The Gates of Summer
The brown-haired elfling in the leaf-green robe carefully pushed his way through the rainbow-hued forest of shimmering robes gathered in the gardens before the great house. He made a face each time a hand reached out silently to rumple his hair or pat his cheeks as he passed by.
He was nineteen this year, the baby of the valley, and used to being made much of. Already he reached the waists of most of the elves surrounding him, but few of them seemed to have any respect for the dignity of a Balrog Slayer.
Finally, he squeezed past a group of maidens to the front of the crowd, and saw, on the raised terrace of the house, the Lord of Imladris standing in a fine robe of dark crimson silk embroidered with gold, with a golden circlet on his head. His daughter shimmered in white and silver at his left hand, fairest of all maidens to walk the earth, and his dashing twin sons, in midnight-blue and gold, stood at his right.
The great house was in darkness, but a few lanterns decking the terraces cast a soft yellow glow, and in the gardens, the trees glimmered with many-coloured lights.
Above, the stars shone white as they wheeled in their patterns. Below, the star-children shimmered with faint silver light as they silently thronged the terraces, the gardens, the lawns and meadows, arrayed in their most resplendent festive robes. Most stood almost as still as statues in the unbroken silence. A few strolled slowly along the garden paths and over bridges. Their glittering eyes were lifted to the heavens, and their keen ears, in the quiet of the night, were tuned to the faint harmonies of the stars. At this time of the year, in their blood, in theirfëar, they felt more strongly the pulse of the starsong, the ancient beat and rhythm that had awakened their kind by the waters of Cuiviénien. When the starlight waned and the sky lightened, they would turn as one to face the east.
On the terrace, somewhere behind the family of Elrond, the sun already seemed to be rising.
The elfling’s eyes went to the tall lord who stood half-hidden behind Elrond, and whose bright hair cast the warm golden glow of a sunrise all about him. His robe was the blue of a twilit summer sky, and embroidered down the side was a beautiful pattern of flowers in golden thread and tiny sapphires the colour of his eyes. He stood straight and tall behind his lord—dutifully, as he had for millennia, ever since the founding of the elven realm in the valley. As he had stood with his fellow lords in Gondolin, at the side of Elrond’s great-grandfather.
The elfling hoped that Glorfindel might look his way, but the glittering blue eyes were distant and haunted in their expression, and gazing towards the north.
The hero of Gondolin had saluted the dawn at Tarnin Austa thousands of times since the Fall, and only in the last nine years had he been haunted by thoughts of that other Midsummer’s morning, when dragon and balrog fire had lit the skies north over the Echoriad, and the black armies of Morgoth had swarmed over the mountains.
As flames had spread across the northern slopes, cries of fear and horror had risen on the city walls…
The Lord of the Golden Flower had turned quickly to speak to Tuor next to him, and his eyes had met the eyes of the prince who stood behind.
And the traitor smiled as their eyes locked. A smile that was mocking, cruel. Triumphant.
In that fleeting moment, first came confusion and disbelief—
No. No, it is not possible, he could not...
Then came horror so overwhelming, Glorfindel’s blood seemed to turn to ice in his veins. Ecthelion and Egalmoth stepped in between at that moment, speaking urgently, and blocked his view before he could recover.
“Treachery!” cried Glorfindel. “We are betrayed!” But even as he pushed the two lords aside, and would have charged forward to seize the traitor by the throat, Maeglin had vanished.
For the rest of that long and desperate night, amid the mustering of the troops, the fury and futility of the battles that followed and the urgency of the escape, Glorfindel had no more thought for the traitor.
His final thoughts as he had fallen had not been of the dark one. Indeed, he had not been capable of thought. Flames. Searing pain.
And one transcendent moment of clarity and peace and hope just before the end:
They will escape.
Six thousand years later, the hero and the traitor’s eyes met once again in the healing halls at Imladris.
And the traitor had smiled again.
Glorfindel had forgiven all in his brief time in the Halls of Mandos. But nothing was forgotten. In the twisting pain of his heart now, as the memory of two smiles wrenched it, he forgave again. And clung to the desperate belief that, whatever had transpired in Angband, whatever pact had been sealed between the prince and Morgoth, the one he loved, would always love, had repented. Why else did Maeglin shun Tarnin Austa? Why else would she flee each Midsummer?
Where are you?
Where do you hide yourself, each year?
Then Glorfindel caught a movement at the corner of his eye, and glanced over to see the youngest elfling, who had climbed the steps to the terrace, and was looking at him quizzically from between the skirts of Erestor and Lindir’s robes. With a smile, the balrog slayer beckoned the elfling closer, and the child with a cheeky smile quickly positioned himself next to his hero, as all the elves of the valley turned east to welcome the sun.
From behind the peaks of the Hithaeglir, another song rose and drowned out the melody of the stars. It sang to theirfëar, a harmony hot and bright and fiery, its roaring cadence washing over them.
As the first rays of Anor poured over the mountains and touched their faces with golden warmth, fair elven voices rose in unison and sang in layered harmonies without instruments, their lilting and solemn cadences echoing with haunting beauty throughout the valley. And for a few moments, Glorfindel forgot all else and lost himself in the ancient Quenya of the verses, his voice lifting strong and pure and melodious.
As the last notes of the last song faded away, and the spell broke, he felt a small tug on his robe. He looked down with a smile at the bright little face grinning up at him.
