Although the sons of Elrond had rooms within the main house, they abandoned these in favor of a solitary cottage on the grounds, as faraway from the warmth and music of the Hall of Fire as they could situate themselves.
The single candle and dim ember glow emanating from the window was sign enough that the brothers were still awake. Glorfindel, holding his lantern in one hand, rapped the knuckles of the other against the door. A slight shuffle from within told him either one or both had heard, but there was no answer. He waited a frustrating moment before rapping again, this time more insistently.
"We both know you are awake," he said. His hand moved down to the latch and toggled it; they had not bolted the door. "If you do not want to get up to open the door, I will simply let myself in."
In the end, he turned the latch himself and opened the door. The room was dark, yet there was enough light that he could see the brothers seated on opposite sides of the table that stood before the grate. Lifting the lantern, he shifted the latticework cover so light flooded the room and illuminated the two faces before him, the two angry pairs of eyes that met his.
"It is late," said one. A hand came up, unconsciously twirling a braid around a finger, and Glorfindel knew by the gesture that it was Elrohir.
"Not so late that you cannot greet a visitor." His eyes fell on the table. A bloodstained burlap sack sat in the middle; that it was empty told him it had been used to transport the head now burning in Elrond's grate. But behind it, nearly obscured, was a second, smaller sack, also smeared and spattered with old blood, and it was not empty.
Glorfindel did not wait for permission. Leaving the lantern by the door, he crossed the floor in three strides and flung back the blood-stiffened fabric to reveal a scattering of other, smaller trophies. "What manner of foul things do you bring here?" he demanded.
"We did not give you leave to—" Elladan started to his feet, to snatch the sack and its contents away, but in the next breath Glorfindel grabbed him by the shoulder and slammed him down in his chair with enough force that, if it had been of flimsier construction, the chair would have been crushed under him.
"Your father asked me not to harm you, but I do not see that I should not take you across my knee and treat you as you deserve." Seeing movement out of the corner of his eye, Glorfindel rounded on Elrohir. "And you--I did not give you leave to stand. Sit down and do not move until I tell you."
He waited until Elrohir sat down to continue, "You have obviously spent far too much time among Men if you feel the need to bring home such…filth." Slowly he pulled his eyes away to the pile of desiccated appendages, drawing out the contempt in his voice before he turned and suddenly swept the entire mess toward the grate. At that moment, as uncounted hands and fingers and ears thudded against the floor or went flying into the hearth, the brothers lunged forward in tandem.
Glorfindel seized them both, one collar in each fist, and hauled them out of their chairs toward him. "Let them go!" he growled, before unhanding them. Elladan started to move, to gather up the pieces that had avoided the flames, but a look from Glorfindel froze him. "What madness has possessed you that you must mutilate those you kill and bring tokens home to remind you of the lives you took?"
Elrohir snatched up a finger that had somehow escaped being swept off the table and clutched it to him. In the flickering light cast by both the lantern and the grate, feral eyes were lit by eerie shadows, turning him into some creature of the Shadow. "This was one of their captains," he hissed. "Not some shuffling snága, but one of their leaders. For all we know, this was one of those who took her and tormented her and—"
A sharp, stinging blow across the face stopped Elrohir, and he stood, gasping. "You struck me!" Never had anyone in his father's household struck him, for such discipline was not the way of the Eldar, and neither he nor Elladan knew what to make of it.
"You leave me no choice but to speak to you in the only language you seem to understand." Glorfindel took advantage of Elrohir's amazement to take the finger and throw it in the fire. The dried flesh sizzled and burst into flame, adding to the choking stench that already filled the room. "As for the orcs, you killed those who tormented your mother. You and your father came upon them in their den and none escaped. Do you not remember?"
The glazed look that came over their faces told him that they did not remember. In the heat of battle and nightmarish haze of trauma, all thought stopped. Glorfindel, being left behind as regent of Imladris while Elrond and his sons rode out in search of Celebrían, had not witnessed the battle or its immediate aftermath, but he knew what it was like to fight and retreat, to take that long numb road home where only instinct guided the way.
