The next morning, after a night of fitful sleep, Glorfindel lingered in that twilight place before wakefulness. It was the first night he had spent in a bed for many a year, and the soft pillows and smooth sheets were a comfort he was loath to leave. At the back of his dozing mind was a dim awareness that something unpleasant awaited him in the waking world that he was in no hurry to face.

In the end a sharp rat-tat on the door brought him to his senses. Despair fell on him like a dark cloud, but he was unable to wallow in it, for the door was already opening, and Erestor entered unceremoniously. "What are you doing still in bed? It is already mid-morning." He swept across the room, and threw open the shutters. A shaft of sunlight fell across the bed.

Glorfindel groaned, "Oh don't. The light is too bright. What do you want Erestor? Have you found some anomaly in the annals of Gondolin? Couldn't it wait 'til later?" It was an effort to make even so feeble a jest.

Erestor made an impatient noise, and said, "You do talk nonsense Glorfindel. As if I would disturb you for that."

Glorfindel rolled over in bed, and squinted at his old friend, "Well?"

"Riders are approaching bearing the standard of Gondor and Elrond is still with the Halfling. Our scouts say that it is the son of the Steward, and we must welcome him as befits his station. That means you have to get up and join us, Glorfindel."

There was some small relief in the everyday actions of dressing, and selecting a formal robe. Erestor's presence too enforced a certain level of self-discipline that Glorfindel did not think he would have achieved alone. It was most important that nothing in his conduct invited prying questions.

-0-

The little group of elves assembled in front of the house, and watched as the horses of Gondor* picked their way down the steep path, led by Gildor. Elladan brought up the rear. Autumn was descending swiftly on the valley, and the larches on the high fell-sides were yellowing. Brown crumpled oak leaves spun lazily down onto the lawn.

When at last the horses stamped and blew on the grass, the standard bearer urged his gelding forward and cried in Westron, "Know all ye who gather here that this is Boromir, first son of Denethor, Steward of Gondor, who is come to speak with the master of this house."

Glorfindel stepped forward, and replied, "You are welcome in Rivendell, Boromir son of Denethor. I am Glorfindel of Gondolin." It felt appropriate to resort to this ancient title in front of the bombastic herald. Lindir passed him the welcome cup, and he proffered it to Boromir, still on his horse. The herald dismounted in some haste and taking it from Glorfindel's hands tasted it first himself, before passing it to Boromir. A murmur of surprise and insult rose from the gathered elves, like a gust of wind in the high branches of the trees. Elladan slouched on his horse and looked on with sardonic amusement. Gildor looked cross.

Glorfindel received the welcome cup from Boromir, sipped himself, and passed it back to the other members of Boromir's party. "I hope they will get off their horses, and don't expect to ride them right into the Great Hall," murmured Erestor in his ear, below the level of human hearing.

Glorfindel rallied himself, and spoke direct to Boromir, "I expect that you are fatigued after your long journey, and wish to bathe, eat and rest." I do hope in that order, said a voice in his head, "Lindir will show your herald where your horses may be stabled."

Boromir dismounted and said, "I can hardly believe I am here in this fabled place. Our quest has been long, for none in Gondor knew where it could be found, and we have followed myth and legend, and seen many strange things before your scouts stumbled upon us." He grasped Glorfindel's forearms in a warriors' salute, and followed Erestor into the house. His men followed suite, except for the herald, who had been tasked with the care of the horses.

"Well, that was awkward," remarked Glorfindel to Elladan in Sindarin, "Do you think they know how rude they appeared?"

Elladan smirked. "No, and I daresay they think Erestor is nothing but some kind of servant, because he is showing them to their rooms. They will not understand the honour he is doing them. Gildor and I have had the pleasure of their company for three days, so we have seen a little of how their minds work. They're all right really though. Just a little overawed by a trip to Faërie, and not entirely sure that a hundred years won't have passed when they leave the valley."

