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Strange Fortunes: 3. Chapter Three
"Oh, he knew we meant it in good fun. Such jests are common among brothers in arms."
"But Lord Glorfindel, how did you get it out of his house without anyone noticing?"
"Now let me think..." Glorfindel tried to recall the details of a prank he had not in truth participated in, but the expectant, trusting faces of the new recruits surrounding his desk distracted him and made him feel guilty over the small deception. When he leaned back in an attempt to take a wider view, he spotted another familiar face—this one somewhat jaded—hovering outside the office door. What luck!
"Ah! Salgant!" The front legs of Glorfindel's chair slammed back down as he waved his guest in. "Exactly the man I wanted to see. I was just telling these fine warriors about the time Gelmir's bed found its way into Tirion's largest fishpond. You planned the whole endeavour; remind me, how did you ever manage it without attracting attention?"
Salgant gaped, clearly surprised by the request. "Well... We waited until an afternoon when Feanor and Fingolfin were arguing in the square—they started with the proper way to cook venison, I believe, and worked their way up to their mothers. Most of the courtiers were there enjoying the usual spectacle, Gelmir included, so nobody saw us enter his house. But it was his favourite chair, not his bed, that we took."
"Right, right. So it was. But a bed would be thrice as amusing." And would, hopefully, get irredeemably damaged in the process. "But what brings you here, Salgant? Did you want to talk to me?"
"I did, indeed." Salgant grinned eagerly, the way he did when contemplating the main course at palace banquets.
"Very well." Though loath to interrupt the bed-related scheming, Glorfindel dismissed the recruits. They filed out quietly while Salgant lowered himself into the visitors' chair.
"Those glorious old times, back in Valinor," he said. "We have been friends long, you and I, have we not?"
For some definitions of 'friend' this was actually true, even if Salgant's satirical songs about Glorfindel's frivolity and conceit implied otherwise. "Why, certainly, Salgant. Remember all our games of Elves and Orcs? How bravely we wielded our little carved sticks!" Glorfindel smiled at the memories. "Little did we know that we would one day find ourselves battling such creatures of legend in truth, with real weapons."
"Yes, childhood playmates. They are never forgotten, are they? Although, in your case, I suppose they have been overshadowed by later connections—such as your friendship with Ecthelion."
Glorfindel found Salgant's dislike of Ecthelion, grounded as it was in a one-sided musical rivalry, unworthy and ridiculous. Still, artists tended to take themselves seriously; if Ecthelion seldom rose to Salgant's bait, it was at least in part because he had better things to focus on in his life—such as Glorfindel himself. Glorfindel smiled at a different set of memories, and resolved to be kind.
"Indeed, Ecthelion is now one of my closest friends," he said.
"The closest, surely? Your friendship is epic, legendary... so much so that I have been inspired to write a song about it. But I thought that, in the name of our childhood friendship, I might give you a private concert before making the composition public."
Oh, Elbereth, not another satire. "No, thank you, Salgant. I am not in the mood for music."
"Are you sure? This song might well prove to your liking, unusual as your tastes are. It is titled 'Glorfindel and Ecthelion and Their Dueling Swords, or How the Dew of the Fountain Waters the Golden Flowers.'"
Salgant's leer left no room for doubt. Glorfindel felt his face heat up. To be thus accused now, after all these years of safety... what could have given them away? Perhaps nothing had; perhaps this was unsupported conjecture.
"No, sorry, still not interested," he said. "To be honest, I have never cared for your singing."
"Of course not. You can hear sweeter singing whenever you please."
Aware that throwing Salgant out bodily would set a terrible example for the recruits, Glorfindel pulled himself together. It felt like squeezing a cork back into a bottle of sparkling wine.
"Listen, Salgant. I do not know what you are—no, actually, I know full well what you are implying: I've heard your songs about the friendship of Maedhros and Fingon. And I do not believe your accusation merits a polite response." Salgant's expression had not changed, suggesting that defense was not enough. Glorfindel launched a diversionary counter-attack. "Incidentally... You know, for a married man, you certainly seem to spend a lot of time dwelling on the possibility of desire among warriors. As a 'childhood friend' of yours, I feel compelled to advise you to stop before people get the wrong idea."
