sm_4.htmlTEXTStMl\=u>><+ Shieldmates--At the Morannan

Year 3436 of the Second Age, Year Two of the Siege of Barad-dûr

Wave after wave of Orcs poured out from the Black Gate. The shieldwall of the Alliance tried to hold their ground, but two men went down under Orc truncheons, and that gap provided all the opening needed.

He barely had room to wield his sword, the enemy pressed so close. Just ahead, he could see the gleam of Gil-Galad's helm, and the light that blazed from Aeglos. The spear proved a better weapon in this press than a sword, its eldritch light driving back the enemy as surely as its lethal barbed head. But it was defense, not offense, and even the Elvenking was being forced to give ground.

Gouts of black Orc blood splashed against his armor. He tightened his hold on his sword hilt, the free-flowing blood threatening his grip. He tried to keep pace with the king, to guard his back, but the Orcs seemed intent on separating them. Arrows sang overhead, a deadly rain that pierced thick Orc hide and felled Sauron's Mannish soldiers. But for every one that fell, two more pressed forward. Light of Elbereth, is there no end to them? If they break through here, we are lost, Elrond thought grimly, cutting down yet another.

They had crossed the last mile from the Morannon at a dead run, only an hour ahead of the vanguard of the Enemy. Of the scouting party, only five had made it back to the Alliance's lines. Their advance warning had reached the Captains in time--just barely.

He had a moment to breathe and used it to look for the king. Gil-Galad was easy to spot, a shining figure that near-blinded with his radiance. Yet all Elrond could see was the king's unprotected back. He flung himself forward, intent on setting his own body as a shield between the king and grievous harm.

Spilled blood--Orc, Elven, and mortal--turned the earth beneath his feet to churning mud, taxing even Elvish dexterity and balance. The ground itself was downing fighters, leaving them floundering and vulnerable to the cleaver-like weapons of the Orcs. At the farthest edge of his vision, he glimpsed the lightning-flare of Narsil as Elendil pressed his own attack. Somehow, he had become separated from Isildur.

A knot of Orc soldiers three deep remained between him and the king. They swarmed around him, forcing him to focus on his own defense. He heard a Orc shriek behind him, but before he could turn to face it, a solid weight slammed hard against his back. A leathery arm snaked around his neck, foul spittle spattering his cheek and neck as the creature howled curses in the Black Speech. He staggered under its weight, but managed to keep his feet and ward off another attack. The creature's other hand clawed at his throat, dirty, ragged nails tearing at his skin.

The Orc gave a sudden, gurgling scream and weight slid from his back. Elrond didn't pause to wonder how it happened. The Orc soldier before him fell howling to the ground, its innards spilling out in hot, reeking ropes. He turned to dispatch the next--and staggered. Fire streaked up his arm. He kicked out, felt bone crunch under his boot, and whatever snagged him fell away.

Blood spattered Gil-Galad's armor, dimming its sheen. The Elvenking had drawn his sword, passing Aeglos into the keeping of his standard-bearer. Elrond took up a place beside one of Gil-Galad's guard. The other Elf barely spared him a glance, only shifting enough to give Elrond room to wield his own weapon.

A red-white flame blazed at the edge of his vision.

Elendil, at the head of a host of fighting men, crashed into the horde, Narsil bright as a living flame. Trapped between the forces of Men and Elves, Sauron's soldiers began to die in waves. Some broke away, falling back, then falling back again towards the Black Gate. The retreat quickly became a rout, many of the Orc soldiers throwing down their weapons in panicked flight. The horns sounded, calling the armies of the Alliance to halt. The last of the enemy trapped on the field died.

Elrond lowered his sword, the battle-haze beginning to lift from his mind. He stood blinking, as if newly emerged into sunlight. Wherever he looked, he saw still, broken bodies. Too many of those bodies wore Elven armor. Mandos' halls would swell tonight.

His hearing began to return to normal, sorting out individual voices from the chaotic din of the battlefield. He heard the cries of the wounded, the agonized sounds of the dying. The air stank of blood and death.

