Of Balrogs and Battles

Chapter One: The Book

by Jay of Lasgalen

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A blood-curdling scream splintered the peace of the afternoon, and Celebrían flinched.  “I do wish they could slay each other quietly,” she murmured.  “What are they doing?”

Elrond gazed out over the garden.  “Need you ask?” he queried.

Balrogs,” they sighed in unison. 

“It looks like Elrohir is the Balrog this time; Elladan is killing him,” Elrond explained.

Standing together, they watched in amusement.   The Balrog wore wings draped around its shoulders like a cape, fashioned from a semi-circle of some flimsy scarlet material artistically cut and slashed to resemble flames.  It stood on a low wall which surrounded the gardens, roaring and growling most convincingly.  Elladan valiantly attacked the creature, hacking and stabbing with his sword – which was fortunately made of wood.  

“I found them trying to drown one another in the pond this morning,” Elrond commented.

“The pond?  I wondered where the trail of mud had come from.”  Celebrían thought for a moment.  “Let me guess.  Ecthelion and Gothmog?”

Elrond nodded.  “Who else?  I hauled them both out; they were scaring the fish.”  He watched while the twins grappled together for a while on top of the wall, before falling dramatically, locked in combat, from the summit onto the grass below.  He shook his head and sighed.  “Who would have thought that Glorfindel’s sacrifice would result in an elfling’s game?” he asked bemusedly. 

“He will not mind,” Celebrían reassured him.  “He will be delighted – you know how much he loves them.  But perhaps we had better warn him when he comes home this afternoon.  I am rather more concerned about those wings – they look remarkably like my newest dress.  Just where did Elrohir find them?”  Before the desperate battle could recommence, with the roles exchanged, she stepped out into the garden.  “Elladan!  Elrohir!  Could you come here a moment, please?”

The twins raced to her side, both talking at once.  “Did you see?  I was the Balrog,  and Elladan killed me!”  Elrohir exclaimed.

“We fought, but I died as well, just like Glorfindel,”  Elladan added.

“You were both very fierce and courageous.  And I think the wings look most realistic, Elrohir – where did you get them from?”

Elrohir danced from one foot to the other.  “I knew they would be a good idea!  I asked Tasarian; she found some left-over material, and we cut them out together. It’s like your lovely new dress, Nana!”

Celebrían relaxed. She had not really thought her sons would cut up her new dress, but with the twins, one could never be too sure – they tended to get carried away in the heat of the moment.

Elladan and Elrohir ran back to the wall, the wings and sword both changing hands.  Elrohir scrambled up onto the wall of Cirith Thoronath, marching to the point where Balrog Elladan lay in wait for him before leaping up with a roar, and the desperate battle resumed.

The twins’ current obsession with Balrogs and battles lay in a particular book from Elrond’s library.  A few days previously they had discovered a volume entitled ‘Of Tuor And The Fall Of Gondolin’.  The hefty tome was far too heavy for either of them to attempt to lift it, so they had badgered Elrond’s assistant into placing it on a table for them to pore over at their leisure.  They read the tale avidly, exclaiming in delight as they came across a familiar name.  “Eärendil!”  Elladan cried, jabbing his finger at the page.

“Be careful, El!”  Elrohir warned him.  “You’ll tear it!”  They read on, about the torture and treachery of Maeglin; the forces of darkness, Balrogs, orcs, wolves and dragons; and paused, exchanging a scheming look.  There was inspiration for marvellous games here, and the gardens and grounds of their home, the maze of rooms, hallways and staircases,  provided the perfect setting for anywhere in Arda they wanted.

A small, dark, inner storeroom served as Angband, and Morgoth was torturing Maeglin when the dungeon door suddenly flew open.  “What is going on?”  cried Erestor.  “I heard someone crying!”

“I wasn’t crying!” Elrohir protested indignantly.  He was flushed and breathless nonetheless.  “El was torturing me,” he informed Erestor.

