Saw both my life and death
In two lines
Felt the kick of fate
There I was invisible
Just out of phase
There's no sun, no storm
No time, nowhere
For a moment I was
“Breathless” by Small Black
Gondolin, First Age 316
The fog engulfed Glorfindel, dense and impenetrable. The air felt thick. Here and there, he could see skeletal branches festooned with strands of sticky webs. Which way? Ai! Which way? Behind him came a strange tapping sound. Sharp clicks, hollow thuds. He pulled an arrow from his quiver and nocked it to the string. “Lady Aredhel!” he called, but the sound of his voice fell dead. “Ecthelion, where are you?”
In the distance, high overhead, he heard the high pitched scream of some fell winged thing. A monstrous shadow filled with hungry green eyes loomed in front of him. His sovereign’s voice boomed out, “Why did you return without my sister! You have betrayed my trust and besmirched your honor!”
Stricken to the heart, Glorfindel fled, crashing his way through sharp branches that clung at his clothing. Craven, unmanned! A proud warrior of a proud house, and he’d failed his task. Again! How could he bear the shame of it? Without warning, a wall of white marble materialized out of the mist directly in his path. He turned to the right to avoid it, but the wall kept pace with him, growing and expanding. He sped up, trying to outrun it, but suddenly it bent around directly in front of him so that he crashed into it and was thrown onto his back. A chunk of marble broke off from the impact and fell onto his neck, crushing his windpipe so that he gasped for breath. Hideously, part of him welcomed it.
Glorfindel struggled awake, his heart thumping, and found himself lying face up with the King’s muscular arm resting heavily across his throat. Safe and yet not so. He couldn’t breathe. He grasped the King’s wrist and threw his arm aside, perhaps more abruptly than he’d intended.
“Elenwë!” Turgon muttered in urgent tones, and wrapped his arm around Glorfindel’s waist, drawing him close. It seemed that both of them had been visited by evil dreams.
“My Lord, wake up,” Glorfindel said sharply.
Turgon moaned and rolled away from him. Glorfindel briefly saw in his mind’s eye the horrendous image of Elenwë’s pale face looking up at him through the icy blue water.
Glorfindel sat up, pinched the bridge of his nose. Mandos, what a headache! He pushed his long, tousled locks away from his face and peered about at the residue of their drunken embrace the night before. The dimly lit room exhibited a mess unbefitting the royal bedchamber. Their sheets had been pushed off the high platform of the bed onto the floor where they lay amidst a welter of clothes, along with a glazed ceramic wine jug, a half dozen bottles, plates hosting the skeletal remains of roasted pigeons, and an incriminating jar of salve. Turgon had rolled onto his back, presenting an elegant profile, his head surrounded by a swath of unbraided black hair. His naked body was as beautiful as ever, but his face looked drawn. His skin appeared grey in the dim light.
Looking at him, Glorfindel’s heart ached, along with his head. He’d done this yet again after he had vowed that he would not. Neither the wine, nor his and the King’s physical needs, frustrated from long denial, were any excuse.
The warrior swung his feet off the bed, landed on the floor with a thump and a twinge of muscles— still sore even a week after the ordeal in Nan Dungortheb. He headed for the shuttered south-facing windows. There would be more pain when the morning sun hit his eyes, but the room was stifling. He craved some air to chase away the dregs of the dream and clear his head of last night’s indiscretions. He lifted the latch and began to draw the shutter away from the window.
“What are you doing!” The voice was cold, imperious.
“Letting in the morning, Túrukáno,” Glorfindel said gently.
“Nay, do not. Fie on another day which brings me nothing but grief. Shut it,” Turgon said. He raised himself on an elbow; his exquisite black brows were drawn together in a pained frown.
“Just a crack,” Glorfindel replied. “I cannot find my clothes otherwise.”
“They’re just there.” Turgon gestured vaguely at the floor. “Even my wine-bleared eyes can tell that, and yours are much keener than mine.”
“For things afar, and sufficiently illuminated. I’m no bat, m’lord, nor a mouse to creep about in the dark.”
The King raked his gaze over Glorfindel appraisingly and his expression softened. “Nay, you are not. You are a ray of sunlight in a dark place.” He groaned, put a hand to his forehead. “What was that vintage we shared, my Lord of the Golden Flower?”
