Standard Bearer, The
26. Love and Duty
Elrond rose slowly to his feet, his arms empty now wherein he had gathered his fallen King. In disbelief he looked down at the ground, and about him, as if unable to comprehend what had happened.
“He is gone.” He turned to Círdan, his jaw set hard against the grief that threatened to overcome him. “How can it be?”
The Shipwright’s face was a mask of agony and bereavement, tears were upon his face and he had no words.
In front of them, Prince Isildur kicked disgustedly at the foul and empty body that had been Sauron’s, his mouth twisted with a bitter satisfaction. The severed hand lay dark and lifeless on the bloody ground, but the Ring on the dead finger gleamed pleasingly, invitingly. He reached down to take it.
“No!” Elrond cried out in warning.
The Ring slid easily into Isildur’s grasp, warm and heavy. Comforting and sustaining. It felt right. He looked in wonder at its surface, the gold glowing without heat, the writing swirling and fading.
He looked round to see the grave face of the Master of Imladris.
“Isildur.” The Elf spoke again. “You cannot keep it.”
A thrill of fear ran through his body, and he clutched his prize tightly in his hand.
“And why not?” his voice was guarded. “Did I not slay the Dark Lord?”
“Yes.” Elrond spoke quietly.
Isildur took a step backwards, feeling a vague threat from the warrior.
“You have shown the greatest courage today.” Elrond continued. “This deed shall be sung in legend as among the mightiest ever told.”
The King of Gondor relaxed a little, mollified.
Elrond spoke again. “But you need to show greater strength yet.” His voice was deadly serious. “The Ring is very dangerous. All the power of Sauron is bound in it. While it exists he can never be truly defeated.”
“What are you saying?” The Man’s voice was tinged with suspicion.
“You must destroy it.” The Elf-lord pointed up the smoking mountain. “The Cracks of Doom, in whose fire it was forged. Only there can it be unmade.”
Distrust rippled through Isildur, and he gripped his prize till it dug into his flesh.
“No.” His voice was flat. “It is mine. A weregild for my father’s death.”
“It is too dangerous.” Elrond tried to keep the desperation from his voice.
But Isildur could feel a possibility. Like a whisper in his mind, the Ring could bring him his dearest wish. Its wordless voice was soft and cajoling, promising him power and glory, and that which he desired above all things.
“No.” he said again, stepping back. “I will not give it up.” He raised the fist in which he held it, “With it I can win her back again. She will forget him and be mine once more. Mine alone.”
“Isildur!” Elrond’s face was distraught, “You risk bringing the Darkness on us again.”
The Man looked at him in a slow agony, “If I destroy the Ring I will lose her.”
“And was that not your council to me?” cried Elrond, his voice strangled, “At the gates of Barad-dûr? To give up the woman I loved for the sake of our victory?”
“Aye, it was.” He looked the other in the eye, “But I have not your strength, Elf-Lord.” Then he felt the Ring tickle him. “Or maybe you did not love as I do.”
Elrond reeled as though the Man had stabbed him. ‘No!’ he cried inside. It was not true. Was it? Guilt washed over him again. ‘Oh, Gil’ his heart wept, ‘Where are you?’
His shoulders slumped in grief and defeat, and he watched Isildur stride away. He felt alone, an empty desolation in his soul, he had lost his love and his King was dead. The brightest star, the crowning glory of the Noldor, had left the world. He gazed slowly around him, at the aftermath of the battle, the wounded warriors and the piles of dead. In the far distance, the clouds began to clear about the Fortress. The gates would be open now, undefended. He felt a great urgency and fear come on him. He must go. Now. Find her. He retrieved his sword, sheathed it and began to make his way down the mountain.
“My Lord.” The Shipwright’s voice brought him up short. Elrond looked round in astonishment, but the Elder Elf’s face was gravely serious.
“My Lord,” Círdan continued, “You are needed here.”
