~ Magnificat of the Damned. Book IV: Anvil ~ by Spiced Wine
Summary:

From Angmar to the Dagor Dagorath. The final story in the Magnificat of the Damned series.

The Doom and destiny of the Noldor, and Vanimórë, son of Sauron, grandson of Fëanor, will be fulfilled.




Categories: Fiction Characters: Balrog, Beleg, Caranthir, Celebrimbor, Celegorm, Daeron, Eärendil, Ecthelion, Elrohir, Eluréd, Elurín, Eonwë, Fëanor, Fingolfin, Fingon, Finrod, Gil-galad, Glorfindel, Ingwë, Maedhros, Maeglin, Maglor, Mandos/Námo, Manwë, Melkor/Morgoth, Mouth of sauron, OFC, OMC, Orc, Oromë, Sauron, Thranduil, Turgon, Túrin, Ungoliant, Varda/Elbereth
Content: Action/Adventure, Angst, AU, Character Death, Drama, Explicit Sex, Incest, Slash
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 30 Completed: No Word count: 171778 Read: 16406 Published: November 22, 2016 Updated: October 07, 2018

1. Chapter 1 ~ Into The Shadows ~ by Spiced Wine

2. Chapter 2 ~ A Time To Take Risks ~ by Spiced Wine

3. Chapter 3 _ In Unexpected Places, In Unexpected Faces ~ by Spiced Wine

4. Chapter 4 ~ Storm Front ~ by Spiced Wine

5. Chapter 5 ~ Fire-eater~ by Spiced Wine

6. Chapter 6 ~ Stars That Bloom On The Edge Of Night ~ by Spiced Wine

7. Chapter 7 ~ The Eve of Departure ~ by Spiced Wine

8. Chapter 8 ~ The Veil ~ by Spiced Wine

9. Chapter 9 ~ Life Is The Anvil ~ by Spiced Wine

10. Chapter 10 Abyss by Spiced Wine

11. Chapter 11 Time Was. Time Is. Time Is Past by Spiced Wine

12. Chapter 12 From The Outside by Spiced Wine

13. Chapter 13 Blood Of My Soul by Spiced Wine

14. Chapter 14 The Lost Shores of Memory by Spiced Wine

15. Chapter 15 The Salt of Bitter Tears by Spiced Wine

16. Chapter 16 Unchained by Spiced Wine

17. Chapter 17 Between The Shadows Of Truth by Spiced Wine

18. Chapter 18 ~ Unpleasant Revelations ~ by Spiced Wine

19. Chapter 19 ~ Beyond The Memories ~ by Spiced Wine

20. Chapter 20 ~ The Lingering Past ~ by Spiced Wine

21. Chapter 21 ~ The Price of Life and Love ~ by Spiced Wine

22. Chapter 22 ~ The Need to Surrender ~ by Spiced Wine

23. Chapter 23 ~ The Walls of the Past ~ by Spiced Wine

24. Chapter 24 ~ Ascension ~ by Spiced Wine

25. Chapter 25 ~ Fire on the Mountain ~ by Spiced Wine

26. Chapter 26 ~ Reunion of Light ~ by Spiced Wine

27. Chapter 27 ~ Shaking The Foundations ~ by Spiced Wine

28. Chapter 28 ~ Searching For Reality ~ by Spiced Wine

29. Chapter 29 ~ Under The Power Lies Uncertainty ~ by Spiced Wine

30. Chapter 30 ~ Bright Threads On A Dark Loom ~ by Spiced Wine

Chapter 1 ~ Into The Shadows ~ by Spiced Wine



~ Into The Shadows ~



~ The armies marched, lines of mounted cavalry gleaming under the pale spring sun. The drum of hoofbeats echoed from the silent hills.

Gil-galad swept his eyes over the land where frost still clung in the shadows.

“Thus we marched to meet Elendil,” Tindómion murmured.

“Yes,” Gil-galad said distantly. It was not the first time they had ridden this way, but the walls of Amon Sûl would ever be engraved on Tindómion's mind.

Fëanor's host was at the forefront; he was High King, and his sons were with him. Their scarlet war-plumed and banners took the breeze like a red trump of challenge. Fingolfin came next, all in sapphire and silver, then Fingon, Finrod, even Turgon, who would not be accused of skulking his in a-building city.

Túrin rode with the forces of Imladris, some from Mithlond, accoutered as a warrior in armour straight from the mind of Fëanor, whom had modified, after talking to Maedhros, the Dragon Helm of Dor-lómin, also duplicated on his shield. A plume of dark red rose from the spine of the dragon's back to flow down past his pauldrons.

Vanimórë had gone on ahead with Elgalad, Coldagnir and the soldiers of Mordor to the semi-permanent camp on the near borders of Angmar. Elúred, Elúrin and Daeron had made it their base with warriors both from Imladris and Lindon.

They would have called it a battle already won, were it not for their own history and the fact that no-one knew what would happen in Carn Dûm, what had happened in the last years.

They passed Lake Nenuial's cold, blue waters, where King Elessar's troops waited. Some remained to guard the masons working on his palace, and the workers came out to watch the march of the Elven host into the North.

The land seemed to wait, breathless.

They came at length to the North Downs and the Iathrim twins walked to meet them, smiling their feyness out of lapis-blue eyes.

“Welcome to war,” Elúred said.

Companies were left there, before the greater part moved onward. A southerly wind began to push at their backs as they reached the great forests, and their pace slowed, though routes had been created the last few years to avoid the swamps. Vanimórë had simply cleared them, straight as a ruler when he could, through the woods. The game was thick and the army fed well.

Here they found the first sign of Angmar – not orcs themselves at first, only traces of their kills where they had feasted and left bones. But most of the meat, they guessed, was being carried to Carn Dûm. Vanimórë stared north as if he could pierce the veil that shrouded it. But now was not the time.

The Fëanorions watched him with varying degrees of emotion. Some (Celegorm, Curufin and Caranthir) were as jealous as Maglor, who did not show it. Maedhros and the twins were more accepting. Celebrimbor was entirely different. He had walked straight to Vanimórë and said: “I thank thee. And I would thank thee were thou not of our blood, for thy mercy.”

They all knew by now how Celebrimbor had died, but it was not Vanimórë whom had tormented him; he had given Celebrimbor peace, at the end.

“I too, would thank thee for that,” Fëanor had said, fury in his eyes and love and complications inherent in that love.

“My father,” there was the slightest stress on the word. “did not want him dead. It was very rare he lost control, but he was furious. The anger of a balked lover.”

Celebrimbor did not flinch from it. An abyss lay like slaughter in his eyes.
“I would drag him from the Void if I could.” Ambiguous, that. But Vanimórë inclined his head. Curufin glowered, dark and dangerous as Anglachel beside him, a hand on his son's shoulder.

“Thou wilt not have to,” Vanimórë said, and left them, striding into the dark.


When the forest failed, they came out onto the tundra that stretched to the feet of the mountains. The eerie land was not without its beauty: spring flowers dancing in the breeze. But it was almost empty. Nothing moved, no bird, no beast. Patrols were picked.

“Túrin?” Beleg asked him. The boy had been well nigh silent since their departure from Imladris, his face seeming to grow, daily, more and more into the man Beleg had loved. It had been agreed that he should join a patrol, if he wished to. Better a short introduction to battle than to be hurled face-first into war.

“Yes.”

The swift horses pounded north. Túrin was under no illusion as to why why his company consisted of Beleg, Kashan, Narok and Vaija of Mordor, Vanimórë, Tindómion, and those strange fey twins, Elúred and Elúrin. They were his bodyguard, he supposed.
He set his teeth as his war stallion thundered over the hard earth which swelled and dipped. He could not see Carn Dúm or its mountains; he was told they were perpetually swagged in cloud, even in high summer, but he thought he could feel it. Was that fanciful? It was like a pressure in the air.

“Blood.” Beleg said.

“I smell it,” Vanimórë concurred.

The horses crested a ridge, the riders drawing rein. There was no place in this open, treeless land for the orcs to hide.

They were not hiding. They were surging north under the low, grey sky, fresh kills hanging from poles, but they were well escorted by warriors. News was that the Great Wood watched the mountain passes of the Hithaegilir, but that they had seen few orcs. No, they were breeding in Angmar, and profusely.

They were far away, but the light caught the dark metal of shields and armor, and their scent came down the air, half-human, half-alien.

“Try to keep one alive,” Vanimórë murmured. “I want to question it.”

The Mordorian's raised their faces, savage, beautiful; ululating cries split the uncanny silence. Túrin's blood rose in something not-quite fear.

The horses loped down the slope, gathering speed as the terrain leveled. Shouts rose from the orcs, who picked up their pace, a score or more stopped, gathered in a ragged line.

It all seemed almost unreal to Túrin, this ride toward violence. He half-saw Vanimórë draw both swords, guiding his mount with seat and thighs. Beleg drew blade and a throwing-ax. Anglachel, a longsword, was hard to wield on horseback, but he had been trained for this, for exactly what they were going to do, now, as was his stallion.

He saw the orcs clearly now. Some were larger, stockier than others, their skins dark-grey or mottled. They bore fangs like wolves, overcrowded in wide mouths, and their weapons were heavy, crude, frankly terrifying, the swords cruelly hooked, axes enormous.

They would go for the horses' legs, he thought and, with the others, swung one leg over the saddle-bow and jumped, running. He thought for a heartbeat that lasted an eternity that he would vomit or soil himself, both, and then an orc was raising its enormous sword and he brought Anglachel down and up where its armour gaped at the throat. The blade was so sharp he did not even feel any resistance, just saw the blackish blood spurt, and wrenched the point out quickly, kicking the body backward.

Then, there was simply no time to think, only to act and react. There was no fear. He seemed to move on reflex, hacking, slicing, ducking, moving, always moving. Anglachel sang a song of murder, deep and hungry, on the edge of his mind.

He came out of a ducking spin, drawing the blade from an orc's gaping maw and realised no-one was near him. And he watched as the others killed. He could not help but stare because it was poetry, it was beauty so lethal it caught at the back of his throat in awe. It seemed effortless.

The orcs carrying the meat, smaller creatures, had fled. They did not get far. Shapes rose up out of the land, tall, fair hair playing with the breeze: Elves of the Wood. Arrows sang, and the orcs went down.

One lived, bound hand and foot now, writhing in its bonds, cursing, spitting. The Wood Elves, reclaiming their arrows, began to walk towards them. They were not strangers to Túrin. The leader was tall, old-gold of hair, and with him was the white-haired Bainalph, who looked like a summer rose and fought like a storm.

“Thranduil,” Vanimórë nodded. More warmly: “Bainalph.”

“And so it begins,” Thranduil said. “Is there aught we can do?”

“No, I thank thee. This one is outside Angmar's borders. Thus its minds is open.”

He killed it after, but quickly. It had hardly been the kind of interrogation Túrin expected: Vanimórë simply stared at the creature. Later he said he took the knowledge from its mind, like scooping fruit from a rind. Naturally it had to die, but it was a simple business of a sword through the heart. Nothing messy. Túrin did not know if he were glad or sorry for that. The others, he thought, would have preferred something more protracted and painful.

“We will take back the game,” Vanimórë said casually, then turned to Túrin. They all did. Vanimórë flashed him that heart-stopping smile.
“Well done indeed,” he said simply, “Let us go back.”

He was relieved that no-one fussed over him, because he did not feel he required it. He was not sickened or suffering the reaction he had been told he might. Nothing. He felt glad that he had acquitted himself well, although he had not emerged scatheless: bruises were forming under his armour. But what he felt more than anything was that he had been born for this.

Then Beleg knelt, dipped a finger in orc blood and walked to him. As Túrin stood, startled, he drew a line down from where the helm ended between his brows, to his chin.
“Thou art Blooded,” he said.

“He is Blooded!” Thranduil cried, and his warriors took up the shout, raising their fists in the air. As did the others, their faces savage, gorgeous. Frightening. Túrin's blood ran scorching through his veins as the blood prickled on his skin. He had not seen the wildness, the ferocity behind the beauty, until now.

The orcs must themselves have had spies out. The army met no more as they advanced ever closer to Angmar's borders. The land grew colder, as if even the advancing summer were reluctant to come here.

“Carn Dûm lies there.” Beleg pointed. Fog hugged the mountains, lapped their feet like a woman's skirt. Túrin could feel it, but not articulate what he sensed. He had learned of the Wars against Angmar, but this was older, darker even than the Wraith Lord whom had once claimed the fortress, or the estwhile Mouth of Sauron who dwelt there now.

Beleg's clear eyes traced his face. “Thou feelest Angband,” he said. “We all do. In the War of Wrath, when Beleriand was drowned, when the Valar fought Morgoth, the Iron Mountains where Angband was delved, were thrust southward into the Ered Lindon. Angband's bones lie deep beneath Angmar. The ancient evil seeps through.”

“But why would I feel it?” Túrin did not take his eyes off the fog bank, “I am a Man.”

“Thy people came from here.”

OooOooO


There was a Man...matted hair and rags, gaunt-faced, horror in wide grey eyes, dirt-ingrained lines on his face. He looked like Carreg, only older, much older. He was shackled to a stone chair, staining against the bonds. Darkness shot with fire stooped over him, twin lights above eyes like the ending of the world...

“Father!” He woke, pushing aside the fur that covered him as if to walk out of the camp, but as his eyes found the fire, it came to him that he did not know where he was going or why. He breathed the dregs of the dream.

Dawn was breaking, smoky-grey and chill. Warriors were moving about. He smelled hot wine and flat-bread cooking.

There was a clear cold stream running not far away. Túrin went down to it and washed briskly. The dread lay like a night-cloud on his heart, the harrowed face of the Man, the awful, awesome thing (he did not want to give it a name) that had loomed over him like a curse.

A curse.

“Art thou all right?” Beleg asked him as he came back to camp, shivering a little from the water and his dreams. Dream or vision out of the past?

“Yes, I thank thee.” His eyes snapped away as they did so often these days. Beleg had rejected him for a memory. He could not forgive that.

“Then eat.” Beleg passed him meat, bread and hot wine.

Neither could he stop his eyes following Beleg's tall figure as he walked away, or forget his exquisite slaughter yesterday, that glimpse into the wildness at the heart of him, all the Elves.

Days passed. Carn Dûm brooded behind cerements of mist that at whiles gusted aside to reveal raw, ragged rock. The shallow river that formed the border chuckled as if at an old jest. Vanimórë's eyes bored into the north. Túrin understood that he could not cross until the denizens of Carn Dûm came forth. Nor could Glorfindel.

OooOooO


Left to himself, and had he been sane, Malantur would never have gone forth against the forces gathered on his borders.

He had immersed himself in the last years in experimentation. Most died, although the ghouls grew in number, and the orcs bred. Which was as well, since food became an ever increasing problem. A few hunters got through but now most of the meat came from orcs bred for that purpose.

The strongest orcs out of Mordor whom had reached Carn Dûm before the route was closed, Malantur appointed to lead and train his army. The surviving Men he drew about himself. A few oldsters of Angmar yet lived, clinging with grim purpose to their life, such as it was, in his kitchens.

But he did not want to go to war. He knew who waited out there.

His choices, however, were nil. At least his ability to choose one action over the other. There was an army beyond the river, his scouts reported, Elves, and some Men wearing the badge of Gondor. (And Vanimórë, with thousands of years of vengeance to bring down upon him).

“It is time,” Melkor said from beyond the Veil. And pushed at the Man's mind. Who screamed. The watching Men saw, with terror, his eyes turn red-black.
“It is time,” he said.

Coldagnir lit the skies with flame as the gates of Carn Dûm groaned open, the noise echoing back from the mountains, a grinding clangour. War horns rose above it.

“Yes,” Vanimórë said, his face like a jewel under its helm. He cast Túrin a long, measuring look, then smiled at him. It was a smile a man would do anything for. Túrin could not help feeling that he was being tested. He nodded.

A storm rose, sweeping north, thunder churning in its belly. The fog shielding Carn Dûm wrestled with it, then retreated and, far-off, Túrin could pick out great walls, thorn-sharp turrets. A cruel place, and from its gates came an army. The tramp of their feet resounded through the ground.

“Pull back,” came the high silvery war-trump of the Fëanorions. Angmar's forces had to cross the river. They turned, slowly, deliberately, retreating.

It seemed to take an age for the Mouth's army to cross the leagues. He himself lead them, a tall man, striding in heavy, ornate armour. No horses. No, it would be impossible to feed them, Túrin thought.

The storm broke on the mountain-thorns behind them and had gone when, at last, Malantur strode forward. The river ran between them.

“What hast thou come for?” he raised his voice. “And whom art thou?”

Fëanor's great stallion moved forward. It was black as coal-dust.
“Hast thou forgotten thy history, Man?” His voice was clear, golden. “I am Fëanor Curufinwë, and with me are my sons and my kin, and Men of Gondor. And I am sure thou doth recognise my grandson, Vanimórë. We come for a reckoning, Mouth of Sauron,”

Túrin saw the Man's eyes flickering back and forth, but there was something behind them, something...avid. Something that was not him. And wholly unsurpised When Fëanor gave his name, Malantur flinched, mouth parting. But the Will behind his was stronger.

“Ghosts,” he barked a laugh. But there was an eager thread in its weave and somewhat hollow also. “Send the Whore away.” He indicated Vanimórë without looking at him. “And we shall speak further.”

The stallion pawed, stamped. “Vanimórë is a god, or did you not know?” Fëanor's voice carried wrath.

Malantur chuckled. “Then why does he do nothing? Remember our days and nights together, Slave? I am sure thou dost.” But still he would not look.

“Come and have me again, Malantur,” Vanimórë invited him. “I remember it, yes. Come.

Túrin heard the power in the words. Saw Malantur give a jerk forward. His face twisted. “Thou come!” he snarled. “And we will continue our...pleasures

The orcs were massed, growling. The scent of the Elves intoxicating after privation, melded with the long, long hatred between their races.

Suddenly Malantur took one step another, in a movement horribly like a puppet. He was fighting the compulsion, but some far more powerful Will was pushing him toward the river's edge. As he moved, the orcs, taking it as an order to charge, surged, churning the water to mud.

Battle trumpets sounded into the storm.

Túrin found himself in the middle of a melee before he well knew what was happening. But his blood was running like wildfire. He would find that thing, that piece of filth and kill him and stop the slime-coated words spewing from his mouth.

He fought, Anglachel singing its death-dirge, dark and triumphant. It cut armour like parchment, the black sword, winnowing those who stood before him. Distantly he could feel pain where weapons struck him and were foiled by the skin of Fëanorion steel that enclosed his body.

A shape loomed before him; it looked like the pictures he had seen of trolls, only malformed, misshapen, muzzled like a canine. A great mace swung toward him and he ducked, rolling, then came up to see the creature stagger, two arrow-bolts through each eye.
“Túrin!” Beleg's clear voice called.

But he was not a child any longer to seek his mentor's protection. He was a man, Blooded. He fought his way, hacking, slicing toward the river, where Malantur had vanished as the orcs charged.

Icy water dragged about his knees as he plunged across – and saw him. The Mouth was standing as if he had no care in the world. His eyes were on Túrin. But they were not his eyes. They were not human at all. They were the eye of a god from before Time itself.

A Túrin Turambar turun ambartanen.”*

And an abyss opened. Túrin plummeted into it. The mocking words were echoed by a female voice, that fell into screams of madness. Images shattered over him like broken shards of a thousand dreams: A woman, dark haired, stomach swelling, a man, blond haired, armed for battle, embracing her and then him, smelling of metal, a small girl, laughing, a man, limping, a forest of beeches, Beleg, A silver-haired king, a band of outlaws, Beleg, a great Elf city delved into the earth, a bridge across the river that foamed outside, an Elf worn by torment, a gold-haired Elf-woman, another Mortal, Beleg. A great golden serpent who mocked him and died under the Black Sword, Beleg kissing him under the stars while the summer breeze lilted in the trees, Beleg smiling, (himself walking away, saying “It is not right for a Man to lie under another! It may be different for Elves. But this was a mistake.”) Beleg fighting alongside him, Beleg...dying...(I killed him. I killed my love!) A god's pitiless laughter. And last himself, a white hot agony in him, water roaring somewhere, a great dragon sprawled in death. He said, “It is not.... ended.” And “Oh, Beleg!” And the words he had not said aloud: I will find thee, I will find thee again, my love. If it takes until the last breaking of the world, my soul will find thine. It is not ended. It will never be ended.

He screamed into the darkness of a tomb. He watched, year upon year as his body decayed, leaving bone, knowing nothing of the world beyond save the shake of the earth as if great forces moved it. But his spirit, bound to the place of his death, could not flee, could not move from the mound they had raised over him. Time stretched in the darkness, a vast span uncounted, dust sifted down, measuring out the unnumbered years – until one day the great monoliths shifted and sunset light poured in.

And he saw them, strangers then, not now: Vanimórë, Glorfindel, Lómion. His spirit rose free, free! looked eagerly to the east, to what he knew awaited him (another darkness, the soft, reassuring peace of a woman's womb). And then...now. All the years of his short life.

Beleg.

His eyes snapped open. The laughter welled again, poured from Malantur's mouth, but it was not his laughter. This was the incalculable, titanic mirth of a Power. His father, his first, truest father had heard it year upon year.

The room stank of old meat and blood, torches reeked on the walls.
Carn Dûm.

Túrin had been aware of fighting, through the sluice of memory, unable to see anything, frantic, overwhelmed, then nothing...unconsciousness. His head throbbed.

“Dist thou truly think to escape my doom, Túrin? Brave. Foolish, but brave. I have to make you sweat for that – just for a while.”

He was naked, chained to the damp, wall. He was aware of noises, like some vast rumble of machinery, deep underground, muffled and huge. Malantur stood a few paces away. Túrin looked past his mad, oil-black eyes, and said into what looked out from behind them: “I do not fear thee, Morgoth Bauglir.”

“Thou wilt. I am glad to meet thee at last with naught between us but this fool.”

“One fool, and the Void.” icy sweat trickled down his flanks.

“Not for long. But longer than thou wilt live.”

“There is no Doom now,” Túrin made himself say. “Nothing thou canst do to me that has not been done.” Beleg. Heart of my heart. How could I not have known thee? Yet I did. Some part of me did. It was thou whom didst not know me.

“Poignant, is it not?”

They took him out into the cold, to one of the towers that fell sheer to wet back rocks. It was still daylight, and Túrin could see the army gathered at the feet of Carn Dûm, the banners snapping in the chill breeze.

“Hearken unto me, thou Princes of the Downfallen.” Malantur's voice (Morgoth's voice) boomed out. “If thou doth value this relic of the past, and I think thou doth, thou wilt withdraw thy forces across the river. Thou wilt clear the forests so that we may hunt for food freely. Or he will die. He has already died once and should have stayed dead, but this time he will go by my hand, not his own, and slowly. I will carve a piece off him every day and eat it. It will take a long time, I promise thee.”

Fear, hot, clammy, desperate, and blinding rage formed a roiling knot in Túrin's breast. He could see Beleg's silver hair blowing, see the leaders' plumes streaming. How long would it take them to set up a battering ram to take down these gates?

“And if we accede to thy request, Jail Crow?” came a voice of fire and fury. “Oh, yes, I know thy voice, Bauglir!”

“And I know thee. Curufinwë,” Malantur chuckled like the pits between stars. “Why then, Túrin Turambar shall be my guest. We have many old memories to tell over. I shall not let this one touch him, though he wants to. Very much.”

Abruptly, Fëanor wheeled his stallion down the line of his warriors, raised his arm. A trumpet called. The armies turned like a well-oiled machine, and began to retreat. But Fëanor angled his warhorse back.
“Do not think to fool us,” he cried. “There are those linked to Túrin's mind, and they will know if he dies. And if he does, if we do not see him, every three days upon that tower, hale and well, we will come in and drag that rotting carcass thou speakest through out. Trust my words, Bauglir.”

OooOooO


“He came for Túrin,” Vanimórë said.

They had drawn the army back some three or four leagues from the river, enough to fulfill their part of the bargain. Scouts had already reported hunting parties coming cautiously from Angmar.

“How would he know of him?” Beleg was white and his eyes burned with a terrible, pale light.

“Malantur did not. Morgoth did.” Vanimórë continued gently. “I am sorry, Beleg. We did not want thee to know until he did. But we were there, Glorfindel, Lómion and I, we saw his spirit rise from its tomb.”

“And I have been denying him because I would not love a man who looked like a memory. Except he is not!” Beleg gave them his back, wide shoulders braced. “Why didst thou not warn me? Didst thou think I would tell him, not be able to keep my hands from him? He chose me this time, and I turned him away.”

“But how would he know, shut in the Void?” Fëanor demanded to break the pained silence, Vanimórë thought, as much as curiosity.

Vanimórë grimaced. “Carn Dûm draws upon Angband's old poison and power. Malantur was sacrificing to Melkor there. And I – I have a link with some-one in the Void: my father. Perhaps that is all it needs: A window. It may be a small one, very dim. It would be enough.”

“A window is not a door,” Fingolfin observed calmly. “But it was him, was it not?” to his brother.

Fëanor's teeth showed. “Oh, yes. It was. No-one could ape Morgoth. I know him. And so dost thou.”

“Well, he cannot possess Malantur,” Vanimórë said flatly. “Not wholly. The Man could never contain his soul; he can use him as a puppet, however, which is exactly what he is doing. Strangely, Túrin is safer with Melkor holding the reins. Gloating.”

“Only for a while,” Beleg stated, back still turned.

We entered Carn Dûm,” Thranduil said, his eyes on Beleg. “As did others. It is not unassailable. It is crumbling if anything. We could do it again.”

“Yes. It is a possibility,” Vanimòrë allowed. “I think Melkor can only see and hear what Malantur sees and hears. A window only.” Fingolfin glinted at him. They were more subtle now, his kin, but their favour, even their love, was apparent in expressions like this. Vanimórë had no idea what to do with it.

“He will have guards, sentries everywhere,” Beleg said tightly. But he turned.

“Disguise those who go.” It was Finrod who spoke, with a wry, curling smile. “I did it myself. I failed, but I held for a time.” Celegorm stared at him from beside his father. He frowned.

Vanimórë inclined his head in respect. “Against Sauron, my Lord Finrod, thou didst hold well. And against the Valar as we know, thou didst succeed.” He glanced at Fëanor. “There are some who cannot go. Melkor is watching out for thee. Fingolfin too, would be a beacon. The Noldor will ever be, especially those from the Elder Days.”

“Well, neither canst thou go,” Fëanor retorted. “Until he crosses the border.” He slammed a hand against his thigh. “He was so close!”

“Melkor held him back. Oh, he pushed him to come out, but he is not ready to lose his puppet, not yet.”

“I am going, of course.” Beleg looked at his grandson. Thranduil nodded. “I, too.”

“I shall, also,” Elgalad offered and this time Vanimórë did not object. He wished he could. But this was war. He had to put fear and sentiment aside (impossible). None of the men here had ever spared themselves, save Turgon, for a while, behind Gondolin's white walls.

“We will,” Elladan said for himself and his twin. “We were there before. We at least know a little of the layout.”

“And I,” Lómion offered. “It makes sense.”

Eärendil said, “I will accompany thee.” His eyes blazed. “It is a beginning.”

A beginning for him, a chance to strike back.

“And for that reason so shall I go,” Bainalph said, earning a black look from his king. “I was there. I saw a little of it.” He stood, snowy hair, deceptively delicate, his face moulded with resolve.

“I shall come,” Edenel murmured, and received a similar glare from Fëanor. Both sets of eyes were filled with fear under the anger. But because they were kings and would not openly show fear, the anger burned uppermost.

“In that case we should also take part in this.” Kashan indicated himself, Narok and Vaija. His eyes were blown wide with remembered terror, but he continued. “We know the place better than any save our companions. Kallithan will take command here until we return, and if we do not...”

“Thou art sure?” Vanimórë asked softly.

“Yes, Sire. We have to.” Immortality or no, he was terrified. But he would essay it.

In the end, all those whom had gone before into the fortress to rescue Bainalph went again. Many others offered, but it was only logic that those whom had been there before should go this time. They gathered about a fire, and Maglor came, because this was Power, and he held it in his voice. Tindómion brought out his lap harp and played as his father sang. Vanimore watched from the edge of the firelight.

They allowed the Song to fall upon them, weave about them, cast its illusion. They could still see one another, but to other eyes they were orcs of the mountain breed, of which there were many in Angmar, (and would be more now, after breeding) not strong enough or noteworthy enough to draw much attention save for bellowed orders, Kashan said. They acted as drudges. And were fodder for experiments. Though no-one said that aloud.

They left in the night, and carrying game. Thus they would walk straight through the gates of Carn Dûm and into the fortress. (“But wait a day or two,” Vanimórë advised) They showed the badge of Gundabad, by far the most common, on their leather tunics. Once inside, they would have to find where Túrin was being held. They could go anywhere, Kashan said, save Malantur's private chambers.

Túrin would not likely be imprisoned all the time, they reasoned, if Melkor wished to taunt him, but it would be easier to extricate him from a cell than the Mouth's rooms.

Getting in would be easy enough, they hoped.
Leaving would be harder.

“Thou wilt come back to me,” Vanimórë told Elgalad. He did not know how he could endure without the love he would not accept or believe in, but needed, or how he could suffer any horror to come to Elgalad.

“I will,” Elgalad said with smiling assurance, as if there were no doubt. “But th-this must be attempted.”

Not far away, Fingolfin gathered both Lómion and Eärendil into a strong embrace, and Fëanor held Edenel's hands, speaking low and fierce to him. Yet further away, Bainalph and Thranduil were arguing. The years had not decreased the enforced enmity between these two, it seemed. Yet Bainalph did not hate; he protected himself.

Yet the farewells were not protracted. No-one wanted to admit this might be the last time they would see the others. No-one would give that thought room in their minds. Their faces were predatory, fierce, as they sent their thoughts after those they loved, north into the shadows of Carn Dûm.

OooOooO


End Notes:
* Master of doom, by doom mastered.
Chapter 2 ~ A Time To Take Risks ~ by Spiced Wine


~ A Time To Take Risks ~



~ A grunt, a clash as of chains wrenched to full tension. Something in a dark corner, struggling to be free. Túrin could not see what it was. Malantur ignored it.
“Well, now, son of Húrin, who goes by many names, or rather did, how does it feel to know thyself again?” Malantur stood before the roaring coal fire, one foot up on the hearthstone, smiling with large, stained teeth. It was eerie, his movements not quite in time with his words, pulled onto his face as if by hands jerking strings. But these hands were outside Time, and Túrin knew them well. They had made him a puppet.

He still did not know, after Ages of death, if he had been the perfect tool of his own destruction because of his temper, his personality, whether he could have overcome it had he been a different man to the one he was. He had walked, head high and proud into his own doom.

“Well?” The dark-iron voice snapped. “It is not that I care that thou didst fuck thy sister and make her pregnant. But thou dost.”

Túrin flung his head up, wrists biting into the bonds that held him to the chair.
“How crude of thee,” he said coldly. “I did not know her, nor she me. We were two wounded souls who sought comfort. I shall not feel guilt for that. Say what thou wilt,. Because I remember Beleg.” He smiled into the fire beyond the crazed eyes.

“Beleg, whom thou didst kill. A sword straight into the heart.”

No,no,no. “I did not know him, either,” he responded steadily, as his heart wept and twisted in on itself in grief.

“But perhaps thou didst on some subconscious level,” Morgoth's voice flayed him open. “Didst thou want to punish him for having thee, I wonder, when everything in thee told thee it was wrong and unnatural? that it unmanned thee, left thee womanish. And yet thou couldst never quite resist him, couldst thou, never enough. Didst thou not hate him for that?”

“No!” Túrin shouted. Never quite resist him...no, I could not, On the North Marches of Doriath when we fought together, when he found me with the outlaw band...in Dor Cúarthol... for all his words before and after, he could not resist, even when Beleg held himself aloof. Túrin would press and press, until Beleg himself broke in a storm of passion.

And after, he would hate himself for submitting. Even when he became famed, a terror to the servants of the Enemy, still he considered himself flawed, weak, for wanting to lie under Beleg. It had never occurred to him to dominate Beleg, Unbegotten, wind and water, silver and starlight. The discrepancy between them, the years, were too great.

“I never hated Beleg,” he denied. “The fault was in myself, not him, in my pride and intransigence.”

“And it killed him. Because thou didst hate him, Turambar, for riding thee like a tavern trull, making thee the woman, making thee beg and cry out with pleasure. Thou art a man, art thou not? Hero of Nargothrond, Slayer of Glaurung.” Mockery like acid on the soul.

Colour flamed hot as a brand across Túrin's face. He was a man – whom had enjoyed laying down for another, and loathed it after. Had he, oh, Eru had that hate seeped onto Beleg? Had some part of him, in that storm, known it was Beleg, not an orc? No. Let it no be so. Please.

He molded his face into a mask, trembling. “Thou knowest nothing of what moves the hearts of Men.”

“Thou art wrong. Men are so very easy to know. They are motivated by greed. Oh yes, even thou. Greed for fame, for deeds of arms and renown, for valour that rested upon thee like a crown.”

It had begun so simply in his child-mind. He wanted to see his mother, to have his father back. It had become an oath of vengeance that took him to Cabed-en-Aras over Teiglin, and death. And by then, he was ready for it. So many mistakes made in pride and hate and grief. But it had come down to one thing, one fact: he could not live without Beleg. He had tried, and each dreadful, dragging year the loss grew greater, not less. They lied who said time healed.

“Thou didst serve me,” that Voice continued, stripping flesh from his bones, slicing at the sinews of his heart. “opening the way into Nargothrond.”

“Spare me the story of my life!” His cry echoed. Something grunted again, clashed its shackles in the dark. “I may not have escaped thee, Morgoth, but they have, after all thou didst to bring them down. And succeeded. Yet they live. And thou hast known that since they were released from the Void, hast thou not?”

“They will fall. Again.” Malantur's hands opened and shut. “The Valar dwindle. But I remain. I am what I was before I descended to the nascent Earth. They cannot defeat me, not they or those petty godlings, either.”

And that, Túrin thought, with icy fear, was probably true.

They had given him clothes – of a sort, rough leather leggings and a tunic of old sheepskin. Fëanor's superb armour hung upon a stand n the chamber, casting fragments of light that dazzled in the reeking room. Túrin looked at it for comfort.
He said, through a hard knot in the back of his throat: “There is a prophecy. Of the Dagor Dagorath.”

Malantur, compelled by Morgoth, and who knew what thoughts inside his own head, if he had any left, paced.
“People need such false hopes. It keeps them alive. Fools, all. I will return and take more than this world from them, this time.” The fire sank. Darkness welled about the Mouth's form, so that when he next spoke his eyes were the only thing Túrin could see, a dark red that gazed at him from a distance not measurable by the human mind. “This time, I will devour their very souls, and not even an echo of their memories will be left. I will tear their very names from the fabric of the universe itself.”

“Thou canst try. Whose vow proved stronger? I died and endured. Perhaps there are other forces at work than thine!”

“Thou wouldst speak of Eru? To me?” A little later, Malantur's mouth parted in a rictus. Laughter followed, somehow distant and vast. “That is more than thy little mind can encompass, Man. But I will have him, also. I will pull him down.”

Is he frightened? Túrin locked his teeth against a pit of fear that opened at the sound. Something in the way he said the name?

“The Void lies between thee.”

“Not for long, little Man. Not long as I measure Time. Thou knowest nothing, truly. Let me educate thee. Eärendil's sacrifice was required. There always has to be one, it seems. It suits Eru's idea of balance one must suppose. But the Valar would not take on the task; they would not sacrifice themselves, so they chose a victim: Eärendil.”
“Bearing the Silmaril, his soul was required, or rather his life, such as it was, to seal shut the Void forever. But the Valar could not bear not to have a Silmaril in their possession, and they took it back.” Again that frantic clench and unclench of hands. “Still, Eärendil's life-force was enough, for a time. But Earendil was rescued. The veil between the Void and the world grows...exceedingly thin.”

Túrin stared, cold, cold. Did they know?
“Coldagnir...”

“Oh, and now thou knowest not whether Coldagnir serves me or no.” Deep amusement purred through his voice. “Perhaps. Perhaps not.” He walked into the dark corner. Metal chimed, and something half-loped, half-crawled out of it, held on the end of a chain.
“Recognize him, dost thou? Thy revered grandfather?”

It was white as a dead fish's underbelly, ribs pushing against slimy skin, bald, gums receding over long, half-rotted teeth. The thing shambled forward. Túrin leaned back in his chair. Its eyes were blind-white, like a corpse, yet they saw him.

Memories leered at him from the dark. He heard himself as a child, crying, whimpering, as Lorh's hands explored him, as his fingers pushed, pulled in sick caresses. The horror was such that he had drawn into himself, not knowing how to explain what was happening to him, feeling sick, vomiting when the man came close...

“I wonder if it knows thee? If it remembers...”

Túrin's guts heaved. He fought the nausea down. Long nails scraped across his arm, moved toward his groin.

“He would eat it, now.” Malantur jerked on the chain and the thing stumbled back. It turned on him with a snarl.
“Down!” The command sent it to the floor, grovelling. “They do understand some things. Hunger, mostly.” He dragged it back into the dark, tossed it something from a pail stained black; there came the sound of ravenous feeding. Túrin swallowed against sickness.

“The other side of the coin, is it not? Rape. Or pleasure. Sex can be both.”

“Philosophy, is it?” He could not control the tremor in his voice.

“Thou art honoured. Not to many did I speak. They could never understand. Those that could refused to listen. Now, if thy father had only told me where Gondolin lay, we might not be here, having this conversation.” Malantur draped himself in a great chair padded with fur. “Húrin, now there was a man who could endure.”

“I will endure.” His throat felt raw.

“Thou wilt not have the chance. Thou wilt die.”

“Then I have still beaten thee.” Túrin leaned forward, thrusting defiance into the unearthly eyes. “Because thou canst not chain the souls of Men. Only we ourselves can do that. As I did. And I will chain myself again and again if I must. And one day I will face thee, Bauglir!”

OooOooO


They waited two days. It was hard. It was necessary.

In the distance at whiles they saw other orcs out hunting now the land was not filled with death, but they avoided them, adding to their own store of game, making their way closer to the fortress.

That dawn came bright and hard. Good enough; orcs did not do well in sunlight and there was less chance of their being recognised as aliens. With black towers jutting over them, winding round the upsweeping cliffs, they toiled, as if weary, under the shadows of the gate, which creaked open.

It had been decided that Kashan, Narok and Vaija would speak if such were necessary; they knew Black Speech, but the babble that met their ears owed as much to Westron as the tongues of orcs. Where different clans were gathered, Westron was often the common tongue among them. But it would be better, Kashan said, to speak little and attract no attention.

It seemed he had been correct in that the Gundabad orcs were by far the most numerous, but there were others too from all along the line of the Hithaeglir. Great black uruks out of Mordor stood aloof from the commotion, some wielding whips. Better to keep one's head down and scurry along than feel a lash across the shoulders.

They hurried in, and it felt like a lead bar descending as the gates creaked close. The huge ward stretched ahead of them; here they had fought when rescuing Bainalph. All around was industry, or at least scurrying figures, the clang of a forge.

Kashan took the lead, crossing the wet cobbles to a cavernous archway. There was a waft of warmth, the smell of meat cooking, an oddly comforting scent in this place, a flight of worn steps and then the vast kitchens. Drudges toiled here, older men and women of Angmar, turning carcasses on spits, chopping, tending cauldrons. Their eyes were dull, thin bodies heavily wrapped in what rags and tatters they could find.
“More meat,” Kashan shouted, and an old man with straggling grey hair pointed with a blooded cleaver to a stone table.
“Put 'em there. The Lord will feast well tonight.”

There were other orcs coming and going some, wizened and undersized, turned the spits, others carried buckets of entrails down a narrow passage.

They offed their load. This was where they would split into three smaller groups. Beleg, Elgalad, Kashan and Bainalph remained together.

“What are you waiting for?” demanded the old man, seeing them loitering.

“For you,” Kashan responded, surly. “We need the hide.”

“Well, get to it, then! Or you'll wait.”

The elk was a big beast, but the task gave them time to listen to the kitchen gossip. Time and slavery had crushed a great deal of human curiosity from the men and women here, but they were dourly talkative nonetheless, and surprisingly resilient. As long as they cooked the food they enjoyed a certain amount of autonomy, Kashan had said. Malantur and the few Men still left needed (or at least desired) hot food even if the orcs did not.

“Supper for two is it, tonight?” a woman growled. “Well, these birds will do well.” She trust two plucked grouse into a huge pot to broil.

“Hah! He'll have that youngster eating himself before too long.” The grey-hair scowled, splitting a grouse neatly.

Beleg's eyes met Elgalad's.

“I heard this one was special. Not to be spoiled.”

I heard he's to be shown on the tower every three days or we'll be neck deep in Elves.”

“Ay, was that army Elves or was it not, eh? Men out of the south, maybe...”

“It was Elves,” Kashan put in.

Eyes turned toward him. “Saw 'em did you?” the woman asked sourly. “And you in a corner pissing yourself.”

Kashan snarled at her. “Everyone who saw it knows, crone. They're all talking about it.”

“Seems a lot of waste for one lad, tasty though he may be,” she muttered.

“Seen him, have you?” Beleg could not help but ask.

She sneered. “Well, it seems clear you lot haven't, for all your talk. I've seen him. They took armour off him worth a dragon's ransom. Now he's either clapped up or entertaining the Lord at supper.”

“No, no,” another man with a pocked face insisted doggedly. “This one's special. No experiments. A hostage, isn't he?”

The woman rubbed herbs into the pot, grimacing. “Bloody orcs don't know thyme from nettles, so they don't. Still, who'll notice?” She wiped her hands on stained rags. “Well, if a hostage means we eat better, I'm not complaining and I hope he may live long.”

“Hah, you know the Lord...one of these nights,” the pocked man snapped his fingers.

“Last prisoner we had escaped,” Kashan said, diligently working on the elk. “That was a right mess. He aint in them old cells is he? Never thought they were properly secured after that earthquake...”

“The Lord's not stupid. No. He's in the old women's cells. That was a day, eh?” Pock-face paused in his work. “And that prisoner was an Elf, no question. I had it from those who saw to him. Put a sword in old Hrath Horsekskull's cock.” He snickered. “And that wasn't the worse of it for him. Then all the women escaping, and those young officers not long after.” He shook his head mournfully. “Of course no-one's hardly escaped since then, or if they have the higher-up's aren't saying.”

“Well, they wouldn't would they?” the woman glowered. “But I know how many I have to feed, and some did slip out after, lost on patrol it was said. My eye! Saw their chance and took it, they did.”

“That's treason talk, that is,” Kashan mumbled.

The woman made a rude gesture at him. “You go running to your big pals, then, runt, and tell them.”

“There's no treason here,” Grey Hair said loudly. “Just talk it is. Just talk.” His cleaver came down again with unnecessary force as he looked hard at Kashan.

“Just talk,” Kashan mumbled.

The old man made his way over, cleaver still pointedly in his hand, said hoarsely. “A jug of mead for that hide.”

“Can't do it.” Kashan whined a little. “Higher up's want it. Saw it come in.”

“Huh.” The man ruminated. “If you're out again, mark one down for me.”

“Well, I could do that.” He rubbed a bloody finger on his nose.

“See that you do, or some-one else will get it.”

“Mead?” Beleg forced a laugh. “Mead? here? Run-off and your piss more likely.”

The cleaver came down on the stone. Sparks flew.
“You're not half as clever as you think you are, little goblin. Don't know this place at all.” Grey hair walked back to his post.

Three great orcs walked into the kitchen, two of the smaller breed cringing about them. Ferocious red eyes scanned the bustle and Beleg leaned industriously over the elk, knife wrenching. All talk suddenly ceased thou the activity went on. They did not speak, but the woman busied herself with a crude tray, piling it with meat and a clay cup of water. One of the goblins took it, and they left as wordlessly as they had come.

“Shit,” the woman breathed. “All this new game, forgot the manlings food.”

Beleg noted the way they had gone, sliced a look at Kashan who nodded.

“They'll take your head with it next time, Marita, if you're late,” Grey Hair warned her. “Nice dried out treat that will be.”

She spat sideways eloquently, glaring, then rounded on Kashan and the others. “You can scrape that fat off the beast here,” she ordered. “I've need of it.”


After a time the goblin who had taken Túrin's food swaggered back in carrying the tray and empty platter. Apparently considering his form of servitude superior to the group now scraping fat, he leered, coming close.

“Nice work, eh? Heard the hunting was good.”

“Better than normal.” Kashan did not look up. “More useful than carrying plates about.”

The crooked creature hissed at him. “It's called being trusted to do more than kill dumb animals. They trust me, the Lord trusts me.”

“Not to trip over your own feet?” Beleg taunted, following the promptings of a dangerous idea. “Can you even use that piddly little thing you call a dagger?”

One of the drudges smothered a laugh.

The knife was rusty, but jagged-toothed, a nasty weapon.
“Want to try me?” the goblin crouched.

“Why? If I wait long enough you'll cut your own throat,” Beleg dismissed the challenge scornfully. Kashan giggled, and perhaps only the Elves heard the touch of hysteria in the sound.

The creature lunged, spitting a curse. Beleg swept up his own blade, much sharper, if greased with elk-fat, and stabbed it home under the goblin's armpit.

An expression of surprise crossed the twisted features as blood spurted, earning a shriek of dismay and annoyance from the woman Marita. Then it fell.

For a heartbeat they froze. Footsteps pattered away, and a heavier tread returned. One of the great orcs, scowling.

It went against every instinct Beleg had to grovel to the ground, but he felt Kashan's convulsive grip under the table and went down to his knees.
“Sir.” Grey Hair cleared his throat. “Yon goblin went for this one.”

The uruk kicked the dying goblin disgustedly, then appeared to forget him.
“Well, you'll just have to take his place,” he growled. “A fine hide. I'll have it. You good at hunting, too, quick-knife?”

“Yes, Sir,” Beleg muttered, eyes lowered.

“Well, I guess you Gundabad runts must be good at something. So these are your orders: You will hunt for me now. For Captain Rakbar. Clear?”

“Yes, sir,” they chorused.

“And you'll do anything else I can find for you to do. First take that body to the fires, then report to me in level two, room five.”

“Sir.”


The furnaces beneath the fortress were vast, sweating goblins piling coal into their ever-hungry maws. Beneath the roar, it was safe, for a moment, to exchange words.

“They will not let us into Malantur's chambers,” Kashan murmured, as they carried the corpse. “But you will have access to Túrin. It is more than I expected. But be careful. The black uruks are cleverer than most, and crueler, and kill for no reason.”

“All orcs do that,” Beleg responded quietly. “But of course I will be careful.” For all of us. For Túrin. Beleg's heart raced. It had been a calculated risk, killing this creature, but sometimes risks must be taken. And sometimes they must not.

When they had disposed of the body, Kashan lead them to the second level of the tower. The uruk captains were now lodged here, aware of their status and enjoying it.

Perhaps some of Mordor's discipline still clung to them, for Rakbar's chambers were not as rank as Beleg might have supposed. A fire roared there, and there were, to his surprise cups of wine on a stone table. The Elves had agreed they would leave wine out for the hunters to find, although it would take a lot to make an orc drunk and they were difficult to poison, so the wine had not been tainted. They had hoped some might find its way to Túrin or any of the Men left alive. What was startling was that any of the casks had made it back to Carn Dûm, untasted, but Beleg was beginning to realize how much fear these Mordor orcs instilled.

But where would that old man find honey to make mead? Beleg wondered. The question had been nagging at him. He would have to find out. Bees could not live here, on these bare, cold rocks but further south, in the land the old one had once lived, perhaps. If there was a way out of Angmar few knew about, they must find out. Perhaps a decent hide would help loosen the oldster's tongue. Beleg would bring one.

Their first duty was to carry out and empty the chamber pots (it could have been worse: orcs would squat anywhere), then they cleaned the heavy uruk armour while Rakbar and his lieutenant spoke over their heads in Black Speech. Beleg saw that Kashan was listening intently, but they dared not exchange so much as a whisper until they were alone.

The uruks drank after, then tossed knives back and forth, making the 'goblins' dance and jump to avoid being hit. Too much dexterity would be suspicious, and by the end all carried shallow wounds. At length, around noon, Rakbar pushed himself from his skins.
“Prisoner duty,” he barked. “Come, you muckrakers. You'll enjoy this. Gotta show him to the enemy, make sure he's alive and pretty.” He laughed like sliding gravel. Beleg's finger's itched to take the creature by the throat.

He memorized the route they took: down one level, along two corridors, a left turn, then into the next tower, along another passage and descending a flight of stairs.

There were doors each side of this corridor, all heavy and barred shut now – and empty, save one. Two torches burned at each end and above the one door where two uruk guards came to attention.

“This is where you'll bring the food,” Rakbar said. “He's chained but he's dangerous, so nothing slipshod. Understand? No touching. The Lord will have your guts if you play with him. You give him his food and wait outside until he's finished. Then you'll take the platter and the nightsoil and dispose of them. But in the evenings, he goes to the Lord, and we bring him back later.”

The bar went up, the door creaked open.

Beleg's breath went in. He was reminded of finding Túrin with the orc-band, bound and exhausted, yet unbroken. Stripped of his armour, clad in the poorest of clothes, he looked so young, yet so very beautiful it broke the heart. And he had done his best: his hair was damp, drawn into a glossy fist, his face clean. He held his head high on its long, strong neck, and his eyes were like ice under the thick sweep of black lashes.

But they were no longer the eyes of a young man. They held memories now, and a haunted look. They were the eyes of a man who has stared into an abyss.

Oh, Túrin.

He did not look at the uruks of the goblins, He walked like an Elf-prince, bore his chains with grace, and left them in the shadows of their malice.

The ward was packed with orcs, a few grim-faced men in tattered uniforms and armour, even the kitchen drudges peered out. Malantur was standing at the foot of the southernmost tower.

No. Malantur's body. Morgoth's eyes. How much can he truly see?

A time to take risks, and a time not to...He fell back with the others behind the taller, bulkier uruks.

“Time for thy showing, my guest.” Malantur gestured to the tower. It was unnerving to watch him, his speech not matching his gestures. It was yet more terrible to see the red-banked glow in his eyes that was Morgoth looking out.

A scuttling goblin thrust a pail of offal into Beleg's hands, grinning and licking its fangs. The others also received one, and were half-pushed along in a surge that took them up the tower steps. The sun had gone in, a cold wind raked the sky, sent tendrils of Túrin's hair fluttering against his white cheek

There would be no riders under a flag of truce. No Elf would trust Morgoth, much less Malantur, to honour any parlay. This had been discussed in war council before the volunteers ever set out. But there would be watchers, hidden by the land. Beleg might be able to pick them out were he close to the parapet where the crumbling stones left a gap to see and be seen.

And there would be another, too, who made naught of distance.

The air concussed, light cracked across the sky. Coldagnir hung like a great red hawk high up.
“I come to witness!” His voice came like clear thunder.

Túrin's head went up. His mouth shaped Coldagnir's name, then set into a hard line.

“Coldagnir,” Morgoth's voice curled like a fist.

The balrog could not come closer, no power could, but there was no doubt that he would see.

“So witness! Here is Túrin Turambar, alive, unscathed. Hail, Túrin!”

A roar went up, mocking, jeering. Hands reached into the pail Beleg held. Offal splattered over Túrin. Beleg saw him jerk, flinch, then gather himself.

“Hail, Túrin!” Laughing, hooting, a great roaring of despite and scorn that chilled the blood and made body brace for violence. Filth coated Túrin's black hair, his clothes, his unprotected flesh.

The uruk's swaggered forward, unlaced their breeches and let loose acrid streams, each one seeing how high they could aim. Malantur, under Morgoth's will, simply stood with a sneer lifting his mouth.

Hands were holding Beleg in hard, trembling grips: Elgalad and Bainalph, silently pleading with him not to show himself, not to act. But he felt their rage, their impotence and their hatred of it. It matched his own. His heart beat so hard he could hear it, his fingers were clamped so tightly on the pail they were gone bloodless.

He thought of death, not his or Túrin's but the orcs, Malantur, and he wondered where Edenel was. Eater-of-hearts. Oh yes, he had recognized Edenel, but since the other clearly did not want to be known, Beleg held his peace. Rumours of the Eaters-of-hearts had surfaced not long after the strange, white-haired Ithiledhil appeared on the borders of Doriath. Beleg had never entertained the notion; he did now. He would gladly cut out the hearts of these carrion and devour them.

“Let's crown him!” Rakbar yelled, to a roar. He grabbed the bucket from Beleg and upended the last scraps of offal on Túrin's head, then rammed it down.

Beleg's sight wavered as in a heat haze.

“Prince of Dor-lómin!” Malantur roared.

Túrin staggered but kept his feet until an uruk tripped him. He fell hard to the stones.

“We will kill them, we will kill them all,” Elgalad's soft whisper sounded in Beleg's ear. The savage baying of the crowd almost drowned it. “But we must release him first.”

Beleg managed a nod, eyes on Túrin.

The sky lit again, and thunder boomed across the fortress. Rain began to fall.

“All right. Enough.” Morgoth's voice quelled them into rolling-eyed quiet. “Dump him in a trough and clean him off. Take him back to his cell.”

They dragged Túrin upright, wrenched off the pail, and forced him down the tower. Beleg's hands ached to help him. At a great stone trough in the ward, filled with icy gutter run-off they stripped him of his clothes, and deposited him bodily. His hands were still bound so he could not clean himself and the water was soon filthy. He was shaking, gasping, his jaw clenched tight in that look of pure resolve Beleg knew so well.

When he stood on the cobbles, they brought buckets of water to complete the process, rubbing him roughly with bits of sacking, pinching, prodding as Malantur looked on.

Túrin's hair, unbound now, ran wet past his hips, plastered over his face. He looked beautiful, young and vulnerable, but when his eyes opened, fixed upon Malantur, they were wordlessly defiant. Beleg loved him a little more for that look of black iron.

“Well, dry him before his lily-white Man-flesh takes a chill,” ordered Malantur impatiently.

Beleg caught at a bundle of sackcloth pushed toward him and made it his excuse to get close, for the first time, to Túrin, who was shivering, though not wholly with cold, Beleg thought. He was not harsh, but he rubbed warmth back into the wet skin, the taut muscles beneath.

Túrin, beloved. Thou art not alone.

He did not think Túrin could hear Elven mind-speech. He had never tried it, and could not sense any reaction to his thought.

“Take him back to his cell. Give him some food and wine, then bring him to me later, as usual.”

Beleg was cuffed away as the uruk's closed round Túrin. He fell in behind them.

“Well, you heard the Lord,” Rakbar grunted. “Get to the kitchens and bring him food and wine.”

The four of them hurried off.

“Food and wine for the prisoner,” Kashan shouted when they were inside the hot, busy room.

Marita sighed, preparing a platter and placing a large clay cup of wine beside the meat.
“Couldn't see what was going on up there,” she said resentfully. “But I could see well enough in the ward. Nice sight for these old eyes.” She grinned. “Have a good feel, did you?”

“Aint allowed to,” Kashan said stolidly. “The Lord only.” He sniffed.

“Well, if he needs any-one to tend his bruises, I'm here.” She cackled morosely and turned away, Grey Hair coughed laughter.
“Your dried up old cunny couldn't take it, Marita.”

“Well, that pitiful thing between your legs wouldn't know,” she retorted smartly, examining a pot. “Hasn't seen a twitch of life since before the invasion...”

The talk faded as they left the kitchen. Beleg pulled a hair from his head; coarse, dark and greasy it was, but as it lay on his palm, freed from the song-spell, it paled slowly into silver. He curled it around his finger, held it close in his palm.

Talk,” he murmured. “When we get in there. Make noise.”

The uruks were waiting with the guards outside Túrin's cell. They opened the door, and Rakbar nodded them in.

Túrin, sitting on a low stool, did not deign to look at them. A collar was about his neck and ran to the wall. Beleg had noted the keys jangling on Rackbar's thick belt. But his face. Oh, his face. Shock and disgust shone from the fine bones.

The cell was bare stone save for a bed of heather stuffed under sack-cloth, with two pails for waste, and a spluttering torch above the door firmly welded into its brackets and impossible to move.

“Shame this should get wine when we don't have a drop,” moaned Kashan.

“Orders,” snapped Rackbar. “You dare, and you'll go to the Lord for experimentation.”

“No harm, Sir, no harm!” Kashan whined loudly, as Beleg dropped the silver hair into the blood-red wine and held the tray out at arm's length.

Túrin looked at the wine as if surprised then, using both hands, lifted the cup to his mouth and drank.

Bainalph, and Eru only knew what it cost him in a place that must bring back memories of his own imprisonment, began to grumble at Kashan, Elgalad joining in, insulting him. Something clattered on the floor, Elgalad's knife, kicked there in a mild scuffle that Rakbar roared at them to stop. Beleg bent to pick up the knife, made himself trip, bringing himself close to Túrin. Under the noise, he said, very low: “Pale silver...”

Pale silver, like the beginning of night and the end of the light.” Túrin had spoken those words to him in Doriath, gazing at his hair. No-one else would know them.

Then Beleg was grabbed and forced out of the cell, and the last thing he saw was Túrin staring into the wine-cup.

There was a time to take risks, Beleg thought.
Chapter 3 _ In Unexpected Places, In Unexpected Faces ~ by Spiced Wine


~ In Unexpected Places, In Unexpected Faces ~




~ The door slammed shut, echoes reverberating against the stone walls. The one torch flared, smoking.

Túrin stared into his wine, gripped the cup to steady his shaking hands. Shock piled into shock, slammed in acid waves through his soul, tremoring his muscles. His ordeal on the tower had humiliated him, left him stranded on the barren shores of his own resolve.

He would not break for them. He never had, save at the end of that other, long-ago life. But part of him was young and hurt and traumatized, and that Túrin wanted to weep.

And Morgoth had ravened his soul, his absolute belief that he loved Beleg, would never have harmed him. He had sewn Túrin certainties with caltrops, poisonous and destructive. Seeing Coldagnir, he had not known whether or not he was looking at an enemy. And then the goblin...

The goblin...he could hardly tell one from another; all were hideous, coarse creatures he could (and had) slain without thinking. Yet this one had murmured to him two words in rough Westron: “Pale silver...

His words, to Beleg, long ago, an breathy, youthful attempt at seduction. Which had worked, leaving him with a ragged mess of complications in his heart.

Was this a taunt? How would they know...Did they...had they captured Beleg? With a clash of chains Túrin came to his feet, breath going hard, sore in his throat. He hurled the wine goblet from him; it clattered against the door, rolling back to his feet.

Through the sheen of tears he refused to let fall, something caught the torchlight in a shimmer of white.

He blinked, staring, then bent.

The strand was long, falling from a tall man's head it would reach to the knees. The wine had darkened it, but still it showed a silvery pallor. Túrin ran it between his fingers. Thicker than a Motal's hair, it was also stronger. Beleg had ever strung Belthronding with hair from his own head.

Túrin tried to focus on his memory of the goblin's face, to see something, anything, under those words. Surely if they had Beleg they would revel in showing him, making a spectacle of it, as they had of him? But he could not imagine any orc spying for their ancient enemy, or of an Elf using one. They could be trusted only if they feared, and cared for nothing save their own skins. A goblin allowed back into Angmar would renege on any promise it had made.

A spy...a spy...He ran the single hair through his hands, lifted it to his face. He could smell Beleg's scent: clear water, white flowers, the air before a summer storm...

Pale silver....

Beleg...

What if this was all part of the plot to break him? They would make him wait, imagining the worse...yes, Morgoth would do such a thing.

He firmed his lips, curled the hair about his hand and slipped it against his chest.
If nothing else, he had part of Beleg with him.
And a garrote.

OooOooO


“You'll go hunting later,” Rakbar had said. “Leave at midnight, the days grow long here.” He cast a black look at the sky. “Get your weapons nice and sharp, check your bows. No slacking! And you'll get game or I'll gut you for the cookpots myself. Won't be the first time or the last.”

Beleg did not want to leave, but it was an opportunity to talk they would not otherwise have. They muttered respectful acquiescence, made a show of honing their knives, checking their bows and arrows. The uruks talked, laughing unpleasantly at 'the manling's show'.

I have marked thee, Beleg thought, bending to his tasks. Had Túrin seen his hair in that shadowy cell? Did he guess? He could only wait for the evening.

But later, Túrin showed a face honed as for battle, smoothed and hard. Beleg quickly scanned the cell for his hair, but did not see it. He would have, unless it had been pushed under the sleeping pallet, and so would the uruks. Perhaps Túrin had concealed it, then. Other than that, there was no sign that he knew anything save by his tension. His eyes flicked over the goblins...Beleg stared hard, but Túrin's gaze swept away as he rose to his feet.

The uruks fastened a chain to his collar and wrists (they were taking no chances) before unlocking him and leading him out.

Túrin, trust thyself. Trust what thou knowest of me.

But Túrin could not trust anyone in Angmar, or so he must believe, and with cause.

The doors of Malantur's chambers swung open with a groan, red firelight spilled out. The voice of Morgoth, ice, iron, ancient starstuff said, “Ah, my guest. Come.”

Around the dark figures of Túrin and the uruks, Beleg saw vast stone pillars, a barrel vaulted roof stained with soot. The air smelled like a charnal house. For the briefest moment, he remembered Kashan's words about the Mouth's 'experiments' and like a fist pushing up from his gut, came the impulse to kill, now. They could take the uruks, Malantur too, no matter that Morgot possessed him it was obvious he did not have full control of the Man's body.

But all Carn Dûm lay between them and freedom. And Morgoth would not allow Túrin to die yet, or so Beleg hoped. This was not the time to loose an arrow half-drawn, to risk Túrin's life in a desperate unformed plan. He thought again of the old grey-haired drudge's words, and his promised mead if Beleg delivered a hide...

The doors closed, sealing Túrin inside.


Beleg was careful not to speak until the fortress was far behind them. The night showed the face of a wraith-moon behind high cloud.

But it was Elgalad who spoke first.
“We will kill them all,” he said, low as ground-mist. “We will raze Carn Dûm about their heads.”

“I know,” Beleg returned tightly. And it would not be enough to sate his wrath. As they forded the river, he fell into mind-speech. Thou didst hear the old one in the kitchens offer mead? Where would he get it? One needs honey, and bees would not prosper there. And he said I did not know the place. But he must, and well. If there is a way out that he can take, we need to know. It would have been easy enough, this evening to kill the uruks, and Malantur. But we need an escape route. The man wanted an elk hide. Let us give him one, and see what else we can get from him.

They did not speak further until they reached the first stunted trees. Then Elgalad said, “There is no-one near,” and stepped up to Beleg, closing his arms about him.

Beleg shook to his bones; there seemed a vise locked about his chest. All he could think of was Túrin's flinching face spattered by offal, the pail rammed on his head in mockery, staggering. The red rage made his body a thing of violence. He must temper it, contain it, until the time was right. He was used to hunting, to waiting...He had had to wait before...

I will eat Rakbar's heart. I swear it.

I do not think he noted the hair, he said. Or more likely he did and thinks it some trick.

Morgoth will have poured poison in his ears, Elgalad replied, drawing back to run slim fingers over his cheek. We will find another way.

I know. We will. We have to. He gripped Elgalad back, hard, then they began to run again, to reach the shelter of the forest.

A tall, dark shape walked out of the trees. The scent of sandalwood and night came from him. Elgalad quickened his pace. Vanimórë held him close for a moment.

It had been agreed that there must be no mind-to-mind communication between the interlopers and the others within Angmar's borders, only beyond them, if a chance occurred.

“I know what happened from Coldagnir,” Vanimórë said. “But I cannot see into Angmar to see what thou didst. Wilt thou tell me or shall I take it from thy mind?”

“Take it from me,” Beleg told him.

Vanimórë was silent for a time, then he looks north into the darkness.
“He will endure,” he murmured. “One does. He knows thou art alive. It is something to hold on to.”

“It is not enough,” Beleg returned, keeping his voice level.

“Thou art wrong,” Vanimórë corrected gently. “To know that those thou doth love are free, are alive, is a most powerful incentive to live and fight.” He glanced at Elgalad with a faint warm smile. “Ah, if only Morgoth would come out. But he will not, not yet. He cannot use Malantur to fight. Nor any-one there.”

“How much can he see?”

“Probably only as much as his...host.” Vanimórë reached out to Kashan, held his shoulders. “Thou didst well.”

“I was...” The young man swallowed. “very much afraid. I am sorry,” he added.

“Whom would not be? To not fear would be foolish.”

“We think,” Beleg interposed.”there is a way out few know of.” He told of the old man's words.

“Hmm. Yes. It would make sense. Bees could thrive here in the forests in the spring and summer. Thou wouldst say the kitchen slaves are not overwatched?”

Beleg shook his head. “I think there is no need now.”

“So one might slip out for hours or even days and not be missed...”

“If the others were included in whatever...bounty they provided, I believe so. They have no love for the orcs or their master.”

“And thou needest to find out what the old man knows.” Vanimórë murmured. “Well, there is a supply dump close by. I will take thee to it. Slip him a flask of emberwine to loosen his tongue. If he thinks thee a good supply source, he may talk. I will scout, see what I can find beyond the borders, if there is any sign.”

“Have you heard from the others?” Bainalph asked. “We have not seen them since we split up.”

“Not yet, thou art the first.” Vanimórë took his hands. “This is one of the hardest things thou wilt ever do: to feel so helpless, to be unable to act. I know. But trust them. Trust thyself. As I have to trust all of thee.”

“Thou didst see what they did?” Beleg asked hardly.

“I saw through Coldagnir. Yes. Content thyself with the fact they will all die.” His face glowed, hard, gem-bright, and his voice was tight.

“And he knows now. He knows his past.”

“It is that which will help him to endure.” Vanimórë jerked his head. “Come. Eat and drink.”

They came to a hollow of the woods and ate a small meal, though with little appetite. The wine was welcome, however, and Beleg tucked a flask of emberwine close to his skin.
“I need him to see me,” he said. “But there is simply no chance. Yet. Once we have a way out, we can kill the uruks.”

“Then find it,” Vanimórë replied simply. “And as quickly as possible. We will be waiting for thee.”

Elgalad leaned into him, his sweet face at variance to the iron in his tone. “We w-will kill them, and we will b-bring him out.” He looked at Beleg. “We have vowed it.”

“And make sure thou doth contact the others.”

OooOooO


Edenel had not been close enough to observe what happened to Túrin on the tower, but he had seen the aftermath as the young Man stumbled through the ward, coated in offal, crowned with a pail. He could feel, under the storm-roar of his own wrath, Beleg's rage like a white-hot awl in his chest.

Yet none of them gave themselves away. There was more here at stake than one man's fate, no matter how beloved. Túrin himself would understand that.

The fortress seethed with orcs and smaller goblins and it was easy to avoid remark if one looked busy, kept out of the way of the uruks. Edenel was with Thranduil, Narok, Vaija, Lómion and Eärendil, all of them enraged and disgusted. The place reeked of waste and old blood. He saw a squealing goblin knifed by another, and his body set on for food. The game coming in was not yet for the underlings, it seemed.

After taking their game to the kitchens, they cautiously explored. Huge Carn Dûm was, and not all of it was used despite the prolific breeding of orcs, who tended to band together in great hives rather than spread out. They passed steaming vents from which issued unhuman sounds, grunts, screams, animal bellows. There was no need for them to wonder what creatures made them; they were Malantur's twisted creations. There was the clang of forges, the constant, weary trickle of water, damp, empty chambers, dark passages.

And there were ghosts. Long-dead wraiths, half-seen out of the corner of the eye, faces twisted in pain or grief or hate. The Elves did not fear them but Narok made a sign against evil.

Following a circular route they eventually came back to the kitchens and a scurry of activity that they avoided, only to be buffeted and clouted by uruks as they emerged into the huge, dismal ward.
“Hunting parties out!” one of them shouted. “Get on with you, you lazy slugs, or I'll eat you myself!”

It was a relief to be out of the shadows, into the clean air, although they had learned nothing useful, save that the fortress was a warren, and the Mordorians had already told them that. It was a greater relief, the next dawn, to meet with Beleg's group. Their game was strung from long poles, foxes, grouse, coney's. When they spotted an elk, Beleg shot it, and now their were enough hands to carry it back. They exchanged what little news they had before crossing the shallow river, back into the shadows.

“Try to remain close to the kitchens,” was Beleg's last word after giving instructions as to the whereabouts of Túrin's cell. “We will have to move fast.”

As it was, they were set to skinning and plucking, the greater abundance of food needing more hands to prepare it. The wineskins were, of course, taken immediately by the uruks to much snarling and grumbling when they were safely out of earshot.

Edenel, busy with skinning, watched as Kashan was approached by the grey-haired man he had spoken of. He saw Kashan's head shake, but the noise in the kitchen was too loud and the voices to low for him to hear what was said, Kashan pointed with his knife to Beleg, and the old man shuffled sideways to him. Again, muttered words were exchanged. The Man looked pleased as he returned to his bench.

When the prisoner was fed, Edenel watched the others go and return, tracing the route in his mind. It was not far. Then, when the drudges had eaten, comparative quiet fell. Most of the goblins, save the ones turning the meat, had gone, and the night was drawing on. By dint of hanging around and being told to 'clean up and scrub' by the hard-faced woman Marita, Edenel and the others had managed to remain. The kitchen slaves, exhausted, crept their way over to rough pallets and slept. Soon snores punctuated the air.

Grey Hair returned to Beleg, his stained cleaver gripped in one hand. They conferred in undertones. There was a subtle shifting of Beleg's hands and the old man retreated to a dim corner. It was obvious, soon, that he was drinking the emberwine.

“You stinking old goat,” Marita said accusingly. “Where did you get that, then?”

“Friends in low places,” Grey-Hair giggled. “Ah. Ah! Nonono. I'll have your hand off.”

“And I'll roast your dried up old balls for the Lord.” She glared about the great room. “What do you think you'll get out of him, then?” she asked them all. “As well suck my teats for milk.” Snorting, she strode to a dark alcove, emerged with a jug. She raised it high and cackled, unstoppering it.

“You thieving cow!” The Man scrambled, swaying to his feet as she drank. “My mead!”

“Bah! You'd never have it if I'd not told you where to go.” She wiped her mouth on her forearm, drank again. “My hives.”

Edenel and the others began to drift toward them. Some of the sleepers stirred, but no-one else moved. Perhaps such scenes were too common, or they were simply too tired to care.

“I'll have your hand, you dried-out bitch!” Grey-hair lunged, cleaver coming down. Marita dodged, surprisingly nimble, kicked his head as he stumbled with the downswing. On hands and knees, he shook his head groggily. She snatched the cleaver from him, hurled it away.

“Leave it out!” yelled Kashan. “Or I'll tell the higher-ups!”

“Yes, you tell them,” Marita swung round. “Tell them about this old bastard and his little absences!”

Grey-hair made a swing for her ankle, swearing. Marita kicked him again, harder this time, and he collapsed on the stones.
“Huh,” she said and rescued the emberwine, taking a long gulp. “Greedy bastard, is what he is. Well? What are you lot staring at? He's not dead, and who'd care if he was? I run this kitchen, and you want any little side perks, you talk to me, not him!”

“We could maybe get more,” Kashan said fawningly, nodding to the flask.

“And what d'you want for it, runt?” She waved him back as he crept closer.

“Maybe...maybe we could get the honey for you. Then you'd have mead for yourself.”

The woman's eyes glittered. “Like I would trust you.”

“It's hard here, got to do what we can, aint we?” Beleg spoke in the same cringing tone. “A bit of mead would go down a treat at times. Higher-up's took all the grog. And we're allowed out anyhow, to hunt.”

“Not allowed to do that,” squeaked a spit-goblin, its tongue lolling. “I'll tell, I will.”

Edenel's knife flew end-over end and buried itself up to the hilt in the creature's throat. It gargled blood, sagging.
“Any-one else?” he demanded.

Marita hissed. “You clear that body out of here,” she ordered. “I'll finish my wine. Then, maybe, we'll talk.”

She did not speak until she had drunk the mead, which brought a glow into her thin, sallow cheeks, and settled the emberwine on her lap. Grey-hair had been dragged to his pallet and slept, the other drudges had lapsed back into their hard-earned slumber.
“Right, you muckers,” she said briskly, but her voice low. “I can't leave. It'll be remarked on. Old Cranth can come and go. For all the airs he gives himself, he's just a meat-chopper. Now, you.” She pointed at Beleg. “I want some of those coney skins.” She surveyed them. “Half drunk I may be, but I'm never stupid. You're all in this together?”

“If it suits us,” Beleg returned. “As I said, it's a hard life, here.”

“My heart bleeds,” she said dryly. “Any of you know this place at all, besides the parts everyone knows?”

“I do, sort of,” Kashan offered, and Vaija and Narok nodded. “Well, you know, have to keep out of the way.”

“What I want to know is if you can remember directions, muck-brain. I can show you once, now, with Cranth out. not again. Too risky.”

