(Dedicated to Maggie, for Valarda, the original ‘valley’ girl ^_^. Happy Birthday, Oro!) 2250, Second Age; PPB Universe friendly; Written from the JFA challenge list – ‘Elves, from A to Z’.
“What can I do to help?”
The six elves who were previously attempting to free a horse-drawn cart from a particularly muddy rut in the road all stopped what they were doing, wide-eyed and aghast. “M’lord,” one of them finally said, removing his hat and bowing his head as the others did likewise, “we thank you most kindly for your offer, but we have the situation well under control.”
Glorfindel’s laughter boomed as the half dozen ellyn continued to stand up to their knees in mud, completely bewildered. “It would seem to me,” he chuckled, “that you are no better off than you were ten minutes earlier when I spied you from my window. Dare I say you have found yourselves even deeper in it than you were before?”
The same elf who spoke earlier spoke again. “M’lord, your offer is generous, but please, we cannot ask you to help us with something so trivial.”
“I make the offer freely,” pointed out Glorfindel, sounded rather dejected. He began to roll up his sleeves, which only caused the elves who were working on the task to hasten back to their positions and heave with all the strength they possessed. Before Glorfindel could join them, the cart was out of the ditch and back on the rocky path.
“Thank you, m’lord!” called out the elves as they led the horses back to the stables. Now Glorfindel stood still as a stone, looking down at the muck with a dumbfounded expression on his fair face.
“Do you know why they will not allow you to help them?” It was the voice of ‘reason’, the voice belonging to one of the few who did not see him as some iconic god of an age long past. Erestor stopped once they stood side by side and said, “They think of you as so high above them that they would be out of favor with the Valar to even think of you doing some such task as they.”
Sighing and pushing his sleeves back in place, smoothing out the wrinkles of the satiny sky-blue fabric, Glorfindel looked wistfully in the direction of the retreating cart. “I am no different than any of them.”
“That is not what they have been raised to believe.” Erestor looked off in another direction, catching the sight of a young girl skipping towards them. “My afternoon pupil arrives. I must attend to her studies.”
“Let me help.” Glorfindel frowned when he realized how very much like a beggar he sounded. “Please,” he added, not caring. “All I do is wander this house, these gardens, and hear nothing but greetings of ‘M’lord, my pardon for being in your way’ and ‘M’lord, how might I serve you if you like?’. Perhaps there are a few of the more youthful among our kind who do not yet know of my past life.”
Biting at his bottom lip, Erestor turned his head to give an apologetic look to his friend. “That will be a daunting task indeed, to find one who does not yet know your name. I might shed a bit of light on why that is for you later; now, it is time for me to welcome Valarda.” Erestor stooped down so that he was level with the height of the little elleth, and spread his arms to greet her. “Good ‘noon to you, pumpkin-head.”
The red-headed child grinned, her smile showing her two missing bottom teeth, and she ran right for Erestor, halting when she saw the mud. Lifting her dress, she treaded carefully around the mess and then launched herself into Erestor’s arms. “Good day, Master Erestor! Ooh, you give the best hugs,” she added in a voice muffled against the thick, black robes the councilor wore. “Is today more Westron?”
“If you like,” replied Erestor. He patted the girl’s head, and stood up. “What would you say to having a guest at your lessons today?”
“Is it him?” The youngster batted her eyelashes and gave Glorfindel a sweet look.
“If you will have me.” Glorfindel smiled, his expression hopeful.
The child bit her lip, swaying back and forth at the hip with her hands interlocked behind her back. “Maybe. Hug, please!” Raising her arms up, the red-head waited for Glorfindel to crouch down and give her a hug. “Oooh, your hugs are good, too. I think we can arrange for something,” she said, repeating a phrase she had often heard coming from Erestor.
Happily the trio made their way back into the Last Homely House, to Erestor’s second study where he privately tutored the elflings of Arda’s elite. Maglor’s granddaughter, like many others to pass through the archway into this room, deserved only the best tutelage. “Which book shall I have you read to me from?” asked the librarian once they had entered. “What about this one?”
Erestor had pulled from the shelf a thin book entitled ‘Elves, from A to Z’. A hand-painted cover with a bright image of the two trees of Valinor was displayed to Valarda, who nodded enthusiastically.
Once they were all sitting comfortably in the alcove that was the window seat, Valarda opened the book and began to read to the ellin who sat on either side of her.
“Aredhel was a noble elf
She often kept to herself
From fair Gondolin she strayed
And the city, her son betrayed.
Moral: Running away might seem smart, but the consequences may break your family apart.
Beleg was a mighty foe
Skilled both with sword and bow
By his blade he met his end
By the unknowing hand of his friend
Moral: Though we have means to forge weapons for any conquest, bringing peace instead of war is always the best.”
Glorfindel arched a brow at Erestor, who pretended not to notice as the child turned to the next page. On it went, elf after elf, each with a moral to live by. Silently, Glorfindel found his lips moving along with the words that Valarda said, relearning a few of the Westron words he had long forgotten. His breath hitched suddenly as Valarda turned the page.
