sm_2.htmlTEXTStMl"!>(r Shieldmates: Dagorlad

Year 3435 of the Second Age, after the Battle of Dagorlad


Of a sort. And dearly bought. Elrond stood in front of the large tent. Gil-Galad's banner flew overhead, the stars bright on the azure field. Men and Elves still straggled into the camp, singly, in pairs and small groups. Battered and bloody, some of them dying on their feet, the warriors of the Alliance made their way to the healers or their own tents.

Those meant for the pyre went another route entirely.

They had driven Sauron back to Barad-dur itself. The Dark Tower was
a formless shadow at this distance, the burning peak of Orodruin glowed a sullen orange. The first plumes of smoke from the funeral pyres were beginning to climb into the sky.

Both Gil-Galad and Elendil had survived today's battle, but Amdir had not. And now, Elrond had to take the measure of his successor. The daylight was beginning to fade into early evening. The banners of the commanders hung limp in the still air, their bright colors muted. He searched the rows of standards until he spotted Lorien's banner. It hung over a large pavilion tent, in the center of one of the Elven cantonments. He started towards it.

The guards let him pass without question. He ducked into the tent,
and took a moment to get his bearings, adjusting to the change in
light. He saw only three people inside the tent. Amdir lay in as much regal state as could be managed here in Mordor. The slain king's pale features seemed carved of winter ice, dull and without sheen. A rich robe hid the ghastly wound that had taken his life. Two torches burned, one at the head of the make-shift bier, the other at its foot. The dead king's sword lay clasped in his cold hands.

I am becoming too accustomed to seeing my people strewn lifeless on the field of war, Elrond thought. Most of Amdir's company had died with their lord. Amroth, now lord of Lorien, knelt by his father's bier, his head bowed. A younger Elf, possibly Amroth's esquire, knelt in the shadows to the side.

The silence in the tent was palpable, with even the crackling of the
torches muted. Breaking the silence seemed the grossest of intrusions, but duty pressed him forward when compassion would have stayed him.

"Lord Amroth?"

He had to call the other's name twice more before he looked up. Amroth's face was wet with tears. He saw no life, no vitality in the eyes that met his. Is he waiting to die? Elrond wondered. To choose death, when so many others had had the choice taken from them... It seemed a grievous waste, an insult to those who had died on the battle plain. But I have no memories of my father, Elrond thought, and no knowledge of the love between father and son. Perhaps that is indeed a blow too great for the heart to bear.

"I grieve with you for your loss," Elrond said, keeping his voice low. "Take comfort in the knowledge that your parting is not forever. Nai hiruvalye Valimar."

"Perhaps." Amroth turned away, resting a hand on his father's bier.
"If we are not all lost to the Shadow."

"Forgive me for intruding on your grief," Elrond began. "The High King sends--"

"We will stay," Amroth said, interrupting him. He rose to his feet, then stared down into his father's lifeless face. "We will stay the course, Elrond. And we will take that cursed tower, even if we must tear down its stones with our bare hands. Take that back to the king. The Elves of Lorien will stay on."

"You give us strength," Elrond said with quiet formality, though his heart was troubled. Amroth grieved, and grief spoke with a ferocity cooler hearts and leveler minds might regret. "You honor us with your courage."

"I will honor my father by raking Sauron's ashes into a pit."

"Lord Amroth," he began, then stopped. Reminding him of the long, brutal siege that lay before them would not aid matters. Amroth spoke out of grief, and fresh wounds needed the most careful handling. "I will convey your words to the King."

The new lord of Lorien looked up at him, a familiar mask of detachment settling over his features. "We will not leave this place while Barad-dur still stands. Tell him that, Lord Elrond. "

Elrond could find nothing to say to that. It was too soon for predictions, and too late for promises. The silence expanded, taking on new weight. After a moment, he bowed his head, feeling acutely uncomfortable and unwelcome. He had not been held in any degree of closeness with Amdir, he was a stranger to the Elves of Lorien. Murmuring a farewell, he bowed himself out of the tent.

Evening's full shadow had fallen over the camp. Small fires burned in the stone-lined firepits, throwing off more light than heat. Tonight was for mourning and rest, time for the healers to bind up wounds, for the living to bear the dead to their pyres. Come the morrow, all the surviving captains of the League would gather to plan the next stage.

There were really only two options: direct assault, or siege. As neither Gil-Galad nor Elendil were suicidal fools, that tilted things in favor of siege. The ingeniators would have a hard task before them, Elrond thought, starting back across the camp. They held the plateau, but the Valley of Gorgoroth still lay between them and the Dark Tower itself, guarded by Sauron's forces. How did one lay siege to one such as Sauron, especially when he still held the Ruling Ring?

