2. Chapter 2
to move. Glorfindel's eyes flitted about the battlefield, as if searching for
some elusive deliverance; Cirdan merely stared after Elrond, his face grave.
"We cannot simply abandon him," Glorfindel said under his breath. He felt
helpless; and the feeling was unaccustomed, even after the long years of
siege. To do nothing would be intolerable, and to be barred thus from
helping pained him.
"No," Cirdan said heavily. "We cannot abandon him - and nor do I propose
to." Glorfindel glanced across at him sharply, looking at him closely for
the first time. He looked grey and gaunt, and slightly unsteady, and
Glorfindel found himself wondering if the long years of war had taken too
severe a toll on him. "I will seek him forthwith."
"I will go with you," Glorfindel said quickly. "My path leads towards the
camp also. We are building the pyres a mile upwind of it."
They set off in the direction of the camp, walking quickly in spite of the
weight of fatigue that hung on them. "What ails him?" Glorfindel asked
He saw Cirdan hesitate, glance round as if afraid of eavesdroppers, and
then hesitate a second time.
"Isildur has taken the enemy's ring."
"Ah ..." The syllable was as the soughing of wind in the evening. "And he
will not destroy it?"
"But that is madness. He knows what it is, and what was wrought in it,
"Yes," Cirdan said bleakly. Glorfindel glanced across at Cirdan's face, but
the shutters were down, and he could read nothing in it. "Yes, he knows.
But he will not - or cannot do so."
"Could it not be taken from him and destroyed? His strength is not great.
He is but a man, after all."
Cirdan paused, the pale blue eyes searching Glorfindel's face sadly. "If
you knew that an arrow was barbed, would you pull it by force from
another's flesh?" He asked the question without condemnation, but
Glorfindel felt the rebuke of it and flushed.
"You believe it would harm him," he said hesitantly.
"No. I believe it would destroy him altogether."
"And what destroys Isildur, destroys also Elrond," Glorfindel said very
softly to himself. "Whether the Ring be destroyed or no, it destroys them
both. Too close have they been, for too long." Cirdan gave no sign that he
had heard the words and Glorfindel fell silent, frowning slightly at his own
forwardness. He had long had misgivings about Elrond's fondness for the
mortal, but to give voice to them now would be churlish, achieving nothing
and perhaps doing great harm. "Forgive me" he said aloud. "It was a
foolish suggestion, and should be forgotten. If another were to take the
ring from him ... well, the danger would still remain for its new holder,
would it not?"
"Very likely. The ring has never before been out of its master's grasp. We
do not know enough about its power to understand its effects." Cirdan
smiled uneasily, and it seemed to Glorfindel as if he was gathering his
strength. "Really, there is nothing we can do, but to be watchful, and to be
at hand, should we be needed."
Glorfindel nodded. "I hope we may be in time. If what you say is true,
then Isildur is placed in mortal danger - and Elrond, too, I fear."
They walked on awhile, in silence, until they drew level with the place
where Sauron had fallen. A small group of the Men were gathered there,
seemingly aimless in their stillness. The ground had been cleared, and
the bodies borne away, but still the place seemed steeped in loss.
Here, Elendil had fallen. And here, too, Gil-Galad had met his end. The
Kings of Elves and Men - nay, the hopes of all their peoples - destroyed.
<<And never again will their like be seen.>> For a moment, Glorfindel felt
bereft, as the full weight of what had been lost bore down on him for the
It could have been seconds or minutes before he managed to gather
himself again, shaking himself a little, as a dog that emerges from water,
looking around him with eyes a little too bright.
Cirdan stood silently beside him, still seemingly lost in his thoughts. And
was that truly a cause for wonder? Well as Glorfindel had known Gil-
Galad, and dearly as he had loved him, he could never have counted
himself close to the King - not as Cirdan had been.
Glorfindel reached out to touch the old Elf lightly on the arm, and watched
him return to himself with a soft sigh and a softer apology, before turning
his face again towards the camp. They continued in silence a great
"I am sorry for your loss, Cirdan."
The shutters descended behind Cirdan's eyes, and the voice that replied
was just a little too casual. "It is all our loss," Cirdan said with seeming
ease. "He was a great King."
"Yes. He was a great King - and we will all greatly feel his loss," Glorfindel
agreed softly, leaving the words in his heart unspoken. <<But to you he
was as a son.>> Cirdan, he knew, had never had children of his own.