“Why, Gwendir son of Galdir! You must have grown an inch at least since I saw you last!”
The lad pulled himself taller. “Indeed I have! I’m so happy you’re home, Hîr Glorfindel! Will you watch me fight the balrog?” And the boy watched the elflord’s smile fade a little, and his face fell. “Naethen. Does it make you sad, to remember how you died?”
“No, not that, little friend. But it does make me sad to remember all the others who died, and how they died.” As sprightly dances to pipe, flute and harp began on the lawns, and the Imladrim made their way to the long tables loaded with delicacies under the trees, the boy and the balrog slayer sat down at the top of the steps leading down to the gardens. “I was thinking I might go away for a few days.”
“Go away? But—but you’ve only just returned!”
“Well…there is something I need to do,” said Glorfindel. “But I truly regret that I shall miss your battle with the balrog. I know you will be splendid. Here—” the warrior reached up to the golden braids at the back of his head, and took out a sapphire and gold hair clasp in the shape of a flower, and gave it to the boy. “—Take this as my blessing.”
The boy’s eyes were wide and shining as he turned over the hair clasp in his hand. Then he grinned up at the balrog slayer. “Le hannon, hîr-nín!”
“Does your costume have a helmet?”
“No—just a golden wig. It’s hot! And the armour too!” The boy made a face.
Glorfindel smiled, and taking the clasp from Gwendir’s palm, fastened it in the boy’s brown braids at the back of his head. “Wear this in that golden wig tonight and I’ll be with you in spirit. Do bravely, Lord of the Golden Flower! To serve and to protect!” He saluted the boy, thumping his fist to his own chest.
“To serve and to protect!” The boy mirrored the salute.
“Go get that balrog for me. And if anyone has the impertinence to say that you should have tied up your hair, tell them to come and say it to my face.”
“Where is Glorfindel?” said Arwen, her lovely grey eyes searching the crowd.
“He was talking to Gwendir on the steps,” said Lindir.
But both boy and balrog slayer were gone.
“He was wearing the blue robe with golden flowers I made for him for the last Gondolin festival,” Arwen said with a smile.
“Very appropriate,” said Erestor as he served her some pastries on a plate. “He should have one of yellow celandines on gold cloth as well.”
“Oh, I do not think he would wear anything as loud as that now!” said Arwen with a musical laugh at the thought. “He would be so dazzling he would eclipse Anor!”
“Lómiel is not here again,” Elrohir observed. “I should not have teased her so, and vowed I would force her to dance.”
“She would not have come, regardless,” said Elladan. “You know how it has been, the past few years.”
“I have asked her why she shuns this feast so. And all she would say is there was no such tradition for Tarnin Austa where she was raised.”
Arwen looked at the younger of her two brothers with sparkling eyes. “You seem very fond of the fair young smith, brother. Is it more than gratitude?”
Elrond had always had his own guess as to her origins, after the night she had spoken Quenya to him in the healing halls. He had not heard her utter a single word in Quenya since, but he had puzzled over it a while.
After the War of Wrath and the ruin of Beleriand, bands of the remaining followers of the sons of Fëanor had fled over the Ered Luin, keeping to the remoter parts of Ennor just south of the Forodwaith, some as far east as Cuiviénen. Most had joined forces with tribes of the Avari, and in a few cases had established secret Noldorin settlements. Glorfindel had brought back news of such settlements to Elrond, from his travels, and that Lómiel was descended from these Fëanorians might be an explanation for her knowledge of Quenya. True, her Quenya had lacked Fëanor’s lisp, but Elrond remembered that only Maedhros and Maglor themselves had used “th” consistently; a choice born of loyalty to their father. They had not imposed it on their own followers, many of whom had tended to favour “s” over the lisp... and many of whom had deserted the sons of Fëanor both after the Second and the Third Kinslayings…
The Third Kinslaying was not a memory Elrond liked to revisit.
Lómiel’s secretiveness about her origins. Her taciturn temperament. Her strange Sindarin accent. Her skill with smithing. It all seemed to fit. This was not a theory Elrond would share with others in Imladris, however, given the lack of popularity of the Fëanorians, even in these latter days.
His younger son Elrohir was laughing at his sister’s question. “Assuredly I am grateful. She is an intriguing child—too grave, and too fierce and unsmiling for her years. But she is brave—and true. And have you not noted how troubled and sad she has been of late? I seek merely to cheer her.”
A serving maid at Elrond’s elbow passed him a note. “Hîr Glorfindel asked me to pass you this, Hîr Elrond.”
The Lord of Imladris opened it, read it, and sighed.
Written in Glorfindel’s bold, flowing hand, was a message begging that his lord would excuse his absence for a few more days. The balrog slayer felt himself unequal to dealing with the festivities or the reminders of the Fall of Gondolin at this time.
Now dressed in his white, grey and green hunting clothes—sword and knives at his belt—bow, arrows and travel pouch slung on his back—Glorfindel climbed up the northern slopes of the valley.
The passage of time is an enemy to a tracker, but his heightened elven senses allowed him to follow the faint trail still discernible almost half a day since Maeglin had passed by there. It was easy for him to guess that she might have stopped by the smithy first. From there, her light feet across the grassy meadow had left a trail still visible to his skilled eye. And as he ascended the slopes, wherever the trail disappeared, his fëa melded with the surrounding earth and trees and heard the stones and very leaves murmuring of her passing by.
