The great white horse atop the hill gazed out over
the waters of the bay, sensing with flared nostrils the approach of a
swan-vessel. A swan-boat and the precious friend it carried, back
from the Lonely Isle raising its back on the horizon of
gray-and-silver rolling waves.
He watched unmoving as the small ship slid into a natural quay at the foot of the hill and the occupants set foot one by one on the narrow plank that lay across the railing to the ground. As if counting, his large eye registered the gait of each elven sailor and passenger until, with a low nickering, he found the object of his search. “Asfaloth!” cried a golden-haired elf through his cupped hands, “I have come!” He waved his arms above his head, then took the uphill path.
Asfaloth in turn took the downhill path, picking his way easily down to the shore. Glorfindel had not climbed more than thirty feet, when his friend found him and nuzzled his first question regarding this recent trip and the one to come. “I did, mellon, I found one that can take us over water into the East. They are making it ready for the journey, and will come for us soon.”
The elf and horse took the road to the Calacirya, walking side by side. “I thank you, my brother and friend, but my legs are stiff from the crossing and I need to feel rock and soil beneath my feet. Once we have gained the Pass, by your leave I will straddle your strong back and you will bear me flying to the city gates.”
Asfaloth laughed softly, for well he remembered the instruction standing for them both on the limitations they must observe within the walls of Valmar: no running, no whinnying, no rooting in the gardens, no bickering with other horses. Without, was another situation altogether; and they would leave the roads and gallop the fields and forests free of restraint. Horse and rider felt no fear, neither of beasts nor treacherous ground, and trusted each other with absolute certainty. Never had one failed the other, not in life-shaking events, not in daily details.
“We are summoned to the Máhanaxar, where this evening the Lords of the West will sit in council. The final word will be spoken, our traverse will be commended to Ulmo and Osse both, and the charge lain upon us: to aid the deliverance of the Outer Lands from the spawn of Morgoth.” Glorfindel flung his arm over the strong white neck as they walked. “For this task I am sent back, and for this task we were brought together, you and I. If not with you, Asfaloth, I would have no hope for this undertaking… I thank you from my heart.”
The great white horse stopped and turned to look his friend in the eye. A gurgling sound rose from his depths and he shoved his forehead into Glorfindel’s chest, then tossed a shrill whinny back over his shoulder for the elf to climb on already. “Very well,” said the Noldo, swinging himself lightly to Asfaloth’s back, “move as you will, my brother.”
The leagues to Valmar melted away as they raced a flock of swallows winging west. The birds finally veered off towards the north, acknowledging defeat in the opinion of Asfaloth. Soon the spires of the towers of Valmar rose into view, then the walls and the orchards surrounding. They slowed their pace and pulled up before the great circle of seats, at that hour still empty, and sought the fresh repose of shady trees.
“Graze on the sweet grasses, Asfaloth, and I will drink of the green. Here we shall await the coming of the Powers.” Glorfindel picked a spot under a wide-branching tree in full flower, and sat with his back against the smooth trunk. He let his eyes become unfocused and rested his hands on his thighs, palms upward, while Asfaloth wandered nuzzling and munching.
Voices, said Glorfindel to himself suddenly. Are they in the air around me or in my depths only? He looked around for his friend and saw him nibbling still, no outer sound arousing his attention. I was drifting within, he said to himself again. But the hour grows near.
Rising, he breathed a short whistle to Asfaloth, who came trotting right away, tail swishing, a sparkle in his eye. “You grateful creature, always ready for a tussle…” Glorfindel smoothed his hands over the gleaming coat, picking out bits of thistle, straightening the tresses of the heavy mane. “One day you will be decked out with precious shining crystals and little golden bells,” he confided to the horse. Asfaloth was doubtful. “You will not have it in you to resist, Asfaloth my friend, when lovely adoring ladies bring you silken ropes twinkling with jewels, braided in devotion with your likeness in their hearts…” Asfaloth did not know any lovely ladies.
“O wonderful wild thing, this life in the Blessed Realm has come to an end for us, and what will be is still unknown.” He paused, plaiting a little braid in his friend’s mane as his memory flew back, searching. “The lands I walked long ago are no more, broken and sunk into Ulmo’s deepest. Few remain with whom I ever spoke… in the far-gone days… There is, I have heard, the Lady Galadriel. The sons of Eärendil, and perhaps the son of Fingon, but I knew them not. They were very young, refugees at the Mouths of Sirion under the care of the Teleri master shipwright Cirdan. What became of them after…” he dwindled off. Asfaloth whispered in his ear, bringing a smile to his face. “You are right, my friend,” he finished.
