[Imladris, the Third Age]
Elrond stared blankly at his palm, where the scar had long ago faded from view. If only all scars could be so easily erased by the passage of time, he sagely mused in silence. He had never told a soul of his self-appointed epesse, save one, one to whom he had kept no secrets. Why do I not grace my precious Greenleaf with such trust?
"Why indeed," he guiltily muttered to himself. Why had he not explained to Legolas that he, too, had once beheld the Lady's magnificence? Of that he could not say, save that sometimes logic failed him miserably where Legolas was concerned. There had only been one other who could reduce him to mindlessness, that same one who had taken to his death the secret of his chosen appellation. His only defense, feeble as it was, would be that part of him still believed the vision of the Lady he had enjoyed as a child was merely that - a vision, a dream. How could he possibly profane the Golden Prince's all-too-real visit to Mandos' Halls, fleeting as it was, by unworthy comparison?
Did not his beloved of this age deserve some explanation, in way of comforting corroboration of Elbereth's grace and loveliness? Did he not deserve the truth - the entire truth - in all things, especially those which concerned him, even in some peripheral way? If so, would that not mean divulging the sins of the past, not only sins of omission on
Elrond's part in terms of events long kept secret, but the sins of commission which the royal family of Mirkwood - the former Greenwood the Great - had inflicted upon the Lord of Imladris, and upon themselves?
[The camp of the Last Alliance, the stony plain of Dagorlad, the year 3434 of the Second Age]
Elrond meandered mindlessly through the camp of the Last Alliance, his heart aching even more than his body. Dirt and blood-covered Men and Eldar alike reverently carried out the grim task of honoring their fallen comrades with a final rest, countless bodies buried in the murky moisture of the marshes. Disproportionately many of the lost were sylvan elves of the forest realm of Lorien. Brave Amdir and half his loyal band, vastly under-armed and out numbered, cut off from the main throng of Gil-galad's alliance, had fallen to the foul hand of Sauron's orcs and Easterlings. In the end the beasts and faithless men had been pushed back, scurrying like rats into the relative safety offered behind the ominous Black Gates of Mordor. It was to be counted as a victory, but one which carried with it no joy.
Staring down at his own battle-bruised hands as he aimlessly picked his way through the crowded tents and battle-weary combatants, Elrond grimaced at the stain of blood crusting his fingers. He knew it to be the intermingled life essence of Edain, Eldar, yrch, and traitorous men alike, surprisingly similar in color, yet poles apart in purity and loyalty. He glanced up at the gray-mantled sky, the hue suited to his mood, and noted there would be no healing blessing from the Lady's stars this cruel night.
He found himself without intention among the soldiers of Greenwood the Great, the troops of Oropher, distant kin to whom he felt no connection save that of the bitter betrayal of his childhood. A few strides from Oropher's battle-tattered tent he heard the cacophony of raised voices, one he recognized as belonging to the tent's owner, the other to his King, his beloved, his husband. He understood well the fiery tone of Gil-galad's voice even before he could discern the exact enunciation of the words spoken. Once more, Oropher would hold the High King's counsel suspect, a continual pattern which threatened to undermine the tenuous foundation of this all-important alliance.
With a final shouted epithet disparaging Oropher's parentage, Gil-galad emerged from the tent, roughly pushing out past the still fluttering door flap, the fire of ire unmistakable in his eyes. "The fool would have us attack Sauron directly before we have even buried the last of our dead!" the incredulous King explained to Elrond, striding past his beloved, then turning back and gruffly pacing past him once more in the other direction, his hands wildly gesticulating to the uncaring air. "I know not what else to say to him," he lamented, finally stopping in front of Elrond's patiently still form. Exhaling, he shook his head sadly, his eyes beseeching his herald and heart for the wisdom to rectify this hopeless situation.
Elrond understood well what Gil-galad meant to ask, and offered his assistance even before the plea passed the Noldor's lips. "Do you believe he will listen to the words of another - one who is not a threat to his authority with his own troops?"
"Perhaps," Gil-galad urged in palpable relief. "Speak some sense to that supposed ruler of Greenwood if you dare, for I would have better luck convincing the waves of the great sea not to roll."
The herald nodded understandingly. "I will do my best, yet I do not believe he will find my words any fairer or sager than yours."
"Then perhaps you should speak with your fist and forgo vain words. His pride will bring naught but death to his own people ere the end of our battles." Gil-galad paused for a moment, lingering in silent appreciation of the face he so missed waking up beside in the morning. He raised a blood-stained, gloved hand and tenderly brushed it against his herald's cheek, the motion fleeting and hurried lest any bear witness to what both felt best to keep private. "Le gweston meleth-nin. Si a an-uir, Gil-estelion."
A sorrowed smile flashed across Elrond's face, the son of Earendil nodding with swallowed emotion. "Le gweston meleth-nin. Si a an-uir, Finnelach." He held the other's intense gaze for a moment, as long as he dared, before tumbling into the insanity of emotions held in check for far too long.
The High King removed one of his gloves, pressed a kiss into the palm of his bare hand, then pressed it against the emblem of his house proudly worn upon his spouse's chest.
