The Old Grey Wizard
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The Reluctant Warrior: 3. Chapter 3: Puzzles and Provocations
The Lord of Imladris and his guest turned to see an extraordinarily handsome, golden-haired Elf leaning on the door frame with a smirking grin on his face.
"Glorfindel!" cried Elrond as he rose from his chair, with ill-disguised dismay in his voice. What miserable timing, he thought. Who knows what Turgon's general will think of handing Turgon's sword over to someone who is not even an Elf! And just when Mithrandir seemed nearly convinced! "Are you on your way to your chambers?"
Mithrandir stood by the table; the light shone behind him and his face was in shadow.
"Glorfindel!" he said, sounding mightily pleased. "How fortuitous! Join us. We need advice on a matter that is most perplexing, and you are just the Elf to give it."
"Really?" Glorfindel said, as he took several rather unsteady steps into the study. "A perplexing problem, eh?" He eyed the last of the wine on the small table and swept it up. He raised the decanter halfway to his mouth; then he caught sight of Elrond's disapproving face. "Oh. Yes. Well, my Lord, have you another glass? If I am to be solving puzzles, I shall require something to quench my thirst." He smiled his most charming smile.
Elrond frowned and was about to say something snappish, but he turned instead and crossed to the cabinet where he kept the crystal stemware. Glorfindel's grin widened.
"Join me at this table," Mithrandir said. He beckoned and stepped aside. "Here is something that you will, I believe, find very interesting, and is the source of our perplexing problem."
As the Lord of the House of the Golden Flower stepped toward it, the sword gleamed silver, red, gold and green in the flickering lamp light. It was untarnished, and upon the scabbard and hilt not one nick or scratch was visible. It lay there, shining, as if newly forged.
Glorfindel was staring silently. He clutched the neck of the decanter in one hand, and the wine within it began to stir and slosh, for he was trembling. Without warning he lurched forward and pressed his hands upon the edge of the table. The decanter would have smashed to the floor had not the wizard deftly caught it. Mithrandir placed the crystal out of harm's way in the far corner of the table without taking his eyes off the Elf.
Glorfindel reached out with shaking fingers toward the largest gem, a blood-red ruby, which sparkled on Glamdring's hilt. His fingertip paused above it, as if he dared not touch it.
"Turgon's blade," he whispered. "Foe Hammer... How?" He looked up at Mithrandir, confusion and grief on his fair face. "What cruel trick are you playing on my eyes, Wizard?" he cried, his voice suddenly harsh with anger. Mithrandir blinked. "Why do you toy with my heart?"
Elrond appeared at his side and placed a calming hand on Glorfindel's arm. "This is no trick, my old friend. It is no illusion. Lift it, and you will see that your eyes do not deceive you," he said softly.
Glorfindel looked from Elrond to Mithrandir; the wizard smiled faintly and nodded once. The Elf-Lord of Gondolin reached out, grasped the sword in both hands and took a step back. With a suddenness that startled Elrond, he drew it in one swift movement. The study rang as if with the sound of a silver bell.
"Yes," Glorfindel muttered. He was smiling now, gazing up and down the length of the sword as he held it up into the light. "Yes. You are right, this cannot be a trick."
He turned it this way and that, watching it sparkle and flash. With a mischievous grin he flicked the blade until the point hovered in the air an inch from Mithrandir's nose. The wizard did not flinch, but one of his wiry brows rose.
"Sorry to shout at you, Mithrandir," Glorfindel laughed. He dropped the tip and with the fluid movement of one who has handled blades for millennia, he sheathed it and placed it back upon the table. "The last I saw this blade, it was being put to use in the courtyard of the High Tower of Gondolin." He paused and gazed down at the sword, and for a moment his face was clouded with grief again. "It was stained with the blood of many Orcs that day," he murmured. "Someone has done a thorough job of cleaning it."
He looked up, and he was smiling again. "Now, who is going to tell me how in Arda Turgon's sword happens to be lying here in Elrond's study?"
Elrond looked pointedly at the wizard.
"We found it, and other treasures, in a trolls' cave," Mithrandir said, "Shortly before arriving here. How the trolls came by them, I cannot begin to guess."