There had never been any other to usurp or to share Gil-Galad's place,
from the days when he had been simply Ereinion, Fingon's young son,
sent to Cirdan at the Falas to be safe from the tides of battle.
Cirdan smiled, as if he heard the unspoken words. "You need not fear for
me, Glorfindel. When the time comes, I will mourn him, as will we all. But
until them ..." He left the sentence hanging delicately in mid-air, a silent,
subtle dismissal of the subject, leaving the silence again to fall about
them. The two walked on again in silence, picking their melancholy way
through the desolation left by the long years of battle.
The going was slow in parts, for the Mordor-thistles grew thick and fierce in
places, finding any crack even in the Elven armour, and lacerating the skin
beneath with its stings. In these parts, few bodies lay - few, Glorfindel
supposed, had ventured this way - and those bodies which lay amid the
thistles were torn and bloodied beyond anything he had yet seen.
It was ironic, perhaps, Glorfindel thought, that for all the fires and foulness
which had covered the land, none of them seemed adequate to clear the
ground of its scrubby covering. Or had that been by design, to sting his
foes with petty torments even after his passing? <<'Twould be like him,>>
he thought, and allowed himself a grim smile.
He hesitated suddenly, and then halted, sensing some presence within the
thistles at their left hand. He found that he had reached for his bow without
conscious thought, and noted an instant later that Cirdan had drawn his
sword, moving slightly apart from him to give himself space to use it, if
The thistles shook, and parted, drops of red blood flying from their thorns
as a head and one bare, bloodstained shoulder rose above them, and
Glorfindel heard an unmistakably Elvish voice crying aloud, cursing the
misbegot thistles, the misbegot Orcs and misbegot bloody land of sodding
Glorfindel exchanged a glance with Cirdan, and the elder sheathed his
sword and stepped forward. Glorfindel did not lower his bow. He had seen
too much evil to be at ease even in victory.
"Who's there? Are you much hurt?" Cirdan's voice was gentle, and the
Elf's head turned towards him, his eyes wild and angry.
Glorfindel stared at the Elf's face and frowned. Whoever he was, he could
have been little more than a child, certainly not yet out of his first century.
He had, still, a child's softness - a half-formed beauty as incalculable as it
is fleeting - though Glorfindel could barely perceive it, underneath the
severe injuries that marred the skin.
The Elf-child was a mess. His hair had been burned almost all off, and
what little remained - probably once blond, though it was nigh impossible
to tell - was thick with blood and dirt. The gaunt face below it was dirty
and bruised, striped by rivulets of blood from the thistles' stings.
The boy lurched to his feet, stumbled, and swore again, an oath he had
almost certainly learned from one of the rougher companies of Men. He
was dressed in the green and brown of Greenwood, though it was so
tattered and bloodied now that it was impossible to tell his rank or lineage.
Cirdan caught him by the arm just before he fell again, and steadied him
with difficulty, assessing his injuries with remote, thoughtful eyes.
"Leave me be! I can stand without a nanny at my side," the boy said
"It would be better not." Cirdan scanned him again. "That ankle of yours
is broken and requires attention. To walk on it-"
"Are you my mother, to talk thus? Leave me *be*!"
Glorfindel suppressed a sigh. He saw Cirdan release the boy's arm, and
the boy took three awkward, limping steps before falling face-first into the
thistles again, swearing like a particularly ill-bred human. Cirdan walked
quickly to him and picked him up once more, hauling one of the boy's long
arms across his shoulder to hold him up, enabling him to keep his broken
ankle off the ground. The boy opened his mouth to complain, and
Glorfindel shot him a mock-friendly smile. "Lord Cirdan is the soul of
courtesy, child. *I* would have slung you across my shoulder like a piece
of baggage, and carried you all the way back to the camp. Would you
have preferred that?" he asked sweetly, and received no reply. "Now,
what's your name, child?"
"Thranduil. Son of Oropher, King of sodding Greenwood the Great. Where
are you taking me."
"To Lady Narglin of the Healers."
"Her!" The boy spat uncouthly on the ground. "She has the tact of a
Dwarf and the forbearance of a Balrog. She-"
<<Speak to me not of Balrogs!>> Glorfindel tensed involuntarily, shutting
his eyes for the barest moment. It was only in the moments of his
deepest dreams that he saw it, though he had never seen one in the
waking world. It had haunted his dreams since his youth, long before he
knew what the creatures were. Not nightly, nor even often; but whenever
he dreamt most deeply, then he would dream it - odd fragments of
remembrance of fire, of pain, of stars above and the bare rock of a cliff
edge under his feet, of falling, falling, falling, and another falling with him.
