As they broke camp the following morning, the Elves felt the tension in the air. Eärnur himself did not come, but the messages he sent made it clear he was unforgiving of his humiliation the day before.
"Let him sulk," Glorfindel told his followers, "for he is likely to be cross for several more days or weeks yet and we will not tarry here merely in the hope of finding him in a more amicable mood."
To the prince's messengers he did not make much effort to curb his words. "We have done what we came here to do. Our charge is fulfilled and we are thus free to make the journey home. If this does not suit Gondor, there is nothing further to be done about it. Let your prince confer with Imladris if this offends him, but know that I am Elrond's designated voice upon this field. All that I have said and done he will confirm."
Eärnur was the only individual, mortal or Eldar, who did not tread softly around Glorfindel. To varying degrees, all were now apprehensive in his presence; even Elladan and Elrohir seemed somewhat anxious. The mortals Glorfindel could ignore, for they had looked strangely upon the Eldar ever since their arrival and he would soon be quit of them, but he would not tolerate it from his gweth, telling them as much when a handful of them came and knelt before him with the request to ride under his banner on the way home.
"I am thinking," he said crossly, "that whatever wind blew out of the north last night, it has afflicted you with some madness. Get off your knees, Alagos, and you also, Hathol and Tuilinn. You are going to ruin perfectly good leggings if you persist in that behavior."
"My lord," protested Alagos. "We only ask—"
"I heard your request the first time and the answer is no. You may not like the makeshift banner, but you are the servants of Elrond of Imladris even as I am and will ride under his colors no matter how patched or faded or ill-seeming his banner may seem to you. I will do the same, and do it gladly. If you cannot abide the shameful gazes of a few roadside squirrels or other beasts of the field, then perhaps a blindfold would help. Go now, and do not let me hear of this again."
The three warriors made a hasty retreat, joining their comrades in breaking down tents and packing up supplies. In the midst of their activity, Imrazôr strode into the camp wearing a concerned look.
"Has Eärnur already given you leave to go?" he asked.
"We do not wait on his word," answered Glorfindel. "Our task here is done and we may go as we will."
"Of course," Imrazôr said hastily, "though I did not think it would be so soon. Eärnur is sending out patrols to make certain the men of Carn Dûm don't return. I would have thought you might join them."
"Our company was not requested for such a venture."
Imrazôr nodded. "Then this is where we make our farewells, friend, though before you leave and if you do not find it rude of me to ask, I am curious to know what you said to the enemy yesterday. I don't know Quenya and have heard various translations of what you shouted. Some are saying you are a Maia in disguise, others that you've vowed to ride to Carn Dûm and single-handedly lay waste to that stronghold."
Glorfindel arched an eyebrow. "Is that so?"
"I didn't say I put stock in any of those stories, as only a few among our captains speak Quenya and no one could say for certain what you'd said in all that noise. But then one of your own men told me you are Glorfindel of Gondolin reborn, and I still don't know whether to believe him or shrug it off as I've done with all the other tales."
"If an Elf tells you something," said Glorfindel, "it is never a lie." He watched the mortal's eyes widen and waited for the inevitable flood of questions, for Imrazôr knew the tale of the fall of Gondolin well enough to know his story.
True to his expectations, Imrazôr answered with a question, but it was only one. "A great hero of the First Age and you didn't slay the Witch King?"
"Because it was not my place to do so," replied Glorfindel. "He cannot be slain by my hand or yours. He and his minions will not return to this land. There may be some small pockets of resistance, but the might of Angmar is broken, and for the work of these many weeks or months to come you do not need us."
"You fought bravely," said Imrazôr. "Unlike others, I am not ashamed to say it."
"Nevertheless we must leave you. Our own borders we will watch, and I think Aranarth and his people will aid you, though I am not certain he will take up his father's kingship. As for our part in this, the time of Men is come. If I did not know it before, I am certain of it now."
