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Forging for Protection and Defense  by Larner

For many for their birthdays--Erulisse, RS, Elveses, Starlight, and Radbooks.  This has been in the works for a few weeks--I rejoice it is now ready for posting!

Forging for Protection and Defense

I

            The Elven smith examined his lord’s guest with interest.  It was long since he’d been asked to forge armor for anyone, much less for a Man; but this was the descendant of Elrond’s brother Elros for whom he was to devise protection, after all.

            “Elendil the Tall, they name you?” the smith asked.  “A name that was well deserved, I must say.”

            The Man returned a wry shrug.  “It seems that my body was reluctant to stop growing,” he answered.  “I was surprised to find that I am taller than Elves as well as other Men.”

            The smith nodded.  This would be challenging, constructing suitable armor for this giant of a Man.  No armor available within Elrond’s house would fit him, however.  “Then tell me, Lord Elendil,” he began, “what are to be the emblems of the kingdoms that you and your sons are founding?  And this is the sword you will bear?”

            “Yes, the sword Narsil, which was given me by my father Amandil ere he sailed west to beg the mercy of the Valar, and that came to him from our great-father Elros Tar-Minyatur himself.  How it came into his hands I am uncertain, although it is said that it was perhaps a gift to Barahir or Beren from Finrod Felagund in the depths of time.”

            The smith paused in his reaching for the sword as he lifted his eyes to meet those of the Man.  A muscle in his cheek tightened.  I should have foreseen that this would be true, he thought.  Telchar’s work.  It had been so long since he had seen and examined the blade, which had been gifted by the greatest of all Dwarf smiths to Findaráto in thanks for aid that the great King of Nargothrond had given to the Dwarves in helping stave off an attack by the Black Enemy’s forces.  The Elf had once studied in Aulë’s forge, and had heard from the Smith of the Valar himself the tale of how he’d fashioned the Dwarves as his own peculiar people.  How proud he must have been of Telchar and the Dwarf’s great skill!

            It was certain that this sword had never been intended for use by a Dwarf, considering its great length.  He took it into his hands and pulled it from its sheath, looking once more on the mithril inlay that named the sword and that formed the runes of protection and power set upon its blade, and the devices that proclaimed it the sword of Kings!  Elendil and his sons planned to found great kingdoms here in Middle Earth intended to rival or perhaps even best their lost realm of Númenor?  Then it was likely that this blade would see much use, for Angmar would not respond well to the founding of a new realm to its south.

            He reverently ran his fingertips down the blade, and stopped.  There was evidence of a curse laid upon the sword, and the sword was angry about it!  He looked again into Elendil’s face.  “Did Sauron ever touch this blade once he was brought to Númenor?” he asked.

            “Sauron?”

            “I believe you might have known him to be called Zigûr, the Wizard Pharazôn took back to the Star Isle in chains.”

            The Man’s face darkened.  “Him, the accursed one?  Yes, he set hands upon it once, back when my father was commanded to come to Armenelos to the dedication of the temple he had built to the worship of the one he named the Giver of Life.  My father wore Narsil upon his hip, and Zigûr insisted on examining the blade, daring to set his hand upon the bare steel.”

            This confirmed it, then.  “He sought to weaken the sword, but could not overcome the spells set upon it at its forging.  It will last as long as the hand holding the hilts is living; but should the wielder fall, then the blade will most likely fail as well.  But such are the spells set upon it that even though broken it will still seek to cause great hurt to the one who slew its bearer.  Keep it well, and instruct your sons that if it should ever break, its shards must be kept carefully until the time is come for it to be forged anew.  Then it will serve ever to avenge itself upon its enemy’s creatures.”

            Elendil was made thoughtful by these words, and agreed that he would heed them and see his sons and grandsons so instructed.  And at last the talk turned to the emblems that he, Isildur, and Anárion had agreed should symbolize the twin realms they had envisioned.  Designs were sketched and considered, and in the end the manner in which the armor would be decorated was agreed upon.  The steel would be blackened that starlight should not betray the wearer should he seek to approach the enemy in the hours of night, but on it the image of Nimloth the Fair, felled at last on the orders of Pharazôn and burned upon the altar of Sauron’s temple, would proclaim its wearer one of the Faithful, returned now to Middle Earth but still as dedicated to the Valar and true, wise rule as had been Elros himself.  The White Tree and the seven stars—good choices.

            Long he worked to craft the armor for the High King of the Men of the West, and as his mind entered the Path of Dreams he often saw Elendil wearing it, although at times he saw another, not quite as tall but certainly as tall as the tallest of Elves, wearing it, one who reminded him more strongly of Elros Eärendilion as he’d seen him last at the end of the War of Wrath, only bearded.  A glimpse, perhaps, at the future?  Only time would tell.

 

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!”

