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Touch of a Vanished Hand
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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1
Touch of a Vanished Hand

Betas: Many thanks to skilled betas Malinorneź and Ignoblebard, and especial thanks to Ignoblebard for suggesting the title and the Tennyson poem


~~~

And the stately ships go on, To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanished hand, And the sound of a voice that is still!

From Break, Break, Break by Alfred Lord Tennyson

* * * *

S.A. 3319

Fists clenched, his black hair lashing in the wind, Elrond eyed the mercurial sea. The surf gently swelled and ebbed, horribly quiet now, when not a fortnight ago, it had boiled upwards into a monstrous green wave, rising higher than any tower in Gil-galad's realm, and roaring inland to come crashing down in a wreck of foaming madness.

Mithlond was spared but other regions were not so fortunate. At his King's bidding, Elrond led a sortie of a half-dozen elves westward along the coast to inspect the damage.They encountered scenes of desecration: flattened fields and villages, dead sheep, uprooted trees, springs poisoned by pools of seawater, crying women with hands uplifted imploringly, and now lying below them on the beach, a scattering of white bloated bodies, arms and legs flung about like rag dolls.

"This is . . . horrific," Elrond muttered to Gildor.

"It recalls to my mind when Thangorodrim was broken and the sea poured in, destroying much that had been beautiful," golden-haired Gildor said, pressing a hand against his nose to fend off the stench.

"Yes, so I have heard," Elrond replied. "Why must the innocent suffer in the wake of Ulmo's wrath? There are times when I wonder about the extent of the Valar's wisdom."

"Have a care, Elrond," Gildor warned. "Who knows what may move them to repeat the performance."

"I care not if they hear," Elrond replied. "And were I standing in Manw├ź's Halls upon Mount Taniquetil, I would say the same to his face." The breeze flared errant strands of Elrond's long hair into his eyes. Brushing them away, his gaze fell upon a bird lying twisted in a pool of seawater, surrounded by flattened bracken. He strode across the shifting sand and bent to look. Brown feathers streaked with black. A skylark. No longer would her song bless the morning. Caressing the stiff form with a finger tip, he was astonished to see one of the wings twitch.

"Perhaps best to end her misery," Gildor said coming up alongside.

"Hmmm," Elrond said, gathering up the frozen bundle of feathers into his warm hands. The creature blinked but could not even lift her head. Filled with pity, Elrond opened the side of his leather cuirass and thrust the lark under the layers of his woolen surcoat and chemise. Then, putting his fingers to his lips, Elrond whistled for his horse. "Well, Gildor, shall we see what manner of men have escaped the sea's fury, floating to our shores like so many rats clinging to a log?"

"Just remember to control your temper," Gildor cautioned. "Did Gil-galad not send us as ambassadors?"

"Nay, as scouts," Elrond growled. "There is a difference. The King has empowered me to make judgments as I see fit. The messenger said 'twas the N├║men├│reans who raised the Valar's ire, bringing this devastation. Think not that I shall welcome these interlopers to our realm. My brother Elros was a fool to believe in Men."

In the distance they heard wailing, first one voice, then others joined in. No doubt, the fisherfolk in the nearby village had found their lost children. Elrond glanced at Gildor's troubled face, then, with a snort, he set his foot in his stirrup, mounting his clean-limbed black stallion. "Come. The day wears and I wish to make Forlond harbor before nightfall."

Gildor nodded and beckoned with a leather-gloved hand for the others to follow.

As they cantered along the beach, Elrond felt the lark jouncing cold and still as death against his heart, mirroring the blackness of his mood.

* * * *
The harbor town of Forlond dripped with seawater.Streets rang with grating metal as elves busily shoveled away debris. It stank to the heavens of rotten fish and seaweed. Hovering overhead, an armada of gulls screeched and mewled. As Elrond approached the quay, he could see the battered remains of four magnificent ships moored in the harbor, their masts broken like so much kindling. He paused, curious. It was a miracle that anyone had managed to bring such damaged vessels to harbor through that tumultuous sea. Who was their captain?

A passing elf, arm bound in a white sling, directed them to the great hall where travelers gathered while awaiting passage. Elrond entered, accompanied by his entourage. Within the dim confines of the hall, nearly one hundred men, women, and children had sheltered. Many were gathered by a great hearth holding out bowls to be filled by two women who dipped up soup from a cauldron. The movement and cacophony of voices stilled when the elves entered and all eyes lifted in heart-breaking expectation.

Gildor's voice rang silvery clear in the smoky air as he announced them. "The herald of Gil-galad has come to meet with the refugees from N├║menor. Who here may treat with us?"

A boy ran from the room, feet echoing sharply upon the stone floor. Moments later several men emerged from a side door. One of them was very tall, a hale warrior in his prime. His hair was dark, interwoven by a scattering of silver; his beard newly-sprouted as if he hadn't had a chance to shave, a hairless face being the fashion amongst the N├║men├│reans. He was clad in a woolen cloak dyed an expensive scarlet and clasped with a pin of gold filigree. His glance leapt eagerly across the room to settle upon Elrond. Striding at the apex of the phalanx of men, he came forward, hand resting on the hilt of his sword. Although his face appeared drawn with care and sorrow, as he neared, Elrond could see starlight and memory abiding in those sea-grey eyes.

"I am Elendil, son of Amandil, leader of the Faithful," the tall man said. "I would bid you welcome, but these are not my shores. We have naught but broken ships to call our own."

Elrond inclined his head but did not offer his hand. "I am Elrond, son of E├Ąrendil, the Mariner," he said. "My lord Ereinion Gil-galad has sent me to learn your tidings."