“Glorfindel was golden and fair
Long were the tresses of his hair
He killed a balrog but was dragged down
By the flowing hair of his golden crown
Moral: Love yourself and those around you, but do not let your vanity consume you.”
Valarda paused and turned to look at the speechless slayer. “That is you, right?”
Glorfindel swallowed hard, taking in the image of the dark beast covered in flames that his picture-book self battled. He nodded his head.
“Do not feel bad,” she said, reaching up to pet Glorfindel’s cheek. “Balrogs are nasty big creatures. He could have just as easily grabbed your foot or your hand instead of your hair. And you cannot very well chop your arms and legs short, can you?”
Again, Glorfindel nodded, and Valarda patted his face before continuing the story. When she was finished, she selected two others. Glorfindel remained silent for the rest of the lesson, except at the end when Valarda left and they exchanged farewells. Erestor closed the door after the elfling was gone and sat back down beside Glorfindel. “The book is just an illustrated version of a primer that most everyone uses to teach their children Westron these days.”
“I see,” said Glorfindel quietly.
Erestor coughed uncomfortably and then picked up the books and put them away.
“Am I... am I really thought of as vain?”
The dark elf stopped reshelving the books and turned around slowly. “You went into every battle without a helm, long golden hair streaming like a banner behind you. Now, granted, I have long hair,” admitted the ellon, whose dark mane hung to his knees, “but not while I was in the army. And never as long as you had grown it in those last years of Gondolin.”
Glorfindel recalled the image in the picture book, showing his hair nearly touching the ground. “I suppose it was a bit of a hazard. Out of curiosity, who wrote the primer?”
“I... I think it best not for you to know the answer to that.”
“Oh.” Glorfindel frowned. “Well, then. I suppose I shall leave you to your work.”
Erestor frowned back. “Alright. For what it is worth, it was not me.”
Whether or not he was heard, Erestor did not know, for Glorfindel had already taken his leave from the study. After a few moments, Erestor took the book to his desk and paged through it slowly. He stayed in his study long after the rest of the household had gone to bed, working tenaciously on a new project.
- - -
Several weeks passed before the two chief members of Elrond’s staff spoke to one another again. This was due to a spur of the moment scouting mission Glorfindel imposed upon himself. The golden elf was sitting at a table all alone eating his porridge with grossly excessive amounts of honey when Erestor joined him unannounced. “I have something to show you.”
“Oh?” No ceremonious ‘good mornings’ or ‘how do you dos’ needed to be exchanged between the two old friends.
Erestor took a handkerchief from his pocket and spat upon it, then proceded to clean up a gob of honey that had escaped either from the pot or Glorfindel’s breakfast bowl. He then placed upon the table a book that was similar in size to the one that young Valarda had read from. “Second edition,” he said as explanation before Glorfindel could make comment that he really did not wish to see the book again.
Cautiously, the elf lord put his spoon down into his bowl and pushed it away (for admittedly, it was much too sweet for him to finish anyhow), and reached for the cover. With a frown, Erestor stopped him, and handed the cloth to him. “Not with sticky fingers.”
Smirking, Glorfindel dipped the end of the cloth into a glass of water and proceded to clean his hands. He then held them up teasingly for inspection as a small child would.
Erestor indulged the silliness, taking first one hand and then the other, and giving each a scrutinizing look. “Satisfactory, I suppose,” he said, adding a mock sigh.
Impatience and curiosity combined caused Glorfindel to seek the seventh page first. He read. He smiled. He read it again. He grinned.
“Can I keep this?” he asked.
“No... I need that for teaching my pupils,” answered Erestor. “But,” he said, lifting a second item up onto the table that he had kept hidden, “I guess I could let you have the original.”
A print which had come from a wooden carving was presented to Glorfindel. Unlike the book, which was only in four colors, the image that Glorfindel was given looked almost lifelike.
“I like this much better. It seems more positive than then other one. Speaking of, will I ever learn the name of the pessimist was who wrote the other version?”
Erestor said nothing, but shifted his gaze to the head table of the Great Hall, where Elrond was having his tea and reading his correspondence, before looking back. “He really is a pessimist, now that you mention it.”
“Hmm. That should indeed make things around this realm interesting. He, telling small children all of the things which could lead to their doom... doom, and despair... an I, inciting an air of frivolity and optimism among the youth.”
“I think I am going to be thankful for all of the unused vacation days I have built up very soon,” mused Erestor. “So you like your new ‘biography’, then?”
“A masterpiece compared to the last one I read,” said Glorfindel.
“Hardly,” denied the counselor modestly.
“I do indeed appreciate it very much. Thank you... oh, wait, you still need to sign it.”
“Do I? Sorry about that.” Erestor retrieved a battered quill and a bottle of ink from one of the many pockets in his robes and added his signature to the corner of the picture.
Glorfindel beamed as the image was handed back to him and could not help but read the finely written text:
Glorfindel of Gondolin
Knew the city could not win
He led the survivors to the pass
And helped them escape, but, alas!
From the skies a beast attacked
But the Valar brought Glorfindel back
In Rivendell he now resides
With Asfaloth, the horse he rides
Moral: Think not only of yourself, and try to help your fellow elf.