Author’s Note: This story is a continuation of More Dangerous, Less Wise, told from the perspective of Glorfindel and Erestor as we learn what happens to them in their mission to Phellanthir. The first part of this story picks up herewith Chapter 21 of MDLW and goes on from there.
Synopsis: In clearing the passage for the paths to be taken by the Fellowship, a party of warriors, led by Glorfindel, has encountered strange happenings in the long ruined city of Phellanthir. Legolas, injured in an attack, fears one of their lost comrades has had his spirit (his fëa) torn away and that the soul of the dead warrior is lost in Phellanthir. Erestor and Glorfindel decide it is their duty to go and investigate.
Beta: Anarithilen- still hanging in there, bless her!
Warnings: Bound to be slash in here somewhere at sometime. So just be aware, I love writing slash.
Chapter 1: Return Journey
The plan for Erestor and Glorfindel to return to Phellanthir did not go down well with either Aragorn or Legolas of course. Annael and Saeldir were much too polite to protest but there were quizzical looks between them and raised eyebrows as they went about their business of clearing the camp, feeding the horses and tacking up.
‘I am coming with you,’ Legolas said immediately, half rising but he was still too weak from the poison and the anti-venom which had left him shaken and exhausted, and Erestor easily pressed him back down to his bed.
‘Foolish child. You will be no help whatsoever like this,’ he said and though the words were hard, Glorfindel saw that a smile touched Erestor’s lips and his tone was kind. ‘You must go back to Imladris and get well. Do you think this is your task? It is not.’ He crouched beside Legolas then and pulled the Woodelf’s resistant face towards him, looking into his eyes. ‘You have another task I see. It will redeem you thoroughly. Do not fear so.’
Erestor leaned forward and to Legolas’ surprise, but not horror by any means, Glorfindel noted disapprovingly, kissed him full on the lips. Not a quick peck either. Then Erestor pushed the hair back from Legolas’ face and smiled. ‘You are a sweet child. Just what they need.’ He nodded to himself at something only he knew and Glorfindel wondered what in all of Arda it must have been like with Erestor adding to the heady mix of Fëanorian brothers, cousins and mad hangers-on.
Glorfindel noticed too that Aragorn raised an eyebrow at Erestor’s kiss and when the tall counselor rose to his feet and looked at Aragorn, the Man took a nervous step back ‘No silly ideas from you either,’ Erestor said, but he was much sterner with Aragorn. ‘You are going back too. Annael and Saeldir will keep an eye on you. Elrond has need of you,’ he said emphatically, and then added smoothly, ‘And Arwen.’
‘You cannot go on your own! Glorfindel...’ Aragorn began to appeal but Glorfindel held up his hand and shook his head.
‘No. I am in agreement with Erestor this time. You are needed at home. You have much to do and this is not your task either.’ He wondered even if it were truly his task, or Erestor’s, but he could no more bear to leave one of his men to rot in Phellanthir, fëa or not, than he could have run from the Balrog to save his own skin. He swung his pack over Asfaloth’s withers, glad to have another friend and weapon should he need it. And he knew Erestor was subtle in ways that Glorfindel was not. He had cunning and secret craft.
They led Erestor’s horse, the inaptly named Niphredil, and Asfaloth up the slope to the top of the ridge and there they mounted. Niphredil laid his ears back and snapped at Asfaloth, who swished his tail but otherwise ignored him. Glorfindel thought perhaps he ought to do the same with Erestor when he snapped and jibed.
Then they took their farewells and left the three Elves and Aragorn standing watching them, Legolas leaning on Aragorn for support and Annael and Saeldir, he was sure, trying to forget what they had heard from Erestor about the way they had found Aragorn atop the youngest son of Thranduil.
The ground was hard from the frost but the sun was out and the snow was melting. The old road that once led to Ost-in-Edhil and Moria and Tharbad was nothing now but crumbling remains of the causeways with the paving broken up and scattered about. At times there was a wide track that ran alongside it worn by those merchants and traders still hardy enough to trade between the Northern regions and Rohan, Gondor and the East. They had to pick their way over the river at one point, for the bridge was broken and the ford deep and treacherous. But their sure-footed steeds were steady in the pulling current and they emerged sleek and wet, though also cold. Erestor urged Niphredil into a long gallop then to warm them all up.
