4. Chapter Four
A shadow crossed his vision, a Man on an unruly mount. Glorfindel nudged Asfaloth forward, putting himself in the Man’s path.
“Do not pursue him! He will not return to this land,” he said. “Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall.”
Eärnur chafed, averting his eyes from the glow that surrounded the Elf even as he tried to shove past him. “Do not hinder me, Elf,” he growled.
Glorfindel sheathed his sword to leave a hand free, and seized Eärnur’s reins to hold him fast. “Whatever doom awaits him, it is not for you to deliver it.”
“And I suppose you would slay him and take that glory for yourself,” the Man snarled.
“If you think I desire glory, then you know me not at all, mortal,” Glorfindel answered coldly. “But if you so desire to meet your doom, then I will not hinder you further.” And in that moment a vision came to him of Eärnur before a massive black gate, challenging the Witch King and being swallowed by shadow. Slowly he released his grasp on the other’s reins. “Go and face him, if that is your will, but know that if you do you shall never walk again among the living.”
* * *
Night fell on the camp. A cold wind stirred out of the north, ruffling tent flaps and whipping banners upon their poles. Outside, men moved over the field by lantern light, collecting their dead and wounded; the corpses of the enemy were piled in a ditch at the edge of the encampment, and already the wolves were snarling and worrying at their carrion feast. It was not a night to be out alone.
Glorfindel was too weary to eat the food set before him. After releasing Eärnur, he had folded his banner back upon its pole even as Elladan, Elrohir and the warriors of his gweth rode up to him. Amazement and perhaps a little fear was in their eyes, for though most of his gweth did not know Quenya, the sons of Elrond were versed in that tongue and had doubtlessly translated all he said.
All through the end of that day, as camp was made and the tents raised, no one spoke to Glorfindel, watching him instead with eyes that wondered at the being that, hidden from their gaze so long, had come with them. It is as I feared, he thought. They will regard me now as if I was a Maia of Valinor and never again look me in the eye when they speak. It is no wonder Finrod Felagund did not ask Manwë to return to Middle-earth in my place.
At last, a voice broke the uneasy silence. “Glorfindel, you—you are certain you are not hungry.”
He shifted on his cot to look at Elladan. “Pen-neth, I could not lift anything to my lips long enough to eat.” Once the battle ended and he took inventory of the field and those under his command, he could barely stay upright long enough to make it into his tent. Now he lay prone, stripped of his armor, his limbs heavy and trembling with exertion.
“Pen-neth, indeed!” exclaimed Elrohir. “We knew you were old, but not that you had come out of Gondolin itself.”
“It is only my fëa that is old.” Glorfindel let Elladan prop him up against a makeshift pillow and begin to feed him. Not wanting to be babied, he weakly lifted his hand to assist, only to have the younger Elf gently push him away.
“You did this enough times for us when we were small,” said Elladan.
Glorfindel sighed and resigned himself to Elladan’s ministrations. His eyes went to Elrohir. “As I was saying, it is only my fëa that is old. My hröa is actually much younger than that. I am many centuries younger than your father.” He winced as a thought came to him. “Ai, I am even younger than that noisy crow Erestor.”
Elrohir took a seat on the tent’s single camp stool. “You told us once that you were an Elda of Valinor, but that was not true, was it?”
Glorfindel saw the disbelief on his face, the surprise that one of the Eldar might be capable of lying. In between bites of the bread Elladan was feeding him, he smiled and shook his head. “I did not lie to you, if that is what you fear. I was born in Tirion, in the time of the Trees, and crossed the Helcaraxë with Fingolfin’s host.”
“But the rest of it—”
“Was an omission, not a lie. I did not see fit to tell you the rest of it, though your father has many times urged me to do so.”
Elladan’s hand froze as it brought up another morsel. “Ada knows?”
“Of course Elrond knows. He was with the High King when I arrived in Lindon and was presented in secret to Gil-galad. Were it my choice, I would not have told anyone, but Círdan anticipated me and sent a message to Lindon. I had not told him either, but the Shipwright sees things beyond the ken of others.” He glowered at Elladan. “If you expect me to leap up like a trained dog and snatch that bit of meat from your hand, you will find yourself sadly disappointed. I deem I have already given you enough spectacle for one day.”
