Master Elrond's fascination with icebreakers and social experiments was fanatical; some might even say legendary. He himself was never informed of this, not even at the White Council when he suggested (and successfully managed to have everyone play) a modified round of 'Have You Ever?'. His own council was subjected to the games on a regular basis, including many which he made up, testing them out before adding them to an ever-expanding anthology kept in the library. When Lindir finally pointed out that they all knew each other fairly well and had no need for such activities, Elrond admonished him, saying that all people changed, and it was good for helping to establish harmony. Erestor later translated this for Lindir, telling him that it was probably Elrond who felt the disconnect, reminded Lindir of Elrond's many lost relationships over the years, and asked him to please allow their lord this harmless indulgence.
There was typically some amount of warning; Celebrian was rather good about letting Erestor or Glorfindel know if her husband was up to something, giving them time to inform everyone else. On the other hand, there were times when, left to his own devices, Elrond might think up an idea while in his office, and no warning would be had.
Such was the case today. As Erestor and his secretary, Melpomaen, entered the council chambers, they found their lord hurriedly dividing several sheets of paper into smaller scraps. "Good afternoon; come in, pay no mind to me. Just getting things ready."
Neither said anything as they took their seats; Lindir silently groaned when he entered, but said nothing as he took his place. Others filtered in; lesser ministers that the histories have forgotten and those temporarily assigned to Imladris for diplomatic reasons, such as Galdor and Legolas. It was only the Mirkwood Prince who smiled as he wished a pleasant day to everyone and even offered to assist with whatever Elrond had planned. While quite comfortable with the games Elrond came up with, Legolas knew that the council was at ease faster if the activity happened quickly. He set to aiding Elrond in distributing the pieces of paper to everyone, and quills and ink to those who had not brought their own.
The last inside was Glorfindel, who shut the door behind him, then looked dismayed at having cut off his own route of escape. He quickly took the only remaining seat: One that placed him between Melpomaen and Galdor. His thanks was nodded to Legolas as he was given the necessary items needed to complete whatever it was that Elrond had in mind.
"Good afternoon, everyone. Before we begin our meeting, I have a little activity for us to complete." Elrond lifted up one of the quarter sheets of paper. "What I would like for everyone to do is write down upon the sheet of paper that you have been given the most important hope or dream that you have for yourself. On the other side, I want you to write the most important hope or dream that you have for Imladris. I will give everyone one minute to write down their responses."
Everyone bowed their heads, some thinking, some quickly scribbling their answer onto the sheet. Glorfindel glanced around nervously, head bowed, hair creating a curtain of privacy to either side of his blank sheet of paper. One minute was hardly time enough to think – it prevented the creation of a suitable cover-up to whatever he really wanted to write down on the paper. The part about Imladris was easy enough: His constant complaint was that it was not efficient to heat two great halls – both the dining hall, and the Hall of Fire – every night in the winter. The lack of tables in the Great Hall, however, prevented any sort of compromise. On one side of the paper, he wrote:
Tables in the Hall of Fire
As he flipped the sheet over, he heard Elrond call out 'Thirty seconds left!'
"Teacher, I need an extension on this assignment," called out Lindir, eliciting laughter from most, including Elrond.
'Fifteen seconds,' added Elrond as the group quieted down.
In a panic, Glorfindel jotted down his greatest desire, and sat up again with a blush creeping across his cheeks when Elrond called time. He took a few deep breaths as he read what was on his paper, keeping it close in hopes that others could not peek around to read it. If they were to announce to everyone what was on their paper, he could easily take a moment now to come up with a different answer, and all would be well.
"What I am going to do now is pass around this book," said Elrond, holding up a medium-sized volume. "Be sure to give your paper a bit of a wave to dry the ink; the librarian will be very upset with me if I return this to him with stains inside."
"Very upset," reiterated Erestor to the group with a nod. He then interrupted before Elrond could continue and asked, "Why are you using one of my books for this? Go potentially ruin one of your own books."
"They are all my books," Elrond reminded him, though with a smirk. "Remember, I allow you to allow me to check them out."
"Oh, right." Erestor grinned with a shrug, and mumbled to Melpomaen, "They are still my books."
Elrond raised the book aloft and cleared his throat. "Take your sheet, fold it, and insert it randomly into the book. After you have done so, pass it along to the next person, until it reaches me again." Elrond handed the book to his right, directly to Erestor.
That gave Glorfindel all of fifteen seconds before Melpomaen was handing the book in his direction. He thought about leaving on a sudden errand, about tearing the sheet up and declaring this a stupid idea, even trying to find a way to get his paper into the fire that was crackling across the room.
Instead, he opened the book, lifted his sheet of paper, and stuck it into the book.
"No, not like that, like this."
Horrified, Glorfindel could do nothing as Melpomaen took the book from him, folded the sheet, and tucked it far into the margin. The scribe closed the book and passed it back to Glorfindel. "Master Elrond wanted them folded," explained Melpomaen.