"They must pay," Elladan whispered savagely.
"Aye, but for how long? Eighty years you have walked this road," Glorfindel said. "Will you spend the rest of Arda giving yourself over to vengeance? Will you forsake the light and become as much as savage as they? Would you become like Fëanor, burning yourself to ashes and spreading ruin even as you pursue those whom you believe wronged you?"
"Yes!" Both brothers spat out their answer in tandem, their eyes feverish with hunger and anguish.
"Nay, you will not. You will not lower yourself to the depths of a kinslayer."
Elrohir's harsh laughter greeted his words. "Kinslayer? You would liken us to them? They are yrch, spawn of the Shadow," he sneered. "They would as soon as torment and kill us as let us live in peace. The only fate they deserve is death."
"When you ride forth to protect these borders, what you do in the heat of battle and how many you kill are not my concern, but you will not bring your bloodlust home with you. You will not torment your father with reminders of wounds that will not heal," answered Glorfindel. "And you will not push aside those who only wish you well."
Elladan tilted his head and looked over at his brother. "He is here because we snapped at Lindir."
His tone was cold and cruel, and at that moment Glorfindel wanted to haul him up by the collar and shake him, slap him. Where this urge to violence came from he did not know, and he clenched his teeth against it. "You are forgetting to whom you speak."
"Perhaps your son ought to learn to keep his empty-headed tunes to himself. I cannot speak for Elrohir, but I've no mind to listen to Lindir prattle on about that silly Nandorin maiden he is always making ithil-eyes at," said Elladan. "He knows nothing of the world beyond this valley. He knows nothing of blood or pain."
Glorfindel seized a chair from the corner and pulled it up to the table. "Oh, but he does know," he said, "or has he never told you how his parents died?"
"Died?" answered Elrohir. "You are mistaken, they went into the West."
"Did he tell you that? Nay, his parents were among those who fled Ost-in-Edhil when Celebrimbor fell to Sauron. Weeks they spent fleeing through the wilderness, hiding from the enemy. I could not tell you how his mother died, for he has never told me, but his father was cut down by orc arrows even as my gweth rode to save them. Lindir we found after the battle, pinned under his father's corpse." He paused, taking a moment to meet the eyes of each brother. "Do not presume to judge others by the wounds you cannot see. Lindir has lost far more to the Shadow than either of you; he simply chooses not to let his grief rule him."
When he was done, there was awkward silence in which the brothers slowly gazed down into their laps. Glorfindel knew they were ashamed, and held his tongue.
Then, Elrohir lifted his eyes that were hard with resolve. "Do you not see? That is why we must ride out. That is why we must kill them."
"No one has forbidden you that," said Glorfindel. "Indeed, your father approves your riding on patrol, for of late the enemy has grown more numerous and bold and our borders require protecting. But know this: your bloodlust stops at the ford of the Bruinen. You will not bring the tokens of your wrath into the house of Elrond. Perhaps this is the way of Men, I know not, but it is not the way of the Quendi."
Elladan bit his lip as if to speak, and for a moment Glorfindel thought he might point out that he and Elrohir were pereldar and bound by both bloodlines. "You do not understand," he said, his voice quavering. "She is not coming back."
"Nay, she is not," Glorfindel said softly, "and no amount of blood you spill or heads you take will change that. Bloodlust has ever been the way of mortals, or those fallen to the Shadow. Already you risk being consumed by it, either to fall a living victim to the darkness or to send yourselves to Mandos. That is a road you must not walk."
He shifted slightly in the chair. "I know what it is to walk that road, ónoni. I know what it is to pass through rage and grief. I saw my own brother hewn and trampled by a Balrog at the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. I saw he whom I loved best in the world reduced to ashes, and I could not even stop to grieve for him.
Elladan and Elrohir were listening now, rapt with curiosity, for it was not often that Glorfindel spoke of his first life in Gondolin. He paused long enough to watch their reactions and collect himself, for the telling was hard and what he was about to say harder still. "You know that I do not care for songs about my fight with the Balrog, though I have never told you why. I remember only a little of that time, save in dreams. There was pain, for even Mandos could not take away that memory, and something else. I do not remember being afraid. I remember anger instead.
