Of Balrogs And Battles
Chapter Two – The Battle
Elladan and Elrohir were both ready for bed when Glorfindel reached their room. They were perched on the pillows of Elladan's bed, and Glorfindel positioned himself comfortably at the foot. "Are you ready?" he asked them.
They both nodded. "Can you tell us about Gondolin as well?" Elladan pleaded. He cast a sidelong look at Elrohir, who took no notice.
"Of course. Gondolin was a beautiful city, built in a sheltered valley and protected by encircling mountains. The only way in was through a hidden passage beneath the mountains, defended and guarded by seven gates. We thought it totally impregnable – but we were wrong." As Glorfindel spoke, the brushstrokes of his words painted vivid pictures on the impressionable canvas of their minds. "It was surrounded by high white walls, and in the sunlight they shone like diamond. The streets and courtyards were paved with marble, but for all the stone, the city was green with trees and plants and life. Fountains played in the squares and parks. The sound of the water and the whisper of the trees was a constant background – the city was named Stone Song, or the Rock of the Music of Water."
Elrohir sighed longingly. "I wish we could have seen it," he said. "It sounds beautiful."
"It was. It was built with the memory of Tirion in mind. And on the highest level, in the court of the king, were shining trees of gold and silver. Yet despite the magnificence, the end came suddenly. We were attacked on the night of a special feast for the celebration of summer – the Gates of Summer, we called it. The night had been spent in music, song, dancing and merry-making – many betrothals were traditionally pledged on that night." Glorfindel smiled at some distant memory. "I still remember how happy everyone was that night. At dawn, we gathered on the eastern walls to greet the rising sun with songs." He paused again.
"We were attacked out of the darkness by the hosts of Morgoth. The fighting was fierce, but without hope, and the city was overthrown. I was a chieftain of the city, and a warrior in the service of Turgon, the king," he continued. "I was sworn to obey him and defend him, but his last order to me was to flee the city with all who could leave, and to protect his beloved grandson Eärendil – your grandfather. Tuor and I gathered those we could, and we fled down a long, dark tunnel. It had been built in secret, and few knew of it."
"Was grandfather scared?" Elladan asked.
"Yes, of course he was," Glorfindel told them. "He was merely seven, a little younger than you, and he had just seen his home destroyed and knew that his grandfather the king was dead. But he was also very brave, just as you both are. There were many children with us, and we had to be absolutely silent so that the enemy could not hear us. He told the children that they were playing a game of mice, escaping from a great cat, and they all crept along without a sound. We had fled in great haste, and had few provisions, so he said that as mice they should nibble on crumbs – and not one complained of hunger."
He continued the tale, brushing over some of the darker aspects – the stifled cries of the injured, the muffled sobs and utter desolation of those grieving dreadful losses, the deaths of some of the most seriously wounded, whose bodies had had to be left along the way. Some of the children had died too, their small bodies not yet able to cope with the bitter cold and winds of the high mountains. He did not tell the twins that, either.
"At last, we came to a high pass," Glorfindel related.
"Cirith Thoronath," Elrohir told him.
Glorfindel smiled. "Yes. It means Eagles' Cleft. We were going slowly; the way was steep and narrow. There was a wall of rock to one side of the path, and a sheer drop on the other. A bitter wind tried to pluck us from the path, and fling the unwary into the abyss. Then, from the head of the line a warning was shouted – orc scouts had found us." He paused, noticing the way both Elladan and Elrohir had edged a little closer to one another.
"What happened then?" Elrohir whispered.
"The orcs had set an ambush for us. But it was worse that that, they had a Balrog with them. We feared all was lost; there were few among us able to fight. I was carrying Eärendil; I passed him to his mother, and moved to the front." He paused again, remembering. "The creature was on a ledge above the path. I climbed up towards it – if it had leaped down onto the path, many would have perished. We fought. I think I knew at once that I would never be able to defeat it, but hoped that I could distract it for a time while the others passed below. It gave off a fierce heat, and the snow all around us melted, making the ground treacherous, so it was easy to slip. I found my arrows were useless – they burned in the air as they flew. Because of its sword and the whip, it was difficult to come close enough to attack it, but then I became entangled by its whip. Instead of cutting myself free, I allowed it to pull me close, then stabbed it in the chest. It was mortally wounded, and fell into the abyss – and I fell with it."
There was silence, broken only by a shaky breath, and the squeak of the mattress as Elrohir moved, throwing his arms around Glorfindel. Then Elladan was on his other side as they both hugged him tightly. He freed his arms to embrace them, rubbing the slender backs soothingly. "Do not cry. It was something I had to do – I was sworn to protect those people, and your grandfather – and I did," he explained simply.
