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Forging for Protection and Defense
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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2
II

II


The day came when the armies of the Last Alliance that had gathered within the vale of Imladris and above it along the course of the Bruinen marched east and south to lay siege to Mordor, and the smith went with them. There within Elrond’s camp, which was surrounded on three sides by the army of Gil-galad, he continued to craft armor and weapons, as well as reworking blades, replacing sprung rivets, hammering smooth dents and creases in plate armor, shields, and helms, and otherwise supporting not only his chosen lord’s people but all others who came to him with notched weapons and battered armor. Certainly the armor of Elendil came back to him on occasion, sometimes needing new leather or its finish retouched, or a dent removed. But what hurts it suffered were few enough—until that last day.

They’d finally made it past the Morranon and into Mordor itself, and on the day of the battle at the foot of Oródruin the smith, too, fought the Enemy’s creatures, a battle hammer in one hand and the sword he’d made himself as his journeyman’s project in the other. Master Mahtan had not understood the fascination with swords so many of the younger Noldor smiths showed, but even he had been forced to admit that this sword was a true work of art, with a deadly beauty to it and superb balance. The smith had wielded it many times over the two ages of the Sun he’d carried it within Middle Earth, and he used it now to good effect. But when Sauron himself entered the battle, the Ring worn over his taloned gauntlets, the smith found himself almost incapable of lifting it one more time.

All watched with horror as Ereinion Gil-galad and Elendil the Tall alone moved against this lord of their foes, the Elf with Aeglos held at the ready, Elendil with Narsil raised in defiance. But it seemed Sauron swelled in response to this dual challenge. He reached out, and just before Gil-galad came within the spear’s range the Dark Lord clasped his hand upon the Elven King’s throat, and a great gout of flame enveloped the Elf’s body. With a cry of despair Elendil sought to distract Sauron’s attention from Gil-galad, but as he rushed their foe Sauron struck him in the head with his powerful mace, almost negligently it seemed, and Elendil fell to the side, although Narsil still swung toward the Dark Lord’s armored form. Yet as Sauron struck at the Man, Gil-galad, whether in defiance of his agony or as a result of it could not be told, managed to thrust Aeglos’s great head into Sauron’s side, while Narsil cut deeply into the calf of the Enemy’s leg. There was a wordless roar of surprise as the Dark Lord found himself falling forward. Not in over an Age of the Sun had anyone managed to pierce his body, and now two had done so at almost the same instant!

But just as the ancient sword managed to wound Sauron the Terrible, its blade shattered as the life fled the broken body of the High King of the West. Isildur, who’d stood by, awe-struck by the vision of his father and Gil-galad’s joint attack on the Lord of Mordor, cried out in his grief, running forward to catch up the hilt of the broken sword, lifting it to strike at the hand raised to smite him, cutting from it the finger bearing the One Ring with the shard of the blade protruding from the still sound grip.

None could adequately describe what happened next as the integrity of Sauron’s body was breached and the Dark Lord’s foul fëa fled it with a soundless cry of shock and despair that nevertheless all could perceive, and a blast of power greater than any had ever known before appeared to knock every creature upon the battlefield or on the flanks of the Mountain flat against the unquiet earth. Oródruin flamed and raged, and the earth quaked, rose, fell, and split open in destructive patterns that swallowed up combatants from both sides indiscriminately.

Somehow Isildur managed to regain his feet, with his son Elendur behind him, and they were moving again toward Elendil’s body. Isildur reached down and took something into his hand, and then lifted the great form of his father as though it were that of a child, while Elendur leaned down to gather up the shards of Narsil into a fold of his cloak. Although Isildur seemed to carry Elendil’s corpse easily enough, yet his face showed evidence of intense pain. Others, including Elrond, were gathering about the desiccated remains of Gil-galad, and more than one face was shining with tears of shock and grief. The other two of Isildur’s sons who had fought at the side of their father and grandfather cobbled together a litter from someone’s cloak and two abandoned spears and held it ready to accept Elendil’s body. Once freed of that burden, Isildur reached for a helmet and dropped something into it, and afterwards held his hand as if it had been wounded by whatever it was he’d carried.

Some of the Enemy’s creatures still fought, although most of the Orcs were fleeing the battleground, suddenly losing their interest in menacing and killing Men, Elves, and those few Dwarves who’d fought with the Army of the West in the face of the desertion they knew from their own lord. The Nazgûl rode about in confusion, at last fleeing eastward in pursuit of their Master’s spirit. It was mostly Southrons and Easterlings that continued to fight, perhaps even more desperate in the knowledge that Sauron himself had quit the battle. Yet more and more of Mordor’s armies were throwing down their arms by the moment, and the exhausted and grieving Elves and Men who had formed the forces of the Last Alliance were glad for a reason to lay aside their own weapons and to deal with their losses.

The smith was back at his forge in the camp soon enough, and those who had at last quit the field began trickling into it, bringing their weapons to be repaired or sharpened one last time before their companies would begin the long longed-for return to their homes. These exhausted warriors brought rumors with them—Isildur had indeed cut the Ring from the hand of Sauron himself, using the remnants of the blade of his father’s broken sword, and he had picked It up ere he sought to bear his father’s body away. He had been badly burned by It, and his son Elendur had sought vainly to ease the pain and deal with the perfect circle of blackened skin in the center of his father’s palm. Why, the heat the Ring yet held from Sauron’s own hand had burned completely through the Man’s thick battle glove, even!

Realizing that Isildur held the Enemy’s great weapon within the helmet he now carried, Elrond himself had gone to him and drawn him away from his sons and captains, back to Oródruin itself, expecting the Man to cast the Ring back into the fire from Sauron’s own Place within the Sammath Naur. But there Isildur’s great will had showed itself, and he’d refused to follow the advice of the Lord of Imladris. “No!” he’d reportedly said. “I will not cast away this precious thing that has come to me this day, this symbol of our so costly victory!” Later in council with Elrond, Amroth, Celeborn and Galadriel Artanis, Círdan, Thranduil, his own sons and his nephew Meneldil, and the leaders of their Mannish allies he’d officially claimed the Ring as wergild for his father and for his brother Anárion, both of whom had died in the assault on the Enemy’s lands, calling the Ring the one perfect thing ever crafted by Sauron.

What could be done in the face of this claim? It was Isildur’s hand, after all, that had robbed Sauron of this focus for his power. And Elrond later admitted to his own people, including the smith, that he’d found himself fighting the almost overwhelming urge to grapple with Isildur for possession of the Ring, to take It by force, and to thrust the recalcitrant Man off the edge of Sauron’s Place into the liquid fire below. All that had stopped him was the realization that this impulse was not native to him, but was being pressed upon him by an outside will—the will of the Ring Itself!

“And to yield to that would have been the death of us all,” Elrond had said with a calm finality that was somehow terrible to hear. “It seeks to destroy us yet, working on our own fears, ambitions, and weaknesses. Terrible it was to see Isildur taken by Its power; but more terrible still it would have been had I taken It from him, for I would have been taken by It as surely as he was, and to even worse evil. For I am accustomed to wielding Power far greater than he can know, and so It would have caught me in the end. I pray I never see It again, for I find I fear and hate It even as I do he who crafted It!”

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