Elrond looked about him again, and he felt the weight of many eyes upon him, Man and Elf. Bewildered and lost. Seeking for comfort, for guidance, for leadership.
Vilya felt warm and heavy on his breast, and it was like the touch of his King upon his heart. Calling him to duty, to the care of the people commended to him. A task and honour that he had accepted.
He bowed his head momentarily, hearing again the voice of his Lord whom, even from beyond the veil of death, he would always obey. Grief and search would have to wait. He straightened, and squaring his shoulders, returned to Círdan.
“Come then.” Wisdom and authority weighed heavy in his voice, “Let us do what must be done.”
Mardil watched in abhorrent fascination as the man gulped down the soup, wiping his mouth with a lean hand, while Elrond felt himself torn between compassion and horror.
“Forgive me.” A white-toothed grin split the dirty, haggard face. “It has been many days since I last had food.” He eagerly spooned some more of the broth into his mouth, following it with chunks of bread, chewing hurriedly. “There was precious little to eat these last weeks, and we prisoners were last in line.” His body was gaunt and filthy, consumed by itself. His hair had been cropped close to the skull, and his wrists and ankles bore weeping shackle sores. He was dressed in ragged remnants of Anárion’s livery and about his neck was fastened an iron collar bearing the mark of his gaoler.
Mardil consulted the paper in his hand, “You were imprisoned beneath the smallest north east tower?”
“That’s right.” The man nodded, “There were a few of us there, mostly captains of Gondor. We were relatively fortunate,” he shuddered, “the talk was that common soldiers went to the kitchens. And I don’t mean to get fed.” He added grimly.
“But the Lady Gildinwen was not with you?” Mardil pressed gently.
“No.” the Captain shook his head mutely over a full mouth, then swallowed, “I never saw her.” He looked up sadly, “I’m sorry.”
“Do you have any idea where they might have held her?” Elrond steeled his voice to remain level, although he felt like screaming in desperation. For days now, the search had gone on, and still no sign had been found. Where was she? What had happened to her? Had she been starved and manacled like this man? Tortured? Or worse. He forced himself not to think of it, nothing could be gained by the torment. He pushed the pain and the fear deep down inside him, crushing it into a dark knot.
“No, my lord.” The prisoner’s face was sorrowful. “We were probably the most high-ranking prisoners they had and she was not with us.” He shrugged, “ But you’ve seen for yourself, the place is a city, and the dungeons a labyrinth beneath it. She could have been anywhere. And there were rumours, of course.”
“Rumours?” Elrond leaned forward, frowning.
“Of deeper places, below even the dungeons, buried in the depths of the earth.” He looked uncomfortable under the Elf-Lord’s scrutiny. “Places from which there was no return.” He was silent for a moment, then raised his spoon again. “But as I say, my Lord, only rumours.”
Elrond nodded in resignation, and left the man to finish his meal. He had been to the Tower for himself, and as the Man had said, it was a city. An enormous sprawling Fortress, rambling and random. Keeps rising, floor upon floor, stair upon stair. Tunnels and steps leading down, down into darkness, to dungeons and foul pits. A labyrinthine maze of interconnecting passages and chambers. Mardil had set men to search it, methodically, room by room. They had found and freed many slaves and prisoners, and brought forth many more dead. But she was not among them. Questioning of freed prisoners and enemy captives had shed no light. Had she escaped? Had she been taken from the Tower before its fall? Was she already dead? Elrond felt he might go mad with waiting.
Every day he must attend to his duties, taking on the mantle left by Gil- galad, for all of Middle Earth now looked to him for leadership. Filling that void as best he might, he pushed aside his pain, his loss. For his King, he would grieve when he had the luxury of rest. For Gil, he knew not.
“Lord Elrond.” The gruff voice brought him to himself, and he looked round to see a rough bearded face.
“Master Farin.” Elrond bowed his head in greeting. “Thank you for coming.”
