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Flawed and Fair: 6. Athrabeth Glorfindel ah Ecthelion
When he first heard the voices, Ecthelion could not decide whether he was dreaming or waking. His memories of the previous day's events suggested a third possibility: that he had died in his sleep. He considered the matter. On the one hand, the ground where he lay was strewn with scratchy twiglike objects, and this was not how he imagined the halls of Mandos. On the other hand, he had, until recently, supposed Lorien to be a reliable source of first-aid advice, only to be proven quite wrong. So perhaps Mandos was a slob. But could a dead person think such impious thoughts?
Ecthelion needed more information. He opened his eyes, stretched—and gasped with pain. He had forgotten about the leg. Well, at least it proved that he was both alive and awake.
"Let me take a look at that." Egalmoth knelt down by his side. Ecthelion stared at him, confused by his presence, until he noticed his exhaustion and the dust that muted the colours of his outfit, making it look almost tasteful. Yes, Egalmoth looked exactly like a man who had spent the night riding around in the Valley. Ecthelion was about to ask him about his adventures when he noticed Glorfindel, and his emotions returned in a confusing whirl: joy over last night's epiphany, guilt over the Incident, and, finally, doubt as to whether either the epiphany or the Incident had actually taken place, for Glorfindel looked just as he always did—at least until he noticed Ecthelion's scrutiny, and smiled. The affection behind his smile was tangible: it radiated from him like heat from a flame. Ecthelion felt his guilt and doubt evaporate, even as he struggled to suppress this ludicrous over-reaction.
Fortunately, the hands now moving over his leg, prodding at every irritated nerve, helped pull him back to reality. Ignoring his thumping heart, Ecthelion turned to Egalmoth.
"Any news of Aredhel?" he asked.
"I followed her tracks for a while." Egalmoth scowled at Ecthelion's leg as if it were a poorly fletched arrow. "She rode on even after it got dark, with no thought for her horse. When I was sure no spiders were following her, I turned around. I expect she will be just fine, but if she is not... I know she is my lord's sister, but I am not willing to die for her. Besides, you two are my friends, and infinitely more worthy."
Ecthelion felt grateful towards Egalmoth, but also rather worried for him. "Lord Turgon will not be happy with you."
"Ah, he will get over it." Glorfindel joined them on the ground and offered Ecthelion his good hand: something to squeeze for comfort, an ordinary kindness to an injured comrade. The pain in Ecthelion's leg faded the moment their fingers met.
"You two seem rather cheerful." Egalmoth raised an eyebrow.
At this hint of suspicion, Ecthelion sobered at once. Glorfindel, meanwhile, turned his bright smile on Egalmoth.
"Well, we are all alive and together, which is surely good," he said. "Also, we have a horse, which is even better. And is it not wonderful that one of us, and only one of us, has a serious leg injury? It allows us to avoid all those ridiculously noble debates as to who gets to ride."
He remained irrepressibly joyful while helping Ecthelion mount the horse—a difficult procedure involving a nearby tree. Ecthelion longed to tell him to be discreet, but could not see how to do so without appearing even more suspicious. He resolved to be impassive enough for two, in the hope that Glorfindel would take the hint.
They soon set out westward, retracing their steps along the edge of the forest as fast as their injuries allowed, and hoping to reach the end of the Valley before they were attacked again. Each of them knew that any battle was almost certain to turn into a last stand. Ecthelion felt particularly helpless, for a skillful fighter needs his balance.
It was a tense, daylong race against the ever-increasing crowd of spiders gathering far on their right. As the sun descended up ahead, the creatures moved in closer, scuttling among the foul pools that, in the fading, reddish light, looked like pools of blood—or like puddles of spilt wine, Ecthelion decided, forcing himself into unaccustomed optimism. If he could not fight the creatures themselves, he would at least fight the despondency they caused.
"Look, Egalmoth," he said as brightly as he could. "The Valley looks just like your floor did during the farewell party. A good omen, surely."