"Others have told me that Tuor and Egalmoth were near when the attack came, and were already coming to slay the Balrog when I acted. I remember anger, for I remember hating that Balrog as if it was the very one that had killed my brother."
"Perhaps it was," murmured Elladan.
Glorfindel glared at him, warning him not to interrupt. "Balrogs were numerous in those times, and many of them had I already slain in the siege of Gondolin without thought or feeling. Nay, this one was different, for it came at the end when only a shred of hope remained, and I threw myself at it in anger and despair. I have thought sometimes that perhaps I did not want to leave the pass of Cirith Thoronath alive; the desire for death is not something that I remember.
"But I remember the anger that filled me when I chased down the Balrog and struck, for I see it now in you both, the desire for vengeance. And I also see much despair besides. There is a part of you, I think, that wishes to be extinguished, to throw yourselves into Mandos' embrace even as you hurl yourselves at the enemy. It will avail you little to walk this path, to throw away the gift of life, for the pain does not entirely end in death."
He watched them as he spoke, seeing their eyes fill with tears unshed. "Mandos can take away your physical pain and some of your other hurts, but healing and understanding are things that must come to you of your own accord. Even after my rebirth it took many centuries for me to see this, that there is a time for grief, but to linger in it is to kill the spirit. Do not walk this road, ónoni, for you may find the grief you seek is not entirely your own."
"We would not hesitate to give our lives," said Elladan, "to rid Arda of such evil. Father knows that."
"Nor would I, but take care that your deeds are delivered in the right spirit, and not for the sake of some twisted passion. We do not disapprove of your going forth, only the anger you take with you. Leave it behind and go forth with clearer minds."
An uneasy silence fell over the room, the last rumblings after the storm. "We have wronged ada," said Elrohir. "And Lindir, we have wronged him as well."
"Is Lindir much hurt?" Elladan finally asked. His tone, and that of his brother, had softened considerably, but Glorfindel yet detected a hint of sullenness.
"His hurt comes from yours, pen-neth. It grieves him to see you thus."
Elrohir grew thoughtful. "We used to ruin his flutes by stuffing them with paste."
"He has long forgiven you that prank," replied Glorfindel, not adding the longing Lindir had expressed for returning to such times.
Another thoughtful silence passed. "Pen-iaur," said Elladan, "do you ever think of Gondolin? Does it hurt when you do?"
"Aye," Glorfindel said quietly, "I think sometimes of Gondolin. I remember it in the rushing waters and falls of Imladris, in the encircling mountains that are like the Echoriath, and aye, the ache is still there."
* * *
The hour was so late Glorfindel did not expect to meet anyone else upon the path, yet at the entryway leading to the Hall of Fire he saw a figure, robed in gray and bearing a lantern, standing silent sentinel.
"You spoke to them, ada," murmured Lindir.
"Aye, I spoke to them." And upon leaving, he extracted a promise from the brothers that they would go that very night to their father and unburden themselves to him. They had wept upon his shoulder then in their shame and uncertainty, not knowing if Elrond would receive them, or that the words between them would not turn to anger.
"He has never understood," said Elrohir.
Glorfindel smoothed back the perelda's dark hair and ordered him to dry his eyes. "If you would but soften your tone and listen, you may find he understands more than you know."
"They came this way, not long ago," said Lindir.
"And did they speak to you?"
"Aye, they did." Lindir frowned in bewilderment. "They asked if I desired a new flute, to replace the ones they ruined. I knew not what to say, it was more than a thousand years ago."
"They desire to make amends," said Glorfindel. "Let them do so, and find healing in the offering."
"They seemed so broken when they came to me," said Lindir. "You have spoken to them, ada. Tell me that there is some hope for them."
Glorfindel smiled at his foster son and embraced him. "Pen-neth, there is always hope."
* * *
snága: a lower-class orc. The term is based on the character of the same name.
ithil: the moon.
gweth: (Sindarin) a troop of able-bodied men
pen-iaur: (Sindarin) ancient one
ónoni: (Quenya) twins