The Lesser of Evils

by Lothithil
A musing inkling of Elrond and Isildur

The wind was bitter, and it carried the smokes and cinders of the burning mountain into the eyes of Elrond Half-Elven, Herald of Gil-galad. The war had raged for seven years now, and finally in this place, at the very foot of Orodruin, the last combat was decided. The kings were both gone, destroyed despite their masterful weapons and Sauron, who had descended to fight hand to hand with his besiegers, now haunted the bloodied field, stalking the last son of Elendil.

Isildur scrambled desperately to reach his father’s sword. Sauron came on, tall and impossibly strong, the fiery gold of the One Ring gleaming on his deadly hand. He brought down his foot upon Narsil, Elendil’s sword, shattering its magnificence even as Isildur seized its hilt.

In defiance and grief for his fallen father and friend, the heir of Elendil raised the sword hilt, and he swung its razor-sharp blade and even reduced to a mere shard as it was, it cleft through the armoured fingers of Sauron, freeing the One Ring from his possession. Sauron howled and the land shook as his unbound spirit fled, leveling the battlefield in a mighty blast.

Isildur took up the digit of Sauron from where it had fallen. With shaking hands he crushed the ashen finger and on his shrinking palm burned in untainted glory a simple band of gold.

It was as if the whole world had paused to draw breath. The minions of the Dark Lord fled, fought, or slew themselves in their madness. But Elrond heeded them not; Isildur knelt where he was, staring at his hand with a face twisted in pain. The Ring was burning his flesh, but he could not drop it nor lay it aside.

“Come with me,” Elrond said brusquely. Isildur looked at him, then rose to his feet and followed. Elrond led him up the slope to Sammath Naur, where the forge of the Dark Lord still smouldered and vomited fire and magma. The ground was shaking; the very mountain seemed to convulse in horror at the slaughter that had stained its roots. A dangerous place, but it was at the very center of Sauron’s evil craft. Here, if nowhere else, might the One Ring be destroyed.

Elrond led him to the heart of the mountain. Isildur’s feet dragging him to a halt some paces back from the edge of the precipice. Elrond stood at the very edge, and the heats and fumes of the mountain fanned his cloak up behind him like dark wings.

“Throw it into the Fire!” Elrond urged him.

Isildur took a step forward but he stopped quickly, as he had struck an unseen barrier. His face was full of doubt.

Elrond said, “We can end Sauron’s rule for ever, and free all Middle earth from this great evil, if we destroy it now! Isildur, have you forgotten your father? Have you forgotten your brother and your people?”

Isildur’s glance lowered. His words came quietly, while with one finger he caressed the ring in his palm. “This precious thing I will have as weregild for my father and my brother,” he said, and he seemed to smile in gentle, possessive pride. Softly his eyes glowed, and he no longer heeded the tumult around him.

Elrond stepped forward quickly, laying his hand on Isildur’s arm to steady him, as the mountain rocked beneath their feet.

“You do not see what will come of this, Isildur,” warned Elrond. “I am given Sight beyond the eyes of Men, and I foresee much evil if you take this thing to yourself. Do not keep it! Let it fall into the Fire, and be undone!”

Isildur’s face and heart were closed to Elrond’s words. As his hand touched the Man, Elrond saw in a vision the fall of Isildur; pierced through by many arrows and sinking into the waters of a green lake, his face frozen in pain. Elrond’s hand closed in the fabric of Isildur’s garment.

“Sauron will endure, if his Ring is not undone,” spoke Elrond, his face full of bitterness. “Would you deny the last Exiles their return, to keep the memory of your dead?” With his other hand, Elrond seized Isildur’s arm. “You cannot see that your own death will come of this, and the corruption of the lands.” His grip was as vice around the arms of Isildur now, and against the strength of the Eldar Isildur now fought. But it was as if he were struggling against the very foundations of a mountain. Elrond was unmoved.

“I can see what you cannot,” Elrond breathed, and in his eyes then was not the frightened face of Isildur, nor the burning mountain around them. He saw a quiet glade in the softness of summer, where two small creatures who had hitherto dwelt in peace now struggled, one choking from the other the gift of his life, for the possession of the One Ring.

