"Where is Elrond?" Cirdan asked gruffly. Isildur and Elrond had set out up the mountain to cast the ring into the fire hours ago. Yet here was Isildur surrounded by his men and the half-elf was nowhere in sight.
"I am no healer. He was severely wounded. He told me to go." The lies slipped ever more easily from Isildur's lips. "He has likely passed from this world." Glorfindel and Cirdan both gasped at the prince's statement. Surely, Elrond was uninjured when he set out earlier. They had already lost so many today including two Kings: Gil-Galad and Elendil. Both elves felt the chilling presence of evil.
"You did not destroy the ring!" Glorfindel proclaimed loudly.
"I claim it as a heirloom for my house." The prince's eyes glinted in anger. "Do you wish to challenge me?"
"We are friends and allies. We have won the battle this day." Cirdan said diplomatically, though the words range hollow. It was Elrond who was the diplomat. Cirdan had directed him to guide Isildur up the mountain. The Lord of the Havens feared sending guards with them as he himself had heard the rings seductive call.
"You are weary, Prince Isildur. You will soon rise as King in your father's place. We mourn this day your loss as well as the loss of our own King." The Lord of the Havens placed his hand over his heart in a sign of respect. Glorfindel and the others followed suit. Isildur stood silent in surprise. He suddenly found the strength to push the evil voice of the one ring from his mind. He placed his hand over his heart mirroring the elves' gesture.
"My people thank you for the sentiments. We will speak further in the morning." With that the prince turned and walked away. His men followed at a respectful distance. Once the prince was out of earshot Cirdan turned to Glorfindel.
"Take some guards and find Elrond." The Mariner urgently ordered. Glorfindel motioned for four of the guards to follow him. They quickly secured some healing supplies and ascended up the foul mountain, a treacherous undertaking in the dark. Nearly an hour later, about a third of the way up, they spied movement. It was not long before Glorfindel recognized his friend limping down the path.
"Elrond!" He called out but the elf did not respond. In fact Glorfindel was almost within arms reach before Elrond noticed him.
"Tis not like you to be so easily overtaken." Glorfindel chided. Even in the darkness he could see blood dripping along Elrond's bruised cheek. A strange look passed over Elrond's eyes.
"It appears that Isildur's prediction of your untimely demise was premature." Glorfindel said while slipping his arm under Elrond's to aid him. At the prince's name a look of defiance and anger crossed the stormy eyes.
"Indeed. He claimed the ring for himself." Elrond said in an anguished voice. His whole body trembled. "I could do naught."
"Shhh, my friend. We will speak of it soon enough. Should I treat your injuries here? Or can they wait for another hour?"
"I will treat them in my quarters." Elrond state emphatically. He gave Glorfindel's shoulder a light squeeze and whispered. "Thank you for coming for me."
"As always, my Lord." It took much less time for them to return to camp. Before entering the tent Elrond turned to two of their guards.
"Stand watch this night until Lord Glorfindel relieves you. Let no man enter." The guards nodded at their Herald's command. Glorfindel noted the subtle waiver of Elrond's voice. Never had Elrond requested a guard although both he and the High King had continually argued in favor of one. He felt no triumph at this turn of events.
"Shall I bring healing supplies and a draught?" Glorfindel asked softly as they entered the tent. Elrond turned to him and paused as if considering how much he was willing to reveal.
"A draught for pain and swelling." He paused. "Also salves for burns." Glorfindel gently grabbed his chin and peered deeply into his friend's eyes. They were filled with pain but steeled with determination. Elrond managed a small smile then ordered.
Glorfindel was carrying supplies back when Cirdan approached visibly worried. "Celeborn commands our forces this night. And Elrond?"
"He walked under his own power, though he is injured." Glorfindel reported.
"Then Isildur's reports?"
"False although they trouble me deeply." They walked to Elrond's tent. Each said a silent prayer for their beloved Gil-Galad as they passed the High King's empty pavilion. The stench of death permeated the air. Cirdan raised an eyebrow at the presence of the two guards outside Elrond's quarters. But Glorfindel merely shrugged.