III

            Three days after hearing those words, the smith looked up from his forge to see that the two younger sons of Isildur had entered, bringing with them the shards of their grandfather’s sword and his armor.  The helmet where Sauron’s hammer had hit it was deeply indented, and that blow had been enough in and of itself to have caused Elendil’s death.  They laid out the shards of Narsil and the armor upon a worktable, and there he examined them closely.

            Elrond had followed the Men, these, his distant kinsmen, into the forge, choosing to watch from near the doorway but remaining quiet for the moment.

            At last the smith looked up to meet the eyes of the two Men.  “What is it you would have me do?”

            “Can you mend these?” asked the older of the two.

            “The armor, yes—I can straighten and reinforce it and renew its finish, even the helm.  But the sword----”  He looked at it thoughtfully for a moment.  At last he continued, “I can melt the steel, separate the mithril of the sigils and runes, and forge a new blade from it, but I cannot remake that which was made by Telchar.  It would be little better than any other sword, you would find.  To recreate what was broken—in time, perhaps I could assist to recast the Sword of Kings.  But to do that requires the cooperation of a descendant of Telchar himself, one who is a descendant of he who last bore and he who last used the blade, and the goodwill of all of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth on its purpose to protect and defend. 

            “The sword Narsil was angry that Sauron sought to curse and weaken its blade when it was carried yet by Amandil, and so it blazed the brighter as your daeradar struck at the one who’d profaned it, and ere all power left it, it answered to your father’s hand, removing perhaps the very finger that sought to sully it on the Star Isle.  The spirit forged within the blade by Telchar himself slumbers deeply now that its purpose has been won, and might be renewed within the blade should it be reforged as I have indicated.  But by myself—that is beyond my skill.”

            “But it has been told us that you worked with Celebrimbor himself in Ost-in-Edhil,” the older brother protested.

            “And so I did, until the one naming himself Annatar came there in the wake of Master Elrond’s warning to beware of him.  Celebrimbor was hungry to resume the pursuit of the knowledge of how to craft tokens of power, and so refused to listen to Elrond’s warning, and allowed him entrance into his councils and received the instruction offered.  But I could sense the darkness in the creature, sensing anew the echoes of ambition and anger that inspired our Lord Fëanor to rebel in Aman, and I would not stay, and so came away to Imladris to serve as master smith there.

            “That was the one,” he said, prodding the haft of the sword with a soot-darkened finger, “who sought to weaken the blade that it would break at a time when its strength was most needed.  But when Telchar gave this blade into the hands of my Lord Findaráto, he told him that his Father Mahal himself gave him instruction as to how the blade was to be forged, and that it was intended ever to be used in defense against creatures of darkness.”  He looked up to meet the eyes of the two princes of Men.  “The spirit that blessed this blade would be reawakened, for it desires ever to oppose the forces of evil.  But if I seek to reforge it on my own, that spirit will be ever separated from the weapon, and would so be lost.  Oh, it would be a fair blade that I would forge for you, fair and strong; but it would no longer be what it was before.  It would no longer shine in the hand of the King who wielded it as it was used to turn back the foe.  It would be but a sword and would answer any hand that took it up.”

 *******

            The armor they left, but they put the shards of the sword back into its sheath and took them back to their father for further consideration.  The armor was repaired and the helm worked back to its proper shape and strength, and it was borne away by the soldiers from Gondor and Arnor who followed Isildur back to the city of Anárion and whatever rites had been decided upon for the body of the High King of the Dúnedain.

            Elrond’s people followed two days later along with the forces come from Laurinand, Lindon, and Mithlond, it having been decided that they would take the western road north.

            They were told in Minas Anor that the High King Isildur had gone westward with those of Elendil’s own household and the dead King’s grandsons to entomb the body in a place long ago chosen by Elendil himself as the proper place to lay his remains to rest, a hallow in the White Mountains that had been determined to be at the center of the lands over which he had ruled.

            Elrond and his party, Lord Celeborn and his wife and certain others, chose to remain in Gondor until the High King should return, while the other Elves returned northwards to their own lands, save for those few who headed south toward Edhellond.

            Those in Isildur’s party were quiet and thoughtful when they returned to Minas Anor a seven day later.  In a solemn ceremony Isildur planted a seedling of the White Tree that grew in Osgiliath in the King’s Courts at the top of the city of Minas Anor to his brother’s memory.  The following day they removed eastward to Osgiliath, at which time Anárion’s son Meneldil was invested as sole King of Gondor by his uncle as High King of the Dúnedain.  Meneldil was dressed in his grandfather’s armor as Isildur placed the Winged Crown upon his brow, although he had not the same stature as had Elendil the Tall; while Isildur wore the Elendilmir and carried the Rod of Annúminas.  During the feast that followed Meneldil’s coronation Isildur confided his plans to return northward soon to take up the rule of Arnor in his father’s place, and gave into Elrond’s hands letters to present to his wife and his youngest son Valandil, who had remained all during this time in Imladris to ensure their safety during the long war with Mordor.