"It might be better for all of us to miss the next hundred years. These are dark times. I found the Ring Bearer - wounded by a Morgul knife." Elladan let out a whistle of dismay. Glorfindel continued, "Elrond wrestles to bring his fëa back to us. In fact I must seek news of him."

"And I will give Lindir a hand. And act as peacemaker if necessary."

Glorfindel snorted, "Hardly a role that comes naturally to you."

"I am a man of many talents. You do not know a half of them."

"You know, we didn't stumble upon them," said Gildor, simmering with suppressed rage, "We'd tracked them for four days before they turned east, and looked set to miss Rivendell altogether. Then we had to intervene. We were in the middle of their camp before their look-out saw us, even though we made more than the usual amount of noise."

"Come on you two," called Lindir in Westron, "The horses can't wait. And I'm sure I can find a bottle of something refreshing hidden in the hayloft to bring Elves and Men to a détente." The herald brightened at this, for it had looked as though he might have to forego the pleasures of refreshment in favour of the horses.

-0-

Once the guests had been dispatched, and his official duties were over, Glorfindel slipped away to the Hall of Fire. As he had expected, it was empty; the great fireplace cold, although someone had already cleaned the grate and piled logs for the evening. The shutters stood open, and this room, that glowed so richly in the shadowy evenings, when minstrels and bards vied with one another in song and story, seemed faded, even shabby. Dust motes spun lazily in the shafts of sunlight.

Why, thought Glorfindel, even Imladris will not last for ever, nor even for much longer. Whether this was foresight upon him, or merely observation he did not know. He slumped onto a bench in the shadow under one of the high windows.

After some minutes a cracked little voice interrupted his bleak thoughts, "Is something wrong sir?" There was warmth – compassion even, in the tone, and Glorfindel looked up to see a strange little figure, wizened with age, watching him from a seat by a pillar.

Good manners won control, and Glorfindel stood, and bowed, "Forgive me sir, but you have the advantage of me. I am Glorfindel." The creature was a halfling, he thought, though in his small experience he had never seen one – nor a Man for that matter, so afflicted with years.

"I know who you are, sir. I am Bilbo Baggins, of the Shire. I am Frodo's uncle. I have lived here for some seventeen years. Since I gave up the Ring you know." Bilbo stood, with some difficulty, and bowed in return.

"I did not know that you were once the Ring Bearer."

"I'm very much afraid that I am the cause of all this trouble, you know. And this it will be my just desert if dear Frodo…." His lined face crumpled even more, a thing that had not seemed possible to Glorfindel. His evident grief jolted Glorfindel, for his own despair over lost love seemed trivial in the light of the old hobbit's sorrow. And indeed, Elrond and Mithrandir's continued absence boded ill for Frodo.

Glorfindel managed a thin smile, "I very much doubt that you are responsible. This evil was created long before your birth."

"Ah, but I found it, you see. I could have left it alone, but I found it, and I picked it up. Even though I know that I would never have escaped from under the Misty Mountains without it, I have had cause to regret picking it up."

"I see there is a tale here that I have not heard. It sounds worth the hearing, if you would care to tell it."

"It would while away the time. You know, I just want to know soon, one way or the other. Even if it is the worst. I can't bear the waiting." He sat up a little straighter, and a glint came into his eye, "And it is a long time since I have had the pleasure of telling of my Adventure. I think all here are sick and tired of it."

So Bilbo told the story of how he found the ring in the tunnels under the Misty Mountains, and how the creature Gollum had challenged him to a riddle contest. As the tale drew to a close, Sam bustled in carrying a plate of sandwiches and a flagon of ale. "Come on Mr Bilbo. Don't you go tiring yourself telling your old tales. I've brought us some lunch. Oh, hello Glorfindel. I didn't know you were in here." Despite his amiable words, Sam's good-natured face was drawn, and he looked older. There were dark rings under his eyes.