"You would not be saying that if you had been obliged to clean that floor while nursing a pounding hangover." Egalmoth pretended to scowl, but there was a new lightness to his step.
Glorfindel, in contrast, was now limping slightly and wearing a pleased smile. "Do you know what would make this situation even more like Egalmoth's little gathering?"
Ecthelion decided that, in spite of Glorfindel's recent lack of discretion, the answer could not possibly have anything to do with the post-party events, and so he said, "I have no idea," instead of, "Some drunken groping."
"Your singing," said Glorfindel. "I have noticed that it makes the spiders hesitate, and we need them to hesitate as much as possible, tonight."
He was undeniably right: and so, Ecthelion sang. He began with his favourite epics, tales of famous battles and deeds of desperate courage, but they seemed inappropriate when desperate battle was the very thing his little group was bent on avoiding. Anyway, most of those heroic songs reminded him of the possibility of Unnatural Desire between warriors—not that he needed much of a reminder now, with the memory of walking Glorfindel home so fresh in his mind. He moved onto hymns to the Valar, but it was hard to do them justice while fighting down base thoughts about what might have happened that night, had he stayed on Glorfindel's bed a little longer. No, Ecthelion was not singing his best. Even his companions noticed.
"Try a love song," Egalmoth suggested. "That should distract us from our current predicament quite nicely."
"No." Ecthelion did some quick thinking. "Love songs would only remind me of Aredhel; after all, we are here only because she decided to go looking for love in strange places."
"Ah, but love can be such an uplifting emotion," said Egalmoth. "Still, I expect that neither of you two confirmed bachelors would understand that, right?"
Ecthelion ignored his inquisitive look and glanced around in search of inspiration. Well, there was the forest on his left, an essentially good place, shrouded in Sindarin magic. It reminded him of some of the songs he had heard in Valinor: nothing very pious, just simple Telerin tunes praising the beauty and power of nature. He started to sing one, and immediately knew that he had chosen well, for the trees seemed to change slightly to match his words, their branches extending further towards the Valley. Ecthelion's obsessive thoughts receded; he was almost sure that the spiders did likewise, their dark shapes slinking further away.
He sang all night, with only a few brief pauses. When dawn came, it revealed that the spiders were, indeed, some distance off—and also that their army was larger than ever, and that the end of the Valley was nowhere in sight. Ecthelion rubbed his throat, which was so sore that he felt just about ready to join Salgant's hoarse patrol, and tried to revive his falling spirits.
"Give your voice a rest, Ecthelion." Egalmoth handed him a water bottle. "I have just written a new song about our current situation, and I would like to hear your opinion of it." He assumed a solemn expression before launching into a rather familiar tune.
The spiders are reeking!
They ask for a thrashing!
They'll die with much shrieking,
Once our blades start slashing!
Giant spiders are smelly!
"Cheering, is it not?" he asked.
Indeed, Ecthelion had found the ditty, and the memories it evoked, oddly comforting, in spite of its awfulness. "Certainly," he said. "Our impending deaths seem a most welcome prospect, now that we can look forward to taking that song to the grave with us."
"What is more, it could come in handy in the afterlife," said Glorfindel. "I intend to sing it repeatedly when I am summoned before Mandos—that should be enough to secure me an exceptionally quick release from the Halls."
"You may have to wait a while before trying out your plan." Egalmoth was staring off into the distance. "Look straight ahead—I can see the river. We have made it! And that is not all. Ecthelion, I believe we have found your missing horse."
Ecthelion strained until he saw it too: the faint glimmer of early light on something shiny that could only be water. As they picked up the pace and drew nearer, he even noticed the familiar creature moving around near it. Soon they were fording the river, its brisk, cool waters washing off the stench of the Valley, while the spiders hung back behind, clearly unwilling to undergo the same treatment. Once on the other side, they set up a hasty camp and collapsed. They had made it, but with little strength to spare.
The following day, Ecthelion was glad mount his own horse again, in spite of the discomfort involved. He shut his eyes as he waited for the pain in his leg to fade, and so it was only when he felt an arm slip around his waist that he realized that he would be sharing his horse. With Glorfindel.
