Disclaimer: I own nothing, except the plotline. Even Gildor Inglorion isn't mine--Tolkien had him first.

Warnings: None except that it's slash. A faithful reviewer, Melanie, asked so nicely for this that I couldn't refuse. For anyone familiar with my previous work, this has a very different tone. Melanie wanted a tender, romantic little fic that discussed Gildor's and Haldir's relationship, so that's what this is.

Archiving: OLAS and anyone else who wants it, just let me know.

A/N: This is a continuation of my previous Unspoken story arc (Unspoken/Revelations/Changes.)

One Last Time

Part 10

By Rune Dancer


Second Age, 3121: At King Thranduil's court

"What is he doing?" Thranduil looked as dumbfounded as Glorfindel felt.

"He's attacking a dragon," Glorfindel commented, while sprinting towards his evidently insane friend.

"Why?," echoed after him.

Because it is the last thing in Arda he should be doing, Glorfindel thought in complete exasperation as he sped across the courtyard from his place of concealment near the stairs. Erestor had always specialized in doing the unacceptable; why should today be any different? It was with little surprise that Glorfindel saw that he was too late. Before he had crossed even half of the distance between them, Smaug had thrown Erestor from his back. However, instead of ripping the elf in pieces as Glorfindel had feared, he simply placed a large paw on him, trapping him as a cat would a mouse. Erestor peered out from under at least a hundred pounds of dragon paw, and looked mournfully at Glorfindel. Smaug trailed one large claw gently around his prisoner's head, making a horrible scratching sound on the stones beneath. Glorfindel understood immediately and halted in his tracks. This complicated matters somewhat.

"Well," Smaug drawled, looking pleased with himself despite his undignified position sprawled beneath the gate. "Unless you truly dislike this one, you will throw down your weapons and come closer; we need to have a little chat, elf." Glorfindel did as he was bid, but was careful to stay just out of Smaug's reach. "Perhaps we can come to an understanding, without the need for bloodshed," the dragon continued, while keeping up that annoying scritch-scratch around Erestor. "I can be reasonable; after all, I did not come for violence, but for the treasure I was promised."

"And have yet to earn," Glorfindel reminded him. "The bet was for you to get around the king's magic, which you have not done."

"True," Smaug seemed to consider this. "But, then, there are many ways around magic. One can overcome it by the exertion of one's own power or," and he attempted what Glorfindel assumed was meant to be a smile--it was not a very successful one, as it merely bared more fangs, "one can outsmart it. Tell me, elf, what odds do you give your friend's survival, should I decide to put a little more pressure on him?" Smaug must have increased the weight on Erestor some at that point, for the elf emitted a squeak and turned vaguely lavender.

"Stop it, Smaug," Glorfindel warned him. "If you kill him, you'll never get out of here alive, you must know that."

"Then we seem to be at something of an impasse, would you not agree? Because if you don't release me, and give me what I was promised, he dies--and rather painfully at that."

He did, however, let up slightly on Erestor, which indicated to Glorfindel the possibility of bargaining.

"King Thranduil does not want you in his realm. You have attacked his people and laid waste to entire areas of forest. If you release your captive and agree never again to enter these woods, we will let you retire from here in peace. Otherwise, there are a hundred elvish archers with arrows nocked, pointed at your head."

Smaug laughed, a rolling boom that echoed across the forest like thunder. "Bravo! That was truly outstanding! I would applaud, but the dear little elf here might not enjoy the experience." He narrowed golden eyes at Glorfindel and tapped his claw on the ground within an inch of Erestor's nose. "Your archers are useless against my scales, as you well know."

"We'll see. In any case, we can hold you here indefinitely. The gate alone is as nothing to you, but the magic with which the king has infused it will trap you for as long as he chooses. You will become rather hungry in time, Smaug."

"In a great span of time, perhaps, elf. But my kind does not need to eat everyday, nor even every year! How long do you think your friend will hold out?" Smaug poked Erestor lightly in the side. "He seems a little stout for an elf, but that won't last long. So stop wasting my time. Do we bargain or no?"

Thranduil had by now joined Glorfindel and was regarding Smaug with the same expression a careful housekeeper might bestow on an ugly bug that had slipped in under the door. "What do you want, Smaug?"

"Ah, someone has decided to be sensible, I am glad to see. I want, of course, what I came for--the treasure."

"And how, precisely, do you intend to carry it away? Or were you planning to become a permanent fixture?" Thranduil had crossed his arms and was glaring at Smaug, but Glorfindel felt a little trill run through him. The king was up to something.

