1. Chapter 1
Elrond did not look back, merely quickened his pace further. "Come *on*!" He continued to climb, dragging Isildur along by one arm. The Man scrambled along behind him with an oath, and slipped again, his feet sending down an avalanche of stones behind him.
Walking softly in their wake, Cirdan stepped quickly sideways to avoid the avalanche of stones that Isildur had sent down the mountainside. The screes of Mount Doom were hard walking even for an Elf; he was not about to attempt to walk a landslide.
A breeze had sprung up, and he tensed his shoulders against it as its foul breath stirred his hair restlessly about his shoulders. He could feel - as always - the grime of Mordor on his skin, fading his white hair to a dull grey, and giving his face the look of one already half-dead. The dust and ash got everywhere: he and his people had even had to shave their beards off, for they caught too strongly the smell of the smog. The less disciplined of them cursed daily the foul air and the tainted water, and the separation they felt here from all living things. And why not? It was easier to curse than to mourn.
<<And yet we must all mourn.>> Some part of his mind was grieving already for his foster-son, but he locked it down with an ease born of the long years of war. There was not yet time for grief - not for many days to come.
He looked up, fixing his eyes firmly on his task and his destination. To think on Ereinion's death now would undo him.
Elrond and Isildur had outpaced him again, and he quickened his step to catch them up, his feet careful on the treacherous scree. Not even an Elf could walk on this stuff with ease, and certainly not to keep up Elrond's near-reckless pace through the cinders.
Cirdan frowned, uneasy. The Peredhel was normally the soul of patience, of the few numbered among the Wise, and yet this last hour there had been a most uncharacteristic rashness in his actions - a rashness that was more likely to antagonise Isildur than win his cooperation.
Isildur ... yes. If Elrond's actions concerned him, it was nothing to his fears for Isildur. The Man worried him more, every passing moment. The hand that had picked up the ring was now clenched tightly about it, lest it fall in one of his sudden slips. It was palpable as smog, the sudden change in the Man's manner. <<And why should that surprise me?>> he asked himself. <<It is a fell thing ... Who knows what evil things it contains?>> But after all, if someone had to bring it to the chasm, better he than most here. Few either of Elves or Men had his strength of spirit, but nonetheless -
No; he would have fretted for any who had touched the ring, and Isildur rather less than most. But nonetheless, Cirdan was fearful.
They had tried to tell him, both of them. Cirdan had been barely a stone's throw from Isildur when the blow had been struck, and had been at his side before the ring had cooled. Elrond had arrived but few minutes later, walking, running, leaping impatiently over the dead and dying to reach his comrades, as Cirdan had begun to explain to the Man what needed to be done.
<<We tried to tell him. We did everything we could,>> Cirdan reminded himself. It did not feel like enough. The Man had not been resistant - too dazed after the passing of his father, and the fall of Sauron, Cirdan supposed - but not amenable either, appearing hardly to hear their words, regarding Elrond with narrow-eyed suspicion and disregarding Cirdan altogether.
It was strange, because Isildur had always treated the Elven commanders with respect and deference, even when relations had stood strained between the Elves and Men. He and Elrond in particular had been close comrades throughout the the last seven unholy years. Cirdan had heard some whisper more than that, but these he had ignored. The Falathrim did not consider it seemly to speak of such things. And besides, it was no concern of his.
But their council had made no impact, and after an hour of futile words he'd watched Elrond grow desperate, haranguing his comrade-in-arms, cajoling, even pleading, to Isildur's increasingly stony face. <<And was that wise, Elrond?>> he had thought, and not dared to say. Elrond, whose judgement was esteemed wherever the stars shone, had seemed in an ecstasy of desperation to have lost his wits.
Finally, Cirdan reached the top, watching as Isildur flung himself down to rest against the rocky wall of the mountain.
"Isildur! Come *on*!"
"Enough! You've dragged me halfway up this accursed hill. At least give me the chance to rest first."
"There's no time! It *must* be destroyed."
"'Must be destroyed!" Will you shut up about that infernal trinket for once and let me rest? He's dead and the rest of us are dog-tired and want to sleep."
He fell silent, and Cirdan, looking down, noticed that the hand which clutched the ring was clutched so tightly the knuckles stood out white.
