Title: He Was a Bra' Gallant
Rating: K+ (angst)
Characters: Aragorn and Glorfindel
Summary: A young healer's heart rushes in where the wise fear to tread.
A/N Estel is thirteen, has been raised with Elrond as his father, and is well-acquainted with the elves of Imladris. He is friends with Legolas who is his favorite hero.
He Was a Bra' Gallant
Estel looked at the ground and placed his foot very carefully. He was hunting dangerous prey and needed to use every trick and skill he had been taught. He touched his heel down and slowly rocked his weight to the toe. Fortunately, it had been damp and gloomy for several days and the fallen leaves of early autumn were sodden and made no noise as he trod on them. He leaned down and studied the print just ahead of him in the leaf mold. It was bigger and deeper than was usual for its kind; the creature was large, increasing the danger.
The boy had been following his prey for an hour, quickly at first for the sign was fresh and the muck on the forest floor took prints easily in this wet weather. Then he had slowed and begun to move stealthily for he was closing in and did not want to flush his game too soon. Ahead he saw a thicket, still dense, having shed few of its leaves.
Estel began to breathe through his nostrils, closing his mouth tightly. Now was the dangerous time. Estel had stalked this kind of beast before and been attacked when he had closed in too carelessly. He remembered the pain as he had been mauled mercilessly. He double-checked each foot placement. He watched each bit of cover for the slightest quiver of leaf that would reveal the exact location of the prey. He slowly raised his weapon. He was ready.
Something puzzled him though, and when hunting this creature it was not wise to accept anything out of the ordinary without thinking about it long and carefully. Why was Glorfindel so far from the house, alone, on a working day? And why out here in the middle of nowhere?
Earlier that morning, after checking the usual places he had interrupted his father at his desk to ask where he could find the golden-haired elf. Elrond had not looked up from his work but said, "Do not bother him today, Estel."
Bother? Well! As if answering questions and teaching him the 'Super Secret Gondolinian Death Grip' could possibly be a bother! (He must remember to thank Erestor for the hint. Erestor had told Estel about it last week and had also told him that Glorfindel was too modest to mention the Death Grip himself.) Estel had searched the house and the exercise yard again. Taurnil, Glorfindel's adjutant, had said, "Play with him tomorrow, Estel." Adults certainly had odd ideas about what to call the deadly serious work of becoming the finest warrior in Middle Earth. Just as he had been about to give up and go and do something horrible, like study, he had come across the fabled warrior's footprints. Naturally he had trailed him.
Now he stopped moving; he had heard something! Fearfully he hefted his weapon. The ink-filled bladder squished slightly. The boy waited for whatever lightning move his mentor would make against him.
Nothing. No rustle of leaf, let alone a battle shout as the elf burst out of cover. Wait. There it was again. Estel cocked his head. Surely he was mistaken. But it certainly sounded like…
The boy crept on until he could reach out and touch the bushes before him. He slowly, slowly pushed one branch to the side and then his luck ran out. A long arm reached through, grabbed his jerkin by the collar and heaved him into a tiny clearing. The bladder sailed out of Estel's hand and burst open on the ground. Struggling and laughing in the strong hold, Estel looked up and froze. Glorfindel was enraged.
"How dare you follow me, boy? To think that on this day I have to be pestered by thoughtless, foolish children! Get back to the house! Do not let me see your face for a week!" He shoved Estel away and the boy flew several feet before falling to the ground. White-faced, Estel scrambled up and ran out of the bushes.
The boy ran towards home, his mind struggling to accept what had just happened. People in Imladris never treated each other like that, and certainly not the child that was a favorite of so many. Tears blinded him to such an extent that he stopped to dash them from his eyes. What had he done to make the Eldar so angry? Slowly, details that Estel had seen but not taken in at the time came back to him. Glorfindel's cheeks were wet! And Estel had thought he heard a sob before he had touched the bushes. Was Glorfindel crying?