“It was a fine 290, a gift from my own vineyards. I believe it wasn’t the quality but the quantity, my Lord,” Glorfindel said as he cracked open the shutter enough to leave a line of light upon the floor. He picked up his fine linen braies from the pile, drew them on, and tied up the string. By the Valar, he longed for a bath. Distantly he heard the sweet rain of the fountain going off below.
“The quantity, aye. Truer words were never spoken,” Turgon said. He lay back with a thump. “Wine is a fickle curative. Taken in the evening it relieves pain, but the morning after, restores it with a vengeance.”
“Indeed.” Glorfindel paused in the hunt for his clothing. “My Lord, I’ve been thinking. I believe it best if I go back out and search for Lady Aredhel again. It may be that she escaped the sorcery of Nan Dungortheb and went on to Himlad. If I go alone, we would not risk losing anyone else. I would seek out Curufin and Celegorm as they may have tidings of her whereabouts. After all, that is where she intended to go.”
“Nay, I will not allow it,” Turgon said, rising up on one elbow and shaking his dark head. “I made a grievous mistake giving Aredhel permission to leave Gondolin and by so doing nearly lost you all. Since Thingol has decided to be a petulant fool and blame all the Noldor for the errors of my uncle, we cannot go through Doriath, and it’s clear now that crossing Nan Dungortheb is out of the question, what with your tales of the horrors that lurk therein.”
“I could ride north along the Sirion.”
“And travel nigh to Thangorodrim! Too dangerous. What if He captured you? I doubt even you, one of my finest warriors, could resist Morgoth’s ungentle persuasions. And even should you evade His nets, I no longer trust my cousins. They continue to be the most mercurial of Fëanaro’s brood.”
Glorfindel found his white linen shirt wadded up on the floor. “Your grandfather Finwë used to say, ‘We know not our strengths until we face the trial.’” He shook the shirt out with a snap, pulled the sleeves into place and slipped it on.
“Huh.” Turgon moved to the edge of the bed, reached out and took one of Glorfindel’s hands, gently squeezing his fingers. His hand felt soft against Glorfindel’s calluses. “Indeed, he did say that,” Turgon said. “But we’ve already faced trials enough. Laurëfindil, my stalwart, glad am I that you escaped the haunted valley. It was a near thing and I cannot risk any more of my knights. . . . you most of all. I’ve enough of woe to last me a lifetime.”
“Aye, my Lord,” Glorfindel said, lowering his eyes. His hand relaxed in the King’s grip.
Turgon cleared his throat. “I hope that you do not allow the recent . . . unpleasantness to mar our friendship.” He patted the back of Glorfindel’s hand, then let him go.
“Nay, of course not,” Glorfindel said. “You were right to chastise me. It was my fault and no other’s.”
“So you’ve said before all my court. But I know my sister. Ever was she hard-headed and listened to no one. I repent of my harsh words to you. I was torn with grief, and did not give you and Lord Ecthelion and Lord Egalmoth sufficient time to tell your tales. Lord Ecthelion, particularly, was eloquent in your defense, as he always is. You are forgiven.”*
But I have not forgiven myself. Was now the moment to speak to him? To explain in carefully rehearsed words why their particular brand of fellowship could not continue? He’d wasted the opportunity last night. He took a breath. Nay, not yet. Not while their reconciliation was so new. He needed more time.
Turgon rubbed his eyes with thumb and forefinger. “It’s hot as Morgoth’s forge in here. It seems the heat has begun early this year.” He waved vaguely in the direction of his antechamber. “Take the back stairs out. My man will be here soon.”
“Do you think your servants don’t know, Túrukáno? With all this evidence before their eyes?”
“’Tis not their place to comment or to speculate,” Turgon replied. “I would keep it that way.”
Glorfindel paused, cleared his throat. “When, um, when shall we . . .?”
“See one another again? Four days hence at the Games after the Gates of Summer ceremony.”
“At the Games, aye,” Glorfindel said. “There is still much to prepare for them.”
“Who is challenging you this year?”
“I believe ‘tis the House of the Harp, but they have yet to deliver the baton,” Glorfindel said. “I suspect they may seek out my team during practice today.”