Elrond looked towards him, just once, his eyes imploring, desperate.
"He's right, you know," Cirdan said gently, laying aside his helm and shield and crouching beside the Man. "It is a fell thing, wrought for great evil. Who knows what damage it may bring you? The sooner it is destroyed, the better for us all."
"It has done nothing to *me*. I feel no different."
"Nonetheless ...." Cirdan overrode Elrond's strangled exclamation. "It would be better were it done quickly. If you wish one of us to assist-"
"No!" Isildur scrambled to his feet. "It is mine, and mine alone! I slew him. It is a token of our victory."
"It is yours indeed," Cirdan said, with an ease he was far from feeling. "But no good will come of it while it remains on Middle Earth."
Isildur turned to stare at him, his eyes filled with a disquieting coldness. "It is precious to me," he said softly, and Cirdan almost shivered. Isildur had never been cold - much the reverse, in fact, famous for his hot temper, his compassion, the strength of his kindness and his friendship. This was not ... this was not *right*.
"Isildur - come!" Elrond seized the Man by the arm, and dragged him bodily into the fissure. Cirdan did not follow them. The warning of his heart told him it was already too late.
<<Ereinion - foster son - was your death even now for nought?>> He closed his eyes as the grief rose again, only half-listening to the voices from the chasm beyond. The sounds were vague, baffled and distorted as the syllables echoed off the rocky walls.
"... must be unmade ..."
"... let you take it for yourself? Am I ..."
"...your father have wished ..."
"... No! Isildur!" Elrond's voice rang out, and in the two words was a desperation and desolation that tore at the heart. It did not take an Elf's ears to read its message.
<<So then ... so it must be.>>
Cirdan watched as Isildur stalked past him without so much as a glance, and stride down the treacherous scree of the mountainside, seemingly careless of his safety. <<His choice is made,>> he thought sadly. <<And I pity him.>>
"Isildur!" Elrond was standing again at the cave's mouth, his voice taut with desperation. "Isildur, by all that we once had-"
The Man gave no sign that he had heard the words, but strode on, the cinders shifting and sliding under his heavy steps. Cirdan watched as he slithered down two yards of the treacherous slope and disappear from view. He sighed slightly and turned back to Elrond, noting the desolation in his eyes, the face shiny with sweat and dark with the dirt of Mordor.
"Thus fails the hope of men." Elrond's voice was tight and tense, as if holding in check some emotion too powerful to be displayed. He still stood in the mouth of the fissure, his body taut with tension, an arm wedged against the rocky edge as if to hold himself upright.
Cirdan bowed his head. " I am very much afraid so. But do not blame him too -"
"Blame him! How *can* I blame him?" Elrond rounded on him, his eyes blazing with rage. "He has been stuck here seven years in this accursed land, fighting this accursed war, with neither light nor peace to aid him. He has seen his people die before his eyes, his brother struck down - he has seen his father die this day. Do you not think it would weaken any of us - Man or Elf?" He glared at Cirdan, daring him to speak, to disagree with his words. "How can I blame him *anything*?"
Cirdan allowed his gaze to be held for a long instant, and then stepped forward, laying a hand on Elrond's shoulder.
"Come," he said quietly. "You're weary."
"No. I am angry," Elrond said hoarsely, brushing Cirdan's hand away roughly. "A fool was I ever to believe in the wisdom of men."
"They are but a young race, even now. I remember too much of the Ages of Stars ... It was too many generations before we ourselves learned wisdom."
"Then spare me *your* wisdom now! You never loved a mortal, did you? You never lay with one. You never felt their touch."
"Elrond! Do not speak such-"
"They are so different from us, Cirdan, if you but know it. So different and yet so like. Their mouths taste stronger, their eyes ... you never saw it, did you, the beauty of their eyes? ... and their hands, rough as bark, and so urgent ... so desperate." <<Do not tell me this!>> Cirdan implored soundlessly, but Elrond seemed beyond reason. He drew in a shaky breath, but it seemed to do nothing to calm the wildness of his eyes. "They live such brief lives, such brief, futile lives, and then they die ... but - but I thought we would at least have a mortal lifespan together."
