The first time they met - well, the first time they truly met - he was kneeling, slumped over Winter frozen solid, looking up at a figure with its hands on its knees - and the only thing that rose to his fevered mind was Fucking Noldo.
Honestly, he was quite sure that the man in front of him was as Noldorin as they got; dark hair, pale skin, grey eyes, and that damned bright glance. But there was a certain finesse about him, his braids a bit too black, his features a bit too carved, and behind his eyes a glint of steel, that Glorfindel revised his judgement.
Fucking conspicuous Noldo.
Indeed, he could as well have been looking at one of Nerdanel's famed sculptures for all that the man hit the mark, much too closely for his comfort, on the traditional concept of Noldorin beauty. Even the faint light the man gave forth he could attribute to the stars above. But then the Noldo spoke, and oddly enough, his accent was distinctly Telerin.
"Do you need help?"
He spoke crisply in that military tone all the still-able-to-help men appeared to have adopted, and when Glorfindel thought to look for it, he easily found Fingolfin's sigil on the clasp at his throat. (That would later grow to signify low-ranking officer, but of course there were no ranks and officers then.)
"I'm cold," Glorfindel replied as politely as he could manage. "But aren't we all?"
The Noldo didn't raise an eyebrow, as Glorfindel might have expected from some of Turgon's friends, but rather smiled. A certain lordly air vanished, and Glorfindel could now see that his nose was red. As his cheeks were. His lips were chapped like bread crumbs, and were those actual icicles in his hair? - but the Noldo shook his head sadly and held out a gloved hand.
"I'm afraid I cannot do much about the cold, but let me help you move, nonetheless," he said.
"I think you'd better go ahead alone. I'll be fine in a moment," Glorfindel mumbled, and added belatedly. "Appreciate the offer, though."
"I'm afraid I can't do that, either. I was ordered to sweep for stragglers, and you see, you're straggling. Stay here any longer and you'll be... picked up by another of us, I suppose. Even so, it'd be better to save them trouble by taking you while you're still talking."
And with that, the Noldo easily pushed him up to his feet, as if he'd done it a thousand times by then. Standing, Glorfindel was half a hand taller and somewhat broader, but the Noldo was surprisingly strong. And Glorfindel could see (or rather, could not see, thanks to the frosted winds) Turgon's banners a good distance away. He admitted he could do with some help.
After an hour or three of trudging on the ice, the Noldo had managed to gather quite a group around him, about a dozen, and they'd successfully attached themselves to the main host. The Noldo walked with them for a while more, but stopped to bid them farewell, saying he should loop back again. A younger man asked for his name.
"Ehtele," he said, although that was no name. Not for one his age and born in Valinor, when all things had already been named, and so Glorfindel reckoned it an epesse. Fountain. He somehow found it apt. He asked before thinking:
"Will I see you again?"
That bright glance bent on him, and a smile danced in it once more.
"And what name do you bear, friend?"
"Laurefindil. I march with Turgon," he answered, and remembering, pulled his hood back. His hair tumbled out wildly. The Noldo looked mildly interested, though it was hard to read his expression.
"Lady Elenwe's kinsman, aren't you?" he asked. "I should take more care, it seems, in picking up strangers under this dark! 'Tis a joy to meet you, my lord. May you reach your folk soon, and stay among them this time."
And before he left, the Noldo passed around his waterskin once, telling them each to drink only in sips. It was no cordial, and Glorfindel decided after a cautious sniff that it really was just water, but it tasted cleaner than any he'd had chance to drink since setting foot upon the Grinding Ice. And strangely refreshing. Afterwards the Noldo bowed and took leave of them, bounding back the way they'd come. Glorfindel watched him for a minute, and then hurried up the column to his kin with a newfound strength.
He realized after some time that his fever was gone.
"Oh, Lauro, we worried!" Idril exclaimed, although by then it was rare that anyone died without warning. They had had enough experience. Now most of the casualties were due to fatigue, and that always took its time.
Still, he knew that Turgon's reports were often filled with other causes, and, well. Trust Idril, if no one else, to notice him running a fever. As soon as he sat down inside the tent, Idril pressed the heel of her hand to his brow and grinned in relief.
"So is it that you'd finally gone to see a healer?"
"No, though I suspect a healer did see me," he said, and laughed to see Idril's eyes sparkle at this riddle. Beside him Elenwe chuckled softly. The tent was one of the larger ones, as Elenwe and her husband were among the few to have brought children on the march, and while they did not risk a fire, it was still pleasant to be cut off from the winds.
"So who was this healer?" Idril asked, nestling close to his elbow. "Someone I know?"
"Well, it wasn't anyone I knew, but your father might, and so might you."
Turgon looked up at that, and quirked a brow.
"Let me think," he said. "Exceedingly beautiful, sweet voice, charms water, names himself Fountain? Yes, I might know him."
"Voice?" Glorfindel asked.
"You met Ehtele?" Idril demanded.
Turgon sighed. "He was with Father when I went to see him. Said he was about to leave, but wanted a quick word with me. I had not expected it to be about the stupidity of my kinsman."
"Stupidity?" Glorfindel asked again, louder.
"He does have a good voice," Idril mused, "although it's nothing like cousin... I mean, Kanafinwe's, and I guess you'd heard better in Valmar."
"Wait, but he called me stupid?" Glorfindel half-growled, and Turgon rolled his eyes.
"No, of course not. It's amazing someone that upright can even move his limbs, but for the record, all he said was that he'd met you at the back of the host. How did you even fall back so far?"
"Three days of slow walking?" Glorfindel guessed.
Turgon said nothing to that, presumably because he'd concluded that the cup in his hands was much less annoying. Glorfindel barged on.
"So you know him?"
"I'm surprised you don't. You did spend an unhealthy amount of time in Valmar, and he in Alqualonde, and yes, I suppose you never came to court if you could help it. He's not really a healer, though he's as good as any... Laurefindil, he's in my father's council."
"Oh," Glorfindel cocked his head. "He didn't look that old, though."
"Young he may be, among his peers, but his counsels are sound, his talents many, and his mother was high in Olwe's court. Don't ask about his father, though, he's like to be sensitive," Turgon sighed. "He's at least older than me, and risks his life beyond what duty would have of him. That's what Father sees in him. But why this interest?"
"He called me friend," Glorfindel grinned. "And I'd not make a liar of him."
Turgon winced, but Idril interrupted before he could speak.
"And he calls his real friends 'brother'," she said, "so good luck with that."
But already the world was a different place when he met the Noldo again, for Elenwe was dead.
He had not expected the aftermath to be so calm, so methodical. Of course Elenwe was not the first to die in those cold, cold waters, and Turgon - and Idril - was hardly the first to survive such an incident. Glorfindel himself had participated, a few times, in aiding the bereaved, and occasionally it had been one of his own to fall below the Ice, and yet. And yet. Elenwe.
As soon as Turgon had dragged himself and his daughter to safety, the healers had whisked them off to Fingolfin's tent, and all Glorfindel received were curt reassurances that they'd be fine. Fine! As if they had not lost wife and mother. As if he had not lost the closest thing to a sister he'd had this side of the Pelori.
He paced, just a few steps away from the opening of the tent, while the healers bustled in and out with heaps of towels in their arms. Somewhere in the tent he could sense Fingolfin's presence, as well as those of Aredhel and Finrod; Fingon, and the rest of Finarfin's children had split their duties between themselves. Glorfindel could have gone inside, he knew, but what would he have done then?
"I heard you were terrorising the healers, my friend," a voice said, that he could now recognize as actually 'sweet'. "I thought I might give them some peace of mind, and you some company."
"I need none," he said, his own voice harsh to his ears.
Ehtele said nothing in response. Glorfindel drew ragged breaths. He could barely see the stars - perhaps another storm was coming. Ehtele began to hum softly, a haunting, lilting tune that was oddly familiar. It was something he'd heard.
"What is that?"
His words fell clipped, but Ehtele did not seem to mind.
"A song. It's for the flute, really, and has a number for its title..." Then he lifted his eyes to meet Glorfindel's. "Something from Tirion."