"My remembrances of the hour I gifted this upon you keep me warm on these intolerably cold and lonesome nights apart."
"As mine do as well," Elrond whispered in a husky, tremulous voice. "The fire of my heart plays well upon the field of battle, as I see each individual soldier of the enemy as an impediment keeping you from my arms."
The High King of the Noldor and his herald, husbands in the eyes of Elbereth and all the court of Valinor, suffered in the torment of their relative proximity yet all the same vastness of the practical gulf which separated them while the war waged on. Expressing with their eyes what their lips most urgently wished to do, they finally, reluctantly, broke their anguished gaze, and Gil-galad strode off, his heart even more lead-filled than it had been before.
Catching his breath, Elrond shrugged his armor into proper position, and with shoulders firm and head held high pulled aside the flap of Oropher's tent and boldly strode inside.
"Who dares to interrupt my privacy?" Oropher gruffly blustered, turning to face the intruder who stared just inside his private domain.
"One who would prevent you from falling into ruin," Elrond offered earnestly.
Oropher sneered derisively, his eyes flashing anger and amusement at the very same time. "I would not listen to the 'master', what makes you believe I would hold the words of the 'servant' any less worthless?"
"I hope I could convince you as distant kin to put the well-being of your people before your own pride."
A cackled laugh of disbelief and insult filled the stale air. "You dare to call yourself 'kin' to me? Do not insult me." Oropher sharply shook his head and turned away, as if Elrond was not even worthy of his attention. He continued cleaning his sword, as he had been doing before he was so rudely interrupted. "It is bad enough that you would bind yourself to a kinslayer, to their very king, but you do not even have the honor to hold yourself to those ill-begotten vows. Instead you are a human's bitch. You have no honor." He found himself spun around to face Elrond, and then backhanded with such force than he fell backward, his sword falling to the ground beside him as he roughly hit the stony surface. He glanced upward at his assailant, a hand raised to his abused cheek in wordless astonishment.
Elrond glowered menacingly above him, his eyes flashing with flames more deadly that Orodruin itself. "You are a fine one to speak about honor, Oropher of Greenwood, you who would abandon two babes to the very same kinslayers you disparage with such ease." Seeing the knowing widening of Oropher's eyes, Elrond smiled in smug satisfaction. "Yes, I remember well the day you abandoned my brother and me in our hour of need, as if it were a mere week in the past instead of an entire age."
"You should have died - both of you," Oropher bitterly hissed. "Your tainted line should have come to an end. I rejoiced the day your brother chose to be of the Lesser Born, as his blood will never taint that of the Eldar. Since you have chosen to bind yourself to the King of the Noldor, your stain will not be passed on despite your masquerade as one of our kind."
"Yet my brother's line 'does' go ever on in the Faithful. One leads us at Gil-galad's side," Elrond proudly explained.
"And so you lie not only with one of the Edain, but one of your own kin as well! You are worse than the sons of Feanor."
"I would rather be compared with the sons of Feanor than the sons of Greenwood, if you be their representative," Elrond spat without hesitation.
Thranduil, prince of Greenwood, rushed into the tent breathlessly, obviously brought by the unmistakable sound of argument. He saw his father on the ground and Elrond's flushed expression, and easily surmised what had transpired. "What manner of insult have you inflicted upon our house?" he demanded, glaring at Elrond in disgust.
"Your father brings his own insult upon the House of Greenwood," Elrond gruffly noted, watching as Oropher stiffly pushed up to his feet. "Ask your father for the true reason for my lack of respect toward him, if you dare."
"My son is no coward," Oropher blustered.
"Perhaps not, but do you have the strength to admit to your own cowardice of the past?"
Elrond shook his head sadly, finding no joy in the moment. "Gil-galad was right - you are past the reach of logic. I pray to Elbereth that your son might convince you to stay your rash hand - for the good of your people. I wash my hands of your line and its damnable pride. What befalls you now is not my responsibility, nor my King's." With that he pushed past a wordless Thranduil and into the blessedly fresh air.
With the coming of the dawn, Oropher led an unwise charge upon the Black Gate, before Gil-galad had even dressed in his armor for the day. It had ended as badly as Elrond had presaged, with Oropher and the majority of his troops fallen in battle before the sun had reached its highest point in the sky. It was only due to the brilliant strategy and bravery of Gil-galad and his herald that Thranduil and a scant third of the force of Greenwood were rescued and brought back to the safety of camp, Gil-galad himself bearing the body of the fallen king of Greenwood in a sign of undeserved respect.
That night, Elrond was inconsolable in his despondency, feeling somehow responsible for the fate of Oropher and his force. Cirdan sat beside him at the fire, first in knowing silence, then providing a sage voice of security and sanity. "There was nothing you could do to prevent Oropher from throwing away his life," the white-haired shipwright argued.
"He was cursed from before the start of this age."
"Cursed?" Elrond quizzically asked. "In what manner?"
Cirdan smiled sadly, adjusting himself more comfortably against the ground in preparation for a lengthy tale. "It began with the landing of Fionwe's forces in Middle-earth, after the voyage of your parents to the Blessed Lands to beg for aid against Melkor and his dark forces...."
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