"Actually, I thought you could cart it off for me--so much easier that way. What else are all these elves of yours good for? Let us see," and Smaug drummed his fingers on the paving stones, causing Erestor to get a bit pummeled about. "I think we'll do it this way. You will send the treasure under guard to my cave in the mountains. I will take the little creature here with me, and as soon as payment is delivered, I will release him to your guards."

"There will, of course, have to be a magical contract binding you to keep your word," Thranduil informed him haughtily. "Not that I don't trust you, Smaug . . . "

The dragon grimaced theatrically. "You wound me, truly. Still, I see no real problem with such an agreement, as long as I formulate the wording."

Thranduil looked pained, but there was that frisson again. Glorfindel managed to refrain from regarding the king with abject surprise, but just barely; he could not believe Thranduil would give up that much wealth to save the life of an elf he did not even like. "As you say. However, I insist that the contract include the release of Lord Erestor immediately, and that he not be taken from here. How do we know you won't grow hungry in the mountains?"

"Even if I did, I could not break a magical contract, any more than you--the penalties are appalling. So why does it matter?"

Thranduil shrugged. "He is delicate, and the journey might harm him. Look, already the strain shows," and Smaug bent his huge head to regard Erestor contemplatively. The elf's colour was not good and his breathing was laboured, bearing out Thranduil's words. Glorfindel could almost hear Smaug thinking that a dead captive would be of little use. "Very well, but you know the penalty for breaking your word. To the contract then." Smaug took a few minutes to think, and then, in an incongruously businesslike voice, he recited: "I, Smaug, agree to release the captive elf in my keeping, and to solemnly swear never again to enter the realm of Mirkwood for any reason whatever; in return, I am to be granted all treasure now residing in the castle of Thranduil, King of Mirkwood, to be delivered by him to a location of my choosing no later than one week hence."

"Agreed," Thranduil said, "but I must add two things. First, my transportation crew are not to be injured--including becoming an afternoon snack for you." Smaug looked offended, but nodded. "Secondly, the one week will, of course, depend on the location of this cave of yours. If it is too far, I am to be granted sufficient extra time for transport."

"It is a three day's march only," Smaug assured him, "but, just to show my sincerity, I grant you an extra week. Loading all that may take a while!"

"Done." Two magical streams emanating from the bargainers met and merged, and the deal was complete.

"If you wouldn't mind?," Smaug said, looking a trifle bored, now that the whole thing was over. He rolled his eyes in the direction of the gate.

"Oh, yes, of course. Release him!" Thranduil's command had scarcely rung out before the great portcullis was lifted, and Smaug regained his footing, flexing his great wings experimentally to see if anything was broken.

"In two weeks, King of Mirkwood," he reminded him, before stretching his wings and taking off in a surprisingly graceful motion, almost flattening the surrounding elves with the force of the wind he stirred up.

Erestor remained, lying face down, until Glorfindel gently turned him over. "Are you all right?"

"I slipped."

"I know. It will be all right. Although," Glorfindel added, looking up at Thranduil, who appeared insufferably smug about something, "I would greatly like to know why the king was willing to part with so much treasure, to save the life of an Imladris' elf."

Thranduil smirked. "Perhaps I am mellowing in my old age, or perhaps I have learned to appreciate the . . . charms . . . of some elves of that realm."

Erestor struggled to his feet, looking somewhat the worse for wear. "My greatest thanks, o king," he commented, and executed a fairly passable bow, given the circumstances.

Thranduil waved a casual hand. "Oh, think nothing of it. Although you may tell Lord Elrond that I expect to be reimbursed for my expenses; say, two strips of mithril?"

Glorfindel's suspicions climbed even further. "Two strips, for all your treasure? Truly, the tales of Thranduil's great wealth were much exaggerated."

Thranduil laughed. "Oh no, in fact, seneschal, you may find you were not told the half of it. However, as my people moved all of my treasure to the safety of our forest bowers last night, I think that should cover the few items that remain. I am afraid Smaug made a poor bargain, but he is now stuck with it, like it or no."

Glorfindel just stared, then a slow smile began to take over his features. "You truly live up to your reputation, Thranduil of Mirkwood. I will almost be sorry for us to leave here. I have the feeling we could learn much of guile from you, among other things!"

Thranduil suddenly became very still. "Leave? Oh, but seneschal, please recall that our deal was only in force if you killed a balrog. I do not believe that occurred, Lord Glorfindel, nor did I see you even slay a dragon."

You have to give him credit, Glorfindel thought; he did meet his gaze. And, although the king flushed slightly, his eyes were resolute. "You would refuse to release Erestor, even though no evil haunts your realm?"

