The faint sound of children singing drew him to the terrace. All that week had been a time of festival, the Gates of Summer, yet rather than join Ereinion Gil-galad and his household to watch the sunrise on the morning of Tarnin Austa, he huddled in a corner of his room, curled in a fetal position, trembling as the memories of another fiery dawn centuries past returned to him.
He was not well.
It was not fading, for in his distant memory were Eldar who had faded, rejecting all sustenance and comfort until the fëa drifted free of the hröa and answered the call to Mandos. No, he was not fading, for he ate and slept when told, and spoke when addressed, but inside him was a heaviness that he sometimes took for a longing to fade.
Neither the High King nor his servants disturbed their peculiar guest; his reclusive ways were known and tolerated. No duties were given him, nothing expected of him. Since his arrival, he spent his days clinging to the shadows, an outsider gazing in on a world too changed to welcome him. In the court of Lindon there were no familiar faces; all those he had known perished with Gondolin, or had gone elsewhere.
The sounds of youthful laughter drifting up to his narrow window compelled him to leave his chamber. Few children he had encountered in Valinor, having had little opportunity to do so, and here in Lindon, in an age of growing shadow and few births, they were closely guarded. Children had been precious in Gondolin, too, and in Vinyamar before that. He remembered their play in the shaded courts near the fountains of Turgon's house, and their ringing laughter, but only the face of the lady Idril's son Eärendil did he remember clearly.
From an alcove between two pillars, where the children would not see him, he watched, letting a smile slowly steal across his lips. They were clad in white and pale yellow, with elanor garlands in their hair as they joined hands and danced in a ring. The tune they sang sounded like an ancient melody, of the kind he used to sing in the willow-marshes of Nevrast, yet the words, drifting piecemeal to him, were unfamiliar.
"…vanwa, tennoio vanwa. Laurëalótë lántana. Emmë nyénuvar lin, laurëlótë."
Gone, forever gone. The golden flower, he is fallen. We will weep for thee…. He did not catch the rest of it, only pieces, fragments in Quenya--Laurëalótë, findel laur, emmë nyénuvar lin--but he heard enough to know this was no summer song to greet the solstice. The yellow elanor, the sweet voices of children, so innocent as they danced to the tune of a lament, and the warmth of the day suddenly turned gray, the words piercing him through like a cold wind from the north. His smile fell from his lips as they parted and hung open in horror.
Laurëalótë lántana. Unwitting, he was the subject of their song. The golden flower, he is fallen
"What is amiss, gwador?" A hand fell upon his shoulder, startling him. He turned, instinctively backing away to put distance between himself and whoever it was that had come up behind him--nay, do not touch me!--but the hand would not let him go. A wild blur came into focus, settling into a pale oval framed by black hair, an Elven face whose wide-set eyes and strong jaw bespoke mixed ancestry.
Sudden tears blurred his eyes and he could not focus on the son of Eärendil. Covering his mouth with his hand, dragging it across his face to brush away the tears, he broke away and walked swiftly down the colonnade. Others saw him pass, a pale shadow against the dark stone, but he heeded them not.
Heavy footfalls came up behind him; a hand seized his arm and stopped his flight. He had no choice but to turn and face his pursuer. "Nay!" he gasped. "Leave me be!"
"You will not run away this time, Lord Glorfindel. Too long have you clung to the shadows since your arrival, gwador," said Elrond, breathing hard. "Too long have we left you alone."
The corridors of Lindon were too narrow for flight, the alcove in which Elrond cornered him one from which he could not escape unless he seized the perelda and flung him aside. He did not wish to harm Eärendil's son. Trapped, Glorfindel pressed his back against the wall as if trying to meld with the stone and vanish. "What would you have of me that you must run me down so?"
"You are not well, that is plain to see. Alatar and Pallando bade me find you and bring you from your chamber. The High King concurs. You have been left alone too long." His eyes darted to the lawn, where the circle of children was still dancing in the grass. "But it was an unfortunate time for you to venture forth. I had forgotten what day it was."
From Elrond, Glorfindel's eyes went to the children, some of whom paused in the dance to wave at them, Gil-galad's herald and his companion. They do not even know who they are waving at. "What are they singing? Laurëalótë lántana. Laurëlótë, emmë nyénuvar lin." His voice trembled to repeat the lyrics, for they stirred hazy memories beyond Mandos. "And why do they look so at me?"
