Eldacar did not want to watch, but despite himself his eyes were drawn back to the ruin of Osgiliath. Smoke rose over the city, and the flames reflected redly in Anduin's dark water.
A sudden flash of light and a roar of flames as the dark outline of the Dome of Stars collapsed.
With a muttered curse, Eldacar turned his head. Row, he gestured at the men holding the oars. North, he pointed.
"The river Carnen," Eldacar stated, watching a pale ribbon of water in the distance. From this far off the reddish tinge that gave the river its name was not discernible, nor, as he remembered from his childhood lessons, would it be very noticeable anyway this far from the iron-rich rocks of its source.
"You remember?" Wulfila, the captain of his guard, asked.
"Hardly, but I do know how to read a map," Eldacar snapped. I was barely five years old when I last was here. At least he still remembered the language and the manners of the North from the Northmen who had come south with them.
Eldacar's expression grew even more grim as he considered the circumstances that had brought him here. He quickly stopped that line of thought; they still had several days of travel ahead before he would meet with Vidugavia's great-grandson and see if the bonds between Gondor and the Northmen counted for aught. He supposed that he would have to find shelter with Araphor in Arthedain if they did not.
"My apologies, lord, I didn't mean to…" Wulfila's tone was hesitant.
"Any apology should be mine, old friend," Eldacar replied.
"The King does not apologise," Wulfila said.
Eldacar snorted in response. "I am not much of a king right now, and if I do not even rule my temper, what do I still rule?" As Wulfila started to speak, Eldacar shook his head. "Worry not. I have not given up. I will return to Gondor and retake my throne, but it will be no quick journey to get the Northmen's support and a quick jaunt south again to defeat the usurper."
The men around him were golden-haired, dark-haired. Northmen, Gondorians. They slew. They fell. And slowly, they edged forward, until the Crossing of Erui was almost theirs. Almost. On the other side of the crossing stood yet a troop of tall men dressed in black and silver, with white-winged helmets, the White Tree blazoned on their surcoats and shields. There flew Gondor's White Tree on black, and there were Castamir and his sons.
Eldacar glanced at Wulfila beside him carrying his own similarly-coloured standard. Their eyes met briefly and Eldacar nodded at the Northman. Wulfila signalled their last fresh company of cavalry to move forward. As the riders, led by Aldamir, entered the water, Eldacar's own guard moved forward too. The riders did not engage their enemy directly, but circled behind the Guards of the Tower, to cut off the chance of retreat.
Though outnumbered, Castamir's men advanced boldly. Eldacar noticed some of the usurper's troops on the other riverbank regrouping as well. He had the numbers still, but this had gone on long enough. It has to end. Now. Soon Eldacar was in the middle of the river, hewing and slashing at any man in black and silver who came before him. Unexpectedly, Eldacar stood alone, no enemy before him. As he paused briefly to regain his breath and his bearings, he looked around and found Castamir similarly unengaged.
As if by agreement, the two moved towards each other. Castamir's armour was stained with blood and mud – and Eldacar did not doubt he himself looked much the same –, but as far as Eldacar could make out, the usurper was yet unwounded. No advantage there, then. Had there been a choice, Eldacar would have preferred to face the other on dry land, but this was where they stood, and this was where it would have to be.
"Come on, halfbreed cur," Castamir taunted him as they paced, both unwilling to be the first to attack.
Eldacar did not reply. You are not worth my breath, usurper.
Suddenly, Castamir moved forward quick as lightning. Eldacar had to fend off the attack with his shield, and as he attempted to unbalance the other, he quickly stepped sideways, out of range again.
"Afraid?" Castamir sneered. "So you should be, halfbreed. If I do not kill you here, I've a gallows waiting for you in Pelargir."
Eldacar still remained silent.
"Nothing to say? Your son was not so quiet when my men burned out his eyes." Castamir moved in again, but staggered as he almost lost his footing on the uneven surface of the river's fording stones.
The brief stumble was enough to give Eldacar the opening he needed and he swooped in with a high slashing arc. Though Castamir managed to raise his own sword, Eldacar swept it aside, and drove forward to unbalance the other even further, so that they both fell into the water. Eldacar dropped his sword as he landed on top of his enemy, and grabbed the dagger he kept strapped to his left arm. A quick thrust into the other's exposed throat; a bubbling, bloody gurgle, and it was over.
Eldacar slowly pushed himself to his knees, and took his sword from the water. He stood up and watched as the river took away Castamir's blood in thin, slow swirls of red.
"For Ornendil," was all he said.
This story is set during the years of the Kinstrife in Gondor – dates and events are based on the Appendices of LotR and on HoME 12. All characters except Wulfila are Tolkien's.