The men at Elendil's side looked startled and there was a chorus of gasps: "Elrond!" "Tar-Minyatur's brother!" "Could it be?"

"My lord," Elendil said, and for a moment swayed uncertainly before going down on one knee, head bowed. "Forgive me, but this is akin to suddenly meeting a legend in the flesh."

"Do I appear so ancient, then?" Elrond said. His lips quirked.

"Nay, more's the wonder," Elendil replied.

Elrond rubbed his chin, musing. "Elendil, son of Amandil. A lord of And├║ni├ź?"

"Aye," Elendil said.

"Then we are kin from afar," Elrond said, "through Silmari´┐Żn, great-great granddaughter of my brother, Elros."

"That is so," Elendil said. "I'm impressed you know the bloodlines of our family."

"I have maintained some accounting of my brother's get," Elrond replied.

Elendil raised those star-lit eyes, and in them were many questions. Elrond felt a shiver of recognition. His heart hardened with an almost audible snick, like a key turning in a lock.

"Save your obeisance for the King," Elrond said. "I am but his errand-boy. The fire looks good to me. We have traveled long and have seen much sorrow in the wake of the wave's devastation."

"Of course, please come," Elendil quickly rose, nodding to the men at his side.

* * * *
After being served a cup of hot wine and a bowl of potato leek soup, Elrond and Elendil retired to a small room to speak in private. Gildor raised an eyebrow, but Elrond said to him quietly, "There are things better spoken without many listening ears. Keep close. I'll call if I need you."

The room had a large arched window that faced the harbor looking west. It was late afternoon, and the sun was lowering towards the horizon. Gazing sorrowfully at it, Elendil set his hand over his heart, and said, "To Westernesse, N´┐Żmenor, that was."

"To Elvenhome that is," Elrond replied, raising his cup.

"Are you so sure?" Elendil asked. "The ravages of the sea may have fallen even upon Aman."

"They have not, else I would know it in my heart," Elrond said. He sensed a brief stir against his chest and remembered the bird sleeping there.

Elendil lowered himself into a chair covered with pelts, beckoning Elrond to do likewise. A small fire burned in a nearby hearth, friendly and bright.Elrond stretched his hands to its warmth.

Elendil hesitated, then plunged in. "Lord Elrond, as you must know, my people are of the Elendili, faithful to our heritage, even in direct contradiction of the King's edicts, and chary of our lives as a result. Through no fault of our own, we too have suffered catastrophe and now have come to you in dire need. As you are no doubt aware, N´┐Żmenor is overwhelmed and at least for a time, we must make a new home for ourselves. Can you provide me an introduction so that I might speak with Ereinion Gil-galad about settling in these lands?"

Elrond set aside his empty wine cup, leaning back against the soft furs. Absently, he rubbed his palm over the pelt, enjoying the sensation. A rather bald opening gambit, he thought. This N´┐Żmen´┐Żrean puppy had begun badly. His words were polite, but his tone overly proud and presumptuous. "There is much to set in order in the realm," Elrond said. "I must go to the King with my report before I can consider your situation."

Elendil gave him a stricken glance and then cupped his chin as if considering what to say next. Elrond suddenly noted the ring on Elendil's forefinger formed of entwined serpents with glittering green eyes. Proud are the words, and all there turned, to see the jewels green that burned . . . Barahir's ring! Well did Elrond know his own family history and its many liaisons between men and elves. Apparently not all heirlooms had perished.

"Very well then, tell me your tale," Elrond sighed. "Some tidings have made their way to Gil-galad, but we are in the dark about the recent events prior to the rising of the sea."

"Aye, of course," Elendil said, seemingly relieved, and launched into his story. With growing horror, Elrond listened to Ar-Pharaz´┐Żn´┐Żs planned assault on Aman to wrest ever-lasting life from the Valar.

When Elendil finished, Elrond hissed. "Anathema! What has become of Ar-Pharaz´┐Żn and his fleet?"

"We know not," Elendil replied. "We've heard nothing of them since they disappeared over the horizon. But I can't imagine they escaped destruction. The sea's fury nearly took us down and we were far from N´┐Żmenor when it hit."

"And what of Sauron?"

"We believe he perished along with N´┐Żmenor. By the Valar" Elendil said softly, "you never saw such a sight. An immense wave, plumed with foam, rising high enough to block the sun. With a roar louder than any sound I´┐Żve yet heard, it engulfed N´┐Żmenor before racing towards us, lifting us high and then tossing the ships like feathers on the tide. Many times over the next few days, I feared we would capsize. We were swept far from our homes. I never saw the aftermath and so, once my ships are repaired, I should like to send one out to discover whether anything survived." He rubbed reddened eyes.

"You believe Sauron perished, but you are not certain?" Elrond said.

"I know he did not accompany the King, but remained on N´┐Żmenor. He said someone needed to stay behind to prevent attack while the fleet was gone." Elendil laughed mirthlessly. "But the King was so besotted, he didn't even see through that feeble excuse.Nay, I did not see what became of the Zig´┐Żr, whom you call Sauron."

Elrond tapped his fingers against the arm of his chair. "You say your family and followers set out with nine ships. Where are the others carrying your sons? Did they founder?"

"They landed safely in the South, nigh to the mouths of River Anduin."

"How do you know this?" Elrond asked, his suspicions flaring anew. "Do the D´┐Żnedain now speak with seagulls?"

Elendil opened his mouth, then appeared to change his mind. "We have ways to speak from afar that, in time, I may reveal."

Elrond leaned forward. "Secrets, Elendil? Some artifact of Sauron's witchery?"

