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What Cannot Be Undone  by Zimraphel

T.A. 2589

They were the sons of Imladris, twin stars as dark as and radiant as dawn.  Long had they been beloved by their father’s people, admired for their prowess in battle and adored for their gentle nature when at home.

But as they passed through the halls of their father’s house, stained with the marks of travel and fierce battle, carrying a blood soaked sack between them, Elrond’s household paused, their greetings dying on their lips as they looked on in horror.

* * *

Glorfindel did not suspect anything was amiss until Lindir appeared at the stable door.  Nor was the talagand’s presence unusual, for his foster son often came to greet him when he returned from a patrol, sometimes helping him remove his mount’s tack and rub down the horse’s flanks as he had done when he was younger. 

After several moments, Glorfindel realized Lindir had not said anything beyond the most cursory greeting and looked up from his work.  The late afternoon light streaming in through the door backlit the talagand and it was difficult to see his face, but he did not seem to be smiling.  “Why are you so quiet?  Do not tell me you have broken one of your harp strings.”

If anything, the jest seemed to upset Lindir; as he moved into the dark stable Glorfindel saw his eyes were red-rimmed and his face was pale.  Slowly, Glorfindel put down the curry comb and held out his arms. 

“Ai, pen-neth, what is the matter?” he said, stroking his foster son’s dark hair.  “I have rarely seen you this distraught

A moment passed before Lindir removed his head from Glorfindel’s shoulder and looked up; a hand swiftly brushed the tears from his eyes.  “Elrond’s sons have returned from their travels,” he said colorlessly.

“Have they now?”  In the last few decades, Elladan and Elrohir had spent increasingly more time away from home, venturing far abroad with the Dúnedain or alone.  “It has been three years since they last were here.  How do they fare?”

Lindir bit his underlip.  “They are…not themselves, ada.” 

Ever since their mother had been wounded and gone West, the two brothers had been moody and withdrawn, refusing all solace save the hunting of the creatures that had driven Celebrían from Middle-earth.  “They have not been themselves for eighty years.  What have they said or done to you that upsets you so?”

“I did not say that they—”

“You have not called me ada since you were a child,” Glorfindel pointed out, “not unless something has truly bothered you, and you are a dreadful liar.  Now tell me what they have done.”

Lindir sighed.  “I-I saw them in the thamas naur, after they had seen their father.  There were some of us who were sharing songs and I saw they were sitting in a corner.  They looked very weary and disheartened.  I-I asked if they wished to join us.  Those who come to the hall are always willing to hear a story or sing or some such, but not them.”  Lindir hung his head.  “They snapped at me and told me to keep my empty-headed tunes to myself.”

“They said that, did they?”  It would not have been the first time since their mother departed that Elladan or Elrohir had snapped at someone.  “And what did you tell them?  I have never known you to be at a loss for a quick retort.”

“What could I say, ada?” Lindir replied.  “There was such violence in their eyes, I do not think even Erestor would have dared say anything.”

Glorfindel raised an eyebrow.  Anything that would render Elrond’s sharp-tongued chief advisor speechless was grave indeed.  “Did they harm you, ion-nín?  Did they lift a hand to you or even threaten to?”  He heard the anger in his voice, softening his tone only when he saw Lindir slowly shake his head.

Still, pain lingered in the other’s eyes.  “But there are other ways to do harm,” he said.  “I would they were still boys who stuffed healing paste into my flutes.  Those were happier days, though at the time I lost much sleep over their antics and wretched singing.  I think I would give much to have things as they once were.”

* * *

A large object was burning in the grate.  As he entered the study, Glorfindel nearly gagged on the acrid stench, and choked on the dark smoke that wafted throughout the room.  His immediate thought was to open the windows, but saw someone had already done so.

Elrond, unable to work, was on the balcony taking in the night air.  He looked weary and dejected, stirring but little when Glorfindel addressed him.

“Are you trying to stifle yourself, gwador?”  Glorfindel coughed into his hand.  “Need I ask what you are burning that puts forth such a smoke and stench, that you could not have had it burned outside?”

The master of Imladris turned and frowned at him.  “I would not have everyone know what manner of gift my sons have brought me from abroad.” 

As Glorfindel ducked his head back into the study, to peer more closely at what Elrond had thrown into the fire, he felt a hand come down hard on his shoulder.  “If I wanted you to see an orc’s head soaked in pitch,” Elrond said in his ear, “I would have called you in before I put it on the flames.”

What manner of trophies are they bringing home?  “Then the whispers I have heard on my way up here are true?”

“I know not what you have heard, Glorfindel, nor do I know that I wish to hear it.  I have spoken many times to them about their rough manners, and told them that they may ride far abroad into the realms of wild Men, but when they come into my house they are to behave with the dignity and respect their mother and I taught them.” 