Elladan meekly popped the morsel of meat into his mouth. In truth, Glorfindel now felt much stronger and probably could have sat up to feed himself, but realized he enjoyed being pampered.
“Who else besides ada knows?” asked Elrohir.
“With my leave, Elrond told your mother when they were wed. Lindir also knows, and Mithrandir.”
“Lindir knows?” sputtered Elrohir. “You told him and not us?”
“Peace,” Glorfindel barked. “I did not tell him anything, you impatient filit. I had only been in Middle-earth a few decades when I found and adopted him; I had not yet fully mastered my new hröa or the fine art of concealing what I did not wish to be seen. He saw me with the eyes of a child that sometimes perceive things adults cannot. And through the centuries he watched me very closely, marking all I said and did. He guessed the truth long ago.”
“But you did not tell us?”
Glorfindel lifted an eyebrow at the sulky look Elrohir gave him. “And for what reason would I have mentioned such a thing?”
Elrohir’s jaw dropped. “All those tales you and ada told us about the Last Alliance, about those dark times when all hope seemed lost—do you not know how the forces of the Shadow would have quailed in terror to see Glorfindel of Gondolin bearing down upon them? Had you done there what you did today, perhaps—”
“The war would have taken a different path, one that did not lead to the High King’s death? Is that what you are implying?” Glorfindel gently pushed Elladan and the platter of food aside and sat up, even as Elrohir began to insist that that was not what he meant. “Until this day, I did not even know such power was in me. Long I had known there was in me some grace that shone forth on occasion, but this is something you have also seen in your lady grandmother, who has also walked under the light of the Trees in the Undying Lands. I did not think anything strange of it.
“And as for your charge that I might have turned the tide of darkness at the Dagorlad and so spared Gil-galad his fate, it is not for any of us to say that that would have been so. There is only one among the Valar who sees the fates of all who are or will be born, and his knowledge he does not share with others. And as the servant of your father and the High King, it has never been my place to seek my own glory, or my place to take it from them.”
“But you are a legend, Fin,” insisted Elrohir.
Glorfindel looked questioningly at him, lifting his eyebrow at use of the pet name; neither twin had used it since they were old enough to say his name properly, nor would he suffer it. “There were many brave warriors who perished when Gondolin fell, either holding our broken defenses or helping others flee. But your father explained to me once that sometimes one fallen warrior can stand for all, if he has a grave and the others do not.”
“Ada told us once that he saw the ruins of Gondolin,” said Elladan. “He visited the grave at Cirith Thoronath also. It was green and flowering, he said, though that country was barren and cold, and there were Eagles.”
“I have heard from him the same tale. He told me that sometimes people create shrines out of small moments of hope or despair, and that which they remember is imbued with great spiritual power. In this we are no different than mortals with their great monuments.
“I chose to remain hidden all these centuries because the individual that I am did not wish to be thus enshrined. I am not so proud as to revel in the awe and worship of others,” Glorfindel explained. “I revealed myself only to give hope to others in the face of overwhelming terror and despair, and put forth what strength I had because no one else could have done so. I do not regret doing so, though I do not wish to have to bring forth such power again.”
Elrohir frowned. “What you said to Eärnur, was it true or was it merely to keep him from pursuing the Witch King?”
“That is Mithrandir’s warning, not mine. I was but the messenger,” answered Glorfindel. “But something tells me that if Eärnur meets the Nazgûl again, he is doomed.”
Suddenly drained, he let himself droop back onto the cot. “A Maia or Vala I am not, and this day has taxed me.” He lifted a hand and lightly ruffled the hair of Elladan, who was closest. “But now I may tell you such tales of Gondolin as you will not find in your father’s library, and such tales as he probably would not wish you to hear in any case.” He let his hand fall to the side of the cot as sleep began to claim him. Someone covered him with a thick cloak; he did not see which of the twins it was.
He heard himself chuckle under his breath; the sound was heavy and distant. “Such tales,” he mumbled. “Poor Ecthelion and…poor Egalmoth…could tell you such things….”
* * *
Finrod Felagund is the only other Elf Tolkien ever mentions as having returned from Mandos. And like Glorfindel, Finrod’s heroic death earned him both early release and a spiritual grace far above that of other Eldar.
filit: (Quenya) little bird
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