            “Tell them I shall return soon enough,” he requested.  “I must remain here for a time to instruct my nephew in how he should order his kingdom during my absence and to take counsel with him as to how we shall commune with one another and coordinate our vigilance against our joint enemies once I take up my father’s seat in the North.”

            “Then shall we look for your coming up the North Road perhaps in half a year of the Sun?” Elrond asked.

            Isildur shook his head.  “Nay,” he said.  “I think to return to the North by way of the valley of the Anduin.  I would see how those who dwell in Rhovanion and northward are ordering their lands, and survey the river valley so as to perhaps establish a new road east of the Mountains of Mist.  Look for us to return over the High Pass in perhaps eight months.”

            Elrond appeared to his smith to be unsettled by this plan, while the Lady Galadriel Artanis straightened in her seat.  “Is it wise, do you think,” she asked, “to follow the river when so many of the Enemy’s creatures fled into the wilderness north of Mordor when Sauron’s power fell?  Nay, my Lord Isildur, it would be better, I deem, should you choose to return by way of the western route.”

            Isildur laughed.  “And what threat do the orcs of Mordor offer Men now, now that their Dark Lord is gone, his spirit fled his dread lands?  Are we to dread wraiths such as Sauron has become?”

            “Do not all dread the power of his Ring-wraiths?” Celeborn interposed.  “Sauron was ever greater than they, and may prove powerful enough once he becomes accustomed to his new estate and thinks to reestablish himself.  Did not Elrond counsel you that there is always the chance that so long as his Ring remains in Its current form within Middle Earth that he can return?  So much of himself did he invest within It at Its forging!”

            An unhealthy gleam appeared in the Man’s eyes at the mention of the One Ring, and he responded, “So, you still would have me destroy the one creation of Sauron that is fair and perfect?  You would have me cast away the price I have claimed for the death of my father and brother at the hands of Sauron’s creatures?  Do you think to govern the kingdoms of Men through me?   Or do you believe that I will seek to use It to force the other races of Middle Earth to submit to my own rule?”

            Galadriel refused to be intimidated by his words.  “You think to return northward through lands to which Sauron’s creatures fled bearing the token of his power upon your person, or so I must surmise.  Do you not realize that they will be drawn to what they can sense of his might, and that they will seek to find themselves by Its power, Sauron himself having fled elsewhere?  You put yourself and those who will travel with you into needless danger.”

            “And have not orcs and trolls always dwelt within the depths below the Mountains of Mist, and been seen both east and west of them?” asked Isildur’s second son.  “It seems to me that by your logic we are in perhaps equal danger whether we take the west or the eastern route back to our mother’s side.”

            Elrond, Celeborn, and Galadriel all chose to no longer prolong the argument.  Having given their warning, they had in the end done all they could.

            After the meal, the smith went out into the court before the Dome of Stars to take the air, and was surprised when, after a time, he was joined by Isildur himself.  “My Lord?” the Elf inquired.

            “You wrought the armor worn by my father during the war just passed, and that I had my nephew arrayed within for his coronation,” Isildur said.

            “Yes, this is so.  I fear that he was not sufficiently tall to wear it comfortably.”

            “And you warned my sons that you could not reforge my father’s sword, although you could take its steel and from it create a new sword, one that would be only a sword as was any other.”

            “Even so.  The Sword of Kings can be reforged, but I cannot do so alone, and the time to do so is not now.”

            “Then when?”

            The smith shook his head.  “That I do not know and cannot tell.  I fear that if it is to come, it will not come until near the end of this new Age, even as the sword was broken at the end of the last one.  I do know it must be done with the full cooperation of all of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth.”

            The Man nodded thoughtfully.  The smith noted that he held his hand curled, as he had throughout the time he’d seen Isildur since his return from his father’s internment; curled as if it pained him and so he sought to protect it from any further irritation.  Yet this was unconscious by this time, for the consideration of this King of Men was on other subjects—no, perhaps not as much on other subjects as the Elf had first thought as he asked, “Could you forge for me a locket?  I can provide you with gold from which to forge it, and leather with which to line it to hold securely a ring.”

            The smith grew still, and he could hear the coldness of his own voice as he asked, “To hold Sauron’s Ring?”

            Isildur’s gaze met his own with a level of defiance.  “Yea,” he replied steadily.  “Even so.  I have had to carry It within a steel box covered with insulating silk and leather in order to bear It within my scrip.  Even then It has proved nearly hot enough to burn me, even as It did as I bore It from the place where my father fell.  I cannot begin to describe how hot It was when first I picked It up from the ash of the Mountain, hot enough to burn directly through my battle glove.  Had I worn metal gauntlets I fear It should have melted the armor.” 

