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Unto the ending of the world: 31. Watch
July 14, 3019
The battle to retake the Pass had gone well. The dead had been buried, and the wounded were recovering. They had not lost many, and all that remained now was securing the Pass against a counter-attack from Goblin-town.
Why then, am I so on edge? Glorfindel wondered. Something is wrong, but what...? He had come down a few miles from the High Pass to where he could see the patrol he had sent out coming back. Of course, had they found an army ready to march from Goblin-town, there would have been a messenger already, so no news was likely to be good news. Or they have run into trouble... I will give them one more day, and then I will go out with another patrol.
At a nudge from Asfaloth, he turned briefly towards his horse and gave him a distracted pat, before going back to looking north. Another nudge and he moved his hand to scratch the horse's forehead. Glorfindel laughed softly as Asfaloth's eyes started to droop closed in enjoyment of the attention. As ever, you are the wiser. I should stop worrying about Orcs and enjoy the quiet while I can, is that it? He laughed again when Asfaloth flicked his ears in annoyance as he lifted his hand.
Before Glorfindel could sit down, cawing disturbed the silence as a pack of crows flew up in the distance. Immediately his hand fell to his sword, but he loosened his grip again as he saw that the crows had been disturbed by what appeared to be the patrol he was waiting for.
The first to come into view from behind a low ridge was Alagon, the patrol's leader. Glorfindel counted as Elves and Rangers emerged behind him. One, two, three, four... Five, six. They were on foot, leading their horses. No, wait; they have one man on horseback. Despite the hot weather, the rider had the hood of his cloak drawn over his head.
As the group approached, Glorfindel's unease tightened to a foreboding of ill news. It was not long before Alagon saw him and hurried ahead, followed by one of the Rangers; Gelmir, Glorfindel recalled. Glorfindel nodded at Alagon to give his report.
"Yesterday, we found Elrohir wandering near one of the lesser passes," the Elf said.
Only now did Glorfindel see that the huddled figure on horseback was indeed Elrohir. "Do you know what..." he started to ask.
"He only said he was alone, and that he needed to get to Imladris quickly," Gelmir interrupted.
"Neither of you asked further?" Glorfindel asked. Alone. His foreboding now became a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach – do not let me have to bring Elrond such tidings again... He tried to tell himself that Elladan had remained in Lothlórien, or was lying wounded somewhere with Elrohir having gone for aid, but one look at Elrohir was enough to dismiss any such hope.
Both Alagon and Gelmir winced at Glorfindel's sharp tone. "I did," Alagon said, looking troubled. "But he did not answer, and he appears not badly hurt."
Turning away abruptly, Glorfindel bit back an even sharper reply. He walked over to Elrohir, who had dismounted, and now stood looking at the ground, his cloak pulled around him. He only raised his head to look at Glorfindel when he was standing next to him.
Elrohir's clothes were torn, and his face was as gaunt as if he had come close to starving, but his look of utter desolation nearly made Glorfindel recoil. At first he doubted whether Elrohir even knew him, but after the peredhel briefly looked away, there was recognition in his gaze. There was something else there as well, something he did not want to name, but which he had seen in Arwen's eyes. He forcefully put the thought aside. Not now.
"Elrohir, are you well?" Glorfindel broke the silence. Where is Elladan? he wanted to ask.
Elrohir merely nodded his head at Glorfindel's question, and looked down again, staring at his hands. Glorfindel said nothing, quietly waiting for an answer until Elrohir muttered, "I am well."
"You do not look it," Glorfindel replied, "You will eat and take some rest when we return to camp, and then you can tell me how you come to be here."
"That is unnecessary," Elrohir said. "I do not need to rest. We should ride on home, not waste time."
Glorfindel looked at him sharply. "If you carry such urgent news, I will send a rider to Imladris, but you are in no shape to go far at speed."
Elrohir shook his head in denial. "That is unnecessary," he repeated. "I can keep up."
"Perhaps," Glorfindel said, "But we are going back to our camp, so you shall not have to prove that you can." Elrohir shivered and drew his cloak even tighter around him, but did not speak. Glorfindel waited, but when nothing was forthcoming, he spoke the other's name sharply. "Elrohir!"
Elrohir hesitated, but after another, briefer, pause he did answer. "No... I... I must speak to Father."
Glorfindel considered how to proceed; clearly, Elrohir would not speak of what had befallen him, and – much as he might protest – just as clearly he was in no condition to ride anywhere at speed. Waiting another day until the peredhel was in better shape would give Glorfindel time to hand over securing the High Pass to Alagon and Borlas.
"Back to the camp," Glorfindel called out to the patrol, then asked Alagon as they mounted, "What news from Goblin-town?"
"We had to be careful, but we could get fairly near the lower entrance to the caves. All I saw were the normal sentries," Alagon said. "There have been no large troop movements recently, nor do the Orcs look as if they are about to march off to war. I left the rest of the patrol out there to keep an eye on them, and give warning when they do start gathering."
Even if the Orcs were playing a waiting game, there would eventually be a counterattack, and they would need that warning, Glorfindel thought as he looked to see whether all were ready. Elrohir was still standing by his horse and only mounted when one of the Rangers nudged him, but then followed along without further prompting.