“We'll remember,” Beleg said.

“Come on, then. And mark me: If you cross me, it won't be me that suffers for it.”

She took a candle-end (what fat was it rendered from, Edenel wondered? it stank) lead them down into a cellar, opened a small door in the shadows at one end, and into a narrow passage. It opened into another empty room, dank with the drip-drip of water, and down another, yet smaller corridor hacked roughly from the living rock. It curved slightly downward, and after a while, he could smell fresh air, feel a faint draft upon his face.

There was no door. The passage twisted and then there was a slit through which faint light showed. Marita, her steps sure, lead them to it, and pointed.
“My old village down there, when we lived on the outside,” she said roughly. “You go straight through the valley and south to the Black Tor. Great pile of rocks. Go straight south from there to the grove of trees. There, my family kept our hives. There are hot springs. Some heat in the earth here. You'll see the steam.” She shrugged as if dissociating herself with the past. “You bring me back my honey, and I'll make the mead. And I'll want skins, hides, when you can. More of that emberwine.”

“How far?” Beleg asked.

She squinted. “Half a day there and back if you leg it. Or half a night. Well?”

“Rakbar will be looking for us,” Kashan muttered. “Can't make it before dawn. Tomorrow. We'll be sent hunting again.”

“Right.” She turned away sharply. “And remember what I said. Isn't me who'll suffer if you flap your mouths.”

“That old man will tell, if he sees us,” Beleg stated.

“Tell me when you're going and I'll make sure he sees nothing,” Marita threw over her shoulder. “He'll have a sore head anyhow, after I booted him.”

“Morning. After we feed the prisoner.” As soon as possible.

“Done.”

OooOooO


“Prisoner duty!” barked Rakbar. “Come on, come on.”

Beleg was awake. He had not slept. His eyes went, as he rose, to the ring of keys on the uruks belt.

The kitchen was hot, busy, Túrin's meal already laid out, two well-roasted fowl legs. The others were already there, set to cleaning more game brought in during the night. Kashan took the platter. It was a wonder, Beleg thought, that the two uruks did not feel the tension in the air. His own stomach was clenched tight. He kept his eyes on the heavy sway of the keys on Rakbar's thick belt.

Túrin too, was awake. He was white, his eyes hard, haunted, jaw set. He came to his feet as the goblins entered.

And then Beleg turned, and threw his knife into Rakbar's eye. Bainalph and Elgalad leaped for the second uruk. Kashan grabbed a grouse-leg, threw the tray aside and followed, jumping, thrusting the meat deep into the uruk's open mouth. Beleg reached for the keys on Rakbar's belt. The ring was old, huge, rusty, and Beleg unlatched the whole belt, hearing the crash of chains in the cell. Rakbar's companion was choking, trying to spit out meat and fight three rabid goblins.

“Túrin,” Beleg said, knowing what he looked like, that Túrin would not trust him, that even his voice was altered. “You have my hair. Let me loose you.”

The huge, startled grey eyes looked directly into his, and Túrin held out his hands. He stood quite still as Beleg found the key and opened the shackles. They fell with a sour clang.

“Now. Come!”

And then he himself was choking, a garrote tight about his throat, and drawing tighter, cutting off air, slicing into his flesh, his vision darkening, swirling, blood ringing in his ears. And he knew what it was, knew that Túrin had found and kept the hair strand, and now was using it to strangle him. Just as he killed me before...in fear and hate, not knowing it was me, thinking it was an orc...

Túrin! Beloved.

The floor was hard, damp under his knees. He retched, gagged for a slice of air, his throat roaring with pain, sight eddying, expanding and contracting, burning. Túrin was staring, hands holding the hair in its murderous loop.

Some-one had shouted. In his mind, aloud? The echoes of it seemed to ring in Beleg's ears, or was that just the pulse of his blood?
“Remember Finrod's story,” Elgalad was saying. “We are not what we seem. Now come. Quickly.”

“Beleg?” Túrin's face twisted like a hurt child's. “Where...what..?”

“Soon,” Elgalad murmured. “But we must get out first; we must be quick and very careful.”

Beleg tore his eyes from Túrin's, and croaked, “There is enough time for this.” He retrieved his dagger from Rakbar's eye, tugged the heavy breastplate over his head, the features frozen into a snarl – and cut out his heart.
“I vowed I would eat his heart.” He tore at the thick muscle with orc-fangs, not even gagging as he chewed. Túrin stared at him. With a curse, Beleg flung the rest of the heart into the cell. He wanted to rip the creature into pieces, but it was dead, and there was no satisfaction in venting his rage on a corpse.

“I heard thy voice,” Túrin said dazedly. “in my mind, and I remembered...I remembered the time I was taken by orcs...let me see thee! Let me see all of thee!”

“We have to get through the kitchens first,” Kashan told him, dragging Rakbar's body into the cell. Once the second uruk was disposed there, they pulled shut the door and locked it.

“I think...dost thou mind a disguise?” Elgalad asked and jumped with a goblin's spidery ability, clinging to the bracket of one of the smoking torches, its base thick with soot. Túrin stood, breathing hard, as they smeared his face, all his uncovered skin, loosed his hair to fall, too clean for a slave's, but there was little one could do about that save tuck it into his jerkin. The light in the kitchen came mostly from the fires. There were no windows, only air vents.

“Others are waiting, Thranduil, Edenel, and more.” It was still hard to speak, and Beleg rubbed his throat unconsciously. Túrin's eyes flicked over him, perhaps to try and find something familiar – and unable to. “Thou must try to blend in, follow us. There is a way out through the cellars. We cannot step out of the Song. Maglor Fëanorion sang it, and it is powerful.”

Túrin straightened his shoulders. Maybe he could not imagine a goblin speaking Elven names without cursing. He nodded.
“Bu what of Mal...him?

“He will never make a move while he toys with thee. And he has to come out.”

A quick glance across the bustle of the kitchen showed the slaves bent-backed over their tasks, even Cranth, who sported a bruise on one cheek and, doubtless, a thick head. None of them spared the goblins more than a glance. Edenel looked up from plucking a grouse, inclined his head.

It must have been difficult for Túrin to adopt a slump, so straight and tall his posture, but necessity is a great teacher. He dropped his shoulders as if weary, sidled toward the busy group of goblins with head lowered. Edenel pushed an unplucked bird into his hands, then shoved him to a bench. A knife lay against its feathers.

Marita approached Cranth, muttered something and pushed a mug into his hands. He snarled something, but gulped back the drink, whatever it was, and hiccoughed, began mumbling to himself. As they watched, he slumped across his table, then pushed himself up and dragged himself to his pallet.

“Aye, he needs some sleep after last night,” Marita said generally with a bark of laughter. “No good for anything, else. You,” she gestured to a snickering pock-faced man. “Get those coney hides out to tan, or the higher-up's will have your skin.”

He whined but gathered up the hides and left the kitchen.

“I've a job for you muckers,” the woman announced, grabbing three large pots from a shelf. “Come on!”

They followed her into the dim corner and the door to the cellars, Túrin drifting after them.

“You leave the honey in that first room down there when you come back,and any skins you get,” she hissed. “Cranth will say nothing if he thinks he's getting some. Less work for him.”

Túrin caught her by the wrist and hauled her through the door. Beleg eased it closed behind them before her startled shriek could reach the kitchen.

“Hey! You...what?”

“Dost thou not want to be free?” Beleg asked her.

She gaped, then Túrin wrenched her on, she raining blows on his shoulders whenever she could reach.

“Wilt thou...ow! stop hitting me, lady?” he snapped.

“Stop pulling me, you young oaf!” she yelled back. “You...you're the prisoner! You're all mad. You'll get us all killed and me with you. Let me go!”

“Not if we are quick and quiet. We have friends waiting for us.”

“You're mad!” she reiterated on a wail. “Ow!” There was a sound of a collision. “I can't see a damn thing.”

Elgalad struck his flint-and-tinder, applying the flame to a candle-stub. The light flickered from crooked goblin faces, Marita's screwed into alarm and anger, Túrin's, blackened with soot, his eyes like rare jewels.

“Dost thou want to sat there until thou doth perish of disease or are killed?” Elgalad asked. “Other women of Angmar have gone south and made a home. Come, join them.”

“What...? Why are you helping him?” she stabbed a finger toward Túrin. “If the Lord finds us, we'll– ”

“We are not quite as we appear, lady. Now, come.”

She subsided as they ran, scuttling like rats through the semi-dark, listening for any sound of pursuit. But it had been as good a time as any to attempt this. Rakbar and his uruks were accountable only to Malantur, and after Túrin was fed, they were free to do as they wished for the rest of the day. No-one would search for them until the evening, when Túrin was called to Malantur's presence. Or so Beleg devoutly hoped. But perhaps luck, or Eru, was with them.

Beyond the narrow slit of rock, morning lay over Angmar, and mist trailed grey fingers over sullen stone. The path down was gritty with crumbs of shale, but sloped gently, though Marita swore under her breath as her tattered boots slipped.

Marita's village had been almost under the shadow of the fortress, a fist of houses with a valley like an arm leading south, watched over by a huge tor of weathered stone. Successive winters had lashed the ruined houses, beating them down, killed the stink of old burning, but it was an eerie, depressing place. The woman did not even look as she strode through them, her eyes fixed ahead.

It was impossible to distinguish the steam of the hot springs from the mist, but Beleg felt the air grow warmer, and then they were in a place of pools, short grass, dwarf willows, tiny, ground-hugging flowers. It was a blessing.

Bee skeps dotted the grass. Only a few, in sheltered spots, but this was obviously a small haven in a near-wasteland.

As if Marita had overheard his thoughts, she said, “Can't see it now, but this is like a bowl. Only two ways in or out, and narrow. Didn't get the winds, here.”

“How far to the river, thinks't thou?”

She squinted. “A few leagues, I reckon. Sure of these 'friends' of yours, are you? Because if not, I'd sooner stay here and put a knife to my throat when those bastards catch up with us. Not sure my old bones can make it.”

“There will be no need for that, lady. And we will carry thee if we have to.”

She laughed sourly. “I'm taller than you, runt.” Tall, and broad-shouldered, bone-thin with privation, yet hard as old oak.

“Then I will,” Túrin said. His eyes still searched the goblin's faces. “When will the song-spell wear off? I want to see thee...to know.”

“It is not safe until we reach the army. And then Maglor can unspin it.”

“So, you're Elves are you?” Marita asked. “Or like him? Hidden by a spell?” She puffed out a breath.

“Thou doth not believe it? Thou wilt see,” Beleg said “We do not lie.”

“Man, or Elf or goblin, or whatever you are, I've seen too much since the invasion to bat an eyelid if you turn into a dragon,” she said roundly. “But why'd you bring me? You owe me nothing.”

“There was opportunity,” Túrin said to her. “And no-one should be left in that place.”

“There will be nothing left of Carn Dûm,” Beleg promised. “But if thou doth not trust us, perhaps thou didst know Túrin's parents, Carreg and Cell. They were of Angmar.”

“Not of this village,” Marita replied. “But Carreg, yes, I mind him. Handsome young thing. He used to trade for honey. Cell, I've heard of. That shit Lorh's daughter. Hah. I saw what happened to him.” Something eased in her face. “Their son, are you?” She looked Túrin over. “Why would the Lord...” she paused and spat. “Why would he be so interested in you? Saw you when you were brought in, armed like an old tale.”

Túrin's eyes met Beleg's, still frowning, still doubtful.
“That,” he said. “is a story fit for a different time.”


Goblin's had a fair turn of speed, but were not long-legged Elves, and though they felt no weariness, the leagues passed too slowly, and they were ever alert. But nothing stirred in the empty land, and behind them, Carn Dûm was swallowed by cloud. Too near, a grim shadow pressing against their backs, but gradually receding.

Marita kept up for a long time, but when she began to flag, Túrin simply picked her up, disregarding her protest. Ahead of them lay the forest; the river must be close.

The sound of thunder erupted behind them, the shock flinging them reflexively to their knees. A red meteor streaked across the sky and from high up, Coldagnir, wreathed in fire called: “They come! Get to the river. There is time!”

“Bloody Hells.” Marita picked herself to her feet and took off. “Ah, my knees!” Túrin swept her up again.

And, as they ran, they saw the murky light glinting on a field of stars emerging from the woods, the colour of waving plumes, sapphire, red, scarlet, yellow, saffron, cobalt, purple, saw the glitter of swords upraised, and the movement toward the river, a flood of silver.

The water splashed, icy against Beleg's legs, and he felt the spell unfurl like silk, saw the doeskin of his boots, felt the wind in his hair.
“Beleg!” Túrin cried his name, voice cracking.

Then, they were at the further shore, surrounded by mounted Elves, they were turning to one another, faces alight, and the cheer of thousands of hard, bright voices rose and shook the very trees.

“Beleg.” The water had splashed traces of the soot from him. Túrin looked harrowed to the bone, filthy, beautiful, and all the complications of his old life were in his lovely eyes. “I could not believe...I could not...” And the words were there, unsaid, like thunder. I almost killed thee again!

“I know,” Beleg said simply.

To the north, lightnings flickered over Carn Dûm.

OooOooO



Chapter 4 ~ Storm Front ~ by Spiced Wine


~ Storm Front ~




~ “He lies,” Coldagnir flashed. “Melkor lies in his teeth. I did not know this, and I do not serve him any more!”

Vanimórë glanced at Fëanor, who took Coldagnir's face between his hands, stared into those bronze eyes that looked back, unblinking.
“No,” he said finally. “Thou art bound to me by the Blood-kiss. I would see if thou wert false.”

“I will not be false to thee,” Coldagnir whispered like a lover's promise in the private dark. “I brought Eärendil because he was a prisoner, and because I could. Because I have been imprisoned, too. I knew nothing about any sacrifice to close the Void.”

“But is it true?” wondered Fëanor.

“It might be.” Vanimórë considered him, a thing he did not do often, pulling away from the force, the attraction, the blood. His lips shaped words, but silently. Then he shrugged. “I do not know. It would make sense.”

“If we need a Silmaril to close the Void,” Fëanor said hard, decisively. “We will use one. We cannot do anything about that now. When will he come out?”

“He will not. At least Melkor will not,” Vanimórë murmured. “He will drop Malantur like a child's broken toy now Túrin is free. No fun any more. But I think he may force Malantur himself out first. And then...something else will come.”

Coldagnir said, “Gothmog.”

OooOooO



Free, and sweet the wind swept over him, went to play among the treetops, sighing.

“Beleg,” he said. His thoughts tangled, drove his tongue to the roof of his mouth.

“There is nothing thou must say.” A voice like midnight water, like ancient starlight.

There was so much. And he could not begin. He plucked at his breeches, took in a breath.

“There was never any choice in thine actions, nothing not tainted by Morgoth's curse.”

I wonder.

Beleg smiled like rain and heartbreak. “And this time, it is different.”

No. It is not... He folded his arms, passed his tongue over his lips, scraped words out of his heart.
“I had thousands of years in my tomb to tell over what I did...and then, being born again I forgot,” he said, “until he peeled open my mind. I could see all the actions, the wrong turns, the steps I took that lead me to destruction, and not only of myself. Of Nargothrond. Of my sister. Of you. I regret all of it. But nothing more than...thy death.”

“Túrin.”

“If I were another man, none of it might have happened. But I am not. I was only, always myself.”

“I know. And as thou wert – as thou art – I love thee.”

Beleg flinched. “Why?” he asked baldly.

Surprising him, Beleg laughed. “Who asks why one loves? I watched thee grow, I gave thee my heart. What else had I to give?”

Túrin freed a hand and raised it. “What if I killed thee because...part of me knew it was thee, and hated thee?”

Branches moved in the wind-song. Shadows played across Beleg's moon-pallor. “He told thee that.” Not a question.

But what if it is true?” Words torn out of his deepest anguish.

Beleg took two fluid steps toward him. He had always moved like water flowing across the land, and so silently one never heard him. It was deadly, it was lovely.
“Ah,” he whispered. “I should never have made love to thee, should I?”

His face blurred in Túrin's sight for a heartbeat, then anger burned the tears dry.
“I wanted thee to. Every time. I will not have thee take that blame on thyself! Thou knowest it was me who seduced thee.

“And yet thou wert confused. And after, did hate it.”

“I hated that I wanted it,” he burst out. “That I shamed my family and Men by wanting it, to lay under thee, to have thee dominate me. Was I not a Man, a warrior?” He ground a boot into the humus. “And yet...later. My poor sister. We wed, all unknowing. She was lost, and I was lonely, no more than that except perhaps some call to the blood that we answered. But it was no good. I did not enjoy bedding her.” He swallowed. “She carried my child anyhow, one that she might have miscarried, or could have been born idiot or malformed. Oh, I know why Mortals should not interbreed.”

“That was neither thy fault nor hers.” Beleg came closer.

Túrin made an impatient movement. “So I told Him. No, I do not feel guilt for it, and in Nargothrond I truly believed I could take them to victory, that stealth and covertcy were not the way to wage a war. I was over-proud, but I did believe it. I would have had to be some-one else entirely for my life to have been different. But thou...thy death, I can never forgive myself for that.”

“I saw thy face. Thou didst not know me or any-one. The orcs had tormented thee, they could not do more, but it was enough. When thou didst wake, free of thy bonds, thine actions were reflexive, a warrior's.” Beleg's face was close now, concerned, patient, beautiful. “My last living thoughts were of loving thee. My thoughts in the Void circled around thee. Thou wert used by a god, Túrin. Destroyed by a god.”

“I destroyed myself! I had come to the utter end of everything and I could not...I could not live without thee. Not another moment.” His breath shuttled fast and hot in his throat. “I doomed myself to the Earth because I could not admit my defeat, because I wanted to face Morgoth again, and I knew if I went beyond the Circles of the World, into Death, I would never see thee again.”

Beleg said gently. “I am here. But thou sayest thou doth not want me in that way.”

“ I...” A flush scalded his cheeks. “I do not know how to be a Man who wants what thou wouldst give me.” Who admits he wants it.

“Thou wert not long with us in Dorath wert thou? Not long enough to learn. But surely thine upbringing in Imladris...”

“Elves are...different.”

“We still have our...preferences, although it is true that, as far as I know we are all born desiring both sexes.”

“Well, I am not an Elf,” Túrin said savagely. “I am a Man whom, it would seem wants to bend over and beg to be taken, mercilessly , without pity, by another male.”

The rain-coloured eyes held his. “There is nothing wrong, or even uncommon, in wanting that.”

“For a Man, for a warrior? They followed me, those outlaws, and I hated them, honourless and filthy. The Elves followed me in Nargothrond, all expecting me to be what I was: A leader, a warrior. None of them knew me. Finduilas' eyes clung to me, my sister's wound around me, under the dragon spell, both expecting me to be a Man, lusting after them. Sometimes, Eru! I hated all of them, every-one but thee, for wanting me to be something I was not, because here are our Laws, and this is natural, and what I wanted was never spoken of, or never admitted, or a flagrant sin. No-one knew me at all.!”

“Listen to me, now, Túrin. Listen.” His hands came down lightly, warm and firm. “Thou knowest, or can guess how long I lived in my first life, what I saw, experienced, and learned, and I will tell thee again and again that the facets of desire are multitudinous. Thou didst scarce have time to explore thine own...needs.”

His hands...they had made music on Túrin's body, once, left him trembling like a spent bow. He was trembling now.

“A god's curse came upon thee and thou didst shoulder it from a very young age. Thinks't thou no other male, Elf or Mortal has taken a weight of responsibility upon himself and grown to desire the release of giving himself wholly to another, to be controlled, to be helpless, to be used, even, can be a relief, a release.”

Túrin's breath went out of him in a heavy rush like a wave breaking. A release. A relief. Yes. Oh, gods, how much. To forget, to have no responsibilities, to give oneself up to being used...
“Only thou didst know me,” he said into the hot wake of his exhaled breath. “What I wanted, even that first time when I did not even know myself, only that I craved it.” And I was afraid, because thou wert so kind, that thou wouldst be gentle. I did not want gentleness. I wanted it rough, hard, painful. And thou didst give me all I desired. And after, each time, I was shamed to the dust. Not by thee, but my own unspeakable, unmanly needs.

“There are others like thee. Of course I knew,” Beleg whispered. “ Let me hold thee. Nothing else. It is too soon. But let me hold thee.”

He went into Beleg's arms, touched the roots of trees that had grown in times so ancient, so distant, he could find no name for them. He tasted minerals buried deep in the earth, felt the cold roar of winter rivers storming down from mountains whose heights lost themselves in cloud. He felt the pattern of sunlight upon bare skin, heard the deep silence of unnamed forests, caught his breath as an arrow sang from a black bow into the eye of a stag. Tasted blood and desire and dewfall like wine. Within Beleg's embrace he forgot his curse, his doom, forgot his parents, his sisters, both of them, forgot Doriath and Nargothrond and all his life. Beleg was everything he wanted, everything he was ashamed of wanting. And he was here, and alive, alive, alive.

It was like coming home.

OooOooO



“You know he will be of no more use to thee.” Mairon put a slight stress on the latter word.

Melkor's eyes trapped Time behind their blue-black granduer. He turned his head. The winds of the starless dark blew through his hair.
“Gothmog,” he said.

The demon smiled.

Or the approximation of one, Mairon thought.



“Wouldst thou go?” Eru had asked Mairon.

“Yes,” he had said.

“To him?”

“Some-one should follow him, and it will not be thee.”

“I have...released him.” The darkness sparkled, rainbows, stars, bloody sunsets.

“I know.”

“Thou canst not change his course, but then, that is not what thou doth desire, is it?”

“I would temper his...tastes.”

He thought Eru sounded amused. “Thou canst not do that either, Mairon. He is what he is.”

“Then why release him? He will wreak havoc.”

“He brought Life to this universe. And all that proceeds from life.”

Mairon smiled thinly. “Chaos, Eru. Thou speakest of chaos.”

“No. There is order in life. Thou wilt see it. Thou hast seen it. A beautiful mathematical order. A golden ratio. I speak of minds. The minds of the Children. Especially Men. They will be free to do exactly what they wish upon the Earth. And they will.”

“Why allow them to? Whatever they wish? Such is the path of chaos itself. No rule, no order...”

“Because that is how they are.” Laughter. “Melkor has now given them that chance.”



Mairon remembered. There had been...possibility. Then there was heat, heat and fire, and metals and water and bitter-sharp minerals and the hard glitter of gems...out of that came...himself.

Born out of the Earth, from the fires of its heart.

My world, not His, My world, not theirs.

But he was not as strong as Melkor, no-one was, or no-one that had come from Beyond.

He went to the Timeless Halls, drawn by the reek of power and his own voracious curiosity. There he learned in Aulë's forges. The knowledge was in him just waking to be woken, and he pushed his facilities to their utmost limits. It was beautiful.

And he hated. Manwë, that sapless fool! claimed Arda, Melkor claimed it. It was neither of theirs. But Melkor was the danger, the lodestone, the attraction, the chaos-that-would-shape-order. And, in the end, defeated by itself, could not.

Melkor had known whom he was. He had laughed. But in the beginning, he had said, “We will work together, thou and I.”

Such beguilement in a lie. Mairon had learned well that lesson. Hide the venom behind honey on the tongue. Let them swallow it before they taste the poison at the back of the throat.

“Thou art mine,” Melkor had told him, the Void in his eyes, power immeasurable, ego, and...pain. Always pain. “This body thou hast taken, this world that thou didst spring from, thy mind. It is mine.” And plundered him as he plundered the raw unformed Earth. The beginning of a long, long servitude. Mairon would not say slavery, because it was not, quite. He knew his own worth, knew his own intelligence, how to remain useful, powerful, valued. And Melkor was a magnet before he fell into vainglory and untempered hate. No, that force of attraction was too weak an analogy to explain what he was in those far distant times. The starstuff of the universe ran in him, shone in his hair, glimmered on his skin. His beauty warped all realities there were until rape or no, cruelty or no, Mairon could not pull away. He tested the winds that blew, hot and cold, mad and sane, knowing he could never overcome Melkor, unsure, then if there were any who could. Well then, if he could not rule his own world he would have some of it, under Melkor's dominion.

And he would wait.

He became exceptionally good at waiting.

But there were times, in the beautiful, insane caverns of Utumno, when Melkor could turn his bones to honeyed wine with just a look. It was calculated, naturally, but Mairon had not cared. Love was a strange concept to him, birthed out of the raw elements of Arda, although he did not think it was to Melkor, who loved, so Mairon believed, Eru, and fostered a furious baffled, yes hurt that Eru had turned his back, barred him from his Halls. Melkor was what he was and even he, at the end, could be no more or less than what he was.

His imprisonment in Mandos had watered the seeds of his madness, but the Silmarils had completed that process. Ages, Mairon had waited in Angband not knowing if Melkor would return. They had not been wasted years, not by any means. He had learned to rule alone (and to enjoy it, feeling his solitary power like an aphrodisiac) learned to impose his will on the denizens of the fortress – alone. He had experimented, and he had learned. He had even journeyed the lands, cloaked in shadows, observing.

And then one day, a blaze of fire yelled into his mind, and Melkor's presence was there, violent, vivid, agonized.

For an endless, frozen moment, Mairon simply stood in a collision of emotions: Hate, fear, triumph, hectic amusement because even the Valar could not chain Melkor forever. Then he opened his mind, sent it straight along that black-burning link between them, the link severed long ago and all the years since as stars wheeled beyond Thangorodrim's steaming vents, the link that now was re-awoken.

He saw. Did not know what it was that Melkor grappled with save that it was a hideous negativity, a sucking inward force that swallowed light. And he sent out the Balrogs.

When Melkor came, he was not the same. There was a reduction, his beauty a thing of cinders and malevolence. A god immolated. One hand clasped a fine-wrought casket that leaked white fire around its edges.

Melkor showed him Valinor, showed him the glory (and secret discontent) of the Eldar, showed him the mighty, damned House of Finwë. And Fëanor.

One might say then, that it was Fëanor who drove him mad.

The Silmarils exploded like blue-white stars, blasting back the flame-riddled blackness of Angband into hissing serpents.
Later, Mairon saw that beauty in the face of Maedhros Fëanorion, in bright-burning Fingolfin, still later in Vanimórë, his son, and in the silver eyes of Maglor. He saw it in Celebrimbor, in Tindómion Maglorion, in Gil-galad, challenging him and dying. The fire ran true and it was born of no dead Trees, but of the soul, the fire that touched others and always, always burned.

Melkor hated the Silmarils – and loved them beyond obsession. His hand was singed black, and his brow wore shadows like paint as they rode on his brow.

Mairon was fascinated by them. Their maker's soul pulsed within them, almost sentient. And Fëanor – how he wished he could have known such a creator, such unparalleled genius and beauty. A devouring fire. His name was a true one.

And fire devoured him. The Balrogs sent to slay him, even Gothmog, did not finish their task, driven away by the terrible sons of Fëanor, but they swore they had wounded him unto death. By the light of the Silmarils that, for an instant, dimmed, then winked out, Melkor knew it was so. He laughed, the sound so painful, so terrible, that all Angband flinched and cowered to its roots. The very stone answered that cry.

A waste, Mairon considered. But a threat removed.

Melkor also returned with a prophecy. It spoke of his ultimate defeat.
“Of course the Valar would like that gnawing at thee, my lord,” Mairon had shrugged.

Melkor looked at him from his throne, his eyes gone black.
“Thou didst never find my Slayers?” His long fingers traced patterns on the polished stone.

“I searched, but they do not answer to me, after all.”

“No.” Deep in the blackness, red sparks of wrath flickered. Mairon followed the tracings of his mind; they gouged into his own like etching acid.

“There might be a way,” Mairon mused. “Blood can bind to blood.” A warrior, peerless, bound to thee, to battle for thee.

“Eru cursed me to be seedless.” Melkor slammed a hand down.

“But I am not,” Mairon smiled a little. “And am I not thy lieutenant and loyal to thee?”

“How wouldst thou essay such a thing?”

“We need an Elf-woman. We can keep her alive...long enough.”

Melkor leaned forward. His shadowy hair undulated in power. The Silmarils spat fire.
“I want one of his blood,” he stipulated. “I want a Fëanorion.”



That was the difficulty. Of all the sons of Fëanor, only one had been married, and he had sired a son. (All this they dredged and dragged and tore from the mind of Maedhros Fëanorion when he was imprisoned in Angband). So close was their bond, so passionate and strange their lusts that they burned only for the men of their own bloodline. The seed of Fëanor ran in no woman. Or so Mairon had believed for many years.

But he came to know the taste and smell of that line, the starfire on his tongue, the pulse of it in the heart. It smelled like sandalwood and burning gems, a seductive burning.

And they experimented with captured Elven women. They could chain their ravaged souls to their bodies long enough for them to come to term, yes, but the offspring were deformed, dead or monsters. Sauron carefully noted each experiment, those bred with orcs or himself, and was disappointed. None of them were what he desired. He knew exactly what he wanted.

And he found it in one of the last places he would have expected, in Finrod Felagund's river-tower of Minas Tirith, that the Elves re-named Tol-in-Gaurhoth, Isle of Werewolves. A woman of Fëanor's seed, wife of the tower's captain.



The room stank of blood. Behind the throne, the werewolves prowled, lesser spirits Melkor had trapped into that form. Sometimes they walked as men will, at others they loped, massive and canine, on all fours. Their eyes were rubies, a sullen, poisonous red.

The man, Hendunár, was beautiful. Sauron smiled into his eyes, saw the star-jewel face of Fingolfin looking back. Hendunár knew he was dead; the knowledge had already slaughtered his heart. There was little left; only defiance.

“Thou art useful,” he said to the woman. She had fought. Noldor women tended to. “or thy womb will be anyhow, for a while. Thou, Hendunár,” he glanced at her husband, “are not. Take him to the kitchen,” he told the uruks. “Spit and roast him. Feast on him.”

The scream shocked, breaking against the stone. “No” the woman cried. “No! Take me, but spare him. I will do anything!”

The man strained against his heavy bonds.
What art thou going to do to her?

“None of thy concern, not any more. Consider thine own death, for it will be long. And unpleasant.”

Hendunár stared at Mairon from fabulous pale grey eyes. His white teeth snarled, spat out: “Thou wilt not break me!”

“They all say that,” Mairon smiled. “And thou, Móriel. Of course thou wilt do anything. Of course thou wilt.”

“Hendunár!” A torn wail, rising, rising to hysteria, lost amid the growls and grunts and jeers. “Hendunár!”

It took a very long time for Hendunár to die. They ate him while he roasted, while he lived. First he screamed for Eru, and then, at the end, for the lord he had loved. Mairon smoothed his face, the remnants of his beautiful hair.
“He died alone at the end,” he whispered tenderly. “quite alone.”

Made to watch, Móriel screamed herself hoarse, vomiting her horror onto the stones. And went mad. Then, later, Mairon came to her chamber, wearing her husband's guise and she wept, saying he was dead, he was dead!

“No,” he said gently. “See, I live. And we will make a child, now, Móriel, a child of your womb and my seed.” A son of cruelty.

She knew, Mairon thought, through her insanity, that he was not Hendunár, but she clung to the hope it was. Until all hope ended for her.

He had not foreseen she would bear twins. But twins ran in Fëanor's line. The girl, Vanya, would be useless, but when she became older she might please Melkor for a short time. The son was...everything he had imagined. He was perfect.

My son. My blood. Loyal to me.

He did not want a warrior for Melkor, but one to challenge him, and now he, Mairon must tread an ever more delicate and cautious path. Vanimórë must not be coddled like a spoiled princeling; he was to be a weapon and that required heat, shaping. Neither must he be brutalised unto death, for that would be wasteful. Fëanorion blood could not be squandered. There must be just enough violence, just enough cruelty to shape him. As it was, the girl-child had been a boon. Vanimórë loved his sister, and that made him just malleable enough to bend, added a drop of sensitivity to his steely strength. He was, in fact, the perfect alloy.

Vanya was like to her mother in looks, but Vanimórë owned the face of a Fëanorion and a Maia, a dazzling beauty that abashed the shadows of Angband. His eyes, darker than Mairon's, were lustrous purple that could darken to indigo in pain or rage. As he grew, his body might have been fashioned for war and sin, flawless in its sheath of ice-white skin, cloaked in hair as black as obsidian, softer than silk. He walked like a great cat, head high, arrogant, even supercilious. His wicked, hard-edged smile was Mairon's, and that one-sided, cynical curl of full lips, but the flashing blaze few ever saw was Fëanorion.

It was no onerous task to discipline him; in later years, free of Melkor's interference, (Melkor liked to make believe he was fucking Fëanor when he took Vanimórë, and that was dangerous. But his son had survived.) it was supremely satisfying to force him to unwilling pleasure.

And he was strong. Gods, he was strong. He had to be. He trained his body as he trained his mind, sharpening it on the whetstone of Mairon's intelligence. Few were those who did not bore Mairon. His son did not.

There was a destiny that fermented in Vanimórë, surely visible to the dullest sense, but Mairon believed it of his own shaping. He had not foreseen that it was far more than he could have imagined.

But Vanimórë had forgotten one thing (had he?) they were still always and forever, bound.

Bonds of darkness, chains of shame, pain, hate...and love.

OooOooO



He hung upon the air, and he watched as Carn Dûm disgorged its army. Five days it had been. And the Elves were waiting beyond the river.

The sky to the north fumed with the first flickers of a storm, lightning backlit the clouds.

He is coming.

Gothmog comes.

Malantur lead them. Some bore banners of their clans, but the vanguard, the great uruks, carried the eye of Mordor. Skulls clanked and jangled from poles. A raucous war-chant, filled with blood and violence, lifted above the tramp of heavy boots.

The Elven hosts sat their horses, silent. The Greenwood archers stood motionless.

Coldagnir could see Túrin, clad once again in Noldorin armour, gazing toward Angmar. Beleg was beside him, fingers about his great black bow. The Elves silence, in comparison to the din of the orcs, was uncanny.

I could go down, sear them with flame. I could pass through them like a knife of fire. They would wither, burning...

Wait, Vanimórë commanded.

Wait, Elgalad echoed for Coldagnir's mind alone.

Thou hast as much right to kill Malantur as any, Coldagnir suggested.

Oh, and I would very much like to, Vanimórë responded. But this is part of Túrin's destiny.

Malantur thinks it will be thee who comes for him. His mind is gone, look at the way he walks.

Melkor is forcing him out, so that Gothmog can use him to come through. If that barrier over Angmar can defeat a god, it can defeat a Balrog. That is no good to Melkor, Gothmog free but leashed within borders. He is testing.

I know.

Age upon age of buried memories. There had been only a handful who offered to shuck their true selves, bury it deep, become something else, something lesser, to watch over Melkor when he abandoned the Timeless Halls.

Coldagnir had never directly lied to any-one. So neatly had Eru enfolded the god named Urphiel into the just-waking self-sense of the Valaraukar, that he had believed he was indeed one of them, his own awareness locked away.

Thou wilt remember, Eru had promised. in time.

But 'in time' had been too long. Utumno had broken him not because he was weak, but because he was cast adrift, unable to be himself, crushed under colossal power. Elgalad had come for him and Nemrúshkeraz (or Coldagnir or Urphiel) had been comforted, and he remembered and became stronger, (or willed himself stronger) but darkened enough to survive and take pleasure in rape, and fire and war and slaughter and all the obscenities of his slavery, even while a part of him loathed it.

And Gothmog. Possessive from the beginning, like a foot upon one's neck. Little brother. Whips, pain, golden chains, fire within, fire without, burning, burning.

But I am not thy brother, Gothmog. And I am not lesser than thee.

Northward, the lightning ran red as blood along the storm-front.

He is coming.

OooOooO



End Notes:

Thank you for reading :)
I would be grateful for a review if you liked anything.

Chapter 5 ~ Fire-eater~ by Spiced Wine



~ Fire-eater ~



Fëanor moved, swinging his stallion down the front of the line, to where Fingolfin sat astride his own warhorse, white as frost. Wheeling to bring his own black alongside, he leaned and said, “Be warned, if thou shouldst die here, I will drag thee back from Irmo myself.”

Under the crowned helm, Fingolfin's eyes flicked to him. A faint smile moved his mouth.
“Irmo would not keep us as Mandos did, brother. This is nothing. I live for the day we take war to Valinor!”

And I cannot wait for the day thou doth sit beside me, both of us High Kings, ruling as one!

Fingolfin flashed those magnificent star-blue eyes at him.
Thou wilt be waiting long, then.

Says the man who took me on a night of the Midwinter Solstice, using blood to ease his way. Always a surprise, half-brother, lover.

The eyes widened, then went blank.
The Elves of Valinor will never allow such a rule, and thou knowest it. Forget it. Bury us in the past, where this...former relationship belongs.

Never! Fëanor snarled and swung his stallion away. It stamped, snorting, as he watched the flood of orcs closing on the river.
“Come on,” he said through his teeth. “Come on!”

Be careful! Fingolfin threw at him. Fëanor flung him back a glare. Saw the glittering white smile.

OooOooO


Coldagnir watched as the first orcs crossed the river, heard their roars as they struck the shore. He watched as arrows curved up and swept down, slicing the air turning it, for a moment, black; saw them hit, orcs dropping, trampled under heavy, iron-studded boots. He saw the exact moment the Mouth waded from the water, beyond the protection of Túrin's ancient curse.

And he felt the incoming storm of Gothmog like a fever in his flesh.

The line of silver and black met with a clash that sent birds screaming from the trees. Great black ravens, glossy gor-crows wheeled overhead, scenting carrion.

The silver-clad warriors drove deep into the orcs ranks; from high in the air they looked like a toothed maw, biting. The Mouth was surrounded by a ring of uruks, guarding him as they hacked and cut. Túrin rode to meet him, Beleg, Lómion, Eärendil, Edenel and the Immortals at his side.

Túrin fought as if he were filled with cold fire, with all the skill of his old life, and more. Anglachel burned white along its edges as it sang the pleasure of death.

The ring-shield around Malantur buckled and broke as the Elves and Men smashed into them. Túrin plunged his sword through a gap in one uruk's armour, wrenched it back in a spray of dark blood and dived through the gap its staggering body opened. To face Malantur.

The Mouth was old, steeped in corrupt sorcery, and experienced. Túrin was young, veined and formed by the weight of a doom so old kingdoms had risen and fallen since it was set upon him. He moved like chained lightning, never pausing, never giving his opponent an inch, wielding the two-handed blade as if it were no heavier than a willow-branch.

He ducked in, spun under a heavy downstroke, then whirled and kicked out, unbalancing Malantur, who stumbled back, caught his foot on a hummock and went down heavily on his back.

Túrin spun Anglachel in his hands, rammed it straight down through the chain mail at the Man's throat. There was no barrier; the sword's iron could cleave all other metal.

The Mouth spasmed, legs kicking, drawing up, blood pluming. The end seemed too quick, but Coldagnir knew the young man's whole body, his entire will, had gone into that death-blow.

Red lightning cracked like a whip across the sky.

“Get back!” he shouted to the warriors around Túrin. “Get away from him!” His voice deepened to a Balrog's thunder.

The artery of light dropped like a spear from the clouds, blasting steaming turf. Malantur's twitching body burst into flame.
And a great shape rose from it, broadening, stretching to far more than man-height. It reared up, becoming horrifically solid, fire breaking like lava through black skin, glinting past giant wolf-canines. The vast sword came alight, a whip whirled, cracked a stream of flame. A bestial bellow slammed like thunder against the air.

Túrin fell into a fighting stance.

Coldagnir cried: “Gothmog!”

Ember red eyes rose from Túrin's face.
”Little brother.”

Coldagnir allowed himself to become. Not his truest, oldest self; he must battle Gothmog as a Balrog, but not the one Gothmog had known, always weaker, a victim to be used and twisted and corrupted.

His wings burst into flame, he fell from the air before Gothmog, landed, light-footed, sword and whip in hand.

Gothmog laughed, if such a sound could be called laughter.
“Little one. Thou hast become what thou wert, so long ago, falling to Utumno. Remember thou that? Thou wert like a bloodstain on the snow. So innocent. For a little while. Remember how thou didst come to beg for me inside thee, and our Master? He sends thee greetings.” His eyes swept beyond. “Ah, Fingon.” The name carried a redolence of pleasure, remembered death. “So many of thee have died at my hands. I shall enjoy slaying thee again.”

Coldagnir was aware of the Noldor, their hissing fury, their desire to join battle. Fingon shouted, voice like a call to arms: “Try me, abomination!”

Fingon had stood like a lone, valiant star under Gothmog's shadow, his lords dead about him.
I remember.
And, as if the high king of the Noldor were nothing, were beneath contempt, Gothmog had trampled his beauty and courage into the muck and mire of his own blood and broken bones.

Coldagnir struck.

The grass burned under them, smoke rose, thin, acrid. Their blades met with a clanging tintinnabulation.

What is this? Gothmog taunted. Thou hast changed. Grown some courage in thy freedom. It will avail thee nothing. Thou art mine. And I will take thee and swallow thee.

His whip lashed out, curling, a coward's weapon, Coldagnir had always thought, even when he used it, pinning the opponent's arms so he could not fight. It was how Fëanor had been disarmed, Fingon, Glorfindel, Ecthelion. But Ecthelion had killed Gothmog anyhow, ramming his spiked helm into the Balrog's chest.

Coldagnir sprang close, too close for the whip to crack about him, too close for Gothmog to use his great sword. Fire against fire. He held his own blade one-handed, drew his dagger, stabbed up into the wrist that held the whip-handle, slicing tendons. Then he was ducking, rolling, as Gothmog roared pain, ichor pouring from the wound. He tried to clench his fingers, and could not. The whip fell like a snake, its fire fading.

“I will suck clean thy bones!” Gothmog vowed, leaping after Coldagnir, swinging his blade down. It gouged deep into the dirt. Before he could pull it clear, Coldagnir whirled in, jabbed into a laval eye. Even his true height was no match for Gothmog's towering form, but he was faster, more lithe. Nevertheless, Gothmog's furious swing clipped his shoulder and bit through the mail. Blood sheeted the bright metal.

Coldagnir let his wings burst forth again, backwinged across the river. Gothmog followed but, blind in one eye, his depth perception was faulty. He plunged, fell full-length into the water, which boiled into vapour.

The billowing steam isolated them. And so, at the end, it was just the two of them. Gothmog plowed out of the river, roaring, a rush like an avalanche, black and demonic now, his fire half-quenched. Coldagnir let him come until the last moment, then jumped forward from one foot. As the great sword drove into him, he thrust his dagger into Gothmog's chest. It went in to the hilt.

Pain blasted red-black through his mind. Reality compacted into agony, and nothing else existed for a long, sightless moment. His universe stopped.

And then he remembered, and with a shattered cry, coughing scarlet, pulled himself further onto Gothmog's blade. Blood ran like fire down his belly, his groin, his legs, over his hand, his arm.

He pressed his lips to Gothmogs and pulled. With sheer will, the blaze of his hate and retribution, he sucked Gothmog's life-force out.

Flame poured into him, streaming from Gothmog's mouth, searing,boiling, burning, but he was equal to it. He always, truly, had been. He swallowed it like wine.

Gothmog jerked, roared, wrenching back his fanged head. He opened his maw mantis-wide, and lunged. Tearing Coldagnir's face away.

The world went dark. Flayed nerves screamed a crescendo that overtook his mortal wound. He did not see Gothmgg falter, stagger, hardly heard him fall. Coldagnir wrestled, as he too fell, with the desperate, raging soul within him. It writhed, lashed with a last appalling strength before he shut it impotently within his own. Coffining it.

Edenel had given him the first inkling of the idea. The Ithiledhil had eaten the hearts of the first orcs, to try and consume something of their original Elven souls. And Coldagnir was a god.

But a god whom could die. Was dying.

Voices sounded far away, touches came through waves of limitless pain.

He said, through a lipless mouth. “I have him.” It did not emerge in those words, not without a mouth to shape them. He tried again with his mind. I have eaten his soul. I have it.

Hands clasped him. He could not see, but he knew it was Elgalad, Vanimórë, Fëanor. Fingon. The latter he had not expected. He wanted to thank them. He had not realised death would be so unutterably lonely. His fingers tightened convulsively.

He wanted to see them, just once more. They had all given him a chance to fulfill the mission he had taken upon himself so long ago. He could not defeat Morgoth, perhaps no-one ever could, but Gothmog, once high captain of Angband, a terror and a curse, killer of kings, he, Coldagnir had claimed.
He longed to say 'Goodbye' but he could not speak.

Astonishingly, blessedly, the pain dwindled. He was dropping away from it, falling, falling. He heard a cry of “Coldagnir, no!”
Then there was silence.

Eru, he thought.

And died.

OooOooO


The army drove past the two corpses, slamming deep into the orc lines. They picked out the leaders, the great uruks, and they slew and slew until the smaller breeds turned and ran back toward Carn Dûm.

Coldagnir lay like a ruined statue on the crisped grass, scarlet hair spread about him in a defiant fireflower. Gothmog was a fallen titan, Coldagnir's lovely face caught in his teeth, a rag of white flesh, a bronze eye...

“Hells and bloody damnation!” Fëanor cried. He knelt, pressed a kiss to the wreck of beauty, smearing blood on his lips. He wiped it away with one gauntleted hand. “Why?”

“Thou didst hear what he said?” Vanimórë asked, his voice tempered to ice. “It was the only way he could think of to utterly defeat Gothmog, and not merely send him back to the Void.”

“Thou didst know what he purposed?” Fingolfin asked like a whipcrack.

“I would have taken Gothmog myself, had I known.”

“Coldagnir has not gone there, then?” Feanor's eyes snapped star-white.”Into the Dark?”

“He said once that h-he hoped that if he made requital for his acts, that he could g-go back to the Timeless Halls if he died.” Elgalad closed his eyes. “Goodbye, dear Coldagnir. I th-think thou hast paid in full.”

“Must evil always take that which is beautiful?” Túrin demanded, achingly. “I doubted him, for a while, but...he was not false.” He flung round on his heel, stalked back toward the woods.

Maedhros, tall and magnificent in his armour, strode to Gothmog's fallen form, drew his sword and hacked down through the thick neck, once, twice, then dragged it apart from the corpse by strings of ropy hair.

“This,” he said savagely. “I am boiling of its flesh and nailing to the wall when we return home. For thee.” He looked at Fingon, who returned a sad, hard smile.

“Leave the rest of it for the carrion,” his father nodded. “Coldagnir, we will burn. Let he whom was fire go in fire.”

OooOooO


The crackling storm broke in a curtain of hail and light that illuminated and then obscured Carn Dûm. The south wind rose and pushed it away over the glowering mountains.

They piled the orc carcasses and set them alight. Coldagnir they lifted high onto his own pyre. For a moment it seemed, as the flames consumed him, as if his face had been restored to all its original, unmarred beauty. He glowed. Then the fire roared up as though fed with oil. Sparks lifted into the sky.

Maglor sang, his voice molten, dropping and curling into their hearts as he told of Túrin's battle with the Mouth, and then Coldagnir's duel with his enemy, his death, alone in the mists, and his last act of vengeance upon Gothmog. Daeron's voice soared into an impossibly glorious descant. Such a song, Vanimórë thought, could indeed speed Coldagnir's spirit on, on wings of fire, to the Timeless Halls.

He settled his arm about Elgalad's shoulders.
“He loved thee.”

“Yes,” Elgalad affirmed in a whisper. “And th-thee. And Fëanor. Others, too. He w-wanted so desperately to prove h-himself.”

“He did,” Vanimórë said grimly.

Elgalad turned his head into Vanimórë's neck. He made no sound, but tears slid down his cheeks. Vanimórë's skin grew wet with their silent spill. He drew Elgalad closer, pressed a kiss to the shining silver hair.



The mood in the encampment that night was muted, grim. Túrin was lauded for slaying Malantur, but seemed to take little satisfaction in the act as it had only brought one worse than he, and lost them Coldagnir.

Vanimórë went to him, later, found him sitting stubbornly, probably deliberately alone, in his tent, cleaning his armour. He set it aside, and rose, but his face was wary, closed.

“Thou didst fight superbly today,” Vanimórë began.

“I killed Malantur, not Morgoth, There is little to make one proud in that. I have trained with Elves and gods. He was slow, clumsy.”

“There is enough and more to be proud of. Malantur was a stain upon the world.” Vanimórë regarded him for a long moment. “Grieve for Coldagnir. I do. But Gothmog was the strongest of the Balrogs, and he would come again when Melkor returns. Coldagnir suffered under him for a long time. He had the right to meet him.”

“He must have come here knowing he would die,” Túrin said slowly.

“So thou didst go to meet Glaurung, knowing thou might die.”

“And cared not,” he flashed. “If Glaurung was all of Morgoth I could reach, I would kill him, or die attempting it. My life was...a burden to me by then. But Coldagnir loved life.”

“Yes, he did.” Why did I not see, why did I not know what he intended? “But he loved others more. He loved the Children, Elves, Men.”

Túrin made a sound in his throat, fisted his hands.

“And too, there was vengeance.”

“There is always that,” Túrin agreed, steel flaring in his eyes.

“Beleg once told me that when thou wert young, thou didst wish to be an Elf,” Vanimórë tossed at him without preamble.

Túrin blinked, clearly startled. “I remember. Yes.” He unlocked his hands. “But what was the use of wishing it? Eru designated me a Mortal.”

“I can give thee the blessing – or curse – of a long life, if thou wilt. As I did the Men who now call themselves my Immortals.”

The lovely grey eyes widened on him. “My lord?” Then distaste curled his lips. “Like the Mouth?”

“Malantur was corrupt before he even came to Mordor, a spoiled brat of a Man,” Vanimore said through his teeth. “My own are not like them, and some have lived very long, since I ruled Sud Sicanna after the Last Alliance. Thou knowest them. Do they seem corrupt to thee?”

Túrin swallowed. “No. They told me thou didst give them thy blood to drink.”

“In essence, though it is a little more complex. Blood magic is ancient, and it is effective. But for this, there must be immortality in the blood used – Ainu, not Elven, for Elves can die. My father cannot, in any real sense. He is capable of rehousing his own body, or would be, were he not shut in the Everlasting Dark.”

Túrin paced the small chamber. “I do not think....I do not think like an Elf,” he burst out, flushing. “I wish I did. I loved them, but I could never think as one of them!”

“Perhaps, with time, thou couldst come to,” Vanimórë suggested gently. “That is one thing Elves have: a sufficiency of time, barring unlucky mischance, to understand themselves. I do not think, as a Mortal, thou wilt find what thy heart desires.” The blush deepened. “And thou art too great a legend, I believe, to live out a life here, now. Thy fate is greater, different. Thou art marked by it.”

“I was marked by a curse! I and all my family.”

“But they are gone, and thou doth remain. For a reason.”

“The Dagor Dagorath?” Túrin barked a harsh laugh. “I heard of the prophecy, thinking it was made for a Man after whom I was named. Is it even true? Morgoth called it a foolish hope.”

“He would not have us hope at all,” Vanimórë replied curtly. “As for me, I believe that thou wilt face him, as will many of us. And we will need every warrior. Glorfindel and I have been made gods, but we are not Melkor, a force from before Time. Thou art needed.”

The young face showed suddenly an indescribable weariness, Ages of death, of waiting, all the pain and hate of his first life.

“No-one asks to be a legend.” Vanimórë gathered him, carefully against his breast. Túrin, at first stiff, unresponsive, melted gradually into his arms. “But thou art. Thou art. If thou doth die, I think thou wilt still return to fight him in the end.”

Túrin trembled, gathered himself with a deep breath.
“I think I have always known that I would,” he said. His wide shoulders set. “I said it was not ended.” He pressed a hand to his chest, where Gurthang had pierced him. “Nothing is ever ended. Very well. I accept thine offer, Dark Prince.” A rueful expression gleamed in his eyes. They were fixed now, unfaltering, level as arrow-bolts. “Give me thy blood.”

OooOooO


That, he had not expected.

Gothmog was gone, more than gone. Mairon had felt his struggle, heard his despairing, furious screams as his soul was eaten by the dying Coldagnir.

Interesting.

Melkor had stormed away, (not that there was any away in the Void, no here not there) or at least was gone for now, Night whipping behind him like the cloud of his hair. Gothmog had been favoured, useful, loyal. A weapon of death and destruction. At his feet lay the deaths of Fëanor, Fingon, Ecthelion of Gondolin (whom had also been his own doom) and so many more. And he had worn those deaths like trophies.

Mairon smiled.

His son's mind had flashed open in shock, and Sauron had seen, heard, felt, all that Vanimórë did before the walls shot up again, not against him, but from a need to control his grief before others.

Coldagnir. I had no idea thou wert so powerful.

In Utumno and Angband, he had been...not weak, no Balrog was, but lesser than Gothmog, and used as his toy with great relish. All the Valarauker had become dark, cruel, twisted, but when Coldagnir came he had been radiantly beautiful, a pleasing offering to Melkor.

Mairon did not know how he had returned to his fair form. He had been a willing enough participant in slaughter, in rape, in war. Not at the beginning though, like the early Elves he had come to Utumno pristine, and been warped.

And Coldagnir had not come into the Everlasting Dark so perhaps he had indeed returned to the Timeless Halls with his prisoner.

Mairon remembered the Halls well. A world shaped and imagined from the mind of one who knew no limitations, such a place could never exist within a physical reality. And it was not real, of course, but a perception of Eru's mind, decorated by the imaginations of the gods who dwelt there.

It was there, he had first seen Melkor. Even then he had been notorious, not quite one of the gods, something other something perilous, whom had already disrupted the purity of creation. He did not go among them, spending much of his time in Eru's presence. Mairon had lingered long in Aulë's smithies before he set eyes upon Melkor on a time that he too, wandered toward Eru's mighty halls.

There was a garden, low sprawling drifts of purple and gold flowers, a fountain in a double spiral of clear crystal, all surrounded by balusters of silver-white stone. Melkor leaned his hands against one staring into the distance. The light turned his sumptuous hair into liquid jet. He raised his unhumanly beautiful face. His eyes were blue-black and seemed to hold stars.

“Whom art thou?” he asked, as if he had a right to know. “And why dost thou seek Eru?”

Mairon shrugged. “I seek...knowledge,” he said. “I came to learn.”

Those eyes narrowed on him, stripped the veils from his mind with one glance, and became intent.
“Thou art Arda,” he said. “That world he loves so, that forms even now, out in the deeps of time and space.” His fine mouth quirked bitterly.

“I was born of its heart, yes,” Mairon replied equably.

“Why didst thou come?”

“To learn. Everything.”

“Everything? Thou art ambitious.” His face changed, became warm, charming. But there was a danger in it. Mairon's flesh scorched. “What did he name thee?” The question was almost teasing.

“Mairon.”

“Mairon.” Melkor drew the syllables across his tongue. “Talk to me, Mairon. I can teach thee more than Eru ever would.”

It was the first time Mairon felt desire. And whom would not, faced by this force, this power, this beauty? He explored the revelation curiously.

“But does not Eru know all?” he wondered.

“He believes we should learn of ourselves. But I, unlike these here,” he gestured contemptuously from the mountain, down to the far-off glitter of palaces, towers, gardens. Home of the gods. “am part of him. There is much I do know.” The long lashes fanned down over the star-black eyes. “Walk with me, Mairon.”

Thus it had begun. And it had never ended.

OooOooO


Chapter 6 ~ Stars That Bloom On The Edge Of Night ~ by Spiced Wine


~Stars That Bloom On The Edge Of Night ~


OooOooO


~ Summer stars bloomed over Imladris on the eve of Tarnin Austa. Festal lights turned the valley into an enchantment of colour, and music floated in the warm, ripe air. The mood, however, was not one of celebration; it was thoughtful. Angmar had been the Noldor's first true strike back in this, their new life.

Some were conspicuous by their absence. Turgon and his people had been conveyed back to New Cuiviénen by Glorfindel, as had Finrod, to celebrate the solstice in his home. As he had each summer and winter. Fingon and Maedhros also went; only Maglor remained of his brothers, and Celebrimbor, renewing his friendship with Tindómion. Most of the Wood-Elves had gone, but Bainalph represented his people. Edenel too, stayed, although the Ithiledhil were not longer accounted a clan of the Greenwood and they too, would remove to New Cuiviénen .

The conversations had a somber flavour, mostly of Angmar and, towering far beyond them like a black thunderhead rising above the mountains, the war against Morgoth that would come. No-one knew when.

Fëanor distanced himself from the main gathering, took his wine-cup and walked until he found a quiet corner, a stone bench set into a graceful balustrade. He sat down.

He remembered, (again), Coldagnir's death-match with Gothmog, and before that, how uncertain he had seemed, almost diffident, a newborn in a strange world. The Coldagnir of Angmar was not the same person; there had been no fear in him at all.

He lied to me, he thought. It was all an act. But why? He had asked Glorfindel, asked Vanimórë. The latter said, “He wanted Gothmog to underestimate him, clearly.”

“But why would he want us to?”

“Perhaps he grew accustomed to playing that part in his old life.”

Fëanor shook his head now. His father had told him when he was a child that he both loved and hated too easily. Fëanor had not loved Coldagnir but he had been deeply attracted to him and become fond of him, liking his air of submission, rare for he who preferred dominant men. That had quite obviously been an act, too.

A bad death. He had bound the Balrog to him by the blood-kiss oath, and felt his agonals. But it was a triumphant one, too, every-one agreed. Yes, and still, it hurt. Every death now was too many. And Gothmog had despoiled Coldagnir as he had despoiled Fingon and so many others, beauty cruelly and deliberately ruined by viciousness.

He upended his goblet, tipped the wine upon the ground.
“I will not forget thee, Coldagnir. I hope thou art gone home to Eru.”

There was a scent, like flowers forged of ice and steel with an under-essence of deep, dark, unexpected heat. Hands drew his braids down his back, rested on his shoulders, began a slow massage of the tension knotted there.

“I am sick at heart,” he said.

“I felt it.”

“He planned this all along, and never hinted at it, or not to me. But he should not have had to die. No more. Has there not been enough death?”

“Enough to last an eternity.” A pause. “I grieve for him also. We were very fortunate. Our own wounded are recovering well.”

“I know, and am glad of it.” He was. “Coldagnir was our loss. And yet he did not confront Gothmog before.”

“He had fallen, then. Been corrupted.”

“He was still corrupted when he woke. He changed when Glorfindel was about to kill him. Why? How? Who woke him?”

“He did not know. I have spoken to Glorfindel; he does not know why Coldagnir became as he was before, beautiful, unspoiled.”

“But we do know, now: To face Gothmog. And how could any-one know that he would, save Eru?”

The hands slowed. “Thinks't thou Eru woke him?”

“If one of the Valar did then they know too much,” Fëanor said grimly. “But it is possible Eru would want Coldagnir to think it, or he enabled one of the Valar to do it. Or it was some-one, something else.”

“Dana? Her objectives are not ours at all.”

“Thou art correct. No, I do not believe it was she.”

The massage began again. “Did we not always believe, or rather, were we not always told, that Eru did not involve himself in the affairs of Arda?” Fëanor curled his lip. “I am not inclined to believe anything we were told. Even Coldagnir did not tell us the truth.”

“Perhaps he thought thou wouldst forbid it.”

“I would have.” Fëanor dropped his head as strong thumbs pressed down on his tight muscles. The waterfalls filled the night with mournful music. “And I would have had no right to. I felt his dying.” (As I felt thine, even bodiless in the Dark) “It was terrible.”

“The blood-kiss? Of course. And yes, it was.” The beautiful, even voice carried the blood and pain of ancient memories.

“I was terrified for my sons, for thee, for those I love, my people. It did not occur to me we would lose Coldagnir.”

“It seems a thousand Ages ago since I saw men fall in pitched battle around me, and yet too short a time ago. One does not become accustomed.”

“I saw enough,” Fëanor responded. “before I died, and left my sons and the rest of the Noldor to carry the brunt of the Doom. Not this time. But Morgoth...” How do we kill the unkillable? He wanted to ask. Coldagnir had shown them how, but they themselves were Elves not...whatever Coldagnir was.

Because whatever he had been (was) he was more than a Balrog. Or Maia were far more powerful than the Elves had been lead to believe. Fëanor did not want to lose Glorfindel or Vanimórë to Morgoth if the price were death. And, as far as he knew, they were the only ones who had the degree of power needed to damage Morgoth.

Hearing Morgoth again, even channeled through another, had ignited the fires of hate which had never guttered, but had been banked while they lived this new life. They had to be; he had learned. One's obsessions should be close enough to touch or all that passion is wasted...

The hands stopped. He reached up, caught a strong, slim wrist before it could pull back.
“Dost thou feel there is a great deal we do not know?” he asked. “None of us knew that Morgoth was sealed into the Void by a Silmaril and a living soul bound to it.”

Tendons flexed under his grip. “Ah yes. I feel that most strongly.”

“What else do we not know?”

“A great deal.” Dryly.

It was, save for the water, quiet here; the starlight so bright the leaves of the old apple tree growing here cast sharp black shadows.

“Who else is lying to us?”

“Or not telling us the whole truth. A subtle difference.”

He pushed out a breath.
”Perhaps we are not asking the right questions,” he mused.

“I believe Glorfindel and Vanimórë are truthful.”

“Vanimórë,” Fëanor repeated, and all the tension flowed back into his shoulders. “I cannot make a scratch in that surface. I have never known any-one so closed. He is polite, charming, and always the ice is there.”

“Thou must not push him; what he does is self-defense.”

“I know.” Fëanor moved impatiently. “But against us? His family...” He let the words die, smiled wryly to himself. He did know, of course he did. It angered him because he had seen it before, and many times. When people (un-named) did not want him to get too close, the same ice-wall went up. But he would give Vanimórë time because his history, his pain, demanded respect. And he was not entirely alone; he had Elgalad.

“Tarnin Austa,” he said, changing the subject though not forgetting it. “How didst thou celebrate it?” He released the hand, patted the stone seat. “Sit beside me.”

Rich clothing rustled faintly. “In the days of the Long peace, we would wait in silence for the sun to rise and the celebrations would begin at dawn. I was grateful for the summer; they were all too short in the north.”

There had been no such celebration in Valinor, with the dome over Aman blocking out Sun and Moon; their lives were lived around the Tree-light. There were feast days, nonetheless. Fëanor had detested them until his sons became old enough to attend, (or he could look across the gathering and catch his half-brother's eye).

“The summer sometimes reminded me of Valinor. Those long warm afternoons when time seemed to stop.” The profile turned to Fëanor was shadowed by the tree, but no shade could dim the glimmer of his flesh, like carved ice, as stern and as pure. Black lashes fanned thick and heavy over the startling eyes.

Ah yes, those times, in Miriel's garden hidden from all eyes save the Valar's. Voyeurs, Fëanor thought in distaste. The scent of flowers and wine, and grass...

“Why didst thou come?” he asked without stress.

“I do not like to see thee sad, and that is thy mood tonight. The anger has gone, but sorrow has replaced it. It is strange to see thee unhappy. It...troubles me. And thou art not amorous.”

If thou dost truly think that my desire for thee is influenced by my mood, thou art underestimating the both of us. But Fingolfin always had underestimated the passion Fëanor felt for him, although it seemed impossible that he could; Fëanor had never hidden it.

He did not say it. Tonight, for the first time since that winter solstice years ago, Fingolfin had sought him out. In private.

Since that unforgettable night, relations between them had been almost strictly professional as befitted High King and High Prince. It had been enough, seemingly, to lull the suspicions of Turgon and his faction to the extent that when he was not building his city in the mountains, Turgon could be almost, almost cordial to Fëanor during meetings of the High Council. A great deal of that was due to the influence of his wife. Turgon would never forgive the Fëanorions for her death, laying it wholly at their feet, but she was returned to him, and even he must feel that his grudge was bootless in the warmth of her living presence.

It had become similar to Valinor, save there were no secret trysts, only the occasional unguarded meeting of eyes, a voice that changed its tone to something more than politeness. (But only if one were listening hard).

It was not enough for Fëanor, never would be but he had come to accept, during long, frank talks with his eldest son, that what he desired was anathema to most of the Noldor. At the moment. The day would come, when he had thrown down the crumbling gods, when his people followed him back to glory.
“Then,” Maedhros had said, “when we are more than what were were, than we are now, when we have truly broken the chains the Valar set on our minds and souls, then, father, thou shalt see, they will not oppose it. Their minds will be freed. But now? The Noldor lived in Aman for thousands of years, and after that the Doom was laid on us. Few escaped it. We never truly had the chance to grow as a people, to become what Eru meant us to be.”

Maedhros spoke unpalatable sense but it was the truth. Once before Fëanor had let madness and rage rule him. He could not tread that path a second time. For his sons, if nothing else. And for Fingolfin.

There had been other conversations with Edenel.
“Your father and I were born handfasted,” he had said. “Close as any twins, two halves of one whole in truth. The sin, as the Valar would name it, is part of your very blood. It is why the blood of Finwë looks to itself before any other. Only another can complete them. It was no sin to us. It was unquestioned and unquestionable.”

“So did I feel,” he replied. So he still felt.

Thus he curbed himself, and ached for the unattainable. There were enough besotted men among the Noldor to fill his bed all night, every night, and sometimes he did indulge himself, but only with those who viewed sex as a pleasure not a promise. And only men. His status left him open to a great deal of ambition (as it did all the unmarried princes of Finwë's line) and he wanted no woman bearing his child, angling for marriage and queenship. The only person he wanted sitting on a throne beside him was this man, who sat next to him now.

He said now, simply, “I thank thee.”

There had been times like this in Valinor, if all too-few, usually the day after great festivals when Tirion was languid and lazy. They caught at stolen hours then, and after the first frenzy of lovemaking, would lie together, sometimes silent, simply absorbing one another's presence and closeness, sometimes talking, before desire consumed them again. And it always did. Neither of them had ever truly made love before, not to some-one who matched them, whom they lusted for. Together, they discovered passion, and it was magnificent.

We were in love.

Fëanor almost smiled. How strange that it had never struck him before, that easy, simple answer. He had marked Fingolfin as his and decided to take him, because he was superb and haughty and somehow untouchable. (And mine. Mine). And the stresses of their blood-relationship had created an undertow of constant tension, but then, before the betrayal, they had been in love.

They matched, they fitted. The whole affair had been wondrously fun. Until he had spoiled it with suspicion (it was difficult to separate, in the end, which rumours he and Fingolfin had put about, and which had their roots in Morgoth's poison – or the Valar's ) and his taking of Glorfindel, because it was not in him to have one partner, not even one so glorious as Fingolfin. He did not think now, it was in Fingolfin's nature, either. (Yet he had to wonder if, even then, his mind had been cracking with feelings of impotence and the underlying fear of their entrapment in Valinor, because would the Valar ever let them go?) And then pride had been thrown into the simmering pot and, jealousy. A lover's quarrel inflated a thousand times by the hothouse atmosphere of Tirion.

Then came the day he drew steel on Fingolfin. Even that had seemed unreal, some kind of play-acting, private words running under the spoken ones, furious but intimate as a lovers whisper. But the Valar had stepped in then, and made Finwë's High Kingship of none account, banishing Fëanor to Formenos.

Finwë's death, the theft of the Silmarils, the Oath, the Doom... all those things followed.

Yet the passion between the half-brothers had not died, merely become more complicated, more nuanced.

And here he was, still, he realised, in love.

But was Fingolfin? That night of the winter solstice. What had that been about, really: power, passion, hate, all of them? He knew, after his explosion of rage, that Fingolfin's repudiation of him had been a ploy to make him back away. But he could not control the hurt the feeling of a knife in the heart wielded by one he trusted and loved. Yet part of him, unwillingly, came to comprehend Fingolfin's actions and still, still wanted him.

It had been truly revelatory to feel Fingolfin's mastery. The savage sex had given Fëanor such incandescent pleasure that he felt the memory of it in his body for days after. He had meant to have Fingolfin that night, and so he had, albeit in a way he had not envisaged. His half-brother had turned the tables on him.

And I loved it.

He wanted, incongruous impulse amid the sadness! to laugh, but at himself, not Fingolfin.

“What is it?”

“I was merely thinking,” he said, quashing any visible signs of amusement. And then, lest Fingolfin ask what he was thinking of and leave, and because he wanted his half-brother to stay, he added: “Of going back to Aman. Of how to face Morgoth and defeat him.”

“We will do it. We have to.”

Fingolfin was looking at him with those startling star-blue eyes. Fëanor had to physically stop himself from moving to ease the discomfort of a full erection. “Thou art not amorous,” Fingolfin had said. How little thou knowest me.

“Of course.” This was becoming an exercise in sheer self-mastery. Fëanor detested such self-control because he thought it sly, dishonest even, not to express one's feelings. But he was learning it was also necessary, and he could even do it. For very short periods of time.

And not for much longer, with Fingolfin so close, the double bow of his beautiful mouth a temptation. Yet he knew if he made any move, Fingolfin would disengage from it or slap him with cool, scornful words, and at the moment, he could bear neither. Abruptly, he rose.
“I thank thee for the company,” he said with a cool courtesy that even Fingolfin could not have bettered. Carefully, he lifted Fingolfin's hand, feeling the callouses of sword-work on the slim fingers, and kissed it. Then, feeling his half-brother's eyes on him, walked from the garden without a look back. And aching, aching, aching.

OooOooO


Coldagnir fell like a burning comet through skies bluer than sapphires, through the wet, white wool of clouds.

It had been so long since he was here that measured time had no meaning. He had not even been sure, when he died, if he would be allowed to come back, or if he would drift in an endless nothingness – or even be banished into the Void.

“He will not banish thee,” Elgalad had said, touching Urphiel's cheek. “I know it, brother. I know.

The towers of Eru's palace rose like white spikes crowned with silver. Urphiel braked his great wings, black, ice-white, the scarlet flame of his hair, all three sets cupping the wind. They wafted the scent of incense over him.

Slowly, slowly, he descended, feet coming down lightly on the pale stone of the courtyard. There was a hot, white silence as at the height of summer.

Gothmog knew where he was, his quiescent spirit awakening with a conflagration that almost drove Urphiel to his knees. Abruptly, flame poured from his mouth, blackening and rising as it formed into the Balrog's shape. But now the red eyes were filled with fear. He roared, and the sound reverberated from the stone colonnades. He crouched to spring at his enemy.

“No,” Eru said.

Gothmog impacted against an invisible barrier. He bellowed again, seeking escape, claws scraping with the sound of swords on glass, but the cage closed around him, clear and adamantine-strong.

Eru said, “Urphiel.”

The voice was power and beauty forced into a language like cut diamond. When he first heard it, Urphiel had bowed to the ground, feeling it with all of his essence, like a hurricane wind that passed through every particle of him, unstoppable and awesome.

“My lord.” He went down on one knee. Gothmog slammed again and again against the walls of his cage.

“Well done,” Eru said simply.

“Not that well done, my lord.”

“Thinks't thou I did not know how hard it would be for thee, for all of thee who took on such missions of thine own will?” Eru asked. “I knew what Melkor was, but thou art not my slaves and I would not keep thee here. Perhaps I should have. But then who am I but Melkor? Thou didst give up the greater part of what thou wert in the beginning, and no-one asked thee or ordered thee. Rise.”

“But I failed,” Urphiel said steadily, coming to his feet (Gothmog raged and shrieked and stormed inside his cage). “And for a long time. It took Elgalad...” He paused because that was only the name of the Elf in Middle-earth, not the truth. “to bring me back to myself, and even then...I came to enjoy it. What I did. Some of it. And I killed many. So many. I cannot even remember, in the wrath of battle, who they were, only some of them.”

“And have they forgiven thee?”

“I doubt they even recognized me, but Fëanor and the others gave me a second chance, knowing whom I was, what I had done.”

“Then if they did so, who am I to condemn thee? Thou hast suffered, and paid for thine offenses. And thou art changed. Life has shaped thee. Thou wilt ever be changed now.”

“Yes,” Urphiel agreed. “I have changed. I did not know hate, nor love, in their truest form.”

“Now thou dost, and always will.” Urphiel felt, as if a beam if heat were removed from him, that Eru's attention shifted to Gothmog.
“It was well done, Urphiel,” he approved. Then, “Gothmog, as I will call thee, for I will not give thee thy true name. It has been a long time.”

The Balrog howled once more, then stopped, panting, eyes wide with terror.
“Thou canst not keep me here!” It came as a snarling gasp. “Thou didst give us freedom.” In the serene, high beauty of the surroundings, he was a charred, hideous, hulking thing. He could never return to what he once was, to his former glory. He raked his talons against the barrier, and his eyes were black with malice as they glared at Urphiel. “Thou, thou wert a spy? Traitor! And yet, I fucked thee until thou didst bleed and scream. Thou wilt always remember, Nemrúshkeraz ” He drew the name out like like slime over his teeth, gloatingly.

“Oh yes,” Urphiel agreed. “I will always remember everything. Thou didst rape me many times. I grew to want it from thee, from him, from every-one. And I devoured thy soul. I believe we are even. My mission is complete.”

A look of desperate cunning leaped into Gothmog's eyes as they cast here and there.
“Well, Eru, what dost thou mean to do with me now? Thou who always told us our wills were our own? Liar. Is His, confined in the Dark?”

