Standard Bearer, The
24. Strength and Weakness
“Well met, Lord Elrond.” The Prince of Gondor welcomed the Elf, raising an invisible sword in salute.
“Greetings, Prince Isildur.” returned Elrond, as he halted, “And to you, my Lord.” He bowed to Elendil.
The King of Men dipped his sober head in acknowledgement, his once joyful face tired by years of battle, and dulled by sorrow. “You are welcome, Master Elrond.” He looked at both the envoys, his voice grave but strong, “May you go forth in wisdom, and return with peace.” He lifted his hand in blessing, and the party turned their horses towards the gates of Barad-dûr.
It was a goodly distance from Elendil’s camp to the gates of the Dark Tower. Along the north road, its surface bearing many marks of battle, the ground to either side broken and torn, littered with discarded weapons. Their approach sent carrion birds flapping heavily into the air, returning lazily after they had passed, picking at the bones of the dead. Ahead of them the citadel loomed blackly, obscuring the late afternoon sun as the sharp shadows of the spires and crenulations reached along the road to meet them.
“So, Elrond.” Isildur’s voice was friendly, but it masked the strain that they both felt. “Do you think he will offer a surrender?”
Elrond looked round at the Man, meeting the intense eyes with his own quiet ones. “I hope so, Isildur.”
The Prince nodded in agreement, his black stallion prancing and sidestepping, the hooves raising sparks on the stones. “I do not see how he can last much longer.” He controlled his restive mount easily, “Surely he must see that he is vanquished?”
“One would expect it to be so, and yet I fear he may still have surprises for us.”
It was colder now, deep in the shadow of the terrible fortress, the blank walls rising to tower above them, black and forbidding, dark slits and shadowy windows scattered along the upper reaches. In front of them they could see a faint orange glow, from the fiery pit that surrounded Barad-dûr, and at the head of the road, the North Gate. Shut fast, the drawbridge raised.
The sound of the horses was loud on the roadway as they approached the dark gatehouse, all around was an unnatural silence. Even the wind had fallen, the air eerie and still, the banners limp over their heads.
Just short of the end of the road they halted, waiting. In front of them, the deep moat seethed heat far beneath, fumes and foulness rising slowly. Facing them across it, the blank face of the raised drawbridge.
“Now what?” asked Isildur impatiently.
“Now,” returned Elrond, his face composed, “We wait. I doubt it will be long.”
Indeed their approach must have been watched, since it was no more than a few minutes before an ominous rumble signalled the slow descent of the heavy drawbridge. Gradually, inch by creaking inch the huge timbers lowered, till they slammed into place over the foul chasm, causing Isildur’s horse to rear and snort. Now with an iron shudder the massive studded doors opened, their hinges deathly silent, the gatekeepers invisible. Behind them the huge grate of an iron portcullis raised its evil teeth, and from the dark mouth revealed, an unwholesome wind sallied forth. In its foul embrace, four horsemen rode, two abreast. Three were Men, cloaked and hooded, and one was a thing that once was a Man. Now an immortal shadow, bound for all life, for his very life, to the Dark Lord, held in thrall by the terrible treasure that adorned his hand.
“Nazgûl.” whispered Othmar, his voice as trembling as his pony.
“Courage,” countered Isildur, “They are bound, as we are, under the terms of the truce.” His own horse was pawing and stamping at the approach of the corruption of majesty that was the mount of the Wraith.
Even Elrond’s horse was shuddering beneath him as Sauron’s party echoed across the bridge to take their place, their black banners flapping in the aberrant breeze. Ten yards separated the two sides, and yet the loathsome stink of decay was noisome in the nostrils of Man and Elf.
Elrond grasped his wand in his hand, murmuring soothingly to quiet his horse. Beneath his tunic Vilya was a warm comfort against the skin of his chest, a bright defence against the darkness, and in his head the words of his King were clear and sound.
He raised the baton, the white gleam a challenge to the black creature in front of him.
“I am Elrond Peredhil, Lord of Imladris and Herald to Lord Gil-galad, High King of the Elves. I come to speak with his voice. To hear your proposal and answer it.”
“I am Morgurth.”  The voice was an insidious growl. “Lieutenant of Barad-dûr, Messenger of Mordor and the Mouth of Sauron. I am sent by my Master to make an offer.” He turned the empty shadow of his face to Isildur. “And does the Elf speak for you also, Prince of Gondor, or do you have your own voice?”