But the air was cold and fresh, and Glorfindel’s face tingled with it. By afternoon they had covered many leagues and now they were walking, to rest the horses, for even Niphredil had tired a little. Asfaloth stopped abruptly to rub his nose on his foreleg and Glorfindel sat easily, waiting for him to finish. They would make camp soon, somewhere near the river even though they were only one or two days maybe from Phellanthir. He watched the ridge above him, carefully scanning it for movement. Nothing. The thin line of trees, birch saplings, were bare of leaves and their silver bark gleamed. Here the snow was a thin layer, more frost than snow and it laced the boulders of the cold grey river. Above them, loomed the Misty Mountains.
Towards dusk they made camp and Glorfindel managed, after both he and Erestor had missed several times, to shoot a rabbit. He thought wryly that Legolas would have wasted fewer arrows and bagged more. Now he crouched by the stream while Asfaloth drank. He quickly, efficiently skinned the rabbit. Erestor scouted the area for Orcs, Wargs and Dwarves, as he said with a scary grin, and to be honest, both needed a moment away from the other. Erestor swore as if he delighted in finding the most blasphemous oaths he could think of and Glorfindel, always a soldier and no delicate flower himself, found himself wanting to cover his ears at times. Erestor even swore in the Black Speech.
Tutting to himself, Glorfindel washed the rabbit’s blood from his hands, watching the blood slowly wash away in the cold melt-water, noticing the grey-blue pebbles and flat stones of the stream and thinking how Gimli would have lifted one from the water to consider, and comment on its size and type, carefully cataloguing its use and its source. He shook his hands and then wiped them on his cloak, thinking that he liked the Dwarf, unexpectedly. His generosity towards Legolas had surprised Glorfindel, who had fond memories of the Khazad from the old days. When they had pinned Legolas down and were forcing sere-vanda and Crystôl into him, it was Gimli who had stopped them, and it was Gimli who had soothed Legolas and asked him what he could do. Glorfindel was ashamed of himself now for having allowed that abuse, and he vowed to make it up to the Woodelf on his return.
He had been touched too, by Legolas’ quiet admission of the previous night, that he had been unable to make the Merciful Cut for his comrade, that he had vowed to tell Glorfindel of his valiant friend...although Glorfindel could not now remember the boy’s name. And I must, he told himself. I must make sure I remember them all.
The sky was still grey but the clouds were higher and snow seemed a long way from here. Above him the mountains loomed and he looked south as far as he could and could just see the peaks of far Caradhras and Celebdil. The sun shone on their snowy peaks so they seemed gilded.
It seemed a luxury to have this time, these precious moments of quiet when the whirlwind and storm were about to break upon them and he took the time to strip his tunic and shirt from his back, hanging them carefully on a low hanging branch. He waded into the water and dipped himself in briefly for it was cold even to Glorfindel. But he found himself thinking again of Legolas, dwelling upon the strange markings on his well-muscled torso that was surprising on one so apparently light and lithe. I am getting giddy, he thought to himself in disgust, to be dwelling upon some young warrior from Mirkwood! But he knew that it was not Legolas that he saw in his mind’s eye. No, not just some young warrior, he admitted finally to himself. Thranduil’s son.
It was a long time since he had last thought of Thranduil...
He waded out of the river, letting the water stream from his body and with them, he let those thoughts wash away. Pointless. Wasted.
On the river bank opposite a young stag wandered, nosed about in the thin snow and then pawed it up for the grass beneath. Suddenly it was startled and leaped away. Glorfindel dropped to the ground, cursing under his breath for a moment’s inattentiveness. But then an eagle cried far above and circled and he saw that the deer had been frightened by the bird.
Glorfindel settled the horses, ignoring Niphredil’s flat-back ears and flattened nostrils, and dug a small fire pit, built a fire and began cooking the unfortunate rabbit. Glorfindel thought that the greater skill of Legolas’ shooting would have yielded them more, and the greater skill of Amron’s cooking would have made it tastier. But it was edible. He tasted it lightly and added a little salt from the pouch Erestor had left with him.
However by the time Erestor returned, the rabbit was overdone and Glorfindel had already eaten his share. He had stripped the meat from the bones and thrown the carcass far from the camp so the foxes could eat and they would not be disturbed in the night. But Ithil was high by the time he heard a cheery whistle and Erestor came striding towards him.
