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A Fine Line Between Light and Darkness

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A Fine Line Between Light and Darkness

The Journey Begins

 

A/N: I finally finished Shadow of War and I am devastated. And pissed. And screaming on the inside at how Cel and Talion’s story ended. And I won’t stand for it. I will go down with this ship and I won’t rest until I find a way to somehow fix the mess our boys got themselves into. I should probably finish reading LOTR first, but you know. Also, this author’s note is being written right after finishing the game. I’m going to look back on this and cringe at how stupid and upset I sound, but for now let the journey begin.

Disclaimer: I don’t own anything you recognize here except my poorly written non-profit story and ideas. For better writing for this pairing, go read some works from the lovely Achromos, who inspired me to finally write a fic for our boys. :)

 

 

    Talion stood in front of the Witch King’s barrier that once barred him from the stronghold of Minas Morgul. Hand shaking less than the time before, he lifted it until it was a hairsbreadth away before slowly reaching forward. It passed through with no difficulty, no injury. He jerked it back, staring at the offending appendage as if it had wronged him. It was these kind of moments that reminded him that the darkness hadn’t consumed him, not today and not any other day. So far from the light was he now, but he was not completely devoid of it. A part of him still marveled at how the energy welcomed rather than shunned him, strengthened him instead of weakened him. He was more Ringwraith than man now. He knew that, but so long as he still had breath in his lungs Talion, Ranger of the Black Gate, Gravewalker of Mordor, husband, father, and warrior of Middle Earth lived on.

 

    He turned away from the barrier, back towards Minas Morgul, and found himself wandering aimlessly along the ruined streets. Wights of the men felled during the battle for Minas Ithil ambled along, uncaring of the rubble and destruction around them. The city was proud once, bustling with life. Castamir, Idril, Baranor, Minas Ithil’s citizens, all once dwelled here. The city used to be bright . And that word made his heart clench painfully because of who it reminded him of.

 

Celebrimbor.

 

    The wraith had betrayed him, called him nothing more than a vessel, taken back the ring and abandoned him for Eltariel, and for what? A mere chance that Sauron could be dominated, could be put under his control? No. Talion had felt the power shift before, and one thing was for certain: Celebrimbor and Eltariel had failed. Sauron’s defeat would be felt all across Middle Earth when the day came, but that day had not yet come. Yes, the two had failed, and while he couldn’t be sure of Eltariel’s fate, one thing he was sure of was that Celebrimbor was alive.

 

    Though no longer connected, part of Talion somehow just knew that Celebrimbor was alive. Perhaps it was the shard of his soul within the New Ring, something neither he nor Celebrimbor had expected at the time of the forging, that assured him, or perhaps through sheer willpower alone he had convinced himself, but Celebrimbor was alive, and fighting. So help him Celebrimbor may have betrayed him, but Talion could not turn his back on the wraith, not after everything they’d been through together. Talion would find him, find Sauron, and with everything he had he would free his friend and end Sauron's evil reign. And when all was said and done? He and Celebrimbor had much to discuss. There was one thing in particular that absolutely had to be discussed, but Talion couldn’t bare to even think the words at the moment.

 

    He was startled out of his thoughts as an Uruk mounted on a caragor rode swiftly towards him, stopping and dismounting a short distance away. He knelt as Talion approached.

 

    “Speak, Amug. You are a long way from your stronghold,” Talion addressed him, just suppressing a shiver at his voice, which sounded less and less like his own the more he heard it.

 

    “My Lord, there is news of a Ring of Power beyond the walls of Mordor. The One Ring has been found.” His eyes widened. He couldn’t deny that a strange power had called to him from afar not too long ago. Days, weeks, years, he had lost any notion of time. How long since that day? How long since his second life, as Baranor might refer to it as, ended and his third began? He did not know, but it was clear that this life, that this existence as a man walking a fine line between light and darkness, would not be uneventful.

 

    “What more do you know of it?” he questioned.

 

    “The one who possesses it hails from a land called The Shire, far west of here. The other Nazgul have already left to retrieve it.” Talion’s eyes flashed the color of flames for a moment as his temper flared.

 

    “I am no Nazgul,” he growled, and the Uruk quickly began blubbering apologies.

 

    “I didn’t mean anything like that, my Lord! I swear!” Talion’s eyes returned to their normal steely blue hue as he glared.

 

    “You will bring me any more news you hear of the One Ring or the Nazgul, you and any other captain,” he demanded.

 

    Amug nodded and emphasized his assent fervently as he clambered back onto his caragor with a “Yes, my Lord!” and “At once, my Lord!” Talion watched him disappear out of the city, and his gaze fell to the ring currently resting on his finger. Isildur’s ring… If the One Ring had truly been found, then Sauron would be the first to know. If Talion wanted to defeat Sauron once and for all, he would have to destroy it. This, however, was not a task he could do alone. As loathe as he was to admit it, Eltariel had been a valuable asset in his and Celebrimbor’s conquest of Mordor. If anyone could assist him without getting themselves needlessly killed it was her. Her whereabouts, however, were currently unknown to Talion… But he could guess. If she and Celebrimbor had failed to bring Sauron under their control, she would still be in Barad-dur, provided she was still alive. He held onto that hope as he made up his mind.

 

    He would free her from Sauron’s fortress and she would come with him on his quest for the One Ring, willingly or not. She at least owed him this. Without hesitation he set off towards the Dark Tower, daring Sauron to stand in his way when he arrived.

 

 

Closing A/N: Pretty short opening chapter, but I also need sleep as it is 2 A.M. and I need to be up at 7. Don’t know when I’ll update again, or if anyone will read this, because I am a mediocre author at best, not informed enough about this fandom, and have too many WIPs to begin with, but Talion’s got a long, dark journey ahead of him, and it starts with a return to Barad-dur.

Chapter Text

A Promise

 

A/N: Thank you thank you THANK YOU to the people who have read and commented! You guys are the best! Getting comments is one of the absolute best things about being an author, in my opinion, so thanks for the encouragement and support and making my days y’all! Here, Talion returns briefly to Barad-dur, where he finds more than he expects and finally admits what he was too afraid to say before (sort of). And, you know, we’ll just ignore Eltariel’s DLC because it just made me EVEN MORE MAD, as if I didn’t already dislike her character. AHEM. Anyway, enjoy! Have a brief bit of Shelob narration to start. :)


     In this moment, the future foreseen was forever changed. It is unclear whether Talion would now join the ranks of the Nazgul, but it was vastly clear that the fate of Middle-Earth now rested on more than just a Halfling and his fellowship. He would battle the darkness within, his fate his own as he once said. The One Ring, Rivendell, the Doors of Moria…

 

    Leaving the city was almost like a breath of fresh air. Though his powers and appearance remained unchanged, Talion felt his mind clear as he got farther and farther away from Minas Morgul. Mordor blurred before him as his drake carried him past Mount Doom, which bubbled menacingly below and behind him. The Dark Tower was in his sights; it wouldn’t be long now. With a grunt he leapt off the drake, landing lightly on his feet before the tower’s gates. It was strange to him that no new orcs approached, that none swarmed him in an attempt to protect their master. He had a bad feeling about this. With a determined look in his eyes Talion pushed opened the tower’s doors and marched in, drawing Urfael.

 

    Surveying his surroundings, and finding no one else, Talion continued on, carefully navigating the tower, frowning at its seemingly secretive and deceiving interior. It looked as any other tower of similar structure would, except perhaps for a few decorative designs, and that was what set him on edge. Sauron’s tower would surely be more than it appeared, would surely not be just any old tower, yet everything he saw said otherwise. Climbing the winding stairs, he quietly made his way up the tower, a clear picture in his mind of what might have happened here that day. Celebrimbor and Eltariel staring down Sauron on top of the tower, a violent battle of magic and swords, a failed attempt at domination. He shook his head, clearing the thoughts from his mind. It would not bode well to be caught, distracted with speculations of events past. Soon enough he found himself at the doors to the tower’s outside, and he steeled himself for what he might find. Pushing the doors open with a bit of effort, he emerged at the top of the tower, a grim view of Mordor below and a figure in chains lying in a heap not far from the tower’s edge.

 

    Rushing over to her, Talion turned Eltariel towards him, taking in her pale, weak form, damaged armor, and, alarmingly, eight fingers. Her left hand held three fingers and two bandaged stumps, and as he grasped it gently she shifted ever so slightly, tired eyes slowly cracking open. Her vision swam until she could focus on the figure above her, a strikingly familiar man . Her eyes widened with recognition and what Talion thought was regret as she looked at him.

 

    “T-Tal… ion? But… how?” she asked hoarsely. “Y-You w-were—

 

    “You have a bit of a habit of killing me to save me, don’t you?” he asked in response, holding up the hand that held Isildur’s Ring. Her face fell then, and she turned away in what seemed to be despair. Gathering her strength, she spoke as steadily as she could.

 

    “Then y-you are a Nazgul now. Have you come to c-condemn me? T-To say your farewells?”

 

    “No,” he told her adamantly. “My will is my own. My fate is my own. I would no sooner serve Sauron than I would slaughter you here and now. I’ve come to rescue you. I need your help.” She laughed weakly, perhaps in pity, perhaps in mirth, as she looked back to him.

 

    “After all that I’ve done you would free me? After leaving you to die and losing the ring to Sauron?”

 

    “I admit that leaving you here to suffer is a bit tempting, but I am not so far gone that I would do so. Galadriel sent you to hunt the Nazgul, and I’d like to give you another chance to do that. Another Ring of Power has surfaced and they have already begun going after its bearer. I am powerful with my own, but I cannot defeat them alone.”

 

    “So you need me, to use to your ends and hunt down the very thing you are becoming,” she replied, a half smile on her face at how Talion bristled at her words.

 

    “I am offering you a chance at freedom to hunt down an enemy we have in common, to keep other places of Middle-Earth from suffering the same fate as Minas Ithil!” With a powerful strike the lock holding her chains clattered to the ground in pieces, and Eltariel sluggishly pulled herself free of them, gingerly sitting up with a wince. “You can either leave with or without me.”

 

     “Oh, going so soon?” a new voice asked, sending chills racing down their spines. Talion and Eltariel looked around, Eltariel in alarm and Talion with dangerous intent.

 

    “Show yourself!” he demanded, as he took a few steps forward, Eltariel’s warnings falling on deaf ears.

 

    “No, Talion! Don’t—

 

     “Ah, but why ruin the fun, Blade of Galadriel?” the voice told her. Bright energy emerged from the entrance to the tower, settling until the form of a breathtaking elf in strangely plain robes took its place. He smiled predatorily, and Talion saw the flames in his eyes, felt the dark energy that encompassed his entire being. Urfael held tightly in his grasp, he and the elf circled each other, never once taking their eyes off the other. “Hello, Talion,” he greeted him.

 

     “Sauron,” Talion spat, “You will not stand in our way.”

 

    “And why is that, Gravewalker?” he asked, mocking the title Talion had earned. “What reason have I to stop you from leaving?” Sauron had stopped across from him, gesturing to the entrance back into the tower.   

 

    “I—W-What?” Talion lowered his sword and stopped, back at Eltariel’s side, gazing at Sauron with narrowed eyes. “What game are you playing?”

 

    “No game. Call it… Amusement. Call it intrigue. So far you have fought against the corruption of your ring. I’m impressed that you’ve managed to retain a part of yourself for this long. But sooner or later you will fall; you will become mine . When that time comes, I shall be waiting for you.” In an instant he was barely an inch from Talion, a hand on his shoulder, speaking softly into his ear. “Let us see how long the Ranger of the Black Gate can fight the darkness within.” As he went to pull away, something in Talion made him grab the hand on his shoulder, securing it there for the time being. There was an energy within Sauron that felt… Familiar… An unmistakable presence.

 

    Daring to hope, daring to reach out, Talion whispered desperately, “Celebrimbor?” Sauron’s eyes widened, and as he pulled back and clutched his head with his free hand his form flickered, until taken over by the wraith Talion had spent the last several decades fighting alongside, who he knew better than he knew himself. Celebrimbor, exhausted, in pain, and despairing, met Talion’s relieved eyes.  

 

    “Talion,” he whispered in disbelief, not caring about the Nazgul like attire his former companion now donned nor the dark energy and magic surrounding him. All he could see was Talion. “You came back.”

 

    “I dared to hope… I wasn’t going to lose you, not again.” Celebrimbor groaned as Sauron fought back viciously for control.

 

    “After all that I have said… After what I did—

 

    “The ring corrupted you, changed you. You were not yourself,” Talion reasoned. “You didn’t see what you were becoming…” He shook his head. “I am angry, and I am hurt, but I will not abandon you. I will never abandon you.” Celebrimbor gazed at him with awe, with guilt, and, as he felt his control slipping, asked the question burning him from the inside out.

 

    “ But why? Talion took his other hand then, the hand that would’ve held the New Ring, gently in his.

 

    “You know why. You have always known, and when the time is right I shall have the strength to say it. I will free Middle-Earth from Sauron’s influence and I will return for you, I promise!” Celebrimbor let out a harsh breath, out of shock and realization, and it was then, as his form flickered back to that of a temporarily stunned Sauron, that Talion scrambled away, scooping something up from the ground and sweeping Eltariel up in his arms as he called forth his drake. Sauron recovered just in time to see the two disappear over the tower’s edge before the drake flew past in a blur, letting out a mighty roar as it took them away from his fortress. He got slowly to his feet, his pained grimace soon giving way to a dark chuckle. What excitement! Celebrimbor still had strength after all, and so too did Talion it seemed.

 

    “Let it be war upon you both!” he shouted with ecstatic energy, his voice echoing across all of Mordor, his chuckle carried upon the wind as his form faded into the shadows once more.

 

XxX

 

    Eltariel awoke as a chilly breeze blew, contrasted by the warm rays of sunlight shining above her. Sitting up, she looked around to find herself surrounded by orcs, some working, some training, some feasting. There was hustle and bustle in what looked to her to be a very well fortified stronghold. Metal walls protected the exterior, while siege beasts, caragors, varying orc troops, warchiefs, and traps were scattered about the interior, a drake roaming overhead.

 

    “You’re awake,” Talion piped up from across the rooftop of the stronghold. “I was beginning to think you were lost.”

 

    “It will take more than chains and lost fingers to end me,” she stated matter of factly. Looking now out and away from the fortress, Eltariel observed lush green land bordered by bright blue seas and a pink sunrise sky. “Where are we?” she asked in wonder.

 

    “The stronghold in Nurnen,” he responded. “When the darkness seems to close in on me, when I feel as if I’m losing myself, my thoughts turn here. Where there is endless life and light there is hope.” Eltariel did not expect the wistful tone of Talion’s voice, but as she observed him she found his eyes still as blue as they ever were, the black veins on his face now nowhere to be found. He looked like the man she’d first encountered all those years ago, and yet she knew that the face would change with time. Black veins, glowing red-orange eyes, and, eventually a helm that would forever take his identity from him would appear. He seemed to know what she was thinking as he turned back to her with a grim look on his face. “There may come a day when you will need to strike me down. That day, however, is not today. Today is the day we make preparations to leave.”

 

    “Leave? To leave Mordor?” She got to her feet, an irked look on her face. “Our mission is not yet done!” He was upon her in an instant, eyes briefly glowing their unnatural flame-like color.

 

    “Let us be clear. Your mission and my mission are not the same. My mission is to free Mordor of Sauron’s influence so that Middle-Earth has a chance of survival should their last line of defense against darkness fall. Your mission is to hunt down the Nazgul, as far as I’m aware, nothing more and nothing less. My work in Mordor is not yet done, but my mission leads me far from here, as does the Nazgul’s.” His eyes flashed back to their signature blue as he put space between them, Eltariel eyeing him cautiously. “So yes, we are leaving Mordor. There is a land called the Shire where the One Ring’s possessor is said to live. The Nazgul will have received word before us, so if we don’t leave soon it will be impossible to overtake them.” Eltariel shook her head, slowly getting to her feet.

 

    “You are changed, Talion,” she told him, “In more ways than I expected.” He scoffed at the statement.

 

    “You think I do not know? The image of my guardian armor burns as clear as day in my mind. Instead, what I wear resembles more of a servant of Sauron’s armor. The cloak my wife once made for me has morphed into a dark tattered cloth. Archan has reshaped itself into a true dagger, losing its original shape. Azkar is lost, Urfael has become imbued with a dark magic, and the ring…” He stopped his tirade to stare at the corrupted ring upon his finger. “The ring warps my thoughts, draws in darkness and pushes away light, tempts me with promises of power and visions of myself at the world’s helm. I am changed, yes, but I am still Talion . I am not a Nazgul!” The last statement seemed to be more of an assurance for himself than for her. She did not expect his observantness of his current state. She was so used to the faceless creatures with distorted voices and dark intentions, who either didn’t remember or didn’t care to remember who they used to be.

 

    “No,” she agreed, “Not yet. But how long will you be able to fight it?”

 

    “As long as I need to,” Talion told her determinedly.

 

    “And how much of yourself are you willing to lose in the process?”

 

    “As much as it takes. If the destruction of my one insignificant soul will save the rest of Middle-Earth, then so be it.” Eltariel could hear no falseness in his voice, see no deception in his eyes, and it struck her then just how selfless this man was, how much he had gone through and how much more he was willing to go through to save innocent lives. And if what he had said was true, then some of the Nazgul would be where they intended to go… As much as she disliked the idea of relying on Talion in any way, she couldn’t possibly fend for herself and complete her mission, not in her current state. For now, her safest option was to accompany Talion. She sighed resignedly.

 

    “When will we leave?” she finally asked, and she saw Talion almost smile.

 

    “Gather any provisions you may need and meet me back here before midday. There are a few things I need to take care of.” With a nod she watched him go, mingling with the orcs as he went. Looking out over Nurnen once more, she leapt carefully down from the fortress’ walls and set about finding a decent meal before their departure.