"'We'?" said Glorfindel, eyeing him sharply.
"The dwarves and I," the wizard replied.
"Trolls, eh? And I suppose the trolls very politely gave you permission to rummage through their cave?"
Mithrandir smiled crookedly. "Ah, well, Tom, William and Bert were rather silent on that point. We took the absence of any objection on their part as approval."
"Tom, William and Bert..." Glorfindel frowned. "Not the stupidest trolls in all of Eriador, the three who have been harassing travelers on the road between Amon Sul and the Last Bridge?"
"The very same," said Mithrandir.
"Do you mean to tell me that Glamdring has been lying in a cave a few days' ride from Imladris for...for who knows how long?" Glorfindel shouted.
"Yes, and its mate..."
Glorfindel turned and lunged toward the wizard. Elrond glanced quickly down at the table to make certain that the sword hilt was no longer in his councilor's reach. Glorfindel's temper was volatile even when he was completely sober.
"Mate, did you say?" the Elf-Lord hissed, as he leaned close to Mithrandir. "You found another sword?"
Mithrandir had not moved. "Yes," he said calmly. "Nearly identical, save for the sapphires and moonstones on the hilt. Orchrist--the Orc-Cleaver."
Elrond watched in alarm as Glorfindel suddenly clutched at his midsection, as though he were about to be sick all over the carpet. His eyes were wide, and his face was pale. He walked slowly toward the hearth and collapsed into one of the chairs.
"Orchrist..." he said hoarsely, "was my blade. Turgon gave it to me. The pair of them were forged in Tirion, by the swordsmiths of Feänor himself. Feänor gave a pair as a gift to each of his sons, his half-brothers, and his nephews. Some said he had a strange foresight, for the gifts were presented many years before the Darkening of Valinor and the Oath..."
He looked up at Elrond, and his voice grew solemn. "As you well know, my Lord, Turgon had but one child, and she had no use for a sword. He presented Orchrist to me, for Ecthelion, the chief of his Guard, already had a mighty blade of his own."
Elrond had never known this detail of his councilor's past. His mind went to the long-ago tales his grandsire Tuor had told him of the battle in which the Lord of the House of the Golden Flower had last used that sword. It seemed nearly impossible that the thing had survived! He imagined it flashing with the light of the Balrog's fire, and stained black with its blood. And then in his mind's eye he saw the blade spin and fall, end over end, to the bottom of Cirith Thoronath.
What evil creature, Elrond wondered, had scoured those mountains for any shiny thing, clutching it greedily, caring nothing for its proud history? How had it been saved from the tumultuous rush of the seas that now covered Beleriand, and beneath which the fair towers of Gondolin lay forever lost? In what dragon hoard had it lain, unnoticed in a glittering heap of other treasures, and how had it finally passed to the trolls?
Glorfindel stared at the empty hearth, the tips of his fingers rubbing slowly over his pursed lips. Suddenly his head snapped up. "And where is Orchrist now?" he asked sharply.
Elrond winced. He could not imagine that Glorfindel would take the news well that his very own sword--even more ancient and priceless than he and Mithrandir had originally thought--was now in the hands of a Dwarf.
The wizard seemed to have come to the same conclusion, for he did not answer immediately. He walked slowly toward Glorfindel and stood before him for a moment. Then, with an ease and flexibility that surprised Elrond, Mithrandir lowered himself smoothly and sat, tailor-style, upon the low ledge of the hearthstone. He folded his arms upon his upturned knees and peered up at the Elf.
"Thorin Oakenshield has it, Glorfindel," the wizard said quietly. "I suppose he is already asleep. I shall go and wake him when we are finished with our discussion. I cannot say that I look forward to my conversation with him, but I promise to find a way to convince Thorin that Orchrist already has a rightful owner. I will bring it to your chamber as soon as I can."
Elrond came around the back of the chairs and took the other seat. He watched Glorfindel carefully. The Elf-Lord was blinking and staring, as if he had not heard a word that Mithrandir had said. This entire conversation had taken an unexpected turn, and somehow he must find a way to bring them back to the topic at hand: what to do about Glamdring.