With that he held out his hand for the Elf to see the still healing flesh of his palm, yet black from the heat of the Ring.  “I have a scar on my side,” he said, “where I was wounded while taking a fruit from Nimloth to bring away from the Court of the Tree in Armenelos, a wound made worse because Sauron’s own breath fell upon it as I sought to flee with the fruit.  It nearly killed me, that wound.  I am told I shall bear that scar to my dying day, even as I fear I now will bear this scar similarly.

            “I should indeed have cast the Ring away when Elrond led me into the Sammath Naur,” he confided in a low voice, his eyes now fixed upon his wounded palm.  “I know now that it is only by the will of the Ring Itself that I was made to carry It forth.  But now that I have It in my possession, if,” he added as an aside, his voice becoming more ironic, “if it is not more likely that I am in Its possession, I cannot cast It aside.  Nor could I return to Mordor to return It to the Fire at this point.  I rejoice that It finally cools, although the fiery writing upon It even now fades to the point it can no longer be read.  Perhaps I might even be able one day to wear It.”

            “Do not do so, my lord,” advised the Elf.  “It would only confirm Its mastery of you, I fear.”

            Isildur shrugged.  “I seek not to master It,” he said, “merely to carry It close to my heart.  And I suspect that I will rest most easily if It is held within a locket.  I had considered wearing It upon a chain as a maiden or wife might wear her beloved’s ring as a promise until he should return at last to reclaim her love.  But I do not believe it wise to allow It to actually touch my flesh.  And if It is held within a locket I shall be more easily able to remove It to wear should I need Its power to make me invisible to the eyes of my enemies.”

            At last the smith was persuaded, and for three days he worked in a goldsmith’s smithy upon the desired locket, at last giving it over to a glover who would see it properly lined with silk and leather to hold the Ring secure within it.  Only when he was done with this commission did Elrond agree to quit the capital of the Sea Kings’ realm, and at last they set off northward.

 

IV

            The smith was present on the day the survivors of Isildur’s company arrived at last in Imladris with word of what had become of it as it traveled northward along the Anduin.

            “They are all dead?”  The woman’s face was bloodless as she faced those who’d survived the assault at the Gladden Fields, bringing away from it word of the deaths of her husband and her older three sons.  “You are certain that Isildur is dead?  Did you see this with your living eyes?”

            “I was sent off by Elendur before the enemy orcs closed completely about us,” Ohtar said, his face pale.  “He entrusted to me the Rod of Annúminas and the shards of Narsil within its sheath, intending that I should bring them away safely to the keeping of Elrond here in Imladris.  But our King bore the Elendilmir upon him, held within his scrip, as well as the Ring, which he wore in Its locket about his neck.”

            “And what ring is this?” she demanded.  “My son Valandil here wears the Ring of Barahir, that it forget not the feel of the hand of one of the King’s heirs, for such has it known ever since it was worn by Elros Tar-Minyatur.  My lord husband left it with me when they marched away to Mordor that it be kept safe, and when he came of an age of responsibility I gave it in trust to Valandil that he guard it against the return of his brother Elendur who should by rights wear it next as his father’s primary heir.”

            “It is now Valandil’s own,” Ohtar said, his own face pale.  “When the battle was over I returned, and with those who’d come at news of the battle I sought through the victims for any who might have survived.  Only this one was left, and as Elendur’s own man he’d been by your son’s side as he insisted that your husband don the One Ring and by Its power become invisible and so escape the ambush laid by renegade orcs.  Yea, we followed the trail left by those who’d hounded our Lord Isildur, and we saw Isildur’s body out in the center of the river, caught in a snag.  Two of the Men who’d thought to come to our company’s respite sought to bring it back, but it broke loose and the current took it.  There was no question he was dead, an orc’s black arrow in his back, most certainly its head in his heart.  Those who’d braved the river in hopes of retrieving his remains were sore put to return to us themselves considering how swiftly the current was running that day.  Such as we could bring away from the Gladden Fields we bore elsewhere, and we saw your sons and their Men honorably buried above the flood, and the bodies of the orcs burned.”

            Only two returned of Isildur’s own party!  Only two!

            “Elendil’s armor?” she asked at last.

            “Your husband left it in the keeping of his nephew Meneldil, who has taken it to his family keep in Minas Anor, where it is displayed with honor.  Your husband wore the mail and armor he’d had made for him in your own city of Minas Ithil.  From what we could tell, it was lost with him within the river.  Either that, or he shed and hid it somewhere in his flight, but we did not find it as we followed the way he and his pursuers went.”

            She nodded her understanding.  “Now, tell me of this Ring he wore.  I need to know from whence it came and how it should render him invisible.”

