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Strange Fortunes: 6. Chapter Six
Ecthelion was wrong. Wrong to disrupt the Games, wrong to refuse to even discuss the blackmail, and certainly wrong to break with Glorfindel so bluntly. He seemed determined to destroy things the moment they got complicated, which was cowardly and lazy, and probably a thousand other things Ecthelion claimed to deplore. A cold-blooded hypocrite, that is what Ecthelion was. Glorfindel planned to point this out to him in the near future.
The opportunity might come soon. This was the right part of the forest, and Glorfindel's headache had faded now that he was walking in the leafy shade, so he could concentrate on scanning his surroundings.
Just up ahead, he spotted a flash of red: the crimson tunic of a War Games judge, weaving through the trees. The judge wearing it walked with a familiar, determined stride. Glorfindel hastened to catch up.
Ecthelion stopped, turned, and waited in silence. His eyes swept over Glorfindel's green-clad torso before gazing up to gauge the position of the sun.
"You... You have come early," he said. "And not through the command centre, I see."
"No. I was in a hurry to talk to you."
Ecthelion finally met Glorfindel's eyes. "You were?"
"Yes. About that note of yours."
"My note? Right." Ecthelion shook his head as if to clear it. One of his braids fell forward, light flashing off a silver clasp far more ornate than those he usually wore. He must have left it in overnight. It suited him, as did the vivid tunic; they softened his features. "What about my note?"
"Well, you were planning to recall the Fountain team. Have you done so already?"
"No, but I believe I am on their trail."
"Good." On the ground by their feet, disturbed leaves revealed a faint path. Glorfindel gathered his courage. "Listen, would you consider changing your plan? Idril and I, we talked, and—"
"Oh, did you? I see." Ecthelion's chin went up. "Look, I realize you... respect Idril, but she is not always right. I have thought this through, and I stand by my decision."
"It was not just her idea! And I resent the implication that I am incapable of thinking for myself. Especially since Idril, in her turn, seems to believe that I am overly influenced by you."
"Does she now? In that case, you have my sympathy. It must be painful to live with such a conflict of loyalties."
"What?" Being the target of Ecthelion's rudeness, in particular such confusing and undeserved rudeness, felt like being hit on the elbow. Glorfindel struggled to keep his composure. "Come on, let us discuss this rationally. What exactly are you hoping to accomplish by recalling the Fountain team?"
"I want to ensure the Games are fair."
"How? It seems a little late for that."
"The Fountain team—"
"Has no captain, and a vastly inferior map. And has spent the last few hours trying to overcome these disadvantages, no doubt valiantly. Tell me, how is their presence in the contest unfair to anyone else, and how can forcing them to abandon their struggles be called anything but cruel?"
For a moment, Ecthelion stared at Glorfindel in silence, clearly struck by his words. Then he frowned. "Did Idril really tell you to say that? It sounds more like your kind of reasoning."
"That's because it is. I told you I have my own opinions on the subject. What Idril said was that it would be better for the reputation of the Games if we did not cause a stir—which may be equally true, but I find my argument more convincing, myself."
"Yes, yes, so do I. You always—" Ecthelion looked away and passed a hand over his face before nodding. "All right, then. I will let the Fountain team be."
"Good." Happy to meet his first objective so quickly, Glorfindel stepped closer and clapped Ecthelion's shoulder—only to find his arm shaken off.
"Please do not do that," said Ecthelion. "You know I dislike it when people touch me."
Glorfindel got that knocked-elbow feeling again. Yes, matters between them were awkward, but surely this was no reason to relegate him to the ranks of 'people'? He sent Ecthelion a wounded look before pulling himself together. "There is another thing. Unlike you, I am not convinced teams other than the Fountains would report an overly accurate map. I think we should check on everyone, as soon as possible."
"Valar, you are right! I suppose I should have talked to you before I left. Of course, Elemmakil said you were out when he tried your house..." There was a hint of suspicion in Ecthelion's glance.
Glorfindel decided not to explain about the drinking, lest the suspicion turn into overt disapproval. "Yes, well, I am here now," he said with his brightest smile. "Why don't you give me your tunic and head back to the command centre to pick up another? You can check on the northern teams; I will handle the ones around here, including the Fountains."