To a thirteen year old boy, the thought of the mightiest warrior in Middle Earth crying, was very unsettling. Oh, to be sure, the elder elves would sniff or wipe away a tear when listening to sad songs in the Hall of Fire, especially those of the tragic times of old. Estel frowned on such unmanly displays of rampant emotion, but you could hardly call it crying.
Estel's tears dried as he stood and thought. What kind of terrible thing would it take to make Glorfindel cry in the middle of an ordinary day? At first he wondered if the elf might be hurt, but he had felt perfectly healthy to the boy he had sent flying! Had someone hurt his feelings? It was hard to imagine that. Estel started back in the direction of the thicket. Then he stopped. Maybe he should go tell Ada. But this must be what Ada and Taurnil had meant when they tried to steer him away from the ancient elf. They already knew and were perfectly happy to go about their business and let Glorfindel be miserable! The fledgling healer in Estel, combined with his warm heart, demanded that something be done. He started back the way he had come.
This time he did not try to creep up on Glorfindel but simply brushed his way into the hidden place the warrior had chosen. Glorfindel was sitting on the ground, his head in his hands. He did not look up; he had heard the boy long before. He said dully, "I thought I told you to leave me and go back to the house."
"I came back to see what was wrong and if I could help you." (Sometimes the direct approach is best).
The old warrior looked up at that. He forced one side of his mouth to rise, though the result was a grimace rather than the intended smile. "Even after the way I treated you? You are kind, Estel, and I am sorry I acted as I did. Very sorry. All right? Now please, go home. I need to be alone today."
"It is a long and boring story." He saw genuine concern in the boy's face. "I will be fine, I promise you. But not today. Today I will be sad. That is what adults do sometimes, when they remember…"
Estel plumped down on the ground next to Glorfindel. He imitated the other's cross-legged position and placed one hand gently on the forearm of his tutor. He looked earnestly into the glistening eyes.
"I like long and boring stories when you tell them. Please tell me why you are sad. If what is making you unhappy is a secret, then I will keep it forever." A skeptical look made him say earnestly, "No, truly, I will never tell! You think I cannot keep secrets but you do not know the ones I do keep because I have not told!"
"An irrefutable argument." The elf lord said nothing more, however, and with a sigh Estel laid his head against Glorfindel's shoulder. If he would not speak of his pain, Estel would at least stay with him. Glorfindel thought about trying to send Estel away but decided it would take too much effort. With any luck the boy would get bored soon and leave on his own.
Glorfindel stared off into space and tears ran down his cheeks. He no longer sobbed though his throat was so tight it was impossible to swallow and it seemed nearly impossible to breathe. Somehow the head on his shoulder made the tears flow faster. How he wished the boy had not found him! And yet, for how long had he kept this day alone? Glorfindel was beginning to fear the grief and shame that only increased as time passed. Estel was a sympathetic listener and would be glad to add to his list of heroes. Those remaining in Middle Earth that knew the truth of that day could be numbered on one hand. Perhaps it was time someone else knew of valor beyond imagining, and the name the valor bore. Glorfindel took a deep breath, and loosened his jaw.
"His name was Ecthelion."
Estel smiled and spoke into the shoulder. "Tell me of Ecthelion."
"He was such a friend as you cannot imagine. Or perhaps you can. For you and Legolas remind me of the two of us. He was an Age younger than I, just as you are to Legolas. Everyone called me a fool at first, to spend time with such a youth. But of course that mattered little after a thousand years or so."
"It will always matter to Legolas and me, for we have not an Age before us."
"True, but as you gain wisdom you will learn that for some friendships, one day is enough yet a thousand Ages insufficient."
"Tell me more about Ecthelion. Was he yellow-haired like you? And tall?"
"Nay, his hair was black as a raven wing, and he was slighter than I, though nearly as tall. He was a mighty warrior though his heart lay in song and poetry. He had a voice that would make the Valar weep – "
"All say that about you!"
"But those who say that never heard Ecthelion. No one asked me to sing if he was present and his mithral and silver flute was the most beautiful ever seen."
"Was he kind, like Legolas, and did he always make you feel like you were stronger and wiser and a better person when you were with him?"
