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Numbered Tears: 2. Numbering The Tears
"--see if he's awake," a voice said softly. "I don't know that he'll be strong enough for a visitor, my lord."
Glorfindel came to himself with a deep breath and blinked at the leaves overhead. He was in a bed, in an orderly grove scented with flowers and filled with a soft soughing of the breeze in the branches. He breathed again, becoming aware of his body, and concluded that he had been lying still for a very long time. He breathed yet deeper, and realized that he was injured, parts of him twingeing with pain that shouldn't be. It wasn't until his fourth breath that he remembered, and the remembering suspended any subsequent breaths until the healer's hazily-familiar face appeared above him:
"Lord," he said, speaking softly, "are you awake?"
"Yes," Glorfindel said, whispering because he knew his voice would be hoarse.
"How do you feel?"
"I cannot tell," Glorfindel admitted. He moved his arms, stretching his fingers. "I think I could sit," he ventured.
"Not without help," the healer said. "Let me."
It took a moment, and Glorfindel's memory of the pain was considerably sharpened by what remained of it, but finally he was propped up into a reasonable semblance of a sitting position. He caught his breath again, regulating it, and was pleased that this much of him at least was obedient: the pain was no longer strong enough to rob him of all self-command.
"You said visitor," Glorfindel said in a moment, collecting himself. His voice was strong enough for speech now. "Is that what you said?"
"Yes," the healer said. "You have a visitor, if you feel well enough to see him."
Glorfindel smiled. "I do," he said.
The healer nodded, and moved away out of Glorfindel's field of vision. In a moment he returned with the visitor, and it wasn't until disappointment tugged sharply inside Glorfindel's chest that he realized he had been expecting someone else.
"Uruvanwe," Turgon said, sitting a little stiffly beside his bed. He took Glorfindel's hand in his. Glorfindel regarded him blankly, his wits scattered first by his unexpected disappointment, second by surprise at Turgon being the first visitor at his sickbed, and thirdly, by Turgon's use of his long-forgotten mother-name. "You have survived."
"So it seems," Glorfindel said, speaking Quenya to match Turgon's. Turgon looked weary and frail, and Glorfindel wondered whether he too had been injured.
"I can see you are still not recovered," Turgon said, and he gave Glorfindel a gentle smile that seemed almost fond. "But they said you would wake today, and I wanted to speak with you. I will be brief."
"I have time," Glorfindel said, mastering his breathing and from thence drawing himself into composure. "I am honored by your visit and still more by the concern it implies."
Turgon's smile warmed. "That's more like you," he said, and squeezed Glorfindel's hand. Glorfindel squeezed back. "I have little enough kin left to me, Laurefindil. I would not lose you."
Glorfindel put his other hand over Turgon's. The man must be distraught indeed; in the past it had only been in times of great stress that he had ever called Glorfindel kinsman. "My condolences," he said, "my deepest condolences on the loss of your brother."
Turgon nodded, tears flattening the shine of his eyes. They sat in silence a moment. "Yes," he said at last, "Idril will be glad you have survived."
Glorfindel nodded. "I--" he began, but he shook his head. "There are too many people to ask after," he said. "Too many, and I know the answers will not be good in most cases."
"But we did the right thing," Turgon said quietly.
Glorfindel glanced at his face in some surprise. Turgon was never defensive to him. But the pain in the man's face was undeniable, and certainly understandable. "Yes," Glorfindel said firmly, "we did."
Turgon sighed, and shook his head. "We did," he repeated, "but that is the last of it. We will not leave Gondolin again."
Glorfindel nodded a bit vaguely. He had not the strength at the moment to consider the battle. Instead he was increasingly concerned with finding out what had happened to certain close friends, and most importantly Ecthelion. He had only the haziest of recollections of Ecthelion weeping and covered in blood, and later, even hazier, looking desperately weary and grieved.
"I noticed your surprise at my visit," Turgon said. "I know you were expecting the first visitor to be someone else. But I came here to say something, so I had better say it and be done before your strength for this audience is ended."
"My attention is yours as long as you require it," Glorfindel said politely. But Turgon was right: he was deeply, deeply weary, and if Turgon were not here he would have closed his eyes again.
"I wanted to tell you-- wanted to apologize to you, for what happened to Ecthelion."
Glorfindel looked up at him in some startlement. "Ecthelion?" Startlement faded to a sharp painful twist of worry. "What happened to Ecthelion?"
Turgon looked at him with gentle sorrow. "Be easy, kinsman," he said. "You are yet too weak to excite yourself." He sighed. "I appointed the task I did to Ecthelion because I knew he was strong enough to do it. I knew it would cost him a great deal to do it, but I had hoped that his unwavering sense of duty would see him through and allow him to recover. All along I kept a watch on him, through messengers and my own eyes when I could spare them, and I had always planned that we should make our halt before he reached the end of his strength."
Glorfindel considered that, trying to make the words into ideas that made sense. Ecthelion's task? He couldn't remember, until suddenly it came to him with a rush: Ecthelion, soaked in blood, standing over him with a bare and bloody sword, the grim cold feeling of death washing off of him like frost from a man new-come from the cold. Glorfindel swallowed with difficulty, reflexively tipping his head back as he remembered giving himself up for Ecthelion's terrible mercy.