"Good idea." Ecthelion pulled off his tunic in one familiar fluid motion and handed it to Glorfindel, who immediately regretted that he could think of no plausible excuse to ask him to remove his shirt as well. But, whatever Ecthelion's problem was, he did not seem to be in the mood for such suggestions, and, anyway, duty called. They parted.
Glorfindel found his last two teams—those of the Tree and the Hammer—together in a clearing where they had just concluded a pitched battle. A bloody one, judging by the number of colourful stains adorning the contestants' white tunics. Quite a few men had been marked thrice, and therefore killed: they now sat in the centre, while the survivors glared at each other from opposite sides of the battlefield, deliberately coating their weapons with fresh paint.
Glorfindel walked out towards the bored-looking judge watching over the corpses. "How goes it, Egalmoth?" he asked. "What is this, a truce?"
"A judge-enforced one. We have a real injury." Egalmoth gestured towards a pale soldier of the Tree wearing an arm-splint. A second judge fussed with his bandage; one of the Hammers loitered nearby, looking thoroughly disgusted with himself. "Fortunately, we know who is responsible. Not like last year, when nobody would admit to that Swallow's broken ribs."
"Well, it is rather embarrassing to have so little control over one's weapon." Glorfindel himself had not caused a serious training injury in decades. "Speaking of embarrassing—can I ask you something in private?"
"Certainly." Egalmoth led the way to a spot out of the soldiers' earshot. "If this is about what Salgant said after you left, well, he did imply he has been entering your home to spy on you. Not sure he was serious, but..." He trailed off with a shrug.
"Thank you for telling me—I think he might well have been." It would explain how Salgant had obtained the map. But could it explain how he had uncovered Glorfindel's secret? Had he, Eru forbid, witnessed anything particularly personal? Glorfindel regretted not having heard the rest of that hideous song. "Thank you, also, for defending me so valiantly."
"Yes, I was quite valiant, wasn't I? I do hope Salgant won't avenge himself by writing another song: one about you and me. I know this could confuse the issue nicely, but it might give the maidens entirely the wrong idea about me. I was just starting to get somewhere with Meleth."
"Meleth? Isn't she a bit gloomy?"
"Well, yes, she does keep claiming that Morgoth is about to attack, but that is all for the better: I believe it will make her amenable to my 'since we are about to die, why not have some fun' line. Speaking of such matters..." Egalmoth looked down at his sleeves, as if admiring the way their orange-and-blue pattern contrasted with his red tunic. "You know I would feel awkward talking to you about... well, whatever your situation is with Ecthelion... but I hope you also know that I am always happy to help you drown any sorrows you might have in alcohol."
"That is a most welcome offer, but I am almost certain I can resolve that particular situation. However, just in case it takes me some time... Perhaps you could talk to Ecthelion instead? I can drown my sorrows with just about anyone, but he tends to be more picky about his drinking companions."
"Never fear, I was planning to ask him, too. You know me: any excuse for a drink."
Glorfindel felt touched. "I will gladly buy you a few rounds after the Games, in any case. And if Salgant does write a song about us two, I will make a point of announcing how unattractive I find you, especially whenever Meleth is around."
"What friend could do more? Well, if that is all..." Egalmoth glanced back towards the contestants. "Perhaps we should return to the dead."
"Actually, I wanted to ask you about something else. These two teams' maps: I was just wondering whether they are... peculiar in any way. Have you had a chance to see them?"
"Yes, I have. They looked normal to me. Why do you want to know? I presume you are not merely looking for compliments on your fine draftsmanship?"
"Well, yes, I am quite pleased with them this year." Glorfindel avoided Egalmoth's curious gaze by glancing over his shoulder. "But look, the disqualified men seem to be getting restless. Perhaps I should escort them out of the forest? I need to make a report, anyway."
"All right," said Egalmoth, eyes still narrowed.
The main command tent lay conveniently just past the dead men's enclosure and the healers' table, so Glorfindel wasted no time before stepping in. It took his eyes a moment to adjust to the gloom: for reasons of secrecy, the tent had no windows. Its pale fabric let in a little light, and some more was provided by a brazier standing on the central table, beside a large-scale map of the area covered with carved tokens representing the players.
