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Dream a Bitter Style: 5. Gold
He might have been in Angband, to judge by the searing pain that flooded his skin. Everyone said the demons had such tortures there. In his dream, he had fallen into a black lake of burning oil, and he dared not open his eyes in fear of finding it the truth. But despite the fire, his body was shivering with such violence that his bones felt ready to crack as they shook. He inhaled with a gasp, and choked on the steamy air that filled his lungs.
"Laurefindil," said a voice at his ear. A familiar voice: Fingon's voice. "Can you hear me?" Then quietly, as if to somebody else, "Water."
A new, scalding wave swept up the side of Glorfindel's leg. He opened his eyes, fogged by steam and dizziness, and saw a grey figure pouring water from a kettle. Water, not oil; he was in Fingon's bathtub.
He spoke the only word he could think of, in a voice strangely dry for all the water swirling at his throat. "Hot."
"It will feel so," Fingon said. "You've been half frozen for six days. But it is not even hot enough to redden the skin. See." And Fingon put his hand beneath the kettle's spout, letting the boiling oil-water splash and swirl down to his wrist as if it were as cool as rain.
"Listen to me, Laurefindil. I need you to try to move your hands. I have called for the surgeon, and he will need to know the extent of your injuries. Make a fist if you can."
His hands... what was wrong with his hands? In the unbearable heat, only his hands did not burn. They felt no pain. In fact, they felt nothing at all.
"Move your fingers. Can you do that? Laurefindil? Try to touch your fingers to your palm"
Somewhere under the water, Glorfindel thought about where his hands should be, and tried to touch his fingers to his palms. Where fingers should have moved, he still felt nothing. He could feel his arms. The skin on his arms to his wrists stung in the searing heat. He could lift his arms, weakly, and let them float to the surface of the bathwater.
"Try to move your hands," Fingon said again. "Any movement at all. You must try."
Above the water, he could feel where his hands should have been, though they no longer felt like hands at all. They were lifeless, hand-shaped weights stuck at his wrists, like brittle clay.
He pulled his arms in toward his chest, grey, clay hands following uselessly. No matter what he tried, or how, he could do nothing. He could move his feet, though with great pain; the muscles and bones felt splintered, like they had shifted into the wrong place. His legs were heavy and stiff, but he could force them to bend. His hands could do nothing. "I can't."
"Then can you feel your wrists at all?"
It took a moment to consider this. No, he decided at last. He could not feel his wrists, or bend them, any more than he could feel his hands or squeeze his fingers.
Fingon sighed, a rushed and worried breath of a sigh, and said, "Let me take your hand. The surgeon is on his way, but I will see..." He reached into the water and took one of Glorfindel's hands in his own. For the haze in his eyes, Glorfindel could not clearly see the movement. Nor could he feel the pressure of Fingon's grip. But he felt his arm being lifted.
"The iron of the bonds affected more than your skin," Fingon was telling him. "The flow of blood was cut. And if you cannot move your hands, it makes me fearful of what further damage might have been done. Tell me what you can feel." The flat pad of Fingon's thumb pressed firmly down on the inside of Glorfindel's forearm. "This?"
Glorfindel moved his head in as small a nod as possible. His skull pounded with the effort. Fingon's thumb slid along, down toward his wrist. He nodded again, and again at the next point. He could feel his arms. They burned in the water, and his shoulders ached fiercely at the slightest tensing or shifting, but he could feel them.
Again, Fingon sighed. "The surgeon's apprentice has gone to find him... I don't know what could be taking so long..."
With those words, as if they had been an incantation of summoning, the door flew open and a breathless youth stumbled in. "Surgeon's coming," he panted.
Fingon stood. "He's on his way?"
"No," said the boy.
"No?! What do you mean, no?!"
"I mean, he's coming later tonight. I told him you needed to see him, and it was urgent, as you said, and he replied that he was on his way to the bath and that he would come to you tonight. And then he... well, he seemed very pleased about being summoned, and asked me if I thought he looked better in blue or red. I said red, though I don't know what that had to do with anything..."
Fingon sat back down with a groan. "I can't believe the idiot thinks..." He let his head drop onto the edge of the bathtub, but only for a moment. When he lifted it up again, he reached for Glorfindel's hand. "Go back down there. I don't care if he's in the bath or at the bottom of the sea. Find him, and do not leave him until he realises that my Vanya is in great distress and needs a surgeon immediately. Make certain he understands that the boy is gravely injured, has lost too much blood, and is hardly conscious. He could just as easily die as live. This is not some stupid whim."