"Thorin, you say?" Glorfindel said at last. He looked into Mithrandir's face. The wizard nodded. Glorfindel raised his right hand into the air, and it came to rest, palm downward, at about the level of his own head as he sat. "Thorin? Thorin is, what...four and a half feet tall...maybe five, with his hood?" He giggled. "The sword is almost taller than he is, Mithrandir..."
And with that, he began to laugh with loud guffaws. Every few moments he would hold his hand up, five feet or so above the floor, and he would be convulsed again. Soon the wizard started to chuckle, and then Elrond could not contain himself. The three of them laughed together for several minutes without stopping.
Glorfindel sat wiping his eyes and chuckling. At last he sighed. "You don't need to awaken Thorin, Mithrandir. You have placed yourself in peril often enough. No need to endanger yourself needlessly by provoking the rage of a dwarf this night." He looked into the wizard's eye. "Thorin is welcome to Orchrist. I don't want it."
"You don't?" said Elrond and Mithrandir together.
The Elf Lord smiled wryly. "No, I do not. You two should not act so shocked. Thorin might well find it useful, provided he doesn't trip on it and impale himself before he has a chance to wield it. Though I have no personal experience with dragons, I suspect their skins are no thicker than that of a Balrog, and Orchrist was able to pierce that without too much trouble. Besides, it was mine in another time, a different age. A different life."
His smile vanished. "If I were to touch it, I am quite certain that the memories of the last time I held it would be overpowering. And I have enough bad memories...not to mention bad dreams...to last me for the rest of this lifetime," he said. "I have a more than adequate blade now, forged here in Imladris. It has served me well and will continue to do so."
Mithrandir gazed at Glorfindel solemnly. "Yet, a blade tested and proven against a Balrog of the First Age might be good to have at hand in the offensive we are about to take, later this very year. That is, if you still plan to join us..."
Glorfindel sniffed. "I am still planning to be there. But surely there will be no need to call upon a mere Elf to deal with the Balrog of southern Mirkwood, not when we will have not just one, but three Istari to take on that job!" He frowned thoughtfully. "Well, I suppose one cannot count upon Aiwendil for much other than moral support... But that still leaves Curunir and you... Then again... Well, you know Curunir better than I do, Mithrandir, but I must say he does not seem the type to go in for hand-to-hand combat, or much combat at all, now that I think on it... Well, you will be there, and you'll have Glamdring, and though its edge has not been directly tested on a Balrog's hide, I am sure it will prove fully capable!"
The growing look of distress on Mithrandir's face would, Elrond thought, have almost been comical if it were not so painful to watch. Then suddenly the wizard seemed to realize what he was allowing to appear unmasked on his face. A shudder went through him, and he was back in control.
"Hmm. Well." The wizard glared. "I certainly do not think that it will come to...hand-to-hand combat, as you so colorfully put it, Glorfindel."
"I can't think of how else you expect the whole thing to end," Glorfindel muttered. A flicker of alarm appeared again on the wizard's face. "Now don't look so anxious, Mithrandir. One thing you can count on: he won't have a blade of nearly the same quality..."
"No, he favors the mace..." Elrond said under his breath, but unfortunately loud enough for the others to hear. Mithrandir's eyes flew open. Elrond saw his throat tighten as he tried to swallow.
"Pah, a mace!" Glorfindel sneered. "An ugly, brutal weapon, though effective, in a gruesome way. But Glamdring will slice right through the chain that attaches the spiked ball to the handle...provided, of course, that you can come close enough to it and are agile enough make the stroke before the mace smashes..."
Elrond cut him off. "I think that is quite enough talk of combat details for tonight, my friends."
Glorfindel hardly ever spoke of his duel with the Balrog in the mountains of Gondolin. But he was, at his heart, a warrior, and as such, easily discussed things that made the rest of the household blanch. Elrond glanced at the wizard, who was eyeing Glorfindel warily.
"Mithrandir, I think you will agree that without our putting the question to him directly, Glorfindel has made clear his feelings on the ownership of this sword." He turned to Glorfindel, who was frowning, confused. "You see, Mithrandir came to my study tonight to offer that Glamdring be given over into my possession, as Turgon's great-grandson."