It was hard to concentrate on troop movements and numbers of slain and wounded rather than on what had happened to the twins, but there was enough to consider for Glorfindel as he started to mentally prepare his report to Elrond. Regaining control of the High Pass had been worth the argument they had had over this action. Elrond had had been reluctant to allow it, both for the losses it would mean, and for fear of drawing the Enemy's attention to Imladris. Any losses were more than the Elves or the Dúnedain could afford, and Glorfindel understood well Elrond's reluctance to act openly, yet yielding the High Pass so soon would not keep Imladris or Eriador safe either.
In the long run, unless Sauron lost his Ring, the war was unwinnable. Even so, any resistance they offered him might allow more to find safety, for a time; time to flee West for the Elves... For anyone else... There would be no new War of Wrath, no reprieve for Middle-earth. Glorfindel shook his head. The Dúnedain could not abandon this war, and he would not.
In the camp, ignoring the curious looks and questions from those who recognised Elrohir, Glorfindel took his charge to the command area, detouring only to grab two bowls of stew from the field kitchen. He was not hungry himself, but Elrohir should eat. At first, Elrohir only looked at the bowl, but after Glorfindel prompted him, he picked up his spoon and ate a few bites. He then returned to looking at his food, before putting the bowl down on the ground.
"Stop fussing!" he snapped as Glorfindel again encouraged him to eat. "I am fine."
"Tell me what happened to you, and I will be the judge of that," Glorfindel replied, resisting the urge to snap back at him. Elrohir fell silent again. He was quiet so long that Glorfindel no longer expected an answer, but finally he spoke, albeit so softly that Glorfindel could barely hear him.
"Elladan is dead."
Glorfindel lowered his head briefly, then looked at Elrohir again. He had expected it, but he could not afford to grieve, not yet. See to the living twin, he told himself.
Elrohir looked down at his hands, which were clenched tight in front of him. "We... we came north from Lothlórien. Orcs found us along the Forest Road, and gave chase. We encountered Beorning messengers who warned us that the High Pass was closed, so we went further north." He briefly looked up to meet Glorfindel's gaze. "We took the first of the lesser passes that we could. You remember those caves we cleaned out about a thousand years ago?"
Glorfindel nodded grimly. He remembered the caves, but the pass had been only a foot trail even then, and a thousand years of disuse would not have improved it.
Elrohir continued talking. "We could only cross on foot, so we set our horses free, but the Orcs were only a few hours behind and they caught up with us." He fell silent, shivering and drawing his arms around himself.
"We climbed down over a ridge. We hoped the Orcs would miss us, but they followed, and there... there was a rockfall." Elrohir was silent again, and Glorfindel was about to speak, when suddenly Elrohir looked at him and spoke angrily, "And now I find that if we had waited a bit longer, we could have come safely over the High Pass. So Elladan died for nothing!" He stood up and ran off, not watching where he was going.
Biting back a curse, Glorfindel was on his feet and after Elrohir, past several startled Elves who had been nearly bowled over by the peredhel's passage.
"Elrohir!" Glorfindel called out, but the other did not slow down until he reached the edge of the camp, where he sat down abruptly on a large rock. Elrohir did not look up when Glorfindel sat down next to him.
Finally, Elrohir spoke. "I am sorry," he said, "I should not have run off."
"It matters not," Glorfindel replied, putting his hand on Elrohir's shoulder. Elrohir's only response to the touch was a deep shuddering breath, as if he was holding back tears. When he turned to look at Glorfindel, his eyes were dry.
"Has Eärendil ever spoken to you?" Elrohir said next.
Glorfindel stared at him, startled by the incongruousness of the question.
"I mean, after you...," Elrohir added, mistaking the cause of his confusion.
Still not understanding why Elrohir asked, Glorfindel said, "We met several times in Valinor before I returned to Endórë. Why?"
"I meant after you came here," Elrohir replied.
"No," Glorfindel said, "How could he have?" Then he realised that Elrohir was looking at the exact spot in the sky where Eärendil's star would be at this time of day, and he looked at Elrohir sharply.
"Indeed," repeated Elrohir. "How could he have?" He took a deep breath and looked at Glorfindel again. "He spoke to me." He sounded defensive as he went on. "I did hit my head when I fell. But I am certain that he was real. If he had not spoken to me, I thi... I would have followed Elladan there and then." Again Elrohir paused, trembling. "We were always together. He is there, alone..."
"The Halls of Mandos are not so terrible as you may fear," Glorfindel said gently. To his surprise, even if he did not yet fathom what it might mean, he found that he did not doubt Elrohir's assertion that Eärendil had spoken to him.
Elrohir looked up to give him a wan smile. "Perhaps not, but our fate lies beyond them. That even you can tell me naught about."
"You have made your Choice?" Glorfindel asked.;
Elrohir nodded in confirmation. He looked relieved to have spoken as he stood up. "Let us go back to the camp," he said.
Glorfindel knew he would get nothing more from Elrohir for now, and stood also. "As you will," he replied. He did not yet say to Elrohir that, though it would not be not at the speed Elrohir wanted, in the morning they would ride to Imladris together.
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