"Aye. That he did."
"Did he," Estel trod very carefully now, "…did he go to Valinor like my brothers' naneth?"
"I do not know. I pray so. I pray he was released long before now. He was not there when I returned and I had to leave with no word of him."
"Then he….died?" Estel asked fearfully. Glorfindel nodded mutely, hanging his head.
A dirty hand crept up and gently brushed back the hair that veiled the ancient one's face.
"What happened to Ecthelion? Tell me, please."
"What has Erestor taught you of the Fall of Gondolin?"
"Was it then! When you died? Was he also in the battle? But, today is not when…."
"No, it is not. Today is his begetting day. I do not mourn him on that day, for I will not make him share a day with others who are less then he. And yes, he died in Gondolin. Now, tell me what you know."
"Well, I know I am never to speak of it with you," Estel said with a little smile.
"Yes, Erestor tries to protect me. He is one of the few who knows what I will tell you. Go on."
"It was at festival time. A festival to welcome the summer. Everyone was waiting all night to see the dawn and sing the sun alight. There was a traitor and he let the enemy know where your hidden city was. Dragons and Orcs and Balrogs came and it looked like dawn was in the north from the fire. Everyone was being killed and you took some people to safety by a hidden way. Ada's adar was there with his naneth. When you got to the mountains there was a balrog and you – "
Glorfindel shifted abruptly and angrily. "As I thought! You know nothing of the true story! Nothing of the heroes of that day!"
Estel was too concerned with his mentor's sorrow to fear him now. He again laid his hand on the Eldar's arm and said coaxingly, "Then tell me so that I know the truth. Tell me how Ecthelion fell."
Glorfindel was a long time silent but finally began to speak, his mind going back again to hear the screaming, the shouts, the dragons' roars, and one ringing voice rallying all to him in the Courtyard of the King.
"Ecthelion was of the House of the Fountain and I am of the Golden Flower, so we rarely served or fought together. Even at Nirnaeth Arnoediad he was far from me in the mêlée. His House were guardians to the king and were reserved to defend the city, for all of that House were of the highest nobility and courage. But the city was in dire peril, and the foremost gates had fallen, so Turgon sent the Fountain down to help us as we retreated –"
Estel could not help himself and blurted, "You retreated!"
"Aye." There was enough bitterness in that one word to poison the Anduin and make it forever unfit to drink. "Aye, I retreated."
Estel said wisely, "I doubt Ecthelion would say the same, but leave that for now and tell me more of what he did when the House of the Fountain came to your aid."
"I did not see his early feats for I was in another part of the city, below the Courtyard of the
King. He and his company went to the aid of the Houses of the Arch and the Wing, and he fought there with Tuor, the husband of Idril."
"Yes. While fighting with Tuor, Ecthelion killed many Goblins and more Orcs than anyone has ever killed. So many that his name is a curse on their lips to this day—they have not forgotten him, even if his own people have! In that same skirmish he killed three balrogs –"
"THREE! He killed three balrogs?"
"Aye. Now do you begin to see why I hate the name 'Balrog Slayer'?" Glorfindel continued his tale. "He was severely wounded by their whips of flame and his shield arm hung useless when I saw him and Tuor come into the courtyard, where the remnant of my own people were hard pressed. Then came doom upon us even worse than that which had gone before: Gothmog, the lord of the Balrogs, came into the courtyard where Ecthelion, Tuor, and I were trying to reassemble our shattered forces. It was by now obvious the city would fall. Indeed, it had fallen and we fought on knowing we could not prevail. But I knew a hidden way that Idril had prepared and I was determined that she, Tuor, and their son should escape with as many as we could salvage. Ecthelion backed my plan and we tried to get Tuor to leave. But he engaged Gothmog, whose feet shook the ground and whose roars crumbled the walls around us. Tuor would have perished but Ecthelion, his sword struck from his hand, rammed the spike of his helm into the chest of the beast. Even then it might have escaped death and been the destruction of us all, but Ecthelion wrapped his legs around fire itself and embraced the fiend fervently as he pulled him backward into the fountain of the courtyard." Breathing harshly, the Last of the Golden Flower stopped and tears flowed again down his face.