 

    Meanwhile, Talion made his way into the hall of the stronghold, where his overlords awaited him. Prior to leaving Minas Morgul, he had sent a messenger to each of them, calling a meeting in Nurnen. Amug, Skak, Ur-Edin, and Bruz, who’d recovered some of his peace of mind in recent months, stood by the stronghold’s throne. Amug and Shak knelt at his presence, Amug out of fear and Shak out of quite literal undying loyalty. Ur-Edin nodded respectfully and Bruz grinned hesitantly.

 

    “It’s been a while, boss. Need any head-smashing done, or is this a business call?” Bruz asked a bit cheerfully.

 

    “Business, I’m afraid.” He gestured for the other two to rise. “I’ve called this meeting to alert you all that I will be leaving Mordor for a time, and I need you to ensure that our strongholds endure until my return.”

 

    “What calls you out of Mordor, if I may ask, my lord? Surely nothing too dangerous?” Skak asked, his dire caragor curled up asleep behind him. Talion let a small smile grace his lips at his most trusted overlord’s respect and concern.

 

    “The Nazgul are on the move, and they’ve discovered the location of another Ring of Power: the One Ring.”

 

    “Is your ring not enough? Is it more power you seek?” Ur-Edin questioned.

 

    “Oh, hush up!” Amug told the Olog overlord. “When has he ever done anything for power? Of course that’s not it!”

 

    “If Sauron is to be defeated, the One Ring must be destroyed, and Mordor must be held,” Talion replied, choosing to ignore the bickering. Those two had never gotten along. “Nurnen is the heaviest fortified of the strongholds and Cirith Ungol is under Shelob’s watch. I worry most over Seregost, where Uruk and Olog resistance is the strongest, and Gorgoroth, where the Dark Tower looms too close for comfort.”

 

    “We’ll bolster our defenses,” Ur-Edin assured. “Our enemies will burn if they even come near us.”

 

    “And keep watch to the north. Maybe our graugs wouldn’t mind a little hunting party alongside the caragors,” Bruz commented. “Of course, assuming anyone would care to lead them and not just let them run loose. As fun as seeing all that destruction would be, we would lose part of our attack force. And that’s assuming Mount Doom doesn’t burn us all alive…” Talion rolled his eyes at Bruz’s statements, though he couldn’t help but be glad that the Bruz he’d first met was slowly but surely returning. At least he wasn’t hearing any more cries of, “I don’t want the fort! I never wanted the fort!”

 

    “Then we are clear on what needs to be done?”

 

    “We shall not fail you,” Skak replied adamantly. His words were joined by three agreeing warcries. Talion grinned as he left the fortress hall, calling his drake and riding off towards Cirith Ungol with magic enhanced speed. There was one more person he needed to visit before he left, and he was sure she had the answers he needed.

 

XxX

 

    Shelob awoke, sensing the presence of another within her tunnels. Sitting up after rather restless sleep, she laid eyes on Talion, who approached slowly, hood down, weapons sheathed, questions burning in his eyes. “So you have come. Do you know what you’ve done, Talion?” she asked, getting to her feet and making her way over to him.

 

    “Other than rescue an untrustworthy assassin and find out what happened to Celebrimbor? No, I do not.” She didn’t smirk at his words like she wished to. Instead her face was serious, concerned even.

 

    “Your future is changed. The future of Middle-Earth is changed. This quest you insist on completing will make you responsible for more lives than just orcs or the people of Mordor.” Her eyes fell to Isildur’s Ring on his finger with a frown. “And you will be burdened beyond anything you’ve ever imagined.” She met his determined eyes.

 

    “I know what I’m getting myself into, Shelob. But I need to know… Will I succeed? Will I remain myself before this nightmare is ended, and after?”

 

    “I do not know. Your fate is uncertain now, and I have not yet seen how your rewritten story ends.”

 

    “Show me what you know then,” Talion pleaded. “Show me what is to come.” With a sigh she did as asked, a gentle hand on his forehead. Talion gasped as his vision warped.

 

     A company of four small beings, neither man nor dwarf or elf, hide in terror from a Nazgul on their way to a nearby town. Two are terrified and one looks in concern to the other, who stares at a peculiar feeling ring, contemplating it with shaky hands. The One Ring.

 

    A group of Nazgul block the company, now consisting of a man as well, from moving forward. As they seem about to overwhelm them, a great fireball blasts them back, and two figures—one cloaked in darkness and the other in light—go on the offensive, beating them back before the waters surrounding them washes the Nazgul away. The mysterious figures turn toward the company. The figure of light is Eltariel, who greets the company. The other figure had to be himself, and as he sheaths his sword, face hidden by a hood, his eyes glow a fiery red-orange.

 

     Elves, a dwarf, men, and the small beings are gathered together for a great discussion. The small being who earlier held the ring presented it to the room, eliciting shock, awe, and fear. Eltariel was seated beside another elf, staring at the One Ring with purpose. In the corner, away from the others, Talion stood, eyes fixed on the ring hanging around his neck rather than the one he wore on his finger.

 

    The company, now larger than before, with an elf, dwarf, two more men, Talion, and Eltariel, approached a large, intricate door on a dark path. A man, old yet wise, approached it, reading the elven inscription upon it. Eltariel and the man went about explaining the inscription while Talion ran his hand reverently over the door, familiar with the work, and the ring around his neck glowed fiercely at his proximity. “Celebrimbor,” he spoke softly.

 

    Talion found himself waking up on the ground, head spinning at the new information obtained from the vision. He now knew who the ring bearer was and where they were headed. He also knew that he and Eltariel managed to co-exist at least for a little while, fighting the Nazgul as they joined the bearer of the One Ring on his journey. Silently thanking Shelob for the vision and receiving a whispered, “Go safely, Talion,” he returned to Nurnen hours later, the sun steadily rising, not quite at its height yet. Walking in through the gates he was met by Eltariel, who looked a bit more rested than when he’d left her, color returned to her skin, a pack slung over her back.

 

    “I was starting to think you’d left without me,” she joked. “Midday is almost upon us.”

 

    “As I said, there were things that needed to be taken care of,” he replied, nodding at her improved appearance. “You look well.”

 

    “It amazes me that orcs can be… disturbingly polite,” she told him with a grimace. “A few brought food while others insisted that, as an ally of the Bright Lord I should get some rest. It was… Jarring to say the least.”

 

    “They are humble and loyal allies for the most part, and people in their own right. I would expect nothing less from them,” Talion responded quite proudly. “Are you ready to go?” She nodded, and they fell into step as they left the stronghold, a passing orc patrol nodding to them as they did so.

 

    “How are we to travel? On your drake, perhaps?”

 

    “For a time, yes, but she, like any other creature, will require rest and sustenance.” Calling forth his drake, the two climbed on as it took off, gliding through the air at an unnatural speed. Really looking at it, Eltariel noticed the drake’s blue tipped and speckled wings, not just grey and red like others she’d seen. It also surprised her that when she looked the creature in the eyes before they took flight there was no sign of domination or forced control. As the sun began its decline in the sky, Eltariel cast her eyes down to look at the landscape below, blurred green, grey, red, brown, and blue as it passed swiftly behind them. Talion became lost in his thoughts, Shelob’s vision weighing on his mind. All the while, he held onto the New Ring, which he’d recovered during his rescue of Eltariel back at Barad-dur, hanging on a chain around his neck, hidden from sight by his armor. It comforted him, reminded him that there would always be a bit of light with him no matter how much the darkness tried to consume him. There was a part of his soul in the ring, and a part of Celebrimbor’s, and that alone was enough to give him hope.

 

    ‘I will return for you, Celebrimbor. I promise.’  


Closing A/N: First real chapter and I can’t wait for their journey to officially get underway! Feel free to leave any thoughts, questions, or suggestions you might have. Comments never fail to make my day! Also, having a part of Talion’s soul also in the New Ring is something I did for a later part of the plot. Next chapter, we’re following Talion and Eltariel as they attempt to coexist on their first long journey together. And maybe there’ll be an appearance from some more LotR characters too? Maybe.

Chapter Text

Connected

 

A/N: Thank you guys so much for all the comments and kudos! I’m still surprised that this fic has gotten such a response from readers! Here we have Talion, Eltariel, and Talion’s drake, and Talion and Eltariel have different opinions on how to approach the One Ring situation. Suffice it to say neither of them wins seeing as how they’re shot down over Udun. They can’t even get out of Mordor without finding trouble. *sighs and shakes head* Also, I wanted a mounted beast companion for Talion that he didn’t have to dominate, hence my affection for the unnamed female drake here. :) Aaaaand Quenya translations for the very brief elvish I managed to sneak in there can be found after the closing author's notes. I used https://www.elfdict.com/ if anyone wanted to know where I got the translations.

 

    Talion had made preparations for leaving Mordor prior to Eltariel’s rescue. Not only had he mapped out their course on their way to the Shire, a land far northwest, but he had even figured out where their’s and the company’s paths would cross. The Ford of Bruinen, though he didn’t know how he knew, was where he and Eltariel would make their presence known to the company. When Eltariel had asked him how he knew where he was going and what to look for, he hesitantly revealed part of Shelob’s vision to her. She was, understandably, wary, and was not for one second satisfied with what she was hearing. The several hours between their departure from Nurnen and the present moment hadn’t helped. As the sun began its descent, Eltariel stewed more and more in her thoughts until she could no longer hold her tongue. Sitting atop Talion’s drake, their argument was awkward but no less heated than usual, both facing front and holding onto scales and spikes as wind whipped and threatened to unseat them with a strong gust.

 

    “A direct approach is foolish, Talion. You would reveal us to potentially hostile beings and leave us vulnerable to the Nazgul’s attacks? No. We need to plan our approach carefully, reveal ourselves when the opportunity presents itself.” He looked back at her as he responded.

 

    “And when, exactly, will that be? No. Approaching them and making our intentions clear up front is the best way to gain their trust, not hiding in the shadows and stalking them like prey.”

 

    “Because you’re plenty experienced with that,” she drawled sarcastically. He glowered at her before getting to his feet and planting them firmly into his drake’s back. She protested with a screech, and Talion patted her scales in apology as he rounded on Eltariel.

 

    “I will not give the bearer of the One Ring any reason to think us enemies! If he decides we are a threat, what do you think he and his allies will do? Elves, men, dwarves, it matters not. I will not allow your horrible decisions to hinder us on this quest.”

 

    “Hinder us?” she questioned, eyes narrowed as she glared up at him. “Keep us safe, you mean? Keep us from recklessly charging into dangerous matters that don’t concern us?”

 

    “You agreed to accompany me,” he reminded her lowly.

 

    “To track down the Nazgul, as was my mission, and to make sure you don’t join them—

 

    “ I won’t

 

    “So you say, but you’ve said it yourself: the ring claws at your conscience every waking moment with promises of Middle-Earth at your fingertips. What’s to say being in close proximity with the One Ring won’t make it worse?”

 

    “Is our entire journey going to consist of you telling me you will never trust me?” Talion snapped, irked.

 

    “Until you admit that we need to take a safer approach to this “quest” of yours, then yes!”

 

    “We will never be safe so long as the Rings of Power and the Nazgul exist,” he told her. Before she could get another word in there was an ear-splitting shriek as a molten rock collided with the drake, sending Eltariel and Talion tumbling to the ground, the drake spiraling through the air and disappearing over the Black Gate, smoke coming from her hide. Reluctantly, Talion grabbed Eltariel as the ground rushed up to meet them, feeling his dark magic absorb most of the impact from the fall. He landed heavily on his feet, an arm around Eltariel while his other reached for Urfael. She quickly disentangled herself from Talion as the two faced quite the gathering of orcs, and a fiery graug that seemed intent on either crushing or burning the two of them alive.

 

    “Manswine!” one of the orcs shouted over the excited roars of the others around him. “Think you get to leave Mordor without a little goodbye from yours truly? Well, think again! Don’t tell me you were just gonna fly by and forget about us Uruks down here?”

 

    “You will regret delaying me, Narug,” Talion growled, hands glowing emerald, a black haze beginning to surround him. “And it will be the last mistake you ever make.” With inhuman speed Talion shadow struck a handful of orcs, a few of which rose again with glowing green eyes and unintelligible growls, before he found himself on top of the graug, a hand pressed to its massive head as he willed it to obey him. With a mighty roar, the creature fell under his control, and he turned it towards his old rival with fiery red-orange eyes. With little more than a thought the graug charged after Narug, and as Talion leapt off the graug he caught a stunned Eltariel’s arm and sprinted in the opposite direction, towards the Black Gate, allowing a small smile at the shrill scream that sounded behind them. When she got her bearings back she wrenched her arm from his grasp, free-running beside him, surprised that it was she who was having a hard time keeping up with him . She observed his slowly fading red-orange eyes with unease, the way he winced and clenched the hand with Isildur’s Ring, which seemed to eerily glow as he did so.

 

    As they reached the Black Gate, Eltariel purposefully fell behind to watch Talion as he slaughtered and dominated his way through the small army of orcs that guarded the entrance to Mordor. His attacks flowed seamlessly, flawlessly, and in no time he had cleared a path to the top of the gate. She caught up to him as he stood frozen in the place where he had defeated the Black Hand of Sauron, perhaps reliving a few unpleasant memories. The hand that held the ring was clenched tightly in a fist as Talion trembled, darkness clouding his vision.

 

     We shall be sealed together in death!

 

    Talion, my heart. We will be together soon. Forever.

 

     The Black Hand of Sauron is dead. The Hither Shore is calling us.

 

     The time has come for a new ring.

 

    A familiar roar in the distance brought Talion out of his dark memories, and he shook the last of them away as he turned to face Eltariel. “We should go to her, then we must continue on.” His eyes were distant, she noticed. Perhaps hers would be too if she had to relive the sad fates of those she cared about… If she could remember anyone she cared about… Not waiting for a response, Talion easily leapt down from the top of the gate while Eltariel climbed down as quickly as she could. Once they were both back on the ground, Eltariel followed Talion, who quickly made it to the side of his injured drake, voice gentle.

 

    “Easy there, girl. You’re alright.” He tenderly felt around the area of the graug’s earlier attack, which had caught her side and a lower part of her wing. It didn’t look too serious, but it looked painful enough to keep her grounded for the time being. The drake huffed at his tone, but gently headbutted his armor nonetheless, drawing a small laugh out of Talion. “Rest, and find us when your strength returns,” he told her softly. She drew back with sharp aquamarine eyes, a soft rumbling in her throat, before then looking to Eltariel with almost a glare of warning. Eltariel met the drake’s stare in both confusion and wonder before looking back to Talion, who had just summoned two caragors, one dire and one normal, with a wave of his hand and the flash of his ring. The caragors stopped a careful distance from the drake, who paid them no mind. Mounting the caragors, the two rode away from Mordor at a brisk pace, heading towards the Dead Marshes.

 

    “We should go around. As much as I hate traveling in the open, the Dead Marshes are not a place I would like to sleep for the night.”

 

    “Sleep?” Talion asked, suddenly hyper aware of himself.

 

    “ Yes, Talion, the action that allows those of us who are alive to regain much needed energy,” she snapped. Talion tried to remember when the last time he’d settled down to sleep was, when the last time he truly needed to sleep was. How long had it been? Decades? Had to be. “When it becomes too dark to see we should settle for the night, and continue on when dawn is upon us.”

 

    “And I assume you’d like me to keep watch for the night?”

 

    “If you’d like the same courtesy while you rest, then yes.”

 

    “I… I don’t sleep anymore. I don’t need it.” Talion didn’t understand the weight of those words until he heard them aloud, until they came out of his mouth, and he’d realized that he’d lost another part of himself.

 

    He knew that he hadn’t been completely human since before his death. With Celebrimbor, he had been part wraith, banished from death and, therefore. His basic needs had remained the same at first, but over time the need for food and rest became less and less until he could go weeks without either. Granted, he still regularly ate and slept, so that he at least felt normal, but he didn’t really need it. The last time he’d voluntarily sat down for a meal and caught a few hours of sleep had been before Isildur’s ring, before the betrayal, before the last stronghold fell under his control. Really thinking about how long it had been since he’d done something so simply human and normal had him glancing down at the ring, which seemed to mock his inner turmoil. Eltariel watched Talion’s reaction to his own words and almost felt pity for him. Of course the Nazgul didn’t need sleep, but Talion wasn’t one of them yet. Surely, she had thought, he needed sleep just as other mortals did? Apparently not, and while she didn’t like the thought of only Talion watching her back it was safer than sleeping unguarded.

 

    “Well, how fortunate of us then,” she stated. The conversation trailed off after that, the air awkward and hostile between the two of them. Talion truly wondered how they managed to meet the company without ripping the other’s throat out or leaving the other for dead. When the caragors tired, dragging their powerful legs along the ground, and Eltariel struggled to keep her eyes open they stopped for the night. As Eltariel settled down the caragors settled down around her protectively with Talion closing the gap they left, effectively blocking her from view and creating a barrier around her. With a nod in silent thanks she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep, followed swiftly by the caragors.

 

    Talion laid back himself, glancing up at the stars. Folding one arm underneath his head as his other hand played absentmindedly with the New Ring hanging around his neck, he sighed. This was going to be a long night.  

 

XxX

 

    Celebrimbor felt his consciousness return as he squinted against the light around him, harsh to his eyes after all the time he’d spent trapped. Odd. His heated battles with Sauron were usually just the two of them locked inside a dark, endless nothingness, vying for control, the air heated with hatred and stifling with contempt. But here and now light beckoned him awake, and a comforting warmth embraced him as he stood.  