"And Eru knows why we're here, instead of all that luxury," said Glorfindel, though he knew full well why. Ehtele hummed again, and then, despite what he'd said, put words to the song. No, not words. An imitation of them, an image.
Softly he sang, and Glorfindel listened, as the white walls and dark trees of Tirion rose around them, and golden fruits sprung, and Mindon Eldalieva shone bright, as the music of harps rang clear down the streets. He closed his eyes. Ehtele sang and wove about them a light, the Light, flowing through Kalakilya and alighting on the shores of Eldamar, the long black waves speckled golden, the jewels strewn among white sands, and then he brought the full power of his voice to a whisper and recalled the Trees themselves.
It was undeniably beautiful.
And while he wept, Ehtele put his arms around him and slowed the song, lips moving almost soundlessly, warm breath against his ear, and he could hear the Noldo's heartbeats so clearly. The tears dried and froze on his cheeks. Ehtele smelled like rain. The sky was a muddy black. There were stars in that gentle voice. He was crying.
After a while Finrod came out from the tent, and frowned.
"Ehtele, I had not known he was dear to you," he said, his manner chiding.
"He needed it," Ehtele murmured, like he was speaking of someone far away, but his hands were rubbing small circles in his back. Glorfindel heard Finrod sigh.
"Take care, Ehtele. And you too, Laurefindil. I believe Turukano will wake soon."
It would only be much later that he'd manage to think it odd, the way Ecthelion seemed to have no scruple at all with embracing a grieving almost-stranger, and could call forth tears with such ease, and only much, much later that he'd begin to fear it.
But just then, he thought nothing of it, and was simply glad when Ecthelion quietly took up a place by Turgon's side. When the Moon rose and flowers sprang beneath Fingolfin's banners he was beside them. It was only natural.
There are, as far as I know, three explanations for Ecthelion's name: spring, spear-tip, and sharp resolve. I've decided to try and go for covering all three.
Battle was not what they'd thought it would be, even after Alqualonde.
In the confusion, Glorfindel hardly realized that at some point, Ehtele had disappeared. As soon as he did he swung round, searching, hoping for a flash of white on the borders of grey, and saw naught but the bloodshot eyes of the things that should-not-be and were-not-indeed elves but still had flesh and bone too akin to himself - and he slashed down his sword again and tried to focus. Somewhere Turgon was ordering his soldiers (since when did they have soldiers?) to hold their places, and behind his back he could hear screams, but the hilt kept slipping from his hand, the stab-and-pull pattern horribly easy.
It was only after he heard his own voice that he knew he, too, had been shouting commands. Simple things, really: stay away, let me get that, hold, make it to the wains - but the men listened. His gut twisted. He crushed a skull with his shield and yelled out more. The din did not calm down, not really, but his mind cleared. There was a lesson to be learned here, he saw, and his blade the teacher...
Bad enough, that he would think of war as a lesson. Worse, that he could ignore all the pain and misery flowing in the air, and feel the battle-joy flood his veins. Death was so thick upon the ground, and he was ankle-deep in blood, but fought and killed and slowly found that he was good at it, excelled, as he had done at nothing before. He revelled. His braids had come undone, and his strikes were lit by his own light, and suddenly he could see - Ah, there was Aredhel, her quiver empty and knives in her hand, and there Turgon, his longsword coated black but still standing as tall as ever, and Idril with her knife out, but that blade, at least, was shining, and there he was, Ehtele, right in the van with Fingolfin, of course, where else. And here, Glorfindel brought his foot down on an arm, sheathing his sword in favour of the dirk, and a grin split his face.
Then, inevitably, Turgon screamed.
Turgon screamed his brother's name, and Lammoth echoed the call a thousandfold, and the tide turned. The tide Glorfindel had not even been able to read.
The host surged forward as one. Dazed, Glorfindel let himself be swept up, his strikes now muted and grim. He did his best to stay by Turgon's side, and soon found himself guarding his flank as Turgon, heedless, cried out at his father and saw the same pain reflected. Fingolfin's eyes were dull, the pupils dilated. His guard (and this was new, a guard) closed in on him and his son, and Glorfindel, with a moment's hesitation, clumsily escaped their circle. His gaze wandered. He remembered what he'd been doing - Valar, he was an awful commander - and glanced back, toward the group he'd been leading, but all he could see was Aredhel standing like a beacon under the Moon, and he looked away before he could make out the tears on her face.
Later, he found Ehtele among the healers, for once as a patient, lying back uncomfortably on his elbows. A deep gash ran down his hip, and his jaw was sporting a rather spectacular bruise. He smiled in an embarrassed manner at him while a healer tried to sing the gash closed. The bleeding had already stopped. There was an unfamiliar elf, quite young, hovering nervously over him.
Glorfindel hung back, unsure, but Ehtele saw him and waved. He walked up to him and sat down, back to back, partly to support him and partly to avoid meeting his eyes. The healer finished her work on the hip and quickly moved away. Glorfindel felt Ehtele shift.
"What's your name, lad?" he asked at the young elf, as calm as you please.
"Elemmakil," the elf answered, far too quickly, and added, "thank you, m'lord. I thought... Thank you."
"Well, Elemmakil, glad as I am to see you standing, you do look ready to fall asleep on your feet. Why don't you..."
At that shadow of a suggestion, Elemmakil mumbled out something that could have been either an apology or another thanks, and rushed away. Ehtele leaned some more on Glorfindel and chuckled.
"What happened?" Glorfindel asked, hoping he sounded normal enough.
"Took a blow for him... Don't stiffen so, Laurefindil, you make an atrocious pillow. You'd have done the same."
There was nothing he could say to that. Glorfindel let out a sigh, and said:
"Is there anything I can do for that bruise?"
"Oh, hello, Have a seat?" Ecthelion gestured toward the workbench, and Glorfindel plopped down. Ecthelion - and that name still felt strange to his tongue, but his friend had been quite eager to adopt the new customs of the Sindar - stood by the window, holding a bowl of water under the Moonlight, and began to chant softly again. Glorfindel looked around.
A large, wooden barrel, the sort the Sindar used to store ale, sat in the corner. Some scraps of silver were piled on the workbench, and beside them two stacks of crystal, or rather, a tall stack of squished crystals and a much smaller one of those better formed. He picked one up, knowing Ecthelion would hardly mind, and rolled it between his fingers. Not a true crystal, then. A failed diamond?
"Well, the new light is already tarnished," Ecthelion explained, laying down the bowl on the bench, as if he'd read his thoughts and knew Glorfindel would not mind, as well. "And it'd been some time that I'd worked on jewels, anyways, even before the Darkening."
Glorfindel shook his head. "Doesn't Enerdhil mind that you're using up his stock?"
"Not really," Ecthelion said. "He does owe me some favours. He treats me like his personal purifier, which, mind you, I'm not!"
His words carried a hint of outrage, but he was smiling brightly, and Glorfindel felt his own lips curl up in response. Fairest of the Noldor indeed, as their new 'soldiers' had taken to calling, although assuredly that title was most heard after successful negotiations for alcohol ration. Both of them had begun the march East with barely the clothes on their backs; now they had actual, living men under their command. A strange thing, to cross the Grinding Ice.
Ecthelion pursed his lips, considering, and then picked up a leather pouch and swept all the well-made crystals into it, save the one in Glorfindel's hand. He nodded at it, in a way that said Keep it, and pulled taut the string on the mouth of the pouch.
"Besides, this particular work is what he did ask of me," Ecthelion said, almost in an afterthought. "He wants to know whether inlaying gems would strengthen our armour, and I offered to help, though I'm a disaster with anything to do with fire..."
"I should've known that was the reason. Aren't you ever eager," grumbled Glorfindel, but he kept his voice casual. Ecthelion laughed under his breath.
"Also, you know, for the same reason that I believe brings you here," he said. "The screams are hard to bear. How's the kinslayer doing?"