“Melkor's will is very much his own,” Eru replied. “It always was. And were it not for the Children, I might let him exercise it to the full. There would be naught left, but perhaps he would then find himself, what he yearns for: Master of Nothing. Would that be enough I wonder? He is what he is. But it was not I who sent him to the Void. And now, what do I mean to do with thee? Slayer, raper, thou who gloried in destruction, took pleasure in it like to the pleasure of a drunken sot awash with wine.”

Gothmog's laughter was wild. “Ay! And so I did. It was glory. It is something thou wilt never know, thou sapless neuter, faceless, bloodless, cockless. But I will live upon my memories, all of them, and I will savour them, until the time Melkor cracks open this shell of thine, and releases me!”

“No,” Eru said. “thou wilt not.”

There was a vast pressure in the air, as if some great force were approaching, a monumental presence of power. Urphiel's wings beat open to hold himself upright against it. Needles of heat and ice seemed to slam against his skin and drive through it.

With a crack, the air gaped open in a whirling vortex. And Eru descended from the Outside.

The wrath of burning suns stood in his eyes. He was more beautiful, and more terrible than Urphiel could ever have imagined, and his consciousness was forced to expand to accept what he saw. Here was power unimaginable compacted into human form. Great wings of raven-black edged with silver swept up behind him as he came down onto the white stone, then dissolved into a glitter of diamond. A star pulsed on his brow.

I could not know...how could I know?

Gothmog's back crashed against his cage, his claws coming up in a gesture half-plea, half-denial. His mouth shaped 'No...no..' without breath or sound.

“If thou didst come expecting mercy, thou shalt be sorely disappointed,” Eru told him. “There is no place for thee, Gothmog. Not here, not in Arda nor in any world. And I shall not send thee back to the Everlasting Dark. Urphiel brought thee here for judgment. And now I will give it.” His feet were soundless as he approached the cage, implacable as doom itself. “There will be no memories for thee to tell over like the bones of the dead. There will be nothing at all. Thou wilt cease to exist.”

No!” It was a scream of purest terror. The great jaws that had ripped off Urphiel's face drooled, falling slack. Then, “NO!” as Eru lifted one elegant hand.

The Balrog folded as if hammered in the gut, spittle and blood flying from his mouth. His eyes bulged. Flesh tore and innards were sucked out of the gaping hole that appeared in his sternum. They streamed toward Eru's waiting hand and vanished as if drawn inward. Slowly, horribly, Gothmog began to collapse into himself, his shrieks skirling higher and higher. Skin peeled, organs exploded. He was a monstrous blooded skeleton for a moment, until bones snapped broke, crumbled – and were gone.

The sudden silence was like a tenor bell. Urphiel could sense every inhabitant of the Timeless Halls listening, knew suddenly, that even Melkor had felt this and knew what had happened.

Eru lowered his hand. His face held no regret, sadness, anger, no satisfaction. Nothing at all. He said, an echo of Urphiel's words as he lay dying: “I have him.” And, “He is Unmade.”

Unmade, Urphiel thought, dry-mouthed, awed, beyond shock.

Eru held out a hand to him. The same hand that had swallowed Gothmog's essence, body, soul, all.

Devourer of gods.

OooOooO


Chapter 7 ~ The Eve of Departure ~ by Spiced Wine



~ The Eve Of Departure ~



“It is always strange to speak to the man who put a dagger through my heart.” Celebrimbor turned from the balcony and came across to the couch. “Although I was not being politic when I said I thanked thee for it. I never was very politic.”

Vanimórë said, “It was the only thing I could do for thee, and the only chance I had.”

Their eyes met.
“Somehow it makes it easier to know I was killed by one of mine own kin, even if neither of us knew it then.”

Vanimórë sat with one booted leg flung over the other. “Did Fëanor ask thee to speak to me of family?”

“No,” Celebrimbor said flatly. “There is no-one else I can speak to of him. Of Sauron.”

Silence. Vanimórë looked at him, and nodded. “He loved thee. Is that what thou wouldst know? I have said it before and did not lie. I do not know what 'love' means to him, but he loved thee, at least as I see it.”

Celebrimbor's chest rose and fell. He sat down.
“He played me.” Bitterly.

Vanimórë laughed shortly. “He played the last king of Númenor , he played Eonwë, he even played Melkor.” Pausing, he considered. “He probably still is. He is a master game-player. And so? Thou wert a meeting of like minds. That is rare for any-one, and especially for him.”

“I thought we were, indeed,” Celebrimbor said stone-hard. “It was almost like having my father back again. Save there was a coldness in Annatar, as I knew him.” He picked up his wineglass, did not drink. “I deluded myself. I wanted to be deluded.”

“If thou didst, so did he. He always wanted the Elves, the Noldor especially. It was the closest he ever came.”

“My foolishness destroyed Ost-in-Edhil.”

“Do not dare blame thyself for his actions! He did not have to betray thee, he did not have to bring down war.”

Snapping the goblet back down, Celebrimbor rose to his feet.
“Ost-in-Edhil was mine. I can lay the blame nowhere else.”

“I have just told thee where to lay it.”

Celebrimbor stared at him then, with seeming reluctance smiled, that blazing Fëanorion smile.
“Thou canst be very like him. Very like us, too. Perhaps that was part of the attraction. I was lonely. I had my people, but it was not the same as family. I loved Tindómion but he was far away, bound to Gil-galad, and his love was for music and martial pursuits. Then he came. He was beautiful, talented, intelligent. It was almost like looking in a mirror.”

“He said the same of thee,” Vanimórë said gently. “Yes, he played thee. Yes, he loved thee. Yes, he tortured thee. I doubt he regretted that. But he did regret losing thee.”

Celebrimbor's eyes moved over him. “He had thee.”

“I was his slave.”

“Thou didst not talk to him?”

“Sometimes. Yes. We could talk,” he admitted. “But he never let me forget what I was.”

“I want to meet him again,” Celebrimbor said, and there was no doubt what his meeting would entail. “I spoke to him too much, in the early days when I was conceiving the Three. I said I could not roll Time back so I would stay it. I wanted...to keep the Elven realms safe...After everything.” He opened a long-fingered hand. “Instead I allowed him to know enough to create the One.”

“Control was always his aim. The Elves first. Men were extraneous, always. He simply had more in common with thee.”

“I certainly believed so.” Celebrimbor curled his lip. “He was a superb artificer. In all ways.”

“Yes,” Vanimórë agreed.

A silence settled between them. It was oddly peaceful. Celebrimbor broke it eventually, reaching for his wine which, this time, he sipped.
“I did love him,” he owned. “He was...exciting. Charming, even.”

“He could be, yes.” It could catch one by surprise, even Vanimórë, with all he knew of his father.

“I do not miss him. I miss what we had. Even if it was not real.”

“It was real.” And, at the look of skepticism. “I said his anger was that of a thwarted lover. It was. He rarely lost control of his emotions. That was one time he did. But I came to understand that he wanted me to end it. He did not trust himself with thee. He could not even kill thee himself. He even preserved thy body when he used it as a banner. He could not quite let thee go.”

Celebrimbor looked away,. The lamp casting deep shadows under his lashes.
“I thank thee,” he said after a time. “I cannot talk about this with anyone else. My father would not – does not – understand.”

“The gulf between fathers and sons can be abyssal.”

“As thine was?”

“No. He understood me, and I understood him. And I know one thing above all others.”

“What?”

“He has not given up.”

Celebrimbor flashed him a steely grey glance. “Good,” he said. “Because we have unfinished business.”

OooOooO



They would leave in the morning, just he and Elgalad, for Esgaroth, where they would begin the now-familiar journey to Umbar. The Khadakhir would go to Sud Sicanna for now. He did not want them with him in his present circumstances, although they had been willing to go with him anywhere.
“Later,” he had said. “When I begin my rule, I will call thee.”
He checked his few belongings, the bedrolls and blankets, his weapons, tightened a strap on his pack. It was time, and past time. He had lingered too long. He must put aside his idleness, his hidden and covert joy at spending time among the Elves he loved, and go forward with his life.

“Thou art not coming back.”

“No.” He did not turn. “And thou wilt all be leaving soon.”

“Come with us.”

“My life is not there.”

“So thou wilt go into the south and build an empire just to prove to him thou canst do it, all on thine own?”

“I did it before,” he said. “And on my own. Oh, I had his name behind me, but they knew he had been vanquished. I do not have to prove anything.” His hands stilled. “And I do not know what else to do.” That was true.

“How didst thou do it, before? It is quite an achievement. Glorfindel said thou didst leave Mordor with nothing.”

“Luck, I suppose. And rage. And I never thought I could not.” And that also was true.

“Come with us.” Hands settled gently onto his shoulders. He stiffened. “Stay with us.”

The voice curled into his blood. He wanted, needed and could not accept. His other self blocked it like an iron wall.

“My sons will learn to accept thee as they accept Tindómion.”

A laugh caught like gall in his throat.
“Tindómion's father is thy son. Mine is Sauron.” He turned. “And I have been his son too long to be thy grandson.”

Argent eyes blazed over his face. “No,” he said. “And thou doth not really believe that.”

“I wish,” Vanimórë said. “that I did not.”

“Is it because I said I wanted thee?”

“Thinks't thou that matters to me? If my father had loved me I would have spread myself for him gladly. He did give me a choice once.”

Fëanor ran a gentle finger along his jawline. “Tell me.”

“It was a long time ago.” He felt as if some-one had painted his insides crimson with desire. He held himself carefully. Shrugged. “Before Beleriand was destroyed. Sauron sent me away to the south. I suppose he saved my life. The people I lead settled in what is now the Harad, and I stayed with them for a time. Then he called me back to him, offered me a different life, working together, no slavery, no rape.”

“And thou didst refuse.”

“I refused.” Heat swarmed across his scalp. He gave me no choice but to kill my sister, and then threw me to Melkor as one throws a dog a bone.

“I am not in the least surprised.”

Vanimórë said, “Stop. Thou wouldst be too addictive. A man could lose his identity in thee.”

A smile curved Fëanor's mouth. “It is no bad thing to do that once in a while.”

“I cannot imagine thee ever doing so.”

“Oh, I have, at times.” The smile deepened. For the first time, Vanimórë noted that Fëanor possessed dimples. “There is no feeling like it.”

So have I, with thy son. He could not say it. Maglor was silent on the matter; perhaps he simply wanted to put it from his mind. That was a thought guaranteed to level Vanimórë's confidence to the dust.
“It is hard, is it not, to be restrained?” He chased the deepening smile into Fëanor's eyes.

“Difficult. Necessary. I am learning. Perhaps re-learning. I had to restrain myself when I was married. So I buried myself in my sons and my work, until Fingolfin...”

“And yet rumor has it thou art surprisingly...chaste now,” Vanimore murmured. “I think thou wilt not simply bed any-one and so, being unable to risk having those thou doth truly desire, thou wilt go without.”

“Thou art like me in that regard,” Fëanor replied. “I think we have both had our fill of duty-sex. May I ask? How didst thou manage to bed Dana?”

“I do not find it onerous to bed women,” Vanimórë replied. “I have had many. What I do find onerous is having to service a rapist who apparently feels I should be glad to do it. I considered it, yes, duty. I just thought of other people; men, women...whom I had desired. So, may I ask? How didst thou? And how didst thou get seven sons when thou doth clearly prefer men.”

“In the same way. My first...interest was Ingwë.”

“Yes, I can see that. He is very beautiful. I am not sure thou wouldst meet with refusal if thou wert to approach him again.”

Fëanor grinned. “Well, I may put that to the test one day. The thought of him coming apart under me was enough to rouse me.” He took a turn about the room. “Then Fingolfin grew up...Do not misunderstand me. I was honest with Nerdanel. She wanted to marry me, and I wanted sons. I told her everything: that I did not love or want her, but she still wished marriage. Many did. I was who I was, my father's eldest.”

“I see. It was nothing to do with how thou doth look.”

The look he received was a twinkle of amusement. He knew he was stunning.
“Nerdanel was conversable and warm, not a holier-than-thou Vanya woman like my poor brother ended up with. We were friends, then at least. I never lied to her, but of course she wanted more than I could give, and then found she could not...handle what I did give. Motherhood takes a great deal of energy from a woman. By the time she left we were neither friends nor lovers. We never really were the latter. With Fingolfin, I learned what it was to be in love, to lie with some-one out of true passion.” Colour hit his high cheeks. “It was superb,” he ended.

“I do know,” Vanimore said quietly. “how it feels. Fingolfin is not much older than Maedhros, is he?”

“No, I married young. And I was not often in Tirion while my sons grew. The city bored me. I could not stand the court.” He made an expressive face, then laughed. “I still hate the petty politics. Although it is not as bad as it was; our people truly are grateful for another chance. But some would prefer it to be as it was.”

“I should think they are grateful. How not? But people often cling to the familiar.” Vanimórë did not know why Fëanor was confiding in him, if it was a calculated ploy to make him feel 'one of the family' or simply a facet of Fëanor's inherent honesty. Either way, he did not want to truncate this moment. Being with Fëanor was like warming his hands at a fire. One must only be careful not to get too close...

“But when Maedhros came of age, my father wanted a celebration, and it coincided with Fingolfin's wedding to Anairë, the woman the Valar had wanted me to marry.” His eyes glittered. “I had not thought much about whom Fingolfin would wed; I had not seen him for some years. When I did...” His smile was slow and deep with memory. “I knew I had to have him, that he was mine.”

“Thou didst not think he might not share thy tastes?” Vanimórë asked.

“Not once our eyes met. And Anairë was no love-match. My father told me that he was glad Fingolfin showed duty and political acumen in wedding one the Valar had chosen, related though they were. Thou canst imagine how I took that.” But he laughed. “when I saw Fingolfin at his wedding, it was the first time, since my youthful infatuation with Ingwë, that I truly felt desire, the force of it. It was...like nothing I had imagined.”

Vanimórë nodded. “Then how did the rumors begin that thou didst hate him?” He poured them some wine. Fëanor's fingers brushed his as he took the cup.

“How do any rumors begin? I was rarely in Tirion, and heard that I was jealous of Fingolfin because he was everything I was not. That he was the reason I stayed in Formenos or traveled Aman. At first I was angry, but then I began to see how it would serve me.” A look of pure mischief that was breathtaking. “And I was busy those years, with my sons, my craft. I had dreamed my sons, all seven, before ever I married. And they would come first, before anything.” He swirled the wine about the cup and took a mouthful. “The problem was, I was away too long; Fingolfin believed the rumors.”

Vanimórë leaned against the wall. His eyes traced over Fëanor's face, his beauty otherworldly even for an Elf, and thought he could not have had much trouble in drawing Fingolfin to him with one look. As if Fëanor read his thoughts, he smiled with a twist of wryness.
“My brother had developed a well-polished veneer. He still has it. If it had not been for the fact that whenever we saw one another, I felt as if struck by lightning, I might have let things lie. There is no blood in a stone. I even began to wonder if it were one-sided, but there were enough...hints from him to encourage me. I would catch him looking at me sometimes.”

“I am sure thou didst,” Vanimórë said amusedly. “He still does. There is enough fire between thee to light the Dark.”

“Yes,” Fëanor said, but with a strangeness in his tone, as if he were uncertain.

“He is treading very carefully.”

“He did then, too. But the tension between us built and built...”

“And then?” Vanimórë prompted.

“I passed him one day, going to my father's private library, and I stopped, looking at him for a moment, then went on. I thought – hoped – he would come. And he did. I feigned sleep.”

A trap baited with passion. With himself. Vanimórë's skin felt hot, tight, at the images his imagination supplied.

“What was it like, the first time thou didst make love?” Fëanor asked curiously.

Vanimórë had not expected the question. He remembered Maglor opening beautifully for him, the sounds he made, the red-hot tightness, the hard headlong rush toward climax...

“The first person I willingly lay with was a woman of the East,” he said cautiously, edging around the truth. “They were called Moon Women. Camp prostitutes, but they were not reviled, rather seen as necessary. They were also skilled in preventing pregnancy, and at easing women's ailments. I asked them to teach me how to please women. I hope I succeeded. Men came a little later. But the first time I made love to some-one with true passion was...a long time after that.” To deflect further questions, he said, “And Fingolfin was all thou didst imagine?”

Feanor's gaze was a little too penetrating. Vanimórë met it steadily.
“More,” he murmured. “Far more. When I look back on those days, odd, but they seem idyllic.”

Vanimore thought of the nights in Barad-dûr with Maglor. Then, later, the years with Elgalad, idyllic both, in different ways.
“It is not the place,” he said. “but the person. Thou wert in love.”

“I think I did not realise that until quite recently.” Fëanor turned the wine-cup in his elegant hands. “When did loving Elgalad become being in love with him?”

“He was of age, or almost.” Vanimórë thought back. “I never possessed that taint. I do not know if it exists in Elves, the desire for children or very young boys or girls?”

“I was forward in my desires when I was a boy, but I never acted on it, or encountered it,” Fëanor replied. “And I would not abide it in my people.”

“Children deserve childhood, whether Men or Elves, to grow into themselves. I had noticed Elgalad looking at me as a man looks at a man for a few years before that, but I ignored it. I knew he was beautiful, and would grow more so, but I would not have touched him. My appetites do not run that way. Then one day, Sauron entered my mind, filled it with images of what I could do...” He closed his eyes. “I fought it. I must have lost consciousness. When I woke, Elgalad was beside me, and I saw him then as he had become. Young, yes, but old enough to bed, and lovely. I knew then I had to let him go before Sauron drove me mad. Or before I drove myself mad.”

Fëanor said his name so warmly that Vanimórë's eyes snapped open to stare at him. He thought: This is why thy sons love thee.

“I never thought I would see him again when I left him. I should not have, but there as a bond, and to be loved was so...intoxicating.” He stopped himself.

“Nothing is stopping thee having Elgalad save fear.”

Vanimórë shook his head. “I am not having this conversation again, Fëanor. My reasons for withholding are valid, not an excuse.”

“I understand.” Strong hands slipped down to his waist, holding him. “Where dost thou think the fire in thee, the hunger, comes from?”

“I wonder,” Vanimórë did not repress his smile. He would certainly prefer it to be Fëanorion fire than from Sauron's alien blood.

“Canst thou truly not see what thou art? Even when thou wert Sauron's slave that is not the sum of what thou wert.”

“I am still learning not to be a slave.”

“Oh, Vanimore, thou wert never a slave.” Fëanor pressed a kiss, hot and light as the first touch of flame, against his mouth. “Come back to me,” he said. “To us.”

I could fall into thee, and be burned up, and I would enjoy it, Vanimórë thought.
“I am sure we will see one another again.” And, “I thank thee for not pushing me.” Each word enunciated with perfect calm courtesy. Not pushing, no, but tempting, seducing...

“I am learning not to push,” Fëanor murmured. “from a master.” His tone was ironic.

“Yes, it must be very difficult for thee. But Fingolfin is true to thee. He always has been and he does not seek thy throne.”

“I know that.” Fëanor snapped away from him, broad shoulders caressed by the lamplight. “I want him beside me. I want him sharing my throne.”

“I think as co-rulers thou wouldst be extraordinary. He balances thee.” He felt cold where Fëanor's hands had rested.

“I know.” There was a smile in the words. “How dost thou do it? Want some-one and refrain from them for so long?”

“By imagining what I would break if I had them.”

Fëanor's beautifully arched brows were frowning as he turned back. “Yes,” he said, “We return to Elgalad.”

A ribbon of jealousy unfurled. “Well? What about him?”

“He looks like an untouched virgin – ”

“I know he is not, and why would that even matter to me?”

“Defensive?” Fëanor questioned.

“Protective,” Vanimórë bit. “Thou wouldst eat him alive.”

To his surprise Fëanor laughed. “I do not think so. At least half of what he shows thee is an act. I have seen him fight. So hast thou. And then, around thee, he becomes a different creature altogether, shy, diffident. It is what thou doth want to see, and so he gives it to thee– ”

“Fëanor,” Vanimórë warned. “I honour thee, and I would love thee, but do not go further on this path.”

“Why? I do not say he lies to thee, but that he hides his true self for thee. Thou art afraid thou wilt kill him, but if thou didst it would not be because he is weak, but because of thine own strength. Thy hunger. So sate it a little with another. Before it boils over and injures.”

“Thou dost not understand. It is not simply sex. Elgalad loves me. I raised him. Of course I want him, and I have to treat him gently.”

“Because thou wert not.” Fëanor closed the space between them again, raised his hand to Vanimórë's jaw. “treated gently.”

“I hope I would have, anyhow.” His breath was light, stinging his throat. “ He is...unbelievably precious to me. I could not think of him as a son. I had been too long knowing I was sterile. But he was a gift.”

“I know.”

It startled Vanimórë that those brilliant eyes could be so gentle. Everything about Fëanor was surprising him tonight. No wonder his sons had followed him, all of them, and without a moments thought, Glorfindel had told him.
“I should have taken him north to Lothlórien or the Wood long before I did, when he was much younger. I was too selfish. I till am.”

“It is not selfish to love. And Elgalad has a choice.”

“I could offer him no future. Nothing. I can offer him nothing now.”

“Love is not nothing. It is the only thing we can give freely,” Fëanor murmured. “Hate has to be earned.”

“True.” Vanimórë thought how easily he hated. Then, “Elgalad says he belongs to me. That he was born for me. If that is so, how is it fair on him? He has no choice. I know how it is to belong to some-one. And if he is pretending to be something he is not for me...”

“I see. Thou art thinking he would not love thee anyhow?” Artist's fingers slipped into his hair. “Thy Khadakhir love thee.”

Vanimórë held himself still. “They are Men. I was the prince of Sud Sicanna. And thou must have seen now how most Men view Elves.”

“They desire us and grow to hate us. But I am not a Man.” The palm of one hand cradled Vanimórë's neck, the other moved to the laces of his shirt. “Let me tell thee what I see...” He did not touch the laces, but laid his hand over Vanimórë's hectically beating heart. “My former wife was something of a craftswoman. She could create beautiful sculptures, but she would have gone mad trying to attempt the colour of thine eyes or the light in them. I will, though; I will make a gem to match them. The Khadakhir say that in Sud Sicanna they have statues of thee. I cannot imagine they would be lifelike.”

Vanimórë's hand came up, locked about Fëanor's wrist.

“There is no need to flatter me.”

“I never flatter.”

“I am not a boy who needs to be validated by others,” Vanimórë flashed and pulled away. “I am not one of thy sons.”

“So thou art telling me not to care?” Fëanor challenged. “Thou canst not avoid that. It is too late. I do, and I would were thou not of my blood.”

“Why?” Vanimórë countered. “Thou doth not even know me!”

“I have observed thee. I know of my life. I am learning more. That is enough.”

“Thou knowest nothing about it! What Dana said? All that is true and more!” Vanimórë flung at him. “Thou canst not know my life unless thou hast walked it with me!”

He thought, for a moment of harsh breathing that Fëanor would strike him, and he was ready for it. Would almost have welcomed it. Then Fëanor quenched his flame with a visible effort, and as he stared at Vanimórë his expression melted.
“Thou art right,” he said. “I cannot know. But I have listened to thy words and seen thine actions, looked at thy face, into thine eyes. From that I see the man. Thinks't thou I care about anything thou hast done or been made to do?”

He would care about Maglor's aggressive seduction. Rape. Call it rape; that first time at least. The desire to confess it pushed against Vanimórë's lips.

“Thy perception of thyself is wrong,” Fëanor forestalled him. “And thou art too powerful to spiral down into the darkness of thine own self-hate. Too powerful and too special a man.”

Vanimórë's mouth twisted. “Is that not what Elgalad is for, to keep me from falling, from following in the footsteps of my father? And yet thou wouldst tell me he is playing me? Hiding himself?”

“We are all being played.”

“Elgalad is not – ”

“Not maliciously, no. But Coldagnir did. He pretended to fear Gothmog. I do not think he did at all.”

Vanimórë picked his way through difficult words. “Coldagnir,” he began, because the topic of Elgalad was too hard for him. He remembered how Elgalad had faced Dana, furious, beautiful, shining, without a hint of deference, his stammer gone...

“--said he was a Maia, a Valarauka. He consumed Gothmog's soul. Do not tell me any Balrog can do that!”

“No,” he admitted.

“So what was he? Is he?”

“Thinks't thou I have not been wondering this?” he demanded. “Hast thou asked Glorfindel? He and I were both elevated to gods, who both know too little. The Valar – or some of them – will try to play us, Dana played me, but I think we all know what she wants. We are just...incidental. Oh, she used me, but her true target is Melkor.”

“Go back,” Fëanor said. “to the Valar. What are they? Coldagnir spun me a very pretty story about himself, where he came from. Some of it may even be true. He did not believe the Valar were the offspring of Eru's consciousness. Glorfindel told me there was a moment, in Fos Almir that he knew everything. Didst thou?”

Vanimórë narrowed his eyes. “Yes. There was. I cannot remember it now, but I did know everything. The Valar...well, there were only some who came into Arda were there not? Or so we are told.”

“And what of those who did not?” Fëanor asked. “Or those we never heard of?”

Vanimórë sat down on the bed. “If thou art asking what goes on beyond the world, in the Halls of the Gods, I cannot tell thee.”

“We need to know how many will be fighting with us in this war, and who has their own agendas.” Feanor joined him. His warm presence was surprisingly comforting.

“Coldagnir had an agenda?” Vanimórë looked along the line of his shoulder. “Yes. Perhaps. And thou wouldst have me ask Eru? He spoke to me just once.”

“I heard him. He choose thee, Vanimórë.”

Vanimórë nodded. “He did. And that is exactly why I do not trust him.”

Fëanor's fingers slipped up his arm, tracing the black tattoos and leaving fire in their wake.
“Then do not. But trust thyself.”

OooOooO


Chapter 8 ~ The Veil ~ by Spiced Wine


~ The Veil ~




He knew what he must do, but had never attempted it before. It ran along the same lines as moving from one place to another without physical motion. And so he did that, but moved out of his body. It was easy.

Too easy. There was a danger in becoming overwhelmed by what one saw in this bodiless state, to see everything as it truly was, pure energy that formed itself into the illusion of matter.

The grandest of illusions, Sauron had called the world, and Vanimórë had not understood, then. Now, he did. He could have spent an eternity studying the structure of each atom but, as he dragged himself clear of the temptation, he also comprehended why a god's view of Arda could never be his own. And he did not want it to be. His father, even Melkor, had preferred form, to live in the world. Of course they had. He also, in a flash, felt the horror of existence without a body, why the Elves loathed the ancient tales which prophesied that they would, eventually, fade into spirit alone.

With a touch of pure anger, he rebuilt his body. He was not going to enter the Timeless Halls unclad. Neither did he have to journey far; the Halls of Eru were...everywhere.

Eru, he said simply. And that was all.

Vast gates rose before him. They would have spanned a world entire, formed out of white stone, patterned with gold and black. Lined above them were what he first thought were statues until he saw the shimmer of the great wings, the faint movements of life. Their eyes were fixed upon him. He allowed his own to pass over them all, the terror and glory of them, and then waited. As one, they arced their wings and bowed to him. He stifled astonishment.

In silence, the gates swung open. Vanimórë felt himself glide through, heard the clap of great wings above him, and felt them, alien, awesome. It baffled him; he did not require wings to move, but the feeling was incredible, and he choked down startled laughter as they lifted him through and across the threshold.

This was a place created entirely at the whims of the mind, he saw. Or many minds. It was beautiful, and impossible. He doubted the vast planets hanging in the sky were even real.

It was not a land of labour or toil, created by the forces of nature but then worked by man; it was purely a visual feast, beautiful but also alien, recking nothing of climate or geography.

Eru's mountain dominated all. It needed no-one to tell him Eru dwelt there; his presence was like a scent of power.

The mountain was a world unto itself. Parkland, gardens, forests, lakes, and at their center a palace. It looked like something Vanimórë himself would build: a gracious white-and-gold edifice with tall towers and walled courtyards weeping flowers. Unexpectedly, it came to him that perhaps everyone would see what they wanted, the kind of architecture and style they were drawn to, that made them feel welcomed?

There were no guardians here; they were not needed. In fact there seemed to be no-one here at all. Save for the song of birds and fountains, it was stupendously, eerily silent.

Yet Eru abode here. Vanimórë walked corridors and hallways, all exquisite and empty, until he came to a chamber where a dais stood, a chair upon it, simple and elegant, formed out of some silvery metal that did not tarnish. Because it was as good a place as any, he went down on one knee, waited.

“My halls do not delight thee?”

The voice was not in Vanimórë's mind, but he could see no speaker.
“They are not made for me, my Lord. Are they?”

“True. It is a whim of mine. And thou needest a reference point.”

Vanimórë let a pause build, but Eru said no more.
“Coldagnir,” he said at length. “Does he live?”

“An interesting question, given that no soul ever dies.”

Vanimórë's mouth quirked. “Riddles, my Lord?”

“Urphiel returned here,” Eru said. “He gave up Gothmog's soul, which I then destroyed.” So chilling, the calmness of the statement. Vanimórë admitted he had, perhaps, fallen into the error of believing Eru to be loving, kind, a 'father'. An Elvish notion. It was apparent that he was not. There was a strange comfort in that.

“He was never a Balrog, was he?”

“He was what thou wouldst call a god, as are all here. There were some who went, disguised, into Arda, on missions that they chose for themselves.”

“And his – Urphiel's? was Gothmog?” Ambitious!

“Originally it was Melkor. But Gothmog had dogged him since the beginning, and when he discovered that no-one, not even a god could destroy Melkor, he decided that, one way or another, he would destroy Gothmog.” Another pause. “But the gods had to bury themselves so deeply, hide their powers, that they became their new selves, their new personas, too completely. It was not until Urphiel awoke again, that he began to truly remember what he was.”

“Thou art leaving a great deal, my Lord. If we are going to fight Melkor, which we will, we need to know if we shall be fighting beings stronger than they appear.” Vanimórë's eyes searched the room.

“Art thou asking about thy father?” Eru asked mildly.

What?” Vanimórë shot to his feet.

“Thou hast much more powerful blood – both sides – than thou wert ever aware,” Eru's voice told him. “I allowed thee to enter Fos Almir to embrace the power thou didst already have within thee.”

“What is my father?” Vanimórë demanded. “I know he is not stronger than Melkor. If he had been – ”

“Melkor is more than a god, as am I. Thy father was called – by the Valar – a Maia of Aulë because he came here to study under Aulë. But he was never a Maia. He was born out of the fire at the heart of Arda as it formed. There were many Maia also, but he is not one. If there is any god of Arda, it is he. Canst thou see now why he followed Melkor, who claimed it?”

Vanimórë digested this. It explained everything.
His father, god of the world, whom had realised he could not rule it save through Melkor. Almost, he snorted but the sound that emerged held no humour. Oh, father. No wonder. And how it must have enraged thee that Melkor saw himself as Arda's king.
“He never told me...probably so I would not get above myself.”

“Thou didst always deny those powers. In thee they manifested in other ways: an effortless command of people – although that comes through Fëanor also – puissance in arms. An innate toughness.”

“And the other side?” Vanimórë asked. “Fëanor's?”

“Yes. Fëanor.” Eru drew out the name like silk and fire. “What he is should never have been chained to the limitations of a physical form, yet it is.”

“Art thou saying he is a god?”

“What he was and will be is far more,” Eru said. “And that is all I can say to thee.”

Frustrated, Vanimórë said, “Then Dana? What is she?”

“A splinter from a vast hunger that can never be sated. If she had all that she desired it would not satisfy her. Although to give it a gender is false. Dana simply chose one.”

Vanimórë folded the information away to peruse later. There were too many questions to ask.
“And Melkor?”

“Creation and destruction both. There would be no universe without him, at least none able to support life. And yet that life is not of him, and so he hates it.”

“Canst thou destroy him?” Vanimórë asked bluntly.

“Why would I want to?” The air thrummed, pressure forced itself into the chamber, into Vanimórë's skull, almost driving him to the floor. He was aware, then, as he fought to stay upright, that the power he had felt before was not Eru's physical presence at all, merely a projection. This...this was Eru. Had the Sun borne down upon the Earth, burning all to nothingness, its titanic power would still be nothing compared to this.

Eru was cloaked from head to foot in robes of midnight, a veil covered his face; at first Vanimórë thought it silk but then heard the metallic rustle. It was metal, woven finer even than Elven hands could have formed it, silver as the empty seat. It covered his head, fell from under a circlet set with a round gem that whirled in colours of blue, white, green, umber...As Vanimórë gazed it it, he saw, with a sense of shock, that it was the Earth itself, as Coldagnir had described it when seen from far away, beyond the enveloping atmosphere.

His eyes snapped back to Eru, who was tall, although not monstrous as Gothmog had been, or possibly he simply chose to show himself the height of a tall Elf. He walked like a warrior. His robes fell from wide shoulders, billowed around him like fine, heavy silk. Vanimórë was conscious of hidden eyes upon him through the veil. They burned like the wrath of stars.

“No Child can look upon my face,” Eru said. “And thou art one, at least partly, and at least now.”

“My Lord.” Vanimórë bowed. He could do no less.

“Melkor is part of me.” Vanimórë stared, struck mute. “The part I cast out, could not accept. I ripped it from me, and he became. And the first words he said to me were: 'Why didst thou reft me from thyself?' He looked at me with such love, such betrayal. He became individual yet still part of me, and he did what it was within him to do, for he could do and be nothing else. I had left him no choice.”

“Thou doth love him?” Vanimórë found his voice.

“I feel toward him as thou doth feel for thy father.”

It was like a blow out of the dark. Vanimórë felt himself burning. A hand emerged from the blowing garments, slim, strong, white as ice.
“Love, hate, resentment, fury, yearning.” Eru named his emotions. “Even now, yes? Even after everything.” His voice held complexities, odd harmonics, like notes struck upon many bells. A mind shaping words who did not need them.
“I cannot destroy him, any more than I can destroy myself. He can only be contained.”

“Thou knowest he will break out of the Void. Why seal it with a living soul and a Silmaril? Why – ?”

“A living soul and a Silmaril created by Fëanor, holding part of his soul. I know of naught stronger. Thou shalt see that, in time.” His hand clasped Vanimórë's; a shock of power struck him like earthed lightning. Eru smelled of incense burned on dark, forgotten altars.

“What art thou?” he whispered.

“The last remnant of a dead universe. I closed the door behind me and brought his one into existence with a thought.” Eru released him, moved away, the other-worldy winds stirring his robes, to sit upon the silver chair. The disposition of his hidden limbs was elegant, graceful, redolent with power. “I determined this one would not end as that had. But of course, I brought destruction with me. Within me, and thus I sought to tear it out.”

“And left Melkor to do as he would. Left us to pick up the pieces. To die.”

Eru's fingers tightened on the arms of his chair.
“I wanted a universe without conflict,” he said. “And came to realise that conflict was inherent in all life. By that time, it was too late.”

“Thou couldst end this with one word!”

“I cannot,” Eru refuted. “Not without yet more destruction. There are no limits to my power, but, as thou hast discovered thyself, there are limits to what one is willing to do.” He leaned forward, the silvery veil swinging. “I cannot set foot upon Arda – or any world. I cannot battle Melkor without destroying everything.”

“So,” Vanimórë curled his lip. “Thou art leaving it to us.” He stepped forward. “This...quarrel between Melkor – part of thee! – and thyself has resulted already in millions of deaths and thou didst just watch it happen, placing justice and mercy in the hands of the Valar. The Valar, who knew nothing about life or living or grief or love.”

“That was an error.”

“Indeed.”

“I wanted them to learn, and hoped they could. They seemed to want to. I knew they were motivated by power, just as Melkor was, but since they offered, I believed they deserved the chance.” Eru turned his head away.

“And let them abuse it for thousands of years, let them send those they deemed...sinful into the Void.” Anger was rising, sluicing through Vanimórë's veins. The veiled head swung back to him.

“And so, I put a period to their power...when thou wert ready,” he said.

“Me? Why me?”

“Because thou doth understand pain and compassion and love...and hate, too. Thou art not so merciful as I...was.”

A crack of laughter. “Trust me, my Lord, I have no mercy toward the merciless.”

“I do not wish to know if I would have any. And thus – thou. And they are fading. Like Gothmog, though rather less...dramatically, they shall eventually become nothing. Most of them.”

“Nothing,” Vanimórë repeated. “A memory.”

“And the others the gods who went, like Urphiel, to challenge Melkor?”

“I will tell thee naught of them. Their story – and thine – is yet to be played out to its close.” In a storm and hush of robes, Eru stood as if impatient. He paced, a peculiarly human habit. “Eventually, they will come to me, as Urphiel did.”

“And until then? All we have to do – all – we have to do is fight a power that is greater than a god and somehow contain him with a living soul and a Silmaril. I thank thee for that.”

“Wouldst thou prefer me to destroy the universe – again?” Eru whirled on him.

Vanimórë swallowed hard. “Thou art saying – ?”

“Yes. In anguish, in hatred, in despair, I ended it, and formed a new one. As a man might tear down a house that does not please him and build one anew.” There was a wealth of grief and bitterness in his voice.

“I do not know how many lives may be spread across a universe.” Vanimórë controlled his voice with an effort. “ But thou didst murder all of them?”

“Yes,” Eru admitted. “Not before they had murdered one another. Not before they sickened me.”

Sauron had sometimes talked about other worlds, life bearing-worlds, as if it were more probable than possible.

“Then thou art a monster,” Vanimórë hissed. “No better than any human, Elf or Man, but bloated with too much power. Conscienceless. Even I know that there is good in the worst of people.”

“Thou thinks't I have no conscience?”

It was all there: horror and regret deeper than anything Vanimórë himself had ever experienced and it acted like a doorway that, when he stepped through it, rearranged his mind and comprehension.

“Thou art alone,” he said slowly, in dawning revelation. “Always. Thou didst destroy a universe from grief and anger, and then created a new one, but still alone. And Melkor – he was part of thee and stayed with thee for a time...Some-one to be with thee, to fill the emptiness.”

“For a while,” Eru agreed. “I was not always alone. And thou hast seen my Halls, peopled with gods.”

“And I see this.” Vanimórë gestured indicating the vast, empty palace. “No companions, no gods, nothing. Thou art in seclusion entire. Why, dost thou hate thyself so much?”

The silence was like the ending of all worlds, the silence Eru must have known when he drew down Night in that other universe.

“Thou wouldst know all about self-hate.” The words were soft. Vanimórë stepped back as Eru's hand lifted to his face.

“Thou doth not even dwell here,” he said. “Where art thou?”

“Everywhere – nowhere. Do not pity me. I made a choice, and cannot do aught but live with it. But thou art right that the gods cannot understand, or very few of them, and so I choose not to be with them.”

“So thou hast everything, and nothing.”

Eru's fingertips burned with a fierce heat, but did not hurt, as if he bound the vast magnitude of his powers within.
“Great power is always held alone,” he murmured. “Thou hast learned that thyself.”

That was true enough. He thought of the Men he had gifted with near-immortality, just so he wold not be alone, and then, in disgust at his own selfishness, released them. Yet they had come back...

“Who are the gods?” he asked. “Didst thou make them to bear thee company?”

“The Valar told the Elves they were the offspring of my thought,” Eru answered. “But that is not entirely true. They were potentialities that I assigned Life to, yes, and they were drawn to me, to here, as the force behind their existence. Some, it is true, I loved, and do love, but their comprehension is faulty. Incomplete. Only those whom have lived can understand life.”

“And thou? How canst thou say thou hast lived?”

“Because I did. Once.” Eru turned away. “I was human.”

“Human? Thou?”

“I transcended my humanity, but I could not bring peace. Perfection was beyond me. Yes, Vanimórë, I know what it is to live.” His complex voice echoed in the lovely, inhuman chamber.

“Then thou art truly alone. How? How didst thou become what thou art?”

“Because I wanted it,” Eru said simply, flatly. “I wanted the power to change worlds. I found it in everything, I took it from everything – ultimately from the universe itself. Loneliness is the price of it.” He beckoned. “Come. Walk with me.”

“My father said one could sip power from the Void, but that it as dangerous.”

“Thy father was always clever.”

They passed out into a many-leveled garden. Flowers frothed from urns, wound about pillars of stone. Fountains bloomed crystal water. Birds sang sleepy notes from fruit trees.

“It is beautiful,” Vanimórë remarked.

“An illusion, but then, everything is.” Eru reached to the stone set in his circlet, plucked it out and held it forth. It spun above his palm. Arda. From the maps he had studied, Vanimórë recognised the tawny sprawl of the northern Harad, the vast steppes of Rhûn, the green north and other lands he had only heard hinted at. His breath went motionless in wonder. It seemed distant and immanent at once.

“So much life on this one fragile planet,” Eru murmured. “So much love, pain, death, fear, war...but that is the inevitability of giving people freedom of will. Without that, what are they but slaves? With one thought, I could destroy it. Shall I?”

Vanimórë looked at him sharply.”Thou doth love it,” he said slowly. “And that is the danger, is it not?”

“I love it,” Eru agreed. “And Melkor is part of it all. I cannot call him back. I tried, long ago, at the beginning, but he had become himself and he relished his being. I cannot act further unless he comes to me, and although he thinks about it he knows what it would mean – he would have to give up himself. Return to me. He would rather endure the Void than that.”

“So it is in our hands.”

It was very still in the garden; Eru's robes whispered and flowed like water.
“I have always watched thee,” he said. “All of thee.”

“And how does it feel, just to to watch?” Vanimórë asked acerbically.

“Thou knowest the answer.” Eru returned the world-gem to its setting.

“We cannot afford an Eru who is unhinged.”

To his surprise, Eru threw back his veiled head and laughed. The sound was beautiful, unsettling. Unhuman.
“I will not, ever again, destroy that which I love,” he said after a moment. Then, warmly: “Thou hast all the arrogance of a god and more to speak thus to me without fear.”

“My concern is Melkor. Or it was, but it may be thou, also. I do not need the Creator of the Universe to make any sudden moves.” Vanimore spoke unblinking, wishing he could look into the hidden eyes. “I was raised in the shadow of power. I do not, therefore trust it. Not even my own. Thine, perhaps least of all. Thou hast admitted the destruction of a universe.”

A torrid heat, like the fire-guts of Orodruin emanated from Eru.
“And have said I will not do so again.”

“Words,” Vanimórë enunciated, “mean naught. I imagined thee to be beyond human passions, but thou art not, and that is perilous.”

“If thou art searching for some-one, something all-loving, all-forgiving,” Eru said with a very human dryness. “then thou wilt be disappointed, Vanimórë.”

“And I do not think any...being like that would comprehend living, either. I would trust such a one even less.” Vanimórë was equally arid. “When I thought of thee at all, it was of one who did not care.”

“I care.” Eru shifted. “Mayhap too much. But I cannot directly intervene and so I have chosen champions who can – and will.”

“I thank thee.”

“Power was always in thy blood, thou didst use it anyhow, long before Fos Almir. Thou didst move across the world as a god even then. It was...safer, to bring thee to the truth of thyself.”

“Safer?” Vanimórë repeated. “Thou knowest what I will do: I will go the the Harad and build an Empire. I will want it to be peaceful, prosperous and, because Men are what they are, I will fail. I know it. And I will fall. As thou didst. Oh, yes, I understand the desire to make all right, my Lord. To mould, to shape. It is, as thou sayest, in my blood. Elgalad holds me against the Dark, and if I destroy him – which I will...!” His teeth snapped shut. He forced out: “Sometimes we do not only destroy what we hate, we destroy what we love.”

“Yes.” It seemed to echo. Yesyesyes. Then: “Thou must tread thine own path. As I did.”

Balked anger fisted Vanimórë's hands, but he willed it away. He had not come here for help, or not for himself; if he killed Elgalad it was indeed on his shoulders and his alone. One could not blame one's own actions on anybody else. He swallowed bitterness and despair like gall.

“I chose thee – all of thee.” Eru placed his hands on Vanimórë's shoulders. “Those whom have suffered, known pain, love, grief, despair. In thee I place my hope.”

“I am going to fail,” Vanimórë told him. “I am not a good man.”

“None of those I have chosen are good men.” There was a wry smile in the tone. “Good men are apt to see only in black and white, and thou knowest the world is not that simple. Thou art not a good man, no, but a great one. As are the others.” His fingers tightened, flesh and blood, real, or at least feeling so. Vanimórë stared at the metal veil.
“Thou must indeed be desperate to look to me,” he said.

“Thou art not going to fail,” Eru murmured. “Not at the last.” He moved back, raised his arms. The palace fled away; they stood in infinity, where galaxies trailed pinwheel arms, and black holes sucked in suns. Vast wings of diamond and ebony snapped up and spanned Time. Everything was within Eru and of him. And he hung like a man crucified upon Eternity.


OoooOoooO


Chapter 9 ~ Life Is The Anvil ~ by Spiced Wine
Author's Notes:
Dear anyone. I have been unwell and therefore not writing much and still do not know how much I will be able to write. One thing I have decided to do is not to rehash through the chapters of Dark Lands, Dark Blood and Dark God.
After this current chapter I shall skip time and begin posting edited chapters of what was 'Weapons of the Gods' which was uploaded here, but taken down a few years ago. Thank you for your patience if you are still reading


~ ~




“I do not want,” Edenel said softly. “to leave thee thus.”

“You must go with your kin,” Bainalph said with a small smile that was yet warm. “After so long. You have to. You even speak as they do now.”

“I – we – preferred not to be known by our mode of speech. And we wanted to try to forget.” Edenel made a brushing-away motion. “Bainalph,” he murmured. “Thou art alone.”

“I am Prince of Alphgarth. I am not alone.”

“In here.” Edenel laid a hand on Bainalph's heart.

Matters had reached an impasse between Bainalph and Thranduil. They only met at council, and the tension was like fired ice. Thranduil's queen neither helped nor hindered, aware of all that had passed between them and ignoring it, at least ignoring Bainalph, for which he seemed grateful.

And Edenel had watched him grow sadder as the years passed. Not to the point of abandoning life; Bainalph still took pleasure in submission, in life itself, but there was a greyness to his heart that was dreadful to see in one so beautiful.

One could see, when he and Thranduil were in the same room, the bond that bound them, but it had become more like a rope of chains, unbreakable and imprisoning. There was desire, but no love. If there had been, Thranduil had poisoned the source with years of neglect. He was, Edenel thought, too quick to gnaw on his perceived transgressions, of which Bainalph was the first (though not the last). He blamed himself for sullying the blood-bond of his marriage, but it was Bainalph whom had borne the brunt of it. And even now, Thranduil could not let him go, and perhaps it was not even in his own hands. Or Bainalph's.

“I will not say I shall not miss you,” Bainalph owned. “You taught me, and gave me so much.”

Edenel was not of the opinion that every-one needed a mate; he had never been inculated in that belief, unlike the Noldor who were only slowly easing out of that doctrine. He did, however, believe Bainalph needed some-one to put the light back into his eyes.

“The feeling is mutual,” Edenel said smiling. “What wilt thou do?”

Bainalph spread his hands. “What I do now.”

“It is not enough for thee.”

“I do not want Thranduil.” Bainalph spoke with complete conviction, lovely face firm. “It does not matter now, if he were to be...different. There is too much behind us, between us that is toxic.”

Edenel thought of Fëanor and Fingolfin, but there were vast differences: one of them was that love was at the very root of their relationship. Fingolfin could forgive his half-brother because of the love that had existed long before Fëanor abandoned him in Araman. The base of Thranduil and Bainalph's non-relationship was lust and guilt.

“Thou doth deserve so much better.” He drew a hand down Bainalph's cheek.

“Do I? I began this. Perhaps I deserve exactly this.” His smile was cold.

OooOooO


Vanimórë had been sitting, hands in lap, eyes closed while Fëanor watched him, and wondered. He laid a hand on Vanimore's back feeling the taut muscle and sinew under his fingers – and waited. When a shadow moved into the light he said, without looking up: “He travels. To meet Eru.”

A tiny frown appeared between Elgalad's slim brows as he crossed the chamber.
“He h-has never done so before, I th-think.”

Fëanor noted the stammer which, he was certain was feigned, as Elgalad touched Vanimórë's hand. It was unresponsive.

“There are things we have to know,” Fëanor said. “Thou knowest Coldagnir was no Balrog. He lied to us. Convincingly.”

“I know.” Elgalad's lashes dropped. “But h-he fulfilled his vow.” He looked up. “To slay Gothmog.”

“He did.” The death still hurt. “I honour him for that. But why lie to us?”

Elgalad shook his head. “To us and to th-them I think. In the Void. Who were not, then, in the Void. He h-had to lie all those years, and even to h-himself.”

Fëanor regarded him. The delicate arch of cheekbone, the lovely lines of his mouth.
“That would take a great deal of resolve and courage,” he murmured. “To be less than one is.”

“And love. For Eru, p-perhaps? One will do a great deal for love.” He slanted Fëanor a long-lidded look from eyes clear as melt-water.

“Yes,” Fëanor agreed, thinking. “Possibly.”

“Dost thou l-love Vanimórë?” Elgalad asked.

He had not expected the question. “I do. And not,” he added, “because he is my grandson. I had seen him before we met here in Imladris. Eru allowed us to see what he did, how he reclaimed the Silmaril Maglor cast into the sea, how he burned his way into Valinor.” He felt the wolf-smile curve his mouth. “But seeing a vision is not the same as the real thing. The real person.” He looked back at Vanimórë, his pulse steady, breathing easy. “Very few men or women possess presence; seem to be more vivid. Eagles. He has it. Most people are not complete without others. He is. I have never seen any-one so self-sufficient. That is the mark his life has left upon him. Nor any-one who so needs love. Command is as natural to him as breathing. He fights as if he were born to it. He could rule the world.”

“Thou likest him b-because he is like thee,” Elgalad smiled a little. Fëanor laughed softly.
“He is of my blood. But I do not know if I could live his life. I do not think I could live without my sons. I cannot imagine it. And Vanimórë has had to live with no-one. Except a father who used him. And there is something I do not understand. I know that Sauron felt something for Celebrimbor, and Vanimórë confirmed it. So why, having a son like this one, would Sauron misuse him?”

Elgalad just looked at him, face gone to marble-hardness.

“I think Sauron could feel emotion,” Fëanor pursued. “Coldagnir could, and he was a god. Even Morgoth could.” His mouth thinned. “And I for one would feel naught but pride in a son like this. There is only one reason to treat some-one with such abuse, over and over again. Hast thou ever made a weapon, or seen a sword being forged?”

“I have seen it,” Elgalad said softly. Something flickered in his eyes.

“I have made many. I have also sired and raised sons.”

There was a small silence, then Elgalad said, “But thy sons w-were not the men thou knowest now. They were f-formed by thy death, by pain, by torment, by anger and grief and w-war.”

Fëanor looked at him. Remembered his sons before, in Valinor, growing, learning, all different, all without the weight of the Oath upon them, the mark of it that would never fade from their eyes.

“If thou hadst survived, w-would they have?”

“Our thoughts walk the same road,” Fëanor murmured. If they, any of them had died, would I have lived? “How cold, how calculating, and how clever.” Wild fury washed through his heart. Even if he could understand why Sauron might have done this, it was unforgivable. “But there is more. He made Vanimórë a weapon.”

“Against Morgoth.”

“Has Vanimórë told thee this?”

“No. But what else? Why w-would Sauron ever want Morgoth t-to return?”

It did make sense.
“I have learned that when Sauron went to Númenor, he spoke of Morgoth, built temples to him.”

Elgalad shrugged. “To Morgoth, or to h-himself? It is easy enough to speak of a p-power that cannot return. Or n-not in the foreseeable future.”

“Indeed.” He regarded Elgalad for a long moment. “Thou art much...deeper than thou appearest.”

“How people view m-me is not my concern.” Elgalad's long lashes dropped over the smile in his eyes. “I know what th-they think: that I am sweet and loving and kind, and I l-live only for him.” He looked at Vanimórë.

“And thou art not and do not?”

“Some of it is t-true. I am also a warrior.”

“I know. I have seen thee fight. He taught thee?”

“He began my t-training, until I joined Thranduil.”

“When didst thou first fall in love with him?” Fëanor asked.

Elgalad's smile was radiant. “I always w-was in love with him. Not perhaps in a sexual sense, but in l-love with him? Forever. He was – is – the most patient m-man, the kindest. And he is a killer. All warriors kill, but h-he will kill for vengeance or justice or fury and without thought.”

Fëanor nodded. “Thou didst never miss thy parents?”

“I n-never knew them. I only knew Vanimórë, and that was enough.”

“Sometimes it can be unwise to invest so much love into one person,” Fëanor suggested.

Elgalad looked amused. “I can and do love others,” he replied. “I have h-had other lovers, as has he. I love him b-because I cannot help but do so, and want him, but I am n-no puppy trailing after him.”

“No, thou art not. But thou knowest why he withholds from thee?”

“Yes.” With a clear look. “Perhaps he could h-hurt me, even kill me. But I want him and want him and burn w-with wanting him. It is a risk I will take.”

“And that is the risk he does not want to take.” But looking at Elgalad, the thick fall of silver hair, the moulded beauty of his face, the clear brilliance of his eyes, and the love, the love that Vanimórë craved so deeply, Fëanor thought that a time would come when Vanimórë would not be able to resist.

Elgalad kissed his fingertips and then laid them gently on Vanimore's lips, like a benediction, like a blessing.



“Eru,” Vanimórë said opening his eyes and taking a deep breath. Whether it was a curse or an acknowledgement was debatable. His eyes had darkened to indigo and they flamed. Fëanor thought he saw the universe in them, incomprehensible, incredible and then Vanimórë blinked. Those eyes still dazzled. His face glowed like an ice mountain under the sun.
“Eru,” he repeated. Then, “I will tell thee, and then I must think.”

Fëanor said when Vanimórë was finished. “Not what I had imagined. I wish I had experienced it.”

“I think thou yet may. But I no longer question why Eru cannot aid Arda in person. His presence almost breaks the Timeless Halls. It is like the universe concentrated into a presence. I am afraid it is up to us, but...”

“Yes. Morgoth.”

“That is the danger. Eru still loves him.”

“All people can find that in themselves to love – and to hate,” Fëanor murmured.

“At least if they are honest with themselves,” Vanimórë agreed. “There is something in many of us we would rip out – if we could.”

“But something of it remains,” Fëanor mused his brilliant eyes distant. “In Eru.”

“Oh, yes. And it is dangerous. He is more dangerous because he has lived, and is therefore subject to all the vagaries of human emotion.”

Those eyes swung to his. “Still? After so long?”

“Time is not the same for him. It was not for me when I was unclad.” Vanimórë sat back. He lifted his hands, gazed at them. “I could have spent eternity simply looking at what makes up this... Particles the human eye cannot see and forever in motion. Nothing is what it seems. Sauron was right. The grandest of illusions – yet more than that, too. For Eru, the beginning of this universe may be no more than an eyeblink ago. And the pain is still there, the emotion.”

“I do not know if I am unnerved or relieved to know he was once human,” Fëanor remarked.

“I feel the same,” Vanimórë agreed dryly, meeting his eyes in a salute. “Nothing I saw was real...and yet...it was familiar. Is that because he wanted me to see it? Or because he wanted to?”

“He is lonely, thou didst say.”

Elgalad looked up, brows drawn.

“I thought I knew loneliness,” Vanimórë said quietly. “I did not. Or not of that magnitude. The gods – or very few of them – have not lived. He has. Thus he is alone.” He gazed at Fëanor's beautiful, thoughtful face. One thing he had not been told: What Eru had said about him, about Fëanor. Neither would he, until he had time to consider it.

“Nothing has changed,” he said. “We still do not know what gods may be out there, or even in the Void. We have to contain Melkor.”

“Then we will,” Fëanor said. “as he cannot be destroyed.”

“And then there is my father.” The last word bent in Vanimórë's mouth. “More than a Maia. God of the world.” He gave a crack of laughter. “How very ironic, that he did, after all, have a valid excuse for wanting to rule it. Oh, I do not think he should have it. But I understand now.” He stood up. “It is almost time for me to leave.”

Fëanor clasped his hand. “I hope to see thee soon.” He leaned forward and Vanimórë stood still as Fëanor's mouth touched his. It was brief, intense as everything was with this man. When he drew back, their eyes locked. There was nothing more to say. Or not yet.

Imladris came to to bid them farewell. Vanimórë had not expected it, did not know how to react. He would, he realised, miss them. All of them. He allowed himself to absorb their beauty, thought of the winged gods of the Timeless Halls. There was little difference between them.

He knew if he changed his mind, dismounted from his horse and suggested going to New Cuiviénen they would accept him. Or enough of them would. (And part of him yearned for it, to simply spend time with them) But he also knew, and with more conviction, that he had no true place among them. He raised his hand, then dropped it and he and Elgalad rode from the valley.



“He is going to go and build an empire,” Fingolfin murmured, coming to Fëanor's side, who glanced at him.

“Yes, he will.” Fëanor's blood rose like scalding surf at his half-brother's proximity. He concealed it. “We need to talk,” he added. “Glorfindel, Elladan and Elrohir. Edenel. Where is Maglor?”

Fingolfin's star-coloured eyes scanned the ward. “I have not seen him since last evening.”

Fëanor turned. Maglor! Come to the council room.



“I miss thee.”

“And I thee.”

The beeches were just that intense green colour of late spring, the sunlight filtering through the fanning branches in a corruscation of emerald-gold light.

“I remember time,” Eru said to Elgalad, as they walked. “But I can only feel it through thee, and others like thee. Thou might have been gone only a moment ago.”

“Is this the only way?”

“It is the only way now.

“I do not wish him to be hurt any more.” Elgalad searched Eru's face.

“If I could take away all pain and suffering, I would,” Eru said. “But then it would not be life, it would be like this.” He spread his hand to the vista around them. “Unchanging. No-one would learn, no-one would grow.”

“I know it. And yet...”

“Yes,” Eru murmured. “And yet.”

Elgalad broke the silence. “This is the true beginning for him.”

“I know. He will found a mighty Empire. He will sit as god-emperor. And it will mean nothing to him. He has no love of gods and who will blame him? He will slide toward darkness.”

“And my death will arrest that fall?” It was unbearable to think of what the man he loved would feel, whom had suffered so much. Eru was casting all his hope on Vanimórë's strength of will. And so was Elgalad.

Eru reached out and touched Elgalad's shoulder, gripped it. This time. The words were there between them, unspoken. This one time out of thousands of times it had not. Every protagonist a little different.

Elgalad looked into the eyes of the Universe. It was bootless to consider that; there was, for all of them, only this reality. But it all rested upon one man's shoulders.

"He will not seek for thee," Eru said gently. "He will think that thou art in the Halls of Waiting, or reborn into Valinor but he will not go to thee."

"I know he will not. He would not risk killing me a second time." Elgalad bowed his head. It was too cruel. "And when I do not return to him, he will believe my love was a lie."

There was nothing Eru could say to that truth and he did not try. After a while, he murmured: "If thou wouldst step back from this --"

"I want to save him!" The cry echoed back from the dreaming trees. "Thou doth not even know if I can." It was scarcely a question.

"Only that it is possible."

"Then it will have to be possible." He settled his shoulders with a sigh. Then: “There is a thing I do not understand. Thou hast said that Arda is for Men, and they wax while the Elves wane. I have seen this for myself. So why create Elves at all?”

“Ah,” Eru smiled; there was sadness in it, and something deeper, more poignant. “I loved them. I could not resist it. Valinor is their place, in the end. And not under the rule of the Valar.”

Elgalad fell silent. A breeze brushed the leaves, whispering. It might have been some corner of the Greenwood, which, of course, was why Eru had created it.

“I did not understand love,” he said after a time had passed. “Not truly. I thought I did. I came into being loving thee, but this – Arda, is different.”

“No-one can truly live without living,” Eru told him. “Life is the anvil.”

“I do not regret it. Vanimórë said thou wert lonely, and I did not comprehend that before, either.”

“Power exacts its price,” Eru said calmly. “Always. It should teach accountability. Unfortunately, it often does not. But I knew from the beginning what it would mean for me.”

“Thou didst tell Vanimórë more than thou didst ever tell me.”

Under the smile, affection. “And dost thou know why? He asked. Only one other ever has.”

“His father,” Elgalad guessed.

Eru smiled faintly. “Come here,” he said, and enclosed Elgalad in his arms. “Mairon burned with curiosity. Most of them wanted to learn, of course. Thou didst thyself. But all of thee accepted me as what I was – the creator of this universe.”

“And the destroyer of another,” Elgalad said turning his head.

“Yes. That, too.” Eru's face was as beautiful, as terrible as lightning.

Elgalad thought of Vanimórë in Tanith, giving himself to that corrupt emir, Taraluk to save Anwyn, a woman of courage and beauty sold into slavery in a piece of political rivalry, to save him, Elgalad. But also to get close to Taraluk, to the heart of the web: what dwelt on the fog-shrouded Isle of Plagues?

Elgalad knew quite well what dwelt there, but he must enact his part, play a role, hide himself as Vanimórë did, and wait until this game concluded.

“He wanted to destroy Tanith,” he said slowly. “I felt it. He withheld. Thou didst destroy a universe.”

“I do not ask for understanding,” Eru said. “There is none that can encompass what I did.”

Elgalad said, “Didst thou think this one would be better?”

“No. I simply did not want to be alone.” His smile was bitter with rue.

Elgalad stared at him. He felt the horror of that admission, the abyss beneath it, knew suddenly that no-one had ever held Eru, loved him, only feared him and felt awe. He touched Eru's face, the skin of stars.
“I love thee,” he said simply. “I always did, but my love was unformed then. Now I have lived and learned how to hate. And I love thee.”

Eru regarded him for a long, long moment. He shook his head slightly. “Why?”

“Because I know what it is like to love a man who believes he does not deserve it. I know what I am seeing in thee: Humanity. Before I lived I would not have known that. At the beginning thou wert with us a great deal, teaching us, encouraging us to learn. Thou couldst not have done that if thou thyself had not lived. And then thou didst begin to distance thyself. Was it because no matter what we learned we could never understand – without living?”

Slowly Eru slid a hand about Elgalad's nape, rested his brow against Elgalad's. Warm, smooth, living . An illusion? Yes. And no.

“We loved thee, and worshiped thee and that is never what thou didst want, is it?”

Eru drew back a little. “And what makes thee say that?”

“Because he does not either, yet he gathers worship and will gather more in the future. And like him, thou hast lived, and remember it.”

A sigh passed Eru's lips. “I understand why gods need worship – and that is at the root of it: need.” His eyes lifted stared into the trees or at something beyond Elgalad's knowing. “I never needed worship, never required it.”

“Thou didst need...comprehension,” Elgalad ventured.

“A like mind,” Eru agreed. “Come.” He laid a hand on Elgalad's back, and they walked through the woods, through a mist of bluebells that tinted the air below the richness of the beech leaves. Then the trees failed and a green lawn stretched before them, a garden where fruit trees blossomed and a stream flowed. Beyond it stood a house, not dissimilar to those Elgalad had seen in the north, long and roofed in thatch but more sophisticated, as if constructed to please the eye rather than simply provide shelter. A long window of sliding glass lead into a room of soft, warm colours, the floor covered in a dense carpet, soft chairs set at angles, a fireplace, vases of flowers, a polished table bearing wine and glasses.

“An illusion of peace,” Eru said. "Sometimes it has to be enough."

"I want him to have peace," Elgalad said passionately.

Eru gazed at him. His eyes had gone night-black; it was impossible to read anything in them. "I could make him sleep for a hundred thousand years, and when he woke he would still remember. What would he be if he was not himself with all his memories, with everything that he is? Would he even want that?"

"No," Elgalad owned. "He would not. It makes him -- all of us -- what we are. I know that now. It makes it no easier."

"Nothing can make it easier," Eru agreed.



Chapter 10 Abyss by Spiced Wine
Author's Notes:
Begins at the end of Dark God, after Elagalad's death and the end of the Age. If you haven't read it, or not for ages, might be worth just browsing the last chapters of Dark God again. But in summary: a meteor was heading for Earth. Glorfindel and the Elves created enormous subterranean refuges and many Mortals journeyed to them. There they (and the Elves) could live while the Earth healed, warded by power.

With Elgalad's death, in his grief, Vanimórë met the falling meteor. His body was destroyed, and the meteor fell in shards rather than as one solid object, which mitigated its damage.
There was a doubt Vanimórë would want to return, even though he could rebuild his physical form which was completely gone. It took time. But, much later, he did.

'As noted by Graham Hancock in his best seller books, near the end of the last Ice Age 12,800 years ago, a giant comet that had entered the solar system from deep space thousands of years earlier, broke into multiple fragments. Some of these struck the Earth causing a global cataclysm on a scale unseen since the extinction of the dinosaurs. At least eight of the fragments hit the North American ice cap, while further fragments hit the northern European ice cap.

The impacts, from comet fragments a mile wide approaching at more than 60,000 miles an hour, generated huge amounts of heat which instantly liquidized millions of square kilometers of ice, destabilizing the Earth’s crust and causing the global Deluge that is remembered in myths all around the world.

A second series of impacts, equally devastating, causing further cataclysmic flooding, occurred 11,600 years ago, the exact date that Plato gives for the destruction and submergence of Atlantis.'

The shattered shards of the meteor fell in fire across the Earth. Forests burned, volcanoes gouted fire, earthquakes shattered the land and killing waves drowned the coasts. The sky glowered, sunless.

It was the end of the Old World, the beginning of a new Age.

But there was no mass extinction. Some Men were saved in the great refuges deep underground, warded by power. New Cuiviénen, equally guarded, was untouched.
Those whom had chosen to go below ground, lived in a subterranean world while above them, the planet groaned like a woman in labour. Even there, in places far from the fall of the fragments, some lived. The planet and the life thereon was resilient.

Slowly, Arda settled, its scars becoming part of her face, smoothed by growth and time, sunk under the seas.

When the refugees emerged, they spread across the world carrying their knowledge to those whom had forgotten. Thousands of years spun on the distaff of Time until the Old World became myth, tales told as the dusk fell in winter.

The Valar had turned their back on the Outer Lands. Now the two gods who dwelt on Middle-earth forgot Aman. They went among Men, strangers possessing otherworldly gifts who appeared and vanished again.

Arda, they knew, would be for Men. There would come a time when it would be impossible for the Elves to hide from them, when there would be no room for them, not even in the guarded realm of New Cuiviénen. Some, like Thranduil's wood-Elves, would weave glamour over themselves and the lands where they dwelt, but even that in the end, might not be enough.

Vanimórë could have made himself a God-Emperor again in those early times when Men still believed that beings other than themselves haunted the shadows, moved in the twilight winds. But it felt too much like a path he had already trodden and to no good end. More and more he believed that Men should order and govern themselves. This world was no place for gods.

At times he came to New Cuiviénen, but never stayed long, and spoke only to Glorfindel. He could not bear Fëanor's compassion or Maglor's new sympathy. He would shatter under it. He gazed upon Elgalad's body, bound in timeless power, a shell, no more, and gave himself up to the rending claws of guilt until even guilt itself wore into a grey miasma of weariness. After a while, he ceased to come, met with Glorfindel in other places.

He longed for oblivion, for nothingness, but his promise to Fëanor held him: he would fight in the Dagor Dagorath. After...? There was a tiny sliver of hope he dared not examine too closely.

And so he wandered, belonging nowhere. He forgot Valinor, or put it from his mind.

Others did not forget.




~~~



Sometimes, and if he were alone, when memories he could not suppress rose like a dragon's crest to the surface, Vanimórë would bow his head over his knees like a man curling about a gut wound.
He did not weep. All tears had been burned out, perhaps forever, in the acid of grief.

This was a place of mountains and dark green pine. There was a lake, leaf-shaped, deep and clear. It was beautiful, and gave Vanimórë no peace.

Elgalad drifted, formless refusing to leave him, though Vanimórë could neither see nor sense his presence. At times, he saw other houseless spirits, Elves who had never heeded the call to the Halls of Waiting. They were memories of their own lives, not like him, although he too was a memory in Vanimórë's mind.

There were other things, more malign, that came out of the dark to batten on him. They had many shapes, but all were black as a shadow's smile. They mocked and chittered filth until Vanimórë's steely will drove them wailing into the wastes.

Now, while he did not sleep, he withdrew himself, leaving only a tendril of conscious awake and aware.

Elgalad watched him.

They tempered him as a sword. And his fashioning is not yet done.

Slithering, jerking, the demons came.

They seek to drive him mad, or into Night.
He will not succumb. Ever.

Elgalad slashed a thought at the creatures. Something shrieked and snarled, fleeing. Vanimórë did not even stir.

Thou dost not know what thou art. They do not know, either. Not the Valar of Aman, Glorfindel or bright-burning Fëanor. That one does not even know what he himself is. But I know. I am, or was, one of the hammers that forge thee.

I wish there could be peace for thee.

But there is none. Not yet.




~~~




“We can destroy them. Forever. Unto their very souls.” Námo's eyes shone like marsh-fire in sockets of bone.

“If we let them in.” Manwë looked as if he were chewing on gristle.

“They will be our weapons. Sometimes it is wise to...cooperate.”

“Are we stronger than her?” Corpse-pale Varda asked.

“Once, she cowered in Avathar,” Manwë mused upon it. “Melkor used her.”

“And we could not see through her Unlight,” Varda reminded him, icicle-sharp.

“That will not matter once she is imprisoned within my halls,” Námo said.

“And he?” Manwë wondered.

Námo looked scornful. “He is not so strong as his master.”

“Then why do we need him?”

“Because he knows his bastard son better than any-one.”

“And when we have Vanimórë?”

“We give him to her. What Sauron wants matters naught. We give them all to her.”

Varda raised a hand. “This will not go uncontested. Thou art no longer keeper of the Halls of Waiting.”

“But I will be,” Námo said, and smiled like the avatar of death. “Sauron has promised me that. And the traitors will not know, until it is too late. Unlight will devour them. Forever.”

“Thou canst not trust either of them,” Manwë warned. “Sauron least of all.”

“Of course not. But he wants something we have: A prison that not even a God can escape from...”



~~~



Unlight, Elgalad thought. They will let Ungoliant into Aman, Dana within her, who hates Vanimórë. And Sauron. Varda, Námo, Manwë, twisted by hatred have sunk into madness. Sauron is far cleverer than they are, and far more powerful. He does not want them. He wants his son. And he thinks he knows how to get him...

“A prison that not even a God can escape from,” Námo had said.

Elgalad looked at Vanimórë, and ached.

He knows his father. He will not step into any trap of Sauron's devising. And certainly not the Valars'.

Will he not? Eru's voice from beyond the world, beyond Time. It was thousands of years since Elgalad had heard him. He did not seek him out, had not since his supposed death. He had not been able to imagine or prepare for Vanimórë's pain. There is a point where necessity becomes cruelty. He, Elgalad, was complicit in it, and would be again, but Eru's plan was so encompassing, so vast, so unknown and unknowable, that it could sew doubt even in a god. Eru was far beyond godhood and so were his thoughts.

What does Ungoliant want in Valinor? Where is the prison that no God may escape from? What dwells in the Halls of Waiting?

Elgalad said unwillingly: Souls.

Thou art the only weak link in Vanimórë's chain. Thy death gave him the hate to willfully, willingly destroy his own form to save Arda from ruin.

He would have done that without my death.

Perhaps. But there comes an extremity of emotion in all people that can make even a God surpass themselves. I know of what I speak. And he needs to find it within himself again.

But I am dead to him, or gone at the least, Elgalad flung in cold anger. All that was left was his body, imperishable and lifeless. Better to have let that go into dust, he thought. But Vanimórë would not lay down one mote of his guilt. How can I be of use now? Neither would he need any incentive to act. The Halls of Waiting a feeding ground of Unlight, which devours. Of course he will act.

Sauron wants his son broken to his will, and only thou canst break Vanimórë. What would he not do for thy soul?

And Elgalad understood.

He thought of those who had remained in Valinor, and what their fate could be. Liars, that triad of Valar in Aman, and Sauron. Lying to themselves, to one another as they would lie to Glorfindel, to the Elves, and to Vanimórë. They would make the Halls of Waiting a place where souls were eaten, and feed their enemies into it one by one with more lies. There would be no prisoners there, whatever the Valar or Sauron said. It would be a place of obliteration. But not even a Valar could see into Unlight to know the truth. And even if he could, Vanimórë would enter it for Elgalad. He had faced it before. He would again. Unless Elgalad did not exist to save.

Eru said patiently, remorselessly: Vanimórë was born stretched upon the rack of two destinies.
They want to take thee prisoner, dangle thee before Vanimórë. And he will come. Only of thine own will canst thou step into Ungoliant's maw and take away their bait.

This will destroy him! He will believe me utterly gone.

There was no reply. There could not be one. The necessary cruelty of such a belief.

Elgalad cried out, one long, blasphemous curse directed both at Eru and the inescapable fate laid down before Time began, then hammered at the wall of Vanimórë's intransigent grief. It was harder than he had believed possible. So strong, annealed metal and sheer will. No god of the Timeless Halls could ever be as strong as one forged by the Earth. Vanimórë must be able to witness Elgalad's apparent annihilation.