As he watched, the healers began to descend to the field, to begin the grisly process of sorting the wounded from the dead. Others began to walk the field as well, looking for comrades, or escorting the healers. Some of the still forms of the enemy soldiers might only play at being dead. He turned away, his limbs suddenly leaden with fatigue.

Gil-Galad reached up and pulled off his helm. Strands of his dark, unbound hair clung to his sweat-damp skin. He closed his eyes, standing with his head bowed. Elendil loomed up, his height giving him the advantage in the confusing press of people. The Elvenking's guard parted to let him pass.

"We have the field," the King of Arnor said simply.

Gil-Galad saw him--and the look that passed between them seemed to shut out the world. Others began to gather 'round: Amroth, Glorfindel, other Captains of the Alliance who wished to assure themselves of their leaders' survival. A strong hand seized his good shoulder and Elrond snapped his head up, cursing himself for allowing his guard to fall. Isildur stared down at him, eyes narrow and dark with fear.

"You're wounded. How badly are you hurt?" the prince demanded.

Elrond realized he still held his sword. He wiped the blade clean on the tattered cloak of a fallen foe, then returned it to its sheath. He had felt the wounds when they first bit, but their severity was unknown. Elrond put his hand to his throat, drew it away streaked with red. Ugly, but not life-threatening. His arm--not his sword arm, thank Estë--ran red, soaking his sleeve. Something had pierced his flesh through the small space where the sleeve of his mail did not quite meet the vambrace. Elrond looked down at it, and thought only of the work and mess in cleaning the blood from his armor.

The sound of tearing cloth jolted him back to himself--and to pain. For a moment, his head swam and he swayed. Isildur caught him by the shoulders and Elrond hissed in pain as his injured arm was jostled.

"Elves," Isildur muttered, tying a rough field-dressing around Elrond's arm.

Elrond rested a hand on the prince's broad chest to prevent him from
chasing off after a healer. "A flesh wound, nothing more."

"We've had this conversation before," the prince observed.

"The king--" Elrond began.

"I will look after him, Peredhel, " Elendil said. "You've hurts of your own to tend."

Elrond stiffened. He was not to be dismissed like a squire, not even by one such as Elendil. He looked to his king, who gave him a weary nod. Gil-Galad leaned heavily against Elendil, closing his eyes.

Shieldmates for certain, Elrond judged, noting how Elendil's strong arm wrapped around Gil-Galad's waist, and unafraid to show it. Gil-Galad would be in good keeping. Exhaustion was the worst of the Elvenking's troubles now. With Elendil, perhaps he could find rest.

"See to your own wounds, Peredhel." A faint smile curved his lips. "That is an order."

"Come away, now," Isildur said, in the low tones one used with a skittish horse. He rested a hand on Elrond's shoulder.

Elrond fought down a reflexive urge to pull away from Isildur. He wanted none of the Race of Men about him now. So many Elven bodies on those pyres... He could almost feel the cold, bony grasp of Death in even the lightest touch from the hand of Man. He didn't want it clutching at his own flesh.

He cast that thought from him as unworthy. Honest concern and fear darkened Isildur's eyes. The prince sought only to give aid. The workings of the Enemy were not his fault.

"They need help with the wounded," he tried to explain.

Isildur frowned in the direction of the healers. "If you try and go among them now, they will only send you off to the side with the lesser wounded."

"I can do a healer's work, they need all the aid they can muster," he protested, trying to step around Isildur.

"Elrond, all you will manage to do right now is bleed on them. Your king bade you to see to your own wounds. They can spare you."

"I would rather spare them," Elrond said wearily.

"Then let me take you from here," Isildur said, "and tend you myself."

"You need not--"

"I am the son of Elendil, the lord of Ithilien, and a captain of the League," Isildur reminded, a ghost of a smile on his lips. "Surely that is sufficient rank to allow me to wait on the lord of Imladris?"

He heard the teasing tone, his own words, altered to suit and delivered back to him. And, if nothing else, Isildur's hands could be gentle. The image of Gil-Galad leaning against Elendil flickered once through his memory. It would be good, to rest in the care of a friend and know his need did not draw away from another's.

"I am too weary to argue," Elrond said at last. "Take me where you will."