"Thank you for your concern." Salgant crossed one leg over the other, still at ease. "However, I assure you that I harbour only the most natural desires. I sing about these matters because I enjoy amusing people, and people are amused by depravity—at least at a distance. I am not sure how they would react if they knew that this sort of thing is going on right under their noses. Oh dear, perhaps I had better refrain from singing my new song in public, after all." He smirked.
Glorfindel watched him bounce a well-rounded calf and wondered whether by 'the most natural desires' Salgant meant a desire for food. He felt surprised by his own malice, but not dismayed by it, since he was starting to understand Salgant's purpose.
Blackmail. Ecthelion had brought up their vulnerability to it on several occasions and each time Glorfindel had dismissed his worries with a blithe, "Who would try to blackmail us? Everyone knows we would not stand for it." But now, with his question answered, he found himself less righteously indignant than afraid. Salgant's mouth was twisted with genuine distaste; the thought that he might soon see this expression echoed on every face in the city was nightmarish.
Well, Glorfindel knew how to handle fear: by facing up to danger.
"Oh, do not hold back on my account," he said. "You have made up faintly amusing ditties about us before. Now you will be adding your favourite topic into the mix. So what?"
"So this time my song will have the truth behind it-—and what a fascinating truth! The two of you do make a striking if disturbing visual. Besides, while I admit you have been discreet, I can think of several details that will appear highly suspicious when viewed in the light of my revelations. Ecthelion's drunken singing, for one. Or even this—the fact that you have his portrait on your office wall, right where you can look upon it fondly."
Glorfindel did not need to follow Salgant's outstretched arm to know which picture he meant. It was one of his better efforts.
"Not exactly a portrait, is it?" he said. "More of an illustration of Nevrast, enlivened by the figures of several senior guardsmen. Ecthelion just happens to be in the foreground. And what about the rest of my pictures? The orcs, the spiders, the other exotic beasts? Were you planning to drag them into your accusations—perhaps compose a second song, about me and a Balrog? Come to think of it, you are in the Nevrast picture as well: there, under the apple tree. Are you implying that I feel an unhealthy desire for you, as well?"
Salgant fidgeted under his gaze. Then he uncrossed his legs and sat up straight. "I have not come here to listen to perverted suggestions or to argue over trivia. You bluff well, I will give you that—but I do wonder how long you can keep it up. Could you cope with a direct question from someone you respect: from Turgon, for example? Could your upright, forthright friend Ecthelion?"
Glorfindel considered this seriously. While he was publicly regarded as a terrible actor—his recent performance in a charity production of "The Death of the Two Trees" had led one critic to quip, "As for Finarfin, he has the air of one who has just lost not a father, but a handkerchief"—his real problem was not poor acting, but a very limited range. As even that critic had noticed, he could pull off cheerful confusion well enough. Ecthelion was a bigger worry: although he had received stage training, his principles normally prevented him from using such skills in his personal life. Would he be willing to lie to his lord?
"I am glad," said Salgant, "to see you thinking so hard. Here is another question for you to ponder: given that you derive so much pleasure from being universally beloved, how will you feel once that admiration turns to contempt? Once I play... this?"
He raised his harp with a flourish and began to sing.
Glorfindel sat back, shocked. Not by the words—he hardly heard them—but by the subtly beautiful tune, which stirred up vivid memories: an evening in early spring, the reluctance with which Ecthelion had agreed to waste their valuable private time on his music, and the struggle he himself had undergone as he listened, torn between longing to hear more and yearning to get his other senses involved in the experience.
"Enough." He barely refrained from grasping the offensive harp. "I recognize the melody."
Salgant stopped playing. "So Ecthelion shares his unfinished compositions with you? How sweet."
Ecthelion had shared far more in the end, of course. Glorfindel could still recall the sense of immense good fortune that had flooded him at the time, but Salgant’s poisonous words had shown him how fragile such happiness was. To protect it, Glorfindel would have to be practical. He thought of a fashionable mock-Doriathrin tavern where atrocious musicians would approach each table in turn, to play until offered money.
"All right, Salgant," he said. "I suppose this is not much different than paying the fiddlers at 'The Girdle' to let me enjoy my drink in peace. There, the price of a beer would usually suffice; how much are you demanding?"
"You wound me," said Salgant smugly. "I would never demand money from a childhood friend. No, I was thinking more along the lines of an exchange of friendly favours."