"Let no one else enter." The Lord of the Havens instructed. Strange smells of battle, blood and something else hung in the air. Elrond was sitting on the opposite side of his cot. Only the back of his head was visible.
"Glor?" He called in an anxious voice.
"Yes and Cirdan too." They crossed over to Elrond who had already washed and pulled on a new tunic and briefs. Perspiration beaded on his pain-creased brow. He was in the middle of stitching closed a wound on his thigh.
"The muscular build of a warrior yet the gentle hands of a healer." Glorfindel reflected.
"Allow me to finish." Cirdan said. Then he washed his hands thoroughly and took the needle from Elrond's shaking fingers.
"Was it an orc blade?" Glorfindel asked. He was concerned about the possibility of poison.
"No." Came the whispered answer. Glorfindel handed him the draught. Elrond drank, thankful at the prospect of pain relief.
"Isildur said you were wounded and likely dead."
"That was his intent." Elrond shivered involuntarily. Cirdan reach to finish tending the wound but Elrond drew back at his touch. The movement sent a wave of pain through him.
"Elrond" Cirdan said his name in a calming tone that Elrond had not heard in several thousand years. "I would never hurt you. Be still young one." The hypnotic voice of this father figure immediately relaxed the tense elf and Cirdan quickly stitched up the wound. They sought to move Elrond to the cot but stopped at the sight of blood spotted on the towel beneath him.
"What is this from? Elrond what happened?" Cirdan questioned although dread filled him at the possible answers. There was certain brutality that elves would not survive.
"We made the ascent. He did not speak much, only answering when I asked a question. We were so close, just inside the chamber when he turned and put the ring on his finger." Elrond closed his eyes and Glorfindel squeezed his hand in encouragement. "He vanished. He disappeared before my very eyes." Elrond said in a mix of horror and amazement.
"I pleaded with the emptiness. I knew he still remained. I called for him to take off the ring, reminding him that it was evil."
"Did he?" Glorfindel prompted, his chest tensing in fear.
"It is impossible to defend oneself against an invisible foe. He struck out at me and was determined to bestow a humiliating death." His voice broke and then he whispered. "But I am a peredhel. I will survive as I have before." Glorfindel reached out to stroke Elrond's hair in comfort but again the elf recoiled at the contact. Instead he gently took his hand.
"You are safe now. Rest."
"He must have felt remorse for he removed the ring, reappearing beside me. The evil of Sauron remains yet in Middle Earth. It will come back. We have fought to but a fragile peace, maybe for hundreds or thousands of years. Gil-Galad died." Although several tears escaped Elrond's control, his tired silver eyes were resolute. "I will not let it be in vain."
Glorfindel and Cirdan watched silently as the peredhel succumbed to the potent draught.
"We should treat his other injuries." The Mariner said. They removed his tunic and gently treated the welts and burn marks that had obviously been inflicted by the touch of the one ring. They spread salves in silence. Neither wanted to believe the horrible evidence confronting them.
"He lived through such a thing before?"
"Apparently, although I doubt he meant to reveal that."
"I often worried and wondered why he had never shown interest in courting anyone these three thousand years. Yet he is always so strong and compassionate, almost to a fault."
"But surely, this will cause him to fade." Cirdan closed his eyes. The possibility that both his foster sons had effectively been killed on the same day was too terrible to contemplate.
It was mid afternoon on the next day when Elrond stirred. Glorfindel had guarded him throughout the night. The golden warrior smiled gently and helped him to sit up. He brought food and drink. Elrond ate in silence.
"Do you wish to talk?" Glorfindel asked. "There is no shame in…"
"No" Elrond said tersely.
"I only want." Glorfindel started but Elrond cut him off again.
"No." He said more loudly than necessary. Haunted gray eyes met blue for a moment before Elrond turned away. "Thank you for the food. I need time… time to think about this failure… time to contemplate what can yet be done."
"You did not fail." Glorfindel said but the chilling look in Elrond's eyes drove him to silence. Intense emotions radiated from the Herald. "If you need anything." He watched Elrond draw in a ragged breath as the peredhel struggled for control over his emotions.