‘Where have you been?’ He winced at the irritation in his own voice. ‘I was wondering if I would have to come and find you.’
Erestor gave him an enormously wide smile and plonked himself gracelessly down next to the fire. He reached out and pulled the shredded meat towards himself, tore off a hunk of bread and flipped open the wine flask in his saddlebag. He took a great long gulp before he finally lifted it and smacked his lips showily, shoved it towards Glorfindel and then devoured the meat hungrily. When he raised his face again to Glorfindel, there was grease around his mouth and wine stains on his lips.
‘You are as bad as Legolas,’ Glorfindel observed. ‘He too has the manners of an Orc.’
Erestor smiled delightedly. ‘Really? I am pleased to hear it. There are too many tales that Woodelves nibble delicately on nuts and fruit, don’t eat meat and sip wine. I have never been able to reconcile that with what I know of Thranduil. And certainly not Oropher!’
Glorfindel waited patiently whilst Erestor ate his fill and carelessly tossed a thigh bone into the bushes behind the camp, followed with an apple and threw the core in the other direction. Eventually he leaned back on one elbow, and stretched out his long legs. Glorfindel quashed his irritation because he knew Erestor would enjoy that and instead said as mildly as he could, ‘Well?’ and then, because he knew Erestor would tease, he said, ‘Where have you been and what have you been doing?’ so he tied Erestor down to proper answers and not wordplay.
‘I went to look at the Tower,’ Erestor replied and Glorfindel swallowed a gasp; he was back, he was safe. He did not need to protest, it was too late anyway.
Erestor narrowed one eye and looked appraisingly at Glorfindel. ‘You are very sanguine,’ he observed. Then he said, ‘It is yet many leagues and I merely saw it in the far distance but even then it reeks of Nazgûl. It may have even been a refuge for them, an easy place to ride out from in their hunt for the One. Darkness swathes it. I am sure Legolas is...well, maybe not completely right in that Rhawion’s fëa is trapped there...but it is an evil place.’
Glorfindel looked away. If Rhawion was trapped there, it was his fault; he had been so anxious and determined to get them all away as quickly as possible. He had given no thought to what Legolas had claimed, merely dismissed it as a delusion. He should have gone back...
‘I hope you are not indulging in recrimination.‘ Erestor interrupted his thoughts and Glorfindel wondered how in the Heavens he had guessed. He glanced up with a wry smile.
‘How did you know?’
‘My dear Laurëfindë, how could you not? You are one of the most conscientious and honourable people I have ever known. Certainly the most honourable person in the…what are we now? The Third Age?’ There was humour in his eyes as he added, ‘You cannot of course equal Maedhros and Maglor whose integrity stands above anyone’s. Ever,’ he said with a trace of defiance that had never quite been quelled. ‘But all those others, you easily outmatch.’
Glorfindel felt vaguely and bewilderingly flattered. He was never quite comfortable with the Fëanorian references with which Erestor liked to smatter his conversations; it was as if he wanted to brandish his old loyalties in the faces of those whose kin they had slaughtered and betrayed, as if he never wanted to let anyone forget them. It left Glorfindel with the same old confused admiration and loathing for them that he had always had. But saying something would merely give Erestor something to spar with so he said nothing.
‘I suggest we do not go into the Tower in the darkness,’ Erestor continued unnecessarily, for Glorfindel had no intention of doing that, pulling his blanket over his shoulder and settling down to rest. ‘Will you take the first watch?’
‘It seems I already am,’ Glorfindel commented drily as Erestor grinned at him and wriggled until he was comfortable.
Briefly Glorfindel wondered what Erestor dreamed for he was asleep so quickly and he did not move all through Glorfindel’s watch and had a pleased smile on his face throughout.
When it came to Erestor’s watch, Glorfindel did not rest so well; his own thoughts drifted constantly to Gondolin, and took him on the secret paths to the Cristhorn*, where there awaited him Shadow and Flame...He slept fitfully and whenever he awoke he saw in the firelight Erestor staring at a knife he held between his fingers, carefully as if its bite were to be feared.