"Truly?" Glorfindel said. Elrond nodded. "And you, my Lord? How did you respond?"
"I told him that I relinquished all claim on it..."
"...but Mithrandir reminded me, in case I had forgotten, that I have sons, and a stepson, and that is approximately where you joined the discussion."
Glorfindel looked from one to the other; his gaze settled on Mithrandir. Elrond watched carefully, not knowing what to expect from his often hot-headed councilor. Glorfindel's eyes narrowed, and he leaned forward.
"Why?" he asked.
The wizard frowned, and he returned the Elf Lord's gaze with equal steadiness. "Why what?" he replied, and it was easy enough to hear the frost in his voice.
Elrond opened his mouth to speak; but Glorfindel raised his hand, palm outward, in a gesture that clearly meant, silence. He did not take his eyes off the wizard.
"I think you know exactly what I mean," he said quietly, but with the ring of steel in his voice.
Elrond held his breath. A flare of anger appeared on Mithrandir's face, followed an instant later by...now what did that look mean?
The Lord of the House of the Golden Flower got to his feet and stood directly in front of the seated wizard. He crossed his arms over his broad chest and gazed down with a gleam in his eye that Elrond imagined had been aimed at more than one young Elven officer in the service of the Tower of Gondolin.
"Now look, Mithrandir. I happen to know that there isn't a cowardly hair in your beard, and yet something must be causing you to hesitate. If I had to guess, I would say that you have a notion of what it will mean for you to take that sword and claim it as your own, and that notion isn't very agreeable to contemplate. So; you, the Grey Wanderer himself, are afraid. Who wouldn't be, in your boots, considering why you are here in the first place? Why else would you put forward all these ridiculous sounding arguments? I think you know just how inappropriate it would be for that sword to lie idle as a trinket in Elrond's collection of historical objects now that it has made itself known again after seven millennia."
He snorted. "Do you seriously believe that you found Foe Hammer? Pah! Glamdring found you, and if I'm not mistaken, that is the most frightening thing of all—for now the evidence of whatever fate you suspect lies before you is no longer just a vague sense of foreboding, but is a solid object of steel, mithril and gold!"
Glorfindel's voice, which had been rising in pitch and intensity, suddenly dropped. "You know quite well that Elrond has no use or need for a sword. Elrohir and Elladan are fine young Elves, but you are well aware that they will patrol within a hundred leagues of Imladris, with a few minor exceptions, until the final battle of this Age is waged. And Estel--should he prove, as I believe, to have the undiluted blood of Elros in his veins--will inherit a different sword of lesser but still fine lineage. And I am sure you noticed that he is not yet half grown. Whereas you will be out there..."—he pointed to the window—"from this night forward, with ample opportunity to put Glamdring to the use for which it was forged in Tirion so long ago!"
Glorfindel suddenly dropped down into a crouch. His head was level with the wizard, and he reached out and placed one hand upon his arm. The Elf Lord's voice lost all tone of authority. He spoke as friend to friend. "There is no doubt. The sword has come to you, Mithrandir. We both know this has little to do with fear. Whether one has courage is not a question of the absence of fear. The only question that remains is, will you take it, and get out there," he grinned slyly, "...and hammer some foes?"
Elrond had been watching the wizard's face as he sat impassively and endured a scolding such as he had likely not ever received before, at least not in this lifetime. He wondered how accurate were Glorfindel's guesses about what was behind the wizard's reluctance to claim the sword, and if so, how his councilor dared to speak them aloud. Mithrandir's face was still as stone, until Elrond noticed that his lips were beginning to twitch. When Glorfindel finally wound down his speech, the wizard could no longer contain his laughter. The Lord of Imladris smiled as Glorfindel stood once more, reached down and took one of Mithrandir's hands and raised him to his feet.
"Are we to take that as an affirmative, my friend?" Glorfindel said, grinning.
"Yes," the wizard said firmly. "Yes, I will take Glamdring."
Glorfindel flung his arm about the wizard's shoulders in a half-embrace. "That's the spirit!"