"Because you are a stranger with the light of Valinor in your eyes," replied Elrond.
The servant the High King assigned to Glorfindel, a timorous Sinda named Cúran, said he glowed; he dismissed the comment as mere flattery, for Cúran also heaped such praise upon Ereinion Gil-galad, who most assuredly did not shine like one of Varda's creations even in the Ithil-silver armor that inspired his epessë.
Glorfindel had seen beings whose glimmering radiance illuminated the very darkness. He had seen them in the gardens of Lórien where Olórin once brought him for his ease, and in the deeps, he had seen the pale forms of Ulmo's Maiar shimmering under the waves as they followed the wake of the Númenorean ship that bore Glorfindel and his companions to Middle-earth. Of the Eldar, only Ingwë and the reborn Finrod Felagund shone with such radiance, but the former sat at the very feet of Manwë and Varda as High King of the Vanyar, and the self-sacrifice and humility of the latter had earned him this grace.
Many times Olórin had told him he was Finrod's equal in grace and beauty, and that his killing of the Balrog in the pass of Cirith Thoronath was a deed that cleansed him of all prior sins and earned him early release from Mandos, but he dismissed it.
Olórin frowned at his unwillingness to embrace his worth. "Humble you are, of that there is no doubt, yet it is not fitting for you to deny all that is good in yourself. Your deed allowed many to escape."
And what of Ecthelion, who slew Gothmog and died with him? Glorfindel thought in rebuttal. The same deed, yet it is counted a lesser grace and Ecthelion remains in the Halls of Waiting. The ways of the Valar remain inscrutable.
"As for what the children are singing," continued Elrond, "it is a very old song from the end of the last Age, always sung on this day. Come, there is a garden overlooking the sea where we can speak privately, and I will tell you of it."
* * *
In the twilight of Olórin's garden in Tirion, Glorfindel gazed up at the heavens and studied the stars. As a boy in Vinyamar he had learned the constellations, making his brother Nárello repeat each name, each story until Nárello, laughing, threw him down and began to tickle him in frustration.
Such memories returned unbidden, rushing toward him in a flood of image and emotion that sometimes reduced him to tears. Olórin was patient with him, holding him as he trembled and wept, and this shamed him all the more, for Glorfindel guessed without being told that the other, neither Eldar nor Man, was one of the Maiar. Olórin stayed with him in the little house overlooking the bay of Eldamar, and Finrod Felagund at times also came to the house, spending long hours with Glorfindel in which neither spoke.
He did not need Olórin to tell him that being reborn was an ordeal unto itself, or that Mandos was not necessarily aware of the physical or spiritual pain rebirth brought. "He sees the fates of all who are born and all who will be," said the Maia, "but His insight does not extend to all things. Compassion He feels as He is able, yet pity He leaves to Nienna. You are restored to the living now, and your uncertainty is commonplace among those who are envinyanta. With time and help, it will pass."
Speech returned slowly to him. From the moment he was released from Mandos and lay naked and trembling under the harsh sunlight, Glorfindel clamored with the need to express his sense of loss and disorientation, but he had not the words or the mastery to use them. Olórin patiently coaxed him with word games, helping him recall the names of things, punctuating his lessons with pantomimes and comic expressions until Glorfindel was amazed by the rough sound of his own laughter and briefly forgot he was in the presence of a Maia.
When Finrod came, he offered only words of encouragement, sharing his own experience on what it was like to be reborn. Even in the sunlight of Tirion he was radiant and joyous, though his death had been a horrible one; Glorfindel was too abashed to meet his eyes though he knew this would be perceived as rude.
"In time," Finrod said, "you will no longer feel the terror or confusion of rediscovering that which you have forgotten. I remember well what it is like. Even a draught of clear, sweet water is frightening to you, for you fear you will choke on it. Yet even now you are mastering your new body and when you feel your fëa to be well and truly housed within it, you will no longer fear such small things. You will taste the water and marvel how cool it is upon your tongue, and how sweet it is to slake your thirst, and you will wonder how you could have forgotten such things in Mandos."