“You’re my champion and the best Gondolin has,” Turgon said, with a yawn. “You’ll beat them and add to the glory of both our houses.” He smiled thinly at Glorfindel, but there was a wariness in his eyes. “’Twas a good thought to set up the Games. What was it, more than fifty years ago?”
Glorfindel nodded. “I’ve seen the positive effect of it on our warriors. It gives them tangible goals to work for, rather than the abstract one of preparing to do battle with Morgoth. A battle that may never come.”
Turgon nodded. “I pray daily to Ulmo that it does not, that we may remain safe and happy here. To do that we must keep conflicts to a minimum. Salgant seems to be squabbling with Duilin again over grazing rights. Speaking of which, has either of them issued a challenge?”
“Not to my knowledge,” Glorfindel said. “Which is good. Duels rarely solve problems as the loser usually harbors bad feelings.”
There came a loud knock on the outer door of the King’s chambers and then a muffled voice, “My Lord, are you up? It’s Tathar with your posset.”
“I’m still abed. Hold a moment!” Turgon called to the servant, then slid off the bed, lurched to the floor, and felt around for a dressing gown. “Begone!” he whispered.
“I wondered if I might have . . . another audience with you. Perhaps after the Games?”
Turgon paused as he drew on the robe. He shook his head. “There were many eyes at the party last night and I fear we were indiscreet. Above all, I do not want this known, Laurëfindil. You can understand that. What is a King who cannot follow his own edicts?” He stretched out a hand and affectionately tucked a lock of Glorfindel’s hair behind his ear. “We must master our passions, my friend. Do not expect that we can do this again, not for a long time. Already I fear . . .”
The tentative knock came again on the door and Turgon made a harsh gesture of dismissal at Glorfindel, who scooped up the rest of his clothes and fled in an undignified manner to the antechamber that held the King’s wardrobe. He hesitated by the back wall next to an immense tapestry which covered up the secret exit, constructed not for assignations such as theirs, but as an escape route for the King who feared becoming trapped in the tower. When he oversaw its construction, Glorfindel had scarcely imagined that he’d be the one skulking down this stair. He lifted the tapestry, pressed the hidden panel on the wall, which creaked open, stepped through, and let it snap back into place.
Standing at the top of the spiraling staircase, he waited a moment until his eyes adjusted to the thin light leaking from a slit in the roof high above, then set about arraying himself as best as he could in the remainder of his clothes. He drew on his linen stockings and attached them to the garters on his braes. Then, his dark green tunic, still unlaced, went over his shirt, and he buckled his belt about his waist. His summer cloak went over that, pinned into place with the broach the King had given him, inlaid with an enameled design depicting the golden rays of Glorfindel’s House emblem. He felt about in his pocket and pulled out a jeweled circlet, which he settled in his hair and over his forehead. Last, he braced himself on the wall as he awkwardly slipped on soft leather shoes. Suitable for an audience with the King, they almost felt like going barefoot compared to his heavy field boots.
With one hand feeling his way along the rough-hewn stone wall, he crept down the stairs. Just like the mouse that I denied earlier. This cannot continue.
Glorfindel descended the dizzy narrow stairway, around and around, until it finally emptied out into an underground tunnel, dark as pitch. Still feeling his way, he followed the tunnel for several hundred feet, then ascended a ladder. At the top, he listened carefully for any stray guards or servants, then pushed up the secret trapdoor and emerged into the dim light of the armoury. Walking the length of the hallway lined with lances, maces, swords, shields, and other weapons of destruction, all of which he could wield quite respectably, he paused before the outer door. Quietly, he opened it. Squinting in the sudden light, he peered out into the King’s rose garden past a cacophony of blooms, pink, yellow, white, and red, that perfumed the air of a beautiful morning. He sighed. There seemed no one about as it was between changing of the guard. He might yet escape unnoticed.
With the sound of crunching gravel underfoot, he paced the walkway winding through the labyrinth of flowers, past one of the smaller fountains happily burbling into the air. There was one more open stretch nigh to the main entrance that he must traverse before he could disappear down a side street and work his way homeward. He was almost out of the palace grounds. The air was growing hotter with the rising sun, so he turned up the edges of his cloak and threw them over his shoulders. Softly, he began to whistle a tune—one of Ecthelion’s favorites from a time long gone.