The two Elven Lords watched as the Maia clothed as an aged mortal man walked slowly to the table. He paused and looked down at the sword. Then he, too—and with as much graceful skill as Glorfindel—took it up, with the hilt grasped in his right hand and the scabbard clutched in his left, and swiftly drew it. The ring of metal on metal was nearly imperceptible this time, as if the wizard had somehow withdrawn it so smoothly that the blade had barely touched the edges of the scabbard. He held it fully extended, motionless, for a full minute in silence.
What did the wizard see, Elrond wondered, when he stared at that gleaming metal? What fate, so terrible that even one such as he would fear it greatly, lay before him if he took the sword and wielded it? Gazing upon him, he beheld his old friend as if for the first time. He saw how Mithrandir's shoulders were every bit as broad as Glorfindel's; he perceived the sheer physical strength, as well as power of another sort, hidden beneath the loose grey robe. Truly, he thought, we are fortunate that this Maia has chosen to remain true. How fell an enemy he would be, Elrond mused, if he were to take the path of darkness.
The wizard sheathed the sword and tucked it under his leather belt. He turned toward them.
"My deepest thanks, Elrond—son of Earendil, son of Idril Celebrindal, daughter and sole heir of Turgon of Gondolin--for a kingly gift. I promise to use it well." He bowed solemnly toward the Lord of Imladris. "And thank you both for your patience with an old man's indecision... Nay," and he turned to look at Glorfindel, "...with an old man's fear, a fear grounded, as you have rightly guessed, Glorfindel, in foreknowledge of a destiny I would just as soon avoid, although my heart tells me I cannot."
His face grew stern. "When I came to these shores I did not expect an uneventful journey; but neither did I expect that a warrior's skills would be so oft required of me. If it were to be my choice..." His eyes filled with sadness. "If it were my choice, I might emulate Aiwendil's path of peaceful seclusion, or that of scholarship, as Curunir has chosen. But, it seems, such paths are not mine to trod, whether I would choose them or not. Much of my road lies clearly before me; much is obscured from my sight. But I do know this much," he said, and the fervor returned to his eyes and voice, "I shall take Glamdring, and it will lie idle no longer."
"Brilliant!" Glorfindel cried. He and Elrond came and stood beside Mithrandir and clasped their hands upon his shoulders.
"And now that we have settled this, my friend, may I remind you that you have a journey to prepare for that will begin just a few hours from now, if you hold to your purpose to start off at first light," Elrond said.
Mithrandir smiled wryly. "Yes, and I have not finished packing yet."
"Then come," said Glorfindel. "I will walk with you, for your chamber is not far from mine."
Mithrandir reached out and clasped the Lord of Imladris' hand. "Until we meet again, Elrond. May the light of the stars shine upon you."
"And upon you, old friend."
Elrond listened to their voices as they drifted down the hallway.
"Mithrandir, I thought I might pass along a few tips, just in case..."
"In case of what?"
"In case you find yourself in close quarters with...well, you know, that pesky Balrog in the south of Mirkwood we were discussing earlier..."
The wizard groaned. "Can we please not discuss this right now, and ruin whatever hope I had at catching even a few hours of sleep?"
"And have you miss an opportunity to learn some pointers from someone with my unique experience? Nonsense! Now, the first thing you need to know is that their hides are extremely tough. You must strike with full force, preferably with the sword in both hands, which, in your case, may require that you have someone standing by to see to your staff. I am sure you know about their propensity to burst into flames..."
"Just how ignorant do you suppose I am, Glorfindel?"
"...but have you heard of those devilish fiery whips they use?..."
Elrond chuckled as the voices faded into silence. He doubted very much that Mithrandir would be getting any sleep at all. And though he felt a little badly for the wizard, he was quite gratified to see that his councilor had finally found someone with whom he could so freely discuss the most harrowing memories of several lifetimes. It would be most interesting, he mused, to be a fly on the wall of that guest chamber tonight. He straightened the paperwork on his desk, crossed to the table and blew out the lamp. Then the Lord of Imladris went to bed and left instructions that he was most definitely not to be wakened until the sun had risen midway toward noon.
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