"Stubborn Elf," Isildur sighed. "This way, then."

The scene had a disturbing familiarity. Greasy smoke hung in the still air, and everywhere came the cries of the wounded and the dying. His world had become narrowed to these battlefields, his peaceful life before now just a distant dream. Elrond let Isildur support him, leaning on him not from weakness, but because the Man beside him was alive. Alive, when so many around them lay dead, dying. He fancied he could feel the other's warmth, even through the layers of clothing and armor that separated them. So strange, to be entranced by what had first repelled. No...the fascination had been jolted by the battle, and now his usual defenses were down.

Isildur guided him off the field and through the tent city, winding through the chaos to where Gil-Galad's higher-ranking officers had pitched their tents. They were closer than the Dunedain camps, and Isildur seemed unwilling to let him walk far. Elrond's world narrowed to the ground before him. He'd already been tired from the strain of the scouting mission. To plunge from that directly into battle... Are the others of the squad alive? he wondered.

Greasy ash from the fresh pyres floated on Mordor's already filthy air, clogging the lungs. The cursed soil of Mordor was no place to lay an ally to rest--and Sauron was known to have skill in the blackest arts of necromancy. All of the dead were burned, lest they be raised to fight against their former friends.


Isildur half-turned at the hail, but stopped before he threatened Elrond's balance. Elendur strode towards them, his helm tucked under his arm. Sweat plastered his hair to his head and the sides of his face. The dust and grime of the battlefield mixed with the sweat, giving him the look of a soot-covered chimney cleaner--in chainmail.

Isildur looked his son over from head to toe, searching for signs of injury. Finding none, he relaxed. Elendur shifted his gaze to Elrond, lingering on the bleeding wounds.

"My lords," the young Man said, half-bowing, "may I--"

Elrond tensed. Not another. He could not bear another mortal's close presence just now--especially not this mortal, who would note every glance, weigh every word exchanged between Elrond and Isildur. He was too vulnerable, too raw.

Isildur frowned, and Elrond wondered if the Man had somehow sensed his thoughts. But the Man only said, "We need only space and quiet, Elendur--and the supplies from my tent."

"Tell me where you will be, and I will tend to it."

"Master Elrond's tent, it's closer," Isildur added.

If Elendur read anything further into that, it didn't show on his face or in his eyes. Indeed, his expression was almost too impassive. He took his leave with another half-bow.

"And bring me word of the squad," Isildur called after him. Elendur raised a hand to indicate he had heard, but continued on his way.

They continued on their way, until they reached Elrond's tent. The inside looked no different from Isildur's dwelling: a narrow pallet, a folding wooden table covered with maps and dispatch pouches. The armor stand in the corner was braced with his packs, and a small trunk held other items he couldn't fit in with the rest.

Elrond put off his sword, setting it in its customary place. His wounds burned and throbbed. He gingerly lowered himself to the low camp stool, trying not to think of the filth seeping into his blood through the rents in his flesh.

"A man should not have favorites among his children," Isildur sighed, startling him out of his gruesome reverie, "but Elendur is the child of my heart. He has his mother's courage and his grandfather's wisdom. All I do, all I mean to secure, I do so for him. He will be a great king."

"And has he nothing from his father?" Elrond asked, genuinely curious at the dynamic of such a--to him--large family. Most Elven women refused to bear more than three children. More than that, for an immortal race, and disaster was like to happen.

As Feanor's seven sons learned, to their great sorrow.

"He has all that I can teach him," Isildur said, looking away.

"Then he is rich, indeed." Why do you torment yourself? he wondered at himself. Why not salt your wounds and ask after his wife, next?

He let Isildur play the squire to him, peeling him out of his armor. He felt strangely light without it, as if he might drift away like a handful of thistledown on the wind. Isildur grimaced at the gore spattering it, setting it aside without comment, the chainmail jangling softly.

The movements opened his wounds again, and Isildur set to work staunching them. They both looked up as Elendur's voice hailed them from outside. Isildur handed him another makeshift bandage and excused himself, ordering him to keep the bandage in place.

