No Place Like Home
A pair of eagles soared in a mating dance, circling through the blue skies over the Hithaeglir, the male turning spectacular cartwheels in his courtship display.
The elf had watched this avian ritual many times over thousands of years. For a moment, as he lay on his back gazing at the sky, he could almost imagine the surrounding mountain peaks were the Echoriad…
“Have a care, Sunhair. You are not built to defy gravity.”
The youngest Lord of Gondolin laughed as he pulled himself up onto the ledge above him. The valley of Tumladen spread out below him—fertile new farmlands being tilled, lush grasslands clothed in springtime greenery. Pristine white towers on a hill glistened in the morning light.
“I trust you to catch me, Sorontar, should I fall. But I shall not fall!” he called out blithely with the invincible confidence of youth.
Thorondor fixed the elf with a thoughtful, almost sad, golden stare. A shiver passed over the young lord, a brief vision of flames and sheer cliffs rushing past...
Then, pushing back a lock of golden hair blown by the wind over his face, he shrugged off the shadow, and climbed on upwards.
The massive eagle perched by his side now on this high crag was not Thorondor, but his smaller descendant.
“It seems but yesterday he was just an egg,” the eagle was saying, his head swivelling as he watched his grandson’s pursuit of a mate.
“I remember, Gwaihir. Three hundred and eighty-two springs past.”
“Aye, Sunhair. And only three hatchlings in our eyries all that time since. None for the last hundred and fifty-nine springs.”
“Our kind, too, have had no young in recent years.”
Above them, the courting eagles locked talons, and spun around in the sky, spiralling earthwards in a dramatic, death-defying free-fall. Glorfindel quickly sat up to watch them somersault downwards, looking down from his high perch to see them disengage just a split-second before they would have struck the rocks far, far below. It never failed to take his breath away. And this time, there seemed to be a particular poignancy in it for him.
“You are not now as you once were, Sunhair,” observed the ancient bird, as he casually preened his breast feathers with his great hooked beak. “You have a mate on your mind this spring.”
Glorfindel started, and looked sharply at the Lord of the great eagles, his blue eyes wide.
“I would know that look on any of my younglings. For each comes a time for the first skydance. Even after seven thousand springs,” said the great raptor, cocking his head at the elf and fixing a fierce golden eye on him. “Yet you linger here at the time of mating? For even your kind, this is the apt season, is it not, to pair and breed?”
The elf was speechless for a while. “It’s… it’s complicated,” he faltered, eventually. “Very complicated...”
“Your elf-hen will not have you as mate?”
“That’s only part of it,” said the elf sadly. How could an eagle understand what he himself barely did? “I feel… I fear we would hit the rocks.”
The eagle fluffed up his feathers and looked up at the sun. “That can happen,” he conceded.
The young eagles had vanished from their sight. Glorfindel knew that in an eyrie, somewhere, their coupling had begun.
“Yet it is risk makes the dance glorious, and the coupling all the sweeter,” said the Windlord. “Without the plunge, where is courage? Without the dive, where is trust?”
“Yes. Trust. When you chose your mate,”—and Glorfindel knew that Gwaihir had been with his mate since before the Fall of Gondolin—“You knew without a doubt, she was good.”
Gwaihir looked baffled. “There are no bad eagles.”
“Precisely. It is… much simpler, for your kind.” The elf appeared to struggle with himself for a while. “And you see… I have fallen and struck the rocks once before. Because of her.” As he spoke, he realized something new to himself. “And I would willingly be dashed against them again. If it was for her.”
The Windlord cocked his golden eye at Glorfindel again. “So—what is it you fear?”
The elf’s blue eyes were wretched and confused. “It’s complicated.”
Glorfindel had left Dale in an uncertain state of mind that had begun much earlier. As the snows receded and spring came to Dale and the Lonely Mountain, the elf’s mood vacillated wildly.
There had been a raucously cheerful winter’s night drinking ale with King Bard and King Dáin II Ironfoot, which had ended in the King under the Mountain loudly declaring the elf a good fellow and inviting him to visit Erebor.
If the dwarven king ever regretted the invitation once he sobered, Glorfindel never knew. As the elf wandered within the Lonely Mountain, the vast complexes of forges and furnaces, the deep mines and great mountain halls, had all filled him with a surge of longing for one missed so intensely that there was a perpetual ache of emptiness within his heart. I wish I could share this with you. You would have loved this. He paid far too much—dwarves know how to drive a shrewd bargain, especially with a lovelorn elf—for a few crafting tools that he knew she would like.
But then had come sudden bleakness, sparked by his chancing across the tomb of Thorin Oakenshield.
The golden-haired warrior stared, white-faced, at Orcrist in its shining scabbard, laid upon the cold marble slab of the heir of Durin’s tomb.
Glorfindel had not previously been upset when the dwarf had worn Ecthelion’s sword on his belt, the summer before Maeglin came to the valley. When Thorin gave him leave, Glorfindel had briefly held the ancient blade in his hands, deeply moved by the memories that it brought. That the great weapon had survived and would continue to cleave goblins had rather pleased the balrog-slayer, as he was sure it would have pleased his first-life’s best friend. Ecthelion would, after all, have no trouble replacing it with a finer blade in Aman.
But now, surrounded by deep, subterranean shadows and the tombs of dead kings, Orcrist spoke in a cold voice to the Lord of the Golden Flower. It spoke of Ecthelion’s grim, bloodied face, as Glorfindel had retreated with the remnants of their troops from the Square of the King. It spoke of Ecthelion plunging into the waters of his own fountain, pulling his fiery foe with him to their deaths.
And the sword whispered to Glorfindel: you too are a traitor.
A traitor to all the Gondolindrim, his love for the only one of the Firstborn to form alliance with the Black Foe making him complicit, guilty.
