1. Cool Waters
"To me!" Glorfindel shouted, but most of the men of the Harp paid him no heed. Leaderless, they scattered themselves into the fiery market in their battle-madness. "Harps!" Glorfindel's voice began to crack as he struggled to be heard over the din of the fighting.
"Come," his lieutenant said in his ear, pulling him by the shoulder. Glorfindel cast his eye over the remnants of the men of his house, and steeled himself not to think of those he was leaving behind in this place of death.
Some of the men of the Harp had come to their senses and fallen in with the Golden Flower, and it was with these Glorfindel found himself fighting a rearguard action as they retreated to the Square of the Palace. "Where is Salgant?" he shouted hoarsely, and the man nearest him gave him a look of such misery he put his hand on the man's shoulder. "Is he slain?"
"He is in bed," the man spat with a contempt so furious Glorfindel removed his hand and asked no more.
Glorfindel had assumed that hope had died in his breast with the first ambush of the Orcs and Balrogs upon them in the market, but it flared up again as he realized that they were going to reach the Square. The enemy was not pressing behind them strongly, and seemed disorganized. Perhaps the warriors of Gondolin could regroup there, discover how the battle upon the Gate fared, and make a new sortie. In the absence of news and the presence of foes Glorfindel had assumed the worst, but this flickering of hope was new and welcome.
The Square was largely clear. The sound of battle roared from the northern end, but Glorfindel's heart lifted to see the liveries and banners of most of the houses within the Square. There was the king's scarlet heart upon the breasts of the royal house, undamaged, and a thrill went through him to see the silver of the men of the Fountain, their battalion here at least in part. Then where was their lord?
Tuor he saw by the fountain, and shouted aloud with joy: if Tuor lived, there was hope indeed. Hope gave Glorfindel the energy to run across the square to him. "Tuor!" he cried.
"Glorfindel," Tuor answered wearily, bending to draw water in his helm. He did not stand to greet the lord of the Golden Flower, but knelt by a silver-clad warrior prone on the steps of the fountain. Tuor loosened the chin-strap of the warrior's helmet, and Glorfindel stopped short as he recognized the helm's distinctive shape, topped with a vicious spike. Disbelieving, he gave the face another look: his eyes had passed over its unhealthy grey pallor without a pause, but now they stopped. It was Ecthelion.
Glorfindel tried to speak, but could make no sound beyond an intake of breath, and knelt beside Tuor. Tuor poured the water over Ecthelion's face, and Glorfindel anxiously searched the familiar body to find the damage. He quickly discovered the mangled shield-arm, and as he put his hand to it, Ecthelion's eyes opened.
"How do we fare?" he murmured.
"We are regrouping," Tuor said. "We made it to the Square of the Palace. Can you sit up?"
Ecthelion's face twisted and the tendons in his neck stood out as he made the effort. Subsiding, he shook his head, his lips pulled back in pain. "Not yet." He saw Glorfindel and closed his eyes. "You are alive," he said in a moment.
"Yes," Glorfindel said, his voice oddly tight. To see Ecthelion so weak was unsettling. He tried to muster hope, to answer "so are you," but neither the hope nor the words would come.
Ecthelion drew another breath through his teeth. "Who is left?" he asked.
"I have come with all the survivors of both the Golden Flower and the Harp," Glorfindel said, but looked at Tuor rather than at Ecthelion's grey face.
"I think who is here is all that remains," Tuor said. "We can count on few more. I had hope of Egalmoth and Duilin but we cannot hold out for them much longer. We need to clear the square and barricade it. This is where we make our stand. Ecthelion, stay here and conserve your strength. We will need you before the end. Glorfindel, come with me."
Glorfindel followed, numb, and helped to coordinate the defences, finding the Harps readier to his call now. "Leave the southward way open a little longer," Tuor shouted over his shoulder, and Glorfindel nodded. Who else would come? But refugees were still straggling in that way, and no foes as of yet. There was hope, wasn't there?
Glorfindel didn't know. He couldn't feel it. He was uninjured and whole, but something of him had been weakened.
A crowd came through from the south while Glorfindel was preparing the barricade, and the Heavenly Arch's dazzling livery, though in many places smeared and darkened, was unmistakable. "Glorfindel!" Egalmoth cried, joyful. "We saw the state of the Market and went not that way, but feared you were lost there." They embraced, and Glorfindel clutched at his shoulders a moment, comforted.
