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Flawed and Fair: 1. Victims of Lorien
Ecthelion hated Glorfindel.
He hated Glorfindel's easy charm, his ready laugh, his air of entitlement and serenity. Above all, he hated Glorfindel's golden beauty, so rare on this side of the Great Sea. That shining hair was a particular irritant. For one, it was overrated: he had heard it compared to sunlight, when, in reality, at night it was barely brighter than a candle flame. And then, it was a serious safety risk: Glorfindel would insist on wearing it unbound even when dressed for battle, ignoring Ecthelion's cautionary tales of hunters whose free-flowing hair got caught on something at the worst possible moment.
Ecthelion hated Glorfindel because there was no real reason to hate him. Because he was brave, and kind, and neither shallow nor pretentious. Because he got up early and did all his work without complaint, but still managed to sympathize with the work-related complaints of others. And because, in spite of all his obvious charms and graces, and in spite of all that ridiculous hair, he was a competent warrior and leader of men.
And then, Ecthelion hated Glorfindel because he was so universally loved. It wasn't as if people did not love Ecthelion also, but that love was of a respectful, remote kind. He was admired as a tough but reasonable captain, and as an unusually accomplished singer. Glorfindel was loved on a personal level. Complete strangers would find it quite natural to wish him a happy begetting day, right there in the street. Ecthelion had heard random people discussing his beauty and his warmth as if they were perfectly acceptable topics of general conversation, matters of shared interest.
Ecthelion, meanwhile, wished Glorfindel gone, gone and forgotten. Daily, hourly, he longed to recover his peace of mind, to finally stop counting Glorfindel's many fine qualities. For the true reason why Ecthelion hated Glorfindel, a fine man he might so easily have come to love as a brother, was that Glorfindel was perfect, while Ecthelion himself was flawed through and through. It did not help that few were aware of his flaws, nowadays; Ecthelion himself knew the wrongness was still there, and he hated Glorfindel for throwing it into such sharp relief with every graceful gesture, every movement of his golden head.
It was not jealousy. That would have been a natural response to all those perfections, slightly dishonourable, perhaps, but nowhere near as shameful as the truth. Still, Ecthelion did not want to be suspected of so petty a feeling, and so he worked hard to keep his hatred hidden. He worked even harder to keep it going. He needed it: his dreams made that clear. For, when Ecthelion dreamt, his loathing would abandon him and he would spend time with Glorfindel quite happily. Sometimes, they would simply feast together, without restraint, or engage in elaborate swordplay, or ride difficult, spirited horses. Innocent pleasures, all—but Ecthelion was subtle enough to read the meanings behind them. Worse were the dreams that needed no interpretation. Ecthelion cursed the public baths of Gondolin, where a warrior was expected to sit beside his peers. Without all the information his unwilling mind had picked up there, his dreams would never have been so maddeningly and verifiably accurate, at least in their surface details.
One morning Ecthelion woke up feeling quite drained after a vivid dream in which Glorfindel had taken a poisoned arrow to the upper thigh. It had fallen to Ecthelion to suck the venom from the wound, and then to dig for the arrow with his dagger. Quite vigorously. It was a new dream, and its combination of realism and blatant allusion had proved very potent. Really, the best thing that could be said about it was that it had not been one of his Fingon and Maedhros fantasies. He did not know why the story of that cliffside rescue should have sounded such a resonant note within him; all he knew was that Glorfindel's hair would sometimes take on a red tinge in the evening sunlight, and that, outside of his dreams, he had never seen Glorfindel helpless, or disheveled, or even visibly pained—which was just as well, since the merest thought of it could make him as hard as the rock beneath the city.
It was all wrong, in so many ways. For one unwed to be haunted by desire was bad enough, but to be haunted thus by unnatural desire—it was the most spectacular failure of will and character imaginable. Once upon a time, Ecthelion had believed that the Valar must be weeping for him, but then he had remembered that they—well Nienna, anyway—wept mostly in compassion, and that he deserved none. Now he imagined them angry and disgusted at the way his weakness had, at times, conquered both his body and his mind.
Although, really, one might have expected Lorien to have done something about the dreams by now. For one, they were starting to interfere with Ecthelion's ability to perform the tasks required of a Lord of the Guard.
On the day after the poisoned-arrow dream, Ecthelion began his work feeling rather peevish and disagreeable—but determined to keep his temper. If he could not fix his great flaw, he would at least attempt to be the best man he could be in lesser ways. He would be calm and fair.
