Disclaimer: I own nothing pertaining to The Lord of the Rings.
Here it is: the final chapter. I hope it lives up to expectations. Thank you for sticking around to read the entire story!
On the day of the Annual Wings Debate, three things changed.
One was the nature, and, in fact, the very existence, of the Annual Wings Debate. The day after the 350th took place, I read in the newspapers that Lord Elrond had stepped forward and put an end to them. He said people could debate if they wished, but 'to set aside a specific day for dissension only perpetuated a pointless conflict'. I wholeheartedly agreed with him. I hoped these changes would allow Imladris to become a peaceful realm once again.
Another was the Wise, who changed not only in spelling but in creed. Aragorn made a statement about how the Wise would be totally sincere and above board henceforth. As a gesture of their new endeavor to reform, they voted Glorfindel out. I had not realized they would go so far as to do that, or perhaps I would not have dared to show up and demand my scarf back from him. Suddenly, all the smashed china made sense. It even seemed quite moderate, for Glorfindel.
I was the third thing to change. Glorfindel had mentioned on several occasions that I was different, but he had always done so in a careless, condescending way, and I hadn't bothered to believe him. I believed hardly anything Glorfindel told me.
As I had walked home from his hotel, my scarf clutched triumphantly in my hand, I realized that I had changed. The Erestor of three years ago would not have recognized me. I had a tan, a fan following, and the ability to ride a camel. I had written three books, survived a multitude of assassination attempts, and had actually faced down Glorfindel. And lived.
Yes, I was still paranoid, and yes, I felt cynical and disillusioned, but I could also be confident. With a little practice, I could become something like the good version of Glorfindel. I would smile more, and never act scared, and never, ever despair utterly.
I resolved to put this new philosophy into practice forthwith.
When a group of my fans rushed at me, waving copies of my book, I signed everything they thrust in my direction, which included not just books, but some arms, foreheads, and articles of clothing. I also told two jokes.
When I read in the newspaper that Glorfindel had disappeared, leaving his bedroom in a state of devastation, and without paying his hotel bill, I shrugged and dismissed him from my mind. What he did had nothing to do with me. Probably.
When the Wise telephoned, asking me if I wished to join their elite ranks, I said, "No, that's not for me, thanks."
To be honest, it was Legolas who made it so incredibly easy to turn down the Wise. He was in my apartment when they telephoned, and at their offer of membership, he stared intently at the back of my head until I politely refused. I would have refused anyway, but it was nice to know that Legolas was there to back me up in my decision (or to rip me apart, should I make the wrong choice).
That's what true friends are for, right?
Three days after the Annual Wings Debate, Legolas told me, "My father wants to meet you."
"Really?" I said, trying (and failing) to imagine myself being important enough to meet the King of Eryn Lasgalen. Then I told myself not to think that way, because Glorfindel would have taken Legolas's announcement completely for granted. Then I wondered if I really wanted to be like Glorfindel, because his brand of confidence seemed to border on megalomania.
Legolas nodded. "After you said no to the Wise, he knew for certain that you were on our side, and now he wants to meet you."
"I would love to be acquainted with your father," I said carefully.
"Good," said Legolas, "because he'll be here in" –checking his wristwatch– "ten minutes."
"Ten minutes!" I shouted, panicking completely.
"All right, now you look like a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist," said Legolas, smirking.
"Don't call me that," I snapped. "Stop making smart remarks and help me redecorate my apartment."
Legolas began to grow concerned when I started running around the house, straightening furniture like an Elf possessed. "Erestor..." he said. "You don't have to do all this. Dad has gazed upon the devastation commonly known as my bedroom. Not only that, he has lived to tell the tale. This is nothing. Really. ...Erestor, would you pause for a moment and breathe?"
Unfortunately, Legolas's attempts to get me to breathe were swiftly met with failure. The instant I paused with the intention of breathing, I saw a green limousine pull up in the street outside. Two very large bodyguards stepped out and looked dangerous. I did not know even Elves could be that tall.
"He's here!" I gasped. Who other than the King of Eryn Lasgalen would dare to travel in a green limousine? In a daze, I staggered over to open the door.
"Pretend you're Glorfindel!" yelled Legolas from the other room. He wasn't being helpful, and I'm sure he knew it.
I opened the door, not only pretending I was Glorfindel, but pretending I had been aware of Thranduil's visit for some time, instead of five minutes. "Your majesty!" I said, enthusiastic, but not altogether obsequious. "How wonderful it is to see you!" I added, wisely lying.
