It was late summer, and although it was not yet light, the Hall of Fire was busy with a hum of voices. In the fields further down the valley, where the land opened out and the soil was fertile, the corn was ripe, and the weather set fair for the next few days. Many had chosen to rise early and join the harvest.
The farm carts were already outside the kitchens, being loaded with food for the harvesters, who would work almost ceaselessly until the harvest was brought in. There was little fear of a break in the weather though, for at this time, Elrond wielded the power of Vilya, to ensure that the Last Homely House would not be short of bread for the household and its guests throughout the coming year.
Glorfindel stuffed rolls and fruit into a pocket, and went outside. Scythes and flails had been stacked outside the hall. Glorfindel selected a scythe to suit his height and grip, and joined the throng of elves, men and women, walking down the valley. Not far ahead of him, was Gildor, who he had not seen for many a year. It was hard to pass the folk between them to catch up with him on the narrow upper paths, especially as one of the farm carts, drawn by one of the big, gentle farm horses was between them. In the end, he had to drop his dignity enough to call out.
"Gildor. Hey, Gildor!" The dark haired elf turned at his name. His face came alight at the sight of Glorfindel, and he turned, letting the tide of folk and the plodding horse wash past him, until Glorfindel caught up with him. "When did you arrive, old friend," he said. Gildor smiled, "We arrived last night, bearing messages from Cirdan. We stay but a few days. And how better to spend them, but harvesting in Imladris." And Gildor was indeed carrying a scythe over his shoulder.
Ahead of them, a group of elves broke into a merry song about the gift of the harvest, and the joy of the labours ahead. Their voices fell naturally into many harmonies. Each new voice that joined added a new strand, from the highest clear sopranos of some of the women to the deepest of basses, which could only be that of Elrond.
This was a great festival, where even the most solemn elf would take pleasure in the work of his hands, and give thanks to Yavanna for the gift of the grain.
Soon the golden fields spread before them. Some were already at work, scything the hip-high stems. Others were gathering and binding the corn into great stooks to dry before the winnowing. The sun rose hot in the sky. Sleeves and the cuffs of breeches were rolled up, and scarves tied to brows. The women tucked the hems of their gowns into their belts. Eventually the men even removed their shirts, chests and arms gleaming pale as pearl in the strong light.
After a while, Glorfindel, feeling thirst, stopped to drink. One of the food carts stood in the shade of a tall elm in the hedge, and jugs and ewers of cool water from the high springs of the valley were there. As he drank, Estel came towards him with the same thought, Elrond behind him. Estel's fair face was reddened across his nose and cheekbones, and his bare shoulders were pink. This puzzled Glorfindel, for the Eldar took no hurt from the sun. But Elrond said to Estel,
"I told you to put on your hat and shirt, until the heat leaves the sun, for your skin will not yet bear it, 'til it weathers." Glorfindel asked, "What do you mean by that?"
"The skin of Men – those of pale complexion, reddens in the sun, then may brown, though not in all. And if the sun is taken too quickly then the redness turns to blisters and sores, and is a great affliction. I have often, when Estel was younger, had to treat his burns with cooling salves. And he must still take care."
And Glorfindel marvelled that Elrond, whom he revered as if he were a great one of the Eldar, should have such knowledge of men. Estel put on his shirt as bidden, and Glorfindel felt sadness that Estel's lean, well muscled torso, so lovely with that unfamiliar flush of redness on it, was to be hidden again. But he held the memory of what he had seen close to his heart.
They worked on through the afternoon, and into the golden light of evening, singing as they scythed, for the rhythm of the music made the work go quicker. Estel worked beside him now, scythe swinging, muscles bunching under the thin cloth of his shirt. And Glorfindel again felt desire rise in his heart for the rhythm of the harvest left his mind free to think of other rhythms.
And Estel looked at him, as they paused in the evening dusk, and smiled into his face. About them, people were finishing their work, and starting to wend their way back up the valley to the house. But Estel and Glorfindel lingered, unspeaking, until they were alone in the field in the darkness. As if under an enchantment, he could not resist, Glorfindel took Estel's hand. It was warm and rough with dirt. He ventured to caress the palm, stroking softly with his own smooth fingers. Estel did not draw his hand away, but waited, unspeaking. All Glorfindel could do was murmur, "Oh, Estel," and step closer, until their chests all but touched. Unbidden, his flesh rose in his tightening breeches.