"Thank you." Elrond managed more calmly. He dare not discuss the events of yesterday yet, as the thoughts of them could destroy him. "You may go. Let the guards know they should let no one enter." Glorfindel nodded and exited as instructed. His heart was filled with foreboding. He and Cirdan tried to talk with Elrond later that day but were turned away by the guards. They retreated to Cirdan's tent to discuss events privately.
"Did he reveal anything to you?" Cirdan questioned. Of course, having treated Elrond's injuries, they could piece together much of what had happened on that fateful hour at the edge of the precipice of fire. Neither would ever speak of it aloud. Both were loyal friends of Elrond and fiercely guarded his privacy.
"An elf would fade."
"He will not." Cirdan said more firmly than he felt.
Glorfindel woke to the crashes of hammers and the din of construction. He quickly dressed and wandered out into the early morning light.
"Ah, Glorfindel." Erestor called. "I need your help organizing a memorial for the High King at noon."
"Where is Elrond?" Glorfindel managed to mutter as he took in the sites in the distance. The black towers were under siege by hammers and fires.
"He is at the front of that." Erestor pointed. "He seemed most single minded this morning. There was that gleam in his eyes that precluded any suggestions of prudence or caution. I think he will work until the memorial and maybe return there afterwards."
"I worry for him."
"We have all lost love ones here." Erestor's brother in law Orodriun had been lost and feared dead in his Oropher's fateful advance. How many of their woodland kin had fallen!
"He is one of the few who witnessed Gil-Galad's death and lived." Glorfindel said.
"Did you see what happened?"
"No I had been separated from them by the rising tide of Sauron's advance. I only heard the tale, just as you."
"He was not Gil-Galad the High King to Elrond." Erestor reminded him. "He was a father-figure, friend and family. He was Elrond's closest living relative. It is little wonder that Elrond is so filled with sorrow and torment. But he has already stepped up, igniting a fire within others to destroy all of Sauron's works."
"All within our power to destroy." Glorfindel corrected.
At midday, they held a simple memorial service for the High King. The scorched remains of the King's beautiful hroa, burned already beyond recognition were consigned to a funeral pyre amide prayers and songs. Many wept at Elrond's eulogy, so heartfelt and eloquently was it delivered. Then the Herald entreated all the elven warriors to take solace in the hard won end to the war and bid them to wipe the evidence of the enemy's stronghold from the land. Most importantly he lit a fire of hope within all to endure. His flowing words inspiring those to continue their High King's mission to overcome the darkness. All were motivated to search the ruins for survivors and to free any prisoners still trapped within. Many noble Lords spoke after Elrond, some dedicating song and verses in remembrance of their beloved King. The ceremony continued until dusk.
"Where is Elrond?" Cirdan asked the Golden Warrior, who regularly accompanied the half-elf. Cirdan and Celeborn had been discussing their next moves when both became aware of Elrond's absence.
"Is he not with you?" Glorfindel returned. He audibly sighed when Cirdan shook his head. "I will find him. He has taken to keeping a guard around him."
"A step he should have done centuries ago because of his position." Cirdan observed, watching Glorfindel depart. It was a short walk past the funeral pyre. Glorfindel paused a moment to add a prayer to Elbereth. Then he headed out towards the spot where the black gate once stood. Four guards kept watched over a lone figure. The tall proud shape of the peredhel stood stoically in the darkness.
"Lord Glorfindel!" One of the guards greeted him. Thaurn, if he rightly recalled. "Lord Elrond requested that we guard his privacy. He bid us to let no one approach." The wind swirled curiously around them, seeking and probing. Glorfindel watched the figure in the distance but there was no sign that Elrond was aware of his presence. Perhaps few really knew the peredhel well. Only a handful could recognize the torment in the silver eyes at the memorial service. Only a few were privy to the full depth of his character: his fierce loyalty, his biting wit, his deep caring. But Glorfindel, blessed with insight from the west, could recognize the depth of injury to Elrond's spirit and he was fearful for him.