~~~





Vanimórë startled into wakefulness. He came to his feet in one smooth move and fastened his harness.

"Elgalad?" He spoke aloud, burned up like a night fire.

Elgalad looked at him: all that deadly beauty, searing purple eyes that had held so much love for him, and now glittered over an abyss of pain. And, awfully, hope. Which Elgalad was about to smash.

I am so sorry.

There were never enough words. Their structure collapsed before the burden of the heart.

He turned away.

They rose out of the night like towers, vast gates of stone and iron. He had answered the call to his soul, or they believed he had. All Elves were granted the choice while they still had will enough to choose, and those who called believed Elgalad was an Elf. He had felt the call since his 'death' and ignored it.

Irmo had been appointed keeper of the Halls of Waiting after Vanimórë and Glorfindel's apotheosis, and his beckoning had been gentle.

But Irmo had been deposed.

This call was a vast, inward sucking, an open black maw. It pulled Vanimórë's hair forward in whipping darkness and he braced himself as two figures melted out of the dark at the base of the doors. One bore a face like a bleached skull; the other, with his pale hair, Elgalad recognized too well.

They converged on him and Námo's mouth opened horribly, impossibly wide as if he meant to swallow Elgalad whole. Sauron merely smiled, that elusive smile so unnervingly like his son's and held out his hands. A bright golden chain lay across them like an offering. Elgalad guessed that somehow it would bind his soul. Or would, were he an Elf. It would also save him from Ungoliant. He met Sauron's light, beautiful eyes.

'Thou will never have him,' he told them. 'Thou will never use me to break him.'

An immense force struck Námo and Sauron, blasting them aside like chaff as Vanimórë lashed out in reflexive, horrified fury.

Leaving the way clear.

Beyond the gates waited Ungoliant, ravenous and appalling.

Elgalad looked back and knew that Vanimórë saw him at last. And in that instant, he understood.

“No!”

The cry was almost enough to wrench him back.

“I love thee,” he said .helplessly, uselessly.

He trod up the steps into Ungoliant's all-consuming hunger that would gorge until there was nothing left and still howl for more.

Taste me then!

The doors slammed shut on two bellows of thwarted rage.

He let her believe she had him, sucking away the part of him that had been...Elgalad, a facade, a person whom had never really existed — then unleashed himself, the full burn of his god-light into Ungoliant's rot-black eyes. Away in distant New Cuiviénen, his body fell to ash.




~~~




Voices were speaking through the darkness.

New Cuiviénen. Glorfindel must have brought him.
He was here, but only in body. The greater part of himself was in the abyss that had swallowed him with Elgalad's dissolution. He had seen. And he knew what it meant.

So here it was, the place where he had refused to go, walking above it as upon a sword-edge. When Elgalad walked calmly into Unlight, Vanimórë smiled and simply stepped into it. Easily, without a thought.

He hung as if nailed to a gate in a vast cavern lit red by the liquid blood of the world. Its walls were gnawed by caves, and on the lip of them, shapes moved, rustling like bats.

And they came, lifting from their perches with the creak of leathery wings, and descended upon him. Their hunger was obscene.

They had waited for him for a long, long time.



~~~



The voices clashed and tangled.

“I saw it.” Glorfindel, his voice wiped stark.

“It cannot be true!” Maglor's protest, passionate and instinctive.

"I will not have it be true!” That gem-bright flash was Fëanor, defying fate and fact both as was his wont.

“He did it so that he could not be used to lure Vanimórë into the throat of Ungoliant, or Vanimórë himself be used to lure any of thee.” Glorfindel again. "He chose."

The voices grew fainter. He was falling away from them. From everything.

“And Darkness lies over all Aman.”

“No. wait,” Fëanor commanded. “Look. Tol Eressëa.”

There was a silence, then Glorfindel said: “Ulmo has raised the seas about the Lonely Isle.”

Those who could not enter the chamber were crowded outside, in the hall, the gardens. All of them could hear.

“Some of the Valar are there, with the Elves. They have taken refuge on the isle.” He waited, the vision surrounding him. “There was battle. Aman is held by Manwë, Námo, Varda and Sauron. Ungoliant inhabits the Halls of Waiting. The first place they struck was the Gardens of Lórien...the most vulnerable. Irmo is gone. I am speaking with Oromë...”

“What has happened to those who died?" Fingolfin demanded.

“Ungoliant is a devourer,” Glorfindel said. “Light. Bodies. Souls.”

“Impossible." Fingolfin sounded adamantine in his denial of something so absolute. “Nothing can destroy a soul. Even the Void did not destroy ours.”

“It could have, hadst thou allowed it. Oh, there would have been something left. A mere spark driven mad by Morgoth. Thy love and hate kept thee burning."

“Ungoliant,” Fëanor said, brooding-bright. "She is like the black holes in the centre of galaxies, though I do not believe she is one, for they are neither good nor evil, they simply are. But black holes draw in stars with their immense gravitational force, one might say they devour them. Ungoliant is like the epitome of greed. Sauron must have been desperate to ally with her.”
Then his shout rang against the marble pillars and shook the windows as he spun in a whirl of raven hair and burning eyes: “We will not permit this abomination! Those bloody remnants in Valinor have put themselves above Eru Himself!”

“I know it!” Glorfindel flung back at him.

The chamber was in uproar, people pressing forward, throwing unanswerable questions at one another, and at the center of it, Vanimórë lay motionless.

Maglor pressed forward and knelt at his side.
“We need him.” His voice was soft, scoured by pain, but it carried.

“I do not know if he can come back,” Glorfindel's curtness brought their eyes to him. "I do not know," he said, lower, "if we would want him back.”

“What?”

“I cannot be sure what would come back, Maglor."

Maglor stared, cursed. "No. He is stronger than that. Bloody Hells, thou knowest he is!"

“How wouldst thou feel if Fëanor's very soul were gone for all eternity?”

Maglor recoiled at the thought. He could not encompass it, just as he had never been able to truly comprehend or believe in his father's death. It had been impossible to accept he was gone, and that, even more than the oath, had driven him into madness, more with every brother he lost to the Everlasting Dark.

He had felt Vanimórë's despair through the long years. It was as if every moment of every day he wrestled like a man pushing a boulder uphill. When he had come to New Cuiviénen, Maglor had been willing to aid him, or try to, but Vanimórë turned away, repulsing every outstretched hand. Maglor could not blame him. Gone was the wickedly insouciant enemy-lover who teased him and seduced him and sparred with Maglor's hatred as if he enjoyed it. The curious bond between them had not been enough to reach across the fierce wasteland of Vanimórë's heart. Eru forbid that anyone trespass on the sacred ground of his suffering, Maglor thought with bitter pity.

Maglor had looked at Elgalad's body, a shrine to Vanimórë's self-loathing and, as the years wheeled, sorrow burrowed a groove into his heart. Sometimes a shift of light tricked his eyes into thinking that the lovely, lifeless form stirred or breathed, and he would wait with indrawn breath, hoping with fierce, futile desperation for the miracle that never came.

But Elgalad would never be reborn, and he knew why. Vanimórë would never go near him, never touch him, lest he destroy him again.

Elgalad should never have died. Unless there was something so deeply wrong, so virulent, in Vanimórë that it had crawled into Elgalad and....but no. Maglor had never felt in him what he had in Sauron. There was darkness, yes, but it blazed.

There had to be more, something else, something deeper, that they did not comprehend. When Elgalad had dwelt here, Maglor had come to love and value him for the purity and sweetness of his soul but, like his father, he too thought the face Elgalad showed the world was carefully contrived. The so-clear eyes concealed more than they revealed.

After Elgalad's death, Vanimórë had held to the infinitesimal ember of hope left to him (too small, too wavering to be coaxed and blown into a flame) that in the unguessable future, after the Re-making of Arda, Elgalad would return and then Vanimórë might somehow be clean enough to love him. That ember had died. There was nothing left for Vanimórë to hold on to. He had said, self-mockingly, that he saw nothing in himself to love, but he needed and cherished Elgalad's shining devotion even while doubting it, perhaps even, in his heart, deriding it as excessive. But there were few people who needed love more, behind the élan, the sword-glitter that deflected pity.

“We will take war to Aman!” Fëanor declaimed. “Now is the time."

“And that is what they want thee to do." Glorfindel snapped. “Elgalad acted as a warning to thee.”

Maglor cried: "To the Hells with warnings! Of course they want us forever dead and gone! We always knew it. This cannot go unanswered! Elgalad is gone, and Vanimórë as good as. We cannot see what passes in Valinor.” He looked down at Vanimórë's motionless form. "What has happened to him?"

“He has descended,” Glorfindel murmured, his face polished with anger, “into the deepest abyss. His own mind.”

“He would not give up." Maglor protested. “He would not let his father win.”

“Dost thou not see?” Glorfindel's blazed blue fire. “Any of thee?”

Their eyes fixed on Vanimórë's motionless figure. Its very stillness was an offense in one so vital.

“He fights with two swords.”

Fëanor turned to him. “I shared all his memories when we joined to fight Morgoth. But Vanimórë does not know what he is, I think.”

"He is too aware of what he might become."

"He is a weapon." Fëanor dropped the words like lead. "But in whose hands is the question."

"Elgalad's love prevented him from...” Maglor shook his head slowly from side to side. “falling. Becoming another Morgoth. So he believed. It was enough for him, it was something. But Elgalad died, and still Vanimórë held. And now – ”

“Two swords,” Glorfindel said. “Two weapons.”

“Morgoth's weapon.” Fëanor stepped to Vanimórë's side, laid a hand on his son's shoulder. “Or Eru's.”

Silence came down on the room like nightfall. Glorfindel could feel the Ainur on Tol Eressëa listening. Only them, not the mad traitors on Taniquetil. He almost could have smiled in derision. Almost. In accepting Ungoliant and Sauron into Aman, the three Valar there had also brought in Unlight. No-one could penetrate it. They had blinded him, but they had also blinded themselves. Only those on the Lonely Isle could hear him. That was something. Tol Eressëa was their foothold.

“If he comes back,” He said slowly. “He will be one or the other.”

Maglor's eyes searched his. “Eru used Vanimórë?”

“Slave of the Dark.” Glorfindel's voice carried an echo of power like far-off summer thunder. “Or its eternal enemy.”

“But with Elgalad gone?”

“There is nothing more they can do to him.”



~~~



But it appeared there was something they could do.

As they watched, and with nothing touching him, Vanimórë's face vanished in a spray of blood. Maglor felt it dash hot over his skin, tasted it in his mouth as he gasped. His mind bleached with horror.

"Gods, bloody gods." He did not recognize the sound of his own voice, it came through too much air cramping his lungs. “What is happening to him?”

Vanimórë's throat was opened. They saw the white bone of the spine.

He heard Glorfindel's enraged cry and the air was filled with power like sunrise on the skin.

Rents appeared in Vanimórë's tunic and breeches, the doeskin sopping gore like a washcloth. His body was being torn apart by – nothing. Arterial blood spumed against Maglor's face. And he could see the purple eyes.

They were aware of what was happening to him.

Eru, no! Gods no. Stop this!

Fëanor raised his eyes. There was nothing human in them. He said, like steel in a furnace: "Within his own mind. Then I will follow him."




~~~




He had gone deep into himself before.

Never this deep.

He watched as the demons came. They covered him, crawling, jointed, slick with slime. They were every terror, every evil he had ever know, things vomited from Morgoth's mind that spread like a stain through his servants and through humankind. They were rape and delight in torture, they were the sickness of perverted pleasures and betrayal. They were cruelty and violence and the laughter of those who enjoyed them, and those who felt nothing when they did, divorced from all empathy. They were everything he had fought all his life. Everything he witnessed and loathed and shut away in his mind trying simply to live.

They tore him apart and he watched. He felt.

It is not real, he thought with that icy part of him that ever observed, that nothing could touch. I am seeing what I imagine. What I believe I deserve.

Yet it was more than that. What he saw, was as real as his god-mind made it.

Once, long ago, he had gone into the dark and fought his way out, but he had accepted Morgoth and his father's help and was spurred by love and jealousy. Perhaps only Fëanor would have seduced Elgalad from both lust and calculation, gambling on Vanimórë's reaction.
Now, there was no Elgalad to fight for.

He had no true form in this place, and yet he did. And the demons destroyed it.

Once, he had spoken to Maglor of the Elf-woman whom had been pregnant with a monster. At first the Fëanorion had believed her raped by orcs.

“But there was something malignant there, beyond even that horror,” Maglor had said. “How would the woman have survived, violated by orcs and carrying their seed? And after she was dead – after I had killed her, for I could not bear her suffering and she was insane! – it ripped open her stomach from within. What was it?”

“An experiment,” Vanimórë told him. “Sauron wanted her found, to put fear and horror into thee. He kept her alive, just as he kept the woman who bore me alive. There were many experiments that failed. And then I was born. My sister and I.”

Maglor, he remembered, had turned to face him directly, a thing he rarely did after the savage passion of their couplings.

“That...creature was a child of Sauron's?” he had asked in disbelief.

“Sauron was a master of shapes, especially wolf and bat. He took her in wolf-form. He liked the terror and disgust it evoked, then and later. As I said: experiments.”

“Thou art not a monster,” Maglor had stated. He received only a wry smile in answer.

But Vanimórë had believed, from the time he knew whom his father was, that he should indeed have been monstrous. Had he been, perhaps Morgoth and Sauron would not have wanted him. He felt it wrong that his appearance was comely. It should be hideous, reflecting what he was: Morgoth's plaything, Sauron's whore, slave to both, bred of rape and madness and pain.

These demons knew how he judged himself, that he believed himself worthless. They knew how to attack him. He permitted it.

Sauron walked toward him through the red-black explosions of pain.

"Come," he said tenderly. "I can take this from you, my son, this pain, this pointless destruction. Come to me."

Vanimórë could not speak, could only push the force of his denial back at his father.

I will not be thine to use, nor Melkor's either. I am myself and I make this choice.

He thought Sauron smiled.

The demons clawed away his lips, dragged his hair in clumps from his scalp, wrenched away his manhood. He knew that he could not feel pain – could not feel pain, for this was not real! – but agony obliterated his logic.

Then they fed, peeling away his skin, ripping out his organs with hands and teeth. One of them broke off his leg below the knee and, gibbering with laughter, thrust it hard into him, working it in and out. It tore a great gaping wound. He could not scream; he had no vocal chords. His consciousness exploded into black fire.

Destroy me.

He was little more than blood-drenched bone now, yet aware and conscious, and then they broke his bones, ribs, legs and arms, flying with them back to their nests, sucking out the marrow. His pelvis tumbled free.

All that was left was his skull and spinal column, and eyes that still saw. He was so very weary. The Ages past and those yet to come crushed him under a mountain-load heavier than Arda, smothering him like a man buried alive.

So tired...

Something flew at him on black-singed wings. It had Elgalad's face, but the beautiful features were twisted, malicious. Vanimórë's soul flinched.

The thing came closer, holding itself before him, clawed hands gently scraping over his brow in a parody of tenderness as its voice hissed acid into his mind.

There is no death for thee, whore, only eternal torment. Thou wert born of darkness and have returned to its womb. But thy sins against thy masters have been manifold, and thou wilt pay for them. Forever. Even Eru has forgotten thee. Thou hast played thy part. He discards those he has no further use for.

And I, the only clean part of thee, that thou didst love in thy hunger for something pure? Thou didst kill me!

With a scream, it screamed and lunged. Bony thumbs dug into his eye-sockets. Spiked teeth closed on his head. He went blind, felt the bone of his skull crack like eggshell.

It sent him beyond madness into the furthest dark.

He heard laughter, the devouring of bone and brain.

No.

Then he was gone, and falling into the abyss and as he fell, what was left of him, he heard Elgalad's maniacal laughter.

No. Elgalad is not here.

Cannot be here...

Wings beat above him. The demon following, cawing filth. He ignored it. They had taken the last grain of hope, and then they had taken him. But he would not fear them. He had allowed it.
The cavern yawned around him, a red-stained throat.

His awareness was a small thing now. He watched what remained of him plunging into the lake of fire and pitch.
So very little of him left.

Let there be oblivion...

There was another raucous shriek above him – then a sound like a collision.

No eyes to see, but his consciousness still observed, that sharp, cool spark that mocked him for his weakness.

Two shapes tumbled past him. The demon was sliced in half, face upturned,
fangs bared in in grimace, before it was lost against the upwelling crimson glare. A crack! sounded, like a sail seizing the north wind and wings spread before him, immense and beautiful.

The figure was dressed in breeches that came to mid-calf, and a sword-belt set with moonstones was around his waist. His hair was in a thousand tiny braids, pouring in heavy silver chains. Silver vambraces clasped his wrist and wide bands circled his ankles. In his hands he bore twin swords the color of winter moonlight.

Whether the vision was spun from his madness or no, it was grace in all its manifestations.

I thank thee. Now let me go.

The vision raised its swords, crossing them above its head like a warning against intrusion. The wings enfolded Vanimórë, strong and supple as a warrior's hands. There was nothing for them to embrace, and yet they held him, arresting his fall.

No, beloved. Not yet.



~~~



There was no time here. Time had come into being with the universe and those who dwelt here were outside it. But they could observe Time and all that was within it.

They watched the universe unfold with wonder, from the birth of stars, to great planets of swirling gases, from the tiniest creatures of water and land, to the Children of Eru. They saw their passion and their pain, their blackness and their beauty.

They saw Melkor weave himself within the Great Music, not knowing whom he was, a god like them, they believed, but greater, darker.

They stood in untouchable glory, watched without comprehension because pain was alien to them, as an Elf woman taken and broken, bearing children before she died. She was one of several experiments undertaken by Mairon, whom had departed the Timeless Halls to follow Melkor, just as those called Valar had gone into Arda. The gods had been shown those, also.
They saw the son.


“His life will be terrible beyond enduring.” Eru's voice was all around and deep within, and those who observed were silent. “But he will endure, or he will break and die. They will take all that he loves, and first his innocence. His sister will be broken before his eyes, for Melkor will deem her of no use save for pleasure.”

“And if he lives, Lord?” some-one asked.

“He will ever have two destinies.”

“He will surely die.” The remark was not unkind, simply the comment of one wholly divorced from what they witnessed. “For whom would wish to live under such slavery?”

“He may not break. He is mine as much as Melkor's. But something of him must be saved now.”

“What?”

“Part of his soul. Innocence. Love. And one day he must meet it face to face and love it and the one who wards it, for he will despise and loathe himself. Some-one must keep it for him and carry it, and be born of the Earth.”

“One of us?”

“I do not ask it, nor will I command it. The one so born would forget what he was. Their purpose will be to love this pain-begotten child and freely.”

“How could such a one as he be loved, father?"

"Thou doth ask the wrong question," came a new voice in a challenge like a silver trumpet. One of them moved from his place. The others gave way, for even among gods he was mighty, often at Eru's side. He had desired to go into the world, and was the only one Eru had refused. "How could he not be loved?" Incandescent eyes as clear as glacier water turned to a Eru's own. "I know him. But that is not possible."

“Yes,” Eru's voice gentled. He drew the one whom had spoken away so they might be alone.

“This is a battle that began before Time and will outlast it," he said. "Unless I break my creation, I must fight through others.”

“And he is thy weapon?”

“One of them.”

"And my purpose." Puzzlement crossed his lovely features. "But how do I know him?"

“Thou wilt know him in many different worlds, different universes." There was a vibration of regret and even anger in the reply. “He is the reason I did not permit thee to go to Arda. But when the time comes, thou wilt be born there. And it will be hard for thee.”

“As hard as his own life, Lord?"

"No," Eru admitted ruefully. "But for a god, hard enough. Thou wilt have no power there save that of love.”

“That is enough,” said the silver-haired god. "It will have to be enough. I will be born on Arda?"

"He will be there when thou art born," Eru said. "And He will call thee Elgalad Meluion."



~~~



Blood was stippled across Fëanor's face. "Now!"

Diamond fire exploded in the chamber, and the solar-roar of Glorfindel's golden power. His hand met Fëanor's over the wreck of Vanimórë's body. Their fingers interlaced. At the last moment, Maglor's hand came down on theirs.

And their minds descended into the abyss.



~~~



He was not supposed to interfere in Vanimórë's destiny, in his choices, but Vanimórë himself, with his Fëanorian blood, and perhaps his father's, had little truck with arbitrary rules. Elgalad had learned from him.

I will not allow this. Come back.

He blazed like a silver sword so that the abyss chimed with it, and the demons could not come near to disturb them. He saw Vanimórë as he truly was, neither pure nor impure, dark or light, good or evil, but a chiaroscuro that had somehow found..balance. It was impossible and magnificent.

He held the few bones that remained, half a skull, a tail of spine. He wanted to weep at the ruin of beauty.

Vanimórë's voice touched his mind, so gently.

Love, he said. Let me go.



~~~
Chapter 11 Time Was. Time Is. Time Is Past by Spiced Wine
 Time was. Time Is. Time Is Past.

Let me go! Vanimórë commanded. Or I will take thee with me.

Then do so, Elgalad said.

I thank thee, he said. for providing me with a catalyst. And is that not what thou wert supposed to do? I believed thee gone for all time. Now, I can take the knowledge that thou art alive with me, knowing I did not destroy thee.

There was a recoil. ... I am so sorry.

Do not be. Now let me go.

Ungoliant inhabited the Halls of Waiting. Feeding on souls. But she -- it -- would not long remain there. The Noldor, alight with vengeance, must not throw themselves into that voracious gullet.

And so.

Vanimórë fell, and destroyed himself.

They would not understand, any of them, not his father, not Elgalad, even Fëanor would reject it, so fierce was his love for those of his blood. Vanimórë knew, though, what he had to do.

Dissolution.

Alone now, as he had ever been in his soul, he fell.

He felt Elgalad's cry tear through him and, hard on its heels, the firestorm of Fëanorian emotion, Glorfindel's golden rage of denial. Under it and through it, rang Sauron's horrified outrage. As if he could not believe that his son would do something so final.

Perhaps he should have felt something in those last moments - betrayal? Elgalad had played him, after all but he left that behind, too. The first, the greatest betrayal had been long ago, and by his father.

Falling. Through the fire at the heart of him, the last torment that devoured him like acid, a pain that blotted out all else.

It was necessary.

In the last conscious moments, he flung out his powers that had served him so little, and enclosed the Noldor within the great embrace of his mind. With love.

Then there was darkness.

Oblivion.



Maglor dived into the abyss on a tide of music, a harp that played itself. He reached within for the truth and spun it forth in gold. He sang of what should be, not what was, of grief and love, and passion and eternal defiance of the dark. The chamber resonated with it as he followed his father and Glorfindel into the depths.

Vanimórë's mind.

How could one man hold so much within himself for so long? There was nothing here of hope, nothing of light, only a vomit of torment, guilt and hate directed inward. Maglor's song wept in the face of it.

They plummeted like stooping falcons through ember-black darkness, into living shadows. Black shapes lifted from crevices on creaking wings. Some of them held bones in their hands.

They burned, and the demons tumbled from their path like charcoal poured from a sack.

A silver spear flashed out of the depths. It turned like a screw, punched a hole the falling creatures. Then it stopped before them, two swords in its outstretched hands. Immense wings vaned out, whiter than a swan's. The figure might have been created in direct opposition to the twisted black demons whom he had sheared through like a blade.

Elgalad, recognisably Elgalad, and yet not. Harder, steel rather than silver, blazing with power. The face of a god.

"Where is he?" Fëanor demanded. He was not even surprised, Maglor realised. Neither was he.

"Follow me." Elgalad said. Commanded.

But it was not Vanimórë. It could not be, this skull and spine that hung over the abyss and, as they watched, disarticulated wholly, fell into the lake of fire and filth.

No. No.

Maglor hurled himself toward it, this last remnant of a man, and far more than a man. Part of his life. Hated and loved. Vanimórë.

They plunged on, deeper into the very heart of that which had consumed Vanimórë. Which was...himself, his own mind. No one else could have destroyed him.

And then, they were thrown back as if by the hand of a god, implacable, awesome power. The darkness, the red-black consuming horror contracted into itself, then exploded outward, taking them with it.



A chamber with a destroyed body at its heart.

Fingolfin rose, his hands gory from fingers to elbow as if he had tried to remake the destruction even as it happened, the snapping of bones, the spray of blood. His eyes were wild, a burning star-blue as they stared at Fëanor. His breast heaved.

'I could not,' he began. 'I could not...where is he?' He came to his feet. 'Where in the Hells is he?'

A shadow threw itself over the chamber. The ground muttered in disquiet. The Elves hunched their shoulders, looked around, then raised their heads, blazing against it. Maglor, with a sense of helpless displacement, stared at the ruin, shocked almost to sickness with loss. His father whirled, cried into the dark with a voice of storm: 'Elgalad!'

Elgalad, whom had never been an Elf, who had driven Vanimórë to the limits of his endurance. And why. Why?

Blackness, cold...stars blazing...and then...

A slip.

A world was lost, and somewhere in that world Maglor stood in a chamber where Vanimórë had ceased to exist, leaving nothing but the remnants of a charnel house...



The breeze lifted the willow leaves, cast delicate moving shadows over the white wall.

New Cuivíenen basked in a sweet, endless summer. From somewhere close by came a sound of people talking, languid, unhurried in the heat.

Maglor shifted, blinked. A space of golden almost-peace lay like warm silk on his memory. Peace, and among the Noldor quarrelsome, passionate Noldor, an impression of contentment, of waiting...Valinor was open to them, the Valar had forgiven them, and if there was a certain black satire in some of the comments directed at the Valar, most were glad to know that the old animosities were buried.

Gradually the Elves had withdrawn from the world. Not completely; Féanor was too interested in humanity's growth to turn his back on it completely, but he had come to accept that Mortals and Elves could not coexist.

And so...a life of peace. A life, Maglor thought, caught in amber, but with hope at the end of it.

But sometimes...sometimes, there were jagged edges, as it were, in the periphery of his vision. When he turned to face them, question them, they melted seamlessly into the benign tranquility which was his life.

His father, his brothers, were reunited. Beyond hope, beyond reason, they were all together. What else could he want or need?

Fingolfin relaxed back in his chair. A summer storm had broken and the rain swarmed against the windows, thunder cracked and chased across the clouds. They came sometimes in summer, these swift-moving storms, breaking the heat a little, freshening the air, before moving into the mountains.

Maglor turned the wineglass in his fingers. It was carved out of a single piece of amethyst, against which the sparkling white wine gleamed gold. He looked up as Fingolfin said his name.

'A flaw,' he said. 'There is a flaw.'

Fingolfin's black brows rose. He said, after a long moment, rising from his seat.
'A flaw?'

Maglor ran his thumbnail across the barely discernible crack driven like a splinter into the shining gem.

'Maglor?'

'Yes?'

'what is wrong?'

Maglor smiled. 'What should be wrong?' He wanted to know.

A hand settled on his back. He looked into those superb silver-blue eyes which traced across his face as if combing it gently to release the tangles beneath. They were windows onto a cold, brilliant fire, Fingolfin's eyes, but gentler now, light-filled.

'I do not know,' he murmured. 'Something.'

Maglor shifted in his seat. 'A feeling, perhaps,' he said slowly. Every time he tried to snag it, it became mist and nothing in his hand; his mind dismissed it.

Fingolfin's hand smoothed his shoulder. 'Yes?'

'I cannot explain it.' An intense feeling of irritation climbed his veins, caustic, unbearable. A tiny frown etched itself between Fingolfin's brows. "There is something...something I cannot see. There!' He flung out a hand. 'If I focus upon it, it eludes me. There is nothing wrong.'

But Fingolfin's frown only deepened. 'A flaw.' He used Maglor's word. 'Something from the past, perhaps?'

He did not speak of the past, or rather, not the years of his wandering, the madness of a grief that never faded. And now, these last years, he could not remember that time. It...disturbed him, that memory-loss. It was, among Elves, unusual. They were doomed to perfect recall. There was a clutter of vague images and then he awoke to the reality of his father, brother's, uncle, the Noldor who had died returning, walking along the white strand, sea wind in their hair...He did not know how he had even got there.

The glass doors to the garden opened. A scent of crushed grass, flowers, the ozone of the storm blew in with Fëanor, shedding water. His eyes held the force of the lightening. He closed the doors, sent a smile to the others and said, gleaming: 'I may need a towel.'

Fingolfin, smiling, went to the door and spoke to a servant. Fëanor wrung out the dripping lengths of his hair and took a proffered glass of wine from Maglor. The corners of his mouth still turned up as he sipped until, with a sudden smooth movement, he set the goblet aside.

Maglor thought he would have spoken, but the servant entered bearing soft towels and a long, loose houserobe. Fëanor stripped unselfconsciously, wet hair flowing down his back, over his taunt buttocks and thighs. It was a sight, no matter how familiar, that one could not look away from.

'Well,' he said, lounging back on a sofa with a lift of his brows.

'I was but admiring the view,' Fingolfin gestured with a laugh.

'I thank thee.' Fëanor narrowed his eyes. 'But not the truth.' His gaze passed between them both, coming to rest on Maglor. It was as warm as a touch. Waiting for his words, Maglor was surprised when they did not come. His father's expression was thoughtful. It was possible he would question Fingolfin when Maglor left, though whether Fingolfin would say anything was doubtful. There were no secrets in their family, or none important enough to bother Féanor with.

When the storm ebbed, passing across the sea, Maglor left, walking through the washed gardens to his own chambers. The palace sprawled, huge and beautiful, over many acres, allowing one privacy if they so wished. He needed it now.

His sleep was scattered, sporadic, chasing something, a thought, that refused to be captured by his mind, leaving him infuriated, restless. He jerked out of one such chase with a start, seeing a mild, clear dawn. And his father, sitting on a chair, watching him.

'Fingolfin spoke to thee?' Maglor asked, pushing back the covers.

'No,' Fëanor replied. 'Did he need to? It is all there in thine eyes.' He rose, poured them both a light wine. 'Let me look.'

Maglor did not evade the deep, intense searching that went beyond his eyes, into his mind. There was nothing he wanted to hide.

After a moment, the unblinking distance in Fëanor's eyes cleared. He said softly: 'Something is...missing?' And then, as if to himself: 'What?'

'Not simply missing.' Maglor sifted gently through his own forest of confusion. 'Not right.'

Fëanor did not dismiss him or scoff, not that he would expect such a reaction from his father. He had seen something that troubled him, as had Fingolfin, though the latter had not delved so deep into Maglor's mind.

Sitting back, drumming his fingers on the arm of the chair, he stared at some distant point. 'Has anyone else mentioned this feeling?' he asked after a while.

Maglor considered, shrugged. 'No. I think...it is too nebulous, father.' Then, rousing to the anger he felt against himself. 'And how could I tell anyone I think something - some-one - is missing from what we have?'

'Thy mother?' Fëanor suggested gently.

'She is not dead.' He stopped himself. 'Is that is? Is some-one dead?'

'Who?'

'No...it cannot be that,' Maglor refuted with a shake of his head and paced to the window. Whom was he trying to convince, he wondered?

Mist was lifting from the wide lawns. For a heartbeat, Maglor felt himself sliding back into that place of peace, a place he was beginning to think of as a box, closing him (all of them) off from, what? Reality? He tensed against it, then let out a pent breath.

'How could there be anything wrong?' he wondered. 'It must be me. There is no-one else who feels like this.'

Walking in the gardens, beside the inland sea, riding, watching the faces of others to find something that echoed his own feeling of lack. Incompleteness.

And sometimes, a searingly deep sense of loss, as if he should be mourning for something. Or some-one.

'Is there not?' Fëanor came to his side. His unbound hair caught the light like liquid jet. There was always something heartbreaking about him since his return, though the fire had abated not one whit.

'Is it like waking to see the sun in the sky but realising, slowly, that it is but an image, that the real sun is gone and something else has been put in its place? Or that the stars are not great gaseous spheres in the universe, but painted upon some dark cloth? Dost thou want to tear open the sky to see what is missing?'

Maglor had whirled to face his father, grasping the taunt arms. Fëanor's expression was set, lips moulded together. 'Dost thou think I wanted even to hint that something was amiss?' He echoed Maglor's own thoughts. 'After everything thou hast endured?'

Thou. He spoke of his people not himself. Sometimes guilt clung heavy as a gore-crow to Fëanor's wide shoulders. He wanted to carry the Noldor's doom upon himself, sharing nothing.

Maglor bent his head in acknowledgment. Fëanor's arm curled about him. 'Absence,' he said carefully. 'Something taken away from us. From the world. More than that. We are deflected from thinking of it.'

Yes.

'Hast thou ever wondered,' Maglor said slowly, forcing the words past the barrier that wanted to constrict them, almost hating himself. 'That everything is too...perfect.?' His heart beat, its strokes swift, hard, against his breast. 'Canst thou remember the last time it was even cold?'

His effort sounded in the way he pushed the words through his teeth. Fëanor shifted, took his hands in a strong clasp.

'No,' he said, his brows quirked. 'Or the last time anyone was at odds, or argued...'

'But is that not good?' Maglor demanded, questioning himself.

'One would believe so.'

But it is not the way we are...

Mindslip.

The sensation was nauseating, like a helpless skid across ice. He flinched away from it, back to the safety...the dawn exhaled calmness like a breath. Irresistible.

'Father,' Maglor said.

'Yes?'

'Nothing.'





There can never be nothing.

Vanimórë had longed for oblivion, had sought it perhaps, since his youth. No memories, no dreams. Nothing, a negation of self. It seemed the essence of peace, not to be.

And he had never believed that he would find it.

No, what he sought was power. Power mightier than any god's for they were bound by Time. And even the mightiest god to set foot on Arda had fled from Ungoliant. Vanimórë had outfaced her before, but only by allowing his father and Melkor ingress into his soul, and even then, he could not best her. Neither could they. To do that, he had to go back even further than the gods...

...to the time before Time.

It struck him as odd that there was no panic. Sightless, deaf, without sensation, yet he was not afraid. He had reached the apex -- or the nadir -- of himself.

There was no time, so no sense of the passing of it. He waited in the womb of silence.

The presence he was expecting was sudden, vivid as lightning, like the opening of a dark room to sunlight. It seethed with overmastering rage, despair and grief and dreadful loneliness. Vanimórë had been prepared for that, but not the avalanche of its descent upon him, the horrifying, monstrous hunger.

He slapped it away.

No.

What art thou? The voice was like a demolition of worlds.

Not thine to plunder!

How canst thou be here?

How was he here? Because he had willed it so. He gave a mental shrug in reply.

There should be nothing, but there is life within thee, a universe, the voice melted into wonder. What art thou?

Vanimórë said, My life is within me, my memories.

Another voice spoke in his mind, from the other end of Time. Dost thou know what thou hast done?

And Vanimórë smiled. Yes. Yes, Eru, I do. I was not sure I would succeed.

Eru's mind registered almost-startled laughter. The voice echo said: I was. Always, and the clearer, closer voice, fierce and commanding: I must have what is within thee!

Ah, that arrogance. Vanimórë knew it. Melkor still dwelt in this first Eru.

I know what thou art, he told it, unconcerned. Fleeing here from the destruction of one universe to create another out of thy guilt and sorrow. Well, do it! In fact he needed Eru to do it, so that he could return.

How canst thou know that? Eru demanded, a kind of horror in the question and resurgence of anger.

Thou didn't tell me thyself, in the far distance future.

What?

what thou canst feel in me is part of what thou wilt create, he said patiently. So do it.

There was a stretched silence. Eru said, I came here because there was nothing left.

To make something

He felt the Eru in this no-place and the Eru of the future waiting. There was a terrible tension in it. Vanimórë stirred, said into the gap of their silence: Thou art a god, art thou not? or thou hast become one.

Give him what is within thee, said the distant Eru, quietly.

Why?

Because he only knows how to destroy. Thou art Life.

Nonsense! He - thou - created the Universe. I was not here.

But thou wert. Thou art.

The awful, devouring hunger reached for him again. He barred himself. This was Melkor again, believing that he could take whatever he wanted. The boy Vanimórë had been could not stand against him. He was no longer that boy. Yet the memory-flash of horror and hate whipped through him like scalding blood.

No! Then. That is not possible!

Outside Time, Vanimórë, anything is possible. Thou hast made it possible.

I came here to save them. I will not let the Noldor face Ungoliant, Vanimórë shouted. Even my father will not be able to hold her. Bloody Hells, he must be mad to think...! The Halls of Waiting will not - once she has fed on the souls there. She will grow stronger and break out. She will drink Valinor dry and then...? No matter what Fëanor is now, I will not permit him, his sons, his kin, to confront her. He paused. But I can. Now.

Yes, Eru agreed. I know thou wouldst save them. And thou canst. But thou hast placed them outside the Time of the world. Safe, yes. Nothing can touch them. But they cannot forget, Vanimórë. Not wholly. Thou hast given them a paradise, altered even their memories of the past, but their minds are too strong, they have lived too long. They are aware of a...flaw in perfection.

Vanimórë's mind..frowned.

Dost thou not understand? Thou art holding them within thee. And there they will remain unless the Universe is created. There is nothing here of Life except thee. Give thyself up to him, Vanimórë, give him what is within thee.

Eru, thou hast lied and lied again. Why would I believe thee?

He - I - was a power of destruction, not creation.

Vanimórë felt it building, the fury, the uncomprehending and titan need of a wounded, grieving god. He forced it away again.

The Halls of Waiting, where Ungoliant dwells are, in a sense, Outside, as art thou. Yes, thou canst confront Ungoliant there. But Arda, New Cúivienen, are of the World. Thou canst not go back. Thou hast made thyself too powerful. All thou canst do now is to give me, give Eru, the life within thee.

No, Vanimórë thought, his mind reeling. Then in sudden and absolute certainty: This is what thou didn't want!

I found thee, Eru said. Here. where there should have been nothing. I saw Arda in thy mind. That immense pressure thundered upon him, demanding that he relinquish himself.

If thou dost not, they shall not have existed. Nothing will exist.

They have lived! I have seen it.

Thou canst do nothing more, Vanimórë. Give them to me.

Give thyself to me!

No! he turned upon the first Eru, all confusion sublimated to his determination not to be raped, not to be used and not (ever) to drift in impotent nothingness, never to see Arda again, never to see those he cherished. His soul screamed out against such a fate.

Light and flame erupted, hurling itself outward into that which was not. Where there had been nothing save his mind and Eru's. He locked both together, reached in, and ripped the Melkor-soul out, felt its cry reverberate across unfolding Time. It was cruel and necessary. And of course, with that savage birth Melkor could never have been other than he was. Perhaps he could have fought his nature as all self-aware creatures can, but he had been formed out of hate and despair, (Vanimórë's as much as Eru's) and yearned for power.

Eru...staggered, screaming, part of him lost.

Across the sheet of pure heat, clumps formed, whirled, contracted into stars as gravity exerted its strange, weak force -- weak, but strong enough to mould the expanding universe. Galaxies spun into being, within them, numberless suns, the detritus around them coalescing into planets, some rocky, water-rich like Arda, others enormous gas giants. And between them all, ran threads of blackness, until the whole vast edifice glowed like one interconnected organism. Vanimórë's mind spanned it.

He saw the birth of gods, spun out of the consciousness that lay, like an immutable element, over all: Elgalad, in one fleeting, aching glimpse, who was like the Light. (Didst thou ever love me, I wonder? Does it even matter? I loved thee.) He saw them in their true form, before they turned toward the Over-Mind.

No, he refuted, as they sought him. He had never desired worship. They turned toward Eru and the Timeless Halls.

Melkor strode the gaps between the stars, seeking - not life, the whole universe was alive, but thought, the spark of consciousness from whence flowered love, hate, art, self-awareness. He did not know from where it proceeded, this gift that was beyond his ken, his power. And it maddened him. He was within it, and could not go beyond. All that power and still he felt caged.

Drawn toward one small world, Vanimórë watched its laval heat cool, saw it battered again and again by great comets that brought the first water. Out of it, Mairon opened his eyes, a seeking intelligence of metal and fire and stone.

Father, Vanimórë said.

He saw the great oceans, the birth of primitive life. The great landmass split, continents drifting apart. The Wars of the Shaping of Arda, waged by gods across a world.

Vanimórë's mind fell like an arrow to a place where great an inland sea reflected countless stars.

Cuiviénen.

In helpless thrall to his need to see them, his mind drew forth their faces, sculpted them out of the numinous silver light.

People of the Stars.

His people, always, in his heart.

Their eyes opened, filled with light.

Thou wert already here, Vanimórë, Eru said, and now this was the Eru of the future, calm, even sorrowful, moulded over an incomprehensible expanse of Time to a stern maturity that understood, even as Vanimórë did the weight and duty of expediency. Thou art the heart of the paradox.

Vanimórë, caught in incomprehension, the impossibilities of those words, watched the Quendi from the Outside.

Fëanor, he thought, wanting to see him as he had been before the Valar meticulously twisted his brilliance into madness. He caught at the sense of a waiting life, growing in a woman's womb. Fëanor. Fire detonated around him, the essence of his love. The unformed child-mind absorbed it. Blazed.

Spirit of Fire.

But...

At this degree of power, Vanimórë.? Eru turned his question back on him.

And from Outside, as he was, he could do nothing at all as their glory and doom ran apace. He loved them and was impotent to help them.

All his love, all his passion and grief of his life he had poured into their creation, their very souls. So how could the Noldor ever have been anything else? They were shaped, even as Melkor had been.

By me.

Ah, Hells, no.

He watched the Noldor trapped in the idyll he had spun for them, safe. Saw what would, ultimately, happen to them, their minds splintering under the intellectual, unprovable knowledge that their world was false.

He could unspool the stream of time, see any moment in it. So few of them held, for the Noldor, any happiness. Fragments. Burning moments...

He said to Eru, Whatever I am, I am of Arda. I will release them.

Thou art too powerful.

To the Hells with that. I will bring down mountains to save them. I will drink the oceans. I will wrestle Time itself.

Thou wilt, Eru agreed. And will permit Melkor ingress.

His doing? He would precipitate the Dagor Dagorath? He laughed across Time. So that is how it will happen. Then, Eru, thou knowest what thou must do.

Vanimórë. Eru's voice was a caress. If it means anything, I am sorry.

I believe thee, he raged. What came first, Eru, this, or my life? Both? A paradox, thou sayest? But I lived, I lived. I was alive. And thou art the interloper here.

Eru said, I know.

Vanimórë turned his mind back to the unfurling of Time.

And pushed...





In New Cuiviénen the earth shook.




End Notes:
I do apologise for the long interval, any readers. I had written this then got a new 'download' into my brain so I had to rewrite and rethink everything,
Chapter 12 From The Outside by Spiced Wine
Author's Notes:
A quick update this time :)
Mag Chapter 11
From The Outside



Her questing hands found stone. It was slick, sticky with the clinging fog. At first it had been impenetrable, black as pitch. Now it had thinned. She could see, but not far, and she remembered other mists like this, white walls smothered by gloom. Her breath came shallow, and she strained to see, to hear, while her heart beat like a crazed moth against a lamp.

She did not want to remember, indeed, some of it she could not. Even long after, there were only glimpses, but those were enough. And this was too similar.

Slowly, very slowly, almost crippled by lack of vision, she groped her way through the dark. She did not call out, because this darkness was not empty.

Somewhere, too close, she heard creaking laughter; Ha.Ha.Ha, like a rusty door, then the rush of a body passing that disturbed the fog in smokey swirls. She pressed back against the stone. There was a snarl and crash, an inhuman scream...then the wet sound of tearing flesh, and a throaty growl that brought every nerve in her body to shattering point.

Blessed Eru, not again. She gripped her lips together, almost stumbled over something soft. A body. She leaned closer, sweeping back the dark hair and swallowed. His sword was blooded, and the death-stiffness had locked his hand about the hilt, but there was a dagger in his belt. She drew it out as quietly as possible, stepped over the corpse.

Ahead of her, two eyes kindled to ember-red in the dimness.

OooOooO

Mairon looked out from the summit of Ilmarin. He paid no attention to the bickering of Manwë, Námo and Varda, their voices like querulous crows. In this high white place, he was alone.

Closing them out had been satisfyingly easy, (they were so much reduced in all but malice) and now they clustered in their huge, echoing palace, waiting for him to tell them what they must do. How amusing. They would be of little use save as servants; there would be some satisfaction in that, but endless their carping, their empty threats and boasts were an irritant, and he wanted solitude at this moment.

Vanimórë...

He had almost lost his son.

He did not know what had happened, although he knew the 'why'. The aether had shaken, exploded with the self-devouring power Vanimórë had turned upon himself. His soul had dwindled to almost nothing, then blinked out, or seemed to, and Sauron had not been able to follow it. Even had he been able to, he needed all his will, his power to herd Ungoliant into her feasting-chamber in the Halls of Waiting.

But for a moment, he had thought that Vanimórë was gone. The Valar certainly believed it. Manwë, Varda and Námo rejoiced in that particular gloating and petty manner of cowards.

No, he is not dead. I would know.

But....Where are you, my son? He had gone so far Mairon could feel not even an echo of his son's thoughts in his mind.

I sense you, though.

Mairon sat on Manwë's high throne, where the erstwhile god had looked across Arda and seen what passed there – and done nothing.



It had been a long time in the world beyond since that unplanned performance in Khazad-dûm so brilliantly enacted between he and his son. Authentic, yes, but unscripted because there was no need even for speech to pass between them. It had been better, then, that 'Sauron' be assumed dead. And after, he had gone far away, and in that time he had learned, because it seemed there was always something to learn. For too long had he relied on his son to be the warrior, believing his own sorcery was enough.

It had not availed him when the One Ring was destroyed but he had come to look on that momentous event as release from a self-forged chain. The Ring had shackled him more than he knew, or at least would admit.
But even in the Void he had known he could return.
When he and Melkor had gained brief possession of Vanimórë's soul, or rather, been invited in, it had been he, Mairon, who was able to remain on Arda while Melkor was pushed back into his prison. The link with Vanimórë was enough, more than enough. He had only needed a foothold back into the world, and his son had provided that.

He was not the same Mairon, and those years had not been wasted. He was accoutred now as a warrior, with hundreds of years of training behind him. Out of a veiled amusement, a mental salute, he affected the same black gear as his son, the same twin swords. And he had used them, entering Valinor with Ungoliant.

She had been easy to manipulate, with her offspring Dana residing in her. Not a daughter so much as a peeling of her essence that had taken human form. She was nothing to do with Melkor, that lie merely an exercise in self-aggrandisement. Dana's hatred of Vanimórë was a savage, corrosive thing. She had relished the thought of luring him into her net. She had her own plans, insane and impossible though they were.

Mairon smiled. Her desires were not his; Vanimórë would go nowhere near Ungoliant, but he would have come to Valinor for Elgalad's soul.

The smile faded. Elgalad, face of love and a soul of unexpected steel, had cast himself into Ungoliant's jaws to ensure he could not be used against Vanimórë.

And then Vanimórë destroyed himself. Or seemed to. There had been one awful, blood-stopping moment when Mairon believed it -- but only a moment. The others, the Vala, even Melkor in the Void had felt that immense and shattering power directed inward and must believe his soul annihilated by it.

He turned his attention outward again, to Valinor, shrouded by fog, almost deserted. Unlight had, as once before, dismayed and confused. Those who could had taken ship from Alqualondë for the Lonely Isle around whose shore the seas roared, massive waves raised by Ulmo. On Valinor, only Taniquetil rose above the darkness. From the sea shore a lonely bell clanged a dirge. Tirion, Valar, Alqualondë lay silent but for the nightmares that haunted the mists.

Let them flee. Mairon was waiting for his son.

You will come. I know it.

He could hear, feel Ungoliant's growing rage. She knew she was trapped. Although both Elven and Mortal souls gathered in the Halls of Waiting, they would never be enough for her. Her hunger swelled with each feeding. Nothing but the world would satisfy her appetite. And that not forever.

Such greed. But I understand, Ungloliant. You cannot help your nature. And it played right into my hands.

A boom of air, and the sky shook.

A silver-white flame climbed into the sky and poised over Taniquetil. It exploded in a detonation of silent light and within it shone the winged form of a god. Metal-silver hair streamed about him. Twin swords snapped out, and his voice came down the wind, pure and strong as the vaunted white mead of Ilmarin.

'Where is he, Sauron?'

Well, well.

Elgalad lit down, those vast white wings vanishing in a glimmering spray of light, strode toward Mairon. He levelled one blade at Mairon's heart.
'Where is he?'

Mairon laughed.
'You ask me?'

'Who else? Thou hast always been linked to him, and thou standeth here, with a few erstwhile-gods, Ungoliant beating at the gates of the Halls of Waiting, and thou art not even concerned! What dost thou know, Sauron?'

'What do I know? That we were working to the same end, Eru and I.' He raised a brow. 'How rich. But you surpassed me, Elgalad Meluion. I never ripped all hope from my son's soul. Oh yes, I felt him. So much pain.'

Fury and a shattering grief poured from Elgalad like silent thunder, but he did not attack. The long, lean muscles of his arms trembled with the force of will it took him to curb his desire.
'I know,' he shouted. 'I know. I betrayed him. I watched and did nothing. I lied to him.'

'It was a most believable lie. So, what do you intend to do, now?' Sauron inquired calmly.

'I could send thee back into the Void,' Elgalad snarled. 'I would and with pleasure. But there are others with a claim on thee, Sauron, and I shall witness. With even greater pleasure. There is nowhere now left to run.'

'Oh-ho.' His eyes narrowed. 'So you think the Noldor will come? I did too. Glorfindel could bring them in an eyeblink. So where are they? I am surprised they are not here already, swearing fire and vengeance. But I do not see them. Do you?' He rose from the throne. 'Why are you here?' he asked. 'Not simply to bleed guilt over me.'

'Vanimórë cannot die.' Elgalad bit each word. 'He cannot. Only Eru could have destroyed him, and he did not.' There was a hurricane in his eyes. Moment by moment stripped him of his assumed persona, the beautiful, gentle Elf Vanimórë had loved. 'Yet he is gone.'

Mairon hid a smile. 'What does Eru say to that?'

'Eru,' the word twisted. 'is not within the Timeless Halls.'

'Oh?' Interesting. 'So you came to me.' He descended the dais, feeling Elgalad behind him, the threat in him held sternly in check, his need to know, to hope, greater than his desire to send Mairon back into the Dark.

'Eru wanted him to to pass this final test.' Elgalad's voice was flat.

'The final test, hmm?' He walked across the snow-coloured marble toward the baluster. 'Why did Eru want him to pass it?'

'For the same reason, I suppose, as thou didn't mould him,' Elgalad said with icy distaste. He was right behind. 'To become stronger than Melkor.'

'You suppose? You do not know?' Below him spread the vast, cold palace of Ilmarin, throne of powers. Taniquetil fell, sheer as a blade's edge, to mist-shrouded Valinor. 'was it terribly hard?' he asked, smiling. 'to assume your persona so completely that you had to forget what you were? Was it hard to play him, the man you professed to love?'

'I have always loved him,' Elgalad burned at him.

'An odd sort of love, no? You let him think he killed you, let him suffer for thousands of years. And then, you made him believe you were utterly destroyed. Following orders, of course. Yes, it does pall, I know. At least, with regards to my son, I followed no commands but my own.' Even if Melkor had believed otherwise, trapped in the webs of his own madness and monumental ego.

Elgalad moved, fast as light, forearm across Mairon's throat, ramming him back against the wall over that impossible drop. Their eyes met, blazing.

'I never relished his pain, Sauron!'

Relished it? You wrong me. I was fashioning a weapon. I admire my son. Every time he looked at me with defiance in those wonderful eyes of his, I was delighted. And you, beloved of Eru, are a fool if you think he would will himself out of existence.

Elgalad drew back his arm. Hope and hatred warred across his face, a play of light and shadow. 'If he did not destroy himself, where is he?'

Mairon straightened. And then, then there came a pressure as if a meteor were falling. The air seemed to open and shut with a colossal slam, and the sky sheeted with light as though a fire were lit behind the world.

Ungoliant...screamed.

Mairon said, 'I will give you one guess.' And laughed with relief.

OooOooO


The Timeless halls, on the borders of the cold Outer Sea. They were not of Valinor, but outside Time, a gathering place for souls both Mortal and Elven. Námo had created a physical entrance, all tall black pillars, a colossal statue of himself looming above the gateway, but under Irmo that had been removed. Vines softened the columns, grass grew soft at their bases.

But it was and ever had been a somber place. Lonely woods trailing down from misty hills, the sky overhead unvarying, cold and grey and, somewhere, the sigh and suck of the cold, mournful sea. There had been no bright, warm welcome for the souls reborn, not while the Doomsman dangled their fates in one hand.

No-one but a god could enter the adamantine gates. Mairon regarded them, then gestured to Elgalad.
'Shall we?'

There was a sudden rumbling roar and the gates exploded outward, a seeming ponderous motion of tonnes of metal ripped from their hinges and flung like leaves. Black miasma boiled out in their wake. Voices went by them like bats in the dark - the cries of released souls.

They ducked reflexively, the gates passing over them to land and cartwheel, churning earth and tree in their passage, snapping the great pillars like twigs. A flock of carrion crows took wing with raucous, protesting cries.

There was movement in the gaping doorway, a surge of darkness; two gigantic legs, spined with hair like sword-thorns, pushed out into the wintry light. There was a glint of oil-black eyes, deathly and emotionless yet filled with a rapacious hunger and, Mairon was sure, terror. Green fluid dripped from a wickedly curving beak, smoked as it splashed on the stones.

A halo of silver fire flashed through Elgalad, burning around him like a nimbus even as Mairon raised a hand, drawing on the earth-fire within him. Before either of them could release power, Ungoliant shrieked and was wrenched back with brutal force, iron-black talons digging deep grooves in the stone. Her screams reached a buzzing, maddening crescendo of fear and then silence dropped like night.

Elgalad raced for the open maw of the gate and plunged within. Mairon a step behind him.

There was a space that he realised was no 'hall' despite the euphemism of the name. There was no beginning, no end, only a diffused light that came from nowhere and everywhere.

Ungoliant crouched, monstrous and bloated, hardly even a spider in form now, but a thought-construction of hate and greed, oozing a noxious venom from its beak and swollen belly. She did not turn to face them. Her attention was fixed, apparently on nothing.

Vanimórë descended from the air, triple wings of fire, night-black, deepest violet, glittering silver, spread about him.

This was, Mairon thought, the final, polished weapon, burned and hammered into a terrible, awesome beauty. And the power...He had felt nothing like this, not even from Melkor...

The brief touch of his eyes was a blow from the sun.
'What in the Hells art thou doing here?' he demanded of both of them and the asperity in his voice, normal, human was oddly reassuring.

And Ungoliant sprang. She dwarfed Vanimórë in size, in sheer weight, in the malice of her hunger.
He leaped and spun, swords flashing in a blindingly fast criss-cross. Ichor geysered, the black beak fell, clattering, and her shriek choked on bubbling poison. Vanimórë stepped back, relaxed as a cat on a sunny wall as she reeled, making sounds almost - and horribly - human.
A black mist swirled before her, a toxic, reeking fog, and took a shape: Dana, pulling herself from her wounded 'mother'.

'You would not kill a woman, Vanimórë,' she pleaded, holding out her arms. 'She is not me.. She trapped me.'

Of course she would try this. Do not be soft now, my son!

'No,' Vanimórë said slowly. 'I would not kill a woman.' Dana raised her head and although her back was to him, Mairon could almost see her smile. 'But Ungoliant is not one, and neither art thou. It chose to take form as a female so it could breed, but it has no gender. and thou didst the same, with the same greed in thee, and approached Melkor. He knew thou wert not of his get and destroyed thy body. Thou didst wait for me.' His smile was mirthless. 'A fool who sought to redress wrongs. I made a great mistake in waking thee, believing thy lies. Not that thou wert ever much of a threat on thine own, thou art too idle. But now is the time when I deal with the both of thee. Finally.'

Dana froze in mid-step. Then her voice came, and there was a buzz to its cadences, like Ungoliant's shrilling cries.
'You have forgotten, it seems. You do not go back far enough to destroy us.' Her fingers clenched. 'You are a fool indeed. You could have had so much. You still could. We need no-one else, you and I.'

'I do not want thee,' Vanimórë returned lightly. 'Thou foul thing. I never did, though I knew not what thou wert, only that something in thee was repulsive, unclean. I want thee gone.'

That was like the dash of salt on raw skin. She drew herself up, a moan of pure hatred in her throat. Spines erupted from her back, her head, limbs growing, neck elongating and swaying above the massive bag of the body. Somehow the deformed monster was more horrific than Ungoliant.

'I will form a nest of your bones, Sauron's slut!' It was a chittering howl. 'I will fall upon the Noldor and make a wasteland of blood!'

Vanimórë showed white teeth in a flashing smile.
'Oh no, Dana. Thou wilt not. Thou knowest not what I am? Then let me show thee.'
He lifted one arm and the air ripped, as though a seam were torn from top to bottom. A wind screamed past Mairon, snatching at his hair. There was blackness beyond, more, an absence of anything. Not even the Void had been so...empty.

Vanimórë stood unmoving in the gale. His voice rose over it like a clarion call.
'I shall not kill either of thee,' he said. 'Thou wouldst only return again, in a thousand rotted dreams. But there is no place for thee in this Universe. There is nothing in thee, no beauty, no love, no compassion, no goodness, no hope, only greed, and the desire for more and more and more. And so I cast thee out! And there, with nothing to feed thy hunger, thou wilt devour thyself.'

The nothingness pulled, even more ravenous in its force than Ungoliant, and she could not resist it, not she nor her offspring. Their legs thrashed as it drew them, screaming, flailing, toward the opening, talons gouging stone.

Mairon was caught in the inward-sucking energy. It swept him from his feet like a twig caught in a flood. He flared into pure fire, but even that was dragged into the vacuum. He half-saw Elgalad's mighty white wings spread like a sail, before he too, was whirled toward the abyss. There was the barest moment of absolute horror, a furious, disbelieving regret as the dark doorway opened to swallow him.

No, it cannot come to this!

A hand caught his wrist, firm, strong. With that touch, the implacable pull dropped away. His feet touched the ground. He stood in the opening to Nothing, his hair lashing about his face, half blinding him. Vanimórë's other hand gripped Elgalad. There was a look of amusement in his eyes, as if he were teasing, thinking, Shall I let thee go? No? Then, abruptly as the slamming of a door, the wind dropped. The air was still.

'Idiots,' Vanimórë said, and strode away.

'Where are you going?' Sauron snapped, swallowing down the backlash of relief.

Vanimórë threw a glance over his shoulder.
'This place is outside the world, father. I was told I was too powerful now to return to Arda. Well. we shall see.'

Outside...'Vanimórë, where did you go?'

His son made an impatient gesture then checked himself. Incongruously, his eyes danced.
'I was going to say there was no time to discuss this, but that is not true. Not anymore, not for me. And not here. Very well.' He glanced at Elgalad whose face was set in hard, bright pain and said to him, more softly: 'I do not think I could have done what I did but for thee.'

Elgalad shook his head. 'It was too much.'

'No, it was just enough. Ask my father.' He indicated Mairion with a jerk of the head. 'He always knew exactly how much pressure he could bring to bear. To a hairsbreadth.'

Elgalad flung a burning look at Mairon. 'I am not he. I should never have agreed to do what I did. I deserve thy hate.'

'I could never hate Elgalad,' Vanimórë murmured. 'But art thou him? Was he even real?'

'I do not know,' Elgalad whispered. 'I never knew. There is no-one else.'

Vanimórë brushed it aside. 'Perhaps it does not matter.' He looked back at Mairon. 'I went back to beyond the beginning, father, to the Outside, before the Universe was created.' He spoke casually, as if he were relating a short journey. 'I knew Ungoliant would become too strong, that she could not be restrained here. What didst thou imagine would happen?'

'Well, my son, you see, I knew you would come.'

'Really,' Vanimórë returned dryly. 'And what in the Hells name didn't thou think I could do, even as a god? The last time, I could only force her to retreat, giving me a chance to escape, and that was with Melkor and thee within me.'

'I do not really know,' Mairon mused. Even as a god? So what are you now? 'We would have thought of something. And you did come. From before the beginning.' Puzzle-pieces raced across his mind, clicking into place. 'What did you see, Vanimórë?' He asked very softly.

'Everything,' his son said. Just the one word.

'And what does that mean?' His eyes searched the beautiful, hard face.

'I need time to think.' Vanimórë stopped. 'Time again. I am a creature of habit, of Time, having lived so long in it. I will let thee think about it, father.' He turned back to Elgalad. 'Banish thy guilt,' he said. 'Thou didst what I wished thee to do.'

Mairon raised his brows, and Elgalad frowned, an expression of startlement and awe rising like the sun over his features, but Vanimórë only said, 'I saw thee born from the primeval fires of the Earth, father. Was it hard,' in a mocking echo of Mairon's own question to Elgalad, 'to serve Melkor, being what thou art, to hear first Manwë and then Melkor proclaim themselves King of the World?'

'You know it was,' Mairon spat. 'You have seen it.'

Vanimórë nodded slowly. 'I have seen everything. Thou didst know thou couldst not stand against all of the Valar, and certainly not Melkor, so thou didst sojourn long in the Timeless Halls to gather what information thou couldst. Only Eru knew what thou truly wert, and he, for some reason,' a spark of humour, 'did not enlighten the gods. As their equal thou couldst conceal thy mind from them, so they came to call thee a Maia a lesser spirit, born of Arda, like so many others. Thou didst attach thyself to Aulë and so they believed thee one of his own. There were so many Maia, after all. Melkor, of course, did know, but only thought it amusing.'

Mairon shrugged.
'On any other world, it would have been different,' he said, ancient bitterness in his throat. 'But this one, Arda, lusted after by both the Valar and Melkor...' he spread his fingers. 'It was never theirs.'

'I know.' He thought there was a hint of understanding in his son's voice. 'I almost pity thee.'

'How dare you?' Mairon hissed. 'You condescending bastard.'

Vanimórë's eyes lit with laughter again.
'I said "almost". But the truth is we all have a choice. Except perhaps Melkor.'

'And I suppose you mean to forgive him?' Mairon mocked as Elgalad's frown deepened. 'What is it to be? A slap on the wrist and another three ages of imprisonment? It was that which drove him insane.'

'He was not insane before? Thou knowest better. If he had not poured himself into Arda, into thy world, the Valar could never have defeated him. And it was thee, father, who suggested he do so.' He stepped close, his lovely, hard mouth curling. 'Because, in the fabric of the Earth thou couldst balk his designs, twisting them without his ever knowing, and drink some of his power. But in doing so thou didst also sip his darkness. And thou didst know that, deeming it a fair price to pay for his frustrations, his rage, his madness when he could only copy life, not create it, and never anything fair, never anything of beauty.'

Mairon stared back at him, silent, thinking. Ah, you saw that, then.

'Thou didst ensure he was weakened enough so that one day he could be defeated. Leaving Arda to thee. Clever, father. But thou didst hope, believe, that the Valar would keep him chained. Thou didst not take into account how the coming of the Elves to Valinor would change everything, that they would grow to resent the bonds placed upon them, that Fëanor would be born, and see through their lies, or how they,' he stabbed his finger toward the gateway. 'that trio thou hast trapped in Ilmarin, would grow to hate them. Or how much the Valar feared Melkor. They did not want him in Valinor, not even imprisoned, so they released him, set him among the Noldor.'
'They hoped that eventually he would escape, return to Middle-earth, but they could not be seen by Eru to help him. Yet they wanted the sea between them. They also hoped he would slay Fëanor and his sons, his followers, the dissenters, the so-called rebels, there in Valinor, but what did happen was even more satisfying for them. They lost the Two Trees, and that was a blow to their ego, little more. It was worth it to see the Noldor damned. The Kinslaying at Alqualondë was merely an excuse to pronounce doom upon those whom they had come to hate.'
'They closed Valinor off from the world, reared the Pelori to sheer heights and were happy to let millions die in the Wars of Beleriand. It kept Melkor off their backs. And landed him back in thine own lap. That must have been a disappointment, father, but thou wert never one to give up. Melkor had been defeated once, and could be again.'

'Continue, my son.' with a smile of admiration. Clever boy.

'Thou hadst already experimented upon the Quendi in Utumno, upon Edenel, Finwë's twin, but the White Slayers would not return to thee. And then Maedhros Fëanorion was taken and brought to Angband. Thou didst rape his mind, (as thou didst later to Maglor, in Barad-dûr) see his father, his brothers, all that fire and defiance, that touch of the divine, and conceived me, because no Fëanorion would serve thee and thou didst need the blood-link. That was what thou didst want and that was what thou didst get. But it was not I who defeated Melkor, not then. He grew too powerful, or rather his forces had, thou, first and foremost, Ancalagon, the Balrogs, trolls, Fell-wolves, multitudes of orcs, and the Valar knew that Eru might look askance if he conquered Arda without them lifting a finger, so they were forced into battle, throwing the Elven forces of Valinor before them of course! unsparing and uncaring of how many died, or what they themselves destroyed. But they succeeded - just! A weight off thy mind, a world - thy world - waiting for thee.'

'You were not ready then,' Mairon said calmly. 'You were far too young. I knew your fashioning would take thousands of years. That was why I sent you away from Angband.'

'Yes,' Vanimórë said. 'I know.'

'Well then. What now?'

'I will bring the Noldor to Valinor.' His smile gleamed. 'I could not bring them before; Ungoliant needed to be dealt with first. There are a few people among them who would really like to talk to thee. Thou art not fleeing this, father. As for Melkor, the Noldor have earned their revenge on him, too.'

'My finest creation.' He was unable to contain the purr in his voice. 'Or did you create yourself?'

'Paradoxes,' Vanimórë smiled elusively. 'So thou didst want a weapon against Melkor. I believe thou wilt have one. If I return, enter Arda - and I must - it will allow Melkor ingress. I will precipitate the Last Battle.'

Mairon felt a sliver of ice slide like a dagger under his skin, but he said, 'His return was always inevitable.'

'And he will come to Valinor. The Dagor Bragollach must be contained here and not touch the world beyond. There will be too much power.' He glanced around. 'Now thou must go. This place is cleansed. I have released the souls Ungoliant devoured.' He touched his breast in a strangely tender gesture, as if holding something to his heart.

'I will come with thee,' Elgalad said.

'No.' Vanimórë shook his head. 'That is not possible. Only Eru and I have been on the Outside. And there is something I would like thee to do.' Words passed, unseen, unheard, between them and Elgalad inclined his head. He turned toward the doors, then spun back on his heel, caught Vanimórë's face between both hands and kissed him, hard and long. Then, quickly, he drew back, and walked away without a word.

'How touching,' Mairon remarked. 'And do you have any orders for me?'

He was caught in the world-burning regard of those magnificent purple eyes.
'For you, father? No. Because I do not think thou doth want to leave. I think part of thee wants to see this to its end.' He flicked his brows. 'Whose side art thou on?'

'Well, mine of course.' Then: 'Are you really going to give me to the Fëanorions?'

'Art thou worried, oh god of Arda? I doubt they can unmake thee, though Fëanor has vast power now, greater than either he or I knew. So perhaps he could.' His smile was secret. It disturbed Mairon greatly.
'If you meant me to be destroyed,' he said levelly, 'you would not have saved me from the Outside.'

'Celebrimbor wants thee,' Vanimórë said. 'And thou may construe that in any way thou doth wish.'

'I am sure he does. Beautiful Celebrimbor.' And yet...Mairon had never forgiven him for his intransigence. The black, blinding anger spiked up. 'What a shame he was so very Fëanorion.'

'Indeed. He is still very Fëanorion.'

'And you? what are you?'

The great wings exploded from Vanimórë's back. He essayed an insouciant, smiling salute and then was gone.

OooOooO


The red eyes moved toward her, cerements of gelid fog parting to show a rough grey fur over long muscles, half-wolf, half-man. Through the icy upwelling of terror, Móriel gripped her dagger.

The werewolf stiffened, jaws opening on a rasping howl as the thin blade ripped through its chest. It was lifted off its feet, the weapon's edge tearing until it lodged against bone. Blood spumed from its mouth. Then it fell, twitching.

Through the mist walked a man. Except he was no man, not with a face, with eyes like that, the silver-white wings. Not with that degree of power which slammed Móriel's remaining breath from her lungs.

He shook blood from one of the twin blades and looked at her. His voice was like light and silk.
'Thou art safe,' he said simply.

The mist thinned, the sun's disk floated pale through thinning billows.

Móriel almost went to her knees. He was a stranger but she did not fear him, and she believed him utterly.

'Who art thou?' Her voice came high and breathless.

'A...friend,' he said. 'Come, I shall take thee to Tol Eresseä. Valinor has been overrun, but the Lonely Isle is safe.'

'What happened?'

'Sauron came here, with Ungoliant.'

Sauron. A hot, agonising memory sliced into her mind. Lavender eyes with the red glow of fire behind them, a face beautiful and cruel...A scream rose in her throat, and was swallowed before the look in those crystal eyes.

'No more, Móriel,' he said, stern and kind as a father. He wiped his blade clean on the grass and sheathed both weapons. 'Thou hast lived too long in the darkness. Now waken to the Light ' He held out a hand, slender, ringless, sinewy.

She stared at him, then reached out and grasped the offered hand like a drowning woman.

OooOooO


And now, Vanimórë thought, looking down at Time, at the bright, safe cage of New Cuiviénen held apart from it. Now, my children, I will bring thee back.


OooOooO



Chapter 13 Blood Of My Soul by Spiced Wine
Magnificat Chapter 13


Blood of My Soul




New Cuiviénen, held in the protection of love; a jewel, a haven, and one the Noldor could never endure.

Beyond him, and within him. Both.

Thou didst put thyself into the world, came Eru's voice.As Elgalad did, later. There was no other way save to be born into it. Thou wert too powerful. And then, thou hadst to gain more power as a god in Fos Almir. But now, Vanimórë...Be careful. Thou couldst break the world with a breath.

I know. And he thought, Why Arda? Why this world of all the multitudes in the universe?

He felt Eru's smile.

Because thou wert born there.

Paradox within paradox.

Thou needst not go back. Thou couldst take them away, begin anew. Make things right. Tell the tale anew.

No, he thought. (Or has that already happened?) Or not yet. This story must run to its conclusion.

He looked across Time and beyond, to other possibilities that existed, some close as a shadow's-breadth.

No beginning. No end.

But, now...

The Noldor were within him, and he must return to release them.

And protect them from myself...

OooOooO


I wanted to tear open the sky, Fëanor thought.

Thunder slammed across the cloudless blue. The sun seemed to shake.

The Noldor poured from their mansions, from work and relaxation, staring toward the Orocarni where the sky was boiling into vast thunderheads, black as pitch. Lightning illuminated their bellies, broke explosively on the white heads of the mountains.

Their light split Fëanor's mind, illuminating the hidden, or that which has been hidden from me.

A hand caught his arm as Maedhros came to his side. With his peripheral vision, he saw a stream of burnished hair as Glorfindel leapt from one of the balconies, landed cat-light and stood straight. Gold fire burned up around him.

Power struck Fëanor like pain, familiar and forgotten. He knew who he was: Fëanor reborn through Vanimórë, carrying the god-blood in his veins. He remembered everything...and turned his head to see Edenel, his father's twin, then Maglor, all his sons converging behind him, saw in their eyes the same deluge of memory.

Ungoliant. Ungoliant in the Halls of waiting, feasting on souls, the elves who still abode in Valinor fighting their way to the relative safety of Tol Eresseä. Vanimórë, self-destructing in blood and hate...and then... years that he - that they all had - been made to forget, placed in a safe, idyllic cage. (Or was it years? It had seemed like it, but even now the memories were slipping away) He had known it was not right, not authentic as had Maglor, and others too. He had chased the incongruities into mist, time after time, unable to penetrate it. It had eaten into his mind like rot.

A white stallion came at full gallop across the lawns, leaping an ornamental fountain, hooves churning up divots of earth. Fingolfin came down from its back, letting the reins go and ran toward him, eyes like the lightning that ripped the sky apart; great forks of it converged upon one spot, where the air seemed to boil.

And other things we forgot, also. In his half-brother's eyes burned the passion that had been lacking, despite the mild flirtation, the kin-closeness, as they governed their paradise: that the Valar were their enemy, that he and Glorfindel were gods, that his relationship with Fingolfin had never been brotherly.
They had, to all intents and purposes, been neutered, or at least spellbound into unnatural docility.

With a scream like the souls of the damned, wind tore across the sky. Fëanor sent out his will (easily, naturally) to meld with Glorfindel's, circling the Noldorin settlement, a web that drew in every man, woman and child in New Cuiviénen: Finrod and his brothers in the north, Turgon in his distant city, the scattered hunting lodges, the mines, the pastures. The wind, deflected, tore into Gaear Gwathluin, whipped the shallow waters into a boiling frenzy.

Morgoth? Fëanor hoped so. The adrenaline of pure passion, of being himself again, was like fire in his belly, his veins.