At last he sat up, no longer trying to find a pleasant dream. He pushed his long hair out of his eyes and blinked. Erestor was sitting, leaning back against a tree, his amber eyes watched Glorfindel thoughtfully and the knife he held, Glorfindel realised, was unfamiliar. For some reason, Glorfindel shivered.
‘I wondered what you dreamed,’ Erestor said, slanting his eyes at Glorfindel. ‘Was it the Valarauko*’
Only Erestor would dare intrude so, thought Glorfindel, but he nodded anyway. There was no point hiding anything.
‘Does it plague you often?’
‘No,’ Glorfindel said shortly, hoping that would finish the conversation, but he should have known better.
‘I remember, at the Pass of Aglon,’ Erestor said conversationally. ‘Glaurung* roaring across the plains. It was enough to make me piss myself...in fact I even think I did. But there were Valarauki and Orcs and ... other things I cannot name even now.’ Erestor yawned, as if such things were a common occurrence. ‘Of course by that time I was well used to Orcs and Balrogs, but not the dragons. I never got used to the quiet before they struck.’
Glorfindel knew what he meant. There had been no warning in Gondolin. It had been such a still day, sun warm on the stone. Water splashing in the fountains. There were fountains in every square, on every corner in Gondolin. He stopped himself from remembering because Erestor was watching him sharply, and instead he casually threw more kindling onto the fire.
‘I think of that day on Aglon,’ Erestor continued, watching the kindling catch and burn. ‘I almost ran. Only Maedhros kept us onwards by his will alone. He was invincible that day, burning with such hate and fury they dared not meet him and we dared not leave him.’ Erestor’s lips curved in a smile and he looked down at the dagger he held lightly between his fingers. ‘You know, I think he would have fought his way to Morgoth with his bare hands and alone. But I like to think that he had learned from Fingolfin’s folly.’
‘And Fëanor’s too,’ Glorfindel bit back. He did not ask if Erestor had also pissed himself at Doriath, or Sirion for he caught a sly smile on Erestor’s face and would be goaded no further. It seemed Erestor’s undeclared ambition was to well and truly rile Glorfindel though Glorfindel would not give in. So he took a deep breath and forced himself to calm. ‘The Past seems to have caught us both in its web,’ he said instead, knowing his calm would irritate Erestor even more than Erestor irritated him. ‘And it is intruding too much on the present,‘ he finished.
It seemed that Erestor realised he would get no more from Glorfindel too for he was silent for a moment, turning the dagger this way and that, looking at it carefully. It did not catch the light. ‘I too worry that Curumo* knows too much of our defence, our strength, he said thoughtfully. ‘He knows Ash Nazg is in Imladris surely?’
Glorfindel frowned. ‘He was in all our council.’ He leaned slightly forwards to look at the knife; it was not the one Erestor usually carried, he mused. Suddenly he was very cold, all thoughts of Saruman forgotten for he recognised the nature of the blade. ‘You have brought that with you?’ he asked. He could not keep the outrage from his voice.
Erestor looked up. He held the knife carefully between his fingers, but he did not twirl it between his fingers as he normally did. ‘Elrond thought I should for some reason. Only now is it becoming clear,’ he said thoughtfully.
Glorfindel snorted in disgust. ‘You will forgive me if I do not believe you?’ he said coldly. ‘For I cannot imagine in any circumstance that you should carry a Morgul blade!’
Erestor smiled then, and for the first time ever in their long acquaintance, Glorfindel thought the tales could be true about Erestor. ‘Which is it? That you do not believe Elrond told me to bring it or that it is becoming clear why I have brought it?’ he asked and his thin lips curled upwards in a typical sardonic smile.
‘Both,’ Glorfindel said flatly. “It is not in the least beyond you, Erestor, to take it upon yourself to steal it, and it is not beyond your arrogance to believe that you can wield it.’
Anyone else would have protested but Erestor put his hand on his heart and bowed his head slightly. ‘You flatter me,’ was all he said.
‘That is not even the one wielded by Angmar. Aragorn only brought the hilt,’ he said even more angry now. ‘Where is this one from?’ He was outraged.
‘Oh, I think this must be the one Radagast brought from Dol Guldûr.’ Erestor was nonchalant but his eyes gleamed. ‘You remember when the White Council was finally persuaded to act? It was because they had proof. Finally.’ Glorfindel remembered it well, for it was the day that Saruman had finally agreed that the White Council had cause to fear the Necromancer.