“I speak for my father, King Elendil of Arnor,” Isildur’s voice was strong and proud, “and for all the free Men of that land. Lord Elrond is my ally, and in this matter I bow to his greater wisdom.”
If the Nazgûl had had a mouth he would have smiled, but the sound he made could not be called a laugh. “That is well, as my proposal is for the Elf Lord alone, although another here may wish to speak with you when I am done.”
Elrond frowned, casting a glance at Isildur. The Man’s face was equally confused. No doubt that was the creature’s intention, to sow discord. The Elf steeled himself to answer evenly.
“Speak then the words of your master. Let us hear them, that we may make an answer.”
“You have come here expecting a peace offer, have you not, Elf Lord?” The Wraith sneered the words.
Elrond felt a cold haft of disappointment plunge into his heart, was there then to be no peace? But he made neither reply nor response.
“The offer is for you, and you alone, Elrond Peredhil. Elf-Lord, mighty among both the First- and the Second-born.” The Nazgul’s voice was lower now, inviting. “Join with us. Bow before my Master and swear him your allegiance. Your reward shall be power and glory before all the peoples of Middle Earth. No longer a half-breed, pitied and mistrusted, but a great Prince of the Darkness, feared and worshipped, ruling over all the Elves in the name of my Master.”
Elrond could hear the sharp intake of breath from Isildur, followed by a growl of anger, while in his own heart, disbelief and confusion were a- riot.
“Your Master is a fool if he thinks he can buy me with such a price.” The Elf-Lord’s voice was clear and strong.
“Yes.” mused the Messenger, “We did not think it would be sufficient. Perhaps we need to,” he paused for a moment, “sweeten the deal.” He motioned peremptorily with a mailed hand and from the gateway, three figures emerged. One, dark and heavyset, had foul features and a hideous demeanour ominously familiar to the Master of Imladris. It was the Orc Captain he had faced on the Battlefield of Dagorlad.
“We meet again, Elf-Lord.” He spat derisively.
But Elrond had no eyes for the fiendish creature, only for his captive. Viciously gagged and hobbled, hands forced up her back and fastened to a running noose about her neck, was his Gil. Eyes wide, blood trickling from the fettered mouth, bruises blackening on her skin.
A cry tore from the lips of the Elf-Lord, and it was very terrible to hear.
He could feel Isildur’s gaze on him, see, without looking, the realisation cross the Man’s face.
Gil. Oh Gil. My love.
My brave and gentle girl. How can it be? Not here. Not in this hateful place.
Pain expanded through his veins, anger burning in its wake. His hand tightened on the wand, knuckles as white as that badge of trust. In his heart he screamed for her, his limbs shook with the overwhelming urge to put his horse to the charge. To fling his baton of peace into the fire below, and to kill that foul abortion with his bare hands. But the weight of Vilya reminded him that he could not act alone. That he was bound to the sacred trust of his King, and the fate of all the Elves, of all the people of Middle Earth, hung heavy about his neck.
He thought he would suffocate, trapped mercilessly between love and duty. The sheer pressure, from within and without, crushing him. With an iron will he kept his face still, while within him his heart was in shreds.
“Come, my lord.” countenanced the Wraith. “One word only and she is free. You are under treaty of truce, bound to honour any agreement made. We will trust you. Agree only to join us, swear your allegiance to my Master, and she is yours again.”
Agony. It sickened and paralysed him. He could not take breath.
A hand came onto his shoulder, the strength of Man gripping it.
“Elrond.” Isildur’s voice was low. “You cannot. The price is too high.”
He pulled in a breath, and fixed his eyes upon hers. Above the cruel curb they still flashed with love and defiance, her head almost imperceptible in its shake, her mute abrogation of the offered pact.
But that would mean he must leave her here. In this hellish prison. Forsake her. Abandon her to....a dark fist gripped his heart.
“No?” The Orc Captain was grinning lasciviously now. His hands twisting the bonds of Gil’s arms to cripple her. He leant his foul face close to hers. “Then she shall come to me.”
“No!” this cry from the third figure, the face and voice a bitter revelation.
“Falcred.” hissed Elrond.
“She was to be mine. It was agreed.” The anguished face of the Man looked in angry bewilderment at the figure next to Morgurth.