Had Elendur taken on Silorn's duties? Elrond wondered. Not unusual, he supposed, for a father to want to keep his son close. Yet if that was so, why did so many fathers send their sons away? Fingon had sent his son to Cirdan's havens--the only reason the Noldor still had a High King-- and... his father had left and never returned.

He knew the magnitude of his father's sacrifice, could appreciate what the Mariner had come to mean to the Eldar. That still seemed cold comfort and paltry defense when balanced against his memory of facing the ones who had slain his grandparents and his uncles. He and his brother could have so easily shared their dark fate.

Isildur's return shook him out of his shadowy memories. Elrond realized some time had passed, for the bleeding had stopped, and the blood had begun to crust and dry. The prince of Ithilien had divested himself of his own armor at some point, though he still wore his heavy crimson surcoat over his tunic and breeches. He had taken time for a quick wash, for his hands and face were clean. He carried a steaming pitcher in one hand, and a bowl and a stack of linens in the other.

Isildur apologized for the delay, adding, "I haven't your gift for producing hot water from thin air."

He set the pitcher down on the table and arranged the other supplies. When they were set out to his satisfaction, he poured water from the steaming pitcher into the bowl. Several dried athelas leaves floated on its surface, releasing their fragrance as they steeped.

"Now, let me look at this," the Man said, tilting Elrond's head back with one hand. "The bleeding has stopped for now, but it will be a task to clean these. I hope you are comfortable."

"Well enough," he answered.

Isildur chose a cloth and set to work. Elrond relaxed and let himself drift. The scent of the herb-infused water seemed to wash away some of his weariness. He heard the herb-infused water slosh against the side of the bowl as Isildur wrung out the cloth.

"How did you meet your wife?" he asked as Isildur dabbed at the claw marks at his neck.

Isildur gave him a surprised glance, but answered. "Our families have been loosely allied since before my grandfather's time. When the Faithful were cast out of favor...well, her father wanted to secure a safe match for her. I had no wife, and no objection."

Elrond frowned, stopped when it pulled on the wounds on his neck. "You did not know her before?"

"We came to an agreement."

Isildur's tone did not invite further questions--but Elrond could not resist probing further. "You spoke of her courage..."

Isildur sighed and exchanged the bloodied cloth for a fresh one. He looked Elrond in the face, as if measuring him.

"My lady-wife finds cold comfort in the touch of men," Isildur said at last. "But a woman of her rank is not permitted to seek alliance for herself alone, and in these times, she must have a husband to protect her. And she wanted children."

That was perhaps more information than he needed--and yet, not the information he wanted.

"And you?"

Maddeningly, Isildur did not seem to catch his meaning.

"I would not say I found the touch of other men cold, though it is not something I choose to shout from the mountain tops. I wanted children, as well--needed them, in order to preserve the line. A man must have a wife for that, if he be a man of honor." Isildur paused, changing the bloodstained cloth for a clean one.

"She has been a fine companion to me over the years," he continued, "for she has a gift of seeing into the hearts of the common people. I count her as one of my most important advisors."

"It sounds...efficient."

Isildur frowned at him, and he wondered if he had gone too far.

"It was never a love match, and we have never pretended otherwise. Why such questions, Elrond? Has this war turned your thoughts to seeking a wife of your own?"

He almost laughed. "No, Isildur. I have no interest in taking a wife. I...I am merely curious to know more of you. For all that I have learned of them, the ways of Men can still seem strange to me."

"Well, my life with Tathar is certainly strange," Isildur agreed.

"How so?"

But Isildur shook his head, smiling. "Now, that touches on matters private between Tathar and myself, and I should not speak of them without her leave."

Isildur rolled back the sleeve of Elrond's tunic. The wound ran across the bend of his arm, leaving him with a flap of loosened skin. By some grace, it had missed vital tendons. It should heal well enough, he judged.

"This could have gone badly," Isildur said. His features tightened in grim self-reproach.

"A chance wound," Elrond shrugged.

"Had you a partner to match you, perhaps you would have emerged unscathed."

"I have the partner I desire."

Isildur raised startled eyes to him. Ai, I speak too freely.

