Mortals Glorfindel had known. Some, like Tuor, he had even admired.
Eärnur of Gondor was not one of them.
Months earlier, the son of Eärnil II had come up the Rhûn to Mithlond with a fleet so great there was not anchorage enough in the bay for all his ships. Círdan had, it was said, greeted the sight with mingled relief and dismay; ships always delighted him, no matter that they were not of his crafting, but there were so many of them that his own people could scarcely get their vessels out to carry on the everyday business of the Havens. And Eärnur was as arrogant a captain as one might meet, though he knew nothing of sailing and spent half the voyage bent double over his chamber pot.
Had the mortal been one of his own people, some said, the Shipwright would have found a cure for that arrogance by setting Eärnur to scrape barnacles off the hulls of his fishing sloops. But then, Círdan had summoned Gondor to Mithlond, as well as any in Arnor and the Elven realms who would heed the call, and his reaction was unreadable. Nor did he have much to say in his missive, save only what was needful. Círdan was one of few words, but when he summoned folk to war those who were wise heeded the call.
It was clear from the devices on the banners that fluttered in the northern breeze that this march belonged to Men. There were not many Elves able to answer the call, for the time of the great Elven kingdoms and their armies had passed. Only Lórien and Imladris could spare any warriors; no answer was forthcoming from Thranduil in Mirkwood.
"Of all those who would most benefit by the fall of the Witch King and his ilk," complained Elladan, "you would think he would at least send one gweth."
"You do not know Thranduil's mind," answered Glorfindel. "He has never forgotten how his father fell at the Dagorlad, when Oropher charged the enemy and we did not go to his aid. Thranduil does not forget or forgive such slights. Nay, he will send no help, nor will he ask for any even when the enemy that poisons his realm becomes too great to bear."
When told, Eärnur cursed the stubbornness of Elves, forgetting in whose presence he spoke. Glorfindel, always slow to anger, answered with a diplomatic smile and pointed out with a honeyed tongue that Gondor brought so great a force that it more than compensated for whatever paltry troop Mirkwood might have sent.
"And look yonder at the proud princes of Rhovanion who follow you out of allegiance and love, and look at the horses they bring out of the vale of Anduin. Such fine mounts we do not have in Lórien or Imladris," he added, "nor did we have such in the days when Ereinion Gil-galad was our High King."
A smile stole across Eärnur's face. "Aye, and so shall our enemy learn that the might of Gondor is not something to be trifled with." He looked back over his shoulder, south toward the ruins of the city of Lindon that had been the High King's seat. Earlier he had explored the broken courts and roofless halls, making no secret of the fact that he thought little of what remained. Glorfindel, who accompanied him, made no comment save to a spearman who attempted to deface one of the pillars with graffiti.
The soldier was taken aback, as if unable to comprehend why Glorfindel should be so offended by his scrawling. Then again, if Eärnur's response was any indication, perhaps the young mortal truly was that ignorant.
"Why do you take such offense?" asked Eärnur. "These stones have stood untenanted for a thousand years or more."
"A thousand years is nothing to the Eldar," answered Glorfindel, "and I remember well when these courts were bright and filled with people. Would you be so forgiving if one of my gweth scrawled so upon the ruins of Armenelos?"
Eärnur returned the query with a broad smile. "Ah, but Númenor lies under the waves now, making that an impossibility."
In such moments, Glorfindel wondered that this mortal could be a descendant of Elendil, and farther back, of Elrond's brother Elros. Eärnur seemed to exemplify all that was rash and petty in Men. They say even Arvedui was thus, and so drowned by it. Certainly Eärnur had plenty to say about his distant kinsman and rival claimant to the throne of Gondor, condemning him as rash and foolish, a prince of lesser worth.
"At least he could fight, when he was of a mind to stand his ground and not run," he added sourly. "A pity he is so recently dead. Good warriors are always needed."
In a private moment, one of Eärnur's followers, a minor lord named Imrazôr, told Glorfindel otherwise. "Do not listen overmuch to his backhanded praise, friend. It's easy enough to praise the dead, but my lord would scarcely be half so kind if Arvedui actually came riding into his camp."
Later, when they retired to their tents for the evening, Elladan and Elrohir let slip the mask of careful indifference they had worn all that day and fumed.
"I like it not that that mortal insults us so before others," said Elrohir. "Is it not enough that his common soldiers scrawl obscenities and relieve themselves upon our monuments?"
