A Little Night Music
Stupid, stupid, stupid. . .
His face still burning, Glorfindel marched down the hallway and out onto a terrace facing the garden. He leaned against a pillar, pulling fresh, cool air into his lungs.
The girl had not been trying to seduce him. Her direct, man-like gaze as she looked at him in the doorway and her genuine confusion when she realized her nakedness assured him of that.
What upset the warrior was his response. The heat that had flowed through him as he gazed on her white, bare flesh and into her obsidian eyes. The way he had gawked at her like a green youngling. The shock of sudden need and longing that had violently wrenched through him at her smile—an incandescent, secret smile, as though she had just received tidings of great joy. How strangely his longing for her had not waned even as her smile had abruptly faded, and as the mouth had curled in a scowl that was oddly familiar.
It was not as though he had not had plenty of experience with women over the ages, one-sided though it had always been. Even before he reached his majority, they had flocked after him, and almost not a week had gone by without at least one besotted female throwing herself at him. He had quickly learned to deal with it. It had not been too hard; his main concern was to ensure no one got hurt. Keep it friendly and light, and get out of every tricky situation with a mix of playful banter and knightly gallantry. There were occasions when some ellith made their way into his private chamber and presented themselves to him in various stages of undress, beseeching him to marry them. Somehow, he always managed to talk to each of them gently and reasonably, and eventually manoeuvre each of them out of his bed and chamber without hurting her ego or vanity.
That amounted over his two lifetimes to quite a number of encounters with very fair, unclothed ellith, and not one had awakened his heart or his body. As the skies darkened and lanterns began to glow in the trees, he prowled the gardens below the terrace like a restless lion, wracked with confusion and shame at the heat and unfamiliar emotions that were surging through him for the first time in his long life. How could this be happening to him? Why after seven thousand years? And why this one?
And he could not say what upset him more.
That he had felt heat flood him even as he had looked at a body that he knew was clearly under-aged. Breasts still ripening. Hips slightly curved. A baby in comparison to himself, for Eru’s sake! He was so appalled and aghast that he barely knew himself.
Or that he had felt himself go weak with utter longing and abject adoration even as he looked into familiar obsidian eyes and at an arched, haughty eyebrow and scowl he had seen a hundred times before. She had stood there with her hands on her hips, for all the world as though the annoying Lord of the House of the Golden Flower had just interrupted her in her study or forge at Gondolin to bother her with some tiresome business. He had almost expected to hear a familiar, gruff voice snap out, “Yes, Lord Laurefindil. What may I do for you?”
He had looked into the face of the traitor of Gondolin, and desired it.
He was so upset that later at the dining table, he needed to have five cups of strong wine before dinner was even served. Trying not to think of familiar black eyes and young, white flesh. Trying not to think about the mystery of how the eyes of a traitor from six millennia past could look back at him from the face of this young maiden.
And he had not even got down to the business that had taken him to the healing halls. Erestor had asked him to inform the newcomer of arrangements for her to move out of the healing halls and to another room. And he, thinking of how he had wanted to investigate her resemblance to Aredhel, had accepted.
At the dining table, as Erestor chided him testily for his failure in carrying out such a simple task, Glorfindel remained uncharacteristically silent and poured another goblet of wine.
It took Maeglin longer to put on the unfamiliar garments than she might have thought. Any moron could figure out the logic of the design, but actually donning it had been something else. A lot of hooks and eyes, and adjustments and fidgeting and re-adjusting. Then a layer of clothing over, and a lot of lacing and more re-adjustments.
Why must lacing be at the back of the dress? Were all ellith required to be contortionists? Maeglin made a mental note to head down to the basement store room as soon as she could to search for clothes of more sensible design.
She tugged and tied bows and cursed and fussed until the figure in the mirror looked presentably neat and tidy. By then the face that looked back at her was scowling darkly. Maeglin attempted a smile, and the face in the mirror at once became winsome.
The healer entered the room with half a dozen large books piled in her arms. “I had such trouble deciding, that in the end Idhren the librarian gave me leave to take all of these.”
Maeglin’s black eyes glinted eagerly as she looked through the books that Thalanes spilled onto her bed. Geography and history books. Two atlases.
“You look very pretty,” said Thalanes approvingly. “Let me braid your hair—”
“Oh no,” said Maeglin hurriedly, stepping away. “No time for that.” She took one of the hair clips Thalanes had provided for her, pulled back some hair and clipped it at the back of her head. Her glossy hair, well-brushed, fell in a silken black mantle down her back. “Let us go.”
Glorfindel turned pale in the lamplight as Maeglin stepped into the hall at the side of the healer. She was a luminous vision of loveliness, the dark green dress and raven-black hair throwing into relief alabaster white skin and delicately rosy lips. Her slight figure, and the careful way she moved with her wounded foot, made her appear fragile and vulnerable. A surging desire to protect and cherish her washed through the warrior like a tidal wave, even as he stared at the long, obsidian eyes, in whose opaque depths he saw still the eyes of the traitor. He tore away his gaze and examined the goblet in his hand very closely, and struggled to calm the tempest within him.
