I have reached my journey's end: the legendary Elven refuge of Imladris. The Elves, and their Halfelven lord, have been kind, the House is fair, and the valley is pleasant enough. Yet I yearn for my own land, the City I left behind, my men, and my kin.
The scouts left without me, the morning after the Council. I would have gone with them, but was not even asked. Master Elrond says they needed to hasten, and since I knew not the land into which they forayed, I would have slowed their pace.
I wished to spend my time here usefully, sparring with other warriors, keeping my sword-arm strong and my wits sharp. But these Elves regard me as a clumsy child, caring not that I am the Captain-General of Gondor, commander of the armies of the greatest of the realms of Men! They say I must rest, save my strength for the quest that awaits us. They say I could be hurt. Who are these fair folk to judge me such a weakling? They know little of hardship or loss, living in this protected vale. And they may be swift, yet their limbs are still made of flesh and bone. Gladly would I take up sword to prove them wrong!
Biting my tongue, and remembering that I am not Captain-General here, but a traveler alone and friendless, I tried to turn to other pursuits. I walked through the valley for exercise. I played chess with Master Elrond, a game he won handily, with moves he said were old ere Númenor fell. I even spent an afternoon in the library looking at maps and ancient texts, before I wearied of musty parchments and departed, to seek fresh air.
I feared that if I took more rest, the idleness would drive me mad. Perhaps my brother should have taken this errand; Faramir is a man of letters. And he has more patience.
Today, as I watched the Elves whirling in their sorcerous dance of sword and spear, one Elf watched as well, unchallenged. I had seen him once or twice before. He was a tall, slender fellow with such a pretty head of golden tresses that when I first beheld him garbed in robes of state at Elrond's Council, I mistook him for a lady. He had a youthful look, and he had struck me as another of these useless, sheltered Elves when he spoke of throwing the Great Ring into the Sea. I knew naught else of him.
Thinking that perhaps the golden-haired Elf was some youngster new to arms, one who might welcome a round of practice with the Captain-General of Gondor, I asked him to spar with swords alone.
He gave me a piercing glance that, strangely, reminded me of my brother, then agreed. When he returned bearing a massive longsword as easily as if it were a flute, I began to understand that this was no stripling.
Shortly afterwards, I lay on my back, the point of that blade at my throat. It had happened too quickly for understanding. The Elf reached out to help me up; but I righted myself, thanked him, and asked for another try.
We sparred again, and again, until I lost count of how many times he bested me. Each time, I lasted longer, but still he parried all my strokes, moving like a dancer rather than a soldier, and cut into my guard with vicious speed. I have known and commanded many warriors; and had counted myself the greatest among them, but I had never before seen anyone fight like this pretty Elf.
The sun descended as we continued to strive. An hour passed, then another. I grew weary. And so did the Elf, I saw with grim satisfaction, as drops of sweat formed on his pale brow. I actually heard him grunt. And even better, I was able to cross his guard, not once, but twice, then three times. Though it did little good; for he still bested me.
My legs trembled as I continued to batter at him. He was beginning to tire, but still he outfoxed me with magnificent footwork, drawing me in with feints and reaching my throat or heart before I knew where his blade had gone.
At last, when I thought I could scarcely endure another round, I pulled back, as he lunged, and, swerving round, threw all my strength into a stroke that caught his blade in mid-swing, knocking it from the Elf's grasp and throwing him off balance. Instead of falling, though, he cartwheeled back, then rose again, retrieving the sword as he rolled to his feet.
I straightened up, ignoring the twinges of dead weary muscles, and resumed the guard position. The Elf gazed down at me from his great height. Slowly, he raised his sword in a salute. After lowering and sheathing the blade, he inclined his head in a bow. Vastly relieved, I did the same.
Then the Elf laughed, and grinned as broadly as one of the hobbits. He strode somewhat stiffly to me and clasped my shoulders with very strong hands. "Wonderful! O, well done!" he cried in his strangely accented Sindarin.
No sooner had I croaked out words of like praise when we were assailed by the great crowd who had gathered to watch as our bout progressed. The halflings chattered excitedly; even the quiet Ring-bearer, Frodo, seemed cheered. The dwarf handed me a cup of something cold. I passed it first to my doughty opponent. The Elf took a delicate sip, then returned the cup to me. I drained half the cup, grateful for the restorative properties of its Elven brew. I gave it back to the Elf; who thirstily drank the rest.
During our five courses of dinner that night, I learned that the golden Elf who I had first taken for an untried youth was no other than Glorfindel! He was the Elf who had fought beside the last King of Gondor at the Battle of Fornost - one of the most famous battles in our history, over a thousand years before! 'Twas little wonder that most Elves were daunted by his hardihood! He had despaired of finding a worthy training partner before the return of Elrond's sons and someone named "Estel." So said Glorfindel himself, with a playful punch to my shoulder that nearly caused me to spit up a mouthful of mead. The youngest halfling, Peregrin, told how Glorfindel had saved Frodo from the Dark Riders at the Ford of Bruinen. Other Elves said something about the lost city of Gondolin and a fell creature called a Balrog, but by then my head was spinning and my mastery of the Elves' lisping Sindarin was all but gone. Nonetheless, I did not miss Glorfindel's praise of our contest and my sword-work.
The Elf and I drank deep, swore eternal friendship over our third toast, then embraced as comrades on our fourth. And we gladly agreed, to another bout, in two days' time, with shields as well as swords!
I think that Glorfindel guided me to my chamber, whose location I failed to remember after the sixth toast. For the first time since my arrival at the Elvish haven, I fell quickly into a deep, restful sleep. And I dreamt neither of broken blades nor gleaming rings, but of bright swords vying in a joyous test of skill.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Glorfindel was the Lord of the House of the Golden Flower and one of Turgon's foremost captains in Gondolin. He died killing a balrog that attacked the survivors of Gondolin (who included Elrond's father and grandparents) as they fled the fallen city. Glorfindel is, according to Tolkien's notes (in HoME v.12, Chapter 13), the only Elf known to have returned to Middle-earth after his reincarnation. You can find out more than you probably ever wanted to know about the theories surrounding Glorfindel's identity at http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/tolkien/53015/1, among other places.
(Rest and Recreation was written for Branwyn's birthday.)
(Rest and Recreation was written for Branwyn's birthday.)