 

    Similarly, a little ways away and out of Celebrimbor’s peripheral vision, Talion was yawning awake, feeling more like himself than he’d felt in a long, long time. Slowly sitting up and rubbing sleep out of his eyes, he looked around at the beautiful landscape around him, welcoming the sun’s warm rays. Trees and greenery framed by mountains in the background and a river rushing nearby made Talion feel much more comfortable being in such a strange place.

 

    Celebrimbor got to his feet and observed the forest-like area around him in wonder, his breath catching in his throat as his eyes fell on Talion, who met his gaze shortly after. Talion quickly leapt to his feet, radiating shock and hopefulness. “C-Celebrimbor?” he asked in disbelief. The two made their way towards each other, not stopping until they were locked in a tight embrace, Talion burying his face in Celebrimbor’s hair.

 

    “Talion? What…? How are we… Here?” They just barely pulled away from the other, Celebrimbor still in Talion’s grasp.

 

    “I don’t know, but I won’t question it. We’re both here, together… Alive , even.”

 

    “Alive?” Talion raised a hand to sweep a few of Celebrimbor’s ebony locks of hair in front of his face with a gentle smile and bright eyes. Quickly looking down at himself, Celebrimbor saw that he was no longer the wraith he knew he had become, but the elven lord he had been in his lifetime, his blue and silver battle armor gleaming in the sunlight, skin the color of cream, hair as dark as the night. Looking back to Talion, who looked more like the man he’d first met after his death, guardian armor of red and silver, free of any dark influence. A relieved laugh escaped Celebrimbor as the information sunk in. He felt a pair of hands cup his face, and he was once again met Talion’s eyes. His gaze seemed almost reverent now, as if he wasn’t quite sure if he was allowed to look upon such a sight.

 

    “You’re even more beautiful than I imagined,” he told him softly. Celebrimbor flushed in surprise at the statement, reaching up to grasp Talion’s wrists, attempting to lower his hand.

 

    “I hardly think I deserve such praise from you, Talion,” he replied sadly. Talion sighed, resisting Celebrimbor and keeping his hands exactly where they were.

 

    “What’s done is done and I harbor no ill will towards you,” he insisted, “I never will.” Celebrimbor averted his eyes.

 

    “I’m not deserving of your loyalty either,” he whispered. Talion drew his gaze back as he gently stroked Celebrimbor’s cheek with his thumb. He brought their foreheads together, and the two rested there with their eyes closed for a few moments, just enjoying the closeness.

 

    “You are deserving of everything and more,” Talion protested quietly. “You have lost everything: your home, your family, even a part of yourself. All you ever wanted was a way to make things right and a way to make the bastard who ruined your life pay for his crimes. You may not have gone about it the right way, but you thought only of your family, of the people of Middle-Earth who would be slaughtered or enslaved should Sauron rise to power again. You thought of them and you made it your goal to defeat Sauron and restore order and light to every place he dared touch.”

 

    “But that does not justify my actions,” Celebrimbor argued.

 

    “I‘m not saying it did, but you never intended to rule over Middle-Earth as Sauron did, not without the ring’s influence.” At the mention of the New Ring, Celebrimbor opened his eyes, which were drawn towards the chain that hung around Talion’s neck. On it, he saw the ring, looking just as marvelous as when they’d first crafted it in Mount Doom. Carefully, he reached up and held it, turning it over in his fingers.

 

    “You kept it? Even after everything that happened because of it?” Talion opened his eyes and drew back a bit, also looking at the ring.

 

    “A part of our souls lie within it. It… It is a way to keep you close, no matter how far away from Mordor I might be.” Celebrimbor looked to him in awe. “And it reminds me that I’m still human, that I’m not completely lost yet.”

 

    “You will never be one of them, Talion,” he insisted, letting go of the ring. “You are stronger than they ever were.”

 

    “I don’t know if I still believe that,” Talion whispered.

 

    “Well I do, and I always will.” It was then that the light around them seemed to begin fading. Celebrimbor seemed resigned, almost as if he expected it to happen, but Talion looked around in alarm, hands reaching for a sword that wasn’t there. He looked back to Celebrimbor, unwilling to let him go again.

 

    “I’m not leaving you,” he insisted.

 

    “You cannot sleep forever, Talion, and neither can I. The ring is what brought us back together, however briefly. I’m sure it can do it again.” Talion swayed on his feet, his vision beginning to fade.

 

    “Hora ni,” he pleaded in Quenya, hoping that Celebrimbor understood his weak voice.

 

    As he felt himself falling, vision failing him, he heard a whispered, “Illume, melda,” in response.

 

XxX  

 

    Talion woke with a groan, gingerly sitting up with a hand to his head, the other clutching the ring glowing and burning around his neck. Looking down, he saw the elvish script carved into it glowing a fierce blue, a surprising warmth emanating from it until it faded, returning to its normal state. So then the dream had happened? His conversation with Celebrimbor, so close and yet so far away from him. If he closed his eyes and concentrated, he could still feel the warmth from Celebrimbor’s body, the silkiness of his hair, the brightness of his sapphire eyes…

 

    “What was that about not needing sleep?” he heard from not too far away, dropping the ring back out of sight, Talion turned to see a smirking Eltariel gathering up her things, the caragors lifting their heads groggily at her voice. Talion chose to ignore the comment, getting to his feet and stretching before gently rousing his dire caragor, which let out a sleepy rumble in response as it stood.

 

    “As much as I hate to agree with you, traveling the Dead Marshes is not something I’d like to do. Though I don’t like the idea of traveling in such an exposed area, it would not do to get lost in such a grim, unknown place.”

 

    “Finally you’re starting to make sense,” Eltariel replied, mounting her caragor with renewed energy. “Shall we?” Talion mounted his caragor with a nod to her, and they set off, choosing to veer around the Dead Marshes as they continued northwest.

 

Closing A/N: This is short, but I didn’t know what else to add to it really. I’m surprised I’m actually updated fairly quickly on a fic. That doesn’t usually happen. Also, as far as geography goes, I’m consulting the map at the beginning of my copy of The Two Towers. I’m trying to work out how fast and how far they can travel realistically. Also, I just remembered after finishing this that Frodo waited to travel after he was given the One Ring. So. Timelines. How fast would caragors travel in comparison to horses? Should they travel along the river while they’re on the ground? How long would it take them to get to Rivendell from right outside of Mordor? Would anyone happen to have a reasonable guess? Now, I’m off to go finish my Dual Credit English paper.

Chapter Text

Meetings in Rivendell

 

A/N: Is that a semi-long chapter I see??? *gasp* Huge HUGE thanks to Jo for their awesome, insightful, helpful comments, and to everyone else who’s read, reviewed, bookmarked, followed, and/or commented. You guys are awesome. Also, hi Achromos!!! :D Here, we continue following Talion and Eltariel as they make their way towards Rivendell. Also, I suck at characterization, so expect our canon characters to be a bit (or a lot) OOC; apologies in advance. This chapter gave me a hard time at first, but I’ve decided to save most of the earlier excerpts of it for later. Hopefully the finished product isn’t too bad. Also, thanks for breaking lore when you made the game, Monolith! You just wanted to make my job harder, didn’t you? *sigh*


    Talion was infinitely grateful that he and Eltariel were beginning to be able to have civil conversations. Sure they still had their disagreements (many of them) and there were still biting and sarcastic comments meant to rile up the other (from both of them), but conversation was almost… Not exactly pleasant, but getting there. Perhaps they realized that constantly being at each other’s throats would only make the days feel longer, the journey feel tedious, or perhaps they were simply tired of always arguing. Not that they didn’t still have their moments, of course. One argument in particular earlier in the week sent Talion sprawling off his dire caragor, burned by a beam of light Eltariel had shot at him, but after shadow pulling her off her caragor, quite forcefully, the two had agreed that their volatile arguments had to stop. Now, conversation usually started with Talion, tired of hours of unending silence, saying, “So…” and Eltariel looking to him with a raised eyebrow before he asked a question or made a statement. Today was different. Today it was, “Have you always worked alone?” She scoffed, but couldn’t help the self-assured smile tugging at her lips.

 

    “Not all of us can have wraiths to keep us company. Some of us are more efficient on our own.”

 

    “And some of us work better with a team.”

 

    “Sometimes teammates are a weakness,” she told him, an eyebrow raised in a challenge.

 

    “And sometimes they are your greatest strength.” Talion had to keep from reaching up for the New Ring as Eltariel gave him an incredulous look, genuine surprise and curiosity, and something else he couldn’t quite place, in her eyes.

 

    “How can you still say that after everything that has happened to you?” His mind flashed back to the other night, when he’d embraced Celebrimbor for the first time since that day. When he was in his arms, he felt safe, whole even. He couldn’t help the warm, fluttering feeling in his chest at the thought.

 

    “You wouldn’t understand,” Talion told her after a moment, looking away. Eltariel knew there was more to that statement than he was willing to reveal, but she didn’t pry further. The statement sounded oddly personal to her, though she couldn’t say why. Conversation seemed to go nowhere after that, an awkward silence settling between them until Eltariel spoke again sometime later.

 

    “When I was a child, the Lady Galadriel took me in, gave me a home, a purpose. She made me who I am… And I owe her everything. This life, it’s all I’ve known. Making friends was never a priority,” she answered. Talion looked to her curiously, surprised that she would divulge a part of her past to him, not expecting such an honest answer, or any answer at all. She looked so vulnerable, insecure , he dared to think, in that moment. “Besides,” she continued, now a bit bitter, the moment gone, “Look where having “teammates” has gotten me. I lost a Ring of Power, became a prisoner of Sauron, and now I’m traveling with you.” She stared at her hand with two missing fingers. “ Surely nothing could go wrong this time.”  

 

    “Of course something will go wrong,” he told her. “But for now, the only thing we need to worry about is what to do once we arrive in Rivendell.”

 

    “Which I still think is a foolish idea. No matter what this Shelob’s vision says the Lord Elrond will sense your dark magic and label you a threat. And if that isn’t indication enough, your Ring will be. You’ll be putting the both of us in danger.”

 

    “We’ve faced much more dangerous foes, but I don’t think it will come to that. He will count you as an ally,” Talion pointed out to her. “And seeing as we’re travelling together—

 

    “And how do you know I won’t betray you once we arrive?” she questioned. “For someone who knows the sour taste of betrayal better than anyone you still trust too easily.”

 

    “Because you need me just as much as I need you,” he responded automatically, unphased. She narrowed her eyes at him at that. “You cannot defeat the Nazgul on your own in your current state, nor can you locate them all now that they’ve scattered outside of Mordor. I am leading you right to them. And while I am powerful in my own right, I cannot defeat them on my own either, nor can I safely travel throughout Middle-Earth with my current appearance.” Willing herself not to snap at him, she sighed, resigned. As much as she’d love to prove him wrong, what he said was true. She took a deep breath, and let it out slowly before responding.

 

    “He may not take me at my word,” she warned him. Talion just smiled, relieved that they’d finally reached a decision semi-peacefully.

 

    “Then we’ll pull the Galadriel card,” he told her simply, to which she looked appalled.

 

    “You would dare use the Lady’s name to—    

 

    “Say that you were sent by her to hunt the Nazgul and that we just happened to pass through Rivendell? Yes, I would. He respects her, does he not? Wouldn’t he trust her judgement?” She said nothing in response, and Talion counted this conversation as a victory. “Besides, the Lord Elrond is wise. I doubt he would dismiss your words without consideration.”

 

    “I still don’t like it,” she told him after a moment. Talion smiled grimly.

 

    “I’m not exactly thrilled by the idea either, but I’d rather meet him now instead of when the Nazgul attack. I would like to not be mistaken for the enemy.”

 

XxX

 

    After another sleepless night for Talion, they were a little closer to reaching Rivendell. Though the caragors tired more often than either of them liked, they’d covered a decent amount of distance since their departure from Nurnen. They were veering more and more towards the River Anduin, now that they were well past Gondor and the Falls of Rauros, and soon Rohan, giving them a clear path towards the Misty Mountains and into Rivendell. The terrain looked to be treacherous and difficult to navigate, but the caragors had almost no trouble climbing and leaping their way through, even if they took a few turns into dead end trails on occasion.  

 

    The rest of the week passed before the two could see Rivendell fast approaching. Talion looked like the picture of confidence while Eltariel was wary and concerned, still believing in her earlier statements about Elrond. She noticed the lack of sentinels near the entrance to Rivendell and stopped her caragor. Talion stopped a few paces ahead of her, looking back. “What is it?”

 

    “It’s too quiet. There’s no one guarding the entrance to Rivendell. Doesn’t that seem strange?” Before Talion could answer, he winced, gaze snapping down to the Ring on his finger, which faintly glowed though he hadn’t used its power lately. Eltariel looked to him in worry before her eyes fell on something behind him, prompting her to leap down from her caragor in a hurry. Talion tore his gaze away from the almost pulsing Ring to see a dark haired regal elven figure approaching. In his eyes was curiosity with a side of caution, dressed in robes of deep scarlet, stopping a fair distance from the two.

 

    “I wanted to meet you personally,” he told them before nodding politely to Eltariel. “Eltariel. I see Lady Galadriel is keeping you busy.” She bowed her head briefly as they both looked to Talion. “And who might you be, Ring bearer?”

 

    “Mae govannen, Lord Elrond. I am Talion, wielder of Isildur’s Ring and enemy of Sauron.” It was not often that Elrond was at a loss concerning new information, but Talion’s words made no sense to him.

 

    “Isildur’s… Ring? That…” His eyes fell to the glowing ring on Talion’s finger with unease. “Is what many would claim impossible. The tale is known all throughout Middle-Earth, and yet it seems we may have all been deceived.” He met Talion’s eyes, seeming to search for something. Talion observed the elf lord, who seemed to be much more than he looked. His wisdom was evident in his speech and his approach, and there seemed to be a great strength within that wasn’t initially apparent from a first look. In Talion’s eyes Elrond could see great conflict, a constant struggle within, and great loss. But also present was an ever-burning flame of hope and a light that fought against the quite visible darkness that seemed intent on consuming him. Talion was unpredictable, dangerous, but… He was no enemy, and Elrond felt he had a greater purpose to fulfill, something much bigger than himself. Eltariel held her breath, looking between the two with uncertainty. “You are free to stay in Rivendell. I’m sure your journey has been quite exhausting.”

 

    Talion and Eltariel startled at his response. “My Lord?” Eltariel questioned, not sure she had heard him correctly. She was sure Elrond wouldn’t react well to Talion, and yet here they were as guests of the city. Talion, despite knowing they would be allowed into Rivendell, didn’t expect Elrond to admit them so easily without at least some suspicion or distrust, yet Talion couldn’t sense any from the elf lord at all. Elrond picked up on these trains of thoughts, the corner of his lips quirked up the slightest bit.

 

    “I am not without my questions and doubts, I assure you, but I know you are not enemies. I welcome you to my home, and it seems that you’ve been expected.”

 

    “Expected?” Talion asked. Elrond nodded.

 

    “Yes, and I’m not surprised. Mithrandir knows many things, often much sooner than others; today is no different.” He beckoned for them to follow him. “Come. There is a place for your mounts to rest, and for you as well.” The three made their way into Rivendell, the caragors trailing tiredly behind them. Heads turned and the occasional whisper was carried along the breeze as they passed, news of strange outsiders visiting quickly spreading throughout the city.      


XxX

 

    Rivendell was absolutely beautiful, from the rushing waters and falls to the elegant buildings surrounded by nature under a clear and open sky. Talion gazed in wonder, spirits lifted and steps lighter even with exhaustion setting in. Eltariel glanced fondly around the city after several decades of absence from it. It was still as wonderful as she remembered, though not nearly as lovely as Lothlorien. Elrond led them to a secluded part of what he told them was called the Last Homely House, and as Eltariel and Elrond briefly explained its and the city’s history Talion felt more and more out of place. He didn’t have much time to dwell on those thoughts, however, as the three sat and made themselves comfortable.

 

    “What is it you would like to know, my lord?” Eltariel asked.

 

    “Whatever you are willing to share,” he told them. “I’m sure many of my questions will be answered if you start from the beginning of your journey.” Talion and Eltariel exchanged looks as Talion took a deep breath and began the tale. He started with the day the Black Hand of Sauron slaughtered his family and destroyed his home, of his death, or what should have been his death. The appearance of Celebrimbor as a wraith startled Elrond, but he motioned for Talion to continue. Talion told his story of revenge, of how he hunted the black captains, overthrew orc overlords, dominated orcs in an attempt to raise an army against the rest of those who stood in his way. He told of the fall of the Black Gate, the defeat of the Black Hand of Sauron, and the creation of the New Ring, of his rescue of Celebrimbor and their quest to bring all of Mordor under their control against Sauron.

 

    Explaining his meeting of Shelob gave Eltariel pause, as she questioned Talion putting trust in her after kidnapping Celebrimbor with a narrow-eyed look. When he revealed that he’d given her the New Ring in exchange for Celebrimbor’s safe return, Elrond gave Talion a strange calculating look, eyes seemingly drawn to the chain hidden under his armor, though Talion didn’t notice. A retelling of the fall of Minas Ithil and everything that led up to it followed, and it was then that Eltariel spoke, starting with how she killed Talion after driving away the Nazgul that had taken over the city. From there their paths crossed many more times all across Mordor as they tracked the Nazgul and drew closer and closer to Barad-dur. Bickering ensued, of course, as one or the other exaggerated or twisted words and meanings to make the other seem like a fool, but when it died down Talion explained his and Celebrimbor’s conquering of the strongholds in each part of Mordor, and the various orcs he encountered. He briefly touched on the necromancer who raised a balrog that went on a rampage before his and the spirit Carnan’s combined efforts buried it deep underwater where it would hopefully rest for good, as well as the attempted orc revolt by the Olog Bruz, who had recently gained back Talion’s trust after a second chance.

