1. Sacred Trust
The year 1700 of the second age. Imladris.
He had been asleep when the call came.
It had been a long, wearying day, spent in grave and earnest council; and the days that followed it would be little different. The Battle of the Gwalthó, victory though it had been, had left much labour before them. The work would begin when the councils had ended, and it would endure long years - if war did not overtake them again. His dreams were uneasy.
The call woke him instantly, for all that it was but soft - a gentle knock upon his door - and though he had been deep in his dreams it had brought him instantly to wakefulness.
Elrond arose immediately, not stopping to wonder or speculate. He reached for the previous day's clothes and donned them swiftly, running his fingers quickly through his hair. He lit no lamp, but dressed only by the light of the stars through his open window.
For an instant he paused before the window, lifting his face to them in silent homage and feeling the gentle night air on his face as the last traces of sleep fell away from him. Then he turned swiftly away to answer the soft summons that had woken him.
It was Círdan who faced him, his pale face expressionless. "Come," he said, and turned away.
Elrond asked no question and made no comment, but followed obediently in his wake. He did not need to ask to know that he would receive no answer. Some matters were too deep for questions.
The corridor outside was deserted, and Círdan led him led him through it quickly to the courtyard outside. That, too, was empty, silent save for the soft voice of the rive and the night-song of plant and stone, the leaves still in the windless night. The world seemed at peace.
For the second time, Elrond glanced at the star-filled sky, estimating the hour, and judging it to be a little before four o'clock in the morning. The stars seemed uncommonly bright this night, undimmed by the full face of Ithil, who seemed to hang poised above the tallest tower, like a fruit sweet and ripe. The courtyard shone under its pale light, edging the cloister's stones with silver and illuminating Círdan's white hair like a beacon. The leaves of the trees shone like blades of light, almost motionless in the pre-dawn stillness.
He followed still, along the edge of the courtyard, towards the door at the base of the tower; and still Círdan spoke to him no word.
It seemed strange to him that he was moving through his own house with another as his guide, as if he were not its master at all. The house, by moonlight, seemed remote and unfamiliar, and he wondered, several times, whether he was dreaming - but either he was not, or the dream was too deep for wakefulness.
He might have been mistrustful, had one other than Círdan been his guide. Círdan he trusted; it would have been unthinkable to do otherwise. Círdan had been an anchor to their people longer years than any cared to remember, a constant, calm presence through all their varied fortunes. Círdan *was* trustworthiness.
They were climbing now, a long spiral stair; and still Círdan said no word or gave no sign for what and why he was here. Elrond knew, logically, that the stair led to the guests' quarters, where his most honourable guests were housed, but this night it seemed strange to him, as if he - in his own home - were an uninvited guest on another's territory.
They reached the head of the stairs; and here the stairs gave way to a door, and the door to a room; and as he entered he dimly recognised the room as his finest guest-chamber, a light and airy room that looked West over Bruinen to the rolling hills beyond. But he was not aware for more than an instant of the familiarity of the chamber or the furnishings with which he had filled it. For he found himself facing his King.
Gil-Galad was sitting in a carved wooden chair, on a dais before the west window. Galadriel stood at his left hand, and as Elrond hesitated, Círdan moved smoothly past him to stand at his right. And at the sight of his face, Elrond lost all thought for other things, and all sense of the familiarity and strangeness of his surroundings.
No word was spoken. The three before him remained motionless, still and silent as carven statues, watching him as he had surely never been watched before.
He returned their gazes easily, almost stolidly, though he was aware that they could read clearly the sudden surge of self-doubt and anxiety welling up from the back of his mind. Had he made some dread error? Had he in some fell way offended his King? Was he to be stripped of rank and office, and dismissed from their councils for some unnamed crime?
No; he knew that his conduct had been correct in all things. He had neither uttered nor thought any treasonable word, nor been party to any other's treason. Rather, he had done much to further the King's cause, and nothing to hinder it. And he was centuries too old for such self-doubt and insecurity.