Thranduil said, "I'm delighted to be introduced to you at last, Erestor", ignoring the fact that no one had actually introduced me to him.
Thranduil was supposed to be on the Wise's list of particularly dangerous enemies, and I had reason to believe I was on that list as well. We were Elves with a common goal, but that did not explain why he had gone out of his way to meet me. I began to grow suspicious of his motives.
"Hi, Dad," said Legolas nonchalantly, emerging from the other room with a teacup in one hand and a teakettle in the other, like some poster child for wild Wood-elf partying.
Wild Wood-elf tea-partying, that is.
"Erestor and I would like to talk to each other in private," said Thranduil, with a sudden stiff politeness, and he grabbed my arm and dragged me past Legolas and into my small living room, leaving Legolas stranded in the kitchen with all my food. I sighed at this infelicitous arrangement.
Thranduil plonked me down on a sofa, sat on a chair across from me, and said, without further preliminaries, "Do you believe in alien abductions?"
"Believe in them?" I echoed, startled. "You mean, believe they happen?"
Thranduil nodded grimly.
"Please be honest," said Thranduil. "I really want to know, and I'm not going to maim you if you give the wrong answer."
Which meant there was a wrong answer. I wondered what Glorfindel would do. I swallowed again, took a deep breath, and said, "No."
Thranduil flopped back in his seat. "Ah," he said. "You and my son are going to write a book about Legolas's alien abduction experiences, and you don't even believe alien abductions happen?"
I nodded, praying to all the Valar that I hadn't given the wrong answer. I was sure Thranduil's alternatives to maiming me could be pretty unpleasant.
"I suppose believing one conspiracy theory doesn't give a person cause to believe them all," Thranduil said pensively.
I nodded. I had apparently given him the right answer, because Thranduil proceeded to do nothing to me that remotely resembled a modification on maiming.
"Here's another question," said Thranduil. "Do you believe Legolas is mad?"
"No!" I cried, thankful the right answer was so obvious this time. "I think he is simply prone to bizarre fantasies. He's not mad at all. Perfectly almost sane."
Thranduil nodded seriously. "Yes," he agreed. "Perfectly almost sane is as much as some of us can reasonably hope for."
To my surprise and relief, Thranduil and I seemed to be getting along quite well, which was much better than I had previously believed reasonable to hope. "Would you like some tea, your majesty?" I asked.
"No, thank you," he said. "I only dropped by for a brief visit. I want to know what sort of book you're planning to write with my son. It's not going to turn him into a laughingstock, is it?"
"I can't predict whether or not a book on alien abduction would turn Legolas into a laughingstock," I said. "People laugh at the strangest things."
"Meaning my son is a strange thing?" asked Thranduil. He smiled as I tried to stammer my way out of his trap. "Don't worry, Erestor, I won't hold you accountable. You seem to be a decent sort of Elf, and I know you would never do anything to make my son look foolish."
"Yes, of course. Thank you, your majesty," I said.
Our meeting ended very soon after that. It seemed Thranduil didn't really care whether or not I believed in alien abductions, he just wanted to know why Legolas was hanging out with me so much. I couldn't explain it, but Thranduil didn't see any sinister forces at work, so he left without further ado.
After he was gone, I sat on my sofa, feeling a bit lightheaded, and then Legolas came into the room, holding a piece of cold toast and looking slightly dazed.
Legolas said, "Glorfindel is dead."
I said, "Glorfindel?"
I said, "Dead?" and Legolas nodded again.
"I heard it on the radio," said Legolas. "He hitched a ride to Osgiliath. He must have meant to stay in a hotel there, because he had booked a room and everything. But he never arrived. They think he must have fallen in the Anduin. One of his shoes washed up, and his briefcase, and it had his clothes and money in it."
I stared at Legolas, and Legolas nibbled on his toast, still looking dazed. Then Legolas said that he would give me some time to myself, and he wandered away.
I felt as devastated as Glorfindel's hotel bedroom. It was hard for me to remember a time when Glorfindel had not been alive and trying to make me dead. Glorfindel had been a part of my life for years. He couldn't just die.
Some shared my opinion. For days afterwards, Glorfindel dominated every aspect of the media, as he always had. Most people were quite sure he wasn't dead, because there was no tangible evidence to support his death. He could have easily tossed his shoes and briefcase in the Anduin and then made his getaway.