 

    From there, he and Eltariel continued discussing hunting the Nazgul, their battle with Isildur and their attack on Barad-dur, stopping where they had the previously Ringwraith Isildur at their mercy. Talion fell quiet then, and Eltariel refused to meet his eye; Elrond clearly saw the discomfort and bad memories retelling this part of their story brought forth, so he waited patiently for one of them to speak again, understanding and sympathy in his eyes. Talion slowly, shakily, told of Isildur’s memories, of how the One Ring led him to his death before a new Ring turned him into a Nazgul, and as that very Ring slid from his finger Talion granted him a true death. This, in turn, led to Celebrimbor’s revelation of wanting to control Sauron, to make Mordor and then Middle-Earth his, and his offer of the New Ring to Eltariel. When Talion fell silent again, Eltariel continued.

 

    She recounted her and Celebrimbor’s battle with Sauron, how they had won, how they had Sauron right where they had wanted him… But his will was too strong. Reveling in their victory too soon, Sauron cut the Ring from her, merging with Celebrimbor, the blast from their fusion knocking her unconscious. When next she woke she found herself in chains. She held up the hand with three fingers, shivering as she remembered the look in Sauron’s eyes as he broke Celebrimbor’s control.

 

    It was then that Talion told them of how he had seen their defeat through the Palantir back in Minas Morgul. Having made contact with Shelob as he was once more on death’s doorstep, who told him that he’d prevented a future far worse than what had transpired, he took Isildur’s Ring as his own and left Barad-dur, reclaiming Minas Morgul in an attempt to keep Sauron’s influence from spreading any further west. He strengthened his fortresses and fought any Nazgul that dared approach him, until news of the One Ring’s reappearance reached him, which prompted him to go after Eltariel. He found her and they escaped back to his fortress in Nurnen, but not before he came face to face with Sauron and Celebrimbor. Talion said not of what they spoke of, but continued by telling how he and Eltariel had set off from Nurnen with the intention of meeting the Ring bearer on their way to Rivendell.

 

    Silence fell with the sun, which had begun setting as their tale concluded. Elrond sat deep in thought, eyes shining with an unanswered question, one in particular that remained from before the tale was told. “And what of the New Ring that was forged?” he finally asked.

 

    “It was lost at Barad-dur,” Eltariel replied with a hint of shame. “It wasn’t recovered before our departure, and there is no telling where it is now.” Elrond regarded her curiously before his gaze shifted to Talion, expectant. Eltariel followed his eyes, watching Talion sigh before reaching up to reveal the chain around his neck, and the New Ring securely hanging from it. Her eyes widened, and some indescribable emotion flickered within them along with anger.

 

    “It was not lost,” Talion told her, eyes fixed upon it with sadness. “I took it as we left.”

 

    “And you have hid it from me all this time? What gives you the right?!”  

 

    “You weren’t one of the ones that forged it,” he told her, tearing his eyes away from the New Ring. Eltariel recoiled at the sheer anguish she could see in them, not the fury she was expecting, not the mad possessiveness that she thought would take over. “You didn’t wear it every night and day, see how it changed the one person who had always been there when you needed them. You didn’t feel the sickening rush of power every time it was used to serve less than good intentions, nor did you feel your throat slice open, collapsing and choking on your own blood as you watched everything you’d fought for for decades fall into darkness before your very eyes. I watched the elf who gave me a second chance, the friend I cared about, the one person I thought would always be by my side, fall under its influence and turn into a completely different person, the very Ring he forged to defeat Sauron turning him into a being no better than him. You didn’t feel… When…” When I thought I’d lost him for good, he finished in his head, voice that was once determined and strong trailing off as he felt old wounds reopen. “It is a reminder of who he once was,” he finished softly, and Eltariel felt a pain in her heart that she couldn’t explain.

 

    “If it reminds you of that… Why do you keep it?” Talion once again looked to the Ring.

 

    “When it was first forged Celebrimbor was himself, and the same is true for the early days of when we wore it. It reminds me that we were once fighting for the same thing: an end to the darkness, an end to Sauron and his evil, and peace for Middle-Earth. And… It reminds me of what I once was, before Isildur’s Ring, before I began to change.” He clutched it tighter as he felt it warm and glow under his touch, a faint feeling of arms encircling him and a soft whisper making him close his eyes for a brief moment. The anger in Eltariel’s eyes slowly dissipated, replaced with genuine concern. She saw when he struggled with the Ring, saw how he fought to retain what little of himself remained. No matter how much they didn’t see eye to eye, she would never wish him to fall into darkness.

 

    “And does it call to you as Isildur’s Ring does?” Talion shook his head, eyes now open and shining with gratitude for the one he held dear in his heart.

 

    “No… He calls me back from the darkness.”   

 

XxX

 

    The Hall of Fire was a bright and warm change from the cold, hard earth and cool colored landscapes they had traveled since leaving Mordor. Talion and Eltariel attended dinner in the Last Homely House as Elrond’s guests, sitting on his end of the long table. They met several members of his council, faithful servants of many centuries, and normal folk from within the city, who warmly, if cautiously at times, welcomed them to Rivendell, striking up small conversation when the chance arose. Talion and Eltariel sat across from one another, not exchanging any words or glances. Eltariel happily ate her first actual meal since leaving Nurnen, and as Talion’s gaze swept through the hall at the merriment of the people eagerly dining he was struck once again at how changed he was. When was the last time he had willingly settled down for a meal? When had he last enjoyed good food or a bit of drink? When was the last time he was actually hungry, or parched? He had no answers for these questions. He stared at all of the wonderful smelling dishes along the table. Would food still taste the same after all this time? After another minute of deliberation he decided to fill his plate. Why not?

 

    Elrond observed Talion’s odd behavior, his longing stare at the food around him, as if food were a privilege he could no longer have, something he could no longer enjoy. Shortly after Talion slowly and hesitantly filled his plate with a bit of everything. He saw Talion began eating shortly after, heart lifting when he saw a smile grace the man’s lips, a light that had not been noticed to be missing returned to his eyes. His gaze then fell on Eltariel, who looked more at ease than he’d ever seen her before, reunited with her kin, at least for a short while, enjoying the pleasures of a simple meal under a warm roof. He returned to his own food and conversations, but kept an eye on Talion for the rest of dinner who, despite the food, still seemed to be bothered by something. As the hall emptied and servants began clearing the table, Elrond approached Talion, who was the last to begin to leave save himself.

 

    “Talion, may I have a word?” Talion turned around at the question with a nod. He fell to Elrond’s side as they walked throughout the city, going nowhere in particular. Talion looked up at the night sky, a far off look in his eyes as he took in the stars shining brightly above. How many nights had they spent side by side, admiring the stars and their beauty together? How long had it been since the last time they had done so? Elrond’s voice startled him out of a memory drifting closer and closer to the surface, one that would make his heart ache. “Forgive me for inquiring about the New Ring. Had I known what it would cause I would have asked you in private.” Talion shook his head.

 

    “It’s alright, though I know not how you knew I still had it.”

 

    “When I sensed your approach, it was not Isildur’s Ring that alerted me of your presence, though as you grew closer to Rivendell I felt it. There was a power unlike anything I’d ever felt, constantly shifting between light and dark, so bright and strong that I could not ignore it. That was what prompted me to meet the two of you myself. When you spoke of the New Ring earlier, you said that it reminded you of who you and Celebrimbor used to be.” Talion nodded, unsure where the conversation was going. “But when you answered Eltariel’s question, you said that he calls you back from the darkness.” Talion froze and Elrond stopped beside him, expression gentle. Had he really said such a thing? Had he truly revealed something that important with one wrong word? Talion looked away, cheeks the slightest bit of red.

 

    “I… I don’t…”

 

    “You need not tell me unless you wish to. Not all of the Rings are evil. There are those that are used to heal, to protect.” Elrond’s and Talion’s eyes fell to the ring on his finger, its sapphire gleaming faintly in the moonlight. “Vilya has helped me to protect this place for millennia.” He dropped his hand and looked back to a stunned Talion. After another few moments of hesitation, he spoke.

 

    “When the New Ring was forged, it was imbued with much more than just magic. A part of Celebrimbor’s soul lies within the Ring… As does part of mine.” He took in Elrond’s surprised look before continuing. “The Ring… It is a way to keep him close; it connects us, and… It reminds me that I will always have a light in the darkness.” Elrond smiled sadly, his heart breaking a little at Talion’s situation.

 

    “You love him,” he whispered. Talion’s eyes widened at the statement, despite knowing it was true. “You speak fondly of him, and I can see the longing in your eyes, hear the heartbreak in your words… Does he know?”

 

    “I… I don’t know. I haven’t yet gathered the courage to tell him.”

 

    “He is quite lucky to have stolen a heart such as yours. You are a good man, Talion, whether or not you think so.” Talion didn’t know how to respond, so he opted for a nod as the two returned to the Last Homely House to retire for the night.

 

XxX

 

    The next day was an ominous one. There was a strange sense of dread and unease in the air, so much so that even Elrond seemed to feel its effects. Breakfast was uncomfortably quiet. Eltariel tried to catch Talion’s eye, to see if he thought the same things she did, but he was busy pushing food around on his plate, concentrating, lost in thought. It wasn’t until the voice of a small figure broke the silence that Talion looked up from his food, which had become cold quite some time ago.

 

    “When I was told that a man had arrived yesterday I didn’t dare believe it. I had to meet you for myself.” Talion looked to his right to find a small man sitting next to him, smiling. He was shorter than a dwarf and seemed strangely familiar. The bearer of the One Ring was of the same race, he realized. “Welcome to Rivendell, friend.” Talion found his heart lightened to see someone in such a bright mood on such a dark day.

 

    “We didn’t have the pleasure of meeting yesterday. My name is Talion.”

 

    “Oh! Where are my manners? Bilbo Baggins at your service.” He held out a hand and eagerly shook Talion’s when he took it. “It’s been quite sometime since I’ve met someone of the race of Men, and…” His eyes fell on Isildur’s Ring, smile slowly falling from his face, expression now serious and contemplative. “It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen someone with a Ring of Power.”

 

    “What would you know of them?” Talion asked, carefully gauging Bilbo’s answer.

 

    “I know that they hold great power, that they can do things one can only dream of. But… I also know that they whisper in your ear, poison your mind, make it seem as if you cannot live without them, that you must do whatever it takes to keep them safe from a thief’s hands… And there is a darkness that you can never seem to escape when you put them on…” Bilbo sighed, wondering just how safe it was to leave the One Ring with Frodo. He didn’t wish anything like what he endured on his nephew. Talion looked at Bilbo in understanding, glad he was not the only person who knew how much of a burden the Rings could truly be.

 

    “If I may ask, how did you come by a Ring of Power before?” Bilbo’s expression brightened at the question, the smile returning to his face.

 

    “It’s actually part of the reason I missed dinner last night. Come to think of it, I don’t quite remember when I was last in the company of others. Has it been a week yet? But you didn’t ask me to ramble on about that! I’m writing a book, you see, about my adventures from many years ago. It started back in the Shire, where I come from…” Breakfast passed quickly into lunch as Talion heard Bilbo’s story. He was a hobbit, as he’d learned their race was called, who had become a part of a company of dwarves in their quest to reclaim the kingdom of Erebor. Talion could have sworn he’d heard a similar, though much less detailed, tale years ago, a story one of the other rangers liked to recount when spirits were low and a smile was hard to come by. Bilbo told of how he came into position of the One Ring part of the way through his journey, and ended the tale with his return to the Shire, the goodbye to his home, and his stay in Rivendell. Talion found he quite enjoyed Bilbo’s company. When Bilbo had finished his tale, Talion felt compelled to share part of his own, and Bilbo listened intently as Talion told him how he obtained Isildur’s Ring, as well as about some of his companions from Mordor and how their stories intertwined with his, however briefly or long.

 

    “And now I am here,” he told him. Bilbo regarded him with respect and a bit of sadness.

 

    “I cannot imagine living such a life full of sorrow and pain like yours. But all that you have suffered through has made you who you are, and I am glad to have met a person like yourself.” Talion smiled at him gratefully. Something over Talion’s shoulder caught Bilbo’s eye, and he watched the hobbit grin and exclaim, “He may beat even you in that department, Gandalf!”

 

    “I’m sure that he already does, old friend.” Talion turned to see an old man with grey hair, plain robes, and a pointed hat approaching the table. The man smiled warmly at him. “Well met, Talion. Lord Elrond has had nothing but good things to say about you. I trust you and Bilbo are getting along?”

 

    “Of course. I’ve never met another like him,” he replied with a small smile.

 

    “I’m sure you haven’t,” Gandalf said with the strangest gleam in his eye. “May I?” he asked, gesturing to the seat across from him.

 

    “By all means,” Talion told him politely just as another person joined them, Gandalf taking his seat.

 

    “Good morning,” an approaching voice called. Talion looked up to see Eltariel making her way over to them. She nodded to Talion, who nodded back before she addressed the other two. “It has been years, Master Baggins. I hope you’ve been quite well?”

 

    “Eltariel! How long has it been? Since the battle of the five armies I believe. I’ve been quite well, and it seems as have you.” His eyes briefly landed on one of her hands. “Though it also seems you have quite the stories to tell.” She then turned to Gandalf, taking the seat next to him.

 

    “Mithrandir,” she addressed him respectfully. “Always a pleasure.”

 

    “And to you as well, Eltariel. I suspect you’ve had quite the adventure since last we spoke.”

 

    “That is… One way to put it, I suppose. Much has happened.”  

 

    “If you wouldn’t mind, might I hear a bit of that tale?”

 

    “Of course.” She and Talion gave him an abbreviated version of their stories as the four of them enjoyed lunch together. Gandalf didn’t at all seem surprised at anything they told him, almost as if he already knew and was simply waiting for someone to confirm it. And that gleam in his eyes!

 

    “Quite the adventure indeed! The two of you have been quite busy in Mordor, and now your journey brings you here, seemingly on the same quest as our young friends from the Shire.” Talion was astounded.

 

    “You know of that as well?” he questioned, not daring to believe anyone could be this well informed.

 

    “Gandalf quite often knows everything , Talion,” Bilbo told him.

 

    “Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” Gandalf told him, conversations turning to small talk for awhile, until, with a soft, caring look in his eyes he asked Eltariel, “How does the Lady Galadriel fare these days? It has been some time since we’ve seen each other.” Eltariel and Talion shared knowing glances at his tone of voice, both holding back smiles they were sure would tip the wizard off.

 

    “She was well when last we spoke. I haven’t been back to Lorien since I started my quest. She did, however, ask for me to pass on her well wishes and greetings to you should our paths ever cross.”

 

    “Wonderful! I think a trip to Lothlorien is long overdue, though I suppose it will have to wait until—” Gandalf suddenly cut himself off as he felt a shift in the air, a great evil approaching them. Elrond soon joined them in the hall, having felt the same thing. Eltariel looked to Talion, and a silent conversation passed between them. They were close. Without warning an earsplitting, shrill shriek echoed through the air, putting fear in the hearts of many and causing Talion to cry out in pain. Clutching his hand with Isildur’s Ring, a cold, determined glare settled in his eyes, and he quickly made his way out of the Last Homely House. Eltariel rushed after him, watching him dive off the nearest cliff with a powerful leap. She skidded to a halt, perplexed, until a dark blur soared upwards from where Talion had jumped. The drake. She smiled wickedly as they swooped back around for her, and she got a running start before leaping onto the drake’s back, securing herself behind Talion as they flew towards the Ford of Bruinen. Talion didn’t seem to notice that the wind had blown his hood up, the dark material now covering his head so that Eltariel couldn’t see his face. She would not have liked the sight that would meet her.

 

    It wasn’t long before the Nazgul were in their sights, being kept at bay by a company of three hobbits and one man wielding something on fire as an elf and another hobbit escaped on horseback towards Rivendell. Talion, enraged at the sight of the Nazgul and encouraged by the company’s efforts, gave a furious battlecry as the drake shot a great fireball in between the Nazgul and the company, leaping down with vengeance in mind. Eltariel soon followed, landing gracefully beside Talion. The two drew their weapons, and as the steam from the fireball disappeared the company was astounded to find the two standing between them and the Nazgul. Eltariel found herself shielded by the Light of Galadriel while Talion was cloaked in a swirl of black and green energy. This gave the Nazgul pause before they charged, Talion and Eltariel gladly meeting them. The small company watched as the Nazgul struggled to defeat them, always driven further and further back by blasts of light, the thrust of a sword, or the flashing back and forth attacks.

 

    Eltariel and Talion worked surprisingly well together, covering the other’s back and coordinating attacks to not give the Nazgul any time to recover. With one last shadow strike and retreat Talion, Eltariel, and the company watched as the Ford rose up in a powerful flood, whispers of magic in the air as it swept the Nazgul away, the dying cry of one of their black steeds the last sound they heard before the waters calmed, returning to normal. Sheathing their weapons, Talion and Eltariel stood side by side, facing the apprehensive and mostly terrified company. Eltariel glowed still with the Light of Galadriel, but all that could be seen under Talion’s hood was a pair of flaming red eyes.


Closing A/N: So… This is all one big mess where I tried to throw in some character development and probably too much plot? A lot happened. Also, I still can’t write canon characters in character! BUT, I did manage to actually type up everything I wrote in my outline this time, so small victories.

Chapter Text

The Company

 

A/N: *siiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh* I absolutely hate this chapter. The delay in posting was because of me second guessing entire chunks, and I kid you not when I say I considered scrapping it and starting over. Between characterization, plot consistency, and trying not to rush or shoehorn in subplots, I’ve just been pulling my hair out. Writing in general lately has been awful, to be honest. I just feel like I’ve hit a creative brick wall. It’s really been a struggle, y’all. Any and all suggestions about… anything are greatly appreciated. Quenya translations at the bottom.



