"There upon Celebdil was a lonely window in the snow, and before it lay a narrow space, a dizzy eyrie above the mists of the world. The sun shone fiercely there, but all below was wrapped in cloud. Out he sprang, and even as I came behind, he burst into new flame. There was none to see, or perhaps in after ages songs would still be sung of the Battle of the Peak."
Gandalf—The Two Towers (The White Rider)
The World Below the Mists
Partially obscured by its northern brethren, the mountain of Celebdil was difficult to see from the heights above Imladris. But the storm that raged about its peak was not. For the past two days, clouds of ice and snow had billowed outward from the southernmost of the Moria peaks, pounding the slopes of Caradhras and Fanuidhol with volley after volley of lightning. It was an impressive storm that had yet to stray from Celebdil, a curious development that the elves would have normally watched with interest. But Elrond's reaction to the storm made it much more than a curiosity, and perched atop the cliffs that overlooked Imladris, Glorfindel warily eyed the storm.
It was a frigid January morning, and his breath escaped him in misty puffs. But Glorfindel barely felt the cold. His mind was too occupied by thoughts of the storm and of Elrond. They had been in council the day the storm began. In the valley, Celebdil itself was not visible, but Elrond noted that the southern skies had filled with clouds. He interrupted the discussion to send scouts up to the ridges and learn the clouds' origin, and when word came that Celebdil seemed to be at the center of a fierce storm, Elrond grew uneasy. As morning turned to afternoon, he began to be withdrawn, looking to the windows more often than he looked to either Glorfindel or Erestor. By nightfall, he had ordered all watches on the heights to give special heed to the storm and to stay in areas where they had a clear view of the southern mountains. Glorfindel had pointed out that Celebdil stood well over sixty leagues away, and at that distance, even the keenest elven eyes would be unable to see much in the way of details. But Elrond had been adamant, and the watches had been set. On the storm's second day, Elrond had done little more than watch the sky, foregoing even food and drink until Erestor threatened to recite the Lay of Leithian in Entish should he refuse to break his fast. All of this would have been worrisome enough by itself, but even more maddening was the fact that Elrond seemed reluctant to share why he was so interested in Celebdil's storm. The only one to elicit anything resembling an explanation was Elladan, and all Elrond told him was that he sensed Galadriel's urgent thoughts bending toward the mountains.
Glorfindel's eyes narrowed, and a heavy sigh escaped his gritted teeth. He had his own opinion regarding the use of the Three Elven Rings. The Doom of Mandos may have been lifted following the War of Wrath, but Glorfindel still felt its workings in those who elected to remain in Middle-earth. And as a scion of Fëanor, Celebrimbor's works seemed particularly laden with the weight of that dark promise. The Three Rings would prove the elves' undoing, and the more the elves relied upon the Three, the more grievous would be their passing. At best, the One Ring would be destroyed and all other Rings would fail. It was a costly outcome that Elrond and Galadriel seemed prepared to accept, but Glorfindel did not think either fully comprehended the magnitude of such a loss. Lothlórien and Imladris had been sustained too long by the power of the Three.
As for the worst that could happen…
Shaking his head, Glorfindel closed his eyes and lifted his face to the rising sun. He had voiced his misgivings before, but it had taken death to teach him what it meant to lose a life's labor. He could not impart wisdom that only experience could teach. Thus he did the only thing he could do: he took what Elrond gathered through Vilya, and he tried his best to put it to good use. With this in mind, Glorfindel opened his eyes and turned his attention back to the storm around Celebdil, hoping that the view of the mountain might lend him some glimpse of foresight.
That was when he spied the eagle.
It was not unusual to see one of the great eagles circling above the Misty Mountains, but it was unusual to see such an eagle leaving the mountains. It was even more unusual to see an eagle flying westward. When they did leave the sheltering peaks, the eagles almost always flew east where men were fewer and prey plentiful. And they were always high enough in the sky that arrows could not reach them. Often they were above the clouds, beyond the sight of both elves and men. But this eagle seemed to break all conventions, for he flew west, low, and was descending rapidly. Deciding that others could worry about Celebdil's storm, Glorfindel rose to his feet and turned his attention toward the bird.