Thalanes made her way to another part of the table. Maeglin bowed to Elrond at the head of the table, rethought it halfway and sank into a curtsey. She ventured a small smile at the Lord of Rivendell, as he gestured her to take a seat near him, between two identical ellyn, and introduced them to her as his sons.
Listen well, speak little, Maeglin reminded herself.
“How are you feeling, young lady?” asked Elrond in Quenya.
There was a brief moment’s hesitation, as Maeglin pondered whether to reply in Quenya. Hearing the other voices speaking Sindarin around the table decided her. “Much better. Le hannon, hîr-nín,” she replied softly in her oddly-accented Sindarin. “Please, call me Lómiel.”
Further down the table, Glorfindel almost choked on a mouthful of his dinner. He was grateful, as Erestor thumped him on the back and he gulped down some water, that the girl’s head was turned away towards Elladan, who was heaping roast pheasant onto her plate.
“Lómiel,” Elrond repeated thoughtfully.
“For want of a better name, lord.”
“So you do not recall your own name? Or your family?” asked Elrond.
Maeglin paused over a morsel of pheasant, frowned, and looked troubled.
“Nothing of your history?”
The long black lashes lowered with what Maeglin hoped looked like maidenly distress. “Flashes. Images. Nothing more.” Maeglin bit her lower lip as she remembered Penlod’s daughter doing forlornly each time the Lord of the Mole had curtly ordered her to stop following him around.
“Well, let us not speak of this now,” said her host gently, for he was a father, and he thought for a moment of Arwen. “Enjoy your dinner, and regain strength and wellness.” He turned to one of the twins. “Elrohir, pass our guest some of that stew.”
Elrohir helped Maeglin to a spoonful of stew and bestowed on her a broad grin.
“Le hannon.” Maeglin smiled with what she hoped was maidenly gratitude. It came across as a tentative, lopsided little smile. Shy even.
Glorfindel’s heart lurched at that shy smile. Again. He felt his insides twist, felt for a moment he could not breathe. Was everything this maiden did going to cause seismological shifts in his world?
Maeglin ate quietly and listened attentively to Elrond and his sons talk about a battle involving dwarves, orcs, elves and men, and filed away in her mind names like Dale, Erebor, Mirkwood, Dain, and Thranduil. In the meantime, her eyes discreetly roamed over the others at the table. They lingered curiously on an aged, bearded one too tall to be a dwarf, and a small, beardless one too mature in face to be a young dwarf. Her eyes hardened as they rested on several mortals scattered among the elves around the table, for her hatred for the Secondborn lingered.
She counted a hundred and nine in total, including the servers who went to and from the kitchen. The former Prince of Gondolin never forgot a face, and she felt reassured that no one else in this room was known to her apart from Glorfindel. From Thalanes, she had learned that another seven hundred or so lived in dwellings scattered across the valley. No matter. For now, she could feel reasonably secure in this house.
Maeglin caught a number of people looking at her.
From most, ellyn or ellith, it was a curious look, accompanied by a friendly nod and welcoming smile as their eyes met. She schooled her face to smile back.
From some ellyn, it was a look which, though unfamiliar to her experience, she quickly understood. She knew the way some Gondolindrin ellith had gazed at her when she had been their prince, and unattainable: a certain mix of admiration, wistful yearning and coyness; an appeal to be seen, and admired, and desired. At this table, it was different. She saw appreciative glances thrown her way, an occasional murmur discussing her looks as though she were a fine painting or piece of jewellery. And when their eyes met hers frankly, the smiles ranged from the kindly and admiring to the graciously charming. At least the Valar had sent her back in a form that was appealing, and not ugly as a troll. All these looks testified to the simple love of beauty deep in the souls of all the Eldar. There was nothing that smelled of desire, and she remembered that she was still but a child to them.
And, just once, she caught Glorfindel gazing at her as he sat halfway down the table. Saw, in his face, a brief moment of confusion and embarrassment; the way he hurriedly looked away; the pretended indifference.
“Glorfindel, you have not been listening to a word I said,” she heard Lord Erestor say testily to the warrior.
Glorfindel did not recognize Maeglin Lómion, then. That gaze did not possess the shrewd scrutiny of one who suspects or seeks to penetrate a disguise. Maeglin, having for so long desired and struggled not to desire, recognized it. A corner of her mouth curled in a smirk as she ate a mouth-watering spoonful of wild berry mousse for dessert. Who would ever have guessed it? That the Lord of the Golden Flower, charming, confident, carefree, linked with so many ladies in gossip, yet settling down with none, might have a weakness for under-aged maidens? And to think that he, in all other things, had always been the epitome of such integrity, such nobility, such high-mindedness.
