1. Shards of Courage
Thanks to the GofI gang for such supportive concrit. This was originally written for the 'Breaking Type' Challenge at OSA. We had to write in a style and about a character we had never written before from an alphabetic list (I had O). I had never written anything from Unfinished Tales, the beginning of the Third Age, or written in first person so that was how I 'broke type'.
The rain pattered on the leaves, continuing to add to the miserable feeling of being soaked through to the bone. For two days. Raimon and I had endured cold rains and thunderstorms traveling to Rivendell through the mountains. Today was the first day the rain had slowed enough to not impede our progress. Eight days we traveled since the attack on our company and I still looked over my shoulder at every sound, expecting the orcs to have found us. At night, we rested, taking turns keeping watch until the morning light.
For the first day, it took everything in my power to force my steps forward rather than running back, to see if, perhaps, Isildur's company had prevailed. What if my lord lay injured, dying? I wished to return and check for survivors but Isildur's command drove me onward.
'Ohtar, I give this now into your keeping, Save it from capture by all means that you can find, and at all costs; even at the cost of being held a coward who deserted me. Take your companion with you and flee! Go'. I command you!'
"Ohtar," Raimon said my name softly.
Turning to look at him, I saw him gesture behind us.
"We are being followed."
My steps slowed as we went into the cover of dense trees listening to the sounds of the forest; limbs of age old trees cracking, leaves rustling, birds and small animals stirring. The forest fell silent other than the gentle rain. The silence sounded more ominous than the harmless noises we had grown used to and disregarded. Had we imagined it? We were strained to frantic alertness since the attack. Who knew what ventured into these woods? The crackling in the undergrowth of the trees could be a wolf, orc, troll or merely a rabbit.
"Nothing but a squirrel, my friend." Neither of us was comforted by the words.
We continued on our journey, ever wary, until we came to a small copse of trees beside a shallow creek with a bed of rocks. Taking time to refill our water flagons, we allowed ourselves a moment of relaxation. Dusk was upon us already. Deadly silent, elves suddenly appeared, as if out of nowhere, surrounding us. Their bows were trained on us and though my instinct was to reach for the hilt of my sword, I held up my hands, as did Raimon. While startled by their appearance from nowhere, I felt a small sense of relief at knowing the source of the noises were the elves that we sought.
"Why do you venture into these mountains? Who are you?" An elf came forward. Both dark haired and tall, he was fair yet imposing.
"I am Ohtar. This is Raimon. We are traveling to Rivendell," I answered.
"For what purpose?" The elf looked both Raimon and I over as if we were the enemy's spies.
"I am squire to Isildur, son of Elendil. I come by his leave to deliver something to his son," I steadied my voice, pushing back the refreshed pain of what I carried. "He said the House of Elrond would welcome us, give us sanctuary."
The elf paused for a few moments. "If you are indeed a messenger of Isildur, then you would know the reason why Elrond is wary your king is not with you."
Grief washed over me, and regret. "If it had been of my choosing then I would be by my lord's side. We were attacked by orcs eight days ago at Gladden Fields. He ordered me to go forth and deliver this to his son and his wife, my queen."
"Aye, then I will trust what you say because we had heard of this attack. Master Elrond sent us to look for any survivors who might have come to Rivendell," The elf placed his hand on his heart and nodded to me, saying, "I am Túrelie, of the House of Elrond. Where are the others?"
"There are none," I answered. The words came hard…as if a stranger spoke them. None echoed, screaming, in my head "I would like to return and see if…"
"King Thranduil of Mirkwood has sent aid to Isildur. If there are survivors, they will send word," Túrelie said, his voice compassionate now instead of crisp and tense. "Rest, you are protected here."
For the first time since the attack, we relaxed our guard somewhat. The elves provided us with food and quiet comfort. Their silence allowed me time to think, and remember.
Isildur had fostered me since my sister had married his eldest son, Elendur. My father sent me to Isildur to be trained as his squire, but he was more to me than my King. His kindness and wisdom to me had formed a strong bond that was unbreakable even through death. The sound of owls hooting in the night and rain continuing to fall softly lulled me into thinking of a day long past.
"Ohtar!" Isildur called, entering the stables. "Where have you run off to now?"
Isildur himself had come looking for me! I had not answered him for I was afraid he was going to punish me for going fishing with my friends when I had not finished my duties. I had only been there a few weeks and it was the first time the boys in the city had invited me to go anywhere with them. Tired of having no one my age to talk to, I had not thought that Isildur would even notice my absence.