A muscle in Elendil's jaw jumped. "Nay, my lord, but I have not endured the terror of the Zig´┐Żr's reign without learning to hold my tongue when I am not certain whether I speak to friend or foe." Their eyes met and between them the air seemed to crackle. "Tell me," Elendil continued in a hard voice, "did I err in steering my ship to Lindon, seeking Gil-galad's aid in our distress? I had thought he would prove an ally."

"Whether or not you are worthy of help is my task to assess," Elrond replied grimly. "And, as yet, I have . . . questions."

"Ask your questions," Elendil said mildly, but his brow furrowed.

"Once Sauron began committing the atrocities you have described, including convincing the King to break the ban of the Valar, why did you and your followers sit on your hands and do nothing?"

"Do nothing!" Elendil's eyes narrowed. "Is that what you think?"

"What else am I to think?" Elrond responded. "Surely you knew that Sauron, the Abhorred was a deadly creature, yet you permitted your King to bear him back to N´┐Żmenor. Then you watched ineffectively for over fifty years while he grew in power and did whatever he willed, spreading his foul magic even to these shores. Through his whispering, Ar-Pharaz´┐Żn made war on Middle-earth, exacted tribute, captured and enslaved some of our citizens, and yet it seems you and the other frail men of N´┐Żmenor offered little opposition to his tyranny. In fact most of your countrymen cheered him on while Sauron slaughtered you like animals. Have your kind become so soft and decadent that you cannot find your balls?"

"Have a care, my lord," Elendil warned, sitting upright. "Even though you and I are kin from afar, there are insults I cannot abide. Not after what we have endured. Do you think we didn't do everything we could to . . ."

"Elendil," Elrond interrupted in a voice of velvet-coated steel. "Surely you can understand that before I allow you and your people to roam freely in my sovereign's lands, I need to be certain of you and your intentions."

"How must I do that if you do not believe my account?"

"Convince me. Speak."

Slowly Elendil sank back in the chair. "Did you hear nothing I said?"

"Your tone is proud." Elrond folded his arms. "And pride it is that has proven the downfall of fair N´┐Żmenor. Are you asserting that all the Faithful of N´┐Żmenor together could not seize one Maia, no matter how powerful, and prevent this catastrophe?"

"Aye, that is what I am telling you," Elendil replied darkly. 'He cultivated many allies and toadies among self-important fools. And if my tone be proud, it is because that is all we have left. That and our lives."
Elrond leaned forward. "How am I to know that you weren't in league with Sauron and that is how you escaped?"

"What?!" Elendil's voice rumbled like an angry bull. Abruptly, he stood, hand straying to the hilt of his sword. "I cannot allow such an insult to pass."

At the same moment, Elrond sprang from his chair, pulling his sword with a snarl of steel. "Your race has squandered your gifts and thrown away everything for which my brother laid down his life. I do not thank you for that. And now you ask for permission to invade our country?"

"Invade!" Elendil protested, even as he drew his own sword. I came to you on bowed knee, humbled."

"Not humbled nearly enough, I'll wager." Elrond lunged, striking Elendil's sword with a clashing ring. "I know how men breed. In a few generations, you'll have us overrun.I love my King and my fair land. I will not risk them for proud strangers from fallen N´┐Żmenor."

"Would you risk it for kin?" Elendil asked, a quaver of desperation in his voice. Elrond held his sword ready, assessing, trying to get a feel for this man, but found himself staring at his eyes: grey as a storm-ridden sea, made sensual by the arch of eyelid, long lashes, and framing sweep of brows. How could such a feature have passed father to daughter to son through so many generations? Elrond struck Elendil's sword again.

Gildor charged into the room. Thrusting his sword under Elrond's, he deflected it upward. "Elrond!" he said sharply."Put up your sword. This accomplishes nothing."

For a smoldering moment Elrond and Elendil glared at each other. "Agreed," Elrond said finally."Forgive my rash temper. It has ever been my undoing." He sheathed his sword and bowed. "I must have some fresh air."

Before the astonished gaze of both Elendil and Gildor, Elrond strode from the hall, pushing his way through the crowd.Once outside in the chill twilight, he pressed a hand to his forehead to still the throbbing. It did not help. Walking past damaged buildings, he ventured further and further from the sound of voices, until he reached the wooden pylons of the docks. The cries of gulls and soft shush of waves sounded in the distance.

His thoughts fled to a time he had thought safely locked away, the night of betrayal.

* * * *
Seizing his brother's shoulder, Elrond yelled into his face. "Why didn't you tell me your decision last night?"

"I couldn't," Elros said, his eyes shifting away from Elrond's face.

"You are a coward!" Elrond cried. "You led me to believe you were making the same choice as I. All that talk of the rich heritage of the elves, of taking ship to Elvenhome, of how much you loved me. . . I thought we'd returned to the way things were between us, years ago."

"Things haven't changed; I still love you," Elros said.

"No you don't, you couldn't. Not and do this. And now it's too late, you've announced it to the messenger. Curse you, curse you!" Elrond punched his brother hard in the chest.

Elros gasped, sucking air into his lungs, then seized Elrond's arms."Stop it," he yelled.

"Once you swore that you'd never leave me. Do you remember?" Elrond cried. "Elerondo, dearer to me than my own life, you said. How could you even contemplate this?" He was raining blow upon blow on his brother's solid chest, his arms, his sides. Elros blocked the assault, fending his brother off as well as he could. Elrond snatched a sword from the armoury walls. I swear, I'll kill you before I let you go."

