At the same time Gildor and Imrahil were sitting in the Elf-Lord’s study, sipping very carefully on some excellent hazelnut liquor (as Imrahil had already had too much wine) and munching on small pieces of sweetmeats the recipe of which reached back to the days of Eregion.
“’Tis hard to believe that there will be a time when the House of Dol Amroth will have to go on without your friendship and patronage,” said Imrahil thoughtfully. “You have been here since the day Elendil gave these lands my ancestors…”
“... and before,” added Gildor with a slight smile. Imrahil rolled his eyes.
“I know that. But it feels weird to think back before the time of my first known ancestor.”
Gildor nodded slowly. “I know the feeling. Although Finrod Felagund was my own grandfather, ‘tis hard to think of him as aught else but the heroic King of Nargothrond. I wonder if he has been released from the Halls already – I would like to meet him. He was everything I wanted to become when I was young.”
“You had the gifts for the same greatness,” said Imrahil. “’Tis not your fault that there was no chance to become a great Elven king in our lesser times.”
“Unless one decides to dwell in the woods with the Silvan folk like Thranduil,” replied Gildor with melancholy. “But I could not do that. There has always been too much wanderlust in me for that. I believe the life on the road suited me well. After the fall of Eregion there was no place that could have hold me for long. Not even Edhellond, though this used to be the only true home I have ever had in Middle-earth.”
“Will you be able to live in the peace of Aman at all?” asked Imrahil.
“It will not be easy,” Gildor admitted, “and I would even be tempted to remain in Middle-earth, if not for him.”
“Him being who?” inquired the Prince. “In all my life, you never told me who the one is you was bound to.”
“’Twas not your business,” replied Gildor dismissively. “I have seen every generation of Dol Amroth be born, grow up and go… wherever Men go after they die. None of them was privy to my life before their time.”
Imrahil shook his head in tolerant amusement. “You are not an easy Elf to like, Gildor Inglorion.”
“That is true,” the Elf-Lord agreed wryly; then he added with a wicked grin. “Which did not keep every generation of you from falling in love with me. Fortunately, you got over it just as quickly again… unlike that poor Enedrion.”
Imrahil smiled. “Still very smitten with you, is he not?”
“Just as your Master Andrahar is still longing for you,” shot back Gildor mercilessly. Seeing Imrahil’s baffled face, he shrugged. “Oh, he covers it well enough. I doubt that many would see it. But I know that particular look on one’s face. Enedrion looks at me like that all the time – just less discretely.”
“What will become of Enedrion, once you have returned to the West?” asked Imrahil. Gildor sighed.
“I know not. I hope he will finally get over me, once he is reunited with his family. Once he is not around me all the time.”
“You should not have encouraged him,” said Imrahil accusingly. Gildor shot him a dirty look.
“I did not encourage him. I only took him to my bed a few times, during the festivals, when he was too miserable to bear. ‘Twas still better than letting him fade away, dying from broken heart.”
“And what will happen to you if you return to the West, just to find out that your… bondmate has not waited for you? Will you die from broken heart, too?”
“Your Master Andrahar would say that I have no heart at all,” said Gildor with a certain bitterness in his voice, “or that it is too hard to be broken. But you know how it works with us, Elves. Once bound, we are in it for good.”
“Even there are exceptions,” pointed out Imrahil, “or else you would not be here.”
“True,” admitted Gildor, “and it is possible, of course, that the Halls of Mandos have changed Tyelpe too much to be able to return to me. After all, Glorfindel has returned from the halls with his once all-consuming love for Idril Celebrindal faded to memory. Granted, his love had been unrequited and his bond one-sided, so that it would not be binding in the eyes of the Valar, but still…”
Imrahil gave no answer. He sat in utter shock, pieces of information, slipped during the long years of his friendship with Gildor suddenly sliding into place with an almost audible click and completing the picture he had wanted to figure out all his life…
“Tyelpe?” he repeated unbelievingly. “You have been bound to Celebrimbor, of all people?”
Realizing that he had accidentally revealed his secret, Gildor remained silent for a while. Then he shrugged again.
“Yea, I have been. For a couple of years, ere he went down with his city”
“For a couple of years? And that was how long ago? Three, four, five thousand years?”
“A little more than five thousand,” said Gildor simply. “But we are Elves. Time has a different meaning for us. We are supposed to last ‘til the end of Arda, after all.”
“That is an awfully long time, should the Halls have changed Celebrimbor too much,” warned Imrahil earnestly. Gildor nodded, his face pale and grim.
“I know. But should that happen, I would go to the Halls myself, voluntarily.”
There was a heavy silence for a time, Imrahil muted by the possible ramifications. Giving up their lives was not something Elves were usually prone to. And usually Gildor was not a person to give up anything easily.
