Note: This is a one-shot following Songbird. Some of the circumstances in the story will seem strange to readers who have not read Songbird but that doesn't mean you can't read this story first.
My thanks goes to HaloFin17, who edited this story and whose support and insight into Middle-earth constantly inspires and encourages me to write more.
Erestor breathed in the fresh air of the valley. He could smell the river and waterfalls and lakes and ponds, a perfume he much preferred over the salty sea air in Forlond. He urged his steed onwards. Looking eastwards, he could just about detect the location of a small abode well-known to him and Elrond, but virtually unknown to others.
Many years had passed since the fall of Eregion and Elrond's founding of what was now called Imladris. Needless to say, the half-elf had promoted Erestor to be his right-hand man, which ultimately manifested itself in Erestor being chief-councillor, head librarian, strategic commander of Imladris' army — Elrond being its commander in battle — and occupying many other smaller positions; that was not least due to the fact that Imladris' population was by no means large and thus did not need many people to be organized.
Erestor enjoyed the freedom he had in the valley. Those who dwelled in Imladris were either refugees from Eregion or supporters of Elrond from Lindon, and neither of those minded him. Since the earliest settlement of the valley, Erestor had made it his habit to regularly take scouting trips, both to get to know the place and to spy out any dangers early enough to do something about it.
Maglor had accompanied him during the first couple of rounds to show him what he had to know, but soon Erestor had undertaken the trips on his own. He was often the first to see visitors. It was not unusual to find groups of elves outside the valley trying to find a way in; not without reason was the Last Homely House hidden.
Erestor had almost finished today's round when he saw a single rider travelling slowly through the trees. He stopped now and again, looking around for something. Erestor did not recognize him from the distance.
Confident that whoever the traveller was would not find his way inside soon, he took the long way around towards him. There was no reason to reveal the ins-and-outs of the valley to him without even knowing his identity and purpose.
The traveller spotted him soon enough. He rode a grey charger which, judging by the bridle and saddle, stemmed from Círdan's stables. He had powerful friends then.
The rider himself wore a cloak, and his long blond hair spread over the rich red fabric. He was armed with a sword but wore no armour. He was awaiting Erestor who approached him quickly, hesitating when he caught a first closer look at the traveller's — an elf's — face. It was familiar.
Erestor grasped for his sword as if looking for reassurance. He could read the surprise off the other elf's face, surprise and joy.
"A familiar face in Middle-earth! Finally!" The elf held out his hand to clasp. Erestor did not do the same. He was wary.
"Do you not recognize me?" the traveller asked, his smile waning.
"Perhaps," Erestor replied. He found his voice trembling against his will. "But I do not dare believe what I see."
"Believe it, Erestor, believe it. The Valar have granted me to return to Ennor."
And he smiled happily as if his gruesome end in these lands had never happened. Flames danced in front of Erestor's face.
Erestor did not speak much as he led Glorfindel down into the valley. His answers to the elda's many questions were short and to the point. He could not shake the terror, as illogical as it was. Gondolin had fallen ages ago. One would think he would have dealt with it by now.
"You're not happy," Glorfindel stated.
"I am," Erestor contradicted. He had been happy. He couldn't even say that he was no longer happy now that Glorfindel was back. It was simply — complicated.
"What is Lord Elrond like?"
"He has the best of Tuor in him. Thankfully nothing of Dior, as far as I can tell. He and his brother Elros were raised by Russandol and Makalaurë Fëanorion for a time."
"Círdan mentioned that. He said that you were with them." There was no judgement in his voice.
"I was," Erestor merely confirmed.
Glorfindel gave him a look, studying look from the side.
"You have changed much, Erestor."
"Have I?" Erestor mused.
Nodding towards Erestor's sword, Glorfindel inquired: "Can you use that?"
Erestor threw him a black look. "Would you like to test me?"
Glorfindel smiled. "Aye, I would like that."
Just then the Last Homely House came into view, and Glorfindel called out in wonder, suitably distracted.
Never would Erestor have thought he would find himself voluntarily seeking out Maglor of all people. But here he was, sitting in Maglor's living room in front of the fireplace and eating biscuits. Erestor did not even want to think about whether Maglor had made them himself or bought them on the market. It was irrelevant, of course, but had the potential to destroy Erestor's entire worldview regarding Fëanor's family. Erestor was thankful that on the run Maglor had never had access to suitable equipment for baking.
Maglor himself sat on a luxurious settee that was completely at odds with the rest of his rather spare furniture; the settee was a gift from Elrond, Erestor knew. Maglor was playing around on his harp like an elfling just learning the instrument. His gaze rested inquisitively on Erestor, but he did not hurry the other elf to speak. After all, he had all the time in the world.
"The market is ablaze with talk about him," Maglor remarked at last. "The golden elf returned from Mandos. Why do you dislike him?"
"I don't dislike him," Erestor shot back.
"If not that, then at least you don't feel comfortable around him."
When Erestor made to open his mouth and contradict him again, he went on:
"Uncomfortable enough that you choose to spend time at my house instead of any other places."
Erestor's jaws clamped shut. It was true after all.
"He follows me around," he claimed, which was a great exaggeration if not a lie.
"What were you in Gondolin?"
"Nothing important." Erestor shrugged. "A scribe in the palace among an army of them. I saw the king maybe twice in my career. From afar only, of course."
Maglor laughed lightly. Yes, he knew those kinds of servants. The invisible ones who used hidden stairways and corridors instead of the grand ones, appearing and disappearing like shades, leaving nothing behind but their impeccable work. His grandfather had had an army of them as well, back in Valinor.
"So how does he know you so well? I understand that he was the head of one of the warrior houses."
"He was. He always stuck his nose into affairs that didn't concern him." With a huff of frustration he added: "That hasn't changed. Our mothers were friends in Valinor."