"Had you looked more closely, you would have seen other such obscenities or names, many of them very old," Glorfindel replied. "It is ever the way of Men to leave their mark upon a place, even if it is crude. They fear being forgotten almost as much as they fear death." He might have added that other mortal races scrawled upon ruins as well; the Dwarves, it was said, chiseled their names into the passageways of their mines or in small corners of their dwellings. And when Voronwë had returned with Tuor to Gondolin, he reported that Orcs had come upon the ruins of Vinyamar and defaced many of the stones with the marks of the Enemy. That saddened Glorfindel, for he had spent his childhood in Nevrast by the sea.
"If ada had come," added Elladan, "he would not have held his tongue so with Eärnur."
"You underestimate your father's tact," said Glorfindel. "Elrond has ever been a diplomat. I have never seen him lose his temper, even when insulted by the Dark Lord's own herald." Yet Glorfindel conceded that even Elrond must have a breaking point, and the death of Ereinion Gil-galad and the ruin of Lindon had always been sensitive subjects for him. "You must remember that those who left Lindon did so willingly, knowing they were leaving their homes to ruin. A few now dwell in Imladris or in Mithlond, but most have gone over the Sea. If they do not dwell upon what becomes of their home in Middle-earth, then neither shall I."
"Does it not also offend you?" asked Elrohir. "Surely it must, else you would not have spoken so to that spearman."
"Aye, it offends me, but unlike you I have known several homes and they, too, have fallen into ruin." Though he saw the question in their eyes, Glorfindel gave no answer. He had never told them he was the Balrog-slayer reborn, and they knew nothing of him save that he had served both Elrond and Gil-galad in the wars of the Second Age. To them, he was only Glorfindel of Imladris, named after the hero of Gondolin. "One must learn to relinquish such things."
The host followed the Lhûn northeast into Arthedain. Everywhere in the countryside that lay between the hills of Evendim and the Ered Luin, there were the signs of battle. Houses and crofts were abandoned, the people who dwelt in them gone, either fled or dead. Some villages they came upon were gutted, and among the ashes were the bones of people and livestock.
"All is not lost, friend," said Imrazôr, pulling his mount up beside Glorfindel's. "I am told that Aranarth son of Arvedui has gathered to him such people as would follow him. Somewhere in these hills they have sought refuge, though I couldn't tell you where."
"He has sworn you to secrecy then?" asked Glorfindel.
Imrazôr shook his head and grinned. "Nay, I am privy to no such secrets, and certainly not from the house of Isildur. I've never met Aranarth, or his sire. Rather, I discovered a few refugees among the camp followers who were able to tell me something of recent doings in this land."
It was not Glorfindel's habit to associate with mortals, for such friendships were doomed only to end in sorrow; only Tuor had he ever called friend. During the Last Alliance, obliged to fight alongside Men, he had nevertheless managed to hold himself apart from all those who did not belong to Elendil's immediate circle, and that was how he preferred it. Losses were borne in equal share by the Eldar as by Men in those eleven years of fighting, but at least the camps of Elrond and Gil-galad were not rife with the filth and disease that ever seemed to be the lot of the Atani.
Even Turgon's camp at the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, where the mutilated dead piled up faster than they could be given burial, had not smelled half as bad as most of the mortals who flocked to Elendil's banner. Of course, Glorfindel was careful not to let his revulsion show before Elrond, who was sensitive about his mortal lineage, or their allies. He had genuinely admired Elendil's quiet, self-assured manner and had no wish to offend him.
Imrazôr he could grow to like, if he permitted himself. The young mortal had the air of Númenor about him, emanating strength and wisdom and joy, even as that land itself had been in the days before the Shadow fell upon it.
"My people are descended from the Faithful whom Elendil brought up out of the Sea in his seven ships," Imrazôr explained. "We dwell by the bay of Belfalas, in the hills of Dor-en-Ernil, and the Sea is as near to our hearts now as it was when we dwelt in Andúnië, in the Land of the Star."
A cloud passed over his face, and he frowned. "I regret the misdeed of Eärnur's men in Lindon. My people have always held the Eldar in reverence and friendship, though your people don't walk among us as freely as they once did. But I know Duilin; he has a good heart."
"The spearman who defaced the pillar back in Lindon, that is his name," Imrazôr explained. "As I said, he has a good heart. He didn't know he was causing you offense."
Glorfindel drew his mouth into a tight line. "For one named after a captain of Gondolin, he should learn better manners," he said stiffly. "Not even a common Quendi maethor would behave thus."
Imrazôr was now truly abashed. He bowed his head, contemplating his saddlebow while answering, "Forgive me, Lord Glorfindel, but I've never heard of this Duilin of Gondolin, and if I haven't then Eärnur's man certainly hasn't either."
"He was chief of the House of the Swallow, and perished in the fall of Gondolin defending those who tried to escape."
