encompassing the entirety of Tolkien's canon, from Gondolin to
Warnings: Oh, there will be angst. And slash. And other things.
Notes: Brewing for five years in notebooks, this story will turn to vinegar if it sits any longer.
The Forgotten Tree
He was not allowed alone into the forests. Not then. Not without his father's guard. But he was allowed to roam the vineyards. The vines belonged to Glorfindel and he would keep them safe.
The forest was not unsafe, the writhing snake-sheened dangers did not slip past Turgon's guard nor the massive rocky slopes of the mountains encircling the city of Gondolin. The city and the forests were safely kept by stony fortresses, but there were other things, not exactly dangerous things, but curious things; things that might tempt one as young as Erestor to wonder about the world beyond the safety of the mountains.
Erestor, hidden beneath the tangled vines, rested on the sun warmed ground and watched the sky move between the quiet leaves. He smelled the summer rich and ripened fruit. He imagined that he hid, instead, in the forest. He did this often when the king's libraries threatened to swallow him. He loved words as much as he loved Glorfindel's vineyards, but fruit did not make choices – none that he could hear or see. Words, however, tumbled like a violent sea, from what he'd read of seas, and too many hours spent with them made Erestor quick-tongued, snappish.
He could not fathom how all the ones that came before them could not see the tragic endings to their stories. Erestor had not found a single happy ending: not in the king's archives, not in his father's house, not in Glorfindel's libraries nor any of the vast, carefully copied volumes in any house in the city. He'd read them all. He peered over the shoulders of scholars and scribes hoping some wisdom would appear on the new pages. It never did. And now here they all were, the wars and battles and oaths and darkness kept away by the mountains. Erestor plucked a grape and ate it.
The trellis stakes were golden in color, topped by the seal of the Golden Flower. Soon the harvest would come, the fruit cut free by a golden knife. Glorfindel was not the only winemaker in the city, but he was the best. His grapes held the memory of the past. Like Erestor's father and mother, Glorfindel was born and lived for some time in their forsaken homeland, Valinor, and there were no roads leading back to that place. Glorfindel's wine tasted of sunlight and longing and just a little sadness. Erestor's mother often poured him a small cup on the rare days the oldest vintages were served. She did this, she said, so that Erestor would take the memories into his blood and carry them always within his heart.
Erestor ate another grape and wondered how the wine went from fruit to mystery, just as stories went from mouth to ink. Erestor's hands were stained black from his pen. His mother, he thought, was mistaken. He did not wish to cross the mountains into sadness. He wished to stay right here in the late summer vine's shadow; the distant city sounds safe behind the wide, encircling walls; the braided bells of grazing horses chiming in the pasture; his bare feet placed on known ground.
He wished to remain in the place where he could hear the quiet sound of Glorfindel's boots approaching. Like that. Vines were not meant for hiding, not like forests. The evening hour would soon be sung out from the city towers.
"There you are," Glorfindel said, his golden hair brushing the stony dirt as he peered down through the vines. He sat down beside Erestor.
Erestor glanced quickly toward him, then back to the sky.
"Your mother asked me to find you."
"You can tell her that I could not be found. Which is true – I am not in a place where I wish to be discovered."
Glorfindel laughed. His smile was like his wine. "I'm no messenger. It's very likely that I would twist your words, become distracted and fail my mission entirely. Also, no one can deceive you mother."
Erestor turned onto his elbows so he could look out toward the city, "That's true. How are the preparations?"
"Never ending. I haven't seen your father in days."
Very soon Turgon's army would cross the mountains and leave all who remained in the city to wait for falcon-word and unreliable visions in clear pools. Erestor was not old enough to remember the last time that happened. If he thought of it too long he felt indiscernibly bruised and tired, as if he'd read too many violent stories.
Turgon's brother, Fingon, ruled the lands south of Gondolin. The brothers were of two minds when it came to protection. Fingon's followers were constantly in flux, roaming from the Teleri regions on the temperate shores to the unknown and wild eastern forests. Turgon's remote city was built in secret, inaccessible without a guide. The noble houses in the city were carefully chosen for their loyalty and obedience to Turgon's wishes.
In secret, Turgon planned to send a force to aid his brother and their cousins. Erestor's father, Glorfindel and all the other lords would ride out in two days time.
The evening song spread lowly through the valley. Erestor turned his gaze back to Glorfindel. When the frost glistened in the pastures, Erestor would come into his title. They city would seem empty then.
"You will miss the harvest," Erestor said.
