glorfindel thought, aghast. Elrond had, at the least, the courtesy to discuss his orders before carrying them out.
"You doubt my ability to govern Imladris without you? I assure you I know it well. I helped found it after all. Go to them, Glorfindel. Imladris will be safe enough in my hands."
This was the moment to pick up the mantle of rulership and contest this strange coup. Yet why? Had he not been lamenting Rivendell's need for folk? And lo! Celeborn had brought a great part of the Galadhrim with him - who would doubtless only heed their own Lord's command. Would not Glorfindel himself be free to be Champion of the line of Turgon in Middle Earth - to set himself whole heartedly to the task of ridding all foulness from the world of Arwen's children? As for the Twins, let them fight their own battles with their own grandfather. They had many weapons Glorfindel was without.
"I will depart this evening," he said, "As soon as I have seen to the disposition of the new guards."
It was gratifying to see the steel go from Celeborn's rigid back. Evidently he had not been so relaxed about this conquest as he had seemed. "I expected more resistance from you, Lord Glorfindel," he said, smiling, "And yes. I have written to Elladan and have his consent to this."
How perverse, and yet how very like him to admit it now, when the battle was won. Glorfindel stroked mental fingers along the hot velvet and cloth of gold of the cloak he had worn in Gondolin. Then he put it down and laughed once more, surrendering to being rescued. "Like your lady," he said, not without deserved cruelty, "I have learned that there are more important things than power. Welcome to Imladris, Lord Celeborn. Welcome home."