            Once she understood the source of this Ring and how her husband had come into possession of it, only then did she ask, “And where is this foul thing now?”

            “We do not know,” Ohtar told her.  “It apparently fell from his hand as he entered the water, betraying him to the orc archers that were sent with those who tracked him.  I would say that It is lost in the depths of the River Anduin.”

            Elrond, who had been listening to the reports with the rest, appeared relieved.  “Then It will not be easily recovered by Sauron or his creatures, as none of them can bear the effects of Water easily.  Water is antithetical to Sauron’s own nature as one who has ever been associated with Fire, while the Nazgûl cannot bear its touch.

            “But,” he added in warning, “If the One Ring is not found and dealt with, It could easily resurface in the future and trouble us once more.  Rivers shift their courses, and land rises and falls with time.  There is no permanency within Middle Earth.  Even if the Ring should be carried into the Sea, I doubt that Lord Ulmo would wish to deal with It long, and would find means to return It once more here to Middle Earth.  This is a danger that was crafted here, and must be dealt with here.  I fear that we shall dread Its return for as long as this new age shall last.”

            The smith found that the words of Elrond rang too true within his heart.  And for some reason he found himself regretting that Elendil’s armor should remain within the White City.  He should wish to see it worn by the one he’d seen wearing when he entered the Path of Dreams.  “I wonder when that day will come?” he asked himself.

V

            The coming of the Istari into Middle Earth was a wonder to the smith, who found himself recognizing two of these, both the first to arrive and the last.  He might have been young when he followed his lord Findaráto out of Aman and across the grinding ice of the Helcaraxë, but he had studied under the tutelage of both Mahtan and Lord Aulë himself during his youth, and had seen both Curumo and Olórin within the forges of both.  Although, as he remembered it, the latter had been of the People of Manwë primarily, yet he had a curiosity and capacity for compassion that had led him to serve each of the Valar at one time or another—all, that is, save Moringotto alone.  Although perhaps he had served that one, also, back in the time before Time, as Ëa was coming into being, before the Dark Vala fell wholly into evil.

            When each came into Imladris soon after their arrival, the smith was asked to attend the councils held with them, as one who could remember the many battles and long wars fought against the two Dark Lords and their allies.  His particular memories of the actions of Sauron during the time, under the identity of Annatar, the so-called Lord of Gifts, when he served in Ost-in-Edhil as instructor to Celebrimbor on the art of crafting Rings of Power, was of special interest to the Istari, and particularly to Curumo.

            “What can you tell of how these were crafted?” the White Wizard asked.

            “Little enough.  My particular interest has ever been in the crafting of edged weapons, not in the creation of jewels or tokens of power.  Oh, I did learn how to create the more simple jewels of light for the use primarily of scholars and artists.  But I took to heart Elrond’s warnings against Annatar, and as Celebrimbor began to rely more deeply on his tutelage I became increasingly uneasy.  In the end I came away to Imladris, for I did not like the manner in which Annatar looked after Celebrimbor as he left the forge to attend to matters of state.”

            “Did you recognize Annatar to be Sauron?”

            “No, but then I rarely saw him in Aman, and then but from a distance.  I was too young to know him personally.  When I began my own apprenticeship in forgecraft he had already allied himself openly with the Dark Enemy, and was not seen in Tirion or in Lord Aulë’s forge.  But I did sense something unwholesome within Annatar, as well as there being about him an air that I recognized as belonging to the lesser Powers, only twisted.”

            Still Curumo, or Saruman as he was now called in the north, wrung from him such details as he could recall of Annatar’s teaching, and the smith felt weak and empty once the Istar was done with him.

            And then Olórin had come, another the smith recognized no matter how great the change in appearance.  Often the smith as a young ellon had seen Olórin in the guise of an Elf.  His shape as a Man was quite different from his appearance when he was clad in the fána of one of the Firstborn, but the feel to him was unmistakable to the smith.  He, too, wished to know what the smith remembered of Sauron’s time in Ost-in-Edhil as Annatar, but he wanted to know primarily how Annatar had dealt with others, how he had manipulated others into falling under his will and in with his schemes.  Olórin did not wring these details from the smith as had Curumo, but coaxed them out of the smith, with interest, with care, with compassion, and at times even with humor.  This time the smith felt he was actually helping to convict the Enemy of his perfidy, that he was helping lay Sauron’s doings open to scrutiny so that in the end the fallen Maia would be forced to pay for his betrayals, his murders, his innate cruelty, and his indifference to the desires and needs of his myriad of victims.

