by arachne

This story is set immediately after the close of my story Choices. You haven't read it? Shame. OK. What you need to know is that After takes place immediately after the fall of Sauron in the Second Age. Isildur has taken the ring and Elrond has done a *very bad thing*.

And, ah, Cirdan's beard. It is isn't there - at least not yet. This isn't beardism (am **BIG** L/G fan) but visually my elves belong to movie-land. This makes Cirdan a two second blur and a soupcon of imagination.

NOTES are the end for those who enjoy checking against source.

Many thanks to Elizabeth for the beta. Any wincers, howlers and individual interpretations of grammar belong to me. (OW!)

One: To Be Alone


Cirdan was hailing him. Elrond did not acknowledge the summons. He called again, louder this time, and now Elrond could sense unease from those around them at his discourtesy towards the elven lord. Let them wonder, soon they would have more than speculation to go on.

Still he did not turn, continuing to make his way towards the tented area occupied by the men of Numenor. It was crowded here, and confused, but the silk banners of the white tree flew proudly over the makeshift camp, marking the dwellings of Elendil and his kin.


The voice was musically beguiling even when shouting the orders of battle. Even here, even now, it stirred him. So many ways Cirdan had said his name through the years - with amusement, exasperation, passion, even in anger - but always with that bright thread of love running through. Never like this. He was---

Whatever he was, he was not a coward. He had made his choice and would abide by it without pity or complaint. He turned.

The Lord of the Havens caught up with him, moving swiftly, with the grace he gave to all things. Cirdan's face was grim, his pale hair unbound, the loosely falling strands almost indistinguishable against dull metal armour and the grey of his cloak. Long fingers closed over Elrond's arm, the hold firm but impersonal, as he spoke, "You are weary, Lord Elrond, or you would have heard my calls sooner. Come, you are needed by your people."

The words were loud enough to be heard by those nearest.

"My people?" Elrond repeated, only now it was a question and acid on his lips.

Which people - elves or men? Isildur was dead. It was necessary to see Isildur's sons to tell them. To tell them… To tell them what? Men are weak. But words refused to form. Indeed, even standing was only achieved by an act of will. In the distance the volcano rumbled, its roar loud even in the camp, but the assembled companies paid no heed. They had long grown used to the unassuagible anger of Mount Doom and there were other, more immediate, concerns close at hand. He shuddered.

"Come, Elrond, you are needed," said Cirdan again. He paused for a moment then continued, the words lower this time, meant for him alone, "Needed by your own people and also those of men."

Around them weary soldiers dismantled the watch towers and battering rams of war and prepared to leave this cursed place where they had been held in siege for seven long years. There would be drinking and songs tonight but the toasts would be to the fallen and the songs about those who were lost. Only in the days to come, as they made their way back to hall and farm and the loving arms of their waiting kin, would the survivors come to be grateful for the fact that they had been spared. It was over now. At least he could be sure of that. It was something to cling to, but not enough. He wished he were dead.

Elrond let Cirdan guide them through the crowd without protest. Centres of healing had been set up and all who had knowledge in these arts now turned their thoughts away from war and to the restoration of life. He should help - healing was his calling - but Cirdan's hand on his arm kept him moving through the throngs to the tents of their encampment. It looked different. It felt as if he watched the scene through eyes that belonged to someone else, someone who was not Elrond. There were the banners raised high - the blue ships of the Telerin elves, his own with the signs of the house of Finwe, and above them all…Realization hit him knife-sharp. Gil-galad's standard had been lowered. His king was dead. Once again, eternity stretched before him, sundered from all he held dear. It had happened before - with his parents, Earendil and Elwing; his foster father, Maglor; Elros, his brother who had chosen mortality and was lost - but these partings had all been forced upon him and he had to learned to accept and adapt. This isolation he had chosen for himself.

"Come." Cirdan's voice called him back, the pressure on his arm an anchor to reality. He tore his eyes away from the empty air where Gil-galad's banner had flown and managed the last few steps that would take him to his tent. His squire, Nulondion, waited on his return. The young elf greeted them anxiously, obviously concerned at the time that it had taken Elrond to return from the battle.

"Later," said Cirdan, cutting across his enquiries. "I must speak with Lord Elrond privately. Let no one enter." Nulondion's eyes widened at this brusqueness and he quickly glanced at Elrond for confirmation of the order. Elrond said nothing, but whatever his squire saw in his face must have convinced him because he moved away from the door of the tent drawing open the heavy canvas to allow them to enter.