Imrazôr cast a furtive glance back toward the Gondorian encampment, as though Eärnur might be listening. "Do not let any ill feelings toward one mar your opinion of us all."
Glorfindel smiled. "Rest assured, mellon, that you and I part as friends. I name you Elvellon, Elf-friend, and I think we may meet again, your people and mine, though perhaps not for some time to come. Yet for now, this door closes upon us and we must part ways. Namári."
On the road home, Glorfindel found himself with some unexpected traveling companions. The hobbits also saw they were no longer needed and so broke camp with all the boisterous clattering and shuffling that seemed to be the hallmarks of their race. Not long after, the Elves found them jogging alongside their ranks wearing lopsided smiles along with their gear.
"Since we're all going in the same direction," said Saradoc, "we thought maybe you'd need a guide."
Glorfindel looked down in disbelief. "A guide, master hobbit? I have journeyed those lands many times, well before there were hobbits to ask if I wanted directions. I certainly—"
"Aye, but have you been in the Shire lately, sir? Well, then it's obvious you'd get lost right quick without somebody to guide you. Why, even that fellow Gandalf, he's been everywhere, but you point him toward Michel Delving and he ends up in Tuckborough."
He bit back the temptation to remind them they were talking about a Maia of Valinor, but reined in his words. Even his own gweth did not know Mithrandir's true nature, and he somehow doubted the periannath knew what a Maia was. "If you are equating me with that shaggy grey wanderer…."
"Oh no, sir. You'd not get lost on a dark night, what with you lighting up like that," Saradoc answered innocently. "Do all Elves do that, sir?"
"No," he answered, leaning forward with a smile. "Only special Elves, and only when they are irritated by Nazgûl or overbearing hobbits."
Saradoc was so flustered he could not manage a properly tart reply, but was at ease again when Glorfindel bent and helped him mount Asfaloth. "Only because," Glorfindel said lightly in his ear, "I am not going to slow my pace simply on account of you not being able to keep up with me." Behind him, the other members of his party also took hobbits up behind them.
It was never his intention to enter hobbit lands, a countryside that they called the Shire, whether they invited him or no. He listened with mild curiosity as Saradoc told him about his cozy burrow with the bright blue door, nodding now and then to show he was listening, and then when Tolman and another hobbit began describing their vegetable gardens. Some of it he had already heard before, as Mithrandir had once gone into great detail about hobbit life for Elrond's benefit one winter evening and Glorfindel had unfortunately found himself a captive audience. And like the hobbits, Mithrandir had droned on as if the planting of carrots and turnips was the most fascinating topic in all of Arda.
Glorfindel could not really say that he was bored or impatient to be quit of the hobbits, for their good cheer was infectious and brought laughter to his company such as he had not expected to find on this march. For two days they remained with the Elves, riding a leisurely path southeast from the hills of Evendim along the banks of the Baranduin, that the hobbits called the Brandywine.
At midmorning on the third day, they reached the bridge that was the northern boundary of the Shire. Here Glorfindel called a halt to their progress and dismounted to lift his passenger from Asfaloth's back and set him gently on the ground.
"How now, sir?" asked Saradoc. "We've a ways to go yet before we reach my burrow. You are stopping in for tea, aren't you?"
Glorfindel gave him a sad smile. "As generous as your offer is, and as much as I should like to meet your wife and children and many relations, we could not enter your land without drawing such attention to ourselves as would greatly disturb your neighbors. Nay, we will part here, with you safely on the borders of your own country, and make our farewells, for you should not have strange folk passing hither and thither through your quiet land."
"Well," huffed Saradoc, looking downcast, "the Men don't seem to mind it."
"But we are not mortal Men, master hobbit, and will not tread where we do not belong. Enough courtesy we have to know better. Now then, a vanta as márë órelyar! Nai eleni siluvar antalyannar, and may your land remain free of trespassers for many Ages to come. Namári."
"Well, that's a pretty thing to say. Is it Elvish?"