It did not matter that the night shift had reduced the guard room to an unusable mess, or that his favourite sword was inexplicably missing, or that the weekly rota sheet appeared to have been filled in entirely at random, and then by someone with only a marginal understanding of basic spelling and no common sense. This unknown individual had actually assigned something called a "hoarse partol" to the White Tower. Since there weren't enough raspy-voiced men in the guard to form a whole patrol, Ecthelion had to assume that this was to be the mounted patrol that normally roamed the larger squares. He had the feeling that getting the horses back down the tower stairs would somehow become his responsibility.
"So, the night shift has struck again," said Glorfindel.
That was all Ecthelion needed. What was Glorfindel doing in the guard room? He was off duty. It was right there on the rota sheet: "Off duty: Lard Glorf. of Flour", sounding like a cryptic recipe for bad cake. And yet, there he was in the doorway, and the guards were beaming at him even before he had walked into the room and offered to help them clear up the mess.
Ecthelion would not beam. He would not wonder whether Glorfindel was there to talk to him, would do nothing to encourage his already overenthusiastic friendship. Instead, he bent over his sheet. Still, he could not help sneaking enough brief glances to see Glorfindel drop to his knees and start cleaning out the fireplace. Such shameless gallantry infuriated Ecthelion. What was even more annoying was that he just knew that, although the fireplace was gloomy with soot, Glorfindel was not going to get dirty—except perhaps for some charming, small facial smudge. Even though he was now prodding the ashes with a poker.
No, not with a poker. With Ecthelion's favourite orc-slaying sword.
Ecthelion tried to count to twelve, but he had only reached five when he found himself on his feet and walking towards the fireplace. Once there, he loomed over Glorfindel, hand outstretched.
"My sword," he said.
"Excuse me?" Glorfindel looked up at him, all courtesy and helpfulness. There was a small, dark spot on his left cheek.
Wordlessly, Ecthelion grabbed for the weapon and drew it to his side with a wide flourish, spraying soot all around: onto the freshly swept floor, as well as onto Glorfindel's fancy green cloak. The symbolism was too amateurishly obvious, too bitter to handle with grace. Shaken, he stalked into his private office, where the table was covered with untallied weapon purchase slips. Sorting through them would be a tedious, unrewarding task—just the thing to help him calm down. He could clean his sullied blade later. He sat down and exchanged the sword for a pen.
So Glorfindel had decided to follow him and smooth things over. How typical of him.
"I am sorry about your sword," Glorfindel said.
"Don't be." Ecthelion glanced up. "I am the one who should be apologizing, for my rudeness. And for the dirt on your cloak. My apologies. I do know it was not your fault." He looked back down at the paperwork.
"Well, no, it was not my fault," said Glorfindel. "But... there is something else, is there not? You seem unhappy with me, somehow. I have been noticing it for some time."
Ecthelion searched for a reasonable response. "You have done nothing. I am a disagreeable sort."
"You are a singer, with an artist's temperament, that is true," said Glorfindel, annoying Ecthelion, who always thought of himself as a warrior first. "But I have never seen you treat anyone else unfairly. I know I must have offended you. Please, tell me how, so that I do not repeat the offense. Let me make amends."
He was leaning forward on the table by then, his hair falling forward past his ears, catching the morning sun. I have had this dream, Ecthelion thought. It ended here on this table, with all the paperwork well and truly ruined. He was very grateful for the concealment the desk afforded, but he hated Glorfindel for making him need it.
"I told you it is nothing. Surely you cannot expect every single person in the city to love you?"
Glorfindel shifted uncomfortably, no doubt shocked by the discourtesy of the question. And yet he remained in the room. "You do not love me, that is clear. But will you not tell me why?"
Asked a third time, Ecthelion could think of no plausible excuse. He would have to repel Glorfindel in some other way. "You will not like my answer," he said.
"I can take it, whatever it is."
Ecthelion fought down a bitter smile at the irony of that statement. "Well, then, the truth is this: I am jealous of you. You are well-loved, an image of perfection. You see, I am a petty sort, that is all. Nothing can be done about it."
"Do not be ridiculous. You are not petty, and clearly have no reason to be jealous. I expect that you are simply too courteous to admit that you find me unbearably smug. A few people do seem to feel that way."
Ecthelion stared at Glorfindel. The expression on his face was knowing. Smug, even.
"In reality, I am well aware of my many flaws," he said.