That night, back in Dale, sleep eluded Glorfindel. He sat by the window and watched as flurries of snow fell over the city…
“There is naught to deliberate,” said the Lord of the Golden Flower, his voice echoing in Gondolin’s Great Hall of Council. “Was the message of the Lord of the Waters not clear? We should make preparation to depart whilst there is time.”
Black eyes levelled a piercing glance at him. A skeptical eyebrow lifted.
“‘Message of the Lord of the Waters’?” Maeglin said slowly. “Methinks Lord Laurefindil is over-hasty. Should the words of a mere mortal cause us to abandon all we have laboured long to build, to flee in craven fear? Why would the Lord of the Waters choose one of these weak ones—so easily twisted to the will of Morgoth, as we saw to our great loss in the Nirnaeth—as his messenger?”
“The House of Hador are nothing like Uldor and his ilk,” said Ecthelion sternly. “They have ever resisted the Shadow with great courage. I see this man’s nature in his face. He is noble as his father was noble, and there is no shadow upon him. I would not have granted him admittance otherwise.”
Glorfindel glared with grim, dark-blue eyes at the one upon whom shadow rested—who had revealed that shadow on a garden terrace one autumn long ago. The black eyes met his briefly and quickly flicked away.
“So was Húrin noble, yet his son wrought Nargothrond’s fall,” said the prince of Gondolin. “I say not that the son of Huor seeks to deceive. Yet he may himself be under deception. One may be an instrument of darkness all unknowing, for not Irmo alone is the author of dreams and visions. And the lesser children of Ilúvatar are perchance more susceptible to the manipulations of the Black Foe.”
“He came clad in the very armour Ulmo said we should take as a sign,” said the Lord of the Swallow.
“Armour that lay within unguarded ruins for centuries. It was only a matter of time before one came and looted it, if not this vagabond mortal, then some bandit—though to my mind, there is little difference.”
The Lord of the Heavenly Arch looked thoughtful. “There was a power in the son of Huor’s words beyond that of any ordinary man. Did not our fëar stir within us as he spoke?”
Maeglin shrugged. “No more than it would for any orator skilled in swaying hearts and minds, as he undeniably is. I do not know about power...” The black eyes narrowed. “But—if there was power indeed, then it begs the question: whose power? Who would gain most from our abandonment of this stronghold? Who is it desires most our retreat, our giving up our opposition to Angband from this secret kingdom? Think—’twas Lord Ulmo himself that chose this very valley, this very land. Do we not question his wisdom in this choice, if we entertain thoughts of deserting it? Is it not counter to his plan and purpose? And think of all our labours for the last centuries. With all we have done to fortify and safeguard this kingdom, is there a place more impregnable than this in all Arda? The eagles watch over it. With constant vigilance, our patrols wipe out any of Morgoth’s creatures that wander near, leaving nary a trace for others to find. The mortal himself would never have found the way, save by Voronwë’s guidance—and indeed, I wonder that severer disciplinary measures have not been meted out to the son of Aranwë for violation of our laws...”
Glorfindel gazed bleakly out over the moonlit city of Dale through frosty window panes as he recalled that day. The debate had gone back and forth another hour. Taciturn and silent as the Lord of the Mole was wont to be, he could hold forth with eloquence at need. All the lords had spoken in turn, and at the end were divided into two equal camps.
“I have spoken enough.” A princely wave of a hand, wearily. “In the end, it matters not what I think.” Maeglin turned to the king who sat next to him, and bowed deeply. “I shall abide by the will of my king. Let it be as you decide, my liege.”
All eyes in the Council Hall were on Turgon, who had sat stern and silent, listening to the debate, the gaze of his grey eyes oft moving from his nephew and his lords to the great stone-arched windows. Beyond, his white city lay glittering and breathtakingly beautiful in the morning sunshine. Fairer even than Tirion, to his mind. And more beloved.
“Aye,” said Penlod, standing and bowing. “Let it be as you decide, my lord king.”
As one by one, the lords stood and bowed, Glorfindel and Ecthelion’s eyes had met across the table. Maeglin knew well the king’s heart. As did they.
Not the king and his nephew alone loved the city. For all the lords, this was home, and dearer even perhaps to those who had known great loss of another across the sea. If there was still uneasiness in some hearts, if some wondered still if the warning might not truly be of Ulmo, it did not cost them great effort to disregard it.
Years later, Maeglin vanished. For months. His most trusted aides within the House of the Mole knew not his whereabouts, but said he was seeking for ores on the mountain slopes within the valley, now that Anghabar was out of bounds. If they were to be trusted, the Lord of the Golden Flower had thought darkly. Their loyalty to Maeglin ran so deep, that he would not have put it past them to lie at their lord’s behest.
Ah, and what could inspire such loyalty?
Glorfindel, as he sat by the window in Dale, remembered a night back in Gondolin, shortly after their return from the Nirnaeth Arnoediad…
“Come quickly,” said a terse, abrupt voice. “It’s Eneldur.”
Startled, the Lord of the Golden Flower turned from the patient he was watching over to see the Lord of the Mole standing behind him in his white infirmary gown—the first time in over a century the latter had worn anything but the perpetual mourning of black. He was ashen and leaned on the doorway for support, his hair falling in a black tangle over his shoulder.
“You should not have left your bed,” said Glorfindel sharply, himself with a bandaged left hand.
“Eneldur’s taken a turn for the worse,” Maeglin snapped impatiently. “Will you come? I cannot find any of the fool physicians on duty.”
There was no mistaking the urgency in his voice, nor the desperation that must have driven him to seek help from the elf he hated. The golden-haired lord glanced at his now peacefully sleeping patient, then quickly rose, helping the Lord of the Mole to the next room without another thought. And as they hurried there, the prince accepted the Golden Flower’s strong shoulders under his arm, and his enemy’s good arm half-lifting him by his waist.