“Aye.” growled the Dwarf with a grin, “I see you have another customer for us.” He pointed to the prisoner who was now replete from his meal, “I have lost count of the number of those foul collars we have removed.”
“Indeed.” Elrond looked very grim. “But there is another matter upon which I would speak with you first.”
“Oh yes.” The other looked interested.
“Let us walk outside.” Elrond indicated the door.
Once in the open air he led Farin to the top of a rough outcrop where they had an uninterrupted view of Barad-dûr.
“Tell me, Master Dwarf.” asked Elrond, “What do you think of it? As a builder?”
“It is a magnificent piece of work and no mistake.” Farin’s gruff voice was admiring. “But there is no beauty in it. It is a foul place, evil seeps from the very walls. Blood, death and terror built it, fear and hate kept it strong.”
Elrond nodded slowly, his face very grave, and he turned to the Dwarf. “Tear it down, Master Farin.” His lips pressed together with surpressed emotion. “Level it to the ground. Let not one stone remain upon another.”
Mardil had almost decided to go to bed when the man appeared, hesitating in the doorway.
“Sir?” It was one of the men he had set to search the Tower. His voice was soft, a look of grim sorrow on the face.
Mardil felt a surge of fear, rising bitter in the back of his throat. He swallowed hard, and rose to his feet.
“What have you found?” His voice was tight.
The man held out something wrapped in a small bundle of rough cloth.
Without volition, Mardil felt his hands reach out and take it. As soon as he touched it, he knew it for what it was, and the knowledge bowed his head low.
“Where did you find it?”
“Most of the gaolers collected such things.” The soldier looked down, “This one had quarters in the lower North Tower.”
“I don’t suppose he was taken?”
“No, Sir.” The man shook his head, “Fled or killed.”
“Thank you for bringing it.”
Mardil closed his eyes for a moment, knowing his own grief would have to wait. First he must to Lord Elrond.
“My Lady.” The voice was quiet, but Galeria was not asleep, she had merely lain down on a spare cot to rest for a time.
“Yes, what is it?” She fumbled to turn up the lamp, expecting to see one of her assistants come to request help with a patient. “Halmir?”
Elrond’s squire stood grim-faced in the lamplight.
Immediately she sensed that something was wrong. “What has happened?” she asked, rising to her feet.
The young Elf gestured towards the shadows and Mardil came forward, a small bundle in his hand. Wordlessly he uncovered it, and Galeria clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle the cry that rose in her.
“When?” she gasped, staggering back to sit on the cot.
“Just a few minutes ago. We came straight here.”
“Does it mean....?” She left the rest unspoken.
“I know not.” Mardil’s voice was thick, and he swallowed heavily.
Galeria buried her head silently in her hands for a few moments, then she raised it questioningly. “You came here first?”
“Yes, my lady.” Halmir answered.
“Then he does not know yet?”
The squire shook his head, “We had hoped that you would accompany us....in case....” He did not finish.
She nodded slowly, wiping her eyes, then rose and wrapped her cloak about her. “Come then.” She reached out her hands to each of the lads, squeezing their shoulders encouragingly, but could find no words of comfort to speak.
Elrond sat in solitude, in the council chamber that had been Lord Gil- galad’s. The table before him was strewn with papers and documents, and his face was heavy with care. For many days now, he had eschewed rest. How could he face the night alone? Without her soft breath to soothe his dreams, her presence to comfort him, and her warm body to fill his arms? He rested his head in his hands, allowing himself a moment, only a moment, to think of her. No more, lest he be overcome.
“Where are you?” he whispered. “My little sleeper.” He closed his eyes against the pain. “I have searched everywhere. High and low. Every room of that accursed Tower. What have they done with you?”
