He choked on the sulphurous fumes, feeling the burn through to his lungs as he tried to steal what little air he could. The stench of bloodied death was barely discernible, but the taste of metal trickled down and clung to the back of his throat. His eyes smarted from his efforts to keep them open - not that it would have made the difference; he could barely see anything amidst the flames and black shadow.
Sword, he thought, his hands reaching for the scabbard at his belt. Where is my sword?
He fanned the smoke away, hoping to get a clear line of vision. Manwe's balls on fire, where is my sword! he cursed, as he patted down his sides. His dagger was also missing. Even the small knife he kept in his boot was gone.
Where is my sword?
A low growl startled him, and he instinctively took a step back his arms raised, his hands grasping around the imaginary hilt of his missing sword. Blinking furiously to clear the tears in his eyes, he could make out only a dim glow.
Where is my sword? Sweet Valar! My sword!
The rumbling continued, creeping closer. Not having any of his weapons in hand, he improvised. He removed his belt and winding one end around his palm, he pulled it taut and held it in front of him as his last line of defence. Stand tall, he reminded himself, as he struggled to even out his breath.
Still his adversary drew closer.
He could feel the clammy heat, the flames that licked too close to his feet and the burning sensation searing down his back. The stench was stronger now and the smog overpowering, threatening to rob him of the last bit of his strength. The belt was getting wet with the sweat from his palms, and still he held it before him.
At that moment, he saw it - a black, indiscernible mass of nothingness, surrounded by swirling shadows and streaks of fire, towering above him. The streaks lashed out every now and then, cracking the air with a sharp whistle. Was that a figure in the midst of the midst of the smoke and fire?
Valar, he thought. Balrog. The vibe about it was too familiar, too similar. He had seen the like before, just once that long time ago on the shores of Valinor when he had gone with his uncle before the throne of Manwe and met Arien ere before the two trees were fallen. Then, he had to look away, such was the glory and furious glare from the Maiar; this, this felt like what Arien could have been had she been made of coal and was burnt to the very end.
Brushing aside the little twinge of fear in his heart, he drew himself to full height and declared in a raspy whisper, "Do your worst."
The only reply he had was a thick lash of fire sweeping down at him, burning through his paltry belt, winding around his neck and scorching through him.
He never thought he would scream.
Glorfindel woke up with a start, bolting upright from his bed. The burn, Valar, he could feel the fire beneath his skin, digging its fingers in and forming deep grooves into his body.
"Hush, Glorfindel, hush."
He could feel the firm grasp on his shoulders and he swung to punch his captor, but stopped just in time, when he saw that it was Lorien. Relaxing, he forced himself to breathe slowly and did not protest when he felt the Valar push him back into the bed, gasping at the pain down his back and torso as he did so.
The gentle chill emanating from the hand on his chest, separated from his skin only by his thin, sweat-drenched tunic, took away the edge of the pain. As he caught his breath, he turned to Lorien, his pride stinging from the pity in the other's eyes, and said in the most measured tone he could manage, "My sword?"
He felt the hand move away from his chest and he nearly whimpered at its loss, when the hand covered his eyes instead.
"No weapon has been allowed in Valinor since the Exile, Glorfindel," Lorien replied. "You know that."
"Has it not worked then?" someone else asked from behind Lorien. Glorfindel knew that voice all too well - it had been the only voice keeping him sane, coaxing him from the edge over and over again in his stay at Mandos' Halls: Namo himself, guardian and healer of the fallen.
"He cannot stay asleep long enough for the wounds to heal," Lorien replied with no little bewilderment. "I have already given him the strongest sleeping draught I dare to give, and still the nightmares rouse him."
"Is there nothing else?" Namo demanded angrily.
"Not without risking him going to a sleep so deep, that he never wakes and remains forever lost even to you, brother mine," Lorien sighed. Glorfindel shifted then and attempted to sit up again, but desisted after Lorien's palm pressed more firmly over his eyes.
"This is unacceptable. Ecthelion has recovered long ago from the same wounds. Even Gil-galad has been healed and he comes more lately with wounds more grevious than this. Why is he alone not healing?"
Glorfindel felt the other edge of the bed sink, and another pair of hands lifted his tunic slightly and poked gently at the wounds down his sides. He gasped at the sharp pain.
Glorfindel found himself blinking and looking up at Namo, when Lorien moved his hand away to smack the other Valar's probing touch away. Swallowing the lump in his throat, he asked for the umpteenth time, "Is there no rest for me?"
Namo raised his hand to comb the matted hair away from Glorfindel's face and stroking the latter's cheek, he replied, "There should have been, Glorfindel, and Illuvatar help me, I will find you rest. But I don't know why you are not healing. We have tried everything possible and still you are fighting us."
"I am n..." Glorfindel protested weakly, but was quickly interrupted.
"Not consciously no," Lorien declared. "But there is no other reason for this, my child. No magic or power we hold, even Manwe himself, is stronger or greater than your own free will, especially on the Blessed Isles. Yavanna's herbs, Ulmo's salve, even the healing sleep of Namo's halls and my gardens - you have defied them all. It is your will, whether you know it or not."
Glorfindel sank further back into his pillows, closing his eyes to hide the tears that were threatening to fall. I have had enough.