"Did – did it hurt?" Elladan asked haltingly.
Glorfindel shook his head. "No. I remember falling, then nothing until I awoke, healed of all wounds."
They sat huddled together for a few moments. Looking down at the two dark heads pressed against him, he remembered again the horror of the moment, the searing pain of his burns, the stench of the creature and his own burnt flesh, the terror as he fell, and above all, the terrible sense of failure that had been his last coherent thought. Yet now, he knew it had been worth it. These two, their father; none of them would have existed if he had failed to protect Eärendil. At last he stirred, and moved away a little. "Come now, you are supposed to be in bed. Your parents will be here soon. You mother can be far scarier than any Balrog if she thinks I have kept you up!"
He waited until Elrohir returned to his own bed, and kissed them both goodnight. At the door, he turned, holding it open for Celebrían and Elrond. "Goodnight Elrohir, Elladan. Valar bless you."
"Goodnight, Glorfindel," they chorused, rather sleepily.
Later, after their parents had also wished them goodnight and kissed them, Elrohir drifted into dreams. He reflected, on the edge of sleep, on yet another reason why he liked Glorfindel so much. Just sometimes he got fed up with being 'and Elrohir'. Glorfindel was the only person who ever occasionally put his name before Elladan's.
His dreams that night were inevitable. After Glorfindel's evocative recreation of the legend and the reality of the battle, his imagination, which had soaked up Glorfindel's words like a sponge, blossomed. He dreamed he was among the terrified, grief-stricken refugees, and could hear their tense voices amid the howling of the winds. He was being carried by a beautiful woman, and strands of her shining golden hair escaped from her hood and blew in his face. He had never seen her before, but somehow knew that she was his mother. They were both clad in thick, fur-lined cloaks, yet it was still bitterly cold. He shivered, pressing closer to his mother, and she wrapped a fold of her own cloak around him as well. Panic stricken cries drifted back to them from the elves ahead, and he twisted around to look. High above them on a pinnacle of rock he could see Glorfindel, facing a terrible monster. Screams from those around him identified it as a Balrog.
Valiant and steadfast, Glorfindel stepped forward to meet it. He looked both beautiful and terrible, proud and resolute. The arrows he fired at the monster kindled in the air before they ever reached it, falling uselessly to the ground, so he drew his sword, trying to move closer. They fought long, locked in combat together. Glorfindel's sword hacked and stabbed at the Balrog, while its blade and whip cut and burned him. Elrohir could see that his golden hair was burned and scorched, his clothes smouldered, but still Glorfindel fought tirelessly – he was so brave, so strong!
As he watched, the Balrog flicked its whip, cutting a livid red weal across Glorfindel's face, but the warrior did not flinch, seeming oblivious to the pain. The whip flicked again, wrapping itself around his chest. At that point his mother tried to turn him away and press his face against her shoulder. "Do not look, little one," she murmured fearfully. "Do not look."
He jerked his head away and turned again, unable to not watch. To Elrohir's horror, Glorfindel did not struggle, did not fight; still seeming oblivious to what was happening. Instead, he allowed it to pull him closer, then at the last moment raised his sword, plunging it deep into the creature's chest. Mortally wounded, the Balrog gave a roar of fury and defiance, and wrapped its fiery wings around Glorfindel, enveloping him in a deadly embrace.
Together they plunged from the mountainside to their deaths.
He screamed out Glorfindel's name, and finally turned away, sobbing into his mother's neck in grief and horror, clinging to her desperately. She tried to soothe him with reassuring words, but she was crying as well. Then, as he hugged her tightly, she began to fade. Very slowly the softness of her skin and her fragrant scent drifted into memory, and was replaced by damp, lavender-scented linen. He realised that he clutched his pillow tightly, and it was wet with tears.
Shakily, Elrohir sat up, trembling, and rubbed a hand across his eyes. His heart was pounding loudly, and he could hear a faint echo of his own fear and grief. Elladan. He threw back the bed covers and crossed to Elladan's bed, knowing that his brother was still trapped in the same nightmare. "El? Elladan!" he hissed, shaking his shoulder. "El, wake up!" Elladan whimpered slightly, and Elrohir shook him again. His twin woke abruptly and sat bolt upright, staring wildly at Elrohir.
"We had a nightmare," Elrohir explained softly.
Elladan gulped and nodded. "Yes. About Glorfindel. And there was a woman, with golden hair…"
"No." Elladan looked a little puzzled. "She was my mother. You weren't there."
They stared at one another, trying to work this out. They had both had the same dream, had both been there – and yet the other had not been. Elrohir frowned. "It was Eärendil," he said slowly. "We must have dreamed what he saw."
