A light drizzle began to mist the banks of the Anduin, dusting with fine droplets the mail, leather and wool of the Men probing through the reed-thick shallows with their spears. Some of them paused in their work, gazing skyward at the bruised clouds.
"Keep working," commanded their leader, who stood seemingly unbothered by wind or rain on the high turf of the bank.
"Sire," protested one of the captains, "it has been a month already and we have found nothing. And last year, and the year before that —"
Valandil silenced him with a cold look. "I am aware of that, cáno. You will work until I order you to stop."
The captain bowed before the king of Arnor and nervously backed away, for while Valandil was even tempered and rational, even gracious, in all other matters, his reason seemed to abandon him at this turn. Seventy years they had come here, leaving Annúminas at the height of each summer to journey east through the Hithaeglir where one month out of the year for the last seventy years they floundered among the river reeds by the Gladden Fields.
A few rusted bits of armor they found, in graves looted decades before, and bones that might have been human, but in the water where Valandil's father had fallen there was nothing. All that had ever been found were Isildur's mail, helm and shield, and those had been discovered and sent back to Annúminas shortly after the battle.
"Sire," ventured another, older captain, "it is growing late in the season. If we leave on the morrow, we might make it back to Annúminas before the first snow falls."
"I will not abandon this search so lightly, or so soon."
The other man paused, then said, "Sire, after so many years perhaps it is time to leave off the search."
Valandil glared at Estelmo, but said nothing. Estelmo had been his eldest brother's esquire, who had been found stunned but alive under Elendur's corpse, one of only a few survivors of the Gladden Fields. Once recovered from his injuries, Estelmo took a vow to protect the new young king, whether Valandil would have him or no, and in the beginning the youth resented him for surviving where his brother had not. However, as time passed a strange friendship grew between the two.
Estelmo might speak where others, even Valandil's own wife and son, feared to venture. And for seventy years the two had had the same conversation, for seventy years Valandil relented and vowed to return the following year, until his annual pilgrimages drew scorn from among the nobility of Arnor. Even his own cousin, Meneldil king of Gondor, wrote urging him to let cease this folly. For nothing you will find, he wrote, save what the Valar will. Leave off this futile search and, if it be destined, let Isildur return to you through some higher agency.
Valandil's response was to crumple the parchment of his cousin's letters and toss it into the brazier. Meneldil was courteous enough, but rarely revealed his mind; this was one of those few occasions where his true thoughts could be read between the platitudes of official correspondence. And rumors abounded that, at the time, Meneldil had been more than relieved at his uncle's death, for it left him free to sit upon the throne of Gondor unencumbered by Isildur's well-intentioned meddling.
He glared at the river, half-obscured now by mist and a light curtain of rain, as if his frown might bend the mighty Anduin to the royal will. Shame and anger warred within him, for surely after so many years he should have found something. And suddenly, the sight of his spearmen floundering among the reeds angered him.
"Call them away," he barked at Estelmo. "I wish to be gone from this place by morning."
"There is someone to see you, aran-neth." said Elrond. "His name is Cirion. He was anohtarin your father's service at the Gladden Fields and he bears you something of great value."
"Unless it is my father's body, I am not interested," answered Valandil. The fact that nothing of Isildur save his armor had been recovered from the battlefield grated on his son's nerves, and angered him almost as much as his mother's weeping. He did not want tears, he was a man grown too soon and was through with tears. Nay, he wanted the blood of those who had taken from him the sire and brothers he had only seen once in his life.
At his back he felt the lord of Imladris staring at him, measuring him. "Long months it has taken this man and his companion to cross the mountains to reach you, in foul weather and despair, pursued by many enemies. You may not wish to receive this man, but receive him you will nonetheless. Even kings must sometimes do that which displeases them."
The fourteen year old king of Arnor shrugged his shoulders at the icy words and fixed his gaze to the floor of the library, indicating his disinterest. He felt Elrond withdraw from the room, but the absence was only temporary. Footfalls scraping across the stone floor of the chamber told him his guardian had returned, and the unfamiliar hollow sound of booted feet alongside them told him that another had entered the chamber with Elrond.
Then a figure clad in rough leather and wool was kneeling on the carpet before him, his dark hair spilling forward so Valandil could not see his face. Elrond remained in the background, observing the exchange.
Valandil made a frustrated noise. He was not yet accustomed to having others kneel to him, and he was not yet ready to take up the burden of kingship thrust upon him only the day before with the news from the Gladden Fields; he had been told he would remain at Imladris for a few more years yet, until he reached manhood and was able to take up the sceptre of Annúminas in his own name.
"Get up," he said, "and give me your message."
Behind him, he felt Elrond's disapproval and braced himself against the inevitable lecture he would receive once the messenger left. This was not the way a king was supposed to comport himself, a king should be stern with his enemies and gracious to all others—yes, he would hear this and all the other maxims of proper royal behavior which Elrond and his mother heaped upon him. So many maxims that they made Valandil's ears ache.
Elrond was not particularly interested in Valandil's complaint that he did not want to be king.