‘Elrond or someone must have dropped it,’ Erestor said, firelight glinting in his eyes. ‘And I did not want Curumo to have it.’
Even while they rode the next day, Glorfindel could think of little else but the Morgul blade and he kept glancing towards Erestor. It was lunacy to even touch it, designed as it was to shear the fëa from the hroa. What in Manwë’s name did Erestor think he was doing?
‘I wish you had not brought that thing,’ he said mildly, knowing better than to ask more for Erestor would delight in being evasive or giving outrageous answers than merely sought to goad Glorfindel into fury. ‘It only needs the slightest nick for you to become houseless.’
Erestor gave him a strange, oblique glance that he could not read but it felt knowing, subtle as Erestor always was.
‘You know something more,’ Glorfindel said irritably. ‘And I suppose you have no intention of sharing that knowledge.’
Erestor did not answer for at that moment, Asfaloth snorted and shied at a deer that leapt suddenly from the scrubby trees and Niphredil too shied violently, almost throwing Erestor and all thoughts of the Morgul blade fled.
‘Elbereth’s tits!’ Erestor swore and Glorfindel shook his head in disapproval. ‘Fucking deer! You’d think it would avoid us, not throw itself at us.’
Glorfindel slowed Asfaloth cautiously. Erestor was right; that deer had been fleeing something. He brought Asfaloth to a halt and listened. Last time he was here, Orcs had been lurking and he had not known until it was too late; it had cost him dearly, losing Rhawion and almost losing Legolas to the lhach-rhaw. And despite his irritating nature, he did not want to lose Erestor.
He glanced over to his companion and saw that Niphredil was busily, greedily cropping the short grass and Erestor was nowhere to be seen.
‘Moringhotto Bauglir!’ Glorfindel swore himself now and urged Asfaloth beneath the branches of the trees and into cover. He slid down from the horse and drew his sword, crouching and searching the trees anxiously. Niphredil raised his head briefly and gave Glorfindel a brief, condescending look and then let his head fall back to the grass again. Glorfindel stilled himself, opened himself up to listen, to feel…
A breath on his neck made him jerk around and he came face to face with Erestor who was suddenly right behind him as if he had simply materialized. ’Nothing to be afraid of,’ Erestor said with irritating jauntiness and tapped Glorfindel’s sword disrespectfully. ‘Just a spooked deer – probably your clumsy great horse crashing around. Best put that away before you cut yourself.’
Glorfindel seethed but he was determined not to show it and forced himself to smile thinly. ‘I suppose, it is good that the Nazgûl have not got you...yet.’ He jammed his foot into the stirrup and swung astride Asfaloth once more, wishing it had been anyone but Erestor who had joined him on this trip.
But who else remembers fair Gondolin…
The thought was so clear in his head that he looked up at Erestor to reply. But Erestor was already ahead of him, and his horse was taking long, easy strides along the narrowing trail. He did not glance back.
But Glorfindel wished that Legolas had been with them, for his senses were attuned to his environment in a way that the Noldor were not and Glorfindel had a nagging sense that the deer had been frightened by something.
They covered the miles more quickly then and soon the ruined tower raised itself like a fang above the tree line and Erestor paused and waited for Glorfindel. They did not speak but Glorfindel felt the overwhelming sadness for what had been lost; Ost-in-Edhel had been a beautiful city and Phellanthir no less fair. Not Gondolin of course, but it had indeed been full of fountains and tall, elegant spires. And Celebrimbor was nothing like his mad and dangerous kin. Indeed Glorfindel had thought him most un-Fëanorian in anything but his striking looks…until he had allowed Annatar in. That too, was un-Fëanorian for not one of the sons of Fëanor would have been so beguiled. Least of all Maedhros whom he most resembled.
He glanced at Erestor, thinking how he would mourn, for he had not seen Phellanthir since its last days; he had almost deliberately avoided the ruined Elven cities, hardly surprisingly. Erestor had known those cities well, had rubbed shoulders with the greatest in these cities, had been close to Celebrimbor …and could not bear the thought of his dreadful, tortured death. He wondered what Erestor saw now as they looked upon the haunted and ruined tower, and felt a squeeze of sorrow in his heart.