And Ecthelion had been, certainly not the first healer, but not the last, either, to leave Maedhros Feanorion's bedside. He did have a good excuse: his skills were enough to mend broken bones or contain infections, but once those easier problems were taken care of, there had been little that brute force of will could do. Still, Glorfindel kept Turgon's comment about his father to his mind and asked nothing. It did not really matter. Kinslayer was about the closest Ecthelion would ever get to slandering the sons of Feanor.
"Stable, they say," Glorfindel chose his words with care. "Turukano says Nolofinwe - well, Finwe-Nolofinwe - is planning to send a messenger to the south shore soon."
"That's good. They must have seen Sorontar, too," Ecthelion murmured, and busied himself cleaning the bench. Lids on the barrel and the bowl, a shoddy box for the malformed crystals, a shelf for the pouch. He rolled down his sleeves, and Glorfindel noticed he wasn't wearing an apron. Enerdhil would have thrown a fit on workplace safety.
"Was there anything particular you wanted to talk about?" Ecthelion asked.
"Only if you're done working," Glorfindel replied, realising that it was, maybe, a bit late to do so.
"I will never be done working," said Ecthelion, shrugging. "You might as well distract me, brother!"
And Glorfindel grinned at the endearment, and exclaimed, "A the sorrows of this land, that one may never find rest amidst toil! But come, Ehtele, and join the singing tonight! That is," he grinned wider, "if you would prefer that to the ways of the Noldorin smiths of old, labouring endlessly for a diamond and daring any to make one fairer."
"I don't think anyone really said that except in the House of Feanaro," Ecthelion pointed out, then laughed. "Fine! I did promise Elemmakil a song yesterday. Let's go find what madness the young have tangled themselves into."
"You're not so old either, you know!"
Idril was dancing when they finally arrived. White feet fleeting, the bonfire blazing, and a ring of onlookers utterly entranced. Salgant was on the viol, Glorfindel saw. As quietly as the common folk had chosen their lords, the lords had chosen their princes, and Turgon had always attracted people. There were no formal, intricate vows of allegiance, yet, when even the High Kingship was thrown in doubt, but in the firelight it was clear why they were gathered there.
Turgon beckoned, and Glorfindel strode toward him, Ecthelion in tow. There was a rare lightness in the prince's eyes. They had makeshift benches now, a significant leap from the rolls of cloaks on the Ice, but Ecthelion sat on the ground at Turgon's feet instead, and Glorfindel did the same. Elemmakil materialized a moment later with Ecthelion's flute ready in his hands.
"Your highness, my lords," Elemmakil gave a rather cheeky bow. "A good evening to you all."
"Thank you, Elemmakil," Ecthelion said, accepting the flute, at the same time Turgon asked; "Welcome, Elemmakil. Have you perchance seen Irisse?"
Elemmakil knotted his brows. "I don't think so, no. Should I look for her?"
"I could do that," Ecthelion offered.
"No, you're supposed to sing! I'll look for her, if you want, Turukano," Glorfindel said.
Turgon waved his hand. No need. Elemmakil sat down next to Ecthelion, and nonchalantly laid his head on Ecthelion's shoulder. Ecthelion ruffled his hair in an absent-minded manner. There were still nobles, Glorfindel knew, who would shirk at such touches and would very much like to forget all those improper contacts on the Helcaraxe, but Ecthelion seemed to be among the lot that carried on with the new patterns. Elemmakil had a happy smile plastered on his face, in any case. Glorfindel felt a strange pang. Beloved - then Idril flew straight into his lap, and knocked out his thoughts along with his breath.
"Itarille!" He sputtered.
"Oh, you should be more careful, Lauro! Where's Meleth? She said she wouldn't miss out, this time," Idril shot out, and grinned at his companions. "Father, Ehtele! I didn't expect you here tonight. Finally tired of working?"
"No," Turgon said, his words mock-grave. "Alas! My dear sister has kidnapped me here, and vanished to thin air. I wonder where she could possibly be."
"I saw her by the healer's cabins," Idril chirped. "She did say she'd make sure Meleth came."
"And here I am!"
Glorfindel nearly choked. Aredhel approached them confidently, hand in hand with a fidgeting Fingon, and on a quick glance he found young Meleth positively terrified, following the two some steps behind. There was a grim set to Aredhel's mouth that Glorfindel tended to associate with the blow of mort. Elemmakil stiffened, and then slunk away at the smallest encouragement from Ecthelion, who was now more poised to spring up than seated. Glorfindel could hear Idril swallow drily, several times. Her hand clenched his like a vice.
Aredhel gave a feral smile.
"Greetings, brother. Findekano, why don't you say hi?"
Thank you for reading!
The silence hung for the space of a heartbeat, and then two. And continued to stretch. Turgon had gone frighteningly still. Glorfindel remembered, woefully, that this was the first time he'd seen Fingon outside the healer's cabin in three days. Four, if he barred that quick excursion to the baths. Add that to the length of his disappearance, and it made for a substantial amount of time that Turgon had not seen his brother.
But Fingon the Valiant certainly lived up to his name.
"Good evening, Turno," he said.
"It's almost midnight," Turgon retorted, and added, "if you'd even noticed. You seem to have grown surprisingly blind, these days."
That mirth was gone, now, from Turgon's voice. The music had stopped. Most of the gathered elves were glancing nervously at the brothers. Aredhel crossed her arms.
"Findekano's got something to say to you," she said, not ungently.
"And who am I to deny him? By all means, speak," Turgon said.
Fingon stiffened. "I'm not going to apologize," he started, and matching Turgon's glare with his own, continued. "No, Turno, I'm not apologizing for bringing Nelyafinwe back. Never for that."
On the other side of Turgon, Ecthelion had silently stood up. There was some wariness in his stance, but also - expectation? Glorfindel frowned, but stayed on the ground, Idril still in his arms. Someone else was approaching them cautiously - Egalmoth, he thought his name was - but Ecthelion shook his head slightly, meeting his eyes, and Egalmoth shifted direction, moving over to Meleth and taking her several steps back. It struck Glorfindel that they were acting as if in preparation for a disaster.
"Then why are you here?" Turgon all but growled, snapping up to his feet, and standing, he towered over his brother. His lips twisted. "Did our cousin come to learn why he's missing a hand?"
"Fuck you," Fingon said calmly.
"Well, that went as well as could be hoped for," Ecthelion said, inspecting an overturned bench.
"We have very different definitions of 'well', I think," Glorfindel shot back. "Valar, I don't think Turukano's ever been that mad at someone else before. Not even at Feanaro."
"Likely because he'd thought better of his brother. I have to admire the lady's nerve, though I can't say I agree with her tactics. Still, some good might yet come from this. At least they'd expressed themselves, now."
Ecthelion shrugged. For some reason, Glorfindel found that severely infuriating.
"Turukano did overreact, there. We all saw the state the Feanarion's in. I'm not sure if he's even regained consciousness, yet..." Glorfindel had stopped rummaging the debris, by then, and Ecthelion raised both his hands with the palms out. White scars crisscrossed his fingertips. Glorfindel was, quite forcefully, reminded that he hated those scars.
"Overreact? You know how Turukano didn't even want to come here!"
He'd spoken too loudly. Several of the other elves stopped their work and looked over. Ecthelion sighed, and took his wrist.
"We shouldn't argue here," he said.
"Just whose side are you on?"
Ecthelion closed his eyes. A look of exasperation came over his face. Glorfindel realized he didn't want to hear his answer, not really.
But then Ecthelion pulled hard on his wrist and gods, he had some grip. He half-led, half-dragged him away from the ring, and Glorfindel stomped after him. As soon as they were out of earshot, Ecthelion released him, and put his face in his hands.
"What?" Glorfindel demanded, resisting the urge to tap his foot.
They were standing under the eave of a wooden cabin, where a forgotten eight-pointed star yet survived on a panel - Glorfindel had half a mind to scratch it out with a dagger, like the rest of its brethren all over the camp. Ecthelion rubbed his eyes, and then let his hands fall.
"I'm sorry," he said.
It left Glorfindel at a loss.
"I'm sorry," Ecthelion repeated, and said, "I misspoke. I was thinking out loud, more than anything, and... You're on Turukano's side, I know. I know you didn't want to come to Middle-earth, either, and that you came only because of him. But I came because of Nolofinwe."