His breathing quickened, and he leaned forwards until with each breath he inhaled the scent of Estel's skin, fragrant with sweat. He paused, trembling on the edge of sweetness beyond all imagining, about to cross into that unknown country of love with Estel. He could hear how the boy's breath caught in his throat, and knew he would not be repulsed.
Then unbidden, another vivid image entered his thoughts; of Elrond, his smile turning to horror. He wrenched his aching body away and stepped back, though his legs would hardly carry him, for the force of his unspent desire. Estel's face had fallen.
"I am sorry my love. I cannot," said Glorfindel. But he could not help but glance at the boy's lap as he spoke, and the outline of the boy's desire was clear to see. Another thrill of sweetness shot through Glorfindel to his very groin, and it took all his will not to fall upon the boy and take what he wanted from that willing body. Estel came towards him, his hand out. But Glorfindel, afraid of what he might do, turned, and ran swiftly away, not turning back to see the disappointment that he knew would cloud the boy's features.
He spent the night in the woods. His body was in torment, denied the release it craved. In his mind, he relived those sweet moments, when Estel was about to be his, and in his fevered imagination he possessed Estel again and again, until his flesh would bear no more. He opened his breeches, and took himself in hand, thinking all the while of how it might have been Estel's hand, and brought himself a shameful relief of a sort.
Over and again he tried to envision a course of action in which they might still be lovers, but could find no comfort.
As the first light before dawn drew a grey line above the Hithaeglir, he wept bitterly; for shame at his desire; for Estel, so nearly marred; for Ecthelion, whom he had lost, and for himself, for he had not chosen to be different in his inclination to the rest of the Eldar. But it seemed his doom now was to be alone until the end of all things.
As the day lightened, and the sun rose, it seemed yet dark to his eyes. He made his way back to the house of Elrond, and knew he must leave it. In his heart he wished to steal away, like a thief in the night, but his pride and his courtesy would not permit him to leave without speaking to his old friend and host for much of this age.
Elrond was still in his chambers. He looked up in surprise, as Glorfindel burst in unannounced, for no-one locked his door in Rivendell. Glorfindel suddenly realised how strange must be his appearance. His unbrushed hair was full of leaves and dirt, and his garments were stained with mud. He blurted out, before prudence could stop him, "I am leaving Imladris. At once." Elrond's eyebrows rose up his forehead. "And is there a reason for your abrupt departure?" He peered closely at the other elf's face, and as if he could read his guilt, straightened up, and became stern. "You must tell me all that has transpired."
There was naught for Glorfindel to do, but relate his tale as he was bid. And so he did, leaving out only his hopeless, desperate love for the boy, for he did not wish to expose something so precious to the scorn of another, let Elrond think of him as some depraved lecher or no.
"It seems that you stopped yourself just in time, " Elrond said sternly, "It is as I have long thought. The Noldor were always morally flawed, and the passage of ages has not improved matters."
Gorfindel's heart quailed before the reproof of his friend, but he did not seek to justify himself. He said, "I shall journey to the Grey Havens, though I am not yet permitted to cross the sea. Círdan may welcome me for a while."
Elrond nodded and said, "It is high time that I spoke to Estel of his true heritage. Perhaps a better understanding of his lineage will prevent him from pursuing such a corrupt course as you have taught him. It shall be done today. Meanwhile, it would be better if you and he did not meet again before you leave." Glorfindel assented, and bowing, turned and left the room, and made his sad way to his own chambers.
He lingered long in packing, though the belongings he would take were few, for he planned to travel on foot, being in no haste to arrive at the Havens. He kept the door of his room sealed while he was inside, with the back of a chair, for he wished to keep his promise to Elrond that he would not meet Estel again.
Once he heard the chair rattle, and Estel's voice at the door, crying, "Glorfindel. Glorfindel. Come out and speak with me. Please?" But he hardened his heart, and would not answer.
Some time he spent in the high paths of Imladris for he knew it might be many years until he saw his home again. He haunted the wild places where he had spent time with Estel. And so it was that he came to stand hidden in the trees above the bridge where he had first set eyes on Estel, as the first tints of autumn gold came upon the birches, and the birds sang no longer.
Two figures were on the bridge, and for a moment, Glorfindel could almost have thought he saw himself and Estel meet for the first time in the flesh. But the elf had black hair, and was robed as a woman. It took but a moment for Glorfindel to recognise that it was Arwen, arrived from Lórien unbeknownst to him during his seclusion. Estel was facing towards him, and with his keen sight, he could see the boy's expression of wondering enchantment.
Then he knew that there was truly nothing left for him in Rivendell, and left that night, without speaking again to any of that house.