"So? How did it go?" asked Ecthelion from behind the table.
"Well, I think. Everyone has the right maps, and I have much to tell you about the teams' movements. You?"
"I could not find the Swallows." Ecthelion gestured towards the relevant sector of the map, which was conspicuously empty. His face looked strained, even in the brazier's flattering glow. "Actually, nobody has seen them yet. Which is exactly what one would expect to happen if a team had a very accurate map, is it not?"
Glorfindel moved closer to lean over the map, and began moving the tokens representing the northern teams so that they matched what he knew of their latest positions, starting with the silver-grey Fountains. "I suppose so, but do remember that the Swallows are good at hiding. Archers have to be, you know. And they get lots of practice when patrolling the hills."
"Hmm." Ecthelion studied the updates. "You know, the Golden Flowers are doing well. No casualties, yet." He arranged the green-gold tokens in a neater line. "But you were right, it was conceited of me to assume that my men were the only target. And someone obviously has a problem with Duilin, judging by the chair prank."
Glorfindel leaned back, silently cursing his idiot recruits. "I do not think the two matters are related," he said carefully. "Salgant likes Duilin—oh, did I tell you I found out Salgant is the one behind this? So even if he has worked more mischief, and if this whole thing turns into a scandal, we'll be able to point out the culprit."
"Salgant?" Ecthelion looked up, surprised. "I suspected Maeglin."
"Yes, so did Idril."
Ecthelion's gaze dropped to the map, and he slumped as if exhausted. Glorfindel experienced a rush of fellow feeling. Neither of them had slept the previous night; even if their fears and concerns made them lash out at each other, they were shared fears and concerns. That was something to hold onto. He reached across the table. "Do not worry so. We will get through this. Go outside and get some air; I can take over here." His fingers touched Ecthelion's wrist.
Ecthelion jerked upright and withdrew his arm. "No, I think you had better go look for the Swallows. You know the area best, after all."
"All right, but let us get someone else in here, then. It cannot be good for you, sitting in this small dark tent all day."
As if on cue, light poured into the tent. Glorfindel turned to see someone pause at the entrance, a hesitant shape in the triangle of light.
"My lords?" The shape stepped in, and resolved itself into a man wearing the crest of the Harp. The front of his overtunic was marked with three wounds of honour: red, blue, and silver.
"This tent is for judges only." Ecthelion moved to stand in front of the table, next to Glorfindel. "If you have a report to deliver, one of us can listen to it outside."
"This is a private matter; please hear me out." The man leaned forward to extract a rolled-up sheet from the top of his boot. "I found this in a book in my lord's library, and brought it here to show it to you."
Glorfindel accepted and unrolled the sheet. Shock chilled him: the paper bore the words to Salgant's song. He scanned it—in spite of his fears, it contained nothing truly personal—before handing it to Ecthelion.
"Thank you. We know about this already," he told the guard. "And we can handle it. But, yes, thank you. Was there something else?" he added when the soldier made no move to leave.
"No... Well, yes." The man hesitated, then whispered, "Is it true?"
Ecthelion looked up from his reading, pale, and assumed a defensive stance, his shoulder bumping against Glorfindel's. But there was no threat in the question's tone, so Glorfindel obeyed his first impulse.
"Yes, it is," he said. "But we would appreciate if you did not share that with other people."
"Oh, of course not!" The man looked from Glorfindel to Ecthelion with awe. "Have you ever met anyone else who... I mean—"
"No." Glorfindel had some suspicions, but nothing concrete. "Sorry."
"We might well have." Ecthelion had recovered admirably: his tone was even. "Without realizing it, I mean. People tend to keep that sort of thing to themselves."
"Yes. Of course." The man nodded. "Oh, I am sorry about this song. And I would like to help. Perhaps I could put laxative in Lord Salgant's soup?"
"No!" Ecthelion looked thoroughly shocked. "No, please do not. It would hardly be noble. You have already helped by bringing us this scroll. As Glorfindel said, we will handle this."
"Very well, my lord." The guard was still staring at Ecthelion, a little too attentively for Glorfindel's comfort. Not that he felt threatened: it was only that the thought of someone else viewing Ecthelion in the same light as he did disturbed him. He put a light hand on the man's shoulder and, with a grateful smile, guided him towards the exit.