The rising sun lay directly behind the eagle, and perhaps this explained why Glorfindel had not noticed him earlier. But now that he knew where to look, he easily traced the eagle's path and determined his destination to be Imladris. The thought worried Glorfindel. Eagles were servants of Manwë and allies to the elves, but a lone eagle coming to Imladris probably meant fell tidings. The Nine Walkers were now a month on the way, and nothing had been heard of them. Glorfindel suspected that Elrond would know immediately if Sauron regained the One Ring, but even so, his fear grew.
As the eagle drew closer, Glorfindel drifted further away from the edge of the cliffs. The elves had encouraged the growth of a forest atop the sheltering heights as yet another safeguard to conceal the valley, but there was a clearing where Glorfindel had chosen to keep watch and he now moved to its center. From there he had a clear view of the eagle, which now flew very low and drifted only slightly as his wings compensated for the winds. It was a magnificent sight, and in praise of that beauty, Glorfindel raised a hand to in both greeting and gratitude.
He suddenly found himself the subject of a sharp, aquiline gaze. At the same time, the eagle cried aloud, his scream echoing far in the winter morning. There was a flare of wings, the feathers a burnished gold beneath the morning sun, and for a moment, the great bird seemed to hang in the air. Then he tipped his body forward, pulled his wings in close, and dove straight toward Glorfindel's clearing.
Swifter than even the fiercest gale, the eagle dropped from the sky and skimmed the tree tops at the edge of the clearing. The vast expanse of wings suddenly opened, and a rush of wind flattened the winter grass that grew in clumps through the snow. Caught in the throes of surprise, Glorfindel hastily backed away as the golden body reared back and massive talons stretched forth. Snow and dirt flew upward, and he ducked his head behind upraised arms in an attempt to shield his face. He heard the crunch and grind of rock as the talons dug into the ground, and the wings thumped several more times before the eagle seemed to settle himself. Cautiously lowering his arms, Glorfindel brushed snow from his face and watched as the eagle smoothed down his feathers. The wings then folded back and a pair of sharp eyes turned toward Glorfindel. For his part, Glorfindel returned the stare in silence, deciding to let the visitor speak first.
"I am Landroval, brother and nest-mate to Gwaihir the Windlord," the eagle said after a long moment of scrutiny, his words oddly accented by his rigid beak. "You are Glorfindel, Balrog-slayer. You are known to us. Our fathers bore your body up from the abyss and buried you in stone beneath the Eagle's Cleft."
Glorfindel blinked, somewhat taken aback by the greeting and unsure of how to respond. "I thank you for the consideration of your forefathers," he answered, deciding that one strange salutation deserved another, "and I regret that I was unable to thank them personally. I was…indisposed at the time."
Landroval ruffled his feathers, which Glorfindel took to be a response of some kind but he could not even begin to guess what it meant. Tuor and Ecthelion had always been better at understanding eagles. "I am sent by the Lord and Lady of Lothlórien," Landroval announced, "and I bring tidings for the Mariner's son. But I will give these tidings to you, Balrog-slayer, for we may again have need of your services."
Glorfindel's mouth went dry. "My services? What manner of tidings are these?"
Landroval snapped his beak and flexed his wings. "The company you sent forth one month ago has reached Lothlórien. But they met great danger beneath the mountains, and there are eight where once there were nine. Mithrandir is lost."
Glorfindel inhaled sharply, and the cold air seared his lungs as denial fought the eagle's words. He was nearly overcome by the irreverent urge to ask, Again? For if he could ask that question, then there was no substance to Landroval's dark hints. Mithrandir had simply been misplaced, and all their troubles could be attributed to Curunír, who undoubtedly had Mithrandir back atop Orthanc.