He shivered, and pulled himself together. It was considered unnatural for
an Elf to fear his dreams. He had never mentioned this one to any other,
save once, to Elrond.
"The lady Narglin also happens to be my sister," he heard Cirdan say to
the boy, with more amusement than censure in his tone, but the boy gave
no sign of having heard the comment.
"I hate this place," he said morosely. "Hate this whole sodding war. Wish
I'd never have listened to father in the first place. Never did have any grasp
of sodding strategy, did he?" He stumbled and swore loudly. Glorfindel
looked around, wondering if they should consign this distasteful creature to
the care of one of Cirdan's people and continue unhampered.
Unfortunately he could see only two within earshot, and both were already
encumbered with the wounded.
Thranduil, unfortunately, now that he had begun to speak, seemed to have
breached a dam of silence. "He dragged us all along here, all five of us,
and now they're all dead but me. Tatharlas and Aelinsil took charge after
he got himself killed, with me and Neldor at the flanks - as if we knew the
first thing about warfare! He even brought my youngest brother along - and
he not even in his fiftieth year yet! Got himself cut to pieces by Orcs two
weeks ago. I was right beside him and I couldn't do a bloody thing about it
- not a bloody thing. It wasn't fair, he was just a child, he shouldn't even
have been here. Legolas, his name was, he always was the best of us."
He coughed, and shivered, and began speaking again, as though it was no
longer in his power to be silent. "Give him another hundred years, and he'd
have made a rare bowman. Poor little sod never got the chance. They
should have left him at home. Should have left me at home, come to that.
I don't fight well, and I don't like war. I like easy living, I like wenching and
drinking, and I haven't had a wench in seven years. Haven't had a drink
either, come to that, all thanks to sodding Sauron. I hate Mordor - even
the water stinks."
He stumbled again, and cursed, and straightened up, resuming his inane
ramblings. "Shock," Glorfindel murmured softly to Cirdan. "It takes them
that way, sometimes."
"No, no, I'm just fine. Give me a drink, and I'll be even better." He
stumbled again, and this time Glorfindel was forced to take his other arm
to stop him collapsing altogether. "Can't believe they're all dead,"
Thranduil said, his speech slurring and indistinct. "Can't believe it. Only
left me to run his sodding kingdom, hasn't he?"
He went limp suddenly, hanging emptily between the two of them.
"Unconscious," Glorfindel said unnecessarily, and Cirdan swung the
young Elf up easily to carry him in his arms. Glorfindel stared down for a
moment, at the injured childish face and battered body.
"Poor young idiot," he said softly, and then he turned away. "Let us be
going. We have delayed too long already."
* * *
The voice seemed to come from far away, and it took Elrond a few
seconds to realise that it was he who had been addressed. He wheeled
round to face the speaker, startled from some futile remembrance.
"My Lord, are you injured?"
It was one of the commanders of the Falathrim, a tall elf with dark hair, and
eyes that seemed almost black. The name was Galdor, his mind informed
him, and he wondered fleetingly if Cirdan had sent him. "I am not, I thank
you, Galdor," he replied shortly. "Merely in need of rest, as are we all."
He left without waiting for a reply, quickening his steps again towards the
camp. <<Am I injured? No; it is Isildur who needs our aid.>>
Isildur never needed any man's aid.
He would be furious if he believed it was being given unwanted. It had
always been his way, even when Elrond had first met him, a creature of fire
and passion and pride, quite infuriatingly independent for a youth of two-
and-twenty, as Isildur had then been.
He had been so young, with such responsibility already on his shoulders -
and yet had not let it steal his passion for life. He would entice danger,
and then dance away from it unscathed, often untouched.
Always had he seemed to invite trouble, and many of the Elves had seen
him as little more than a foolish, unreliable human, unfortunately the heir to
a great man's throne. Few had seen beyond it, to the flair with which he
would extricate himself from all manner of woes. Luck, it must have
seemed, and luck, often, it was called; but it had been self-made luck,
opportunities created out of nothing, or slim chances recognized and
seized. More than once Elrond had owed his own life to Isildur's talent for
luck; and many others, too, had found their lives preserved by Isildur's
misnamed rashness. Seldom - if ever - had *he* needed others' aid.