"Goodness. Is it lunch time already?" cried Glorfindel, leaping to his feet, "I must go and dine with our guests, or they will think us most remiss in common courtesies."

-0-

Lunch was over, and all had departed save for Glorfindel, Erestor, and Boromir, who lingered over honey wine and the tiny sweet honey cakes, which had been made in honour of the guests from Gondor. Glorfindel chafed in the constant company, when he yearned to grieve in private. And he could not stop himself from glancing over to the doors at the faintest noise or movement, looking always out of the corners of his eyes for Estel, who seemed to have vanished for the day.

"I still don't understand why Elrond isn't here. Is he away from Rivendell?" asked Boromir for the third time. He seemed to scent a mystery in the Elves' equivocal answers. Indeed, thought Glorfindel, there was one of sorts, for although all in Rivendell knew of the presence of the Ring, none would reveal it to an outsider.

"No. He is here. As we said before, his labours cannot be interrupted," replied Erestor. "And he may not be available for several days."

Boromir made an impatient movement, and tossed down the remains of his wine. Glorfindel leaned across and proffered the decanter. "Waiting does not sit easily upon a warrior. But tell me what brought you here. Especially with the Enemy at your very border."

"I told you of how we lost Osgiliath, overwhelmed by the numbers of the Easterlings and Haradrim, in alliance with the Enemy. I told of how we held the last bridge for the passage of the remnants of our force. I did not tell that in this battle we faced a greater evil than we have ever known. A great shadow, some said in the shape of a black horseman, who spread despair amongst men and beasts alike. I know not what this creature was, nor even if he was a figment of our own imaginations, created from our own fear."

"I am afraid that he was real enough. We have put such creatures to flight from our own borders not two days hence," said Glorfindel.

"Creatures, you say. How many are there?"

"Nine. Nine black horsemen, trusted servants of the Dark Lord."

Boromir shuddered, his gaze turned inward, as if confronting some private fear, then said, "After this battle, my brother spoke of a dream he had had, in which an unseen voice commanded him in riddles to seek counsel in Imladris. I thought little of it. Dreams are strange and unreliable counsel, and for all I knew it could have been some fell influence of the dark horseman, seeking to divide us. But over the next few weeks, he claimed that the dream returned, night after night, and he seemed much moved by it, and would have left to search for this place at once."

Such dreams could only be the work of Mithrandir's hand, thought Glorfindel, crumbling bits of honey cake on his plate as he listened. He and Elrond must have some scheme that required a representative from Gondor. Perhaps they needed someone to affirm Estel's rights as King of Gondor, when the time came. He could scarcely march to Gondor and proclaim himself King. Not with any likelihood of success, even though Elladan and Elrohir had spent years nurturing tales of the lost Kings of the North at their father's behest.

Boromir was still speaking, "At last, maybe under the power of my brother's suggestion, the same dream came to me. A far-off voice cried to me to seek Imladris. Our father told us that this fabled land lay in the far north, and that the great lore-master Elrond, famed from the most ancient of days, could be found there. I left the next morning."

It was just as well that Estel was absent, thought Glorfindel. A careless word could reveal Elrond's plans, and it doubtless wouldn't suit Elrond to have Estel unmasked as the claimant to Gondor's throne so soon.

The conversation seemed to peter out. "Why don't we show you round the gardens of Imladris", said Erestor, who had done much in the way of planting, and was proud of the beauty of the valley.

"I'm not interested in trees and plants," Boromir retorted bluntly.

"We have an extensive area for weapons practice. I am certain that some sport may be had there," Glorfindel added.

For the first time since he had tasted Rivendell's wine, Boromir brightened, and allowed himself to be led away for the afternoon's entertainment.

-0-

* Boromir claims in the Council of Elrond that he travelled to Rivendell "all alone". I find it hard to believe that the eldest son of the Steward would undertake such a quest in such dangerous times without a small retinue, so I have given him one.