Disclaimer: All characters herein belong to J.R.R. Tolkien, his estate and heirs. This is a work of fiction, intended only for entertainment.
. . . and they fled before the black gale out of the twilight of doom into the darkness of the world. And the deeps rose beneath them in towering anger, and waves like unto mountains moving with great caps of writhen snow bore them up amid the wreckage of the clouds, and after many days cast them away upon the shores of Middle-earth.
The pride of their King had led to the destruction of their homeland, and the Land of the Gift was no more. To Middle-earth the Faithful fled, to the havens at the mouth of Anduin their ancestors had made, to the ports of Elvenkind.
Elendil was a man filled with sorrow, and the only time his eyes lit with joy was when they rested upon his son. And Isildur was ever by his side, a silent seeming-shadow, ready ever to do the bidding of the King, his father.
The Men who followed Elendil’s banner were tall and stern; they, too, bore that overriding sense of loss.
So the Exiles came among the Eldar, not wishing to supplant them, but to exist with them in harmony, as much as was possible. To that end, those acclaimed as the leaders of Men, the ones who had led their people from Númenórë, entered the halls of Gil-galad and of Círdan. And to him, Gil-galad called his trusted friend, Elrond, who had founded Imladris.
For a long while, Elrond stayed at Imladris, wishing only to avoid seeing his brother’s descendants. That his brother had chosen the lot of Men was a painful memory, and one he did not wish to stir; he feared the bitterness it roused would overwhelm him.
Eventually, though, he acceded to the request of Gil-galad, and traveled to Forlindon. There, he was given no chance to acclimate himself to their presence, and decided that perhaps it was best to immerse himself in it instead.
In some ways, it was like re-opening a wound half-healed, or cutting to let the poison out.
They seem, in some ways, more of the Eldar than of Man, Elrond thought, as he walked among the host of Men. They are too young for the weight they bear—the grief in their eyes, the cares graven on their faces are more what I see upon my lord, or upon Círdan, whose years are uncounted.
He could not help but wander among them whenever he had the chance. In them, he caught glimpses of his brother, so long dead, so long mourned.
That is what their sadness reminds me of, he thought, studying Elendil and his son. It reminds me of the loss of my other half, my brother.
But he was comforted, though little enough, by the knowledge that his brother’s blood lived on, and that he could speak to those who would have been his near-kin, his foster-sons, his nephews, had not so many generations separated them.
It was in this manner that he first learnt of Isildur’s daring; how he’d crept into the very court of the king, who was under Sauron’s sway, and stolen a fruit from the White Tree that there grew, and how he’d lain near to death for months, until the first leaf of the new tree had unfolded itself beneath the sun.
“That tree grows now in his courtyard at Minas Ithil,” the soldiers all said.
Seeing the man sitting by his father at the table of the High King of Elves, his hair flowing darkly over his shoulders, his grey eyes keen and bright, face clean-shaven in respect for his Elven host, Elrond felt that it was truth indeed. This man would dare much to preserve his race, his birthright.
Even among the Númenóreans that had settled in Middle-earth years earlier, he had not heard of one of such foolhardiness . . . or such courage.
The Lords of Men rested in Forlindon for many days, holding converse with Gil-galad. In that time, Elrond was presented with a wealth of opportunities to speak with both Elendil and Isildur. Though the former was full of sound counsel and wise with his years, Elrond discovered in himself a preference for discourse with the latter.
Even at that time, Isildur was already a man of full years. But then, the descendents of Elros had been granted long life, far beyond that of other men, and in that time, they were still filled with grace. He was fair to look upon, but not extraordinarily so—his beak-like nose prevented it. No, but he was comely, in the manner of many men trained to battle, broad of chest and shoulder. He carried himself well, more nimbly than many another man of his height and breadth, and whether his long limbs were clothed in silk and velvet or in steel, it made no difference.
Gradually, they spoke of things other than the threat of the Shadow.
The first time Elrond saw Isildur smile was when he asked about his brother. They were walking in one of the gardens of the fortress—for what use was fortification if there was no beauty to relieve the eyes?—when , prompted by what whim he knew not, the Elf said, “Tell me, Prince, of your brother, for though your father speaks of him often, you do not.”
