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Red Dawn, Golden Flower

Chapter 1: Red Dawn, Golden Flower

by Viv

AN: Please note that this story follows only the Silmarillion account of the fall of Gondolin. So, it doesn't have the BLT goodies. So yes, my Idril is somewhat wimpier than the BLT Idril. *blush* Please feel free to point out any canon deviations from the Silm account.

[Note: I wrote this story for a now-defunct competition called Middle-earth's Finest; though I wrote it alone, my teammates -- The Archers -- provided constant encouragement and were a blast to write with.]

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Red Dawn, Golden Flower

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Though he did not turn, he could hear her anxious breath behind him. Glorfindel carefully locked the secret door, slid the key into his belt, and pushed a crudely wrought pantry shelf back against the wall. He stepped back, squinting, then moved a jar from the top shelf down to the third. Finally, he nodded.

He turned to the princess of Gondolin with an easy smile.

“It is done then, lady,” he said, pitching his voice low. Her answering smile was anything but confident. But she reached out impulsively, clasping his hand.

“I could not have done it without you, Glorfindel,” Idril said. “Thank you.”

He squeezed her hand in what he hoped was a brotherly fashion. It still amazed him that, after all these years, she had not guessed his true reason for leaving Aman. He was the only Vanya in Middle-earth, and it must be obvious that he bore no great love for Fëanor. Still, she had never asked. And he had never told.

“You are always welcome, Idril,” he said, heavy on the irony. “Though I hope your fears are unfounded.”

Picking up the scuff a slight footfall in the lower kitchens nearby, he hastily unthreaded her hand from his and nodded back toward the shallow stairs. Placing a careful finger over his lips, he slid a hand to his belt, drawing a dagger. Just in case.

Idril frowned nervously, darting a quick glance up the stairs. With a pinch, she extinguished the thin flame of her taper and followed him to the pantry door, silent on elven feet.

Glorfindel pressed the handle of the catch slowly, hefting the dagger carefully in the other hand. Truly, there should be nothing to fear. Of course people would be moving in the house of Turgon’s daughter. She was not allowed privacy; she should be used to such intrusions. Still, since Maeglin had returned, Glorfindel had been wary, even agreeing to help Idril with her mad tunneling scheme.

Listening intently for movement on the other side, he nudged the door open and peered into the warm glow of the lower kitchen.

The room was empty.

Glorfindel slipped into the kitchen first, scanning the low stone room, then helped Idril up the last few stairs. In the warmth of the kitchen, they paused, closing the dingy, nondescript little door and locking it securely.

Glorfindel squinted into the still-dark corners with a frown. He was certain he’d heard footsteps…

Idril clucked in the back of her throat, suddenly darting forward and reaching behind a huge stone oven.

“There you are, scamp,” she said, a gurgle in her voice. “I’ve found you!”

With a heave, she pulled a small figure in blue out from behind the oven. The child was large compared to other elflings his age, but he was awkward, unbalanced, adorably clumsy. Glorfindel heard that such was the case with human children, but he couldn’t force himself to be interested. His eyes slid easily to Idril’s face. She glowed, wrapping an arm about her tiny son’s shoulders. Glorfindel felt an awkward tightening in his chest.

Still clutching the child close, she turned to Glorfindel, almost as an afterthought.

“Just Eärendil, sneaking up on his mama,” she explained, as if it were not already obvious.

“So I see,” he said. Reaching down, he ruffled the child’s dark hair. “But you should not wander these halls alone, young sir. It is no longer safe.”

Idril stilled, stared at him over her son’s head.

“You believe me, then?” she asked softly.

Glorfindel paused. Finally he nodded, still cradling the child’s head. Little Eärendil made no movement away. Indeed, his huge silver eyes glanced questions back between his mama and the elf lord. As if his seven-year-old mind could understand such a thing as treachery.

“I have never trusted Maeglin,” Glorfindel said finally.

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“I’m tired, Mama,” Eärendil whined, pulling at her skirt. Idril shushed him gently.

“Only a few more minutes, sweetling. Then you can go to bed. Come here, I’ll hold you up so you can see.” He clambered into her arms, and she set him on the wall facing the east, where the sun would soon rise. He sat, swinging his stubby legs out over the precipice and leaning back into his mama’s protective arms. Poor dear; he had run all night from booth to booth, giddy at the nighttime festival. And like his papa, he tired quickly. Idril mentally chided herself for not making him nap earlier.