"What sort of foul favours do you plan to ask of me?" Glorfindel promised himself that if they were immoral or harmful to Ecthelion, Salgant would soon be picking himself up off the floor outside, whatever the recruits might think.
"Well," said Salgant, "first of all, I would like you to adopt a more amicable tone. And then... Surely it is about time you stopped telling everyone not to mind my jokes, as I had a difficult childhood?"
That sounded easy enough—Glorfindel felt no desire to make excuses for Salgant ever again. "Done."
"Good." Salgant smiled. "I also want you to stop calling out to me whenever I walk past the training grounds and asking me to join in the sparring. I find it humiliating to be forced to come up with increasingly convoluted excuses. And yes, I do know that exercise is healthy, but being hit with a practice weapon is not. Besides, you do not seem to realize that it hurts."
"Well, of course it hurts! But being hit with a real weapon hurts more, and is even worse for your health than lack of exercise."
"Certainly it is. That is why we have chosen to live here, in the safety of this hidden valley, where we do not have to worry about such things."
Blackmail or not, Glorfindel could not let that pass. "I disagree. We are not free from danger, not even in this peaceful city. Everything on Arda carries Morgoth's taint, and—"
"Please spare me the speech. You will not convince me that we are under threat, the Guard is an army-in-training, and its weapons are more than ceremonial. Although I admit that you have hit on a very clever way of turning the paranoid, the bored, and the bloodthirsty among our citizens into your followers—invoking Morgoth like that. Ironic that you yourself are more tainted by the Enemy than anyone."
Glorfindel had heard this before, from Ecthelion. At times, worn out by all the pretense, he had almost believed it. But Salgant's behaviour put it all in perspective. "I am certainly no more tainted than you, blackmailer," he said.
"You are, too."
"I am no— I am not getting into this ridiculous argument. And my talk of Morgoth is serious, and not some political gambit."
"Oh, I daresay you believe your own propaganda. You never really outgrew those childhood Orc games, did you?" Salgant fluttered his hands dismissively. "But if you find our peaceful approach to city-building tedious, then perhaps you would prefer to be outside with all the Feanorian lunatics. In that case, you are fortunate: I would not be surprised if Turgon, upon hearing my song, decided to send one of you two out there."
Salgant’s barb struck home. Far more was at stake here than public admiration and private happiness: disgraced, perhaps even separated, Ecthelion and Glorfindel would find it much harder to continue shaping the Guard into a military unit. Glorfindel nodded. "Very well. I will stop encouraging you to spar. Now, are those your only demands?"
"Not demands, requests. And I have just one more—for now. Something that should be close to your heart, seeing how much you care about those who have gone through difficult childhoods." Salgant paused, a cheap actor's trick.
"Well, what is it?"
"Our young prince is profoundly unhappy. He has lost his immediate family, and now the few remaining relatives prove cold. Idril hardly speaks to him. You have Idril's ear; convince her to make the poor orphan child feel welcome."
Glorfindel, who had occasionally considered doing as much himself, looked at Salgant with suspicion. "What is in it for you?" He saw the answer almost at once. "Maeglin's favour. You intend to take credit for the change."
Salgant smirked again. "I am glad we understand each other. Do try to speak to Idril soon, perhaps before tomorrow. The gathering celebrating the start of your ridiculous War Games might be a good time for her to repent of her cold ways. Or, alternatively, for me to perform my song."
He shouldered his harp, lifted himself out of the chair, and departed.
Once Salgant was out of earshot, Glorfindel punched the table. The tense discussion had soured his blood; he needed to work off the poison. He walked out into the courtyard and, armed with a spear, took up position before a hanging sack of straw. As he struck, again and again, he tried not to imagine that he was attacking Salgant, although the close resemblance between harpist and sack made this rather difficult.
After a few minutes he felt like himself once more, and was able to begin pondering whether doing as Salgant asked, at least until his requests grew unreasonable, was the right course of action. Although acquiescence would buy him some time, it felt wrong, but he could not decide whether the objection came from his pride or his conscience. Such tangled thoughts confused him. He attacked the target once more.
The familiar clear voice prompted Glorfindel to turn around. Suddenly his day looked much better. He had forgotten all about Ecthelion's planned lunchtime visit.