Eneldur was a lowly ohtar in the army of the Mole. It was clear at once to Glorfindel that he was sinking—the grey colour of his face, the sunken eyes, the struggle for each rasping, shallow breath through the open mouth.
Maeglin dropped onto the stool by the bed and leaning over, said harshly. “Hold on, damn you. Don’t you dare give up on me. You hear me, ohtar?” But his hand closed over the dying man’s in a clasp that was unexpectedly gentle.
On the other side of Eneldur’s pallet—they had run out of beds in the healing hall and pallets were lined up in rows in rooms converted to makeshift infirmaries—Glorfindel knelt and laid his hand on the ohtar’s chest. He had been tending the wounded all day, and his reserves were already depleted. He began to sing softly, letting what strength and healing remained in his fëa and hröa flow into the fading warrior.
Glorfindel did not know how much time passed before he collapsed. When he came to, he was sitting on the floor, leaning against a wall, and Rog was crouched next to him, eyeing him with grave concern.
“The Mole ohtar—” Glorfindel managed to say.
“Here,” growled a low voice. The golden head turned slowly to see Maeglin seated next to another of his ohtari. Eleven wounded Moles lay in this room.
“Hantanyet.” The raven head gave a nod of thanks.
Glorfindel gave him a small smile, then slipped into unconsciousness again as the Lord of the Hammer slung the golden lord’s tall, slender frame over his broad smith’s shoulder and took him back to the House of the Golden Flower.
The first green on the trees in Dale and the sound of rushing meltwaters brought a huge rush of elation. Glorfindel’s work with King Bard and his warriors went smoothly, and was concluded by mid-spring. As Glorfindel bade farewell to the people of Dale—including numerous children with whom he had enjoyed some stirring snow fights—the elf could barely wait to pack his gear, jump on Asfaloth, and head west.
But on the journey home, Asfaloth was more baffled and exasperated by his rider than he had been for the almost seven millennia of their whole relationship.
The elf hardly sang on the journey. He was silent for alarmingly long stretches of time.
At times, the elf rode him at a tearing pace, as though a dozen firedrakes were on their tail.
At others, they slowed to a ridiculous amble, or the elf let him wander free the whole day, grazing by the Anduin, while said elf lay chewing on a stalk of grass, or picking at petals of wild flowers, or staring into space in the most melancholic fashion.
They spent a pleasant enough week with Beorn at the Carrock, who had a delicious treat for the stallion—spring apples.
The elf then urged the white elfhorse to make a mad sprint into the Hithaeglir.
A week was then frittered away socializing with eagles, while Asfaloth grazed in a small mountain meadow in the shadow of the eyries, talking to a few mountain rams to stave off boredom.
Another two weeks were spent ambushing orcs and wargs on the western slopes of the mountains with a disturbingly grim fury that Asfaloth associated more with the peredhel twins when they were in orc-hunting mode.
Late one moonless night, Glorfindel sat high on a ledge in the mountains. From there, he could watch for orcs, keep an eye on Asfaloth, and yet blend into the rockface with his bright hair covered by the elven grey hood and cloak he wore. He had even covered Asfaloth’s gleaming white coat with a grey caparison. The noble steed did not mind; the winds in these heights were nippy.
But even as Glorfindel’s blue eyes scanned the slopes around him, and gazed at Eriador stretching out to the west, his thoughts were six thousand years away.
The transformation in Lómion, since his mysterious disappearance and return, made Glorfindel and several others uneasy.
“But I do not understand how we missed you,” said the Lord of the Golden Flower with a frown. “We spread out and searched for days. All the slopes around Tumladen.”
“We feared you might have had an accident,” said the Lord of the Swallow.
“Indeed—the hills can be most treacherous, cundunya,” said the Lord of the Harp, fanning himself vigorously, for it was warm in the forge.
The Lord of the Mole smiled—actually smiled—a pleasant, even winsome smile. The lords were suddenly reminded of Aredhel. And how vastly attractive the prince actually was. One tended to forget, given the grimness of his habitual countenance. “I am deeply touched by your concern. And I regret the valuable effort and resources wasted in the search.” There was a velvety smoothness in the low voice that was new too. “But it was entirely unnecessary. I left clear word with my aides that I would be absent for a time. Prospecting is slow work, and I had to venture deep into hidden caves.”
“Alone?” said the Lord of the Fountain sharply. “Countless dangers lurk in those caves. To have brought none of your men with you was unwise and reckless indeed.”
Ignoring him, Maeglin drew out a bulky cloth bag, and emptied an impressive pile of rough gemstones onto the table. “I found not that which I sought the most—neither iron nor copper, alas—but thankfully, I did not come away empty-handed.”
The eyes of the lords glinted with interest, for they loved gems. And as they fingered the stones, discussed various cuts, and had a share of gems generously bestowed upon each of them by the prince’s generosity, there were no more probing questions regarding the four months and nine days for which he had disappeared without a trace.
Maeglin actually became almost popular with the other lords over the next six years.
Six years, the prince of Gondolin had gone about his business as usual in the city he had betrayed.
Six years, he had smiled into the eyes of those whose death warrant he had signed.
Glorfindel had combed through his memories, hoping to recall the smallest flicker of guilt or regret on the prince’s face in those six years. Nothing.
Thinking of it always upset the balrog slayer so much that he almost did not note the pack of seven wargs on the rocks below, till Asfaloth raised the alarm.
At once, Glorfindel jumped down with drawn sword, grey cloak swirling behind him. The wargs had descended upon a lone traveller, a tall figure in a dark green hood and cloak, leather armour showing beneath, who was doing good work with his sword defending himself. Even as Glorfindel leapt into the fray he recognized those sword strokes.
