1. Many Hands
It awoke to red heat, to the bitter fumes of the forge, and to the rhythmic, precise, measured blows of a hammer. This first contact was ungentle, but not violent; each strike was full of intent, laden with pride at the work of one's own hands.
Later, for many hours, the steel knew the grinding of files that patiently refined its shape; and the blade was repeatedly tested until its balance was just perfect and not even a hairwidth of redundant metal marred its form. Intricate engraving was wrought along its length, and its edge was made keen.
Then came more heat, and later, rest wrapped in baths of salts and thick oil, and through it all the steel grew hard, the same blade but yet different, and it shone with the light of the sun and of the moon. At last guard, grip and pommel were fitted, each of them a wonder of the finest workmanship; and its maker's hands lovingly polished the sword: an instrument of death made no less lethal by its great beauty.
An appraising look gauged its superb craftsmanship and singled it out from other blades laid out alongside it. A slow caress to evaluate whether its high price matched its worth was the first touch by one other than its creator, followed by some practised moves to ascertain its seemingly peerless quality. There were words of praise for Telchar of Nogrod, the master smith, coin gladly exchanged, and the undisguised pleasure of one who was certain that the precious gift would be well received.
Its first master was named Borthand, the third son of a noble family of the Edain, yet an untried warrior. He gasped in surprised awe when his eyes beheld the gleam of metal, the sheen of the polished stones and gems, the subtle designs of the tooled leather, and when his hands perceived the sword's unexpected lightness. Eager fingers gripped the hilt and pulled the steel blade gently out of its rich scabbard, almost hesitantly, and a cry of wonder flew from his lips as the mighty weapon was slowly revealed. Halting words of gratitude were followed by a solemn oath of fealty spoken over its hilt. The youth's voice echoed pride; his lord's also, but the latter's tones were entwined with guilt and sadness at accepting his youngest son as yet another warrior of his host.
Over the years, the arms that wielded the great sword grew stronger and learnt its mastery; its true worth and the mettle of its owner were tested during many a skirmish along the north-eastern marches of Beleriand. Through his hands, the blade savoured the elation of victory and tasted the blood of its foes, but it also perceived the weariness and despair brought by the death of kin and friends. Its metal was marred by dents and scratches in battle, the leather stained by sweat and blood. Perfection was lost for familiarity and trust.
Then there was a great battle. The sword was raised against vast hordes and turned against other Men, traitors, and it pierced them with the wild joy of revenge. But suddenly the familiar hands clenched tightly around its hilt, as a piece of floating driftwood would be gripped by a drowning man. Soon it was dropped from numb fingers to the ground, where it lay next to the dead warrior that had owned it. Bloodied hands removed both sword and man from the gore of the field. Unnumbered tears were shed that day.
A lonely, left hand claimed it from the collection of forsaken blades and wielded it appraisingly; its quality was immediately corroborated, like the first time. 'Alas, your master and his brothers are dead, faithful to the end. The curse laid upon our House shows no mercy and will drive us all to ruin, Noldor and Edain alike.' The whispers faltered. 'Ai, Father, will this torment ever end?'
Hair as red as fresh blood caressed the blade when the warrior bent over it in grief; his touch thrummed with a pulse that would not be slowed by old age or rushed by the fever of sickness, but his voice spoke of doom and regret.
It had been crafted to be wielded by Men; thus it was wrapped away in a clean cloth and did not witness the kinslayings that followed amongst the Eldar. But at last it saw the light again, and was gifted to one of the surviving lords of the Edain, who beheld the silver and gold gleam of its blade and named it Narsil; in his hands the sword forged by Telchar again fought with honour, and it was raised skywards in joy with many others when the Dark Lord Morgoth was defeated by the joint host of Valinor and Ennorath.
Secured in its scabbard, the sword went aboard, onto the creaking planks of the ship that would take them to the Land of Gift, and the hopes of Men were high. For long Narsil rested in the peaceful bliss of Númenor, too precious to be used as a sparring blade, brought forward only at high feasts and the most special occasions. From fathers to sons, it passed for many generations, until it came to the hands of Elendil, heir to the lord of Andúnië, on the day he reached his majority. Slowly, there came a shift in its master's stance, in his grip, and fear quickened his pulse and made his palms sweat, as had happened when his forefathers faced the Dark Lord's hordes in Beleriand. And when black fumes dimmed the sun and rumours of evil turned into threats and sacrifices, he girt it to his side in preparation against the strife which would not tarry.
