Another drop of water fell from Glorfindel's hood and trickled down his cheek. Miserable, he pulled the folds of woollen fabric further over his head. He was still not sure why he was here.
He looked back to the stern of the little boat, where a grey figure sat, holding the tiller, and one of the ropes that controlled the sail, water beaded on his grey garb. Mist had fallen the day before, not a white sunlit mist, but a grey wet blanket that soaked cloak and sail alike. With it, the stiff breeze had dropped, and the sail flapped feebly. In the shrouding fog, it seemed as if the boat stood still on the opaque ocean.
As if he had read the mind of his companion, the grey figure at the stern said, "This journey is not meant to be easy, my friend."
"I have never crossed this sea before, Olórin. Is it always like this?" Olórin tossed back his hood, heedless of the drizzle, and laughed as if at a rare joke.
"I have never crossed either. We shall learn together."
"Do you not think a larger boat would have been better?"
"I suppose you envisioned one of the swan ships of Alqualonde? With a silk-hung pavilion on the deck for your pleasure? "
"That would have been nice."
"How would we two, and neither of us sailors, take such a great ship on this voyage? And there was no crew for us, for it is rare for any to set sail in this direction. And our arrival must be in secret - a great ship arriving from the West would cause remark."
"At least the wind could have been made to blow true for us."
"As I said, the straight path across the sea is not an easy one, and the usual laws of the sea do not apply. Do not fear, we have been sent for a reason. Our mission will not fail here."
"Unless boredom sends me back to Mandos forthwith."
Olórin laughed again. He seemed unconscionably merry, thought Glorfindel glumly, looking at the lined old face. It was strange to see him so changed. Glorfindel had known him as young, lithe and beautiful beyond description in Valinor. And here he was, in the alarming guise of a feeble old man. Glorfindel could somehow still see the familiar lineaments of the Maia under the cloak of wrinkled flesh. And although he had long known that the Maiar could cast off one garb of flesh for another as easily as he could change his tunic, it was disconcerting to see it done. Olórin's eyes were the same. They blazed with his inner strength, quite unlike the rheumy old eyes that would have befitted his aged body.
"I don't see why you have adopted this disguise either."
"In this Age, I could hardly arrive in my usual form could I? I might as well light a beacon to announce to all that Olórin is here. My job is not to confront the forces of the Enemy, as the Valar and Maiar once did, but to strengthen the hearts and minds of Men and Elves so that they can face him themselves and not quail."
"That is a great task for one – even one as great as you"
"I am not alone. There are others of my order, making their way separately to Endor. And I am not the greatest of them. And there's you. Your role will also be great. And you too will adopt a disguise. For at the moment the light of Aman shines too great in you. You must conceal it, or be discovered by the Enemy at once."
"We could all have travelled together."
"But my dear Glorfindel, I wanted to spend time with you."
Glorfindel fell into silent, wet misery, not feeling that the light of Aman shone strongly in him at all. He closed his eyes, and let his thoughts wander in the recent past.
After his re-embodiment he was taken to the gardens of Lorien – by Olórin, he thought, though his memory of that time was unclear. Weakened in mind and body, he lay often under a great tree of surpassing beauty. It had large evergreen leaves, and bore both fragrant flowers and round, red jewel-like fruits in all seasons. Yavannamirë, he had thought, remembering these trees from the days of his youth, before the exile of the Noldor.
He felt peace then, in that quiet garden, watching the ever-changing pattern the leaves made against the blue sky.
Olórin waited on him, and brought him choice food and drink to tempt his appetite. Estë herself had cared for him, for his hurts of body and mind were grievous. Somehow in this place of healing he was unable to conceal his feelings as he once had, and he laughed and wept in turn as each thought came to him.
"You have been reborn, Glorfindel," explained Estë when he questioned her about this. In many ways you are once again a child.
Then one day, Olorin said gently, "It is time to leave Glorfindel."
"No, please. I like it here. Can't I stay longer?" He knew he was whining, but was helpless to stop himself. "It is so peaceful here. I'm not ready yet. Really not ready." Then tears had streamed from his eyes, and he had wept like an elfling and was ashamed. But Olórin had caught him up in his warm embrace and taken him, still shaking and crying, from that sweet sanctuary into the open spaces of Valinor.
