Standard Bearer, The
“It cannot be long now.” Gildor speared a wrinkled apple with his dagger, and lifted it onto his plate. “They are certainly starving.”
“Hmmph.” His brother lifted a hunk of dark bread and looked at it distastefully, “We are not doing that much better.”
“It could be worse,” Gildor replied through a mouthful of fruit. “They have been forced to eat all their horses and dogs.” He swallowed, “In fact,” he waggled the tip of his blade emphatically, “it would not surprise me if they had been eating each other.”
Gildinwen coughed on her wine.
“Gildor! Please!” Galeria’s voice was disgusted. “We are at table!”
“It is true what he says,” Glorfindel was lolling beside the healer, one hand idly toying with a lock of her hair. “They have eaten all their animals, they near the end of their endurance.” He grinned, “Even Sauron cannot manifest food from the air.”
“No.” Elrond spoke from the end of the table, “But he can inspire fear and love in his followers. There is no telling what desperate acts they may yet try.”
The younger elves fell silent as the Master of Imladris spoke. “We cannot become complacent. We must succeed every day in holding him, whereas he need breach us only once for the victory to be his.”
“Ah Elrond.” Glorfindel broke the spell. “We can always rely on you to be eternally gloomy.” He lifted the strand of smoky hair and brushed it with his lips. “Perhaps a little less attention to duty would do you good.” He gave Galeria a long look from under his lashes, causing her to blush deeply. “I know it does me.” His voice was low and seductive.
“Glorfindel.” She protested weakly. “You are shameless.”
He smiled languidly, his eyes suggestive.
The healer whispered loudly to Gil. “Honestly, ever since the breakout at the West Gate he has been utterly unbearable.” She tossed her head at the Elf. “One battle and he thinks himself a hero.”
With a single feline movement, the golden-haired elf rose from his chair, pulling the healer after him and catching hold of her waist. He whispered something in her ear and she flushed again.
“I think it is time that you two bid us goodnight.” Elrond’s voice was droll, but a smile threatened in the corner of his mouth.
The door had only just closed behind the two lovers, when it was pushed open again and Mardil entered. His cloak and boots were muddy, his hair spiky with sweat. In his hands he carried a bulky package, loosely wrapped in heavy canvas. Catching Gil’s eyes across the room, she rose to meet him.
“What is it?” she asked quietly.
He was breathless as though he had come at a run. “For Lord Gil-galad.”
She looked at the packet in his hand. A glimmer of fine silk shone through a gap in the coarse covering, fine black silk. Without breathing she lifted the corner to look in, biting her lip when she saw what it contained.
“Come with me.” She took his arm and guided him to the High King.
Gil-galad looked up from his meal, and pushed his chair back.
Gil lifted the cover back, just enough for him alone to see what was inside. His eyes sharpened and he sat up in his chair.
“Círdan.” His voice was clipped.
“Clear the room. Only yourself to remain.”
The silver-haired Elf’s face registered surprise, but he did not hesitate to obey.
“Gil.” The voice was gentle yet insistent. “Gil, wake up.”
She shivered out of the dream, breath rough, face wet.
His fingers brushed away the tears. “I wish you would tell me.”
“I will, my love.” She looked up at him, “but not just yet.”
He sighed, frowning. “May I not help?”
She smiled sadly, “When the time comes, I will ask it.”
She looked round the room, her breath hoary in the cold. “Is it morning?”
He yawned and stretched, “Indeed it is.”
Gil yelped, “You’re letting the cold in.” She burrowed deeper into the warm blankets, sighing contentedly. “I used to love winter, back in Lamedon. Deep snow surrounding the house meant no outdoor chores. I could lie late in bed, warm and cosy, no sound to disturb me.”
He smiled, drawing her close. “I like winter also, although the snowy days are few in Imladris. Frost laces the treetops and shines on the grass. Ice crusts the edges of the river and hangs from the eaves.” His hands moved softly over her. “Soon,” he whispered, “Soon, we will see it.” Then his voice became mischievous, “But now,” he leapt out of bed, inciting a squeal of protest from Gil, “I will prove my prowess by rising to light the brazier!” He hastily dragged on a robe and turning up the lamp, lit a taper.
Gil laughed, her heart brimming with love, as she watched him perform the small domestic duty.
There was no levity later in the day, however, when Elrond entered her chamber. Arrayed in formal robes, stiff with embroidery, coronet of silver regal on his dark hair, he was every inch an Elf-Lord. Tall in stature and beautiful in face. Here was the Master of Imladris, the Peredhil, mighty and wise among Men and Elves. She looked at him with awe, her breath stolen anew.