"One moment," Elrond stopped Nulondion as the elf prepared to leave. He issued a swift series of commands. If possible the squire's eyes widened even further but he made no demur as he set out to follow instructions. Voices could heard outside, followed by footsteps, indicating that a guard had been mounted to ensure their privacy.

Once alone Cirdan let go of him at once as if he had been burned. Elrond had expected no less. He moved away as if the parting had been mutual, needing to establish some space between them. Without any clear idea of what he was doing he dropped down on the sleeping pallet and began to unbuckle the heavy guards that protected his arms with clumsy fingers.

Cirdan watched him and made no move to help. The expression on his high-boned face was unreadable. Of course, he would not willingly touch Elrond again. At last the ties were done, first the right and then, a little easier, the left. He unbuckled the heavy belt and lifted the close-forged chain shirt over his head dropping them carelessly by his side. Lightly clad in shirt and breeches he was aware how the dust of battle clung to him. Cirdan read his thoughts and silently passed a damp cloth for him to wipe face and hands. He accepted it equally silently wondering if he ever find the words to speak. It seemed Cirdan hesitated, too, similarly reluctant to start a conversation that could only end in bitterness and parting.

"Here." The soiled cloth was retrieved and a cup pressed into Elrond's hands. It was wine, warm and heavy, a local brew. However, he knew that there would be no escape in drink. Wine drunk now would only serve to make things clearer, illuminating rather than hiding his guilt, as the stars show up the darkness of the night sky.

"There are many wounded?" he heard himself ask although he already knew the answer. The silence weighed on him.

"Yes, many." Again the dreadful gentleness of tone. Cirdan stood in the centre of the tent, a structure larger than the common run for it was used as a meeting place. He still held the soiled cloth in one hand as though he had forgotten its presence. "Did you love your stepfather?"

Elrond looked up sharply. He had not expected that and the question itself was not easy to answer given that war had taken his first family from him and delivered him into the arms of his enemies.

"Yes. Love grew strong between us."

"Yet he did terrible things."

It is a statement rather than a question - or at least, Elrond treated it as such. Cirdan pressed the point home. "And Celebrimbor. Do you think we who knew him remember him with hate? Yet it was with his guidance that Sauron allowed the Ring to be wrought." This last was asked with a sigh, for Celebrimbor and Cirdan had been friends.

"There is a difference." Storm-flecked eyes met his, daring him to look away. Elrond kept his gaze steady and his voice even. "It is you who do not understand. They repented of what they did. I do not. Seven years, Cirdan, how many dead or dying? How many lives do you set against one? I chose freely and I would make the same choice again. Though it costs me everything."

Cirdan did not stir but his expression, which had been cold and distant, softened. "Then you would make the same mistake again. Understand this, Elrond, good can never come from evil no matter what the intent. There are more than just you who have been affected by this day's work. But stay - he held out a hand as Elrond made a sound of protest - now is not the time. The living must come first. We will talk again later."

"Shall I come to you?" The question slipped out unbidden and with it came an echo of all the other times he had asked such a question down the years. Shall I come to you? At first, an untried youth unsure of the answer, then later as a prelude to love. Always Cirdan would reply, "I will be waiting."

"No." The answer pulled him back with the effectiveness of a blow. Cirdan must have seen it for he made haste to qualify. "It will be easier for me to come here. You have much to do."

"I saw your face." The words burst out. "You hate me now."

"Not me."

There was no answer to that - or none that pride would let him make. He drained the wine and went out to try and save life with his bloodstained hands. So many dead. How could he be sure that one more death would avert this scene in future ages? He had to believe that it would. Because otherwise--

The burial parties had made mass graves marked by cairns of the dark volcanic stones. There could be no individual tokens or markers, save for the bodies of the king and those of his household who could be identified. These were wrapped reverently and borne back in state. Sauron's forces of orcs and men they carried some distance away and burned on large pyres from which issued black smoke and a foul stench. The weapons were taken as wergild for their own fallen but other possessions left lying on the field. Those that had families might come and claim them if they would and lay upon them such blessings as they could.

His skill did not betray him. Long years in study and the words and potions of healing were as natural as was walking. Whatever his inner turmoil his hands did not falter in their work and his voice remained steady. But these were straightforward hurts - wounds of the spirit called for a different strength and these he doubted he would ever be able to cure again.