He did not intend to disturb nor approach Maeglin. It would likely do more harm than good, given their last encounter. There was in him a need to know, to see that she was well, to perhaps watch over her a while, from a distance. Then he would go his way, and let her go hers. The encircling mountains were vast enough for both of them to hide away from the festivities a whole week without ever crossing paths. The two refugees of Gondolin, he thought drily. A Gondolin festival was soon to be in full swing down in the valley, and the only two Gondolindrim in Ennor had fled to the hills.
And what would he do if she was not well?
I will deal with that when it comes, he thought, truly with no idea what he could do if confronted with a broken, miserable traitor.
Around him now rose stands of fir and pine.
And then, above the wind rushing through the trees—he heard the song. Somewhere on the lower slopes behind him. He stopped and listened for a while, welcoming the beauty of the mysterious voice like an old friend. It has been a long while, sad one.
And then he heard, ahead of him, someone running downhill at a breakneck speed, through the trees. Straight towards him.
Maeglin had made her way into the mountains shortly after dinner the previous night. She had hoped that this year, once again, she would hear the Singer…but weary in spirit more than body, she had fallen asleep on the hillside, and dreamed. And it seemed almost inevitable, after the gift of the sword, that the dream would be of the fight with Idril.
“Lómion? It was you! How could you do this?” The blade in her hand flashed like lightning. Taken unawares, Maeglin staggered backwards, blinded with pain, his right cheek sliced open. Idril’s eyes burned with rage. “Traitor… traitor… traitor… traitor…!!”
Maeglin woke with a gasp, shaking, and Idril’s voice echoing in her head.
Dawn was breaking.
Had the Singer come by whilst she slept?
From the valley below she heard the song of the sun-salute rise from eight hundred voices.
Disappointed and morose, she seated herself on a rock and laid out some tools and small pieces of craft that she had brought along this year. Pieces of jewellery. She tried to work on them by the early morning light, but it was no use.
However, it was not the memory of Idril that tormented her now.
In her mind, Maeglin kept seeing the Lord of the Golden Flower’s face by lamplight on the walls of Gondolin. Behind the golden lord, in the distance, across the darkened valley of Tumladen, bursts of flame came from dragons as they swarmed over the mountaintops. As he stood before Maeglin in his white and gold robes, their eyes met.
And in that brief moment, the prince saw the fair face before him go from blank bewilderment, to shock, then utter horror. He knew. The light in his glittering blue eyes had grown ice-cold with the realization, and as they narrowed, his mouth had set in a hard, angry line.
Traitor... traitor… traitor…
And that had been Maeglin’s last sight of Glorfindel, before Imladris.
And why was it that the memory of Glorfindel’s face should now hurt more than the memory of Idril’s anger and condemnation? Hurt so much she could not work?
Cursing under her breath, Maeglin packed away her tools and materials and walked towards a hillslope down which three waterfalls spilled. She was careful to keep away from the edge of the sheer cliffs, but drew near till the roar of cascading waters was deafening, and a fine spray from the torrent soaked her through.
She did not understand why the gift of the sword hurt her so much. Glorfindel, after all, had not a clue who she was. It had been an ignorant, clumsy, though deeply ironic gift.
Of all the proud works of the Lord of the Mole, had only this survived the ruin of Gondolin and the drowning of Beleriand? A hilt he had made, gripped once by the hands he had desired. A blade he had forged, that had tasted his own blood. Idril had succeeded in scoring his arm and his cheek as they had duelled.
Maeglin had wanted to fling the accursed blade into the furnace…but had been unable to bring herself to do it. Had set it down finally as though it burned her flesh. Had wrapped it in thick cloth and thrown it into a corner. She knew not what she would do with the gift, except leave it there in the smithy to mock her.
And what of the giver?
She struggled against the ache in her throat, the heaviness in her chest. No. Damn him. She did not want to even think further of him. She refused to think of him.
The sun over Imladris valley was higher in the sky now. Maeglin moved away from the waterfalls and sat in a pool of warm sunlight to dry off. She heard the high, fierce, lonely cry of an eagle over the song of the waters.
And something else.
Faint and distant, it came, a thin thread of lilting melody, from further down on the hillslopes.
Heart beating faster, she went towards it. She descended through pines and firs, fearing the song would end ere she could find its source. She could hear the lament more clearly now, the voice more beautiful than she had remembered, almost beautiful beyond what she could bear. As it had the first time, the lament once again pierced her to the depths of her dark soul, releasing her pain through the tears that began to trickle down her face.
The branches caught at her hair and clothes, but she did not heed them as she pushed past them. She went through a thick stand of firs and burst into a clearing, slipping and sliding down a slope.
And saw him. Right before her.
Leaning backwards and flailing her arms frantically, Maeglin tried to brake her descent, but momentum sent her barrelling right into Glorfindel, and he caught her.
And the song ceased.
For a moment they stood wrapped in a clumsy embrace, her tear-stained cheek against his chest, his arms around her. Then Maeglin became aware that her hands were clutching him, and quickly pushed herself out of his arms, stumbling backwards. Be stone. Be stone! She could still feel his arms and the strength of his chest. Her unbraided black hair half-curtained her mortified face. Turning away, she furtively brushed away her tears.
“What are you doing here?” she blurted out, astonished, angry, and not quite able to look him in the face. Irrationally, she blamed him for the disappearance and loss of the Singer, and was working herself up into a fury against him. First the sword. Now this. He was the source of nothing but hurt, and trouble. She was iron and stone once again, strong and disdainful.