“My lord.” She whispered, bowing low, overcome with feeling. The unsteady beating of her heart harkening back to the first time she had seen him.
A familiar smile lit his face, softening his look, and he held out his hands to her. She came shyly to take them, looking up at him. The air between them was heavy with hope and anticipation but they did not speak of it, merely pressed their fingers together.
Soon Círdan’s voice summoned Elrond to the audience with his King.
Lord Gil-galad had not explained the purpose of the meeting but there could be no doubt that it was linked to the message that had arrived the day before. The thick and heavy packet, wrapped in fine, black silk and bound with gold.
The front adorned with the heavy seal of Sauron himself.
The High King was seated alone in the centre of the chamber, his chair draped with a fine cloth. Blue robes, highly adorned with silver stars, flowed to his feet. His crown shone in the soft lamplight, and beneath it his eyes were fathomless. Elf-Lord, sage and warrior. A stillness and an ancient wisdom were all about him.
Elrond entered with a slow dignity. Pride and power flowed through him, and yet he was filled with humility as he knelt before his beloved King.
Lord Gil-galad’s noble face was sad and fond, as he placed a strong hand gently on the Elf’s head.
“Elrond.” His voice was quiet but commanding, and into that single word and soft touch, he put all that had passed between the two over the many, many years they had shared.
“Be seated.” He indicated the stool in front of him. His face was very serious, and he looked long at his herald and friend before speaking.
“Sauron has called for a parlay.”
Elrond’s eyes flashed, a thrill of anticipation fanning the seed of hope already in his heart. ‘Are we truly drawing to the end?’ he thought.
The High King nodded. “This will be your task. You will ride out to negotiate in my name.”
“To make peace?”
“If he offers surrender.”
Elrond nodded slowly, the unspoken implication plain to him, “I understand, my King.”
Lord Gil-galad’s eyes fixed onto Elrond’s grey ones. “It will be a hard duty but you have both the wisdom and the heart for it.”
“My Lord.” The Elf took Gil-galad’s hand and pressed his lips to it, feelings of gratitude and loyalty flooding him, before releasing it to sit up proudly, hands on his knees.
The Elven King nodded his head in satisfaction, and motioned with his hand. Círdan emerged from the shadows, a small, ornate box in his hands. With great gravity he handed it to Gil-galad then stepped back to stand at the shoulder of his king.
“For many years,” the High King’s voice was solemn, “I have carried a heavy responsibility, a great burden, for the Elves and all the people of Middle Earth. A secret which I have guarded and kept safe, and which has helped me with strength and wisdom when I have needed it most.”
Elrond’s face was impassive, but his mind flew. Half-heard hints, and snatches of rumour had given him a thought of what the High King referred to. Was it truly real then? Would he see it at last?
Gil-galad opened the box and drew forth a silken cloth. With a slow reverence he unwrapped it to reveal a Ring.
“Behold Vilya. The greatest of the three Elf Rings.”
The ring was of a heavy gold, around the edge mighty words of wisdom and power were etched, and in the centre a great, blue sapphire shone like the sky on the sea.
Elrond looked in awe at one of the greatest treasures of the Elves. Forged two thousand years ago by Celebrimbor, in the fated city of Ost-in-Edhil. Hidden by him from the grasp of Sauron, who greatly desired all Rings for himself.
“Now I pass it to you.” Gil-galad looked hard at the Master of Imladris.
At first Elrond could not take the words in. ‘He is giving it to me? To me?’
The High King lifted the chain upon which the Ring hung.
“No, my lord.” Elrond shook his head, his heart fearful. “I cannot. I am not worthy of such a thing.”
“That is for me to judge.”
The Elf’s face was troubled. “But why are you doing this? Why do you not keep the Ring?”
“Because the time has come to pass it on.” The High King’s voice was very grim.
Elrond shook his head, sadness in his heart and confusion in his mind. “I do not understand, my lord.”
“You will, my friend.” Gil-galad’s voice softened, “You will.”
“But surely there are others more worthy than I?” the Elf looked up at the Shipwright. “Why not Círdan?”
“He has his own charge.”
From beneath his tunic the white-haired Elf drew forth a chain, from which also hung a great Ring. Narya, whose stone shone with a red fire.
Elrond’s face took on a deep seriousness, and he returned his gaze to Vilya. It called to him like the sound of the sea.
“And the third?”
“The Lady Galadriel of LÍ³rien.”