Despite the heat of the bath, a surge of ice ran down Glorfindel's back. He could just as easily die as live. He had lost too much blood. Was it true? The question rolled through his mind as he realised, with a shudder of dread, that the steam had a sickly, metallic edge to it. The scent of iron and copper stuck to his nose and coated his tongue. The water was a cloudy red-brown. "Findekáno..." he whispered.
"Go," Fingon told the surgeon's apprentice, and boy went with the speed of a bird.
"Findekáno," Glorfindel repeated. "Am I..."
"No," Fingon said quickly. "I only gave him that message so he would hurry. You will not die. I can promise you this. But if that ass of a surgeon doesn't come soon..." He sighed, and rubbed his hands over his face. "I can give you something for the pain, for now. A small help."
He left Glorfindel's side and went to the bedroom, returning moments later with something small and silver clutched in his hand. "Open your mouth."
Glorfindel did without a thought. Fingon knelt as he brought his hand close and, with a few shakes, dropped a trickle of something thick and earthy-tasting, like overripe vegetables and bitter birch sap, onto Glorfindel's tongue.
"Swallow it all as best you can. It will help you through this."
Fingon did not answer, but shifted restlessly on his knees and pushed the damp hair back from Glorfindel's face. "Try to relax," he said, "and think of nothing. Try not to sleep, but don't pay this room any attention. Sing to yourself if you wish. Take your mind away. Though your body is here, your spirit needs not be. Do you understand?"
Nodding, Glorfindel tilted his head back against the rim of the bathtub and closed his eyes. He felt unbalanced and dizzy. Some churning sickness in his stomach threatened to flow up into his throat. But he steadied himself as best he could, willing his pounding head to quiet, and swallowed hard. The residue of Fingon's medicine still left its taste in the back of his mouth. He swallowed once more against it. And a familiar sensation began to tingle in his shoulders and neck.
Even through his hazy eyes, the colours of the room became brighter and the firelight shone so golden that Glorfindel was certain it channelled the brilliance of faded Laurelin. It was a peaceful light, and it calmed his head and clattering bones as he let it soak into his skin. The gold took away his pain. It took away his mind. Again, as it had done the night at Fingon's side, his mind was detaching from his body. This time, he welcomed the feeling like family.
"It is so bright," he said. "So perfect. Like an eternity of holiness."
"What is?" Fingon asked.
"The air. I can see Maiar in the air. Their faces and arms. There are four of them." Their bodies were airy and insubstantial, hardly more than shimmering outlines, but they were there. They did not smile or beckon to him, nor did they reflect Manwë's certain anger. They were simply there, like trees in a forest or fish in a pond. They were part of the world. Glorfindel guessed that somewhere, in the back of his mind, he had always known this. "I think they are watching us. Like we are mice."
"Good," said Fingon. "That's good. You should watch them back."
Fingon took his hand again, lifting it out of the water. It moved and hung limply like somebody else's hand; Glorfindel was too far away to feel. He closed his eyes and let his arm go with Fingon. He had no real need of it. In the dark of his head, he had a new, fluid body, and the air-shapes were more distinct.
"Don't worry," he told Fingon; "I can see them better with my eyes closed." Only he could not tell whether he had spoken the words aloud or just to himself. He heard them, but in his new head inside the old, detached head, and his mouth was too far away to tell him if it had moved.
He gave no thought to the sounds in his old ears: the murmur of Fingon's voice, the ripple-splash of water, the crackle of fire, the click of metal. He hummed to himself, passing the time and more time and minute after minute while the room waited for the surgeon. The glowing sound reverberated through his new body. A note could be held as long as he could think it, dragging time down to the pace of his lagging heartbeat. A little less, a little slower, and he could be free. He hummed a low note of slowness. The breath in his old body shuddered, the heart in his old body faltered, and his new body, liquid blue, stretched toward the glory of the sky.
Fingon's hand struck a sharp reminder across his shell of a cheek. The sound of it tethered him more than the feel; he was too far gone to register something as insignificant as a slap to the face. But he heard it, and Fingon's voice, through the murky distance that separated old ears from new.
"Laurefindil, I told you, do not sleep! Wake up! Keep your eyes open! Can you do that? Open your eyes!"
It took all his strength to do this simple thing. The old body was so tired, and the new so light and easy. He forced his old eyes open and stared, as if from the far end of a tunnel, at the unfocused shapes that waved and lurched around him.