"Are we certain that this is a good idea?" Ecthelion asked the moment Egalmoth was out of earshot.
"It is the only combination that makes sense, with the other horse so tired." Glorfindel sounded incredibly close for someone whose body was in contact with Ecthelion's only at the waist. "Anyway, surely this is quite safe. What unnatural acts can we possibly commit on horseback?"
Well, there was one obvious possibility. The hand now touching Ecthelion's stomach could easily drop lower. Indeed, the distance it would have to cover decreased even as Ecthelion considered the idea. However, he could not bring himself to shatter Glorfindel's innocence by mentioning this.
It was Glorfindel who spoke first. "Never mind," he said feebly, before moving his grip from Ecthelion's waist to his shoulder. Perhaps he was not as naive as he seemed. As they rode on, Ecthelion found it very hard to get his mind off the oddly compelling idea that they had both imagined the same unnatural act at the same time. Since Egalmoth was still riding quite far ahead, he decided to distract himself by breaking the silence.
"I suppose that this is quite convenient, really. I have been meaning to speak to you privately for some time. Look, Glorfindel, is there any way you could start behaving in a more discreet fashion? All this smiling—it might give rise to suspicion."
"Do you really think so? I am not aware of any recent change in my behaviour. I have always acted warmly towards you, just as you have always been somewhat cold towards me." Glorfindel fell silent for a moment. "Were you being discreet, then? I must admit that I am still finding it rather difficult to reconcile what I thought I knew of you with recent events. I have always believed you to be above... base passions."
"Right—I believe you called me 'a natural ascetic.'" Ecthelion did not like straying from the topic at hand, but this opportunity to correct a horrible misconception was too good to miss. "Well, I told you at the time that you were quite wrong. I have my dreams, obviously. And, when awake, I feel things just like everyone else does. Possibly more strongly."
Glorfindel laughed a little. "I very much doubt that. I expect that you have no idea how bad this gets, for 'other people.' I mean, I am sure that, when you spar, you do not find yourself distracted by your opponent's body. And that you have never been struck by a sudden fantasy set somewhere inappropriate, like before Turgon's throne, or in a public fountain, or on your office table."
That last sentence, the images it evoked... Ecthelion could not think straight. He turned to his default safe emotion, annoyance. For, truly, it was incredibly irritating how completely Glorfindel underestimated his struggles.
"Actually, you are, again, quite wrong. Except, perhaps, about Turgon's throne. But definitely about the sparring, and the fountain, and especially the table. I have had all kinds of inappropriate fantasies."
"Really? Care to give me any examples?" Glorfindel's voice was very quiet; Ecthelion struggled to hear it over the clatter of the horse's hooves and the beating of his own excited heart. The soft words interwove with the underlying rhythms in a hypnotic way, like the opening phrase of a tempting new song, so that replying felt like the natural thing to do. Fortunately, Ecthelion caught himself just in time. He decided to ignore the question entirely.
"Look, Glorfindel, we cannot go on talking like this. It goes against all that is right and decent."
"How do we talk, then?"
"As we did before this trip—only, perhaps, slightly more politely, on my part. I have been thinking about what you said, back when we were discussing Fingon and Maedhros, and I agree that we might be able to derive some... inspiration from our unnatural feelings. But surely even you see that we must ignore their least natural aspects? Let us remain brothers-in-arms, caring about each other as brothers do."
"This is very important to you." Glorfindel's hand tightened on Ecthelion's shoulder. "Very well. Let us try it."
And try it they did. The nights proved slightly awkward, as Ecthelion had developed a disturbing tendency to drift to Glorfindel's side while half-asleep. He solved the problem by placing his weapons in the space between them. The small injuries he collected when dazedly attempting to embrace his own spear were a small price to pay for continued chastity.
During the daytime, in Egalmoth's presence, it was not so difficult: they were friendly towards each other, as was only right. It was the city, where they might, at times, be thrown together without an obvious chaperone, that would be the true test. When they reached the outer gate Ecthelion felt both relieved and worried.