“Anárion?” And the look on his face made him look his true age, erased many of his lines and cares and turned him into a young man again, rather than the serious heir of the Exiles. He paused in the act of reaching up to move a branch from their path. “Ah, Master Elrond, you have sealed your own doom!”
Dazzled at the completeness of the transformation he beheld, Elrond could barely force his mouth to form words. “And why is that?”
Isildur grinned over his shoulder. “Because, my lord, now I have your leave to speak on one of my favorite subjects, and I shall not let you escape until you are heartily sick of the sound of his name!”
It surprised a chuckle from him—him, dour Master Elrond, who had never laughed in anyone’s hearing. “I hear that I am challenged! Go on, sir, and we shall see who shall tire first.”
And indeed, Elrond did not tire of hearing of Anárion, but the reasons for it would rather be laid at his sudden desire to hear more of Isildur’s voice than for any desire to hear of Anárion himself.
At length, Isildur fell silent. They had seated themselves upon a bench of stone, hidden in some bower of leaves deep within the garden. After a moment, Elrond said, “How now? Have you wearied of telling your tale before I have in the hearing?”
“Nay,” Isildur replied softly, and clasped his hands between his knees, head bent. “But I do wonder . . .”
Isildur looked up then, half-smiling in a way that made Elrond catch his breath—a faded memory of Elros wearing the same expression pulled at him with gentle insistence. “I wonder that I wish now to tell you something that even my father knows not.”
“Is it such a matter that there is need he should know of it?” Elrond asked quietly.
Slowly, Isildur shook his head. “Nay.”
“Then you may tell me in confidence and be assured that I will betray it to no one.”
He smiled again, not the bright sharp smile of joy, but one of slow dawning understanding and, perhaps, happiness, and nodded. “I thank you.” But even so, he did not speak for the space of several heartbeats.
Elrond waited, though it cost him to show only patience while Isildur assembled the words he wanted to say.
“Have you heard, Master Elrond, of how we came to have a scion of the White Tree?” was what Isildur at last said. His voice was tinged with what Elrond could only call weariness—not the weariness that came upon Elves betimes, the weariness of the world, but something similar.
He nodded, and said nothing.
Isildur nodded, and his eyes crinkled in a faint smile. “Good. That is a tale that I do not like to tell.” He glanced down at his folded hands once more. “So therefore, I will tell you of what happened afterwards. Once I had given the fruit of Nimloth to my grandsire, I fell into a dream from which I could not wake. I am told that I lay as one dead, but ‘twas not so to me. The dreams I had were vivid and strange, but I can remember nothing of them now.
“When I opened my eyes again, it was morning, and my brother sat by my bedside. He looked so very sad, and his eyes were red, for he had been weeping. The sun shone on him through the open window, and it made his hair gleam like obsidian, made the tears on his face glitter like the finest jewels . . . it made him the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.” His voice hushed until Elrond had to strain to hear him.
“And then . . . he saw I was awake, and he smiled so brightly. I do not think I could ever describe it. To me, it was . . . it was as if I beheld Andúnië, or Rómenna, or . . . or some place unutterably dear to me, and it lay under a dark shadow, so that nothing could be seen clearly for what it was, but seemed a twisted semblance of itself. And then the sun rose over the horizon, and everything was revealed, and even the most homely and useful items were made golden and beautiful in the light.” He raised his eyes and looked fully into the Elf’s face. “Have you ever seen anything that made you feel that way, Master Elrond?”
Elrond nodded. “Once,” he replied, “for what you describe is rare indeed, even for the Eldar.”
Isildur gave him that little half-smile that so twisted his heart. “Then I should count myself doubly lucky.” He looked away quickly, but not before Elrond saw the flush that stained his features. “His smile blinded me, but before I could recover myself enough to ask why he wept, it was gone, and took with it all the light in the room, it seemed to me. And then my brother, who is ever quiet and even of temper—my brother raged at me, loudly enough to make my ears ring, loudly enough to draw all of Rómenna to the door of my bedchamber. ‘Do not you ever do something so reckless and foolhardy again!’ he shouted, among other, less flattering things. ‘For if you were to die—’ and he broke off, and touched my cheek, and I, astonished, saw he was weeping again. ‘If you were to die,’ he went on, in a whisper, ‘I would have no brother to call my own, and the light would truly extinguish itself in my sight.’ And he kissed me then, not a chaste kiss as a brother might give a brother, but one as a man might give his lover.” His grey eyes were sharper than blades when he caught Elrond’s gaze again.