Estel, with tears in his own eyes, held Glorfindel and pulled the warrior's head down upon his shoulder. "Ai! How hideous for you to see him fall! What happened then, Glorfindel?"
With a voice as hard as stone, Glorfindel said, "What happened next is that my dearest friend fell into the deep waters of the largest fountain in Gondolin with a beast made of fire. His armor and the demon held him beneath the surface. He was cooked like a river mussel. The last I saw of him was roiling waters and clouds of steam that billowed white as snow and filled the sky. Then I left him. I just turned and left him."
Estel tugged at a fistful of golden hair and forced the blue eyes to look into his own. "Yes, you left your friend. To go home and have a nice glass of wine, no doubt. Tell me exactly what you did."
"I dragged Tuor away and with the few warriors left alive, we took all whom we could save through the tunnels."
"So you saved Tuor and Earendil and through him, Adar, and thus preserved Middle Earth as has been proved again and again."
"We fought but yards apart and I am alive and Ecthelion is dead! I should have saved him!"
Glorfindel was too absorbed in his despair to notice that Estel did not respond. The boy had leaned forward, slumping, his head hanging. After long moments he slowly raised it again.
"Glorfindel!" The commanding voice was deeper and richer than the voice of Estel. Glorfindel's head jerked around and he stared wide-eyed at cheekbones that were higher, a chin that was longer and more pointed than the boy's, and a lofty pale brow unencumbered by tangled dark locks. The eyes were a dark, stormy grey, not light silver. He saw Estel and yet - he saw another superimposed on the childish features.
The voice that was not Estel's continued, "Thou fought like the heroes of olden time! Thy blade sang death! Thou did as I bid thee and saved the child! And because thou didst thy duty and denied thy heart, Hope now sits beside thee!"
Shaking, almost fainting, Glorfindel whispered, "Ecthelion? H-how!"
"Hope has a generous heart; he shares it with me. He and Namo give thee this gift, for thy sorrow consumes thee and endangers what we fought for long ago. Glorfindel, thou didst not fail! Thou wert always my ensample. I revere thee still."
The golden warrior reached out a trembling hand but did not touch Estel/Ecthelion.
The Noldo spoke again. "I am graced with but a moment. I must go lest I harm the child. He is in your charge; train him well. When thy tasks are done I will greet thee on the shore. Until then, fare thee well, Lord of the Golden Flower. I bid thee: Fare thee well, gwador nin."
Estel collapsed in a boneless heap and Glorfindel leapt across the space between them. He lifted the boy in his arms and looked desperately at his face. But he saw only Estel and the boy's face was pale with blue tinted lips. The warrior put thoughts of Ecthelion aside and gently stroked back the hair that once again tangled before silver eyes.
"Estel! Estel, can you hear me?" He tapped one cheek and the eyelids fluttered and lifted.
"G-g-glorf-f-indel?" The boy stuttered as shudders shook his frame. "C-c-cold!"
The elf lord gently placed him on the ground and hastily stripped off first his jerkin and then his silk shirt and placed them both around the boy. He pulled Estel to his chest to give him all the warmth he could. He rocked the boy and murmured soothingly until the shivering stopped. Estel pulled a little away and looked into a face filled with elation.
"Did you see him? Was he here?"
"Aye, I saw him! What happened? Can you tell me?"
"I heard a voice; he said he was Ecthelion. He spoke in a strange way."
"So did we all in those days. What next?"
"He said he had been given a special boon that he had asked for long and long. He said I must hide for awhile so that he might share my body and speak with you. I was afraid, but you were so sad…..He would not force me; he said I must yield freely. I agreed to try. I went….somewhere…then I woke in your hold. Did you truly see him? Speak with him?"
"Aye, in truth I did. Ah, Estel, thank you! A thousand times thank you!"
With a knowing smile the boy asked, "And did he say that he blamed you, hated you, for his death?"
