5. Chapter 5
He had almost reached the gate of the camp. He had chosen as his route
the long, closed side of the Healers' tents, a little-used path that
ought to have kept him from others' eyes.
He carried on walking, his footsteps dogged in spite of his tiredness.
Night was starting to fall, and he could feel the night-weariness coming
upon him. But this was no time for rest. He would not and could not
turn back now.
He heard the footsteps quicken, and break into a run, and then an Elven
hand seized his shoulder and spun him round. "Where are you going?"
The last thing he wished now was interference. Particularly from -
"Glorfindel," he said coldly. "And is it any concern of yours, where I
The Elf-Lord met him eye-to-eye, grim-faced and grave. "That depends
rather on your destination, does it not?"
Isildur's weariness fell away instantly, as though it had never been.
"My destination is mine alone," he said harshly. <<And if you but knew
the truth of that...>> he thought, with something akin to melancholy;
<<you would be in agreement.>> "It is no concern of any other," he
"What concerns my Lord Elrond is my concern."
"Oh? And who appointed *you* any man's keeper?" Isildur allowed a
mocking note to enter his voice, and he noted instantly the pinpoints of
colour that sprang up like stars on the other's cheekbones.
"I am his liege-lord. And I can tell you, if you have hurt him-"
Isildur laughed loudly in Glorfindel's face, making a mental apology to
Elrond for the indiscretion he was about to perpetrate. "Hurt him? No!
On the contrary, he seemed rather to be enjoying himself."
"Why, you-!" Glorfindel lunged for him, his hands reaching instinctively
for the Man's throat.
Thus had they fought once before, when Isildur had been two-and-twenty
and a visitor with his father in Harlindon. He had equalled Glorfindel
then; and now he was older and wilier, and knew his foe.
<<What does not wither cannot grow.>> Thus had he said then, in
response to Glorfindel's mocking words about the superiority of the
Firstborn. <<What does not change cannot adapt. What does not die,
Glorfindel's manner of fighting had hardly changed or developed since
then; Isildur's had. Lopng years of sparring with Elrond - both in jest
and in earnest - had taught him much of the ways of Elves, their
strengths and weaknesses.
His deflection of Glorfindel's hands was easy, almost instinctive,
throwing the Elf off-balance before catching him with a hard punch to
the floating rib before Glorfindel could regain his poise. Isildur did
not press his advantage, but circled out of reach, his posture slightly
too nonchalant to be called a fighting stance.
"Wanted him yourself, did you?" he jeered. "I suppose you consider
yourself more of a *man* than I."
<<Keep him out of temper ...>> a lesson he had learned thirty years ago;
<<and you have him.>>
Glorfindel rounded on him furiously with a wordless yell, flinging
himself forward with Elven grace; though Isildur seemed almost to be
expecting the strike. His counter was a roundhouse punch, and Isildur
put all his considerable weight behind it, throwing his whole body
behind the blow.
Had he missed the mark, he would have made himself easy meat for even
the slowest of foes; but he did not miss. His punch caught the Elf
firmly on the temple, and sent him spinning off-balance to the ground.
Glorfindel hit the ground hard, and Isildur allowed himself a brief
smirk. It died on his lips when he heard a voice behind him. A most
"*What* do you think you are doing?"
His heart sank. Of all the worst possible ill-luck-! Lady Narglin of
She stood at the side-seam of the tent, which seemed to have been slit
open, her jaw clenched, and her eyes brightly angry. She was taller
than he by three inches - and Isildur did not account himself a small
man - and right now she stood close enough that he could not but be
conscious of her height - or her anger.
"My Lady," he said quickly, trying for charm. "I do apologise for the
disturbance. A matter of honour, merely ... I fear the venue for our
dispute was most ill-chosen."
"Isildur, is it not?" Isildur nodded, and then bowed. To his
annoyance, his mouth had gone somewhat dry. "I daresay you have
forgotten, but this is a Healers' house, not a tavern. We have *work*
to do here. Would you have your Men die because my Healers could not
hear themselves think?" She did not wait above a second for an answer.
"I tell you, if you disturb my Healers again, I personally will ensure
that you regret it - for a very long time. Take your petty and
senseless brawls somewhere else next time - or you will be scrubbing
bed-pans until the end of Ea."
She looked down at Glorfindel, who was half-lying, half-sitting on the
ground, shaking his head slowly, as if to make sure it was still
attached, and gave an irritable sigh. "Glorfindel of Imladris! I might
have known. Interfering in others' business again, I presume."