"Ohtar," he said again. "You have to come out eventually so you might as well be done with it. I will not have a coward as a squire."
'A coward? I am anything but a coward. I have always been known as being the bravest and most daring of all of my friends.' Unwilling to be thought of as a coward, I stepped forward.
"My lord, I am here," I said boldly.
Isildur studied me for a few moments. "Bold as brass now but you were hiding before. Are you brave enough to face your punishment now? You have caused me to lose precious time in my day to make up for the tasks you did not do yesterday."
Still unsure of Isildur, I did not know if he would give me a severe punishment so I hesitated. But he was known for being fair so I nodded slowly.
"First you must tell me why you did not do your duties so I may decide if the reason is enough to sway me when deciding your punishment."
"My lord, I was asked to go fishing. I have been here a fortnight and have only done my duties, never allowed to play with the other children of the city. I just wanted to have fun."
His eyes softened slightly before he said, "Ohtar, you are not a child anymore, yet not a man. You must learn to become a man and a soldier. Your father should have sent you years earlier for you are still wild in your discipline. Are you happy here?"
I was stunned. Would he send me back to my father in shame for my actions yesterday? I quickly nodded. "Yes my lord, I am very proud to be in your service."
"Ohtar, do not be afraid to be honest with me. I do not wish you to be miserable here so I am asking you, are you happy?" Isildur, crouching down level with me. His eyes searched my own.
"I miss my family and…when I have done my duties, I do not have anyone to talk to or have fun with."
"I see," Isildur nodded. Standing up he –was quiet for a moment. "Ohtar, for your courage to be honest with me and face your punishment, I will not be severe. You must help the stable master clean the stables each night for a week. But I do wish to be fair because I believe that loyalty is inspired by treating your charges fairly. After your week of punishment, you may spend two hours each day before supper with your friends. And after supper, you may choose to visit with them as well or spend time with me and help me with my duties. But you must promise me to always finish your tasks before you have fun."
"Yes my lord," I said quickly, realizing that I would be trained by Isildur himself, an honor above all honors. "I will not disappoint you again."
"No, I do not think you will," he said, then smiled and winked at me before he left the stables.
Rivendell glittered in the sunlight, leaving me awestruck. Never before had I seen such an enchanted place. The falls of shimmering water created rainbows in the pools below. Gardens of plump ripe blossoms and fruits in every color surrounded by the deep mature trees with leaves that had already turned the rich scarlet, orange, and yellow shades of autumn. As we crossed over the stone bridge, I marveled at the buildings, with intricately carved wooden terraces, statues, and arches. So different was the hard, stone structures of Men, everything flowed as if it were part of natural landscape, carved out of the cliffs surrounding them. It was easy to see why the elves guarded their borders to outsiders, to only wonder of the legends. Dirty and foul from our travels, I felt suddenly unworthy of the refuge they were giving us, as we appeared coarse and uncouth compared to these fair elves. Túrelie took us straight away to Master Elrond. While we waited, Raimon and I were given a drink that left me feeling revitalized. Was this elven magic?
"Please sit, you have traveled far and are weary." Master Elrond entered the room, his rich robes silently swaying as he walked. His dark hair contrasted with his fair skin, but it was his eyes that caught my attention most. There was wisdom there that I had never witnessed before. When Raimon and I moved to bow to him, he held up his hand. "There is no need for formality here. You are trusted by Isildur and are welcome in my halls."
"My Lord, we bring an heirloom of the House of Isildur for his son. We hope that Isildur will follow us shortly for we do not know his fate."
"We await word from Mirkwood," Elrond said. "I imagine we will know tomorrow. But Ohtar, you know there is little hope that Isildur survived."
"But…" I began but did not want to be disrespectful and stopped. "Has our Queen and their son been told?"
"No, I thought it best to wait until we were certain," Elrond replied. "She expects her husband and sons to arrive before the sun sets today. If she sees you without him she will know."
"Perhaps we should not see her then," I suggested.
"For now, I will see that you have food and a bath sent to your chambers. Rest and I will send for you when I know more."
Following an elf maiden down a long hallway, we were led to two very large chambers, beautiful with carved luxurious beds, elven tapestries, and views of our exquisite surroundings.
"Miss, we cannot stay in such elaborate chambers," I said, looking around. "We are simple soldiers, not lords."
"Master Elrond asked that you be sent to these chambers," she smiled gently, "He obviously thinks you worthy of noble treatment. Enjoy his hospitality; it would be discourteous to refuse. A meal and bath have been ordered for your rooms and there are fresh linens and clothes in the chests. I am certain you can find something to fit you."