'Weapons! he cried, and the Noldor, men and women were running, intent, faces set, to their homes. He took one last look at the raging sky, and sprinted into the palace, his sons at his heels. There was no time for the fuss of full armour. He belted a sword about his waist, a dagger and was back outside.

'Father,' Maglor said beside him. A shadow fell over the sun. 'We are not losing thee as we lost him.' There was so much pain and rage in his musical voice, so much fear. And not for himself.

'That is not how it ends, my dear.'

'Why could we not save him?'

The grief and heartbreak, the rage were all there, channelled into one question. But Maglor knew, in his heart, just as Fëanor did. Because, in his first life, no-one, not even his sons, not even Fingolfin had been able to save him from himself. Oh, he knew the Valar had worked on his madness, but at the end, there had only been him, his mind. And one cannot save anyone from themselves.

Vanimórë, my grandson, my father. Why? What did they do to thee? Why?

Elgalad, playing a part that, in the end, had broken Vanimórë as nothing else had. The last blow in a long life of abuse and slavery that had moulded him into what he was and made him loathe himself.

But thou wert loved.

He thought of what Vanimórë had said of Eru, of the unknowable ways of gods, not those who dwelt on Arda, but in the Timeless Halls, who had not lived...

'Why,' Maglor cried above the cacophony, 'were we made to forget?'

It was something the Valar might have done had they the power. They did not, anymore. So who? if it was Eru...why?

He had forgotten even the Void, the terrible force of Morgoth's will battering against him as he burned and burned (all of them) to defy it.

'Father,' Maedhros said. There was no fear in his face, none at all, only a bright, grim resolve. Maedhros had as much right to face Morgoth as Fëanor himself, as Fingolfin. As did the man who came now at a run, the Elf beside him.

Túrin spent most of his time with the Ithiledhil, east on the shores of the inland sea. Elúred and Elúrin had joined them there. But he and Beleg had been visiting the palace and now came forward.

All his sons were here now, and his grandsons, Celebrimbor and Tindómion, swords in hand. Fingon and Gil-galad were beside Fingolfin, who now strode toward Fëanor and said, 'Stop looking so damned heroic. Thou wilt not face him alone.'

Fëanor found a hard smile that was mirrored in Fingolfin's eyes for a moment.

'Never,' Maedhros concurred.

The same furious determination shone in all their eyes. Fëanor's heart swelled to bursting with love and pride for them all. Pride - and terror. If they died, their souls would be devoured by Ungoliant. There would be nothing...

No. Do not even think that. He would not lose them again!

This desperate passion that rose in him reminded him too much of the last years in Valinor and beyond. He must not tread that path again; everything within him must be brought to bear on Morgoth.

'Gods, what...?' Some-one shouted, the words cut off by a choked gasp.

The sun was rising over the mountains. The sun stood at the zenith of the sky yet it was rising through the fumes of storm. Or was it the sun at all? What of the great meteor that had wreaked such havoc on Arda, that Vanimórë had destroyed his body (not his mind, not then) to blast apart. It would appear the same, if it came from that direction. Fëanor's throat closed. How much power did he have, through Vanimórë, how much did Glorfindel have, reforged in the fires of Fos Almir?

The entire world seemed to shift, as if some mighty hand pulled or pushed it sideways. The rising sun passed over as fast as a bird, and for a moment, the conjoined power of two suns blasted light across New Cuiviénen, white and scorching. Then it was gone.

What in the Hells is happening...?

The ground heaved under their feet. From far away came a crashing rumble; thousands of tons of rock and ice collapsing somewhere in the Orocarni.

Fëanor had imagined the Dagor Dagorath, of facing Morgoth and his hosts. But not like this, unprepared, cut off from other allies. As if it had been planned that way. By whom? Morgoth has no power trapped in the Void. But was he still in the Void?
He cast that thought on the slag-heap. Bootless to dwell on such things, because it was here, now. Well, they had not been prepared when Morgoth possessed Vanimórë. He smiled at the memory.

The sky ripped from top to bottom with a vast river of white lighting. The barrier of power he and Glorfindel had erected about the wide-spread city shimmered like heat-haze on a paved road.

A figure descended from the rent in the sky, huge, winged. The air ran before it, rolling into agonised thunder. They waited, hardly breathing, tensed, for the banished monsters and demons (dragons, balrogs, trolls, werewolves, orcs) who must (surely) follow their master from the Void.

The barrier snapped with a sound like breaking crystal.

Fëanor's hands clenched on the hilt of his sword.

The winged god lit down like a bird of prey, landed lightly, the vast, beautiful wings vanished. It walked toward them across the grass and they felt his footsteps like thunder upon the aether although his long stride was silent.

OooOooO


He had not considered that what he had done, what he was, might have changed him. Although he knew how he himself had reacted to Eru's presence, it did not occur to him that anyone might react to him in the same way.

Vanimórë raised his brows inquiringly then, when no-one moved or spoke, he said, 'I do apologise for what I had to do. I just wanted to keep thee all safe for a time. I may,' he conceded, 'have been a little heavy-handed, but do not tell me thou wert not about to go off and fight Ungoliant.' He looked at Glorfindel, mute, at Fëanor, whose eyes were blazing with something akin to rage, and shrugged. 'Sorry. And she is gone, by the way, the souls she devoured have been released.'

At the continued and weighty silence, Vanimórë began to feel a stirring of amusement.
'I had to go to the Outside, to before the birth of the Universe. Even Melkor could not best Ungoliant. No-one save Eru could. I needed the power. But I took thee with me, safe, and so I had to come back.'

It was Maglor who moved first, ramming his sword back into its housing, striding toward him, eyes as silver as the stars spun out of Vanimórë's imagination (or memory) and a face like an ice-storm. He hit Vanimórë with a perfect, devastating right-cross that staggered him, and then stepped back.

'Well, good, thou didst feel that, I was beginning to wonder if thou wert real,' he flared. 'We thought thee gone! Thou didst make us forget, left us in this...this milk-and-water paradise that was wellnigh driving us slowly insane and just went off to before the beginning of the universe? And destroyed Ungoliant? And thou hast the gall to just walk in...' His hands clenched and unclenched, his breath came in gasps. 'Bastard,' he added, and whirled away.

'Fly in,' Vanimórë corrected, unable to help himself. 'I know it is dramatic, but what can one do? I inherited a love of drama. From some-one.' He winked at Fëanor.

Maglor swore impressively and stormed back to his brothers.

Fëanor flung his sword down with a curse. 'Did what?' he cried. 'Thou didst what?'

'It is a little complicated,' Vanimórë said provocatively.

'No, is it really?' retorted the most brilliant mind Arda had ever birthed. 'Try me.' He came to Vanimórë, caught his face in both hands and kissed him.

Vanimórë was startled. Fëanor kissed with the abandoned passion of a wildfire, and it could set the blood burning, make the nerves scream with anguish. (And Vanimórë had looked at the spark of life, the unformed child and placed that burning within, the flame almost too potent for a corporeal form).

'How couldst thou do this to us?' Fëanor demanded in an undervoice as he drew away, though his hands gentled, fell to Vanimórë's shoulders, then gripped.

'Because I love thee,' Vanimórë murmured. 'All of thee. But one moment. There is something I must do, now.'

He put a hand to his breast. A small, brilliantly glowing light appeared on his palm. Slowly he knelt, pressed it down into the earth, and rose, stepping back.

'Dana touched her,' he said, and had to stop a moment to control his voice. 'When she died...when she truly died in Tanith, when I killed her...Ungoliant took her.'
'Vanimórë,' Fëanor breathed.

'It is all right,' he said mechanically. As if it ever could be. 'The Earth does need a Mother. But it was never Dana. My sister has walked all over it, compelled by Melkor's ancient curse. Hidden from me. I wish...' His throat closed. 'I wish I had found her before. Go into the Earth, beloved, become it, be of it, daughter of Arda, daughter of the stars. Vanya.'

The air shimmered, tiny flowers unfurled with a sweet scent, and a woman stood there. She looked like Móriel, with her fall of glossy black hair, her shining grey eyes and sweet mouth. A long gown of lilac swept to her bare feet.

She reached out white arms with a smile.
'Vanimórë.' Her voice was low and warm. 'Oh, my brother.'

He went to his knees under guilt like a landslide. She slipped her hands behind his head, tried to draw it against her. She may as well tried to have move a boulder.

'Do not forgive me.' I am sorry. I am so, so sorry.

'There is no blame on thee,' she said lovingly. 'Thou didst the only thing thou couldst do. I would have begged thee to take my life with love. I would not have survived Melkor's rape.' Her voice hardened, becoming deeper, stern. 'Without thee, I would not have lived as long as I did.'

It was not enough. Nothing would ever be enough. He thought of her wandering, knowing only that she must find him, numb to all else, the weight of Melkor's curse crushing her. (And Dana, her hand too). He remembered finding her in Tanith, dying in agony so that he had killed her again, losing her before he even truly found her. He thought his heart would shatter into a thousand pieces.

He relived every moment they had been together, in Tol-in-Gorhauth, in Barad-dûr. So few years, a melting snowflake set against all the Ages he had lived.

'I have always loved thee,' she said, lifting his face. 'Thy face was the only thing I remembered.'

Behind them the Elves were silent, watching.

'My brave, beautiful brother.' Her thumbs traces his cheekbones. 'Always so brave, even in the Dark, and so kind. Noble even then, as a child. Always thou didst seek to protect me, to care for me, look after me, give me hope where there was none.' She kissed his brow. 'No more guilt, my love.' Her voice deepened. 'I shall go into the world, yes. I know my reason now, the reason I was born: To enable thee to feel love. Without it thou wouldst have become as Sauron, as Melkor. But now I have another purpose and it will last all the Ages of this world.'

'Vanya...!'

'Hush, love,' she said like a mother. 'I go now, but thou canst always find me. What thou art now...nothing will ever be hidden from thee.' The touch of her kiss lingered like a small warmth as her body misted, vanished into the Earth.

In the perfect quiet, he rose, looked at the Elves. There was nothing to say.

OooOooO


They gathered in the private solar above the Great Hall: Fëanor, his sons and grandsons, Fingolfin, his children (Turgon and Elenwë brought from their distant city by Glorfindel) and Gil-galad. Glorfindel was there, Finrod and his brothers. Edenel, Beleg and Túrin. Eärendil, Lómion. Vanimórë's Khadakhir, which now included the young Men of Mordor, Kashan, Narok and Vaija. They had come here long ago, more Elven in their outlook than Mortals, courtesy of their immortality. Elladan, Elrohir, Legolas.

Vanimórë looked at them, measuring their thoughts. From Turgon came an icy distaste, directed at him, but also at Lómion, whom he would never forgive. Ah well, he had bethought them all, both the good and bad. But only because they were already here...

He flung one leg over the other, sipped his wine.
'I entered the Halls of Waiting.' He broke the silence. 'Eru said I could not re-enter the world now, but the Halls are, in some sense, on the Outside. And I sent Ungoliant and Dana hence. There is nothing there, Ungoliant will devour herself.'
'But, when I destroyed myself, took myself back, to before the beginning. I enclosed New Cuiviénen within myself, I took thee with me. In my soul. I wanted thee to be safe while I dealt with Ungoliant. Too safe, it appears, and thy minds fought against it. Of course. They would.' He smiled. 'Well, I have said I apologise, I had not attempted such a thing before.'

There was a stir, a rustle of cloth. He took another slow sip of wine.
'There was nothing there, before the Universe began. It is not like the Void. That has structure. This was nothingness. And so. Waited for the one I knew must come. And he did. I have told thee that Eru destroyed the universe he dwelt in and came here.'

'This is nonsense.' Turgon surged to his feet. 'Eru is...'

'...just as flawed as any of us,' Vanimórë said.

'No.' Turgon's face was set like stone. 'Thy father was the greatest of liars, Gorthaurion. Thou hast learned from him too well.'

'Hold thy tongue,' Fingolfin flashed, all steel.

'I think Eru may hold the trophy for that,' Vanimórë remarked, saw the livid whiteness of Turgon's face. 'I waited for him and he came, grieving, furious, hungry, and found me. But it was not the Eru I had spoken to in the Timeless Halls, this was the primal Eru. Melkor was within him, and that greed, that arrogance...I knew it, how could I not? He wanted what was within me.'

'Go on,' Fëanor said grimly.

'The Eru of, if thou wilt, this time, spoke to me. He told me he, the Eru before the Beginning could not create the Universe - although he must! - because he only knew destruction. And so I must give him what was within me.'

'Thy memories,' Fëanor said, softly this time, on a note of revelation. 'Thy life. All life.'

'This is heresy,' Turgon shouted and Vanimórë flicked him a glance that stopped his words in his throat. Elenwë had her hands to her mouth. Under the beautiful black line of brow, Maglor's silver eyes were unblinking. They held a look in them that Vanimórë had to pause and hunt for, until he realised it was that which a man might turn on a stranger. Have I gone so far? He thought, achingly, of Eru's agelong loneliness.
'The truth may often sound thus.' He turned his gaze back on Turgon.
'I was used by Morgoth in Angband, his plaything. I would give him nothing. We fought, if that is the right word, locked minds, and I ripped Melkor from Eru's soul. The Universe came into being with violent heat and I watched it spread out and cool, I saw the gods waken, I saw life begin. I saw Arda, the wars of the gods, Cuiviénen under starlight. I saw the Quendi, sleeping. And I loved them. I poured all the love I had ever had as a bastard of Sauron, wanting so much to be recognised as an Elf, into them, into thee.' He looked at Fëanor. 'I saw a seed of life in a woman's womb, and fed it the fire of the Flame Imperishable, that was within me. I filled Maglor's unborn soul with the music of the cosmos, the Great Song. And I could do nothing to aid thee. I was the observer. But I had to come back, to bring thee back into the world. With me. And so,' he ended, 'I did.'

'Lies,' Turgon's voice was half-strangled. 'I have no love for the Valar.' His lips curled. 'But thou wouldst proclaim thee our maker?'

'I could not have done it hadst thou not already been here.' He shrugged. 'It is a paradox.'

'And we should worship thee?' A sneer.

Vanimórë laughed out. 'Like the Valar? Like Melkor? Like my father?' Contemptuously. 'As a Commander of Sauron's legions, as Prince of Sud Sicanna, as Warlord of Tanith, as God-Emperor, I expected obedience to my commands and edicts. Worship? Never trust a god who requires worship.' He swept a hand through the air dismissing. 'Anyhow, I am here for another reason.' He turned to Fëanor. 'Art thou ready, Fëanáro Noldorán, to take the throne of Valinor?'

Voices broke out, rising in feral, delighted anticipation. His sons and grandsons showed white teeth like predators. Fingolfin's blue-silver eyes burned, Fingon laughed, Gil-galad lifted his head as if hearing a call to battle. None were so predatory, so triumphant, as Fëanor's eyes.
'Oh, yes,' he said.

'Thou wilt have some time - enough - to weld the Quendi of Valinor to thee,' Vanimórë said. 'And then, Melkor will come.'

'The Dagor Dagorath is upon us?' Fingolfin asked, not losing a scintilla of his high, blazing look.

'Soon. Soon enough. My coming will allow him to find a way through from the Void. I could stop him if thou didst wish, but I think thou doth not wish it.'

'No.' It was several voices at once. 'No.' Fëanor clenched one hand into a fist. 'At last,' he said. 'At last.'

'And where is Sauron?' Celebrimbor' voice was like the slice of a blade.

'He is there too.' Vanimórë cast him an amused glance. 'He has imprisoned Manwë, Varda and Námo, with their adherents, in Ilmarin.'

Celebrimbor' mouth curved, not pleasantly. 'Good.'

Elenwë came forward, graceful as a waterbird. Vanimórë looked at her lazily.
'Is my daughter there too?' she asked.

'All those who follow that poisonous triad are there, lady.'

She flushed.

'What happens to them is not my concern,' he said. 'It will be a matter for the High King.'

Elenwë made a reverence like a servant-girl, and Turgon flung himself across the room, taking her arm.
'Thou wilt not bow to one such as he,' he snarled. 'And I and my people will not be joining thee, Fëanor!'

'Well, that does not surprise me,' drawled Celegorm. 'Thou art too accustomed to hiding behind walls.'

'Thou art bound to me by the Blood-kiss Oath, Turgon,' Fëanor turned on him. Then, unexpectedly, a smile curved his mouth. 'But I release thee from it. I want no cowards dragging at my heels.'

'Thou needst not come,' Fingolfin said into the clap of sudden silence. 'But those of thy people who wish to join us will have the choice, my son. Thou wilt not prevent them this time.' He held Turgon's eyes in an unbreakable hold. 'Go now, and consider well.'

Turgon swept out, back rigid, the Fëanorions regarding him with disdain, then looked back as if he were worth no more of their time.

'He will come,' Fingolfin said.

'He will come or be barred here all his agelong life,' Vanimórë said. 'I will close New Cuiviénen from the world. This is the Age of Men.'

'Is Finwë safe?' Fëanor had taken to calling his first father that since his rebirth.

'He is on Tol Eresseä,' Vanimórë told him. 'But Tuor and Idril are indeed in Ilmarin, as are all those who still follow the Valar. Thy sister, Galadriel is one.' He glanced at Finrod. 'And thy father, Arafinwë, another.'

'Galadriel did not follow the Valar,' Finrod exclaimed.

'Thou didst not see her in the latter years before the War of the Ring,' Glorfindel said. 'She became...weary, longing for Valinor where once she had yearned to walk Middle-earth and rule for herself. And, too, she never had any love of forgiveness for the Fëanorions. Her meetings with Istelion were often...somewhat fraught.' Tindómion cast him a wry smile. ' I can see she would not take the news that they were reborn and Fëanor acclaimed High King with any pleasure.'

'What of our father and mother?' Elladan asked.

'Safe. As is thy mother, Tindómion.' Vanimórë smiled at him. Fanari had not returned to New Cuiviénen, and had been something of a force in Tirion, working against the continuing whispers of the Valar and their servants.

'I thank thee.' Tindómion released a held breath.

'Thy former wife is there.' To Fingolfin. 'But not thine.' To Fëanor.

'We will release them.' Vanimórë finished his wine. 'Though the Valar may think to use them as hostages.'

'Anyone stupid enough to look to the Valar deserves to be used as a hostage,' Caranthir said with a bite.

Fëanor drummed his fingers on a chair-back. 'How many of the Valar might join us?' he asked.

'Oromë, Ulmo, Irmo.' Vanimórë looked, all the way into Valinor. Nothing was hidden from him. 'Tulkas, Nienna, Yavannah and Aulë were overcome by Ungoliant. I released their souls and they can rebuild themselves after a fashion, but they will be only echoes of what they once were, and of no account. Eonwë and the Maia have been called to defend Ilmarin.'

Maedhros laughed. 'How easily thou doth dismiss them.'

'The Valar were a mistake,' Vanimórë said simply. 'Or rather to give them lordship over thee was a mistake. And those gone are not worth thy time. It was always that trio now gaoled in Ilmarin who called the tune, who hated thee and sought thy downfall.' Maedhros' eyes flashed and he nodded.

'Dana told us she was Melkor's daughter.' Imir spoke up, arms crossed over his chest, an expression of awe and love in his eyes as he stared at Vanimórë, who smiled, wryly, back at him. 'She is truly gone, my lord? Forever? I wish I had seen it.'

'She is gone, Ungoliant and Dana too. As for Melkor's daughter? Ungoliant was an echo of the last of the Nothingness before the Universe. It gained consciousness because it was caught in the thought-storm of those who created the Universe, which would include Melkor. She - it- had no real birth, only an awakening, but to Dana the truth mattered nothing, less than nothing; all she cared about was power. When thou didst injure her, she fled to the south to Tanith, where she melded with Ungoliant to become the monster on the Isle of Plagues. After, she fled again, hiding, until Sauron found her, tempting her with food, souls, and with me. Anyhow. She has gone.'

'Vanimórë.' Fëanor said, compelling. 'Elgalad...'

'I have seen him. He did what he had to do, Fëanor, and he hated it.'

Their eyes met, held. Frowning, Fëanor nodded reluctantly. 'Where is he?'

'I sent him to Móriel, she was abandoned in the Gardens of Lórien. He will take her to Tol Eresseä.' He rose. 'Now, perhaps thou shouldn't gather thy people, and I shall take thee there.'

Fëanor came to him. There was no escaping the violent heat, the intensity of those diamond eyes, and neither did he want to. He had wondered, at whiles, why two perfectly ordinary Elves (because Finwë had been halved by his twin's disappearance long before his seed took root in Miriel's womb) should produce one such as Fëanor. Now he knew. All the seething, so often subjugated passion he himself possessed through his own Fëanorion blood, that he had unleashed so few times in his life had found purpose.

(Maglor, that was the first time with thee, that I truly knew passion. Gods thou wert so beautiful, and I was so hungry. And we knew one another, somehow, blood recognising blood).

From beyond Time he had poured all that love, that fire, into Fëanor's soul. Too much, almost, for a human body to contain, enough certainly, to drain Miriel's vitality and the life from her. But the Noldor needed it or the Valar would have controlled them forever.


'Vanimórë, how couldst thou leave us?'

He grimaced. 'I had to, my dear. Only then could I come to the end, to do what I had to do.'

'Never again.' The command sunk into him like smoky wine.

'No promises,' he murmured. 'I cannot make them. Now is the time for thee to fulfil thine own vows: to free the Quendi of Valinor, to unchain the Maia who serve the Valar.'

OooOooO


The bridge shimmered out of the air, a path from nowhere straight into Tirion's great gates.

When the miasma of Ungoliant and Sauron had cleared from Valinor, the refugees had returned but, knowing that Sauron was still upon Taniquetil, they set guards and armed themselves. It was those guards who called the alert.

A bridge or perhaps a road, gleaming pearl-white, perfectly constructed, and down it rode an army out of the past: The fireflower dorsal of the House of Fëanor rippled in the snapping wind, the sapphire and white star of the House of Fingolfin, the banner of Finrod, the glittering emblem of Gil-galad and, like jewels, the banners of the lords whom had served them. There were others too, unfamiliar to the Elves of Valinor: The star and bow of Beleg, black on green, the helm and sword of Túrin-reborn, Lómion's Gondolindhrim sable set now with his grandsire's star, Eärendil's Silmaril, the black moon of the Ithiledhil, the white flower of Doriath, carried by Elúred and Elúrin, the purple-and-black of the Khadakhir, the leaf-and crown of the Greenwood.

At their head rode Fëanor and Fingolfin armoured from head-to-foot, fire-red plumes waving from Fëanor's helm, deep blue from Fingolfin's.

The sentries upon the wall fell silent, men and women surged in tense, wide-eyed silence to line the streets, to throng in the Great Square below Mindon Eldelieva. Rank upon rank, the glittering warriors passed them. Behind came wagons, carriages, bearing the movable wealth of New Cuiviénen.

Fëanor reined in and dismounted. With his sons and grandsons, with Fingolfin, Fingon, Aredhel and Gil-galad, Edenel, Elladan and Elrohir, Lómion, Eärendil, he stood where he had sworn the infamous Oath, drew his sword from its sheath.
'I am come to claim Valinor for the Elves.' His voice, pure with passion, deep with the power, now, of a god, rose above the towers into the sky.

Blades flamed in the pallid sunlight and there was a storm, a groundswell and then a a concerted roar of acclaim. These were not the Elves who had repudiated Fëanor's high kingship; those still dwelt on Tol Eresseä. These were the followers of Finwë, of Ingwë, or those that had died in Middle-earth, like Fanari. Tindómion could see her, waving her arms and jumping like a girl at the steps of the palace. He sent her a smile that spanned the Ages, and she pushed toward him as he stepped down, gathered her into his arms. Elrond and Celebrían were there, reaching out to their sons

The air cracked with lightning above Taniquetil and Vanimórë rode the lightning strike down, his great wings vanishing in a storm of flame. Silence fell again. The Elves of Valinor were accustomed to gods, but not to this. In a flash of ozone, a drift of incense, and a presence like a falling meteor, Vanimórë strode toward Fëanor and saluted.

Ingwë, in half-armour, his white hair coiled into a fist, stepped forward and bowed.
'It is a joy to welcome thee home, High King,' he said in a lovely voice that carried.

Fëanor looked into those beautiful cobalt eyes which had once been so vacant, so dead. Ingwë stepped forward and Fëanor gave him the kiss of a leige-lord. He felt the heat rise under the impress of his lips and smiled.
'I thank thee,' he said. 'And where is...Finwë?'

'He is within.' Ingwë gestured.



'Thou art not my son, art thou, not anymore?'

'No,' Fëanor agreed, watching his father. 'I am not. I am that man, I have his memories. But I do not truly see Vanimórë as my father, either. He was vehicle for my rebirth, so he said. As was Fanari.'

They were alone in the chamber. Through the high windows Fëanor remembered so well came the noise of excited voices, somehow odd and jarring in the bleached light of Valinor.

'Glorfindel told me.' Finwë picked up a polished ornament, turned it in his hands. 'I did not want to believe it, but I suppose thou didst not have a choice.'

Fëanor frowned. 'I had a choice. For a moment, then, I was myself and Vanimórë. I made the choice. Thinks thou that I would have chosen anything else? To die and be reborn here, in this...mausoleum, with the Valar reduced but still malicious, still scheming, separated from my sons? Is that what that wouldst have wanted?'

Finwë hunched a shoulder, back turned away. 'And so, are thy sons not thy sons?'

'My sons will always be my sons.' Fury scorched up from his gut. 'And they would never, did never, turn from me, though I deserved they should. Not once did they question whether or not I was their father.'

'No, I imagine they would not, so close thou didst bind them.'

'I love them. That is the binding.'

Finwë turned. His brows were drawn, his mouth an unsmiling line.
'There seems little we can say to one another, if thou art not my son.'

'Not wholly, but I have been, and that cannot be rubbed away. Nothing to say?' For a moment he was struck speechless. 'Really?'

'I wanted my son back, what I have is...' Finwë turned on him a look almost of apathy. 'This. I have met Sauron's son, talked to him. He is dangerous. More dangerous than any of the Valar in the days of their power. Thinks't thou I like knowing Sauron's blood runs in thee?'

'It always did,' Fëanor told him, furious. 'Vanimórë is not only Sauron's son. He is more now. Far more. And always was, in fact. And he was my grandson through that manipulative bitch Ballineth.'

Finwë stared.

'She drugged me and raped me - thou wert not the only one to know of the inflammatory properties of some herbs, like the ones thou didst give to Fingolfin. Ballineth wanted a child and chose me to fill her belly.'

'I did not know this.' Finwë spoke in a strangled tone.

'I would hardly announce it, would I? We argued, thou didst know that and asked me why. That was why.' He threw the memory away. With a curl of his fingers. 'Vanimórë had no hand in my upbringing. He would not take me from thee. Fanari raised me, my sons, my grandsons, Fingolfin.'

Finwë drew a breath. 'If I had,' he said. 'I would have done better, this time. I should have realised...thine interest in Ingwë, but thou wert so young...I should have spoken to thee of Ñolofinwë, told thee that such desires could only bring pain and ruin...'

Fëanor cut him off incredulously. 'I know of Edenel, Élernil that was. He speaks of thee with regret and love. Thou wouldst tell me his love for thee - and thine for him - was ruinous?'

'Yes, I loved him.' Finwë's words were flat.

'Then, what? He is here.'

'I expected he would come.'

'Thou didst leave him behind.' Fëanor wanted to strike his erstwhile father across the face to evoke some reaction. 'Left him to die. Except he did not die- Bloody Hells, is this why thou art so strange? Dost thou not want to see him, thine own twin?'

Finwë's throat moved convulsively. 'I had to think of my people --'

'Ah, yes, the action of a wise king, no doubt,' Fëanor flung at him. 'But not that of a brother. Thou didst not even search for him. Dost thou know why he left thee? To give thee a chance to court Miriel, but it hurt him. It was a test, to see whom thou didst love. Well, he found out, did he not? I would not have give up my brother, the soul of my soul, for anyone!'

'Be silent!' Finwë whipped at him. Fëanor saw the slap coming and caught his wrist before it could connect. Finwë panted, eyes glaring.
'I loved him,' he spat. 'I lay under him willingly, more than willingly. I wanted him. But, gods, gods! Élernil...he was so much more than I, more beautiful, braver, more skilled in weapons, a true leader. I envied him. And I wanted children. Canst thou not understand? Didst not thou want sons? He would never sire children, he said, and it was one thing I could do that he could not. Or would not. Just one thing I could do better than him. Fingolfin is so like him...I did love him.' His voice fell, breath shuttling hard in his mouth. 'But I was jealous of him. That is truth. And thy mother. Miriel.' His mouth twisted. 'She wanted him. Of course. Of course. But he was not one for women, and so she turned to me. I was a second choice,' bitterly. 'King by default, who bore two sons that were more like him than like me. I was nothing with him, and nothing without him.'

Fëanor dropped his hand. 'What didst thou do,' he wondered. 'to drive him away? Let him see thee with her, deliberately?'

Finwë's silence was eloquent.

'Thou wilt see him,' Fëanor said through his teeth.

'No. No. It is over.'

'Running away again? As thou didst run from Middle-earth, as when I was banished from Tirion and thou didst come with me, so thou wouldst not have to remain here and act the king and stand against the Valar? Let us be honest among ourselves, shall we? Never didst thou speak against them, question them. Bloody Hells, one wouldst think thou didst want me to hate Fingolfin. All those poisonous rumours that he had his eye on the throne, the high kingship. I have no doubt there was some truth in them, but he would never have betrayed me. Thou didst put the crown into his hands, bringing rumour into truth.'

'Yes,!' Finwë shouted. 'I wanted thee to hate him. Thou didst not see the way thou didst look at him, eating him alive with thine eyes, or the way he looked at thee, glowing as he never did for another. Thou hadst no right to blacken our name, see us banished, imperil our family, all for lust -'

'It may have escaped thy notice, but what happened was a thousand times worse!' Fëanor blazed. 'All for lust, was it? No, all for sweet passion's sake. I was in love for the first time, and gods it was glorious!'

'Yes, thou wert ever selfish.'

Fëanor curled his lip. 'Is it selfish to love? I would not have cared had we been banished. I just wanted gone from this damned place, this stultifying tomb, the freedom to live as I chose.' He stared at Finwë with a sudden sick feeling of disappointment and a species of pity. 'Edenel is beloved by us. Thou canst not imagine, few can, what he endured.' He turned away, unable to bear another moment in Finwë's presence.

'Go out and speak to thy people, Fëanáro Vanimórion.' The words fell on his back. He stopped, but did not turn.
'I came here to embrace thee,' he said. 'And thou wouldst not even come to meet me.'

The silence was stone. Fëanor walked out, did not even close the door behind him.

He knew these halls so well, every room, running through them as a child, and later, as his sons were born, although he spent far less time there than Formenos in the north. The palace had always weighed on him, vast and beautiful though it was.

Alone, he questioned himself. Had his father spoken, looked at him in such a way before, in his first life, it would have plucked him full of holes. They had no-one but each other, then, for a few years. But then came Indis, and perhaps Fëanor had been drawing away already, on learning that his father meant to arrange a marriage for him. Which proved Finwë knew him not at all, or meant to override his son's own will and desires.

He had loved his father because that was what one did. A duty, that had become a terrible guilt when Finwë was murdered. But now...? There was only disillusionment and anger. A father should be some-one to look up to, emulate (and, hells his sons had tried so hard to emulated him
Unforgivable of me.

He felt, unshakeable and unrelenting, the love of his sons, his grandsons, around him, within him, the stupendous burn of Vanimórë, questioning nothing, simply loving without judgement, that profligate love he caged, gave rein to so rarely. (Except when he birthed us). And always, always, but from a distance, Fingolfin.

The bewilderment, the hurt, sank into them all and was gone, with a sense of utter relief. So be it. Finwë was exposed as a man who could not live with jealousy. It had cramped him more surely than the Valar, eaten him to the bone.

I will have to speak to Edenel.

He pushed open a door, found himself in the library. It was free of dust, but possessed an air of abandonment, as if no-one had been here in a very long time. So few people dwelt here now, where once it had been a place of busyness and life. Here was the room where he had waited for Fingolfin, to seduce him as he had wanted to for years. He could almost see, like ghost memories, the both of them, Fingolfin walking in, stopping dead to see him apparently asleep...and all that followed, when he had realised how much passion his brother concealed under that lovely, cold, haughty face.

It could have been different, were I not so jealous, and had the Valar not dripped their poison into my mind. I should have been on my guard...

Some-one said his name. He looked around into Ingwë's impossibly blue eyes.
'I should have spoken to thee before thou didst see Finwë,' he said.

'Didst thou know he was jealous of his twin?' Fëanor asked abruptly.

'Knew it? I was there. Élernil...Edenel was magnificent. They were similar, but not identical in face. And certainly not in other ways.' The light burned Ingwë's hair white as he moved out of shadow. 'Edenel was the dominant one.'

Fëanor agreed with that assessment. 'I do not understand him, Finwë. Perhaps I never did.'

'Because thou hast never been jealous of anyone.'

'Have I not? Fingolfin, a little at least. Certainly there was a kind of rivalry. But had he been mine from the beginning nothing could have drawn me away from him.'

'I was his lover, at times, Edenel's.' Ingwë lifted a hand and a ring glowed the colour of his eyes, lit from within. 'I know that must surprise thee,' with a rueful smile. 'I saw somewhat of him in thee, Fëanáro.'

'Wert thou, indeed?' Fëanor's eyes traced over the great coil of cloud-white hair. 'His hair almost thy colour now, like spun glass, as are his eyes. It happened in Utumno.' He stopped. It was unbearable to think of Edenel's torments, but he was storing that anger up for Morgoth. With a little to spare for the Valar. His eyes moved back to the ring. 'Thou didst keep it. Now that does surprise me.' He remembered walking into Ilmarin, ignoring Varda and Manwë, to give Ingwë this gift. Complete provocation of course. Remembered the astonishment, soon hidden, in those cobalt eyes.

'Even half dead, drugged by Manwë's attar as I was, I felt thee burn.'

'Thou wert my first desire,' Fëanor said. 'I wondered what thou wouldst look like with a spark of life in thee, coming apart for me, how it would feel to mount thee, to possess thee.'

A delicate flush burned up over Ingwë's marble face, his eyes blazed up, stupendously, inhumanly blue. Fëanor laughed deep in his throat.
'Wilt thou acknowledge me, King Ingwë, as High King?'

'I will.' No hesitation.

'Why?'

'Because I believe in thy vision. Thou wert the only one to burn, here in Valinor, or the first one. Thy fire was a spark that leapt from thee to thy sons, to others. And the doom was a cruel judgement. Yes, thou hast blood on thy hands, but thou hast paid for it. Thou didst take on a duty we shirked.'

'Hmmm.' Fëanor regarded him. 'It was no duty, but a privilege. Thou didst fight in the War of Wrath?'

'We did, all the Vanyar. And then we were dragged back here. Many of my people died. We were the vanguard.' Anger flickered across his perfect features. 'And even then, we folded back into our prison. It took Vanimórë to break it.'

'He could break the world if he wished.' He slid a hand under Ingwë's arm. 'Come. We must hold council.'

'Fëanáro. Thou dost know they have a Silmaril in Ilmarin?'

Fëanor laughed. 'I will wager anything thou doth please that they do not,' he said, feeling Vanimórë's sidelong smile. 'I think Sauron has it. If he has any sense. And I suppose he is my grandsire, so I believe I know what he would do. He will have taken it from them.'

Yes, Vanimórë said. He has.

OooOooO


Chapter 14 The Lost Shores of Memory by Spiced Wine


The Lost Shores of Memory




Vanimórë came upon his father in the rarified air of the sky-garden. Mairon was standing, gold-white hair flowing down his back, looking down across Valinor but, as the air concussed, he whirled, spinning his own powers in a complex mesh that he dropped with a curse when he saw whom had come.

'Do you have to make so much noise?' he snapped, half-smiling.

'Well, yes. Air displacement,' Vanimórë said. 'As thou well know. I was certainly not going to walk up here.'

He joined his father, leaning on the balustrade. Mairon glanced at his profile, the long, thick shadow of black lashes that veiled the violet eyes. Struck by the sun, his skin was white as snowfall with the bloom of a white peach.

'Gods,' Vanimórë said suddenly, straightening. 'That must be driving thee insane.'

'What? Oh, them.' Manwë, Námo and Varda with their followers sounded like cats in a sack.

'Art thou going to let them out to play?' Vanimórë slanted him a look.

'I would not miss it,' Mairon replied. Inured as he was to sentiment, Mairon could not but think the Noldor had indeed earned the right to bring those narrow-minded, pinch-buttocked, holier-than-thou idiots to their knees. And the arrival of the Noldor had not gone unnoticed, hence the cacophony from the palace.
'They are trying to send out their virgins,' he said amusedly. 'to protect them. Daughters of Varda, Sons of Manwë; the poor bastards are like Men on poppy. Some have been here almost since the Quendi first came.'

A frown fleeted across Vanimórë's brow. He said, 'That would be like sending kittens out to battle.'

'They will not fight. They cannot. They are barely alive. Those three...they have been feeding off the life-force. Better that though, than the other way. They will try it in desperation before the end.'

'It will make no difference,' Vanimórë shrugged. 'Melkor will come whether or no.'

Mairon looked down at the palace. 'You know who is in there? Of course you do. Galadriel.' He turned his eyes on his son. 'Olórin. They thought they were so clever. They thought me gone.'

'Well, the destruction of the One Ring did knock thee back a little, father, in all fairness.' Vanimórë's tone was dulcet.

Mairon forced back the lash of his anger that wanted to bring his son to his knees as he had been so many times. But when he looked into those violet eyes now he did not know what he saw, or rather he did. Galaxies wheeled there, blazing light. And yet, you are still my son.
'I want those two,' he said, as if it could not admit of dispute. 'I will pay her back every slight of Ost-in-Edhil, every moment she cowered in Laudelindórian thinking she deceived me, doing nothing, playing at queenship, posturing at the White Council as if she were the great Lady of lesser beings, and when she came to Dol Guldur, thinking she had any powers at all to drive me hence.' He had retreated of his own volition, playing at defeat. 'She came here because her idiot father is here, and because the very thought of Fëanor as High King curdled in her stomach. Celebrimbor gave her Nenya.' His hands curled on the marble. 'I know there were few people to wear the Three, but what was he thinking? At least there was some logic in Olórin having Narya.'

'No doubt he will tell thee. He wants to skin thee alive and his father, Maglor and Fëanor will hold the flaying knives for him. And let us not forget Finrod.' Vanimórë tilted his head. 'Elrond bore Vilya. He has returned it to Celebrimbor. Do Galadriel and Olórin still wear their Rings?'

'What do you think? Manwë and Varda took them. They dared not touch the Silmaril, and Nenya and Narya hurt them, but they fondle them like men creeping into a bedroom to molest a child.'

'I thank thee for that - admittedly graphic - image.' Vanimórë said with distaste. 'I know what thou meanest exactly. So why didst thou not take them?'

Mairon looked down upon Tirion. 'I rather thought,' he murmured. 'that Celebrimbor might like to.'
'Naturally the Noldor wish their revenge on me, but they cannot destroy me. Only reduce me. I went into the Void, yes, but I always knew I could return given the opportunity. I watched you, as he did, but I could see more clearly. As long as you lived, I had a way back.' He let his eyes move over Vanimórë's face, his body. 'By that time, and for long before, you were almost unkillable, so determined were you not to die and end in the Void. You would not, of course, even Melkor could not drag you there. The Valar would have, after you threw their so-generous offer back in their teeth. And even had you accepted it, they would have done so. You were the...wild card in the deck. Far too dangerous. And now, even more so.'

Vanimórë gave him that sinful dangerous smile, half Mairon's own, half Fëanorion.
'Too late now,' he said. 'Although my part in this battle against them will be more in he nature of...damage control. Their damage, not the Noldor and those who join with them. Now. Let us release those poor daughters and sons before the fighting begins.'

'This,' Mairon said with anticipation. 'I must witness.'



Ghost-chains ran from the Maia's ankles, their wrists, their waists, dripping rust, half-eroded, but not wholly so, fashioned in a time when the Valar had come to Arda as gods, claimed it as their fiefdom, and the spirits of earth, sea and sky as their servants. Save Mairon alone. He had eluded them, would not be chained, but gone into the service - or enslavement - of an even greater power.

Vanimórë said he did not want to harm them, but they were capable of defending themselves, whereas the thralls were not. He wanted no pitched battle in Taniquetil until the Noldor came.
He raised a hand and laid stillness on the gathered Maia so that they could not obey the Valars' command and attack him. So effortless, thought Mairon, as if it were nothing. It had been far harder for him when he came, but there had been much confusion to aid him.

Manwë sat on a throne of sapphire, Varda's was diamond, Námo's was ruby the apt colour of blood. The Elves knelt before them, too apathetic and torpid to move. Most were Vanyar, but there were a few Noldor and Teleri. Manwë's 'sons' wore his watery blue, Varda's 'daughters' a chalky white.

The Valar struggled when they saw Vanimórë and Mairon and were pinned to their thrones, making sounds as if a hand had been clapped over their mouths. They had managed, by dint of pulling the life-energy from their thralls, to recreate some semblance of their former beauty - if one could call it that - but not their power. This was smoke and mirrors. Illusion.
'I am not here to destroy thee,' Vanimórë said, hardly casting them a look. 'I shall let the Elves do that. But I will be taking thy hostages with me.' He broke the power drain with a thought and the thralls blinked drowsy eyes.

Figures moved in the shadow of the thrones: Finarfin and Galadriel. They were remnants now, faded as parchment will fade when exposed to the sun. There was very little, save in the fine bones of Finarfin's face, to announce kinship with Fëanor and Fingolfin, and Galadriel was simply a tall, big-boned woman with pale eyes. Nearby were two woman with colourless hair: Indis, once Finwë's wife, and Anairë. There was also what, at first glance, appeared to be a Mortal ancient, an old bent man in tattered grey robes, bearded and white haired. Olórin, whom the Elves had called Mithrandir, the motivating force in the War of the Ring. All the so-called Wizards had been sent to Middle-earth in the guise of old men, their true forms and power hidden. But the Valar had not seen fit to return Olórin to his Maia appearance. This was his 'reward'. He looked desperately weary, eyes occluded, skin sagging.

Close to Galadriel stood Idril and Tuor, desiccated memories of two whom had once been fair to look on. Their expressions reminded Mairon of people sucking on sloes, pinching the skin around their mouths into deep lines, their eyes darting as if searching for anything to disapprove of, an old habit never forgotten even here.

Whatever their former fame and power, all of them had fled when he walked into the palace, running to hide behind the thrones. He had thought it amusing, and relegated them as something to deal with later, but would forever relish their expression when they saw him.

Eonwë, great white wings half unfurled, sword in hand, locked into immobility, was staring at Vanimórë with an expression compounded of hope and terrible frustration.

Vanimórë said, 'Peace. Thy thraldom comes to an end.' I have wondered, often, why Eru, who could do anything, did so little, he said. Now I know. It would be too easy, reducing Elves and Men to little more than pets, sheltered from every ill wind. It is for the Noldor, first and foremost, and those who would fight them, to topple the Valar, to face Melkor. They have the right. I shall not take it from them.

Aloud he said, 'Thou may go also,' to the Elves. 'Speak.'

'I will not,'Finarfin said, stiff-lipped. 'bow before him. He will never rule Valinor, he will not be High King.'

'Wrong,' Vanimórë returned like a slap. 'He was always destined for it, and for a great deal more. He is a god now, reborn through me.'

'No.' Galadriel' hands fisted. 'Never. And thou art an abomination, Sauron's bastard! He and Fëanor both! Thinks't thou any of the Eldar would accept one of thy blood as High King? Never!'

'Thy brothers have come,' Vanimórë told her mildly.

'If they follow that mad murderer, they are no longer my brothers!' she rapped.

'Please thyself.' He did not care if she did or not, Mairon knew. She might have been a presence once, but now she was just another brainwashed fool yammering the hate drummed into her by the Valar. But not that alone. She had always been jealous of Fëanor, reckoning herself as clever and far wiser.

Well, Fëanor had never claimed to be wise. He was too brilliant and far too passionate. Long ago, Galadriel had tried to attract his attention, although she had been alarmed when he asked for a hair of her head and refused, thinking more underlay the request than, in fact, did. When Fëanor forgot all about her, her immense ego rebelled. She could never bear to be overlooked and had been, time and again. She had never been called a queen, her greatest ambition. When Rosriel, Gil-galad's mother and her adherents had called for Gil-galad to abdicate his throne, claiming his 'unnatural lusts' would bring down the Valar's wrath upon all Lindon, Galadriel had supported the High king not because she bore him any love, but because she wanted her daughter, Celebrían, as queen. It was the first and last time Galadriel and Rosriel's thoughts had ever matched, since neither had any use for the other. Celebrían was no match for her mother's will, and Galadriel could have ruled through her quite easily, so she believed.

That plan had been smashed on the rocks of Tindómion Maglorion, for Gil-galad would look nowhere else save into those silver eyes. Ever after, Galadriel had hated Tindómion for thwarting her ambitions, for being Fëanorion, and most especially for not caring what she thought of him. And what he thought was not flattering. He had grown to love Celebrían, but always regarded Galadriel with the haughty indifference that reminded her aggravatingly of Fëanor.

There was, too, the fact that Glorfindel, her disowned brother, had been reborn and later elevated to godhood. She could not accept that either and wished now, she had taken the One Ring when it was freely offered. She had rejected it to buy herself back into the Valars' good graces. If one could call them that.

All these things Mairon had read in her mind, scoured clean and barren now of any power by proximity to the degraded Valar and Taniquetil's rotted 'holiness'. Her reason for coming here had been laudable: she had wanted to see her father and return with him to Tirion, but the Valar had snatched Nenya from her hand and begun their work on her mind. It had taken thousands of years, for she was not weak, but this was the result.

The same jealousy infected Finarfin. He had known of Fëanor and Fingolfin's affair, following them, spying on what passed between them, seeing both too much and too little and never able to comprehend the firestorm of love and passion that drew them together. He had shied violently from the the inner shame of arousal and jealousy. Perhaps matters might have been different had he not turned back from the Exile and fled toward the Valar to cleanse himself, as he thought of it. (But oh, was it not cold, so cold without them Arafinwë!)

Mairon wondered if anything could bring them back to life, re-ignite the fire in their eyes...

I do not know about the others, but Fëanor does have plans for Finarfin, Vanimórë offered. (And how Mairon loathed that his mind could be so easily read). Imagine how it would have been had the Noldor come to Middle-earth united?

I can imagine it all too well. He studied the titular high king of the Noldor in Valinor. His plans will have to be extraordinary, his execution of them even more so.

This is Fëanor we are talking about. His son laughed and turned his attention to the bewildered thralls. Like pale, windblown flames, they vanished.

'Kill them,' Tuor babbled, spittle forming at the corners of his dry lips. 'Kill them, killthemkillthem!' It was not clear if he were begging the Valar or speaking to himself.

Vanimórë ignored him, walked away.

'Where did you send them?' Mairon put an arm through his son's, thoroughly enjoying the expression on their faces. It was petty to gloat, but who could blame him? Let fear pile on fear. Let them wonder what side Vanimórë, Fëanor's blood-father, was on, what side Mairon himself was on. Oh, that would be the greatest of ironies, would it not, if he fought on the side of the Noldor. If he had the chance...

He had no illusions. His son would not lift to finger to save him from Fëanorion vengeance; he possessed a streak of Mairon's own pitilessness which showed in battle, in how he punished malefactors. But still, let them wonder...let them fear.
'Tol Eresseä for now. There is a place there, for those who returned from Middle-earth and needed peace and healing. I will protect them and Valinor,' Vanimórë said. 'when Melkor comes.'

They strolled away.

'Oh, one thing,' Vanimórë stopped as if just remembering something. 'The Silmaril.'

'Well, you need not look for it here,' Mairon said, enjoying the strangled screams of the Valar. 'I have it. Do you think Fëanor wants it back?'

Vanimórë smiled at him. 'What a stunning idea,' he said. 'I like it.'



OooOooO




It was a strange and alien place to Edenel, though founded by his twin. But there was no sense of having come home. It was not.

Once Tirion must have shone, once -- before the Noldor, or most of them, left its white stones behind in their shadows, taking their fire and passion with them. New Cuiviénen was more beautiful, not trammelled by geography, or used to imprison the populace.

Tirion was like a tired old Mortal woman whom had once dressed in girlish finery and never discarded it while the years spun it with dust, yellowed its once pristine gleam. It was clean, it was perfect and, under the sun, so weak here, so pale, it seemed to mourn its lost youth.

But now, at least, voices rang in its streets, music drifted from gardens, wine shops spilled laughter. Long abandoned mansions were opened to the air. And, above the palace, two banners rippled, the fireflower and the star. Fëanor and Fingolfin were not yet openly acknowledged as co-rulers, nor lovers (which they were not, Edenel knew, though since his rebirth as a child, Fëanor's relationship with Fingolfin was distant enough. But to some, it had not mattered. Fëanor still looked like Fëanor, still acted like it, and in essence was the same man in a new body) but Fëanor certainly meant for his half-brother to be crowned beside him.

The silvery bell on the Mindon was tolling a council meeting. Edenel passed guards, hurrying servants, nobles, earning odd, questioning looks that he ignored as he followed Fingolfin's tall figure into the Great Hall. Fëanor was already there, sitting on the dais as if born to it, his beautiful head turned to speak to some-one with milk-white hair, some-one who straightened and looked straight at Edenel.

Ingwë froze, stared, then ran gracefully down the steps, and stopped before him, jewel-blue eyes tracing his face, his hair, coming to a halt on his eyes.
'Éle - Edenel.' His breath went in, the sound harsh. 'He...Vanimórë. He came here, long ago and told us what had happened to thee.' Then his lovely face quivered. He reached out a hand. 'What can I say to encompass what thou hast endured?'

Edenel remembered Ingwë beside the first Cuiviénen, white hair wildly flowing, braided with feathers and flowers, his dress of breath-soft leather, long legs eating up the leagues as he hunted with bow and spear. He remembered nights under the eye of the full moon, while fires leapt, and the Elves of all kindreds celebrated life itself. This man, half-armoured, his wealth of hair neatly bound, looked no older, but he was not the Ingwë of Cuiviénen. Well, neither was Edenel the Élernil of those far-off days.

He said, 'I was not the only one, and we...survived.' Then, at something in Ingwë's face: 'I have found my blood-kin again. or most of them. And I know, that Finwë does not want to see me.'

It was all there in Ingwë's eyes, in his voice as he said softly: 'I am sorry.'

'I suppose I knew, when our soul-bond was broken, that nothing could ever be the same again.' And some things could never be made whole. He wondered if Finwë wanted to avoid him forever, if he feared recriminations, to be overloaded by Edenel's torment and grief and guilt. Edenel had no intention of doing such a thing; he and his people had always kept themselves very close, very private. Being drawn back in to his family had softened those barriers, but not dissolved them. The Ithiledhil would always be a people apart.

'Thou shouldn't speak to Fëanáro,' Ingwë said.

'Yes, perhaps I will.'

Fingolfin had mounted to the dais now, taken his seat on the great chair Fëanor had placed alongside his own. They were speaking, but mind-to-mind, as a frown passed across Fingolfin's face, and he laid a hand on Fëanor's hand, who regarded him with a certain drollness, a faint shrug dismissing the brief shadow of - was it anger or sadness? - in his eyes.

Edenel glanced from them around the hall, now filling with people. Maedhros, copper-red hair gleaming, striding in with Fingon, Maglor, stern, gorgeous, still looking as if he wanted to punch Vanimórë in the face. Tindómion's hand was linked through his father's arm. He looked as though he were born to walk into this hall like a prince. Then came Elrohir and Elladan with their parents, Lómion, Aredhel, Estelion Telcontar, her son by Eldarion, last king of Gondor before the Fall, Eärendil...

They lit up the cold hall like fired gems, the essence of beauty, of light, a passion that could not be quenched by Law or the endless twisted plots of the Valar, by Morgoth's hate, by death itself.

'I had forgotten,' Ingwë murmured. 'How brilliantly the Noldor shone. Some of them, anyhow.'

Fëanor was waiting for Olwë of Alqualondë to either accept or refuse the invitation to Tirion. Ingwë and the Vanyar already followed him. Whether the Teleri joined him or no, (he declared) they would march upon Taniquetil.

'Tonight,' he said with a glittering smile. 'We feast.'

OooOooO


The palace had not known laughter and song for years uncounted.

Fëanor walked among his guests, his family. He had ever been impatient of such gatherings, still was, but now he was High King, or would be very soon, and had, as Fingolfin had reminded him, duties. Across the room, he met his half-brother's brilliant, smiling eyes, raised his goblet in salute.

Finwë was here, sitting within a circle of his people, his face closed, studiously avoiding the tall figure of his twin who was talking to Beleg and Túrin. Fëanor was a little disgusted that his former father did not even have the courtesy (or statescraft) to speak to his brother either now or before the gathering. But Valinor, even with the Valar cast down long ago, was stultifying. Gods, he had to change that. It brought back to him the feeling of entrapment that he had fought so hard against. In fact, he realised, Tirion had only been bearable when he was absorbed in something, his sons, his craft, Fingolfin.

Turgon made a black blot of disapproval where he sat with those lords who shared the same mind as him, but he had come after all, when shown what would happen if he remained. And then Vanimórë had left New Cuiviénen, gone out into the world, and found the last remnants of the wood-Elves that still lingered there.

The Greenwood was long gone, destroyed by the fragments of the meteor fall, but Thranduil still ruled those Elves who haunted the lonely forests and twilit mists.
The wood-Elves would not have come to the Valinor of old, ever mistrustful of the Valar, and certainly Thranduil would never have followed Fëanor. They were come to battle Morgoth, and Fëanor would give them the great woods of Oromë to dwell in.

He did not care who disapproved who (still) hated him. This was what he had been born to do, when the Valar's Trees illuminated Valinor, when the Eldar were little more than slaves. The Enemy of my enemy is my friend.

He inclined his head to the woman who was looking at him with flat anger in her eyes and something else that he did not care to interpret. Her hair was still a rich auburn. Nerdanel had not changed discernibly; neither had her opinion of him by the look on her face. At least the shadow and weariness had gone from her eyes, though they blinked frequently, puckering as if the light in the hall were too bright and, like many of the others whom had never left Valinor, she appeared strangely...dimmed.

'Always thou doth bring strife with thee,' she opened as if he she had walked out of his life a few days ago.

'Retribution,' he corrected. 'A reckoning.'

'And again thou wilt drag my sons into war.'

'I would face Morgoth alone rather than see them harmed again,' he told her. 'But I think nothing could prevent them. Maedhros has a greater right than I to face Morgoth, and six of them were with me in the Void, tossed there by Námo.'

Her face tightened. 'Yes, because of thee. Thou didst not tell them what was right.'

'I did not compel them to do aught against their nature, Nerdanel,' he said with a flash.

She took a step back, though he had not moved, and her eyes flickered. Then she put up her chin. 'I married again, when thou wert released from the Void.'

'Yes?' he said. 'Then I hope thou art happy.'

'He was a much better man, in every way, than thou. Although he could scarce be worse.'

'Indeed?' He saw Maglor watching him, faintly frowning, and sent his son a smile. 'Was?'

'Thou wilt do me the courtesy of looking at me when I speak to thee!' Her voice carried a thin edge.

'Be careful, madam, I am not thy lackey.'

Her lips tightened. 'Thou may call thyself High King,' she said. 'But thou art nothing but a failure. A failure as a husband, as a son, as a brother, as a father. Thou didst want to take the Noldor to freedom, and took them to their doom. Thou didst swear an oath - and failed at that, too.' Her breath shook. 'I have wanted to say that to thy face for a long, long time.'

Deliberately, Fëanor subdued the upward scorch of anger. That ability, he knew, came from Vanimórë's blood, or rather, Sauron. (He wondered if Sauron had been forced to cultivate such a cold lack of reaction when serving under Morgoth). It devolved from the impossible arrogance that cared nothing for what others might think, a quality he had always possessed in full measure, but he intensely disliked pettiness and the bangle of domestic arguments.
'Finished? I had ample time to consider my failures in the Void, lady.'

'Not long enough, evidently.' But for a moment her expression had shown fear. A god's anger showed. Even more than a Fëanorions. She swallowed. She was, Fëanor realised suddenly, afraid of him.

She could not possibly know, and he was not going to attempt to explain, what it had been like. 'Eru decreed my release. All of our releases.' Or was it Eru at all?.

She twisted her skirt in both hands. 'And now the word is thou wilt bring Morgoth down upon all Valinor, why didst thou not just stay away? Thou art a curse.'

'Valinor will be protected,' he told her coldly. Vanimórë had promised it. 'Now if thou wilt excuse me?'

'My husband once asked me,' her voice cracked. 'what the infamous Mad Fëanor was like as a lover.'

'How terribly vulgar' He looked down his nose. 'But I imagine thou didst say it was acceptable at the beginning and soon over. Thou didst fall under the malaise of the Valar, madam.'

They had no idea of what they were doing, he thought now, he filled with dreams and visions of the sons would sire, she with an idea of 'romance'.

He had never had women friends. Those of his age tended to either be intimidated by him or try to flirt with him. And he had no male friends because all were intimidated. He had not needed them, absorbed as he was within his mind. But it had been pleasant when Nerdanel had seemed neither afraid of him nor to cherish romantic thoughts. Until I put them there. She had been an easy companion when they were both young.

But she had not been truly interested in him, as he soon discovered. That had been a rather unpleasant shock. He knew he was not particularly likeable, but she had hidden her feelings very well, until they were bonded, wherein she discarded all pretence.

'I hope that, with thy husband, thou hast discovered what true pleasure is.' He would have added 'or wife' but doubted they had advanced so far in their thinking in Valinor.

Her breast rose and fell. 'How very kind of thee, Sire. Such condescension!'

'If thou wilt excuse me...?'

'No, I will not.'

He repressed a sigh. 'Well?'

The blood rushed into her face. 'I believe I am owed a few moments of thy time.'

'What is it? Dost thou want to rake over our marriage?'

'Thou didst use me. When my father said he would not teach thee, thou didst know he would not refuse my husband.'

'We have been through this before,' he said impatiently, 'But yes, that was ill-done of me. The impetuosity of youth. Ambition and arrogance and a dream. I needed a wife. I had dreamed of my sons. I made many mistakes, but they are not one of them.'

'I fell in love with thee.' The weight of their marriage hung bloated and sour in those words.

'For a while. Thou wert in love with a mirage of me, an idea, but be honest, lady, thou didst not like me.' He laughed softly into her startled eyes. 'And liking does matter, believe me. Be truthful. We have very little in common, my talk bored thee. When we were married thou didst allow thy feigned interest in it to drop.'

'Oh, who could like thee?' He laughed out at that, and caught the black bloom of hate in her eyes for a moment. She turned her head, stared with an animosity that thundered out of her flesh like sweat, at Fingolfin. He was speaking with Gil-galad, oblivious. 'Perhaps they were right who said that thou wert cursed from birth,' Nerdanel muttered. 'The way thou didst look at him... I had never seen thee look at anyone like that, certainly not me.' with bitterness. ' And after...when thou wert gone, the Valar summoned me to Mahanaxar and told me that...' Her eyes swung back to him. 'But I did not believe them of course. I know the Valar were our overlords, our gaolers. But I believed Arafinwë.'

'Ah,' he said. 'It was true.'

'I do not understand. I simply do not understand.' Her voice almost pleaded for enlightenment. 'Listen. Listen to me: the Valar sapped my desire, and thou wert forced to look elsewhere --'

'I was not forced to do anything --'

'--and it is the duty of a wife to ensure her husbands needs are met --'

'What?'

Heads turned at his exclamation and Nerdanel gaped at him. He lowered his voice. 'Who in the Hells told thee that?'

' I spent time with Anairë, before she removed to Taniquetil.'

'It was not time well spent, if thou didst come up with that...travesty of an idea. It is no-one's duty, Nerdanel, man or woman, to service the needs of their spouse. I certainly never said any such thing, nor would I have thought it.'

'We were trying to understand why our husbands drew away from us,' she said quickly. 'Anairë admitted that she disliked intimacy and blamed herself for Fingolfin's lack of passion. After the Valar's power were reduced, when thou didst return, we began...it felt like waking up.'

'Thou hast not woken yet,' he said. ' And apparently Anairë returned to the Valar. She is there now.'

'She did not like to believe they had... that everything she had believed...never mind. Listen: Thou didst create new laws in Endorë, I heard? That if a wife or husband wished to separate and end the marriage it should be easy to do so.'

'Yes. That is true.'

'And if thou art proclaimed High King, then those laws will pertain in Valinor, also?' her eyes quartered his face.

'Certainly. No man or woman should be chained to a marriage they dislike, and should be free to marry and love again.'

'Good, so I think also. My husband and I parted some time ago.'

'The man who is so much better than me?' he said dryly.

She put her shoulders back. 'It was mutually decided between us. And I shall be free to marry again.'

'Of course,' he agreed. 'If that is what thou doth wish.'

Her cheeks seemed to burn under his gaze. If he touched them, they would be hot. He did not.

'If thou art to be High King in truth,' she whispered. 'thou wilt need a wife.'

'No,' he said, understanding at last. He made his mouth shape the rejection without unkindness and turned from her, but she caught his arm as he walked past, said his name in the way that had always lurched through his gut with a taint of pity and distaste. He looked into her mind as he had not before and saw that those whom had dwelt only in Valinor had not truly lived, even with the Valar's noose removed from their necks. They were caught in a slow dream so that all the years since their birth seemed to occupy but a short span of time. They were outside the Time of the World. Even though she had been the one to end their marriage and walk away, Nerdanel still felt slighted. She would never forgive Fëanor for not being the man she wanted. Her second marriage had been a trial, almost, to try to discover her lost womanhood, and no-one could blame her for that, but to him, now, she seemed undeveloped, a child, almost, whom has been so protected they know and understand nothing.

'Nerdanel,' he said. 'Stop seeing me as the man thou didst want me to be, and see me as I am. Our marriage was a sham, and thou knowest it. Thou didst tell me so enough times! We barely spoke, we spent little time with one another, we irritated each other immensely. We shared our sons upbringing equally, not together. Toward the end, thou didst hate me, I disgusted thee.'

'That was the Valar,' she protested. 'In the beginning, it was not like that.'

He remembered how she would take advantage of his hardness on waking from sleep while he closed his eyes and imagined that he was inside Ingwë first, before Fingolfin grew to beauty and it was his face and body that crowned Fëanor's mind. Both of us lying to ourselves...
But he never said no, never pushed her away, because he had needs even as she did, though the sex was unsatisfying, still left him aching and hungry -- and disgusted with himself. His determination to have Fingolfin had risen and risen like a building storm. He wanted, needed to discover the passion he knew existed, the searing ardour of purest lust. And, gods, yes, it existed and was wilder and more superb than even his imagination could conjure.

'Varda...' Nerdanel licked her lips. 'Thou knowest what she did to us women. But if thou hadst...thou didst possess fire enough to burn through their miasma. If thou hadst taken me with that fire, all the passion in thee, if thou hadst shown me what I truly wanted...'

He said, disbelievingly, 'I should have forced thee?'

He had forced Fingolfin, (almost new-come from raping Melkor, though he felt no guilt for turning the tables on the Dark Vala) then Glorfindel, and long after, even tried to force Legolas, although that had a purpose behind it.

'No,' he said sternly. 'Thou wouldst not have wanted me to force thee. Nerdanel, I think thou shouldst talk to some of the women who were born in Middle-earth, those of the wood-Elves who never knew the Valar and never even knew of their laws. And hast thou not spoken to Fanari Penlodiel who died and was reborn here?' He searched the hall and saw her talking to Elrond and Celebrían. She looked animated and happy. 'No woman needs an excuse to own that she enjoys bedsport, and no man should throw her down onto a bed and rape her thinking that she will suddenly discover she likes it. My gods.' He was nonplussed for a moment until he began to think about it. 'Thou art thinking if I had taken away thy choice it would not be thy fault, and thou wouldst not have been ashamed of enjoying sex. But there is no shame in taking pleasure in it. Oh, I know, sex was supposed to be for the begetting of children and nothing else, the Valar poured that lie down our throats from the time the Quendi first came here, and nonsense it was. It seems their effects still linger.' He thought that among their sins this one was not negligible. 'Thou doth need some reeducating, all of thee. I do see how thou might come to the conclusion that hadst thou been more eager, I would not have looked elsewhere, but thou art wrong, and trying to lay the blame on thyself. I would not have touched thee hadst thou shown aversion. Give me credit, I did not. The Valar's disease did not affect me, and yes, I wanted sex, but thou didst owe me nothing. There was no duty, save the duty to thyself: to find pleasure, to tell the one thou art with what thou doth like, to discover thy sensuality.'

Her colour was very high. No, she had never discovered herself, but Valinor under his rule would be very different.

'Even at the beginning, Nerdanel, thou didst not like my lust, as thou didst term it,' he said more quietly. 'My, what didst thou call it? base appetites. I held back, never hurt thee, never asked thee for anything, but I could not live like that again.'

'Thou shouldst not have held back, and I have changed,' she insisted. 'I want to know what it could be like, what it should have been like. The Valar robbed us, Fëanáro. Let us claim those stolen years back. We had seven sons. Does that mean nothing?'

There is something nauseating in unwanted attention, especially when compunction or powerlessness prevents one from using violence or cruelty to strike it down, drive it away. Then it feels like something unclean.

'First I am a failure at everything, I should never have returned and I am a curse. Now thou doth want to sleep with me?' He made it light, amused. 'I am not a stallion thou canst try out, madam.'

'Do not call me that!' Her face twisted. 'Thou knowest I have always loved thee. I should not have said what I did.' Her hands reached toward him. Instinctively, he moved beyond their range.

'I am sorry for it, even though I do not think it is true.' He raised his head, saw through the crowd, Fingolfin's star-brilliant eyes and wanted him then with a desperate urgency, to draw him back from old memories of shame, the maddening, suffocating feeling of being trapped. And then Fingolfin smiled and for a moment Fëanor forgot even where he was. His half-brother had not only been his passion, but his deliverance. He had never, until that moment in the library, when he seduced Fingolfin, been truly himself.
'Nerdanel, listen. I am not even the man thou wert married to anymore. I look like him. I possess all his memories. But I was reborn through a god and a woman, and for a purpose. I am as Finwë called me, Fëanor Vanimórion. If I could give thee something I would, but I cannot. Even a god cannot force love.'

She stared at him, her eyes blank. He took her hands in a firm grip. 'We were not happy, and nothing has changed. We would not be happy, and that is the truth. Thou must know it in thy heart.'

Her fingers stirred in his and her mouth worked, her eyes flicking between his own, away, back again.

'I will not do it,' he said as gently as he could. 'I will not destroy thee. I will not become some-one I am not. Not again. Never again.' He released her hands.

Fingolfin was still gazing at him. Nerdanel stiffened, her head swinging round in a sharp movement.
'I do not think I can bear this,' she said in a tight, flat little voice. 'Seeing thee, knowing thou art alive and here and that thou wilt not even look at me.'

'Bear?' he repeated, bright, hot rage rising in him again. 'How dost thou think any of us could bear the Void, seeing the deaths, the agonies of those we loved over and over, feeling every wound, every scream? Thousands of years, Nerdanel. We bore it or Morgoth would have devoured our souls. Thou hast been safe in this dull cage, did not have to witness the deaths of all but one of thy sons, Maedhros' rape and torture in Angband, Maglor's madness and grief, and his torment at Sauron's hands. Edenel, Finwë's twin was in Utumno, first stronghold of Morgoth, and what was done to him passes all description. He survived. Do not tell me thou canst not endure the fact I do not love thee. People must bear far more.'

Her mouth had opened as he spoke. She flinched. She shaped silent words, then with a ragged gasp, spun on her heel, strode away in a billow of silk. Her steps were quick, jerky.

'Fëanor?' It was Edenel's voice. 'Thy former wife?'

'Another life,' Fëanor said. 'I could never regret my sons, but I do regret that I had to marry to have them, it was wrong for both of us, in all ways. It is a pity, really, that she did not experience Endor. She would not have had time to brood. And she would have learned that there is more than dreams of romance, of being "in love". She would have grown into herself as a woman. I wonder if anyone who was born here and remained here ever truly discovered themselves. Valinor has become a backwater of ideas and culture.'

'It is a strange place,' Edenel agreed quietly. 'It feels like being in a dream. And not a particularly pleasant one. I believe thou art right. I hope thou art going to change that.'

'I intend to,' Fëanor said hardly. He glanced across to Finwë. 'Thou wilt not speak to him?'

'Clearly, from what thou didst tell me, it would discomfort him.' Edenel laid a hand on Fëanor's back. 'As thou sayest: Another life. Finwë made a new one and so did I.'

'Thou art a better man that he, Edenel.'

A quick, complicated smile. 'I should not have disturbed thee, but something is...there is a...feeling I cannot decipher. Where is Vanimórë? Hast thou seen him tonight?'

Fëanor did not bother to look around the hall; if Vanimórë was here one would know. Powerful before, now he bore a presence like some vast black sun.
'No,' he said. He was worried about Vanimórë, growing more distant by the day. Not the same agony-racked distance as when he had (had not) killed Elgalad. That had been a curling-in upon himself. This was different...Vanimórë was warm, urbane, charming, with the power to bend, perhaps to break, the Universe...and aloof.

The distance imposed by power. Power always isolates.

He stretched out his senses. There was something, incongruous, powerful, almost familiar, but it did not taste of the Valar, neither did it feel threatening.

'Father.'

He smiled into Maedhros' silver eyes.

'Is all well?'

A wild tenderness rose in Fëanor. Since his rebirth in New Cuiviénen all his sons tended toward protectiveness of him. He had been amused at first, until Maedhros said, 'We always felt protective of thee, father. Thou wert so open, so honest in thy thoughts, thy feelings, in a place where it was not encouraged. And so wonderfully, beautifully intemperate. I think we all feared for thee. And rightly. And hadst thou not told me my desires were not unnatural, I would have gone mad.'

'Of course.' He touched his son's beautiful face.

'I should have warned thee,' Maedhros said quietly. 'She spoke to me, mentioned that she still loved thee, that thou wouldst need a queen.'

'Valinor has become entrenched in a monolithic and backward belief system,' Fëanor said. 'Why would I need a queen? I do not intend to father more children. And no, she does not love me, but an idea of me. What I should have done, were Valinor not as it was, is simply ask a woman if she would bear me a child as Vanimórë asked Fanari. I believe the wood-Elves have a similar tradition. No binding. No promises.'

'Fanari is not a romantic,' Maedhros said. 'Or only when she was very young and dreamed of Maglor. And she prefers women. But I agree, it would have served thee better than a marriage.'

'It would have served the women better, too,' Fëanor remarked. 'I always wondered, before, why my visions of thee and thy brothers were so vivid. And now I know: Vanimórë poured the fire of the Flame Imperishable into me. He knew me, and he knew all of thee. How couldst thou not be in my mind?' He smiled, then laughed softly, delightedly, pleased to see an answering response in his Maedhros' eyes. 'Gods, I love thinking on this. But where in the Hells is Vanimórë?' He looked across at Maglor.

'He will not know,' Maedhros said a little grimly. Then, smothering a grin. 'But thou must admit, that was a beautiful punch he threw.'

Their heads rested together as they laughed. 'It was superb,' Fëanor agreed. 'And if Maglor had not done it. I would have.'

OooOooO


'Móriel will heal, I think. Now that she is truly awake.'

The silver-edged waves lipped at the sand, withdrew in a gleaming spread of foam.

'I think so,' Vanimórë nodded. 'And I thank thee for rescuing her.'

The stars were drowning in the ocean.

'In all other universes, or shall I say realities thou didst fall, or worse.'

Vanimórë said nothing for a moment, then: 'Dost thou remember that, my dear, or did Eru tell thee?'

'I --'

He looked away from the slow curl of the waves. Elgalad's hair shone like silver flame under the full moon. His eyes were full of light.
'I remember. I...'

'No,' Vanimórë said. 'Eru made thee think that, gave those memories to thee. Why? Because he did not want thee to interfere. Well, perhaps he was right.'

Elgalad started to say something, then fell silent. Bewilderment and anger emanated from him.
'Then what is real?' he demanded.

'This. Probably,' he amended. ' I know a great deal more, now.'

'Not everything?'

'Not everything. I would not want to.' It was there, he sensed, if he wanted it. He did not Let me cling to myself for a little while. ' I do not know how it began.'

'Thy life?'

'Everything must have a beginning, a true one.' Vanimórë wondered whom he was trying to convince. 'Where did Eru come from, for one thing? Where did he get so much power? He said he was human, once. And why am I imprisoned in some kind of predestined loop? I created, bethought the Elves because I had already seen them and known them? It is oddly poetic, I grant thee, but there has to be a reason for it. There has to be a beginning.'