Glorfindel nodded. "It is Quenya, our high tongue, and means farewell. The other means go with good hearts. May the stars shine upon your faces. We say it in parting."
Saradoc contemplated this for a moment, then answered, "Well, we just shake hands when we go our merry way and leave it at that."
A moment later, Glorfindel found his hand being vigorously pumped up and down by a much smaller one. He stood then at the head of the Baranduin bridge, watching the hobbits recede into their familiar countryside and wondered yet again what manner of creatures Eru had made.
On the steps of Imladris, Glorfindel caught the eye of his foster son and held it for a moment, long enough for Lindir to understand that he had found the banner and note and there would be discussion over it.
Still dressed in his travel-stained armor and bearing the carefully wrapped banner under one arm, he ordered his son to follow him into the library. He would answer no questions along the way, leaving Lindir to fret and bite his underlip in nervous anticipation. Although he rarely lost his temper, an angry Glorfindel was one to be reckoned with, and Lindir did not like being on the receiving end.
Once inside the library, Glorfindel instructed Lindir to close the doors and then join him by one of the tables.
"Now open the package and tell me what you find," he said.
Lindir slowly undid the twine and unwrapped the cloth covering. His hands were trembling slightly, for Glorfindel's eyes were on him the entire time and he knew not what reprimand his foster father was about to make. At last, when the faded green cloth was uncovered, he answered in a soft, barely audible voice, "It is your banner."
"And who gave you permission to take it down from the wall where I left it hanging?"
Lindir bit his lip, then drew himself up and answered, "No one gave me permission, but I acted on the counsel of Mithrandir, who instructed me that you might well have need of it."
"Do you always listen thus when a grey bird speaks to you?" Glorfindel wanted to know.
His foster son was no coward, meeting his eyes as he made his reply. "Mithrandir's counsel has never been wrong. If I have erred, I did so because I perceived there was much wisdom in what he counseled me to do."
At this, Glorfindel relented. "Aye, there is much wisdom in Mithrandir, and," he added gently, "I listen to him, too, pen-neth." Then he smiled and held out his arms. "I am not wroth with you."
Lindir gave him an uncertain embrace. "If you are not wroth with me," he said crossly, resting his head on Glorfindel's leather clad shoulder, "then why do you make me think so?"
"I said I was not wroth, not that I was pleased." Pressing a kiss to his son's brow, Glorfindel released him and carefully shook out the folds of the banner. "Bring me the footstool there. I cannot fault you for heeding Mithrandir's counsel, for I would have done the same, but it does not please me that you did not ask Elrond's leave first. This banner belongs now to him, and it is not for you to take things that do not belong to you."
"If you have flown it, then all of Arda knows it belongs to you and not to Elrond." Lindir's face brightened, even as a gruff Glorfindel stepped onto the stool and slid the banner's grommet holes through the hooks on the wall so it could hang. "Ai, you did fly it. I can see it in your eyes."
Lindir chuckled in delight, even as Glorfindel glowered and tried to maintain a stern face.
After a moment, Glorfindel let his frown relax. Under the circumstances, he could not remain sour with his foster son. "This once I carried it into battle, for there was need," he explained, "but I will not do so again. The Valar did not send me back to Middle-earth to flaunt the badges of my House."
A smile curled his lips as he continued, "Perhaps I should thank Mithrandir for whispering in your ear, and you for heeding him, for once I grasped my banner and held it aloft, I seized both my past and present in a single moment and saw that I needed no such tokens to be whole. In time, others will see that my charge is as it has ever been, to serve Elrond and his family as I did his fathers in Gondolin. And to that I will hold until such time as he deems I should leave him and go to the Havens."
"Our time here in Middle-earth is coming to an end," said Lindir. "Many have already gone."
Glorfindel reverently touched the hem of the banner before stepping down. "But it is not yet past, and he knows better than to send me into the West before I am ready to go. I will not leave Imladris when each day the minions of the Shadow grow bolder. Elrond is not Turgon; I serve him because the Valar will it, and because it is also my own desire. He may not command me thus if I am not willing to leave his side."