"Sirio nen orden," Fingon said in blurring, word-like sounds. "Nen ring... Bôr anden tirifui." And it took Glorfindel a good moment to understand that Fingon spoke not to him. The words were Sindarin. Fingon spoke to a Sindarin someone: the man who had been pouring the kettle-water. But that he now said sirio nen ring orden could only mean...
That flash of anticipation was worse than the shock of a bucket of cold water being thrown at his chest. He coughed and gasped more for what he thought he should feel than the dim chill feathering his faraway skin. But it was enough. Even the small cold, or the expectation of some grand cold, was enough to pull him back and open his eyes and awaken his voice. He shouted before the water hit him.
"Still!" said Fingon. Fingon did speak to him this time. "Do not move; you must stay still! Do not move your arms!"
His arms ached horribly as soon as Fingon mentioned them. Now that he was back in his body, even halfway, he could feel a heavy ache in his arms and a prickling sting in his wrists and fingertips. The recognition of what this meant nearly made him shout again. "Findekáno..." he said. "I can feel my hands!"
"Laurefindil," Fingon told him in a low but sharply warning voice, "do not move your arms. You must stay still. Stare at the ceiling, and do not move your arms!"
He did not move his arms. Even though the stinging persisted and intensified, he did not move them. But he looked. Through widened eyes and clearing focus, he glanced at his arms for reassurance, and felt suddenly sick at what he saw.
His hands were covered in blood. Not the dried, rust-brown mess left by the chains, but fresh, glistening red. It flowed down his arms and mingled in the bath water. His fingertips bled. His palms were sticky and shining. And his wrists, worst of all, had become some horror of twisted skin and bloody foulness with bits torn apart and pieces cut raggedly away.
And Fingon held the knife.
What happened after that, he could not remember. Whether he had fainted, or had remained awake but blocked the memory, or had been given more of the sleeping drug by Fingon, he simply could not recall. But the next thing he knew after seeing all his blood trickling into the bath, he was squinting groggily against the blazing white light of late morning and straining for breath. Some heavy weight was crushing his chest. Fingon's arm.
When he tried to move and sit upright, he found he could not, wrapped tightly as he was in a sort of cocoon of sheets and quilts. His arms were pinned at his sides. The best he could manage was a feeble squirm, which accomplished nothing. So he lay quiet, head still in pain, body still aching, wrists still stinging, though none of it as acutely as he remembered from the night before. He worked at slowly and deliberately trying to pull his arms free. He needed to see his hands.
Beside him, Fingon made a noise somewhere between a sigh and a groan as he shook himself awake. "Laurefindil?"
Glorfindel coughed in reply, and found himself suddenly hesitant to talk.
Fingon groaned again, shifting onto his side and into a better position to pull Glorfindel free of the blanket roll. "I'm sorry," he said; "it's wrapped rather tightly. You were shaking so badly after we pulled you from the bath that I didn't know what else to do. Turn this way and I can unwrap it. But don't move too much; the air is cold enough to lay frost on the bed this morning, and no-one has come to stoke the fire."
The bed curtains were open, Glorfindel noticed, which was why the light seemed so much brighter than usual. This left nothing between him and Fingon and the bitter winter wind that seeped through cracks in the walls and windows. The sheer cold of it was enough to sting his nose and take his breath away if he lifted his head too far from the warmth of his pillow. He could see the fog of his breath in the frozen air.
Fingon must have guessed these thoughts, because his next words were, "I should have closed the curtains. After I carried you here I lay down as well to keep you warm, and it was so late by that time and I so exhausted by everything that I must have fallen asleep without thinking to have the curtains closed to keep us warmer..."
He sat up and knelt at the sides of the bed to close the curtains, fingers fumbling with the ties in the cold, and Glorfindel could see that he still wore his day clothes. The sleeves were stained with dried blood. With a turn of sickness in his stomach and a stinging pain in his wrists at the sight, Glorfindel pulled his arms free of the last folds of blankets. His hands were bandaged. Shreds of white linen, spotted rusty red and brown, covered all skin from the tips of his fingers to halfway down his forearms. It had been hastily wrapped with twists and knots. Uselessly, he rubbed his bound hands together in a stubborn effort to loosen the ties.
"Don't," Fingon said quietly. He crawled back across the bed and under the covers, bringing cold air with him. "Leave that. The bandages should stay for now, until you've had more time to heal."
"I want to see."
"You don't want to see. Your hands should remain bandaged until-"
"I want to see."