But the festival was almost over. All the people of Gondolin were gathered on the east wall, awaiting the sunrise, flushed with drink and joy and peace. The Festival of Gates of Summer was one of Idril’s favorite celebrations, and this was the first year Eärendil had really seemed interested, so perhaps she’d pushed him a little too hard.

Out of the corner of her eye, Idril noticed her cousin, Maeglin. He had been quiet tonight, even more brooding than usual. She had trusted only one person with her suspicions of Maeglin, and she dearly hoped that she was wrong. But the images in her mind were strong, and lately the tingle she had always felt when Maeglin was near had become a silent scream.

Idril shifted, keeping a firm hand on her son’s waist. As she turned, though, a gleam caught her eye. Her first thought was, ‘The dawn has come.’

But the rosy glow wasn’t coming from the east. It came from the north. And it smelled of dragon fire. Fear unfurled in her heart, black and terrible; she had foreseen this doom.

She gathered her breath to call for Tuor, but a firm hand stayed her.

“Yes, that is what you think it is. Morgoth comes,” Maeglin said, gently pulling Eärendil from the wall. The boy struggled, but he was too tired to put up much of a fight. Maeglin’s other hand was tight about Idril’s wrist. Idril watched her squirming son impotently; terror paralyzed her.

“Come with me, and you will be safe,” Maeglin promised.

His voice was like honey, his eyes bright and flickering in the red fire pouring over the northern Echoriath. Idril looked deep into his pale eyes, seeing the torment and burgeoning madness there. He had loved her once; perhaps she still held a calming power over him.

“Here, hand Eärendil to me, and I will follow you,” Idril said, keeping her voice even.

A ghost of doubt fluttered over his beautiful face. He paused, loosening his hold on Eärendil. For a heartbeat, Idril thought she had persuaded him. But then he looked to the north, and slight tears welled. Fear not unlike her own flashed in those eyes, hardening them. He shook his head roughly.

“I have your son; you will come with me,” he said.

Over Maeglin’s shoulder, Idril saw Tuor approaching, holding a sword. So, he too had seen the red dawn in the north and guessed its source. Idril felt her great love for her husband expand within her, pushing the fear aside. In the moment Tuor reached them, swinging Maeglin around to face him, Idril lunged forward and grabbed Eärendil. The boy screamed, for one moment hanging perilously over the edge. But Idril’s arms were strong, and she pulled him back, falling backward onto the smooth paving stones.

Holding Eärendil in arms like iron, all she could do was watch as her husband and Maeglin battled in silhouette on the wall, the infant dawn behind them. She could hear the screams of Gondolin behind her; she could smell the stench of dragon and yrch and balrog, but she could not move.

“Lady,” said a soft voice, too close. How had someone crept up on her like that? With a cry, she thrust Eärendil behind her and sat up on her knees, facing this new threat.

“No, it is I; do not fear,” Glorfindel said, kneeling to the ground in front of her. His pale gold hair was streaked with soot and grime; the Noldo-wrought sword he carried dripped gore and glowed bright blue. “We must flee. I have already gathered as many as I could find and sent them through the tunnel. But you must come now. Already the streets are thick with yrch, and worse.” He rose and held out a hand.

Idril swallowed, glancing left and seeing that Tuor still struggled with Maeglin. She could not leave her husband.

Standing, she nudged Eärendil toward the golden-haired elf.

“Take Eärendil to the tunnel. I will be there presently,” she said. ‘Please,’ she begged silently.

Glorfindel frowned but did not argue. He hefted the boy easily, and, with one backward, agonized glance, turned and hurried through the market and toward the King’s Square in the center of the city.

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Eärendil trembled. He had been sleepy, but he was wide awake now. He sniffed as quietly as he could, smothering the sound in his sleeve.

“Hush now,” the yellow-haired elf whispered gently. Eärendil knew that this elf was a friend of his mother’s, and he was nice. He’d gone upstairs and fetched Eärendil’s favorite toy, a blue sailboat carved by Papa. Eärendil clutched his toy hard. He could hear strange thudding overhead.

“When is Mama coming?” he asked in a whisper. The elf squeezed his shoulder and pulled him closer.