Ecthelion nodded towards the spear. "What is bothering you—the new recruits?"
"Nothing now," said Glorfindel almost truthfully. As always, Ecthelion's presence made him feel alive and flawless, his body buzzing with a need to prove that every part of it was in perfect working order. He executed a final skillful spear thrust, returned his weapon to its stand, and walked up to his friend. It was only when he was lifting his hand to clap Ecthelion on the shoulder that he remembered Salgant and his song. He changed the hand's trajectory to run it through his own hair, then to gesture towards the water pump.
"Excuse me. I had better..." he said.
As he rinsed off sweat, dust, and bits of straw, Glorfindel tried to resolve his confusion. He had long believed that casual, public physical contact with Ecthelion was not only acceptable, but necessary: it would be odd if his closest friend was the only one he never touched. But was his old system of pretense still valid now that they had been discovered?
"Hungry?" Ecthelion joined him and offered him a towel. "My favourite vendor is in the square outside."
Glorfindel nodded. "All right, let us go."
They bought the Telerin fare Ecthelion was fond of—raw fish, spiced and wrapped up in cooked grain and greens—and sat down on the edge of a nearby fountain. As they ate, they discussed the latest in helmet designs, but Glorfindel found it hard to focus on this fascinating topic. He had discovered a new dilemma: should he tell Ecthelion about the blackmail? Keeping him in the dark felt like a betrayal, but he could not be trusted to react in a calm and pragmatic manner. Glorfindel would have to try and gauge his feelings first, somehow.
Ecthelion spoke just as he was about to begin. "You know," he said. "I have been thinking about that Vanyarin scroll you showed me, the one you found in the Marital Health section of the Healers' Library."
"Yes?" Glorfindel felt a pleasantly distracting flash of lust. "Why, would you like to take another look at it?"
"No, I was just wondering what you were doing in that particular section."
"Research." Glorfindel's hopes of discussing the more exotic positions dashed, he returned to his plan. "But I will tell you about it some other time. Right now, I want to ask your opinion on a delicate matter."
"But why were you—" Ecthelion composed himself. "Go on."
"I have been having problems with one of my men. I cannot mention real names, of course, so let us call him Imin. Now, Imin has a secret which he has been trying to conceal: a large gambling debt. Another guard, let us call him Tata, has discovered Imin's secret, and is demanding favours in return for his silence."
"Yes. Not a particularly vile instance of it—all Tata is asking for is... well, insignificant things, like an exchange of work assignments or less attention on the sparring field." Unable to help himself, Glorfindel added, "Tata seems to be a small-minded sort who does not realize that a normal person like Imin might have fulfilled such requests anyway, out of courtesy."
"He is probably working up to bigger things, trying to get his victim accustomed to the situation." Ecthelion grimaced. "But I take it 'Imin' has done the sensible thing and shared his problems with you?"
"You think that is the sensible thing to do?"
"Of course—are you implying that he has not done so? But why is he so desperate to conceal a gambling debt from you, anyway? Surely you would not care?"
"Ah. Yes. Well, you see, it is not just me." Glorfindel thought quickly. "Imin is... He is hoping to get married to this girl whose father—Enel—is famed for his hatred of gambling. And Tata is threatening to tell Enel."
"I see. So it is a question of marriage?" Ecthelion rubbed at his temples. "If I were Imin, I would tell Enel myself. It is the right thing to do and anyway he is bound to find out, given how fast gossip spreads in this city. Although I might wait until I had proof my gambling days were over. But what did you want my opinion on?"
"Oh, nothing." After that exhortation to tell all, and the mention of quick-moving gossip, Glorfindel felt no wish to stick with the subject. "You have already told me what I wanted to know."
"Have I?" Ecthelion looked at Glorfindel intently. "Glorfindel, your story has a certain... allegorical feel to it. Now, Maeglin sometimes talks in riddles of that sort, but you tend to be straightforward. Seriously, what is the matter? You know you can tell me anything."
"I cannot talk about it right now."
Ecthelion scanned the noontime crowds. "No, of course not. Sorry."
One of the rules by which they lived was that, while public gestures of affection were occasionally acceptable, tense, earnest conversations were not, since they implied that there was something serious at stake. Glorfindel had often regretted that rule, but today he was glad of the excuse to avoid further discussion.