"You misunderstand me," Thranduil replied, his expression so serious that any hope of this all being a joke was lost. "Lord Erestor may leave whenever he chooses--as long, that is, as you remain in his place."

Glorfindel stepped closer to the king and lowered his voice, to the point, he hoped, that even Elvish ears could not hear him. "Don't do this."

"You leave me no choice. I will not be left alone again, Glorfindel."

"I will hate you for this."

"For a time, perhaps," Thranduil acknowledged, "but for always? I do not think so." He stepped back a pace from Glorfindel and raised his voice. "I am glad you agree with me, Lord Glorfindel. You will be an ornament to my court."

Glorfindel sighed. No matter how long he lived, it was always a disappointment to see people live down to expectations. "Very well, but I would beg a moment to say goodbye to my colleagues."

"Of course. Take all the time you wish." Thranduil was not looking as self-satisfied as he might have done under the circumstances. Perhaps there is a conscience in there after all, Glorfindel mused. Too bad he couldn't spare the time to stay and find out. He could think of worse ways to pass a few centuries . . .


Second Age, 3121: On the edge of Mirkwood

Erestor had been brooding to the degree that he barely noticed when, after they had passed beyond the borders of the wood king's realm, Tuor threw off his hood and, instead of the haughty agent, there sat Glorfindel. Had he been thinking clearly, Erestor might have wondered before how Tuor had managed to control Glorfindel's white stallion, which was well known for throwing any other rider. He couldn't very well be expected to be logical after the day he'd had, however.

"He dumped me!"

"What?" Glorfindel looked a little bemused at Erestor's greeting.

"Legolas! The little imp dumped me, for some milk toast elfling in his father's guards, can you believe it?" Erestor still couldn't. Never, in all his long years . . . well, that was certainly the last time he had anything to do with an elfling just entering fenneth! They were far too unreliable.

"Well," Glorfindel couldn't resist pointing out, "That was what you wanted, wasn't it? To get rid of him?"

"Yes, but . . . not like this! I have NEVER been just thrown over like that! He has no taste." Erestor tried to maintain his air of outraged dignity, but his heart really wasn't in it. Even while bemoaning the loss of his Mirkwood infatuation, his eyes were skimming over Aikanaro and Valandil's forms, so very alike and so enchanting, as they rode ahead.

"Some of ours?," he murmured, thinking he'd seen them somewhere before.

"Yes, two of Elrond's agents. Why?"

"Oh, I was just thinking that, in between fighting orcs and wargs and whatever else lies between here and home, I'm going to need something to do."

"But--they are father and son!" Erestor noticed with amusement that his friend looked rather shocked. Really, he could be such an old maid sometimes.

"Why, Glorfindel, you surprise me. I was just thinking about teaching them a new card game I learned recently, from some of Thranduil's gaolers. It's called As Nas."*

"Everyone knows that--we often play it at court."

Erestor smiled. "My version is a little different. I call it, strip As Nas. Remind me to teach it to you sometime," and, spurring on his horse, he joined the agents, a broad smile on his face.


Second Age, 3121: At King Thranduil's court

Legolas followed his father into his chambers, still feeling a little guilty over cutting Erestor loose like that, but then, Almar was so very beautiful . . . "

"What's this?" Thranduil was regarding a large bundle, which was squirming so as to almost fall off his chaise. It was wrapped in canvas, but had a large blue bow on top. A little card had been attached to the bow, which Thranduil took, an odd gleam coming into his eyes. Legolas gingerly unwrapped the package, but jumped when his father's great laugh suddenly reverberated around the room. Stripping away the last of the canvas, he was surprised to see a naked, bound and gagged elf sitting there, blue eyes flashing fire. For a minute he had thought it was Lord Glorfindel, as the elf was about the same height and shape, and had almost identical colouring, but after a moment he realised his mistake. His father shooed him from the chamber a moment later, but Legolas managed to surreptitiously scoop up the note, which had fluttered to the floor when Thranduil threw the elf over his shoulder and disappeared with him into the bedroom.

Itching with curiosity, Legolas opened the small letter, and then had to quickly put a hand over his mouth to stifle a giggle. Well, at least that explains why "Tuor" had been all muffled up when the party from Imladris left that afternoon.

"My dear Thranduil, Being under orders to return as soon as possible to Imladris, I must take my leave of you, despite your gracious invitation to remain. However, remembering that you expressed a desire for someone who would belong only to you, I have taken the liberty of leaving a little present behind. Tuor is a bit feisty, but I am confident you can manage. My love, Glorfindel."





* This was actually a popular card game in the Middle Ages. It usually had five players, but Erestor probably made do ;) It seems to have originated in Persia and is accepted as the forerunner of some of our modern poker games.

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