But Glorfindel had lived—and died—through too much to deny his instincts. Mithrandir was indeed lost, and he was lost to circumstances far more dire than those that had revealed Curunír's treachery. With sudden realization, Glorfindel turned his eyes to the storm that ringed Celebdil, remembering what kingdom lay beneath those slopes. "The Fellowship passed through Moria," he murmured.
"Yes," Landroval confirmed.
Glorfindel's jaw tightened as he struggled against the onslaught of crippling grief. He had known Mithrandir when Mithrandir was yet called Olórin, and in those days before the sun and moon, Glorfindel had come to call him friend. Several millennia and one death later, Glorfindel had been at the Havens when the Istari arrived in Middle-earth, and he had recognized immediately his Maia-friend of old, now in different form and of different power. To think that something had managed to quench that power… "We have long wondered about the nature of Durin's Bane," Glorfindel whispered, now understanding the rest of Landroval's grim tidings. "No survivor could give any description of the creature that drove the dwarves from the mines."
"We need wonder no longer," Landroval said, and his eyes flickered. "Thranduil's son put a name to it. It is a Balrog."
When Glorfindel was released from Mandos, he had remembered little of his former life. Over time, most of his memories returned to him, but there were some things that he never fully recalled. And there were some things that he never tried to recall. He remembered enough of his death to know that he did not wish to remember more. But the eagle's words seemed to open a door to Glorfindel's lost memories, and the world around him suddenly darkened. Images erupted in his mind. For a moment, he again stood atop the walls of Gondolin, watching in first confusion and then horror as a red light dawned beyond the fences of the northern mountains. Smoke charred his throat, screams harrowed his ears, and a heavy weight bore down upon his chest. "Mithrandir fell to a Balrog?" he managed, his voice trembling.
"Those are the tidings I was sent to deliver."
Glorfindel closed his eyes. "And what of the Balrog?"
The eagle hissed, and Glorfindel opened his eyes in time to see the golden head turn south, the eyes shifting as they focused on sights beyond even the keen-eyed elves. "Its fate is uncertain," Landroval said. "Both Mithrandir and the Balrog plunged into a deep chasm, and after their fall, the rest of the company fled Moria. That was one week ago, and we have neither seen nor heard aught since."
"All these years, it has slept beneath the mountains," Glorfindel said quietly, more to himself than to the eagle. "We never knew. We never suspected."
"Perhaps it will sleep again," Landroval said, his words short and clipped. "Perhaps not. Perhaps it endures. Perhaps it perished. But that is not the end of my tidings. I also bring a request that you dispatch searchers to look for any sign of Mithrandir. Galadriel is most anxious that his resting place be found and his possessions restored to the elves."
Glorfindel frowned. Given all else that had happened, why would Galadriel concern herself with Mithrandir's… "Oh blessed Valar," Glorfindel breathed, and amidst the chaos of his memories and the grief of his loss, a new fear settled. A dark and terrifying possibility that he had never dared consider. It was a secret supposedly known only to Elrond, Círdan, and Galadriel, but Glorfindel had discerned it years ago. His sense of the unseen was too acute for him to miss the fact that when Mithrandir left Círdan's realm, he took with him great power. More power than what he possessed when he first arrived. And after his departure, Círdan's realm lessened, falling to the wear of time while the realms of Imladris and Lothlórien remained ageless. Glorfindel had never voiced his conclusion, but he was certain of it. Erestor also suspected but never pressed. Never questioned. To both of them, it was clear: Gandalf bore Narya, the Ring of Fire.
And if a Balrog, a spirit of fire, had come into possession of it and recognized its power—
The storm around Celebdil took on a much more sinister look.
"Have you other tidings?" Glorfindel forced himself to ask, almost afraid to invite more news.
"No," Landroval said, and he opened his wings. "My errand is complete, and I will leave you now. Gwaihir leads our people to search the heights, and I must join them."
"Then may the wind bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks," Glorfindel heard himself say, somehow remembering the correct farewell for an eagle.