"You are punishing yourself - anyone with a lick of sense can tell that - but even Feanor has found peace and forgiveness in my halls, much less you who have done nothing to deserve the guilt. You know as well as I that you have to let go, forget, move on, but you are not. Why?"
"I..." Glorfindel started, but stopped. The truth was, he did not know. I just want the pain to be gone! Why would I want to punish myself for? I have done my duty by my king, I have served my people well to the end of my days on Arda. Damn them for telling me I am fighting my own healing. I am not. I am not!
"He is merely fighting off Valinor," a soft voice interjected.
Glorfindel's eyes flew open and he looked at the new visitor standing at the foot of his bed. She was beautiful, just as he remembered. Her starkly silver hair was pinned back today with a thin chain of tiny stars, and her soft white dress billowed around her like a soft cloud. "My lady Elbereth," he whispered, hardly daring to breathe. He would have struggled up, but Lorien, well taught in the allure Elbereth had on the Eldar, held him down.
Elbereth smiled, and Glorfindel felt the weight on his mind ease, just that tiny bit. In that moment, he wished, he wished again that he could have been decked in full armour. More than ever he wanted his sword, if only to offer it to her ladyship.
"Elbereth?" Namo asked, only mildly surprised at her sudden appearance. He had long given up understanding the comings and goings of his oldest brother and his equally enigmatic wife. Far be it for him to wonder what Illuvatar was thinking, making the two of them as He did.
Elbereth turned to Namo then and repeated, "He cannot heal, not because he is fighting you, but because he needs something to fight for. To heal himself for."
Glancing back at Glorfindel, she asked gently, "The peace of Valinor is not for you, is it, Glorfindel?"
Glorfindel could feel his cheeks burning up, perhaps even more so that the wounds on his body. Fighting to find the words, he wet his lips and replied, "I thought it was, my lady."
Elbereth walked around the bed, prompting Namo to quickly give up his place by Glorfindel's side. Placing her hand on his arm, she pressed on, "What is there for you here, Glorfindel?"
"Peace," Glorfindel replied automatically, but faltered when he saw the question still in her eyes. "Respite, my lady. My family, my king, my comrades, my memories..."
Elbereth sat down beside him, her eyes never leaving Glorfindel's face, "Do you care still for the ways of your household, so long have you departed from your father's halls? Have you friends, comrades you care so strongly for to keep you cheered through eternity? There are no wars on Valinor, Glorfindel, no evil to fight - Manwe has shut that door a long time ago. Sauron cannot dream of ever touching these realms. There is no purpose for a warrior, not one as finely wrought by Eru as you, not here on Valinor. Tell me, Glorfindel, what is there for you here?"
Glorfindel was silenced. He struggled to remember what his father looked like. His mother, he barely had an impression - she left to keep among the Vanyar from his birth. He could hardly think of anyone he desperately wanted to see. Perhaps Ecthelion, but he would have reunited with his wife. Turgon, but what use will he be to his erstwhile liege here? What is there in Valinor for me?
"Elbereth," Lorien broke the uncomfortable silence. "Does he have a choice? What does it matter otherwise?"
Glorfindel smiled then, his fingers curling into tight fists around the sheets. What does it matter indeed, he thought. Even if there be nothing here for me, I would have to live with it. Just, Eru please, just take away the pain.
"He does," Elbereth said softly, causing all her three companions to stare in surprise at her. Elbereth's grip on Glorfindel's arm tightened, as she said, "Manwe and I have spoken, Glorfindel. We can let you return."
"Return?" Glorfindel repeated, his voice cracking. Sweet Eru, return?
"Return?" Namo echoed incredulously. "Not one of the Eldar have ever left these shores, Elbereth. None. The age of the Ed..."
Elbereth placed a finger to her lips, warning Namo not to go on further. It was a topic forbidden on Valinor still - her husband had not forgotten the rifts and wars that had been wrought in Valinor the last time the passing of the ages and the creation of Eru's chosen children was spoken of. "Not one of the Eldar has ever stayed wounded and unhealed in your Halls and in Lorien's gardens, Namo. There is always a first, and mayhaps the only."
"It is Eru's will."
The thought echoed in Glorfindel's head, marvelling at the foreign ring to it. Return? To Arda? To taste death again, the bloodied ground, the bare bones, the chattering teeth. To touch a sword, feel its heft and its swing, hear its whistle as it cut through the air and brace for the satisfaction as it comes into contact with metal and bone. All that he thought he had forgotten and forsaken rushed to his mind in a flood that he had not expected. To face all of those again...
"Will you return, Glorfindel?"
Elbereth's question startled Glorfindel out of his thoughts. He blinked, and blinked again, before asking, "But, what am I to do there? Where will I go? There is no one left..."
"There is always someone, Glorfindel," Elbereth's smile widened at the thought. Patting the elf-lord, so well beloved in Middle Earth and so renowned for his courage and nobility, on the cheek as one would an elfling, she added, "But if you must, you can return to the court of Elrond, second born to Earendil, and rightfully, still your liege."
"Earendil? Little Earendil has a son?"
"One remaining son," Elbereth corrected with a touch of sadness. "And one who is not quite so little any more. You may return to serve him and his people, as you did his forebears. The darkness still looms and Sauron is just biding his time. You will find yourself much needed there."
"But these wounds... I can't... how will I even bear a sword...?"
"All in its own time, Glorfindel," Elbereth replied. "Will you return to find out?"