Evening was upon them, and through the shadows appeared the Vala Oromë. He took his seat in the Ring and called out, “Hail, Asfaloth. Laurefindil.”
Glorfindel bowed deeply, answering in proper fashion, Asfaloth nickered and lowered his head in obeisance. He had been foaled in Oromë’s stables, and looked to the Vala as Great Father.
“We are coming together this night with no surprises for you, Laurefindil. Long have you known the will of Manwë; Varda has blessed you, Nienna has prepared you. Námo has gifted you with prophecy, and Aüle, too, has foreseen your needs. Yavanna has yet to instruct you… perhaps in the later hours.” Oromë looked back towards the city gates. “They have come, my sisters and brothers.”
Glorfindel steadied himself with an effort, and moved close to Asfaloth. It was one thing to study at the feet of a Vala, another to stand before them all together at once. Asfaloth was very still. The two followed with their eyes the long strides of each of the Powers as they came into the Ring and found their seats. The silence seemed unbroken, but Glorfindel sensed the speeches flowing among them and Asfaloth looked from side to side, following. Suddenly the Noldo, addressed directly, heard a clear voice both within his mind and around him, the voice of the wind that is the speech of Manwë.
“Your day of parting draws near, favoured Child of Iluvatar. Are you prepared, strong in body and mind?”
“I am, Lord of the Powers,” said Glorfindel with humility. “I carry with me the careful devoted hours that your gracious mercies have blessed me with. My companion, as well, is restless with desire to sink his hooves into the soil of the Outer Lands. On the morrow a ship will come from Tol Eressëa, and we shall set sail into the East.”
Aüle raised his hand. “Not without a proper blade at your belt, Laurefindil,” he said in serious reflection. “Battles unnumbered await you.”
“The Master has forged in his smithies a weapon of great worth for thee, my son,” the warm smile in the voice of Yavanna stirred him, as it always did. “It is assured to us that this sword will never be raised save in the cause of Iluvatar.”
“Most certainly, dearest Mother,” Glorfindel answered, meeting her gaze with an effort. “Ever my part in the bloody fray has been carried in sorrow. Decision, yes, but never joy.”
Manwë spoke again. “Through the eyes of my eagles I have witnessed your prowess in battle and in mercy, time and again. We saw your work in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, both fighting the creatures of Melkor and covering the retreat of the people of Turgon. And your sacrifice for the escape of the surviving Gondolindrim won you redress of your errors.”
Glorfindel said nothing, and waited with head bowed. After a moment, the deep voice of Aüle rang forth once again. “By this twain of virtues you were brought from the Halls of Waiting as our emissary to the Firstborn, and to those of the Second Children that remain true. Go forth, Laurefindil, and keep fast this blade at your side. It was forged from the heart of the mountain beloved by Manwë and Varda. Take now your weapon, and may we see it return in your hand, its work done. ”
Glorfindel approached the Vala and reached out to take the sword. His fingers wrapped around the hilt instantly felt a warm tingling, that he knew was Aüle’s own deathless energy pounded into the metal during hours on end. He felt joy and comfort at such company, and discreetly spun the weapon from the wrist before and behind him. “Your pardon, Master. I was unable to withhold my desire for the feel of the blade’s weight.” The elf smiled a very small smile and bowed to hide his confusion.
“And your findings?” asked Aüle, indulging him in a rare event.
“I need give you no assurance, Master, for its virtue is well-known to you. The weapon is magnificent, and flows as though it knew already all the moves required of it.” Which is to be most naturally expected, the elf added mentally.
“Observe the scrollwork from the hilt to the blade, my son,” said Yavanna. “It was done at my request, in memory of the House of the Golden Flower.”
Glorfindel regarded the fine tracery on the hilt, depicting the ancient flower under which he had made a good life in faraway Gondolin. The golden petals extended to where the hilt met the blade, at which point the flower seemed to release from within a horse leaping high over a rushing river. “You are here, Asfaloth,” he whispered to his friend nuzzling the blade, as ever curious, “you are the heart of my return to life, and to Endóre.” He raised his eyes to those of Yavanna, sparkling green and gold, and thanked her silently.