His concern proved well founded, though for a different reason. Lord Turgon rode out to meet them at the Sixth Gate, in the very room in which Ecthelion normally spent so many of his working hours. There was no kindness in his eyes as he took in their wounds.
"Explain yourselves," he said.
Ecthelion broke the oppressive silence, and gave an account of their journey. He spoke of Doriath, of the Orc tree, and of the spiders. His words were plain; he used few adverbs or adjectives. Turgon listened intently, bidding Ecthelion go on even after he had handed over the scarf. Only when the story was over did he read Aredhel's note, going through it twice. He then stared at it for some minutes, motionless but for a small twitch in his cheek.
"Why you had to turn back, I can see," he said at last. "But I can also see why my sister wished to leave you behind. You seem to have led her along the most dangerous path in Middle-earth, and roused every creature for miles around. Again, I must ask you to explain yourselves."
So, Turgon had decided that they were at fault—but, surely, there was no reason for all three of them to suffer.
"It is entirely my doing, my lord," said Ecthelion. "I am the one who suggested that we kill the Orcs. Everything else was a direct consequence of-—"
"Ah, yes, the noble blame-taking begins." Turgon sounded very tired. "Would anyone else like to comment on Ecthelion's story?"
"Well, it is true that he was the first to express a wish to kill the Orcs," said Glorfindel. "But then he counseled against it."
"Who spoke in favour of it, then?" Turgon did not wait for an answer. "Aredhel. You blame my sister for her own fate."
"No." Glorfindel held his gaze. "I blame Morgoth."
"Yes, of course, we must always blame Morgoth for all our problems, from the deaths on the Ice to the sour taste of our local wine." Turgon spoke sharply. "But why do you accuse him in this instance? Because he is allied with the spiders? Because he marred Arda? Because it is to hide from him that we sit here, growing increasingly restless?"
"Because he killed your grandfather, and so instilled in your sister an understandable desire for vengeance."
"Understandable?" Turgon paused for a moment, before shaking his head. "I must think on this. Leave me, for now. Go to the city and seek healing, but do not assume your old duties or discuss your journey with anyone. I will summon you when I am ready."
The next few days were among the strangest of Ecthelion's life. He was not used to idleness, and yet now it was imposed upon him, both by the healers who sighed over his wounded leg, and by Turgon's words. He did have visitors, friends from the Guard who brought grapes and gossip, but their visits only reminded him of how much he missed his work—and the one friend who never stopped by.
Ecthelion supposed that it was wise of Glorfindel to avoid calling on him in his bedroom, but that did not make the absence any easier to handle. In the evenings, after the last rays of sunlight had left his rooms, draining them of colour until everything looked dull and grey, he found himself dwelling on recent Glorfindel-related events, and feeling very grateful that Eru had chosen to make memory so vivid. He even started to hope that his unnatural desires could be satisfied by just this handful of shameful recollections.
Meanwhile, the enforced inactivity still irked. Once Ecthelion's leg was well enough to walk on, he decided that, even if he could not return to his duties, he could at least make himself useful in some small way, perhaps by cleaning up his old records for the benefit of his hypothetical successor. So, he made his way to his office. Paperwork had never looked so enticing; soon he was humming, happily shuffling around little written reminders of past glory.
He was only halfway done when he was interrupted by a knock on the door.
"Come in!" he called out.
And then, just like that, Glorfindel walked into the office. Though his left arm was still in a sling, he looked quite well. In fact, he looked astoundingly wonderful, with his golden hair, broad shoulders, and warm smile. Yes, Glorfindel was definitely in Ecthelion's office. Ecthelion's brain, however, was clearly somewhere quite different, because Ecthelion's body took one look at Glorfindel, crossed the room, and kissed him.
Ecthelion's soul would definitely be spending a very long time in the Halls of Mandos.