Once Elendil saw everyone safe on the ships, they set sail towards Ennorath while doom hung over them and those still upon their forsaken land. Not long afterwards his hands, wet and salty from tears and seawater, disentangled the sheathed sword from his billowing cloak and knotted a rope around his waist just before the first of the waves hit them. Narsil shook with his sobs at the dreadful sight of a foundering land, drowning under the wrathful sea.
War was waged soon enough, and the blade of Elendil proved to be strong and faithful to its master unto the end. On the slopes of Mount Doom, the High King of the Dúnedain wrestled against the Dark Lord of Mordor himself; the proud sword was shattered under him when he fell to his death.
Desperate, furious, younger hands clasped its hilt and swung what was left of the blade against the mighty foe Sauron, who laughed at such foolhardy and seemingly futile attack. Most unexpectedly, the jagged edge met flesh, and blood that reeked of evil was spilled; and there was a shrill grating against a metal ring that was laden with whispers of great power and malice, and the Enemy left his hideous shape and fled into waste. Great cries of victory followed, mingled with tears of grief and dismissed words of wisdom, almost pleas, to secure what had been gained at such great cost to all.
The shards were reverently collected, along with the hilt. The broken weapon was borne to Gondor, but its stay there was brief. When its new master, Elendil's son, Isildur, was ambushed, he hurriedly entrusted it to his esquire, whose hands grabbed the bundled heirloom with an urgency that betrayed their peril, and in turn he gave it to the care of Elrond Half-elven. In Imladris the blade that was broken was kept for nearly an age, and many would admire it, but few hands dared touch it. In the world outside darkness gathered again and kingdoms fell.
And each of the heirs of Isildur would be brought in their youth to Narsil's presence, but none would claim it. Instead they would speak to it as if in prayer, vowing that one day the blade would be reforged and what had been lost to them would be regained. But for long those hopes remained unfulfilled.
One day, it was a child's hands that gently caressed the broken pieces of steel, curious and furtive in their forbidden reverence. When the fingers realised the hilt was too heavy to lift, they chose to pick up a small shard instead. It was hastily dropped when a cry of warning and disapproval rang in the air. Immortal fingers rearranged the fragments and led the child away.
But several years later the same hands, no longer small but grown and callused, grasped the hilt and claimed the broken blade as their own. With an unwavering voice, the man who wielded it, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, vowed that one day he would fight the Enemy with the blade made anew.
He returned at last after many perils in the wild and his promise was made true; the sword was remade by the Elven-smiths. It shone red and silver, and its old name had been Narsil, but now it was called Andúril, the Flame of the West, and again it went into battle, as strong as it had ever been.
Its new owner handled it as a treasure every time, as if he knew of all the hands that had trusted it before him, and of their deeds. And together they performed a fearsome dance of death, and never before had the sword felt as an extension of its master's strength as it did with this man, who was wise but humble, hardy but gentle, and stern but kind.
Through many lands and perils they travelled, and one day he showed it to the eye of the evil Dark Lord whose finger it had severed an age ago, and Andúril felt his fear and rage through the strange glowing orb to which its owner spoke.
More battles swiftly followed, and the elation of each triumph was always dimmed by the fall of many men. Hope wavered but never failed in these hands, though it almost did before the Black Gate when all seemed lost, just before the ground shook and the eagles glided above bringing news of victory and joy.
Much happiness followed, and war grew less frequent. Andúril was as precious to its owner as it had been on the day when his small fingers had first touched Narsil's shattered pieces with awe, even if he now had become a mighty King, the ruler of a vast realm. He cared for it himself with respect and gratitude; until on his deathbed he passed it on to his son, who handled it with the utmost pride, and wielded it almost as proficiently as his father had.
More fathers and sons followed, and gradually Andúril felt the touch of hands less oft than before. Other swords were wrought, set with brighter jewels, and in grand ceremonies they looked richer to their owners than the dull sheen of old steel and the well used, worn hilt that had seen so many centuries of strife. So Andúril was seldom unsheathed, even less girt or wielded.
Patiently, it waited in darkness for uncounted years, until one day a hand pulled it out of its exile. Light revealed the signs of age and neglect, which might have been removed, had a loving hand given it the care it once used to receive.
Instead, a cry of disappointment and contemptuous words of rejection were bestowed upon the rusting blade before it was hastily thrust back into the worn scabbard and returned to the blackness.
Thus passed Andúril, formerly Narsil, from the memory of Men into the fading legends of the young ages of the world.
 Borthand, the youngest son of Bór, and his brothers died at the Nirnaeth after slaying the sons of the Easterling traitor, Ulfang, whose warriors turned against Maedhros's forces. There is nothing in the Silmarillion canon that points at his ownership of Narsil, that was entirely my idea.