Ecthelion, however, did not seem ready to let the subject drop. He kept glancing round the square, lost in serious thought. Glorfindel admired the way the light behind his moving eyes flickered like glints on grey steel, a fitting reflection of the inner battle that was undoubtedly taking place in his mind. He was used to watching such battles. Usually, he found himself hoping that Ecthelion's baser motives would win, but today he was not so sure what side he was rooting for, or even what the sides were.
"Well." Ecthelion returned his gaze at last. "Perhaps we should go somewhere else. Or meet again later today."
Clearly, the part of Ecthelion that usually kept him from missing work had suffered a serious defeat. The proposition was extremely tempting; even if Ecthelion's goal was only a private conversation, he should be encouraged to make such impromptu suggestions more often. Glorfindel could think of several appropriately encouraging rewards. Unfortunately, he was certain that nothing would prevent him from telling Ecthelion the full story if he were asked at a more vulnerable moment. And then there were Salgant's spies to consider.
"Sorry, Ecthelion. I am very busy today. I have to inspect my guards, finish copying out the War Games maps, deliver them to Idril, and help her prepare for her party." The final thought cheered Glorfindel: that private visit would give him a chance to fulfill Salgant's demand. With luck, the whole thing would be resolved by tomorrow, and then he would be able to focus on shaking off his blackmailer. He smiled at Ecthelion encouragingly.
Ecthelion responded with a narrow-eyed look. "You know, you will be even busier after the celebration, once the contest starts."
"Then we will talk after that."
"All right." Ecthelion turned towards the fountain's basin, scooped up a handful of water, and watched it run out between his fingers, his face aloof and serene. Clearly, he was troubled, but Glorfindel decided to leave him alone with his thoughts. With so much at stake, this seemed a necessary sacrifice, not so different from letting a member of a company take on some difficult opponent alone, risking injury, to keep the whole company from harm. Glorfindel was determined to preserve their small company of two.
"Do not worry, Ecthelion," was all he dared to say. "Everything will be fine. At least, I believe so."
"Yes, of course. But I should go. You... Well, we will talk later." Ecthelion stood up, shaking out his hands to dry them. "Good luck during your discussion with Idril."
Glorfindel was impressed that he had somehow divined the importance of that meeting, and took this for a good omen. He smiled to himself fondly, but did not look up as Ecthelion walked away; friends do not do that, not if their gaze has a tendency to linger in an appreciative manner. Instead, he distracted himself by feeding the last few scraps of his lunch to the fountain fish in an attempt to teach them tricks. Even if conventional wisdom maintained that fish were too stupid, Glorfindel remained hopeful.
The rest of Glorfindel's day was devoted to paperwork, guard inspections, and occasional fantasies of what might have happened at that hypothetical meeting with Ecthelion. When a glance outside his window showed that the evening primrose was beginning to open, he headed over to the palace to look for Idril.
He found her in the autumn garden, sitting on a low bench, flanked by two of her ladies and surrounded by red-gold chrysanthemums. Both the blooms and the ladies were almost, but not quite, as lovely as she. All three maidens were bent over large notebooks, frowning prettily like schoolgirls trying to translate a complicated sonnet from the Quenya.
"Good afternoon," said Glorfindel. "Household accounts?"
The maidens looked up, smiling in greeting.
"Grain surplus projections," said Idril.
Glorfindel smiled back. "I would offer my help, if I thought it would do any good. But perhaps you might enjoy a refreshing walk, my lady?"
"Why not?" Idril put her book aside and accepted Glorfindel's arm. They set off down a path lined with yellowing trees, leaves fluttering down all around.
"So, Glorfindel, to what do I owe this pleasure?" asked Idril. "You look worried. Did you want to ask my advice on something?"
"Worried? Me?" Though tempted, Glorfindel decided not to take advantage of Idril's offer. The Imin-Tata-Enel story did not seem to be working, and he could not tell her the truth without revealing the very secret he was trying to protect. "No, I have simply brought you the maps you are to hand out tomorrow." He stopped and presented her with a flat lacquered box.
"Thank you." Idril took the box from his hand and flipped through its contents, her fingertips tracing the team emblems stamped on each envelope. "You know, assigning starting locations at random seems so unimaginative. Shall we fix the contest? Who should win—Father's team? Yours?" She smiled impishly.