A mist lay across the water margins and fens that surrounded the old Elven city where once elegant ships had rested on smooth water that had been like silver-blue silk for the harbor was so skillfully engineered. That harbour wall was only evident now in the huge chunks of masonry and granite blocks that lay half submerged in the shallow marshes. An old anchor lay on its side in mud and silt, crumbling with rust. Somewhere a curlew cried and its haunting loneliness made the hairs stand up on Glorfindel’s neck. His hand fell to the pommel of this sword instinctively and he thought again of the spooked deer.
Erestor was already sliding from his tall black horse and unbuckling the girth of the saddle.
He glanced back at Glorfindel. ‘I am not taking Niphredil into that place. It will upset him.’ The said horse snapped at Erestor and flattened his ears ungratefully but Glorfindel paused. He did not like to leave Asfaloth out of here in the environs of Phellanthir but he accepted too that the ruined city was no place for horses.
In the thin winter sunlight this was a strange and haunted place. Glorfindel had thought that when he had stood with Legolas, was it really only days before? And Rhawion had still lived. He felt a cinching in his chest, a tightness that had nothing to do with the still, cold air that settled around them like freezing. Asfaloth’s head was right up and his ears forward and Glorfindel saw that Erestor’s bad-natured horse had done the same.
Suddenly Niphredil shook his head and started, swinging his hind quarters around and almost trampling upon Erestor. Both horses backed nervously and even Asfaloth pulled away a little.
‘Very well,’ Glorfindel said soothingly to Asfaloth. ‘Run free for a while and listen for me. Come when I need you.’
He pulled the saddle from his horse and lay it carefully behind a fallen tree, covered it with ivy and ferns. Asfaloth dipped his head for the bridle to be removed and gave him an affectionate and concerned bump with his nose. Glorfindel rubbed his forehead reassuringly. ‘Go, find grass and water and keep away from that bad tempered nag!’ he murmured.
‘Stay close to Asfaloth,’ Glorfindel heard Erestor say to his grumpy beast. ‘And come back this time. Don’t just go home.’ Niphredil shook his head and waggled his ears back and forth. His nostrils wrinkled and he flattened his ears back and snapped at his rider. Erestor laughed delightedly and rubbed his nose. ‘Go on, my sweet thing. Off you go.’ He dumped his saddle and threw the bridle carelessly next to Glorfindel’s but at least it was hidden that way, thought Glorfindel.
The ‘sweet thing’ had already turned its back on the two Elves and was charging off, kicking up mud which splattered over Glorfindel’s cloak. He closed his eyes and counted slowly, trying not to lose his legendary calm. When he opened his eyes he just caught the edge of Erestor’s sly smile and had to clench his fists then so as not to bite. It was what Erestor wanted and he would not oblige.
‘I think we should explore the tower now and then retreat when night falls,’ Glorfindel said, brushing his cloak clean. He kept his face impassive, calm and began to count to one hundred as he had heard Gimli do when Legolas irritated him.
Since the seismic falling of the Tower last time he had been there, the broken road had all but dissolved into the marsh and looked more like an old causeway than ever. The citadel was all that was left and that was merely a rocky outcrop amongst the desolate marshes now, and the Tower that had once surveyed the reaches of Eregion had been ripped apart by the storm was more like a crag. The recent past made it even more haunted and desolate. And Glorfindel felt a sudden foreboding.
He clasped Erestor’s shoulder. ‘Do not enter the Tower, Erestor. There is very much evil that will befall us should we enter.’
Erestor turned his amber eyes towards Glorfindel and it seemed that were filled with light, like he had beheld some great wonder and Glorfindel stared.
‘Do you forget Rhawion then?’ the Fëanorian replied and he turned back and strode ahead of Glorfindel, the dimming light shining on his black hair.
Glorfindel dipped his gaze and closed his eyes; he had, for a moment of breathless fear, indeed forgotten. But he would no sooner leave Rhawion in this terrible haunted place than have turned his back on the Balrog and fled.
He followed Erestor and the two Elves entered the broken gates of Phellanthir.
Cristhorn – Where Glorfindel fought the Balrog and defeated it, but met his own death
Valarauko – Quenya for Balrog
Glaurung – the greatest dragon of all- destroyed Gondolin.
Curumo – Saruman