            Afterwards Curumo seldom came into the north, and thus seldom to Imladris, for which the smith was glad.  But he looked forward to the Grey Wizard’s visits with pleasant anticipation, feeling as if, at least briefly, he were being granted a glimpse of his far more innocent youth in his long-lost home.  He could have returned to Aman after the War of Wrath—the offering of forgiveness had been made as much to him as to any other of the Noldor, he knew.  But he’d felt that he was needed yet here in Middle Earth, where his skills would not be seen as commonplace as they were in the Undying Lands.

            One day when Mithrandir returned yet again to Elrond’s valley, he came with a rough wagon in which lay a great deal of wood, which he brought to the smithy.  “I do not understand why I know this must come to you,” he’d said to the smith, “but I know that you are intended to receive it.  I was sojourning in the forest of Fangorn amongst the Onodrim, and one of the younger Ents begged me to carry away the remains of his own people who’d recently been slain by orcs.  From time to time orcs from the Misty Mountains will slip down into the northern reaches of Fangorn and will cut down trees to use in the forging of their weapons, or simply to destroy them for no good purpose, perhaps merely because orcs are offended by the beauty of trees.  This time they’d destroyed quite a grove of elms, two of them huorns, and the Ent was grieving over their remains.

            “He begged me to carry their shattered limbs away, and see to it that the wood was put to good use that all should find reason to rejoice in the fact that these trees had once graced the world.  Perhaps the wood could be used in the crafting of grips for swords or knives or spears for use in fighting the Enemy’s creatures.  But I suspect that you will best sense for yourself the purpose for each log or limb when the time is right for it to be used.”

            The smith had accepted the gift, and had the wood stored in a room where it would remain preserved until it should be called upon.  When he crafted a new sword or spear he would come there, allowing the wood to speak to him as to whether or not it should be worked into haft for a weapon or in giving shape to a sheath.  Some pieces he found himself gifting to the woodworkers, who crafted them into bowls or trays or furniture.  Others he gave to the carpenters, who used them in the building of new rooms.

            But there was one store, all he sensed to have come from the same two trees, that held a good deal of anger, anger he sensed would only be relieved by fire, by allowing them to be used to fuel a flame of great purpose.  These he set aside for his forge, knowing that the day would come when they would feel they would help prepare the way for proper vengeance for their own fall.

            Another time Mithrandir came with a great store of honey and beeswax from the Beornings, and one particular cask of wax he again specially gifted to the smith.  “The bees that produced this wax were rescued from a hive threatened with fire from orcs from Dol Guldur,” the Wizard told him.  “The Beornings have treated them well, but the hive remembers the danger it was in, and wanted the wax to be used to good purpose against those who’d threatened them.”  This wax the smith stored in the same place as the wood from Fangorn.

            Now and then the Great Eagles would visit the vale of Imladris to speak with Elrond and the other great Elves who dwelt in Elrond’s home, and one day one of these visitors had not yet left when the smith came to Elrond to tell him that he’d finished a long knife commissioned for the use of his daughter.

            The Eagle looked at him with one of its keen eyes.  “You have created a weapon intended to be wielded by a female?” it asked him.

            “Indeed, for do not the Enemy’s creatures threaten both males and females of all, as well as our offspring?”

            The Eagle mantled.  “You speak rightly,” it answered him.  “We had thought that most of the two-legs believed their females to be too weak to defend themselves or their young.  It pleases us to know that you do not make such a mistake.”  It stretched out a wing, and with a great tug from its beak it pulled out one of its own primaries, then held it out delicately for the smith to take.  “The day will come when this will prove useful to you in scribing the runes for a weapon.  Keep it against that day.”

            One day Rangers newly returned from service about the boundaries of the Shire and the Breelands brought a cask of oil sent by Thain Gerontius of the Shire, who’d visited Elrond recently, and a second cask sent by Iarwain ben Atar of the Old Forest found to be filled with water from the Withywindle, both casks indicated to be intended for the use of the Master Smith of Rivendell.

            Elrond came to the smithy and inspected these offerings and the others that had been given into the smith’s keeping within the past thousand years.  “The time nears,” he murmured, “when we must address the true identity of the Lord of Dol Guldur, after which I fear we shall be required one last time to gird ourselves for war.  It is as well, I deem, that all of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth appear to agree to this and offer what they can to see to it that you are prepared to help arm us against that day.”

            Then came the day when Arwen, having spent some yéni in her grandparents’ realm east of the Misty Mountains, between the ancient ruins of Ost-in-Edhil and Khazad-dûm to the west and the valley of the Anduin to the east, returned over the High Pass to her father’s house.  She brought to the smith two stones she said had been laid at her feet by one of the stone giants who dwelt in the heights of the mountain range.  One proved to hold at its heart a diamond of great purity.  The other was of pure silver.