Any hope that memory could replace reality faded the moment the kiss began. Memory, no matter how vivid, is lifeless, frozen, safe in its familiarity: reality is full of small surprises. Ecthelion had not expected Glorfindel's hair to feel so warm and heavy as it slid through his fingers, and he certainly had not expected Glorfindel to run a hand down his back, pulling their hips together, and then shift until they were aligned perfectly from the waist down. The flare of pleasure shocked Ecthelion out of his memory-related comparisons, out of all thought; he leaned into the kiss and swayed against Glorfindel, feeling the growing heat where their bodies joined. One of his hands moved in a long caress down Glorfindel's back, past the waist, pressing them closer together.
He felt lost and cheated when Glorfindel pulled away.
"I am happy to see you, too, Ecthelion," said Glorfindel, "but I thought we were supposed to act like brothers-in-arms, not like Finwian half-cousins."
Ecthelion stepped back, still a bit unsteady. "That is the last thing I need to think about right now."
"Oh, so you have imagined them, too." Glorfindel smiled dreamily. "Do you fancy yourself as Fingon, or as Maedhros? I think I am more of a Fingon type myself. I could see you as Maedhros, given your tendency to sink into guilt."
Ecthelion ignored this blathering and took his customary place behind the table in the hope that this official seat would help him regain control of the situation.
"Ah. Your table." Glorfindel was staring at the item in question.
Ecthelion felt a bit confused, until he recalled their conversation on the horse. As he looked from Glorfindel to the table and back again, he felt rather proud of himself for staying in his chair.
"Do sit down," he said, indicating a second seat.
"Good idea." Glorfindel finally met his eye. "Let us be correct and professional. This is an office, after all." After sitting down, he even reached back to bind up his hair. This helped Ecthelion focus for about two seconds, until he noticed just how well defined Glorfindel's cheekbones were. He hid his face in his hands.
"Oh, Eru. What are we going to do?"
"Think of a new plan. One that has even a small chance of working."
"Right." Ecthelion sat back up. "We will have to start avoiding each other. Now, assuming that Turgon reinstates me, I will be at the Gate one month out of three—you could probably arrange to take over one of the other shifts. And then there are valley patrols, mine inspection tours, training exercises... it should be easy enough."
"In other words, we must arrange it so that we are never in the city at the same time, ever again." Glorfindel stared at him, just stared at him, without expression. "Look, if our feelings are really so strong as to call for such desperate measures, then perhaps we should not fight against them."
"And what should we do, then, give free rein to our unnatural desires? Never. It would be wrong." It was hard to remember just how wrong, when a kiss seemed so right, but Ecthelion pressed on. "I think that recent events have skewed our perceptions of such things. Do you not remember being unhappy when you first became aware of your... leanings?"
"No, actually, they came as a bit of a relief."
"You see, everyone had been telling me I should get married: my mother, my father, all the maidens." Glorfindel waved his hand through the air, suggesting a crowding multitude. "And married people looked so happy, I thought that there had to be some truth to it. But I had such a hard time picking a bride out of the maidens I liked—no matter whom I chose, it would have been a huge disappointment for the others. And then I started dreaming of you, and my first thought was 'Well, I can forget about getting married now, thank the Valar!'"
"Thank the Valar," said Ecthelion. "Let me just see if I have this straight: you thought that your unnatural dreams were a blessing? A ploy thought up by the Valar to protect the hearts of all those rejected maidens from such a crushing blow?"
"No, of course not. And stop doing that."
"Exaggerating my flaws in a feeble attempt to harden yourself against me." Glorfindel's self-satisfied smile lasted only a second. Then his face reddened, and Ecthelion felt his own blood run faster, knowing that, once again, they were both imagining the same compromising situation.
Glorfindel recovered first. "Truly, I was relieved. I had been aware of some lack in me all along, and I was glad to understand it at last. And it did not seem so bad: unusual, yes, but not really evil. I know we are meant to bring children into this world, but in times like these this is surely not so important. Of course, I did feel that it was wrong—"
"—to have such thoughts about someone who did not like me much."