"Thank you," Glorfindel heard himself say, and absently he passed the book along to Galdor. His eyes never left it as it traveled around the circle and finally found its way into Elrond's hands again. He added his own sheet and then lifted it up.
"I have here in my hands the hopes and dreams of Imladris. All of you are part of Imladris, even those who are honored guests, and the hopes and dreams of our people are the hopes and dreams of our region."
Then, to Glorfindel's dismay, Elrond walked a few feet away and tipped the book so that the spine faced the ceiling and spilled the loose sheets down onto the top of a small table. They fluttered out like black and white butterflies, and once caught by Elrond, were shuffled and brought back to the group. "I will now read what we have written so that it may be discussed by our council. This exercise will give us an opportunity to anonymously bring forth the ails of the realm which perhaps not all were comfortable with presenting. We will also have the opportunity to hear the personal hopes and dreams of others, and we may find them to be not so far from our own."
Elrond took the top paper and unfolded it. "Greater variety of seasonal fruits at mealtime." He scanned the council with his usual cocked-eyebrow expression. "How many varieties are we currently serving?"
"Not enough," said Lindir. "And that one was not mine," he added, "but I agree with them."
"Thank you," said Melpomaen, and immediately after he uttered, "Oops."
"People, this will not work on the basis of anonymity if the identity of the writer is revealed," said Elrond. He sighed and tossed the paper into the fire. "I am certainly not reading whatever your personal hope was if we all know who you are."
"Maybe that was his personal hope," Lindir quickly added. Melpomaen looked about to say something, but Erestor set a hand on his secretary's shoulder to stop him.
Master Elrond sighed. "Let us discuss the issue of the fruit. It always seems adequate to me."
"What did you have for breakfast this morning?" asked Erestor.
"An apple," replied Elrond.
"What did you have yesterday?"
"An apple, of course. You know the saying – an apple a day keeps the healer away."
"Ironic, when you think about it," whispered Galdor to Legolas.
Erestor nodded. "You eat apples at breakfast and raspberries with your supper, except in late autumn, winter, and early spring – then you eat dried berries instead. Fruit variety does not affect you, because everything you want is always available. Unfortunately, there is but one other fruit selection, which varies daily. Some who likes, peaches for instance, needs to wait nearly three weeks before they rotate onto the menu again. I think if we were to offer two selections each day, it might be beneficial to the morale." Erestor paused. "We could have apples, raspberries, peaches, and some other fruit."
"That still seems to leave the problem of lack of variety," noticed Galdor.
"Well, we could have... peaches and three random fruits, then," said Erestor.
"Or apples, raspberries, and two random fruits," Elrond corrected.
"Or apples and peaches and two random fruits," suggested Erestor.
"Can we manage that financially?" asked Elrond, and everyone knew to whom the question was directed without his specifying. "Apples, raspberries, and two random fruits," he specified, just in case anyone thought he meant to promote Erestor's specific idea.
Glorfindel opened the ledger with shaky hands. This was not going to be a pleasant morning, not until he found a way to keep his sheet from being read. "I assume we would reduce the amount of some of the fruit that is offered currently? We might need to shift from one of the budgets for things we do not produce a lot of, though our military has been running a small consistent surplus as of late. We could try it out for a month and see how it works."
"Then I would like you, Melpomaen, and Lindir to form a committee. Design a schedule, work out the budget concerns, and be sure to promote it so that we do not end up with excess rotting fruit because everyone wanted apples we did not have." Elrond took the next sheet that he had. "Add Tables to the Hall of Fire."
"Well, we should," blurted out Glorfindel, taking the opportunity presented to him. "Oh... sorry, anonymous, I forgot," he said, blushing appropriately, and hoping to receive the same treatment that Melpomaen had.
"For Eru's sake! From now on, no one says anything after I read the paper!" Elrond shook his head and turned it over – and the color immediately drained from Glorfindel's face. Perhaps no one else would hear, but Elrond would know, Elrond would confront him, he would ask what it meant, and—
With a look of confusion on his face, Elrond looked at Glorfindel and questioned, "You want to improve the relations between this realm and yours? Is there something I need to know?"
"So THAT is what he does in the winter," exclaimed Lindir merrily. "He is not out hunting orcs; he goes to his secret realm that he only rules in the winter months!"
The blush returned. "I... I guess I must not be the only one who thinks we need tables in the Hall of Fire."
"We are not putting tables in the Hall of Fire," said Elrond, crumbling the sheet into a ball before tossing it into the fireplace to be eaten by the hungry flames.
"But—" began a number of council members all at once.
"No discussion. No tables." Elrond unfolded another sheet, and Glorfindel began his worrying all over again. He narrowed his eyes as he read the next one. "Give your chief counselor a raise." He looked down at Erestor accusingly.
Erestor had his hands folded, a smirk on his lips. "I wonder who wrote that," he said, not daring to look at Elrond.