Elgalad moved closer. 'Then thou wilt find it.'

'I thank thee for thy confidence in me.'

'I always had confidence in thee.'

'I suppose that must be true.' He reached out, touched the slippery, silken spill of the silver hair. Slowly, he drew Elgalad against him. He felt, all through the slim body, a racking shudder of release.
'I do not hate thee,' he said into the fragrant hair. 'I simply do not understand why thou didst love me, unless we accept that this has all happened before and so thou didst already know me. And there we go again.'

Elgalad's lips were against his neck. His presence, his energy was different now, yet something in him still soothed even while it excited. He felt like coming home. But I have no home.

Slim, muscled arms went around him, the strength of the cosmos in their bones and sinews, the light that burns across the stars.
'I had to entirely forget whom I was,' Elgalad said. Vanimórë, I am sorry, I am sorry 'Not always, but it was safer and came to be easier. It was worse when I knew whom I was and could do nothing, or very little. When I died, or seemed to and could not comfort thee.' I am so sorry! 'Didst thou never remember thyself?'

'Remember myself? I did not remember battling with Eru, creating Melkor and the Eldar, no. Anyhow, where was I for uncounted years if I was there? Arda was already ancient when I was born in Tol-in-Gaurhoth. Compared to the age of the world Elves and Men are very recent arrivals.'

'Yes,' with a smile. 'I do know that.'

'Apologies,' Vanimórë laughed. 'I could not just have floated in limbo, like a child in the womb or a bit of cosmic dust. That would be senseless. And incredibly boring. I saw the Universe, the worlds, the life, I would want to explore them.'

'Perhaps,' Elgalad said carefully. 'Thou didst tell thyself to forget.'

'Well, remind me to punch myself on the nose when I meet myself.' He stopped. 'One has to be a god or drunk for this kind of conversation. Possibly both.'

Elgalad's laughter pressed itself into his body, trembled through it. His fingers played down Vanimórë's back.
'Thou hast never been drunk.'

'No, I never could become intoxicated. A terrible bore, really. But it might help sometimes. Gods,' he breathed. 'Eru did not have any idea what he was doing. I suppose it could have been worse.'

'Vanimórë, he usurped thee. I hated him at the end and I had loved him for so long.'

He stood back. 'He did not usurp me. The universe is not mine. It was in my mind, that is what he saw. It was already in existence.' When he began to think of himself as creator (or co-creator, or something) of the Universe he might as well go and lock himself in the Void and ensure he could never, ever, get out.

'The gods woke from thy mind, not his. Didst thou not feel it? It was thee we wanted, the great Mind, but thou wert not there.'

'But thou didst go to the Timeless Halls and found Eru there waiting for thee.'

The sea exhaled. Moonlight turned the ocean into a thing of black silk and numinous light. A wind came up, dark, soft, filled with the scent of brine and loneliness.

'He is not within the Timeless Halls, now,' Elgalad said at last. He sounded troubled, his thoughts weaving beneath his eyes. 'Dost thou know where he is?'

'Beyond. Preparing.' He paused. 'Thou art thinking he deceived thee.'

'He did.'

'He had nothing else. Where else would he have gone?'

'He took our worship.'

'I would not have wanted it.'

'I loved him.' It sounded like an accusation. 'Until I saw thee, until he showed us thee, thy life.'

'Art thou saying he was not worthy of love?'

Elgalad hesitated. The sea murmured. 'He was so lonely.'

'Yes.' Vanimórë's heart twisted. 'I took away half of him. No wonder he did not know what to do, god or no. He told me, when I went to him, that he had ripped out the part of him that became Melkor.' He stopped.

'Perhaps thou didst change that. Perhaps thou hast changed everything.'

'Perhaps I did,' he whispered. 'Perhaps I will.'

. 'Vanimore? What art thou thinking?'

'He told me I should take them away...I do not know. What am I thinking?' He gave himself a mental shake. 'Do not hate him, my dear. One day I will find out where he came from, whom he was, is. But he had nothing and no-one. I do not begrudge him what he could get to assuage his emptiness.'

The wind roused more strongly, threw Elgalad's hair back in a cascade of argent light. 'I do not,' he sighed. 'I feel I should. And now thou art worrying me.'

Vanimórë smiled at him. 'I seem to have worried thee all my life.'

'Yes,' Elgalad agreed, something like metal surfacing in his tone. 'Thou hast. I have always loved thee, wanted to protect thee. I should have.'

'Those other possibilities Eru showed thee..I could have become another Melkor, or worse. In that he was right. I needed thy love so badly. It kept my heart from turning black.' He turned to face the sea. The cruel sea. A lover, a mistress, an enemy, whose fickle robes brushed across the bones of a million dead.
But it was not those dead he wanted.
'I wished for thee to be here,' he said. 'when I called them. The Noldor are not the only one who desire to face Melkor. And they may be the only ones who are any use when it comes to battle. The Vanyar and the Teleri may fight, but this place, even with the Valars power reduced, is like a slow death. Fëanor's fire will burn it away, but they will take a little time to return to what they should have been.'

Elgalad came to his side, silent. He still carried about him the scent of spring rain on hawthorn blossoms. In Vanimórë's mind he had always been a light. His own life made him think of stepping into a cold, dark bedroom when winter rain tapped mournfully against the window and the wind howled about the walls. A place that should have been a sanctuary made uninviting. When one lit a lantern, a brazier, and closed the drapes, the lonely chill of the night was shut out and the chamber became comforting. Elgalad was that lantern, that warmth, that haven, driving away the winter night of his life.

But still he did not know why Elgalad loved him.

In another time, another...reality, this sea boomed and crashed against the walls of Middle-earth.

He called them out of memory, from lost forests, beside moonlit lakes, from the tuneless singing of dried reed beds, gull-haunted marshes, out of the cold song of high waterfalls and still mountain tarns.

They came out of the sea, figures formed out of the sketching of starlight, and the waves showed through them. Their eyes were the colour of moonlight. Some had died so long ago, when the Quendi first walked beside Cuiviénen. Their hair flowed in a wind not of the Earth. Thousands upon thousands of them who had not answered the call of Námo but remained houseless, walking in memory and sorrow through all the long ages.

They came to him as if he were a fire on a cold night, surrounded him.

'The time has come,' he said to them, and a distant wailing arose, as if carried from the deeps of time to the dark shores of Valinor. It carried grief and triumph both. 'A battle for the Earth itself, for freedom. And then, I promise thee, thou shalt be free.'

They bowed to him and passed away, melting into the land, into Valinor, invisible.

Elgalad's fingers drove into his arm.

One wraith still stood there. His cloud of hair was pure as hoarfrost, his great eyes carried a hint of lost colour, green and gold.

'Oh, my dear.' Elgalad's voice broke. 'Oh, Bainalph.'

OooOooO



Chapter 15 The Salt of Bitter Tears by Spiced Wine


The Salt of Bitter Tears





The gathering had left him feeling tight in his own skin, irritable. He had almost forgotten how much he had detested such things, the stifling formality of them, the men who looked at him with jealousy curled deep in their eyes, the women who bowed like frightened flowers. Not his own people of course, but the left-behind, the remnants, the faint-hearted whom had clung to Valinor and wore its musty contagion in their blood, on their skins.

He would not turn Finwë out of his rooms; his own chambers had been prepared for him. Memories thronged thick here. He loosed his clothes, shook out his hair, tied a soft nightrobe about his waist. He flung back one of the windows; the air that blew up the Calacirya was soft with salt as it had been in his youth. How many times had he lain in this room, breathing in that brine-tinted air, unable to sleep from anger and frustration? (And then, later, sated by Fingolfin, being able, truly, to sleep with languor in his bones and a smile on lips still bruised from frantic kisses).

Valinor. He had travelled the length and breadth of it, the great forests of Oromë, Yavannah's wide pastures, Aulë's vast mansions, he had climbed Hyarmentir in the south, sister-mountain to Taniquetil, and roamed the cold shores of the Ekkaia, the Encircling Seas. A beautiful land, as well it might be, fashioned to a dream of the Valar, but almost, despite its fecundity, sterile, at least to his eyes, then and now.

He wanted to set the night afire, burn Tirion - all Valinor - clean of the long tenure of the Valar. But first to confront them.

He was not concerned about the triad self-imprisoned (and truly imprisoned now) in Ilmarin, nor Sauron, for he was jailed too. Vanimórë would not permit him to leave. He drummed his fingers on the wide marble sill. It was a dislocating experience to be back in these chambers. He almost thought he could walk out of the door, step back into that other, younger, Fëanor, retrace his steps. Change them.

Father?

He turned. Come in, Maglor.

Maglor looked rich and gorgeous in deep red and sable, a circlet of gold and emerald on his brow. He also looked as disgruntled as Fëanor felt. A wash of noise followed him in; Fëanor heard his sons, Celebrimbor, laughter, expostulations. It gave life to the lifeless.

'It has been so long,' Maglor said. 'And I still loathe this place.'

'Just the shadow of their malice, my dear. It will be different when the Valar are gone.' Fëanor rested his brow against his son's, waited for the frown to soften.

' Thou art certain?'

'I will make certain and then we will cleanse it. Valinor is ours.'

'Because we cannot return to Middle-earth.'

'I have seen it, Vanimórë has seen it, what the future will be. Men...he says they have to find their purpose and it will take many millennia and much sorrow, but if we were to remain in Middle-earth would be war. Men and Elves cannot coexist.'
He had not liked that, would have fought against it, against Mortals, but in New Cuiviénen before their departure, Vanimórë had said, 'Eternity is before thee, Fëanor, and Valinor is not the only place, not the only world.' And those words had set his mind in motion. Anyhow, his hatred was not directed against Mortals and he would not waste his people in war against them. Yet.

Maglor listened, drew off his circlet, placed it to one side. 'Now that is a thought. But first things first.' There was a brief flash of white as he smiled.

'I do not anticipate the Valar giving us any problems,' Fëanor said with perfect confidence. 'As for Morgoth.' He lifted his shoulders.

'Vanimórë -' the word came curlicued with complexities from Maglor's lips. 'could destroy him without need for battle.'

'He could,' Fëanor agreed. 'He offered to. But have we not earned the right to face him?' He did not say that he had asked Vanimórë to protect his sons, Fingolfin, Túrin, all his people. And Vanimórë had said, 'Will they want that?'

Maglor's eyes burned dark silver. 'Yes. And if what happened in New Cuiviénen did not convince thee, I am reiterating now that that thou wilt not face him alone.'

Fëanor cupped his son's high cheekbone in one hand. Maglor leaned into it.
'Thou art the song of my heart,' he said. 'The Great Music that resounds though Time; thou art the embodiment of it. I will never lose thee. I will never lose any of thee again. I could not have killed Morgoth before.' For all his fury, his fire, he was not Ainu. 'I needed to be reborn with ichor in my veins, through Vanimórë. Do not worry for me.'

Maglor's eyes gazed unblinking into his. 'Thou art burning,' he murmured. 'burning as thou didst before we left Valinor, and more, but not with grief and madness this time.'

'I will not descend into madness this time,' Fëanor promised. 'This place, it brings memories back into the immediate does it not? so close, so real.'

Maglor nodded, his fingers running down Fëanor's hand to settle on his wrist. 'Except when I was young, and knew no better, I hated it.'

Fëanor laughed ruefully. 'So did I. Most of the time. That feeling of being judged and overwatched, constricted.' He rose, walked back to the window.

'Was it easier,' Maglor came to his side, 'after Fingolfin?'

'Yes.' He slanted a look at his son, half-smiled. 'Gods, yes. I sometimes wonder if all my works, the lamps, the Palantíri, the Silmarils, were just something to do rather than claw myself out of my own skin. But that freedom I found, that I permitted myself, was both too much and not enough. It inflamed me, unbalanced me. I wanted everything, all of it.' He pushed his fingers into his hair.

'Father.'

'And thou, also.'

It had been so long...the meteor fragments fell, scouring Arda, shockwaves circling the planet, setting off chain-reactions of vulcanism, tsunami, earthquakes, changing the climate itself. New Cuiviénen was protected, and the survivors in the North dwelt in the vast cities deep underground for over a thousand years. Vanimórë, Glorfindel and Fëanor had gone out into the world, englamoured, to help the survivors. There was work to do, and the years had seemed to pass swiftly. But in those years the Noldor, even more isolated than before, needed governing; there was no room for a misstep, for anything that would cause internecine strife among them. Turgon had spies in the palace, Fëanor knew that, as did Glorfindel, even who they were, but short of killing them or tampering with their minds, there was little they could do. Turgon would never rule the Noldor, but he could unleash civil war.

It was infuriating, a step back into the past, and Fëanor would rebelled against it, had it not been for Fingolfin's council. He learned, in those years, the true yoke of kingship that his half-brother had shouldered. (And working beside Fingolfin had been a torment) The Noldor were free -- and unfree. The world beyond New Cuiviénen had been inimical for many years. There were few places for them to go and settle and so they were hemmed in with power, protected, restricted, and felt it. Fëanor could allow nothing to tear their fragile solidarity apart. Not until the Valar were thrown down, could Fëanor (all of them) climb above the clinging detritus of the old Laws and be truly themselves.

In his city, Turgon openly disapproved of any but the most traditional of relationships, but stopped short of banning them. Hardly could he, without openly defying his high king, but such loves became a thing of shadows and secrecy (save when Vanimórë had taken them outside of time with him. Perhaps, subconsciously he had seen the steps Fëanor and other had to tread and it had been transferred through his power into the reality. Only for a while, but waking from it, Fëanor had wanted to cry out with all the desire he had swallowed, barred away, choked down).

'Yes, he does find it sinful, distasteful,' Glorfindel had said. 'And jealousy lies at its root, because both his elder brother and father turned to Fëanorions. Among other men or women, unrelated, I doubt he would have been so concerned.'

So, battening down his anger, Fëanor had flung his energy into rulership. To prove himself to those who still looked askance, who still did not trust him, thought he lacked the statecraft to be a king. And they had followed him in the end. They were here now, back where it had begun, the wheel coming full circle.

He had become near-chaste, except for brief, furious, desperate moments snatched out of hunger, never acknowledged or spoken of. But he had not touched Maglor, who was torn, still half-ashamed. Fëanor did not wish to add to his son's mental demons.

'I am sorry,' he said. 'As I said I wanted so much. And I never...' He frowned, 'felt like a father, not in the sense I understand it. I loved all of thee, wanted to protect thee, to nurture thee, but...I did not think that because thou wert of mine engendering that I could do anything I wished to thee. It was not that. But the taboos of blood-kinship, I never felt those, only whom I wanted and whom I did not. Nerdanel asked me, days before she left, if love was only ever bound up with desire in me. It is. At least it has been ever since I began to feel sexual desire. If I love, I desire, at least a little bit. But I should not have done what I did to thee. It was contemptible of me. I was journeying toward madness, rebelling in every way against the Valar except the way I should have, by leading our people away.'
He stopped because Maglor laid a hand across his mouth.
'Father. I have thought of this often, thought and thought. It is our way, it is how we are made. Knowest thou why, if Vanimórë is telling the truth of our making? Or his part in it. And I believe he is because look at him! He does not want to be what he is, does not want the power he has. And that terrifies me, because he cannot give it back. But a long time before I was captured by Sauron, when we were at Amon Ereb, I dreamed I was walking across an ashen plain and I saw some-one, I thought it was thee until he looked at me with eyes of violet. The link between Vanimórë and thee was already there. He was like thee, part of thee, part of us, not only through his blood, but because he poured part of himself into us. And he never cared about this - incest - all he wanted was for his father to love him, and would have accepted what he did with gratitude had it been given with love. Sex was the least of it. He had no knowledge it was taboo, or not when he was young, and when he came to see that among certain tribes of Men it was, and among Elves, what did it matter to him? How could it matter to someone like him, with his past, his history, all that he had endured? And so...it does not matter to us either, or at least we desire enough to overcome the scruples dinned into us by the Valar. It must have occurred to thee?'

Fëanor smiled behind the press of Maglor's fingers, kissed them. 'Yes, my dear. It is a peculiarly Finwëion trait, is it not? to desire those who are most like us, the closest to us in blood. So did Vanimórë influence us, or did we influence him? Thou didst not understand Maedhros' agony for Fingon, but I should not have laid what I did on thee. Seeing thee so beautiful, so...unawakened. I wanted to be the one who woke thee.'

'All the rest of my life, father, I wished thou hadst taken me then, that I had pushed open that door.' Maglor's eyes were lustrous, hot.

There had been a few times, very few...the first Nost-an-Lothian in New Cuiviénen, a wild night and glorious. Fëanor thought those who participated had forgotten, drinking of that potent drug which stripped all inhibition. Then, after his rebirth, when he reached his fiftieth year, there had been a night of celebration. No-one spoke of it. It had been superlative. But after, he had carefully avoided anything that might draw suspicious eyes his way. He was stoking the fuel, he knew, ready to unleash it either in anger or sex...Both, he hoped.

'But thou didst never fully trust me after,' he stated.

'Father, I trusted thee and would trust thee to the last sunset at the end of Time.' Maglor drew his hand away.

'I wonder,' Fëanor said slowly. 'if I deserve that.' Then: 'I am concerned about Vanimórë too. I fear for him. But I wonder what we would have been like if he had not done what he had? The perfect, conformable toys the Valar wanted, perhaps.'

'Perhaps,' Maglor agreed. 'How dost thou think he did it?'

'He did it because he had to, because he willed it so. Vanimórë was forged on the anvil of gods, perhaps for that very purpose. As he said, he was heavy-handed, making us forget, repressing us, but perhaps he knew it was needed.'

'And when will it end?' Maglor demanded. 'I loathe this...pretence.' He tugged at the high collar of his tunic as if it were too tight.

It is this place, that feeling of being trapped, of wanting to kick against the pricks, escape, rebel. Fëanor felt it too, no matter that the Valar had little power, indeed his own was greater. The long shadows of the past.
'Not long, my dear.' He caught his son's hands as they tangled in his jewelled braids. A pulse beat hard in Maglor's long white throat.

'Thou canst see what it will be like here if thou doth not halt it in its tracks, father. Maedhros told me of mother, what she wanted. The people here are so entrenched in their hidebound provinciality. Of course mother - all of them - would think the High King would need a queen. And we could not shake that attitude off even in our new life, not entirely. Are we to be fenced in like that again? When even Maedhros and Fingon had to conceal their relationship...!'

'She and almost everyone is living in an unhealthy dream,' Fëanor said, striving to keep his voice calm although it enraged him also. 'And unfortunately Turgon, who was a king one, still had enough power in New Cuiviénen to bring us to an impasse. If it were left to me I would have told him and all those who followed him to march off and good riddance. But I am High King, and Fingolfin taught me I had to think of all my people, not only those whom agreed with me. I tried.'
Oh, he had tried. The only reason that he had not confronted Turgon and his prim-mouthed sycophants was because Turgon was Fingolfin's son, and Fëanor would not hurt his half-brother. Because it would have ended in war. Fingolfin had no time for Turgon's beliefs, but he would not see his son harmed.
'If it were only Morgoth, I would face him. Hush!' It was his turn now to place a hand over Maglor's lush mouth, widening his eyes in a teasing smile. 'But Túrin also has the right, and it will not just be Morgoth, but legions uncounted of those who followed him. The souls of orcs passed into the Timeless Halls just as all do, and Námo cast them into the Void too. Balrogs, dark Maia, everything thou didst fight on Endor, my dear. We need everyone we can gather to fight this last battle, Maglor. And after...well, then, I will make my own laws very clear. And they will be simple enough. I care not what people think or believe, as long as they do not in any way try to influence or shame or intimidate those who would live as I do.'

'And if they do not?' Maglor was gazing at him, a lovely rose flush on his cheeks. Fëanor's loins ached.

'Ah, well, as Vanimórë has told me,' he smiled. 'there are other worlds. It was obvious of course, but I never had the time to study such things before. I have done so, in these last Ages. We are not trapped here, Maglor. But, as thou hast said: First things first. And then, freedom.'

The door swung open sharply. Celegorm strode in, flashing his smile and embracing Fëanor, then flung himself on a couch in a sprawl of long limbs. Black opals glimmered in the creamy flood of his hair, winked in dark splendour around the rim of his ears.
'Gods,' he said. 'this is dire. Father, art thou going to rebuild Formenos?'

Manwë had razed Formenos in a fit of spite and anger after the Noldor left Valinor.

'Yes.' Fëanor smiled at his son. 'Thou didst always prefer it to Tirion, I know.'

'We all did.' Celegorm crossed his arms behind his head, closed long lashed eyes and stretched. 'I feel I want to fight something or fuck someone or I will explode.'

Maglor chuckled like the note of a golden bell. 'The battles will come, but I am sure thou canst find someone for the second option.'

'If I am discrete, yes?' Celegorm' eyes shone pearl-black as he opened his eyes again. 'Good of thee to offer, my darling brother. Where shall we clandestinely meet?'

Maglor slapped his leg. The sons of Fëanor had not been quite so trammelled as their father, although they had come under close observation. Fëanor knew Celegorm visited Finrod at times, or would ride of with Huan into the woods and hills.
'Huan,' he said, as the thought brought a question with it. 'He is not bound to the Valar also?'

'He was.' Celegorm gave a lazy smile. 'But Oromë has been on our side, father, and for a long time. Huan has gone to speak with his former...master.'

The Valar who supported them had not yet put in an appearance. It did not worry Fëanor; he and Glorfindel and most of all Vanimórë had levelled the odds and more, outmatched them.

'A strange mood here,' Celegorm continued. 'Anticipatory, but something predatory, also. Hungry. And directed at us as much as our forthcoming battle.'

The Noldor had always been the most ambitious of the kindreds and now that ambition had a focus: if Fëanor were to be high king not just of the Noldor but the Valinor Elves entire, all eyes were fixed on him, on his family, wondering what positions they would hold in the new order.

Fëanor reached for a bowl of fruit, selected a bunch of grapes and placed one in his mouth.
'As long as they take their predatoriness and hunger into battle, my dear, I do not care. Art thou being hunted?'

Celegorm grinned. 'I can deal with it.'

'It was that stupid business with Lúthien,' Curufin declared, walking in with a toss of black hair. 'Father,' kissing Fëanor's cheek. 'Now every unmarried thinks thou art fair game.' He sat down, stretching booted legs.

Celegorm cast up his eyes. 'We are all entitled to make some mistakes. It has got about that I desired her. Hells knows where that came from.'

The Noldor had bred since the meteor fall, only as many as the land could bear, which was not infinite and, to the younger generations, the House of Fëanor and Fingolfin were as mythical as the Elder Days and Valinor itself. They gathered rumours and speculation as ripe fruit gathers wasps and, because of their (publicly) unimpeachable behaviour where relationships were concerned, their aloofness, their clannishness, many adoring dreams flourished in the breasts of both women and men.

'Our people have been moulded for thousands of years for this purpose,' Fëanor said. 'To come to Valinor and overthrow the debased Valar, and to meet Morgoth. Now they are here. naturally, there are a little...excited.'

'And thou didst not trouble to set the rumours to rest,' Caranthir growled as he thrust the door open with his foot.

'Why should I care what anyone believes?' Celegorm arched his brows. 'Father, when do we haul those three bastards off their thrones?'

'And Sauron, Curufin's eyes glittered with vengeance. 'Let us not forget Sauron.'

'As soon as we hear from the Teleri,' Fëanor said, smiling.

'I can tell thee now what Olwë's answer will be.' Maedhros stepped into the room, the twins behind him, arms linked. His hair caught the lamplight and blazed copper. He kissed Fëanor, looked from Celegorm to Caranthir and Curufin. 'Thou hast considered who harbours with him in Alqualondë?' he asked dryly.

Curufin sat up with a jerk. 'That bloody Dior,' he snarled.

'And Thingol.' His smile was metal-hard.

Fëanor shrugged. 'Never let it be said that I did not give them the chance.'



OooOooO




Nerdanel had never known what to make of Fanari Penlodiel.
The Elves of Valinor knew the story, because Glorfindel had brought it to them, yet few of them found it easy to believe. Endorë seemed another world, which it was, shrouded in mystery and myth. When Fanari was rehoused in her body, Finwë sent for her, and she made her home in the palace for a time. Naturally, Finwë had wanted to speak to the woman whom had birthed his son.

But Fanari brought disturbing tales and beliefs with her; she presented a different mood entirely, even more so than those whom had returned after the legendary War of the Ring against Sauron.

Although the Valars' power waned, and the majority of them hid in their mansions, their influence lingered like a trace of woodsmoke. There was a lassitude to the Elves who had remained here. Fanari, coming from Middle-earth, wearing its sorrow, its history about her like a cloak, brought with her edges of poignancy, of rebelliousness that could cut those used to unvarying, untouched life.

She did not fit; she moved like an unruffled swan through the politics of Tirion as if she still considered herself a subject of Fëanor in Middle-earth. Eventually, she opened the deserted mansion of her parents, and entertained those who visited her; Celebrían, the silver-haired daughter of Galadriel, was a frequent guest when she was not in Alqualondë, and later so was Elrond, her husband.

She formed a core of men and women whom had either lived in Middle-earth or had not, but began to wish they had, for all its tragedy. The most staunch of the anti-Fëanorions, such as Borniven and those whom had supported Gil-galad's mother, Rosriel, (including her own father, once a lord of Fingolfin's house) dwelt on Tol Eresseä where most of the returned and reborn lived. And never the twain did meet.

Nerdanel had spoken to Fanari a little in the beginning, circling her as if she were a strange and unknowable animal. Her need to hear of her once-husband sons weighed greater than the warnings of such people as her father and mother, but what she gleaned from those conversations was not comforting. Fanari seemed to regard the most dissident and abnormal behaviour as completely acceptable; Maedhros and Fingon's relationship was something Nerdanel could not accept. She had spun many wedding plans for her children, and they had all failed to live up to her expectations save Curufin, whom had only married because he wanted to follow his father in having sons, and whose marriage had lasted only a few years. Nerdanel felt nauseated at the thought of two men or women together and thought the Noldor's lives one of unrestrained orgy and deviant sex. She had remarked upon it, unable to help herself, whereon Fanari had laughed as if richly amused.
'The Noldor were meant to burn, some more than others. I can assure thee it is nothing like that, but neither are they curtailed by laws developed only to cage and control their passions.' (And they had not been, then, before the destruction of the world, or not as much).

When Nerdanel left the hall, she had not wanted to speak to anyone, but when Fanari found her in the garden, she simply sat down on the lip of the fountain, saying nothing. She was a strangely comforting presence.

Eventually, wiping her face, Nerdanel spoke.
'Thou didst say once that thou didst fall in love with Maglor.'

'I did,' Fanari agreed. 'I was. Oh,' She laughed. 'Most of the Noldor were in love with thy sons. Whether they admitted it or not.'

'Well, what did...how couldst thou live knowing it would never be reciprocated?'

'For one thing, it was known they would never marry, because of the Doom laid on them.' Her voice lost its amusement and hardened. 'And then, Turgon removed from Gondolin and I did not see him...until...Sirion.'

'When he raped thee.' It was a dreadful thought that one of her sons could fall to such depths. She could not bring it into focus or dwell on it. 'Wert thou still in love with him then?' She asked curiously.

Fanari eased off her soft leather shoes, wiggled her toes in the grass.
'In a way. Until I saw him and Maedhros, and they were terrifying. it was battle. Men we think we know, and women too, are completely changed when the wrath of battle is on them.'

Nerdanel shivered in the mild night air. 'Thou didst not...like it?'

Fanari turned her head, a frown etched between her brows. 'Lady, it was rape. It was not passionate sex, or the kind of coupling where two people want one another but may also hate. It was violence. Rape always is. On Endor, the orcs used it as a weapon of war, some Men, also. it made me bleed, it made me bruise. I almost gave up my life.'

Nerdanel touched her shoulder; she felt out of her depth, her cheeks burned, dry and tight in the aftermath of scalding tears.
'Maglor was always the most...gentle. Not,' she added tartly. 'that is saying a great deal.'

Fanari gave a little crow of laughter. 'Not really. But he was not the Maglor I had met before, lady. Not then. None of them were. Be glad thou didst not witness their lives under the Doom.'

'I am not glad. I should have gone with them.'

'Too many died. And I was sheltered in Gondolin, I did not even see the Dagor Bragollach or the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. I am sure thy sons are glad thou didst not go with them.'

'And I am sure that that did not give a fig as long as they were with their precious father.'

'They love him,' Fanari said. 'I saw it over the years, like a bonfire. Love is never wasted, lady, or to no purpose, not thine. Not mine. Love enables us to love more. The Valar were foolish to try and tell us that there was only one love forevermore in our lives. There is room in the heart for more than one. Many more.'

Nerdanel shifted. She had married again to prove she could, because the man had asked her. It had been...unexciting.
'How does one fall out of love?' she asked.

'It was easier for me. I was never married to Maglor. My romantic feelings for him were replaced by something else,' Fanari said slowly. 'compassion, a form of tenderness, a wish for him to be whole. And perhaps I grew tired, somewhere along the way, of pining for someone who would never return my affections. It was a waste of energy. There is so much else one can love. He did ask me to marry him, long after,' she added. 'I said no.'

'Thou didst not tell me this.'

'I thought it was for Maglor to tell thee, but I do not think he would mind. It was,' a chuckle bubbled under her tone. 'an honourable gesture, but I did not hesitate for a heartbeat before refusing. I did not need him, I had been long alone, raised a son on my own, and grown to prefer it to having a husband around, and I liked women more.' Nerdanel moved a little away at that, saw Fanari's wry smile. 'And never would I marry some-one who loved another. One would always be looking for something in them that was not there. It would be wearing, ultimately destructive. Lady, Fëanor is not the only man in the world though I grant he could make thee think it. Neither does one need marriage. One can enjoy lovers. One can enjoy being alone, finding oneself without interruption... The Valar would have thee think we women need men. We do not, or only sometimes. It is a matter of choice. As for marrying a Fëanorion, no. I would as lief live in a volcano with my hair on fire. it would be more peaceful, I give thee my word.'

Nerdanel felt something between a laugh and a snort rise in her throat and choked on it.
'It sometimes felt like that,' she acknowledged.

'And thou didst have eight of them to cope with. One son was enough for me. Well, two, really. I cannot count dear Túrin, he was older, and many of us helped raise him to manhood.'

'I saw him,' Nerdanel said. 'Tindómion, is it? He looks so like Maglor save for his hair. Fëanor, too.'

'I adore him,' Fanari smiled warmly. 'And Fëanor too. He was such a lovely child, so sweet, so loving, and brilliant too, of course.'

'I always thought he should have had a mother,' Nerdanel said. 'But what will happen if Miriel is reborn, Fanari?' She used the name for the first time. 'Will she be? It was said that she was in Vairë's halls, and no-one has seen Vairë since we abandoned Valinor when Ungoliant came.'

'I hope she will be.' Fanari drew out a kerchief, dipped it in the fountain and handed it to Nerdanel. It was cool against her hot cheeks. 'Tindómion told me that Vanimórë had released all the souls Ungoliant devoured and that they will be rehoused if they desire it. Anyhow, I bore Fëanor, but I never thought I was his mother, a foster-mother perhaps.'

'But if Miriel did not want to return before, would she, now?' Nerdanel wondered.

'I cannot imagine not wanting to see my son, but then I did not suffer the weariness she did. Glorfindel, and Vanimórë too, strengthened me.' Fanari straightened, her face going hard. 'But I wonder if it was not her choice?'

'The Valar?'

'Vanimórë would know. Oh, I wish I could see what they do to them, to those three cowering on Taniquetil,' Fanari fumed. 'I hope they drag them to the Mahanaxar in chains. I wonder if they will?' She brightened vengefully, then rose at the sound of voices further off in the garden. 'Nerdanel, thou must visit me at my home, or rather, my parents home now, and I must arrange to have my own house, since I certainly cannot live with my father again.' When Nerdanel was silent, she said, 'Yes, I like women, and men sometimes, but far more than that I value friendship. Thou canst not conceive, never having lived anywhere else, how lonely it has been, when so few people even enter into one's interests because all those interests are, or were, in Endor. But now they are here, and are thine own interest, too.'

'Mother?'

They both turned, but it was Tindómion who stood there, smiling. With him were two tall Elves with midnight hair and pale eyes. She had seen them arrive, heard they were the sons of Elrond Eärendilion and Celebrían. Twins they were, alike as two heads of the same coin.

They were bright, these new-arrived Elves, and it was no soft moonlight glow but something fell. Nerdanel felt as if she had become used to an overcast sky for so long that when the sun shone, her eyes could not bear it. Looking at Fëanor had been a painful effort. He blazed. He always had, but now there was more. He had been reborn with the blood of a god, and was more perilous than before.

Tindómion did too, her grandson by rape. The red in his hair had come from her, she thought, though it was darker, and had shown in the great hall as rich bronze as autumn beech leaves, a flaunting mane braided into semi-submission. But his features were all Fëanorion, and strikingly so. He wore deep green and sable with the fiery star on his shoulder and brow. The so-called half-Elves with him took their looks from Fingolfin.

Fanari embraced her son, then whirled to hug the twins.
'I am forgetting my manners,' she exclaimed. 'Tindómion, greet thy grandmother, Nerdanel.'

'My lady,' Tindómion said warmly, his voice as rich as cream and honey. He bowed. She had not expected that, or his charming white smile.
'My lord Tindómion,' she returned.

'No need for formality.' He took her hands between his; they were like Maglor's, slender, strong. 'My friends call me Istelion.'

'I thank thee,' she said, rather overwhelmed.

'And this is Elladan and Elrohir Elronion,' Fanari said. 'Celebrían's sons.'

'Lady Nerdanel.' They bowed in unison, smiling.

'Mother,' Tindómion drew Nerdanel's hand through his arm. 'Art thou staying at thy father's house still, or here in the palace tonight?'

'At home,' she said. 'What of thee?'

'Here tonight, although it is a hive, and will be for days, and the house of Finwë has rather grown since the palace was built. I will escort thee home, then, although thou must needs guide me.'

'Very well,' Fanari nodded. 'Where art thou staying, Nerdanel?'

Nerdanel reddened. After separating from her husband she had returned home to her parents house in the north of the city, had only come on impulse tonight because she could not stay away. Mahtan, renowned as a smith, held no nobleman's title and had not been invited. Neither had she. Now she felt somewhat abandoned and adrift. Fanari looked at her closely, said, 'Come home with me. I dare say it will not be that much quieter with father's household quartered there, but nowhere will be very peaceful tonight.'

It was Tindómion's smile which decided her. It was kind, warm, almost protective.
'Thou art gracious,' she said to Fanari.

Tirion was abuzz that night. Not all had been invited to the palace, but those that had not were celebrating in their own houses, and this had spilled out into the streets, lesser nobles, artisans, servants, labourers, all bright-eyed, bubbling with excitement. Some of them called Fanari's company to drink, dance, or begged Tindómion to play for them, so their progress was slow and punctuated with much conversation and laugher until they reached the house of Penlod, a huge, austere mansion set amidst tall trees.

During her tenure, Fanari had softened and brightened the stark lines of the building with climbing vines and urns of bright flowers. Lamps showed and there was music from the rear garden, but when she lead them up to her chambers, it was quiet. So ebullient had she been, that Nerdanel was startled to see the tears in her eyes as she gripped her son's arms.
'This is like waking from a dream,' she said. 'I am almost afraid to sleep lest I wake and find this is not true. I am so, so glad thou art here, all of thee. It has been so very long, Tindómion, so long.'

He drew her close, closing his eyes. Her head bowed hard against his shoulder. 'I know, mother. I know. I have missed thee also.'

Her shoulders shook, then she drew back to look at him. 'I have never been so happy as when I saw all of thee come.' Her mouth curved. 'That was spectacular. I was so proud.'

Elladan laughed. 'We could tell.' And Tindómion's silver eyes gleamed. He said, 'Was it not? There are times I never thought it would come either.' He sobered. 'So close to the end. And the beginning.'

A shadow seemed to come into the room. Nerdanel shivered.

'There is something strange in the night,' Elrohir said. 'You feel it? That is why Tindómion elected to see you safe home. It reminds me of...when we were in Dol Guldur...the spirits of the dead.'

Fanari went to one of the windows. 'I feel no danger,' she said uncertainly. 'Where is Vanimórë? What do Glorfindel and Fëanor say?'

'No-one has seen Vanimórë since we arrived,' Elladan said. 'Glorfindel and Fëanor say the same: that there is no danger. I believe them and still mislike it.'

'Vanimórë released the souls of the dead that Ungoliant devoured,' Tindómion murmured. 'But Glorfindel says it is not them. Irmo gathered them.'

'Irmo will keep them safe,' Nerdanel ventured. 'He is not like Námo. Fanari wishes to see him - and Varda and Manwë - dragged to the Mahanaxar for their sins.'

'My mother can be a little bloodthirsty,' her son smiled fondly.

'I would be most surprised if those three on Taniquetil possessed blood,' Fanari said tartly. 'Bile and vinegar, if anything. They used to creep around still, when I was first reborn. One could tell when they were abroad in the city. Manwë was like a cold wind that stole the blood from one's veins, Varda smelled of rotted ice at the end of winter, and Námo was the worse; there was a charnel reek about his presence. I never saw them, but I grew to know what they felt like. The animals felt it, too; cats would bristle as they did in Imladris when the east wind blew, and the hounds would howl, the horses were skittish.' As she spoke a white cat slipped into the chamber, up into her arms where it began to purr contentment. 'Well, Caleth is not troubled, whatever it may be.'

'All the same, mother, I would feel better if I remained with thee tonight.'

'We will stay also,' Elrohir offered. 'The feast is almost over.'

'There is no need,' Fanari said. 'No doubt my parents will be back soon, and thou knowest how my father thinks of thee, Tindómion. Unless matters have changed.' She raised her brows inquiringly.

Tindómion's lips tightened. 'Penlod is an ardent supporter of Turgon, so hardly.'

'In any event, I cannot have three beautiful men in my chambers.' Fanari looked demure as a maiden. 'Nerdanel is afraid there will be an orgy.'

Hot colour hit Nerdanel's cheeks. She protested, flustered, and Tindómion widened those splendid silver eyes. 'Mother,' He sounded shocked. 'I am astonished. I did not know such things happened in Valinor.'

'Go,' Fanari laughed, shooing them to the door, pushing her tall son out.

'I think we will look around,' Tindómion told her, bending to kiss her cheek and then, much to her surprise, Nerdanel's. 'I will see thee soon, mother. There is much to talk about.'

Fanari grinned as she closed the door, then walked over to the inner chamber.
'I feel I could sleep,' she said. 'Now that they are in Valinor. It reminds me of the times I used to wait for Tindómion to return from war, or from hunting with the twins in the mountains. I never felt easy until they were home and safe.'
The great bed was spread with rose-gold coverlets, but she went to a smaller one in an alcove, saying: 'My maid will not be here until tomorrow, so I will use her bed,' waving to her own before removing her jewels and untying the laces of her gown. 'Be at ease, Nerdanel.'

With the lamps dimmed and the drapes closed the room became quiet, the revelry seeming distant. Nerdanel relaxed muscle by muscle, stared up at the dark ceiling.
'Fanari?'

'Mmm?'

'Would thy son choose Maglor over thee?'

There was a long silence. At last, Fanari said, 'I do not know. It has never been put to the test, except...when he learned what had happened to me, whose son he was, he vowed to find Maglor and kill him if he lived, to avenge me. For thousands of years he wanted that... but he dreamed his father's dreams, his very life, could not help loving him, I think. And I wanted them to find one another, to have something. When Gil-galad died --' Her voice quivered. 'Tindómion is Fëanorion to the bone.'

Nerdanel flung an arm over her face. 'Gil-galad,' she said. 'Fingolfin's grandson. Maedhros and Fingon. Fëanor and Fingolfin. And thou didst not care? Didst thou not want him to marry and get children?'

'I would have been delighted if he had, but Nerdanel, thou canst not imagine what it was like, then.' In the dimness, Fanari raised herself one one elbow. 'The Fëanorions were reviled, hated, those who survived were all-but ostracised for a long time. No parent would have wanted their daughter to wed a Fëanorion of the Blood, an ill-gotten one at that. Foolishness. Tindómion had not known his father, or played any part in the Kinslayings and still he was tarnished. It was good of Gil-galad to invite him to Lindon, give him a place as one of his knight-companions.'

'And their relationship?'

Fanari lay back down, her voice drowsy. 'I never cared about that.'

'Is that why thy son loves thee, because thou didst not try to...influence him to marry?' Nerdanel wondered bitterly. 'I did, with all of mine. Is that why they left me in the dust?' Because, when the Oath was sworn, she had witnessed it, seen how her sons did not hesitate, not even to look at one another with doubt, silent questions, certainly they had not sought out her own watching eyes. It was as if they were, always had been, spellbound by their father.

'No, it was nothing of my business,' Fanari returned. 'He never looked at women, not even my maids when he was growing up, so I wondered. But I just wanted him to be happy. As to thy question, no-one with any fire in their veins wants to be pushed into marriage, especially if it is not in their nature.'

'Thou didst not care that it was wrong?' Nerdanel pressed.

'The Valar pronounced it wrong, oh, I was likely to listen to that, was I?' She turned over in bed. 'When the rumours began circulating- that the Valar had punished those who loved their own gender, I thought: how could anyone respect them? After everything that happened, what we went through on Endor, the fact we could find love at all, any comfort, was important, not whom it was with. I was a friend of Glorfindel and Ecthelion who were lovers. I saw Glorfindel die. Yet the Valar had the power to cast them into the Void...!' She stopped as if her breath had been cut off.

Nerdanel chewed on her lip. She wanted to get up, leave the house, return to her own, where things were normal and stable, but her emotions had been wracked and she was tired. It was oddly comfortable here, despite the awkwardness of the conversation, despite her own reflexive reactions to Fanari and what she represented. And she had discovered her grandson.

With velvet paws, the white cat jumped on the bed and curled up beside her. She laid a hand on it, warm fur a cushion over muscle and bone, and its sonorous purring drifted with her into sleep.

OooOooO


He died a long time ago,' Vanimórë said. 'when Alphgarth was destroyed and he was no longer bound to it. Thranduil also bound him to life, but it was not enough. One might say he killed Bainalph in the end, slowly, until he died in truth and far too late for him, in a distant land, alone.'

Elgalad stepped forward, tried to clasp the wraith to his heart, and his arms passed through nothing, through a dream. Vanimórë thought, He is a god, yet he weeps. But Elgalad's life had been lived on Middle-earth in the form of an Elf, and he was marked by that. And I am, too.

Vanimórë remembered Bainalph as he had seen him in life, graceful, wanton, beautiful, face like apple-blossom, slim-steel muscles. Irresistible and dangerous and lovely. He had deserved far more than Thranduil's guilt-ridden cruelty. He saw Bainalph's death, in an unkind land, set upon by savage men, trapped, beaten, hacked, in the end, to death, far from his people. He had not known then.

Never again, he thought. I will never look away again. I will never be so involved with myself that I ignore others.

The thought had to become the thing. Vanimórë did not see what was before him, the memory, the wraith, he saw the Elf, the man, flesh and soul bound together. He laid a hand on the crown of the white head, feeling nothing but cool air. He poured the memory back, felt his fingertips, his palm, burn as thought became...

...Reality.

Light blazed out around Bainalph's wraith-form. He cried out as in pain. Vanimórë saw the tracing of lines solidify into mass. And then Bainalph was crouching on the sand, hands at his breast, snowy hair spread about him, breath coming hard.

So easy it was. Too easy. Where was there any place for someone who could call back the dead into life?

Elgalad went down on his knees, locked an arm about Bainalph's shoulders. Bainalph shuddered, raised his head. Elgalad smoothed back the thick sheaves of hair.
'Elgalad?' He whispered. That pretty, light voice. He sounded puzzled.

'Yes. It is my name as much as any name is.'

'You died.'

'No, I...' Elgalad looked at Vanimórë. Bainalph followed his glance and came to his feet. For a moment, in the moonlight, fear flashed over his face. He took a step back.
'Vanimórë...'

'Elgalad is a god,' he said. 'sent to test my resolve.' His smile made it into a jest. 'Bainalph Cúalphion, this is Valinor. Most of the Elves on Middle-earth have come to throw down the Valar, and to battle Morgoth Bauglir.'

'You called me, lord and I came.' He went on one knee. Vanimórë drew him up.
'No,' he said, and drew the lithe body close. 'Thou wilt not bow to me, but yes, I called thee. I have called back the houseless.'

Bainalph shivered, then gripped him hard. 'You are real. Real. I am alive, then?' His heart ramped wildly, beating out his memories of his long wandering, his death.

'Thou art alive.' Vanimórë kissed his hair.

'I remember...' Words came fragmented. 'When the Greenwood was destroyed, it also broke Thranduil's blood-bond marriage to his wife. Because it was linked to the Wood. And then, then...'

'Hush,' Elgalad said gently. 'It is all right now.' Except it was not. Not even death can erase the past.

'I had to go. We were in Lindon, the great fortress beneath the earth.' Vanimórë nodded. 'I left, though the world was still in the throes of cataclysm. I would not take his leavings. He never loved me anyway, I was just some-one he wanted to bed, to own. I thought I could break the binding that he laid on me after Carn Dûm, but I could never go far enough.' He moved back. 'It was...terrible, cruel, what Men survived had become like orcs. I was dying...I wanted to. When I was captured I did not even fight. I so wanted to die, but I could not kill myself. Eventually, I died.'

They looked at him. There could be no words; only grief.

"Thranduil is here,' Vanimórë said. 'So too are Edenel and Legolas.'

They had all left him, the ones who understood him, Elgalad, Legolas, Edenel, gone to New Cuiviénen while he could not, Prince of Alphgarth.

Bainalph moved a hand to his breast. 'The binding is gone with my death.' He let out a sigh. Relief rode on his breath.

'How feelest thou?' Vanimórë asked.

'I do not know.' His brows drew together. He drew his hands up to his face. 'I do not know how I feel.'

'Fëanor will become high king of Valinor. Thranduil will harbour in the woods of Oromë. There is nothing, no future for the Elves in Endor.'

Bainalph looked over his shoulder to the moonstruck sea. 'I know.' He turned back into Vanimórë's arms and bowed his head. 'I loved it. My home...but it is long gone.' Simple words for the soul-deep, earth-deep love of the Elves for their homes. 'I just wish...I wish Thranduil had not been a part of it. We are such fools when we are young.'

'He does not have to be a part of it, not now.' Not only when we are young, Bainalph. I should have watched over thee. But by the time he had regathered himself into form it had been too late.

'He is not, and will not be.' Bainalph straightened. 'And so, my lord, what shall I do, now?'

'Now, my dear, thou wilt learn to live again.'

And Bainalph began to weep as he had not, Vanimórë suddenly knew, in all his life, unable to allow himself the luxury of heartbreak. They both held him as the salt of his tears mingled with the salt of the air.


OooOooO



Chapter 16 Unchained by Spiced Wine


Unchained



Edenel and Legolas descended the great sweep of shallow quartz steps that lead down from the city. Tirion's glow lit their backs, surmounted by the pale beam of Mindon Eldelieva, but the celebrations were subsiding now. The huge white moon sailed westward in a black sky and the wind was from the sea.

The wide, paved road ran straight east to the coast where it branched north to Alqualondë and on down to the port on the bay of Eldamar. Fields, grey in the moonlight stretched either side, sloping down to the sea.

'You feel it?' Legolas asked softly.

'I feel it,' Edenel replied. 'And we both know what it is.'

But nothing stirred in the soft night. There was only the feeling that they two were not alone on this road, that a legion of ghosts passed them with every breath of the night-wind. It was like the Day of Souls in the Greenwood in ancient times, when the dead were called back to glean what comfort they could from the living.

Vanimórë had called them, asked them to come; he had not told them why, but there was enough urgency in his mind-voice to bring them out into the night. They had extricated themselves from the conversations, the simmering excitement. Legolas thought that Glorfindel knew what was happening, but he had said nothing, only nodded once as Legolas left the hall.

When they saw the two figures walking up the road, they halted, but these were too real, too solid to be wraiths. The brightness of the moon was echoed by the pure white head of one of them.

Legolas stopped as if running up against a wall. Edenel felt a shaft of grief, launched long ago, strike his breast.

He knew Bainalph had vanished. Then, the only ones who could move between New Cuiviénen and the earth-delved fortress in Lindon were Glorfindel and Fëanor. (Vanimórë was absent a long time). But by the time Thranduil had seen fit to make the information public, Bainalph was gone.
And, Edenel knew, dead. He had felt it somewhere deep in his soul and mourned, but there was no way to look, to search, and if Bainalph had chosen for his soul to become houseless then no way for him to return unless he desired it.

Thousands of years had passed on Middle-earth before Edenel saw Thranduil again, and could ask him, in the fiery, resolute gathering in New Cuiviénen, what had happened. Thranduil, beautiful face set like frozen snow, would only say that Bainalph had left the fortress of his own will, and gone out into the world. And yes, he too knew that Bainalph was dead.

Edenel could have killed him for the apparent lack of concern or care in his voice, save that he saw beneath it to the dark, deep turmoil in Thranduil's soul where love and desire and hate and guilt waged war. So he had given Thranduil, once his king, his back, unspeaking, and returned to the Noldor and his own people.

Legolas said something, a curse, a prayer, and came out of his frozen attitude, running, running, to clasp Bainalph in his arms. Edenel followed him and when Legolas had disengaged so far as to free one arm, he joined them in a mutual embrace. He felt Bainalph's lashes against his neck, the hard grip of his arms.

'The dead,' Edenel said to Vanimórë whom had stood aside. 'Thou hast brought the houseless.'

'Yes.'

Far off, Taniquetil's white flanks were as white, as barren as the moon as it brooded, cruel and immaculate, over Valinor. Edenel looked at it for a moment. Vanimórë said, 'They shall fight if they desire, but they are truly here for the Last Battle.'

Edenel nodded. 'And then thou wilt bring them back?'

'I will,'Vanimórë confirmed. He laid a hand on Bainalph's shoulder then stepped back and vanished into the night.

Legolas said quickly, 'Bainalph, you do not need to see my father --' But Bainalph pulled back, said, 'Why should I not? There is no binding now.'

Legolas' eyes flashed to Edenel.
'I am glad of it, but that does not mean there is no,' he paused. 'interest.'

'After so long? I hope not.' Bainalph lifted his head to look up at the gleaming white city. 'How strange to be here, where I never thought to come. Vanimórë said I must learn to live again. And this time...Do you know what the worse thing was? It was being made to feel so despised. So worthless. So small.' Legolas flinched at that, and white-hot anger flashed through Edenel. 'But I do not feel like that now and never will again. I was worth more than despite. I am worth more now.'

'I know thou art,' Edenel said. 'Now and always. Bainalph, thou wert a fine ruler of Alphgarth who cared about thy people, and a superb warrior. All knew it, even Thranduil. Come with me. The Ithiledhil have a place apart. And there will be others who will be overjoyed to see thee.'

Bainalph turned a lovely smile on him. It was like watching a star flashing out. Edenel had not seen if for thousands of years, and never so bright, so...unburdened. Reborn.
'Thank you,' he said. 'I will.'



OooOooO




Fëanor chose only those from among his own people to be his servants, yet Turgon insisted on trying to plant his own spies among them, even here, even now.
It was obvious what he was doing, and would have been even had they not known; he hoped to gather enough support to put himself forward as high king.

Control of self, one's desires, had never suited Fëanor but, as he had, perforce, been careful in Valinor long ago, he had learned to be cautious during the endless years of New Cuiviénen's isolation. (And perhaps, too, Vanimórë's blood tempered his with the bite of cold steel that had brought him, resolute and unbowed, out of thousands of years of slavery and had urged Fëanor to wait, wait and learn)

Turgon's spies watched his House and Fingolfin's, narrow-eyed, suspicious. Lesser crimes were winked at but recorded. There had, Glorfindel said, been some deep discussions regarding Finrod and his adoption of the wild Silvan rites which had gained him a bizarre four-way marriage for a year, one 'bride' being Glorfindel himself, Finrod's own brother. Turgon put out cautious feelers (his old friendship with Finrod having long decayed) but, in the main, Finrod's people were loyal, or at least preferred him as their lord to Turgon. They had seemingly forgiven Finrod, or turned a blind eye to his depraved behaviour in those first years, the result, doubtless, of a new and heady freedom. Since then he had often selected 'brides' although none close in relationship. Anyhow, his kingdom was far away in the north and he distanced himself from the politics of the high court. Yes, Fëanor had remarked acerbically, if it were far enough away and the contagion did not brush against his cloak, Turgon would ignore it.
Of the others, Gil-galad and Tindómion were in Lindon, but there were spies in that fortress also, sent before the destruction.

Turgon had come to council often at Gaear Gwathluin, spinning out his time at the palace to ridiculous lengths. His presence was sharp, critical one, and grew more so as the years lengthened. Glorfindel had said, once: 'Among our kind, the conception of a child can sometimes influence what they become. All thine, Fëanor, were conceived when thou wert imagining thyself with other men. Fingolfin begat Fingon when thinking of thee, Aredhel when he had drunk the lust-potion he needed to lie with his wife after long abstinence, and Turgon was a swift, dutiful bedding when Anairë asked for it, without passion or interest.'

'That would explain a great deal,' Fëanor had replied. 'So, Gil-galad? Tindómion, born of rape?'

'Fingon used lust-potions also, and Tindómion? His mother loved Maglor and grieved for him, and he was got in the violence of battle. The two somehow...melded.'

'And what of Vanimórë's influence?'

'Ah, well, that is interesting,' Glorfindel smiled thoughtfully. 'He would naturally be drawn to those he was most interested in, those he admired, pouring his...self, his love into them. The others would have the potentiality, no more.'

Turgon had been one of the most eager to leave Valinor. He had no time for the Valar, even Ulmo, who guided him in dream to Tumladen. What drove him then and now was ambition; he had been high king once, although the crown should rightly have gone to Gil-galad. Turgon had seized kingship from the ruin of the Nirnaeth Arnoeadiad and there was no-one to contest it. But his obsession with Gondolin, its people becoming, in his eyes, the only Noldor that mattered, had shut the city ever tighter after the disaster of the Tears.

'We must be careful in attributing everything like this to the Valar,' Glorfindel warned. 'Sometimes it is not that at all, simply the way people are.'

Turgon liked control, but wanted it to be his own. He would fight because he had reason to hate the Valar and Morgoth - and he wanted a clear field before him.

Hatred of the Fëanorions cohabited equably with personal ambition. With his wife new-returned to him, Turgon could tolerate Fëanor, but soon this lapsed back into old grudges, the first and foremost that both his father and elder brother had been bewitched (as he saw it) by Fëanor and Maedhros. In that way, Glorfindel said, he was like Finarfin. He preferred to forget the blood-kiss oath he had sworn when first in New Cuiviénen. In his eyes, Fëanor's rebirth negated it.

Slowly, he gathered to him those in whom the first flush of freedom had dimmed, those who nursed their wounds, their losses, their griefs. Even if their beloved dead were returned to them, it did not negate the fact that they had died, and in agony. Many of them were those whom had lost loved ones on the Helcaraxë, abandoned by Fëanor. Sometimes, it was those who had died and returned. Very often it was those who enjoyed Fëanor's new laws of freedom in love -- as long as it was not the same gender. To these people, it was wrong, and incest the most unspeakable of crimes. Turgon well knew all he had to do was discover absolute proof of any blood-kin relationship and there would be a schism, but he needed to get that proof, rumour was not enough (though it could be damaging) hence his spies.


There was, in the beginning a certain amount of amusement around the high table. Glorfindel and Fëanor saw everything Turgon did, if they chose to, but Fingolfin had wondered aloud if that was the point. Turgon wanted attention, always had, even as a child.

'I believe I had loved all my children equally,' Fingolfin said. 'but Turgon never liked me showing attention to Fingon or Aredhel.' He turned to Glorfindel, frowning a little. 'He accepted thee when Finarfin disowned thee.'

'He wanted the best,' Fëanor said cynically. 'as did I.'

'He was forming his house.' Glorfindel bent his head, a faint smile curving his mouth. 'Yes, he wanted people he knew would be warriors, battle commanders. And, at that time,' a glance at Fëanor, 'I had done nothing. Ecthelion and I were not lovers, we only wanted to be. He thought that under his...supervision we might forget our youthful errors. Yet at the time I thought it kind of him and accepted his friendship, his inclusion into his household, as did Ecthelion. He was a friend of Finrod's too, that was how I became friends with him in the beginning, and it was enough to decide me. And we, we were proud also, wanting to build our own names, carry our own insignias. Later, in Gondolin, he needed us, so he elected to ignore our relationship. There was little he could do about it. He would not have dared to lay a hand on either of us, and we would not have cared had he banished us.'

Now, Turgon was here. He could have remained in New Cuiviénen, become the Hidden King once again and truly, for Glorfindel and Vanimórë would have sealed the land forever, but that had not suited him. It would be exile and he would have no power save over his own people. Fëanor would have to speak with Fingolfin about his youngest son, and that soon. His long, tormented patience had run to its end. He would not, any longer, allow narrow minds and prejudice to form the stumbling blocks to his ambition. Never again. And he, who knew the fury that had raged in him when, in the Void, he was forced to see his sons deaths, Fingolfin's death, Fingon's, Glorfindel's...more and more names as the Doom of the Noldor spun down the years in blood, knew that Fingolfin would not forgive him if he raised a hand against Turgon.

OooOooO


Almost the first emotion he felt when he was released from the Halls of Mandos was...relief. Not the relief of being rehoused, but the freedom that came when death severs all bonds. Bainalph of Alphgarth would have understood that, for so it was with him thousands of years after.

Once there had been wild lands and deep woods and the beautiful, perilous freedom of simply living and learning. Then the Rider had come, Oromë, shining with an unearthly light, and told them of Valinor, where the light never dimmed with the passing of the sun, and no shadows of darkness hunted the unwary.

It was not, he came to realise in the long years in the Halls of the dead, that he wanted to leave Middle-earth, but all of the leaders had held concourse and deemed it would be better for their people if they left this place where so many strayed and never returned. Away, away from the shadow of Dark far in the north...

But the journey had been slow with so many, and often they lingered in fair places. And then, one night as he wandered she had come, fair as the rising moon, and breathed enchantment upon him.

She was wise, in the ways of the Maia which was not (another wisdom hard-earned) the same as human wisdom, lacking all its nuances. She did not understand love, and was just wise enough to know it, she wove and re-wove her spells until his life as Elu Thingol seemed clothed in a gleaming mist, harder to remember than the years when he was Elwë under Beleriand's thick, bright stars.

Only one light pierced that mist: the Silmaril that had come into his hands and, in the end, brought death upon him in the deep halls of Menegroth.

That had been one instance that Melian's wisdom had not prevailed. Or perhaps it had. He fought, or tried to, against her spells, and because she spoke against his desire he, naturally, rebelled. But the Silmaril was a force he could not command, and its enchantment proved stronger than Melian's. And fatal.

Thingol should have been cast into the Void, he imagined, once he learned of the fate of others; before meeting Melian, he had taken pleasures with men, but Námo had been merciful (he said). Those who had not known the Valar's laws were judged to be ignorant and, throughout his marriage, Thingol was faithful. He had also been the catalyst that brought the Silmaril to Valinor, Námo told him in the manner of one who conferred begrudging praise, though the chill face and voice of the Doomsman showed no warmth. It was the reason his soul had been snatched so violently into the Halls of Waiting. Still, he was held for two Ages before he was released, when many others came forth also, to find the world changed and the Valars' power on the wane.

Thingol had gone to Alqualondë where his younger brother Olwë ruled and there he met Melian again. His brother had believed it would be a reunion of two souls, fed as he was on the old tales. Thingol could have coughed up the black bile of his laughter after that meeting was ended. Melian told him everything Námo had not, left him empty as the seashells washed up on the glittering beaches of Elendë.

This time, she used no enchantments. She had done her part, she said.

Melian was not human, that was a thing people tended to forget; it was lost in the gloss of legend. Her daughter had both Maia and Elven blood. There was only one other Maia and Elf union to bring forth children, and the two offspring could not have been more unalike.

To her daughter, Melian had bequeathed power, but from Thingol, Lúthien had learned a kind of love. Yet it was a love that demanded worship. If she received it, she accepted it as her due and was content, while her own heart remained unassailable.

But she could not command love among the Sindar of Doriath, only a fleeting lust and, sooner or later, they extricated themselves from her influence as she danced from one bed to another. To Daeron she had been simply cruel, siphoning his desire like a hummingbird at a flower, flitting away to return when she needed more. Later, she had tried to lure a son of Fëanor merely to prove she could, but the plan had gone awry. Only a Man, short-lived and besotted, had been able to worship her as she desired.

She had adored the drama, Thingol thought, pitying her now, being the locus around which that great tale revolved. Maybe at the end she had learned love and sacrifice; he hoped so, for if not what was the point of that whole sorrowful, wasteful tragedy? (Except, ah, to bring a Silmaril to Valinor, forget it not!) It had brought the sons of Fëanor down on Doriath, although by then Thingol was dead, and then later there was the Third Kinslaying at the Havens of Sirion. Námo was...kind enough to show him everything. Almost everything.

'Why didst thou permit Beren to return to the living?' he had asked.

'What is it to me, if some paltry Mortal lives a few years longer?' The Vala had answered with a contemptuous curl of thin lips.

Melian had never said much about the Valar, perhaps wisely, but by the time Námo had concluded, Thingol detested them. The only brightness for him in Valinor had come from his reunion with Olwë, and there were others of his kin in Alqualondë: Dior, Celeborn, Elwing, a strange, fey creature with unsteady eyes.

'The curse of the Silmarils,' Olwë had told him once, with a grim half-smile. 'Elwing bore it too long and it obsessed her. Dior has it a little too.' His eyes swept over Thingol. 'Dost thou?'

Did he? He remembered the first time he saw the jewel after it was cut from Carcharoth's ruined belly, still held in Beren's severed hand, how its glory had abashed the sun and stars. But it was more than Light, more than magic, it was the untamed brilliance of the mind that had created it that the Silmaril sang with.

It was a mind that cut through illusion like an obsidian blade, and it had, allowing him to see with clear, terrible clarity his own imprisonment under a Maia's uncaring spell. Lúthien's too. That haunted him. The Valar had influenced his daughter and she had welcomed their whispers. They wanted a Silmaril, she possessed Maia blood, and was arrogant enough to believe herself the equal to such a dangerous enterprise. Melian possessed greater power, but less foolhardiness and, if she left Doriath, it would loosen her hold on Thingol.
If Lúthien succeeded, with the Valar augmenting her powers, they would welcome her to Valinor as the greatest of heroines. Lúthien liked the idea, and she, in her turn, had plucked at Thingol's own mind like a harp, stirring his curiosity until he cast his arrogant demand for one of them into Beren's face.

Lúthien might have ventured alone; slipping through Doriath's enchanted girdle would have proved no obstacle for Melian's daughter, but that would lack the drama she craved. There must be a heroine, a hero who adored her, there must be villains, death and danger and a final triumph for Lúthien the Fair.

Everything that had happened after had been Lúthien's own love of drama played out on the stage of her ego. She had been clever. She had been cruel. At the end, she could not bear to lose Beren's worship and did not take the Silmaril to Valinor. The Valar's punishment was death. Thus their favour. It was Elwing, long after, whom had completed the mission.

The Halls of Waiting were not a place where lies or magic or self-deceit could endure. The mind was free to roam its past, to dwell on mistakes, to see clearly. But it had taken Melian, coming to him after his re-embodiment, to strip the last of the illusions from him. Her voice was mellow as the Esgalduin, her white fingers occasionally fluttering up to stroke his hair, still the pale silver-white it had turned after her enchantments in Nan Elmoth, but with a hard black streak running from his brow, the only evidence of his once-dark hair. Her smile was that of a pretty cat as she explained what she, Lúthien, the Valar had done to mould his life and that of his people.

Her manner and revelations had birthed in him a rage he had not felt since before she spun her toils around him, greater even than Námo's cold-blooded disclosures. The disgust at himself was worse. He wanted, at that moment, to strike the complacency, the satisfaction from her face.
'Leave me.' His voice had come forth filled with loathing directed at the both of them. 'And never come near me again.'

She laughed like spring rainfall. 'Dear Thingol, I could have thee again now, if I wanted.'

'Not without using thy magic,' he said bitterly, scathingly. 'Thou never could have had me without that.'

An expression that was almost puzzled flickered across her face before she laughed again. There was no malice in it. He truly believed that, no malice in anything she did, only curiosity, like a child playing with their first toys. Save her toys had been him, and a kingdom.

All those years...if he could only relive them free of her. Yet the old hatreds came back to roost in his soul. The Noldor had ravaged Doriath. His people, his! An ancient, beautiful kingdom. Now they had returned and, while he had not seen it, rumours of their might and glory had winged down to Alqualondë as swift as a gull's flight.

Fëanor's 'invitation' to Olwë had come hard on their heels and the council were in discussion, or rather arguing. Dior wanted a plan, any plan, that involved killing the kinslayers, as did his wife and daughter. Elrond, who often visited with his wife, was not here, and he would never, Thingol thought, have supported such a notion. But it was known that Fëanor was now accounted a god, as was Glorfindel, and had been fathered by that most unknowable of Power's, Vanimórë, son of Sauron. It was doubtful that the now faded Valar could kill Fëanor, indeed, Manwë, Varda and Námo had fled to Taniquetil when Sauron invaded Valinor with Ungoliant. Thingol did not believe they would come down. And if they could not kill Fëanor no Elf, be they never so skilled, could do so.

'All but a few on Tol-Eresseä despise the Valar,' Olwë said. 'And rightly. Do not look to them to do anything, and the ones who did not flee are more likely to support Fëanor than attack him.'

Dior's beautiful face twisted in frustration.

'Ingwë has bowed to him,' Thingol murmured, regarding his grandson with pity. He had known Ingwë in the ancient times, and spoken to him since his rebirth. If anything was needed to complete his hatred of the Powers it was Ingwë's tales of how the Vanyar had been utterly enslaved. It was not too strong a word. Thingol too, had known a species of enslavement.
He had much in common with Ingwë, whom had removed his people from Taniquetil back to many-belled Valmar, but spent a good deal of time in Tirion with Finwë. Thingol had once been close to Finwë also, but he had changed immeasurably (as had they all) and laying between them like a corpse was his eldest son, madman and murderer, and his seven sons. At first, Finwë spoke of his firstborn with love but later, when the news swept Valinor of his rebirth, with ever-increasing distance. Fëanor was not, now, Finwë's son, or so Finwë came to believe. Thingol understood him; he could not now consider Lúthien his daughter.

'No,' Elwing had hissed, when Thingol mentioned it. 'Fëanor is not Finwë's son any longer! He is the grandson of Morgoth's greatest lieutenant, Gorthaur the cruel, whom thy daughter, Elu Thingol, stripped of power in Tol-in-Gaurhoth. To kill him would be no crime of kinslaying.' And she had laughed, a high, unstable laughter that grated on the nerves.

'By all means, try,' said Eärwen, once wife of Finarfin and, since the end of their marriage, living with her father once again. She was a calm-eyed woman of great poise and personal grace. 'I have no affection for Fëanor, but he was chosen by Eru to rule the Noldor and I have to admit that any of those who were imprisoned in the Void must have paid for their crimes.'

'Were they really in the Void?' Elwing flung back. 'How do we know? And all we hear comes from Glorfindel -'

'My son, or hadst thou forgotten?'

'Whom thou disowned!'

'Mistakes,' Eärwen said coldly. 'have been made, among all of us. But I shall be meeting with my sons whom have returned.'

'How like thee to remind me thou hast sons!'

Thingol had had enough. Elrond's meetings with his mother had never gone well, but no-one ever spoke of how she had abandoned both of them as children, seduced by the Silmaril. He rose and walked out of the hall.

The day seemed brighter than any he could remember in Valinor, as if the sun had burned its way through an overcast of grey scum. The sea glittered blue and green, shading in the distance to deepest indigo. He called for a horse, riding inland, skirting the great white city of Tirion, noting the twin flags snapping in the sea-wind, the fireflower, the white star.

He had never met those two, brother, half-brother, the one painted as a genius and madman, the other as the greatest hero of the Eldar. Both of them cursed, both condemned to the Void. Fëanor had betrayed and abandoned Fingolfin, left his people to cross the Grinding Ice, yet their banners flew side-by-side.

Eärwen's words were sensible. Thingol had come to respect her, and her voice pulled some weight with Olwë, but she had never left Valinor; there were situations she could not imagine.

He had asked her once if she wished she had gone with the Noldorin Exiles, and a strange look came into her blue eyes that reminded him of the women of old, before Oromë ever came upon the Quendi.
'Dost thou know why I left Finarfin?' she had asked with the straightforwardness that always surprised him.

'I assumed it was because of the Valars' influence, lady.'

'Because he did not follow his brothers,' she said. 'And not from cowardice. From spite. He was jealous of them, obsessed by them. I think he would have gone, crossed the Ice, but suddenly on the march, something happened, changed his mind, and he returned to Tirion. I did not go with him, no, how could I when my father was still mourning his people? My people. But I could not help but despise my husband for it. And then he turned to the Valar.' Contempt limned her words like frost. 'And I walked away. I would have done so anyway, in time. Finarfin loved me, but not so much as he loved - and hated - them.' She met his eyes unblinkingly. 'Thingol, I am of the Falmari. While our people suffered as much as the Noldor and Vanya under the Valars' curse, few of us ever accepted their laws on love of the same gender. But incest...' She shrugged her slender shoulders. 'If one is to believe Finarfin, Fëanor and Fingolfin were lovers, and my erstwhile husband would have been glad to have made a third.'

It did not shock Thingol. He was Unbegotten, and such things happened as he well knew; witness the bond between Finwë and his twin, Élernil, whom had vanished into Darkness.

And now Finarfin was in Ilmarin. No-one had seen him for many years.

'And other thing I learned and will tell thee, uncle,' Eärwen said. 'Many speak of the time when we woke up, when the Valars' curse was withdrawn, but there was another side to that. They wanted us to wed young and breed children, then lose our desires, but there are some, as I am sure thou knowest, who do not need or want intimacy. I was one of them, and so the Valars' influence forced my mind and body into a hunger I did not need or want. It was like tasting their white mead, feeling a fever, a stimulation that was not natural. I loved my children, but had I not been...tampered with, I would not have married. My daughter is like me. I have been allowed to find myself, and I need no man or woman. I do not miss marriage. I am sorry for Finarfin, but I cannot respect him and in all truth, whatever has happened to him, he brought it on himself. I hope Galadriel is safe, but I fear she is not. The Valar feed on us as a babe feeds from its mothers breast.'

Thingol had ample time to find himself also. But he was uncertain if he had found anything but ever-renewing rage for his stupidity. He took lovers sometimes, but briefly; every whispered voice in the dark, every touch of hands reminded him of Melian winding around him like ivy. It did not matter if the body were male or female, the contact nauseated him with memory.

Melian had not even been cruel; he had, she informed him, simply been an experiment. She had wanted to know what one of the Quendi was like and had chosen him after long surveillance. Then she had enjoyed being a queen, bearing a child, weaving her girdle, pitting her defensive powers against Sauron's sorcery in Nan Dungortheb. But none of it had ultimately meant anything. When he died, she had returned to Valinor.

Even reborn, Thingol felt as if something had eaten him from the inside out, as if he had moved and walked and lived and ruled through those days in Doriath as flesh and bone over nothing. He had been a reed with the pith pulled out through which the empty wind played, tuneless. Only the Silmaril had cut through the mists, drawing him into the power that dwelt behind its light until he turned to it again and again out of the paths of his half-life.

He could not leave Doriath; it was his duty and love and burden, all. The Silmaril was his only way of escape - and only for a while. When he lifted his head from the truth that the Silmaril's light burned into the shadowed corners of his mind, he walked again into Melian's webs. She was careful to watch him when he sought refuge in the jewel. And it, too, became a burden, a love, an addiction. It was dangerous, its fire resented his touch, yet ever it drew him back to its freedom, the blaze that would not be caged. For all its peril, there was something honest in it, fierce, clean, one of the few honest things in his land of lies and dream. It had been with a sense of shock that he came to realise Melian's enchantments had probably saved him from the 'sickness' that characterised Elwing and, to a lesser extent, Dior.

He eased his horse to a walk, then a halt. About the base of the hill of Túna great pavilions were being erected, the hubs around which smaller tents ran like the spokes from a wheel. Rumour had it that Fëanor had brought in excess of seventy thousand people with him from New Cuiviénen and, large as Tirion was, it could not hold all the newcomers. The air was bright, energetic with the tap of tools, raised voices, laughter, and Noldor everywhere, unmistakable, as different from the remnants whom had lingered here as rock from lava, dark-haired, fiery-eyed, shedding vitality like perfume. They seemed to laugh in the face of Taniquetil's white spike of malice looming to the north.