"Such a wind will not blow in these lands for many days," Landroval said darkly, and with a cry, he rushed forward. Blinded by the snow and dirt that trailed in the eagle's wake, Glorfindel stumbled back as Landroval launched himself off the cliffs. And in a sudden rush of dark memories, the clearing around Glorfindel dimmed and he found himself on the cliffs below the eagle, fighting for balance on a narrow mountain pass. Jagged ice pressed against his back, and his hands were so frozen that he could barely grasp his sword. But even as he shivered in the frigid wind, a flaming whip seared a tight curl around his shoulders. Voices screamed. Turgon's daughter screamed. Her son screamed. Over and over, they screamed his name while he spiraled into a howling wind—
He returned to his senses just as a leathern flask was shoved against his lips and the taste of miruvor filled his mouth. Glorfindel immediately choked. Spluttering and coughing, he pushed away from the hands that grasped him. He stood again in the clearing atop the heights, and he now saw that the clearing had filled with one of the border patrols.
Still coughing, Glorfindel followed the voice and turned a steely glare on the offender who had tried to dose him with miruvor. Glorfindel had no love of cordial and found Imladris's liquor to be much too sweet, especially when forced upon him unawares. But he could not find it in himself to be angry with Elrohir, for as he looked upon Elrohir's face, he found echoes of other faces. Echoes of Eärendil. Of Tuor. Of Idril. Of Turgon himself, to whom Glorfindel had long ago sworn fealty. His oath now issued a summons to duty, and Glorfindel had never been one to ignore duty. "Take me to Elrond," he commanded as his coughs eased.
"As if I would take you anywhere else!" Elrohir exclaimed. "You are pale as a wraith! What happened? And what of the eagle? We observed his coming, but we did not hear his words. What tidings did he bring?"
"Tidings that must first be shared with your father," Glorfindel said, wiping miruvor from his chin.
Elrohir pressed his lips together in a firm line, but thankfully he did not argue. With a few quick signals, he directed the others in his company back to the forests and then whistled for his horse. "Is Asfaloth with you or did you come on foot?" he asked Glorfindel.
"On foot," Glorfindel answered with a grimace. He could still taste the syrupy remnants of miruvor, but his memories now gifted him with another taste: a remembered slurry of ash and blood.
Unaware of Glorfindel's growing discomfort, Elrohir mounted his restive bay stallion. "Gaearsul has not Asfaloth's speed, but he is sure-footed and will get us safely down the snowy trails. Come!"
Glorfindel swung up behind Elrohir, and if his movements lacked their customary grace, Elrohir said naught. Grateful, Glorfindel endured the descent in silence, closing his eyes as he struggled to compose his mind. Never had he thought to confront the instrument of his death for a second time. Nor had he thought to confront such a threat while it wielded a Ring of Power. And though neither of these things had come to pass, the possibilities left Glorfindel shaken.
But Glorfindel had not returned from death only to fall prey to his own thoughts, and by the time they reached the valley floor, his memories were present but not consuming. And it was well that he achieved this much, for as he and Elrohir approached the house, Glorfindel was reminded that the burden of messenger had fallen to him. He now had the task of informing Elrond that Mithrandir was lost and that a Balrog dwelt only a fortnight away. The knowledge threatened to undo all that he had accomplished during the descent into the valley. Fears long since vanquished woke and joined themselves to forgotten memory, and for a moment, smoke and fire surged toward him over an icy trail.
With effort, Glorfindel forcibly pushed the memories back and thrust the fears aside. He turned his attention to his surroundings in search of distraction and discovered that he and Elrohir neared the porch before the Hall of Fire. A small crowd of elves were gathered outside, many of whom watched the sky while the rest watched Glorfindel and Elrohir. Snatches of conversation informed Glorfindel that all in Imladris had seen the eagle and now wondered at what might have brought the great bird so far west of the Misty Mountains.
"I think these good people have questions for you," Elrohir observed. "And I must admit that I share their curiosity."
"These good people must wait a little longer," Glorfindel said, dismounting. "And so must you. I suspect there will soon be messages to take to the Rangers in the Angle, and I would have you find Elladan." He gestured to those gathered on the porch and added, "Perhaps you can enlist the aid of those gathered here. That would hasten the search."