“I might ask the same of you,” said Glorfindel mildly, trying not to smile. He could have hidden when he heard her approach. He could have stepped aside. But he had not wanted to. He had let her fall right into his arms, and was still euphoric over the unexpected collision. And tickled by how Maeglin—she of the princely poise and cat-like grace—had slid down the slope in the most awkward and undignified fashion, a look of wild panic and surprise on her tear-stained face. He had thought it most endearing.
“Why are you not at the feast?” she demanded.
“I did not feel like it,” he said simply.
Maeglin glared at him, unconvinced. “You love the feasts and festivals. I thought you never miss any if you can help it.”
Glorfindel laughed. “I have lived for over six thousand years, young one. That is a lot of feasts and festivals. It would not kill me to miss one.” He looked her in the eyes, and smiled. “I shall not ask your reason for being here, if you do not ask me mine.”
Her anger evaporated even as she grasped at it in vain.
“Surely they will be missing you.”
“They may,” he agreed nonchalantly.
“I thought you were to sing tonight.”
“I have excused myself. Lindir has others who are more than able to sing in my place.” His eyes were on her glossy black hair as it shone in the morning light. “If you will allow me—” He reached out a hand and lightly brushed out some fir and pine needles that were trapped in her tresses. How soft it feels, like silk.
Taken aback, she gaped at him for a moment. “Gi hannon,” she said, a little awkwardly.
“Glassen,” he said, his eyes taking in her trim figure in the dark grey and green hunting garb she was wearing. He had never seen her in that outfit before, and her wardrobe never having been extensive, he had known every single piece in it a year ago. He wondered if anyone had inspired her to take more interest in her attire in his absence. In Gondolin, the Lord of the Mole had had the most minimalist sense of fashion, and had flown into a rage whenever his long-suffering valet had attempted to sneak in some colour or embellishments into his plain, perpetually black wardrobe. In Imladris, Lómiel had seemed not to care one whit about what she wore, getting by entirely on cast-off clothes either picked out from the storage rooms or passed to her by others such as Thalanes or Estel or Arwen.
Had the Evenstar, who had arrived in Imladris in spring, decided to overhaul the fair smith’s wardrobe? Or—he thought more darkly—was it Elrohir, who paid far more attention to dress and fashion than his twin, and who generally chose whatever the pair would wear?
Glorfindel’s eyes were lingering a little too long on Maeglin’s chest. He caught himself and quickly looked away. Her cheeks had begun to burn under his scrutiny. She wanted to punch him in the face. She wanted to feel his arms again. They had felt strong, warm. Safe…
No, no, no! I am stone. Stone. Iron…You stupid cow—get away from him. Now!
But there was one question she was burning to ask.
“The singer we heard just now…” she said. “Who was he?”
“Ah yes, the mysterious, wandering singer of the hills,” said Glorfindel, his ears still a little red, and relieved to have something to talk about. “I have tried a number of times to find him, over the years, but I have always failed.”
“You failed?” she could barely mask her surprise.
“Everyone who has ever tried has failed. The twins attempted it a few times as well. His songs weave spells that confuse and confound all efforts to draw close to him. We ended up going in circles, or suddenly finding ourselves in odd parts of the valley we could not even recollect making our way to.”
“Does he not live here?”
“Not in Imladris. Nowhere, I think. He is a wanderer. He comes and goes, and there is no pattern to it. He may not be heard for a few centuries, then he may sing almost daily for a brief season. I do not believe he ever stays in the valley more than a month at a time. It was a joy and a surprise to hear him today. He does tend to like being here during Tarnin Austa.”
“Have you ever seen him?” she asked.
“Only from afar, twice—a shadow in a dark cloak…” He gazed in the direction they had last heard the song. “Such sorrow, such loneliness. It is a wonder he has not faded from the grief and burden we hear in his song, after so many millennia.”
“Millennia? But who is he?”
“Can you not guess, from the words of his song?”
The black eyes flashed with annoyance. “I cannot,” she said bitingly, “being only an ignorant Nandorin maid. Tell me, please. Who is he?”
Glorfindel smiled a little teasingly. Rarely did he have anything she actually wanted. “The tale is a sad one. Too sad for Midsummer.”
Sadder than Gondolin? she almost said sardonically. “I should like to know, all the same.”
“It is not a tale for morning and sunlight. If you can wait, I will tell you by starlight.”
Was that an invitation to spend Midsummer’s day with him? The sorry ass, she thought, as she had thought many times over the past nine years. If he only knew whose company it was that he sought. But to her dismay, she felt something tug within her. That wanted to stay.
“I believe there may be others who will tell me the tale by any light,” she said coldly, thinking to ask Elrohir at the next opportunity. “I shall be on my way and detain you no further, hîr-nín. No vaer i arad.” And with a curt bow, she quickly stalked off in the direction the Singer had last been heard.
“No vaer i arad, híril-nín,” he called after her. “And please have a care should you venture into the caves—they have bears, occasionally.”
After she had gone, he wondered if he should follow her.
Then he sighed, regretting his coyness regarding the Singer. Well, he had found Maeglin, and she seemed to be well enough. He would give her the space she desired. Let her go east. He would head west. But first, he sat down on a rock on the hillside, took the arrows from his quiver, and began to inspect each of them carefully. It was not the quiver he had travelled with recently, but another he had not used for over a year, and some maintenance was in order before he began hunting.