His doubts calmed, he raised his eyes more firmly, and it seemed as he watched that Círdan met his gaze particularly, and held it. His eyes were the pale blue of the winter sky, and the weight of years behind them made Elrond feel a child again, awkward and untutored, an orphan mongrel in an unfamiliar world. There was sadness in those eyes too, a grief deep and keen, and for an instant Elrond wondered why. But then followed questions.
- Do you know sorrow?
- Have you known pain?
- Can you know compassion?
I do not know.
His mind provided no answers, and the questions seemed to echo throughout his mind, bouncing off the walls of his skull. But whatever answer Círdan read there, it satisfied him, for his eyes released him.
And then it seemed that Gil-galad's eyes held him, and the emotion in them was not of sadness but of resignation, of bleak acceptance of some terrible, unchangeable doom. Elrond almost lowered his eyes in the face of that gaze.
- Do you have courage?
- Do you have honour?
- Do you have strength?
I do not know.
Again, he could give no answer; and merely stood there, feeling naked before the force of the King's gaze. But whatever answer Gil-Galad's grey eyes read in him, it brought him his dismissal.
And finally, Galadriel fastened her eyes upon his; but in her gaze he could discern nothing of her mind. Bright blazed her hair in the semi-darkness of the room, and bright shone her eyes as they searched his own. And she, too, questioned him.
- Do you use judgement?
- Do you have wisdom?
- Can you reach greatness?
And she paused and looked on him, and asked one last, terrible question, the sum of those already asked.
- Can you master yourself?
Long moments she held his eyes, until he was almost minded to look away like a guilty child. And just as his resolve almost broke, she released him, and said into the silence of the room-
"It is well."
Never, in all the centuries of his life, had he felt so weary.
"Come." A hand, beckoning, and Elrond obeyed, though his legs seemed barely adequate to support him. He stepped forward, his head bowed, and knelt before his king. And the king stretched forth his right hand to Elrond, and placed something small and heavy in the palm of his hand.
A ring, set with a blue stone which shone with such fire as lit the darkened room He had never seen it before, but he recognised it for what it was instantly.
He looked up at the three before him; and it seemed to him that Gil-Galad had somehow diminished and shrunken, while Círdan and Galadriel remained unchanged in their greatness - and that he, too, had become like them.
There were many things he could have said, many questions he could have asked, too many for the world to contain; but all he could ask was a single question. A single word.
And the King looked into his face and met his gaze, his grey eyes bleak and resigned. At his right hand, Círdan shifted slightly, as if to ease some sudden discomfort; at his left, the Lady Galadriel stood motionless, though her eyes looked far away.
And for the first time, Elrond understood; and he too felt their sorrow. For Ereinion Gil-Galad, High King of the Noldor, had looked into the stars, or the sea, or the soil, and read in their secret stores of knowledge the day of his own death.
He bowed his head, and did not look at the ring in his hand.
"It is a sacred trust," he heard Galadriel say, in a voice as clear as bells. "It is Vilya, the Ring of Air. It must be kept secret and unknown from this day forth. Keep it always with you; but do not wear it while the Dark Lord remains. The Enemy desires these more than all else. He must not have them."
Elrond bowed his head once more. "I will keep the trust," he said. "As long as my breath remains in me."
"A great burden has been placed on you this night." Círdan's voice was soft as wool. "But your strength is great, and even if you bear it to the end it shall not fail you."
And then, finally, King Gil-Galad spoke, and his voice was dark as steel. "You take the challenge. It is well." He rose from his chair, and it seemed as if the weariness and the doom dropped away from him, and he was again the greatest of Elf-Lords, beautiful and unassailable. "Go well, my Ring-Bearers," he said. "The world grows dark, and troubled times lie before us. The time comes when you will be our lights in the long night of evil."
He looked long at Elrond in that instant, and then turned his eyes on Círdan and Galadriel, to his right and to his left, as they turned forward to face him.
"Keep the trust," he said at length, "and my blessings go with you."
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.