Dark thoughts pressed upon him, and he forced them away. ‘No!’ he thought, ‘Not unless I must.’ He scrubbed at his face with his hands, trying to banish his fears. Nights were always the worst. Sitting here alone, trying to distract himself with work, to surround himself with thoughts of duty. And yet that had its own price, for every echo of the chamber sounded with the voice of his King, and at every moment he expected to feel a heavy hand upon his shoulder. He felt bowed beneath the weight of it all, sorrow, loss, fear and responsibility, as though he were himself buried beneath that massive tower.
A slight sound at the door disturbed the dark mere of his thoughts, and he looked up, welcoming any distraction. Halmir looked in diffidently, and he bid the lad enter, a fondness softening his despair.
But when Mardil and Galeria followed him, their faces strained and white, all thoughts of diversion were banished, and his fear returned with a vengeance. Wordlessly he rose to his feet, setting his face against his heart, fixing it, immovable, in stone. With a strength he had never known, he steeled himself for the blow.
Mardil approached the table, his step slow and heavy, his bad foot dragging uncharacteristically. The blood had fled from his face and his eyes were drawn tight and dark. He raised them to meet those of the Elf-Lord, and almost reeled from the piercing of that look. In silence he placed his sorrowful offering in front of Elrond. He bowed his head and moved to lift the cloth, but a strong grip about his wrist prevented him.
Elrond placed his hand on top of the sad bundle, feeling at once what it contained. He closed his eyes for a moment, fighting to hold back the pain, then with a single descisive movement, he flung back the cloth.
In the centre of the rough fabric sat Gil’s mithril band. Quiesent and inert, dull in lustre and shrunken in size. Once again his ears echoed with the voice of his dead King, but this time the words did not raise hope, they dashed it.
‘...and none can take it from her while she lives.’
It was as though the last light in his life had gone out. Despair opened up around him, empty and hollow. With each breath he could not believe that he yet lived, that he was in this dark place. Alone. Grief threatened him now, clutching at his heart, stabbing at his eyes. He must release it or die.
Galeria took a tentative step towards him, but he snapped up a hand to halt her.
“Go.” He spared a single rough breath for the word.
“Elrond...” Galeria’s voice was thick and quiet.
He could not trust himself to speak again, but the flash of agony in the grey eyes was enough.
“Come.” She whispered, ushering the others towards the door. Tears were in the eyes of both the lads. Mardil for the loss of his mistress, and Halmir for the sorrow of his lord. Galeria glanced back once before she closed the door, but Elrond was lost in his own darkness.
Alone. So alone. Gone. They were gone. From his right hand and his left. Loss engulfed him. His heart, already flayed open, was pierced now with pure sorrow. The two he loved most. His lord and his King, his lady and his love. Torn from him. Flung into places unknown, where he could neither see nor follow. Tears came and he did not deny them. Weeping silently, head flung back, breath gasping, his grief, so long held back, ripped from him like a barb.
‘Gil. Oh my love.’ He cried, ‘Forgive me! Forgive me that I did not come in time.’ He bowed his head, and his tears dropped. ‘That I could not save you. Forgive me my weakness in loving you, and my strength in sacrificing you.’ For even as he wept he knew it could not have been otherwise. His love had doomed her.
He clutched a hand round Vilya, feeling the warmth that once lay against the skin of Gil-galad. He was adrift on a sea of pain, and duty was the only branch he had to cling to. He must live now for them, these two that had left their mark so deeply etched in his heart, a part of themselves still living within him. He must ensure that all they had fought and died for was protected and nurtured. He heaved a ragged breath. He had always known he would lose her, but that it should be now, with no happy times to treasure, no years together to comfort him with memories. And that his lord should be taken..... ‘Is this my fate?’ he thought, ‘To be always alone. To have love torn from my heart time and time again.’
But as he stood plunged in the darkness, he discerned a faint star of hope. What if she had removed the band herself? He knew that she could. A tiny spark lit itself in his breast, struggling to live. His longing fanned it, his need fed it and it strengthened, warming him just a little. Perhaps she yet lived. If not here, then .....somewhere.
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.