"I wish only to check on him." Glorfindel said softly. The guard bit his lip as if contemplating how to delicately voice something that he knew would give offence to the renowned warrior.
"He asked specifically that you not approach." The guard replied, deciding that forwardness was the simplest path. He did not want to wake the balrog-slayers ire. But surprisingly the Golden Lord shook his head slowly and asked in a soft voice.
"Did he appear well?"
"As well as any of us." Thaurn replied. "He said something about requiring solitude." Glorfindel looked questioningly, but the guard could offer no further comments. Indeed, it appeared that Elrond stood as if in a trance, gazing quietly out to the ruins of the black tower. A slight breeze swirled around the still figure, rustling his robes and braids. Glorfindel watched for a long time and then turned to the sentry.
"Keep him safe."
"Of course, my Lord."
"Glorfindel!" Erestor shook the Vanya urgently. "Glorfindel!"
"What is it?" The Vanya yawned blinking.
"Can you not feel it?" Erestor would not dare disclose more. They had been sworn to secrecy. But his eyes displayed his agitation. Glorfindel sat up and closed his eyes, focusing on his surroundings. It was then that he noticed the faint metallic ring of power carried on the wind. His heart sped in response. To wield a ring of power required a singleness of mind and spirit. The events of yesterday surely had robbed Elrond of that, for the Herald had witness the horror of Gil-Galad's death and experienced brutality at the hands of the human prince, who was sworn to be an ally - a shield brother. To wield a ring now was to risk further injury to his spirit.
"I do not know. Come." They had barely made it out of the tent when Cirdan and Celeborn approached. Apparently, the two also detected the faint signs.
"Where is Elrond?" The Mariner said gruffly.
"I left him with a guard overlooking the black gate. He stood in reflection. I know not what he was contemplating." Glorfindel said. They belted on their swords and Glorfindel led them back to where he had left the guards. He was surprised to see that the guards had changed. Now no less than ten barred their way. Elrond still stood in the distance. The wind howled around them.
"Lord Elrond requested that no one interrupt him."
"When did he last talk with you?"
"An hour before dawn."
"I think it wise that you allow Glorfindel to pass." The Mariner ordered. Few dare disobey a direct order from the Lord of the Haven.
Glorfindel approached. The power radiating from the elf in front of him was palpable. Silently he stepped closer but in a blur of motion and strength, Elrond had knocked the warrior from his feet. A blade pressed close to his larynx. Glorfindel shivered when he realized his mistake of approaching unannounced. Elrond's silver eyes were not even focused on him but remained peering out towards the ruins.
"Elrond, it is I, Glorfindel." He whispered. The blade shook slightly drawing a drop of blood.
"Quiet, Vanya! You place yourself in peril by disregarding orders." The blade drew away. "Be silent. I listen to voices crying out for aid." The elf Lord paused then added softly in an anguished voice. "Where are they?"
Elrond stood and returned to his original position. The wind churned agitatedly around them. Glorfindel stood and moved near to his Lord, guarding him in silence. He feared for Elrond's sanity. "Could the peredhel really hear voices?" He wondered.
He felt the peredhel unleash the power of Vilya. Gil-Galad had gifted him the ring in secret. Only a handful of elves knew of its existence and even fewer were aware that the Herald bore it. Many times in the early years of the war Glorfindel watched the elf before him scout for information using the ring. He shivered as he recalled those dark days when he fearfully sat with his dagger ready, lest his friend fall to Sauron's will. He had sworn to send him swiftly to Mandos' care instead of risking him falling victim to the dark ones designs. Here, now he could feel the power that Elrond commanded. It rang through him, impressing upon him yet again how strong Eärendil's son had become. The war had forged him into a fearsome weapon. Gil-Galad had chosen Elrond to wield the ring, the most powerful of the three.
"For what purpose?" Glorfindel agonized. "What does he seek?" The wind raged against the sandstones, grinding relentlessly at the remaining structures. It was searching unceasingly for something. Glorfindel resolved to stay at Elrond's side and face whatever tasks lay ahead.