"We know about it, do we?" asked Ecthelion the moment they were alone again. "You had seen this song before?"
"Yes. Well, heard it, anyway. And we really must discuss—"
"Good day, Ecthelion." The tent flap had moved again, admitting another man: a red-clad judge this time.
"Good day, Duilin." Ecthelion's hands worked to roll up the sheet. "Any news?"
"No, I just wanted to look at the map." Duilin looked around, squinting. "Oh, Glorfindel. Nice to see you here at last. And congratulations."
"Congratulations? On what?"
"I hear you were seen climbing down from Idril's balcony this morning. Well done." Duilin winked. "I do hope that infamous poem was not yours, though."
"The poem? Idril's balcony? I assure you—"
"Excuse me. We are not here to gossip." Ecthelion had returned to his position behind the table. "The map is here, Duilin. What do you want to know?"
"Well, rumour has it nobody has encountered the Swallows yet... and the continuing absence of purple markers suggests rumour has it right. Now, Egalmoth says this means they are lost somewhere, but I know that my men do not get lost. They are, however, masters of concealment, and almost as good at climbing up and down trees as Glo—"
"Perhaps," said Ecthelion, looking at Duilin with poorly disguised annoyance. "One thing, though: they are not your men."
"For the purposes of these Games, they are simply the team of the Swallow. If you cannot see it that way, you probably should not volunteer as a judge."
"Says the man who has been in a foul mood ever since he realized the team of the Fountain was lagging behind this year."
"I am not in a foul mood," said Ecthelion, his voice unconvincingly tight.
Glorfindel had felt sorry about Duilin's chair, but no more. It was not right that this whole mess should cost Ecthelion his reputation for fairness. "Come on, Duilin, that is ridiculous. You know Ecthelion wants his own tea— I mean, the Fountains, to lose. He's always discouraging his most capable men from participating. And if he is not in the best of moods, it is because he is worried about the Swallows. We both are; we were just about to go looking for them."
"Good. I look forward to hearing that I was right."
As Duilin ducked out of the tent, Glorfindel sent Ecthelion a sympathetic look.
"What?" Ecthelion looked at him blankly. "Shouldn't you go look for the Swallows, like you promised?"
"Come with me. It will be easier to talk on the way, without these constant interruptions. And we do need to discuss the Salgant business, you know."
Ecthelion pulled the rolled-up sheet out of his sleeve and examined it with repugnance. "What is there to discuss?" he asked without looking up. "People are not very likely to believe this song of his, are they? No matter how inappropriately you defend me in public. Not as long as you start your mornings by climbing down from Idril's balcony."
"I climbed down from the Eastern Terrace."
"Then why did Duilin think it was Idril's balcony?"
"Because she saw me off on the Terrace, I suppose. But I am confused now. Are you implying that we should just ignore Salgant's threats? I thought you wanted to tell people. I know I do. How much longer can we keep our secret? What if someone asks us outright?"
Ecthelion stirred the brazier. "Then I think we shall have to be honest. I expect we could lie to strangers, but not to those whose opinion matters. Like Turgon... and Idril. I think—I hope—they will be forgiving. Especially if we make it clear that it is all in the past." He began to tear off tiny pieces of the sheet, dropping them one by one onto the coals. "I intend to request a permanent Gate assignment. Perhaps that will convince them we truly mean it."
Glorfindel watched the song burn. Vile as it was, he should have been glad, but there was something so final about the way the crumbling paper turned into ashes. "But do we truly mean it? Don't you want to fight to keep things as they are?"
"You know that would be wrong."
"I thought we were past that." One of the ash fragments drifting up from the brazier got caught in Ecthelion's hair; Glorfindel reached forward to remove it. "Why do you always make things so complicated?"
Ecthelion winced, but did not flinch away, as Glorfindel's fingers traced his ear and came to rest on the back of his neck. "Because things are complicated. At least, to me," he said feebly.
But some things were simple, and Glorfindel knew exactly how to prove it. He tightened his hold on Ecthelion, keeping him in place, and kissed him. The first moment was strange: Ecthelion stood straight and motionless as a statue. A heartbeat later he twined a hand in Glorfindel's hair and turned to meet him full on, and it felt right, like regaining the use of an injured limb.