Elros grabbed another sword, shining like quicksilver in the flickering lamps, and sweeping it up to block Elrond's brutal blow. Elrond twisted away and went after him again, feeling nothing but all-consuming rage. The cold stone walls echoed and crashed with the sound of steel. Their shadows fled along the walls, rising to heroic stature, immense and dark. On they fought, thrust and parry through the cavernous building. Distantly, Elrond was aware of his gasping lungs, his burning muscles. Elros ducked and Elrond barely missed severing his head. Instead, his sword struck deep in the wooden pillar and held. But Elros flung down his weapon clanging on the stones. His eyes blazed."Would you really kill me, brother of my heart? Brother of my blood, my own flesh? Do it, then."

He stood tall, opening his arms wide to offer his chest as if in sacrifice. His hair had come loose from its plaits and hung wildly about his shoulders like a cloak of shadow. How beautiful he was! Elrond jerked free his sword and leaned upon it, gasping for air. He raised it, hovering the point over Elros' heart. For a moment, he contemplated plunging the blade deep, twisting it slowly. If he could not have his brother's love, then neither should anyone else. Blood throbbed in Elrond's ears, and he heard his brother's heart beating in syncopation. Was this, then, his heritage, the hot Noldorin blood of his foster-father, Maglor, kin-slayer?

Elrond dropped his sword. "Well you know me, brother. I could no sooner kill you than take my own life."

"I do know you," Elros said. "Better than anyone."

"Is there nothing I can say that will change your mind?"

"Nay, there is not," Elros said, gasping for breath. He plucked at his shirt, wet under the arms, pulling it away from his body to air it. Elrond could smell the lemony musk of him, familiar from countless nights lying close, wrapped in each others' embrace, knowing that together they were invincible.

"It's Gelireth isn't it?" Elrond said, slumping defeated to the floor. "I dreamed of it. Your f´┐Ża was pulling away from me, moving toward her. I ran after your shadow but you stood upon an island. Between us there erupted a widening chasm into which my love for you poured like a cataract."

Elros' gaze flicked away and Elrond knew his guess was correct. Upending a crate, Elros sat down. He rubbed alongside his nose with two fingers, a gesture Elrond knew well. You deserve the truth, brother, so here it is. A fortnight ago when I visited Gelireth at her father's house in Forlond, we talked long into the evenings. I was struck by how alike we were in our desires, our ambitions. She spoke of the opportunity that the Valar have offered her kin, that of building a perfect world in the newly risen land within sight of Elvenhome, a place where men could perfect themselves and become greater than they are now. She saw potential in me, Elerondo, where I hadn't seen it before. It gave me purpose. Made me feel I could atone for the blood shed by our foster parents."

"We cannot redeem those sins," Elrond said darkly, but even as he spoke he knew his cause was lost. He could see it in the shine of Elros'eyes, in the ringing certainty of his voice. This was Elrond's greatest fear come to pass. "When did you speak with the herald again?" he asked miserably.

"I gave him my decision last night before I came to you."

"And you were too craven to confess it to me last night?"

"I did not want to mar our time together with argument."

"Well, you had one thing right; it would have," Elrond said. He paused, aware of the transience of that moment, one pinprick in the vastness of time. Yet it weighed heavily. When they had eternity to live, what did one moment matter? Now time appeared as an enemy, striding armored from the mist. "Do you love her?" Elrond asked, hating how pitiful his voice sounded in his ears, and in his thoughts he added, Do you love her more than me, Eleross´┐Ż? Brother of my spirit, my heart?

"I do love her," Elros said. "I asked for her hand in marriage and it is now agreed. We spent the whole night making plans! Such plans! Perhaps overly grandiose." He laughed, then grew serious. "I will lead her people to the Land of the Star. Together, we will plant seeds in a pristine land and watch them blossom and bear fruit. We will build magnificent dwellings and seats of learning. Surely you can understand my desire to do that, Elerondo? You can visit us, all you like. I would want you to come."

It won't be the same. Despair crept through Elrond, chilling his hot blood. He said, "If you marry this Edain woman and accept her people as yours, eventually you will die and I will lose you forever. That means forever, do you hear? There shall be no happy reunion in Aman in some distant time." Elrond's voice rasped, trying to surmount the tightness in his throat.

Elros clasped Elrond's hands between his own, drawing them to his lips. "My only regret will be leaving you behind, dear brother. But that is a time far off. The messenger says the Valar will grant me many long years. I have found my life mate and my reason for living, so those years will be blessed. I had hoped that you would wish me joy."

"I have never wished you anything else," Elrond said. Abruptly, he pulled his hands from his brother's and stood. "I expect you have plans to make."

"Do you want me to stay the night?" Elros asked, looking up at him. Was that regret in his voice?

"I think it's much too late to suggest such a thing," Elrond replied.

In the small hours of the morn, Elrond found himself wandering on the beach. For a long time, he stood immobile, listening to the waves strive and hiss. Stars wheeled overhead, cold, implacable in their black vault. He saw his father sailing aloft, the white gem burning on his brow, remote, inaccessible. Did E´┐Żrendil regret his choice? Did he wonder what had happened to his sons? If they were safe? If they were happy? Collapsing onto his knees, he folded over, wracked with sobs. His face pressed into the cold sand, forming there a mask of anguish.

* * * *
Now, on the broken pier of Forlond Harbor, Elrond numbly stood, watching two gulls fighting, wheeling about one another, soft wings thudding.They landed on a pylon and one hopped onto the other. Elrond saw that they were mating.He smiled. Even amidst devastation, nature carried on. Behind him a voice said, "My lord, are you well?"

He turned, facing Elendil. "I am fine. I desired air, that's all."

