Third Age 2951
It was evening, when Glorfindel returned from Lothlorien. It had been many years as counted by men, since he had last walked in the valley of Imladris, which he called home, but hardly a season in the reckoning of the elves. He rode without saddle or bridle, and allowed the horse to pick his own way down the wooded eastern path. The first bluebells were opening under the sparse birches of the upper slopes of the valley, and their heady perfume filled the air.
The late evening sun had not yet set behind the hills, when the horse walked from the dappled shade of the birch woods. Among the scattered trees of the lower slopes, purple lady's smock and yellow dandelions sprang from the lush spring grass. Once, long ago, he would have sung a hymn to the beauty of the spring evening, and for the joy of returning home, but now he rode in silence.
Below, the path crossed one of the many bridges that spanned the waters of Imladris. And as the bridge came into view, Glorfindel saw that an unfamiliar figure stood alone on the parapet, lit by the low golden sun.
The man was slenderly built, but strong of shoulder, his dark hair braided in the elven style. He looked up as Glorfindel approached. His fair, smooth skin was almost translucent in the evening sun, but there were faint shadows on his chin and upper lip, and Glorfindel knew that he was no Elf.
Glorfindel said, "It is the custom here that the stranger should introduce himself." The young man's face lit up with laughter.
"But I am not the stranger here. I have lived here all my life." There was a touch of pride in his words. He spoke perfect Sindarin, without a Westron accent.
"Then your life has not yet been that long. I have lived here for much of this Age. I am returning after a period of travel that was but short in the eyes of my people."
"Then you have the advantage of me sir. I am Estel, foster-son to Elrond."
"Of course. I should have known. Tidings of your presence here did reach me in Lórien. I am Glorfindel."
"At your service, my Lord," returned the young man courteously, then he looked up, his face full of boyish enthusiasm. "I have heard of your exploits. But I would much prefer to hear them first hand, rather than from old songs and dry books."
It seemed to Glorfindel that it would be discourteous to ride away from the young man. In his youth he had the loveliness of one of the Eldar. A small mole on his neck, and the fine black hair on the backs of his hands but highlighted the pitifully short beauty of mortals, and how soon the glory of his face and body would be ravaged by age.
He dismounted, and where the path allowed, they walked side by side to the House, the horse following in his own time, as he stopped where he chose to crop the lush spring grass.
"Is it true that you once lived in Gondolin?" Estel asked.
"Yes." Sorrow rose again in Glorfindel's heart, but he forced himself to smile at the boy, who, he calculated, must be no more than twenty; a child by the measure of the Firstborn. He did not know how Men measured the passage to adulthood.
"Tell me about it," demanded Estel. Glorfindel looked away. Ahh, he thought, you have the bluntness of the Edain. I suppose your lives are too short for circumspection.
"Oh. I am sorry. I was thoughtless to speak so to you. I have been better taught." Estel's cheeks reddened with embarrassment, and Glorfindel's breath caught in his throat at the young man's beauty. He was sorry for his silent reproof, and relented, saying,
"What would you know?"
"Everything. What it looked like. Who lived there. How it fell." Grief swept in a wave over Glorfindel for his friends who had fallen, Egalmoth, and Ecthelion among others, who remained in the Halls of Mandos. Even after nearly six thousand years, his grief was knife-sharp. A memory overtook him, sharp and bright as a jewel, of Ecthelion on the white battlements of the city, his hair like shadow, blowing in the wind, his beautiful face lit by golden light, as they watched the sun set behind the Encircling Mountains.
The boy must have noticed something, for he said, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to intrude."
"Don't be embarrassed." Glorfindel smiled at the lad, sorry for his confusion.
"Do not think you are the only one to have spoken of Gondolin to me. And of course I shall tell you some tales. But not yet. I have travelled far today, and would like to bathe before dinner time. Will you walk to the house with me?"
"Oh, yes please!"
A lovely contralto voice broke out across the valley, singing a lament for the end of the day. Glorfindel felt his sad heart ease as he and Estel walked in silence while the song echoed through the valley. As they neared the house, other voices joined in, and the harmonies modulated from minor to major as the song changed to a hymn of praise for the coming twilight, and the rising of the moon.
At the house, Elrond waited for him at the door, light from the house spilling out into the dusk. Elrond himself held a jewelled silver chalice, which he proffered to Glorfindel. "Welcome home, " he said. Glorfindel took a mouthful of the golden wine. It tasted of summer flowers from many years past.
He returned the chalice with a slight bow to Elrond, who drank in turn, as did Estel.
"Your presence honours us," added Elrond, then dispensing with the formalities, he added "I see you have met my foster son."
"Yes, I met him on the bridge. I suppose that he is…" Elrond interrupted.
"Estel, Lindir awaits you in the Hall of Fire. I believe he would like to teach you his latest composition."
"Yes father," Estel bowed politely to Glorfindel and the others, and hurried into the house.
"Lindir is trying to improve his singing, but I fear a mortal will never have the voice of one of our folk, " Elrond said. He looked round, checking that Estel was out of earshot.
"You were about to ask of his heritage, I believe. Yes he is Isildur's heir, but he does not know this. At my request, his mother has kept it from him. Those of his line have always been in great danger, and it is increasing. I would shield him from it as long as I can."
"You mean until he has in turn sired an heir," replied Glorfindel rather caustically, for Elrond's obsessive nurturing of the line of Isildur was sometimes mocked behind his back. "When will you tell him?"
Elrond sighed. "He is a man by the standards of his people, but he still seems so young to me. I would protect him a little longer. This one is truly like a son to me." He looked troubled for a moment. "You will of course wish to bathe before dinner," he added, courteously.
"Indeed I shall."
They walked into the house, and Glorfindel smelt once again the familiar smell of the Last Homely House. His spirits lifted. Elrond's house healed the mind and body of all who came there, whatever the private cares of their host.