“She will be here soon, little one,” he said. And then, like it was a secret, “I hope.”

“But…” Eärendil began again, careful to keep his voice real quiet.

Glorfindel’s fingers tightened, and Eärendil heard the gritty scrape of a sword on the dirt floor. Eärendil hushed, watching the elf stand and go over to the little door, holding that sword in both hands.

“Run, Eärendil,” he said, not turning.

Eärendil felt tears in his throat, but he was a good boy: he turned down the long dark of the tunnel. And ran.

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Idril caught up with her son easily, dropping to her knees in the dark dirt and clutching him tight. She felt the last remnants of the Gondolindrim scurry past her down the long hall, but her desperate tears obscured her vision. She felt Tuor’s strong hands on her shoulders, urging her to rise.

Back at the door, there was a heavy thud, and she guessed that Glorfindel had sealed the entrance to their tunnel. No more elves would come through that door. No, nor any foul creatures. She could still hear the hiss of steam and the waning screams from above.

Her father…

She shoved the thought down with a hysterical gasp. She hoped he’d made it out before her; Glorfindel had said something about sending some elves through the tunnels before he’d found her on the wall. Before Tuor and Maeglin had fought, and Maeglin had fallen, wailing her name, over the edge. Idril blinked hard and clutched her son tighter. She would never get the horrors of this dawn out of her mind.

“We need to go,” Tuor said.

Glorfindel strode down the low tunnel, completely covered with dust and grime. His face was set in a look she hadn’t seen since the Helcaraxe, when her mother and so many others had perished.

He did not pause to urge her on. He simply bent, put a hand around Eärendil’s waist, and swung the child up against his shoulder. Eärendil held on like it was the most natural thing in the world. The child must be exhausted, and probably more than a little terrified.

Idril watched the head of the House of the Golden Flower carry her son into the lengthening darkness of the tunnel, and for the first time, she let the thought enter her mind: Gondolin had fallen.

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Glorfindel had no idea how long they’d walked in semi-darkness, listening to the thunder of dragon feet overhead. One thud shook the very earth; clods of dirt broke free from the top of the tunnel, coating with refugees with damp earth. They paused, some looking back toward Gondolin.

“The Tower of Turgon,” said someone, and Glorfindel could hear the tears in her voice. He hoped Idril hadn’t heard. Despite his best efforts, he had not been able to find Turgon; the King’s Square had been a battleground when he’d passed through the first time; by his second pass, he had seen Ecthelion and Gothmog in fierce battle there, and he had been carrying young Eärendil. Even without the boy, Glorfindel knew he was no match for the Lord of the Balrogs. But it had been hard to leave his friend behind.

Glorfindel watched Idril trudge on ahead, and he felt his fëa lift. At least she was safe. When he’d first seen the unnatural red dawn, his whole purpose in life had become startlingly clear: to save her, to protect her. He had wondered often since her marriage why he remained. Every time he saw her with her mortal husband, he ached. Glorfindel had left his family and paradise for her. He had helped her through the Helcaraxe, waited patiently for five hundred years, certain that someday she would realize why he had come with the Noldor.

But he had been too patient. And though his love for her burned no less bright, it had become a torment to him in recent seasons. Only by serving her could he glimpse a little happiness.

Now all he had to offer her was protection. He would give that, at least.

He felt the press of bodies even before they arrived at the end of the tunnels, and he pushed to the fore, gathering the few warriors with him. The tunnels ended just before the foothills; they’d have about 200 paces to run on the flat of Tumladen before the hills would obscure the rest of their escape.

“We will go first,” he announced, drawing his gore-encrusted sword. “Do not wait for us to clear the enemies. You must run, and fast. Head for the Cirith Thoronath. Tuor,” he turned to the Man. “Lead them.”

To his credit, Idril’s husband nodded, hefting his own sword in what seemed to be capable hands. Glorfindel had to hope that he could use the thing passably well.

Slowly, with one hand, he pushed open the trap door, easing the dirt covering away. And with a deep breath, he leapt out, through the opening, into the sunlight.

Only… there was no sunlight. It took Glorfindel only a moment to realize that the entire plain of Tumladen was covered in thick mist. He did not want to think what had created the mist, but it was fortuitous. For the first time, he let himself hope that they would escape unbeknownst to Morgoth.