A party of Men came through, bearing a litter piled with still, broken bodies. More dead, Elrond noted sadly, though these all seemed to be of the Northern companies. A few of the Men even bore a fallen comrade in their arms, shieldbrothers performing their last duties in grim silence. No few of the Elves nearby averted their eyes, unwilling to confront this direct evidence of death. Others turned away, unable to bear witness to grief.

How do they endure? Elrond wondered. We can harden ourselves
somewhat to loss on the battlefield...but how do Men live under that shadow?
He rubbed the back of his neck, feeling the corded muscles
tight with tension. Now that the press of fighting and duty were gone, he found himself able to breathe, and re-assess himself. He had the sense that there was one more task he had to perform.

One of the Men broke away from the others, anonymous in his plain helm and dark cloak. He stopped one of the lieutenants, who looked him in the face and hastily bowed. Elrond lingered, listening.

"Have you any news of Elendur?" the Man asked in a voice roughened
from smoke and shouting, but still recognizable. "Where is his company?"

Isildur! Nienna teach him compassion, he had not even thought about the Man since leaving the field himself. Elrond started towards them, as the lieutenant diffidently answered,

"All returned safe, my lord. They are settled for the night, save for those who volunteered to take on the watch in place of the wounded."

Some of the tension left Isildur's body then. At a gesture from Isildur, the lieutenant bowed again, and hurried off to whatever duty awaited him. The Man reached up and pulled off his helm, his movements slow and speaking of some pain. Elrond quickened his pace and called out, "Isildur!"

The prince turned at the hail. A brief grimace of pain washed over
his features and he started to press a hand against his side. Then, as if aware of the eyes upon him, he dropped his hand away and stood a bit straighter.

Elrond's sharp eyes caught the aborted gesture.

"Are you injured?" he asked, coming to his shieldbrother's side.

Isildur didn't quite manage a shrug, stopping when the movement clearly pained him. "A graze, nothing more," he said dismissively.

The Elf frowned and put a hand to the Man's side before the prince could ward him off. Isildur swore under his breath, harsh and heartfelt, drawing away from his touch.

"I am answered," Elrond said, withdrawing his hand.

"It's not serious," Isildur protested.

"Where is your man?" Elrond asked, ignoring that last.


Elrond put his hand on Isildur's shoulder, offering what comfort he could through the touch. He remembered the young Man well. He'd still had the lilt of Númenor in his speech, a stocky, serious Man, of an age with Isildur's middle son. Silorn was--had been--a plain Man, but his loyalty and devotion to his lord had made more than one Elf catch his breath in admiration. No memorial for him, the squire who had died defending his lord, only an unceremonious place on the pyre. Elrond came to a quick decision. Amroth's pledge could wait a bit longer to be delivered.

"Then allow me to attend you."

Isildur started, looking up at him in surprise. "I cannot--"

"I do my duty," Elrond corrected. "Are you not my shieldbrother?"

Isildur looked as if he might still protest. Elrond set himself to outwait the argument, confident of his ability to out-stubborn a mortal. Isildur must have read some of that determination in his face, for he shook his head.

"I have supplies back at my tent," Isildur said with a capitulating sigh.

"Very well."

He fell into step beside Isildur. They'd covered less than a quarter of the distance before Isildur gave up his brave front and kept his hand pressed tight against his side. Halfway there, Elrond was all but supporting him. Under the dirt and soot of the day's battle, Isildur looked as pale as milk, sweat beading on his brow. Men could show endurance to rival Dwarves while on the battlefield, seeming to ignore all manner of hurts, until the fury died down. Then they must pay in full for the strength and speed they'd borrowed.

The Men of Isildur's company had claimed a space somewhat south of
Elendil's encampment. Isildur's tent had been set at a small distance from those of his men, distinctive only by its somewhat greater size and the banner of the Rising Moon that flew over it. Someone had set a torch in the ground before the tent.

Holding back the flap of the tent while supporting Isildur proved to be something of a challenge. Isildur drew on some distant reserve of strength, and staggered into the tent himself. A low camp stool sat near a folding table. Isildur dropped onto it, as if he never planned to move from the spot again. He let his helm drop to the ground. Elrond looked around. The light leaking through from the torch outside was enough to allow him to move about the tent without mishap, but he wanted better light to examine Isildur's injury.