Elrohir's eyes narrowed. "You were quick enough to accept a ride. Why do you now seek to dismiss me?"
"Because the tidings I bring are not mine to share," Glorfindel answered and prayed that Elrohir would not force the issue. It would be difficult enough to deliver this news with the memory of Turgon staring out at him from Elrond's face.
"Nearly three millennia ago, you would at least give me a sweet before sending me off to find amusement elsewhere," Elrohir muttered, but he said no more and directed his horse toward the crowd.
Turning his back on Elrohir's displeasure, Glorfindel quickly made his way past the gathered elves and into the house. As he did so, he composed his face into a forbidding look that warded off all questions. It seemed to be an effective look, for everyone he came across turned aside. Without interruption, Glorfindel easily navigated the winding passages, and ere long, he stood before the door of Elrond's study. Sparing a final moment to smooth down his tunic, he ordered his thoughts and raised a hand to knock.
The door chose that moment to open inward.
Glorfindel's arm was already swinging forward, but surprise immediately stilled his movements. And where the door had been moments ago, his face only inches from Glorfindel's fist, a startled Erestor blinked. "I thought we settled our armory dispute over breakfast."
Glorfindel scowled and lowered his arm. He started to push past Erestor into the study, but a quick glance revealed the room to be empty. "Where is Elrond?" he demanded.
"Watching the storm from his balcony." Erestor wrinkled his nose and looked hard at Glorfindel. "Why do you smell of miruvor and why are you pale as a wraith?"
Glorfindel ignored the questions and stepped back into the hallway. "I bear grim tidings," he said, beckoning for Erestor to follow, "and it is probably best that you hear these tidings when I deliver them to Elrond. They may explain why the southern storm is of such interest."
"Have these tidings aught to do with the eagle that flew overhead?" Erestor asked, lengthening his stride to match Glorfindel's brisk pace.
"Inasmuch as the eagle brought the tidings, yes."
Erestor was silent for a moment. "Yesterday," he said at length, "I told Lindir that I would welcome any explanation for Master Elrond's interest in the storm, be it good or bad. But if your pallor is any indication, I may have spoken in haste."
"We may all have acted in haste," Glorfindel said grimly, for surely the Nine Walkers could have been provided an escort for the first stage of their journey. A company of elves traveling to Lothlórien would have attracted little attention. All knew that there were many comings and goings between Imladris and the other elven realms. Had the Council not been so cautious or so secretive and had they known what lurked beneath the mountains—
"Our only recent actions of any import have to do with either Curunír or a certain hobbit," Erestor mused as he followed Glorfindel up the stairs that led to Elrond's residencies. "And something in me says that your tidings do not concern our defenses against Isengard."
"Nay," Glorfindel conceded. They had reached the second landing, and Glorfindel now moved swiftly down the hall. "They do not."
"And something also tells me that you wish to give these tidings only once."
Glorfindel's lips quirked at that. "True."
"Then it is well that we have arrived, for my heart quails with all the possibilities I can imagine," Erestor said as they reached Elrond's door. It was ajar, and Glorfindel pushed it inward, rapping on the frame to announce their presence. A voice directed them to enter, and in that voice Glorfindel heard a weariness that he immediately recognized. It was a weariness that afflicted Elrond when Vilya was used for an extensive period of time.
"Glorfindel. Erestor. I assume you both saw the eagle," the voice called quietly. They followed the voice through the main chambers and out the door that led to the balcony. As they stepped into the sunlight, Elrond glanced at them long enough to nod a greeting, but his eyes were distant and he immediately turned his attention back to the sky. "There is much that I might guess about the eagle, but I know nothing for certain. If you come seeking answers, I fear I have none to give you."