"I will be back for the next if all goes well. Will you keep records for me?" Glorfindel's records noted all the usual facts: yields, moon phases, rainfall, temperatures. But he also tallied the immeasurable: the moods of harvesters, notable dreams, his favorite mare's hoof growth. Erestor contemplated the task and Glorfindel continued, "Your father, I'm certain, is leaving you with enough work."
His father, Echthelion of the Fountain, had left Erestor with nothing yet, save asking him to keep a close eye on the stables and begging him to take his place in the autumn hunts.
"No," Erestor said, "he hasn't. I would like to keep records for you."
"You have the key?" meaning the keys to all of Glorfindel's libraries and offices.
"I know where father keeps them."
Glorfindel was dressed informally for the day's work. His golden hair, rare in Gondolin, escaped the tie at his neck. Erestor seldom saw him disheveled except when there were young horses to persuade or the harvest day was ended. He waited for Glorfindel to look at him, but he did not. Glorfindel was most beloved of all the lords in Gondolin. His kindness often made him seem quite young. Erestor watched him measure the vines with his bright knowledge. The sun seemed huge at the mountain crest.
"I've left a gift for you. You will find it when you come into your title. And there is also this," Glorfindel's voice was always a moment from laughter, but his tone became grave, "if I do not return I've made arrangements for everything to go to you – the house, my title, the vineyard. You are not much younger than I was when my father died. I have not married and my cousins are scattered, most never left Valinor. I have known you since your birth and I believe that you are smarter than I and you will take great care of the duties that have been left to me. If your father returns he can see to your house and you will be free to see to mine. If Echthelion is lost, we would like for you to govern both."
"I do not want to consider either of those fates."
"But you must. Your father is my dearest friend; he agrees with my wishes, and there is no one in the city who would argue. It is natural that the houses would become one."
"True, but you will both return, so there is no need for us to discuss this."
Glorfindel sighed, "Erestor, your father and I both found ourselves alone before we knew what our duty was. We were unprepared and lost. We want more for you."
"You've seen my skill with the sword."
"Your gift is strategy."
Erestor sat up and regarded Glorfindel squarely, "Did father ask you to tell me all this?"
The seriousness quickly fled from Glorfindel's demeanor. He seemed again mischievous, the friend Erestor always remembered, not the messenger of doom, a poor roll, "In a way he did ask me to talk to you. It is difficult for him to part with you. Will you promise me then to love these vines and keep them happy until I return to them?"
"Of course I will."
"Good. Then come with me and have a glass of my favorite wine before Turgon and your mother force us back into the city."
It had always been this way between them, like water meeting water, finding the source. Erestor followed Glorfindel to the small stone storehouse. There was a time when he would have to quicken his step to match Glorfindel's but they were now of an equal height, though Glorfindel's wandering gait caused Erestor to pause as they moved along the rocky ground. The bright lord surveyed the trellised slope, the summer rich grasses stretching like a richly woven tapestry toward the city walls.
Echtelion's house was known for their gift with music, for the way stories spilled from them like silver light. Erestor understood music and he also sensed its truth. This characteristic was a blessing when the notes were lovely and frustrating when they were false. The poor spirit chosen to call the evening song across the valley was new to his task. Erestor cringed as the final notes covered the hillside.
Glorfindel noticed Erestor's distaste as he held the storehouse door for him to enter, "Do you not like Beldon's singing? He's tried every occupation Maeglin's secured for him. I'm afraid this was the last."
"Did the Fountain lose a bet with the Moles?"
"Be kind, not everyone has your voice."
"And those that cannot sing well usually choose to not sing in public. Has he nothing else to do? I thought he was busy following after Idril," Erestor pulled the heavy door shut.
"I think she's absolved him of that task. When we are gone I want you to watch Beldon closely. Discover where he goes in the evening, but be kind and do not let them know you are watching."
"Maeglin will stay here?"
"Turgon asked and Maeglin refused. The Moles go with us, all of them except Beldon."
The storehouse was very cool inside and damp. The high windows were too small to burn away the moisture from the rock walls. Over the years Erestor had been told a story to mark every stone cut and placed to form the dark room. The beauty of Glorfindel's house in the city was remarked upon by all but it was this rough structure on the hillside that held Glorfindel's pride. The thick casks along the walls seemed to murmur their stories like Glorfindel's obscure harvest ledgers.