    Talion took in the sight of three terrified hobbits and a wary man staring at Eltariel and himself. While the hobbits’ eyes were fixed on her, the man’s eyes were fixed on Talion, and he could guess why. Using the power of Isildur’s Ring, especially against the Nazgul, tended to change his appearance. No doubt with his hood up, the only thing visible would be his eyes, and he would bet they were the orange-red shade of fire. He slowly lowered his hood, watching the man’s eyes widen as he saw his face. Eltariel and the hobbits looked to him as well, the hobbits surprised and still fearful, while Eltariel looked dismayed. The man shook his head and reigned in his expression.

 

    “I do not know who you are, but I must thank you. Had you not arrived when you did, we surely would have faced our deaths,” the man spoke, lowering the flaming branch he held and dropping it into the Ford. “Might I know your names?”

 

    “I am Eltariel of Lothlorien,” she introduced herself, bowing her head respectfully.

 

    “And I am Talion. I hail from Minas Tirith.” The man’s eyes seemed to light up at that.

 

    “Well met, Eltariel, Talion. If I may ask, why did you come here?”

 

    “The Nazgul threaten all that is in this world, and we were informed they were after something, a Ring known only in legend… Until it was discovered by a hobbit of the Shire.” One of the hobbit’s eyes widened in fear, knowing exactly what Talion was talking about, and the wariness returned to the man’s eyes. “Eltariel and I have seen what these Rings can do, and took it upon ourselves to ensure the Nazgul didn’t get their hands on the Ring your companion carries.”

 

    “A-And now?” one of the hobbits questioned. “If it’s the Black Riders you’re talking about, they’re gone. What do you plan to do?” Talion met Eltariel’s gaze with a questioning look. She raised an eyebrow at him.

 

    “We would like to escort you to Rivendell,” Eltariel answered. “Even with the Nazgul gone, the path there could still be riddled with danger.” She met the man’s eyes, not expecting the deep, piercing look he gave her, as if he could see straight into her heart, her soul. She looked away from his intense stare, and he fixed his eyes on Talion’s next. Talion met his gaze without hesitation, daring the other man to find ill intent in them. The man was taken aback by this, but found nothing but truth and good intentions in his eyes. The man gave reassuring looks to the hobbits, who calmed somewhat under his confident gaze, before giving them an answer.

 

    “We would be most grateful to accept your offer. I am called many names, but here I am simply known as Strider. This is Samwise, Meriadoc, and Peregrin,” he introduced, indicating the hobbits as he named them.

 

    “Just Merry is fine,” Meriadoc spoke up nervously.

 

    “And so is Pippin,” Peregrin added shyly.

 

    “Call me Sam,” Samwise told them.

 

    “A pleasure to meet you all,” Talion told him, though the hobbits refused to meet his gaze. “Are you well enough to continue?” With a nod from Strider, the six of them set off towards Rivendell on foot, the company’s thoughts lingering on their injured companion who had been rushed to Rivendell just minutes prior. They traveled for several hours, and while he did not tire as quickly as he used to Talion was reminded of just how much energy traveling on foot required. Eltariel, too, showed signs of tiredness, as did Strider, who was a bit worse for wear, but the hobbits looked absolutely exhausted. Talion, noticing this, motioned to them, catching Strider and Eltariel’s attention. There was a silent conversation between the three before they decided it was best to rest for the night. The area they settled in was a fairly secluded area just off the path. A ring of trees surrounded a clear, even, grassy area that would draw no complaints of sleeping with tree roots poking someone in the back from Sam. When Strider offered to take the first watch Talion waved him off, much to Eltariel’s amusement.

 

    “Is this the part where you tell him you don’t sleep?” she teased with a smug smile. Talion glared at her halfheartedly.

 

    “That was once, and there was a reason behind that.” Her expression turned serious, but her eyes held a glint of amusement.

 

    “Still, all of us are weary, and there are no caragors guarding us this time.”

 

    “I could call her down to guard us. She’s circling the skies near here,” he suggested, referring to his drake, who was never far off.

 

    “And scare the halflings to death? I think not.”

 

    “Still, I will keep watch for the night, Strider. I’m sure your journey has been more exhausting than ours today.” Strider nodded in gratitude, bidding them goodnight and settling close to the hobbits. Eltariel regarded Talion with worry.

 

    “Are you certain you’ll be alright for the night?” she asked.

 

    “I’ll be fine, Eltariel. Rest, ” he insisted. With one last glance she relented, settling and making herself comfortable. Talion sighed, lying down and gazing at the starry sky as his thoughts turned towards the conversation he’d had with Elrond not too long ago. He remembered his hand gently grasping the New Ring before his vision faded to black.

 

XxX

 

    When next he awoke, Talion was aware of a warm presence at his back and strong arms wrapped securely around his chest. He was still where they had stopped for the night, but now it was just the two of them, and Talion couldn’t be happier. The stars shone brightly, and the night was pleasant. Talion felt a soft kiss being pressed to the side of his neck and he sighed contently. “Celebrimbor.”

 

     “Talion,” he whispered, voice full of affection and wonder, pressing another kiss next to the first. “Why didn’t you tell me?” At Talion’s confused silence he sat up, prompting Talion to do the same, turning to face him.

 

    “Tell you what?” Talion asked a bit nervously.

 

    “After our first meeting like this, I took some time to re-evaluate the Ring, to find answers to my questions. We may no longer share the same body, but our souls are bonded in the New Ring. We are just as connected here as we were before, even if our contact is limited.” Talion’s eyes widened before it dawned on him just what those words meant. Blushing, he averted his eyes, turning away, only to have Celebrimbor gently take his face in his hands. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked again, softer.

 

    “There was never time,” Talion told him sadly. “By the time I had realized my feelings, the New Ring had already started to change you. You were becoming more and more distant, and there was never a moment that felt right.”

 

    “Avatyara ni, melda,” Celebrimbor whispered, guilt in his eyes.

 

    “There is nothing to forgive,” he told him adamantly. “For I still cannot gather the courage to say those words to you,” he admitted in shame.

 

    “I know, and I will wait for as long as you need to hear them. But I know , Talion… And I feel the same way.” Not believing his ears, Talion slowly raised his hands before resting them over Celebrimbor’s, eyes full of hope and unbridled affection.

 

    “Truly? Do you mean those words?”

 

    Pulling them closer together, faces inches away, he whispered, “Yes.” Talion, without hesitation, closed the distance between them, capturing Celebrimbor’s lips in a gentle kiss the elf immediately reciprocated. Talion felt like he was in Valinor, and gasped as the kiss sent shivers down his spine, a feeling of completeness sweeping through him as the kiss became more intense, more passionate. Talion tangled his hands in Celebrimbor’s hair, pulling a soft groan from the elf as he inadvertently tugged on the ebony strands that shone in the moonlight. It wasn’t until they had to separate to breathe that Talion realized that Celebrimbor was on top of him, and that the only thing separating their bodies were thin layers of clothing instead of their usual armor. He flushed at the thought. Celebrimbor chuckled, the sound deep with amusement. “Patience, beloved. When this world is free of the Dark Lord’s presence you may have your way with me as often as you wish, and I with you.” Talion gasped and stole another quick, tender kiss before gently rolling them onto their sides to face each other again.

 

    “How goes the battle with Sauron?” Talion asked, hating to ruin the blissful mood, but needing to know. Celebrimbor’s smile faded, replaced with a frown.

 

    “While his power is much greater than mine, it appears we are at a stalemate. Neither of our spirits is willing to yield to the other. It is tiring to fight day after day, but it is well worth it if it helps in your efforts to destroy the One Ring.”        

 

    “The Ring-bearer should be close to Rivendell by now, and we shall reach the city again tomorrow,” Talion told him, a hand gently caressing his cheek. Celebrimbor leaned into the soft touch. “I have a feeling my journey is just beginning.”

 

    “Shelob warned that you would have a long and perilous road ahead of you, and despite my distrust she has not been wrong yet.” Talion hummed in agreement, tucking his head into the crook of Celebrimbor’s neck as he pulled him into his arms again. He inhaled deeply, Celebrimbor’s scent causing a wave of emotions to rise in him.

 

    “I miss you,” he whispered, heart heavy. He felt a kiss being pressed into his hair.

 

    “And I you, but we shall be together again.” Talion tightened their embrace when he felt his consciousness fading. No matter how much they would meet it still never felt like enough time. “Be strong, Talion,” Celebrimbor told him as he once again felt his surroundings fade.

 

XxX

 

    Talion slowly opened his eyes to see the sky showing the first signs of light, tree branches swaying in the gentle breeze of the early morning. The script on the New Ring glowed bright blue, warm to the touch in his hand, and Talion blushed at the memory of being in such close and intimate contact with Celebrimbor. Sitting up and dropping the Ring, his eyes fell on the rest of his companions, who were still fast asleep. His four companions. Looking around and then up, he spotted Strider perched low in a tree nearby, watching over the company until his eyes fell on Talion.

 

    “Good morning, Talion,” he called softly, hopping down silently. He made his way over to him with kind and tired eyes.

 

    “Strider. How long have you…?”

 

    “I had a feeling you were more weary than you let on. I slept for a few hours before I took over the watch. I didn’t want to wake you. You looked… At peace.” Talion couldn’t help the gentle smile that came to his face.

 

    “Yes, I was,” he replied. “I trust you slept well?”

 

    “As well as I could given the circumstances, but yes.” He regarded Talion for a moment, his now blue eyes, face free of black veins and anything that indicated darkness. “I see sleep has dismissed the darkness from your features.”

 

    “That is a relief to hear. I apologize if my appearance startled you yesterday. The Nazgul tend to bring out the worst in me.” His gaze fell to Isildur’s Ring. Strider followed his gaze, and was struck by how the Ring… Called to him. It was faint, but he heard its whispers, and he exhaled harshly, taking a step back as he felt a stab of dread and, worse, a fleeting moment of desire, almost as if the Ring… Belonged to him. Talion watched his movements in concern, meeting his eyes once he’d regained his bearings.

 

    “That Ring… It seems there is more to your story than meets the eye, Talion,” Strider told him, still a bit shaken.

 

    “I could say the same to you,” he replied suspiciously, eyes falling on a slowly waking Eltariel and still sleeping trio of hobbits. “Though this is neither the time nor place for such conversation. Perhaps in Rivendell, when there is less of a chance of eavesdropping.” There was a silent agreement between them before Eltariel joined them with a yawn.

 

    “Did he actually stay awake?” Eltariel asked, face impassive but a smirk in her eyes.

 

    “You have been awfully cheerful lately,” Talion pointed out to her. She gave him a look.

 

    “It does not do to dwell only on the negative. One finds lightheartedness in times of peril when one can,” she replied simply.

 

    “Perhaps you should speak with Pippin, then,” Strider told her with a slight smile. “He has a knack for that himself.” Eltariel turned to him warily, the moment from the day before still fresh in her memory.

 

    “I assume the watch was uneventful?” she asked, ignoring the uncomfortableness settling in her gut at his gaze upon her.

 

    “The animals are still on edge after yesterday’s events with the Nazgul, but the forest is peaceful otherwise.” As Strider’s thoughts turned to the previous day’s events, Talion noticed the concerned expression that took over his face.

 

    “The Ring-bearer,” Talion began. “When we approached we saw an elf carrying a hobbit on horseback towards Rivendell. I assume that was him.” Strider looked to him and nodded grimly. “What happened to him?” Strider took a deep breath before answering.

 

    “He was stabbed by a Morgul blade during an earlier point in our travels. His condition has worsened considerably since, and I fear for his life, though there are no more capable healing hands than those of Lord Elrond. I urged Glorfindel to ride swiftly with Frodo back to Rivendell. He would much rather have faced all of the Nazgul himself than leave us behind, but when the hobbits pleaded for him to save Frodo’s life he could not deny them.”

 

    “Rarely have I seen someone emerge from a fight with the Nazgul alive, much less with only a singular wound. That he still lives, especially given a blade’s effects, is remarkable,” Eltariel told him.

 

    “Its effects?” Talion asked.

 

    “Had we been too late, Frodo would have passed into the realm of shadow and become a wraith, just like the Nine. It is not a fate I can imagine anyone suffering.” Talion averted his eyes at that. Eltariel, noticing his discomfort, changed the subject.

 

    “When the sun has risen enough, we should keep moving. I have no doubt the hobbits will be relieved to be reunited with their companion.”

 

    “Agreed. If we set out before noon, we should reach the city before sunset… Perhaps if we start breakfast, they’ll awaken sooner,” Strider added thoughtfully. “Though they have more than earned their rest.”

 

    Breakfast did indeed awaken the hobbits, though it was considerably lighter when it did. They thanked Strider and then Talion for cooking it, approaching him with an apologetic and friendly, yet still wary, manner. He waved off their apologies, bidding them to enjoy their meal before the group was to set out again.

 

XxX

 

    The six arrived in Rivendell with plenty of daylight to spare, the company immediately inquiring about the state of Frodo. “He is currently being tended to by Lord Elrond,” one of the sentinels told them, escorting them to the Last Homely House. “Glorfindel brought him here last night. It is a wonder that the halfling still lives as we speak.”         

 

    “Can we see him, sir? I have to know that he’s alright with my own eyes,” Sam insisted to the sentinel.

 

    “I cannot give you the answer you desire, master hobbit. Only Lord Elrond can,” he told him, watching them enter the House with looks of awe. Strider watched them gape and gawk with a smile, glancing around with familiarity.

 

    “I take it you’ve been to Rivendell before?” Talion asked him.

 

    “I spent many of my early years here. Lord Elrond raised me like one of his own after my mother passed. Rivendell is as close to a home as I have.” As he said those words, Elrond emerged from a room, looking exhausted after many hours of healing. His eyes brightened when they fell on Strider, who greeted him with warmth.

 

    “It is good to have you back, though I wish it were under better circumstances,” he told him after a short embrace.

 

    “I am glad to be back,” Strider responded. “How fares Frodo?”

 

    Tiredly, Elrond spoke, “He is resting. Had he arrived here merely hours later, he may not have survived. I extracted a piece of the Morgul blade from his body, but even then its magic lingered. It has been many hours, but it is done. I believe he should wake in a few days after his body has had time to recover.”

 

    “And then?” Strider asked him. Elrond gave him and then Talion and Eltariel long looks.

 

    “Then… a council shall be called.”

 

    “To discuss the Ring?”

 

    “Yes, but we shall speak more on the matter when the time draws closer. You should rest while there is still time, for I fear you may not have much of it,” he addressed the three of them, receiving three nods in response before sweeping out of the room. Strider turned to them.

 

    “Thank you again for your help,” he told them. “I trust I’ll see you at dinner later?”

 

    “Of course.” With a respectful nod to them both, Strider took his leave, leaving Talion and Eltariel alone as the hobbits had flocked to Frodo’s room as soon as Elrond gave them the go ahead. Eltariel met Talion’s thoughtful gaze.

 

    “What is it?” she asked.

 

    “This council… Many events will be set into motion, and many things will be brought to light.” His thoughts flashed back to Shelob’s vision. Elves, dwarves, men, hobbits, warriors, and diplomats would all be in attendance. The One Ring would be there. Isildur’s Ring would be there. The New Ring would be there…

 

    “Of that I have no doubt. I only wonder what decision will be reached concerning the Ring.” Talion didn’t respond, gaze drifting to Isildur’s Ring as it so often did, worried and weary.

 

XxX

 

    Strider found Talion some time later in the night, long after the sun had set and the stars had come into view, sitting and looking out over the falls and the city, holding onto the chain around his neck. He sat down next to him in the grass, a line of trees and the falls secluding them from many outside viewers. “I often come here when sleep eludes me, or when I need to be alone with my thoughts. Perhaps I have spent too much time in the company of elves, but the roar of the waterfall and the vastness of the sky are most peaceful in times like these.” Talion smiled slightly, though worry was still etched on his features from his earlier conversation with Eltariel.

 

    “You wouldn’t be the only one. A starry night sky will quiet even the loudest of my thoughts. A quiet night such as this… There is nothing like it.” Strider caught the look in his eye.

 

    “I feel there is more to that statement, just as there seems to be more to you than meets the eye.”

 

    “I could say the same to you,” Talion responded, echoing his words from before. “We are both surrounded by mystery, for good reason, I assume.” He was met with the same appraising look he received upon their first meeting, Strider unsure of the true meaning of those words for a few moments.

 

    “What is it you’d like to know?” he finally asked.

 

    “What are you willing to share?” The night passed with many tales. Strider told Talion of his childhood in Rivendell, raised alongside Elrond’s sons Elladan and Elrohir and his daughter Arwen, growing up in a world of elves and wonders most men can only dream of. Upon discovering his heritage as one of the Dunedain he became a ranger, leaving Rivendell to experience the rest of the world and discover who he truly was. His life as a ranger eventually led him to Bree, which led him to Frodo and the other hobbits.

 

    “I have spent a lifetime wondering what my fate would be, where my path would lead me. Now I fear the decision may be out of my hands,” Strider finished.

 

    “The council?” Talion questioned. Strider nodded with a sigh.

 

    “If what I believe will happen comes to pass, I may have no choice.”

 

    “Is it the past you run from, or a future you do not wish to embrace?”

 

    “I suppose it’s a bit of both, the legacy of my ancestors and what I am expected to become.” Strider thought on the question more before asking, “ And you? What is it you run from?” Talion was silent for a moment.

 

    “The truth,” he settled on. It was then that he, once again, told his story, but this time he started from the very beginning. He told of his life growing up in Minas Tirith, meeting his wife, becoming a ranger, starting a family… and then losing his family and his life. He recounted the rest of his story much the same way he did with Elrond, only this time there was no Eltariel to finish the story when he choked on his words. Strider listened intently and without judgement, lost in thought as Talion finished his tale. Shock was the most prominent emotion he could feel when he finally gathered his thoughts.