"And does our lord know how stubborn you mean to be?"
"He would soon discover it," replied Glorfindel. Another smile, more wistful than the last, touched his lips. "I have often thought that if I had not died I would have stayed with Tuor. There were some, like Galdor of the Tree, who went to Balar and thence over the Sea after the War of Wrath, but I like to think I would have remained at the Havens of Sirion with Tuor and Idril."
A knock at the door kept Lindir from answering. Before Glorfindel could instruct whoever was on the other side to leave him in peace, the door opened and Erestor stood on the threshold.
"It would seem," drawled the advisor, "that in the midst of your joy to see your son again, you have forgotten to dismiss your gweth. Your poor warriors are still standing at attention in the courtyard, in the freezing cold, no doubt wondering if you intend to return at all this day."
"Then why do you not go out there and tell them they are at ease?"
Erestor raised a sharp eyebrow. "You may be the balrog-dagnir reborn, but you are obviously still the same lackwit you were when you left. Your warriors will not take direction from me or any other, so well have you trained them. If you want them dismissed, you will have to order them yourself."
Always when he went on campaign or any prolonged patrol, Glorfindel missed the other's good-natured barbs, though he would never admit this aloud. "Has anyone told you that you are still a noisy crow? As for the other part, I will not ask you whose tongue is loose among my warriors. Tell them I will join them presently."
"Am I your messenger now, malchír? And here I would have welcomed you home, but ai, how you abuse me so." Grinning, Erestor ducked from the doorway and retreated down the corridor before Glorfindel could frame a retort.
Now there is one person who will not stare goggle-eyed at me in awe when I pass. "Insufferable quáco," he muttered.
"You should not insult each other so," said Lindir.
Turning, Glorfindel quirked an eyebrow at his foster son. "Who says I am insulting him? The ways of friendship are sometimes stranger than you know. I called my own brother that in Gondolin."
"You disliked your brother?"
Glorfindel laughed at this. "Nay, I was very fond of Nárello."
"The kingship of Arnor is broken," said Erestor. "Word has come from the Dúnedain. They have neither the numbers nor the drive to reoccupy Fornost."
Elrond nodded grimly at this news. "The palantíri of Annúminas and Amon Sûl have been lost. Aranarth has arranged for the other heirlooms of Arnor to be left in my keeping. He will take the title of Chieftain of the Dúnedain until such time as he or one of his bloodline is ready to reclaim the kingship. He is young yet and in time may decide to assert his rightful place."
Doubt yet lingered in Elrond's voice, and they knew Aranarth likely would not attempt to retake his father's kingdom. Though some of the royal infrastructure would remain in place, the great kingdom of Men in the north, founded by Isildur two thousand years ago, was ended. Glorfindel had seen and sensed as much during the campaign, for while some of the Dúnedain had emerged to join Eärnur's host, Aranarth himself had not come, keeping the greater part of his people in Forlindon.
"I fear now for the line in the south," Glorfindel said. "When his father passes, Eärnur will be the next king of Gondor. A terrible doom hangs over him."
"You think he will attempt to avenge the insult done him by the Witch King?" asked Elrond.
"I know the minds of such Men," answered Glorfindel, "and how they wear their pride. It is like armor to them. A warning I have given him, but those such as he do not always listen, following their own path even unto ruin. If he dies without an heir, the last strongholds against the Shadow will crumble."
Elrond's expression was wistful, peering into the distance as if he saw something the others could not. "There is time yet," he said softly. "Ú-vethed ennas estel. And there is always hope."
balrog-dagnir: (Sindarin) Balrog slayer
malchír: (Sindarin) golden lord
quáco: (Quenya) crow
Ú-vethed ennas estel: (Sindarin) Without end there (is) hope. Thanks to Ithildin for the translation.