"On the contrary," Glorfindel said softly, "It is I who has answers for you." He stepped back into the main room and found a chair to take out onto the balcony. Elrond looked as taxed as Glorfindel felt, and after hearing the tidings from Lothlórien, Glorfindel suspected that the peredhel would need to sit down. "Landroval is the name of the eagle you saw," he continued when he returned to the balcony. Erestor followed him with two more chairs. "He gave me tidings from Celeborn and Galadriel."
That caught Elrond's attention, and he turned toward Glorfindel, his eyes suddenly sharp. "The eagle brought tidings from both Celeborn and Galadriel?"
There was an unspoken question lurking behind Elrond's words, and Glorfindel steadied himself to answer it. "Yes," he said, his glance straying to Elrond's right hand. "I do not think Galadriel felt it safe to convey her message by other means."
Elrond's gaze became sharper. "I must assume, then, that these tidings are grave. Clearly you deem them to be, for you look as though you have seen a wraith. Sit!"
"The tidings concern the Nine Walkers," Glorfindel said. He could not deny that it felt very good to sit down, though he wondered if seeing a wraith was an improvement over being pale as one. "The Fellowship arrived in Lothlórien, but they now number eight. Frodo is safe," Glorfindel hastened to say when twin looks of horror appeared on the faces of both Elrond and Erestor. "But another is not." He paused, his heart heavy, and then with a voice that refused to hold steady, he bowed his head and said, "Mithrandir is lost."
Silence descended. A thick, heavy silence in which all of Imladris seemed to still. It was as though a pall swept outward from Elrond's balcony, hushing the speech of elves and beasts throughout the valley. Erestor was the one to finally break the silence, and in a tone filled with desperate disbelief, he asked, "Again?"
Glorfindel might have thought the question. Only Erestor would be bold enough to voice it. "No," Glorfindel said quietly. "Not as he was lost before."
Elrond's single word was softly spoken, but behind it, Glorfindel sensed a torrent of fury and grief. "One week ago, the Fellowship passed through Moria," he answered.
Erestor's eyes widened and he looked to the south, taking a seat as he did so. "When they debated various means of crossing the mountains, Mithrandir and Estel both spoke to me of the mines," he murmured. "But I thought they agreed to take the pass over Caradhras. Such was my counsel, and Estel, at least, seemed to heed me. What could have forced them into Moria?"
"In declaring the members of the Fellowship, I noted that this might prove to be the end of Mithrandir's labors. Alas that my words held true!" Elrond said heavily. He now stood behind his empty chair, and he gripped the top of the seatback so hard that his hands were white. His darkened eyes focused themselves on Glorfindel. "You have stated where. You have not yet stated how."
"And here the tidings grow worse," Glorfindel said, steeling himself against his memories. "Mithrandir fell to Durin's Bane, and according to the eagle, Legolas put a name to it. I know not how he recognized the creature, but Celeborn was convinced enough to send the warning: We face a Balrog."
"A Balrog?" Erestor exclaimed. "That is what dwells in Moria?"
"Is this why the eagle declared these tidings to you?" Elrond asked, both fear and concern in his eyes.
"Partly," Glorfindel said slowly. "In truth, they were to be given to you, but the eagle thought that my services might be needed again."
"Ai Elbereth," Erestor swore quietly. "Caras Galadhon is only a day's ride from Moria's East-gate! And we are but two weeks from the Hollin-gate!"
"There is more," Glorfindel said, determined to deliver the rest of the tidings. "We have also been asked to lend our assistance in searching for Mithrandir's possessions. Galadriel is anxious that they be delivered into the hands of the elves."
Erestor frowned, his lips pursed as though in confusion, but Elrond immediately froze, his hands tightening on the back of his chair. "Does the Fellowship know where his possessions might now lie?" Elrond demanded.
"Mithrandir and the Balrog fell into a chasm," Glorfindel said, and in an ill-humor, he added, "It seems to be an effective means of dealing with such creatures."
Elrond's brow creased, and Erestor gave Glorfindel a sharp glance. "Effective and costly," the advisor said coolly. "But what is this talk of Mithrandir's possessions? We have suffered a grievous loss and we have learned that Sauron is not the only servant of Morgoth to threaten our lands. If Galadriel is intent upon recovering Mithrandir's…" Erestor abruptly trailed off, and his face paled.