Fingon sighed. "Laurefindil... This needs to heal. Please listen to me. The iron bonds that chained you to that wall twisted and ruined your wrists and hands. But they also cut the flow of blood. With no blood, your hands became like something dead, cold and grey when I carried you from the dungeon. It is a wonder that warmth and life have returned at all, but I think you will always have some small trouble to move your fingers or hold things tightly now. So your hands are spared in that way. But the skin at your wrists was beyond hope, and had to be cut away before it started to rot and poison your body."
He took a breath, long and slow, and stared at the bed's canopy as he continued. "The surgeon did not come. And I could not wait for him when you were in such distress. The wounds on your wrists did not bleed, which worried me. It meant the skin was already dead. I had to... cut the dead skin until blood returned to the living tissue underneath. Where there is blood flow there is life, and I could then force it into your hands. But now I do not want to risk taking the bandages off until I know enough time has passed for the raw wound to heal over. So you must leave it, at least for now. Later we can see."
Glorfindel had to settle for staring at the patterns of stains on the linen and guessing what they might conceal. The warnings about the state of his hands and wrists had the opposite effect from what Fingon intended. He wanted more than anything now to see them, and see what damage had been done. But as he opened his mouth to insist, Fingon spoke again.
"I almost killed those guards, you know."
"I almost killed them. I wanted to. I had to close my eyes and clench my hand around the edge of my sleeve to keep from reaching for the nearest sword and slashing them all across the heart. When I saw you chained as you were to that vile wall. Who told them to have you there? I will have his blood at my feet."
In his honest memory, Glorfindel could not recall. That whole sequence of events had passed too quickly, and he could only remember the buzzing presence of speech as they pulled him into the cell, not actual words. "I don't know," he said. "Maybe Alkarossë told them, or maybe they decided on their own. I can't remember."
"I'm sure it was that shit-rat. To torment me." Once more, Fingon took a long and slow breath. "Have you heard about my cousin? Maitimo?"
Glorfindel had heard the name. He had heard snide stories and jokes, the punch line of which always turned out to be something on the subject of Finwëan family morals, and he had heard enough sly references to know the truth about the relationship between Fingon and his cousin. He had heard that Maedhros had been imprisoned at Angband, and that Fingon, somehow, had braved the dangers and curses of Morgoth to rescue him. But none of this seemed relevant to what Fingon now said. And so he answered, "I have heard some."
"Did you know that he has only one hand?" Fingon asked. "His right is missing."
"I didn't know."
"He was taken captive in battle soon after he came into the east, and imprisoned in the pits of Angamando. And when I arrived in Hisilómë, I set out to find him, and save him. But you know a person cannot walk through the gates of that evil place and simply reclaim lost friends... So I searched the surrounding mountains for any tunnel or secret doorway that would lead me to the prisons. There was nothing to find. Those cliffs are walls of sheer, solid rock, with never so much as a hairline crack to weaken them. I walked in that maze of cliffs for thirteen days, through smoke and fog and rain, until I heard his voice and was drawn to a sight that filled me with hope and then, immediately, hopelessness.
"He had been chained to a cliff wall high overhead by a single bond on his right wrist. Later he told me he had been there for eleven days. The foul things of the north knew I searched among their mountains for my cousin, and they placed him where they knew I would find him but thought I could not reach him: where I would have to leave him to die or kill him myself to end his agony. But they underestimated the Powers of the West. And I was allowed to free him, though only by cutting off his hand. The shackle was too strong for me to break. But he lived. I saved his life by ruining his body.
"So you can guess what I felt when I saw you chained the same way, by your wrists, and that witless prison guard told me to cut both your hands off this time... At least those shackles could be unlocked. Though I'm plagued now by thoughts of what I could have done differently for Maitimo. I saved your hands, when his was not so much worse. I cut too easily, thinking it for the best, when I could have tried harder. I could have tried to chip the rock that held the bond, and free the anchor..." He shook his head to clear away these thoughts. "It's stupid to dwell on the past. It can't be changed. He's alive, and you're alive, and I suppose that's what matters."
Glorfindel shook his head as well, trying to dispel unwanted thoughts of Fingon's one-handed cousin and the idea of being so freed from a bond. He did not notice he was rubbing his hands together, subconsciously reassuring himself that both were still there, until Fingon reached under the covers to hold them still. He looked at the shape they made beneath the blankets. "I still want to see. I have to. I need to know what it looks like."
"Why would you want to know that? It is hardly healed yet and-"
"I still need to know," he said firmly.