"Your rank made you my expected choice," Elrond said, trying to explain away his inadvertent confession without distorting truth. "Your skill made you my preferred choice." Words with double-meaning, but perhaps Isildur would dismiss it as the speech of the battle-blooded, to be no more regarded than nudity in the camps.

"Then I must do better by you." Isildur's attention seemed absorbed by the wound. "If you were a Man, I would say this needed this something you can mend yourself?"

Elrond examined the wound with dispassionate care. "Bind it well, and it will tend itself."

Isildur nodded and reached for a roll of bandaging. A comfortable silence closed around them.

"This must be agony for you," Isildur said after a time.

"A flesh wound, Isildur. It will heal." He could feel it already, the low-grade tingle spurred into life by the properties of the herbal wash, and the intent of the one who tended him.

"I meant this place, with its blasted earth and dust. I have seen Imladris, all that you have built there. This is all but a desert."

Trust a Númenorean to understand the heart-call of the land. "If we do not stop him, all of Middle-Earth will lie under this blight."

"We will stop him."

He heard the determination in Isildur's voice. The surviving Faithful had just cause to hate Sauron. Like Amroth, like the survivors of Eregion, they had suffered irreparable harm from the Dark Lord's machinations. Their rage carried them to Mordor. How long could such mortal fire endure?

Elrond winced as Isildur's fingers caught in the snarls of his hair. I have Orc blood in my hair, he thought in distaste. Isildur's expression echoed his thoughts.

"Feh. Let's see about ridding you of this."

A bit searching produced a wooden comb from one of the packs piled in the corner. Isildur poured out more water, and set to work. He heard water streaming from a wrung-out cloth, making the sides of the bowl sing. Then he felt the damp cloth touch against his temple, dabbing back, back, into the drying blood, loosening it.

A gentle warmth spread through him. Isildur's hands stroked through his hair, an intimacy granted only to a parent or lover. With water and comb, Isildur began to work his way through the snarls.

"This is not new for you, is it?" Elrond asked, wincing as he heard the taint of jealousy in his voice.

Isildur chuckled. "I raised three sons, Elrond. Between them, they've gotten tree sap, honey, mud, preserves, candle wax, and worse clumped in their hair. We almost had to shave Aratan's head in his sixth year."

The resulting mental image startled a soft laugh out of him.

"I have seen others of your folk who braid their hair back from their faces," Isildur continued. "Why do you not do the same? It would spare you some of this."

"Braids have meaning," Elrond explained. "A knowing eye can read them and judge who has a pledged lover, who honors another for a night of loving, who wishes to remain untouched... All manner of things may thus be spoken in silence."

"And what would yours say, if you wore such braids?"

"That I am not pledged," Elrond said evenly. Were these questions all as innocent as they sounded, or did Isildur perhaps test him?


Was it his imagination, or did the fingers so near his face tremble just a bit?

"And what does it say that you wear no braids at all?"

"That I am too slothful to bind my hair back properly."

Isildur laughed, a sound almost rich enough to touch. "Slothful? You, Master Elrond? I cannot imagine you lazing all day in bed."


"Now, are those any thoughts to have about my shieldbrother?"

A question I ask myself daily. He sensed Isildur's withdrawal, the escape behind light-hearted banter. Isildur brushed the hair back from Elrond's neck, examining the wound.

"It looks better already."

"You have a healing touch," Elrond murmured, watching Isildur with half-closed eyes. He moved with such easy grace. One could still see the sailor in his walk, but his hands were steady as a scribe's. The warmth pooled in his groin.

"Praise, indeed," the prince chuckled, recovering himself. Sobering, he added, "When I saw them close on you..."

"It was you, then, who saved me?"

"You are not easy to spot on a battlefield, Elrond," Isildur replied. "I finally started towards your king, knowing you would make for his side."

"Your timing is beyond reproach."

Isildur laughed again, and looked away. "I should let you rest and recover."

He put his hand at the back of Isildur's neck. The prince went as still as stone, his expression unreadable. Isildur had sea-changing eyes, he thought. They could turn from a slate blue to gray-green, and countless shades in between. Now, they were a luminous blue.

"Stay with me," Elrond murmured. "It will help me heal."

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