He was grooming the feather fletches on one of the arrows when he became aware that she had returned. He could sense her even though she stood out of his sight, hiding behind a tree. Watching.
He took his time with the arrows, put the good ones back in his quiver, strung his bow, and tested its draw…
Then, swifter than thought, he spun round, shot an arrow up into the branches of a pine, and sprang forward to see where his prey had fallen.
A small, startled cry, hastily smothered, came from behind the tree.
Maeglin stood there with a dead squirrel shot through with an arrow at her feet. It had tumbled down out of the pine upon her head. Her wide, startled eyes met his and she blushed angrily at having been discovered. She stooped to pick up the squirrel, and handed it to him.
“I wished to ask where the caves you spoke of could be found,” she said stiffly. “For I have found none thus far, though I have sought them.”
Glorfindel eyes were sparkling with amusement as he smiled. “I shall show you later. Would you care to join me for a meal, híril nín?”
As Maeglin fashioned a spit and skewer from some greenwood, she watched as Glorfindel skilfully skinned and gutted the squirrel, whistling softly to himself as he did—a cheerful little song she remembered being popular with the children of Gondolin as they played.
She wondered what she was doing. Why did you agree to the meal? You are not even hungry. Have you lost your senses?
“You said there could be bears. I never knew there were bears in the valley,” she said.
“Very rarely,” said Glorfindel, stuffing some herbs he had gathered into the squirrel and pouring a little wine from a flask over it. “There is a family of them that roams the slopes, mostly at night, and they are very shy. They are friendly to us, so there is generally no need to fear. But they can be startled when taken by surprise, and behave a little unpredictably.”
“I did not say I feared them,” she said, a little too quickly and sharply.
In Maeglin’s childhood memories of his seventh year, a terrifying encounter in the deep woods with an enraged, wounded bear was inextricably tangled with his father’s hard hand brought down in punishment for wandering out alone. And ever since then, the roar of a bear and the raised hand and voice of his father had been one in his mind. Whenever Maeglin had journeyed to Anghabar or approached a cave, pushed though it was to the far recesses of his mind, an uneasy fear of both bears and his father had lurked deep within. Most of his ursine encounters during his years in Gondolin had been peaceable and uneventful. But there was the humiliating memory of a hunt with some of the lords. Maeglin had frozen when he ran into a large, bellowing black bear with a thorn in its paw. Ecthelion and Glorfindel had rescued the prince, the former pulling him out of danger while the latter soothed the bear, pulled out the thorn and nursed the paw. In Gondolin, they neither hunted nor ate bears, who like the eagles were enemies of orcs and wargs, and who guarded the mountains surrounding the city.
Glorfindel, starting the fire, was remembering that hunt as well. “If you do not fear bears, you are a brave lass. Many maidens in the valley would be quite nervous around a bear, friendly though they might be to the Quendi.”
Warm, moving patterns of sunlight dappled the ground around them as they sat beneath the branches of tall, gnarled fir trees that shielded their fire from the wind. The midsummer sun had grown hot and the heat from the fire did not help. They had both removed their hunting jackets and sat in their thin summer tunics, their sleeves folded up. She could hear the distant rushing music of a waterfall. Were these the slopes surrounding Tumladen, and she still the Lord of the Mole, Glorfindel would probably suggest going for a swim or diving into waterfall pools. She remembered several such outings. Glorfindel was almost always the first into the water. He could swim like a fish, and loved water fights. She was remembering him in all his natural glory as she watched him set a pan with some herbs, edible roots and water beneath the roasting squirrel to catch the drippings. And as she did, she felt herself grow hot with more than the fire or sunshine.
Shaking herself free of the memories, Maeglin focused fiercely on the squirrel fat dripping into the pan. “I shall clean the skin,” she said abruptly. Taking up the squirrel’s grey pelt, which lay beside Glorfindel, she half-turned away from him, and began cleaning the skin rather vigorously, rubbing in some salt to help preserve it.
Glorfindel gazed at her profile as he turned the spit and basted the skewered squirrel occasionally with a little wine. He had been surprised when she had chosen to stay, and he was now both delighted and troubled. Never in her nine years in the valley had they shared a relaxed moment like this. No smithy, no Camaen. No swords, no hauberks. Under the blue summer skies on this open mountainside, the tension he had felt during their midwinter sword training had melted away.
And at the same time, Glorfindel had by now convinced himself that she was Elrohir’s intended. He had known the peredhel twin since his birth, and what he had witnessed at the smithy was, for Elrohir, the closest to flirtation the balrog slayer had ever seen. And he had convinced himself, with deepest anguish, that Maeglin loved Elrohir in return. Had she not accepted his offerings of berries and flowers? Had she not almost given her life for him? Had there not been an air of familiarity, of understanding between them at the smithy?
He cut off bits of squirrel meat that cooked faster, like the shanks, and served them to her.
“How is it?”
“Delicious,” she said with some surprise, discovering appetite unexpectedly. She had not eaten since breakfast the previous day. The meat was sweet and juicy as she had not believed a roasted squirrel could be. She gave him a quizzical look, knowing full well that the Lord of the Golden Flower, like the Lord of the Mole, had avoided cooking in his first life.