Let someone come in now, Glorfindel thought. That would certainly save on explanations. Let it be Duilin, that Harp soldier, anyone: let them see an aspect of Ecthelion nobody else knows. How could anyone expect him to be ashamed of this? How could anyone not envy him, not envy them? Surely they must look as good as they felt. They pressed together, half-leaning on the table, and rocked slightly, delighting in that familiar, perfect fit.
But then the wood creaked beneath their weight, and Ecthelion tensed and pulled away to rest his forehead on Glorfindel's shoulder, silent.
"You cannot," said Glorfindel, "you cannot tell me that feels wrong."
"Of course not. It never did." Ecthelion took a deep breath and stepped back to meet Glorfindel's eyes, his expression severe. "But now tell me: what would your future wife think about this?"
"My future what?"
Was he serious? "Please tell me you are not complicating an already complex situation because you are jealous of Idril."
"I am not! I mean, of course I am jealous. But that is not the only issue here. This, as you say, complex situation is not fair to her, either. Or does she not mind?"
"Oh, Eru. Ecthelion, honestly. What have you— No, do not answer that. Whatever outlandish theory you have concocted, save it for a time when I need a laugh. Idril and I are friends, and cousins, that is all."
"You mean... You mean you two are not betrothed to be wed? But Salgant said you were."
"Well, if Salgant said it, it must be true."
"But even you, in the orchard, you told me— Oh." Ecthelion's eyes widened. "You meant his song, didn't you? Still, what about all the time you have spent with her, including last night? And the Vanyarin scroll? And your comments on being tired of all the secrecy? "
"I am tired of all the secrecy, that is true. As for the rest... What are you suggesting, that I have been studying that scroll to better seduce Idril? And hoping that you would not mind? What sort of a person do you think I am?"
"I do not know... No, sorry, I do know. You are someone used to living outside conventional morality. And someone quite comfortable with keeping things from the people in your life, no matter what you claim."
"That is completely unfair! You know we act that way only because we have to."
"Perhaps, but look at where it has led us." Ecthelion's voice rose. "To debauchery and lies. I kissed you while I believed that... And you, why didn't you tell me about this accursed song?" He knocked the side of the brazier.
The bowl wobbled precariously. Glorfindel steadied it before the coals could spill. "Ecthelion. There are people outside," he said.
For a moment, Ecthelion stood still, listening. The tent-fabric, though thick, admitted the muffled sound of voices.
"I do not think anyone heard..." he said shakily, as if shocked by his own outburst. "But you are right, of course. I will find somebody to take over here. We can talk as we look for the Swallows."
They left the command centre in silence. Once in the woods, they exchanged their stories, sparing no detail. Ecthelion sounded eerily calm, considering the subject matter: he clearly felt the need to compensate for his earlier show of emotion. His careful walk reminded Glorfindel of convalescing soldiers, and made him think. Though Ecthelion's thought processes still confused him, he decided to be particularly kind to him in the future, as if Ecthelion really were recovering from a deep wound.
"Ecthelion," he said. "I am very sorry that you went through that. I cannot imagine what it must have felt like to believe I was betrothed to Idril. Or," he could not help adding, "how you could have thought such a thing possible. Tell me, has all that has passed between us over the past eighty-some years left no impression on you?"
"Of course it has," said Ecthelion in his neutral tone, eyes on the path ahead. "I just cannot help suspecting that... Consider the men participating in these Games. Some of them, those who were born in the city, have never experienced battle; no doubt they think this make-believe is close to the real thing, and not just a ridiculous training exercise. So, yes, I cannot help suspecting it could be the same for... for us."
"You underestimate the young soldiers. They know the Games are far from reality. We did not think our training in Valinor was real, did we? When we listened to old battle-tales, they still seemed strange and exotic. We did not fully understand them until we reached Middle-earth. Our men have heard plenty of similar stories. They can tell the difference."
"Perhaps, and yet—"
"We have also heard plenty of love ballads. Do they sound exotic and strange to you? Or do they sound trite, and yet oddly understandable and compelling, so that sometimes they get stuck in your head for hours on end?"