"It could be anyone," Lindir barely managed to release amid his own laughter.
"It sounds like a very good idea to me," chimed in Melpomaen.
"We are not discussing this issue, either," said Elrond as he turned the paper over.
Melpomaen cowered just slightly. "Sorry."
Elrond shook his head and tossed the sheet behind him, missing the fire, as he opened another one.
"What did the other side say?" asked Legolas. "Or, is it not appropriate for polite company?" His gaze shifted momentarily towards Erestor.
Lindir, clown though he was, got up and swiftly went behind Elrond, snatching the sheet up that had gained temporary reprieve from the fire. "See other side!" he shouted out happily to the council.
"Thank you, master minstrel, you may take your seat," declared Elrond as he yanked the sheet away from Lindir and tossed it into the flames.
"It WAS in Master Erestor's hand," said Lindir, a little quieter, as he sat down again.
Master Erestor refused to either confirm or deny this, saying absolutely nothing nearly the rest of the meeting, but smirking or grinning depending upon what was announced. A total of four votes had been cast for tables in the Hall of Fire, though no further legitimate discussion was had on the topic. The variety of other concerns allowed for a good deal of conversation, and two more suggested solutions which were to be tried by committee.
The personal responses were read as well, and sometimes suggestions were made to these. Most were actually not very serious, but those that were were met with Elrond's nod and smile of approval. Each time the Lord of Imladris opened another slip of paper, Glorfindel worried that it might be his. When the final one was reached, he held his breath.
"Good gracious! Just what is so wrong about having just chairs in the Hall?" demanded Elrond as he looked at the last slip of paper.
"There should be some place to put drinks," piped up someone.
"To play chess," suggested another.
"For food," chimed in a third.
"The whole reason for the Hall of Fire is to have a social experience," explained Elrond. "Not for clanging of cups and plates while the minstrels are singing. Not for an extra place for the maids to clean up dropped food from the floor or soiled napkins left on tables. The Hall of Fire is meant to be relaxing and inviting. By having no tables, yes, it discourages everything you have said, but that is precisely the point."
"And, because he says so," added Erestor.
"And that," agreed Elrond, appreciative of the fact that his chief counselor could, indeed, support that which was most important to him even when they did not agree.
Erestor cheekily took the opportunity. "Can I have that raise now?"
"No, but you may be dismissed," announced Elrond as he threw the final sheet into the fire.
"I might be inclined to have the gardeners plant a peach tree outside of your window to save my apples, though."
Glorfindel let out a long sigh, which was missed in the scramble to leave by almost everyone.
"Shall I take the book back with me, if you have finished with it?" offered Erestor.
"Yes, you may. No, that does not constitute in an increase in your wages," said Elrond as he handed the tome to his chief of staff.
"Well, it was worth a try," admitted Erestor as he tucked the volume under his arm and took it with him. His path, however, did not lead him to the library.
There was one thing that Imladris was sorrowfully lacking in: Mathematicians. Even the simplest equations were enough to boggle the minds of the most intelligent who lived there. Elrond himself was known to be a 'finger counter', as Erestor called it. 'And toes, too, if it gets that high,' he once joked, not only of the Imladris Lord, but of himself as well.
Erestor had been able to keep count of the number of papers that Elrond read from. There were seventeen present, including Elrond, but only sixteen read. From the reaction of one of the members of the council, Erestor had some idea of whose hopes and dreams were yet left undiscovered in the book he held as he entered his own quarters and locked the door behind him.
He set the book down and fanned through from end back to beginning, expecting the sheet to fly out. When it did not, he frowned. Had he recalled correctly? Were there seventeen, or only sixteen? Or had Elrond not written one, or slipped his own from the stack when no one was looking?
Erestor tried again, a bit slower, and when he reached page 179, his thumb stayed for a moment before more pages slid by. He stopped and opened the volume, and there, between pages 178 and 179, was the final folded sheet. From what letters he could see, it was evident to him that it was Glorfindel's penmanship on the page.
He pulled the sheet out; Melpomaen had stuck it in so tightly, that it had not slid out of the pages earlier. Upon reading the side he saw first, Erestor smiled. "Poor Elrond – everyone wants tables in that place except for him."
Erestor picked up the sheet between his forefinger and thumb, and paused. Obviously, there was something on the paper that troubled Glorfindel for others to know. Reading it was a breach of privacy. On the other hand, if there was something so important to Glorfindel, Erestor knew he would do whatever he could to help that dream be realized. They had been friends for a long time; so long, in fact, that it seemed impossible to remember a time when they were not. Their friendship was especially meaningful to Erestor, whose life would have ended (at least temporarily) in Gondolin, had Glorfindel not sprung forth in time and taken down the foe that he was so famously known for.
A combination of curiosity and the desire to see Glorfindel as happy as he could be led Erestor to turn the sheet over. Upon it were the words:
To live with the one I died for
For: OEAM Writer's Circle (September: hopes and dreams)