Few paid Thingol much attention, though his clothes and colouring proclaimed him as Teler. But had he been an emissary from Olwë, he would have come in more state. He did gather looks, he always had. There was something infuriating, distasteful in the skin-prickling feel of Noldorin eyes on him.

Anger sluiced through his veins. He was not the only one to think there was grievous injustice that the Noldor should flourish after all they had done.

They burned in the Void, Elwë, Elu Thingol, and those who survived grieved for the loved and lost every bit as much as thine own people did. They were not monsters; they carried the weight of the Valars' Doom and an Oath they could not break.

Thingol flung up his head, startling the horse, but there was no-one close. The voice had resounded in his mind as clear as a bell, fashioned out of old-gold and incense.

He set his lips, swung his mount around, and rode straight up the white road into the city.

He had never seen Tirion so busy, so alive. Here, Taniquetil's brooding presence was hidden by tall white towers. He steered the horse through the streets, past shops and inns, companies of soldiers. Everywhere was in preparation for war; the reek of forged iron was heavy, acrid in the air.

Never but once had he given a name to the guards at the palace's great gates, but these were not the same men; these were sterner, sharper, more professional. Their armour was superb.

'I am Elwë,' he said, 'of Alqualondë. Friend of Finwë.'

After a moments deep scrutiny they allowed him to pass into the outer ward, as filled with purpose as the streets. Horses were being shod, smithies and forges worked, but once inside the palace it was quieter. He knew it well and, because he looked as if he knew where he was going, no-one questioned him, but once he walked through one of the many doors (the palace had not been built with defence in mind) he was not sure exactly where he wanted to go. Or even why he was here.

Except he did know. He wanted to see the fire that he had glimpsed in the Silmarils.

He had always met Finwë in the gardens, or his private study, but his steps took him towards a closed door he had never entered before. It swung open with a scent of cured leather, old parchment, ink: the library.

A man leaned against one of the shelves. Very tall, wide shouldered and long-legged, he was clad all in black, and his hair, falling from a high plume was dark as a ravens wing, shining with glints of blue. His eyes were like nothing Thingol had ever seen, gem-purple, brilliant, terrifying; in them worlds burned and stars devoured themselves. His face was magnificent as a legend, but it was his presence that impacted like thunder, dark-burning, impossibly powerful, as if the room, the palace, Valinor itself could be scorched black by it.

Lazily, with the indolent grace of a predator, he straightened.
'Elu Thingol.' It was the same voice that had spoken in his mind, that rich, strange accent.

'Thou art Vanimórë,' Thingol stated, finding his voice and his breath together. It could be no other.

One corner of the lush mouth curved up. 'I am. I thought I should speak to thee, before thou didst see Fëanor.' He gestured to a table where was set a jug of wine and two goblets. 'Wilt thou sit?' He turned his back, lance-straight, clearly unafraid that Thingol might have concealed a dagger on his person, and crossed the room. He walked like a warrior-king which, as far as Thingol knew, was precisely what he was. Or had been, once.

'Is it true that thou art Fëanor's father?'

Vanimórë poured a pale golden wine. 'Let us say that I was the instrument of his re-embodiment. Fëanor is always - and only - himself.' He held out one of the cups. 'Thou didst see him, in the Silmaril.'

Heat struck Thingol's cheeks. 'Perhaps.' Hair like a storm fraying into blackness, eyes like the beginning and the end of worlds. And unbearable pain that was yet, somehow, borne.

Vanimórë looked a little amused. 'Melian and Lúthien would never have allowed thee to relinquish it, Elwë, perhaps thou shouldst know that if thou hast not already realised it.'

'I have come to that conclusion.' His moistened his dry mouth with the wine.

'The Maia, or many of them were enslaved to the Valar when first they came into Arda.' Vanimöré sat down, stretching out his long legs. 'Melian was sent out to learn more of thee, and grew to enjoy the life she made in Endor. I cannot blame her for that.'

'So thou wouldst say it was not her fault?' Thingol asked harshly.

'She acted under orders she could not refuse, although she was more than happy to follow them. And then later, there was the Silmarils. But even a Vala meddles with those at their peril.'

'They used me, Melian and my daughter, too.'

'The Valar used thee through them,' Vanimórë corrected. 'Fëanor has promised to free the Maia. Eonwë asked it of him.'

Something that was not a laugh escaped from Thingol's throat.
'When they are free, will she then return to me? Believe she has the right to? She will find no welcome.'

'It is never pleasant to be used, is it?' The words were quiet, warm with sympathy. 'The gods can love, or some of them, for Eru can, and they have dwelt with him, but the Maia, they are different, their love is not the kind humans could ever comprehend.'

That, Thingol could believe. He sipped more wine. 'How didst thou know I came here to see Fëanor?'

'He was aware of thee, even in the Void. The Silmarils were created with the fire of his spirit. He and the jewels were linked. The Fëanor in the Void, the fire that would not go out, not succumb to darkness and later, to Melkor's hunger for his destruction, was not the same man who swore the Oath. Death strips us to the core, does it not? No more illusions.'

'That,' Thingol said, with an ache. 'is true.'

'Fëanor knew his sons must fulfil the oath or bring down the Everlasting Dark upon them. When I say he loves his sons, that does not encompass his passion, the depth of his feeling for them. And they reciprocate.' Something in that beautiful, inscrutable face softened infinitesimally. 'Yet he saw that thou wert trapped. He wanted thee to give the Silmaril up, of course, but he did not hate thee personally. Thou hadst been a friend of his father's. Thus, it did not madden thee as it did the others, but indirectly it did kill thee. It killed thy daughter far more directly.'

'The Valar reft her of immortality.' Thingol stared. A black brow lifted at him mocking enquiry. 'She would not give up Beren, offered her life for his own, and all they could do was allow them to live for a time and then take them both.'

'Good of them, was it not? When any of them could granted him immortal life as they did Tuor.' The hard, scrolled mouth tilted. 'It was punishment, thou knowest that, for not finding their way to Valinor and handing the Silmaril into the Valar's hands. Lúthien might have lived longer had she done so. But she and Beren had hurt two of Fëanor's sons, and caused Finrod's death, whom Celegorm loved. Dior would not give it up, but he did not carry it long and was soon slain when Doriath was destroyed. Elwing carried it to the Havens of Sirion and she deemed it, in the end, more important than her own sons. That is something Fëanor would never understand or forgive.' He straightened. 'The Valar could not control Fëanor, did not know what he was. He was born to be a god and is, truly, now. They feared him and his influence, and so they plotted to destroy him and all who loved him. They released Melkor and let him work his evil and division; they, and Melkor dropped poison into Fëanor's mind until, at the end, all was grief and madness and love and the Oath. Ill was done on both sides, Elwë, but it has been paid for.'

Thingol laid his hands flat on the table. His heart slammed against his ribs, sounded in his ears like thunder. 'I must forgive him, convince my brother to accept him as High King?'

'He will be, whether or no.'

'And if the Teleri do not bow to him?'

Vanimórë's smile was all sudden charm and ice-white teeth. 'Well, we will just have to think of something else. But will the Teleri not fight Melkor?'

Thingol sat back and exhaled. 'I wanted to fight him long ago.' The shame of it, of hiding in Doriath when his forces could have tipped the balance...He had been a leader, a warrior who had become a nothing, a mere figurehead.

'Yes, would it not be wonderful to rewrite the past?' Vanimórë said softly and rose. 'Fëanor will meet with thee, but there are others thou wouldst wish to see.' He smiled as the door opened.

Thingol rose, and then went completely still, limbs locked in shock, for here was Beleg, as beautiful as ever he had been in Doriath, and beside him a tall man with the face of an Elf prince, black hair bound back, eyes a shining grey. It could not be...
And Daeron, his hair gone to a deep iron grey, frosted with silver, but eyes changeless, the green of moss in Doriath's winter. Thingol did not know the two who entered with him, silver white hair, but their eyes were like his own, the blue of lapis lazuli. Their identical faces bore his daughter's features, and on their mouths was the feline smile Lúthien had inherited from Melian.

'My lord.' Beleg came to him, dropping gracefully on one knee. Thingol pulled him up, heart and blood pounding, reaching for Daeron, for the man he had known as Túrin, and gathered them against him.



OooOooO


It was a relief not to have to contain the power within him as he must upon Arda. He had not broken the world, and would not, it was too much of him, and he of it, but earthquakes could have erupted under his feet had he not pushed the power down and held it deep, deep inside. At first it had felt like a man trying to thrust fire into a wooden box, but he had conquered it, because it was him, and he was used to conquering himself.

He felt the shockwave go through the Timeless Halls as he came down, Elgalad behind him, felt the attention of the gods rush toward him, their yearning for some-one to replace Eru.

'They need thee,' Elgalad said.

'They only think they do.' Vanimórë ran his fingers over the back of the plain chair that was (had been?) Eru's throne.

'Vanimórë, they must have a reason to stay. Wouldst thou not rather they were here than scattered about the worlds in this universe? Only Eru has kept them here.'

Vanimórë had often thought that Arda was no place for gods, that Men and Elves should have been free to live their lives without the iron hands of Power bending them. He tipped his head back, eyes closed.
'Elgalad, when the Void is opened, they will be free to leave, and there will be gods that could not follow Melkor after Eru closed this place, but might have. The Timeless Halls are a prison for gods, my dear. And some of them have come to know that.'

'I know.' The great, pale eyes held shadows. 'But he let me go, be born into the world.'

'For me.' He caressed Elgalad's cheek lightly. 'When the Void opens it will crack across the universe, across all the universes that there are. It will free the gods, and some of them I want to fight for us.'

'Thou couldst hold it shut.' Elgalad gripped his wrist; his eyes searched Vanimórë's face.

'Yes, love, I could, but a prison is a prison.'

'They chose not to leave, not to follow Melkor or go into Arda with the Valar --'

'Then. But since then? Those on the outside could return, but those gates swung only one way.'

'Melkor and the Valar were mistakes, Eru wished to rectify them.'

'Melkor was my fault. The Valar were supposed to stand against him. Eru did what he thought was right. There have been a great many mistakes. No doubt I will compound them, but I will not keep them imprisoned, Elgalad. How can I?' he asked. 'I whom have known slavery?

Elgalad seized his face in both hands and kissed him. It was the kiss of a god, sent wild starlight cascading through Vanimórë and there was a passion, a wildness in it that he had never known from Elgalad. The lucent eyes held fire.
'I knew thou wouldst,' he said, his breath a dusting of warmth against Vanimórë's mouth. 'I told them thou wouldst. Eru would not. It was one of the few things I argued with him about. Every sentient being, god, Elf, Mortal, is meant to be free.'

As he had been once, Vanimórë thought, waking to consciousness as the the great blue-white suns were born out of the impossible heat of the young universe.

He nodded, walked to the door, looked out across a dream.

But now it was a dream marred. There was a wound in the sky, a sliver of absolute blackness. It drew the eye, a gap into nothing. To the Void. The aether screamed around it.

Come, Vanimórë said.

And the gods came. They came in all their powers and guises, with thunder in their bones and lightning in their blood. They came horned, winged, trailing water, fire, ice, the smoke of sacrifices never made, only imagined. They came as women, as men, as both and neither, shape-shifters, blood-drinkers, light and dark, of alien seas and soil, the bones of unknown worlds, ideas taken from ancient suns, from the shift of a rainbow's arch, the glint of steel on the edge of a blade.

Some would go forth in violence, some in chaos, some in love, in creation, some in simple curiosity. Others would seek power, might become the enemies of all he loved and valued. He could devour them, blot them out like the memory of a shadow or chain them to his will for eternity. They knew it. He hoped he would never need to.

But now, as one, they bowed.

OooOooO



Chapter 17 Between The Shadows Of Truth by Spiced Wine
Magnificat 17


Between The Shadows Of Truth




Fingolfin had not had time to speak to Fëanor since leaving New Cuiviénen, and precious little then in the controlled chaos of departure. It was strange to look back on...however long it had been when they were held in Vanimórë's mind, safe and sapless, and even more odd that he should feel a kind of regret that it had passed. Not of his passions being dulled, never that, but the ease that attended their meetings. Now he -- all of them -- were pitchforked back into having to care, to mind every look and word.

The feast last night had been uncomfortable, yet it had passed off better than he had expected given the guests. More awkward had been his earlier meeting with Finwë where he found himself, and not for the first time, disagreeing with everything his father said.

Paramount was Finwë's denial that Fëanor was his son. Only by stretching logic to its limits could one reach that conclusion. Fëanor looked the same, was, in all the ways that mattered, the same man as in his first life. He had inherited something from Vanimórë, no doubt, and learned greater temperance, (and circumspection) but underneath the flame burned as fiercely as it ever had. Spirit of Fire.

The greatest embarrassment had come with Finwë's verbal exploration of how Fingolfin had proved himself a more satisfactory son than Fëanor. Fingolfin, who knew how much love and pride Finwë had felt for his firstborn, had cut across his words on a riptide of anger.

'Untrue,' he had said. 'And thou knowest it. No, I swore no oath. And I spoke against it because I was afraid for him, for his sons. Yes, I was a king for longer than he, and I challenged Morgoth because I was mad and horrified and in despair. And I died.' He added, not ungently: 'Do not try to put me on a pedestal now, father, because thou doth need to convince thyself Fëanor is no longer thy son. He is, and thou doth still love him.' He paused a moment. 'As thou lovest thy brother, Edenel. Elérnil that was.'

No, that had not been a pleasant interview, becoming stilted, spiky. Fingolfin had terminated it as soon as he could. He was worried for Fëanor, but there was neither time no privacy to speak with him. And Fëanor would not lack for comfort; he had his sons and grandsons.

After the feast he had gone to his rooms. Fingon joined him looking wryly around the chambers. Their eyes had met and they had laughed as one, seeing in the other how much they disliked it. Tirion. Valinor.

'Yes, it does feel like we came all this way just to return to the cage we left behind,' Fingolfin agreed. 'But we will break it this time. I know it has been hard.' Even Fingon and Maedhros had, perforce, been extremely careful. Everyone had.

'I know it.' Fingon gave that debonair little toss of his gold-braided hair, sat back on the couch. 'Gods, the memories. Not all bad, I admit, but...' His mouth crooked. 'Like living in a glass bowl.'

It had become like that in New Cuiviénen, although Turgon and his adherents had no powers to spy as the Valar had. Voyeurs, thought Fingolfin in disgust.

'I cannot talk to Turgon,' Fingon said with an upward look from under his long lashes that had always ignited hearts. 'What are we going to do with him?'

'I honestly do not know,' Fingolfin pulled the heavy drapes across one long bank of windows. 'What will he make us do? We cannot and will not allow him power, not of the kind he wants, anyhow. Exile perhaps. Oh, not on Endor. We cannot go back. Somewhere in Valinor.' It would be the kindest conclusion. And the least likely.


Fingolfin slept little and rose before the sun crested the peaks of the Pelori. Violet shadows lay over the city and the air, stealing through the windows, smelled of hay from the southern fields, rich with summer and peace. A dawn for slipping back from a lover's bed...and he had done that, a few times...

It was, always had been, his habit to rise early, enjoy some time alone before the duties of the day pressed down. He waved aside his squires, and Hedúnar who protested he should not go out alone.
'Do not worry.' He smiled, clapped a hand on Hedúnar's wide shoulder. 'And no need to attend me today.'

He remembered walking these quiet, white passageways, could see the person he had been, a shadowy figure out of the past with an impenetrable, haughty face that served to hide, at first, unhappiness, and later the tumult of being superbly, gloriously in love.

What would I do if I could go back, knowing what I do now?

The palace seemed to sleep, but there was no lack of vigilance; Glorfindel's mind was awake and aware, as was Vanimórë's. Fingolfin could sense them, the storm gold and the burning black vortex that spanned the universe.

It was not impulse that paused his steps, took him through a doorway into a dark room, but prescience, a jolting leap of the heart.

It had begun in the years after the cataclysm, when New Cuiviénen became both a refuge and a prison; it was born out of resentment of Turgon's spying, the need for secrecy, out of frustrated desire - and a seasoning of clandestine mischief. There was, always, a tacit knowledge of the participants, but never by word or look was this disclosed, either in the act or the bald light of day.

In New Cuiviénen it had been easy; the palace vast, its corridors and rooms a veritable warren. The brief, clashing liaisons always took place in darkness - an unspoken rule - save for a muted glance of moonlight or stray lamplight that might show the gleam of skin, the curve of muscle. Yet the concealment meant nothing; one came to know by scent alone, which the dark could not blot out.

The identities had come as a surprise when discovered, which added yet another layer of excitement, a spice. In the beginning there had been that brief flash of recognition in the eyes, perhaps a burst of laughter that found expression only in a twitch of the lips before prudence buried it. Fingolfin could admit that he had looked on all of these secret partners with desire, but that desire had never gone beyond thought. Except once, in New Cuiviénen when Fëanor reborn had reached maturity. This night, we burn. That night held a special place in Fingolfin's memory, for more than one reason. He smiled to himself whenever his mind strayed to it.

There was an underlying rage to these meetings that inflamed the sex, making it a feral, violent thing, but gods it was something when their beds were cold, their actions carefully choreographed to alleviate all suspicion. That was what fuelled the fury: that they had been reduced to such covert stratagems so wholly against their nature. All those battened-down emotions must go somewhere. And they would not, ever, crush their desires. Not even the Valar had been able to enforce their brutal, unnatural laws. Only punish when they were broken. But this was something both lesser and greater than a god's law, and a great deal more complicated. It was politics.

The palace of Tirion also afforded privacy, even now, at least the royal quarters. Fingolfin was already half-hard as he closed the door behind him, turned the key in the lock. It was as near dark as made no difference.

The first kiss was filled with teeth and striving, body against body, hands kneading, nails digging, breath quickening, clothes discarded feverishly, boots kicked aside.

He felt the hot skin, smooth as satin as they went down. Oh, that fire, that fire, the sea-wave flood of hair tumbling loose, the hard thigh sliding over his waist...

It happened like this sometimes, that the other made it clear they wanted to be possessed. It had long ceased to matter, in the anonymity and freedom granted by the dark, who mounted and who was taken, only the passion held any importance.

The hard ring of muscle gave under the push of his sex, eager for his penetration. Then came the half-groan, half gasp, the flex of the long body, as Fingolfin thrust, drew back, holding back his urge only until he heard the raw, broken cry, felt the spasm that told him he had touched the gland within. Then he could not hold back.

He fell into the hot, red rhythm of pounding love, desire, need, hunger into the tight passage, only half-hearing his breath coming harder, panting as the body arched, his hands gripping the slim hips, his own head flung back, teeth clenched.

There was only this, all that existed, his orgasm building, their bodies meeting in violent harmony, himself holding, holding until it was a cliff-edge of pain-pleasure that shattered only when he heard, felt, the curse of release. And then the orgasm shook flesh and bone and burned in his blood, behind his eyes. The deep internal throb around him, milked him dry.

It was not the Anguish. He wanted that, but it required time and discipline, not these hurried, explosive meetings. After, he thought, when the Valar were gone, when Morgoth was defeated, when they could rule themselves as they wished...then.

But for now, it was enough.

There were no words, after, no languid aftermath while the breath gentled and the limbs relaxed. It was sex, as savage as a warrior releasing his battle rage -- but more than that.

There was a brief struggle, muffled laughter as they both picked up the same shirt. There was a kiss, as wild as the first, because desire was never slaked, only ignited afresh with a touch, a look.

Fingolfin left first, headed for the baths, fortunately empty at this hour. He washed quickly, came out to find a servant who said that King Fëanor wished to see him. Fëanor could have easily spoken into his mind, but this was the way it had become, everything (almost everything) done in the open.

It was an informal meeting; Maedhros was there, and Maglor, sitting near their father, Glorfindel, Fingon, Gil-galad and Tindómion, opposite one another. Fingolfin nodded a greeting and his eyes flicked to the figure lounging in the window embrasure. Vanimórë, all long limbs and sinful mouth and smouldering violet eyes flashed him a glittering white smile. He burned like a black sun, warping the air about him. And he knows it. It is why he is barely here, now. He should be walking among the stars... Fingolfin's throat closed with a terrible realisation of Vanimórë's loneliness. Power exacts its price, always, one way or another.

Tisanes steamed on a low table. He sat down, poured a cup. Even now, after so long, his heart tripped over itself. Fëanor's hair, damp from bathing, was coiled up in a loose fist behind his head, the long, strong throat swooping down into the loose shirt, collar bones like a falcon's wings. For a long moment their eyes met. Fingolfin lowered his gaze, took a sip from the cup.

'Was it a good ride?' Fëanor asked.

Choking, Fingolfin reached for a napkin as Fingon slapped him on the back. Bastard! he flashed to his half-brother as he gasped for air.

'Did something go down the wrong way?' Fëanor asked in mock-concern.

'It must have,' Fingolfin coughed. Vanimórë had leaned his head on his knees, shoulders shaking.

'Hedúnar said thou wert thinking of riding. There is something so exhilarating in an early morning ride.'

Some-one stifled a laugh. Fingolfin sat back, took another cautious drink.
'Indeed,' he said. 'I look forward to many of them,' wanting to walk across the room, kneel over his half-brother, push their loins together...

Fëanor said, 'I will give our people a few days to settle. And then we muster our forces and march on Taniquetil. Thinks't thou I can trust Turgon, or is he going to stab us in the back?'

Fingon straightened quickly; Maedhros' lashes lifted as he looked at him, brooding.
'I wish I could tell thee.' Fingolfin kept his voice temperless. He glanced at Vanimórë, who said, 'There are many possibilities. We all make choices, all the time. I cannot tell thee what Turgon will do, but I can watch him while thou art engaged with the Valar.'

Fingolfin nodded. 'I wish it was their influence that has made him like he is. But it is not.'

'No,' Fingon agreed. 'It is jealousy and ambition.' He shrugged. 'There is nothing to be done. He hates us, enough perhaps to want us dead.'

Closing his eyes, Fingolfin thought of Turgon as a boy always something of a loner, always determined to be better than Fingon at something, anything...but where had it all gone so wrong with him? For him? Fingolin had loved all three of his children, even if Fingon was closest to him as the eldest often was. He set the cup down.

what will he do? he wondered. What will he make us do?

He smelled that fragrance, warm, fiery as strong fingers rested on his shoulder, closed. He felt the support, the comfort as the heat sank into his flesh, and could not suppress the response of his own body even as he wondered if it were not comfort Fëanor offered him but...condolence.

Quickly, he rose, which brought him too close to the hard presence of Fëanor's body.
'I will speak to Turgon,' he said. 'Alone.'

Fëanor's hand slid down his arm to his wrist where it gripped for a moment.
'Be careful,' he said without mockery.

Fingolfin raised his brows. Turgon was still his son.
'Of course,' he replied.

OooOooO


The crackle of power stroked up Mairon's spine like a caress, and he turned, eyes narrowed, to look down at Ilmarin. A thin beam of power punched upward into the sky which bloomed thunderheads. Snow sifted down, huge, idle flakes that sat like coins on the marble.

He smiled. They are trying it, Vanimórë. Trying to pull power from the only place left to them: the Void. Impossibly dangerous.

His son arrived a few moments later, plummeting down into the sky garden with a slam of those awesome (illusionary) triple wings that vanished in a mist like diamond dust as he lit down.

The power had thickened in that short span of time, the beam of light thicker, harder. Wind whipped across Taniquetil, white with ice. The palace shuddered.

'I thought I sensed something last night.' Vanimórë joined his father at the parapet. 'I will have to put a stop to it, of course. We do not want Melkor coming through just at the moment.'

Mairon shot him a look, the insouciance tightening his anger to something cold as black iron. He had always had to fight in whatever way he could - or know when not to - and Melkor, a colossus of power he could never match, had always one foot on Mairon's neck. To hear his son toss such words at him was excoriating in the extreme. Then Vanimórë slid him a glance alight with wry humour and Mairon knew that he was deliberately being teased.

'Thinks't thou I am above getting a little of my own back, father?'

'You are an upstart,' Mairon hissed. 'You would be nothing without me. Everything you are, I created.'

Vanimórë laughed. 'Am I? Dost thou know what I am? What thou hast created?' He looked gorgeous and terrifying, black hair massed around him the mane of a black lion, white teeth flashing, eyes blazing like forge-fired gems in his head. If Mairon had set out to create a god, this, this is what he would have made. And by the gods, he was proud, but Vanimórë was still his son.
'Because of thee, I am what I am now.' Fury ignited in his words. 'I thank thee, father.' He stepped behind Mairon and his hands clamped down. Power struck straight into Mairon's heart, and blazed, burned to the far edge of pain. Never since Melkor had he known such power. A scream built in his throat even as his will rushed to stifle it, but then Vanimórë stepped away, laced his finger's through Mairon's and raised his hand in an elegant gesture. 'Shall we?'

Their conjoined energy struck the beam, joined by lightning flashes of diamond and molten gold: Fëanor and Glorfindel. The beam exploded in a storm-roar that sent avalanches thundering down Taniquetil's barren flanks.

But now, high above, the atmosphere was torn, a black wound like a slit the sky. Mairon stared at it, lips compressed. Melkor was pushing at the prison of the Void, and now there was a tear in its walls...He could feel the furious delight of the darkest god, his need for vengeance, to destroy everyone that had ever stood in his way.

Vanimórë was watching him, lids half-closed over his eyes, a smile like cream on his mouth.
'Mmm, the grip never quite loosens, does it?'

'You should know,' Sauron responded, tasting acid. 'You are the world's fool - and all the worlds' beyond, to let him out.'

'Yes, perhaps.'

'These people you love - claim to love - you would see them slain? Again? Oh, doubtless they can return, but why expose them to it?'

'Thou knowest as well as I, they have been waiting for this for thousands of years. There must be a reckoning.'

'Well, I hope it goes the way you plan, my son, because a great many things could go wrong. And badly.' He looked down, heard, from the palace, the cries of gods cut off from their dangerous feast. They had sipped some power. How much?

'I am not going to cage anyone or anything.' Vanimórë's voice was cut from granite. 'Not even thou, after the Noldor have finished with thee. I could cage Melkor yes, for eternity. When I went Outside, I took the Noldor with me. But my desire to protect them was too great, and I imprisoned them in a world where even they themselves were changed. And they knew something was wrong. They would have gone insane had it lasted. Never again. No-one deserves that.'

Hmmm. Mairion considered. 'We are not speaking of the Noldor, but Melkor.'

Vanimórë tapped his fingers on the marble then, as if reaching a decision, said, 'No, not even Melkor. Let me show thee how it was.'

Mairon fell into his son's eyes, into his memories, through the screaming destruction, the moment when he thought he had lost him -- to the Outside, the nothingness before the Universe existed.

And yet, it could not be nothing because Vanimórë was there. Impossibilities reeled through Mairon's mind as he heard Eru's voice, the Eru of then and the Eru of the future. But Vanimórë would not be used! not by any being in which Melkor dwelt, and flung himself into battle.

And then...the sundering, the creation of Melkor as a being, everything that Eru had hated in himself...

He watched the visions spun across time, the dawn of gods, himself included, the awakening of the Elves, and Vanimórë's pouring out of his heart's-love and passion into them: The Flame Imperishable, that Melkor sought for and could never find, into Fëanor, (And oh how enraged Melkor would be to know how close he had been to it!) the Great Music of Creation into Maglor, and all his spill-over of deadliness, beauty, intelligence, willpower, and love, love, love, into all the Elves. But (naturally) those whom he knew, or had impressed him, those closest to his heart, had received more than the others, like a cup poured full to overflowing. Thus the Fëanorions, Fingolfin, Fingon, Gil-galad, Tindómion, Maeglin-Lómion, Glorfindel, Edenel, Beleg, Daeron and the mad, beautiful twins, Elúred and Elúrin, Túrin, Elladan, Elrohir, the young men whom had become his Kadakhir, the warriors of Mordor in Carn Dûm...

And himself...?

Deep within, he laughed.

The universe receded into Vanimórë's eyes. Mairon, so close he could have kissed him said, smiling, breaking into laughter, 'Oh, you magnificent bastard! I said I could rule all Arda with you. I was unambitious. I could have ruled the universe itself!' He slapped Vanimórë cheek gently, almost affectionately.

'Forget it,' his son snapped, flinging his head back. 'Thou wouldst not want to, I assure thee. Great power has to impose limitations.'

'That goes without saying.' Mairon regarded him and hummed thoughtfully. 'Why did you show me?' He was curious.

'The most brilliant mind in Eä is very much occupied at the moment.' Vanimórë glinted at him. 'But thou hast a little time on thy hands.'

'I do seem to have,' Mairon agreed, pitching his tone dulcet as a ring-dove, and wishing he had hit his son harder. 'What, then?'

'I was born on Middle-earth, thy son, and an Elf-woman's.' His jaw hardened. 'I have lived. Yet I went back to before the universe existed and was told by Eru to give my mind, my thoughts, everything within me, to the Eru that came into that nothingness, because Eru could only destroy, he could not create unless he saw something to create -- that which was within me, my mind. In our battle, I formed Melkor, and the Universe-that-is came into being. Part of me went into the Elves. Eru told me, before, that he had ripped Melkor from himself at the beginning. I do not think he was lying to me, though he is capable of it.'

Mairon tapped his lips. 'It is interesting, no?'

'Father!'

He laughed. 'Possibilities, then? One: Eru is lying although why, I do not know. Two: It happened exactly as you - we - saw. Three: Eru is telling the truth but you have changed what was. Four...' Smiling into Vanimórë's frown, who said impatiently, 'Well?'
'That this is all a dream,' he said softly. 'And you are in Angband...imprisoned for eternity and escaping into the dreams of madness.'
He knew his son's fears: of being cast into that wormhole of rock, becoming a creature of skin over bone, wizened, hairless, ruined, eating the slops thrown to him, or insects from the walls, squatting in his own filth, toothless, never dying, existing. It could have happened...

Vanimórë reacted as if to a whip.

'Perhaps the war came, and Angband was unroofed, but you were buried so dark and deep they never found you.'

There was a slam of air and Elgalad's voice said furiously: 'That is enough, Sauron.'

'And perhaps he is a dream, too.' Mairon could not resist. 'You always longed for someone to love you.'

'Be very careful. He is not thy slave any longer.' Elgalad came to Vanimórë's side, who recovered himself, laid a hand on his shoulder and said, 'Never mind, my dear. My father is imprisoned on this damned ice mountain and awaiting the arrival of the Fëanorions. The only weapon he has is words.'

'But words can be so very powerful, can they not? And you are not sure - not sure enough - that they are not true.' He moved closer to his son. 'Because is this not all too perfect, this world you have created in your insane, trapped mind?'

Elgalad struck him, a brutal, backhanded slap that made Vanimórë blink. Mairon snarled into the shape of a giant Fell-wolf, and Elgalad's wings burned out with the stellar wind from supermassive stars.

'All right, all right!' Vanimórë's voice clove between them like a sword-stroke, a barrier that could not be crossed. The thunder of power sent shock waves crashing against the mountain, more snow poured down in white devastation. 'Enough. Elgalad if thou hadst known my father as long as I, though wouldn't not be concerned. And while it is flattering to be fought over, we do have other things to think about.'

'I know he cannot harm thee physically,' Elgalad said. 'But that is not the issue. It never was. Thou didst almost believe him.'

'Leave it,' he said briefly. 'Almost is the word. And if he is right, well, be grateful, father.' He raised his brows. 'After all, in that world thou wouldst doubtless be in the Void still. Now, I need to know how much power the Valar have drunk.' His eyes went opaque for a moment, wherein Elgalad glared murder at Mairon. 'Some. Enough to makes it a fight rather than a walkover.'

'You sound pleased,' Mairon observed.

'The Noldor do want a fight, father. There is no satisfaction in crushing a bug underfoot.'

'No.' Vanimórë was correct. 'But Melkor is no bug, and he will arrive soon enough.'

'Yes, Melkor...' He folded his arms on the balcony. 'I understand why thou didst follow him. But he should not be what he was, at least what he was in the beginning, so beautiful and charismatic.'

'Melkor did not use his charisma on thee,' Mairon replied. 'That is not why I followed him as you know, but he had it, gods, he did.' He joined his son. 'You were nothing to him but a toy who was in training to be something useful,' he added sweetly, feeling Elgalad's snapping flash of anger as he came to Vanimórë's other side. 'And by the time you were born he had degraded a great deal. But no, in the beginning he was not like that.'

'But he was the waste of Eru, the dross!' Vanimórë snarled. '

'You confound me at times, my son.' Mairon wanted to let his laughter peal from the cliffs and peak. 'For a clever man you can be amazingly obtuse. Shall I tell you? No, I think I will let you work it out for yourself.'

'And why thinks't thou he has not come to the same conclusion thou hast?' Elgalad flung at him. 'Thousands of years of being denigrated, made to feel he was nothing. Thou didst that, Sauron.'

'There is no need, anymore, to pretend you are stupid,' Mairon smiled into the water-clear eyes. 'What do you think he would have been like without me? I fashioned him. I made him what he is.'

'Thou didst both make me what I am, and so did many others,' Vanimórë interpolated. 'Elgalad, I no longer care what he did to me.'

Elgalad's shining face, emotion moulding the beautiful bones hard as ice, swung to him.

'Perhaps it is something to do with seeing the birth of the Universe, knowing what everything is, how it is, existence, life, so magnificent, so impossible.' He lifted his wide shoulders. 'After that...my dear,' he touched Elgalad's cheek, the small gesture so redolent of love, of gentleness, Mairon found himself gritting his teeth. 'I am not the same person I was.'

Liar, Mairon thought, dourly admiring. But a convincing one. Elgalad cannot see into you, either. He walked away, smiling, then whipped round in a shimmer of robes. 'Really, my dear. The orcs, the wolves...do you really no longer care?'

'And thou.' Elgalad's voice vibrated with a god's hate eternal hate. 'Raping him as a Fell-wolf.' The same horror he had placed into Elgalad's mind, long ago.

'But he liked that, or he did in the end,' Mairon replied gently. 'Anything was better than nothing, was it not, my son?'

Vanimórë's hand shot out to grasp Elgalad's wrist. 'As thou sayest, father. Anything was better than nothing. And that does not matter either. Sex, what one enjoys, or will accept. It is truly is nothing, less than nothing, social and moral constructs devised by minds who deem what is acceptable and what is not. I have touched the heart of ancient stars, looks into the eye of black holes. Why would such pettiness concern me? Only force is abominable. Yes, and I have used it also, with Maglor, I do not forget it.'

'Vanimórë, that thou didst accept rape as some kind of proof of his love does not make it right. And even if thou hast forgiven him, I do not.'

'I never asked thee to. But leave it now.'

Elgalad wrenched his wrist free, ascended into the sky in a silver storm of wings. Vanimórë launched himself, caught Elgalad and kissed him, a clash of two gods that turned flurrying snow into fiery embers.

'I never knew what thou didst see in him,' Mairon remarked, as his son's feet settled back to the cold marble. 'But back then he was just a little dewdrop, was he not, bleeding love all over thee? A nepenthe, a balm.'

'No, thou wouldst not understand.' Vanimórë flicked him a look. 'I did need him. I needed a love that was not...twisted.'

'But what else could there be between you and me?' Mairion came closer, meeting the purple eyes across a volcanic space. 'And still you are trying to protect him. A god. You no longer care?' he raised his brows, querying. 'You always did care too much about everyone, everything. Eru did not, you know.'

'Eru had his own problems,' Vanimórë said. 'So would I have, if I had destroyed a universe. I think he was worried what he would do if he intervened.' His mouth tilted in a one-sided smile. 'I no longer care about what thou didst to me, father. I did not say I did not care about what thou hadst done to others.' He leaned forward into Mairon's space. 'I do not expect gods to understand love or human emotions, but I am sure they can learn.' It was a definite warning. 'Elgalad did.'

'Oh, I did come to understand.' Mairon's eyes traced the hard, scrolled curves of his son's mouth.

'Yes, an empath without the virtues of one. That is what made thee so dangerous. Empathy without compassion.'

'As compassion is your weakness.'

'Thou hadst better hope that I continue to feel compassion,' Vanimórë commented. 'Because when I told thee I saw everything, I meant everything. Everything thou didst, father, in Utumno, in Angband, in Barad-dûr, to Maglor, to Celebrimbor, to Edenel, to nameless others. I no longer have to imagine or see through their memories. I can see. Thou hast said that even Fëanorion vengeance cannot destroy thee. But I can, just as Eru destroyed Gothmog's soul. Look into my eyes and see if thou canst see any lie there. I can do it, father. Believe me.'

'You can,' Mairon agreed, tucking a loosened strand of ink-black hair behind one of his son's ears. 'But you will not.' He smiled.



OooOooO




Chapter 18 ~ Unpleasant Revelations ~ by Spiced Wine



~ Unpleasant Revelations ~



Turgon's mansion was as Fingolfin remembered it long ago, coldly white, coldly perfect. That it was so unchanged was a reminder of the stagnancy of all Aman. Stainless. Immutable. Pure. The purity of a not-quite-paradise watched over by the judgemental eyes in high Ilmarin.

Fingolfin, whom had come to appreciate the more ephemeral beauty of Middle-earth, (as well as the complete absence of Valar) knew he was frowning as he entered the ward. A few servants were abroad, and one took his horse; he could smell baking bread from the kitchens but, like most of the city, the house slumbered in cool shadows.

Turgon was not asleep. He received Fingolfin in his audience chamber. There was no welcome; he did not smile as he rose from his chair.
Turgon’s black hair came from Finwë, but his face was his mother's. Anairë had been beautiful before her face hardened into the pinched lines of fanaticism. Turgon had avoided that, though his features had honed into chilly disapproval. His eyes remained flat, cold as he regarded Fingolfin.

There was no point in roundaboutation. Fingolfin sat down. He was taller than Turgon and did not need the advantage his height gave him.
'Thou wilt not succeed,' he told his son, keeping his voice calm and low. 'We know, have always known, that thou seekest to be the High King. And thou must have always known that the spies thou didst place among us were useless. Fëanor and Glorfindel knew whom and what they were. And so. What was the point?'

'The point.' Turgon snorted, seeming unembarrassed. His lips curved into a thin smile. 'Perhaps to see if thou wert arrogant enough to disregard them. And I am sure, sure that thou didst, but were cunning enough to keep it secret.'

That arrow was dead into the gold.

'And it was thee, I am sure father,' The world came out like a curse, 'who urged caution. He would have no such compunction.'

'Before his rebirth as Vanimórë's son, perhaps not,' Fingolfin agreed. 'But thou doth wrong him. He knew that the Noldor must be united in New Cuiviénen. And whether or no, he was appointed to be High King by Eru. No-one challenged it --'

'Thou meanest thou didst not,' Turgon cut in. 'And no-one challenged thee.Thou hast propped him up, always, and Fingon follows thee because of Maedhros. Oh, yes, such a cosy, incestuous arrangement, father. But thou couldst not make everyone love him.'

'A king does not expect love,' Fingolfin responded, determined not to lose his temper. 'A king is many things, as thou shouldst know, and a wise one will be as a father to his people, but a wise one also knows he cannot always be loved. And Fëanor, no, he was not wise when he swore the Oath that doomed us, but he paid for that. And he has grown wiser. He has ruled the Noldor now for thousands of years, and ruled them well.'

'He has ruled,' Turgon said, voice rising. 'with thee at his shoulder. As he means to rule Valinor with thee beside him, like a queen!'

The image made Fingolfin laugh. 'Not, I assure thee, as a queen. He will not marry. And not only me. He means to release Finarfin.'

'How noble of him,' Turgon sneered. 'What? He did not fuck Finarfin, so means to rectify that?’ His face blazed. He flung out one hand. 'Why -- how canst thou love him? I saw thy face when he abandoned us and the ships burned!'

Fingolfin said steadily, 'The feelings I have toward Fëanor are far more complicated than love, Turgon. Dost thou think I have not hated him, that I still do not at times? That I do not envy him? But I am willing to forgive actions taken in the grip of madness and under the influence of the Valars' hatred. Fëanor's mind is strong, yet they twisted it in the depths of his self doubt and his grief, both the Valar and Morgoth.'

'But he has fucked thee, and thee him, or does he not allow that? He is thy half-brother. Blood of thy blood.' Disgust twisted his mouth. It did not trouble Fingolfin; he realised it never had.
'Perhaps that is why,' he said. 'Although he never felt like a half-brother to me. We were not even raised as such. He was remote during my childhood, my youth. And he is not my half-brother now, even my father has renounced him as a son.'

Turgon pointed an accusing finger. 'But he still is, to thee.'

'Yes. He is. He always will be. He is the same man, or mostly. Now, let me ask thee something: If two people enjoy a relationship that harms neither, no, nor anyone else, what is it to thee?' He raised a hand. 'And do not say thou didst suffer for it. None of my children did. Neither did thy mother. She could scarce bring herself to lie with me, and had ceased to long before Fëanor and I were lovers. And thou wert a man with thine own house.' He gestured to the walls. 'courting Elenwë.'

Turgon coughed out a dry, strained bark of laughter. 'So easily admitted!'

'Why would I lie to thee? Thou didst always suspect it. But it is not thy business, Turgon. It was a relationship we both wanted.' He knew his eyes, his face, glowed with the memory of that time, of being truly, splendidly, in love.

'Thou art sick!' Turgon threw himself across the room. Fingolfin rose to meet him, catching his outflung fist and holding it. There was a gasp, a grunt of pain.
'So the Valar would have it,' Fingolfin smiled through his teeth. 'But why? I know why Mortals should not inbreed with close kin, but that is not the case with Elves. True, such relationships can be open to abuse, as with Vanimórë and Sauron. What doth thou care? And why?' He twisted Turgon's arm behind his back and pushed him away.

Turgon regained his balance, wheeling back. His eyes darted back and forth, gone almost black in his head. 'Vanimórë,' he hissed. 'The one thou wouldst call a god, and more, would dethrone Eru for. Of course, of course! Fucked by his father, Sauron, sticking his cock into anyone who bends over! But that does not make it right! It is a sickness. People need to be guided, shown an example! He means to rule Valinor while fucking his brothers. People must be --'

' — controlled? Made to marry some-one of the opposite gender even if their natures are against it?'

'It is the natural way. Thy way is not! Twice over it is not!'

'Among Elves who never knew the Valarin Laws, the most natural propensity is to desire both men and women. Go and speak to them, to King Thranduil! Perhaps it is thou who hast been cramped and restrained, pushed into a box. Pushed thyself into one and tried to do the same to thy people. Or is it,' he asked more gently, wanting it to be so, wanting more than anything to understand. 'that thou didst desire to keep thy people safe.'

Turgon seemed to choke on it. 'Safe? Yes, I would keep safe those I loved, those pure of heart, good and loyal and true. The rest of thee can scream into the Dark.' Something seemed to pour out of the wild black eyes like effluent from a sewer, but its source was not any Vala or Power, Fingolfin would have recognised their taint; this came straight from Turgon's own soul and was all the more terrible for it. His voice was carried on the flood of loathing. 'I hope Morgoth kills thee. Again. I hope it is agonising! Now get out of my house. Thou art not welcome here.' He exploded. 'But no-one will speak openly against thee, will they, Bright Fingolfin, star of our people, the hero who rode in a mad charge to the gates of Angband and called the Dark God from his lair? I was glad when they brought thy body to Gondolin. Glad. I pissed on thy cairn! They thought I grieved and went to that high place to be alone. I pissed on it and on thee. The great High King Fingolfin, the Bright Star of the Noldor, reduced to a broken thing, wreckage. Most proud and valiant of the Elven kings of old, they call thee. Thou wert not so proud then, nor so valiant, splintered bones, ruptured guts, and blood! But Morgoth had left thy face untouched, save for the blood. I have always wondered why. Didst thou fuck him in Valinor as he did?' Fingolfin looked at him, breath indrawn. They had become estranged, yes, ever since Turgon built his new Gondolin, but if he did not like what his son had become he had never hated him.

' Get out!' The full-throated yell, tearing free of even the pretence of control, followed Fingolfin to the door. 'And thou canst tell my Fëanorion-loving brother who spreads his arse to Maedhros and his kin, that I was happy, delirious! when he died, too.'

'Yes, thou didst want to be High King,' Fingolfin agreed, turning with his hand on the door-frame. He was pleased his voice was steady but he had much practice. 'Taking the crown from Fingon on the battlefield, holing up in Gondolin where thou couldst not be touched, could not rule any of the Noldor save the Gondolindhrim. But no-one else mattered to thee, one must suppose. It was always about control with thee, was it not? Even from childhood thou didst want to control the games thou didst play with thy brother and sister, and if thou couldst not would walk away -- although thou didst not dare to try and control Glorfindel and Ecthelion in Gondolin, didst thou? Because they were needed. Because they were beloved. Thou art a man with a small mind, Turgon, and the Noldor have never been a people who loved small minds and smaller hearts. Thou art my son, but hearken to me: whatever sentence Fëanor imposes on thee, if it comes to pass, I shall not speak out against it. Dost thou -- wilt thou -- understand? Dost thou know why Fëanor, why I have not challenged thee all these years? Because we would have destroyed thee and all who followed thee and enough Elven blood has been spilled.' He curled his fingers into a fist and struck the door-frame violently. Turgon stepped back as if the blow had connected with him. 'But I am warning thee, my brother's patience has run thin. And so has mine..' He whirled back. 'Wilt thou even fight, Turgon? Against the Valar, against Morgoth, when he comes? Gondolin fell while thou didst cling to thy palace when thou shouldst have been protecting thy people!'

All the colour left Turgon's face. 'And what of thee, leaving Barad Eithil and thine own people to confront Morgoth, an action only a mad fool would take? Yet they honour thee for it!' He screamed the last words.

'I was mad, yes!' Fingolfin flung at him. 'Bloody Hells!' He dragged in a breath. 'I wanted to die! My people were burning, dying! Feanor had been dead so long...'

'Thou didst want to die because of him? I lost my wife! She was pure, good, clean, my helpmeet. Thinks't thou I did not want to die?'

'Didst thou?' Some of the rage leached away. 'Because I can understand that.' He reached out his hand. 'Turgon...'

His son's face went blank for a moment, then he slapped Fingolfin's offered hand away.
'Get out! Look at thee! Loved, honoured, almost worshipped, even as Fingon is for thy bravery, thy heroism, thy beauty. If they knew - and they will! - that thou art rotten inside, that a disease has devoured thee, that it has the name of Fëanor...That thou doth bend over for him and he sticks his cock in thee --'

'Is that what sex is to thee?' Fingolfin demanded harshly. 'Is that how it is with thy wife? and why in the Hells art thou so fixated upon it?’

'Thou wouldst dare...? Do not dare to speak of her - of us - even in the same breath!' Turgon lunged forward. 'Get out of my sight!'

Fingolfin gave his son one long look. Turgon's eyes flickered like one who expects to be struck. Fingolfin mastered the temptation, turned away.

'And what is left for us?' Turgon cried after him. 'We who believe in the natural order of men and women, one marriage lasting forever, when the gods who will rule Valinor, this universe are incestuous cock-lovers? Where are we to go for for justice?'

'How thinks't thou it was for us?' Fingolfin demanded of him, 'Hiding our loves, our desires, and cast into the Void for them? And thou hast no idea of what that was like. None! Perhaps, Turgon, thou wilt just have to endure our freedom. At least thou canst be sure Vanimórë will not punish thee for loving thy wife.' He shut the door behind him, walked out.

In the ward, a servant came with his horse, he mounted and sparks flung from the steel-shod hooves as he rode put of the gate. Had he not been in Tirion, quiet though the streets were, he would have galloped. When a few early-riser's stared and ducked quickly from his path he slowed, while Turgon's words reverberated through his mind like the swell and drag of poison. He looked down at his hands. They tremored faintly and he clenched and stretched them, breathing hard.

Fëanor's mind was with him, bright with rage and a concern that always surprised Fingolfin: the depth of his care. But he raised barriers -- easy enough for Fëanor to break if he chose -- that demanded he be left in privacy.

At the city gates he turned onto the gently sloping road that ran parallel to the steps. It had been constructed for horses, though few had ever been kept in the city. He wanted to give the stallion his head, let him run, although one could never run from the demons of the mind. What in the Hells had he done, or omitted to do that Turgon hated him so deeply? And not just a recent development; Turgon had loathed him back into the Elder Days. His voice pecked like carrion crows at Fingolfin's mind: 'I pissed on thy cairn. The words had been black with loathing, straight from the heart.

If it was true. If...after the Noldor were reborn, Fingolfin had thought Turgon might have been coming to accept the new life, the new laws. But then, of all his children, Turgon had ever been the most closed, secretive, hiding his true thoughts.

if it is true...

The pavilions spread about the base of the hill of Túna were quiet in the spreading dawn, the sky arched, pure and pale heralding a hot day. The air still smelled richly of hay. The peace could not touch him. Turgon's words had hit him like surf and, receding, left the taste of shame.
Shame because Fëanor's sons all loved their father, loved him, would fight anyone who traduced him, had held to the Oath to their uttermost destruction. The only one of Fingolfin's children whom had shown him the same kind of love was Fingon. Aredhel loved him, he knew, but she was a free-hearted woman whom had never been physically demonstrative, at least not with her parents. And he, knowing that, respecting it, had never pressed her. The only thing he had asked of her was to go to Gondolin, thinking she would be safer than at Barad Eithel. She had agreed good-humouredly because it had been something new then, and exciting. Probably she had not even considered Turgon might close Gondolin so completely. Fingolfin should have known the novelty would pall, cramp her, and wondered now if Turgon had let her leave Gondolin hoping she would come to ruin. Then he shook his head. Better not to go down that path. Fëanor, with his powers could look back through the veils of Time and see the truth, as could Glorfindel, but they might spare Fingolfin the knowledge.

A man walked out from the tents almost in front of his horse's hooves. Fingolfin, with a pithy curse, pulled up sharply.

'Fingolfin.' It was Edenel.

'I apologise.' Fingolfin dismounted, laying a hand on Edenel's shoulder and essaying a smile.

'Unnecessary.' The pale, brilliant eyes rested on his. 'I felt thy pain. I know thou doth not want to speak of it, but I understand. Come here.’

It was not strange to Fingolfin now, after so long, that he could more easily turn to Edenel than Finwë. Edenel possessed the deep compassion wrought from the extremes of suffering, body and soul. And there was pain in that thought. Fingolfin sank into the offered embrace. Edenel was all lean muscle, smelling of spices and what Fingolfin thought of as the scent of starlight over the waters of the first Cuiviénen far off in the deeps of time. But there was that other scent, burning diamonds, Tindómion had named it, from those buried years of unspeakable agony and changing in Utumno. Fingolfin tightened his hold against that sidelong memory, the images that bled (still) from Edenel's mind, as if he could reach back through the Ages and protect him. The glassy hair glowed against his closed eyelids.
'I thank thee,' he murmured. 'But no, I will not speak of it yet.' He drew back.

'No.' The voice startled both of them, turned their heads toward the sound. A slim Elf with a storm of snowy hair strode from behind the pavilions. As he swung back, Fingolfin saw his face and knew him. His hand tightened on Edenel's arm.

Bainalph, once Prince of Alphgarth, in the Greenwood. Fingolfin had first met him in Imladris, but known little about him save that he was the reason Thranduil took war to Angmar. It was only later, after the cataclysm that Edenel, whom had been close to him, said that he had died, alone and far away, and he had grieved, spoken of Bainalph's youthful love for Thranduil and how it had been repulsed after one passionate, stormy night. Thereafter, Thranduil had treated Bainalph cruelly. It was a sad story with an unhappy ending that did not reflect well upon Thranduil. Fingolfin had found the woodland king a cold, proud man - though no Noldo could look askance at pride! - who disliked the Noldor but accepted them because of his son's relationship with Glorfindel. It was likely he would never have come to Valinor had he seen any real future for himself or his people in Middle-earth.

'But, thou didst say he died,' Fingolfin murmured.

'He did,' Edenel replied as quietly. 'A lonely, brutal death at the hands of men no better than orcs. Vanimórë called the dead across the seas. Those who wandered Houseless, as Bainalph did.'

The dead...Fingolfin remembered how they had looked after their rebirth, scoured, bright, otherworldly, as Bainalph did now.

Thranduil stepped into view, and Bainalph straightened, lithe and lovely, head thrown back.
'There is no Alphgarth. There is no Greenwood, and there is no binding between us. It died when I died.'

Something...a flinch shivered across Thranduil's face.
'You should never have left!'

Their voices were low, private after Bainalph’s first ringing exclamation, but carried in the still dawn air.

'So you could take what you wanted of me after your marriage ended? To be someone you could use without love, without care, something you could fuck when the mood was on you?'

'Say what you will.' Thranduil looked roused, wild, angry. 'You like being used. I know what you enjoy, Bainalph Cualphion, I know exactly' He reached for Bainalph who spun away, and caught a swathe of the white hair, wrenching him back.

'Thranduil!' Fingolfin rapped out. 'What in the Hells art thou doing? There are laws in Valinor, my Lord, and thou art coming close to breaking them.'

Thranduil's hand loosed its grip, he turned, he and Bainalph, both.
'My Lord.' Thranduil uttered the words through set teeth. 'Bainalph Cualphion is my subject.'

'I am not.' Bainalph's face flushed high across his cheekbones. 'I am, thank Eru! finally free.' He walked away, almost running and Thranduil, pursuing, came up against Fingolfin, who laid a hand on his breast and said quietly, coldly, 'No.'

For a moment he thought Thranduil might strike him and was prepared for it, but the king, glaring violence from winter-blue eyes, whipped around and strode back toward his tent.

Edenel had caught up with Bainalph, was talking to him softly as the flush faded on his cheeks. As Fingolfin approached they looked at him.
'Thank you, my Lord,' Bainalph said.

'Thranduil appeared to be harassing thee,' he said with a lift of his brows.

'Thranduil,' Bainalph said in a tight voice, 'thinks he owns me. It is true there was once a binding. But it did not survive my death.' There was an air of fragility about him, like gilt filigree, and Fingolfin remembered how strange it was to wake to a body after thousands of years of existing in mind alone.
'Shall we go in and have a cup of wine?' he suggested, smiling. 'I could certainly use one. Thou didst know Tindómion, didst thou not? He would be glad to see thee.'

A certain light flashed into the beautiful green-gold eyes. 'Thank you,' he said again. 'Yes, I would be pleased to.'

In the palace, Fingolfin wondered if he had made the right decision. Fëanorion eyes smouldered with ill-concealed and predatory thoughts as they rested on Bainalph. Edenel shook his head, said, He does enjoy that, Fingolfin. Do not worry. It is mental cruelty that hurts him.

Bainalph was Sindar, unused to concealing his desires. Fingolfin wondered wryly what Turgon, had he attained High Kngship, would have planned for an entire kindred who looked on men and women as equally desirable and who had no marriage laws, or at least not the kind he would recognise.

Vanimórë came, telling them of the dead, and it was as they spoke all of them felt it, a power that drew their eyes northward. Fëanor came to his feet, eyes burning incandescent.

'The Valar on Taniquetil,' Vanimórë said, apparently unconcerned. 'Trying to augment their negligible power by pulling it from the Void.' A small, grim smile curved his mouth. He vanished.

Fëanor and Glorfindel struck out, power shimmering around them diamond and gold, then tossed hard, glittering smiles at one another.

'They are frightened,' Glorfindel said.

'Good. So they ought to be.' Fëanor looked inhuman, gloriously vengeful as he went to the door. Pausing, he laid a hand on Bainlaph's shoulder. Thou art welcome to remain with us,' he offered. 'Although thou art Sinda. Some of thy folk of Alphgarth still live. They came with us, though not under Thranduil’s banner.’ No, hardly would they, Fingolfin thought; they doubtless knew why their prince had fled.

'And some died,' Glorfindel said gently. 'But they will all return, in time. Thou wert beloved by thy people. I am sure those who live will wish to see thee.'

'I was looking for them,' Banailph explained. 'Of course I would be glad to see them.'

But not glad to see Thranduil. That had been an unpleasant little scene. Fingolfin said, 'We will find thee another Alphgarth, a place of thine own, when all of this is over.'

'Yes, we will.' Fëanor glanced mirthfully under his lashes at Fingolfin. 'And meanwhile I will send messengers out, to tell thy people thou art here and wish them to meet with thee.' He swept toward the door, trailing brilliance like the tail of a fire tornado. 'Oh, and I gather thy meeting with Turgon did not go well?' Pausing beside Fingolfin he looked down. 'I did not think it would. We shall talk, later.' Bending, he kissed Fingolfin's brow, the gesture of a king, or a father. It was comforting even while his touch, as always, roused, and the harsh pain in his breast was soothed, softened by the embracing flame of Fëanor's eyes.

'And where art thou going in such a hurry?' Fingolfin watched him half with amusement, half with pure lust. His fingers tightened on the arm-rests; he held himself in place so as not to leap up and crash his body into Fëanor's, thrusting him back against the door...

'Vanimórë thinks there is someone I should meet.' Fëanor winked and blew out of the room.



OooOooO




'Well?' Elgalad snapped at Mairon as he returned to the sky garden.

'Shall we call a truce? After all, we both want to help Vanimórë.' And he smiled.

'I have seen what help thou wouldst give him.'

'We need to keep Vanimórë grounded,' Sauron said as patiently as he could. 'You have dwelt with Eru, and for unnumbered Ages. Vanimórë is not him, relict of a dead universe, more than half of his self torn away. Eru could do nothing. Or perhaps thought that he should not. Well, Vanimórë is not accustomed to doing nothing.'

The pale eyes narrowed at him, and beyond him; thick lashes swept down, hiding the lucent burn, then flicked up again in a stare like a lance. Mairon met it. He far preferred the true Elgalad (though that was not his name) to the gentle Elf he had masqueraded as. Taunts notwithstanding, he understood why Vanimórë had loved and needed him, but he himself preferred more fire and steel. So did his son as a rule. Maglor for instance. Now...Fire...yes, the star fire that burned from the blue-white giants in the deeps of the cosmos, and steel too in the rain-clear eyes.

'If he is not grounded,' he pursued. 'Who knows what he might do, might become?'

Elgalad was silent. A tiny frown etched itself between his brows.

'We have to keep him human, we want him to feel, love, hate, or he will become something neither you or I recognise.'

'Or something thou canst not control,' Elgalad said with a humourless smile. 'That era passed long ago, Sauron. Accept it.'

'Some things need controlling. We are living within his mind, after all.'

'Or his dream?' Stone-hard.

Mairon shrugged. 'What if it is? We are still within it.'

Elgalad turned away from him, his profile white even against the eternal snows.
'What dost thou want from him?'

'I would rather like for him not to destroy the universe. You see, destruction is actually quite easy for him. You were there when he destroyed himself. If he does the same thing again, he will take the universe with him.'

'Creation from destruction,' Elgalad said distantly. 'Eru knew what would happen, but how could it?' He turned back to Mairon.

'Eru came from Outside Time, was not of it. Of course he could not create the Universe! Not as he was, a being of rage and grief. And certainly not after Melkor was created. Everything that has come into being was in Vanimórë's mind. And because Eru is able to dwell on the Outside, he could see what had to happen. That Vanimórë had to create the Universe himself. Because he already had. A long game. Admirable, no?' He showed his teeth deliberately.

'No. Vanimórë has suffered like few others, and Eru saw it all and let it unfold.’

‘And you loved Eru, you were his favourite.’ Mairon allowed the smile to linger. ‘Now you have discovered he is flawed. How tragic. We are all flawed, including my son. He sent you away when he was God-emperor, when his empire cloaked half the world, but you must have known of his acts of cruelty when he hunted down my followers. This is the god of the universe.’ He gestured. ‘Not an unknowable force of pure love, but man born half a god who could now crush stars with a blink. So really, really, Elgalad, should we not - all of us - try to keep his feet, as they say, on the ground?’

OooOooO


It was the only place he could sleep, although that word was a misnomer. Vanimórë did not sleep as any elf or man might understand it, and had not for thousands of years. But still it was a time when he lay down and let his thoughts drift...

Eru's palace, with Eru absent, stood in aloof and silent peace, a harp for the mountain winds that blew through its windows and halls. It had never been created as a dwelling place, was an architecture of the mind, beautiful and unreal. But reality, in the Timeless Halls, was whatever one choose to make it.

He spread himself on a great bed draped and hung with gold. No longer afflicted by the soul-deep weariness an eon of sleep could not have cured, he fell, without thought into the meditative state he had learned long ago from the Men of Rhun, inhaling, holding and then releasing his breath.

His mind reached across the universe; he heard the song of stars caught within the gravitational pull of their galaxies, the deep thrum of the giant black holes that had once, too, sung. Now their note was deeper, an inward sucking force not even light could escape from.

The arpeggios of life were clear, compelling, rising to a diamond-clarity of self awareness. And all, for the swirling gasses to the rocky planets, the stars, the energy between them, vibrated on a frequency no human eye could see. He felt, barred, for a moment, in the Void, Melkor's hungry need for revenge, but beyond that the dreadful loneliness of a being that should never have existed, that he, Vanimórë, had formed out of his own fury.

And he knew, he knew what he must do with that ravaging, terrible being.

He sighed, drifted out among the numberless stars.



OooOooO





Chapter 19 ~ Beyond The Memories ~ by Spiced Wine




~ Beyond The Memories ~




He had not believed that this punishment would be the final one; had thought Sauron would relent, that he would survive as he always did, bruised, cut, hurt, but alive and strong enough to defy once again. He had very little power — none would be more accurate, but he still possessed a will of his own and would not lie down for Melkor, for Sauron, without fighting.
It always brought punishment; he had come to expect it, this darkness, this silence, this fear.

It was only went time stretched in the pit, unendurable, and the light did not come, the door remaining closed, that the bony fingers of terror began to claw at his breast, cold nails tearing through to pierce his heart.

When, at last, the door did open, when he was shackled with Power, dragged out, he was, at first, been shamefully relieved. It disgusted him that he could come to such despair as to welcome the return of the light (his father) and all that would inevitably follow. He was a pathetic, useless creature.

Then, as he was rendered helpless, the orcs had been summoned. When they fell on him like starving rats, he knew this time it was different. From it, there would be no coming back.

He had been broken, face smashed to gnarled ruin, teeth shattered, hair torn out in hanks.

That had been the beginning.

The door grated open. It was damp in the lightless cell, the eternal moisture settling in the iron hinges. The plink! of dripping water echoed endlessly, falling away to unknown depths.

He squinted against the light that burned his seeing eye. The other was blind. He flung a hand over his face,

The light came from the one who entered, the red-gold of fire burned behind the lavender eyes. A fair head tilted, regarding him remotely as a man might watch an insect scuttling underfoot. After a moment, fastidiously, he stepped closer.

Sauron's mouth compressed. The name...yes, he always remembered this one. Sauron, though that name was anathema to him. He preferred Mairon.
'You were so beautiful once,' he said frowning. Then, 'Vanimórë.’

Vanimórë

His mouth opened, he felt the pass of fetid air over the stump of his tongue, over the jagged remnants of his teeth. A chain slithered across stone as he tried to move, crouching closer to the light he dreaded and yearned for. So long in the dark. So long...

'What a damned waste.' Sauron stepped away from him, twitching aside his red robes with an expression of distaste. 'He has forgotten about you. I,' he added, 'have not.' The embers glowed brighter in his eyes. 'You are a reminder of my mistakes.' The hand clenched in his robes was taunt, white with strain. ‘

Vanimórë?

The name echoed and re-echoed in his mind.

‘No-one,’ Sauron said tightly. ‘is expendable.’ Black boots snapped closer.

Please.

'You want me to kill you, I know.' Sauron bent his beautiful face to look straight in Vanimórë's one stinging eye. 'But you are dying, my son, my stupid, broken son. It will just take a very long time. This is the last time I visit you. The door will be blocked up. I trust, if there is anything left of your mind, you will continue to consider your defiance, your arrogance, and your stupidity.’

He moaned, caught at the hem of Sauron’s robes, with claws that had once been lean, supple, pulling himself closer. His legs had been broken long ago by the orcs that had raped him, over and over, gelding him as they did so, the limbs twisted out of shape so they would never set straight. He could pull himself along by wasted arms, though it took much painful effort.

Sauron kicked him away. Blood poured from his oft-broken nose and mouth,
'Do not touch me!' He stared disgust, then said, 'War comes, borne on a west wind. Perhaps it will bury you in the rubble, my son. But I doubt it. We are very deep here. You will live to further regret your disobedience. Goodbye, Vanimórë.’ In a shimmer of pale hair and red robes, Sauron whirled away, walked to the door and paused. ‘Remember it could have been so...different.
The door boomed shut.

No, no, no! His arms reaching out, Vanimórë howled in the dark. He screamed and screamed until blood sprayed from his throat...



The light assaulted his eyes. Choking, he struggled. It was a long, panicked, silently-screaming moment, before he realised he was on his feet, that his legs moved, that he was blinded by the tossed cloud of his hair.

He came up short against a wall, cloth under his fingers, threads rasping against his flesh. The brutal, terrified beat of his heart plundered his chest, pushed into his throat.
He lifted a hand, pushed back his hair, saw the light flicker off silk embroidery, gold, blue, red. With a shuddering sigh, he bent his head against it, trembling. Broken bones grated, brittle phantasms within the flesh of memory.

The room was as he had left it, real and unreal, the breeze sighing through it. He stepped to the great window, looked across the Mansions of the Gods. No, this could be a dream in itself, as he suggested...

He stared at his hands, ran them over his face, down his legs, felt his teeth with his tongue, gathered his hair and bound it in a loose knot, feeling the slippery health of it. But his heart still stamped like a frightened stallion. How could he trust his senses, he needed people, life, the confirmation of reality, but who was there to go to when you were the most powerful being in the cosmos? And although his father would understand, Vanimórë would find no pity there. He never had. And to speak of it would reveal the fragility of his mind. His weakness.

‘It is a different reality. Now you will be able to see them all, all those possibilities Eru showed Elgalad.’

Her voice was like waters moving secretly under the earth, like a lark climbing sunbeams into the morning sky, mellow and tuneful both with the deeper resonance of Power. She walked toward over the thick rugs, long hair falling almost to the ground, took his hands in a strong grip. With a groan torn from his soul, he drew her close, heard her soothing him like the mother he had never known, whom would never hold or embrace him. They went to their knees and his head came to rest in her lap.

‘Eru lied to Elgalad, not wanting him to meddle, but he told the truth,’ she said. ‘This is not the only universe, Vanimórë. Everything than can possibly happen has already happened.’ Her fingers massaged his temples lightly. ‘And thou hast been Outside; now thou canst see all of those realities. I am sorry. It is the price for what thou art. There is always a price.’

‘I know,’ he said. ‘And I was thinking of those different realities, but ones rather less terrible.’ His heartbeat slowed under her gentle ministrations, though the gibbering horror did not lessen. This was what he had sought for in Dana and never found: a deep peace and strength, the sense of being cared for.

‘Mairon put it into thy mind, and whilst thou slept, it was easy to drift into one of them.’

He slid his hands over his eyes. ‘It was real.’

‘Yes, love, somewhere, it was real.’

‘Can I,’ he wondered, ‘become trapped in those alternate realities?’

Thou canst not, not the Vanimórë of this universe.’ As he sat up, she slid a hand down to rest over his heart.

‘How dost thou know this?’ he asked.

‘I was able to glean much from her mind over the years.’ Iron flattened Vanya’s words. ‘Ungoliant came from beyond.’

He gripped her hand. I am so sorry!

‘Hush, love, enough of that.’ She leaned to kiss his brow. ‘I never lost thee, I may have lost everything else, but never thee.’

‘That only makes it worse.’ He listened to the play of the wind around the walls. ‘I want...’

‘...to go back and make it right? To make every reality painless?’

‘Wouldst thou not?’

‘Thou always did want to do that, even as a child.’ He heard the soft smile.

‘Yes, well, we see how well that turned out.’ He mused upon his thoughts. ‘In another universe, then, thou didst become the Dark Lady.’

‘Yes.’

‘I would like to see that, at least.’ His eyes closed. A cool breeze touched his face. He wished...Ah, he wished! that he could stay here forever. But her voice came to him through the drowsiness.
‘Thou must let me go, love. I have found myself now. Always thou didst try to protect me, look after me. Now thou must find thyself.’

‘Let thee go?’ He sat up.

‘Not me, idiot,’ she said fondly, pressing him down again. ‘Her. Vanya. In thy mind she is regret and guilt: guilt that thou didst kill her, and then horror that thou didst not. But I was dead. I was. Without pain, no suffering at all, while looking into thine eyes, I died. After...Sauron became a master at necromancy, and Melkor’s power combined with his...? They brought me back. But now, let her go. I am here, real, I am not that girl.’

‘Bloody gods, I should destroy him!’ I am sorry, Vanya. I did not let thee find thine own strength. I was so afraid for thee, so beautiful, like a rose blooming in the depths of the Hells. But thou wert not some fragile flower. No woman is. I should have allowed thee to grow thorns of steel. But the only instinct I had, then, to protect thee. I knew no women, only orc-sows; I did not know, then, that they could be as strong as any man, and stronger. He tried to imagine a world where his sister had been a rival, not someone to try and nurture — as if he truly had, as if he ever could have, under the shadow of Melkor and Sauron — His mind faltered and failed in the attempt. But somewhere that, too, had happened. She had displaced him, perhaps killed him, become the Dark Lady of Mordor.

I know. I know. And I love thee for it. But I am not Vanya any longer, any more than thou art that gallant boy who tried so hard to help me.

But he was, he thought, he was. He still wanted to help, to protect. To make things right. And it had brought him here.

She said, ‘Perhaps thou shouldst ask thyself, love, why thou hast not destroyed our father. And will not.’ There was no blame in her voice, but his muscles tightened. ‘It is not that simple, is it? Thou canst say that it is for the Fëanorions to enact their vengeance upon him. But they could not destroy him wholly. Only thou canst. And will not. I never knew him, Vanimórë, not as thou hast come to. I never had a relationship with him. Thou didst,’

‘A relationship,’ he repeated flatly. But it was true. ‘Dost thou want me to destroy him?’ he asked, knowing he would do anything she desired.

‘I have gone beyond him,’ she said after a long moment, and he heard that distance in her voice; she had moved on to a place he could never come to. ‘But I do not think thou wilt. Ever.’

The plangent song of the wind swept around them and over them. She stroked his hair until time itself drifted away.

‘Sleep, love,’ she murmured. ‘I am here.’

He woke alone. There were tears on his cheeks. He rose, rubbed his face. The other Vanimórë, a broken ruin in the deeps of Angband, screamed and screamed, silent now, in madness.



OooOooO




‘My father,’ Legolas said, sombre, ‘thought he should have loved my mother and did not. Then he fell in love with thee and thought he should not. Over the years it twisted him until I am not sure if he knew what love was.’

‘I know.’ Bainalph looked away to a cloud of tiny blue butterflies that whirled above the flowers. The sheltered gardens were still, hot and scented in the long afternoon. Above them the beautiful loggias, festooned with flowers: marched along the central portion of the great palace. He had looked down from that vantage after greeting the remnants of Alphgarth whom had come to him. It had been exceptionally emotional; too many had died, some and some had gone seeking him when he fled. He had not known, then, but felt the guilt heavy on him now. But they will come back. Vanimórë promised. And still...He was grateful when Legolas drew him down to the quiet of the gardens. Further away he could hear low voices, but no-one disturbed them.

His eyes returned to Legolas. Whom had not changed at all. Bainalph had always likened him to beaten gold and silver drawn into life by the hand of a master; he was as lovely and lithe and deadly as Bainalph remembered. Only his eyes were different: darker, hotter under the fan of thick lashes. The years dwelled in them. And something more.
I do not think he ever loved me,’ he said, then. ‘And I — I was very young. Almost your own age when you first went to Imladris.’ He smiled. ‘Is...Glorfindel still your lover?’

Legolas’ answering smile seemed to show he accepted the gentle deflection.
‘It is not as it was,’ he said. ‘when first the Noldor returned and Glorfindel was jealous. He was new to the — brief — freedom they enjoyed in New Cuiviénen. Did Edenel tell you how it is now, with the Noldor?’

‘He did, yes. It is an unnatural way to live.’

‘Not for long, I think. Turgon will never become High King, to impose his own laws on Valinor. The Valar will fall.’ He said it as if it were a mere footnote. ‘And there have been...compensations.’ The fire burned into his eyes, a wild blue flame.

‘I see,’ Bainalph murmured after Legolas had explained the situation. ‘A kind of game.’ He stirred. His own body was waking to its needs after so long wandering in death. It was a relief to know they were returning, that he was essentially himself. The houseless had no desires, although they longed for them, yearned with an aching hunger to have form. It was not natural for them to be Houseless, but the secret of rebuilding their bodies was one the Valar had buried in secrets in ancient times as something beyond their control and undesirable. Bainalph had not even known of it until death, as all hidden knowledge was opened to him. But the energy, the ‘spark’ Eru had set in the Elves to recreate their bodies had long faded, cloaked in the darkness of the Valar’s hearts and the the secret of it eluded him save as a concept he could not grasp.