"Oh, good." Ecthelion looked back down and shuffled the papers.
"You do not believe me? Truly, I am." Glorfindel stood up very straight, as if preparing to deliver a formal recitation. "To begin with, I am somewhat vain. You yourself have often commented on my obsession with my hair. Of course, it is rather nice hair."
He paused to draw a strand through his fingers. Ecthelion watched it change colour as it moved between sun and shade: bright polished gold to ancient gold, the colour of treasure.
"Also, I enjoy being liked far too much," said Glorfindel. "Indeed, I sometimes find myself wondering what course of action would make me more likeable, instead of what course of action would be right. And then, there is my greed. It is not that I like money, but I do enjoy surrounding myself with the beautiful things it can buy. I have never spent my own salary on good equipment for my poorer soldiers, the way you have." He gave Ecthelion a look so full of warm admiration that Ecthelion's stomach turned. Or perhaps it was his heart that fluttered. At any rate, something moved around inside him: whichever organ is in charge of horribly inappropriate emotion.
"I also enjoy the sensual pleasures more than is seemly."
Glorfindel's voice drew Ecthelion away from the contemplation of his organs. Then the actual words hit him. He started. Though his mouth opened, he could think of nothing to say.
"It is true! I love wine and rich food. Really, I am quite certain that a natural ascetic like yourself would be utterly disgusted by the amount I can consume when out on the town—"
"I am not a natural ascetic."
"But of course you are. Everyone knows it. You do not care about your food at all, and as for the other desires of the body... I would be very surprised if you had ever had any problems with... lustful feelings... even in your early youth."
Again, words eluded Ecthelion.
"See? I am right!" said Glorfindel. "I, meanwhile—" His face reddened slightly. He turned to look out the window. "Let us just say that I sometimes have to concentrate very hard so as not to utterly disgrace myself. Virtue does not come easily to me. These strange ideas seem to just seep into my mind at the least suitable moments. Very strange ideas. I suspect they are not even physically possible."
He was silent for a moment. Since his eyes were averted, Ecthelion felt free to stare at him just as much as he liked. He hated the way the blush only made Glorfindel look better: healthier and brighter. His lips were reddened and parted slightly. It was enough to give a deeply flawed man his own ideas. Ones he knew to be physically possible.
"But I cannot tell you more. You would be utterly shocked," Glorfindel concluded.
"Try me," Ecthelion almost replied. But then he realized he did not want to hear any sort of nonsense about Idril or Aredhel or whatever other beautiful highborn maiden had captured Glorfindel's imagination. He did not want her appearing in his dreams, perhaps even—knowing Lorien's usual style—joining in. "Then, by all means, let us not shock me," he said instead.
"Right." Glorfindel collected himself. "But please do keep in mind that I have impure thoughts. And dreams. Indeed, I sometimes wonder just what Lorien is thinking."
This question was so intimately familiar to Ecthelion that, momentarily, he found Glorfindel's attempts to blacken his own name rather endearing. He had to remind himself that one of the reasons he hated the self-obsessed twit was that he was so intrinsically likeable.
"But enough about that," the twit was saying. "I also—"
There was a timely knock on the door.
"Come in," Ecthelion called.
Elemmakil, one of his captains, entered and bowed.
"Lord Glorfindel! I am so glad to find you at last—King Turgon has just sent word that he wants to speak to you, at your earliest convenience."
Ecthelion's first thought was of the patrol in the White Tower. Perhaps Turgon had decided that the horses might find Glorfindel's presence soothing, as they undoubtedly would.
"King Turgon?" asked Glorfindel. "Why? What has happened?"
"The message did not say." Elemmakil fidgeted. He glanced from his own trusted captain to Glorfindel, who was trusted by all, and his guardsman's stance relaxed slightly. "The messenger, however, said that the Lady Aredhel wishes to leave the city and visit her other brother. And that she has requested Lord Glorfindel's presence in her honour guard."
Glorfindel's eyes widened. To Ecthelion, also, the first part of the explanation had come as an utter shock. No one had left the city in centuries. The second part, however, sounded just right: for who was more suitable for an honour guard than Glorfindel, even with all his self-confessed flaws?
It was only when he was alone again that Ecthelion realized that he was about to get his wish: a Glorfindel-free life. The thought slipped past his defenses and hit him like a sword-hilt to the stomach.
1. I want to assure everyone that the puns/misspellings were hilarious in Sindarin.
2. The much-mentioned Lorien is, of course, the Vala of dreams.
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