Raimon waited until she left. "I wish they had news and we did not have to wait. I dread telling the Queen of the attack but it would be easier if we knew the fate of our King."
"Yes," I answered. "I am anxious too but we have no choice. Let us do as suggested and bathe, to at least make ourselves more fit to be seen by the Queen. Rest my friend. The elves have provided us with comfortable surroundings in this tranquil house. Perhaps it can ease some of our sorrow and worry." A lie.
Raimon went into his room and I entered mine. Carefully I removed the mail I wore and placed it out of the way. When the elves brought the bath, I immersed myself in the water allowing it to sooth my tired and aching muscles. Afterwards I dressed in a loose flowing tunic and leggings I found in the chest. My actions were reflex, I still felt numb in my soul.
'Save it from capture by all means that you can find, and at all costs; even at the cost of being held a coward who deserted me.'
I had deserted him. Although it was ordered, I could not push away the guilt that was barely being held at bay. I should have remained by his side, as I had ever been, not bearing a broken sword to his heir. Rising, I walked to my pack and removed the velvet wrapped pieces of the sword. Sitting down on the bed, I unwrapped them reverently. I did not pick them up. I was not worthy to handle Narsil, sword of Elendil, destroyer of Sauron. No, this was a sword fit for a king and even broken, I could sense its power.
"Isildur, why did you value the survival of this heirloom over all others, over the Elendilmir?" I asked aloud. "Why did you not send your sons Aratan, Ciryon, or Elendur away with this heirloom?"
"Why did I leave?" I fumed, standing up again and pacing around the room. "I should have remained by you, until the bitter end. I have never been a coward, fighting side by side with you against the legion of The Dark Lord. I did not run in terror when Sauron revealed himself. I should have been there with you this time as well."
I did not know how I would face Náremiri and Valandil in my shame. If Isildur was dead, Náremiri, so caring and so strong, would now have to rule until her son was of age. After my cowardice, I would be shamed to offer my services. But I would lay down my life for her and her son. In honor of Isildur, I would continue to pledge my services to the throne of Gondor and Arnor. I would atone for my weakness.
My head ached, the sounds of my heartbeat pounding in my head. Lying down, I tried to sooth the pain by rubbing my temples. Laughter carried in the wind drifted into the open windows, startling me to attention. I rose, trying to ignore my throbbing head, and walked to the window to see children playing nearby. A boy was chasing a young girl as she laughed and flitted around like a butterfly.
"You cannot catch me! Men are too slow to catch elves," she called. "Valandil, you never learn!"
I was shocked to realize that this tall and lanky boy was Valandil, son of Isildur, but then I realized he was nearly thirteen, older than I when I was sent to his father's house. Even from a distance I could see, he looked more like Isildur than I had expected.
'He will never know his father as I did.' Turning away from the window, I lay back on the bed and listened to the waterfalls and children's laughter as my heart ached with sorrow and regret.
"Ohtar, you have been asked to come to Master Elrond's study. He wants you to bring the sword," Raimon stood in my opened doorway. I nodded then retrieved the wrapped shards.
Walking down the hallway, I steeled myself for what was to come, for in my heart I knew. I was not surprised to find Valandil and Queen Náremiri with Master Elrond.
"Ohtar! I did not know you had arrived," Náremiri said, rising to greet me. Her smile tore at my heart. "It has been too long since I have seen you. Where are the others? Where is my husband?"
I glanced at Master Elrond and he shook his head solemnly. "My Queen, I bring news. But it grieves me to say the words aloud," I began but had to stop when I saw the look in her eyes.
"You must tell me. Where is Isildur? Where are my sons?" she said sternly, as she clutched my arm.
"We were attacked by orcs ten days ago. We were outnumbered greatly. He ordered me to take Raimon and bring this to your son Valandil, as an heirloom of his house," I attempted to give her the shards of the sword but she looked at them like they were a snake, coiling to strike.
Master Elrond urged her to sit down then sat before her and took both of her hands in his own. "Messengers from Mirkwood have told us that they have found all of those with Isildur in Gladden Fields, including the bodies of your three sons." He stopped when she cried out in shock and grief. After a moment, she recomposed herself, her face betraying no emotion, and nodded curtly for him to continue. Elrond did so in a soothing tone. "There was only one survivor, a squire, who said that when all hope was lost your son Elendur urged his father to put on the One Ring and escape."