 

    Another Ring of Power? Being bound to a wraith, cursed to be banished from death? Isildur’s Ring? Isildur… a Nazgul?! What shook him to his core the most was not the fact that the man sat next to him could potentially become a Nazgul, nor was it that another Ring of Power existed outside of those told of in legend. No. The fact that Isildur had been one of the Nine… The fact that he had lived centuries as a wraith before being granted true death… His eyes fell to the Ring on Talion’s finger, and Talion followed his gaze before meeting Strider’s eyes.

 

    “What is it?”

 

    “I…” Strider hesitated, feeling as if someone had ripped through his very soul. Could… Could he have that same weakness inside of him? Would he suffer the same fate given similar circumstances? “I just cannot imagine Isildur…” Strider looked on in despair, and Talion felt that the look was not just because of Isildur’s fate.

 

    “It goes against everything we’ve been told as children, that Isildur did not die as a war hero corrupted by power, but was reborn as a servant of Sauron.”

 

    “Yes,” he agreed, still reeling from Talion’s tale, gazing at him in wonder. “I have heard stories from rangers and warriors across all of Middle-Earth, but nothing they have told me can even begin to compare to what you’ve shared with me today. I’m honored to have your trust with such personal matters.”

 

    “And I am honored to have yours. You must not give it easily.”

 

    “I don’t,” Strider confirmed, expression conflicted. “Frodo nor the rest of my companions know my story yet, though it’s not that I do not trust them. I suppose… I don’t want to involve them in any more danger than they’ve already faced. We nearly lost Frodo. Sam, Merry, Pippin, any one of them could have shared the same, or an even worse, fate.”

 

    “I understand… Do you think their journey will reach its end after the Council, that they might return to their homes once a decision is reached?” Talion watched as Strider seemed to realize something, a defeated look falling on his features.

 

    “I cannot say for sure, but… I have a feeling that their journey is far from over.” A silence fell between them, the two eventually heading back inside before the night’s end.



***avatyara ni, melda: forgive me, beloved

 

Closing A/N: If I don’t post this now, I never will. Originally, the chapter was going to end with the Council of Elrond, but I’m too concerned with this part of the chapter at the moment to write that scene with a clear head. So, as much as I don’t want to end with Talion and Aragorn’s conversation, I will anyway. Also, apologies for all the negativity in these author’s notes. Again, writing has been a whole struggle, but a lot of my WIPs have been unupdated the last few months, so I’m writing while I have time. Hopefully next chapter won’t be as hard to put together as this one.

Chapter Text

The Council of Elrond

 

A/N: A quick update? *gasp* Now we’re getting the Council of Elrond. Huge thank you to the guest on fanfiction.net and Jo and Moonfox on AO3 for the feedback and encouragement! It truly does mean a lot! I’m happy to say that this chapter went so much smoother than the last one, and it was pretty fun to write too. Also, the actual council scene itself is really… It’s a lot, and I think some things that happen are a bit drastic and extreme, but hopefully it’s coherent and things don’t seem too crazy or far-fetched.



    In the few days leading up to the council, Talion saw several parties arrive in Rivendell. While he usually spent most of his time with Bilbo, Elrond, or Strider, he felt the need to greet their visitors. The first were a group of elves, who were nice enough after introductions were made. One in particular, Legolas, warmed up to him quickly after a quip in Sindarin that left one of his companions quite red in the face at lunch that day. In Talion’s defense, the elf had it coming for thinking he could talk about him behind his back. While the rest of his company stared at Talion in shock, whether from his use of Sindarin or the quip itself, Legolas laughed heartily, inviting Talion to join them at their table and apologizing for his companion. Eltariel greeted the Prince of Mirkwood, as she would later tell Talion, as an old friend, having spent a winter in Thranduil’s kingdom after a mission gone wrong as a young ellith.

 

    “Prince of Mirkwood?” Talion paled, not even considering that there would be royalty and other lords and leaders in Rivendell for the council. Eltariel smirked at the panic on his face, but quickly reassured him.

 

    “Not to worry. He never cared much for the title, though he can certainly live up to it given the right circumstances.”

 

    “I take it you’ve witnessed that firsthand?” She nodded.

 

    “Even his father was impressed with him that day. I don’t think King Thranduil had ever seen him take charge like that before.”

 

    “A story you’ll both have to share with me another time, I’m sure.”

 

    The next day saw a party of men arrived. The man leading them, Boromir, he introduced himself as, greeted Talion with warmth, glad to meet another man in a realm of elves. At dinner, he revealed that he and his party had arrived from Minas Tirith, and Talion took the opportunity to inquire about his old home. Boromir seemed reluctant to speak in front of his companions, so Talion pulled him aside to continue the conversation. He seemed to trust Talion, despite only just meeting him that day, and he wasn’t used to having someone other than Faramir to talk to, so Boromir told him about Gondor’s prosperity… At the cost of his father’s sanity. He told of his concern for Denethor’s desire for “Isildur’s Bane”, how the very idea of Gondor in possession of such an item was slowly driving his father to madness. Nevertheless, Boromir remained optimistic that his concerns would all be for nothing in the end, though Talion wasn’t so sure. Eltariel didn’t seem to trust Boromir very much.

 

    “Why not?” Talion asked her.

 

    “He is Denethor’s favorite son, the eldest and more reckless of the two. If anything, I expected him to send Faramir. He, at least, has some skill in politics, and common sense.”

 

    “I do admit, he did seem eager to see the One Ring with his own eyes…”

 

    “And we all know what happens to men when—” Talion raised an eyebrow as she cut herself off.

 

    “No, please. Do finish that sentence,” he told her bitterly, frowning. She scoffed, but he could hear her guilt in her next statement.

 

    “You know that’s not what I meant.”

 

    “And yet you’ve been prone to reminding me of that lately.”

 

    “I didn’t mean to—

 

    “I know , Eltariel.” He shook his head with a sigh. “I understand your concerns about him, and I share them myself. Let us just hope the council has more sense than that when everyone is here.”

 

    “Lord Elrond and Mithrandir are not so naive or foolish to trust Gondor to safeguard the One Ring. They will want to destroy it just as much as we do.”

 

    “I hope the other council members are of the same mind.”

 

    The day of the official council meeting arrived along with a party of dwarves, several of whom didn’t seem to be especially excited to be in Rivendell. The dwarves took a bit longer to warm up to Talion, though a round of drinks and war stories quickly changed their tune, he found at breakfast. The dwarf Gimli was especially animated, and challenged Talion to a drinking contest at the next available opportunity. Talion promised to think about it as they left the Hall of Fire, and Eltariel watched them go with abhorrence. Talion didn’t miss the look.  

 

    “At least they’ll all be sober during the council meeting,” she remarked, scowling. “Although that might not matter in the slightest.” Talion regarded her for a moment, and she caught his eye. “It is not that I share my brethren’s hate and distrust of dwarves. I have just encountered too many of Durin’s more hotheaded, arrogant, and selfish folk in my travels.”

 

    “I admit they can be a bit brash and excitable , but they are a fine folk once you get to know them.”

 

    “Torvin was tolerable at best, if he could shut up about how many graugs he’d killed long enough to have an actual conversation.”

 

    “When did the two of you meet?”

 

    “I once found him caught in the middle of a pair of fighting graugs. Suffice it to say he was grateful for a swift escape.” Talion couldn’t help but laugh.

 

    “I bet he claimed he’d never live down being rescued like that.”

 

    “He’s lucky I heard his frantic yelling, or I would’ve just gone back the way I came!”

 

    The rest of the morning went by fairly quickly, with Sam, Merry, and Pippin cheerfully introducing a recently woken Frodo to Talion after telling of his and Eltariel’s daring rescue. The poor hobbit seemed a bit confused, and had a look of sadness in his eyes that Talion couldn’t help but notice.

 

    “It’s good to see you in such good health, Frodo. I am Talion.” He held out his hand, which Frodo took after a moment, but not without noticing Isildur’s Ring. His eyes went wide, and he stared at Talion in a mix of astonishment, sorrow, and relief.

 

    “You’re a Ring-bearer too?” Talion nodded after a moment, sharing in the feeling of knowing that someone else understands .

 

    “Yes. I’ll be at the council meeting to offer input if needed, and to ensure no one gets any ideas about taking your Ring.”

 

    “I still don’t see why we can’t be there,” Sam chimed in. “We already know about the Black Riders and the Ring. It isn’t fair that we have to wait to hear what happens. We have just as much right as anyone else who’s going to be there.” Talion remembered Strider’s words from several nights ago as Sam tried to make his point. I suppose… I don’t want to involve them in any more danger than they’ve already faced… Any one of them could have shared the same, or an even worse, fate.

 

    “I see your point, but the matters they plan to discuss are dark and dangerous, far more dangerous than anything the three of you could possibly dream of,” Talion told them. The three, Pippin in particular, looked even more discouraged at that. As Frodo gave them apologetic looks as he took his leave, Talion followed behind, telling them with a small smile, “But no one has to know you’re there.” Sam looked surprised, but Pippin and Merry wore twin mischievous grins. Talion hoped they wouldn’t get into too much trouble afterward.

 

XxX

 

    It was nearly noon by the time most of the members of council arrived at the designated meeting place. Surrounded by trees, other greenery, statues, and other buildings, the round stone gathering place currently held a semicircle of twenty chairs, a small round table in its center. An extra seat had been added for Eltariel next to Legolas, who greeted her kindly as everyone else seated themselves. Elrond sat at the open end of the semicircle, Erestor and Glorfindel sat on either side of him. To Elrond’s left sat Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, and representatives from Mirkwood. To his right sat representatives of Gondor, the Lonely Mountain, and Strider. Talion situated himself outside of the gathering, in the corner of the building walls enclosing one part of the area, but still able to observe the meeting’s proceedings.

 

    “Strangers from distant lands, friends of old… You’ve been summoned here to answer the threat of Mordor…” Talion watched each of the council members carefully as Elrond spoke. He knew some were there with honest intentions, while others… Others sought power, control. He listened as Bilbo and Gandalf told the tale of the One Ring, how Bilbo had first discovered it and the events that unfolded afterward. When it was confirmed that what they were talking about was indeed the One Ring, the other groups relayed why they had come. Gloin, the father of Gimli, told of messengers who’d arrived at Erebor inquiring about the whereabouts of Bilbo Baggins, who had taken something that didn’t belong to him, and about the disappearance of Balin, Ori, and Oin into Moria. Legolas spoke of Gollum’s escape from Mirkwood’s dungeons. Gollum had revealed to him and Gandalf that he’d been captured and taken to Mordor, where he’d given up Bilbo’s name and location to escape further torture. Boromir declined to speak, until Elrond said, “Bring forth the Ring, Frodo.” Talion watched with everyone else as Frodo placed a small gold ring on the stone table at the center of the meeting place. As soon as Talion got a clear look at the One Ring, he could hardly pay attention to Boromir’s next words as the New Ring burned hot and bright on its chain. He grabbed it with a silent gasp, staring at it in confusion as images of a bruised and battered Celebrimbor staring down a smirking, but winded Sauron with less than good intentions flashed through his mind. He braced himself against the wall and took a deep breath as his vision returned to normal.

 

    It was then that he could hear faint whispers of the One Ring’s ancient dark magic, and he saw its effects on the council members, who all gazed at it with a mix of shock, awe, and fear, seemingly leaning forward in their seats to get a closer look. It wasn’t until Boromir had made it to the stone table, reaching out to take the Ring in a mesmerized state, that he interfered. Dropping the New Ring back out of sight, he shadow struck Boromir, grabbing his outstretched arm in a death grip as Gandalf chanted the One Ring’s inscription in Black Speech. The elves gripped their heads in pain, eyes squeezed shut; the dwarves shouted in alarm, covering their ears; the men cowered and despaired; and the hobbits stared transfixed and horrified at the Ring as an unnatural darkness descended upon Rivendell for a brief moment, a boom! of thunder echoing through the air.

 

    Boromir stumbled backwards in terror into his seat as Talion abruptly let go of his arm, unsettled at the sound of Sauron’s warped, dark laughter following the end of Gandalf’s words. He took a few steps back from the One Ring, catching Eltariel’s eye across the area. Never before had she seen such fear within him, and he’d faced down Sauron himself without so much as a tremble! Talion glared at the One Ring once he recovered. Even halfway across Middle-Earth Sauron laughed at him. In his brief moment of fear, he realized that Sauron didn’t seem to take any threat to himself seriously. He thrived on the seeds of hopelessness and fright that he’d planted since the moment he’d arrived in Middle-Earth, and nothing at the moment could stop him except the one thing that would find its way back to him by any means necessary.

 

    “Never before has anyone uttered that tongue here in Imladris,” Elrond directed at Gandalf with a piercing look. Gandalf leaned on his staff for support, looking drained yet unapologetic as he took his seat.

 

    “I do not ask your pardon, Master Elrond, for the Black Speech of Mordor may yet be heard in every corner of the West! The Ring is altogether evil.”

 

    “It is a gift,” a now recovered Boromir countered.

 

    “A gift?” Talion questioned, outraged, finally breaking his silence. All eyes were on him now, some wary, and many curious about what their newcomer had to say. “That Ring has corrupted the hearts of many people, good people, honorable people. It changed even Isildur himself, and when his obsession over the Ring proved to be too much it led him to his death!”

 

    “Isildur is but one man who simply lost his way. He had no use for the Ring except as a keepsake, a trophy, a reminder of a glorious victory. You’re right. It did lead him astray, but this time is different! This time the Ring would have a purpose!” Boromir was intent on making Talion see reason, but Talion would have none of it.

 

    “And how many others have said something similar, have befallen the same fate?! Even a lesser Ring of Power would eventually have the same effect. Slowly, day by day, it eats at your will, whispers empty promises and false dreams in your ear, until one day you look in the mirror and don’t recognize yourself anymore.”

 

    “And just how would you know about such a thing?” Gimli questioned, eyes narrowed. “The only lesser Ring you could possibly have is one of the Rings of Men, and the Nazgul have them all.” Talion grimaced, already regretting the idea in his head.

 

    “Not all of them,” Eltariel told him in dismay, knowing exactly what Talion intended to do. She received many confused looks, and of the confused council members Legolas was the first to realize what she meant. He’d seen it upon meeting Talion, but never did he imagine…

 

    “You don’t mean…”

 

    Closing his eyes, Talion listened to his Ring’s dark whispers, felt his anger and contempt for Sauron and the Nazgul threaten to bubble over the surface, saw Barad-dur crumbling and engulfed in flames, heard the shrieks and screams of those who would someday fall by his hand. The council members tensed then shouted in alarm as darkness once again descended upon Rivendell. Black spread through his veins, spider webbing across his face. As he opened his eyes, the color of fire overtook his irises. A strong wind whipped his hood over his head as green and black tendrils of cold, vile, energy shrouded him. Several swords and axes were raised in response to the drastic physical change, Elrond, Aragorn, Eltariel, and Gandalf’s shouts barely enough to keep the on edge council members at bay.

 

    “You brought a Nazgul to our council meeting?!” Gimli demanded to know. He put all of his strength behind a swing aimed at Talion, but Talion was ready. Drawing Urfael in the blink of an eye, he countered the blow in an instant, a clever parry sending Gimli’s axe sailing through the air behind him, clattering to the ground and skidding underneath his chair.

 

    “Make no mistake, I am no Nazgul,” Talion told him, hissing at the sinister, spectral sound of his voice. “Though I am well on my way to becoming one. It is the price I pay for freeing the original wielder of the Ring,” he continued, catching Strider’s eye in understanding before looking back at Gimli. “And it is a burden I chose, and continue to choose, to bear.” Gimli fumed, wrenching an axe out of one of his companion’s hands for another attempt at ending Talion’s life. In an instant, Eltariel was on her feet, blocking Gimli’s blow with gritted teeth and throwing him back with a grunt. He growled, tossing the borrowed axe back to its rightful owner in defeat.

 

    “I think your point has been made, Talion,” Eltariel remarked, eyeing him with concern. “And if you truly worry for your life, Master Dwarf…” With a blaze of light, Eltariel enveloped and shielded herself, Gimli, and the rest of his companions. “The Light of Galadriel ensures that no entity of darkness can reach us.” To demonstrate her point, Talion attempted to walk through the barrier, sword pointed forward. The barrier stretched inwards a few feet, but held, deflecting each swipe Talion aimed at it. As the two sheathed their weapons, Eltariel dropped the barrier, but kept a close eye on Gimli, whose glare appeared vicious enough to kill. They took their seats again. Talion tried to focus on the feeling of the still vigorously burning New Ring around his neck. He tried to let go of some of his anger and hatred for Sauron and the Nazgul, to remember himself, to distance himself from the darkness, but… His eyes slowly fell on the One Ring, which seemed to taunt him, mock him, dare him to take it. This didn’t go unnoticed by those who believed in him. The longer he listened, the more it seemed to draw him in, but the burning of the New Ring turned painful, snapping him out of his trance. With effort, he tore his gaze away, the pain dissipating, eyes now fixed on a paralyzed Boromir.

 

    “The One Ring would drive you to madness. Purpose or no purpose, it would bend you to its will eventually. One way or another you would fall prey its influence.” Boromir gulped, but met Talion’s gaze.

 

    “You say you chose this burden… But why? If,” he gestured to Talion uncertainly, “This is what happens as a result of wearing that Ring, then why?” Talion sighed, looking down at Isildur’s Ring.