Quickly, he gestured for the others to follow. Tuor by his side, Glorfindel led the refugees of Gondolin toward the Cirith Thorondor and freedom.

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Idril held Eärendil’s hand and helped him over some particularly difficult rocks. Miraculously, the boy had slept in Glorfindel’s arms during the long walk through the tunnels. And he hadn’t complained once since they’d entered the mountains, bless him. Idril was always proud of her son, but this morning, he had grown up quickly. Much too quickly. His grey eyes were far too serious.

“We should consider stopping, to eat something,” she said. Tuor and Glorfindel both walked before her, like a shield between her and the rest of the world.

“No,” Tuor said sharply, not turning to look at her. “We do not know what watch Morgoth placed on the far side. Every moment we tarry gives the enemy more time to bring forces against us.”

Idril sighed, but said no more. It was chiefly him she was thinking of when she mentioned rest and food. Elves could go some time without nourishment, but men were somewhat less hearty. She worried about Tuor, and Eärendil. But both seemed determined to continue, and she laid her objections aside.

Suddenly, Glorfindel stopped. Perforce, those behind him also paused.

He leapt to a particularly large rock and scanned the northern horizon thoughtfully for a few minutes. A frown furrowed his high brow.

“Soon we shall enter the Cirith Thorondor,” he announced. “Beyond that, the way is easier. Keep close to the mountain, though. The fall to the left is a deep one.”

So saying, he took point, organized a rearguard of sorts, and placed Tuor near the back with Idril and Eärendil. Idril’s husband argued, but the golden-haired elf simply stared back with level eyes.

“Your first task is to protect your wife and son,” Glorfindel said softly, a strange look settling over his face. He turned to Idril, then.

“Stay beside your husband, lady,” he told her. She nodded. A curious taste formed in the back of her throat. Had she been in this moment before? She was suddenly struck by the notion that she had lived this scene before. And that she had to do something right now, or the scene could turn ugly. She had no idea what she was supposed to do.

With a trembling hand, she touched Glorfindel’s face, an age-old elven gesture. Peace with you, she told him with the movement. But he shook his head softly, nudging her hand away. His bright eyes were full of something. She had deliberately misinterpreted it for millennia.

Why *did* you leave Aman, Glorfindel?

The question stuck in her throat. She could not find the voice to ask it. Instead, she muttered a weak thank-you.

“You are always welcome,” he said, gently.

And then he was off, striding to the head of the column, disappearing soon into the tight cleft.

Idril swallowed, leaning close to the cliff face and stepping into the Cirith Thoronath. He was right: the precipice to her left looked daunting. She pushed Eärendil between herself and the stone wall. There was enough space for maybe three elves to walk abreast. If they were desperate. Two were safer. She followed Tuor hesitantly, looking up ahead every once in a while, through the throng of desperate refugees. Once she caught a glimpse of gold and thought it might be Glorfindel.

She was too exhausted for tears, and too overcome with grief to push aside the feeling that doom was upon them.

So when she heard the unmistakable wail of yrch, she was not surprised. Not really. Beside her, Tuor leapt to attention, drawing his sword and rushing forward, skimming the outside rim of the cleft. Idril called to him, and he paused, throwing a desperate look at her over his shoulder, as if weighing his duty. He paused too long.

Idril felt time heavy in her stomach. She pressed Eärendil hard against the wall, shielding him with her body as she heard the whine of yrch arrows. Where were they? She turned her head against the rock face, but could not see over the milling throng. They were pressing against her back, running.

From orcs?

She sniffed, testing the air. No. Not orcs. Or at least, not *just* orcs. There was a fouler stench on the air, and Idril’s heart constricted painfully. Balrog. Morgoth had found them.

She found a cleft in the wall, with a stone stuck hard in the base. She lifted Eärendil onto the stone and climbed up after him, watching the Gondolindrim surge past her. Tuor stood below her, her earstwile defender.

She could see the battle ahead.

Noldo swords flashed, glowing bright blue in the gathering dusk. She watched Glorfindel stand firm on the path, flanked by two other elves, as wave after wave of yrch came at them. Other yrch swarmed a peak just beyond the precipice, archers with poisoned arrows. Elven archers returned fire, but the numbers were overwhelming.