"Wait one moment, please," Elrond murmured. He lit a taper from the torch outside and brought the burning end back inside, hand cupped
around the small flame. He touched it to the wick of the lamp suspended from the peak of the tent. A tiny bud of fire blossomed on the wick, throwing off a warm glow.

"Where are you hurt?" Elrond asked, turning back to his patient.

"Wound on the thigh," Isildur replied, "bruises, maybe wrenched muscles along my side."

Elrond studied him through narrowed eyes. More than that, by the way you favored your side.

The Man still wore his full field harness, a sturdy hauberk made of tight, close-woven steel rings, mud-spattered greaves, and heavy gauntlets. Elrond's frown deepened. Isildur's panoply all seemed of Númenorean make, from the hands of Men. When had the Dúnadan put aside the elven-mail he'd been gifted with for protections forged by mortal hands?

He knelt to undo the first series of buckles. Isildur made a soft sound of protest. Elrond looked up.

"My lord, it is not fitting--"

'My lord'? "I am the Herald of Gil-Galad," Elrond replied calmly. "Surely that is sufficient rank to allow me to tend a prince of the Southern Kingdom." He kept his tone light, almost teasing.


"I cannot treat your injuries if I cannot see them, Isildur." It was often like this with Men, he'd learned. No matter how bold he might be on the battlefield, or how keen his insight in council, a Man would balk at being undressed by another male.

Isildur winced as Elrond helped ease off the mail, but made no sound
of complaint. The quilted aketon he wore beneath it was dirty and
sweat-stained. The laces along one side had been cut through just above the hip. Elrond set the mail on the armor stand and returned
just as Isildur began fumbling with the laces of his aketon.

"Isildur! Wait a moment, let me help you." With practised ease, he unlaced the aketon, pulling the heavy linen-padded garment up over Isildur's head. Thanks to the lacings, he didn't have to ask the Man to raise his arms, and thus avoided further strain to the ribs.

He helped Isildur to his feet, taking most of his weight himself. Keeping one arm around the Man, he used his free hand to undo the lacings of the Man's breeches. Isildur leaned heavily against him, his breath stirring Elrond's hair. He managed to get them down, and the Man re-seated without further incident, or disgracing himself.

Isildur sat before him, all but naked. Elrond saw only the injuries. A spectacular array of bruises bloomed along the left side of Isildur's ribs. They were fresh, vivid blotches of red and purple that spoke of damage beneath the skin. Elrond ran his fingertips over the bruised area, barely making contact with the skin. He could feel a wrongness in the line of the Man's ribs. Not broken, he thought, but not whole, either. He turned his attention to the thigh wound.

A wide band of cloth held a thick pad of bandaging against Isildur's
thigh. Dark blood stained its edges and center, speaking of a wound
that had not yet closed. Elrond frowned and carefully removed the dressing. He caught his breath at the ugly wound revealed to his sight. It was shallow, running a finger-length. Angry red streaks already snaked out from the wound, a sign of poison taking root in the blood.

"You should have had this seen to at once," he rebuked, probing the edges of the wound with care.

Isildur hissed a breath between his teeth at the touch, but did not flinch. "There were others who needed the attention more."

"Many a dying Man has said the same thing," Elrond retorted. "Even a small wound can fester in this filthy place--and yours has begun to do just that."

"How badly?" he asked, a spark of real fear in his eyes. Disease was one of the shadows of Death's cloak that draped so readily over Eru's mortal children. It stalked even the elendili, since the treason of the Númenoreans.

"Bad enough, but I can mend it."

The prince let his hand fall away with a sigh, closing his eyes. Some of the tension drained from him, leaving him looking haggard and worn. If he is anything like his father, Elrond mused, he has stinted himself on sleep and food to see to his men.

That was one critical point the Elves had neglected to factor into their
strategy. Elves could do much on very little true sleep, and sustain themselves on little. Men--and Dwarves--were not so fortunate. The League's mortal captains were spending themselves ruthlessly to keep up with their Elven allies. That weariness made them susceptible to injury and sickness--likely the true reason Isildur's wound had festered. That, and the free-flowing poison that is air in Mordor.

"Where are your supplies?" Elrond asked, getting to his feet.

The prince waved a hand at the small trunk in the corner of the tent.

"Have you used anything on that?" Elrond asked as he went to open the trunk.

"A wash of astringent herbs, then clean bandaging, with a mild numbing salve."

"Wise choices," Elrond said, opening the trunk and sorting through
the herbal remedies. He found a small bowl in the chest and set it aside. The healing herbs were all stored in small drawstring pouches, each with an identifying glyph embroidered on its front. He selected three of the pouches and set them in the bowl, along with a small stack of clean cloths and bandaging. The Dúnedain traveled light, but knew better than to shirk on healing crafts. "But then, the Men of your line are skilled in the healing arts."