To know your enemy’s weakness is power. To be your enemy’s weakness is a source of gleeful triumph like no other.
Such irony. To be desired as Maeglin might once have desired, and to reject that desire as she had once been rejected. For, of one thing she was certain: she was done with love, done with desire. She would not have the Lord of the Golden Flower if he was the last ellon in Eä and grovelled abjectly at her feet.
As Maeglin laid down her spoon and dabbed her lips daintily with a corner of her napkin (she was warming to her role), Elrond summoned Erestor and Glorfindel and they made their way with her to his study for a private chat.
She sat in a comfortable armchair, careful to set her knees together and fold her hands in her lap in the most maidenly fashion. Then she looked coolly at the three ellyn before her. Elrond sat in a large chair across from her, Erestor stood on his right, and Glorfindel leaned against a bookcase somewhere to her right, his face shielded and expressionless, his eyes looking anywhere but at her.
“You mentioned you could recall images,” said Elrond. “Could you describe these to us? Perhaps we could help you.”
“I sometimes see a dark forest with tall trees growing so close, no light could shine through their branches.” Nan Elmoth.
“Mirkwood, perhaps,” said Erestor.
“And high mountains. Shrouded with mist and topped with snow.” The Echoriad.
“That sounds like the Hithaeglir,” murmured Elrond.
“And blue mountains surrounded by forests,” she added.
“The Ered Luin,” said Glorfindel quietly. He had got that one right, she thought.
“Or both,” said Erestor.
“No.” Of course, she would not mention Angband.
“Do you recall travelling a great deal?” asked Elrond.
“Any faces? People?”
“No,” she lied.
Elrond frowned as he gazed into those opaque, obsidian eyes beneath their long lashes. Their depths were unreadable, inscrutable. He could usually smell a lie from a mile off, but this child’s pale, oval face and immobile, perfect features told him nothing. He touched Vilya on his hand. The gem on the ring was gently warm to his touch, saying there was no danger or evil here.
“You should of course rest here till you are fully healed, but you are most welcome to stay on, if you wish,” Elrond said.
“You are most kind. I am grateful for your hospitality.” She inclined her head gracefully.
“Hopefully you will recall more soon.”
“Yes, hopefully,” she said neutrally.
“Till you regain your memory, or wish to depart, this house shall be as your home,” said Elrond.
“Le athae, hîr-nín.”
The Hall of Fire rang with the clear, melodious notes of Lindir’s voice as they entered. Elrond sat in his great chair, Erestor at his side, Maeglin took an empty seat next to Thalanes who happily beckoned to her, and Glorfindel gravitated to the back of the hall where he poured himself another goblet of wine.
“For the next piece,” Lindir was saying in a language incomprehensible to Maeglin, “My lute shall accompany young Estel, who has composed a ballad in the Common Tongue for the entertainment of our dear elf-friend of the Shire, Bilbo Baggins.”
“Splendid,” said Elrond, beaming with pride at the eleven-year-old mortal boy standing solemnly at Lindir’s side on the hearth. “And what is your ballad about, my boy?”
“What strange tongue is this?” murmured Maeglin to Thalanes.
“Oh, Westron! I shall translate for you,” said the healer.
“Ladies and lords, elves, men, wizard, and hobbit,” said the boy with a bow, “I give you—The Ballad of Glorfindel the Brave!” And Lindir strummed his lute with a dramatic flourish.
“What?” Glorfindel protested from the back of the hall, his wine cup half-way to his lips. “Estel, for the love of Eru—of all the subjects in all the ages of Arda—why that one?”
“Esteemed subject of my song, may I humbly invite you to take this seat of honour,” said the boy airily, with a flourish of his hand towards a cushioned chair by the hearth.
“Estel, no one here wants to hear this!” Glorfindel pleaded, turning red. “It’s been done to death!”
“But not in the Common Tongue, Glorfindel!” called one person from a corner of the room.
“And not by Estel!” said another.
“And I’ve not heard your tale before, Glorfindel my good fellow,” said Bilbo.
“Why then, Estel may by all means carry on. But if you will excuse me—”Glorfindel bowed to the gathering, then headed towards the door at the back.
“Come, come, Glorfindel! Be a good sport!” said Gandalf.
“Glorfindel, how could you miss a ballad composed by me in your honour?” said Estel, folding his arms and giving Glorfindel his most wounded look.
“Oh… very well.” Glorfindel sighed in resignation, drained his wine cup, set it down, made his way to the chair in front, and avoided looking at anyone in the hall.
“The Ballad of Glorfindel the Brave,” Estel began.
“Sing hey! for Glorfindel, the fair, the brave!
The survivors of Gondolin he didst save!