Elrond merely looked at him, pretending impassivity and trying to hide his amazement.
“’Twas but quick,” Isildur went on, and his eyes drifted to the greenery about them. “For we heard footsteps upon the stairs and in the hall, and as soon as his lips left mine, he embraced me. That was how Father found us— Anárion with his arms around me, and I, stunned, so he thought, from the dream that had held me for so long.”
It seemed then to Elrond that embarrassment took him, for he cleared his throat, and went on in a louder tone, “I know not why I told you that . . . save that I feel the better for telling it.”
“Perhaps, then, you have your reason,” Elrond said, his voice barely breaking the silence around them. “My dear friend,” he continued, when Isildur flushed and would have risen, “I do not think the less of you for what you have said.” He dared to clasp the other’s shoulder. “Indeed, I am deeply honored that you place such trust in me. I will hold your words close to my heart, and let no other know of them.”
And he was rewarded with another bright smile, which he returned with warm reserve.
As they made their way out of the garden, Elrond reflected that indeed, he knew just how Isildur had felt, and wondered if the Man knew the power of his own smile.
It was still some days before Elrond admitted to himself that he was infatuated with the Prince of Men. But even upon that admission, he found he could not stop seeking out his company.
And it seemed he did not flatter himself to believe that Isildur sought his out as well.
He was frequently the recipient of Isildur’s smile, so much so that to see him unsmiling as he was when around others became strange and unsettling.
Finally, after many days of meetings and discussions, Elendil announced that his party would shortly return to Annúminas. Though that city was not far off from Forlindon, from there, Isildur would return to the realm he shared with his brother, to Gondor and his own home in Minas Ithil.
Elrond, for all his many years, felt suddenly that his time grew short, though he could not clearly say why.
The fire in Isildur’s chamber was welcome, for the spring night had turned chill. The Prince, seated in a comfortably padded chair, stretched out his feet to the cheery blaze, and sighed in contentment. In one hand he swirled a cup of warmed wine. “While none can fault the hospitality of the Elves, the nights in Gondor are not so cold!”
Elrond sat near him, in a similar chair, though he forwent the wine. “Are you then so eager to depart?” he asked, in seeming jest. Isildur’s words, however, struck him harshly, for reasons he did not wish to examine.
Slowly, Isildur straightened, and set his cup aside. For a long moment, he stared at the flames in the grate. “I . . . I will not deny that I miss my brother,” he said very quietly, his words nearly lost in the crackling of the fire. “Or that I miss my people and my home. But neither would I be wholly truthful if I said that I was eager to leave this place.” When he looked up, the light made his eyes gleam silver.
Elrond’s breath came short, but he managed to speak. “Indeed, this place is not eager for you to leave,” he whispered. “And I, least of all.”
His words brought a smile to Isildur’s face, that slow, beautiful smile, and though he had had not a drop to drink, Elrond found himself intoxicated. That, he decided, could be the only excuse for reaching out and running his fingers over the other’s cheek, feeling the warmth of his flesh, the prickle of his stubble—so very alien to him—against his palm.
He heard very distinctly as Isildur’s breath caught in his throat, and pulled his hand away as if it had been burned, silently cursing himself for his presumption.
Before it could retreat very far, however, Isildur grabbed it, held it tightly. His breath was loud to Elrond’s ears, even over the popping of logs in the hearth. And the quicksilver eyes held his gaze and would not let him go. “Why . . . why did you do that?” he asked in a rush.
Elrond swallowed. Isildur’s voice flowed over him, low and husky, and the desire already awakened in him leapt higher at the very sound. He opened his mouth, to give some half-truth and then make his escape.
“Because . . . because I longed to touch you.” That the truth emerged surprised him nearly as much as the words did Isildur. Gently, he pulled his hand from the Prince’s slackening grasp, and brushed his fingers over the rough cheek once more, over his parted lips. “And I would do more . . . if you wish it.”
