The Lesser of Evils
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
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
“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
“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
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
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
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.”