Glorfindel grunted something unintelligible and hung his head. Finrod's voice was so clear, so musical, Glorfindel was reluctant to try language with him for fear of sounding like a beast. Gentle fingers brushed his cheek; he felt a glimmering presence in his mind and knew the son of Finarfin was capable of mind-speech, as some Eldar were. Yet then, Finrod withdrew his touch with a smile that said the only speech he would have with Glorfindel was spoken.
"For how else will you learn?" he asked softly.
Of his death they did not speak, glossing over it to recall happier, more distant memories. Finrod would ask an open-ended question, to which Glorfindel gave the briefest answer possible, no more than three or four words. That neither Finrod nor Olórin ever corrected his pronunciation did not encourage him; his speech was uncouth and he knew it.
Why do you take such time with me? he wanted to ask. For what purpose was I brought out of Mandos that you would labor so on my behalf? Olórin, subtle as he was, once let it slip that Glorfindel was needed in the world of the living. He would reveal no more, save to say only that Glorfindel's early release from Mandos had been foretold.
It was plain he was being groomed to return to Middle-earth. Olórin showed him in maps how Arda had been changed and broken in the intervening centuries, and told him something of the doings of Elves and Men in the new Age. Glorfindel feigned interest, while struggling to retain the knowledge. I care nothing for the chaos beyond these shores. I did once, and died in grief and pain. I did not wish to leave Mandos, yet now that I have a body I would stay in Valinor.
Olórin greeted his disinterest with a knowing smile, then set him to work copying one of the manuscripts in his library.
"I am thinking," he said lightly, "that your penmanship is as lacking as your speech. Most who come forth from Mandos do not remember how to read or write. Such a shame it would be if you utterly forgot your Tengwar."
* * *
An orchard of lime trees overlooked the Gulf of Lhûn. It was a clear day, and across the water one could see the buildings and wharves of Mithlond, the Grey Havens. Gulls wheeled overhead, their mewling competing with the inrush of the sea on the rocks below.
Glorfindel contemplated the rhythmic roll and toss of the waves. Alatar told him that many of his kind who saw the Sea and heard the Ulumúri, the horns of Ulmo, were stricken with a deep longing to pass into the West. The Doom of Mandos that had been the curse of his people in the First Age had been rescinded; all but a few Noldor were forgiven their part in Fëanor's rebellion and permitted to return to Valinor. From Mithlond they departed, accompanied by Sindar and Teleri who also longed for the Blessed Realm.
Elrond lifted his face to drink in the sea air. "My sire and grandsire both loved the Sea and felt its call." Noticing the dispassionate look in his companion's eyes, he asked if Glorfindel did not also love the water or feel the Sea-longing.
"Twice I have seen Valinor," Glorfindel answered colorlessly. Though that does not mean the longing for it is not upon me. "And I am not such a mariner that my stomach was able to bear the voyage. The journey from Alqualondë to Númenor was easy enough, but from thence across the open sea it was rough and unforgiving."
"I am no mariner either," admitted Elrond. "Certainly I do no credit to my sires, yet one day, I know, I shall make the voyage West. But I can see by your face that this subject does not interest you."
"My heart does not lie with the Sea."
"Nay, and I have not forgotten that I brought you here with the promise of something else." Elrond turned and walked to the wall where he might look down at the crashing surf or across the water at distant Mithlond. "Beleriand lies under the waves now, yet in the time before the War of Wrath broke the land asunder there was a place in the Echoriath, near the pass of Cirith Thoronath."
"My memory of the Eagle's Cleft is very dim." Glorfindel heard the tightness in his own voice. Part of him wished to end the conversation, while the other half, that which nodded for Elrond to continue, hungered to hear more.
"After the fall of Gondolin, each year at the Gates of Summer, many went there, despite the difficulty of the journey. It is a windswept, barren place, but for a single cairn on the westward side of the pass where yellow elanor grows in profusion. Eagles keep watch from the heights. I went once, and saw them circling high overhead. I knew not if the mighty Thorondor was among them, but they called down to us when we sang of the great captain of Gondolin who died and was buried there."
Glorfindel froze, his body both hot and chilled as he gripped the stone railing. It is my own grave he is describing. He had not asked Olórin what had become of his body, for he understood that his hröa, burnt by the Balrog's flame and dashed against the rocks of Thorn Sir, was a shell he no longer required. Macabre thoughts flitted through his mind until he chased them away. "You have visited my grave?"