Elrond nodded slowly.
He bent his head, and Gil-galad placed the chain around his neck. “You may not wear it while Sauron possesses the One, for it will give him power over you.” He took the dark head gently between his two hands and kissed the brow. “I have no offspring of my blood, Elrond, but I have always considered you as a son.”
The Master of Imladris had no words. Love and fealty filled his heart.
“Use it to protect and preserve our people. Make Imladris a shelter for them, and a haven for wisdom and power.”
“I shall, my lord.”
Elrond walked slowly back from the audience, his thoughts busy. The rain had stopped and the cold air was almost fresh. He breathed deeply, a feeling of anticipation coming over him. The unfamiliar weight of Vilya was warm against his skin, and he felt a great peace. There was much to be done on the morrow, to bring an end to this madness at last. Then we can go home. Imladris. He ached for it, his soul parched. The green valley, the sough of the trees, the laughter of the stream. His house waiting, the rooms inviting, his people welcoming. He thought of Gil, loving and patient. A warmth filled him. He imagined her there, walking with him; riding together over the moors; her laughter echoing in the halls; her soft voice in the twilight; her hair on his pillow. The picture was strong, he could almost touch it. Very well, let it be tonight, he had waited too long already.
He felt a joy come over him. A smile came to his face and his step quickened. He would need his harp.
She was reading when he entered, the room warm from the brazier and cheery with lamps. He stood quietly for a long moment, taking in the cosy scene, before she looked up at him and lit his heart with her smile.
“You have returned.”
She put her book aside and rose to meet him. He placed his harp on the table, and took her hands. She looked deep into his eyes, and he read the hope there.
“Yes, my love.” He answered her unspoken question, “Sauron has called for a parlay.”
A great smile leapt to her face.
“Tomorrow I ride out as Herald, to negotiate the terms for surrender.”
“Oh, Elrond!” Happiness danced in her eyes and she squeezed his fingers. “Then it will soon be over!”
“It will, Gill. It will.” His smile matched hers. “And then we can go home.”
She took a breath to reply, but before she could release it, he took her head in his hands, and touched his lips briefly to her soft ones. The warmth of them never ceased to delight him. But later, later he would enjoy them. First, he had something else to do. He felt his heart flutter with excitement, as though he were a child on a feast day.
“Sit.” He instructed, guiding her back to her chair.
He drew up the stool, and lifting his harp, settled himself in front of her.
She was silent, her dark eyes huge, her lips parted as she watched him unwrap the instrument.
He settled the familiar shape into the crook of his arm, his fingers finding their place without his eyes leaving her face.
“I have a song for you, my little sleeper.”
Her voice made no reply, but all was in her face as her eyes widened and her breath sharpened.
He settled his breathing, listening for his heart and feeling for the music, then his fingers stroked the strings.
Gil felt her heart still within her as the harp sang. The notes pulled out a longing within her, an aching for a green place, a haven, a home.
Gloomy winter's now all gone,
Soft the western breeze blows in,
Across the Ford of Bruinen.
The mavis sings so cheery, O.
Pale the Elrhîw’s snowy spell,
Decks the slopes of Rivendell,
Blooming like thy lovely sel',
My own, my artless dearie, O.
Come, my lady, let us stray,
O'er Imladris’ sunny brae,
Blithely spend the golden day,
'Midst joy that’s never weary, O.
Towering o'er the dark Greenwoods,
Misty Mountains brush the clouds,
Silver boughs, with downy buds,
Adorn the banks so briery, O.
Round the sylvan fairy nooks,
Feathery breckans fringe the rocks,
'Neath the hill the river talks,
And everything is cheery, O;
Trees may bud, and birds may sing,
Flowers may bloom, and verdure spring,
Joy to me they cannot bring,
Unless with thee, my dearie, O. 
She gazed upon him, tears in her eyes, no words necessary, the fullness of her heart writ plain on her face.
He laid his harp aside and took her hands. Long and deep he looked into her eyes.
“When I return to Imladris, I want you to come with me.” His eyes were tender and filled with promise, “To make it your home, and spend all the days of your life there, with me. As my wife.”
Here it was. The words at once so longed for, and yet so dreaded. Her heart stretched its wings, ready to soar with happiness, but she held it back. Forced it down. Not yet.
His face was filled with joy, his gaze guileless and expectant.
“Oh my love.” She cried, “Gladly will I come with you, to pass all my days by your side. Nothing would give me greater happiness.”
A wondrous smile illuminated his face.
She felt herself falter. This was going to be so difficult.