"I doubt you need this air. What an unpleasant miasma," Elendil said, wrinkling his nose.

"True enough," Elrond said. "A result of your destructive sea."

"It is no more mine than yours," Elendil said. "I came to renew our conversation, Elrond, and to right an unfair accusation. You asked why we couldn't stop the Zig´┐Żr. I turn the question around. Why didn't Gil-galad come to our aid? We sent emissaries while we still could."

Elrond sighed. "Gil-galad discussed it with the Council and decided that we did not have enough warriors to defeat Ar-Pharaz´┐Żn. We did not want so much blood-shed. And, thinking in an insular manner, which is our wont, I fear, N´┐Żmenor did not pose a threat. You were far away and had not attacked us. The truth is that the elves have become more and more reluctant to deal with the affairs of Men. Had we known then what we do now, perhaps the decision would have been different. Ever has Sauron known how to divide our peoples."

"That is most certainly true," Elendil said. "We are often our own worst enemies."

There was a thoughtful honesty in his bearing. Was I wrong to bait him? "I want to believe you," Elrond said, "but trust comes hard to me. It is why my King sends me to deal in these matters, because I am rarely fooled."

"Trust is earned," Elendil said. "That I know." He paused, as if weighing various options on some internal scale. Finally he said, "Come, I will show you what we have saved from the wreck of N´┐Żmenor and then you may judge both me and my people."

Refusing an escort, Elendil himself rowed Elrond out to the largest of his four ships. Swiftly, they climbed a rope up the side and walked about the gently rocking deck.Elrond noted that he had some difficulty getting his legs at first, while Elendil managed as if being aboard ship were more natural than walking on land. Elrond marveled as they passed the remnants of broken masts and tattered sails. "How did you bring her ashore like this?" he asked.

"The storm drove us willy-nilly for many leagues. Once it abated, we were forced to row for nigh unto eight days," Elendil said. "It was exhausting. When we caught sight of Lindon's fair shores, we all fell down on our knees, and not just from thanksgiving. We hadn't an ounce of strength left."

"I can imagine," Elrond said.

"Follow me," Elendil said. He lifted a hatch leading Elrond down a narrow stair into the ship's hold, past one side with its benches for the rowers and slots for the oars, and thence through various compartments crammed floor to ceiling with trunks, barrels, and crates. Elendil opened a barrel and reaching in, handed Elrond a cloth packet filled with hard grainy objects. "Seeds," he said, from the plants unique to our land. We divided them between all our ships in case one would founder. We rescued a fruit of Nimloth, the white tree descended from ancient Galathilion and hid it from the Zig´┐Żr´┐Żs schemes in my son Isildur's ship."

Elrond nodded, impressed. "That was well done."

Elendil replaced the bag and the barrel lid. They entered another alcove filled with large wooden trunks. "Help me shift this," Elendil said. The two of them wrestled a trunk out from one of numerous slots built in the wall. Elendil withdrew a brass key from his belt and opened the lid. "We had limited space and had to devote much of it to food and basic necessities. But I made room for treasures that I thought too dear to lose, cognizant that we might be saving them from disaster."

With a feeling of anticipation, Elrond peered into the trunk at the carefully packed leather tubes of scrolls. He bent and selected one, blowing the dust from the cover, tapped the scroll free, and unrolled it. "It says it was written by Tar-Palantir. Sooth, it's poetry!"

"I knew him when I was a youth," Elendil said. "He was a rather fey bird, fragile, and prone to sudden fits that frightened those around him, so many people treated him like something breakable. But I loved him; he was so wise and beautiful. I had no idea before I looked through the archives that during those fits, he descried the future and wrote down his visions in the form of poetry. Many of them are uncanny for their accuracy.He foresaw the fall of N´┐Żmenor, speaking in riddling verse of being overtaken by a suffocating, emerald wave. At the time we thought he was describing his fits." Elendil shook his head.

"Remarkable," Elrond said as he leafed through the rolled paper."There are notes in the margins. I wonder whose hand this is?"

The corner of Elendil´┐Żs eyes crinkled. "It was rumored that you were a scholar. I can see it's true from the light in your eyes."

Elrond snorted, replaced the scroll in its tube, and dove into the trunk, pulling out one roll after another. "An account of the early days of the realm," he said excitedly. "I remember meeting this scribe, an insufferable bore, but he had a fine memory and wrote a fair hand. Oh, and here is an account of Tar-Minastir's mustering of the fleet to aid Gil-galad against Sauron." Eagerly he unrolled the pages. "I had no idea it cost so much." He laughed. "Or that Tar-Minastir had a sense of humor. Oh, that I had such books in my library in Imladris!"

"I saved ten trunks of records and keepsakes," Elendil said, watching Elrond carefully. "I fear this is all that is now left of the might and wisdom of N´┐Żmenor. It should be cared for, don´┐Żt you think? Come, I'll show you something else that may be of interest."

Elrond followed him to the next compartment, where Elendil examined labels scratched onto the lids, until he found the one he was seeking. Elrond hovered behind him, impatiently twisting his cloak while Elendil struggled with the key, which refused to turn in the lock. "By Oss´┐Żs foam-soaked scrotum!" Elendil spluttered, at which point the lock gave way.

Elrond chuckled. "I haven't heard that one before."

Elendil regarded him sheepishly. "Forgive me. Seawater is hard on metal and I am, after all, a captain of men used to hard language."

"No need to apologize," Elrond said, laughing. "I love a good curse myself. I never thought about it before, but I daresay Oss´┐Żs balls would be rather damp. And it appears that invoking them worked on the lock. What's inside? Open it."