"I know only of the great heroes of that city, and of that not as much as I wish. I would know more, if you have a moment to instruct me. For my part, my father told me I am named after a famous captain of Númenor, yet I know little of him," said Imrazôr. He was silent a moment, and thoughtful. "Perhaps it's easier to keep one's lore if one isn't mortal."
Glorfindel murmured an acknowledgement, then sent the mortal off to ride with Elladan and Elrohir; the pereldar were more amicable to Men than he was, and would no doubt enjoy Imrazôr's company. Already the young Man had given him much to think about.
As they approached the hills of Evendim, the silence with which the host had been met suddenly became the noise of marauding bands of Orcs mounted on wargs. The enemy howled down at them from the slopes, their beasts slavering and snarling while they pelted the host with small stones and dung. Eärnur fumed at the insult and ordered his men to draw their weapons and close ranks.
Shields went up on the left flank, nearest the onslaught, while a troop of bowmen moved in with their steel Númenórean bows. A rain of arrows took several Orcs and their beasts on the hillside. As they collapsed more of the creatures moved in, and their missiles turned deadly.
Eärnur was not the sort of prince who would idly sit by while another captain led his troops into battle. Either his pride or inherent recklessness urged him on, or perhaps some fatal combination of both. The prince of Gondor insisted on leading the warriors who rode out to meet the enemy, and in a moment of forgetfulness presumed to lead the Elven host as well.
"We will follow as we will," Glorfindel answered coldly. He could not fathom why these mortals were so eager to meet danger and deal out death when they themselves were in no immediate danger, but then, recklessness was not necessarily a trait limited to Men. At Dagorlad, Thranduil's father had rashly led his host against the enemy without waiting for reinforcements.
As Eärnur rode away, Glorfindel turned to his party. "Strike the enemy from the flank, but do not engage them fully. This is but a feint, meant only to harass and demoralize us. Artano, you will bear Elrond's banner. Elladan and Elrohir, you will ride with me."
He led them against the enemy's right flank, well away from the missile fire, and they drove a wedge into the unsuspecting ranks of Orcs and wargs. The enemy fell beneath the momentum of the Elven rush; those that swarmed the oncoming riders were swiftly cut down. Under the double onslaught, their ranks broke and the Gondorians rushed in to finish off those who did not flee.
Once Eärnur called his Rhovanion cavalry in to rout the enemy, Glorfindel ordered his warriors to pull back and regroup at the foot of a small, nearby hill. He rode among them, quickly scanning the ranks to see who was injured or had fallen. One clutched his shoulder as another rode up to see how severe the injury was, while an archer was dabbing a cut on his cheek; he grinned at Glorfindel as he rode past.
Half a second later, Glorfindel saw Elladan on the ground, bent over a fallen comrade. The trampled standard under the body told him it was Artano. He dismounted and went over to them as Elladan put his arms around Artano's body and gently turned him over.
An Orc scimitar had sliced through his leather plate and mail like paper, shearing through the collarbone and down into the torso like a scythe, nearly cutting the standard bearer in two. Blood was everywhere.
Elrohir rode up, leaping from the saddle before his mount had come to a full stop, and ran to his brother and the body he held. Elladan shifted Artano's corpse so Elrohir could pull the standard from under him. Glorfindel took up a corner of the blood-soaked material. It had been dark blue, emblazoned with the Star of Eärendil set in a white lozenge; now it was torn and discolored beyond recognition.
"They struck at him first," murmured Elrohir.
"It is ever thus in battle," answered Glorfindel. He bent to close Artano's eyes and smooth the lines of pain and shock frozen on the dead Elf's face. "At the Dagorlad, Gil-galad lost eight standard-bearers before the Dark Lord was brought low."
Elladan, already stricken at the loss of his father's standard-bearer, crumpled at the sight of the banner, and the Men who were nearby turned in bewilderment at the sight of an Elven warrior weeping.
Arthedain was overrun and the city of Fornost seized by the Witch King in T.A. 1974. Arvedui fled north, but was drowned in the ice of the Bay of Forochel the next year.
gweth: (Sindarin) troop of warriors
pereldar: (Quenya) half-Elven (plural)
maethor: (Sindarin) warrior
Tolkien does not say whether Elladan and Elrohir were among the Elves of Rivendell who rode with Glorfindel to aid Eärnur, but as they were fully-grown by this point and were trained in the arts of war, there is no reason to suppose they could not have been among the warriors.
Imrazôr is the Númenórean who took Mithrellas, one of Nimrodel's companions, to wife. In T.A. 2004, their son Galador became the first prince of Dol Amroth.