"All right," Glorfindel said, because his friend had paused for a moment, his anger had abated as quickly as it'd come, and some sort of encouragement seemed to be required. "I understand."
Ecthelion gave a wan smile. "It's just that when the Sun sets, it's Nolofinwe I report to. And I might..."
"All right!" he exclaimed, and grabbed Ecthelion's hands. "I understand. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have shouted. It just feels a little claustrophobic, and, well, I am sorry."
"Strange that we should feel so, in these wide lands about. But I understand, too..." And then Ecthelion smiled wider, like he meant it, and said, "You should have seen Tirion, though, just before Feanaro was banished. A pity you missed out on all that drama. Nothing like that in Valmar, I'd wager."
"Ha, funny," he said, grinning despite everything.
"So tell me, exactly what good are you hoping would come of this?"
As unlikely as the prospects of making it through the coronation were, it finally looked like they might be done with the proceedings soon. Standing by Turgon, Glorfindel glanced over at Ecthelion, playing the part of a statue with some of Fingolfin's men. A very impressive statue, to be fair. In just the handful of years in Beleriand, their armours had improved in leaps and bounds, though metal was hard to come by, and that, along with many other, had suffered losses on the Ice. But there had been enough to array the King's men in blue and silver.
Ecthelion must have seen him looking his way. Very, very slightly, he inclined his head and winked. Glorfindel coughed to hide his laughter.
Is any thing wrong? Idril mouthed, reaching to lace her fingers with his. Glorfindel quirked up his mouth, and nodded in Ecthelion's direction. Idril's smile was enough to light up his whole day.
"Honour guard, is he?" she whispered. "So that's why he missed out on the training sessions."
"He usually trains with your grandfather's, anyways," he whispered back. "He's just been missing out on the drinks."
"Poor Elemmakil," Idril said, and was promptly shushed by her father.
And then that was it. Maedhros had finished his answering speech(to an answering speech, which had, in fact, been addressed to another answering speech), and Fingon appeared to have decided that his cousin had tired himself enough for the night. There was only one hall, yet, and when in what seemed like a blink of an eye, most of the gathered throng had filed out the doors, and long tables were laid out. Turgon held out his arm to Idril. Both moved to the high table.
"Come on," Egalmoth cajoled from behind him. "I'm hungry."
"You're always hungry," said Penlod.
"We've been standing for hours, you know," Duilin chirped in. "Not everyone has legs of stone!"
"Where's Salgant?" Penlod asked, ever the one to remember everyone else, and Duilin added; "Where's Galdor?"
"Salgant's with Finrod's officers," a voice offered. "Galdor's with the dignitaries, of course, on the dais. And that's where you're coming with me!"
The last words were accompanied with a light jab at Glorfindel's side, and he turned to find Aredhel. He groaned.
"You said you'd find another escort this time!"
"That was Ecthelion," Aredhel grumbled. "The bastard rejected me."
Glorfindel briefly wondered if Ecthelion had heard this. There was some distance between them, but he could never really fathom just how much these singers heard. But though Feanor's second son was poorly hiding a smile behind a goblet, Ecthelion's expression was peacefully bland. No, solemn. There were times when he could hardly believe the Telerin blood...
"Come on!" Aredhel ordered in a tone that left no room for protests. Giving up, Glorfindel followed her, feeling like a shot hare.
Seven sons of Feanor, along with Fingolfin and Finarfin's children, and the visiting Sindarin lords, made for a rather large party. But naturally a seat would have been prepared for an escort of the daughter of the newly-crowned, and that took away any excuses Glorfindel might have made. Galdor saw him and waved. He already looked bored out of his mind.
Better to be bored, Glorfindel thought, then to realize one's been trapped in Finwian family dynamics. He wished Galdor all the blissful ignorance.
"Poor Elemmakil," Aredhel said, conversationally, as trays of food were set up on the table. "No one to get drunk, today, either."
"That's what Idril said, too," Glorfindel grinned. "Well, it's not like he had much success till now. I wonder whether Ecthelion can get drunk."
"He can, I think? There was that time, in Tirion, when Father's other counsellors had the same question you're having."
Glorfindel sneaked another look at Ecthelion, to make sure he hadn't heard, and whispered, "So what happened?"
"Got uncomfortably silent, and accepted every glass that came his way until he passed out in his seat. It made everyone so guilty they never did it again."
"Poor Elemmakil," Glorfindel agreed. "He's been trying so hard."
"Yes..." Aredhel trailed off. "Do you think he'll swear fealty to Ecthelion?"
Glorfindel thought, perhaps for too long, for Aredhel had turned to her food long before he could formulate an answer. It was one thing to share cabins and patrols, and quite another to follow someone's commands; a different thing altogether to swear. He remembered the torch-lit streets of Tirion, and crying out your oaths are ours, but not much more. How had Finwe been crowned?
Well, those musings were doing nothing for his mood. He glanced over at Turgon, who seemed to be conversing civilly with his brother, and decided that he had no idea why he was sitting on the high table instead of revelling with his friends.
But then Aredhel smiled, and made a quick joke on Salgant (quite clustered by his many sisters) that made him choke on his wine.
"Having fun, aren't you?"
Surprised, Glorfindel looked over his shoulder and found Ecthelion had moved from his post, though still in his armour. He grinned, delighted.
"So you're not made of stone, after all?"
"I see you haven't noticed, but the High King has retired for the night," Ecthelion chuckled. "I'm about to go change. I believe you may go join our friends, now. You too, my lady."
Ecthelion turned on his heels and slipped away, his steps barely making a sound, and Aredhel called after him: "I want a dance, Ehtele!"
"Since when did you dance?" Glorfindel asked, and without looking, Aredhel pointed accurately at where Celegorm was frowning and muttering to his younger brother.
"I don't," she said. "But I'm a dab hand at annoying people."
"Please don't damage my friend, and return him in one piece when you're done," Glorfindel said gravely. "He's quite fragile."
"Like diamonds are fragile?" she scoffed, shaking her head, then gave a contemplative look. "You know, do you think he will swear to Turgon?"
He shrugged. Those following Ecthelion were mostly those more eager for battle, and that wasn't something Turgon could offer, he knew. Aredhel nodded, and stood, scraping her chair obnoxiously. Turgon glanced over at them, and then at the ceiling. He gestured to the door, and for once, it looked like Idril wasn't complaining at retiring early. Some musicians were taking up their places, and others pushing the tables to the walls and pairing up; Glorfindel saw his friends hanging back in a corner. He stood, as well, and held out his arm to Aredhel.
"Honestly? I don't want to think about it," he said. "But while Ecthelion's gone, I can give you a dance."
Later, on a dare and after one too many cups of that Dorwinion brew, Duilin took a not-so-courteous bow before Ecthelion. By then the only people left in the halls were either those too drunk, or those too interested in the antics of the drunk to leave, and no-one batted an eye - though Egalmoth did make a rude remark as Ecthelion broke into laughter. Glorfindel watched Duilin try to put his arms around Ecthelion's waist, and Ecthelion raise his own arms awkwardly out of the way, and thought, fragile.
I'm going with the notion that Rog joined after the Aglareb. Thank you for reading!
It was rare for them to take leave on the same day. Well, rare for them to get any leave at all, and even rarer for those to coincide. Still, Glorfindel was happy to take what was given. He sat on the grass, back against a tree, and was content to watch his friend wave around a sword.
Ecthelion, though, did not seem as pleased.
"This is a mess," he said, for what must have been the twentieth time that morning. Glorfindel considered it a marked improvement, that he now enjoyed the privilege of hearing Ecthelion actually complain.
"I'm sure it's splendid. Whatever it is," he said lightly, and Ecthelion grimaced. He took an experimental step, turned, made a grabbing gesture with his shield-arm (though his shield had been discarded for a while) while raising his sword along, and swung down. Despite the man performing it, and the grace with which he did so, Glorfindel had to admit the series made a strange picture.
"Sorry, but, whatever is that?"