"Hold your tail a moment. I always imagined the elves would have infinite patience," Elendil said as he raised the creaking lid, emitting a strong odor of cedarwood.

"I am only half-elven and therefore do not have the patience of other elves.That should have been obvious earlier."

"You mean when you drew a sword on me," Elendil chuckled.

"Aye, not a carefully considered decision," Elrond replied as he crouched down beside Elendil, peering into the trunk. Elendil removed a long object wrapped in black cloth, and with both hands, presented it to Elrond. Sliding away the cloth, Elrond revealed an ebony staff decorated on one end with gold leaf, and encrusted with jewels. "Elros' scepter," Elendil said. Elrond's heart rolled. "And here," Elendil unwrapped another object, "the diadem he wore in council."

The diadem was crafted of mithril, a circlet from which hung delicate chains set with tiny diamonds. It flashed and glittered as Elrond fingered it.

"He was always more fond of baubles than I was," Elrond said. "But even more than that, he was aware of their effect on those influenced by such things."

"An interesting insight," Elendil said. "Here, this may reveal another side of him. The note packed with this garment said he wore it gardening." He unrolled a jacket of simple black silk with lacing along the sleeves, showing some wear on the elbows. "I wanted to bring his coronation robe," Elendil said, "but it was much too large and heavy, so I chose this to remind us that the King, in addition to being a powerful and visionary leader, was a man who loved growing things."

Carefully, Elrond took the frail piece from Elendil and stared at it, trying to envision it filled by his brother's fair form. He lifted it to his nose and faintly through the smell of cedarwood he detected Elros' lemon-musk. Tears came to his eyes that he quickly blinked away. Looking up, he saw Elendil watching him, his expression soft. "He was dear to you, wasn't he?" Elendil said.

Mutely, Elrond nodded.

"So strange, really," Elendil said. "To my mind, this belongs to a venerable ancestor who lived so long ago that it is as if he were one of the Valar, and yet here you sit beside me, his brother, who knew him in the flesh."

"Indeed, I did," Elrond said softly.

"There are a number of other small things belonging to your brother," Elendil said, sorting through objects and then pulling another one from the trunk. "Here is a portrait of the royal family, Elros Tar Minyatur, his wife . . . ."

"Gelireth," Elrond took up his words, "and their first son Vardamir." He took the portrait from Elendil. The painting was a skilled representation depicting Elros beaming with fatherly pride at his young son held in Gelireth's arms. Elrond felt a lump form in his throat. Why had he spent so little time visiting his brother and enjoying his role as uncle? By stubbornly failing to reconcile himself with his brother's choice, he realized he had robbed himself of all that his brother became in his final years.

"I remember when my wife and I took our eldest son, Isildur, to be blessed," Elendil said, smiling. "He was wrapped tightly in a long white garment, something like this one."

"Where is your lady-wife?" Elrond asked.

Elendil cleared his throat. "She perished with the birth of my second son, An´┐Żrion."

"I am sorry," Elrond said.

"So am I," Elendil replied. "I still miss her though it has been many years now."

Elrond handed the portrait back to Elendil who held it up, glancing from it to Elrond. "You do look alike," he remarked.

"Not surprising," Elrond said huskily.

"I guess not. But he appears older than you in this portrait."

"He aged," Elrond said, "whereas I did not, having chosen the way of the elves."

"Hmm," Elendil nodded. "So our histories tell us. I always wondered why you chose differently."

"Perhaps we were not as alike as we appear," Elrond replied.

Elendil reached back into the trunk and pulled out a small volume bound in plain leather. "I think this may interest you as well," he said.

With trembling hands, Elrond opened it and instantly recognized his brother's bold hand with the backward slant. Carefully supporting the fragile spine, Elrond opened it to a random page and read a few lines. "His journal," Elrond said flatly.

Elendil nodded. "There are over fifty here. I couldn't find them all, so there are gaps, and it appears that he kept it less frequently as he grew older, but he seemed aware of the importance of leaving a record for the future. I've only glanced through a few of them. Some of what he writes is quite personal. I think you should have them."

Overcome, Elrond took the journal and pressed it to his heart as if he could somehow absorb his brother's presence from it. "Thank you," he murmured.

Perhaps it was the pressure of the book or the increased thrumming of Elrond's heart, but all of a sudden, the lark, forgotten in the depth of his woolen chemise, woke up and chirped.

Elendil straightened up, startled. "What was that?"

"I had birds for breakfast," Elrond laughed, reaching to the laces at the side of his cuirass, fumbling as he tried to pull them apart. "Oh help," he cried. "Curse of Mandos, it tickles. Ai! That hurt!" Indeed the bird was now frantic to be released and was attempting to peck herself free from the cloth prison.

"What is it?" Elendil asked, frowning, as he patiently tried to undo a knot while Elrond laughed, wriggled, and winced.

"It is a bird, truly," Elrond gasped. "Storm-tossed on the beach. I rescued her. Now I'm not certain it was wise."

"You stuck her under your armor? Indeed, that may not have been a good idea." Elendil's face lit with amusement."

"Best way I could think to dry and warm her," Elrond affirmed. "She was quite content for a long time. You didn't know she was there, until now. Did you? Ai! Quick!" He waved his arms, feeling quite silly, like a toddler asking to be picked up.

Elendil pried off the cuirass, flinging it to the floor, then wrenched the surcoat and chemise over Elrond's head. "Where is the bird?" Elendil asked.

Snatching the shirt from Elendil's hand, Elrond shook the creature out of a fold in the cloth. She landed in his lap, where she quickly righted herself, bobbed her tail, fluffed her feathers, and gave him a scathing look that made both Elrond and Elendil whoop with laughter, before swooping off to perch on a barrel.