Torturing you?”

Elladan nodded enthusiastically.  “I was making him tell me where the kitchens are,” he explained.

“Whatever were you doing to him?”  Erestor demanded incredulously.

“This!”  Elladan promptly began tickling his twin mercilessly.  “Tell me!” he insisted, as Elrohir collapsed once more into hysterical giggles.

Erestor sighed.  “I hardly think that Morgoth forced Maeglin to reveal the whereabouts of Gondolin by tickling him,” he began.  He held the door open.  “Out, both of you.  I do not think that this is a suitable game.  Find something else to do.”

The twins watched as Erestor stalked off down the hallway, and shrugged resignedly.  “Erestor can be very boring sometimes,” Elrohir commented.

Elladan nodded in agreement. “I know.  Come on, let’s read the next part,” he suggested. 

They read on, enthralled by the peril and plight of their own grandfather as he and the other refugees fled from the sack of the hidden city.  “He must have escaped, else Ada wouldn’t have been born,” Elrohir reasoned.

“Yes, but how?  And El, look here! They met another Balrog!” Elladan told him.  “And Glorfindel fought it!  ‘They were saved by the valour of yellow-haired Glorfindel, chief of the House of the Golden Flower of Gondilin,’ ”  he read.

Elrohir peered over his shoulder.  “Gondolin,” he corrected his twin absently.  “Do you think it’s our Glorfindel?” he asked in excitement.  “Or just an elf with the same name?   There’s two Legolaseses; the one in Gondolin, and King Thranduil’s son.  Is there a picture?”  There was an illustration showing a fair-haired warrior, dwarfed by a towering monster.  The face of the warrior was obscured by his upraised sword arm, but the Balrog was clearly defined, wreathed in smoke and flames, and wielding a many-thonged whip.  Elrohir read a little further, then sighed in disappointment.  “Oh.  It must be another Glorfindel.  He died, fighting the Balrog.  It says they both fell to ruin in the –” he hesitated slightly, “– in the abyss, and he was buried there.”

They looked at one another, their eyes shining.  “How brave he must have been,” Elrohir started, his voice full of awe.

“To have fought like that and saved everyone!” Elladan continued.  “Come on!”

The next few days were spent re-enacting the battle of Glorfindel and the Balrog, the fall of Turgon, the deaths of Ecthelion and Gothmog, the flight into the mountains, and the torture of Maeglin – despite Erestor’s disapproval.  More and more details were added as imagination filled in the gaps left in the tales, and props were scavenged from the storerooms of Imladris, or begged from indulgent members of the household.

On the afternoon that Glorfindel arrived home after a two-week patrol, they were fighting in a small stream that bordered the wood, as they had been forbidden to play in the pond.  Both were drenched from head to foot, and the wings hung limp and sodden down Elrohir’s back, leaving bright red patches on his tunic.  He had just wrestled Elladan to the ground, and had him pinned on his back in the shallow water, when they heard hoof beats.  They leapt to their feet.  “Glorfindel!”

“What are you doing?”  he asked in an amused voice.

“Fighting,” said Elrohir.

“Playing,” said Elladan.  They hugged him damply, delighted to see him again.

Glorfindel smiled, and sat on the wet grass beside them.  “Playing and fighting?  Why are you in the stream?”

“Because we’re not allowed in the pond anymore,”  Elladan explained in disappointment.

“And why – ”  He stopped, and sighed.  “Never mind.  Elladan, is that blood on your face?  Are you hurt?”

Elladan looked blank.  “Blood?” he echoed.

Elrohir looked at his brother and laughed.   “The dye’s run, El,” he pointed out.  “It dripped on you.”  He pulled the bedraggled wings off and squeezed the material experimentally.  The liquid that collected in the palm of his hand looked just like blood.  He looked at Elladan and they both smiled broadly.