The elflord despatched the last three wargs swiftly, and the traveller pushed back his hood to show a familiar face, grinning. “Glorfindel!”
The two friends embraced.
“What are you doing here, mellon-nín? And all alone?”
“Making my way in the world!” said the young Dúnadan with a smile, though his eyes were grave. He was now almost as tall as Tuor had been, and Glorfindel saw in his face that the youngling of a year past was gone. There was a new fire in his grey eyes, a sense of purpose, a hint of steel. “I shall return not to Imladris, and shall call no place home, till I have proven myself.”
“So... you know,” said Glorfindel to the descendant of Elendil, as they both cleaned and sheathed their swords. “Elrond had not planned to tell you for another five years.”
“Yes, he told me.”
“You have come of age young, lad.”
“All these years, everyone in the house knew—except for me,” there was nothing accusatory in his tone, only matter-of-factness. “Now I understand why you trained me so exactingly, and pushed me as hard as you did.”
“I have seen too many of your forefathers fall before their time, Estel. Your fate shall not be as your father Arathorn’s. I would that you live your full length of days, till you choose to lay them down.”
“Call me Estel no more, Glorfindel, but the name my father gave me.”
“Aragorn. It suits.” Glorfindel grinned. “You do not seek to join with the Rangers up north?”
“I left Imladris a month past, and I have just been with the Rangers in Evendim. Good men all, familiar enough with me from my last few orc raids with them. But I am still an unproven pup in their eyes, though none would say it. I shall return some day, and take up the sword that was broken, when I have earned a right to command their allegiance as much by deed as by blood. I have listened so many hours to the tales of your travels and the lands east of the Hithaeglir, Glorfindel. I go now in search of my own adventures and service. As I have been told, only he with a heart to serve truly leads.”
Glorfindel smiled and nodded. “But it is a long, hard road. And you have not even a horse.”
“Aye, I was sad to part with Duiroch, but he belongs in Imladris.”
“Will you allow me to journey at least part of the way with you? Asfaloth can bear us both.” Glorfindel felt a war within his own spirit—between the pull homewards to Imladris—and the lure of new adventures.
Aragorn looked at Glorfindel with his young-old eyes. “I thank you, mellon-nín. You cannot imagine how much that tempts me. But I must make my own way. I have a good sword at my belt, and your teaching within me. I shall be fine.”
“Yes, you shall,” said Glorfindel, his blue eyes solemn, knowing it would be so, yet grieving at the hard roads and the perilous paths and the lonely years he saw stretching ahead of his pupil.
“And,” added Aragorn with a wry smile and a wicked glint in his eye. “You must be impatient to get home to see someone.” The smile quickly faded, and a shadow crossed his face before he could hide it.
“What do you mean?” Glorfindel said sharply, his eyes staring piercingly at the adan, taken aback both by his words and the look on his face that followed. And then, with sudden elven insight, he understood.
“Let’s just say,” said the boy softly, “that I think both of us left our hearts at Imladris. You with Twilight’s Daughter, and I with Twilight’s Star.”
“Oh, Est—Aragorn,” said Glorfindel. “Arwen? And Elrond knows?”
“Yes.” The boy did not need to say any more. “I was not wrong about you, was I?”
“Am I so transparent? Does everyone know?” said Glorfindel with a sigh.
“Oh, no. At least, I think not. I guessed long ago. You guarded yourself less before me then. I was just a silly boy who wrote bad songs and wanted to go for swims instead of swordfighting lessons.”
Glorfindel laughed, and the two friends returned to the high ledge and talked through the night. And they spoke no more of love, but of the lands and realms and peoples that lay east.
And each in his heart deemed his own cause in love less hopeful than the other’s.
The stallion of Aman was relieved when, on a warm, golden, summer morning, they came to the upper course of the Bruinen, and took the path that led them home through the northern pass of Imladris. And as always, elves hailed them enthusiastically from the trees and hillsides, and welcomed them back with song and laughter.
It was good to be home. Asfaloth’s ears relaxed forward and his tail lifted happily as Glorfindel gave him an extra-long wash and grooming.
The warrior could hear the rhythmic song of a hammer on metal even as he settled Asfaloth back in his stable stall. It pulled at him as sirens pull sailors upon the rocks.
And his elven ears could hear a voice. He recognized it. Elrohir’s.
“...so Elladan and I sneaked into the healing halls early that morning, and stole some hiccupping herb from the cupboard, and put it into Glorfindel’s breakfast.”
Glorfindel winced as he brushed Asfaloth’s coat. He remembered that day. It was a classic elfling prank. Only they had given him a double dose of the herb.
“...he was hiccupping so violently from breakfast till dinner that he had to be sent to the healing halls and all training sessions for the day were cancelled.”
Who was he speaking to? There was no response from whoever it might be.
“Ai! A smile at last. Your smiles, híril-nín, have become as costly as mithril, and as rare.”
Unable to bear it any longer, Glorfindel finished off Asfaloth’s coat with a last few strokes, strode out of the stables, and peered towards the smithy around the corner of the building.
“I will not devalue them, then,” said a voice that made his heart leap. “Is this a game you wish to play? You shall lose. I can set my face as stone.”
The large doors were wide open, and Maeglin was standing at the anvil nearest the entrance—right where Camaen normally worked, and Camaen was nowhere to be seen at the forge. She was shaping a piece of plate armour on it, and the golden morning light glinted off the steel and off her glossy black hair.
