An Elven Gift - Of Elves and Men

by NorthStar

The old road to Dunharrow was steep, twisting up the face of the craggy stone, the dust still thick from its recent disturbance of thundering hooves. The dark horse picked its way carefully over the rocky terrain, never flagging its pace. It knew its rider and the errand it was borne on and would not fail.

From above, the watch guard spotted the figure robed in black below, and with a low whistle, called his companions to his side, and directed them to the head of the road, to wait for the rider and send word to the King.

The night air was chill, and Theoden crouched close to the brazier, turning his hands over and over the flame to warm the blood. The brandy he had drunk earlier had not soothed him, and though his body felt tired, he knew that his mind would permit no sleep that night.

“So this is where our fate will be decided,” he had thought, looking over Edoras from astride Snowmane, “in front of the gates of Minas Tirith.” Better there, than his beloved Rohan. If the tide should be turned, utter darkness might never touch his country…and if it did not, he knew that he would likely fall before he would ever see Meduseld again. The memory of their leave-taking flickered through his mind again and again… the tears of the women, so recently devastated by the losses of their men at Helms Deep, the steely resolve of the Rohirrim as they mounted their steeds, the flag of the Horse Lords snapping in the crisp dawn wind. The look in Eomer’s eyes as he shouted for the warriors to fulfill their oaths to lord and land. Though he could not be any closer to the coals, he shivered and felt his age.

A sudden gust of cold air blew through the tent, as the flap was opened. “My liege,” said Gamling from the outside. “A visitor has arrived and wishes to speak with you. Immediately.” The tone of Gamling’s voice was odd, wondering, almost. Theoden straightened up, feeling each muscle protest, and straightened his tunic. “Bring them in, then.”

A hushed word outside, and then the flap opened to reveal a dark-robed figure, who entered silently and stood before Theoden. Theoden nodded to Gamling, who reluctantly closed the flap behind him, but did not move from his post outside the king’s tent..

The two stood in silence for a long moment. Then the figure raised its head and a white hand slipped the hood of the robe back, revealing a face neither old nor young, framed by long black hair, and crowned with a silver circlet. He bowed to Theoden. “My lord,” said Theoden, trying to keep the astonishment out of his voice; for he knew he was faced with one of the great elf lords of history and legend. “I am Elrond of Rivendell, and I come to you on this eve of battle with a matter of great importance.” Theoden started to reply, but looking into the deep eyes of the elf, he knew that Elrond knew all that had happened already. Words seemed out of place. So he managed only to say, “It is my great honor to meet you, Elrond of Rivendell.”

He indicated the couch and decanter nearby, and made a gesture for the elf to sit, but Elrond shook his head. “I have ridden many a league tonight, King, and standing is far more comfortable to me at present. But I will accept your offer of wine, for it is a cold night indeed on these plains.” Theoden nodded, feeling a bit more at ease. The elf’s voice was cool, but friendly, and the hospitality of Rohan was not to be forgotten under any circumstances. So he poured the wine, and handed Elrond his own cup, richly embossed with the arms of his own family, intertwined with the emblems of Rohan. The elf held the cup up to the warm lights of the lanterns and smiled. “I recognize this cup, for I once beheld Thengel raising the very same cup in a victory toast, long ago.” “You knew my father?” asked Theoden in surprise. Thengel had never mentioned the elves, except as lessons in history, and surely would have told him of riding with such a figure as Elrond. “Not personally,” replied Elrond, still studying the cup. “But I know of him, and of his skill in war. Skill he has passed on to you, Theoden King.”

Theoden took a step back, for the elf’s voice had deepened, and color flushed his cheeks. Elrond drained the wine, and looked directly at Theoden. “You go to war, but you cannot forget the years you stayed cold on your throne, your mind broken, your soul inhabited by evil. Do not take those memories with you, Theoden. They are of no use to you. Do not spend what may be your last moments on this Earth tortured by pain and indecision. Lead your people with all your might, and know that should you die, you die with honor and as a king should.”

“You see through to my very soul,” whispered Theoden. “How is it that you know of my thoughts, as though they were your own?”

Elrond leaned forward and placed the cup gently on the table. He then straightened up and sighed. “I have lived many years, King. Thousands of years, as my kind will. I have learned much of men in those years, and your pain is written plainly on your face” He sighed deeply. “I have fought Sauron before, and I know what you face in the dawn hours soon to come. And I do not envy you this …but with what I bring, men may still prevail.”

Theoden’s eyes dropped to the elf’s side, where a weapon lay sheathed in a scabbard wrought with runes. “You bring this gift not for me, my lord.” Elrond shook his head. “No…I bring this gift for the heir of Isildur…and the King of Gondor. It is his, and only he may bear it. What I bring to you this night is just as powerful, in its own way. Come here.”

Theoden hesitated, but Elrond stepped forward, and reaching out, grasped both of his hands. Despite the cold, the elf’s hands were warm, almost hot. The warmth crept through Theoden’s body and flooded his blood in a way the best brandy to be had never would. He closed his eyes, and in his mind, heard words murmured in a language he did not understand, but which flowed over and through him. And as the sound of the voice enveloped him, he felt the heavy burden of self-disgust and shame fall away, and felt his heart fill with the resolve and strength he remembered from before the dark time.

The strength of a true king of men.

He had no idea how many moments passed thusly, but in time, the elf released his hands and stepped back. The voice in his mind ceased, and Theoden became once more aware of his surroundings. The pain of his failure was gone. He felt renewed and young, ready to face whatever would come.

“My lord…” the words felt heavy on his tongue, and he found that he did not know what to say, so he settled for the simplest and truest ones he knew. “Thank you.”

Elrond smiled at him, and bowing his head, accepted the thanks with all the sincerity it was given.

Theoden’s eyes once more dropped to the weapon the elf bore. “I will send my man to bring Aragorn here.” Turning away, he flexed his hands and was amazed at the strength he felt in them. Opening the tent flap, he called to his man and bid him to wake the Ranger.