The Herald of the King
"Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light."
~ Happy Birthday, Evendim ~
Ash, bare earth and rock... Elrond, Herald and Second-in-Command to King Gil-galad, forced his mind to stroll down the lanes of better locals, whisking him away from this cheerless place of death, dirt, and choking dust as he picked his way across the stony ground towards the tent of the High King. Elrond, and his brother Elros, had been virtually raised by Gil-galad and Círdan the Shipwright. He could not love his king more.
Elrond sighed now, for he carried ill news. For six long years the armies of men and elves had been fighting the forces of Sauron in the siege Barad-dûr. Not since the loss of Oropher and so many of his warriors at the Battle of Dagorlad, six years previously, had there been such a bleak day.
The herald pulled back the edge of Gil-galad's tent flap, admitting a scorching breeze that caused the beeswax candle inside to flicker dangerously. Seeing the dejected slump of the proud king's shoulders told Elrond more than he needed to know. "May I enter, Sire?"
Ereinion Gil-Galad, High King of the Noldor, looked up from his travel desk. "Of course, Elrond," he said tiredly. "My Herald and my friend, you are always a welcomed presence."
"I may not be this time, Hîr Nín." He paused, and when he tried to speak again, his mouth had gone so dry that his words only came out a croaked whisper. "I am grieved to tell you that Prince Anárion has fallen."
Shaken, Gil-galad dropped his head to cradle it in his battle callused hands. "Will these evil days never end?" The agony in his voice was heart-wrenching.
Elrond crossed the tent in three quick strides and knelt beside his king's seat. "Keep faith, my Lord, we will prevail."
"Yes," the monarch nodded tiredly, "but at what cost? Elendil's younger son leaves four children who are now fatherless." Gil-galad looked at his Herald with red-rimmed eyes. "Are not the days of the second-born short enough without me asking countless numbers of them to throw away their most precious gift in a war that seems never-ending."
Elrond could easily sense the great river of sadness running beneath the words of his king. "We have not the forces necessary to defeat Sauron without the sons of men."
Gil-galad sighed. "I know, my friend; I know. I remind myself of that fact in the long, lonely watches of the night, but in the face of such tragedy it rings hollow." The king rose gracefully from his seat. "Come, we must pay our respects to Elendil."
Elendil paced the confines of his tent like a caged beast of Harad. Anger and heartache coursed through his veins, warring with each other. He stopped pacing to glare at Isildur, his face a study in downward curves – a long mustache, a hooked nose, and a drooping mouth. "Why did Anárion lead that patrol?" he demanded for the fifth time.
"Father," beseeched Isildur, "I have told you that I do not know. Anárion chafed at being the younger son; perhaps he thought to prove himself."
"Prove himself?" thundered Elendil. "He had nothing to prove. He was my son, and I loved him. He was father to four children, husband to a loving wife, and beyond that he was a brave and skilled warrior. What was he thinking?" His anger spent, the king collapsed on his cot, elbows resting on his knees and his head buried in his hands as grief finally took hold.
Isildur debated how best to console his father. Thinking to give the king some privacy, he decided to depart, only to be stayed by Elendil's voice.
"Do not leave me, child."
Before Isildur could respond, the sentry on duty pulled back to tent flap to announce the High King and his Herald.
Elendil composed his features, the better to greet his noble visitors. Personal grief or not, he was a king, and he would not show weakness before the first born.
Elrond held back the flap so that the High King could enter, and then followed. Both bowed to the King of Gondor and Anor, who returned the formal greeting.
Ereinion then amazed all present when he tenderly embraced Elendil, for such informality amongst the kings was most irregular, even given their close alliance. Elrond's normally enigmatic countenance betrayed astonishment verging on awe. "My heart breaks for you, Elendil," comforted the High King.
Elendil, who had been equally astounded by the High King's actions, found himself weakening. When he would have pushed back from Gil-galad, the elf refused to let go, and slowly the mortal king simply allowed himself to be comforted by an equal, as great soundless sobs wracked his body.