But Glorfindel seemed too dazed to realise that he was being addressed,
and gave no sign that he had heard her words. Isildur glanced around,
wondering if it would be possible to slip off quietly, but she wheeled
round to face him again. "Lord Isildur, I care nothing what status you
hold here. My Healers are stretched almost to their limit already. The
last thing I wish is more casualties."
Isildur allowed himself a small smile at that. "Then let me tender my
apologies. There will be no more casualties, my lady," he said easily.
"Not from my hands."
"Is that so?" Three blunt, heavy syllables, dropped with hard precision
into the silence. Her eyes were narrowed at him, but he could still see
the flames that danced at their centres.
Isildur tensed. She knew. She knew about the Ring.
There was a sudden ringing in his ears, and the ring itself seemed
suddenly to grow huge and heavy. He could feel its weight burning
fiercely through the fabric of his tunic where the white linen touched
his heart. Like a brand, burning into his body; and the marks it left
would surely last until he died.
He shivered, as if with sudden cold, and then drew himself up to his
full height, schooling himself to hardness.
"I suppose you think you know where I am going," he said.
She met his eyes coldly, and he had the sudden impression that she was
looking deep into him, weighing and evaluation what she saw.
"I believe so." He stared back at her, stony-eyed, but she did not
break the contact. "Unlike my brother I do not make a habit of
prescience ... but you do not live through all the ages of stars and sun
without learning to see through a brick wall in time." A curious
phrase. Had the time been less serious, Isildur would have stored it
away for future consideration. "Yes, Isildur ... I know where you would
"And would you stop me?" Isildur folded his arms, his feet
shoulder-width apart, uncaring of the confrontational message of his
There was long silence, and he felt the piercing blue eyes weigh him up
critically. There was an intensity in that gaze that burned like fire;
and for a moment he could have sworn he saw a burst of livid flame about
the tall figure. He felt a sudden jolt, as of lightning down his spine.
"No," Narglin said, her voice remote and terrifying. "I will not
hinder you. You will tread your path alone - as you have chosen."
Isildur said no word, and made no sign, but turned, and walked swiftly
towards the gate of the camp. He could feel the twin fires of her eyes
boring into his back as he departed - and did not look back.
* * *
They say that smell is the handmaid of memory.
Or rather, the races of men so say, for so they have found; that scents
smelled again bring memories in their wake. The Elves say differently:
that smell is the master, and memory the slave. For them, so much more
terrible is its power - for Elven senses are sharper, their memories
longer, and their hearts less guarded from harm.
Thus it was that Círdan stood like one paralysed, in the door of
Elendil's tent, his eyes momentarily unseeing as he stared in, his mind
bludgeoned by the sharp tang of sex and sweat in the air, and reeling
under the force of its assault.
Not since Finandil-
Too long had it been, and nothing had he forgotten; and for a moment the
memories claimed him entirely. The long days when they had wrought
together on the bones of the great ships, and the secret nights, when,
satisfied by their labour and sated by their lovemaking, they had lain
side by side, their bodies touching, talking of everything and nothing
until sleep took them their separate ways until the dawn. Sweet days,
so wonderfully perfect, and so cruelly ended.
He wrenched himself away from the memory before it could overwhelm him,
and commanded his eyes to focus on the interior of the tent. His brain
seemed mazed, and not minded to cooperate, and it was long seconds
before he could gather himself enough to recognise what he found there.
All was still and silent within, and Isildur was not there. Only Elrond
lay before him, his eyes closed and his body draped with the Man's
cloak, cradled in the hold of a sleep far deeper than the Elven
dreaming. It did not take a seer to understand what had occurred.
But Isildur was not there.
Círdan let out a soft sigh, wondering whether to leave and seek him, and
leave Elrond alone. There was nothing he could do here, after all, and-
He was about to turn away softly when he heard Elrond stir slightly in
his sleep, his eyelids flickering drowsily somewhere between dream and
waking. Only for an instant - and then they snapped open as he spun
abruptly to wakefulness.
"Isil-?" Elrond hauled himself quickly into a sitting position and
stared wildly about him. Círdan saw his shoulders tense, and then sag.
"He is gone," he heard Elrond say to himself quietly. And then, almost
inaudibly, "I should have expected it."
"I fear so." Círdan did not move from the door of the tent.
Elrond gave a sudden indrawn breath. "I must go after him. He needs
our aid." He stumbled quickly to his feet, still clutching Isildur's
cloak like a talisman. "It may not yet be too late-" And then, with
something between a gasp and a sob, he seemed to stumble and crumple,
his legs collapsing under him.