He swayed suddenly, and Cirdan reached out instinctively to steady him. The wildness in his eyes faded, a candle suddenly extinguished, and he sagged heavily against Cirdan's supporting arm. "I am a fool, Cirdan," he whispered, as Cirdan shifted his stance to support the sudden weight better, feeling helpless and awkward. The physical contact was making him uneasy.
"No. You are weary." He sighed heavily, surveying Elrond and wondering whether he was fit to walk. "Come. It is time we returned to our troops."
For a moment he thought the Half-Elf had not heard him, and then Elrond gave a shuddering indrawn breath, and straightened up, his face carefully emotionless. "My apologies, Lord Cirdan. You are quite right, of course. Let us go."
They made their way down the slope, Elrond walking a little way in front of Cirdan, his stance upright and dignified. No sign of his recent storm betrayed him.
Cirdan paused for a moment behind his comrade to gather up his helm and shield once more. He could feel himself starting to shake. Nobody - but nobody - had dared speak in such words in his hearing for so long. It was Falathrim custom never to talk of such things, not even among close kin. The songs of the bower were a private matter between those who shared them. They were never, ever, for others' ears. And since the fall of the Falas - since Finandil's death - he had forsaken such songs forever.
* * *
The year 474 of the first age...
By some miracle, the harbour still held.
Eglarest itself was in flames, and he could hear the shouts and ululations of the orcs as they swept through it, towards the quickly-diminishing line of Falathrim warriors. The small crowd remaining on the docks pressed closer to the last of the ships as they awaited their turn to board.
There would not be enough time, short of a miracle.
"Hold! Hold!" Finandil voice rose from the line of soldiers, and Cirdan heard others take up the cry. Futile. They could not hold much longer; he could see that. If help came, it would be too late.
He turned to his sister Narglin, who stood beside him, handing an Elf-child up the gang-plank to its mother. "See that all get clear," he said, and ran towards his line of fighters, unsheathing his sword even as he ran.
The line was stretched too thin, and he headed for the weakest point, in time to cut down the first of the force that broke through. One look at his fighters told him enough, and he roared for retreat, stopping only when they fought three deep again. They would be cut to pieces before there was time to get free.
He felt a hand draw him back, and turned to face Finandil, his face bloodied and his grey eyes wild, his thick black hair blowing around his face. The last of the crowd on the quay were now on the jetty, and as he looked up, he saw Ereinion mustering a line of archers along the side of the boat.
"Get them to the ship," Finandil said, shouting to be heard. "One can hold the jetty alone."
"No!" No. Not Finandil, of all his people.
"Do it! Or waste more lives."
He was right. Cirdan did not even need to stop to see that. "I will stay with you."
"No." Finandil clasped him by the hand, his own hands steady and strong. "Our people need you."
"Finandil!" But the word was cut short as Finandil pulled him to him and kissed him on the mouth, a hard, bruising kiss as his long black hair swirled and blew around them both.
A second only, it could have been, and then Finandil pulled apart from him. "Retreat! To the ship!" he cried, pushing Cirdan roughly along the jetty as the remnant of his warriors came streaming past him. Cirdan could not move, watching his last few warriors swarming up the gang-plank, running up the mooring ropes, being pushed, pulled or dragged over the side. "Go!" Finandil screamed at him, and then Narglin reached over the bows and pulled him bodily over the side, even as Ereinion cut the moorings with his sword and the archers beside him let fly their first volley.
The sails took the wind gladly, and as he regained his feet, ten feet of water already stood between them and the jetty. Finandir stood alone on the narrow stone jetty, his sword drawn in one hand, his knife in the other, as the mass of Orcs hurled themselves on him. Cirdan stood in silence, watching the lone figure of his lover, the long black hair he had loved so much whipped around him by the sea-breezes as he prepared to sacrifice himself for his people.
He could only watch - the gradual crowding of the Orc fighters towards their lone opponent, and his slow retreat along the length of the jetty, his strikes with sword and knife to ward them off. He knew it would not be long.
When the first blow fell, he heard himself cry out, leaping up lightly onto the rail of the ship. It was his sister, again, who pulled him away from the side, grabbing him bodily round the waist. He jumped again to his feet, and felt himself caught in a flying tackle as some other person pinned him bodily to the ground, hooking his arms behind him.