Knowing her thoughts, Glorfindel smiled as he continued turning the spit. “Over several millennia of travel I have had to learn to cook in the wild. And I have learned to do it rather tolerably. Especially if I run out of this.” He fished out a folded leaf from his pack, unwrapped it to show a small quarter of a wafer, and offered it to her. “Lembas from Lothlórien.”
“Very nice,” she said, as she nibbled some of it. “Better than other waybreads I have tried.” The variety her father had packed for their journeys to the Ered Luin had been much heavier, and not as palatable.
“There are none who make it better than the Galadhrim. But sometimes I am on the road much longer than I planned, and then I hunt and cook.”
How, thought Glorfindel, was it possible for anyone to be so happy and so wretched at the same time? He was giddy with gladness at her nearness, and that she was neither scowling nor taciturn but actually talking to him amicably. She could, the moment the meal was done, decide she had had enough of his company and take off. He was praying to Eru she would not.
If this is a dream, he thought, it is a most pleasant one. Please, Eru, let it last. I will not ask for more than this—just to have this time with her, as long as it can last.
And yet, even as he gazed entranced at her, as she relished her portion of squirrel, he told himself he must not desire one who was almost another’s bride. Twisting in the knife deeper, he imagined the wedding. The blessings. And thinking how he would always keep her secret safe. He would tell Elrond that all he had said was an absurdity, a delusion. No one would ever guess her past.
As she ate, Maeglin was thinking in turn of the limited and less than pleasant journeys of her life. The travels to Belegost and Nogrod in the company of her surly father and his hard fist, his words few but harsh. The flight from Nan Elmoth to Gondolin. The march to and from the battleplains of the Nirnaeth Arnoediad.
The road from the Echoriad to Angband…
Glorfindel saw her black eyes grow distant and anguished and her chewing slow to a standstill, and guessed that some dark memory disturbed her. He went to the rescue by launching into some of his travel tales. His words vividly painted the desolate ruins of Himring off the north western coast, droll encounters with dwarves in the Iron Hills, glimpses of the peace-loving hobbits of the Shire, and his riding the broad plains with the proud horse-lords of Rohan. His stories were lively and she continued to listen raptly long after they had finished eating. And for once she did not think in annoyance that the golden-haired warrior talked too much.
After the fire had been put out, and the squirrel bones laid to rest in the earth beneath the firs, she sat in the shade of some nearby pines and began to whittle on a piece of wood with a knife, and he whetted his hunting knives on a stone and watched her surreptitiously, admiring her skill. Her sharp eyes caught him watching, and ever competitive, she challenged him to carve a shape out of a lump of pine wood together with her. He loved a contest as much as she did, and his eyes gleamed as he agreed.
“First to finish wins?” he said, as she cut two pieces of pine wood to the same size and shape, for fairness.
“There has to be skill, not just speed.” She tossed him his chunk of pine. “The other must be able to guess what it is instantly.”
“We trust each other to be honest, then.” And in this, at least, he did trust her.
“Naturally.” She smiled like a cat, and held out two woodcarving knives from her tool pouch. “Choose your tool.”
So they whittled away with their knives, he sitting high in the branches of a tree above whistling to himself, feeling the wind rock him gently, and she sitting on a log beneath.
She tossed up to him a beautiful carving of a horse, and he tossed down to her his completed masterpiece.
“Why, it is Asfaloth!” he said, gazing with great delight at the stallion sitting on his palm. “To the life!”
She peered dubiously at the shape on her palm. “Whatisthis? A balrog or a bat?”
“Neither!” he said indignantly. “An eagle!”
At which she laughed so hard, the tears ran from her eyes and she almost fell off her log.
“I concede defeat,” he said. “But at least you knew those were wings.”
“Just barely. I’ll show you what an eagle should look like!” And with a glint in her eyes, she took her knife to his carving.
He kept Asfaloth carefully in his waist pouch, and smiled lovingly down at her from his tree as she rectified his handiwork.
And he reflected that whatever few talents he may have inherited from his father, sculpting was clearly not one.
When it was past noon, they journeyed east through the hills, occasionally hearing snatches of music from the valley, and bursts of distant song. They moved swiftly, and for a moment both could imagine they were once again prince and tutor in the hills around Tumladen, lightly leaping over logs, running down and climbing up slopes. It had been a time when Glorfindel had made every effort to break through the walls of aloofness the prince erected around himself. And failed, not realizing then how intense a dislike and jealousy Maeglin bore towards him. But now, it felt as though those walls were finally coming down. They did not speak as they journeyed. Neither did he dare insult her pride by offering his hand when she struggled on an ascent. But the old tension and enmity seemed to have evaporated in the summer sunlight. Racing through the winds that swept the hills, and under clear, cerulean heavens, both of them lived in the moment, free and unfettered, refusing to think of either the past or the future.
And finally, he led her half way up a slope thickly covered with fir and spruce trees, and behind a large boulder, she saw the hidden entrance of a cave, no higher than the average dwarf.
“This is the first of several caves in these hills. We could go further east to the others, but those are more likely to house bears.”
“Let us explore this one, then. Will we need torches?” she asked, as he crawled into the dark hole. “I brought no lamp with me.” Not that the Lord of the Mole had ever feared the dark. There was something comforting about darkness. Something womblike. She was being practical.
“Ah—the rope ladder is still here.” He tested the upper rungs for strength. They were good. “There should be a couple of lamps stashed away at the bottom of the ladder, fear not.”