Other people seemed to feel that there was no way on earth Glorfindel could have disappeared without dying. His face was everywhere. Everyone either wanted to look like him, or to date someone who looked like him. Pull anyone off the street and ask him or her to describe Glorfindel, and he or she would be able to do so in great detail. How can someone so striking simply disappear?
Even those who were almost entirely certain Glorfindel was dead didn't want to say anything like, 'it serves him right', just in case he actually wasn't dead, and was listening to them somehow.
Perhaps I had given Thranduil the wrong answer after all, for a few days later, Legolas explained that he had decided not to co-write a book on alien abduction with me. Legolas had been spending more and more time in the company of Aragorn, but I could not blame him. I wondered if he was being tempted with offers to join the Wise, or if he would stay true to his noble calling, and remain an enemy of the Wise, as his father had. With the Wise supposedly reformed, battle lines were blurry again.
There were a few good pieces of news. In a poll, 34 per cent of the population of Gondor expressed doubt in the existence of balrogs, and 17 per cent stated they did not believe balrogs existed at all. 12 per cent thought all the balrogs had died out, and everyone else quoted Glorfindel and remained steadfast in their belief in the creatures. These statistics were better than I had hoped.
In the end, I packed my bags and moved back to Imladris. My little adventure in the big city was officially over. After spending three years of my life frantically writing books on important topics, I suddenly had nothing to do. I was listless. I was depressed. I spent most of my time in the library, trying to work up the interest to find a book and read it.
Finally I decided to read the latest bestseller, Paranoia and Confusion: An Analytical Look at Erestor and his Works of Fiction. I took it back to my room and sat down, prepared to be either greatly entertained or terribly insulted.
Someone knocked on my door.
"Go away. I'm busy," I said, opening to the title page and admiring Glorfindel's choice of font.
The door opened, and a familiar voice said, "Is that any way to treat a longsuffering door-to-door encyclopedia sales-elf?"
Startled, I half- leapt to my feet, but it was already too late. The door-to-door encyclopedia sales-elf stood in the entranceway and smirked down at me, not looking longsuffering at all.
I hastily shoved the book under a sofa cushion.
I gaped at him for a moment, and then stupefied astonishment gave way to something else. "Your hair–!" I exclaimed in disbelief, and collapsed back into the sofa in a paroxysm of laughter.
Glorfindel twiddled several strands of his new hair between his fingers, trying hard not to smile. Eventually he gave up. He grinned, sat down, and winked at me. "Don't hurt yourself," he said. "You can't have laughed this much all year."
"I'm going to be furious later," I warned him.
"I look forward to that," he told me.
I don't think I would have recognized him if I hadn't been worrying about his killing me for three whole years. In my more paranoid days, I had seen him everywhere, so I saw him now, underneath his impressive disguise. The most obvious change was his hair, now long and dyed black. He had braided it in more traditional styles, and, most surprisingly, relieved the somber black coloring with streaks of purple. Glorfindel could never be completely traditional.
"Extensions?" I asked eventually, and Glorfindel nodded. "You can't call yourself Glorfindel any more," I observed, "since that means 'golden-haired', and golden-haired is something you are not, at the moment."
Glorfindel shrugged, insouciant. "It's a popular name," he said. "I tell people that my parents called me Glorfindel as a joke."
He had transformed himself in other ways. He had a fake tan, and his clothes were shabbier. He'd done other things too, more subtle things. He held himself differently, as though he were trying to blend in with my wallpaper. His smile was tentative, his gestures nervous, and his expression carefully neutral. As he talked, I watched him with fascination, until, in an unexpected epiphany, I realized who he was acting like.
I threw a pillow at his head. He caught it.
So he wasn't behaving entirely like me, then.
"How dare you!" I cried. "How dare you pretend to die, and then come back like this!"
"Like what?" asked Glorfindel, eyes big and innocent.
"Like me!" I yelled. "Except with purple hair!" I hurled another pillow in his direction.
"You must admit," said Glorfindel, catching the second pillow, "I am very good at acting like you. As for faking my own death, well, that's a specialty of mine."
I stopped throwing pillows for a moment. "Are you saying," I asked, with sudden cunning, "that you have faked your own death on an another occasion?"
"Of course not," replied Glorfindel lightly. "And even if I did say that, you would never believe me, would you? You don't believe anything I say."
This was true.
"Anyway," said Glorfindel, "I am not acting exactly like you. I am being a variation on you. I defy categorization!"
"I could categorize you as a fashion victim," I said snidely.
Glorfindel grinned again. I think he likes to bring out the nastier side of me. "I have three new ear piercings, and purple hair, and a tattoo, and you have none of those things," he said. "At least, I don't think you have. Have you?"