He did not use any of the gifts which, as one of the Eldar, he had been granted. There would be no charm, no persuasion, no foreknowledge. He waited, hesitant, anxious, and as the moment lengthened between them in silence, in fading hope.
“I . . . I do wish it,” Isildur whispered at last, into his hand. “I would even say that I have wanted this for many days, without knowing that I did.”
There was uncertainty in him, though; Elrond could feel it in the way Isildur held himself, a stiffness that had not been there before. It seemed he was fighting something within himself, some memory or idea that kept him from fully submitting.
“Please . . . do not say that you would, if you would not . . .” he began, and then was not able to continue, as Isildur laid a hand over his mouth.
“Nay, for ‘tis not so!” The vehemence of his protest startled them both. “Nay,” he went on more quietly, his glittering eyes locked onto Elrond’s. “I would.” And the tension, the conflict ran out of him, dissipating beneath the Elf’s fingers almost as if it had never been. He smiled again, and there was no hint of nervousness in his eyes.
That smile drew Elrond irresistibly, was what made him lean over the arm of his chair, his fingers tangling in the thick black hair at the nape of Isildur’s neck, was what made him brush his lips against Isildur’s.
He had intended the kiss to be gentle, to be a promise that might be fulfilled some other time, to allow some space for sober reflection . . . but heat seared through him the moment their lips touched—through them both if the way Isildur trembled was a proper indication—and caution was swept away. His fingers tightened in the midnight strands, and Isildur’s hand clenched in his own dark hair, pulling him closer, nearly dragging him out of his seat.
Almost between one heartbeat and the next, they were on the floor, kneeling, touching, kissing. Isildur’s fingers fumbled with the clasp of his high-collared tunic, while he, still slightly more dexterous, was able to unlace the neck of the shirt Isildur wore, and trail his fingers over the warm skin he uncovered.
The scent that drifted up from Isildur’s flesh was unlike any he had ever known; spicy, earthy, heady, stimulating. It clouded his thoughts until desire overran all. His perception narrowed to brief flashes of coherency—hands caressing, fingers stumbling over buckles and ties, lips pressing, tongue sliding against tongue, against skin. Soon there were no words, the very power of speech deserting them; there were only soft gasps and moans, barely audible over the crackling of the fire.
And all the while, Isildur’s eyes shone like polished silver, and Elrond could see only himself reflected in their depths.
The Lords of Men departed for Annúminas two days later. Elrond watched from the wall as they rode into the frigid dawn, their banners trailing listlessly in the still air.
His heart was warmed when he saw a figure twist in his saddle, and he believed that he could even descry the clear grey eyes searching the wall, the bright smile when they caught sight of him. Then Isildur—for surely it was he—faced forward again, to guide his horse down the path.
He watched until they disappeared from his keen Elven sight, melting into the distance.
So began the first day of a silence that would last 100 years.
Elendil traveled frequently to Forlindon, and Gil-galad to Annúminas. But to far Gondor did Isildur return, and came but rarely back to his father’s seat. He took a fair lady of Númenór to wife, and she bore him sons strong and tall.
Messages passed between Minas Ithil and Imladris, but some things simply cannot be trusted to parchment and ink and the dangers of the road.
To an Elf, a century might be no more than the blink of an eye, but to Elrond, it seemed that the days wore ever on and on, without end.
The memory of Men is short, as the years grow long, and even in the Eldar, it fades past recalling. His own would grow fainter—or so he thought—until he could no longer remember how a bright smile lightened his heart, or how soft passion-words sounded in his ear.
Then word came that Minas Ithil had fallen, taken by Sauron’s forces, that Isildur and his family fled down the Anduin to come to Annúminas. An alliance between the Eldar and the Men of Númenór was formed, and the forces of Gil-galad and Elendil marched to Imladris, there to make their preparations for battle.
Elrond welcomed the Kings of Elves and Men with all courtesy, but his gaze kept straying, wandering ever to the dark-haired shadow that stood at Elendil’s shoulder. The long years that stretched between them made of Isildur a familiar stranger; his nose more hawk-like, his face more somber, his eyes more steel than silver, until Elrond nearly doubted his vision.