"I am sorry," Turgon said, his voice roughening. "My watch on him failed. I had never intended for him to be confronted with you. I would have picked you up myself. But I had forgotten, Laurefindil: I had forgotten you were injured. I did not mean for his breaking point to be so…" He paused, and Glorfindel surfaced from his horrified contemplation of memory to look at him. "So final. I am sorry, Laurefindil. I would have spared him if I could."
"Final?" Glorfindel whispered.
"I know," Turgon said, speaking as though there were something novel and difficult about the process of forming words, "I know how… important… each of you is… to the other. I know you are… I know how strong you make one another." Glorfindel struggled to breathe, paralyzed with fear and horror and the memory of Ecthelion's dead eyes. Turgon put his hand on Glorfindel's forehead, and his gaze drew Glorfindel's, compelled his attention. "I know how you love each other."
Turgon's face shimmered before him, and the tears spilled over and freed his vision to see how earnest the king was. He nodded, pressing his lips together to keep silent.
"I know how wonderful such a love can be," Turgon said, and Glorfindel realized there were tears in his eyes as well. "But I also know how terrible. Please, Laurefindil, please understand me-- I never meant-- it is my fault. Please, I cannot-- I beg you, do not follow him into madness."
Glorfindel stared up at him in complete, stricken blankness, and the tears spilled down Turgon's face. "My hand has been forced," he said, "so many times now, by madness. I ever strive to do the right thing, but what is right is so distorted by the madness of those I love that all goes awry. And I am left to preside over a ruin I played a part in, and I cannot apologize to those who I have ruined, because I may not acknowledge that everyone I love is mad. Love of a lunatic has driven my broth--"
Turgon stopped abruptly, and composed himself, shaking his head. "At the least, I can apologize to you, in privacy, Laurefindil. That is the best I can do. It is almost the only thing I can do. Please, kinsman, in your pain, do not forsake me."
It suddenly became clear to Glorfindel that the heavily Vanyarin-accented Quenya Turgon was speaking for this conversation was not chosen impulsively, out of nostalgia. It was for concealment. The healer was a Sinda, and was hovering a little distance away in anxious incomprehension.
Glorfindel closed his eyes, and shook his head. "Turukano," he said, "my lord, and king, and uncle." He opened his eyes, and Turgon's face was pale and exhausted, his eyes burning with a near-mad intensity themselves. "I do not know all that has happened. I cannot-- I have not seen my-- Ecthelion. I do not know if he is broken beyond all recovery. But this I know: I cannot accuse you of any want of care toward your subjects. I do not question any of your decisions, Turukano, and I pledge what little strength I have to your cause." But he was weeping as he said it, his pain sapping his composure until it melted down his face.
"--know," the healer was saying, quietly. "I really don't. His first visitor left him such a mess. I don't--"
"I am awake," Glorfindel said, rolling himself onto an elbow and pushing himself as upright as he could manage. Which wasn't very. "Who is there?"
It hurt him sharply, but in a way that was neither entirely bad nor very good, to see that this time the visitor was Egalmoth. "Glorfindel," Egalmoth said, face creased with concern, and he hastened to the bedside.
"Leave us," Glorfindel said to the healer, through his teeth, but added a "Please," on the end when the man looked startled.
"Glorfindel," Egalmoth said, and pushed gently at him, trying to get him to lie down, "you mustn't--"
"How mad is he?" Glorfindel asked, rolling onto his back but glaring a little defiantly.
"Ecthelion," Glorfindel said. "Turgon said he was mad. How mad is he?"
Egalmoth's shoulders sagged in something that looked like defeat, and Glorfindel knew the other had been planning to avoid any mention of the situation during this visit. Glorfindel watched Egalmoth's face keenly, but the other composed himself into a defeated bravery that would certainly tell the truth.
"He does not speak," Egalmoth said. "He lost his voice, that day, and has not regained it. He communicates only in writing, and he has only written one thing."
"What has he written?" Glorfindel asked.
"A-- a list," Egalmoth answered.
"A list," Glorfindel echoed. "What sort of list?"
"A thorough list," Egalmoth went on. His bravery had faltered, and he was looking at his hands now. "A painstaking list of every single person who was left along the march, those he mercied and those who died without his intervention. In order. Listed by their names, if he knew them, or by identifying details if he did not. He listed their conditions when he found them, the nature of the wounds that had left them unable to continue, and indicated how he killed them."
"How--" Glorfindel paused, absorbing it. "I see." He felt sick.
"He gave the list to Pengolodh, and apparently indicated that it should be made available to all the bereaved." Egalmoth sighed. "Since then he speaks to no one. He does not go out, nor does he suffer visitors to come in."
Glorfindel nodded slowly, trying to understand his own feelings. "The list has proven invaluable," Egalmoth went on in a moment. "It has been a consolation to many, who otherwise would not know what had happened to their lost warriors."
Glorfindel nodded. "But what of him?" he asked.
Egalmoth shook his head. "He will not speak," he said. "Nor will he listen."
Glorfindel nodded grimly. "I must go to him," he said.
"You cannot even sit up," Egalmoth answered, distressed.
"No," Glorfindel admitted in a moment, when he could speak again after his attempt. "No, I cannot." He focused on his breathing for a little while until the pain eased. "Not yet."
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