“A ladder?” she said, suddenly nervous. “How long is the descent? Are we very high?” Fear began to twist her innards.
“Not high! Have no fear.” And he began to climb down into the blackness.
She followed after. Tried not to think of the drop. Not high. He said it was not high. Although she did not fear the darkness, she found comfort in the golden glow of his hair below her. Her feet went downwards from rung to rung to rung to rung…
“How much further?” she called down after what felt to her like a very long time. Her voice echoed as in a vast cavern.
“Not much further—have a care, though—the rope down here seems to have partially rotted. It has been fifty years or so since we came here. It should still hold our weight...I hope. I shall hasten down first.” And get my weight off the ladder, he thought.
She felt the ladder begin to give above her. “It is tearing,” she said, barely able to keep her voice calm.
“There, I am on the ground,” he said, sounding distant. “Fear not—should it break, I will catch you!”
“Catch me?” her voice was sharp, and she froze. “Catch me? How high am I now?”
“Only about fifteen rangar. I am right under you. Trust me!”
“Fifteen rangar? Trust you?! Fifteen rangar?! You worthless load of orc-crap! You said it was not high!!”
“Indeed, it is not! Only about forty rangar in all, so you are almost there. Just a little further! You can do it!”
Paralyzed with terror, Maeglin was unable to move a muscle. Already she could feel her head spinning, feel the sensation of falling, falling and turning in space…the hillside rushing past, the ground rising to meet her…she clung shivering to the ladder, eyes tightly squeezed shut. She could hear and feel the ropes above giving way.
“Worry not! I have you!” he called.
As the ladder snapped, she screamed. She was still screaming when he caught her, and still screaming as he sank down to the cavern floor, holding her in a firm embrace as she shivered.
“All is well! I have you. I have you. You are safe…”
Glorfindel had not forgotten that Maeglin had died falling from Amon Gwareth. He simply had no inkling how badly it could affect her, since he had likewise fallen to his death, and was affected not at all. And he had never known the Lord of the Mole to previously have had a fear of heights.
Finally she fell silent, but her heart was still pounding madly. After a while, she opened her eyes.
The only light was Glorfindel’s bright hair, their glittering elven eyes, the faint star-shimmer around both their forms, and the shaft of light from the opening above.
“There!” he smiled. “That was not so bad, was it?”
“You putrid, pus-filled troll-wart,” the Lord of the Mole said in a hollow voice. “I cannot believe I was stupid enough to trust you.”
And Glorfindel realized that their moment of ease and freedom was over. The past had reared its ugly head. Deciding it was wisest not to repeat that it truly was not that high—at least not to him—he gently raised her and steadied her on her feet. Maeglin cast him a smouldering glare, turned her back on him, and straightened her clothes.
Glorfindel had in the meantime found the metal case in which the twins had placed, almost half a millennium ago, two skeins of rope, still dry and strong, and two small egg-sized lamps, each hanging from a silver loop. The lamps lit the cavern with a soft, cool luminescence, like moonlight. The two elves looked up at the opening high above them, and surveyed the sheer walls.
“How are we to get out of here later?” she said, managing to keep her voice steady.
“I shall climb up, and let down a rope for you.”
“NO! I am NOT climbing up there again!” she said, notes of both finality and desperation in her voice. “There must be another way out of here.”
“There most certainly is,” he said. “This way.”
Then each slipped the loop of a lamp onto their belts, and made their way through a forest of stalagmites to a tall archway of rock leading deeper into the caverns.
“Are there ores here?”
“Ah, the mind of a smith! No, not here. There was some mining done in the hills further east, in the days of the Last Alliance. But I think Erchaildir and Camaen did not find ores worth their trouble when they last ventured there.”
Through a dark passage that curved through the mountain they went silently, hearing running water ahead. Maeglin, determined not to be pleasant to Glorfindel, was sullen. Glorfindel, hoping not to anger her further, did not sing or speak. He knew she liked being in caves; he hoped this one would not disappoint.
After a while, Maeglin started to notice a few small, bright specks of blue, green and gold dotting the ceiling of the tunnel overhead, and stopped to examine them. Glorfindel watched her with a smile as she scrutinized them. She gasped.
“Yes. Grodelin.” Subterranean stars.
“For one moment, I hoped for a new mineral,” she said. But despite her dismissive words, he could see the interest and curiosity shining in her eyes.
As they continued through the cave system, the grodelin grew in number. Then, they crawled through a low archway, and emerged in a vast cavern. And the stalactites and walls of that cavern were all aglow with thousands upon thousands of tiny lights. The two elves drank in the beauty of the sight in silence, the joy of the moment magnified by the sharing of it. He looked at the wonder on her face with pleasure, for this it was that he had wished to show her. And she almost turned to him with a smile that said everything was worth it—before remembering her antagonism and schooling her face to expressionlessness.
“Fascinating,” was all she said.
He glowed, exulting in the success of his surprise. He knew her too well to be deceived.
They lingered there for a while. The sound of running water was much louder here, and finally they followed it, went past some huge stalagmites, and saw a river flowing. And there, the path ended in water.
Maeglin frowned. “The way out?”
“By the river only, I am afraid. There was a path once, but the years and the waters have eroded it away. Would you wish to turn back? We could take the other way…”
Heights, or water. Wonderful.
Glorfindel was pulling out a small boat hidden in the shadows, and examining it.