It was full night when the last of the injured had been tended and the torches that lit the camp were half burned down. Elrond drew his cloak around him at the coolness of the night air. In the distance the funeral piles still burned, the smell muted now but still sharp enough to catch the throat. They would leave in the morning. Glorfindel waited in his tent. His captain had gathered a light meal of bread and wine. Elrond drank the wine but ignored the food.

"Did you find what I asked?"

Glorfindel, his face grave. "Yes. The blade and hilt were lying as you described. I gave them to Isildur's son, Elendur."

"That was not what I asked. I had intended to give the sword to Elendur myself." The words came out with the harshness of a rebuke. He was not used to having his orders disregarded.

Glorfindel replenished their wine, concentrating on filling the cups as he replied. "He has gone."

"What?" This was unlooked for - Elrond had thought he had until morning. The anger left his voice. "At what time?"

"While you were tending the sick." Glorfindel looked uneasy. He would not lie but clearly was not revealing all he might of the truth.

"Why did you not ask someone to come and get me?"

"My lord Cirdan would not have it. He spoke long with the sons of Isildur. There were angry words on both sides and after the men departed." Glorfindel was watching him closely.

This was it, then. Elrond would speak and the friend of years would turn away. "There is blood between us," he said carefully.

"You are kin."

"That is not what I meant."

"I know what you meant." It was a statement and also a closure - a cautious acceptance that left him unhappier than before. He would have preferred the condemnation. Glorfindal knew then. Who had told him and what had they said? But before he could ask the elf had slipped away, saying, "Cirdan asked me to alert him on your return. There is something else you should know."

Cirdan must have been waiting for the summons for barely minutes had passed before the shipwright entered his tent. He was dressed ready for departure, in worn travel cloak, with his hair braided and tied for riding.

"Cirdan." Weariness had left Elrond unguarded, he had to consciously stop himself going towards the other man. Cirdan, too, had lifted his arms only to drop them. "You had news for me?" he asked carefully.

Cirdan nodded. "Glorfindel will have told you the sons of Isildur have left. Arventer has taken the sceptre of Sauron as wergild for his father."

For a moment he could not believe what he heard. Cirdan shimmered before his gaze and he was once again in the caverns of Mount Doom watching Isildur fall. Nothing. Had it all been for nothing? Surely not? It was the Ring that was evil, not his symbols of power. Only the Ring. It couldn't be anything else.

"Could you not have stopped him?" he said at last. The words were calm but inside everything was falling.

"How?" Cirdan's voice was cold.

Elrond raised his eyes, turning slightly so that he faced the other elf fully. His own voice was equally cold. "By whatever means you had."

"Would you have had me kill him? He would not give it up." Still the same inflexible tone.

His dug his fingers into the palms of his hands to prevent them forming into fists. "Yes."

Cirdan made a sweeping motion towards the entrance of the tent. "Then it is not too late for you to go after him and do so. Go if you must. I shall not stop you. But Elrond, where will it end?" And now the coolness was gone and there was only entreaty.

He allowed the years to flow over him and over the war-stained figure who stood so still in front of him. So many meetings and partings. A thousand smiles and ever the silvery eyes had been open to him. Now they were shadowed. Ah Cirdan. Still the figure was beloved to him and he would not take the move to stay or go.

"Beloved," Cirdan said at last. "Remember when you first opened yourself to me and we lay in the grasses of Lindon and were one." No reaction. "Remember the words I spoke then?"

"I forget nothing." Memory was a curse as well as a blessing.

"Then remember this, you are dearer to me now than ever before. That does not change."

Impossible. Elrond dropped his eyes, all at once uncertain, as if he was indeed the young elf he was at their first joining. All at once he knew he could not go.

"Here." He whispered. "It ends here."

Cirdan breathed out and only then did Elrond realise that the elf had been as tense as he had. He wanted to say something but before he could find the words Cirdan motioned him forward. Obediently he came close until they were only inches apart although still not touching. "Put out your hand. I have something for you. Gil-galad left it in my keeping. He wanted it to go to you." As he spoke Cirdan reached into the folds of his cloak and drew out an object which he held carefully between forefinger and thumb - a large sapphire, square cut, and claw mounted set in a thick band of gold.

Gil-galad's ring! Elrond's hand, which he had put out at Cirdan's request, trembled and would have fallen if Cirdan had not caught it in a tight grip around the wrist. Trapped, Elrond closed his fingers into a fist. He felt his control slipping and had to exert every effort to keep his voice from shaking. "Not now. He would not want me to have it now."