"Could we fix it so that my team loses, instead? And that the Fountain team does even worse? Ecthelion is worried that it's too good, even with all the effort he has put into discouraging his best men from participating. He is right, you know; it looks bad when our teams do well."
"Of course." Idril shut the box. "In that case, maybe you will join me in rooting for the House of the Mole? Their victory might cheer Maeglin."
This opening was too perfect to ignore. "Yes, young Maeglin is rather gloomy, is he not? You know, I have been meaning to discuss him with you. I think some friendly attention from his lovely cousin might do him a lot of good."
"Oh, I believe I am friendly enough."
There was an odd edge to Idril's voice. On any other day, Glorfindel would have dropped the subject. He decided to be as diplomatic as possible, instead.
"Maeglin can be difficult, I know," he said. "I have noticed that his presence makes you uneasy. But I still believe—"
"You are right, I have been uneasy ever since the day of his arrival." Idril's troubled expression lent weight to her words. "Since the day of Aredhel's murder. I am disturbed by the thirst for vengeance that, with Eol's execution, turned us all into kinslayers. I still believe we should have granted him mercy."
Glorfindel frowned at this sudden shift in conversation. However, if Idril needed to discuss that traumatic day, he would oblige her; it just so happened he had something to say.
"Granted him mercy?" he asked. "By forcing him to live on in a city he hated, filled with the knowledge that he had killed the woman he loved and that his son loathed him? Perhaps sending him to the Halls of Mandos, where he may be healed, was the kinder act, rather than selfish revenge; taking on the guilt of his death can be seen as a noble sacrifice."
"That is a very thoughtful view." Idril smiled slightly. "I can see you have discussed the matter at length, with somebody interested in ethical dilemmas. But I did not mean to imply that I suffer from abstract guilt. No, I feel a very tangible sense of doom. Ever since that day, I have been having strange dreams. Premonitions of our city's destruction."
Glorfindel hesitated for a moment before admitting, "I have had some rather vivid dreams myself, ones where I fight in desperate battles set outside this valley. But I am wary of calling my dreams premonitions when they could be wishful thinking. Or the effect of too much rich food."
"I see." Idril chewed her lip. "Thank you for sharing that with me. We must speak more about it when we have more time. Now—shall we head back?"
She took Glorfindel's arm again. They were halfway back to the bench when he realized he had not fulfilled Salgant’s request. He stopped.
"Yes, premonitions of doom are disquieting," he said. "But surely you do not blame your cousin for bringing them about so indirectly. Nor for his parents' character and actions; if anything, such things excuse him. Perhaps you could—"
"No, Glorfindel, I could not." Idril's tone was reminiscent of Turgon at his most formal. "Anyway, why do you persist in bringing up Maeglin? You must have noticed me changing the subject. I know Ecthelion is fond of my cousin; has he asked you to do this?"
"No." The accusation rankled. Glorfindel did not obey Ecthelion so blindly, or, if he did, it was only under very special circumstances. "I merely thought... You and your father are Maeglin's only remaining relatives, and King Turgon is too busy to give his nephew much personal attention. No wonder the boy is so lonely. Family is very important," he finished, annoyed by his own banality.
"Ah yes, family." Idril plucked an orange chrysanthemum from a nearby bush. "That is a large part of the problem, of course."
"What do you mean?"
"It is not really… Oh, it might help to tell somebody." Idril looked down at her flower and smoothed its petals. "Glorfindel, Maeglin desires me."
It took a while for the words to sink in. "But he is your first cousin... Surely he... Are you certain you are not misinterpreting his thirst for affection? Has he spoken of this outright?"
"Not really, but I have been courted often enough that I can read the signs."
In spite of her youth, Idril was wise; Glorfindel believed her. This was a serious complication. Had Salgant known of it? Surely not. Surely he would not support such an unnatural desire, not after what he had said about—
Much to his surprise, Glorfindel found himself sympathizing with Maeglin.
"I understand your distaste, Idril," he said. "And yet... the poor boy. Struggling with a forbidden longing for one who does not return his feelings."