"That happens to you, too?" Ecthelion glanced at Glorfindel, finally regaining some animation. "I swear, if I ever find the man who composed that hair of sunshine song, I will not be responsible for my actions. But wait—what are you claiming here, exactly? That a tendency to find meaning in trite songs provides one with an understanding of what marriage is like? Do not be ridiculous."
"Well, if you prefer, I will tell you that I can understand how my men feel when they express a profound irritation with their spouses."
"Glorfindel." Ecthelion stopped walking, surprising Glorfindel, who had not suspected the comment might cause genuine offence. "Marriage is a union between a man and a woman—"
"Yes, yes, we obviously fail that part. And we wear no rings. But I always thought marriage was about the union of the body and the evocation of the Valar, and we have certainly done both of those. Often simultaneously."
"Is blasphemy, yes, I know. Only I sometimes suspect that the impulse to call on the Valar is so strong exactly because they want us to call on them. But never mind all that; let me try to put this in terms you can understand."
He started walking again. After giving him a suspicious glance, Ecthelion followed.
"Imagine," said Glorfindel, "that we are fighting orcs. I decapitate one, I slice one in half, I smash in a head or two, and then I try to decapitate another on the backswing, only I get distracted, and—"
"Since when do you get distracted in battle?"
"Thank you. Fine, I remain focused, but the Orc unexpectedly trips, so that instead of cutting its head clear off I merely break its neck. It falls to the ground. It is not dead—but it might as well be. It is mortally wounded, or at least crippled for life. Now, if someone, say Salgant, were to run up to it and finish it off, would you count this Orc as his kill?"
"No, of course not. But what is your point here, exactly?
"My point is that, even if we cannot wed each other, we are close enough to it that neither of us can, at this point, wed anyone else."
"You really believe that?"
Glorfindel was tempted to answer this stupid question with the sarcasm it deserved, but something about Ecthelion's wondering tone made him settle on a simple "Yes."
"All right." Ecthelion concealed a sincere smile behind a sly one. "Mortally wounded Orcs, hmm? You know, I think you may have discovered that rare thing, an original metaphor. You should write it up in verse. I could set it to music, and I am sure that 'My love is like a crippled Orc' would be a big hit in the drinking halls. Songs with Orcs in them tend to do well, I find."
Glorfindel grinned back. "Do you think it might beat out Salgant's song?"
"Oh, I hope so. Can't you just imagine the look on his face if it did? But let us be serious. You said that you think Salgant is planning to attack us on two fronts simultaneously: by revealing both the problem with the map, and... our involvement?"
"That is what he implied this morning, yes. But when is this attack to take place?" Glorfindel ran a hand through his hair. "I wish I had acted kinder towards him; perhaps I might have bought us some time."
"I doubt it would have made much difference. For maximum dramatic impact, he has to make his revelations while the Games are still fresh in everyone's mind. But not, I think, during the contest itself: people are unlikely to give him their full attention as long as they are wondering who will win."
Glorfindel decided that Ecthelion's insight into the theatrical mind was likely to be accurate. "In that case, we must move quickly, and tell people before the end of the Games."
"Yes, unless we can think of some way to discourage Salgant, which seems doubtful." Ecthelion walked on for a moment before adding, "You know, I am surprised you are so enthusiastic about this, considering how people are likely to react. I thought being publicly admired was important to you."
"It is. But..." Glorfindel struggled to put his thoughts in words. "The love of the crowd does not feel as real to me, these days, as it used to when I was alone. How can it, when it ignores this important part of me? And if it can be withdrawn over something like this... well, then, it was never worth much, was it?" The thought made him feel oddly bereft.
Ecthelion touched his shoulder. "Perhaps people won't care. Or will get used to it, like Egalmoth did. I am more concerned about Turgon's reaction."
"What do you think he will do? Send us out of the city?"
"Yes. That is why I believe we must be willing to make sacrifices, when we throw ourselves on his mercy."
Glorfindel was torn. On the one hand, he understood Ecthelion's reasoning, and even admired the virtues that prompted it. On the other hand, he felt compelled to oppose any plan that would prevent him from expressing this admiration in a concrete and physical way.