“’Twould be a rather… final step,” the Prince said after a long while. “If I understood what you have taught me about Elven laws and customs, such a thing is heavily frowned upon among the High-Elves of Valinor.”
“And in our family even more so,” replied Gildor with a wry grin. “’Tis bad enough that I have bound myself to a scion of Fëanor, a son of Kinslayers, but giving up my life for him… King Finarfin the steadfast would probably die of shame himself. My poor mother would never be spoken to by her elated Vanyarin relatives.”
“You do not seem to mind that, however,” noticed Imrahil.”
“Nay, I do not,” admitted Gildor. “I have waited an Age and a half to see Sauron defeated and perished. I have fought in all major wars of those two Ages – and in some minor ones, too – to accomplish that goal. To see the Ring destroyed and Tyelpe free from the debt he had loaded onto himself involuntarily and unknowingly, I have remained in Middle-earth to fulfil his legacy; and now I shall leave these shores that had long become my home for him. What reason would I have to live without him, even in the Blessed Realm?”
Imrahil looked at the eerily calm face of the Elf-Lord in awe.
“You still love him that much?” he asked.
“Yea,” said Gildor simply, “I still love him that much. Were I able to forget him, I could have wedded Arwen Undómiel two thousand years ago – as our bond had never been officially sanctioned – and founded a new dynasty. But not even the gentle shine of the Evenstar could make me forget the fire that burned in the fëa of Tyelpe, hotter and brighter than in anyone else save mayhap Fëanor himself. When he died, part of me died, too; and my heart grew cold like ice.”
“No-one who has ever seen you among your people would believe that,” replied Imrahil gently. “I believe even Andra will have a hard time to hold on to his own prejudices after today.”
Gildor gave him a rueful smile. “Never underestimate the power of prejudices, Imrahil. Your… friend has grown up with the horrid tales about the evilness and cruelty of Elves… and myself. The Corsairs of Umbar have legends about me – legends in which I am described as some sort of demon.”
“And you have done everything you could to rise to that reputation,” added Imrahil accusingly. “I never understood why you found so much amusement in tormenting Andra.”
Gildor shrugged. “’Twas petty, I know. But he reacts with such volatility to teasing and is such an easy target. His jealousy,,, his stubborn pride… his mistrust towards my kind… I simply cannot resist. Contrary to appearances I am trying to keep up, not even I am perfect, Imrahil. You are right – I find too much delight in making him angry. But even I need a little fun time and again – and most of my people are already immune against my teasing.”
Imrahil raised an eyebrow. “A little fun? You have been a menace to poor Andra all his life – and I still fail to understand why you chose him of all people as your target. ‘Tis usually beneath you to hack around on someone who cannot repay you in the same manner.”
“Oh, he has risen to the challenge rather nicely,” Gildor laughed. Then he leaned back in his seat, his eyes narrowing. “You want the reasons? Well, here you have them. Firstly, our little feud kept me entertained, and that is no small thing for an Elf of my age. And secondly, I was curious how much he could take – and how far your protectiveness would reach. In both things, the two of you have surprised me more than I would have expected.”
“So, that was it all about?” Imrahil asked, strangely disappointed. “A game to you, to have a few amusing moments?”
“Nay,” Gildor shook his head. “I would never play games with any Prince of Dol Amroth, you should know that by now. For Andrahar, I care not particularly; he irritates me. But you and your whole line have been entrusted to me by Mithrellas, and I take my responsibilities very seriously. Besides, you have been my friends for almost a whole Age. Do you think so little of me that I would misuse you for my own amusement?”
“Then what kept you doing this… this… Why can you not leave Andra alone? You are older than he is, and you supposed to be wiser.”
“It all began with his ridiculous jealousy towards me – I did find that amusing,” admitted Gildor. “But as I kept watching the two of you, I became more and more fascinated by the strength of your friendship. You are so different, and yet you are as brothers to each other. I have learnt more about Men during these years than ever before. And – though I would never admit it in his earshot – I believe that you have become a better man through this friendship than you would have without it. Which is strange enough, but true nevertheless.”
Imrahil still failed to understand Gildor’s motivation completely, but he knew the Elf-Lord well enough to know that he would not get more out of him, no matter how much he asked.
The chiming of the evening bells interrupted their conversation, calling the whole household to the beginning of the feast: the meals in the Dining Hall. At the same time, someone knocked softly on the heavy oak door, and – without waiting for an answer – Enedrion entered the study. For the first time since they had known each other (which was since Imrahil’s birth), the Prince noticed how haunted the eyes of the young aide were.
“My Lord, everything is ready,” the young Elf said. “They are only waiting for you.”
“Very well,” Gildor rose and smiled at his aide with something between fondness and compassion. “Let us go then. ‘Tis my duty to open the Harvest Festival, after all.”