"I had given you up for lost as well," he said shakily. He knew so little of how the battle had gone. "What of the Swallow?"
"Duilin is gone," Egalmoth said, almost in a whisper. "And the Hammer of Wrath is gone. And the Pillar of Snow." He shivered a little, and suddenly he went stiff. "That is Ecthelion, by the fountain? Is he--"
"He lives," Glorfindel said blankly, and they separated their embrace and looked into one another's faces. Glorfindel swallowed. "He lives." Neither spoke the other half of that sentence. For now.
"And Tuor," Egalmoth said, hardening his expression into grimness. "There is hope."
"Yes," Glorfindel said, but his voice was flat. An optimist he had always been, but never an actor.
A skirmish broke out at the northern barrier, and they flung themselves into it. In battle Glorfindel could lose track of whether there was hope or not; it was of little consequence as long as there was something for his blade to bite. He fought in a trance, but ever aware of the lack of the companion beside him. Egalmoth and Tuor were good warriors, fought well alongside, but they had not the seamless grace of...
Glorfindel stopped thinking.
"Glorfindel," Tuor said hoarsely into his ear as they stood panting in a brief lull. "Go see whether Ecthelion lives. Bind his wound if you can. Things go ill. We need him."
Glorfindel nodded, and staggered to the fountain. He ducked his head into the water, dousing himself-- the cold revived him considerably-- and then sat heavily beside Ecthelion.
Ecthelion opened his eyes as Glorfindel turned to look into his face. "How do we fare?" he asked, and blinked, looking confused. He does not recognize me, Glorfindel thought for a moment, and then the faintest smile touched Ecthelion's mouth.
"Your hair is a mess," he said.
Glorfindel smiled despite himself. "I've little doubt," he said. He gingerly took Ecthelion's damaged arm and laid it across the man's chest. Ecthelion's face went tight, eyes closing and mouth opening. The damage was severe, the flesh laid open to the bone all along the forearm, the bone likely broken above the elbow. The fingers seemed not to close, but it was not bleeding badly. The lash of a Balrog, Glorfindel supposed, looking at the burn-marks that had apparently cauterized the wound. It was ugly, crippling, and Glorfindel did not know how to ease Ecthelion's pain.
"At least I still have my sword-arm," Ecthelion said faintly, and opened his eyes again to look at Glorfindel.
"Yes," Glorfindel said, thinking: if you fight you will die. Ecthelion's voice was tight and hoarse and had no music in it. "Ecthelion," he said, but could think of nothing to follow it.
"Glorfindel," Ecthelion answered, and looked up into his face. There were no words and it was futile to try to think of any, but at least both knew that. Ecthelion took Glorfindel's hand with his good one, and held it a moment, squeezing weakly.
Glorfindel squeezed back, feeling tears come to his eyes. This was... but he could not bring himself to admit the conclusion. He closed his eyes instead to keep the tears in check. A terrible din to the north made him reopen them and curse in despair.
Ecthelion released his hand. "Go," Ecthelion whispered. "I cannot get up."
Glorfindel stood, but looked back at Ecthelion. A fire-drake was about to burst the northern barricade, and it was no longer possible to avoid the conclusion. "We are finished," Glorfindel said quietly.
"Give me my sword," Ecthelion answered. Glorfindel drew Ecthelion's sword for him and put it into his hand, and put his own hand on Ecthelion's forehead. Ecthelion's skin was cold.
"Goodbye," Glorfindel said. He gently pushed the loosened helmet back down into its proper position on Ecthelion's head, and his fingers grazed Ecthelion's cheek on their way away.
"Goodbye," Ecthelion replied, his teeth showing again in a grin or grimace.
Glorfindel turned away, banishing thought, and sped to Egalmoth's side. But Tuor was separated from them, standing in front of the drake as it crashed through the barricade and began to spread ruin among the defenders. Orcs poured through after it, Orcs and worse: Glorfindel set his jaw as he sized up the Balrog standing atop the fire-drake. It was the largest one he had ever seen.
"We must," Egalmoth began to say in a shout, gesturing frantically toward Tuor, but an Orc of great stature leapt up behind him. Glorfindel shoved him aside, heedless of conversation, and the Orc fell in two pieces. There was no time now, no way to get to Tuor, and Glorfindel fell to the slaughter with a grim hopelessness. Egalmoth's curved sword flashed beside him, an ancient familiar relic in the hands of the archer, and together they carved a rough path through the encroaching foemen. But Egalmoth, more skilled with the bow, was no great swordsman, certainly not comparable to Glorfindel's usual companion, and Glorfindel's shield took more than its share of blows, his arm growing heavier from the weary work of slaughter that had never struck him as weary before.