“Silence, puppy!” The Orc Captain backhanded the man viciously across the face, knocking him to the ground.
Falcred regained his feet, blood on his lip, a horrified look of realisation coming over his face. He looked at Gil, bound and helpless, up to his now silent mentor, then over at Elrond’s stricken face.
He drew his blade and faced the Captain.
“Falcred! No!” the cloaked figure twisted in the saddle.
But it was too late, the young man lunged wildly. The Captain’s heavy blade swung, once to deflect the blow and knock his opponent to the ground. Then again to finish him, his other hand jerking his prisoner so that she choked and sobbed. Contemptuously his foot pushed the body over the edge of the bridge, to fall unheeded to the fire below.
Above her bonds Gil’s eyes squeezed briefly in regret. ‘Falcred, you poor misguided fool.’
But she could not spare any more time for him. She fixed her gaze on Elrond. She knew what must happen. What he must choose. There could be no other way.
‘Oh my love.’ She cried silently, ‘Forgive me that I have brought you to this.’
She looked upon him, drinking in every detail, ingraining the sight of him upon her eyes and mind. Perhaps she could survive, stay alive until Gil- galad’s army breached the Tower, until Elrond came for her. She tried not to think of what was to come, but only of this moment.
“Brith.” Isildur’s voice was deadly as he addressed Morgurth’s companion.
The cloaked figure pushed its hood back. “Prince of Gondor.” He spat derisively.
“Traitor.” snarled Isildur.
“So...” Isildur sneered, “That is what this is all about. Jealousy because she preferred me.”
“You tricked her.” Brith’s voice was low and menacing. “Enticed her from me with baubles and trinkets.”
Isildur laughed harshly. “However it was, she is my wife now, mother of my children, and you can never have her.”
“No?” growled Brith. “In her heart she is still mine. It is my face she sees in her dreams, my arms she yearns for at night.”
Isildur’s face tightened with rage.
“And when we have crushed your puny army of Elves and Men.” snarled Brith, “I shall march into Annúminas, and take her back!”
Isildur’s hand flew to his sword-hilt, but its place was empty.
Brith laughed. “Soon enough, my lord.” He dripped the words, “We will meet on the field of battle, and then we shall see, once and for all, who shall lay claim to her.”
“So then,” Morgurth’s sibilant hiss raked Elrond’s ears, “I take it that you do not wish to accept our offer?”
The Elf-Lord’s jaw tightened with barely restrained fury and his eyes blazed with a terrible anger. “There shall be no peace. This parlay has been a travesty. The full wrath of our army shall be unleashed upon you. And by Elbereth I swear, that not one stone of this filthy place shall remain upon another.”
The evil sound came again from the empty pit that was Morgurth’s face, and the party of the Dark Lord turned back towards the gate.
Gil was dragged back into the dark mouth of the gatehouse, her eyes stil locked to his, love and courage battling with her fear.
The iron trap of the portcullis lowered into place, the dark bars shadowing her face.
He could not speak, he could not call out sacred words of love for these evildoers to hear, but in his look he said everything to her.
‘Be strong, my love, whatever happens.’
The great doors began to close, timbers groaning, the space narrowing.
‘Stay alive. I will come for you.’
With a final, awful shudder the gap closed, the gate shut and barred. Trapping her. The drawbridge began to raise, creaking and straining. The last barrier cutting her off from him, separating them with a widening pit of fire.
He could no longer keep the agony from his face, no longer stop the cry of anguish that rose from the depth of his heart. He clutched the wand as if he would crush it in his hand.
“My lord.” The voice was Isildur’s again.
He looked round wildly at the Man, his eyes tortured.
“Listen to me, Elrond.” The Prince laid a hand upon his shoulder again. “And take heart.” He fixed the Elf with a piercing gaze. “If there is one who has the strength and wit to survive that place, it is she.”
A terrible sadness was upon Elrond’s face.
“What have I done?” He cried. “I have forsaken her. Abandoned her to bondage and torment.”
“Elrond!” Isildur’s voice was insistent. “Rally yourself. She needs you to be strong now. Return to your king.” He sat back in his saddle, a formidable anger on his face. “We have a war to fight. A war that we must win.”