Maglor's play abruptly halted. "You're not that old to have seen the Trees," he argued. He would have seen that in Erestor's eyes.
"No. I was born on the Ice. My mother died in childbirth, my father soon following. I was raised by my elder brother, who happened to be a good friend of Echthelion's. That's how I met Glorfindel. We crossed paths many times, that's true. But I wouldn't call us friends."
"You're the only one he recognizes from his first life. It's understandable that he wants to be friends now."
Angrily, Erestor closed his hand around his biscuit, crumbling it to bits. With a sweep of his shoe he tried to be surreptitious about brushed the crumbs under the table. Maglor raised an eyebrow at him.
"You always reprimanded the twins when they did that."
"Ever heard of 'Do as I say not as I do?'"
"All the time. I think my father invented it."
Erestor frowned and helped himself to another biscuit.
"So where is the harm in being Glorfindel's friend?"
"There is none."
"You're talking in circles, Erestor, so let me help you break them: because of him you remember Gondolin when you don't want to. Frankly, I never even knew you came from there."
"No one knew, not even Elrond. Obviously that is not the case anymore." And that was another annoyance Glorfindel's appearance had caused.
"What happened to your brother?"
"Fallen in the Nírnaeth."
Erestor smirked humourlessly. "Strange, isn't it, how much you and your brothers influenced my life before we ever met?"
Maglor didn't reply to that.
"Even without having known you in Gondolin, I can imagine that you're not the same person you were back then," he said. "Glorfindel will know that too, or at least find out very soon. He has to start a new life. You owe him nothing, but I'm sure he would appreciate it if you gave him a friendlier welcome. From what I gathered on the market, the people around here are quite enamoured with and bedazzled by him. He's nearly like a Vala to them. Give him the small pleasure of being one of the few people to regard him as just another elf. You were very good at it with my brother."
Erestor had to laugh.
Spending the morning and afternoon with Maglor meant that Erestor had to catch up with work in the evening. His office was across from Elrond's, a very convenient location for both of them.
He was roused from his work by Elrond knocking on his door.
"You missed dinner," he said, depositing a plate on Erestor's desk.
Erestor glanced outside, surprised to see the sun setting, which meant that he had indeed missed dinner.
"I hadn't noticed," he sighed. "Thanks."
Instead of leaving, Elrond sat down on the chair in front of Erestor's desk.
"How are you?"
Erestor gave his lord a look as if he didn't know what he was talking about.
"You haven't spoken with Glorfindel much. It seems to me that you are even avoiding him. What's going on?"
Erestor shrugged, but decided to come clean. "I don't like people rooting around my past. I just want to forget it. I was doing fine. And now he shows up-"
"And you need to confront it."
It sounded childish coming from Elrond's lips. Yes, he was avoiding his past.
Leaning back in his chair, Erestor snapped up a piece of cheese and gave up on catching up with work.
"Forgive me, my friend, but I believe I should speak frankly. You suffered through losing your home and until now you have avoided dealing with that shock. Now that Glorfindel is here you find yourself unable to continue your evasion. Tell me, do you not think Glorfindel is similarly affected? He has not spoken to me about it, but I wonder how much he remembers of his past life, whether he remembers his own death... You could help each other. You, Erestor, have certainly been running away for long enough. Think about it."
The half-elf gave him a meaningful look, rose from his chair, and left.
Ever since Glorfindel had come to the valley, Erestor had been unable to sleep through the night. He had the strangest dreams; from a cow able to jump several stories high and being welcomed by a roaring crowd to actual memories of Gondolin; he regularly awoke sometime during the night, unable to sleep for several hours. Usually he kept to his bed until he fell back asleep.
After Elrond's lecture, he finished his work and went to bed early. Like the previous nights, he woke some time after midnight and could not fall back into dreams. Against his will, he was breathing only shallowly, and he felt as if he could not get enough air into his lungs.
Throwing back the covers, he took a cloak from his closet, slipped into a pair of rabbit-furred slippers, and went outside into the gardens. The summer night was reasonably warm, the air fresh, and Erestor gladly filled his lungs with it.
In the distance he caught a glimpse of white cloth, the moonlight illuminating it for a moment. Deciding to investigate, he walked across the grass. It did not take him long to find the figure wearing white. It was Glorfindel.
The other elf raised his head when he heard Erestor approach. A fleeting smile crossed his lips. He seemed tired. Glorfindel was sitting on a bench and moved over to make way for Erestor, but the dark-haired elf did not accept the silent offer and instead remained standing some feet away from the bench, fingers clutching his cloak closed at his throat.
"Can't sleep?" Glorfindel asked conversationally.
Erestor hesitated before admitting: "No. Obviously you can't either."
Erestor sighed. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"Does it matter?" Glorfindel smiled sadly. "You don't want to hear it."
"You're right, I don't want to hear it. But it seems that I must, for my memories find me in dreams as surely as yours find you."
Glorfindel stared at the ground.
"How much do you remember?" Erestor inquired, curious.
When the golden elf raised his head, his eyes seemed bottomless.
"I remember everything."
With another small sigh, Erestor finally sat down next to him, his back painfully straight, his eyes not meeting Glorfindel's gaze.
"So do I."
Slowly, the words came to his lips; of the people they had known, the streets they had walked, the buildings they had seen and visited. Gondolin suddenly seemed so close once more that Erestor had to suppress tears. Glorfindel seemed to battle similarly with his emotions. Unbidden he reached for Erestor's shoulder, squeezed it tightly and rested his hand there. No one in Rivendell understood what they felt — except for them.
People died, wars came and went, the good and brave succeeded or were defeated. Cities fell and yet life went on. Tomorrow another day would come, and Erestor and Glorfindel would have come to an understanding.