Happy Birthday Levade!
A Golden Thread
Erestor heard the river, had heard it for days; it beckoned him close like an old friend needing to whisper a secret. There were many things he should do that afternoon but he found himself walking down the long meadow, dark woods stretching out to either side of the brilliant green carpet toward the river's deep spring torrent. Sweet smelling vines began to bloom only a few days before. Their honey-scent was short-lived but perfect and Erestor thought that it was fitting that the flowers flourished so briefly, if they stayed any longer their sweetness would be too much.
If Erestor still knew music, the way it once rested within him, he would have hummed as he walked. As it was, he traveled silently and slowly. He did not move toward the falls or the torrent of the rapids. He headed instead to a seldom visited embankment where the river flowed like glass over smooth stones. The water there was a polished window, a place to pause and reflect.
The air was thick with pollen, the debris of spring hovered all around Erestor, slipping through the thick bands of late afternoon light streaming through the forest branches. Erestor preferred autumn but he could admire this day, warmth caught in the rocks, yellow butterflies touching down across the water. The meadow grasses, fed by late winter rains, reached far and bent along the bank like graceful wrists, fingers trailing leisurely along the current.
It was the most beautiful day of the year but not at all the sort of day that Erestor normally chose to admire. He walked to the river because Glorfindel loved the spring, was the spring, and it was here that Erestor could find him – if only for a moment, a brief slice of time before the light shifted and the memories fled to a secret winter vault where they could safely rest and not wither.
Soon Erestor would leave the valley he had only recently began to think of as home and he would travel to the outlying lands to learn what new threats waited and multiplied – attacks against men, attacks against his own kind. Erestor would travel with two or three others, he had not decided yet who would accompany him. Elrond made suggestions. Erestor would travel alone if not for Elrond's concern and insistence.
"I want you to show me things," Erestor said to the glassy water. He spread his cloak on the grass and sat down, slouched there with his elbows propped on his knees. "I prefer to ride alone if you're not here with me. I must show you this land and there is no one else to take that would understand. You would love this day and you would make me see things about it I cannot because it feels like there is a black veil across my face." Erestor looked to either side of where he sat. "You would make me see the blueness in the green grass and the flood lines on the trunks of trees. You would tell me what animals had visited the bank this day and you would show me the best place to leap my horse over the water. And we would leap our horses across the water – for no reason – and then we'd turn and leap them again until they told us they were tired from jumping.
"We have a horse here that looks and feels like the horse you gave me, Nolwë, but this one is grey. He smells like Nolwë, like a strange spice I might have tasted or dreamed. When I first sat on him, I knew he carried some piece of our old horse with him. The horse keepers obeyed without question when I asked that they weave curious colors and bells into his dark mane. He is almost white in color now, but his mane and tail are dark as Nolwë's. He steps with certainty and does not mind my poor attempts at training. This horse is the first thing I've found that gives me hope. I lie awake at night having to will myself to stay in bed, to not visit the stables. If I go there – I will ask the horse to show me his thoughts. If he cannot, or if he shows me nothing of note, my sadness will swallow me, so I do not go to him. Nor do I ask him to reveal himself while we are together in the daylight. I never laid claim on him but everyone says he is Erestor's horse – and it is he that is made ready for me whenever I travel. No one knows when he arrived here. Elrond doesn't believe he was born here. He is simply here.
"My sources tell me there is a new darkness taking shape, yet they cannot describe it. Men have no power over it, the rest of us can only sense it – no visible shape. It is described as a madness that passes through the towns. There are not many of us left. Many travel like Gildor – he remembers our city so I try my best to avoid him. He does not ask me to speak of our past, nor has he spoken to others concerning my family. He was a friend to my father – and you. He speaks often of you. He sings of you – he will not have us forget you. His brightness and good cheer are dreadful, but he travels far and wide and is of great use to me, the best really. Nothing escapes him and he does not trouble me with things of little importance. I will see him, I'm sure, when we travel but I will not spend the night close to his fires.
"Imladris was attacked not long after we moved here. The house was only partially constructed. I do not know how they found us but we drove them back and cast a watch on the river. You would not stop laughing if you knew that it was left up to me to order the guard after I showed small success in this endeavor during the siege. I thought of you, planning and ordering your designs, and it was your skill I borrowed, rising from some ill-used and forgotten place in my memory. I often find you in battle and I wonder then how you remained so kind and good – and I know, though I need little proof, why you were so loved. They cannot stop signing of you, even now. And if someone does some great thing against awful odds they are compared to you in name and deed.
"So even now that Galor has gone to be with you, I am reminded daily of your name, but there are things they do not know of you and I will never tell: that wine spoke to you and told you the secrets of its birth year, that you hardly slept, that you could not sing though you often tried, that you loved a necklace that your mother wore and you searched the house as if you would one day find it in a forgotten chest, that you and I kissed for the first time in the king's palace, that you and I kissed.
"I have both regretted and held that kiss close to me for so long that it does not seem as if it truly happened. Four of my lifetimes in that city could I fit into the time that has passed since you left. I have walked these lands without you for an age. I have seen the world broken and remade. I have seen all that we knew, save Gildor, die or sail. I have seen the curse broken. I have served the king. I have killed. I am negligent with my safety; I am the first to move toward danger, not from any honor or sense of purpose, but from fear of living without you. I have woken with your name upon my lips and I have turned, fresh from sleep, expecting to see you lying beside me. This does not get better with time, as Galor promised.