Fingon held his gaze a moment before shakily agreeing, "Alright."
Carefully, they undid the knots, or at least Fingon undid the knots while Glorfindel held out his arms. The linen fell away strip by strip to reveal what Glorfindel both needed and feared to see: hands cold and half alive, spotted with blood, and a wide band of partially-healed red where the skin had been scraped and cut away up to the base of his thumb. It cracked and stung if he moved his wrists. He could move his fingers only slowly, and could squeeze his fist with hardly strength enough to crush a flower.
"How will it heal?" he whispered to Fingon.
"How will it heal? Will there be a scar?"
"With that much damage, it would be impossible for it to heal over and be perfect as it was before," Fingon said. "The cuts on your hands should leave few marks, if any, but you will have scars around your wrists in rings as you see now."
"Oh..." said Glorfindel. He could think to say nothing more. His wrists would be scarred in hideous bands of ruined and corded flesh. For the rest of his life, he was marred. In the eyes of Manwë, he was marred. First abandoned, and now this. He lifted his arms slowly, tucking his wrists under his chin and feeling the hard scabs against his neck, and closed his eyes to contain the sudden rush of tears that threatened to fall. "I can't," he choked.
"Can't. Have scars. I can't."
"You take this too hard," Fingon softly told him. "It is a shock to see it now, I know, but it will heal better than this. You will have scars, yes, but is that so terrible? Scars happen. Regard any soldier and you will see the lines of battle on his face or arms or chest. Yours will be no worse."
"No, you don't understand." Frustrated, he could only shake his head. It was impossible to explain to Fingon, who knew nothing of how much grief one little burn on the back had caused his forefather Maringor, or even how much his grandfather had moaned over the ghosts of paper cuts that marked his fingers. His grandfather wore gloves when visiting better parts of the city. Maringor never removed his shirt. How was Glorfindel to live, then, if he could not show his wrists? Sleeves could slip back. If he stretched his arm too far, a scar could peek out beyond his cuff. And he was not allowed to show it.
"I can't show any scar," he said. "I cannot show any scar or burn or cut or... I can't. Any imperfection in the body must be hidden. By Manwë's law, skin is meant to remain intact and unaltered. To show anything else is an insult to Eru and the Valar who made this world."
"Do you really think Manwë is so unforgiving?" Fingon asked.
He nodded, moving his chin as little as possible against his hands.
"I don't. But I do think that what you consider to be the law of Manwë is full of contradictions. Right now, I can see that you have your ears pierced. The skin of your earlobes is clearly not intact or unaltered, and-"
"That's different," Glorfindel interrupted. "That's done for the purpose of wearing decoration to glorify the Valar at festival time."
"It's no different. There are other contradictions besides that I could list for you, but what you need to realise is that it is not Manwë who is insulted by scars, and it is not Manwë's law that might prevent you from showing them, but Ingwë's. Ingwë is the one who wrote the law and who is so terrified of imperfection in himself that he must govern others to suit his insecurity. So do not think that Manwë will hate you for this. I cannot believe He would be so cold."
When Glorfindel did not answer, Fingon slid in closer, urgently running his hands over Glorfindel's shaking arms. "Listen. There is another part to the story of my cousin that I did not tell you, and that I tell very few people, because they would dismiss it as fanciful nonsense if I did. But I was not acting alone in my rescue. When I first saw Maitimo bound to the cliff, I could not see or think of any way to save him. Nor could I leave him there to suffer. All I could do, I thought, was kill him myself and end his pain. So I drew my bow and said a prayer to Manwë to guide my arrow straight to my cousin's heart, to kill him quickly. But before I could shoot, the cry of an eagle filled the air. The sound of it was enough to make me fall to my knees in wonder. One of the great birds of the mountains, a servant to Manwë himself, came to land at my side. I could climb onto his back like I would a horse and, like a horse, guide him up the cliff face to where Maitimo was trapped. So Manwë's love, in the shape of that eagle, saved my cousin's life even when I thought we were utterly abandoned. And this is why I can never believe He is impotent or unjust, as so many Noldor claim, or vengeful and demanding as you Vanyar think. I have seen His grace firsthand. And I will never dishonour it."
It was meant, Glorfindel knew, to be a reassurance. It was meant to soothe him with a promise of compassion. But the only thought that pounded in his head was one of judgement. Manwë had saved the life of Fingon's cousin-lover. Manwë had answered Fingon's prayer. Glorfindel was the one who had shown unwavering devotion, ever since he was old enough to think and speak, and yet of everyone in the world, Manwë had chosen Fingon. For one error, Glorfindel had received a dead bird and a closed eye, while someone like Fingon was blessed by divine light.