“Blessed be, is that you, Lord Glorfindel? Such a surprise, meeting you here this time of day.”
Startled, Glorfindel turned his head and saw Loremaster Pengolodh sitting on a little bench under a shade tree with his harp sitting on his lap. No doubt he had been composing a song. He was wearing a bright red doublet richly embroidered with circling birds in gold thread, yellow braes tied at the knee, and tooled leather shoes with toes that came to a point. The musician set his harp aside and beckoned.
This was a most unhappy turn of luck. Pengolodh might be a fine loremaster and singer, but he was also a terrible gossip who loved poking his nose into everyone’s affairs. Well, he’d been spotted. Best to mitigate the damage.
“And a very good morning to you,” Glorfindel said, changing course toward him. “I might say the same, Loremaster. It’s rare to see you about so early after a celebration like last night. I would have thought you’d be still abed.”
As Glorfindel neared, Pengolodh rose and granted him a half bow, then frowned and waved a bee away from his long nose. “On such a beautiful morning? Nay, I was up before the light. I rarely drink to excess since I don’t handle wine as well as I used to back when we dwelt in Nevrast. Still I managed to hang on until midnight last night.” Pengolodh’s eyes crinkled in a mirthless smile. “I wouldn’t dare attempt to keep up with you and the King. You Eldar appear to have an endless capacity.” He leaned forward conspiratorially. “You and Turgon seemed to be getting on rather well, especially after . . . well after the manner of your return. It seems he’s forgiven you for losing his sister?” A sly smile flickered across his face as he cast his eyes over Glorfindel, then he schooled his expression, and flapped again at the bee, who seemed enamored of the glittering gold thread in his doublet.
“So, he says,” Glorfindel replied. “He kept me up far into the night discussing matters of security, and I fear I didn’t follow your wiser example of restraint when it came to the drink. The King kindly put me up in one of his guest bedrooms to sleep it off.”
“Matters of security and which ones might those be? Aren’t we securely hidden with no possibility that He might find us? Or did your foray into the outer world upset the equilibrium?”
“I have no call to believe that the Enemy knows aught about our hidden realm,” Glorfindel snapped. He added a lilt of warning to his voice. “As his Master of Arms and among the first in many years to venture out into the wider world, we had much to discuss.”
“No doubt,” Pengolodh replied. The bee had left the Loremaster in favor of buzzing Glorfindel’s broach and then circling his head.
“Our pollinator appears to love your hair’s brightness. It does indeed shine like gold in the morning light. ‘Tis said that you are numbered among the King’s treasures.”
Glorfindel narrowed his eyes at him. His tone tread the narrow line between sycophantic and insolent. “I live to serve my realm, Pengolodh,” he replied.
“Of course you do and well indeed do you serve it. Speaking of your hair, I can’t help but notice that your coif is dressed a bit less . . . decorously than was the case last night.”
Glorfindel resisted the impulse to reach up and touch his hair, which had come loose from his usual braids. “If you’re saying, my dear Ballad-master, that I’m in want of a comb — that would be true. As I have told you, I didn’t intend to pass out. I freely admit my indiscretion.” Time for a parry. “Pray, tell me, what is it about this location so far from your house, that attracts your attention so early in the morn?”
“Ah, well, I find this spot seems to have an almost magical effect upon my invention. So peaceful and full of beauty.” He waved at the garden and the spectacular view of the snow-capped mountains that surrounded them. “I’m working on a hymn for the Gates of Summer Festival. Care to hear it? Of course it’s not yet complete.”
“Pray excuse me, for now, my dear Loremaster. I apologize for having disturbed you while in the throes of divine inspiration. I am due home to eat and prepare for training my warriors for the Games. I shall be privileged to hear it during the Morning Song.”
Glorfindel inclined his head.
“Oh, aye of course,” Pengolodh rumbled. “And I’ll be sure to compose a song or two in the King’s honor.”
“I’m sure he would be pleased,” Glorfindel said. He walked away, resisting the temptation to look back. A good place for composing, my arse, he thought. It was a strategic spot for watching who was coming and going from the palace, since this pathway intersected with the one coming from the main gate.