"I walked here today because it seemed if you were anywhere, you would be hidden in this green grass beside the river. I have often thought that you died and I was left here in punishment for us coming together, that we disturbed the natural order of things, and you with your golden spirit, received the lesser sentence. We did not injure the others, my father, purposefully – but one could say the same of Fëanor. He did not choose to be blinded by his longing. His longing found him, as did ours. You, at least, tried to fight your thoughts; I ran to you on the first impulse and drew them out.
"So I come to you by the river today to say if you were to appear before me now, I would show restraint though every instinct in me called out to you. I would keep a distance between us and hope to find your friendship, if nothing more. It would be enough for me to just see you. I could not risk us again by touch and desire and the deep sea waves of longing. We existed so happily together as friends. We could do so again. It is easy for me to say all this – you are not here.
"Perhaps this is best, exile – from each other. You were the one thing I could not do without, but I lost you just the same. In loss, everything is possible," Erestor said and his words sank into the water.
"My love . . ." he said but did not finish. He leaned his head on his knees and gripped his legs tightly, lest the quiet sound of the river wind its way into his heart and carry him out to the sea. The trees and the grass, the rocks and the flowers, all these things heard Erestor's speech and they knew of the love he mentioned.
The water carried his words along its secret routes to the place where Ulmo listened. He was pleased with the words until Erestor reached the end. Ulmo took great pride in the many strange paths, large and small he had aided in the history of the lands – especially Gondolin with its many fountains. This one match, unseen by anyone and unprecedented in choice and scope, concerned him all the more. It was he that gave his blessing to the match and Ulmo saw no crime in their coming together.
Ulmo sped the Halls of Mandos and he called out in his booming voice, like the crash of waves along a rocky shore, until Namo met him at the doors.
"How much longer?" Ulmo asked.
"Not long at all," Namo answered – but who was he to reckon time?
"I need a golden thread," Ulmo said and Namo took a thread, like sunlight, brilliant, blinding, from his otherwise shadowy hem and passed it along to him.
"He is needed there for more than love," Ulmo said, as if love were not reason enough, and was quickly gone.
Erestor had not moved from his place beside the river. He sat with his head bowed but he looked up suddenly, as if someone called his name. The river liked to mimic voices and there were a few in Imladris who boasted that the water spoke to them, but it had never spoken to Erestor. You have stopped listening, a distant memory said – a dry memory, crackling with ash. Brow furrowed, Erestor glared at the river as if it were an impetuous question disturbing his work. The water rippled; a frog leapt from the bank.
Erestor sighed and leaned back to lie on his cloak. He watched the blue sky through the trees and he allowed himself to admire the color. He rested there until the sunlight shifted toward evening and the bands cut through the trees like stained glass prisms.
The sun sank lower, the light reflecting against the water. And then, tangible as a thread, a warm beam crossed Erestor's face.
He closed his eyes against the brightness but it made no difference, the light seemed to fill him. Suddenly, Erestor sensed that Glorfindel was very near – his spirit caught up in the sunlight, chasing away the old circles of Erestor's excuses the way fire disperses a dark room's chill. It was not wishful thinking; it was fact. Glorfindel were there in the sunlight, in Imladris. Erestor's heart pounded, he was afraid to breathe lest the feeling pass as quickly as it came, the absolute assurance that Glorfindel was there in the warmth of the light.
Since fleeing Gondolin, Erestor had kept himself in motion as if he could outrun the starving hounds of grief and fear. The thread showed him that the things he dreaded most were not behind him, chasing at his heels. They had instead stood in front of him all that time: sharp-toothed, hideous sentries guarding the gateway to peace.
Fear found no habitat in the soft thread of sunlight. Grief also faded and Erestor could not help but smile, a smile that had not crossed his face in an age. A smile reserved for one, only one – the one he felt move through him. Erestor felt Glorfindel's joy, the sea-tide of them coming together.
If the light had continued, Erestor would have stayed beside the river until the rich grass covered him up, but a thread is only so long.
The sunlight drifted, too quickly, from the river to the bank and Erestor was alone again with the sound of the wind in the trees and quiet voice of the water. He stayed there for some time, reluctant to move, remembering. He stayed until his memories changed course the way rock moved the river, the way the river moved rock. He stayed until his memories felt like premonitions.
The joy stayed with him throughout the evening and night. There was such strange hope on his face that many guards abandoned their natural reluctance of Erestor's otherwise stony demeanor and asked if they could accompany him on his upcoming journey. He occupied himself with routine until the night called him to his bed.
When Erestor awoke the next morning he did so with a familiar name on his lips, but for the first time in an age, he was not afraid of finding the space beside him cold and empty. Sunlight streamed through the open window and Erestor turned toward it; he reached out and pressed his hand to the warm bed covers. He was not quick to rise but stayed there watching the newly-leafed trees sway in a careful breeze. The soft wind blew spring into the house, reached across the pillows and touched Erestor's hair like a well-loved hand. If the river had voices, then the sunlight had visions and Erestor did not have to look hard to imagine Glorfindel riding down the steep path toward Imladris.