I shook my head.
"So," said Glorfindel with finality. His point made, he reverted back to acting like me, which involved twitching nervously and avoiding eye contact. I felt as though I were being deftly insulted, probably as punishment for my 'fashion victim' comment.
"Glorfindel," I said, "what are you doing here? Did you come to kill me?"
Glorfindel shook his head, looking slightly shocked. I was beginning to see why I had annoyed him so much. "I am not a kinslayer," he said, "and I intend to stay that way. No, I came to ask for your help."
If he could act like me, then I could act like him. I had, I realized, been acting like him for some time anyway. I crossed my arms and said coolly, "Oh? I thought you wanted to get revenge on everyone, myself included. Why should I suddenly help you?"
"Because you're a nice person?"
"Because I'm a nice person?"
I snorted incredulously.
Glorfindel drew himself up in his chair, a gleam in his eye. He leaned forward and said softly, "Because you're bored?"
I bit my lip, and then saw how Glorfindel studied me intently. I could practically see him mentally recording and filing the gesture for later use. I stopped biting my lip and scowled at him. I did want something to do. Helping Glorfindel would alleviate the boredom I felt.
"What sort of help do you want?" I asked.
He smiled a brief, triumphant smile. "As you must know, I am no longer one of the Wise. Lady Arwen successfully categorized me as a superficial, clueless plagiarist. I have only myself to blame, since I made categorizing me so easy for her. Now she claims that she is ridding the Wise of corruption. She can't be trusted, of course."
"Of course," I said. I too had learned this firsthand. Now I did not dare trust anyone.
"I intend to keep my eye on the Wise," said Glorfindel. "I confess, I had grown tired of all the scheming involved in remaining a member, and I'm happy enough to be out of it."
I did not quite believe him.
"Now I have the opportunity to observe the Wise from the outside," continued Glorfindel. "I no longer have the obligation to keep their secrets, and I can leak information to the press if I feel it is necessary. In that way, I can keep the Wise in check."
"If you have no obligation to keep their secrets, then will you tell me whether or not there are balrogs?"
"Of course there are balrogs," said Glorfindel. "Please stop fixating on them."
"And in what way do you want me to help you?" I asked him darkly.
"I have heard," said Glorfindel slowly, "that you were invited to join the Wise."
My eyes opened wide. "Oh, no," I said, shaking my head. "I've already refused. I'm not becoming one of the Wise just so I can sneak information to you."
Glorfindel sighed. "Very well," he said. "I suppose I shouldn't have expected any acts of selflessness or bravery from you. You've been a coward for so long, after all..."
I smiled at him, my Glorfindel smile. "Manipulation will not get you anywhere," I said.
"No?" said Glorfindel sadly. "What about brute force?" he asked, enlivened as though the thought had just occurred to him.
'I thought you said you wouldn't kill me."
He rolled his eyes. "If I killed you, you wouldn't be much help to me, would you, Erestor?" And then, just as I was about to apologize for being so silly, he attacked me.
My self-defense classes came in useful at that point. I don't think he was expecting much resistance. I latched onto his arm and attempted to dislocate it, and Glorfindel couldn't strangle me with one hand, so he had to rethink his strategy. He hit my head against the wall. I tried to rip out his hair extensions.
The rioting anarchists could have learned so much from us both.
Eventually, and inevitably, Glorfindel got the upper hand. He grabbed a pillow, which is apparently his weapon of choice, and held it over my face until I was half-asphyxiated. When he took the pillow away, I lay there and gasped for a few minutes. Glorfindel watched, and I began to wonder if he was storing more information away, just in case he ever got suffocated and had to act like me.
"This has hurt me more than it hurt you," said Glorfindel whimsically, smoothing the pillow. I was holding a handful of his dark hair, so I hoped his words were true. "Now, will you help me?"
"No, I won't help you," I said. I had wanted to say something bold and defiant, but my voice seemed very small and defeated."I don't want to be a spy."
The door burst open. For the second time that afternoon, I wished I had thought to lock it. But no, I had assumed Rivendell was safe. Do I never learn my lesson? What's the point of my being cynical and suspicious if I never think to do something simple and clever like, just for example, lock my door?
Elrohir said, "I knew he would be here!"
To almost everyone's surprise, Glorfindel offered no resistance to the sons of Elrond. He said, "I don't mean any harm," and contrived to look sincere.