“If you are planning to use fake blood in your battles, please warn your parents first!” Glorfindel said firmly.  “You do not want to terrify your mother.”  He pulled them to their feet, and they began to walk back to the house, the twins flanking him, and Glorfindel’s horse walking patiently behind.

Elrohir grinned.  That was why they liked Glorfindel.  He did not tell them to stop as Erestor did, but just made suggestions.  “We were being Balrogs.  Did you know that you were named after a great hero, Glorfindel?”

Glorfindel stopped, and gave them both a very odd look.  “I was?”

Elladan nodded.  “It was after the fall of Gondilin,” he began.

“Gondolin!” Elrohir corrected him.

“And everyone escaped over the mountains,” Elladan continued, ignoring his brother.  “And there was a Balrog, and Glorfindel fought it, and killed it, but he was killed as well.  Did you know that?”

Glorfindel still had a rather odd expression.  “Yes, I had heard the story before.  Perhaps we can look at it together this evening.  Would you like that?”

“Yes!”  They exclaimed in excitement.  “Your bedtime stories are even better than Nana’s,” Elrohir added magnanimously.  “Are you coming in for tea?”

“Alas, no.  I have been on patrol for two weeks,” Glorfindel pointed out.  “I am going to have a bath and change before I do anything else.  Perhaps I could join you for supper?  And it might be a good idea if you were to change too before your parents see you – you appear to be a little wet.”

Elladan and Elrohir looked each other up and down, only now realising that they were soaked to the skin, and liberally smeared with mud and red dye.  “That might be a good idea,” Elladan agreed.  “Come on, El.”  He led the way towards their bedroom, then turned back.  “Don’t forget to come to supper, Glorfindel.”

Supper was a cheerful affair, just six of them – Elladan and Elrohir, their parents, Glorfindel and Erestor.  Erestor, when he was not being boring and disapproving, was an interesting companion, and a good listener. Glorfindel spoke of his journey, and the twins talked about the stories they had read about Gondolin, pestering their father with questions on every aspect, and especially Eärendil.  “Perhaps you should ask Glorfindel,” he defended himself finally.  “He may know.”

Glorfindel looked up and studied Elrond, then nodded slowly.  “Very well.  You asked if I knew the story,” he reminded the twins.  “I do.  I was in it.”

There was a sudden clatter as Elladan dropped his knife, Elrohir his fork.  They stared at him in disbelief.  “You’re the same Glorfindel?”  Elrohir asked at last.  “How can you be?  It said you died!”

“Was the book wrong?” suggested Elladan.  He sounded vaguely disappointed.

“No, the book was right.  But Mandos sent me back – he said there was a job for me to do.”

The next question was inevitable.  “What job?”  they asked together.

“That, he did not say.  Perhaps it was to prevent the two of you from tormenting your parents so much!” Glorfindel joked.

The revelation had the remarkable effect of silencing the twins for the remainder of the meal as they considered what they had learned.   Elrohir finally broke their silence.  “Glorfindel?  We’ve been playing Balrogs.  We pretended to be you, fighting it.  Do you mind?”  He sounded worried.

Glorfindel laughed aloud, so cheerfully that the twins’ slight guilt fled.  “Of course not!  It is rather pleasant to be thought a hero, to have songs and ballads sung about me.”

“Especially when certain maidens are listening,” Erestor added with a smile.  “I saw the way Míriel was looking at you the last time it was sung in the Hall of Fire!”

“Then I shall speak to the minstrels,” Celebrían decided.  “Perhaps they should sing those songs more frequently.”  Her gaze moved to her sons, both trying to look inconspicuous.  “It is past the time you two should be in bed!  Go on.”  She shooed them reluctantly from the room.

Suddenly Elrohir darted back in.  “You will remember to tell us your story, won’t you Glorfindel?”

“I promise.  But only if you hurry!”  The threat, although empty, made them race up the stairs two at a time, desperate to hear the tale.

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