"So he is alive!" Náremiri exclaimed.
"They found his mail by the river, but after a day of searching they have not found his body," Elrond said. "Náremiri, I know you wish to have hope but, there is little hope to hold onto. Isildur…"
"We must keep looking," she insisted.
"King Thranduil has ordered them to keep searching but," Elrond paused and shook his head. "He is gone, my lady. I feel it; I have felt it since it happened. I wished to have proof, but we may never find his body if the river washed it away."
Náremiri shook her head vigorously. "This cannot be. He defeated Sauron, he could easily defeat a band of orcs."
"You must take his seat until Valandil is old enough to rule. You must keep his kingdom together," Elrond said. He watched as the realization seem to sink in.
Hearing soft sobbing, I turned and looked at Valandil. The boy was trying to keep his crying silent but had been unable. Walking over to him, I bowed on one knee.
"My Lord, I offer you my services if you will allow it. I will protect you until my death," I said. Putting my hand on his, I promised, "You will never be alone as long as I draw breath."
Studying me for a moment Valandil wiped away his tears and sat up straighter. After a moment, he answered, "I accept your pledge and hold you to it."
I handed him the velvet wrapped package, "King Isildur ordered that these heirlooms of his house, the shards of Narsil, sword of Elendil, sword that was broken defeating Sauron, be brought to you, his son."
Un-wrapping the velvet Valandil grasped the hilt of the sword. Holding up the sword for a moment he was quiet. Then he placed it carefully back in the velvet and re-wrapped it. "Master Elrond, you are wise and see many things. What should I do?"
Elrond studied the boy, who seemed so mature in this hour. "You will go to Annuminas and be tutored. You will live among your own people while your mother rules in your stead until you have reached your majority. Then you will rise to take the crown. I will keep the sword safe here in Imladris. After the One Ring is found and destroyed, the Shards of Narsil will be re-forged for you by the elves."
"Valandil, we will not stop looking for your father until we find his body or until you deem it hopeless," Náremiri said, rising. "Ohtar, thank you for bringing this. As your queen, I order you to continue in my service as Valandil's Royal Guard. I know that if Isildur entrusted you to send this to Rivendell with you that you can be trusted to guard his son."
Bowing my head, I felt shame burning my face. Náremiri encouraged me to stand and when I did she saw in my face all the humiliation I felt. Grasping my hand, she said, "Isildur loved you, Ohtar. Do not feel shame for following his orders. He knew you would do as he bid and live on to protect his son, until his time to be king."
"My Queen, you are most forgiving and gracious,"
"There is nothing to forgive. I know your feelings for my husband," she smiled slightly even as tears filled her eyes. "You can tell Valandil about his father so he comes to know him as you did."
Valandil rose and handed Elrond the sword carefully. "I will do as you suggested Master Elrond because I believe that is what my father would have wanted." Once again tears filled his eyes so Náremiri put her arm around his shoulders and turned to Master Elrond.
"Please excuse us, Master Elrond. It is best that we go to our apartment."
After she left, Master Elrond turned to me, "Perhaps now she has forgiven you for what you perceive to be your failure, you can stop carrying that guilt with you son. She is right. Isildur would not have sent you here if he and the Queen did not trust you; first with Narsil, and now with their son.
Straightening, I said, "And I will give my life to save his."
A/N –There is some debate about whether the character Ohtar was actually named Ohtar. To quote Unfinished Tales – The Disaster at Gladden Fields:
17 - Ohtar is the only name used in the legends; but it is probably only the title of address that Isildur used at this tragic moment, hiding his feelings under formality. Ohtar "warrior, soldier" was the title of all who, though fully trained and experienced, had not yet been admitted to the rank of roquen, "knight." But Ohtar was dear to Isildur and of his own kin. [Author's note.]
But when I was reading Fellowship of the Ring I found a quote from Elrond in Many Meetings:
'From the ruin of the Gladden Fields, where Isildur perished, three men only came ever back over the mountains after long wandering. One of these was Ohtar, the esquire of Isildur, who bore the shards of the sword of Elendil; and he brought them to Valandil, the heir of Isildur, who being but a child had remained here in Rivendell. But Narsil was broken and its light extinguished, and it has not yet been forged again.'
Therefore, in my mind, JRR Tolkien named him Ohtar in Fellowship of the Ring because it is published canon by JRRT. All other accounts, Unfinished Tales and HoME, are published by Christopher Tolkien from JRRT's notes and are subject to interpretation. So I used Ohtar as his name and not a title.