Cirdan forced open his fingers putting the ring in the palm his hand. "It is not my gift to take away. Gil-galad left it to you with these words. "Vilya I give to you to give to Elrond. The world becomes heavy even in victory and this may lighten his way for as his past is written in blood and loss so shall be his future and what is lost will only be fully regained through the sacrifice of love."

"I do not regret it." He raised his eyes to Cirdan's ageless gaze, asking for he knew not what.

"Elrond. You cannot defeat evil with evil."

So it lay between them, chasm deep. Elrond stared at the ring lying in his hand. All at the once the words came, tumbling out in an unstoppable torrent. "So I chose. And so I would choose again if I had the choice. That is my burden. How shall I go about making it right? I cannot stop time. If I thought that by casting myself into the fire with Isildur I could make amends I would do so."

A sudden passion lit Cirdan's face, echoing in his voice. His hand on Elrond's tightened. "You will live. Promise me, Elrond, you will live."

"Forever." And the word was a curse. Something unclenched inside of him. "You will go West as will all my kin and I will be here forever."

"I will wait." The passion was fading now, to be replaced with a calm certainty. "If it takes a thousand times a thousand years you will come back. If it be the last ship then I swear I will be there when the last ship sails."

"I cannot," he said, and now the words were a plea. "I cannot do this. Not alone."

Cirdan's glance fell to his hand. Following it, Elrond noticed for the first time that he openly wore Narya, the Ring of Fire. The shipwright's voice was stern, "You are a ring bearer. To bear a ring of power is to be alone." And yet, the hand holding Elrond's made no move to release him.

Outside the guards exchanged a quick flurry of shouted speech. Moments later, the sound of horses could be heard approaching. A sudden neigh was muffled by a calming voice as the horses were pulled up outside.

"My Lords," Glorfindel appeared at the entrance of the tent. He took in the scene before him with an apologetic glance. "Your pardons, lords. Elrond, the horses are ready. We must be away." He bowed and drew the tent canvas shut as he left.

Elrond forced himself to stand tall, to meet Cirdan's gaze proudly. "So be it."

Still they stood in the centre of the tent, only inches apart yet barely touching. Cirdan folded Elrond's fingers around the great ring and wrapped his free hand around the clenched fist. Of its own volition, Elrond covered the pale fingers with his own so they were locked hand over hand. Age-old eyes looked into his, with all the promise and cruelty of the morning. Elrond shut his eyes, unable to bear the knowledge reflected therein. Cirdan drew close, kissing the side of his forehead where the hair met skin, the bridge of his nose, his closed eyes, before, at last, claiming his mouth in a kiss long and deep.

A touch to last the lifetimes of men.

"I do not ask forgiveness," Elrond said as their lips parted.

"It is not mine to give. I will be waiting." Cirdan drew their clasped hands to his lips, then stepped back breaking the contact. He moved to the door.

Gil-galad had known. He had known and headed out to battle head held high. He had known and spoke to his herald as he always had in the place of a father, "If this go ill, remember that you are dear to me. May the stars shine brightly on your house, easing your darkness, lighting you home."

Elrond looked down at the ring in his hand, almost as if he had forgotten its existence. Then he pushed it on the middle finger of his right hand, the stone glowed in the lamplight.


So many ways Cirdan had said his name through the years - amusement, exasperation, passion, even in anger - but always with love. And now, finally, in parting.

When he looked up Cirdan had gone.



This is an AU but one that - hopefully - is based on some sort of logical progression.

Cirdan the Shipwright was the original bearer of Narya, the Ring of Fire, which he later gave to Gandalf. The final passage of The Silmarillion tells of the white ship made by Cirdan on which the ring bearers left Middle Earth for the last time at which point 'an end was come for the Eldar of story and song'. Canon is not final on this subject, but I've taken it to mean that Cirdan, too, set sail on this ship with the other bearers. Despite canon Cirdan being described as bearded, I've taken my character images from the Jackson movie. That's not to say Cirdan will never be bearded - just that it hasn't happened yet!

In this story Isildur was killed by Elrond at the Cracks of Doom. LotR canon describes how he met his death by orcs as he made his way home. Isildur's three elder sons Elendur, Aratan and Ciryon were killed at the same time. His youngest son, Valandil, remained in safety at Rivendell. Isildur's squire, Ohtar, was one of only three to survive the attack and it was he who returned the shards of Narsil to Rivendell.

Common names have been used throughout for ease of reading ie. Rivendell rather than Imladris