Isildur and Elrond slipped quietly from the tent to allow the kings time alone.
The inky sky was made more so by the fume issuing forth from Mordor. The blackness of the night was nearly impenetrable. Not only were the stars obscured, but a sea of formless clouds swallowed Ithil as Elrond and Gil-galad returned to the High King's tent in the camp of the elves.
Gil-galad stood stock still has Elrond removed his golden hauberk, pauldrons and bracers. That duty done, he herald reverently lifted the golden coronet, crafted by Celebrimbor himself, from the King's head and set it back inside its gilded box. When he was at last down to his tunic and leggings, the king sat down gratefully on the crimson chaise that he had allowed to be brought to war with him. It was his one true indulgence, and one that Elrond had insisted would be worth the trouble it took to move it around. "Ayee Roni that was a difficult visit to make."
"The loss of a child is more painful to contemplate than one's own death," admitted Elrond.
"I begin to despair," groaned Gil-galad, "that this benighted war will ever end."
"Only Ilúvatar knows all ends, my friend, but to allow the darkness to spread unchecked is unthinkable. We both know this."
"Yes," conceded the King, "we do, but it is on nights like this one that the weight of leadership is indeed heavy."
"Then perhaps I might make it a little bit lighter," suggested Elrond, poking around through the portable larder.
"Our food grows scarce, and the supply wains are delayed," observed Gil-galad dryly, as he watched Elrond's search. "I ordered all my extra stores to be distributed amongst our warriors. Brigade Commander Erestor is seeing to it as we speak."
"There is no bread, but I may still be able to provide my King with a suitable repast," smiled Elrond. "I have need of only a stone, which, it seems, are in no short supply here."
Ereinion looked startled for a moment, and then a smile of remembrance graced his features. "Of course... I'd forgotten."
Mithlond, many years prior...
"Elros, come down from there!" bellowed Círdan. "What am I to do with you? Climbing! You are always climbing!"
"I cannot help it," giggled Elros. "I must make up for my brother's more sedate ways!"
Lounging against a pile of spare ship's rigging studying a book was the brother in question. Elrond was not bothered one whit by Elros' bluster. His gregarious twin was simply too full of life and love to ever mean his words spitefully.
"If we are to go camping, I need both of you to help me," admonished the shipwright.
"Camping?" exclaimed Elros.
"Camping?" echoed Elrond. "We are truly going camping?"
"Where are we going?" grinned Elros, fairly dancing with excitement. "Will it be on board ship?"
"We have plenty of soft grass right behind our home, and we will still be able to hear the waves hitting the quay."
"That is perfect," exclaimed Elros. "If we cannot camp on a ship, then being near the water is best."
"May we have a tent?" asked Elrond, tentatively.
Círdan smiled down at his little ones. "Yes, we may certainly have a tent, and we shall make a special meal that only I know how to prepare."
Elros jumped up and down in excitement. "I will go and gather everything we will need, El."
"Will you bring my books?" asked Elrond anxiously, as Elros ran towards their home.
Círdan tousled Elrond's hair affectionately. This youngling was over serious. Perhaps he could help to change that. "Elrond, will you find me a smooth, round stone so that I may make our dinner."
Elrond's eyes grew large. "A stone…"
"Aye, a stone," replied Círdan calmly. "A nice round one, if you please. Bring it to the back lawn when you find the perfect specimen. Now off with you. I wish to begin preparing our meal."
As Elrond began searching along the rocky shoreline, Círdan walked towards their campsite. Hidden behind the vast log home with the sweeping porches was the tent, already set up and prepared for the adventure.
Gil-galad had a roaring fire going, boiling water in a huge iron pot suspended above it, as the stars began to twinkle into sight in the growing twilight. Behind him the blue and golden striped tent billowed in the soft breeze. The colors, chosen for the sea and the sun, were Círdan's favorites. "Are they disappointed that we do not go further away?" the king asked.