The man slowly lifted his head, and Valandil could see the rough face of a soldier, a common ohtar. "My lord," he began, "my father served your sire in Númenor before it fell and I served him as esquire at Dagorlad and after. Served him well, so they say, and he was a good lord and king." He bit his lip, for it was clear he was unnerved by the circumstances of his errand, and kept his eyes to the floor. Valandil saw this and restrained the urge to snap at him.
"Aye, you served your lord well," rumbled Elrond's voice. "For I remember you from Dagorlad, and know that you were ever loyal. Do not be afraid to deliver your message, for this is a haven from all fear and darkness."
Even as the soldier brightened and recovered some of his nerve, Valandil read the subtle prompt in those words, a verbal nudging that told him Elrond should not have had to answer at all. Yes, he would receive a lecture later, in which the protest that he simply did not know how to give an audience would fall on deaf ears. "Uh, you have brought something?" he asked. "Show me what it is…um, please?"
Still on his knees, the man slowly reached into his cloak and drew out a cloth-wrapped bundle. He laid it at Valandil's feet and carefully undid the wrappings. The glint of steel appeared among the dark woolen folds. Valandil leaned forward in his chair to peer more closely at it.
"It's broken," he said petulantly. "Why are you bringing me a broken sword?"
"These are the shards of Narsil, sire," said the man. "'Twas your father's blade, and that of his father before him. He gave it to me to give you, my king. He wanted you to have it."
Those words at once leapt into Valandil's breast and stirred the passions that warred in the young king, all that he struggled so valiantly and hopelessly to contain. His answer flooded from him in tears that half-choked him. "My father gave it to you and let you go, you say? Or did you simply take it and flee to save your own worthless life?"
All at once he felt the ripples of shock and rage before and behind him, crashing against him. He saw the stricken look on the soldier's face, the beginning of tears in those hardened eyes, and yet could not stop himself. "You should have stayed and died with him. You've no right to be here now when he's dead and you're not."
"That will be enough, Valandil." Elrond's voice cut through the moment like a blade, forgetting all formality. The Elf-lord stepped before him, laying a gentle hand on the man's shoulder and drawing him up. "Forgive your king his harsh words, Cirion, for the grief of his father's death is yet too near and he knows not what he says. Go now and rest, and he will call you again on the morrow with softer words."
No, I will not,Valandil thought. He sat sullenly while Elrond guided the still-stunned soldier to the door and called for a servant to find him some accommodations.
And then, when the door was shut and his guardian turned to face him with icy eyes, he knew what was coming. He started to roll his eyes, looking away toward the wall, when in four long strides Elrond crossed the floor and, without warning, struck him hard across the face with the flat of his hand.
"Your father would have been ashamed of you this day," he said coldly.
Valandil's hand flew to his cheek, though he could not say whether he was stunned more by the force of the blow or the words that accompanied it. "You struck me!" He had never seen any Elf strike another so, nor had he imagined that they might.
"You are behaving like a foolish mortal child, and that is what mortals do with children who shame them so," said Elrond. "Perhaps they do much worse, with a leather belt or wooden paddle, but it is my charge to instruct you, not beat you into submission. And do not presume to tell me you are a king who cannot be instructed thus, for you have shown that you are naught but a petulant child who heeds not what he says to others."
Dismissed, Valandil returned to his quarters and, once behind the stout oak of his door, broke down and wept. For his own foolishness, yes, as he knew what he said and did was wrong, but Elrond's words cut him far deeper than any blow might have done, and he wondered if his father truly would have been ashamed of him. He could have asked his mother, but she had secluded herself in mourning and he told himself that it would not have done any good. Whatever answer she gave him, it would not ease his wondering or his agony.
In his heart Valandil knew the young esquire spoke true. He wanted me to have that sword,he thought. He could have kept it, but his last thoughts were of me.
He forgot about his stinging cheek and buried his face in the coverlet of his bed, sobbing as he had the night before, when Elrond and his mother brought him into the Elf-lord's study and told him he was now fatherless and brotherless.
cáno: (Quenya) commander
Estelmo was one of only three survivors of the Gladden Fields. Tolkien does not mention what became of him afterward, but it seems logical that he would stay close to Valandil.
Valandil was born at Imladris in S.A. 3440 and remained there until T.A. 10, until he was about twenty-one. Isildur fell with his three eldest sons at the Gladden Fields in October, T.A. 2, when Valandil was thirteen. The shards of Narsil were brought to Imladris the following year.
aran-neth: (Sindarin) young king
Meneldil's temperament is described by Tolkien in Unfinished Tales. As the last child to be born in Númenor before its fall, he was grown at the time of the Last Alliance and fully able to assume the kingship of Gondor after his father Anárion's death. Tolkien does not say, but it is possible Meneldil might have regarded Isildur's post-Alliance "securing" of Gondor's borders an act of meddling.
ohtar: In "The Disaster of the Gladden Fields" in Unfinished Tales, the name of the soldier who brings the shards of Narsil to Imladris is Ohtar. However, this is a word meaning soldier, so it seems more likely this was the man's rank and not his actual name. For the purposes of the story, I have given him the name Cirion.