Elrond looked at first Erestor and then Glorfindel, his expression stern. "You both understand the message?"
"I believe we can make a wise assumption," Glorfindel said carefully.
Elrond gave a short nod. "It is not permitted to speak of, and so we will say no more. But I cannot emphasize enough the importance of finding that which Mithrandir bore."
"A possession lost to an abyss in Moria could find itself in many places," Erestor said, his voice stunned. "There are countless streams and lakes beneath the mountains. Snowmelt and rains flood them in the spring, sometimes forcing their contents back into the sun anywhere between the High Pass and the Gap of Rohan." Erestor suddenly closed his eyes and muttered a quiet oath. "We must consider Isengard in this. The River Isen is fed directly by springs beneath the Misty Mountains!"
"Yes, there is much to consider," Elrond said, moving around his chair and finally taking a seat. "But we should not look too far afield for trouble. There is a possibility that the Balrog perished in the chasm. There is a possibility that some things are now lost forever beneath the mountains. There is even a possibility that Mithrandir lives and will return to us."
"Those are things we may hope for, yes," Glorfindel cautioned, "but prudence demands that we prepare for that which we dread."
"True," Elrond agreed wearily, "but we can do little more than what we have already done. Our advantage lies in secrecy, not confrontation. Our defenses against Saruman, against Sauron, and even against the new threat of the Balrog are set. We are too few for aught else. Sending forth searchers will tax the strength and range of our patrols."
"We can ask the Rangers to reduce their numbers in Eriador and increase their patrols at the feet of the mountains," Erestor suggested. "And those Rangers stationed in the Angle can certainly move their companies further east."
"Perhaps," Elrond murmured, and his gaze turned toward the west. "But if the Rangers leave their guard, I fear that the price may be more than we realize."
"We cannot ignore the threat of a Balrog," Erestor argued. "And even if the Balrog perished, spies of Curunír or Sauron cannot be allowed to discover where Mithrandir lies!"
"Then let us summon my sons," Elrond said heavily, his face pained. "They must be told of this news, and they will wish to act. We will send them to ride with the Rangers, and as many as can be gathered will be sent toward the mountains to search for tidings and to give warning if the Balrog should arise."
"Elrohir seeks Elladan as we speak," Glorfindel said. "I expect them soon." He paused for a moment, reaffirming his pledge to protect this family, and then added, "If you wish it, I will ride with them."
Both gratitude and grief shone in Elrond's eyes. "My thanks," he said, "but you may be needed here. If our hopes fail, I would have you stand before the last defenses of Imladris and explain the exact nature of our foe in Moria."
"All the explanation in the world would never prepare you for such an enemy," Glorfindel said quietly. "If the Balrog did not perish in the chasm, there is little more that I can tell you."
"Your presence alone would be a comfort to many," Elrond said. "And to that end, I ask you to go now and seek peace for yourself. These tidings have dealt you a grievous blow."
"I will also take my leave so that I may prepare the messages to be sent to the Rangers," Erestor said, standing. "I assume you wish to tell them all the eagle's tidings?"
"All that we may freely speak of, and that is little enough," Elrond sighed. "But certainly they must know of the Balrog."
Erestor nodded and made as though to leave, but then he paused and turned back toward Elrond. "It is not permitted to speak of, but perhaps using other words, I might beg a question of you: Should you have known? Should you have felt Mithrandir's fall?"
Elrond pursed his lips. "Mithrandir has been lost to me for many days. I cannot penetrate the shadow that creeps westward from the mountains. Over a month ago, I tried to do so for the sake of the Fellowship and was thwarted. The darkness is even greater now."
"But it is not dark above Celebdil."
Glorfindel frowned, hearing a strange note in Erestor's voice. Elrond seemed equally puzzled and turned his gaze to the south. "Above Celebdil?" he echoed.