"Is there anyone here you would like to seek out?" Olórin asked gently, and Glorfindel's heart leapt at the thought of Ecthelion, whom he had loved beyond all reason. But Olórin continued, "Your father or mother?" and Glorfindel's heart quailed. Though neither Maia nor Vala had taxed him with his behaviour in Endor, nor had anyone in Lorien even spoken to him of Ecthelion, he still felt ashamed of appearing before the two who had given him life. He cringed at the thought of having to explain his unnatural love. But perhaps word had already spread. Many from Gondolin must already be here. The thought of the attendant whispering, nudging and winking made him yearn for solitude.
Maybe Olórin sensed something of his thought, for he said quietly, "Like Míriel Serindë, Ecthelion has elected to remain with Namo. The damage was too great." Then Glorfindel was rent anew with grief, for Ecthelion had chosen to stay apart from him, until the end of all things, and perhaps he, Glorfindel had been the one to cause the damage, by breaking the customs of his people. Then Olórin took him again in his arms and comforted him, and they sat together on the green sward for a long time.
Later, he took Glorfindel to a white stone house, on the side of a hill, which looked over the distant sea.
Glorfindel lived there alone for many years, or so he thought, for there was no change of the seasons to mark the turn of the year here, under the hand of Yavanna. Nothing withered or died, but little grew afresh.
Food appeared in his house while he slept, or walked the bare green hills alone, but he never saw who brought it.
Once he had returned to find Olórin sitting at his table. Olórin had cast his piercing gaze on him and said, "You need an occupation my friend." Glorfindel said nothing, for he had been always a warrior, and could not envisage using his hands for anything else.
Once, walking far from his house, he came upon a stand of mallyrn, in a far valley. As he stepped into their welcome shade, a branch above him shivered, though there was no wind, and came crashing down nearby.
Glorfindel then thought of Olórin's words, and the fallen branch seemed like a sign. He determined to bring it to his house. It was heavy, and he was unused to labour in this new body. It took him three days, and by then the wood was sullied with mud and grass. He grieved for the long scar he had left in the turf of the hills by dragging it home.
There were knives in the house, and he took a small part of the wood and started to whittle it, unsure quite what he was doing. After many hours, he found he was holding the likeness of some animal, so crudely worked that it was not possible to make out its species. He hurled it into a corner in disgust, took himself outside, and lay on the turf, staring up at the sky. It seemed always to be a perfect summer's day in Valinor, and tufts of white cloud scudded high across the silent blue dome of the sky.
Suddenly a soft weight landed on his stomach. He looked down to see a large ginger cat, which immediately put its nose to his, butted his cheek, and started purring loudly. Glorfindel knew little of animals, save horses, and had even less time for them. But something melted in him at the trusting way the cat curled up on his chest, and he found himself stroking his soft apricot and cream fur. When he finally got up to go inside, sorry for his bad temper over the whittling, the cat followed him. Food was on the table, cold meat, and bread, and fruit. He crumbled some of the meat into a small bowl, and put it down for his new companion.
From then on, the cat was nearly always there. It slept on his feet at night, and sat on his lap in the day. When he picked up his whittling, the cat washed its long fur.
His hands became more skilful, and the whittling progressed to carving. One day, he held up a startling likeness of a horse in full gallop. The chest was uneven, and the legs not quite right. But it gave a sense of speed and spirit that pleased him greatly.
By the time Olórin next came, the watchful eyes of a wooden menagerie looked out at him from every corner of the house.
"Why these are fine. Your skill has increased a thousand-fold."
"I am quite pleased with some of them. Especially this one." He picked up a delicate little carving of a cat, its strength gathered, ready to pounce, peeping through artfully worked foliage. Olórin reached out and touched it, half expecting to feel living flesh quivering under his fingers, such was Glorfindel's new-found power. The ginger cat came too, and wound round Olórin 's legs. "I see you have made a friend, too. You have come a long way."
It was after this that Glorfindel took to wandering again. This time his feet led him down from the green hills to the glittering strands by the calm turquoise sea. He liked to take off his shoes, and stand ankle deep in the water, watching tiny translucent fish dart round his toes, his eyes on the far horizon.
There were others here on the shore, though they left him alone. But he could hear the haunting music they played on sweet pipes. As he gazed across the endless sea, in his heart he began to yearn again for the place where he had once been truly happy.
Later, he thought this was why he had been chosen, alone of all the Eldar, to return across the sea. Or perhaps he had been judged unworthy of staying. He had not been told, and felt unable to ask.
A/N With thanks to Wendwriter for beta-ing. Any errors still in it are my own.