Glorfindel drank in the sight of her, as a parched man might slake his thirst at an oasis after a long spell in the desert. The shapeless boys’ tunic was gone. She was wearing a dark-blue, sleeveless tunic with lacing down the front, and it was fitted in shape and highlighted the fullness of her bosom, and the swell of her hips below her narrow waist. He could see what lean, muscled arms both sword and smithy had given her as she worked. Her hair had grown longer, and she wore it loose; it hung like black silk to her hips. She was frowning slightly as she worked, whether from concentration or annoyance at Elrohir’s chatter, he could not tell. But no face in the world was lovelier to him than this one.
And in that moment, all his war between desire and repulsion, sympathy and condemnation melted away.
All that Maeglin had been, past and present, all that Maeglin had done—all the darkness, the woundedness, the rage, the brilliance, the bitterness, the strength, the flashes of compassion, the arrogance, the valour, the treachery, the deaths of a hundred thousand Eldar, Glorfindel’s own death—it all came together in the tall, slender maiden standing over an anvil, frowning in the morning sun.
And Glorfindel laid his struggle down. He had known this One he gazed at now for a hundred and nineteen coranári. And with all he was, fëa and hröa, he felt how all the strange paths of both their lives had brought him to this moment. Acceptance of all Maeglin was—and the him she had once been—dawned upon Glorfindel’s heart like a sunrise. It brought both acute anguish to his heart like the stabbing of a jagged blade, and a transcendent flood of tenderness and release that was close to rapture.
And it was no longer complicated. It was simple.
He would love Maeglin, regardless. He would believe in the goodness he felt lay within her, despite all evidence to the contrary. He would seek her happiness. He would watch over her. He might pine for her till the Second Music, unrequited. He might be hurt more than all the wounds his body had taken in two lives. So be it. It was what it was.
“Set your face as stone? By Eru, I know you can, you rare girl! You might be fashioned from stone as much as the naugrim.” Elrohir laughed. He was standing near Maeglin, leaning against the wall much as Glorfindel used to do when he visited Camaen. “But it sounds like a challenge I would relish!”
There was a bowl of berries and a pile of buttercups and cornflowers on the corner of a work table, and Elrohir was weaving the flowers into a garland that was almost finished. As he spoke those last words, he took a couple of berries and popped them into Maeglin’s mouth as she worked, before popping a few into his own. She accepted it as though it were commonplace between them.
Glorfindel’s blue eyes darkened. He stepped out from hiding and walked up the path.
“Give me a few berries,” said Elladan, who was sitting outside on a bench, reading a book, his long legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles. “And tell her about the time we tied Glorfindel’s hair to his bedpost as he slept.” The elder twin’s eyes stayed on the page as he took some berries from his brother’s hand.
“Well, yes, we tied Glorfindel’s hair to his bedpost. Then we stood at the foot of the bed—and shouted at the top of our lungs!”
“I always thought Glorfindel was the prankster, rather than the pranked,” Maeglin remarked, raising an eyebrow.
Both twins burst out laughing. “That shows you’ve been speaking to Erestor too much!” “Ah, now, they have had a running battle since Lindon.” “I don’t recall Glorfindel ever pranking anyone else.” “He has many a fine adventure of his elfling days to share, however.” “Say, how about that time Glorfindel—”
“That is quite enough about Glorfindel for one day,” said Maeglin shortly. “Could you pass me those pliers, please.”
As Elrohir did so, he espied Glorfindel. With a shout, the peredhel twin flew down the path, followed closely by Elladan, and enveloped Glorfindel in a hug that almost knocked the balrog slayer over.
“Ai! You’re back!” “You don’t know how much we missed you!” “We were just talking about you!” “So much has happened since you left.”
Over the twin-hug engulfing him, Glorfindel saw Maeglin’s eyes narrow and her mouth tighten. She bent her head and continued working on her armour.
The twins and Glorfindel exchanged news for some time, chiefly about Estel, then headed up the path to the smithy.
Maeglin raised her head and the eyes of the hero and his beloved traitor met.
The last time they had seen each other, she had dared him to put her in plate armour. It had happened so quickly... she had run, he had caught her in three seconds; he had grabbed her by the waist and lifted her off her feet; she had grabbed hold of a weapons rack which then fell over; he had pulled her clear of the collapsing rack and the lances and swords and quarterstaffs that had rained down with it; they had fallen over onto the floor with her on top of him, their limbs in a very interesting tangle, their faces a mere inch from each other, just as Elrond had flung the door open. They were both remembering the moment vividly, and flushing slightly.
“Mae le’ovannen, Lord Glorfindel. Welcome home. It is good to see you again.” Maeglin cold voice belied the touch of pink glowing in her cheeks.
Le’ovannen. In the training room, over the winter, they had begun to use gi instead of le. Her reversion to formal terms of address, her distancing of him, hurt.
“Mae le’ovannen, Maiden Lómiel,” he said, matching her formality. “That is a fine looking piece of armour you’re making. But where is Camaen?”
Maeglin looked out over the meadow, and the twins pointed in the same direction. “There he is,” said the elder twin.
And there, walking under the apple trees, was Camaen hand in hand with Thalanes the healer.
“There certainly appear to have been a lot of changes since I left,” said Glorfindel, turning back to the smithy to see Elrohir setting the finished garland of buttercups and cornflowers on Maeglin’s hair.
“Elrohir! Not now,” she said testily. “I’m working! And you’re making me look a sight.”
Ignoring her protest, the younger twin arranged the flowers around her ears, and paused to examine his work critically. “What do you think?” he asked Glorfindel with a grin. “A sight worth coming home to, is she not?”
Maeglin scowled darkly at Glorfindel and the peredhel twins.
“Beautiful. All ready for midsummer,” said Glorfindel in a stifled voice. He had carried the twins in his arms the day they were born, babysat them all through their elfling years, trained them as warriors, and loved them dearly, but at this moment he was itching to punch Elrohir in the face.