"But now that you know I was just, how did you put it? Hardening myself against you." Ecthelion watched for the embarrassed flinch, and was impressed when it did not come. "Now you can go back to enjoying your fantasies with a clear conscience."
"And leave you alone? You give me little credit if you think that I can go on my happy way now that I know how you torment yourself." Although Glorfindel's words seemed kind, he was not smiling anymore, not with warmth and not in jest. "You see, I believe that self-loathing is far more dangerous, far more evil, than what you call 'unnatural desire.' People who often feel guilt for no reason sometimes decide that they might as well live up to it by committing evil acts."
Looking into his bright eyes, Ecthelion realized that everything that had come before this speech—the questions, the confessions, even the extended absence-—had been nothing but a series of preliminary maneuvers, executed to gather intelligence and to lull the enemy into a sense of false security. Now, here came the attack, and it was more ruthless than Ecthelion had expected.
"Are you implying that I—"
"No, of course, you are not that way. But you... you turn inward too much, turn away from others. This makes you less aware of their feelings than you otherwise might be, it makes... unpleasant misunderstandings more likely. It would be better for everyone if you stopped brooding so much, I think."
Ecthelion could remember one particular recent misunderstanding when he had unwittingly caused pain. Half-persuaded, he added 'eloquence' to his litany of Glorfindel's compelling yet hateful traits. And yet... thinking about the Incident reminded him that Glorfindel was missing the real issue. He launched his counter-attack.
"You give me too much credit," he said. "I can see that you underestimate the evil of my unnatural desires—no doubt your own are more innocent. You think the inconsiderate way I treated you was a result of my self-absorption. Perhaps you are partly right. But it was also very much a symptom of the sick passions that rule me." Ecthelion almost choked on the words, but they had to be said, even if they might drive Glorfindel away forever. Especially if they might drive Glorfindel away forever. "What if I told you that, even before that Incident, I had long wished to see you overwhelmed by pleasure against your will, acting in ways that go against your true nature?"
Glorfindel drew in a sharp breath. "Then I would tell you that your attempt to repulse me has failed. I refuse to believe that your intentions are evil. On the contrary, I have proof that you are essentially good." He gave a brief, smug smile. "I have to assume that you were thinking less than clearly when we kissed—but you never jarred my injured arm. If you instinctively refrain from hurting me where I am most vulnerable, why should I not trust you and your desires?"
This was a new idea, and one that felt like a truth; Ecthelion could think of no answer.
"And as for my own desires, they are no more innocent than yours." The light in Glorfindel's eyes was unfocused. "I want to see you lost in pleasure, too, to overthrow your reserve and your pride. Even your moral scruples."
Ecthelion tried to consider this meeting of symmetrical desires with cool rationality, but, in his overheated imagination, it seemed to turn, somehow, into the meeting of two well-matched bodies, on the sparring field or off it. He looked down at the table, ran his hands over its hard surface, and focused on the safer aspects of the metaphor. As one of the best warriors in the city, Ecthelion rarely got to fight in earnest when he trained—but Glorfindel had always had the strength and skill to meet him, to challenge him even. The thought made him feel free, somehow.
When he looked back up, there must have been some unusual intensity to his glance, for Glorfindel reacted by half-rising from his chair. His hesitation broke the spell—Ecthelion immediately remembered why it was so right to hesitate. He shook his head, trying to dispel his strange mood, and went back to the basics.
"You cannot deny," he said, "that this goes against nature, against the laws and customs of our people, against the will of the Valar."
"Yes, I can." Glorfindel sat back down. "I would argue that it clearly does not go against our own natures. It is unusual, I will grant you that—so unusual that our laws ignore it. And as for the Valar... surely they have more important things to worry about than what two guards of Gondolin do when off duty? Starting with Morgoth, and all the kinslayers, and ending with the grief in the hearts of all the little war orphans?"
It was an impressive attack. Ecthelion found himself disarmed, and searching for an alternative weapon, an argument his opponent would understand. Looking at Glorfindel's gleaming hair, he found one.