Ecthelion sighed, and gestured him to stand.
"I think I've got the basic idea, now," he said. "Get your sword and help me?"
"Sure. Which one?"
An assortment of weapons lay nearby, mostly dented and curved. Orcs'. Damn his Vanyarin piety, but there weren't many people he'd touch them for. In fact, there weren't many people for whom he would rise in an unholy hour, trudge for a mile into the woods carrying Orc-tainted blades, and repeatedly swing them in the air while someone took notes.
Fortunately, for once Ecthelion said, "Yours, if you please."
"Yes!" he grinned, jumping to his feet. "Are we sparring?"
"You could say that... Will you, say, try to kill me?"
An odd request, and more so considering their swords were edged enough to slice a hair, but Glorfindel obliged. Ecthelion blocked a hasty blow, then another, and the third, and before Glorfindel had time to think - he tends to be far more offensive than this, without a shield - the same actions, lightening-fast this time, sped past his eyes. He barely registered his sword tearing from his grip. In the next moment he was kneeling on the ground, Ecthelion cautiously releasing his right arm.
"By all things sacred..." he muttered, then let out a yelp. "That hurt!"
"It may bruise," Ecthelion said, concern clouding his face. "I was afraid that might happen."
"Why'd you do it then?"
Ecthelion took his arm and rolled up the sleeve. The skin was red where he'd been grabbed. Ecthelion cocked his head, and then smiled brightly.
"No, it won't bruise."
"Thank you. I still think this warrants an explanation," Glorfindel grumbled, but couldn't help from smiling as well. Ecthelion straightened up.
"Some genius thought it might be easier if we had a way of disarming someone without, for example, cutting off a limb, or killing everyone else in the group," he said. "Fingolfin told me about it. I said I'd try to come up with something."
"But this just now, it's got problems, right?" Glorfindel rapidly went through his memory. "You have to get your back to me, and you leave my left arm free... If I had a dagger or a dirk, I could have gotten your flank easily, or had a chunk out of your throat..."
"What?" Ecthelion asked, confusion seeping into his voice.
"I'm an Orc, aren't I?"
"No..." he said, and added, "I suppose this might work against someone holding his sword with both hands. Ah well, it's a start. I bet Fingolfin has a dozen others working on this."
"And all in their free time?" Glorfindel was beginning to form some unflattering ideas on the High King.
"It depends. You know I can't very well try out something new when I'm supposed to be teaching."
"You should come over to us every other time," said Glorfindel. "I don't know, try training yourself, instead of Elemmakil and that bunch? They're clumsy at best, a menace at worst."
"Hey!" Ecthelion complained. "They're the best swords this side of Dorthonion!"
"That's disputable... but is it true one of your men almost shot Egalmoth? I heard he wasn't even standing that near to the targets."
Ecthelion groaned, and sat down on the grass in front of him. Glorfindel laughed. After all, despite the Orc-blades, it was a fine day to be out in the woods, to know the blades were the most Orcish things for miles around, and that they were far inside the patrol lines. A fine thing to be able to believe they were safe.
"They try, at least. Not like those petty gentlemen you're so keen to call 'soldiers'," Ecthelion said, with no real sting behind.
"You know a sword-and-shield approach won't solve everything?"
"I'd like to see you say that to Fingolfin, what with his crystal shield and all... Anyways, spears did turn out to be a disaster," and Ecthelion lowered his tone conspiratorially. "I don't think Salgant will ever forgive me for that. Although I should probably make another attempt. We can't keep risking Egalmoth's life with archery."
"So much for Ecthelion," he said, child of the spear-tip.
"That's not what it means," he noted, quietly. "It's a corruption. Aegthelion. Aika-stel, maybe, although that's a wayward translation at best."
"Sharp resolve," said Glorfindel, "or a fell hope?"
"Whatever suits you," Ecthelion said, smiling.
Glorfindel thought for a while, and asked again; "Ecthelion, Ehtele, what was your name in Aman?"
See, brother, this is why, Ecthelion would nudge against his mind, some few years later at the Feast of Reuniting. After a freezing, courtly exchange with a man wearing Maglor's colours, he would meet Glorfindel's eyes and shake his head, ever so slightly. He would rub his hands on his tunic, like he used to do so many times on the Ice, like he must have done in Alqualonde. He would bend that bright glance and say, why we might have to fight our kin.
It was harder to keep in touch, once Turgon left for Nevrast and Glorfindel went with him. Not just with Ecthelion, who'd after all remained in Fingolfin's service; Galdor had kept on hesitating until he decided, finally, that he could not quite leave his father and people yet, and Salgant had been loathe to be parted from his house, as well. Then there was Duilin, who'd fallen in love with the wild plains of the north. Penlod and Egalmoth, though, were enthusiastic at the idea of building with stone again.
During the first years, Ecthelion visited often: sometimes for months, when Turgon made requests to his father, sketching up plans for causeways and whatnot, and sometimes for days, when his duties permitted. After Vinyamar was completed the former kind ceased, and on the latter, as often as not, he would bear some wound or other.
"At least it gives me an excuse to take some time off," Ecthelion said cheerfully, on one such occasion.
"Fingolfin's overworking you," Egalmoth pointed out, "and not just you. Is your household all right, Ecthelion?"
Something fleeted across Ecthelion's face, something that could be read as either pride, or satisfaction. "Not a man lost, for almost a whole year of the Sun."
"That's a very depressing thing to be so happy about," said Penlod.
Glorfindel said nothing, concentrating on pulling out the ornaments in Ecthelion's hair one by one. Most were twisted silver, with some crystals here and there, an occasional diamond. Ecthelion had arrived in Vinyamar the day before, his hair braided up with white strips of cloth that Idril agreed, were delicate enough, but did not keep her hands from him. Aredhel was happy to indulge her niece by overturning her box of long-accumulated but never-used gifts. To his credit, all Ecthelion had said had been 'My lady, you yourself go bare-headed everywhere,' before Idril effectively stuck a reed pipe in his mouth.
They sat now by the not-quite-shores of Linaewen, on the same wooden beams that supported a nearby boathouse, and dangled their legs barely above the water - or, in Penlod's case, shed his boots and let the water wash across his feet. A few brave birds ventured closer to them, and Egalmoth tore pieces from his loaf to throw at them. A small pile of precious metal and stones grew between Glorfindel and Ecthelion. The sky was murky but slowly clearing. It had been raining all morning.
"Someone has to keep Angband at bay," Ecthelion said mildly. He kept his own lunch to himself, although he hummed from time to time, imitating the birdsong.
"Everyone has to keep Angband at bay," Penlod corrected. "I'm no soldier, but I ride with Turgon, too, albeit not as far north as you do. Egalmoth and Glorfindel are. They do their share."
"And yet you accuse me of being overworked. Is there anything else you'd like to accuse, Penlod? Or anyone?"
Penlod sighed. "What happens at Hithlum isn't a concern of mine, nor it should be. Still I worry."
"I know," Ecthelion said. "But please, may we not speak of war? At least, not now. At the borders they discuss it far too much, especially nowadays, as the Orc-bands stir once more... But let us turn to lighter matters for today. See, there's a rainbow over the lake!"
His last words had them all looking up, even Glorfindel. A rainbow indeed hung, shimmering in the air, drawing a perfect curve from one side of the lake to the other, and Egalmoth let out a long breath.
"Ilweran," he said.
"The Bridge of Heaven," Penlod repeated in Sindarin.
"There's something to talk about, if you would not hear of war, Ecthelion!" Egalmoth exclaimed, excited. "Did you know, in Mithrim we always thought that was just another example of the strangeness of Middle-earth, or of the Sun, but it turns out the local Sindar believe it is a sign from Tauron, that is Araw, Orome."
"What do they know of the Lords of the West?" Ecthelion asked, turning to Egalmoth. His braids slipped from Glorfindel's hands.
"Salgant says that their queen is one of the Maiar," Egalmoth explained. "Melian, he says her name is, wife to Elu Thingol. But more than that - see, is it so hard to believe that the Forester has wrought this wonder?"