"Have you taken hurt? Elendil bit his lip as he probed a bloody mark on Elrond's bare chest.

"Not so much," Elrond said, chuckling. "But stop, that tickles worse than the bird." He convulsed away from Elendil's hands. The lark took off again, banging into the bulkhead, and then fluttering from one side to the other of the small compartment. Elrond said, "Yon seed-cracker will hurt herself if we cannot get her free. Do you have a net?"

A fishing net secured, they chased the befuddled lark into a compartment filled with hanging hammocks, then to another loaded with barrels and gear. Each held one end of the net as they attempted to sneak up on the bird. Suddenly the lark flapped straight up to the ceiling, clinging to a rough beam and chirped. Both men, bent on throwing their end of the net over her did not watch each other and collided with a cracking of heads.

"Ai! Shite!" Elrond yelped, laughing and staggering back. Elendil grasped Elrond in his arms to steady him. His hands dropped to Elrond's waist, stroked bare skin. An unexpected thrum of sensation surged through Elrond.

"My pardon, Lord Elrond, I feel like a farmer's lad chasing geese," Elendil said, stepping back with an embarrassed chuckle.

"Aye," Elrond replied. "Look, there she goes.´┐Ż He streaked after the bird, holding the net between two hands. "I've nearly got her," he called as he entered another compartment. Then he stopped dead."Elendil, what is this?"

Perched on a black marble stand, nestled upon a cushion of black velvet, sat a perfectly-formed orb of dark crystal. As Elrond approached, its interior shifted to a swirling milky red cloud. Drawn to the mysterious depths, he stretched out a hand. Under Elrond's feet, the ship gently lurched in the incoming tide, and he grasped the stand to steady himself. The orb blurped several different colors, seeming to rise toward his warmth.

Elendil stood in the doorway, face suddenly schooled. "That, my revered great uncle, is a palantir, a seeing stone. It was a gift from the Eldar to my family during the dark times. That is the secret I spoke of."

Elrond realized his mouth was open and carefully shut it. "The palantiri are known to me. My foster-father Maglor used to sing of them, counting them among the wondrous creations of Feanor, but I have never seen one before. Marvelous. How does it work?"

Elendil came up to the globe. "There are seven palantiri. I have three and my sons each have two. We can communicate to some extent and that is how I know they arrived safely in lands to the south. A relief to a worried father. The stones require great strength of mind to use. Depending on your skill, you can command them to show you what is happening at this moment, or you may see the past or the future. The visions they give are often erratic, and seem to have a purpose apart from the user. Perhaps the Valar know why, as I surely do not. But then I have had little time to practice using them."

"Show me," Elrond said.

"Do you trust me, then? You do not believe this a work of the Zigur?" Elendil asked with soft irony.

"I would know if it were," Elrond said reaching out, strangely drawn to the glowing crystal.

"At first you must tune it to yourself. Put your hands on it."

Elrond did so and instantly felt a deep thrum go through his body as if plucking a giant harp string. Elendil's voice seemed to float from a distance.

"Now face the direction of the place you desire to see," Elendil said.

Where do I want to look? Of course, west towards N´┐Żmenor. Elrond leaned forward, focusing his mind.Show me, he commanded.I want to see if anything is left of my brother's home. Almost immediately, the globe went dark. A low shushing roar pounded in his ears, waves coming to shore. Eagerly his gaze leapt across the foam-laced surf until it seemed he was flying high above the sea. The surface shone rippling in the twilight like beaten silver. He saw the white trails of dolphins and flying fish breaking the surface. On he flew until he could discern, rising in the very midst of the ocean, a pinnacle of jagged rock as if it were the top of a drowned mountain. The image grew larger as he approached. There, there it is, the crest of Meneltarma!Elrond's gut clenched. But he had to know.Dive down, below the waves.

Water seemed to foam around him and then he plunged below the surface, dropping along the ragged slope of the mountain where he now descried marble columns, remains of a temple. As he sunk further into the depths, he saw the remnants of the fair city that had been the capital, Armenelos, with its vaulted domes and high walls, its wide roads, and drowned gardens. But instead of the bustle of traffic that he remembered, fishes twined sinuously through the drowned architecture. Feeling a great dread, he came close to one house and peered through a doorway where he beheld the shattered remains of dishes and furniture. A strange thumping sound made him look up. Along the vaulted ceiling a woman bobbed, her dress and scarf floating about her bloated body like seaweed. She bumped along the ceiling, then majestically turned, revealing her face, white and swollen like a melon. Her eyes were dark sockets filled with tiny crustaceans. Horrified, Elrond put a fist to his mouth, drawing back. He began to rise like a bubble, then heard an echoing voice calling, "Elerondo!"

Irresistibly, he found himself drawn past empty streets and buildings into a long corridor in the side of the mountain, deeper and deeper, past painted statues of ancient kings, gleaming marble tombs all resting within an eerie quiet. He knew where he was headed and did not want to go there, but thither was he drawn. The tunnel opened up into an immense chamber lit by shafts of light coming from remote windows high up. There in the center, on a platform, rested his brother's tomb with his image sculpted in marble upon the lid, as if lying in blissful sleep, hands folded upon his breast.

"I do not want to be here," Elrond said.

The eyes in the sculpture fluttered open, sea-grey with that sensual arch and sweep of brow. Slowly color flooded into the face until it appeared as Elrond remembered it in life. The mouth quirked into a fond smile."If you did not, then the palantir would not have shown you here."