"Fine. I will accept that you feel that way. But what about all our friends, Lord Turgon, the people of the city? Public opinion matters to you—and Salgant's popular songs should give us a good clue as to what the public would think. Even if you believe that they are wrong, you cannot hope to change all their minds."
"Yes, all this does matter to me." Glorfindel glanced towards the window and the world beyond. "But surely there is no need for everyone to know. We can be discreet."
"I very much doubt that we can conceal this from everyone without lying outright. Are you willing to go that far? To learn to lie, lose your integrity? You say that self-loathing can make a person more vulnerable to evil—would you not agree that a dark secret can do the same?"
Glorfindel's confident expression wavered with every question Ecthelion threw out. "Perhaps you are right," he said, his voice as thin as a novice flautist's first notes.
Ecthelion felt no joy at this sign of surrender, only a dismal emptiness. "Then you will agree to my plan," he said, sounding almost as pathetic.
"Which plan?" Glorfindel's eyes regained some of their sparkle. "The one where we spend the rest of our lives avoiding each other? The completely impractical plan which will surely involve just as much lying as my suggestion, and which is quite unfair to me besides? That plan?"
Faced with this sudden recovery, Ecthelion felt a ridiculous urge to cheer his opponent on even as he searched for holes in his arguments. "Unfair to you? How?"
"Well, unlike you, I have never—"
Ecthelion's guilt returned in full force as he waited for the words: "I have never touched you uninvited. I see no need to avoid you." He remembered the earlier kiss, so clearly unasked for, and the Incident. His face burned.
But Glorfindel did not seem to notice, lost in thought. When he spoke again, he spoke slowly, as if each word mattered. "I have never seen you overwhelmed by pleasure, as you have certainly seen me. Thus, your actions in the shelter have placed me at a disadvantage. If we adopt your plan, that disadvantage will become permanent. As I said, this is quite unfair." He sat back. "Ecthelion, some call you 'the fairest of the Noldor.' You claim that they say this because you are just, so prove it. Give me recompense."
"How?" Ecthelion had to ask, even if he already knew.
"In kind—how else?"
"This is blackmail!"
"In what sense? You are free to refuse. Just as I was. And you want this. Just as I did." Glorfindel smiled. "The more I think about this idea, the more I like its symmetry."
Ecthelion's heart pounded. Some parts of him clearly liked the proposition at least as much as Glorfindel did. Others were screaming in outrage. "And do you suggest that we carry out this reenactment here, or were you planning to build a tree shelter in one of our public parks?"
"We can certainly do that, if you think it will help you get in the mood." Glorfindel's smile was at its most self-satisfied. "But I would prefer that we meet at a more private location. And that we wait until I have the use of both my hands."
"I knew it." Ecthelion's mind pounced on that last sentence. "You are hoping to draw me in, somehow. Impress me with your skill."
"What skill?" Glorfindel looked a little uncertain again. "Look, of course I would be very happy if this act of consummate justice 'drew you in,' but I suspect that it is more likely to make you despise me. It is just that I am tired of trying to sway you with words when it is clear that your objections run deeper, beyond the reach of reason." He untied his hair and rose from his chair. "Think about it," he said.
Ecthelion did think about it long after Glorfindel had left. In fact, he could not chase the suggestion from his mind; it felt like one of those rare occasions where duty and desire coincided.
1. "Athrabeth Glorfindel ah Ecthelion" is Sindarin for "The Debate of Glorfindel and Ecthelion" and a pretentious reference to Tolkien's "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth".
2. The Valley Of Dreadful Death is bordered to the West by the River Mindeb. I am assuming that the spiders are unwilling to cross this river, perhaps because they know that, in the future, many of their smaller cousins will be drowned in toilets and showers.
3. When Tuor arrives in Gondolin, Ecthelion is in charge of the Seventh Gate, the Gate of Steel. However, this gate was built by Maeglin who, at the time of this story, is not even a glimmer in Eol's eye. Instead of creating an alternative Seventh Gate (of bricks and straw?), I have moved Ecthelion to the Sixth.
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