Isildur gave a short, sharp bark of laughter, cut off when it brought him pain. "I haven't my father's skill. My hands seem better suited to the sword than to healing."

"A not uncommon feeling during war," Elrond noted. He carried the supplies over to the table and set them down beside the water jug. He arranged the herb bags in order, then looked at his patient again.

Isildur stared off into the middle-distance, features set against some grim memory. "He left Númenor with us, leaving his family behind," he said abruptly. "His mother, and two sisters."

"Your squire?" Elrond asked, well-accustomed to how a patient's thoughts shifted while in the sickroom.


Elrond asked no more questions. There was no need. Only the Faithful had had any warning of the disaster to come. Only the Faithful escaped drowning.

"And then he followed me here, and died," Isildur finished. "What manner of world is this that loyalty leads only to death?"

"A world under Shadow," Elrond replied.

Lifting the jug, he poured a measured amount of water into the bowl. Next, he ran his fingertip along the rim of the bowl, calling up its memories of being sun-baked clay, of its firing in the heart of the kiln. The bowl warmed to his touch. In a few moments, the water would be warm enough to steep the herbs in.

Isildur only sighed and closed his eyes.

"How did you come by this?" Elrond asked, opening the first of the herb bags he had gathered.


"Both." It would help if he knew what precisely he was dealing with.

"This," Isildur brushed his fingertips along the edge of the bruises, "is the result of being charged by a Dwarf with a warclub."

Elrond shook his head. Not all of Durin's Folk had chosen to side with the Alliance. The Dwarves of Moria had come to join Gil-Galad, but other Dwarf-lords... They remained in their halls of stone, or stood on the other side of the Black Gate. Those unfortunates bound by the Seven became Sauron's playthings, and drew those faithful to them under the Shadow. He had never fully understood the purpose of those Rings. Now, with the Seven under the sway of Mordor, he never would.

Perhaps it was better that way. Like the Nine, the Seven had never
been intended to be anything more than pretty slave collars. To know the reason behind the Seven was to glimpse into the mind of the Enemy--and that was a place even the wisest of the Wise rightly shunned.

"All I know of the other is that it most likely came from an arrow. I do not even know if it was the enemy's, or a strayed shaft from our own. I had not even noticed it until later."

The water was warm enough, now. He added dried asea aranion leaves, comfrey, and powdered snakeroot. While the herbs steeped, he poured some more water onto one of the clothes and used it to clean his hands.
When the brew's color reached a certain depth, he dipped another cloth into it and wrung it out.

"Well, I am not a king," he said, "but perhaps the asea aranion will surrender its virtue for your sake." With that, he began sponging at the wound.

It had not been well cared for, he noted with a frown. Bits of dead, dried skin still clung to it, curling inward. The wound had broken open again at least twice, leaving a crust of dried blood. It did not help, he thought with distant irritation, that Men insisted on growing hair in the strangest places, making it that much more difficult to keep a wound clean.

His focus wavered, and he became concious of the body that lay so trustingly under his hand. The warmth of his flesh, the scent of leather, steel, and smoke--

You disgrace your calling! he berated himself. See the wounds, not the man! Healers were given their arts in trust. They were not to use them for gain, or to take unseemly advantage of those in their care. I tread a fine enough line as it is, claiming the arts of healing even as I am garbed for war.

He could feel the poison seeping through Isildur, like icy water soaking into the ground. Poison was a sly, slippery thing, resisting a healer's attempt to draw it out. Rather like fishing with a net, he had heard a Teleri-born healer describe it. One cast his awareness into the alien sea that was another's body, drew close about what needed to be removed.

He narrowed his focus, trying to gather up the poison before the Man's strong heart spread it further throughout his body. It was so easy, to become distracted, and thus leave some poison in the wound. That would leave Isildur worse off than before.

A blood-streaked yellowish serum began to ooze from the wound. He caught it with a wad of bandaging. Gradually, the wound drained and when it bled clear, he removed the wad of bandaging. He would dispose of it in a fire, later. One more time, he sponged the wound with a clean cloth soaked in the herbal wash. Then, he touched his fingertips to the edges of the wound. This kind of healing was easiest with descendants of his brother's children. Elven blood never truly faded, no matter how many years passed from the mating that joined the two races.

