Celeborn had earlier informed Erestor that there were some books in his travel pack which he and Glorfindel were welcome to read if they wished. The advisor selected the smaller of the two, a recount of the last days of Gondolin by an unnamed scribe, and settled in a relaxed pose beneath a tree, with his back leaning against the trunk and his long legs stretched out in front, and began to read. Glorfindel was not interested in the other book of Númenorean poetry, and chose instead to sit close beside Erestor so that he could read over his shoulder, an act which annoyed the advisor immensely.
“Glorfindel, please move, you are casting a shadow on the pages,” he said irritably, closing the book and glaring at his friend.
“As you wish,” replied the seneschal, and quickly moved to Erestor’s other side only to be met with a sigh of exasperation from the advisor.
“Most amusing. Glorfindel,” he said with heavy sarcasm. “I understand that you are naturally interested in a book about your beloved city, but surely it would be more enjoyable if you were to read it on your own. That is certainly my preference.” Erestor’s subtle hint that he required privacy was not lost on Glorfindel but the Balrog slayer remained undeterred.
“Perhaps it will be more enjoyable and, dare I say enlightening, if you were to read it aloud, that way we could both hear the tale and I could correct any misinformation,” he suggested, favouring Erestor with his most disarming smile. “Besides, you know I enjoy listening to you read, your expression gives the words so much more meaning.” Their friendship was one of long standing and although the advisor was immune to Glorfindel’s wily ways, he nonetheless agreed to the request albeit with an exaggerated air of deference.
“Very well, if I must. It seems that is the only way I will be able to read in peace, and I would certainly be interested in hearing your comments on the authenticity of the writings,” replied Erestor, rolling his eyes in exasperation as he felt a sudden weight on his thighs.
“Are you quite comfortable, Glorfindel?” he teased, in a tone of voice laced with resigned amusement as he glanced down into the glittering eyes of the seneschal who was lying outstretched on the grass, using the advisor’s lap for a pillow. Glorfindel made a great show of wriggling into a more acceptable position, and then folded his hands across his chest as he relaxed.
“I am now, thank you,” he replied politely, favouring Erestor with affectionate regard.
“I will allow you to remain as you are only if you promise to keep still while I read,” warned the advisor trying to sound stern despite the smile of acceptance in his eyes for the familiarity of their seating arrangement. Glorfindel nodded his agreement, eliciting a sigh of annoyance and the touch of a hand on his head to still his movements from Erestor.
“Sorry, mellon nin, it will not happen again,” he quickly apologised.
“Ai, that was the favoured response of those two over there whenever we had cause to bring them to task for misbehaviour,” laughed Erestor as he inclined his head in the young Peredhel’s direction. “Is this promise just as empty?”
“Indeed not, I am an honourable Elf!” Glorfindel declared, keeping perfectly still despite the friendly provocation.
“That I can not deny, but you are also incorrigible,” teased the advisor.
“Which is one of the many reasons you adore me like a brother,” Glorfindel replied, allowing Erestor to see the deep affection in which he was held.
“Aye, an older brother, a much older brother that is,” agreed the advisor, his eyes glittering with amusement. “Remember, I was not even born when Gondolin fell.”
“Then ‘little brother’, I believe it is high time you began reading that book, you still have much to learn!” Glorfindel replied, adopting the fanciful role with much enthusiasm.
With a playful ruffle of the golden hair on the head resting in his lap, Erestor nodded his agreement. He opened the book and began reading aloud.
The familiar sound of the advisor’s melodious voice drifted across the glade, drawing Elladan’s attention away from the clouds he and Elrohir were watching as they lay side by side in the grass.
“Elladan, does the shape of that cloud remind you of anything?” Elrohir asked innocently, turning his gaze away from the cloud above to face his brother.
“I am sorry, did you say something Elrohir?” Elladan enquired, realising after a few moments that Elrohir had spoken.
“Where have you been, Elladan? I asked if that cloud reminded you of anything,” repeated Elrohir as he reached over and turned Elladan’s chin upwards so that he was again looking at the sky.
“I know that Glorfindel and Erestor have been friends forever, but look at them. I did not realise how close they really are,” he said in answer to the first question. Elrohir looked over at the two who were thoroughly engrossed in the book.