If it meant her happiness, would you step aside and bless it?
Yes. Even though it slay me. Yes.
“We feared you would not be back for the Gates of Summer, Glorfindel.”
“It never is as enjoyable when you are absent.”
“Lindir will be delighted to see you!”
“And we shall get to hear you sing of Gondolin again.”
Startled, Glorfindel looked at the twins. “Sing… of Gondolin? You mean…?”
“Yes, it’s the Gondolin festival this year again, for Tarnin Austa!” said Elrohir
“It is about time. It has been over two yéni since the last one,” said Elladan.
Glorfindel was aghast.
It had begun early in the Third Age. The two hundred years after the grief and loss of the war had seen a mass exodus to Aman. But amid the sorrow, hope had flowered—and new life. Weddings. A new Lady at Imladris. A sudden proliferation of babies across the valley, including the birth of three children to its Lord. As they put behind the war and the darkness, the Imladrim began to revel in song, and dance, and staging plays, and holding feasts and festivals with a vengeance.
As they gathered around a warm hearth one day in hrívë, Lindir mentioned shyly that he had been composing songs and writing some scenes on the Fall of Gondolin.
“I thought to have them performed this Tarnin Austa,” the minstrel said, eyeing Glorfindel a little nervously. “But I was not sure how you might feel about it.”
Elrond’s eyebrow raised slightly. “Songs and re-enactments of the Fall of Gondolin? At Tarnin Austa?”
“Er—yes. That seems most apt. I wish to honour the heroism and courage of the warriors on that Tarnin Austa, long ago, and to celebrate the fairest and most glorious city in Beleriand.”
“I think that may touch too close for comfort,” said Elrond slowly as he leaned back in his armchair, looking at the hero of Gondolin.
They all turned to look at the hero of Gondolin.
Glorfindel, sprawled on a chaise longue with baby Arwen chewing on the ends of his gold hair as she lay on his chest, had a slightly perplexed expression on his fair face.
“I am sorry, it was a bad idea,” said Lindir hurriedly.
“Oh no, not at all,” said Glorfindel. “I see no reason why we should not do this. Although I honestly have no idea how it would feel to relive Gondolin’s fall again, I do appreciate your intent and idea, truly.”
“Would it give you nightmares, do you think?” asked Erestor, almost hopefully.
Glorfindel looked thoughtful. “It would be interesting to find out. I have had no nightmares about it ever since I was rebodied. I have never even dreamt once of the balrog.”
Murmurs of incredulity from the others.
“It’s true. In fact, I never have any nightmares at all.”
That was one of the things that Erestor found supremely annoying about the chosen servant of the Valar. How could anyone be so completely free of fears and neuroses? So… so happy and almost carefree, after being killed in the First Age, and surviving the most horrendous wounds at the end of the Second Age? It almost offended the counselor’s sensibilities. He thought he would have liked the once-slain hero more were he clothed in a more tragic aura, were he just a tad more angst-ridden.
“We could celebrate the food and culture of Gondolin as well,” Glorfindel said, brightening, for he could seldom stay pensive for long. He pulled his hair out of the baby’s mouth, and balanced her on one hand, where she sat cooing delightedly, perfectly poised and quite thrilled. He smiled and kissed her little cheek. “I can think of any number of lovely poems and songs that were lost with our libraries, and a dozen delicious dishes I’ve not tasted in four thousand years to put on a menu.”
“That would be wonderful!” said Celebrían, as Arwen grabbed another handful of golden hair. Glorfindel tugged his hair out of her tiny hands, nuzzled her tummy to distract her, and blew a long, loud raspberry into it to her great glee.
“Gof!” said the baby at the end of a long gurgle of laughter.
“Did you hear that? Her first word!” the golden-haired warrior said rapturously. “And it’s my name! Yes, you clever girl!”
“Gof? That’s not remotely your name! It’s not even a word of any sort!” Erestor sputtered crossly, watching Arwen pull at Glorfindel’s golden locks. “It’s just a—a random baby noise!”
Elrond and Celebrían, who had taken the honours for the first words of Elladan and Elrohir respectively, merely beamed indulgently at their daughter and their golden-haired friend.
“Yes it is, it is my name!” The warrior smiled into the infant’s tiny grey eyes. “You tell Erestor, blossom. What’s my name?”
“Gof!” Arwen said triumphantly to Erestor with a toothless grin every bit as dazzling as Glorfindel’s.
“Who is your favouritest elf in all Eä, blossom? After Ada and Nana, of course.”
“Who is an annoying, obnoxious ass?” Erestor cut in irately.
“Oooh, such language!” Glorfindel covered the baby’s ears. “Shame on you, Erestor.”
Lindir laughed. “Would you cast a critical eye upon what I have written thus far, and give your honest verdict?” said the minstrel to Glorfindel.
“It would be my pleasure,” said Glorfindel, as Arwen tried to detach one of his braids from his scalp.
“And we should have a re-enactment of the battle with the balrog,” said Erestor.
“Only if you are the balrog,” said Glorfindel, sweetly, and cuddled a blissful baby to his chest.
The song the twins had looked forward to Glorfindel singing was the opening of the festivities. Glorfindel’s song would paint a picture of the white city—its towers, squares, fountains; the seven gates; the vale of Tumladen; the encircling mountains. No one could describe it with as much love and knowledge as he did. And none had enjoyed each of the Gondolin festivals, held every two to three yéni, more than he.
But now, the balrog slayer stared blankly at the twins. “But I did not know about it—I am not ready—”
“But no one knows the song as well as you! You composed it.”
“You have never needed any preparation before.”