The elf looked at Estel with wonder. "Nay, he did not, wise one."
Estel asked no more. What had passed between the two friends would remain solely with them.
The two sat in reverent silence for a long while and then Estel asked with his best wheedling voice, "Since Ecthelion is not here to shine you down, will you sing one of his songs for me?"
Glorfindel turned his head slowly to look at Estel. He had been so lost in awe and joy that the boy's words had barely penetrated. He had seen his friend and been called valorous and heart's brother! The elf felt the suffocating weight of guilt and pain lifting from him. He found that his tight throat had loosened and his heartache had gentled from searing anguish to tempered sorrow. He smoothed a hand down Estel's hair and said, "It has been long since I have been able to sing of him, but I think now I can."
He began and his voice was strong and steady.
and pain are all I know.
My heart is sore, my tears aflow.
We lost him in the fountain's foam;
No word we know of him, a'home.
A proud and gallant
A high born scion of gentle mien,
A fiery blade engaged to lead,
He'd break the bravest in the field.
The eldar's voice failed him at last. Estel thought awhile and then raised his voice as he finished the song with a verse of his own, one that turned sorrow to pride and hope.
We will sing his praise
as sweet harps play,
And proudly toast his noble fame
With spirit and with mind aflame,
'Til in Aman we will meet again.
Glorfindel looked at Estel in amazement. "I did not know you were a poet!"
Estel murmured bashfully, "I am not, not really. I never show anyone my poems for fear they will laugh."
"I am not laughing, Estel. That was beautiful. I will always sing it that way forever more."
Estel sighed happily. "I am glad you liked it. But why do you not tell everyone of Ecthelion, and make this a feast day? Ada would decree it, I know he would."
"Some things are best kept for those who truly understand them. As I believe you do, youngling."
Estel thought of special times with Legolas, some painful, that he did not want to share with others. He did understand.
Estel spoke wistfully, "I wish I could have met Ecthelion. I heard his voice but could not see him. Thank you for telling me of his deeds in Gondolin. Your friend was as brave as ever I have heard tell of, and now I will remember him always. I will remember the Lord of the Fountain and how he saved the world—my world—when he embraced the fires of Morgoth for love of his city and his friend. I, too, will reserve this day for his memory. May I join you next year?"
"You have more than earned the right. I will welcome you."
"Do Elladan and Elrohir know? About you and Ecthelion?"
"Perhaps they once knew his deeds. They do not know he is gwador to me."
Estel leaned again against Glorfindel and tucked his arm in the larger one of the warrior. "Good! I like knowing things they do not." He yawned and Glorfindel regretfully sat up straight.
"Time for you to go home. Are you warm enough to give back my shirt?" Estel nodded. "You are sure? Then let us go."
"You are coming, too? That is well! You need something to eat and a little rest, I think. Today has been hard on you."
Glorfindel laughed. "You sound more like Elrond every day!" Then he sobered and took the boy's chin in hand. "Once we leave here, we will not speak of this before others." Estel nodded, in his eyes a solemn vow.
The warrior continued, "I thank you, Estel. You have given me the most wondrous gift I have ever received or ever could receive. My heart is lighter than it has been in many a long, weary year. Thank you for not taking me at my word and leaving me alone with my grief today."
Estel stretched and rose, tugging at Glorfindel to get him moving. With a flourish he pulled the jerkin around his shoulders like a cloak. "Think nothing of it. Or better, think nothing of it until I am in trouble for something—then remember it. And I think I will still call you 'the Balrog Slayer,' for after all, you did manage to kill one." Laughing, he danced out of the Eldar's reach.
Glorfindel growled and called him a limb of Sauron. Estel came close again and patted the arm next to him. "I love you, too," he whispered, and together they turned and started for the Last Homely House.
Nirnaeth Arnoediad—Battle of Unnumbered Tears
Gwador nin - "my brother" - by choice, not blood
The song is a traditional Irish ballad, reinterpreted by the Chieftains. (The 3rd and 12th lines are mine, so don't blame them.)
The title of the story is from: "The Bonny Earl of Murray"