"Always you must contradict me, Elerosse," Elrond said, feeling his throat closing with grief.

"Dearest brother," Elros said."Come to me. Let me warm my hands upon your face."

Elrond came closer, taking up Elros' hands and bringing them to his cheeks. "Look what you've done, now," he said. "Lying forever in silent darkness where I may never see you again. All your plans, all your works come to naught." His breath caught in a sob.

"Nothing lasts forever," Elros said. "This is as it was meant to be, Elerondo. Oh, but it was glorious while it lasted, was it not? My people did deeds, both great and terrible, but always memorable. And there is still my legacy, the sons of my sons of my sons and daughters and they will last until Anor and Ithil have dimmed and burned out. And you remain, my brother, still here to remember them all. And while you keep the flame of my memory alive, so do I live. This, I ask, take my remaining people to your breast and nurture and guard them, as you did the skylark. For the spirit of Sauron the Abhorred yet lives, and it is up to you to safeguard the future of my children in Ennor. Promise me you will do this."

Elrond nodded, his heart stricken.

"My brother," Elros continued, "please forgive me for leaving you. I chose to walk a different path from yours and on that path I found joy and purpose. You, on the other hand, nursed your grievances and sorrow. You must now allow them to take flight and find your own road, one that destiny has chosen for you. But you need not walk it alone. Open your heart to others who are fair and worthy."

Gently, Elros stroked Elrond's cheek as they gazed at each other for a long moment, all they had left now for eternity. Then Elros closed his eyes, pulling free his hands and clasping them upon his breast, as he slowly faded back into cold marble and everlasting sleep.

Elrond bowed his head and wept.

* * * *

Suddenly, Elrond opened his eyes, coughing and spluttering as if he had indeed been submerged in the depths of the sea. At that moment, the lark leapt into the air, bounced off the doorframe, and then found the opening, soaring upward and away with a joyful cry.

Elrond jerked his hands away from the orb as if it burned him. Elendil was watching him gravely.

"What did you see?" Elendil asked.

"N´┐Żmenor, drowned deep," Elrond replied and his eyes again pricked with tears.

"Strange that I was not able to see it, though I looked," Elendil said, his face going grey. "Is there nothing left,then?"

"A small pinnacle of the Meneltarma still rises visible above the water. All else is gone," Elrond said. "Akallab´┐Żth."

"Akallab´┐Żth," Elendil said dully. He sat down on a barrel, looking into the distance as if lost. "So much that was wondrous, gone, snuffed out," he said. His eyes brimmed.

"Not everything," Elrond said. "You, in your wisdom, have saved some of it." He went over to Elendil. Bending, he took hold of his shoulders, drawing him upright. "I was o'er hasty in my words before and now would like to amend my error. You asked for my help in aiding your people.I have considered and made my decision. I will recommend to Gil-galad that he aid you in settling lands to the north and east of here, to rebuild some part of proud N´┐Żmenor, and further, I pledge to protect you and your people with my life. Now, take the name of Elf-friend that you already possess and have doubly earned."
And with that, he leaned forward, and kissed Elendil full on the mouth.

Elendil seemed bemused. "Whatever did you see in the palantir?" he asked, looking searchingly into Elrond's face.

Elrond smiled. "Did you know, you have his eyes."

The End

~~~

First published in Feb. 2010 for j_dav in the My Slashy Valentine Exchange
Request: Elrond/Elendil. "Elrond is Gil-galad's man in the dealings with the N´┐Żmen´┐Żreans who have fled east. Include Elrond's loneliness following Elros' choice."

Believe it or not, I began this story before the catastrophe in Haiti.It was informed by the events in the Akallab´┐Żth, rather than current events.Sometimes life collides with art.

Re: Elrond characterizing the tidal wave as coming from the Valar. I know that the Silm says the Valar laid down their governance and Eru caused the destruction of N´┐Żmenor, but at this point, I would think that Elrond and company would have no way to know that.

Elerondo is Elrond in Quenya; Eleross´┐Ż is Elros.

"Proud are the words, and all there turned to see the jewels green that burned . . ." description of Barahir's Ring from the Lay of Leithian, History of Middle Earth, Vol. III. The Lays of Beleriand. Ed. by Christopher Tolkien, 1985.
The entire stanza is as follows:

"Proud are the words, and all there turned
to see the jewels green that burned
in Beren's ring. These Gnomes had set
as eyes of serpents twined that met
beneath a golden crown of flowers,
that one upholds and one devours:
the badge that Finrod made of yore
and Felagund his son now bore . . . "

Lay of Leithian, Canto IV, lines 1096-1103

Re: the significance of Barahir's Ring.Finrod Felagund (who would be a distant cousin of Elrond's) gave the ring to Barahir of the House of B´┐Żor, who were Edain, in reward for saving his life in the Battle of Sudden Flame (Dagor Bragollach). It was formed of two entwined serpents with emerald eyes and signified eternal friendship between their houses. Barahir was, of course, the father of Beren and was therefore Elrond's great great grandfather through his mother, Elwing. To Elrond, this ring would be a symbol of his own mixed blood, both elves and men, as well as those alliances between races that characterized his family, and that reminder, most likely, caused him to listen to Elendil. It is the same ring that Aragorn, the heir of Isildur, wore many generations later.

Re: the Palant´┐Żri: I know there are several different versions of their history. I have taken the version that exists in the Silmarillion.

Re: ´┐ŻNow, take the name of Elf-friend that you already possess . . .´┐Ż´┐Ż´┐ŻElrond means that the name Elendil translates to lover of elves, or elf-friend, but perhaps there is another subtler meaning as well.


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