“It is not my place to discipline them,” Glorfindel said tightly, “nor would I presume to instruct you in that matter—”

Elrond frowned again, wafting the smoke away from him with a gesture. “Yet your very tone suggests to me that you have come to do that very thing.”

“I will not sit idly by while my own charge is wounded by their rough words,” he finished.

“They have done some harm to Lindir?” 

Glorfindel shook his head.  “They have not drawn their swords upon him, if that is what you fear, but their words hurt him all the same.  It is not the first time they have snapped at someone, and I have not interfered, but I will not tolerate it where my foster-son is concerned.”

Elrond’s mouth curled as if he would say more, then his face fell and the weariness returned.  “I had heard from Mithrandir that they had become fey, for he met them not long ago in the wilderness, mutilating the orc corpses they left in their wake; he did not say more on the matter, save that it was not in his power to drive the anger out of them.

“Lord Aragost has also written to me.  They are much honored among the Dúnedain for their valor, my sons, yet the Rangers have begun to whisper among themselves, and they are rough Men, some of them, much hardened to cruelty and war.”  He lifted a trembling hand to his face, covering his brow while he braced himself on the railing with the other.  “I do not know what to do with them.  I do not know what to say.”

And what little you have said is little better than a puff of air.  “And instead, they are throwing a tantrum with swords and bows,” snapped Glorfindel.  “I know exactly what to say to them.”

Elrond rounded on him.  “And you think I have not contemplated disciplining them so?”

“Whatever you have done has not been enough.  Lindir is no coward that he cannot defend himself, yet he tells me there was violence in their eyes, and he feared to say more.  Next time they may well draw their blades, for I deem they have spent too much time in the company of Men who do not think their recklessness acts of kinslaying.  And I will not presume to tell you what I will do if their wrath falls so upon one of my own,” answered Glorfindel.  He felt his body tremble even as he heard his voice quaver with emotion.  I will not stoop to that which Men call justice, but they will not go unpunished and I will be the one to drive them forever from Imladris.

In the shadows, he saw Elrond reach for something, a glass which he brought to his lips, drained and refilled from a decanter; he shuddered briefly at what was obviously the icy sting of miruvor.  Glorfindel had never known the perelda to drink himself into oblivion in the way of Men, even in the dark days when Celebrían lay wounded and fading; when he focused again on his advisor, his eyes were as sharp as before.

“Do you not think I have told them this?” he asked Glorfindel.  “Do you think I have not condemned their bloodlust?  And yet, when they tell me that blood is the only thing that washes away their pain, do not think that I do not sympathize with them, that if I were not bound to stay here and govern that I would not ride forth with them.”

Long had Glorfindel known of Elrond’s restless anguish, and thought perhaps it was his mortal ancestry that made him wish to repay his pain in blood.  Certainly he believed it of Elrond’s sons; in them the blood of Men was paradoxically diluted and yet called to them all the more strongly.  

And, too, he knew Elrond’s fear, that when their time came to choose, they would take the path of Elros and accept the doom of Men.  He knew Elrond’s anguish, that all those whom the perelda had loved had left him, or been seized and taken out of his world by the cruel fate that was the music of the Ainur. 

But you are not the only one ever to have lost all you knew or loved, Glorfindel thought.

At last, in a quiet voice, he said, “There is not one here in Imladris or in Lórien who bears arms that does not rue not riding forth with your lady on that fateful journey, and I speak also for myself, gwador.  There have been nights where I have lain awake wondering if such sorrow would have come to pass had I been among the guards.”

Elrond looked at him, his lips parted as if to speak, but fell silent.  Once again, words failed him and he hung his head.  “They believe it of themselves, and they believe the same of me, that we are all to blame.  If you can convince them otherwise, if you can ease this ache where I cannot, then you have my leave to try.”

I would have confronted them whether you gave me leave or no.  “It must end here, Elrond,” said Glorfindel, “else the price they pay will be rendered in their own blood.  That is not a threat from me, but a warning from one who knows.”

“If it must be so,” murmured Elrond.  He began to nod, then paused and bit his lip in uncertainty.  “Only, do not hurt them, gwador.  They are my sons and have known pain enough.”

Glorfindel put a hand on his arm.  “You who are a healer should know what pain there is in the closing of a wound.  I will do what is best.  I cannot promise it will be gentle or without pain.”

* * *


Lindir as Glorfindel’s foster son is a fan invention introduced in an earlier story

talagand: (Sindarin) harper 

thamas naur: (Sindarin) hall (of) fire

perelda: (Quenya) half-Elf.  It is a quirk of my Glorfindel that he oftentimes uses Quenya instead of Sindarin.

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

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