 

    “I was lying in a pool of my own blood, my life slowly draining out of me, when I put this Ring on. I made a promise to undo all of the evil that came from my failure to keep Sauron and the Nazgul at bay in Mordor, that my fate would be my own, that no matter how long it took I wouldn’t lose myself to the darkness so long as I had something to fight for…” He looked around at the rest of the council members. “I chose this burden because I knew that if Mordor fell, so would the rest of Middle-Earth. I fight for a future without the worry of a Great Eye, of the Nine, of an army of orcs or dark creatures. I fight for a future of peace. That is my purpose.”

 

    “Then there is hope yet,” Boromir said, some of his confidence regained, standing and addressing the council. “If he can do it, why can’t one of us? Long has my father, the Steward of Gondor, kept the forces of Mordor at bay. By the blood of our people are your lands kept safe.” Strider and Talion, and then Eltariel and Talion, shared a look of frustration and concern. “There are many strong willed, honorable, driven men like yourself within our walls,” he told Talion, before imploring to the rest of the council, “Give Gondor the weapon of the enemy. Let us use it against him!”

 

    “Have you heard nothing we have said?!” questioned Eltariel. “If a lesser Ring can change someone in such a way, what hope do you have of fighting the One Ring? It would never serve you!”

 

    “You cannot wield it. None of us can,” Strider interjected, drawing Boromir’s attention. “The One Ring answers to Sauron alone. It has no other master.”

 

    “And what would a Ranger know of this matter?” Boromir asked with a sneer.

 

    “He is no mere Ranger,” Legolas declared, standing from his seat with a glare. “He is Aragorn, son of Arathorn. You owe him your allegiance.” Talion’s eyes widened, falling on a clearly unprepared Aragorn. Everyone turned in Aragorn’s direction as Boromir addressed him.

 

    “Aragorn. This… Is Isildur’s heir?”

 

    “And heir to the throne of Gondor,” Legolas told him.

 

    “Havodad, Legolas,” Aragorn told him with a sigh. Legolas met his gaze defiantly, but took his seat again. He then told Boromir, “He speaks the truth. I am Isildur’s heir, and I will one day return to Gondor. As a king or as just another man, I do not yet know. What of it?” Boromir made his way back to his seat, voice venomous as he replied.

 

    “Gondor has no king… Gondor needs no king.” Aragorn met his challenging gaze, unphased by Boromir’s anger and contempt. Gandalf was the next to speak, breaking the tense silence.

 

    “Aragorn is right. We cannot use it.” At this Elrond stood, sensing his opportunity.

 

    “You have only one choice. The Ring must be destroyed.” Eltariel let out a breath of relief.

 

    “Finally, someone with sense,” she muttered under her breath. It was then that Gimli grabbed his axe from under his chair.

 

    “Then what are we waiting for?” With a battle cry he swung his axe down on the One Ring, only for the axe to shatter on impact. Talion saw Frodo flinch in his seat, checked on by Gandalf, Bilbo looking a bit unnerved as well. Gimli sat up from his place on the ground, having been thrown back, bewildered.

 

    “The Ring cannot be destroyed, Gimli, son of Gloin, by any craft that we here possess… The Ring was made in the fires of Mount Doom. Only there can it be unmade… One of you must do this.” The council fell silent, trying to process the daunting, near impossible task set before them. Boromir had his face in his hands, just as stunned and lost as everyone else.

 

    “One does not simply walk into Mordor,” he remarked, sitting back up straight. “Its black gates are guarded by more than just orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep. And the Great Eye… Is ever watchful.” Many council members paled at that. “It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire, ash, dust. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume…” He shook his head hopelessly. “Not with ten-thousand men could you do this. It is folly.”

 

    “You won’t need ten thousand men,” Talion told him, startling the council. “For the last decade I have fought my way through orcs, trolls, drakes, creatures and monstrosities you could only imagine. And yes, much of the land is bleak, crumbling, dying… But there is more to Mordor than that. There are forests and plains as far as the eye can see in one direction, and snowy mountains and frozen lakes in the other. There are those who stand against Sauron, entire civilizations that survive under the harshest of conditions, fighting for Middle-Earth’s freedom. There are armies…” He turned to Eltariel, who nodded for him to continue. “That fight, united under a banner against Sauron and his forces of darkness. Nurnen, Cirith Ungol, Seregost, Gorgoroth… Minas Morgul, are all allies against him.”

 

    “I’ve heard enough!” Gimli shouted. “Mordor is a land of evil. There are no armies or outposts that would fight with us. Orcs are all the same. They’re vile, unfeeling freaks of nature. Killing is in their nature. They serve no one but Sauron! And why should we trust you when you wear the face of an enemy and a Ring to serve him with?”

 

    “These armies you mention,” Aragorn began, choosing to ignore Gimli’s outburst. “Who do they follow?”

 

    “You believe him?” Boromir questioned.

 

    “They follow me,” Talion answered without hesitation.

 

    “You’re insane!” Boromir exclaimed.

 

    “How’d you do it?” Legolas suddenly asked. Gimli and Boromir looked at him as if he were crazy. “How did you get them to follow you?” Talion took a deep breath before answering.

 

    “In the beginning… I forced them under my influence with a brand,” he held up one hand, which glowed green with energy, “In an attempt to take back the Black Gate and the land we lost. Over time, however, I no longer needed to. Orcs would come willingly, offering their service in the hopes of being able to live freely, out from under Sauron’s thumb… They are a people, the same as dwarves, elves, hobbits, and men. They have homes, customs, traditions, a culture that brings even the most vicious of their society together. Many of them want Sauron gone just as much as we do.”

 

    “And they would help us, these orcs of yours?” Gandalf asked. “If we were to reach Mordor, they would be our allies and not our enemies?”

 

    “ Yes, ” Talion stressed.

 

    “I’ve witnessed it firsthand,” Eltariel spoke up, standing and joining Talion’s side. “Talion had found me imprisoned, at the top of Barad-dur, and brought me to one of his strongholds. His orcs insisted on nursing me back to health until our departure, offering clothes, food, medicine. However strange it was, they were far from the orcs that attack anyone on sight.” Elrond regarded him with an unreadable expression.

 

    “Are you offering to take the Ring, Talion?”

 

    “Now wait just a minute!” Gimli commanded.

 

    “You can’t be serious!” Boromir declared.

 

    “No,” Talion replied quietly, stopping their arguments before they could start. “I have my own Ring to struggle with. I have held out this long, but I know that I wouldn’t be strong enough to withstand the One Ring. And… I know that it is not my burden to bear.” His eyes fell to Frodo, who fearfully met his gaze. To everyone’s surprise, it was Bilbo who spoke up next.

 

    “Then why don’t I take it?”

 

    “Uncle!” Frodo exclaimed.

 

    “I’ve worn it before. I know the dangers, and I’m not afraid. I started this mess. The least I can do is finish it. Let me do it.”

 

    “You cannot,” Gandalf told him. “It has been many years since your last adventure, old friend, and as noble of an offer as that is, you are no longer the Ring’s bearer, and cannot take it back. No, the task must fall to someone else.”

 

    “It is pointless to debate!” Boromir told them, standing. “Armies of ally orcs in Mordor is insanity. The only orcs we’ll meet are the ones eager to put our heads on pikes. Taking the Ring there is asking for a death wish. There must be something else we can do!”

 

    “Have you heard nothing Lord Elrond just said?” Legolas questioned angrily, rising to his feet. “The Ring must be destroyed!”  

 

    “And I suppose you think you’re the one to do it?!” Gimli accused hostilely.

 

    “And if we fail, what then?” Boromir questioned. “What happens when Sauron takes back what is his?!”

 

    “I will be dead before I see the Ring in the hands of an elf!” Gimli declared. The comment sent the council into an uproar, almost everyone now on their feet, debating and arguing, threatening and accusing. Talion and Eltariel looked around in alarm at the chaos. Elrond, Erestor, and Glorfindel surveyed the events unfolding with no clue how to defuse the situation. All the while Frodo sat, staring transfixed and panicked at the One Ring. Bilbo followed his gaze, trying and failing to desperately get Frodo’s attention, until Frodo suddenly stood, something snapping within him.

 

    “I will take it!” he declared, drawing Talion and Eltariel’s attention. “I will take it!” he shouted again, and the noise died down as everyone turned to look at him, astonished. Gandalf looked to him in despair, but could not help feeling proud of his bravery. “I will take the Ring to Mordor… though, I do not know the way.” Gandalf was the first to join his side.

 

    “I will help you bear this burden, Frodo Baggins, for as long as it is yours to bear.” Aragorn joined them next.

 

    “By my life or death, if I can protect you, I will,” he told him, kneeling down to him and taking his hand briefly. “You have my sword.” Gandalf and Elrond shared a relieved look.

 

    “And you have my bow,” Legolas added, joining them also.

 

    “And my axe,” Gimli assured, much to Legolas’ displeasure. Boromir, to everyone’s surprise, stepped up soon after.

 

    “You carry the fate of us all, little one. If this is indeed the will of the council, then Gondor will see it done.”

 

    “Here!” a voice suddenly chimed in, Sam sprinting to Frodo’s side. “Mr. Frodo’s not going anywhere without me.”

 

    “No, indeed. It is hardly possible to separate you two, even when he is summoned to a secret council and you are not,” Elrond agreed, failing to hold back an amused smile.

 

    “Hey! We’re coming too!” another new voice shouted. Elrond turned in shock to see Merry and Pippin running to join the group. Talion couldn’t hide a smile of his own, but quickly dropped it as Elrond looked at him as if to ask if he knew about them being there. “You’d have to send us home tied up in a sack to stop us.”

 

    “Anyway, you need people with intelligence on this sort of mission… quest… thing,” Pippin finally settled on.

 

   “Well, that rules you out, Pip,” Merry told him. Gandalf looked on at the pair in exasperated fondness.

 

    “We set out from Mordor at the news of the One Ring’s discovery, to ensure its destruction and Sauron’s demise. I would do everything within my power to help you, and I would join you, if you’ll have me,” Talion told them, meeting Gimli and Boromir’s death glares head on.

 

    “I offer my sword as well,” Eltariel told them. “You will be faced with many dangers along the way. If I am able to fight against them so that this quest can succeed, then I would be honored to join you.” Aragorn and the hobbits looked to them gratefully as they also joined the group, Gandalf and Legolas regarding them warily, but kindly.

 

    “Eleven companions…” Elrond observed. “So be it. You shall be the Fellowship of the Ring.”

 

    “Fellowship,” Frodo whispered, testing the word.

 

    Gimli and Boromir seemed to have some choice words for Talion, but the moment was thankfully interrupted by Pippin, effectively shattering the volatile atmosphere and drawing a few chuckles out of everyone as he asked, “Right, where are we going?”



***Havodad: sit down

 

Closing A/N: Well, this chapter came together quickly. Not too quickly, I hope. I cut a scene that kind of messed with the chapter’s flow, and I did some research on a few things, and quoted some things, and I thought some things through… Aaaaand, thanks to some advice and suggestions from Jo, I’ve got a pretty good idea of how the splitting of the Fellowship will look. I got a lot done for a day and a half’s work, I think. The next few chapters are going to be quite interesting and challenging to write, mostly because I don’t think I’ve ever written anything with so many important characters in it, but I think it’ll be fun. Thanks to everyone reading, and I’ll see y’all next chapter! :)

Chapter Text

Reflection and Departure 

 

A/N: The Fellowship has some time to consider just what they signed themselves up to do. Also, Eltariel has a heart in there somewhere, and gets a thing or two off her chest. Also also, Bilbo is the best. After a very long two month wait, goodbyes are said, threats are spoken, and Rivendell is left behind as our heroes set out to do the unthinkable. I’m sorry if it’s a bit all over the place; this was another chapter that kind of fought me. Filling a two month gap isn’t as easy as I thought it would be, and I’m unsure on a lot of things I’ve written (I have a feeling I’ve gone against the lore in here somewhere).


     After the council was dismissed, the various members of the Fellowship went their separate ways for the rest of the day. Talion and Eltariel watched each group leave the meeting place, until it was just the two of them. As soon as the One Ring was out of sight, Talion felt an enormous weight lift from his shoulders, and he took a deep, steadying breath that didn’t go unnoticed by Eltariel.  

 

     “The One Ring. What… Happened?” she asked, worry evident in her voice. “The way you looked at it…”

 

     “I… I’m not completely sure, but…” He brought the now normal looking New Ring into view, considering it carefully. “As soon as I laid eyes on the One Ring, I saw something. The New Ring started glowing, burning, and…” He paused, the images flashing through his mind again, and he couldn’t help the stab of worry in his gut at the memory of an injured Celebrimbor.

 

     “What did you see?” 

 

     “Celebrimbor,” he told her after a moment. “And Sauron. They looked as if they’d been fighting.”

 

     “How is that possible? How could you see them when they’re halfway across Middle-Earth?” Talion thought on the question himself, and it wasn’t long before he came up with an answer.

 

     “I do not know for sure… But I have a theory.” If Talion could see Celebrimbor because their souls were bonded within the New Ring, did that mean the New Ring was reacting to the part of Sauron’s soul that resided in the One Ring? “And I hope that I am wrong.”

 

     Without explaining further, Talion turned to walk back up the path everyone had taken to get to the meeting place, dropping the New Ring back out of sight. Eltariel followed soon after, and the two wandered Rivendell in silence for a while, passing the various groups from the council as they did. The men of Gondor seemed reluctant to let Boromir go, but accepted that there was nothing they could do about the decision. The same seemed to be true of the Mirkwood elves, who were not so keen to see their prince set off on yet another long, dangerous adventure, but wished him nothing less than the best. The dwarves seemed the least worried of the groups, instead making Gimli promise to regale them with plenty of tales of battles and far off lands when he returned to them safely, though Talion was sure they were saying that, in part, to hide their concern. The hobbits were the most worried, Sam and Frodo quietly discussing the many possible happenings of the journey ahead while Merry was in deep conversation with Pippin, whose earlier smile and humor disappeared more and more the longer the two spoke.

 

     “I don’t think they’ve realized just what it is they’ve volunteered to do,” Eltariel told him sadly, watching them for a few moments. “I don’t think they can even fathom…”

 

     “I know… But do any of us truly understand what we’ve agreed to? There’s no telling what we’ll encounter on our way to Mordor. Orcs and the Nazgul most definitely, of course, but there will be more than just physical enemies that threaten us. And… There’s no telling what kind of chaos three Rings of Power can create.”

 

     “But the New Ring hasn’t—

 

     “It reacts whenever the One Ring is in my sights. I don’t know if that was a one time occurrence, but I’m willing to bet it wasn’t. I only hope it won’t cause any tension between Frodo and myself.” The poor hobbit had already been through enough already. He didn’t need to worry about a potentially dangerous Talion too.

 

     “And Isildur’s Ring? Now that it is close to the One Ring, do you worry?” Talion sighed, but nodded.

 

     “Yes. It’s bad enough that I hear the Witch King in my head whenever the New Ring’s pull is too great, but to hear Sauron as well…” He trailed off and shook his head, trying not to dwell on it. They continued walking, surrounded by wildlife and greenery when next they spoke.

 

     “I’m concerned about our companions,” Eltariel admitted after much thought, drawing a curious glance from Talion.

 

     “Oh?”

 

     “It is clear that Gimli and Boromir do not trust you, and though Mithrandir and Legolas have their doubts, they will come around eventually. I just have a feeling that neither Gimli nor Boromir would mind seeing you dead.” Talion observed her expression, his own softening at just how truly worried she looked.

 

     “But it’s not just that, is it?” he asked quietly. She shook her head, eyes cast downward.

 

     “No. We all saw you at the council meeting. Even now your dark visage remains. If we do this, you’ll have to fight the influence of both Isildur’s Ring and the One Ring, and while I know you’re strong…” She looked to him then, a determined, emotional fire in her eyes. “I will not see you come to harm because of what the One Ring inevitably does to everyone who comes in contact with it, and if I must, I will fight our companions.” Talion stopped in his tracks, stunned at Eltariel’s sudden declaration.

 

     “Where is this coming from?” he asked her. She stopped next to him, expression conflicted, seeming to not know herself.

 

     “When you said that none of us truly understood what we agreed to do, you were right. We don’t know what to expect, but what I do know is that there are those who would strike you down because you look like the enemy, even though you are anything but.”

 

     “They are afraid,” Talion told her, “Of what I might do, that I could turn on them. They fear what they do not understand. I know they may never see me as an ally, and… I’ve… accepted the fact.” She looked to him then, more determined than he’d ever seen her before, unsure of where her words and feelings were coming from but not intending to stifle them.

 

     “But you shouldn’t have to! They fear you, they claim to hate you, because they don’t know who you are, but I do! You are a good man, a valiant man, who’s given up everything so that the very people who fear you, who seek to kill you, can live in a world without a great evil who threatens everything they hold dear. We may not like each other, but I will not see you fall, to them or the influence of the Rings.” It was when they both heard those words leave her mouth that they understood. “I will not see you fall,” she repeated, quieter this time, as she looked away.

 

     “Eltariel…” Talion was truly at a loss of words. 

 

     “Even if it means…” She trailed off, suddenly becoming lost in thought, seeming to relive something that truly and deeply pained her. It wasn’t until Talion hesitantly laid a hand on her shoulder that she met his eyes, his blue eyes.

 

     “Thank you,” he whispered sincerely. “I… To hear you say such things—

 

     “There is nothing to thank me for,” she replied after a moment. “Celebrimbor is not the only person who believes in you.” He was shocked by the statement, and Eltariel managed a small smile. “Who else could call you away from the waking world, except the one whose soul is bound to yours? And who else could you be thinking about every time you hold the New Ring when you think I’m not looking?” Talion scoffed, but didn’t deny the statements.

 

     “Alright, I think you’ve made your point,” he replied, failing to hold back a small smile of his own. He looked to the sky and the slowly setting sun. “Perhaps we should return, before night falls.”