Oh sing of his deeds and his face so fair,
Sing of his valour and his golden hair.”
“Kill me. Kill me now,” said Glorfindel in a barely audible voice, hiding his face in his hand.
“Oh, don’t worry. That will be coming soon enough,” said Erestor with an evil smile.
“High through the mountain crags did their way
Weave treacherous on that fateful day.
A narrow, perilous path they didst tread,
Their brave warriors forging the way ahead.
“Sudden descended the balrog wreath’d in smoke!
His flaming whip smiting with deadly stroke!
High as a hill was the demon of dread,
Fiery flames flew from its whip and its head!
“The wounded and women did dearly pay—
On them, at the rear, did the balrog prey—”
“Hold it! We did not leave the women and wounded at the rear without protection!” protested Glorfindel indignantly. “We placed the women and the sick in the middle. My men and I were at the rear!”
“It’s more dramatic this way, Glorfindel,” said Estel. “It’s called ‘poetic licence’!”
“It’s called ‘distorting history’! Erestor should have taught you better than that.”
Estel grinned and carried on.
“The women all raised a cry of great fear—”
“Estel, Princess Idril and the women were very brave and did not scream any more than the men did.”
“Very well then, that’s easily changed—
“The people all raised a cry of great fear!
Then charged he, Glorfindel the brave, to the rear—”
“I was already at the rear!” protested Glorfindel in despair.
“And the balrog’s flames his fair eyes did sear.”
“If you sear my eyes, Estel, how do you expect me to fight?”
“It’s figurative, not literal. I just needed a rhyme with ‘rear’. Oh, all right. How about: At the balrog’s flames, his fair eyes did peer.”
Glorfindel leaned back in his chair with a groan. Gandalf was chuckling and wiping tears from his eyes.
Estel continued with a smile: “The sun beat down—”
“It was night,” said Glorfindel in a very small voice, without moving.
“The moon shone down—” sang Estel without missing a beat:
“The moon shone down on his armour of gold
As he leapt at the balrog with ardour bold!
So drave he the demon from rock to rock,
Now hamm’ring its helm, now hewing its hock.
“Shrieked loud the fiend as its arm was snagged
And grappling they wrestled high on a crag—”
“I have no recollection of hewing any hocks. And I didn’t ‘snag’ the arm. I cut it right off at the elbow.”
“Glorfindel, if you can find me a better word that rhymes with ‘crag’, I’ll take it.”
Glorfindel closed his mouth and looked resigned.
“Then Glorfindel’s heart did dauntless swell,
And thrust he deep with his sword so fell!”
“My dirk. I used my dirk. It’s a foot long. I lost my sword when it got stuck in the creature’s shoulder.”
“Oh, good. It alliterates better,” said Estel, unfazed.
“And stabbed he deep with his dirk so fell!
Then blackest balrog blood did spurt!
Bellowed the fiend at its fatal hurt!
“Glorfindel’s eyes burned with victory bright
As down his foe plummeted from the height.
But falling, the fiend grasped his golden hair,
And falling, it dragged down Glorfindel fair!”
Glorfindel had slouched so low into his chair by now that only the top of his golden head could be seen by those at the back.
“Then grievously didst the people weep
When the eagle didst from the ravine deep,
With strong wings beating an ascent steep,
Our brave-heart’s body bear.
“Great wailing and sorrow did abound
As they buried their hero in a mound.
Golden flowers still flourish on the ground
Where lies Glorfindel fair.
“Sing hey! for Glorfindel, the fair, the brave!
The survivors of Gondolin he didst save!
Forever his deeds and his face so fair
Shall be sung, and of course—his golden hair!”
The room thundered with laughter and applause. Smiling triumphantly, Estel pulled Glorfindel out of his chair to join him to take a bow. The tall warrior and the mortal boy exchanged friendly punches in the shoulder, hugged each other with a grin, and swept extravagant bows to the gathering in the hall.
Someone in the hall was not laughing.
Maeglin had not known till now that survivors had escaped, that Idril had escaped, nor that Glorfindel had perished protecting them from the balrog.
Glorfindel and Maeglin. Both had died in the fall of Gondolin. Both had fallen to their deaths from a great height. Both had been reborn. And there the similarity ended.
One was a hero, one a traitor; one a saviour, one a destroyer. The golden warrior would be forever beloved, his glory sung of in the histories of elves and men for all time. For the traitor, there would only be curses and hate. A past so heinous it must be buried, hidden, kept locked in the most secret places of her being, and never, ever breathed to any that walked the earth.
Maeglin sat very still and silent as Lindir launched into a soulful rendition of Gil-Galad was an Elven-king and many joined in the chorus till few eyes in the hall were dry.
Only one small detail alleviated her heartache somewhat.
As she thought of how the glorious elflord’s famed golden tresses had ultimately been his downfall, Maeglin smirked.