            When Balin of Erebor and the Blue Mountains came to Imladris with his party, prepared to head southward to reopen the halls of Dúrin once more, the Dwarf tarried long enough within Elrond’s house to help the smith cut the diamond into a proper shape to fit into the hilts of a sword, and once more the smith set it aside, for he sensed that the time for its use was coming closer by the day.  The silver they used to craft a fine but sturdy chain of braided links, which the smith gave into the hands of Glorfindel.  After Balin and his people left to face their doom in Moria, the smith went into the Hall of Fire to look upon Elrond’s last fosterling, as Aragorn sat by the side of his beloved, the sheath of Narsil worn upon his hip, for the Man took seriously his charge to care for the shards of the ancient sword until they should be required to be reforged.

            Soon, the smith thought, too soon that day will come.  I pray that all will indeed come together to see the Sword of Kings again aflame with its purpose to stand against all evil that threatens the Free Peoples of Middle Earth.

            Elrond’s odd guest and advisor, Bilbo of the Shire, also sat in the room, listening with pleasure to the tale of Beren and Lúthien being sung by Lindir, watching Aragorn and Arwen together with a knowing and proud smile as if he were somehow responsible for seeing them together that night.

            Yes, the day approached….

 

VI

            Glorfindel appeared in the forge to summon the smith.  “We have need of you and your wisdom,” he said.

            Glorfindel had been absent from the valley for some weeks, gone to search for the Hobbits said to be coming from the Shire in company with young Aragorn.  Well, Aragorn had definitely arrived!  But young he did not appear to be, not that day.  His face was grey with fatigue and worry, and Arwen as she stood by his side was herself pale and obviously concerned.  “My father and Gandalf are with Bilbo’s kinsman, who was sorely wounded,” Arwen told him.  “The Nazgûl used a Morgul blade upon him.  We will require something to use in securing a ring that it not be lost.”

            “The Hobbit has brought with him an heirloom that is precious to him, then?” asked the smith.

            “Oh, indeed,” Aragorn sighed, rubbing at his eyes with the back of a grimed hand.  There was no question that the Man needed badly a bath and a good, sound sleep, not to mention a few good, sustaining meals.  “The heirloom of all heirlooms, it appears.”  He gave a great sigh.  “He brought with him the Enemy’s own Ring.”

            The smith straightened, filled with a shock he’d not thought to ever know again.  “The Ring!” he whispered.  “Then It has at last been found!”

            “Oh, yes,” Arwen answered.  “Although It has only recently been identified.  It was actually found nearly eighty years of the Sun back, and by, of all people, Bilbo Baggins.” 

            “Bilbo the Hobbit?” asked the smith, further stunned.  “How was it that a Hobbit of the Shire should have found the One Ring?  How was this hidden from the knowledge of the Wise for so long?”

            “We will find out how this came to be all too soon,” Aragorn said.  “As soon as Frodo is out of danger, if we can save him,” he added in a lower voice, “then will be held a council to discuss what is now known and how the Free Peoples should react to it.”

            “So many have arrived from so many lands, and it is said that more are approaching from over the High Pass,” Arwen told him.  “My father did not summon them, but it appears that the Powers intend for all who are threatened by Mordor and Dol Guldur to come together now that the Ring Itself is here within my father’s house.  The time of doom is apparently come upon us.”

            “At last,” the smith murmured.  He looked to Glorfindel.  “The chain that Balin and I wrought when he was here last--it was given to you.  Can you bring it to me?  Perhaps it will serve our need now.  I take it that the ring you wish to secure with it is Sauron’s own?”

            “Yes,” Aragorn said.  “Frodo cannot bear to have the Ring separated from him.  But if we can somehow enspell the chain to curb the Ring’s own malice, that would be good.  Adar Elrond fears that It might be seeking to speed the work of the Morgul shard upon Frodo, to help the shard find his heart and so finish its work.  He has shown great endurance and strength, for that shard has not managed to take him in the last two weeks.  But he is now failing fast, I fear.”

            Glorfindel nodded and sped away to fetch the chain.  Soon it was back, and working hairs from the heads of the Elven warrior, Arwen herself, and Aragorn into the weave of the chain, invocations were uttered over the silver to protect the one wearing it from the will of Evil.  Bilbo was the one who held the Ring, as no Elf should touch It, and who threaded It upon the chain so that it could be clasped about the slender neck of the failing Hobbit Frodo Baggins. 

            “He grows insubstantial,” the smith muttered to Elrond.  “Are we certain that It should remain with him?”

            “I could not have fought Its attempts to draw me into Its power as he has,” the Peredhel answered him.  “It has sought to take me before.  Who, having known the wielding of Power, would be able to resist It better than one who has never sought power for himself?”

            Who indeed? thought the smith.  And was it not ironic that this Frodo now wore It as Isildur had disdained to do, strung upon a chain about his neck?