She took a deep breath, “But I cannot come as your wife.”
The sudden hurt in his eyes was like a shadow of winter.
She lifted a hand to his face, “Elrond, I love you. You are all to me.”
“Then why?” he whispered.
“Because you are of the Firstborn, and I am a mortal. You made your choice a long time ago, and where I must go you cannot follow. Nor can I cross the Sea with you. Thus we have but a few precious years together.” Her voice dropped to an anguished whisper, “And I cannot bear the thought of you being alone again after I am gone.”
His face was agonised, and he lifted his fingers to still her lips. “Hush.”
She pressed those fingers briefly to her lips, then took them in hers, “No, I must speak,” her voice was tortured, “I want you to promise me, that after my death, you will not be alone again.” She forced herself to continue, though it burned her heart to do it, “That you will marry a beautiful Elf-princess and make a family.” She tried to smile, but the edges blurred with tears. “No Elf-lady would take second place after me, so I shall step aside.”
Tears were in his eyes also, the first she had ever seen. “I love you, Gil. I would honour you with everything that I have, show the world that you stand by my side, that you have my heart. Make you my wife, and the Lady of Imladris.”
“I know, my lord.” Her voice was heavy with unshed sorrow. “But what care I for the world? To be the lady of your heart is all the honour that I desire.”
“Is this the matter that has been causing you such unrest?”
“Yes, my love,” her voice was raw, “A dream beyond all sadness. You sit alone. A great sorrow upon your brow, an old loneliness in your eyes - and no-one comes to comfort you.” She reached out her hands to clasp his face, and her tears spilled over, “It cuts my heart so to see it, till I think I shall weep forever.”
“And this..,” he faltered, “..promise. It would give you peace?”
“Yes.” She whispered.
“And you would still come with me to Imladris? To be my wife in all but name, for such time as is granted to us?”
“Yes, my love. With all my heart I promise it.”
He looked down in silence, for a long while, and when he raised his face to her, it was sad and grave. “Very well. It shall be as you have asked.”
And he took her in his arms, that they might hold each other - so close, so tight, so long. And whether the tears they shed were of joy or sorrow, neither could have said.
After a time, Gil became aware of a gentle sound.
“Listen.” She whispered. From out of the night came the haunting note of pipes. “He is missing his home too.”
Elrond looked down at her, stroking her hair away from her face. “Soon we will be there, my love.” A smile came slowly to his face. “I want to show you everything. The river, the mountains, the forest. Walk with you under the rustling trees, ride with you over the high moor. Talk late into the night while listening to the owl and watching the stars.”
“I long to see it, my love.”
The tempo of the music changed. No longer a sad longing, now a faster song, a lilt of spring. Gil smiled. “He is playing a Cuaresal. A dance for the season of planting.” She felt her feet tapping in time.
Elrond listened for a moment, feeling his way through the unfamiliar tune, then he rose. “Come,” he held out his hands to her. “Show me.”
She accepted his offer with delight, laughter in her face.
“It is very simple.” She pushed the chairs under the table.
He raised an eyebrow doubtfully.
“You stand there.” She placed him. “And I here.” They faced each other, a few feet apart. “Before we start, courtesy dictates that we must bow.” He placed one hand behind his back, lowering his head as she swept towards to the ground.
“Now we turn, so.” They faced in the same direction. “Then just follow what I do, the music will say when to move.”
First, a toss of the head and a stamp of the foot. Then four paces forward. His feet were light, perfectly in time.
“Now we face each other, two steps up, and two steps back.”
His eyes were laughing.
“Now reach your arm around my waist, and we turn about.” She felt his lithe body brush hers, already he was springing on his toes.
“Now sunwise.” He swung her with vigour and she laughed aloud.
“You are a natural.”
He grinned at her.
“Now all again the other way.”
They gave themselves over to the dance, bodies swaying and moving through the steps, simple yet layered with meaning. Touch and part, step and turn, eyes always on each other.
All too soon the song finished, and he caught her to him. Her face was flushed with joy, and a light of happiness sparkled in his eyes.
“When we return to Imladris,” he smiled down at her, “I will introduce this custom, and we shall dance together every feast day.”
She felt her tears shine, “Oh my love,” she whispered, “If you will but kiss me I shall be happier than I have ever been.”
“Your wish shall be my command, lady of my heart.” And he bent his head to fulfil it.
 Adapted from the hauntingly beautiful song: “Gloomy Winter’s Now Awa’ “, written in 1808 by tragic Scots poet Robert Tannahill.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.