"Of course! It was his mother, Idril. And he watched the battle."
Elrohir shivered, and climbed into bed beside his brother, snuggling down beneath the covers. The shared warmth and presence comforted both of them, and they began to relax again. "I saw Glorfindel fall," he whispered. "He was hurt."
"I know," Elladan replied quietly. "The Balrog burned him. Do you remember when I scalded my hand?"
Elrohir nodded. "You cried," he reminded his brother, remembering when they had helped one of the cooks to make jam. The heat beneath the pan had been set too high, and the pot had bubbled over, splashing boiling jam onto Elladan. Although his hand had been plunged into cold water immediately, the resultant burn had taken several days to heal.
"I know. Imagine it hurting as much as that all over. Poor Glorfindel."
They both shuddered. "Poor Glorfindel." Soothed and reassured by each other's company, they drifted into a peaceful, dreamless sleep.
It seemed to Elrohir as he awoke the next morning that there was something wrong. A bright light shone on his face, and he blinked, squinting against the unusual dazzle. "El?" he murmured drowsily. "Why is the window in the wrong place?"
He was startled to hear Elladan's laugh immediately behind him. "The window's not in the wrong place, silly! You are!" He twisted around to face his brother, suddenly remembering the previous night – the horrible dreams, waking Elladan, sharing his bed, their discussion.
"Oh. I forgot." They lay quietly, neither ready to get up just yet. Elrohir had no intention of returning to his own bed – it would be cold, and he was much warmer and cosier where he was.
Beside him, Elladan spoke again. "El? I've been thinking. I don't want to play Balrogs anymore."
Elrohir turned to face him, rather relieved. He had been thinking the same thing, but had not wanted to mention it. "Why not?" he asked.
"Well – it was Glorfindel. And he died. It doesn't seem –" Elladan groped for a word – "suitable."
"No. We'll think of something else. And we can still be Morgoth and Maeglin, and the others." Elrohir slid out of bed. "Come on, let's get up. I don't want Nana or Ada to come in and see me here – they'll think we're just frightened elflings. We'll have breakfast, then think what to do today."
It took much to startle Elrond, Lord of Imladris, but the sight that met him as he stepped out onto the lawn outside his library certainly qualified. Erestor hurried past – and he had Celebrían slung over his shoulder. She giggled like an elfling, and Erestor growled at her in a ferocious voice. "Quiet, wench! Stop laughing – you are supposed to be terrified!"
"I am sorry, my lord Erestor – I will try to appear suitably frightened." She looked up from Erestor's back, and gave Elrond a small wave. He watched in utter amazement as his wife and counsellor disappeared into trees on the far side of the garden. He stared after them, trying hard to convince himself that he had imagined the entire episode, when a slight movement near the house caught his eye.
His sons lurked furtively beneath a bush. Then one – Elladan – darted across to a low shrub and dropped down behind it. He was followed by Elrohir. Both were armed with small wooden swords, and clad in the grey cloaks their grandmother had given them on her last visit to Imladris, which they fondly believed rendered them invisible. Next, Elrohir lay on his stomach and wriggled like a caterpillar across the grass to another bush. He turned and signalled silently for Elladan to join him.
Intrigued now, Elrond tracked their progress with his eyes and realised that they were making for a majestic oak in the centre of the lawn. It was quite close to where he stood, and a low hedge ran towards it. Praying briefly that none of his household were watching, Elrond bent low and scurried along the shelter of the hedge to the tree. Straightening, he lay in wait. Distantly he could hear the sound of Celebrían's silvery laughter as Erestor murmured something. He growled, and she stopped.
A faint whisper, no louder than the breath of the wind, drifted to his ears. "El. This way." There was a near-silent footfall as the twins edged towards him. He waited.
As Elladan slid around the tree, Elrond pounced. "What are you doing?" he demanded loudly. They jumped, most satisfyingly, and he was certain that Elladan swore, but decided to pretend that he had misheard. "Well?"
"Ada," Elrohir muttered weakly.
"Yes. What are you doing?"
The twins exchanged a glance. It was a look that usually boded ill for someone, but Elrond had been a twin himself. He was wise to most of their ploys. "Well? Why are you skulking in the shrubbery?"
Another glance was exchanged, but this one meant that it was time to confess. Elladan and Elrohir both dropped down onto the grass at the foot of the tree, where Elrond joined them.
"It's our new game," Elrohir told him with a sigh. "We weren't going to tell you until it was all over. Nana said she'd play, and she said Erestor would as well."
Elladan joined in, explaining. "We're warriors. Nana's been captured by orcs, and we're going to rescue her!"