"I would not know," Ecthelion murmured softly. "In Middle-earth there are mountains deep in height, and plains so sheer in width, that I know not what to say..."
"Then trust me as I trust you," said Egalmoth, and his tone changed as he continued, "and believe! I have oft hunted in Orome's train, long ere the death of the Trees, as you have sat by the shores of Eldamar. When you listen to the streams and claim Ulmo yet watches over us, I believe it, Ehtele, as I trust you. Now look ye to the rainbow!"
They all did, once more, and Glorfindel felt awe slowly fill his heart. In truth he could not care less, for all Egalmoth's heated words, whether they were signs from Orome or not. But the sight was breathtaking, achingly beautiful, and so he sat, quiet, until the rainbow faded entirely, and knew the others did the same.
They finished their lunch, making small talk as they went. Penlod talked more than usual, but after all, he had a brother left behind in Hithlum. Glorfindel managed to pull every single piece of jewellery from Ecthelion's hair, and set on pulling apart the braids themselves. Then Egalmoth decided he was still hungry, and set off to retrieve some snacks from the saddlebags - "I think Penlod keeps apples in his" - which soon had Penlod chasing after him - "The apples are for the horses!" - and Ecthelion laughed to see them go.
It seemed a fine opportunity for a quick question.
"Ehtele?" he called.
"Yes? Oh, Valar, Idril spent ages doing that!" Ecthelion exclaimed, half his hair falling lose around his face.
"She will no doubt be happy to do it again," said Glorfindel, and Ecthelion groaned. Glorfindel barged on. "There's something I wanted to ask. I know you are far-sighted. And, this might sound odd, but, has it been wrong? Ever?"
There, there it was again, the glint of steel in his eyes. Ecthelion's expression grew solemn.
"I should like to ask what it was you saw... To answer your question, yes, many times. But no, never." Seeing Glorfindel's consternation, he rubbed at the back of his neck, just above the bandages, and sighed. "I try to draw a line between what I see, and what I understand. And I try to act only upon the latter. In what I see, I have frequently been wrong, for often glimpses of foresight are worse than none at all, but in acting I rarely err."
There was a firm confidence behind his words. Glorfindel bit his lips, and began to speak, but Ecthelion had not finished.
"But I see also that your sight is different from mine. I'm afraid I cannot advise you on this matter, brother, I am sorry."
"Hardly a fault!" said Glorfindel. "What I saw... I fear that should I give words to it, it might gain a truth of its own. But your words give me hope, at least."
Ecthelion smiled at that.
"Still, tell me. When were you wrong in seeing, before?" Glorfindel asked.
"When I first saw you on the Grinding Ice, for one," and Ecthelion's smile grew somewhat brighter. "And for some time after that. I thought: here is another whom I must aid, for such is my duty, though I am so very tired... But then you jumped."
The stuff about rainbows come from the Book of Lost Tales, which, I know, is far too old to be canon... But as lots of details on the lords of Gondolin belong to the same phase, I thought, why not?
Only two more chapters to go... (I hope.)
Chapter 5: Letters
It was a hard life they led, in the north, in Hithlum, despite the fact that the High King and his eldest son resided there. Why should it not be, Glorfindel thought glumly. The Eastern Marches were said to be worse, and there ruled the sons of Feanor, who once had been the rightful heirs to the throne.
"You could just go visit him," Idril said, when she caught him brooding, "and simply for the sake of visiting him. You rarely get any chance to speak with him when you lead our troops there."
He could. But then he would have to visit Galdor, as well, wherever his people were now, and Duilin, wherever he himself was, and possibly Salgant, although not if he was in Doriath. Not that he minded. He would enjoy meeting his friends again, face-to-face, but it would simply take too long, and he felt an obligation to Turgon to stay. To Idril, as well. Less to Aredhel, because the White Lady was more than capable of finding her own roads to tread...
"He comes here," he said, instead of confiding all that. "And I don't have that many friends besides him in Fingolfin's court. It would be awkward for both of us, at best."
"I wouldn't say he has many friends there, either, not exactly," said Idril, who had been to her grandfather's several times over the years, which was far more than Glorfindel. "He has his liege-lord, and he has his followers, and some fellow captains. Indeed, his comrades would easily die for him, and he for them. Friends, though? Helcaraxe was the place to make friends. Mithrim was, earlier on. Now it seems everything has returned to how it was in Tirion. Peers and acquaintances. The prospect of death seems to serve only to keep them apart from each other, now that it does not hover equally over everyone."
"That's a harsh judgement. And you know what they say: love born from hardship festers in peace," said Glorfindel, quoting the elders from Aman.
Idril looked at him strangely. "Perhaps they should have said: love born in Middle-earth festers in the West. But that I do not believe, either. And so perhaps we must say: that love is love, wherever it is born, and that it festers without care."
"Wise words, Turucaniel," Glorfindel laughed. "Then in time I shall go to him, for his sake alone, that our friendship not fail. But I would have you remember that I do meet with him quite often!"
I hope your back is healing well. Is Fingolfin still overworking you? If so, Turgon says you're always welcome in his court. He seems to have some more building in mind.
Greetings! I hope in Nevrast these winter winds are milder, for here the weather reminds me strongly of the Ice. And I do not say that in jest. This must be the worst Barad Eithel's gone through in ten years. But the new walls are proving surprisingly effective in keeping out the cold, not just the Orcs, that inside it's warm enough. Maglor son of Feanor has been staying with us, and thankfully with only a small escort. His presence has been politely welcomed, and his songs more so.
I'm sorry that this letter is late. I'm not sure whether you've heard, but one of our messengers to Himring disappeared, just after your letter, and was found dead with his satchel empty. Fingolfin's restraining all unnecessary correspondence for a while. Fingon was rather upset about it, and kept complaining until Fingolfin finally tasked him with figuring out safer communication methods, which gave him a reason to maintain necessary correspondence with the sons of Feanor. I wonder whether that was intended. They're developing a system of writing that they call cryptography, and I sincerely hope that the end-result turns out to be less of a headache than what it is now.
But I must be boring you! Well, there's not much to tell, here. The borders have calmed down again, and I hardly encountered anything in recent patrols. (I did come across a troll, but I suspect the troll did not mean to be there.) Do Orcs feel the cold, as well? At least it leaves us with more time at hand, and so yesterday I came to Mithrim and met Galdor here. He looked rather bored, whereat I suggested that he go visit you, and he offered to take some letters. Kind heart! Although I'll have to buy the drinks this evening, and then lug him home.
Very best wishes for Midwinter. May fortune follow you!
pstscrpt. Out of curiosity, could your letter be any shorter?
Yes. AND YOU DIDN'T ANSWER MY QUESTION IS YOUR BACK ALL RIGHT
You could have saved the paper and asked Galdor to yell for you. My back's fine! It's been months, Glorfindel, surely you don't expect me to be still bleeding.
I should be cross with you, but Galdor is looking over my shoulder and laughing rather hysterically, and I find myself unable to muster any anger. Well, Galdor's supposed to join his company right now, so there's not much time to write, and this will have to do. I'm not sure when this letter would actually find you. I hope you have some garden plans coming up; that might tempt Galdor's father enough to visit Nevrast once again.
Are you mad? Valar, I'm so sorry. You know I'm a mess with words. The best solution I come up with for anything is throwing it in the sea. I realize I can't do that with back wounds. I really am very sorry. I was just joking! Please reply? At least let me know your patrol roster, I'd go over and tell you everything you want to hear. Please?
I got your letter. I'm glad you're not mad at me. I'll try to write longer this time!
Um. I'm sorry. Nothing... happened? Oh, right, Aranwe has a little boy now. Aredhel's out hunting with Egalmoth. I've come to the conclusion that Idril's not much interested in his hair. I'm just grateful she's not trying out anything on me nowadays. I mean, I love to see her laugh, but if it's at the expense of my pigtails, well, not so much.
I think I might not want you to think about my pigtails.
Tell me about the trolls?
Greetings! Fingolfin deemed it safe to send out messengers again, at least to the south, and so I hope we may have regular contact once more.