 

     “Perhaps,” Eltariel agreed, leading the way back into the city, a comfortable silence settling between the two. For the first time since they’d met, Talion felt as if he could finally begin to see beyond who Eltariel seemed to be in Mordor. She cared, even if she tried not to show it all the time. The thought gave him comfort as they joined the others for dinner in the Hall of Fire that night.

 

XxX

 

     “What do you mean we have to wait?” an irked Boromir asked the next day. Elrond and Gandalf had called the members of the Fellowship to discuss their next course of action, and it seemed a few of them weren’t very happy with what they’d been told. They were all gathered on one of the balconies of the Last Homely House, with a view of waterfalls roaring in one direction and the quiet city in another. 

 

     “Frodo has barely been awake for an entire day, and though his injury has been healed, its effects have not. To leave now would put his life in danger,” Elrond began.

 

     “And I’m sure you’ll want to know that the paths you choose to take are safe. Unless you’d like to risk the Nazgul or a band of orcs catching you out in the open?” Gandalf asked. Boromir fell silent at that.

 

     “Let them come. We will be ready for them,” Gimli declared. Eltariel, Aragorn, and Talion shared the same look of exasperation.

 

     “We are sending out various groups to scout the areas ahead. We want to ensure your safety upon your departure, and it will give us an idea of the enemy’s movements. And I am sure you are all weary from your travels. Take this time to rest, and prepare yourselves for the perilous journey ahead of you.” The hobbits looked the most relieved of the group, glad that they would not be made to set out immediately. Legolas and Aragorn seemed to be in agreement with Elrond and Gandalf, but Boromir and Gimli didn’t look pleased with the news. A majority of the Fellowship left after a few questions, Gimli glaring at Talion and Eltariel as he went and Boromir fixing them with an unreadable look as he passed. Aragorn stayed behind, asking Elrond if he could join one of the scouting parties, while Talion and Eltariel directed their questions to Gandalf. 

 

     “How long will the scouts be gone?” Talion asked.

 

     “It is hard to say. Some of our scouts will be meeting with the Rangers to cover more ground, and some will go as far as the Mirkwood and Lothlorien. Should things go well, and without much delay, perhaps one or two months.”

 

      “Months? But…”

 

     “Are you so eager to leave, Talion?” Gandalf asked. Talion shook his head after a moment.

 

     “No. It’s just… Much can happen in such a span of time, and there is the question of what to do until we can depart.”

 

     “Enjoy the reprieve while it is available,” Gandalf answered simply. “Rivendell is a beautiful place. There is much to be seen and learned from here, and I’m sure you will have no problems finding any information you seek,” he answered, with yet another gleam in his eye that had Talion bursting to know just how the wizard seemed to know everything .

 

     “I… shall keep that in mind.” Eltariel smirked at Talion’s expression before addressing Gandalf with seriousness.

 

     “Do you think they’ll encounter any immediate threats?”

 

     “Again, it is hard to say. There have been no reports of orcs or enemies in the surrounding areas since my arrival here, and the Ford has swept the Nazgul away. No doubt, they won’t be eager to meet such a magically powerful foe as Lord Elrond. I do not believe so, but Talion is right in saying that much can happen in a month, or two. We can only hope for the best.” 

 

XxX

 

     “… And what do you think of—” Bilbo cut himself off as he took in Talion’s distracted expression. The man wasn’t listening to a word he was saying, too lost in thought to respond. The two had been working on a chapter for There and Back Again in Bilbo’s room, Bilbo asking for Talion’s input on how best to pace and separate certain parts of his journey. He had just been about to ask the best way to organize his first time using the One Ring during an escape of a small goblin army, sighing with a sad smile on his face. It was then that a knock on the door caught his attention, an elf dropping off two trays of lunch for them. Bilbo accepted the food with a grateful nod. Examining one of the trays, he gathered a forkful of the different foods and unceremoniously fed it to Talion, who startled at the action.

 

     “Mmph?” he asked around the forkful of food, taking the fork from Bilbo. After he finished chewing, he asked rather sheepishly, “I did it again, didn’t I?”

 

     “Yes, but I don’t blame you. If I were in your position, knowing what you know and being who you are… How are you, Talion?” Talion shrugged.

 

     “I… I could be better,” he admitted. “The Council is still fresh in my mind,” he added. Though it had been a little over a week since the Council of Elrond, it wasn’t far from the forefront of anyone’s mind. Bilbo hummed in acknowledgement.

 

     “So too is it in mine. I think it’s taken its toll on all of us, you more than most, it seems.” He brought the other tray over to Talion, who looked at the food quizzically before Bilbo told him, “Eat. How long has it been since your last meal?” Talion thought about it.

 

     “A few days?” he estimated. Bilbo huffed.

 

     “And I suppose you haven’t had any sleep in that time either?” Talion shook his head, and Bilbo sighed fondly. “Your body may no longer need such things, but I think they’re good for you. You brood less when you’re eating or sleeping.” Talion raised an amused eyebrow at him.

 

     “Brood?”

 

     “Yes, brood. Your mind, much like mine, never stops working. There is always something to dwell on, something to understand or unravel. Eat, take a nap, and I will wake you when it’s time for dinner.” Talion had half a mind to ask Bilbo to instead restart the tale from his book he was working on before, but ultimately decided against it. The hobbit was always looking out for him in some way, and always with such sincerity and worry for his well being.

 

     “Of course,” he replied gratefully, digging into the food on his tray as Bilbo returned to his book, the scraping of a fork and the scratching of a quill filling the room.

 

XxX

 

     “ …which is what has led us to begin sailing to Valinor,” Elrond finished. Talion sat, speechless, across from Elrond in Rivendell’s library, where the elven leader could usually be found. He didn’t know why, but Elrond, as busy as he was, had no problem answering Talion’s questions or taking the time to fill him in on things. For most of the morning, after breakfast and a short walk outside, Elrond had told Talion of the many happening throughout Middle-Earth since Talion’s last days outside of Mordor. He told of relations between elves, dwarves, and men, as well as changes in leadership, significant losses, and major events that had affected each group. He never really concerned himself with the world outside of Gondor too much before… Everything, but to hear about the hardships and wonders of distant lands… 

 

     “That… Is a lot,” Talion replied as the information sunk in. Elrond smiled.

 

     “You did ask,” he told him. Talion smiled back.

 

     “That I did.” It was then that he frowned, Gandalf’s words coming to mind. Elrond didn’t miss the change in his expression.

 

     “What is it that troubles you?”

 

     “Gandalf,” he replied simply. “He said I wouldn’t have any problems obtaining information, that I could have all of my questions answered…” He let out a quiet laugh. “And yet I do not know what to ask first. I suppose…” As much as he disliked dwelling on the Council, there was one thing that refused to leave his mind. He pulled the New Ring into view with a sigh. “When I first laid eyes on the One Ring, the New Ring sprang to life. As I looked down upon it, I saw Sauron and Celebrimbor, locked in battle. I… I could feel the One Ring’s pull, but the New Ring fought against it, breaking its hold over me. What if there is a way to break Sauron’s influence over the Ring?” 

 

     “His influence… Similar to Celebrimbor’s influence over the New Ring?”

 

     “Yes, exactly! If we were to destroy, or even weaken, Sauron’s presence within the One Ring, would that then stop the Ring’s warping of the bearer’s mind? Could it, perhaps, defeat Sauron once and for all without the need to travel to Mordor?” Elrond considered the thought, hoping he was understanding Talion correctly.

 

     “Assuming you had a way to reach the part of Sauron’s soul within the One Ring, would you be able to defeat him? And if you did, how would you know that his presence within the One Ring is completely gone? Is it even possible to banish his presence from the One Ring without destroying the Ring itself? I wish I had an answer for you, Talion, but you ask me something only Sauron himself might know.” Talion sighed, but wasn’t surprised.

 

     “I suppose I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up. I just… The Fellowship has brought many concerns to my mind, and I’ve had nothing but plenty of time to think about them. I mostly worry for Frodo, and Boromir.”

 

     “Because of the One Ring,” Elrond finished.

 

     “Yes. If there is any way to protect them from the Ring’s influence, I would see it done.” Talion watched the small changes in Elrond’s expression as he considered the situation, the slight deepening in the furrow of his brow, the spark in his eye as an idea came to him. Though he had not known the elf lord long, Talion would miss his guidance once the Fellowship left Rivendell.

 

     “Perhaps Celebrimbor would know. He crafted the Rings of Power, and though the One Ring was not his creation, I’m sure his insight would be much more valuable than mine.” Talion just resisted the urge to put his face in his hands. Why didn’t he realize that sooner? Elrond must have known what he was thinking, catching Talion’s attention with a short laugh. “You have had much on your mind as of late, Talion.” Talion shook his head.

 

     “Still… I should have…” He was about to take his leave, preparing to stand when Gandalf’s words returned to his mind once more. He blushed, and was met with a curious raised eyebrow from Elrond. “There’s one more thing I’d like to ask you,” he told him, hoping he wouldn’t die of embarrassment as he tried to get the question out. Elrond simply gave him a sad smile as he answered it.

 

XxX

 

     For the past few weeks, Talion had kept himself busy since his last conversation with Elrond. He’d gotten into the habit of always having something to do, whether that be training, spending time with those who trusted him, or simply wandering around Rivendell. Anything to take his mind off of the journey that loomed ahead was a good thing at the moment. Though he had at first done a fairly decent job of not running into the more distrusting members of the Fellowship, he knew there were bound to be moments when that couldn’t be helped. 

 

     Any encounter with Gimli tended to include glares and half murmured insults and threats in Khuzdul. The dwarves in general seemed to despise his presence, but Gimli was the most vocal of the group on the matter. “I don’t care who trusts him. The only thing I trust is that my axe will do its job when the time comes,” Talion overheard one evening as he entered the Hall of Fire. One of Gimli’s companions nudged him, pointing in Talion’s direction with a concerned expression. Gimli merely sneered, and Talion met his glare with a look of indifference, taking a seat next to Eltariel, who followed Talion’s gaze with a frown.

 

     The times he and Boromir had found themselves in the same room had been… Strange to say the least. Talion couldn’t quite understand Boromir’s view towards him, even though his often cold words made it clear that he no longer trusted him. At times there were burning glances towards Isildur’s Ring, and Talion could see the gears turning in his head, what about he had no idea. At others… There were contemplative, almost awed looks that made Talion re-evaluate just what Boromir might think of him. 

 

     Legolas was neither hostile towards him like Gimli was, nor cold like Boromir, and while he didn’t fully trust Talion, he was civil towards him. The two had held conversations at meals, and had even done some training together. Talion appreciated the fact that Legolas had not been as quick to judge as the others had and told the elf as much after a particularly grueling sparring session. Legolas replied, “I do not find it right to condemn someone based on appearance alone. If those that I would entrust my life to consider you an ally, then so do I… And I hope, in time, that I won’t have to change my mind.” 

 

     In contrast to the other three, things between he and Aragorn were… Not quite strained, but not quite normal either. Since the reveal by Legolas at the Council, it finally dawned on Talion why Aragorn had acted so strangely around Isildur’s Ring. He hadn’t had much of a chance to speak with Aragorn before he left with Elladan and Elrohir on one of the scouting parties, their brief goodbye a bit awkward and uncomfortable. That day, the two had been enjoying one of the warmer afternoons of the quickly chilling season, back where their late night conversation took place. Aragorn had gone there upon his return a few hours prior, nodding to Talion in greeting. They were sitting up against opposite sides of a tall, thick tree, facing away from the city and towards the waterfalls. “I want to apologize, Talion.” Aragorn told him. It was the first time either of them had spoken to the other all afternoon.

 

     “What for?” Talion asked. He heard shuffling, turning to see Aragorn now sat facing him, an almost guilty expression on his face.

 

     “Ever since the Council, things have felt… Different between us, and I know I am the cause.” Talion thought about his next words carefully.

 

     “Knowing your true name has not changed how I view you, Aragorn, but…”

 

     “ …But?”

 

     “You were tempted that day, weren’t you?” he finally asked, not knowing how else to pose the question. “That’s why you recoiled from the Ring. It called to you.” Aragorn averted his gaze.

 

     “Yes,” he admitted. A few moments passed before Talion, with a risky idea in mind, raised the hand that wore Isildur’s Ring and held it out to Aragorn, who looked at it with a swirling mix of too many emotions to name. “What are you doing?”

 

     “What if I said I was offering you Isildur’s Ring, right here, right now? Are you going to take it?” It took Aragorn a moment to realize he had taken Talion’s hand in his, examining the Ring up close as whispers of a foreign yet familiar voice filled his ears. The whispers urged him to take the Ring, that it was his birthright, that it was being gifted to him at this very moment, that the Ring could ensure that nothing stood in the Fellowship’s way as they travelled to Mordor. He could even, for a brief moment, see an image of himself as King of Gondor, the Ring sat comfortably on his finger, a symbol of power and pride. He felt a flare of ravenous desire, of anger, even, that the Ring wasn’t in his possession, that it had been stolen from him. Despite all of that… 

 

     He gently pushed Talion’s hand away, confident in his decision, but still reeling from what he’d just experienced. “No,” Aragorn answered firmly, meeting Talion’s gaze again. He could hear the empty promises and false dreams being whispered to him, but knew he neither wanted nor needed anything the Ring had to offer. Talion smiled knowingly, satisfied, confusing Aragorn further. “Why did you do that?”

 

     “Because I knew you wouldn’t take it, and I wanted you to know that as well. I didn’t want us to leave here with the thought of, ‘What if I tried to take it?’ in the back of your mind.”

 

     “I…” He couldn’t deny the weight lifted from his shoulders after he had said no. “I suppose that’s one way to accomplish that… You have very unorthodox methods, my friend, but I am glad. You approach things in ways none of us could ever think of.”

 

     “I’ve… Had to get creative at times,” Talion replied with a small smile that Aragorn couldn’t help but return.

 

     “I do not doubt that.” It was then that A comfortable silence fell between the two again, and they resumed their original positions against opposite sides of the nearby tree, collecting their thoughts. It wouldn’t be until the sun showed signs of setting that Aragorn broke the silence again. “What made you change back this time?” he asked suddenly. When he didn’t get a response, he explained, “Your features were once again free from darkness after the Council. I never got a chance to ask.” Talion didn’t answer immediately, replaying the event from weeks prior.

 

     “Eltariel,” he responded. “She… She’s not the person I thought she was.” Talion didn’t need to see Aragorn’s face to know his thoughts on her. He wasn’t sure what Aragorn had seen in Eltariel’s eyes upon their first meeting, but it had made him wary of her.

 

     “And this is a good thing?” he asked slowly, not quite following.

 

     “She showed me that there is more to her than what she lets others see. She… Has faith in me, when I don’t even have much faith in myself.”

 

     “I… Do not wish to speak ill of your friend, Talion, but I don’t trust her.” And was that what they were now? Friends? There was noticeably less tension between the two since Eltariel’s confession; that much was true, and they had gotten along fairly well since their time in Rivendell. How long had it been, since he’d had a true friend? Before Mordor, perhaps?

 

     “I don’t blame you. She isn’t the easiest person to get along with, and there have been times when she has seemed to me more of an enemy than an ally—

 

     “It’s not that,” Aragorn told him, trying to figure out how to voice his thoughts. “She hides her true self behind an image of what others have wanted her to be to appear unbreakable, to hide what she sees as weaknesses. Eltariel has pretended to be someone she is not for so long that she has forgotten who she is. I do not trust her because she doesn’t even trust herself… And it seems that her armor only cracks around you.” Talion didn’t know what to say to that. He had always thought Eltariel was the way she was, that recent events had been a result of their positively changing relationship…

 

     “So are you saying I shouldn’t trust her?” he asked after a few minutes of silent thought. Aragorn sighed, his next statement remaining in the back of Talion‘s mind for some time afterwards.

 

     “No. I’m saying that you may be the only person who can save her from herself.”

 

XxX

 

     Two months had passed since the Council of Elrond had taken place, and it was finally time for the Fellowship to depart from Rivendell. Many people gathered to see them off, some from the doors of their homes, and others near the gates of the city. It was easy to feel the sadness and uncertainty in the air, accompanied by somber and troubled expressions. The Fellowship stood together just in front of the gates and across from Elrond, who began to address the crowd.

 

     “The Ring-bearer is setting out on a quest to Mount Doom. And you who travel with him. No oath or bond is laid to go further than you will. Farewell, and hold to your purpose… May the blessings of Elves and Men and all Free Folk go with you.” He gestured respectfully towards the group, bowing his head and briefly extending the arm that held a hand over his heart. Legolas, Aragor, Eltariel, and Talion returned the gesture, a confused Boromir looking between them before Gandalf spoke.

 

     “The Fellowship awaits the Ring-bearer,” he told Frodo, who took one more, perhaps his last, look at Rivendell before turning and making his way towards the gate. Talion couldn’t help but do the same as the rest of the Fellowship went to follow, meeting Elrond’s concerned, yet hopeful gaze with a nod. He watched the interaction between Arwen and Aragorn, feeling his heart ache at their separation, having been (accidentally) witness to the most beautiful act of love he’d ever seen not too long ago. He could only pull his gaze away when he felt a hand on his shoulder, turning to see Eltariel waiting for him, expression conflicted yet understanding. They followed Aragorn out of the city, catching up to the rest of the Fellowship, each step bringing them closer to both their goal and certain peril. 

 

   

Closing A/N: If any lore experts would like to answer Talion’s question to Elrond, please do, because I’m just as unsure as he is and I’m the one who threw the idea out there! Ahem. Anyway… I have a feeling that once band camp starts, I won’t really have much time to write, and your first semester of college isn’t something you want to screw up either. I will try to make time to write, but I can’t promise updates won’t take several months.