"I went only once, in the company of the High King. There were those who went each year, until the sea claimed the cairn and the ruins of Gondolin and all else," replied Elrond. "But the third day after Tarnin Austa we still observe with songs and feasts. I remember learning that particular song as a small child in Sirion. There were some of the Golden Flower who dwelt with us."
In Valinor, Glorfindel once asked Olórin for news of his kin, for his father and Vanyarin mother, for his brother Nárello and all the others he lost at the Unnumbered Tears and in the fall of Gondolin. Olórin shook his head and said only that Glorfindel was the first of his House to be released from Mandos.
"That does not, however, mean there are not members of the House of the Golden Flower still living in Middle-earth," Olórin quickly pointed out. Glorfindel at once wanted to know who they were, how many they were and who was looking after them, for he had been the last lord of his House and his death left them leaderless. Olórin could not tell him, for he did not know.
"Where are they now, my people? Are any here in Lindon?" Ever since his arrival, this was a task Glorfindel knew he would have to undertake, yet dreaded it also (would they look on me with reproach, for abandoning them?) and so refrained from asking.
Elrond shook his head and a look came into his face that made Glorfindel's heart lurch. "There were not many survivors of Gondolin to begin with. The remnants of the Golden Flower were taken in by my grandfather Tuor, but most perished when Sirion fell to the sons of Fëanor."
Glorfindel had always been slow to wrath, nor had he given much thought to Fëanor and the disastrous oath that bound his House, yet now he felt rage against the sons of Fëanor slowly begin to burn within him. "They slaughtered my people?" He heard his voice quaver and took a deep breath to steady himself.
"Some, yes, those who did not flee or would not surrender, but those who survived were taken in afterward by Maedhros and Maglor, as my brother and I were," answered Elrond. "I do not condone what they did at Sirion, and they rued it bitterly, once their bloodlust was spent and they saw what they had done. Maglor told me they were weary of bloodshed, and they recognized your brethren as the people of a great lord whose name and sacrifice they also honored. But I will not lie to you: life in their camp was harsh, for nearly all the great strongholds of our people were gone and we lived as beasts, hunted and starving. Some died in skirmishes with the enemy or were taken. A few fled into the wilderness in grief, and I could not tell you their fate."
I knew in my heart I should not have asked. I should have known they would have stayed with Tuor and then with Eärendil, and so perished in the ruin of Sirion. Trembling, Glorfindel turned from the wall and the sea, flinching when Elrond touched his arm.
"I did not tell you of your people when you first arrived, for I knew what grief it would bring you," he said. "To lie to you would have been far crueler, and I would not be anything other than forthright with you. Is there aught else you would ask of me?"
He shook his head, clenching and unclenching his fist. Tears of anger and loss welled up in his eyes, blurring his view of the gardens and stone archways beyond. Too much had he already asked. If there was more, he did not want to know the rest of it.
* * *
Tolkien was never clear on exactly when Glorfindel returned to Middle-earth, yet in the second, unfinished essay he wrote on the subject, in The Peoples of Middle-earth, he seems to reach the conclusion that Glorfindel's return probably occurred in the mid-Second Age, around the year 1600. That Glorfindel returns in the company of the two Blue Wizards, Alatar and Pallando, was also briefly suggested by Tolkien in the same volume.
gwador: (Sindarin) brother, associate
perelda: (Quenya) half-Elf, the Quenya equivalent of peredhel.
epessë: (Quenya) personal or use-name, often chosen by the individual.
The celebration of the anniversary of Glorfindel's death is mentioned in The Peoples of Middle-earth, though the children's song was created by me with the help of Hellga.
The city of Lindon is a fan invention. Tolkien is not specific on where exactly Gil-galad had his capital, except that it was near the sea in the region called Forlindon; no city appears on the map of Middle-earth. A note in HoME suggests he and Círdan shared a stronghold at Mithlond, but this is a very obscure reference and nowhere in The Silmarillion or Unfinished Tales is this mentioned; Gil-galad is always placed at "Lindon." I have placed the city directly across the Gulf of Lhûn from Círdan, close to Mithlond yet separate.