"Yes, of course. I should have known you would understand that. But do not waste your pity on him, Glorfindel. Maeglin does not have your sense of honour. He is not happy with such friendship as I can offer him." Idril walked for a few moments. "He... refuses to respect my privacy. I believe he spies on me—he talks about many of my mundane activities as if he had witnessed them. And then, I keep finding unfamiliar objects on my dresser. Incomprehensible metal devices. Love poems that rhyme my name with phrases like ‘rock drill.’ Pointy shoes. Who else would leave me such gifts? Maeglin is the only one who advises me not to walk around barefoot. For my own good, he says."
Glorfindel recalled the days when Ecthelion, still only a friend, had repeatedly told him to tie back his hair, for similar reasons. "Hmm. He does sound interested in you. Not to mention irritating. But these presents are a more serious matter; how does he gain access to your room?"
"I suspect he uses a trained hunting bird. Anyway, this is not all." Idril twirled the flower around in small circles. "Recently he has begun speaking of... marriage."
"Marriage to you?"
"Marriage in general. Or, rather, things of that sort. Oh, Glorfindel! I do not have the vocabulary to describe this. And neither does Maeglin. He... he keeps bringing up animal breeding. He tells me that, when one finds an exceptional strain of hounds, it is important to... keep the line pure. Litter-mates are often too close, he says, but anything beyond that..." Idril shuddered and shredded her flower, letting the petals fall from her fingers.
A gust of wind lifted them; a few got caught in her hair. Looking down at her bent head, Glorfindel was flooded with a sense of protectiveness. She was so small and delicate and, after all, so young—and she had always spoken of matters of the heart and body seriously, as if they were sacred. He reached down and gently dislodged the trapped petals.
"Would you like me to have a word with him?"
"No!" Idril looked up. "That would only annoy him, lead him to view you as an enemy. I think the only person he might listen to is Father, but I do not want this to come between them. Father has so few people left to love. No, this is a problem I must resolve myself."
"Well, as I have always said—if there is anything I can do... Apart from not urging you to be kinder to him, that is." Glorfindel gave her an apologetic smile.
"Perhaps there is. Maeglin is always at his worst at parties. Might I ask you to escort me tomorrow night?"
"And form a defensive perimeter?" Glorfindel nodded. "Consider it done."
Glorfindel walked home feeling weighed down, as if he were wearing his full battle gear. Not because he had failed with Idril, but because his failure had, somehow, driven home what he had been refusing to accept: that someone who wished him ill now had access to his secret.
The Vanyarin scroll was lying on the floor by his bed. He carried it over to the desk, propped it up and reached for his most private sketchbook and a stick of charcoal. Drawing a slight modification of 'The Ripe Fruits of Laurelin' calmed him down, in some ways at least, and the completed sketch made him smile: as usual, his attempt to draw the idealized male form had ended up looking almost exactly like Ecthelion. Of course, this was problematic. Whether their shared secret remained one or not, he could not see Ecthelion approving of any such drawing being put into public circulation. Glorfindel would have to think of different models. Maedhros and Fingon had a certain appeal, but surely they would not appreciate it either... At last, he settled on the vapid-looking Vanyarin man from the original scroll paired with someone who looked rather like Maeglin, only older and creepier.
When the new version was finished, he carried the sketchbook over to his bed. Would he dream of battle tonight? Idril’s talk of her premonitions of ruin had come almost as a relief, for surely nobody would care about something as trivial as two warriors’ personal lives when they realized that much more important things were at stake. He looked down at his first drawing, and smiled again. It was hard to believe that anyone could fail to understand why he had chosen Ecthelion. And, to a lesser degree, why Ecthelion had chosen him in return. No, he would not let Salgant’s scheming come between them. He would speak to Ecthelion right after the party, and they would face this threat together.
0. Blackmail bad, but feedback good. Especially constructive criticism. I would like to thank Maggie, Born on Sofa, Claudio, Marnie, and Nol for theirs.
1. Gelmir is a popular Elven name attached to a couple of Noldorin warriors, one in Nargothrond, one among Angrod's people. I used it because I hate making names up.
2. Imin, Tata, and Enel are the names given to the first three Elves to wake up. Prosaically enough, the names mean 'One,' 'Two,' and 'Three.' They seem like a reasonable substitute for 'Person A,' 'Person B,' and 'Person C', the names I might have used under the same circumstances.
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