The flesh remembered being whole, and it only took a small bit of his strength to encourage it to heal faster. When he drew his hand away, the wound had narrowed, beginning to seal. Crimson streaked his fingertips, alien, yet familiar. He wiped his hands, cutting off the strange fascination before it could truly blossom.

"Let me see to this, now," he said, lightly laying his hand against Isildur's bruised ribs. Yes...a wrongness in the ribs, a shift in how two of the curved bones carried the weight of the body. He drew in a deep breath, let it out slowly with a whisper of an ancient healing song. It smoothed out tensions, shored up weakened places. The small cracks in the bones began to fill. When he was sure the healing was well underway, Elrond took his hand away.

He looked Isildur over carefully. His color was better, and he breathed more easily. The bruising along his ribs had faded to dull yellows and greens. Most importantly, all sign of the blood-poisoning had vanished.

"If I had half the skill in your hands," Isildur sighed.

"Even I cannot save all of those who come to me for aid. Some hurts go too deep for healing."

"And I am being churlish," Isildur said, reaching out and clasping Elrond's hand. "My thanks, Master Elrond. You have given me more aid than I thought to ask for."

Just a simple hand-clasp, but it felt as sweet as a lover's caress.

"It will take a few days for you to heal entirely, but you should be able to move about now without pain. You will carry a scar, I fear," he said aloud, and his voice sounded strange to him.

"One more will scarcely be noticed," Isildur sighed, releasing his hand. "If a patchwork hide is the worst of what I carry away from this place, I will count myself blessed."

"May you receive that blessing in full," Elrond said with more force than he intended.

Isildur, in the act of drawing up his clothing, paused, and looked at him in question. My speech moves faster than my thoughts, Elrond thought ruefully.

"We have lost so much already," he said by way of explanation. "On this night at least, I would prevent another death."

Isildur's expression softened. "Thanks to you, Master Elrond, I need not fear--for this night."

Give me the rest of your nights, and you need fear nothing ever again.

Outside, he heard the distinctive jingle of someone in chainmail approaching the tent. He seized the distraction, turning about to face the entrance of the tent. The shadow of the arriving visitor loomed large on the fabric wall.


Isildur yanked on a clean shirt and called, "Come in, Elendur."

A younger Man stepped inside the tent, and the mystery of Isildur's mail was solved. Elendur wore the elven mail meant for his father, protected by the runes and wards woven into its crafting. The father had yielded up the protection for his son. Elendur's gaze lingered on Elrond's face a bit longer than the Peredhel deemed comfortable.

"One of my men said you were asking after me, Father."

"Only to learn your condition, senya." There was no mistaking the affection in Isildur's voice.

"It looks as though I should be asking after yours." Elendur looked pointedly at the wads of bloodstained bandaging.

"Master Elrond was kind enough to tend the arrow graze," Isildur said. He did not mention the cracked ribs. Another mystery of fathers and sons--they never wished the other to know of their pain or sickness.

"A small wound," Elrond said, turning to busy himself with clearing away the materials he'd used. "More uncomfortable than dangerous."

He glanced up, caught Isildur's look of silent gratitude.

"Leave that, shieldbrother," Isildur said, waving him off. "I can clear away my own mess."

Elrond nodded and murmured a farewell. He wanted to escape Elendur's keen eyes. Young he might be, but Elendur had the same penetrating gaze as his grand-sire. He might detect what Isildur seemed not to notice. Elendur bowed his head as Elrond passed, adding his own farewell.

Before he had quite left the tent, he heard Elendur's voice, rough with emotion.

"I saw Silorn at the pyres, Father. I feared--"

"Hush, senya." Isildur's voice was a soothing rumble. He heard the chainmail jangle as Elendur moved abruptly, perhaps into his father's embrace. "I am well."

This was not for his ears. Elrond picked up his pace, and left father and son to their reunion. Outside, the air seemed even fouler after the herb-scented sweetness inside the tent. Breathing slowly, he began a circuitous route back to the kings' pavilion. He had a report to deliver.

The Eldar were a people accustomed to yearning, he reminded himself. It was a fire they all learned to bear with equanimity. The sea, the Uttermost West, the lights of Varda, the beauty of these Hinterlands... All these called to the Elven soul, and only some of those calls could be answered.

Remember that he is a wedded man, he told himself, with three grown sons and another child newborn. His wife and child shelter at your hearth! He is not for you. Turn your eyes elsewhere.

He fixed his mind on his duty and pressed on, as if through a storm.

Nai hiruvalye Valimar: Quenya, "Perhaps you will find Valimar." (From Galadriel's Lament, in FotR. Used here as a ritual condolence, i.e. "There will be a returning.")

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