He no longer cared. It was all proof enough of the inconstancy of the Valar, and it mattered none. He shook his head, closing his eyes, and banished the thought. If Manwë had sided with Fingon, there was nothing further he needed to consider. He felt hollow, but calm.
"Are you alright? You look..."
"I'm fine," Glorfindel said. "Just hungry."
Fingon ran a hand over his hair, carefully tucking it behind his ear. "I'll fetch you some soup."
He did not leave the bedroom for the next five days. Oropher came in to visit at Fingon's grudging consent, which Glorfindel supposed was indicative of Fingon's concern for his wellbeing, and they shared candies by the fire. He kept his wrists covered at all times. Only his fingers showed past the cuffs of too-long sleeves on too-long robes borrowed from Fingon, and Oropher saw neither the bandages nor the scars hidden beneath, and Glorfindel did not talk about them.
Left alone, he either slept like a stone or paced about Fingon's bedroom and bathroom like an agitated cat. He ate when Fingon brought him food, and bathed when Fingon had the tub filled, and otherwise allowed his life to be dictated by Fingon's routine. He never tried to leave. He would not show his face, or his scars, in the tower halls and corridors to be stared at by mannerless onlookers. It was a certain thing that they would all know his story by now; Fingon's dungeon heroics were the new topic of choice about court, according to Oropher. He would not leave. Everything he wanted was in the two rooms. Besides, it was cold away from the fire, and Glorfindel had developed a deep mistrust for anything as foreign and northerly as snow.
He was sitting in a chair by the fire, wrapped in blankets, when Fingon came up at the end of the fifth day.
"I have something for you."
Fingon shook his head. "No, but that's on its way. Here."
From under his arm, he handed Glorfindel a tightly wrapped bundle of blue fabric with hints of fur showing between the folds, which Glorfindel opened with a hitch in his breath. A wide, fur-lined cape unrolled over his knees and onto the floor.
"I hope that should be enough to keep you warm away from your place by the fire," said Fingon.
"You had it made for me," Glorfindel murmured. He lifted the collar to his chin, letting the cape cover his body. The fur still smelled of animals. It would have disgusted him once, back in Valmar when he was foolish enough to care about such trivial things as goodness and morality, but now he found it oddly pleasing. Fingon had ordered this extravagant thing made just for him. It made him smile.
"I had originally commissioned it for me," Fingon admitted. "But I recently decided you had greater need than I. So I had Armion change the fabric from black to blue. These, though, are entirely for you. Hold out your arms."
Fingon knelt on the floor at Glorfindel's side, loosening the bandages while Glorfindel held his arms still. The skin at his wrists had mostly healed. But it had hardened into scars in twisted ways; it was no longer brown but red like a burn across the tops of ridges, and whiter than Noldorin skin in the valleys between. It felt ready to crack if he bent his hand too far. This was the new shape of his body, and he could not bear to look at it. His eyes remained closed as Fingon let the bandages fall to the floor. Then, with a click of metal, he felt a gentle weight closing around his wrists.
Gold glinted back at him when he blinked. Not a cheap, brassy alloy as he used to see in Valmar, but true gold, and enough of it to make his mouth fall open in wonder. Gold covered his scars completely: one wide band on each wrist. The surfaces had been etched with fine patterns of circles and lines, catching the light, and the insides were lined with something soft. No hint of damaged skin showed above or below those perfect gold bracelets.
"You will never have to see your scars, so long as you wear these," said Fingon. "A poor substitute for flawless skin, but the best I can do."
"Thank you," Glorfindel whispered. He turned his hands over and back, watching the rings of metal from hinge to clasp as they sat so beautifully on his arms that he would have guessed they were always meant to be there. Then he slid from the chair, fur cape trailing behind, down to the floor and into the sheltering warmth of Fingon's embrace.
Fingon took care of him now. As long as he stayed with Fingon, he would never again feel pain or misery. It was a small price to pay. He knew, as he watched the Sindarin boys bring in a supper tray of hot food, that he would never be hungry as long as he remained under Fingon's protection. And he knew, as he watched the Sindarin boys shiver in their thin coats, that he would never be cold. As long as he stayed with Fingon, he would never be at the mercy of the world. He would never wander helplessly. He would never go without. Fingon took care of him now.