He wheeled his stallion, and Elrond followed suit wordlessly, With a cry of rage and defiance, Isildur spurred his warhorse, and the others following, sprang at a gallop back down the road.
Back to his king, back to the army, back to war.
This time they would see it finished.
For those in Gil-galad’s council chamber, time passed slowly as they waited for the Herald to return. Galeria had been summoned to tend Sergeant Gillow but he refused to go with her to the hospital.
“Nay, my lady.” He shook his grey head decisively. “I must wait for Master Elrond’s return, for he may have news.”
Lord Gil-galad’s heart was heavy, the plan laid bare to his incisive mind, but he spoke not of it to the others. Let them hope yet a while. He had no doubt that his Herald had the strength to choose the path of duty, and that for the good of all would even give the Lady Gildinwen up to the Dark Lord. But as to how Elrond would fare in the wake of such a decision, he knew not. For himself he felt anger and outrage, that one of his household, a loyal and faithful retainer, could be so savagely betrayed. ‘They have used her love as a weakness to ensnare her,’ he thought, ‘and now they attempt the same with Elrond.’
Mardil alone was busy. He must act to secure the camp, all passwords and codes had to be considered compromised. He tried not to think of why, but only to concentrate on the practicalities of changing them.
Will had been set to watch for the approach of the party, and at last he appeared in the doorway.
“Noble Sirs,” he bowed, “They have returned.”
Gil-galad rose to his feet as Elrond stooped to enter the room. Prince Isildur was at the shoulder of the Elf-Lord, and the look on their faces said all.
Beside the High King, Galeria drew a sharp breath, pressing a hand to her mouth. All were silent as Elrond walked slowly towards his King, his haunted eyes seeking those of Lord Gil-galad.
Wordlessly he held out the Herald’s baton, grief a dark shadow on his face. Gil-galad took the wand, and with his other hand reached out to grip the Elf’s shoulder.
“Forgive me, my lord.” Elrond’s voice was little more than a hoarse whisper. “There will be no peace.”
“We know.” replied Gil-galad gravely. “But you are not the cause of it.”
Elrond looked slowly about the room, taking in the grim looks, Galeria’s white face and Mardil’s hard jaw.
Sergeant Gillow approached him, bowing his grizzled and bandaged head, “Forgive me, my lord.” His voice was sorrow-stricken. “Too late I saw the trap, and I could not prevent them taking her.”
“It is grievous indeed.” spoke Gil-galad, “That this should come upon one of our own.” He turned his proud and formidable gaze upon the company. “We cannot change what has happened. Guilt and recrimination are misplaced and unprofitable. Only victory can right this wrong, and the many others that Sauron has perpetrated against Middle Earth and her people.” He lifted the baton of peace and broke it in two, tossing the pieces aside. “He has chosen the path of war, let us prepare our armies to meet his.”
Around the room chins raised with pride, and chests swelled with purpose.
“Go now.” The Elven King raised his hand in a gesture of dismissal. “Ready yourselves for the battle to come. I doubt not that it will be soon.” With a shuffle of feet and rumble of voices, the company took their leave, one by one. Gil-galad caught at the sleeve of his Herald. “Elrond.” He spoke quietly, “Stay awhile.”
“My lord.” The Elf’s eyes were hollow and aching.
“Is it as we thought?” The High King knew his words would cause pain, but they must be said. “Her life for your betrayal?”
“Yes.” The reply flat and empty.
“I am sorrowed beyond words that this choice has come to you, my son.” Gil- galad’s voice was heavy, “And proud beyond telling of your courage in making it.”
“It was not my courage alone, my lord.” A spark came to Elrond’s darkened eyes. “She stood in the shadow of that evil gatehouse and bid me begone.”
“Aye.” The Elven King nodded solemnly, “She is a true daughter of her House, strong in the blood of the Faithful. Take heart, my friend. Few there are, that enter the gates of Barad-dûr and return, but she is one who has the strength for it.”
Elrond looked up at his King, “Thank you.” He whispered. “Your words are a comfort to me, my lord.” The shadow deepened, “Though I fear they may not be enough.” His words were raw, ragged with pain. “For I have abandoned my love to the Enemy, she who was both my weakness and my strength. My soul has lost its harbour and I know not how I will face the days to come.”
 Black Death. This is made up, as there is no reference to the real name of this character in the Silmarillion or Lord of the Rings.
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.