"I rode a trail out of the valley late last night and viewed the mountain for myself," Erestor said. "The slopes are lost to clouds, but above those clouds, I saw the reflection of moonlight. The peak lies bare of all save snow, and the scouts tell me that it has been so since the first day of the storm." Erestor now also turned to watch the south. "Might we not take hope in that? Even if Mithrandir is lost to us, the storm that feels so significant only clouds the lands below it. It cannot shadow the high places. Might hope not be…" Erestor paused, seeming to hesitate over his next words. "Might hope not be rekindled from that?" he finished, his voice scarcely more than a whisper.
Elrond stiffened, and Glorfindel held his breath. It was the closest any of them had come to actually saying that Mithrandir bore the Ring of Fire. The Ring capable of rekindling lost hope. "It is not permitted to speak of these things," Elrond said softly.
"No, it is not," Erestor agreed. "Nevertheless, the point remains: might we not draw hope from this?"
"I have said already that my sight cannot penetrate—"
"Then do not rely upon your foresight!" Erestor said. "Nor you, Glorfindel," he added, gracing Glorfindel with a frustrated look. "I am not gifted with the foresight that you have, yet I, too, can look afar. But I see that which you overlook, and I say to you both: Take hope in this! The sun smiles upon the summit. Not all is lost to darkness!"
Glorfindel frowned and looked to Elrond. Was it possible? Earlier that morning, Glorfindel had grieved the elves' reliance upon the Three. Perhaps he should also grieve his own reliance upon foresight, for Erestor was correct: There was no shadow or cloud upon Celebdil's peak. Mayhap that was a sign. Mayhap hope would be rekindled.
"We will continue to watch the mountain," Elrond said at length, neither dismissing nor supporting Erestor's plea for hope. "And we will act with prudence, for in this matter, prudence is a wise course. Go now, both of you. My sons will wish to ride ere nightfall, and Glorfindel still looks as though he has seen a wraith."
Deciding that the wraith comment did not merit a response, Glorfindel rose from his seat as Erestor murmured a quick farewell. He fully intended to follow Erestor back into the house, but he found himself suddenly weary. A wave of dizziness threatened his balance, and he reached down to brace himself on the arm of his chair.
"Do you require assistance?"
Glorfindel glanced up to find Elrond watching him closely. "I should be well enough."
"You should be, yes, but you are not," Elrond decided. "There is a low bench just inside. Rest there while I prepare a draught for you."
Had his thoughts not felt so scattered, Glorfindel would have protested. He disliked Elrond's healing potions almost as much as he disliked miruvor. But the longer he stood, the more he realized that he would not be able to walk much further than the door of Elrond's chambers. Swallowing his pride, he quietly agreed and moved inside, aware of Elrond disappearing into an adjacent room where he kept many of his herbs and tinctures. With a deep sigh, Glorfindel sank down onto the bench and reflected back upon Erestor's words. He wished to hope. He wished to believe that fire could indeed be rekindled beneath the sun. But like Elrond, he could not pierce the deepening shadow, and he was loath to trust in what he could not discern.
Bowing his head, he rested his chin upon his chest and struggled to see Erestor's hope. But all he saw was the darkened world below the mists. With a grimace, Glorfindel stretched out on his side and closed his eyes. Perhaps he did rely overmuch upon foresight. Perhaps he could not see the hope atop the open peak. But Erestor could. And Glorfindel trusted Erestor.
For now, that would have to be enough.
Author's Notes: First, my thanks to Virtuella, who gave this story a much needed beta edit. Second, this is a VERY belated birthday present to Nieriel Raina. Happy Birthday! I'm not quite a month late, but I am close. If you want to look at it another way, though, you can call this an early Christmas present. Happy Holidays! Third, I'm going with Tolkien's second version of history as chronicled in The Peoples of Middle-earth, wherein Glorfindel returns to Middle-earth in the Second Age rather than the Third Age. It's not a crucial difference, but for interested parties, references to Glorfindel's back story allude to that. Thank you for reading!