"No," laughed the shipwright. "Elros is packing, and Elrond is searching for a stone."
"Ah," laughed Gil-galad, "so we are having stone soup tonight."
On the back porch a door slammed as Elros came out dragging a canvas bag stuffed full of books, toys, and anything else the young one thought might be needed on their grand adventure. The overflowing bag was so heavy, that Elros was huffing and puffing by the time he reached the fireside. "This…is…our…first…camping…trip," he panted as he dropped the ties with which he'd been pulling the tote. "Where is El?" he asked, glancing around fearfully.
"Here he comes," gestured Círdan, pointing towards the quay. "It is quite safe here."
Elros relaxed as soon as he saw his brother. "I have brought your books," he called.
"Thank you, El," Elrond said as he joined the group. He walked over to Círdan and held out his hand. Balanced on the small palm was a smooth stone about the size of a walnut. "Will this do?" he asked curiously.
"That is perfect," nodded Círdan after examining the stone for a moment. "Now, drop it into the pot."
"Why is El putting a rock into the water," asked Elros, as Elrond followed the Shipwright's directions.
"Have I never fixed you stone soup then?" asked Círdan. "Well bless my beard," he exclaimed, stroking the famous appendage, when both boys shook their heads.
"I do not think stone soup will taste good," worried Elros, one of his famous storm-cloud frowns settling on his features.
"El," scolded Elrond, "you must not say that. We are grateful for what we have to eat," he assured Círdan and Gil-galad.
The Shipwright stirred the water with a long wooden spoon as Ithil grew large and bright above them, painting the area with a soft silvery glow.
Gil-galad stood, stretched, and nonchalantly leaned over to smell the soup. "It is a shame we have no potatoes to add. I always like potatoes in my stone soup."
Elrond and Elros looked at each other in wonder. "But Gil-galad, there are some potatoes in the cupboard."
"Well so there are," beamed the elf. "I completely forgot. Will one of you bring a few out for us?"
After the potatoes were added and simmering, the boys were beginning to brighten up at the new aroma wafting up from the pot.
As the evening continued different ingredients were added to the "stone" soup as either Círdan or Gil-galad would think of an addition that would enhance the flavor of the dish. Onions, carrots, celery and salt all were added to the mixture as Elrond and Elros hurried to find the treasures.
When, at last, the soup was finished and eaten, Elrond stood beside Gil-galad, leaning into the elf's embrace.
"Was the stone magic then," asked Eros, as he lay on his stomach absently mindedly plucking up blades of grass and tossing them into the fire.
"What do you think, Elrond," asked Gil-galad, hugging the child to him. "Was the soup magic?"
Elrond's too solemn eyes blinked as he duly considered what he had been asked. "I think," he said slowly and thoughtfully, "the magic was in us, because we shared what we had."
A smile of pride graced Gil-galad's features. "Well said, young one. You are wise for your tender years. The more we give away, the more we have to keep."
"Huh?' puzzled Elros.
"Elrond understands," nodded Círdan, "and one day you will, too, knucklehead." The elf leaned over and patted the child on his backside, causing Elros to giggle.
Elros jumped up and crawled onto Círdan's lap to stroke the elf's beard and wheedle a story out of him.
As Elros listened to a story, Elrond slipped his arm around Gil-galad's neck and whispered, "I love you, Gil-galad."
Barad-dûr, the High King's tent.
"I have not Círdan's "magic" to add, but I think, perhaps, this will do," teased Elrond, as he ladled a generous portion of the potato soup into a golden bowl for the king. "Lay aside the worries of the day and enjoy this simple fare."
"To a hungry elf, this is a feast," replied Gil-galad, as he took the proffered bowl. "Rich I may be, this eve, but my greatest treasure is my herald and my friend. Thank you, Elrond."