The Lord of the Mole had always been nervous on water, and had not particularly enjoyed the few times he had joined the other courtiers boating on the river. He had gone primarily because Idril went. Maeglin eyed this boat dubiously. It was small and light, fashioned of tree bark on a wood frame and sealed with resin, and looked far more primitive than the ones they had used for leisure in Gondolin.
“You have not used that boat for decades. How safe is it?”
Glorfindel decided it was best not to say that the boat had not been used for centuries. Elven craft are built to last. He floated it in a pool out of the main current and tested it. “No leaks. It should be fine.”
Maeglin looked to where the river disappeared around a bend. “What is the course like? Anything to be careful of?”
“Half a league long. We would have to navigate a fast-moving stretch just beyond that bend–we need just to be careful of the rocks. And at one point the river would take us over a small drop, only four rangar high. How hard can it be?”
How hard can it be?
Whenever the Lord of the Golden Flower had said that, the other lords of Gondolin would smile, or sigh, or raise eyebrows. Salgant might snigger nervously or groan, depending on how the matter under discussion affected him.
It was the Lord of the Mole’s first time at the annual war games with his newly-formed House.
It was Day Seven.
The remnant warriors of the houses of the Mole, Golden Flower and Harp were surrounded by all the other houses, who were closing in and outnumbered them more than seven to one.
How like Glorfindel to gallantly offer to form a team with the two least popular lords. And to remain sanguine throughout the thankless struggle to rally them, as their numbers were decimated over seven days of continual disagreement and divisiveness among the team leaders. Maeglin’s contempt for Salgant was only surpassed by his jealousy of Glorfindel, and now the young prince was angry, angry at himself more than anyone. For the series of stupid errors he had made from inexperience. For opposing Glorfindel out of sheer dislike more than good judgement. And their team had paid for it.
“There is nothing for it. We shall surrender,” whimpered Salgant, who by now was weary, and longing for a hot bath and his comfortable bed.
The young Lord of the Mole scowled disdainfully at the Lord of the Harp and said nothing, though he concurred.
“Nay!” exclaimed the Lord of the Golden Flower defiantly, his azure eyes flashing. “Be of good courage, my friends! We have strong warriors enough to form a wedge, charge their ranks, and drive a way through. I shall take the front. How hard can it be? By surprise and speed and daring we can prevail!!”
The memory of that debacle made Maeglin’s mouth twitch slightly. She took whatever Glorfindel said now with a huge pinch of salt.
But between the heights and the water, she chose water.
So they launched out onto the river, he paddling at the rear, his face glowing with anticipation of the adventure, she paddling in front with her face grim and stoic.
And much could be written of the turbulent whitewater, and the great waves that almost swamped their boat, and the black rocks around which they manoeuvred with skill, and the waterfall, five rangar high, over which they plunged. Suffice it to say that when they caught their breaths and surfaced from the waterfall, and found themselves in calmer waters, gliding under the cerulean summer sky, and saw the hills of Imladris gazing benevolently down upon them, both felt a surge of exhilaration that seemed boundless.
And for once—for just once in two lives—they had joined to work together as one, and succeeded. Soaking wet, eyes bright with elation, they looked at each other.
Glorfindel laughed exuberantly—his beautiful, musical, joyous laugh—as he pushed wet hair from his face. And so contagious was it, that Maeglin found herself laughing as well.
“That was tremendous!” he exulted. “Absolutely epic! We should do it again!” Impulsively, he leaned forward to hug her—then recollected himself and pulled back.
Turning back to face the front with her face impassive, and taking up her paddle, Maeglin felt almost a twinge of regret.
And seeing that the river would join up with the Bruinen soon, and take them too close to midsummer revellers, they as one mind pulled off into a shallow pool without needing to exchange a word, dragging their trusty elven boat up into some bushes. It was eight in the evening of Midsummer, and all the world about them was bright and beautiful and verdant with life. The sun was warm and golden, the breezes brought no chill. Thrushes and blackbirds warbled from the trees, and a multitude of flowers thronged the foothills—windflowers and clovers, and primroses and goldenrods.
“There is another place I would like to show you, not far from here,” Glorfindel said, his blue eyes sparkling. “We can dry off there.”
And Maeglin did not object to his assumption that she would agree to go with him. “Fine. Lead the way.”
As they climbed up the hillside, both still dripping wet, Maeglin looked at him, singing a summer song about skylarks and meadows, walking with a spring in his step, and still glowing extra bright from the exhilaration of their ride.
And Maeglin found herself imagining how, six thousand years past, he might have faced the balrog.
“Alas, alas! A mighty valarauco blocks our way!” someone would have wailed despairingly. “We are doomed!”
“Fear not!” the Lord of the Golden Flower would have replied, undaunted. “All shall be well! I shall fight it, and slay it! It will only take a moment.
“How hard can it be?”
And the Lord of the Golden Flower, eyes on the ascent before him, and singing blithely, did not see at his side a most remarkable sight: the eyes of the Lord of the Mole resting on him almost fondly, and her lovely lips curved, not in a smirk, but in a smile that could only be described as indulgent.
No vaer i arad (S) - may the day be good / have a good day
Rangar – actually a Númenorean unit of measurement for length, but I cannot find any elvish ones to use. One ranga = thirty-eight inches.
Grodelin (S) – grod = underground; elin = stars
Valarauco (Q) – balrog