“I have seen them thus many a time when I have gone to the gardens to read, as would have you did you not spend all your free time on the training grounds,” Elrohir replied dismissing the scene with a disinterested shrug. “I am more eager to learn what it is that cloud reminds you of.”
“Nothing immediately springs to mind,” replied Elladan, shaking his head free of Elrohir’s grip.
“Not one of Adar’s chess pieces, perhaps from the set we once attempted to make as a begetting day gift?” Elrohir suggested with a wicked gleam in his eye.
“I suppose it looks a little like one of the pawns,” his brother answered slowly, trying to fathom Elrohir’s thinking. “Why do you ask?”
“Glorfindel is the one who put that strange notion about us and the bridal veil into Arwen’s head, and he and Erestor as good as challenged us to make a little mischief if we dare. I believe we should accept.” Elrohir explained.
“To be fair, Glorfindel did not expect Arwen to take him seriously, and he did help us to elude her, but as for the challenge, I suppose we must find something to keep ourselves amused until the others return,” Elladan agreed.
“What better way to spend the afternoon than with an innocent game of chess, once we have made the pieces, of course?” Elrohir asked nonchalantly as if the idea had just occurred to him, rather than being well considered.
“Elrohir, we spent two whole days carving those pieces for Adar, and our attempt to colour one set black with blackberry juice was a disaster. We applied too much juice and the pieces did not dry in time for Adar’s begetting day.”
“I know, and we dared not give them to him in case the juice stained his hands as it did ours. It is really quite amusing when I think back on the incident. It took a week to wash the stains from our hands, and I am certain Nana wondered why we decided to wear our robes rather than tunics during that time.” Elrohir laughed merrily at his memories of their younger days.
“We were fortunate that she regarded it as just a stage we were going through on the road to maturity rather than a means to hide our hands in the long sleeves,” replied Elladan joining in the laughter.
“However, we were only thirty then and over the years we have learned enough about herb lore to avoid making the same mistake, if you understand my meaning,” Elrohir explained raising an eyebrow in query in the manner often displayed by Elrond.
“Aye brother, ‘tis an excellent idea. We both know Glorfindel always chooses black, and neither he nor Erestor can resist ‘aiding’ us when we play, especially if we seem to be ill tempered towards each other as the game progresses. I believe I saw a blackberry patch near where we left the horses to graze, shall we go?” Elladan asked as he stood and offered Elrohir his hand. With a friendly wave to Glorfindel and Erestor, the brethren left the glade.
“I wonder where they are going?” Erestor mused, momentarily putting the book aside.
“No doubt we will find out soon enough, surely you realise this peaceful interlude is only the calm before the storm,” replied Glorfindel light-heartedly.
“Aye, but even with Lothlorien and Mirkwood here as protection, neither Elladan nor Elrohir will dare to cross us too severely. They fear our retribution much more than we fear their pranks,” Erestor chuckled, coughing slightly as the words caught in his dry throat.
“How thoughtless of me to keep you talking when you must be thirsty after reading aloud for so long. Would you care for some wine?” Glorfindel’s concern was obvious and Erestor gratefully accepted the offer. “Perhaps you should rest your voice and allow me to continue,” he suggested.
“By all means, please do,” Erestor agreed, smiling as Glorfindel patted his lap indicating he expected the advisor to relax as he had. “You have made no comments regarding the authenticity of the report as yet. Am I to assume the information is reasonably accurate?” Erestor enquired as he settled himself comfortably as the seneschal had done earlier.
“It is, and I must remember to ask Celeborn if he knows the identity of the author,” replied Glorfindel as he put his wine aside and turned to the page that Erestor had marked, and continued reading.
Elladan and Elrohir collected several small branches that were suitable for carving as well as a few succulent leaves from a plant that released an oily substance when crushed. This could be used as protection for their hands and when coated with it the blackberry juice would not stain their skin. After centuries of practice and several hours of silent concentration, they were pleased to have produced a crude, but useable set of chess pieces.
“The blackberry patch is laden with fruit,” commented Elladan as they crushed the leaves and applied the oil to their hands.
“Aye and we must be certain to use enough of the juice to completely soak the wood,” Elrohir reminded his brother. Identical faces lit with the same wicked grin as they set about first picking the ripest berries and then, carefully avoiding applying too much pressure to prevent the juice from spurting out of the skin, they crushed them in the mug Elrohir had brought for that purpose. Once they had sufficient coloured liquid, they applied several coats to the pieces that were to be black until finally the juice was no longer absorbed and dripped freely from the saturated wood.