"It was Alkarossë," he said quietly. "I told him you would not want me in that cell, but he ignored my words. I asked him to go to you, to ask if that was what you intended, but he refused. He wouldn't listen, even when I told him you would be displeased. It was all Alkarossë's fault. I hate him."
Fingon, stroking Glorfindel's hair and breathing silent warmth against his cheek, said, "I will set it right."
Glorfindel dressed late the next morning, after Fingon left. He watched how the gold at his wrists shone as he pulled on his best clothes, and fastened the high collar of the fur cape snugly around his neck. Then he walked downstairs like a prince.
The main hall of Barad Eithel was in chaos. Glorfindel could hear the din as he came down to the third floor, and it grew only louder as he approached the ground: a violent clash of sounds, as if a battle had erupted right there among the flags and pillars. The Sindarin servants had gone mad. No-one had been terribly hurt, as far as Glorfindel could see from where he stood frozen on the third step from the bottom; clothing had been torn and a bloodied lip or blackened eye could be seen here and there, but the mood on the whole was one of joy and celebration rather than anger. The few Noldorin lords and merchants who had the ill fortune to be in the tower that morning were flattening themselves against the walls in shock as the riot exploded. Oropher was situated right in the thick of it.
One of his coat sleeves had been ripped halfway off by the time Glorfindel, who was careful to keep clear of any very large brawls out of fear for the well-being of his cape, found him. His hair was in a disarray, as if someone had grabbed him by the side of the head, and his brow sported a great purpling bruise. He was yelling something that did not sound like any discernable words.
Turning, Oropher saw Glorfindel and gave a wide grin. "Oi, you came down finally! What you dressed like that for?"
"This is how decent people dress," Glorfindel answered. He frowned at Oropher's torn sleeve. "What in the world is going on here?"
"Jolly, isn't it? I don't know what started, but when I came down for breakfast there were people dancing and singing, and I reckon somebody shoved somebody else because then there were people fighting and shouting, and soon they were breaking things and throwing what they'd broke. But now it's more just fun, only some roughing around, and nobody's came to stop it yet!" He paused long enough to gesture to the few boys close by. "Us few here made up a new game."
"Seeing what we can break using just our heads," he said, proudly showing Glorfindel the shards of what had once been an earthenware jug. "I did that one."
"Oh," said Glorfindel.
"You want to have a try?"
To the right, a large and dim-looking youth was stubbornly knocking his head against a log the size of his arm, cheered on by fellows who whistled and whooped every time it cracked a little more.
"No, I don't think I shall," Glorfindel said.
"Ooh-hoo!" said a boy of roughly Oropher's age. "Princess be too good to play with us!" Oropher elbowed him in the gut, and he fell about sputtering.
Glorfindel shook his head. "I'll find you tomorrow, if all this stops. The noise is terrible."
"I hope it never does," said Oropher. As he spoke, the dim boy's log cracked clear in half, to a chorus of excited yelps. Oropher sighed. "Guess he wins."
Glorfindel left then, before he could be coaxed into banging his head against some banner pole or chair leg, and wove back through the hollering, crashing and bullying crowd to the ornate door that led to the King's salon. The door was unlocked.
"There is a terrible roistering out in the hall," he said as he stepped inside, giving a quick bow to the King. "Things will be destroyed."
Fingolfin, who had a book clutched in his hands and had pressed himself so stiffly into his chair that it looked as if he never planned to leave, said, "I know."
"I don't know. Alkarossë was not about at breakfast to keep things in line, and they just... went wild like dogs. Nobody can stop them. It is his duty to keep the order, and he is doing nothing. It's madness."
"Alkarossë is otherwise engaged," said Fingon.
Fingon sat a bit straighter, reaching forward to take a bread roll from the table before him, and shrugged. "He is otherwise engaged. I found a thing for him to do, and he is doing it. He is unavailable for herding Sindar."
Where the main hall had grown warm with activity, the walls of the salon were cold and seemed colder when the wind howled against the window. Glorfindel took a chair near the fire. He was hungry; no-one had come with breakfast that morning after Fingon left, so he situated himself directly between the fire and the food table. As Fingolfin narrowed a disapproving eye, he took a boiled egg from the plate and dipped it in salt. Never in his life had he eaten an egg. It was like a forbidden thrill to defiantly try it now. Carefully, he bit the top, and immediately spat it back out into his hand.
"Son of a donkey, that's vile! How's one expected to eat these?!"
"I rather like them," Fingolfin said coldly.