Isildur’s face twisted in desperation and his voice raised in alarm; he could not be heard over the complaint of the mountain, where the lava rose like waves lapping shores of black stone. Ashes whirled in the air like gulls. Elrond carried Isildur to the precipice.

Visions swam before the Half-Elf’s eyes: A old man in white wandered the land, seeking in all places for something that he would not find… shadows debated beside a cold underground lake, hunger verses guile… a dragon roared as he fell upon a burning town…

Isildur now pleaded for his life, his feet catching at the very edge of the stones.

Elrond’s mind focused sharply on a fair creature; dark curls circling an innocent face, and he stood forth before a circle of mighty warriors and wise men. He showed them courage that not one of them could rival. Elrond felt in that instant all the sufferings of that one and his ending, standing here where they stood at that very moment. He knew that all these things would come to pass, should the Ring survive.

Elrond held out his arms their full length. Isildur flailed freely as he was suspended above the gaping chasm. His empty hands grasped ineffectually, his voice unheard, and his death fixed in Elrond’s impassive countenance.

“These things shown to me, I will not let you bring about. The evil must end here.”

Time froze. Isildur could hear the mountain taking a final breath. And then Elrond’s grip was loosed. He turned away, and felt the darkness retreating before the visions of light that dazzled his eyes.

There was no regret, as Elrond had feared would haunt him. Instead there was relief, even elation that he had done this thing. All the glimpses of dark futures faded in his mind and he allowed himself to envision the beauty that would be born now. “In doing this, I have healed the lands, and I will make in Middle earth a garden that will rival the meads of Tasarinan and the green hill of Túna in Valinor. No need now to sail in grey ships, no more hiding or fear of darkness! Wonders shall walk the land again, as once did in Ages past.” He felt as immense as the mountain itself.

He walked to the doorway of Sammath Naur, and saw that the sunlight now spilled through the fumes in long spears. Below, the lands that once were covered in shadows now were dappled with light.

The faces of the warriors turned upward, and they saw a mighty being emerge from the mouth of the mountain. Cirdan’s face was stricken as he recognized Elrond. The Elf then fell to his knees as if taken by grief. From his lips a whisper could be heard, “No, not you, my lord! This is the greatest evil that we could have feared. Who shall free us now?”

Elrond raised his hands to receive the adulation of his people…

… And then he caught sight of a bright gleam of gold bound round his finger.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~


“My lord, you are lost in your thoughts.” Gandalf’s voice cut through Elrond’s meditation. “Can I ask what has drawn your attention away from our councils?”

Elrond’s gaze returned to the present and he let fall the curtain on the day of rain. “Frodo has accepted his burden, and the fellowship leaves on the morrow. I was wondering if there was some way that he could have been spared the burden of this quest. I will that sometimes my eyes did not see so clearly, or that my memory were less sharp than it is.”

Gandalf smiled gently. “You returned to the Battle of Dagorlad, didn’t you, to ponder the choice you made on that day? Do you regret them now?”

“It is useless to ponder regrets about choices made.” Elrond replied dryly, pouring glasses of wine for them both, “No foresight is needed to discern that wisdom.”

Gandalf accepted his glass with a nod, but his eyes were still twinkling, “You did not answer the question, my lord. Do you not see that there could have been no other way, once the Ring had seized Isildur?”

Elrond sighed. He knew that Gandalf would worry him like a dog on a bone until his questions were answered. But the saying of it aloud gave him no comfort.

“Yes, I have visited that hour again, retracing the steps that I did not take. And I know now as I knew then what the future would contain. Still, I wish that Frodo need not do this thing.”

Elrond returned to the window, pulling aside the curtain again. His voice was soft and resigned, “Seeing that things would have been worse, were our fates left in other perhaps stronger hands, does nothing to relieve my grief. His torment will be great, and I cannot see beyond the certainty of his sacrifice. I know the Ring is safer in the hands of this halfling than in any other, but who will heal my heart of this wounding? Not even I have that skill.”