His descent was graceless and painful, and he remained motionless where
he had landed, sitting, after a fashion, with his legs crumpled under
him, his head hanging, with the dark hair unruly about his sweat-smeared
face. His breathing was heavy and laboured, uneven in its rhythm.
"Would you have me follow him for you?" Círdan asked quietly.
Elrond lifted his head to look up at him; but he might have been looking
on the face of a stranger for all the recognition he showed. "No. It
is futile," he said in a voice of icy remoteness. "All this has been
futile. There is nothing any more that we can do." For the first time,
a spark of recognition seemed to come into his face. "Go if you will,
Círdan," he said wearily. "It will change nothing."
He fell silent, his legs still crumpled under him as he had fallen, his
shoulders and back rounded so that the crinkled line of his vertebrae
made an ungainly silhouette against the light of the brazier.
Círdan stared at him wordlessly, still tense and half-frozen in the
doorway, caught helpless between the need to go to him, and the fear of
setting foot in that tent - into the space that had so lately witnessed
so intimate an act. Every instinct of his body bade him turn and flee,
but he was too old, and too disciplined, to give in to his body's
impulses so lightly.
He would have spoken words of comfort; but there were none that could be
<<My poor Finandil,>> he thought in desperate prayer to one long gone,
<<I fear you have left me helpless when I most need to give help.>>
But that was unfair: Finandil, with his unquenchable generosity of
spirit and his bright unfailing courage, would never have wished Círdan
to be withered thus, crippled by past grief and held back by the
despicable cowardice of the heart that did not dare lend another aid.
For it *was* cowardice, and Finandil would never have countenanced it.
It was not Finandil's voice that brought him his answer, though. It was
<<Do you know, Círdan,>> she had told him, about a thousand years
before; <<that you would make a healer of rare ability, if you but
stopped wallowing in your infernal self-pity for a while.>>
He had been too mindful of his own pain then to heed her words, or to
contemplate the pain of others ... and now it was too late for
hindsight. Now he found himself faced with one in need of healing, with
nothing to offer save his own accursed insecurities.
<<Narglin,>> he told the memory; <<I am the last person who would be
fitted to help in such a case.>>
<<He *needs* aid.>>
<<But what could I possibly do?>>
Círdan stared down at Elrond, still sitting motionless on the floor of
the tent, Isildur's cloak pooled carelessly over his lap. Still he did
<<How can I even contemplate turning aside from another's pain?>> he
asked himself, almost angrily.
The anger did what plain reason could not. He took his first, uncertain
step into the dark interior of the tent, and then relinquished his hold
on the door-frame.
The thick atmosphere of woodsmoke and sweat, mingled all too clearly
with other scents, assailed him with a bludgeon's force, and every
instinct he possessed screamed at him to flee. He was intruding into
the most private of spaces, in the presence who one who would hardly
wish an outsider present at such a time.
Someone who needed his aid. He took another step, and a third, and the
sharp scent of sex assailed him anew, and with it the memories of
Finandil would never have let him behave like this.
Círdan covered the remaining distance in slow, unsteady steps, and then
crouched to knee beside Elrond, placing a hand lightly on the Peredhel's
shoulder. The muscles under his hand were stiff and knotted, and they
tensed further at his light touch.
It had been more than three millenia since he had touched another's bare
skin, even in so impersonal a manner. It was almost a frightening
sensation, unnerving beyond words. He almost jerked his hand away, and
then schooled himself to be still, closing his fingers around the
"Elrond, my friend," he said softly, some unnameable emotion making his
voice unsteady. "If there is anything I can possibly do to help, you
have only to ask it."
* * *
"Tuor! Go back!"
Fire round about him, and flames, and a many-thonged whip, which
threatened repeatedly to knock him from the summit. In the pass of
Cirith Thoronath below them, the few survivors filtered through, rushing
desperately in their haste to reach safety, their eyes upturned to him -
he and the Balrog, as they strove together, lashed by treacherous
crosswinds on the high stone crag.
Tuor alone had not turned back. It was as if he, with some suicidal
urge, was intent on joining him, in a battle that could only buy them
time to flee. A battle that would surely end in his death, be it slow
"Go back! Go!"
Not Tuor. He would not die with Tuor's death weighing on his heart. He
smote the Balrog with all the force he possessed, and once more the
flames rose up around them.
<<Turn back, Tuor... For my sake, go!>>
In his desperation he threw himself forward onto the Balrog, screaming
as its flames pierced him ... and his sudden weight pushed the creature
off-balance and down, and it fell, and he fell with it, in a whirl of
fire and flame into the darkness.
Laid on a rough pallet on the floor of the Healers' tents, Glorfindel
dreamt of Balrogs.
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