If the hero was sure of one thing, it was that the last thing in Eä he wanted right now was to relive the Fall of Gondolin. And he was certain, even without looking at the traitor, that Maeglin felt even more sickened than him by all this. He had watched her face during her first Midsummer here, and noted how she had vanished for those that followed. He had been torn between sympathetic pain at the anguish he sensed in her, and utter relief and thankfulness for the guilt-stricken, remorseful heart that bespoke. She must have been suffering agonies here since the preparations for the festival began.
“Surely,” said the balrog slayer desperately, “surely Lindir has chosen others to take my place, by now.”
“Yes, but they would step down with pleasure once they know you have returned.”
“The chefs will be overjoyed that you are here to taste their dishes!”
“And the elflings will be delighted that you are here to see the re-enactment of your duel with the balrog!” That too was a tradition. The youngest toddler in the valley always acted as Glorfindel, and three elflings clambered with glee into an oversized costume to play the balrog. It was always a crowd pleaser, and usually hilarious. This time might be the last time. The youngest elfling was already a little fellow of nineteen. And he looked to be the last elfling born in Imladris. “They have been rehearsing for weeks.”
The battle between Tuor and Maeglin was always re-enacted by elflings as well, with a rather vile looking puppet playing the traitor since no one wanted the role. Glorfindel felt sick at the thought of it. Please, Eru, let not the twins mention that now.
Thankfully, they did not. Glorfindel glanced at Maeglin. She was frowning and working on the armour as though her life depended on it. Her face was even paler than usual.
He wished, helplessly, that he could offer her some form of comfort. But even if he could find any means of doing so, comfort coming from him would probably count to her as none.
Excusing himself, he left the smithy, collected his belongings from the stables, and went into the house.
After Glorfindel had concluded his report on Mirkwood and Dale to Elrond, as he rose to leave, Elrond suddenly said, “Lómiel has come of age, by the way. I thought you might wish to know.”
Glorfindel looked at his lord in surprise, and remained silent.
Elrond looked down at his desk and carefully arranged some papers. “After observing her over the year, we arrived at the conclusion that she has attained her full stature, and, er—probably had for a while, actually. I realized that Arwen had been passing her some dresses to wear for several years, and the fit had not changed in all that time. Hence, we celebrated her majority with all the traditional rites this tuilë.” Because no one besides Glorfindel knew her actual begetting day, the household always celebrated it on the day she had come to Imladris.
Glorfindel was not quite sure how to respond. “Thank you for informing me,” he said politely. “I am sorry to have missed the ceremony.”
“Well, it does mean that should there be any desire to do so on your part, she may be paid court to.”
Elrond saw a brief flash of fire in the blue eyes.
“It would appear that Elrohir is already doing so,” said Glorfindel in an even voice.
Elrond was taken aback. “I am not aware that my son is paying court to anyone, Glorfindel.”
“I have seen couples court for seven millennia, Elrond. When an eligible ellon feeds an eligible elleth with berries from his own hand and weaves and places flower garlands on her hair—especially when he has never done so for any other elleth in the two thousand eight hundred and thirty-one coranári of his life—I assure you it looks like he is paying court.” And if you do not wish to have your great-uncle as your law-daughter you would put a stop to this right now, Glorfindel thought.
Elrond knit his brows slightly. “I do not believe it means what you think. She saved his life in the winter—“
“When they were ambushed in the southern Coldfells—“
“Ambushed? She has been riding out with the guards?” Glorfindel blanched. “Yrch?”
“No, it was after the yrch. They were riding home from a successful raid when they ran into a blizzard, and were attacked by a snow troll. She saw a large rock going straight at Elrohir, and pushed him out of the way. Her armour took some damage, but thankfully she was not crushed.”
“Oh Eru and all his Ainur!! Not crushed?? Was she injured??”
“Four broken ribs, some internal bleeding, a puncture to the lung—”
“Broken ribs?? Internal bleeding?? A puncture to a lung??” The fearless warrior’s voice rose by an octave, and he looked as though he was going to faint. “Which lung?” he asked, as though it mattered.
Elrond eyed the warrior with concern. “The right lung, caused by a fracture in a middle right rib. Not a large puncture, thankfully, so surgery was not required. She has fully recovered of course, and Elrohir visited her often while she was in the healing halls. They have become close friends. He is grateful. As am I.”
“Is she still going out on patrols?”
“She is, as said, fully recovered, so yes. And the twins may include her in their orc-hunting party, now she is well again.”
“Not if I have anything to say about it,” Glorfindel muttered darkly under his breath.
“So,” said Elrond carefully. “You do care for her still?”
Glorfindel did not speak for a while. He imagined himself paying court to Maeglin. It was hard to imagine any good outcome. He may have risen above the ancient enmity that lay between them—but Maeglin made it abundantly clear she had not. The coldness of their recent meeting gave him no hope. He had surrendered to loving her. But he could not see himself winning her.
“Should there be mutual affection between Lómiel and any worthy ellon, I would wish them joy,” he said finally. “And there can be no doubt Elrohir is worthy.”
It was all the answer Elrond needed. “I never thought I would see the day. So you love her. Court her then!”
Glorfindel winced, and shook his head. “Elrond, please—”
“If your concern is Elrohir, I know my son, and I do not believe his heart is for any maiden. I shall speak to him—”
“Oh, no. Please do not. And please, let us never speak of this again. Ever.” And with a bow Glorfindel quickly took his leave.
Elrond was mildly baffled after the golden warrior left his study.
That had not quite gone as he had thought it would.
But on the bright side, at least the balrog slayer did not appear to have any more paranoid delusions about reborn traitors of Gondolin lurking in Imladris in the guise of elfmaids.
Over a year ago, when the reborn traitor had discovered that the reborn hero of Gondolin had left Imladris without even a farewell, nothing had prepared her for the complete devastation and loss that had struck her. Camaen never guessed that beneath her impassive demeanour, when he casually mentioned that Glorfindel was gone, she had felt as though her chest had been torn open and hacked at with a knife.