"Ech, it tastes like the smell of turned paint, feels like solid oil, and smells like a privy!" Spitting again, he tossed it into the fire, while Fingon laughed and choked on his bread. "I'm not eating them. I'll stay with vegetables."
"Oh, honestly," said Fingolfin. "It's hardly that bad." And before Glorfindel could speak again, he continued, "Is there any hope of getting the hall back in order?"
Fingon shook his head. "No, not until tomorrow, I'd guess."
"I'm sure that whatever you told Alkarossë to do can wait until later. As soon as everything is in control-"
"I told you, he is otherwise engaged," Fingon interrupted. "This means that he is unavailable. Order will have to wait until tomorrow."
"My servant is missing," said Fingolfin. "He is somewhere in that great rabble, probably damaging himself. What am I supposed to do about that?"
"I think he should be fine," Glorfindel said. "They've invented a new game where they break things with their heads, and his is very hard."
Fingolfin went pale. "You see, he will damage himself! Findekáno, I demand you put a stop to this riot at once. Find Alkarossë, and tell him to stop it."
"You may tell him yourself. I am too comfortable here." As if to prove his point, he took a piece of apple, tossed it into the air, and caught it in his mouth. "He's at the inner gate, if you want to find him."
"Being otherwise engaged."
As he tossed another piece of apple, Glorfindel was certain he saw Fingon wink. "I will go," he said abruptly. He stood and faced Fingolfin, who had squirmed in his chair at the thought of leaving the safety of the salon. "I will go find Alkarossë. That is part of my duty to Findekáno as retainer, is it not? To relay instructions?"
Fingon raised the half-eaten bread roll to him in salute, but Fingolfin seemed less convinced. "I suppose..." he said slowly. "It is a duty that might fall to you, yes. And if you are willing..." With a sigh, he nodded. "Go, then. Find Alkarossë and impress upon him that I expect this 'roistering', as you call it, to be ended by sunset, and all in order. Make it very clear to him what must be done, on my authority."
"I shall," said Glorfindel.
He left the salon to find the main hall no less noisy or violent than it had been before. To the left, two boys had picked up a third by his legs and were spinning him round for the amusement of a barking dog. To the right, someone had tugged down his friend's breeches before a pair of laughing girls. Ahead, two more boys were conducting a swordfight of sorts with their piss. Glorfindel did his best to ignore them all and quickly pass by on his way to the front of the fortress and the inner gate.
This was the source of the chaos. It was no less noisy here, but instead of brawling and causing havoc, the Sindar gathered at the gate had formed a ring about the centre of the corridor, where they laughed and jeered and howled and threw rubbish. And within their circle was Celeiros. As Glorfindel pushed his way to the front, he could see that Celeiros had been stripped naked but for a scrap about his waist for decency, and his back was marked with welts and stripes. He was chained at the wrists and ankles as he scrubbed the floor, stone by stone, with dirty water.
The yelling grew no quieter as Glorfindel stepped into the ring, but the watchers threw no spoilt food at him. Instead they jeered at Celeiros for the one come to mock him further. The only acknowledgement Celeiros gave was a brief faltering in his movement. Otherwise, he kept his eyes hard on the floor. Glorfindel came to where he knelt, bent down, and whispered in a voice soft enough for no other to hear. "Know now, Alkarossë," he said, "that you are here on my account. You are suffering here because of me, humiliated because of me, and beyond help because of me. By disregarding my words, you disregarded the wishes of our Prince. This is why you are punished. Now you must know that to defy me is to defy Findekáno, and where does that leave you? I think you can see. So please remember this for the rest of the days of Arda: you are here on my account. And if you ever cross me again, you will find yourself in a worse place than this."
Celeiros said nothing. Glorfindel stood up straighter, pushed his hair back, and spoke again, though this time in Sindarin and loudly enough to be heard by all. "The King wishes you to regain control of the main hall, when you are finished your present duty. You have until this evening. Report to him when it is done."
He turned then and left, up from the gate and back to the tower stair. Either he walked with greater purpose and bearing, or he was simply noticing what he had never marked before, but the Sindar stood back with a deferential nod to let him pass. None shouted crude words to him, or butted roughly against his shoulder, or stumbled stupidly into his way and blocked his path. Some little detail had turned in his favour.
And he thought to himself, as he crossed the hall amid curious eyes, that this was where he was meant to be. He had come to his role in the world. As long as he stayed with Fingon, he would never be without power.
Sirio nen [ring] orden; bôr anden tirifui- (S) Pour [cold] water over him; he must remain alert.
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