The elf to Glorfindel’s right, Elmerion, fell. Idril had known him from infancy; his wife was here among the refugees. A hoard of yrch surged over his corpse, flanking Glorfindel. Idril choked back the bile.

Even when the elf to his left also fell, Glorfindel held the pass. His sword ran black with foul blood; his pale hair was streaked with it.

Idril looked beyond him for a moment, and felt a scream claw its way up from her belly. It died silently on her lips.

The yrch thinned, parted. With steady, reverberating steps, the Balrog came.

“Behind me,” Glorfindel called, and the refugees fell back, leaving only one elf on the pass.

Idril watched the Balrog advance.

“No,” she whispered, and again, there was that feeling that she had been in this moment before. She could have changed this fate. But it was too late now.

She watched Glorfindel step forward and meet his enemy, sword flashing. Bits of wet orc-flesh flew from his blade, like glitter in the pale sunlight. He leapt deftly onto a tall boulder, slicing the end the Balrog’s flame-whip. The severed tip fell over the ledge, hurtling soundlessly below. Angered, the Balrog closed in, gnashing its fangs and spitting fire. One sliver-clawed paw lashed out, but Glorfindel ducked, just in time, coming up underneath the Balrog’s left wing, burying his sword to the hilt.

The Balrog roared, and the mountain shook. Idril clutched her son, turning his head so that he could not see. He squirmed, but she held him tightly.

‘It is not enough,’ she thought, watching Glorfindel pull the blade out and lean in for another swipe.

Idril saw it before Glorfindel did, and she cried out. The Balrog caught Glorfindel with a claw, burying it deep in the elf’s back. The force lifted Glorfindel off his feet.

The host of Gondolindrim screamed, thrusting forward, though they could little help the elf lord now. Such a wound was mortal, even to elves.

As the Balrog turned, Idril caught a glimpse of Glorfindel’s face. That look was ever after burned into her soul, though she would never speak of it.

Idril’s vision blurred, and she saw them only as shapes now. Glorfindel’s sword flashed again and must have found its mark, for the Balrog howled unearthly pain. And then the shapes fused, leaned precariously, teetered.

And fell.

Idril heard the Balrog’s wail lengthening into the deep space below. But Glorfindel made no sound. He had died to save the refugees of Gondolin. He had died to save her.

Idril was weeping uncontrollably now. She held Eärendil tight against the rock face and let her tears bathe his small head.

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Tuor was stunned; he had not thought that the Lord of the Golden Flower could be bested, even by a Balrog. He’d heard songs of the elf lord’s prowess in battle, especially in Gondolin’s surge at the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. Such a creature should be indestructible.

Should be. But apparently was not. Tuor felt his own mortality like a lead weight in his arms. But the orcs were surging again, and he was alone, with a handful of armed children and women, to defend the last of the Gondolindrim. His blade moved of its own accord, and he stepped forward onto the path.

But even as Tuor braced to meet his doom, the wind whirred overhead and a dozen giant wings beat the air. From the burning south, Thorondor, the Lord of the Eagles, had come to their rescue.

Between Tuor’s sword and the eagles’ onslaught, the remaining orcs tried to run but were cut down, one by one, leaving only black blood on the mountain face. And no one to tell Morgoth that the princess of Gondolin and her son survived.

Idril did not see her rescue, though she heard of it later, from the awed lips of her people.

Did she not see the last strike of Glorfindel, as he fell? He killed the Balrog, singlehandedly. And Tuor, her own husband, kept the entire yrch army at bay, until the eagles arrived. If this host of elves had retained any doubts in following a mere man, they no longer did, after this evidence of his prowess.

Idril dried her eyes and nodded.

Yes, her husband was a hero. And Glorfindel. And Elmerion and Thorondor. And the thousands who had perished in her city while it burned. Like her father.

When they camped on the north side of the Echoriath the following morning, Thorondor brought the delicate corpse of Glorfindel, retrieved from the abyss. Idril cleaned it and watched others bury it under a pile of stones near the mouth of the pass where he died.

Idril sang of the battle, to her son, to the fëar of her father and Glorfindel. She knew that this song was too sad to be repeated, that this would be the only telling she could muster. Others would sing it after her, repeat it in hushed poetry. But she would not speak of it again.

She would keep, deep in her soul, her own memories of the dawn her city fell.

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Fin.