*******

            The time had come at last.  The smith wondered if the Dwarf Gimli realized he was descended from Telchar himself.  But there was no question that all was in readiness for the reforging of the Blade that was Broken, as Elves, Dwarf, Men, and Hobbits worked together under the watchful eye of the Grey Wizard to see the Sword of Kings remade.  The wax sent by the Beornings had been used in preparing the mold for the molten steel.  The wood sent from Fangorn Forest, rendered into charcoal, fired the forge.  Water from the Withywindle, gifted by the River-daughter and her curious spouse, and oil pressed from the fruit of the fields of the Shire stood by for the tempering of the blade.  The work was blessed by Eärendil’s son, and the likeness of Lúthien Tinúviel sang as the work progressed.  Glimpses could be seen of the silver chain worn by the Ringbearer, and the Eagle’s quill would be used to inscribe the blade with the sigils and runes of power that would hopefully cause it to take light and purpose again once it was held by the hand of the King.  One stone had fallen from the sword’s hilt, and the diamond gifted by the stone giant would replace that.  And in the inner forge the liquid mithril steamed above the hearth there, waiting to be poured to form those sigils and runes….

            Ëa!  Let it be!

            When Mithrandir bade Frodo Baggins to breathe upon the blade that it might be reminded of its purpose to protect all that is of grace and beauty and wholesome nature upon the face of Middle Earth, the smith smiled.  Yes, this was indeed the right time, and the right manner, to see the Blade that was Broken remade and filled with purpose once more!

            And then the Wizard himself breathed upon it, gracing it with the blessing of the divine as well as the mundane, and the smith rejoiced the more.

            He was not surprised when, as Aragorn unsheathed it ere the Fellowship left Imladris to begin its quest, to see that the blade of Andúril flamed brightly in his hand.  Hope indeed was being made manifest within Middle Earth, he realized.  And he knew at that moment that it was Aragorn son of Arathorn he’d ever seen in his dreams as the one who would one day wear the armor of Elendil he’d forged just ere the ending of the last Age.  “I cannot wait to see you in your great-father’s armor,” he murmured to himself as he watched the Fellowship set forth, watching after the one he’d seen grow here from boy to Man.  “Go well, son of Arathorn and Elrond.  Do us proud!”

            Now was the final time of waiting begun….

VII

            As they rode out of the White City to begin the final journey northward once more, the new King of Gondor and Armor wore ancient armor that had a dark finish to it, and that was emblazoned with the symbol of the White Tree and the Seven Stars upon the breastplate.  The smith smiled to see it, even as he’d envisioned it so often in his dreams.  “It becomes you well,” he said, coming up alongside the Man’s horse.

            Aragorn looked down upon the breastplate.  “As we awaited the ordering of the forces that should make up the Army of the West to march upon the gates of Mordor, Faramir there and Lord Húrin, Warden of the Keys for the Citadel of Minas Tirith, took counsel between them as to how I might be best garbed to lead the army.  Faramir set Húrin to scour the armories for some armor that might fit me, although they worried that there might not be armor fit to my stature within the Citadel’s stores.  But it was Húrin who decided that it was only proper that I should wear this.  I suspect that Denethor would have been greatly upset that I should wear it, for it is said that Meneldil wore this on the day he was made King of Gondor by my ancestor Isildur as High King of the West.  He must have been taller than his statues indicate to wear this armor, for it was crafted, I fear, for someone even taller than I am.”

            The smith laughed.  “Oh, but Meneldil was not quite as tall as you are.  Nor was the armor originally intended for him.  Nay, it was made specifically for someone who was taller than both of you.”

            Aragorn smiled with interest.  “You know?  Then for----”  And then he realized for whom it must have been forged.  “For Elendil himself, then?  But it was said that his armor was of Elven make, and wrought in the North!”

            “As indeed it was,” the smith assured him. 

            He smiled again as he felt his spirit freed from concern for the first time in over an Age of this world.  He would tell Elrond’s last fosterling the tale of the armor and much else.  And when the time came he would accompany Elrond West, and at last accept the pardon of the Valar, assured he had done the best he could to help fight the evil loosed upon Middle Earth for the last three Ages of the Sun.

            He looked to one side and saw there the Ringbearer riding upon his bay pony, heading home at last.  His heart was moved by the isolation he sensed the Hobbit knew, and he felt glad that at least Frodo Baggins no longer wore the braided chain he’d worn out of Imladris.  The time for that chain was now gone, he realized gratefully.  He only hoped that the Queen’s jewel he now wore gave the Hobbit strength and comfort enough to find himself once more as he returned to the life he’d known before.

            And if not—well, perhaps the Valar would grant him the grace to find peace in another way.

            I will stand by you as I can, our Lord Iorhael, he vowed in his heart.  I will stand by you as I can, for the sake of all I have ever loved and honored who are no longer here in Middle Earth.  And for Estel’s own sake as well.  You are not alone, you will find.

 





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