I doubt you could ever make me mad. Although I'm afraid I have some bad news. About a troll. The troll. You see, my patrol had sighted a troll in a cave, uncomfortably close to our normal treks, and though the troll showed no aggressive behaviour it was agreed that we should extricate it nonetheless. As I was the one who had discovered it, I was given the dubious honour of that task.
It might have been better to have gone about it at night, but at the time it had seemed a good idea to have Sunlight at our backs.
I already gave a full report to Fingolfin a while ago, so here I'll try and make it brief. In short, we entered the cave with torches, but it turned out the cave had once been settled (by Sindar, guessing from the remains) and some wood and straw had been left over at the back of the cave. They caught fire, and moreover, gave forth a terrible smoke. Then, of course, our company had to rush out, but unfortunately the troll could not, because of the Sun. It grew rather violent. There were a few soldiers left behind in the cave, too surprised or wounded to escape, and so I entered the cave again in an attempt to pull them out.
I did manage to pull them all out. And the troll on top of them.
I think Penlod once made a study of the geology of Ered Wethrin. I now have a first-hand account of it, so to speak.
Right, Elemmakil, I'll carry on - are you writing that down? Valar, little brother - I will just say: Hello, Glorfindel, this is Ecthelion. I happened to break both my arms. Well, shoulders, to be more specific. For the record, it wasn't the troll that did it(he turned to stone very quickly), it was the ground I rolled on. I promise to take more care when fighting opponents much larger than myself, and make sure I don't fall off them. Please don't be mad at me. The healers say it'll heal in a couple of weeks - there were no Orc-venom involved this time, and you know I heal faster than others. I beseech you to keep in mind that this isn't the worst I've been hurt.
You're mad at me.
Apologetically (thinking of your pigtails), Ecthelion.
You horrible, incorrigible, sacrificial bastard. I should have expected no better. You're still the idiot from the Helcaraxe. ANYONE could tell you running into a burning cave (with a troll!) is almost as crappy an idea as diving after ice-cracks. You are the worst there is.
I wrote that, and then realized that you could have fucking died. And that I don't want my last words to you to be about how much I hate you. I'm proud you're the kind of person who gets those crappy ideas. I only wish you'd care a bit more about the people who're proud of you. Egalmoth threw a fit when I showed him your letter.
Tell Elemmakil that I leave you in his sensible hands.
p.s. And don't think about my pigtails!
Greetings! I hope you have returned to Vinyamar safely. It was a pleasure to see you, although I'm sorry we did not have time to talk freely. At least I saw you, which is something.
At the moment I am going through your previous letters. I have a mind to repeat your own words back at you. I will not, to spare whoever is reading this to you. It was a foolish thing to do. I hope you never have reason to do it again. I mean it.
I will try to visit soon; I miss Vinyamar. It's almost been a year, I believe.
With love, Ecthelion.
Hi, Egalmoth here. Glorfindel asked me to write this down for you, but he's talking rather a lot, and I have to wonder at the amount of things he wants to say when his letters are famous for their brevity. I take that he wishes to point out a) a poisoned arrow is hardly the same as an enraged troll, b) people are bound to get hurt in military missions, as you yourself demonstrate far too many times, and c) he wouldn't have done it for just any random soldier, meaning his actions were infinitely less 'crappy' than yours.
I agree entirely. Do visit soon! The princess misses your hair. And, well, I shouldn't really say anything, but it looks like Turgon could use you. There aren't many here who are familiar with both water and stone. But do keep this to yourself! We'll talk more when you get here. In fact, I'm not even supposed to know about this...
Just asking, but if you still have that letter Egalmoth sent you, could you allow me to have a look at it? I have this feeling he didn't exactly write down what I asked him to. I could certainly use an Elemmakil.
My sight's returned almost completely. I hope you come before the leaves all fall down, it's quite beautiful here. Evergreens must bore you. In case you can't, I'm sending a leaf with this letter.
With love, Glorfindel.
Dagor Aglareb, the Glorious Battle. Glorious or not, it was the last of its kind that Glorfindel would partake in for a good deal of time. Turgon had been busy sweeping up the Orcs in Nevrast, which meant he had missed out on the battle at Lothlann and Ard-galen, but he did have his hands full with his own battles. It meant he had not had much thought to spare on his other friends. He did not worry about them, or rather, tried not to let the worry eat his mind. Was it wrong, to care only about certain people, while Orcs wrecked havoc literally everywhere? He tried not to think too long on that, either.
And so it came as a shock, when he rode onto the plains of Ard-galen by Turgon's side, and Fingolfin gave him a mournful glance. His stomach dropped. There was that sense of something gone very, very wrong.
He felt Elemmakil's approach almost before he saw him. Garbed in silver, stooped with weariness, Elemmakil bowed before Turgon and saluted Glorfindel. He had dark smudges under his eyes. Glorfindel could barely keep himself in his saddle. Before he'd gathered himself enough to speak, Elemmakil's face crumpled. Some small, rational part in Glorfindel noted that the young man looked as if he had not slept for days.
"My lord," Elemmakil said, and Eru, he sounded so much like his captain it hurt. "You should come. I'm sorry. You should... He'd want you to come."
He'd want you to come.
Glorfindel wondered if ever there had been words that could so quickly fill him with dread. He swung down from his horse, nearly twisting his ankle, and hurried after Elemmakil. Whatever the matter, desperation clogged his throat - he wasn't sure whether he wished to know, or not. It came to his mind, after several steps, that he had neither asked the High King's leave, nor Turgon's. Elemmakil's white cloak fanned out behind him. Glorfindel did not look back.
They were headed toward the edges of the encampment, he saw, which gave him some hope - surely a body would be kept with its own men? - but not much. He tried to reach out, to see if a familiar mind hovered somewhere close, but there were too many others in the way. Would he have felt his death? Elenwe's had torn him apart. But what would he feel about someone he had no kinship to?
Elemmakil stopped in front of a tent large enough to fit a host. The walls were reinforced with wood. A healer's mark hung from a horizontal pole. So. Not dead, yet. Elemmakil fumbled with the flaps, while Glorfindel caught up to him, and he noticed the man's hands were shaking badly. Afraid - of him? of what he might do? Oddly, that fear did not offend him as it ought to have. Elemmakil finally made sense of the ties, and they stepped inside. A young woman scuttled up to them, holding out a bowl of water. The next moment they were past her, and Glorfindel could not tell if he had washed his hands or not. It felt like there was sand under his nails.
Healers and their assistants slowly made their rounds through the cots; they had the usual air of the days after battle, when most of the things that could be done had been. Some of the Elves lying were awake and alert, while others slept peacefully. Braziers burned cheerfully in every possible corner - Ard-galen was far enough north, and inland, to need their heat.
As they moved to the back of the tent, their surroundings deteriorated.
Glorfindel winced, unconsciously, when a man he passed muttered gibberish into the air. His bandages looked clean, but stank. Glorious indeed. A cot held a soldier whose leg had been cut off at the knee, with another man - a brother, perhaps - slumped over as if sleeping. At the far end, a section had been curtained off, and two Elves (not soldiers, or very undisciplined ones, to stand so) guarded the opening. One of them moved to block their way, but Elemmakil spoke a few hushed words, and they were waved through.
The cots were laid out sparser. Almost a third were suspiciously empty, the sheets clean and newly changed. The healers had more determination in their strides, more fatigue. Elemmakil led him unerringly to a cot nearby the walls. Glorfindel flinched to see Duilin crouching next to it. The man wore a haggard expression, but smiled when he noticed them.
"You came," he said, relief plain in his voice. Another man stood beside him, hands clasped behind his back, a silver badge pinned to his shirt. Elemmakil embraced him, almost sagging.
"Were there any changes?" Elemmakil asked, and it was Duilin who answered.
"Nothing they didn't tell us to expect. His father dropped by. Your man tried to punch him." He barked a laugh. "Want the seat, Glorfindel?"
Duilin came to his feet, and Glorfindel saw he had been sitting on a low wooden stool. He walked over, not quite trusting his steps, and sat down.