After hiding too long in the warm sun, the storehouse chill passed through Erestor and he trembled. Cold rarely touched him, or any of their kind. Instinctively Erestor touched his forehead to ward away any portent. We create own doom, he thought, we pull our tragedies toward us. Instead he forced his thoughts toward the sunlight, like Glorfindel's hair in the dim shadows of the room, and he pulled together a picture of Glorfindel and Echthelion returning, as if the image would create its own outcome.
Glorfindel busied himself with a small, dusty cask in the corner of the room. The glasses he chose were unembellished, so fragile it seemed the air would snap them. Erestor's ink stained fingers felt clumsy against the delicate glass as he took the portion that Glorfindel offered.
The golden liquid matched the color of Glorfindel's ring, the only adornment on him, crafted in a forgotten time. The bright jewel at the ring's center was said to be fashioned from the light of the sun when the sun was newly made, blinding in its brilliance as it reached the shoreline of Valinor.
"This is the last of its vintage," Glorfindel said quietly. "Close your eyes and taste it."
Erestor looked at him curiously but eventually did as he was told. The glass against his mouth was cold but the wine, hardly on his lips, was warm. He took the smallest sip at first and the warmth seemed to cover him. The wine was like no other he had tasted before. There was sunlight in it, and many other things – the new leaves of spring, the first leaves before leaves were named. There was sweetness to it, but not cloying like the honeyed drinks served at harvest time. This sweetness was like kindness, unexpected and painful for its rarity. In his mind Erestor saw the tree from where this sweetness came. He saw the spring that fed the tree. He saw the source, and it was beautiful and it was right and it could never be created again.
And that was just the first sip.
There were only a few sips left in the glass; soon the wine would be finished. With his eyes shut to the broken world Erestor saw all that his family left as they fled their old homeland. He saw the spirits that drove them. He thought he saw his father.
And then he saw blood. Erestor had never seen so much blood, the once clear stream beneath the tree ran red with it. The stream became a bloody shore and burning ships. A body hung from the tree and ravens sat on the massive, winding roots, beaks open to collect the blood that dripped from the body. Erestor knew, just as he knew the falseness of discordant notes, that the tree and the body and the water created a memory of the first murder.
One sip left, Erestor drank quickly to be done with the blood, but as the warmth filled him he wished that it would never end. The carnage was gone; the sunlight was back. It made him long for things he could not name or see, one thing, the most important thing. Whatever it was, it made the tree grow and it fed the wide stream at its roots. He tasted the root of Glorfindel's wine like the first water before water was named. And he saw that the world was changed by words but that words made the world so.
For hours it seemed that he stood there in the storehouse tasting a wine whose flavor would remain with him through every path he would travel. So when Erestor opened his eyes he was confused to find the shadows hardly changed across the cool, stone floor.
Glorfindel smiled and touched their glasses together, the sound perfect, a small bell, "May this be the last sad farewell for all of us," he said and swallowed the last sip.
Erestor peered into his glass as if he would find some answer there. He felt awkward, oddly at a loss for words. His eyes felt heavy as if he'd lost himself in the libraries and forgot to find sleep, or that he must close his eyes again to comprehend the images fully.
Finally, his tongue worked, "I could not write that, ever. It can't be sung. What was it?"
Glorfindel placed his glass on the table and did the same with Erestor's, all the while considering his answer. His blue eyes seemed touched by the same madness that weighted Erestor's, "It is the only thing that matters."
Erestor leaned against the sweating stone wall, "And the blood?"
"I have never seen it but your father mentioned a bloodied scene when he tasted the wine years ago."
"I saw a murdered body hanging from a massive tree beside a shoreline."
"Is that all that you saw?"
"No. There were other things."
Erestor pressed his hands against the cool stone behind him, "Beautiful things."
"Good, then remember them all. I do not know how it works. I brought the wine with me from Valinor. My horse was much burdened by the weight and never let me forget it – her children carry the same spite, as they carry other things. Keep a record of it all, Erestor."
Records. Lists. Stories. Words. Erestor would keep them all throughout his long life. There were many other things that he and Glorfindel discussed on their slow walk back to Gondolin that evening. But later that week as Erestor watched Turgon's host ride out across the vale of Tumladen, he realized that he had never seen blood before the vision in Glorfindel's storehouse, and he wondered at the brightness that they carried within them.
Erestor watched until the Encircling Mountains swallowed the shadows of Glorfindel and Echthelion's horses. He watched until the valley was empty of all but grass. He watched until night stole the color from the cliffs. And when the stars had shifted, Erestor turned back toward the empty city with the feeling that he must study patience, that he must learn the act of waiting like a never ending ballad composed to fill the space between the grass and night sky.