"I am sorry." It was Ereinion's voice, and it sounded as though the boy was crying. "Cirdan, I am so sorry. If there had been any other way-"
Cirdan had merely lain there under him, his cheek to the wood of the deck, and waited for the world to end.
* * *
Cirdan returned from his remembrances with a shudder. That had been so long ago, so many centuries, before even the fall of Beleriand. It had been the last fleeting day of his joy.
There had been nobody to share the language of loves with since, not in all the long years. The only person who had dared to broach the subject later with him had been Narglin, defying all convention but confident in her dual status as elder sister and chief healer of his people. And she had long since given up on him.
He allowed himself a quick, surreptitious glance at Elrond, but the Half-Elf seemed to have himself well in hand, far better, in fact, than Cirdan himself. He was walking with certainty and dignity, with no obvious signs of his recent distress.
Perhaps it was better that way, to let Elrond take refuge in dignity, to let the suject lie and be buried. <<Yes ...>> he thought, reassured. <<It would be better thus. This never happened. I never heard those words. He never spoke them.>>
But his mind would not allow him to discard the words so easily. What could you do, in the face of turmoil that could force such words forth? There were some things, and he ought to know, which should not be left to lie. This, he feared, would be one. Alas, it required wisdom of him in a subject where he had only folly to offer.
They had reached the smoother ground at the foot of the scree, and Cirdan saw Elrond's lieutenant, Glorfindel, running towards them. He risked a glance at Elrond, and the Half-Elf still seemed to have himself under perfect mastery.
"What news, Glorfindel?" Elrond's eyes automatically began to survey the battlefield, evaluating what had occurred during his absence.
"All goes well, my Lord. The last of the vermin are all but routed, and there remains but little to be done." Which meant, of course, a great deal to be done - destroying the remnants of the enemy, tending to the dead and dying, and rather a lot of what the Elven warriors described delicately as 'spring-cleaning', and the men rendered rather more crudely, carrion-burning.
"And the injured?"
"Are already being tended. The Falathrim, my Lord," he gave a half-bow to Cirdan, "have taken responsibility for gathering the injured and tending them."
Cirdan nodded. "Who is commanding them?"
Glorfindel winced suddenly, his face crest-fallen. "Your sister, my Lord," he muttered.
"Ah!" Cirdan realised with a sudden pang of shock that he had not even given a thought to Narglin's welfare during the battle. The Healers were well-guarded, always, but in such times no easy guarantees existed. "She is well, then?"
"She is in a foul temper, my Lord. The Falathrim endure her with fortitude."
"And Celeborn's troops?"
"They are attending to the last of the rabble. Isildur's Men are disposing of the dead, and the remnants of Oropher's troops with them." He hesitated a moment, his eyes flickering uneasily over Elrond's face. "Things go as well now as they ever will in this accursed place. If you wish to take your rest, there is hardly a better-"
Elrond tensed, as if the suggestion angered him, and Cirdan answered before he could speak.
"Quite so," he said easily. "It is doubtful we will get the opportunity again for some while. I will take your advice also."
"Rest assured I will call you should there be need." Glorfindel's eyes met Cirdan's for an instant, and the look in his eyes informed Cirdan perfectly clearly that he had no intention of doing any such thing. Cirdan thanked him solemnly, and was about to turn away when Elrond spoke.
"Where is Isildur?" For the first time, the mask slipped. The words rang out harsh and forceful, and Cirdan saw Glorfindel blink in surprise.
"I do not know, my Lord." He answered too quickly, the words too glib to be believable. Elrond strode forward to face him, his eyes angry.
"Where is he?"
"I don't think-"
Glorfindel glanced at Cirdan in sudden desperation. "He has returned to the camp, my Lord. He said he was going to rest."
"Elrond ... you must not-"
"Do not tell me what I must not! Do you take me for a child?"
He turned and strode away, and Cirdan met Glorfindel's eye for an instant before making to follow him. Elrond turned back and faced him.
"Do not follow me," he said softly. "Either of you."
He turned away once more, and was gone.
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.