Ecthelion had never been a shallow breather. When asked, he would turn the blame to vocal training and years of playing the flute, but Glorfindel had simply thought it another aspect of his manner, steady and collected like everything else. Constant.
Now the breaths came in ragged gasps, as if each one was a torment.
Odd things stood out. Someone had thought to braid his hair, albeit sloppily, to keep it out of the way. Loose strands hung about his face. The braid was crooked at the nape of his neck, curving away to the left, where it trailed off the cot. Dark, almost raven-black. Flecks of blood and dirt clung to it. There was blood, too, on his teeth, glistening faintly through parted lips. Some more at the corner of his mouth. His eyes were closed, small muscles jumping frantically under the lids, with a slight frown between his brows that suggested they would have been squeezed tight, if possible.
Glorfindel laid a hand on his cheek. It felt wet, and cold. He must have been sweating a while ago. A shift - he might have leaned into the touch. Or Glorfindel could be losing his mind.
The blanket was bunched at his waist. He was still wearing the quilted, grey shirt that went under his armour. A large portion had been cut away on the right. There were damp patches in the remaining fabric, darker than the rest. The laces were undone, or perhaps, cut off as well. The exposed skin was almost as grey as the shirt. His left hand was splayed limply on his stomach, the right hidden in the sheets. Glorfindel could not quite bring himself to look at the wound, yet.
"What happened?" someone asked, whose voice was startlingly like Turgon's. He must have followed them, Glorfindel realized.
"We... Well, no one could tell, my lord," and that was Elemmakil, his tone rather anxious. "We were right up to the gates, of Angband, and the battle was nearly done. I looked, and I just... couldn't find him. We had to search."
"The healers say it was likely the wolves, or the things in the wolf-shapes, whatever they really were," Duilin supplied. "Bad luck, they say. One of those things must have got its claws in a chink. His breastplate was torn off when we found him."
Glorfindel could have screamed. He would have been watching you. All of you.
"Will he live?" asked Turgon.
Duilin hesitated. "My lord, the healers say he has hours, if he's lucky, days if he's not. Whatever it was, it mauled... I mean, it left too much damage. They said they could save him his sufferings. He doesn't have any blood-kin here, and the King was furious when the healers suggested it. I take it his father has no right in this. We thought, perhaps..."
Glorfindel tore his eyes away, and saw the pleading in Duilin's face. Bile rose.
"You could have done it," he growled, and Duilin flinched. "For goodness's sake, you could have done it! He would have done it for you, you craven-"
"But I can't!" Duilin raised his voice to a pitch that was almost painful. "Damn you, if I could have done it he wouldn't be lying here in the first place!"
Glorfindel made a disgusted noise, and turned back to the cot. He hated the breaths.
"I told the Warden here about you. She said she'd take your word, if that's the best she could get." Duilin spoke in a whisper now. "Please. You know people die. We're all Doomed anyways. Please."
Pathetic. And what a waste it all was, if the closest friend you had on these shores was not even the one fighting by your side. He bit down, hard, on the insides of his mouth, and was viciously glad of the blood he drew. His thoughts flitted. Fire-lit evenings in Mithrim. The rains in Nevrast. They had ridden a full circle around the Ivrin, once, the water churning around their knees. That moment on the Helcaraxe.
But then you jumped.
Some might have called it foolish; others might have said he was being exceptionally arrogant. It was a terrible trespass after all, and Ecthelion, like all other sensible lords, kept his mind tightly closed with unwill. It was pure audacity to assume he would be admitted. He did not care. What may yet be, at times, was a more powerful drive than what had once been. Besides. There were few people he would do it for, and only one he felt safe enough actually doing it. Only one with whom he knew he would be welcomed.
He grasped Ecthelion's hand in both of his own. The fingers felt far too much like a corpse's.
And he plunged.
There had been that moment on the Helcaraxe, not that long after Elenwe's death. Enough time had passed to allow for emotions other than grief, and a prominent one had been irritation. 'I hope you're not still following me around because you think I might die from grief,' he'd snapped.
'No,' Ecthelion had said. 'It's not you I'm worried about.'
'Turukano, then?' he'd asked. Ecthelion had not answered, instead drawing his cloak tighter around him and drifting away, probably off to the tail end of the host again. He'd always walked on the edges of the column when he was moving backwards. It was probably less than he must have done before shadowing Turgon and his, but he'd still made the loop two or three times, in a single wheeling of the stars. Glorfindel had watched him go, and turned back to his own business. Half a minute later, he'd heard the familiar sound of ice cracking.
The water was dark, vast, freezing, and somehow heavy enough to knock all the air out of him. His bearings were gone at once. The waves pulled, pushed, threw him around like a rag doll until he no longer had any sense of which way was up or down. He vaguely remembered that everyone had advised him to stay afloat as long as he could, should he ever fall in. Well. Ecthelion hadn't done it. He was probably below there somewhere, unless he'd sunk faster? Glorfindel felt annoyed. He was confusing himself.
His eyes burned in the frigid water, though all he could see was the dim glow from his own hair. His fingers tugged at the brooch holding his cloak - it was choking him. There, he freed it, and kicked it away when the current pressed it against him. Next went his boots. His feet felt so cold, suddenly, and he wondered if all the other parts of himself had already become used to the temperature. His mind was slowly emptying. He came up with a weak analogy. Every breath that bubbled out of him was probably another strip of his consciousness. Except he couldn't even see the bubbles. It was so damn dark.
He contemplated shouting. Did water carry sound? It was exactly the sort of thing Ecthelion would know about. Yes, he thought it did. Unbidden, a memory floated to his mind: Ecthelion tapping on a rail of a wain, Idril pressing her ear eagerly to it. It's faster in liquids than in gas, and even faster in solids. Idril had not laughed, not quite. He wished he could hear her laugh again. He tried to shout. Water came rushing in.
Then, a clear, beautiful voice:
"Uinen, Uinen, remember thou the shores of Eldamar! Uinen!"
And the currents stop, waiting, biding, in horrible anticipation, and seconds pass, seconds he count by the ringing in his ears.
And then, a hand, grasping him.
He pushes him up to the Ice, drags himself up, and throws his arms around him. There is awe in his eyes.
"You jumped," he says.
Glorfindel, too tired to answer, grins.
They told him, later, that he had been as one dead, that he had not stirred once in those four days. Days. It had felt like a minute. They had fussed over him and Ecthelion both for weeks after that. Ecthelion's soldiers fed him gratitude until he started to pull up his hood every time he saw a flash of silver.
He would have said something, if only he were sure of what had really happened. He had not been too keen to find out. (He'd know, looking back on the Ages past, that he had not wanted to understand, not really, why a man strong enough to save two could not save himself alone. He did not even notice, then. He was yet to fear it.) In those weeks, Turgon had stayed in Hithlum, aiding his father and brother in the aftermath of the battle, and keeping a surreptitious eye on the two of them. Glorfindel did not mind.
"So," Ecthelion said lightly, as he sat down on the bench next to him. "I've been dismissed."
"From what?" Glorfindel looked up from his pile of letters. Apparently, Idril and Penlod had grown much too good at administration, which left Egalmoth rather frustrated.
"From service, I suppose," said Ecthelion, and Glorfindel dropped the letters. The papers flurried to the ground.
"Fingolfin dismissed you?"
He sounded like an indignant child even to his own ears. And, amazingly, Ecthelion laughed.
"I asked to be dismissed! What did you think, that I'm that easy to get rid of? Turgon offered me a temporary position. I decided to take it."
"Oh. Wait, what? I thought you wanted to fight!"
"There are things I saw," Ecthelion said, still smiling, "that I am only beginning to understand. But screw that. I could use a vacation. I miss Vinyamar. That is, unless you object?"
Glorfindel stared for a moment, dumbstruck. The Sun was shining in the sky, the wind cool in their hair, Ard-galen blooming around them. Then he leaned down, picked up all the letters, brushed off the dirt, and set them carefully on the bench. And then he stood. And whooped.
Thank you all for reading! I can't quite believe I made it to the end...