But then, when every eye was directed toward Gil-galad and Elendil, Isildur caught Elrond’s eye once more, and smiled slightly. A tension that he did not even know he’d harbored fled him then, for the smile was the same, and his heart remembered.
It was some time before the royal parties were settled. Of their own accord, Elrond’s steps turned him toward Isildur’s chamber, but he had not gone halfway thither when he saw Isildur himself striding to meet him.
“My dear Master Elrond.” Isildur’s voice was hushed in the airy hall, and the light—tinted with the colors of autumn—softened the steel in his eyes.
“Prince Isildur,” Elrond murmured in response. “It has been long indeed since you have enjoyed the hospitality of the Elves.”
A smile—the merest reflection of the radiance he recalled—flitted over his face, and Elrond noticed then that age had not spared him. He bore lines now that he had not before, sun-forged wrinkles about his eyes, his mouth. However, his hair was still as black as midnight, though his father’s had long been iron-grey, and his step was still as quick as Elrond remembered.
“It has. And I come to further impose upon your gracious self.” He reached out, and for a moment, Elrond thought that he would touch his face, but his hand veered away at the last possible moment and clasped Elrond’s shoulder instead. But still his fingers brushed across his cheek as he did, and Elrond shivered minutely at the too-brief contact, thrilling to the touch, his mere presence. “I would . . .” Isildur paused, as if weighing his words, but then continued in a near-whisper, unable to hide his longing, “I would ask you to join me after tonight’s meal, to share a cup of wine, as we often did in Forlindon.”
Elrond inclined his head, and gave him a small smile. “That would be my pleasure, my friend,” he replied in the same tone. “Tonight, and for as many nights as you care to.”
This time, Isildur’s smile was blinding.
Three years the Elves and Men prepared, their leaders taking great pains in their planning and training and forging of weapons.
Shortly after the Alliance’s arrival in Imladris, Isildur’s wife gave birth. Isildur, the joy in his face muted by the uncertainty of the battles to come, asked that his wife and newborn son remain in Elrond’s house. To this Elrond readily agreed, able to refuse nothing to the Prince he held so dear.
Immediately, a weight seemed to fall from Isildur’s shoulders, and his smile was more often seen, bringing to Imladris a brightness that rivaled the sun upon the falls. And that smile seemed to lift the pall of desperation that shrouded them all.
Even Elrond felt the shadow, though it loomed over him less, and when he was in Isildur’s company, he felt he escaped it completely.
At last, the orders came to march, over the Misty Mountains, across Celebrant and Anduin, to the borders of the Black Land, where the gate stood to bar the way. The Alliance set out, and turning to look at the swell of Men and Elves behind him, Elrond knew that history would say it was the greatest host assembled in an age.
There, at the Black Gate, Anárion met them with the legions of Gondor, having marched up Anduin.
Seeing the pennants of his kingdom, Isildur kicked his weary horse into a canter and passed the outriders, calling his brother’s name. Elrond followed more slowly, eager for his first sight of the other son of Elendil, and yet not.
When he approached, seeing them embrace the other, his first thought was that two siblings could be no more alike unless they were twins. Their features were the same, from the prominent noses to the keen grey of their eyes to the dark waves of their hair. They were of the same height, or nearly so, though the bulk of the armor they wore made comparing them otherwise impossible.
He watched them silently as they had their reunion, a wistful smile tugging at his mouth, while his thoughts wandered, combing through memories long buried.
Then, suddenly becoming aware of his presence, they looked up at him as one, and Isildur smiled. Though it was a sight he’d often seen, each time it made his heart tremble in his chest.
And he did not stop to wonder how he knew it was Isildur when his brother was so like him. He slid from his horse and bowed to Anárion as Isildur introduced them.
Anárion’s smile was warm and welcoming, and in it, he could see hints of his brother’s own, the way it would transform his face in joy. Too, he saw that the younger son was more given to sober thought and reflection, from the subtly different cast to faint lines on his brow and face.