“Laurefindil, come hither,” the pure light in the voice of Varda ever had been a truth ineffable for him. He had never heard it raised, but even amid a tumult it was always readily heard. He drew close to her, followed by Asfaloth, and stood at her knee in reverence. “I would have thee carry me always in thy heart, my beloved. This is the likeness of thy star in my heavens, to rest upon thy breast.” In her hand the white jewel seemed smaller than a raindrop, but as he took it gratefully he saw it was to him as the size of his own thumbnail, worked with uncanny skill, for in its depths was not quite hidden Varda’s own divine form. “Call me in thy need, my son,” she said softly. “Ever shall I hear thee, and in thy heart I will answer. And thou, Asfaloth,” the horse stood at attention, “gaze always at the stars above, as I have taught thee. Carry thy brother safe, and return to us upon a fair tide.”
Across the Ring, Oromë made a clicking sound that pulled Asfaloth’s head around, and he trotted over in answer. The Vala said to him in low tones, “There has been no finer steed in all the herds of Valinor, save my own Nahar. The fire of Arien in your heart, my proud one, ice from Oiolossë in your clear thinking, and the light of Varda’s stars coursing in your blood. Happy stallion, go forth and put our strength, yours and mine, to bring down the evil ones.” Asfaloth nickered, acknowledging the mandate.
While the Huntsman instructed Asfaloth and made his farewell, Glorfindel turned to gaze at the Lord of Mandos. He had felt the call in his mind, and quieted all thoughts to attend him. There were no words, as such, nor clear visual images, but he seemed to feel glowing and expanding movements behind his forehead, as if accommodating concentrations of energy. At length Námo sighed, and released the Noldo with a final fleeting image of a ring of fire.
Seated next to Námo was Nienna. She beckoned to Glorfindel and favoured him with a rare smile. “We have come far since the Halls of Waiting, have we not?”
“We have, blessed Mother,” answered the elf. “I pray I will not disappoint you.”
“You will not, this I know,” she said. “But there is one last word to be spoken. You remember still the way of the Outer Lands, under the bonds of Melkor. It will be your lot to carry once again the burden of pain and sorrow, and fear and doubt, as do all Iluvatar’s children in those far lands. Lessened, surely, by the light you bear within, and perhaps you will feel it more when the burden is laid on another, who has not your resources.” Glorfindel went back in his mind suddenly, to a memory of a child wailing amid crashes of thunder or…
“You will have the recourse of pity in those days, to aid the suffering and yet not fall yourself into it. Pity will allow you to be apart and yet committed. Fear not the flow of compassion; it belongs truly to your deepest nature.” Nienna sat back and signed him farewell.
As of one mind, the Valar rose and stretched out their hands to the elf and horse. Both felt the warmth flooding over them, and they were refreshed in spirit, aroused in mind and body. We are ready, was the thought that crossed between them. When they opened their eyes, all the Valar had gone with exception of Yavanna.
She spoke not, but seemed to probe Glorfindel’s mind in a manner not quite like that of the Lord of Mandos. “You have lingered, Holy Mother. Have you a further instruction for us?”
“Your instruction is complete, Laurefindil. I have but a final plea for you.”
“Not a plea, Divine Mother of the Earth. You command your son and servant.”
Yavanna produced a tiny fruit from an unseen pocket and gave it to Asfaloth to nibble. “There is,” she said, “always in my heart a sorrow for those fair lands. You know of this.” Glorfindel nodded, though he knew it was unnecessary. “Carry with you my deep love for the creatures of my hands, the olvar and the kelvar. Do what you can to preserve them as well, while you are working for the deliverance of Eru’s children. This entreaty abides in my heart.”
Glorfindel bowed, at a loss for words, and Yavanna rose to go. “Asfaloth,” she said, “breed fine foals in the Outer Lands.” Asfaloth, surprised, blew out an improper snort. Yavanna laughed as she took the path to the gates of Valmar.
Glorfindel sat on the ground where he stood, gazing after. “My brother, this has been a labor in itself.” Asfaloth nickered assent. “After such a farewell reunion, even the stormiest crossing will be easy to face.”
They walked away from the city, thoughtful for a stretch and then finally breaking into a whistle and dance. The elf laughed and the horse whinnied, scuffling playfully as they made their way back to the Pass of Light. Their last night in the Blessed Realm was as one of many, they felt. Perhaps they were, indeed, already crossing the Sundering Seas.