And finally they could see Tuor, at bay before the fountain, upright but swaying. Glorfindel cried out in dismay to see him weakening. Even as they watched his shield rang under the blows of the great Balrog. Even the strongest could not stand against such a foe alone, and Tuor fell, overcome.
Glorfindel hacked at the gripping hands of an Orc, struggling to come to the fountain. Tuor was finished and did not rise. The Balrog would kill him in a matter of seconds. But someone was there before Glorfindel, was there in time: Ecthelion leapt over Tuor's shield to come at the Balrog, upright and grim-faced, and his long pale sword flashed red in the flames.
Egalmoth made a triumphant sound, but Glorfindel was silent, shoving ruthlessly at foes with his shield in a desperate run for the fountain. Ecthelion's shield-arm dangled with an alien gracelessness, marring the perfection of his attack and reducing its power. The sword rang on the iron of the Balrog's armor but it was not a fatal blow, and now he had no shield to block the Balrog's counterattack. He raised the sword to parry, but the club was massive and the sword slender.
Glorfindel was close enough to hear the soft hoarse cry that escaped Ecthelion as the Balrog's club shattered his sword-arm, close enough that the ring of Ecthelion's dropped sword on the stone steps was deafening, close enough that the Balrog's laugh was a thunderous concussion between his ribs as the demon raised his whip. Glorfindel scraped together the breath to scream but never heard the sound he made. Ecthelion's face blazed with a desperate fury and he leapt at the creature, head lowered. The Balrog's whip faltered as Ecthelion's head connected with his chest, and flame spurted where the spike atop the helmet had pierced the Balrog's armor.
Ecthelion shrieked, the strength and music of his voice returning in a furious and heart-wrenching cry. As the loosened chin strap of his helmet gave way he wrapped his legs around the demon's and flung his head back. His torso followed, arching to throw the weight of his broad shoulders backward, to lever against the demon clamped in his powerful thighs, and Glorfindel knew what he was trying to do.
Black hair flew in loosened braids, grey eyes flashing in the white face marked by the Balrog's flame, armor blazing in a silver arch of backward-bending torso, the mouth red and open as Ecthelion screamed, and the Balrog stumbled forward with a loud and astonished shout, overbalanced. Twined, the pair met the water of the fountain's basin with a shock of steam, and the splash drenched even Glorfindel, motionless at the foot of the steps as both voices were abruptly cut off.
"Ecthelion," Tuor said faintly into the sudden silence, and caught Glorfindel's shoulder to hold himself upright. They stared at the roiling surface of the water.
He cannot swim, Glorfindel thought, the broken graceless dangle of Ecthelion's arms beside the perfect arch of his back a stark shape in his mind, and he started forward. But Tuor caught him. "No," Tuor said, and he was weeping. "No, Glorfindel. You will drown too."
It is true, I will sink in this armor, Glorfindel thought absently, and his mail was heavy about his chest. No, the weight was Tuor's arms: the man had locked his arms around Glorfindel's chest and was dragging him away. A curious thing to do, Glorfindel thought, staring at the water. The water had already stilled: no bubbles disturbed its surface.
Strange. Glorfindel would have thought the heat of the Balrog enough to make it bubble. But then, it was a very deep fountain, with a great deal of water in it: even such an extremely large Balrog could not raise the temperature that much.
Glorfindel could not help his sudden overwhelming desire to feel that cool, deep water. The shock of the cold splash had been welcome indeed, weary and overheated as he was. How wonderful it would feel to be surrounded by cold, clear, deep water. He stared longingly at it. But Tuor had dragged him down the steps and away, and Egalmoth had him by an arm now and was crying out his name. There were Orcs here, many enemy creatures, and Tuor was trying to open a way to get to the Stairs of the Palace. Glorfindel's sword rose of its own volition, and clove the head of an Orc that was striving with Egalmoth. He watched the sword with disinterest as it made its way through the heads, limbs, and bodies of the foemen that stood between them and their goal. Beside him, Egalmoth sobbed as he, too, hacked at the enemies.
A/N: Innumerable thanks to Tehta. I would never have polished and published this but for her efforts, and would never have written it but for her inspiration.