A moment or two later, the remainder of the vanguard rode up. Elendil swung from his horse with the grace of a much younger man and laid a hand on his sons’ mail-clad shoulders, saying, “’Tis good to see you both together again . . .” Then he embraced them both.
Looking upon the three Men, Elrond shivered, and it seemed to him that he could see the bones beneath their faces, floating above their skin.
Against the Black Gate they battled for long days, and the dead were uncounted.
Finally, there was victory—of a sort—and Sauron retreated to his fastness of Barad-dûr. Into the land of Mordor the Alliance swept, and laid siege to the Dark Lord in his tower.
It was a mighty fortress, not easily taken. The siege lasted for six years without gain.
The days were endless, filled with battle and death, and even the Eldar grew weary of the grim sky and lifeless ground. Men, less hardy, became pale and drained, their spirits bowed. But they fought on.
To Elrond, it seemed sometimes that time had stopped the day they entered Mordor, and each day that passed was no different from the one before, that they cycled through the same one ceaselessly. The only way he could know that time had indeed passed was by the presence of Isildur, for the Prince would appear in his tent after the sun had set—not every night, but near enough—not to discuss the perils of the day, but to find some small comfort.
When he did not appear, Elrond knew that he was with Anárion, and could not find it in him to begrudge the time he spent with his brother.
Often, the fighting raged close to the walls of the dark tower, from which Sauron’s minions let fall boulders upon unwary warriors below.
Near the end of the sixth year, one such stone struck Anárion as he tried to help a man to rise. He was slain almost instantly, and his men bore his body back to the encampment with great lamentation.
Elendil, upon seeing his younger son’s lifeless body, sank to his knees, nearly broken by his grief. It was palpable around him, and none dared to come close enough to offer him any comfort, even Gil-galad himself.
Though it seemed an age, the sun had barely moved in the sky when Isildur returned to the camp. The crowd of mourners that had gathered drew his attention immediately, and he pushed through them, only to stop short upon seeing his father kneeling by his brother. “Father?” he whispered, and the sound carried far in the still air.
Then he, too, knelt, reaching out with hands that trembled to stroke Anárion’s bloodied face and hair.
The lost look Isildur wore was enough to break the hardest heart, and Elrond could not bear to see it. He pulled a cloak gently over the younger Prince, covering his ruined corpse, then he urged Isildur to his feet. “Go to your father,” he whispered, and Isildur stumbled his way to Elendil, helped him to his feet.
As soon as they had left, Gil-galad assembled an honor guard, and they bore Anárion slowly away to lie with the rest of the slain.
It was late when Isildur entered Elrond’s tent, eyes dry and hollow, face pale. He stared at Elrond without seeing, and stood, swaying slightly in the entrance.
Elrond rose uncertainly. Grief was no stranger to him, nor he to it, but he could not think of what he should say to ease Isildur’s sorrow. And indeed, he had not expected him this eve.
In the end, though, he found he needed to say nothing. At his movement, Isildur’s gaze focused on him, and recognition lit his eyes. But when he opened his mouth to speak, though his eyes were tearless all that came from his throat was a choked sob.
Immediately, Elrond was by him, drawing him into the tent and closing the flap, offering Isildur the sanctuary of his arms, and a quiet space in which to grieve.
And when the storm of his grief was spent, but before sleep claimed him, he reached out to touch Elrond’s face and whispered, “How is it that I can still see light, when the sun has gone out?”
Elrond could not answer, and soothed him with soft words in Sindarin, stroking his brow until the steel-grey eyes closed.
It was well that the Eldar needed but little sleep, for he spent the night watching Isildur’s fitful slumber, and thinking that he would never see him smile again.
The siege continued, and the winter grew old. In Elrond’s eyes, Elendil became ever grimmer, ever more fatalistic, and Isildur more desperate. That desperation—almost like despair—showed itself not in battle, but in a burning need to prove that he himself still lived, though his dear brother was dead. He sought comfort in Elrond’s arms at every turn, and it was with sorrowful understanding that Elrond wiped away the tears Isildur shed as he slept.
But it was only at night that he seemed to soften; during the day, he was as hard as stone, showing no hint of the grief that held him in its unbreakable grip. He fought tirelessly, and soon, the very sight of his helm, his sword, would strike fear into the hearts of the Orcs he fought.