“What will we use for a board?” asked Elladan, suddenly realising they were missing the most important part of the game. They both thought for a moment, before inspiration struck.
“The cloth the cheese is wrapped in could easily be marked into squares,” said Elrohir grinning with delight at his own cleverness.
“An excellent idea but let us hurry back before the wood dries. I would be most disappointed were our efforts proved to be for naught,” said Elladan as he carefully applied more of the oil to his hands before picking up the chess pieces.
Their return to the glade was noted with mild interest by their elders who were somewhat surprised to see the brothers begin playing chess with their makeshift pieces. As the game progressed, it appeared that the usual bickering was also in play. As Elladan had predicted, it did not take long before they were joined by Erestor and Glorfindel.
“Elladan, that piece can not make that move!” exclaimed Elrohir with exaggerated anger when his brother made a deliberate error.
“You are the one who is mistaken Elrohir, not I,” retorted Elladan. “Is that not so, Glorfindel?” he asked the seneschal.
“You two have been very creative, but it is a shame to spoil your friendly endeavour with a squabble,” said Glorfindel as he examined one of the uncoloured pieces. “I am afraid Elrohir is correct in this case, but if I were you, this would be the next move I would make,” he said as he whispered something into Elladan’s ear.
“You can only do as Glorfindel suggests if Erestor agrees to advise me!” Elrohir declared with seeming outrage.
“As you wish,” the advisor acquiesced. He drew Elrohir aside for a private discussion of tactics after Glorfindel had made his move and soon all four became engrossed in the strategic battle on the cheesecloth. Elladan and Elrohir exchanged relieved grins every time Glorfindel picked up one of the black pieces and failed to notice the black stains on his fingers.
“Ai, checkmate, Erestor and Elrohir!” Glorfindel declared, clapping his hands together triumphantly as Elladan made the winning move. The dark stains on Glorfindel’s skin were now very obvious and Elladan and Elrohir burst into laughter as they saw how successful their little prank had been.
“Glorfindel, what is this?” asked Erestor as he reached for one of the seneschal’s elegant hands and turned it palm upwards.
“Just a little colour from the chess pieces, I suspect,” replied Glorfindel as he unsuccessfully attempted to wipe the juice stains from his skin with the corner of the cheesecloth.
“Try wiping your hands clean on the grass,” suggested Erestor, noting that his fingertips were also stained, although not as badly as Glorfindel’s. The hearty laughter from their young companions was more than enough answer as to why even the damp grass failed to have the desired result.
“I see we have been bested by our foe, my dear advisor,” said Glorfindel as he glared at Elladan and Elrohir who were laughing so hard there were tears in their eyes. “I trust you have something which will remove this… ?”
“Blackberry juice,” supplied Elladan helpfully.
“… blackberry juice from our hands?” he asked with an icy voice that suggested they had better have such a concoction.
“None that we know of, it took over a week for us to remove it from our hands the time we found ourselves in the same predicament. Perhaps Adar can suggest something,” replied Elrohir, judging that a little less mirth was in order, for Glorfindel was extremely angry.
“You would be wise to hope he has, for both Glorfindel and I are required to attend several functions in the coming days, and I am certain the Lady Galadriel will not be impressed with our undignified appearance, nor with those who she will undoubtedly be aware are responsible for it,” warned Erestor, satisfied when the brothers’ faces showed sufficient remorse and more than a little anguish at the unwelcome prospect of earning their Grandnana’s displeasure.
“We will go and fetch some water, and some more of the leaves we used to protect our hands, perhaps if we act quickly the stain will be easily removed,” suggested Elladan.
“Hurry along, then,” ordered Erestor who, Glorfindel alone could see, was trying to keep a smirk from his face. Once the troublemakers were out of sight, the advisor laughed openly.
“Am I to understand from your merriment that you already know of a potion that will remove these unsightly stains?” the seneschal enquired already guessing the answer.
“Aye, but I suggest we keep the knowledge to ourselves until we return to the city,” Erestor replied. Glorfindel nodded his agreement and the two were still chuckling with mirth as they sat down to paly another game of chess.