"He means a lot of harm!" I stumbled to my feet and leaned dizzily against a wall, trying not to act as confused and disoriented as I felt. I needed to make sense of things, and quickly, or else I was going to lose my temper and probably do something stupid. "Lords," I said to the twins, "he's acting like me. Please make him stop. It's driving me crazy."
Glorfindel got up and sat on my sofa, cool as you please. After looking long at each other, Elladan and Elrohir sat on either side of him, not touching him. While Glorfindel lolled indolently, the twins were stiff and tense, and I could see they were ready to pounce, should Glorfindel make a sudden move.
"This is a face we have not previously seen you wear," said Elladan calmly.
"You said you would work for us."
"So why are you attacking Erestor?"
"It is not in any of our interests to cause him harm."
I was very glad to hear this.
"I wanted to see if I could persuade Erestor to infiltrate the Wise," Glorfindel explained. "I did nothing that would inflict permanent damage."
As one, Elladan and Elrohir turned to look at me, presumably to see if I had suffered any permanent damage. I scowled at them. If Glorfindel was working for them, then I did not trust them either, and I wished they would just leave.
"It was a good idea," said Elrohir, turning back to Glorfindel.
"But obviously Erestor does not wish to join the Wise."
"We should not force him to do something he does not want to do."
Elladan and Elrohir broke off and looked at each other thoughtfully.
"It was a good idea," said Elladan.
"It would work," said Elrohir.
Simultaneously serene and diabolical, Glorfindel smiled at me over their heads. I glared at him, edging towards the door.
"Erestor," said the twins in unison. I froze.
"You would make a wonderful spy. You could support your cause and fight against the Wise," said Elladan. "You would receive all the benefits of Wisdom, and, at the same time, receive the many benefits of working with Elrohir and I."
"We would make the job very worth your while," said Elrohir pleasantly.
Legolas's moral support at this point would have been nice, but I did well enough without it.
"While I very much appreciate your methods of persuasion, especially compared to those of Glorfindel, I must refuse your offer," I said. "I must also ask you to leave. This is, after all, my home, and you are intruding on my reading time."
"Very well," said Elladan. "We'll leave it at that. If you should change your mind, please contact us."
"I have a word of advice," I said, "to demonstrate my lack of ill will toward you."
"And this advice is..?"
"Glorfindel is not really minion material," I said. "You should never, ever trust him, no matter what he says or does. When he's around, you should never cease to watch your backs. And, if possible, you should keep him locked in your basement when you aren't using him, or else I suspect you'll find that he's using you."
As I said this, I watched all three Elves, and was glad to see that Elladan and Elrohir took my words to heart. Yes, they were going to watch him very closely. Glorfindel wouldn't like that. He wouldn't enjoy having a discerning audience.
"Thank you," said Elladan.
"We'll be careful," said Elrohir.
They stood to leave. Glorfindel went with them, looking unconcerned, which could only be expected. Glorfindel, as I have said, never, ever despairs utterly. That's what makes him so dangerous.
As he walked past me, he leaned close, whispered in my ear, "You are as perceptive as always, Erestor."
It might have been a compliment, and, knowing Glorfindel, it was probably an insult and threat as well. His threats did not terrify me as they once had. After all, he had attacked me with a pillow -- not once, but twice.
Smiling, I stood on tiptoe with my own mouth close to his ear, and smiling, I gifted him with a few barbed words of my own.
"I am the greatest of balrog slayers, Glorfindel," I murmured.
His eyes narrowed, and his hands clenched, but Glorfindel did not quite lose his composure. "Enjoy your book," he said, and exited the room, Elladan and Elrohir escorting him away.
Feeling both triumphant and shaken, I went back to the sofa, and saw that Paranoia and Confusion had been pulled out from underneath the cushion, which meant that Glorfindel was well aware of my intended reading material. I didn't care. I hoped that if Elladan and Elrohir took me literally, and actually did lock Glorfindel in their basement, they would provide him Wyze Lies, just to keep him entertained.
I sat down. I opened the book and turned the soft pages to the first chapter. I knew I was not the bravest or most dashing of Elves. I knew I had made mistakes. I knew I had so often backed down when challenged in my opinions. I knew all this, and I knew I was different now. Not totally different, but different enough to face uncrushed the lies Glorfindel had concocted to attack me.
I had achieved a lasting victory over the myths promoted widely and wildly for hundreds of years. I had stood up to Glorfindel. (And lived.) Because of me, balrogs would soon become entirely extinct.
'Erestor, Balrog-Slayer,' I thought, smiling again.
I began to read.