Still the Alliance pressed Sauron, until at last his straits were so dire that he himself joined the battle, emerging from Barad-dûr in his black armor, the One Ring glowing flame-bright on his finger. Together Gil-galad and Elendil pressed him, and together they fell, spear and sword broken.
Isildur’s cry echoed across the battlefield, and Elrond looked sharply up at the sound. Fear shot through him at what he saw, and he started to fight his way to Isildur’s side, having been swept away by the tides of battle.
The Prince dropped to his knees by his father and pulled off his helm, heedless of the danger around him, trying to staunch wounds that could not be healed. He did not spare any attention for Sauron, mere steps away.
Elrond knew he could not reach him in time. “Isildur!”
Somehow, he managed to pierce the din, managed to capture Isildur’s attention, and Isildur glanced away from his father’s dying body, dazed. It took him a moment to recognize what he saw, then he rolled quickly aside from the blow that would have crushed his skull.
As Sauron’s mace descended toward him again, he scrabbled for a weapon, snatched the remains of Narsil from beneath his father and swung blindly.
Sauron recoiled, screaming, as the hilt-shard severed his fingers. Still encircling a finger, the One Ring fell by Isildur, fading quickly from searing brightness to the simple glitter of gold. Elrond watched as Isildur dropped the broken sword and reached out for this glittering thing.
Then he needed to look away, for a wind stronger than any gale swept over the ashy plain, blowing Man and Elf alike over in their weighty armor, and he staggered to his knees, covering his eyes to keep them from becoming filled with grit.
When the wind had died away, he saw Isildur had not moved, was still holding Sauron’s Ring in his hand, staring at it fixedly, his eyes wide.
“Isildur.” In the secret places of his heart, Elrond wished that there was time for him to convey his elation, his sorrow, all the emotions that threatened to break his composure. But there was still a thing to be done.
Isildur looked up at him, dark hair wild and tangled about his shoulders, and his eyes were flat, the grey of unpolished steel. Once he had torn his gaze away from the Ring, he seemed to recall what had happened, and turned to his father once again. Blood had soaked the fallen man’s beard, and his eyes were sightlessly open.
“Isildur.” He modulated his tone somewhat, unable to bear the other’s grief. “Come with me.”
Isildur nodded dumbly, and clambered to his feet; his face was that of a child lost and alone. In one hand, he still clutched the Ring.
Together they entered the crack of Doom, where the blood of the earth thrashed hot below them, and the very air seared their lungs. Elrond led Isildur to the very end of the promontory, where the hot wind blew around them, teasing their hair. “Cast it into the fire,” he said, and could not help the inflection of command in his voice.
For a moment, Isildur studied the Ring, rolling it in his fingers, then he looked up at Elrond and smiled.
And Elrond recoiled from that smile, for it was not the one he remembered; it was dark, a twisting of the lips rather than a smile. It carried no hint of the bright joy or even the slow-dawning happiness that had so pierced his heart. It was the smile of a stranger.
“No.” Saying nothing else, no word of grief or comfort or caring, Isildur walked away, out of the heat, back into the chill air of Mordor, still fondling the Ring in his fingers.
“Isildur!” he called after him, but the Man was beyond hearing him.
The roar of the lava behind him was drowned by the despairing cry of his heart. But though his pain overwhelmed him, he did not bow. Instead, he gathered to himself all his strength, and walked proudly from the mountain. To him he gathered all of the forces that yet remained of the Eldar, and bade them make ready to march home.
And if there were tears upon his cheeks, it was the sharp wind that stung his eyes, nothing more.
From the West they came, their ships battered and storm-tossed. From Númenórë that is no more they escaped, and landed homeless on the shores of Middle-earth.
They were the Elf-friends, those who kept faith with the Valar, and had no part in the arrogance of their countrymen, the o’erweening pride of their king.
But they were Men only, for all that they survived the Downfall, and of the Younger Children of Ilúvatar, few could withstand the corruption of the Enemy.
This I saw with my very eyes, to my eternal sorrow, and keep it still.
--From the private journals of Elrond, Master of Imladris
May 14, 2005
© randi (K. Shepard), 2005