He needed it now; he would never accept it.
And in all honesty, Elrond could hardly believe himself in a fit state to give
He had known for many centuries that love could tear a soul apart; but
never before had he realised that his own feelings had strayed so close to
that madness. It was well enough to acknowledge the love that he had for
Isildur; but to be so much mastered by it-! He had become little more than
the helpless victim of his own emotionalism, plunged from one irrationality
into another, helpless to rein in his emotions or even to curb their
It was hardly the state of mind in which to aid one who was under the
influence of dark magic, he told himself, with quite unnecessary
He halted for a moment, straightened his back and raised his head, putting
on dignity as another might put on armour. The camp was not far before
him now, and he let himself walk faster to its gates, not heeding the
Mordor-Thistles tearing at his ankles and legs.
The guards were of his own people, and they saluted him as he entered
the encampment. He noted with approval that they remained alert and
watchful, in spite of the day's victory. He returned the salute without
conscious thought, and then turned away, straight to the tent that he and
It looked no different from any of the other tents around it - small, perhaps,
and dark inside, of the grey weave that was made only in Lorien. He
watched it for a moment, wondering whether Isildur was within, and then,
contemptuous of his moment's hesitation, opened the flap.
It was dark within, standing empty and abandoned. He stepped inside,
letting the flap fall down behind him, and the warm darkness of the tent
close around him.
Isildur had been past that way: he had left his armour and helm behind
there, flung carelessly on his bed-roll like discarded toys. It was typical of
him, a compulsive untidiness that military training ought by rights to have
beaten out of him years before, scattering his possessions as a tree its
leaves, and ill-at-ease unless surrounded by his own clutter.
It had been always a bone of contention between them, an old saga,
played out many times in the last seven years: Elrond would return to find
the tent in chaos, with Isildur reclining unconcerned in the midst of the
mess. Elrond would scold, Isildur would tease and jeer and goad, and the
conversation would degenerate quickly into the inevitable mock-battle - a
battle that left him far too breathless to complain at anything, weak and
helpless and ruing the day that Isildur had discovered the sensitivity and
ticklishness of Elven skin.
The breath caught in his throat at the memory, and he cursed his own
weakness. <<Truly,>> he thought bitterly, <<I could hardly have bettered
myself had I set out deliberately to exploit my own weaknesses.>>
He picked up the armour to restore it to its rightful home, acutely aware of
the smell of human skin and sweat that clung to it, a smell that was as
familiar and intimate as its owner, unmasked even by the reek of the dark
Orc-blood that marked it. He set it carefully on its hook on the heavy
wooden 'tree' in the centre of the tent, and stood there staring at it in the
Where would he be now? Where would Isildur go?
Nobody had ever been able to predict Isildur's actions. It had been part of
his brilliance - his sheer power to surprise even those who knew him best.
Elrond had known him better than most, but even that was insufficient to
understand Isildur's particular brand of wayward inspiration, or what it might
suggest to him at a moment's notice.
But he would be within the camp, of that, Elrond could be certain; and if
not here, then where? With others, or alone?
Elrond turned his back on the armour, and walked to the door of the tent
and looked out, letting his gaze rake along the row of small tents before
him. Two rows of seven, belonging to the captains of the Elves and Men,
though most of their occupants would never now return. In any of those -
He could feel its presence, if he shut his eyes - an amorphous shape
hovering somewhere on the edge of his retinas, malevolent and impersonal,
mocking in its elusiveness. Somewhere close by...
He closed his eyes, and, with a grimace of distaste, focussed on the
cankerous cloud. A few seconds later, he started to walk swiftly to the
tent in the centre of the row before him - the tent that had once belonged to
As he neared it, the awareness of the Ring's presence hardened into
certainty. Elrond stopped outside, and for a few seconds stood there
motionless, drawing on all the reserves of power that remained to him.
Then he lifted up the flap of the tent and stepped quickly inside.
A brazier had been lit in the corner, and the room was full of its smoky red
light. Isildur was standing beside it, waiting for him, with a smile very like
the one that had always set Elrond's soul on fire.
"Isildur," Elrond said softly.
"Elrond. I'm glad you're here." The smile faded. "We have ... many
things ... to discuss."
Elrond met his eyes for a long moment, but the eyes that once been so
open had changed, and he could no longer read what was written there.
Then he stepped forward, away from the entrance, and the flap of the tent
swung shut behind him.
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