She had spent much of that morning feeling bereft, abandoned—even betrayed—pretending to work.
You utter fool.
How did you let this happen?
How did you not guard your heart?
The desire she had toyed with, foolishly, had now turned upon her, burgeoned into a monster beyond her control.
And Maeglin needed no other reason to hate him now but the acute pain in her heart the very thought of him brought. And the abyss of terror that lurked beneath.
She threw herself once again into her craft. And into training with the guard under the watchful eye of the twins. Before long, they had her riding out with them and Estel on orc hunts. She unloaded her pain through the force of her hammer upon the anvil, and through the rage she unleashed upon the creatures of darkness with her sword.
She would craft chains to lock up her heart stronger than those that had bound her in Angband.
I am iron and stone. I will feel nothing.
By hrivë, she felt herself much recovered. She felt little besides annoyance when Glorfindel was spoken of—and he was spoken of frequently.
It was good that he had left when he did. It had been a close call.
Maeglin would never let it happen again.
And this morning, on Midsummer’s Eve, she had passed the test. There had been the initial awkwardness, given the circumstances of their last meeting. But she had really felt next to nothing.
And now he was heading up the path to the smithy again. Maeglin was still strong. Still stone. She glanced at him and nodded almost indifferently, and continued grinding the sword in her hand. Camaen, who was feeding the furnace at the back of the smithy, gave the warrior a cheerful wave, and continued to stoke the fire, whistling as he worked.
Glorfindel thought, You have also gone back to sword making, I see, Lómion. But all he said was, “A beautiful sword, Maiden Lómiel.”
“It will be passable after another round of tempering,” she replied. “The problem is materials. It’s not easy to get our hands on good ore here.”
I am sure you miss the mines of Anghabar, he thought. He said, “I heard you have joined the patrols.”
She arched an eyebrow at him, remembering his objection. “You disapprove?”
“I heard you almost got killed.” Again, he added in his thoughts.
“But not in combat,” she said. “The snow trolls were unexpected.”
“You need to be faster next time. I shall train you.”
“I do very well training with the guard under Captain Emlindir, hîr-nín. But I thank you for the offer.”
“Have you made yourself a good sword?”
“Not yet. Standard issue still.” Maeglin turned the blade she held in her hand, critically.
“I heard that you celebrated your coming of age while I was away. I have a gift for you.”
Not the crafting tools he had bought from the dwarves. That could wait. As he had left Elrond’s study, he had realized full well that he could not stop Maeglin from going on the patrols. Not only because of how it would look, but because he could not deny the fierce warrior in her blood, that he both loved and feared.
But he could give her a worthy weapon with which to defend herself.
It was not a gift given with intent to woo; he had little hope of success in that. But it was a gift of love.
So now, Glorfindel took out Idril’s sword in its scabbard from the thick cloth that wrapped it. It shone with blinding brilliance in the late sun as he unsheathed it. “It was made by a master smith in Gondolin.”
And he watched Maeglin’s face turn white and bleak.
Of course he had known she would recognize her own craftsmanship.
Five years before Gondolin fell, Glorfindel had gone to the Lord of the Mole, and requested a fine sword for a lady. Not a decorative one. One for use in battle.
He had not said whom it was for.
Earlier that spring, Idril had spoken to Glorfindel, her eyes troubled. “I want you to teach me to fight,” she said, a note of darkness in her voice that he not heard in it before.
“Fight? You? Why, my princess?” he asked, his blue eyes surprised.
Her grey eyes glittered. “I had a dream last night. There is a shadow coming. Teach me to fight, Laurefindil. In my dream I saw I shall be needing it some day.”
The princess rarely had the gift of foresight, but when she did, it was true. So Glorfindel had commissioned Maeglin to make the sword, and in a chamber at Idril’s palace quarters, whilst two-year-old Eärendil slept in the afternoon, the Lord of the Golden Flower had trained his Ammë to fight.
And now, as soon as Glorfindel saw Maeglin’s face when she set eyes upon the sword, he cursed himself inwardly and realized what a mistake he had made. Finally saw what he should have known a long time ago.
Why Idril had needed the sword. And what she had used it for.
That not long before Maeglin was killed, the Prince of Gondolin would have seen that sword in the hand of his adored cousin. As she had tried to kill him, to defend herself and her child.
Glorfindel had not guessed. Idril, as she had related the fight to him through angry tears, had made no mention of using the sword. Neither had Pengolodh’s account, which Lindir had faithfully used as a source for his songs and plays.
Glorfindel rapidly re-constructed the scene in his head, now that six thousand years of assumptions had been dismantled.
He saw his Ammë, Eärendil pushed behind her, sword in hand, battling with the prince of Gondolin, protecting her own like a tigress, eyes flashing with steel and fire as he knew they could. He had seen that steely determination on the Way of Escape, as they fled the valley. He imagined the prince, full of desperate love, facing the point of the sword he himself had made.
Forgive me, melmenya, I did not know.
But it was too late to withdraw the gift now without giving all away.
“My mother told me in Valinor that I should give it to one worthy of it,” he said. “I believe you will use it well.”
He gently placed the sword on the table near her, and walked away.
Maeeglin was running her fingers over the blade as he left. Over the small mark on the blade, just below the hilt, where she knew the craftsman had left his stamp. The stamp of the Lord of the Mole.
And her heart, her wayward, unreasoning heart, was hurting as a heart only hurts at the cruelty of a lover.
ohtar [Q] – warrior
hantanyet [Q] – thank you between equals/familiars
hröa [Q] – body
coranári [Q] – solar years
naugrim [S] - dwarves
melmenya [Q] – my love