"Would banishment be so bad?" he asked. "We could go get some real fighting done. If those stories about Lord Fingon are true, he might be willing to accept us both, together."
"If those stories are slanderous, he might be even less accepting than his brother. But, yes, I expect that, given our skills, we could find a place in some Elven army. However... I do not mean to sound conceited, but I believe this city needs us. Few others take her defense so seriously. So, you see, this isn't really about our feelings, or my moral misgivings. We owe it to the city to try and stay."
"What about that Harp soldier; don't we owe him something? A courageous example to follow?"
"Perhaps, but the city comes first."
He was right, but before Glorfindel could admit it, Salgant's threats rose up in his mind. "Wait—what if Turgon decides to make sure we hold to our word by banishing only one of us?"
"It would be me, probably, since you are his daughter's kinsman. Well, I will go, of course," said Ecthelion heroically. After glancing at Glorfindel, he continued in a more normal tone. "It would not be as bad as all that. As you are forever saying, the Siege is not going to last forever: there will be a battle, or a series of battles, which will almost certainly end in victory, freeing us from our current obligations. Or do you not believe your own optimistic claims?"
"I do believe them. I doubt it will be easy, however." Glorfindel recalled his dreams: the flames reflecting off steel, the shouts, the chaos. "Many will die, and with the Curse hanging over us, who knows when they will be reborn. Or where."
"I am aware of this. I accept a soldier's risks, for myself and for you."
"As do I. But..." Glorfindel took Ecthelion's elbow, stopping him. "Doesn't the high likelihood that one or both of us will die make you want to hold onto what we have in whatever time we have left?"
Ecthelion stared at him as if dazed by a powerful blow. "Where do you get all these unanswerable arguments?"
"Egalmoth, in this case."
"Never mind. Just promise me that you will refrain from making our king any disagreeable promises until we are sure that he truly is unsympa—"
"Wait. Did you hear that?"
Though annoyed by this most untimely interruption, Glorfindel strained to listen. In a moment, he heard it too: a feeble, far-off cry for help. "Yes," he said. "Let us investigate."
The sounds led them to a space between two pines. A pit had been dug there, deep and smooth-walled; when they peered inside, they saw two agitated men covered in the black paint used by the team of the Mole.
"Finally! Thank the Valar!" The cleaner of the men stretched his arms upwards. "My lords, I hope you have brought rope!"
"Certainly." Glorfindel retrieved the rope from his pack and set about fastening it to one of the trees.
"Never fear, we will have you out in a moment." Ecthelion crouched at the edge of the pit. "In the meantime, perhaps you could tell us what happened? Are you men of the Swallow?"
"Yes, scouts," the man's voice replied. "We were following some rather noisy Moles, hoping to pick them off at range, when we fell into this infernal trap. Then they dumped their filthy paint on us, and ran off, ignoring our complaints."
"One more moment, and we will throw you the rope." Ecthelion edged closer to Glorfindel, as if to check on his anchor. "Glorfindel, I have it: Maeglin," he said intently.
"You think Maeglin told the Moles to build traps?"
"No... Well, possibly. But what I meant is that I have an idea. We know Salgant is hoping to impress Maeglin; perhaps Maeglin could persuade him to leave us alone."
"You think he would do that? Haven't you seen how he glares at us both?"
"Yes, but he only does it because— I mean, I think he might feel differently once I tell him the truth."
"I hope you are right," said Glorfindel before tossing the rope into the pit.
0. Concrit welcome, as always. Actually, concrit craved.
1. Praise to the betas: Maggie and Eveiya!
2. Like every other named character in the fic, Meleth is a canonical Gondolinnel. She was Earendil's nursemaid, and told him many scary stories about Morgoth and his minions.
3. Glorfindel's views on gay Elven marriage are a rather liberal, but, I think, reasonable interpretation of the Laws and Customs of the Eldar.
4. According to Tolkien, the spirits of dead Elves are summoned to the halls of Mandos, in Valinor, and eventually given new bodies. However, at the time of this story, the rebel Noldor (who include Glorfindel and Ecthelion) are banned by their Curse from returning to Valinor, so their reincarnation seems uncertain, and a reunion with those remaining in Middle-earth—even more so.
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