‘It reminds me of the first time Finrod performed the Rite of the Summer King,’ Legolas said, drawing Bainalph from his thoughts. ‘the wearing of masks, save the mask is darkness.’ He looked sidelong, gilt hair slipping over one shoulder, his eyes kind, a little teasing. ‘If you stay here, you will find out. There is nothing like impending war to set the fire in our blood, although I am not sure we need that incentive any more. If we ever did.’

‘And you do not know who...?’ It was intriguing.

‘Oh, one comes to know. All have their own idiosyncrasies.’

‘Edenel said that Glorfindel or Fëanor could have made sure Turgon and his spies saw nothing,’ Legolas nodded. ‘But did not. Why?’

‘I think because...’ he paused, frowned. ‘It began in anger, you see. Turgon would come to the High Council and extend his stay for longer and longer periods. He and his people were so pervasive in New Cuiviénen, there were eyes everywhere, listening, watching. It was overt; they made no pretence at all. We all know who they are, which is why we are speaking so quietly here. And it was simply more fun to deceive them and, in the end, ourselves. But still, there was — is! — anger. No, that is too mild a term! It has made us all more...ravenous. If you believe you would still enjoy it that way,’ he added. ‘No-one would ever force you — or anyone.’

He would enjoy it. More than enjoy. Even now, in this quiet, lovely garden, imagining it roused him.
‘I cannot,’ he said honestly, ‘think of it any other way. And you?’ Legolas had been a wild lover, wild as a storm is wild, but never savage. Perhaps that explained the new fire (new to Bainalph) in the blue eyes.

‘And me. There is an element of desperation, of our emotions leashed. Rage against Turgon’s atrophied stupidity and ambitions, not being ourselves. And so, it is all released in sex.’ Legolas looked thoughtful. ‘Strangely, the Noldor have become far more like our people, although in secret.’

‘And that has changed you?’

‘Yes. You know that sex could be lighthearted for me, at least sometimes. It was for many of us in the Wood, was it not? Something to while away a night, or a quick tumble to cool the blood. It is not that any more for me. I burn.’ And so did his eyes as he pronounced the word.

Bainalph thought of the fierce eyes consuming him as Fingolfin lead him into the palace. He had not known who they were, those men who passed him with the indolent stroll of predators who know they can turn and ravage their prey whenever it suits them, but by their faces, they were obviously Fëanorion. The regard was familiar to him from Thranduil, though more...concentrated. He remembered, too, that night in Imladris with Tindómion, whom he had seen as a furnace locked away but gradually consuming him. He had not been mistaken.

‘I want,’ he whispered, throat suddenly dry, ‘to burn.’

‘You will,’ Legolas promised.

He said delicately, ‘I knew Tindómion Maglorion in Imladris, but I have not seen him yet. I hope to. And Elladan and Elrohir.’

‘They are in the training grounds.’ A lush little smile curled. Bainalph blushed; it seemed death could not cure him of that.
‘That is where I should be.’ He looked down at the hands that had, in his old life, wielded a sword and bow with skill. ‘You speak as if victory over the Valar is assured. Is it?’

‘It is, and my belief is that even our victory over Morgoth is.’ They both glanced at the sky, although the newly-formed wound in it was not visible from the gardens. There had been a vast silence when it appeared, after the barrage of power striking Taniquetil, and then came a roar like nothing Bainalph had ever heard, hurled in defiance from the throat of every Noldor whom had suffered the agony of the Doom. Its promise of vengeance, its sheer force and power had sent a white-hot shock through him.

Bainalph stilled the memory-shiver; he recalled the dark malice of Dol Guldur in the south of the Wood. In those days, the threat of the Nazgûl and Sauron had seemed the greatest he or any of them could imagine. Then he had seen Angmar, felt its ancient, malevolent poison.

‘I want to fight,’ he said. ‘My mind remembers, but my body...? Skill is learned.’

‘I will train with you, of course,’ Legolas told him and gripped his hand with strong, slim fingers. Then, ‘Have you seen Elgalad?’

He stared. ‘When I came here, he and Vanimórë were waiting. It is strange, is it not, to know he never really died? That he was something else, all that time? Have you not, then?’

Legolas’ lips compressed. ‘No. Is he still...the same?’

‘Not...entirely. What we saw was not real. But he is still as kind.’

‘He seems to be avoiding me — us.’

‘He hates what he did.’ It was Elgalad who told him, after he had wept his heart out beside the sea. Vanimórë had stood silent, hair blowing like black smoke in the breeze. ‘I wonder if he is...embarrassed that he deceived those who loved him?’

‘Maybe.’ Legolas’ expression gentled. ‘But Eru’s manipulation — I cannot call it anything else! — of Vanimórë was hardly his fault. He must have believed he was doing the right thing. And perhaps it was. That is why the thought of Dagor Dagorath does not...no! I will not say it does not frighten me, but Vanimórë has gone far beyond godhood now.’

‘And that,’ Bainalph said, ‘frightens him.’

Legolas tilted his head. ‘I imagine it might well,’ he agreed. ‘He needs to be assured there are people here who love him. They say he grows distant, and are concerned.’

Bainalph had felt his power, so much greater even then when he was a god and thought, How much can one man hold before he ceases to think himself a man?



‘Bainalph.’ Tindómion’s voice was as warm and resonant as he remembered, his embrace as hard. He was wearing a light gambeson for training and smelled of clean musk, and some dark incense that evoked a wild night long ago, amber, cinnamon.
‘I wish I had known when thou didst leave.’ Lustrous silver eyes chided and sympathised both, and there was pain in them. For Bainalph. It warmed his heart.
It had not occurred to him to seek Tindómion out when the Greenwood finally went into exodus, leaving the lands they loved for the underworld. Thranduil had, at first, refused to go, but Glorfindel had come, speaking to the King and his councillors and, after, grim and purposeful, Thranduil expedited the arrangements.

Those stupendous subterranean cities, the greatest architectural work of the dwarves and Noldor in Middle-earth, had been separated into kindreds and races, and did not often meet save in council. Bainalph’s memories of that time were hazy with pain and strangeness. Elves were not meant to walk in the deeps of the earth, and there was a profound homesickness that lay heavy on them all, but they had learned and endured. (And legends would persist of vast underground cities and races, and of the Tuatha de Danaan, who left the world, entering the grave mounds, to pass out of human knowledge, becoming the Sidhe of folklore).

Bainalph picked up a sword and bow and trained until the sun began to sink into the west. Beleg was there and Túrin, Elladan and Elrohir. It seemed that though his muscles should have no memory of his first life, his mind was retentive enough to compensate. Beleg said that it had been so with him, also, after his rebirth. Their bodies were, after all, the same. It was rather like taking up the training after a long absence, though his hands needed to grow callouses.

After, in the warm evening, they walked back to the palace and the baths to wash away the sweat and dust. Bainalph was almost surprised, when he went to his chambers, to realise how much he had enjoyed himself, that he had smiled, laughed. ’Thou wilt learn to live again,’ Vanimórë had said. Yes, he would. There was such a relief in the knowledge.

There was no feast this night but, as he and Legolas entered the hall, Bainalph saw others drifting in to partake of a simple cold meal of meat and fish, fresh bread and fruit. Legolas murmured their names when Bainalph inquired: Beautiful Maedhros, tall and slim with the command of an eagle, threw back his rippling red-copper hair in a laugh as Fingon, darkly brilliant as his father, said something through a blinding smile. Celegorm, cream-pale of hair, with the look of a great wolf in his glittering black eyes, Curufin, striking as an obsidian arrowhead, Caranthir, hair as black as jet, and eyes like hammered metal, the twins, Amrod and Amras, auburn heads inclined together as they murmured to Maglor. Bainalph had seen him in Imladris, shockingly beautiful, a true-stamped imaged of his father. Celebrimbor, likewise a match of his own sire, was with Gil-galad, tall and jewel-bright. There was Finrod, with his fair, lovely face, and milk-gold hair, Glorfindel, a sunburst in the room, with Elladan and Elrohir. Beleg was speaking to Daeron and Túrin. With them was another man, silver of hair, one wide black streak running back from his temple. Aredhel entered with Lómion and Eärendil either side. Aredhel had a long, impetuous stride that rippled her white skirts about her feet. Eärendil’s hair was like ripe apricots against the raven of Lómion’s and his mother. Edenel was there, blanched hair pouring from his strange, unearthly face, power and pain moulded into a compelling beauty.

Fëanor and Fingolfin, blazing in their sheer presence sat beside one another in low voiced conversation with Tindómion, dressed now in deep green and black, bronze hair caught back with a gold circlet. Circulating, and apparently quite relaxed among the Elves were Vanimórë’s Khadakhir, young men once, when Bainalph had visited Imladris, but now far more: beautiful, dangerous, immortal. Of Vanimórë and Elgalad there was no sign.

There were women, too, Fanari who gave him a warm, welcoming smile, stretching out her hand, and Rosriel, Gil-galad’s mother; they were with a tall lady, silver-pale of hair. There were others he did not know, moving gracefully about the hall, exchanging words with one another, with the men, sipping wine, laughing. The easy intercourse reminded him of Alphgarth. At first, it seemed that these could not be people facing two battles, one of them (and the greatest) against all the forces of Darkness but, under the splendour, anticipation stretched like a wire across the throat, pulling taut.

‘So thou hast been at the training grounds, Bainalph?’ Fëanor rose to greet him. ‘It is strange at first, I know, but Legolas said thou wert a superb warrior.’ His hand, resting lightly on Bainalph’s shoulder, was warm. That Fëanorion heat that kindles the heart and blood and burns through all restraints. Bainalph felt it melting into him, felt himself yearn toward it, but this was Fëanor, the heart of that fire, the storm itself. The Flame Imperishable, if what Edenel said were true. He thought it was.

‘I hope,’ he gathered himself, ‘that I may be so again, Sire.’

‘I am sure thou wilt.’ It was Tindómion’s smile, that stunning flash of white teeth. The slender fingers closed a little them, with a low laugh, as if he read Bainalph’s mind, Fëanor released him, turned back to Fingolfin.

The silver-haired man rose, crossing the room toward him. In a hall of tall people, he overtopped even Maedhros by a finger’s breadth. Frowning, Bainalph tried to place him; his clothing had the colour and cut of the Sindar, reminding him of Thranduil and, before that, his mother and father, but the face was not familiar; it was beautiful, stern, with a full mouth and deep blue eyes, the colour hard, solid, like certain semi-precious gems, strangely familiar. They swept over Bainalph, and a smile surfaced.
‘Thou art very much like thy mother, Bainalph Cúalphion.’ And after a moment, wherein Bainalph was no wiser as to the man’s identity: ‘Uirephíl served my...former wife in Doriath.’

A frisson of shock ran through him. ‘My mother? You are... Elu Thingol?’ Bainalph demanded and bowed.

‘I am. Thy parents are in Alqualondë. I believe a message has gone to them.’ He took Bainalph’s arm. ‘May we talk?’

Of all the people Bainalph might have expected to find in Tirion, in the company of Fëanorions, Thingol was perhaps the last, legendary King of the most ancient of the Elven Kingdoms of old, wed to a Maia, father of Lúthien. Bainalph had been raised on such tales. Mystified, he nodded and they drew a little away.

‘I have been told what happened to thee, and I am sorry for it.’

‘It was, as ever, self-inflicted, my Lord. I have a habit of bringing such things upon myself.’ He cast a look up at the beautiful face, saw the shadows laying under the fine cast of bone and flesh. ‘I truly would not have expected to see thee here,’ he said impulsively.

‘I would not have expected anything that has come to pass,’ Thingol said ruefully. ‘And thou art Sinda thyself.’ He gestured. ‘And Beleg, Daeron. My great-grandsons.’

Bainalph said, inadequately, ‘Much has come to pass since the Elder Days. My mother told me tales of Doriath, and I believed I hated the Noldor. But there were few left on Middle-earth after the Battle of the Last Alliance.’ And that was so long after Thingol had walked on the Earth that it was a bloody endnote in any stories that filtered into Aman. They sat down.
‘It was really Elrond who began it,’ he went on. ‘who reached out.’

‘Ah yes,’ Thingol nodded. ‘I know Elrond and Celebrían.’

‘The Greenwood lost so many at the Black Gates,’ Bainalph said. ‘Including my father. I barely remember him. There was bad blood between the Noldor and the Silvans for a long time, although it is true they were feckless and poorly armoured compared with the Noldor.’ He linked his hands around a wine-goblet. ‘But surely you have heard all this.’

Thingol’s smile held sadness. ‘Some. Not all. Tell me anyway.’

There was more, far more, here than was apparent. How could there not be? Yet it would be impolite to question. Bainalph looked into the lapis-blue eyes as the warmth and conversation of the hall washed lightly around them. He sipped the wine, put it aside.
‘Thranduil’s father,’ he could say the name now without it faltering on his tongue, ‘Oropher, died and Gil-galad —‘ he glanced across to where Gil-galad had seated himself beside Fingon and Maedhros. ‘died by Sauron’s hand. Perhaps it was seen as justice. But no-one truly won in that battle, though Sauron was diminished for a long time. And in that time, we of the Greenwood had space to heal. But the world was so changed. It was Elrond who began to make overtures to Thranduil. Foresight is in his line, through thy...former wife?’ And then he did stumble. The tale of Thingol and Melian had often been told to him as the story of a great and enduring love. There was something quite other in Thingol’s eyes, hard as a slammed door.

‘Go on,’ Thingol said.

‘Thranduil is proud, and at first was not inclined to heed the first messengers of Elrond; they were turned back at the borders of the forest, but in time he became more amenable. And it was only wisdom that all people whom had fought against the Dark should exchange news. Thranduil knew, he said, that evil had not been defeated forever, only driven off for a while.’

‘Are you telling my own tale, Bainalph?’

The voice from behind him almost brought Bainalph to his feet, heart lurching. Thranduil stepped to his side, bowing to Thingol.
‘My Lord. I had word that you were here.’

Thingol rose. ‘Thranduil, grandson of Beleg. Yes, thou hast the look of him. I am glad to meet thee.’

Thranduil had long lost the antique inflexions of Iathrim speech Bainalph remembered from his youth, a curlicued resonance, like water running through rune-cut letters but, as he spoke to Thingol, a hint of it came back into his words. Bainalph, stiff and uncomfortable looked straight in front of him and listened.

‘Dost thou follow Fëanor?’ Thingol asked.

‘No.’ With somewhat of a snap. ‘I am here for my people. Those that are left. There is no future for us on Endor.’ He lifted a hand. ‘And to fight against Morgoth. That we shall do.’

‘Thou doth not hate the Noldor? The Kinslayers?’

‘As has been said, most of them suffered for their acts.’ Although the expression in his eyes said Not enough. ‘But it was my son, in a way, who was the catalyst, who...tempered my long hatred. He fell in love with Glorfindel. With a Noldo.’

Hardly surprising, Bainalph thought now as he always had. Legolas had been young, eager, without the burden of those cramping Noldorin laws that were anathema to the Silvans. And Glorfindel was...Glorfindel. Glorious, reborn. He himself must have seen Legolas as something free, sensual and unafraid, more than willing to be devoured by his sun-bright fire.

Bainalph looked sidelong at Thranduil, trying to tell himself he could indulge himself now from the distance and safety of his rebirth, and so he did look, at the face that had haunted him all his first life, hard and lovely as moulded snow, with that quintessential Sindarin and Silvan quality, something formed out of the elements of the forests, the cool waters, the song of the trees. He could read no expression in it at all.

Thranduil turned his head and their eyes met. Every muscle in Bainalph’s body went taut as if bracing for a blow he could not fend off. But he had never physically feared Thranduil, only the words that had slowly destroyed his confidence, his happiness and, at last, made him long only for death. He wondered if it was a flaw, some weakness in him, if others would not have fought back or let the cruelty run from them like water from oilskin. Perhaps he could have, had he not been so in love.

He said, through a tight throat: ‘Will you fight, my Lord Thingol? Will the Teleri?’

Thingol’s eyes flicked to him. ‘I came,’ he said, ‘because I wanted to see Fëanor. I saw him in the Silmaril, so long ago.’ One of his hands tightened on the arm-rest. ‘That was my only freedom then, from the spell of my wife and my daughter.’ His brows rose at Bainalph’s soft, startled exclamation. Thranduil sat back, staring.
‘Oh yes, Melian enspelled me, later Lúthien added her own enchantments. Melian admitted it. I was an experiment.’ He vented a harsh laugh. ‘The Valar sent her, but she enjoyed her mission.’ Under the mask of his face shone a cold, white rage, at Melian, Bainalph wondered, or the Valar? ‘Elu Thingol of Doriath was a nothing, a puppet. He hardly existed. I remember when Finarfin’s children came, my kin, so fair and gallant they were, like a breath of air through a long-shut room. I longed then — so much! — to ride out, to meet the Noldor, to hold council with Fingolfin, even the Fëanorions. As a true king would have done.’ He raised his hand, clenched it. ‘I knew the danger, the Iron hells in the North! We had fought Morgoth’s spawn before ever the Lachind* came to Endor.’ Bainalph started; he had not heard that name in a long time. ‘But I was not permitted to leave the spider’s web and become Elwë again. When Maedhros formed his Union, I wanted to lead out the Iathrim. I should have. Hells! Hate them or no, they were not the Enemy.’ He stopped, his breathing harsh. The others were silent, Thranduil’s eyes hooded.
‘We may have tipped the balance. The Nirnaeth Arnoediad might well have had a far different ending. Well...I mean to redress that, though I am no king any longer. I will fight, but I do not rule the Teleri. Olwë is not unreasonable, and Eärwen, who was Finarfin’s wife and dwells now with her father, is clear-sighted and wise, but there are those in his court who will ever speak with hate against the Noldor. My grandson, Dior, Elwing, both possessed the Silmaril or rather,’ his mouth quirked, ‘it possessed them and has left its mark.’ He looked across the room to Fëanor who was now in conversation with a man Bainalph had not seen before, a man with the bearing of a king, hair as pale as his own, and a face like a white jewel. His eyes, as he turned his head were as rich a blue as the centre of cornflowers.
‘Ingwë will fight,’ Thingol said, identifying the Elf. Ingwë, High King of all the Elves, whose name was shrouded in myth and glamour, a name out of a very ancient past. It had been said, in Imladris, that he once sat at the feet of the Valar in ‘worship’ (this said with a mocking curl of the mouth) If so, he had risen from that abject position.
‘He has already pledged himself and his people to Fëanor.’ Thingol paused, his look turning inward. ‘Fëanor asked me what I would have done had Morgoth slain my father, and tried to corrupt my people — all the Elves of Aman. For that was what he wanted, to own them, control them as the Valar had. Morgoth, he said, took all that he could of him, for the Silmarils held a part of his soul. I knew that. Had I not seen him in the Silmaril? I have no father, but how can I say I would not have done the same? And all of them, all of those names of the Elder Days who fell to the Dark in hopeless valour, they lived.’ He gazed at Bainalph. ‘I,’ he said, ‘did not. Not from moment I walked into the trap of Nan Elmoth did I live. And Valinor has been like a dream after strong wine. I want to live.

‘Elwë.’ Ingwë’s greeting was like the chime of bells in some high, golden place. He gripped Thingol’s wrist, smiling. ‘It has been long. I did not expect to see thee here.’

‘Yet here I am.’ But he smiled. ‘And thou art changed, it looks as if a torch has been lit inside thee.’

Ingwë showed his white teeth. ‘It has, and after so long that I had forgotten it, like a memory one thinks was a dream. And there is a change in thee, also.’

A faint colour tinged Thingol’s cheeks. He introduced Thranduil and Bainalph, and Ingwë seemed to look hard at Bainalph’s white hair; it could have been his own.
‘Fëanor told me of thee,’ he said. ‘May thy days now be filled with light. And fire.’

It was obvious he wished to speak privately to Thingol and Bainalph excused himself. He saw servants carrying great harps to the middle of the room where Maglor and Tindómion were sitting on hassocks. The conversation in the room faded.

‘Bainalph.’ It was Elrohir. ‘Come and sit with us.’

Thranduil had been detained, perhaps deliberately, by Legolas and Bainalph, relieved, sat down, the twins ether side of him as the music began.

The greatest of Elven bards had a gift: their words could appear as visions in the minds of those who listened. And so it was that night. Bainalph was only aware of a disturbance when he blinked his dazzled eyes and saw that Maglor and Tindómion had come to their feet.

A company of Elves marched into the hall, their leader wore the circlet of a king and his eyes were hard as blued steel. The men behind him were armed warriors.

Without a word, without the slightest communication, Fëanor’s sons and grandsons moved to flank their father. Fingolfin joined them, Fingon, Gil-galad, Eärendil, Lómion, Aredhel, a living rank of defence. None of them were armed but with slender daggers. Elladan and Elrohir crossed to them. Glorfindel watched, face gone still, utterly unreadable. Of course there was no danger; there were two gods in this room, yet Bainalph’s flesh prickled as a storm of silence fell. He took a step forward, felt a hand lock about his arm.
‘This is not your concern,’ Thranduil said in his ear.

He wanted to wrench away, snarling, but the scene before him was like glass at shattering point.

Fëanor broke the tension, his smile dimming the lamps.
‘Olwë,’ he said. ‘Welcome. I have been expecting thee.’


OooOooO




End Notes:
* Lechind - Flame eyed, plural. The Elves of Middle-earth gave this name to the Noldor when they came from Aman in the First Age due to the fire in their eyes.
Chapter 20 ~ The Lingering Past ~ by Spiced Wine


~ The Lingering Past ~




Earlier that day


‘Elwë. Elu Thingol.’ Fëanor leaned back against the door. ‘Yes, I remember thee, trapped in the webs of the Valar through thy wife and daughter. We were both trapped, then.’

This meeting must, Thingol thought, be prearranged, for Beleg and the others had left a short time ago, sharing looks between them. It had been a reunion that, to some extent both slew and resurrected him as death and rebirth had not. Those faces. Those memories, now seen clearly, not through the veil of enchantment. He had wept, for how could he not? And so had they. But not the twins.

He had been considering their tales, few of which had come to Aman, or at least to Alqualondë. Elúred and Elúrin, damaged beyond repair, and yet strangely complete in their madness. Daeron whom they had wrapped around, white roses whose thorns pierced and poisoned. Yet he had not seemed unhappy, either.

It was the twins whom had brought home to him, finally demolishing the stubborn righteousness he had clung to (because was there anything else left?) that Dior and his wife had been wrong to cling to the Silmaril. The children — all the vulnerable — should have been sent away to some safer place as soon as the Fëanorion army were sighted. But perhaps Dior could not foresee Doriath and Menegroth ever falling, most ancient of the Elf-kingdoms of Middle-earth.

The twins story, told with huge, sinful eyes, and a complete absence of guilt, of capturing Celegorm, raping him, was terrible and yet through it they had come to forgive him for what he might (or might not) have done to them, and he had killed the man responsible. Nothing about it was remotely healthy, but it was, in some twisted form, a resolution.

‘Fëanor,’ he said, and the name itself tasted like fire on his tongue, like wine steeped in the sun. ‘Long ago, thou wert the memory of a madman who spat on the Valar and brought down ruin on his people.’

‘I was that, exactly that.’ He came across the room, leaned one hip against the table. ‘Shall we go through it from the beginning? From when I asked Olwë to loan me his ships and crew and he refused?’

Thingol had heard — and many times — of the first Kinslaying, both from those whom had survived it and those who died there, the Valar showing ‘mercy’ to the Teleri slain even if they themselves had killed. Yet his ire rose at Fëanor’s insouciance.
‘And when they refused, thou didst attempt to steal them.’ And Fëanor burned so brightly; even in death he had blazed. What did I do? Gutter like a pale candle in Doriath.

‘I do not deny it. All my thoughts then were of rage and grief and fear that we could not cross to Endor and pursue Morgoth, that the Valar would prevent us. I remember an arrow flashed past me, a hairsbreadth closer and it would have taken my eye.’ He picked up an ancient book, turned it in his hands. ‘And one clipped Maedhros’ armour.’ His long fingers closed on the spine. ‘Not my sons. Not my sons.’ His eyes lit, as they must have lit then. Unhuman. Then, with a visible effort, he pulled himself back from the past. ‘The Teleri struck the first blow. They killed. And then we fought them. But were they ever doomed as we were?’

‘And then,’ Thingol said, watching him, ‘there was Doriath.’

‘Doriath, the Havens of Sirion.’ His look, his face was implacable. ‘Perhaps I had a choice. My sons did not.’ His words crashed through the quiet room. ‘Listen: Morgoth slew my father, crushed his head so my last sight of him — then — was of shattered bone and blood.’ The book slammed back on the table. Dust motes spiralled in the infalling sunlight, glinting with flecks of gold leaf. ‘But it was not that alone. Melkor went among all the Elves of Aman, trying to twist us, corrupt us, seeing seeds of division, of mistrust. Or perhaps he awoke in us what was already there. In the end, the Noldor proved the most fertile ground. I cannot forgive him for that, nor the Valar for releasing him knowing what he was, what he would do. They knew, Thingol. They knew. The Silmarils—‘ His eyes narrowed. ‘I poured my soul into them, my fire, my life. And he took them because that was all he could ever have of me, and he knew it.’ He leaned forward. ‘He offered me the kingship of Endor. Under him; he wanted me under him in more ways than one. He tried to seduce me, and I fucked him.’ He lifted his brows. ‘And he never forgave me for that.’ A laugh.

Thingol spat an ancient Iathrim curse. ‘Morgoth?’ There was no shame, no disgust in Fëanor’s eyes, only a glittering look of contempt, an old memory of something that both angered and amused him.

‘I have no regrets.’ He shrugged. ‘Gods, I was so desperate to feel a man I would have had Manwë. Or...well, perhaps not him.’ His eyes danced with humour. ‘My regret is that I died forsworn, that my sons swore the Oath, and all save Maglor died trying to fulfil it. But they swore it for love of me.’

Thingol was suddenly, intensely jealous. His daughter had never shown any love for him. She had ruthlessly manipulated him, treated him somewhat like an intelligent pet.

‘What made you ask for a Silmaril as the bride-price for thy daughter? Daeron was there, he has told me thy words.’

The jealousy reformed into a dull, baffled feeling of anger. He stared at Fëanor, who took a chair, flipped it around and straddled it. Thingol pressed his lips together at the expectant look, said unwillingly: ‘I do not know.’ Then, with a flash: ‘Lúthien had always made it plain that who she took as a lover was no-one’s business but hers. What would I have cared if she wed a Mortal? He would not have lived long.’

‘She put those words in thy head, prompted by the Valar. They used everyone, Thingol, and thou knowest it: Thou, Melian, Lúthien, Beren.’

‘Yes,’ he agreed bitterly.

‘It was a courageous endeavour to beard Morgoth in the heart of the Hells,’ Fëanor said, laying his arms along the top of the chair. ‘But the Valar augmented her powers. They never care about their tools.’

‘Thou hast seen this?’ Thingol asked. ‘Ah, of course, thou art a god.’ With a flash of malice.

‘Yes. To both.’

‘I have to wonder why thy sons never attempted what my daughter and a Mortal man did.’

The shaft went home, at least a little way and at least for a moment.
‘They would have, at the end, Maedhros and Maglor. That would have been their last, desperate act.’ The black lashes quenched the burning brilliance of his eyes. ‘When I died on the slopes of Ered Wethrin, my last sight was of Thangorodrim. I made my sons swear the Oath a a second time. But I was dying, and the Valar spoke through me. I tried to fight them but the pain was too much, my life slipping away.’ He leapt up, the chair rocking. ‘Bastards! When I was cast into the Void, I realised the Silmarils were of no import at all. I would have given them up in an instance, broken them as the Valar wanted me to, to rescind the oath, to spare my sons. I tried to reach through to them.’ His eyes were molten. ‘They are far from stupid, and Maedhros was always the wisest. He knew. He knew from the moment I died, I think, that the Oath was impossible, but always hoped there might be a chance. Even after Morgoth took him.’ His white teeth snapped shut. He looked away, the line of his hard, lovely jaw clenched. ‘When the news ran across the lands that Lúthien and Beren had brought a Silmaril out of Angband, he — all of them — hoped.But the Valar would never have allowed thee or Dior or Elwing to give it up. Not to my sons. They were hallowed by Varda.’ His scrolled mouth twisted on the word. ‘So that thereafter no mortal flesh, nor hands unclean, nor anything of evil will might touch them, but it was scorched and withered..* They were supposed to burn me, and they did mark my hands, as later they burned Maedhros’ and Maglor’s, but not scorch and wither them. I was the one the thought unclean and of evil will. Varda tried to own them, and she was mightier in those days. Some of her influence lingered, some of mine too. No wonder those who claimed them were affected. And my influence too. But I could do nothing about that. The Silmarils were part of me.’

‘The influence lingers still.’ It was a snap. ‘Dior, Elwing. They would see thee torn apart.’

Fëanor laughed. It was a shockingly bright sound, uncaring. ‘I am sure they would, and in my madness I would have wished the same on them. But not after. Yet the Silmaril should have been returned to its rightful owners, to my sons. It would have given something of me back to them, and allowed me to feel something of them.’ The smiling curve of his mouth straightened. ‘As it was, they did come back to me, all but one. They joined me in the Everlasting Dark. There is no Time there. It feels as if one has been there forever and, when Morgoth came, as if I had been fighting my own dissolution since the beginning of the Universe.’ His eyes were distant, looking upon vistas Thingol had never seen and was devoutly glad he had not.
‘I was not the first. There were those of my people whom had died when storms wrecked some of the swan-ships. And later came Fingolfin.’ Pain flared from him, mind and body both. ‘My beautiful Fingolfin, whom, for a while, I had hated, mistrusted, called a traitor to me because I could not see beyond the phantoms of madness and lies that stalked my mind.’

His beautiful Fingolfin.

A look like an arrowhead. ‘I did not hate thee, Thingol, not Melian or Lúthien, Dior or Elwing. Not truly. I was furious. I was impotent. I saw the long fingers of the Valar’s hands crawling across Middle-earth, and there was naught I could do to stop them. They wanted to meddle, control, though they had long before withdrawn to Aman. I wanted the Silmarils back for my son’s sake, so that they could fulfil the Oath and not end in the Dark.’

Thingol rose. The air seemed hot in his throat.
‘They destroyed Doriath.’ He was dead by then, but Námo had ensured he saw it in the Halls of Waiting. He had hated his life in Doriath, but Doriath itself he had loved, and its people, Daeron, driven well-nigh mad by Lúthien’s merciless teasing, who later vanished, Beleg who died by the hand of the man he loved, brave Mablung, his grandson, Dior, his grandsons. Túrin himself, beautiful and doomed.

Fëanor nodded. ‘Dior gave them no choice. He had none himself, in truth.’

Exploding, Thingol’s hand swept a pile of books to the floor.

Fëanor caught his wrist. ‘What wouldst thou have done?’ he cried. ‘I will ask this of thee, of Olwë, of Dior. What wouldst thou have done?’

The dust twisted, sank, sparkling gold.

‘I do not know.’ Thingol admitted into the settling silence. He could not look away from Fëanor’s eyes. ‘I...’ He shook his head. ‘How in the Hells can I know?’ A long heartbeat of silence, of gold-lit dust. Then, the words forcing themselves from his throat: ‘Elwë would have done it.’

Fëanor tilted his head; the lucent eyes burned into Thingol’s soul. Startlingly, he reached forward, fingertips resting on Thingol’s cheek. The touch was like a brand. Like ownership.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I believe he would.’



OooOooO




That evening

Thingol said sharply: ‘Brother.’

Olwë’s head snapped around, an expression of relief scudding like cloud-wrack across his face. Relief and something darker.
Did he think I was held here against my will, or that I have betrayed him?

‘I thank thee for accepting my invitation,’ Fëanor said, his deep, beautiful voice bringing Olwë’s eyes back to him,

Olwë’s expression was tight, furious. ‘I did not accept thine invitation, Kinslayer. I was told my brother had come here this morning and he did not come back.’

At the word Kinslayer a silent flame of defiance swept the Noldor. It was impossible for them to stand straighter, straight-backed and proud as they were, but they seemed to grow taller, eyes blazing like coals.

‘I am not imprisoned, brother,’ Thingol said with the right touch of impatience.

‘Then I hope thou didst not come here as my proxy,’ Olwë snapped.

Some-one murmured, ‘Families,. There was a low chuckle.

‘Why, dost thou need one?’ Thingol shot back. ‘For here thou art.’

‘Here I am.’ Olwë’s mouth shut on the words. He turned back to Fëanor, said, into the silence: ‘Here to tell thee, Fëanáro, that I will never bow the knee to thee.’ His breast rose and fell. ‘I have ruled Alqualondë since before thou wert born in this city. True, thou wert the High Prince, Finwë’s firstborn and High King after him. But as High King thou, thy sons, thy people — and others! slew mine. And what art thou now? By what right dost thou call thyself High King? Finarfin has gone, Finwë never reclaimed his kingship. And thou wert born again to a different sire. If any would — should — claim the kingship of the Noldor, it is Fingolfin.’

‘But Fingolfin will be High King,’ Fëanor said, with a smile touching his mouth. Those fabulous eyes moved to rest on his half-brother, seemed to burn brighter, yet more warmly. ‘As will Finarfin when he is released from thraldom. We will replace that poisonous triad on Taniquetil with our own.’ He stepped forward. Thingol saw his sons match that one long stride, saw Fingolfin, hand cocked at his side in the manner of a swordsman, though no sword hung there, move a pace, his body tense.

My beautiful Fingolfin. Fëanor’s words strung like honey and wine with love and darker, secret complications. Thingol’s messengers, those he had sent to treat with Fingolfin in Middle-earth, had reported his beauty. But Thingol had never seen him.

They were so alike, these half-brothers, not identical, but no-one looking at them would mistake them for anything but closest kin. And, whatever the strange alchemies of begetting, they had generously spilled their magnificence into their children and grandchildren, as if they were a stamp that struck true and sharp, never blurring with use. Fingolfin’s eyes were like the rising of Helluin in a winter sky. How they must have blazed when he charged to his doom, mad and dauntless, to the gates of Angband. Like a destroying god whom had himself been destroyed. Little wonder no song had ever been sung of his death. The death of glory leaves a wasteland. Not even tears can water it.

‘I do not need thine allegiance, Olwë.’ Fëanor’s smile dropped away, left his face a beautiful landscape of ice, like the ice of the North where fire burns under. ‘What I need — what Valinor needs — is a land at peace, a land united against the war to come. And for what comes after that war. Turn thy back on it, then. Alqualondë can exist alone. Stay out of it, as thou ever didst.’ His contempt struck Olwë like thrown acid; he flinched, face flaming. ‘Thou didst not fight at Alqualondë, but remained behind thy walls; thou didst not fight when Morgoth was thrown down. Thou didst give thy precious ships, more precious to thee than the ancient friendship between our kin and acted as porters but would not fight. Yes. I stole thy ships. I killed for them. I believed it necessary, then. But I did not strike the first blow against thy people, and never would have.’

Thou wouldst shame me for loving something made by my hands?’ Olwë cried. ‘What of thee?’

‘I was given ample time to realise my folly,’ Fëanor said. ‘Hast thou realised thine, or wilt thou stew in thy righteousness until the sun burns the Earth to a cinder? Nothing made by hand or mind or art is more precious than a living soul, than love, than friendship. The Silmarils did — do! — contain part of my soul, but they were never worth one drop of shed blood. We asked thee for the use of thy ships, the work of thy hands, for sailors to man them. Out of friendship.

Thingol pressed forward to his brother’s side, saw the rage in his eyes. He was trembling. Thingol laid a hand on his arm, then crossed the space to Fëanor. Bringing his mouth close to Fëanor’s, into that scent of richness, of fire, he murmured: ‘He was afraid of reprisals, of the Valar. It was never about the swan-ships.’ Olwë had told him that long ago, late at night over wine.

‘Do not thou speak for me,’ Olwë shouted, high and sharp.

Thingol turned to him. ‘Is it not time to forgive ancient wrongs?’ He asked, pitching his voice low. ‘And thou canst not behave as if nothing that has happened, that will happen in the future, is none of thy concern. Thou hast seen the rent in the sky. Morgoth comes!‘ He stared into the pale eyes, gripped his arm. ‘I remember thee beside Cuiviénen, brother, on the Great Journey, I remember the truth of thee. And this is not it. Valinor has ruined thee.’

Olwë wrenched out of his grasp. ‘Art thou spellbound by him, too?’ he hissed.

Yes, he thought, and said, ‘He is the future. And I believe he is our hope.’

‘Our hope?’ The laugh shattered and broke against the pillars. ‘He has always been our doom. Valinor does not need him or his dogs!’ His look scythed the hall.

‘Thou doth need him.’

The too-focused attention in the room shifted to the door. Vanimórë walked in with a presence like a breaking sky. He was dressed as Thingol had seen him last, simply, in dark leather, but a loose outer robe flowed behind him, indigo-dark. It seemed to fray into blackness, gleamed as with stars, to spread out, as he walked into the centre of the chamber until...

The walls, the floor, the tall pillars dissolved. They might have been standing amidst the stars. Thingol lifted his hand, saw through them the brilliant whirl of the the cosmos. He had become insubstantial. I am a thought, held together by a dream... But the Elves still shone. He could see their auras, silver white.

‘Aman is but a mote in the vastness of the universe.’ Vanimórë stood upon nothing, and he was still solid, vivid, perhaps the only that was. Irrefutable as a statue of granite. ‘It will be protected when Dagor Dagorath comes, but after —‘ A nebulae floated before him. He reached out a hand, passed his fingers through it as if it were oil in water. Light ignited in the hearts of young stars.
‘When Eru came into this universe, the gods went to him in the Timeless Halls. Why? They were very young, born out of the chaos of creation. They were lonely, curious, wanted to see their... Creator.’ A hint of humour. ‘And in the Timeless Halls they learned those crafts they were apt to. And Melkor came too, for he was lonely also, not knowing what he was, and wanting to be near to Eru, from whom he had been reft.’
‘Some of the gods followed Melkor when he descended to the world, into Arda, cooling from its hot birth. After him came the Valar to strive against him, although in fact they wanted the Earth for themselves. Eru knew then that he had made a mistake. The Valar were merely squabbling brats who desired the rulership of Arda as much as Melkor did. And so he closed the Timeless Halls. One could enter, but not leave. Only one ever did, he whom some of thee knowest as Elgalad.’
‘I was a slave myself, have been imprisoned; even paradise can be a gaol. And so I released the gods. There are some who will look on Arda — Valinor too — as a place to dwell, to rule. Forget the Valar. They had their chance and even the best of them wasted it, ruined more than themselves. Their sins have come home to them and their punishment will be soon and final.

The fine hair’s on Thingol’s neck rose at those words.

Vanimórë walked through the universe like its master, stopped at Fëanor’s side. And then, Thingol saw it, whence came Fëanor’s beauty, and Fingolfin’s and all those of their line. For here stood the original.
‘Fëanor has been reborn as a god, and through me, he is more than that, and he is always and ever has been the Flame Imperishable.’ And Fëanor was indeed burning, blazing there in the brilliance of the universe, with a white, unbearable light. Ribbons of radiance reached out from him connecting with every Elf and stretched far beyond as if he were the centre of some vast and complex web.
‘His people and Fingolfin’s bore the brunt of Melkor’s wrath in the Elder Days and thou wilt need him and all of them. No-one else can hold Aman against the released gods.’
‘And then there are Mortals. Now they are but rebuilding their lives after cataclysm, but in time they will seek to fathom all the secrets of the Universe. They will find Valinor. One day. They have no powers, not as Elves or gods have, but Hells, they have minds and brains that refuse to be beaten. They will create powers both magnificent and terrible. They will unravel the secrets of the Universe. Thou needest the hand and mind of Fëanor, what he is, the power of Glorfindel, the hero’s who fought through the Elder Days with no hope. And thou must come together, be united against the Outside. Aman is an island in an ocean of the unknown.’

The starlight ran back into Vanimórë’s robes like water. The lamps glimmered, the walls and columns and motionless figures solidified again.

Olwë had gone to his knees, his warriors clung together like children. Fëanor looked across at Vanimórë and smiled. He was utterly unperturbed by what they had witnessed. ‘Not unknown forever,’ he said.

Vanimórë laughed at him. ‘I do not doubt it.’ And he bowed, hand on breast, turned to the door. Fëanor caught his arm. Thingol, reaching to raise his brother, heard him say, ‘Wait.’ Vanimórë leaned his brow against Fëanor’s for a moment, then drew back. ‘Later,’ he said.

‘Come.’ Thingol half-pulled Olwë to his feet. ‘Come,’ to the hapless guards. ‘We return to Alqualondë.’ And then they must talk, and seriously.


OooOooO



It was the deep of night, but eyes watched them, as they always did. Perhaps those eyes would be cowed by their experience this evening. Perhaps not. There are none so blind as those who do not want to see. Already he had heard the word ‘illusion’ used, as if Vanimórë were some petty magician practicing sleight-of-hand to amuse children. Gods, the things we will believe, so as not to accept the truth. They knew it was no illusion. But even Elves could find themselves confronted by something their minds could not encompass. Not forever. We will grow into what we were always meant to be. Beings of starlight, shedding our forms at will to walk among the worlds...
He drew a spray of jasmine toward him, breathed in the scent.
‘I know what Turgon said.’

‘I see. Thou didst listen?’ Fingolfin’s voice came edged.

‘Thinks’t thou I would want to look into Turgon’s thoughts, or any-one’s? It reminds me too much of the Valar spying on us.’ He turned. ‘I know it shocked thee. I know it hurt.’

In the dim luminescence of the air, Fingolfin’s eyes were pure blue-silver, outshining the summer stars. Fëanor had not been able to comfort him in public, pulling him close, holding him against the pain. He did not dare. Fingolfin in his arms was too intoxicating, he had learned that long ago.

The only thing I have ever done to him was unintentional. Fingolfin slipped into mind-speech. And that was thee.

Fëanor almost laughed. Of course. And Fingon too, falls under his displeasure.

More than displeasure. He loathes us. Despises us. And then, like a wall of reforged steel, Fingolfin’s barriers went up.

Fëanor put an arm about his shoulders, a gesture that could be construed as simple comfort, affection. Brother to brother. He heard the faint exhale, felt a softening in the stiffness of tense muscles.
How could he not hate thee, he said. and Fingon too? What did he ever do even to garner a measure of respect save come to the Nirnaeth Arnoediad with a tithe of his forces and flee when Fingon fell, back to his precious Gondolin, claiming a crown he had no right to? Ever he wanted control, to close himself away. How could he not hate thy kingship, thy courage, thy brilliance? What is he but a pale shadow of thee? The only person he ever loved was Elenwë because she bowed to his every wish.

Fingolfin shuddered. His eyes closed. Whatever the reason, it has eaten him with hatred. I will not tell thee what he said. He pulled away gently.

Fingolfin, what he feels has gone beyond being a private matter because he made it so. It is politics now. It is our future. We cannot live with him threatening us with rebellion.

Fingolfin stared at him. Wouldst thou kill him, then?

Yes, Fëanor thought, And without a blink. I will give him a chance, he said. For thee. One chance, and only because he is thy son.

Fingolfin gave him his back. Stood tall and slim and straight.Gracious of thee. His shoulders brushed the jasmine; petals clung to his hair.

With a curse, Fëanor caught his arm, pulled him around.
Thousands of years hiding what we are, who we desire, curtailing our freedom, living a lie all for that sour-souled, monolithic bastard and his followers, spying, whispering, judging. What in the Hells does he think, that my laws will force him to bend over for me? I care nothing for what he does. I care only that that we are free to love whom we will.

Heartbeats passed. Then: I told him whatever sentence thou didst impose on him I would not speak against it.

Yes? That was surprising. He could not read Fingolfin’s face or his mind; both were closed. Then shall I pass his sentence to thee?

There was a long silence. The air was thick with jasmine, cool grass. A bed for lovers.

We will hold council, he said. In the Mahanaxar. There we will make plain our laws and let him speak up. Let them all speak! It must end, Fingolfin. It will end.

The brittle look in Fingolfin’s eyes faded. Turgon thinks everything that has come to pass is wrong, that Vanimórë himself is wrong, that he has enforced our way of thinking because of what he is, what he believes. That there is no justice any more for what is right and natural, no-one to appeal to.

Fëanor hummed. Vanimórë has been a slave, a warlord, a ruling prince, an emperor and a god. He has suffered, loved, lost. He knows the price of power to a hairsbreadth. He is no Manwë, a shell of supposed goodness over a heart like bone, no Námo, pitiless as winter, no Varda, who has looked in her own mirror so long that all she can see is a reflection that never existed.
Vanimórë is the crucible where Light and Dark meet. He is creation and destruction both. Passion and compassion. He values freedom. Turgon does not. He lives in a white tower of his own making and would have us all imprisoned within it. He hates the Valar because he wants no-one to have control over him, but he would control everyone else. He would have us live by his laws alone. Cold, cramped laws. Like the Valar’s but his own. He is frightened of imagination, of freedom.


And yet, my son.

Thy seed, no more. Nothing of thy beauty, thy bravery, thy fire is within him. He wanted to run his fingers down Fingolfin’s cheek, behind the nape of his neck, draw him in, murmur words of comfort, of love. He came from a passionless union.

Fingolfin shrugged, tossed his head as if trying to cast away a thought. So did thine own sons, and they are all like thee. Was it my fault? She only wanted me to service her to beget children. Sex was a duty. The Valar’s teachings of course. What chance did she have? And I did not learn from that, but pushed Fingon into the same bloodless marriage

He did reach out then, laid a hand on Fingolfin’s breast where his heart bounded and the heat of his body seeped through the fine cloth.The Valar’s Laws, brother. A young marriage, children, then the death of desire. Except it was not. Never again. He linked their arms, walked across the lawn as if they were the closest of companions and thought of the secret times after love (so long ago!) when they had talked, their hearts open to one another, when he could absorb Fingolfin’s nearness, his beauty, the very essence of him without haste. Impulsively, he leaned in, kissed his cheek.

Fingolfin’s response was a shudder, a halt. His skin bloomed heat. He turned his head, the beautiful sweep of cheekbones highlighted, his mouth — oh, that mouth! so perfectly carved, and so close. For a long, long moment, he was lost in Fingolfin’s eyes.

A brief sound of shirring air, movement. Alarm belling in his head, Fëanor spun Fingolfin around. A sickening thud too familiar to him, of metal piercing flesh. And there was no air to breathe. And there was pain, an explosion that lost itself in its own agony, blossoming out from his back.

He was falling, pulling from Fingolfin’s hold, plummeting into the black-white slam! of the pain that consumed him. He could see nothing, all his sight gone inward. He was deaf, could hear nothing — except through it all the command of Vanimórë’s mind voice like a lash of light: ‘Fëanor!



* The Silmarillion. Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor.

Chapter 21 ~ The Price of Life and Love ~ by Spiced Wine


~ The Price Of Life And Love ~




~ Fëanor! Vanimórë’s voice sliced through the black-white blast of pain. ‘Listen to me! Yes, the Elves will walk as starlight, taking form when they wish and always loving the earth and their bodies for they are of it more nearly and dearly than any. Yes, thou art walking into godhood, and thou wilt lead them into it, all those who follow thee, and now – now! thou must see what is within thee. The power, the possibilities. What thou art.

Fëanor had speculated on it, written about it, but had not seen until now, whole and magnificent, the form he inhabited, every cell, every tracing of blood, bone, organ, skin, the stunning lightning strikes as thoughts moved through his brain, the spiralling pathway that contained everything that made him and, with more than his human sight, the thunder of life that poured into him from the universe itself.

He saw the wound, the damage, the blood loss. The dagger had pierced a lung.

And in this place, it was of no moment.

There is no time here, Fëanor.

Vanimórë blazed light and dark like a stupendous star forever destroying itself, feeding on its own terrible energy. Death and Rebirth coalesced into one energy, one entity.

No, thou art not truly seeing me as I am, neither am I seeing the true image of thee; we do not have eyes here, Fëanor, through which everything is filtered, but thy mind supplies images that thou canst understand. He smiled. We could remain here for eternity and thou couldst still return to thy body and heal it. And thou must. It is dangerous here. One could forget how to be human.

He thought he was seeing Vanimórë’s true self. And it was appalling. How could a human contain that much power? Or was his humanity merely a construct?
Dangerous, yes. And yet his mind stretched out, yearning to travel the paths of comets, walk through the aurora of stars, see the life that existed on other worlds, fathom all the vastness and beauty that spread around him, superb and limitless.

Not yet, Fëanor, Spirit of Fire, Flame Imperishable. Not yet.

Fëanor, seeing the dreadful fear and loneliness in some-one – something – that could suck the universe back into its own emptiness, its self-hatred and doubt, said forcibly: And ‘not yet’ I say to thee also. Thou art human, too, Vanimórë. He hoped. Gods! he hoped.

Am I? Now? I want to be. It was a whisper, trailing through star-dust. Go now, Fëanor.

He saw himself kneeling on the grass, blood soaking, rich and dark through his tunic. He saw Fingolfin, spinning away from him, his face deadly as he leaped on the attacker, who stumbled back, open mouthed. The knife was twisted from his hand with a snap of breaking bone.

Turgon screamed.

The shock of seeing the would-be murderer’s identity seared through Fingolfin; Fëanor felt it, saw it in his star-white aura. In the same smooth act that had broken Turgon’s wrist, Fingolfin flipped the dagger, punched upward with the hilt. It struck Turgon’s jaw and he went down unconscious. Maglor was running, Curufin, Tindómion...

Heal thyself, Fëanor!

And Fëanor was inside himself again, feeling the drag of gravity, the solidity of Earth, of the weight of his flesh. He pushed the Flame Imperishable into his body. Torn cells, vessels, sprang back together, knitting into wholeness. He tried to breath, could not. His throat had spasmed shut against upwelling blood.

‘Father!’ Maglor cried like death, like horror (another horror) he could not bear.

With a sound like tearing silk, he wrenched air into his lungs and screamed. He was healing, but as a god heals, so swiftly that the act itself was an assault upon the body. Starfire surged through every vein, lit the dim gardens.

‘Father!’ Hands were clasping him, voices speaking in terror and fury. ‘Father, father. Fëanor!’

He looked up. Breathed. It hurt. Power ran like the thunder of fire through his body, concentrating on his back where the knife had been meant to take his life. Slowly he came to his feet. Maglor’s silver eyes, filled with pain, with shock, stared into his own.

It is all right, my dear.

He lifted his arms, unloosed the high neck of his tunic, pulling the laces free. Other hands joined his, drawing it from his head, the thin undershirt followed, wet with blood. He heard an exclamation.
‘It is healing?’ he asked curtly.

‘Yes.’ Fingolfin’s voice, unsteady, marvelling. ‘Even as I look at it.’ A hand touched his back. ‘Gods...!’

Arms came around him, desperate, tight, words cascaded through his mind. Maedhros was there, all his sons, Celebrimbor, Edenel. He saw Bainalph, his heart-shaped faced aghast, Legolas, Glorfindel, shining with rage.

‘Leave him,’ he snapped, for Maglor had whirled away, was advancing upon the unconscious Turgon with an unmistakable retaliation pushing before him as a ship pushes a bow-wave. ‘Guards. We will hold him,’ he said and looked at Fingolfin.
‘Thou wouldst have killed him,’ he said. ‘I saw it.’

Fingolfin’s face shook. All the grief, the enormity of accepting that his youngest son had tried to murder him, and that he had almost killed Turgon in reprisal (it had been an infinitesimal moment, between the thought and the reversal of the knife from blade to hilt, but Fëanor had seen it) was visible for one brief moment before the self-control he had exercised so long and mastered so well, slammed down. Fëanor hated that control, always had, even though he had learned a measure of it himself – if only to prove to himself that he could – but there were times, such as now, when he understood it.
‘I was the target,’ Fingolfin said, voice like iron. ‘Do I have the judging of him?’

Father.’ It was Curufin, irate, disbelieving.

‘He struck me, but he aimed at Fingolfin.’ He raised a hand. ‘Yes. The judgement is thine, brother.’

Lights were blooming all over the palace, people running, coming from their beds naked, half-dressed, to gather in the garden. Questions were called, answered, and through them came, perfectly poised and trained, a group of guards.
‘Prince Turgon has tried this night to kill his father. I took the blow.’ The blooded shirt lay on the grass, black under the stars. ‘Take him to the healing wing and hold him. None are to see him but myself or the High Prince.’

They saluted, went about their task in silence. Turgon was carried away.

‘We have little time to deal with this.’ He turned back to Fingolfin. Fingon had come to his father’s side now, face white as ice, laid an arm about his shoulders. ‘This matter must be judged swiftly.’

‘In the morning,’ Fingolfin agreed through stiff lips. ‘And all his household will be summoned.’ He gently disengaged himself. ‘Call out the army.’ Fëanor nodded. ‘I will go and prepare.’

‘I will come with thee,’ Fingon said. Fingolfin bent his head in assent, then turned away, his back so straight, head so high, a king to the marrow of his bones, a king who dare not let anyone, even Fëanor, even Fingon, see his devastation.

But Fëanor could see it. This was the Fingolfin who had carried the crown of the Noldor on his head for hundreds of years, broken-hearted and grieving.

They had rarely spoken of it, those years. It was Maglor whom had said, ‘Father, his heart died when thou didst. All he could be was High King. It was all that was left. Who could he speak to? Me, perhaps, and Fingon.’

Fëanor had little truck for the control of emotions, no time for it; his feelings rode close to the surface, ever had, but he had always known what passion burned under Fingolfin’s annealed haughtier. He had loved breaching it, seeing it burned away in the fire that wrapped them both. And then he had died, died without reconciling with his half-brother, left Fingolfin to the loneliness of kingship and Fingolfin had lived and ruled and been slain wearing the crown like a weight of lead.
Brother. My dear.

Fingolfin looked back. Their eyes met. Then he walked away. Gil-galad ran after, he and his father flanking Fingolfin. Lómion shot a look at Fëanor and followed.

‘I will go also,’ Edenel said.

‘My thanks.’ Fëanor spun around. His eyes lit on the lovely Hedunár and he flicked his fingers with a nod. Hendunár strode after his lord.
‘And have a message sent to Finwë,’ he snapped angrily. ‘That someone has just tried to murder his son.’

OooOooO


They convened in the Great Hall at dawn. Fëanor bathed and attired now as a high king, save he wore no crown. Not yet. He would make three new ones when the time was right. Now, strands of glittering diamonds graced his hair, one depending between his brows. He sat down at one of the two great chairs that had been set on the dais, his sons grouped around him.

In the interim, his sons and grandsons had clustered in his chambers partly as a guard and partly, he knew, to assure themselves of his continued health. He smiled within, but returned their embraces, their touches. He was more than fortunate in their unswerving love. And whom did Fingolfin have? His people, of course, loved him, but those close to him were and always had been, few. Those few, however, were not negligible in power, or in love.

‘Father, thou dost truly mean to allow Fingolfin to judge Turgon?’ That was Caranthir scowling, black as a curse.

‘Yes,’ he replied simply. ‘And I wish none of thee to interfere unless it comes to fighting.’

‘But if it were one of us–‘

‘It never would be one of thee.’

Curufin snorted. ‘But if it had been?’

‘Fingolfin is not as fortunate in his children as I am,’ Fëanor smiled. ‘Save for Fingon,’ he added with a look at Maedhros, who returned it. ‘Fingolfin will no longer be curbed. Thou wilt see.’

‘What is the matter with that pious little nonentity?’ Celegorm demanded, pacing the room with a toss of creamy hair.

‘Jealous,’ Caranthir snapped. ‘He always was. He could never measure up to Fingon or his father.’

Maglor sliced him a look. ‘It was no failing of Fingolfin’s.’

‘Of course it was not,’ Fëanor said. ‘Sometimes there is no answer. But ever he has hated me and mine, and perhaps that is enough. Come, then.’

OooOooO


The great hall filled up with lords and their warriors and households. Not all could enter, but thronged the passageways and courts in murmuring groups. Tindómion had gone to find Fanari, and entered with her, Elrond and his family at their heels. Finrod was there, his fair face hard, and his lords around him. Of Turgon’s people only Ecthelion, glittering white-and-sable, was present.

Fingolfin entered soon after, clad as richly as Fëanor in sapphire and black. He too, wore a princely crown, a great blue-white diamond on his brow. Below it, his eyes shone like the morning star. He took his place beside Fëanor, who reached out a hand. The thick black lashes quivered, Fingolfin graced him with a socially correct smile. His barriers were still up, adamantine in their denial. Fingon touched his father’s shoulder, then stepped back to stand beside Gil-galad. Of Finwë there was no sign.
Vanimórë, Fëanor said irritable with the realisation that Finwë had not troubled to come, I want thee here.

Why? Vanimórë sounded annoyingly imperturbable. Gods, Fëanor thought, I do not have the time or patience for all these locked-up people.
I may need thy discernment.

I do not think thou needest my discernment at all. The amusement rang clear.

Very well. He closed his fingers into the arm-rests. I may need thee to stop me beating Turgon to a bloody pulp.

Tempting, I admit, Vanimórë agreed. Although Fingolfin is a far more effective deterrent.

Is it so hard, Fëanor asked him. to contain thy power?

Yes, Vanimórë said shortly. And I have to do it.

Fëanor did not see where he came from, but a moment later he was there, striding into the hall. Elgalad was with him, which caused a flutter among those whom had previously known him as an Elf. Unveiled, Elgalad’s silver beauty and power was stupendous, his eyes glowed with unearthly light. He inclined his head as he came to the foot of the dais and Fëanor gave him a look which once, he would have feigned to blush at, the dissembler. Now, he met it, smiling faintly as he bowed. And what could Fëanor say? Vanimórë had forgiven Elgalad his deception, said he had hated what he had done. And still...Fëanor wanted a long conversation with him.

‘It is good to see thee, Elgalad,’ Fingolfin said. ‘If that is thy name.’

‘For now, my Lord, it will be my name,’ Elgalad returned with a deepening of the smile that was suddenly, in its warmth and sweetness, the Elgalad of old.

A snap of boots on stone turned heads. Guards marched into the room, each group of them surrounding one of Turgon’s lords. Last came Elenwë looking harried and anxious, her women in her train.

‘I do not think they would have come peacefully,’ Fëanor murmured to Fingolfin. ‘Had the message not stated that their lord attempted murder. Now they will either stand by him or seek to distance themselves.’

‘I agree,’ Fingolfin said, cool as well-water. Which he was not. His wide shoulders were rigid under the embroidered silk, his hands taut on the arm-rests. He cast one brilliant glance at Fëanor, raised his voice: ‘We call Turgon Fingolfinion to stand before us.’

Silence fell like a cloak across the hall, every head turning as Turgon entered, surrounded by guards in Fingolfin’s blue and Fëanor’s red. The bruise on his jaw showed dark against livid skin. His eyes were sunk, smouldering, into his head.

When Elenwë cried out, Fëanor nodded to the guards who let her pass, running to her husbands side. Her arms came up to hold him, but then she fell back as if struck, whispering, ‘What hast thou done? Turgon...?’

His face was that of a man racked, but the torment was of mind, not body. Depths of horror, of pain, of grief and hate that clawed into a black abyss stared out of his eyes. Yet there was no taint there of any Valar’s hand or mind.

Fingolfin stiffened, the tiny gems embroidered on his tunic flashed and flickered with his heartbeat. He rose, descended the three steps to the floor.

‘Let it be known,’ he said. ‘That last night, in the garden of this palace, my son Turgon attempted to stab me in the back. Fëanor swung me aside and took the blade himself. He lives because of the blood in him, the blood of a god, because he is more even than that. The blow was deep. It would have killed me, I have no doubt. Can I be reborn? No doubt, and yet a death is still a death. Treason is still treason.’

Turgon’s lords started to speak amongst one another, some in whispers, others raising their voices. Egalmoth of the Heavenly Arch stepped forward a pace. He was a tall, over-proud man with a face hard and cold as Taniqueti’s sheer slopes. His wife was as like him as one cut from the same cloth and to the same pattern; two unpleasant people who had entwined over the years to become as near twins as makes no odds.
‘Who witnessed?’

There was an outcry from Ecthelion and Lady Edlothiel, head of the House of the Harp in her own right for thousands of years. She wore always, a jewelled dagger in memory of her defence when her husband, Salgant fled and hid in the rape of Gondolin. It was in no wise ceremonial. Others scowled. A few looked nothing so much as embarrassed.

‘I witnessed.’ Fingolfin’s voice cut across the noise like a blade of white ice. Egalmoth and his wife huddled back.

Even as he looked away, Turgon sprang between his guards, hurling himself at Fingolfin. His teeth were bared in a mad rictus, eyes glaring. Elenwë tried to intervene and was sent reeling.
But he was no threat to Fingolfin, who spun him around, one arm across his throat. Turgon raged, twisting even his bound wrist, until the guards shackled him. He howled. Spittle flew from his lips.

Fëanor had to keep himself nailed to the seat until Turgon was dealt with, a rabid animal now, twisting in the grip of the guards.
‘We certainly have witnesses now,’ he said dryly, rising. ‘So, let me tell thee all what is going to happen.’ As he walked down toward Turgon, the man snarled at him. He smelled of feral sweat and fear.
‘Turgon hates his father because –‘
‘Because Fëanor and I were lovers.’ Fingolfin pronounced each word hard and chiselled and clear, and Fëanor’s heart leapt, burning and jubilant in his breast. ‘Half-brothers and lovers.’ In the shivering silence he whirled, his cloak snapping behind him. ‘And I say to that: So? Our children were grown, our wives gone. And let me tell thee,’ he stabbed out, ‘were it not for Fëanor, for his fire that spread through him into his sons, through me, my son Fingon, Glorfindel and thence to Ecthelion, and all that we touched, we would have rotted here like the Vanyar! We would have been nothing but shadows, ghosts, automatons worshipping the Valar, without love or hate or ambition. Morgoth would have found us easy to subdue and then we would have been his slaves. But I suppose some of thee would have thought that a fair price for peace, for loss of thought, of feeling, of love. As long as no-one could live in the way they chose, men loving men, women loving women, or both, or neither!’ His voice scoured them. ‘Yes, we have thy measure. Thou wouldst die rather than permit such wrongness.
‘I regret not one moment of my affair with my half-brother. I had never lived before it, and barely lived after it. I burned. I burned, like Fëanor, to mine own destruction. And I am glad. He lifted me out of ennui, out of the shadows, into life. That is his purpose.’

My beautiful Fingolfin, Fëanor thought, lovingly. Thou art truly magnificent. Fingolfin had always dazzled him, but now, in his rage, he blazed.
‘And I hereby set down the Laws pertaining to marriage and sex,’ he said calmly, drawing their eyes to him. ‘And they will later be enshrined. I first spoke them long ago in New Cuiviénen. Clearly, they bear repeating.’
‘Marriage: All adults may marry if it is mutually agreeable, and part when love or affection fades. Men may marry men an they choose, and women may marry women. But no-one need marry to enjoy a sexual relationship. Force is wrong, the abuse of a child is wrong. Outside that, all men and women may live freely, in the way that is most natural to them.’ He looked around the hall, some eyes met his, fearless, shining, others looked away, down, anywhere but at him. Snakes, he thought scornfully. ‘We know, we always have, which of you have spied for Turgon all these years. We know thy hearts, thy minds. Or didst thou forget that I am a god, that Glorfindel is? And thy hearts will be sifted. As will all thine households, all who follow Turgon. Words cannot be trusted. Those of thee who consider my laws wrong, who would shame others, make them feel unclean, misfits, who would drag us back into the cage of the Valarin Laws will be taken to Tol Eresseä. The Valar made it a prison island, and so shall it be – for all of thee. Those who dwell there and who pass the test shall come here. There thou canst live as thou wilt, but thou shalt never set foot in Aman again.’ He nodded to Fingolfin above the outcry, a scream of: ‘And how wilt thou enforce this?’

‘The reason we did not come down on thee in New Cuiviénen,’ Fingolfin whirled on the speaker, Egalmoth again, ‘uncover thy petty plots and prurient curiosity, thy treason, and and drive thee out into a world in the throes of cataclysm, is that we did not wish civil war. But this night just past, my own son attempted to murder me! Do not test us further. Thou wilt go quietly or in shackles, but go thou wilt.’

All the Finwëions had come down to stand flanking Fëanor and Fingolfin. They look wild, perilous and they had come armed. Everyone but the servants were armed, and warriors ringed the hall as they ringed the houses of Turgon’s nobles.

‘Anyone who wishes to go with those sentenced may do so,’ Fëanor added. ‘And thus we will forget thee, but I imagine that thou wilt not forget us.’ He strode across to Egalmoth, who gave way, staring. ‘Because whom wilt thou gossip over, tear to shreds, hate and defame? I do not care one whit about anyone’s intimate life but my own, but thou doth. So very much. It is meat and drink to thee, is it not? What wilt thou think of, talk of, what wilt thou find to hate when it is all removed from thee? Or shall I show the hall, here and now, what thoughts are in thy mind, Egalmoth? I can do it.’ His eyes bored into the man’s. ‘Wouldst thou like that?’

The man flinched further back and it was all there in his face. His wife caught his arm; she swallowed, said hoarsely, ‘But...thou couldst have turned our king mad, made him do this thing.’

Fëanor sneered. ‘I would not waste my time.’

‘My son has been walking toward self-destruction for a long time,’ Fingolfin said. ‘He needed no-one to push him.’ With a snap of his heels he returned to his seat. His face was like a carved jewel, emotionless and without pity.

‘This is not the act of a just king,’ someone shouted. ‘This is to act like Morgoth.’

Fingolfin burned up. ‘This is the act of kings who offered thee a life free of the Valar’s cruel laws, a new beginning, which thou hast refused. This is the act of kings whom have lost all patience with thee. Thou didst not want the Valar, no. And why? Didst thou think they would pry into thine own lives, as thou doth pry into others? But their Laws, those thou Wouldst keep, so that men and women were forced into marriages they did not want, tied forever into a bondage they found distasteful and if they shunned such they were called deviant, sinful. Those who did not abide by those Laws were said to have strange fates.’ He slammed a hand down, rings flaring blue and star-white. Above them, his eyes flamed brighter. He was formidable, Fingolfin, he had always been so, but he was also a man whom had trained himself to contain everything. Even his most valiant deed, his death challenge to Morgoth, had gone unwitnessed by his people.
Strange fates. Yes, and were our fates not strange and terrible? The Valar’s Laws are unnatural to Elves. We never held to them before the Valar lured us into their prison and commanded our lives – and our deaths. As High King in New Cuiviénen, Fëanor asked only that, if there were those who disagreed with his new laws (that were in fact a very ancient way of life) they accept them, not traduce or blame or pour shame upon those who could – at last! – live as they yearned to, as they were meant to. There was to be no more secrecy, no more lies, no more empty marriages.’ He looked at Turgon, whom had collapsed, panting.
‘Take him and give him into the care of the healers,’ he told the guards. ‘And remain there.’ Elenwë went after them, silent, distraught, her women following.

‘But that was not acceptable to thee.’ Fingolfin turned back to his audience. ‘Gods! that anyone should be free to live and love as they would!’ His voice lashed out on those words. ‘My youngest son schemed and plotted and planned to throw down Fëanor, to throw me down with him, and to become High King himself, controlling everyone as he tried to in Gondolin, because he could not bear that anyone would be free. Least of all, me!’

‘Not all of us, Sire,’ Ecthelion blazed a smile across to Glorfindel. ‘He did not control all of us.’

Aredhel, whom had come in with her youngest son Estelion, and stood near Fanari, now nudged her, laughing. Fëanor hid a smile. Aredhel never cared what people thought of her. Very few things could alarm or discomfit her. Fanari’s mouth tipped up from its straight line, shaped a ‘Hush!’

‘Not thou,’ Fingolfin agreed. ‘He could not change thee as he desired, and he came to need thee, the strongest lords of Gondolin, his lieutenants. He was afraid of thee, in truth. But in Gondolin he could he exert some measure of control; he could shut out the rest of the world and did, for a long time.’

There was a shuffling, eyes shuttling back and forth.

‘I have no doubt that some of thee wished to ride forth at the Dagor Bragollach,’ he said. ‘But thou wert not in the majority.’

Glorfindel and Ecthelion again exchanged looks over the length of the hall.

‘I never blamed Turgon for remaining in Gondolin.’ But Fëanor, watching, saw his jaw clench. ‘I do blame him for his actions at the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. Taking the crown from his dead brother, then hiding himself away from a world fallen into ruin. But, to him, the Gondolindhrim were the only Noldor of any note, never mind the remnants in the North, or the Fëanorions, or the people of Nargothrond.’

‘A boy could not have ruled the Noldor,’ someone growled from behind a safe press of bodies.

‘I left Gil-galad with two of my most trusted captains,’ Fingon shot with controlled fury. ‘And my advisors would have aided him. As it was, he did take the High Kingship young, and excelled, despite everything.’

‘Difficult to see how Turgon could have ruled the Noldor, either,’ Maedhros said in the cultured, contemptuous tone he used in heated council meetings.

‘He did not want to, he wanted only the name,’ Fingolfin said hardly. ‘Gondolin, a place he could control, had become dearer to him than anyone or anything. And so, when it fell, he died in his tower. Not the death of a king, but that of a coward. He was always a coward, Turgon, afraid of anything he could not control, and hating it. And do not,’ he raised a hand, ‘bleat that old saw that courage is not measured by how well one can wield a blade. That is true, but a good king must be willing and able to fight for his people and, if necessary, to die.’

Fëanor glanced at his sons, who were becoming steadily more restless, more angry. It would not take much, after last night, for the spark to fan into a blaze. Fingon had moved to his father’s shoulder with Gil-galad and Lómion close behind.

‘Great deeds came out of Gondolin,’ Fingolfin continued. ‘Glorfindel’s death, Ecthelion’s death, both in battle, both against Balrogs, that they slew even while dying. Turgon’s name is not among them. Yet he would have been High King. We are going to war! Against the Valar, against Morgoth.’ He rose again, paced along the dais. ‘Not the act of a just king? But a merciful one perhaps. Let the cowards go to Tol Eresseä. It will be protected, and thou wilt not need to fight.’

‘Except amongst thyselves,’ Fëanor ammended. ‘For thou wilt undoubtedly do that. Thy petty little minds will not be able to rest without someone or something to disapprove of. They need fuel, gnawing like rats in the dark. Or they will gnaw at themselves.’

‘Our king was right when he said that there is no justice for the righteous!’ Egalmoth’s wife cried. ‘To whom can we appeal?’

‘Appeal against what?’ Fingolfin lashed. ‘Thou art free to live thine own lives, not to sniff into the business of others unless wrong is being done.’

‘Wrong is being done! So we dwell here and watch men fucking other men?’ Her voice rose, ragged.

‘I am sure we could arrange it if is something thou wouldst wish to see.’ Fëanor could not resist. Were it not for the grief raging under Fingolfin’s perfect facade he would have been enjoying himself hugely.

There was a muffled explosion of laughter, hastily choked off.

‘Thou art base!’ Egalmoth roared as his wife struggled with a response, rising on her toes to shriek: ‘ Foulness!’ stabbing a finger of accusation.

Why does it matter to thee what other people do in privacy?’ Fingolfin questioned curiously. ‘What a sewer of a mind thou must have. Attend to thine own concerns, madam.’

‘No man who bends over for another is a true man.

‘What is thy definition of a man?’ Fëanor demanded. ‘For thou art not one, Egalmoth, by my lights. Thou hast done nothing but lord it over a house who invented nothing, distinguished thyself neither in art nor warfare, in generosity of spirit or in goodness. Dost thou think we do not know everything there is to know about thy house? Such as it is.’ He sought out faces in the crowd. ‘Legolas Thranduilion, Bainalph Cúalphion, thou art of the ancient forest where such risible thoughts and laws did not pertain. What is the measure of a man or a woman?’

They both looked startled at being addressed, but stepped forward willingly enough.

‘I am forever grateful I was born of the Wood,’ Legolas said clearly, throwing a deliciously angry look at at the Gondolindhrim. ‘The measure of a man, or a woman, has naught to do with whom they choose to take to their bed – or how. It is what lies in their hearts.’ He placed a slim hand over his own breast. ‘That is the true measure of any man, any woman.’

‘Thou wouldst have us listen to the words of a Moriquendi?’ Egalmoth recovered himself, sneering.

‘That is a damned stupid and antiquated bias.’ Fëanor allowed his contempt full-rein. ‘We who lived in Valinor groped through a darkness far deeper than any moonless shadow in Endor. Those Elves who shunned the great journey lived as we should have, free and unfettered. Ah, yes, the Valar taught us some skill, until we outstripped them. We beautified their mansions and persons, we – some of us – reverenced them. They would have kept us here as obedient, sapless, slaves for eternity, sitting at the feet as the Vanyar did.’ He looked toward Ingwë, who stood near Edenel, his arms folded, and who nodded. ‘Ask him how it was! The Elves of the Outer Lands were free of that yoke.’

Ingwë said in his wonderful, tuneful voice: ‘It was very little more than a living death. From the time I entered Valinor, to the time the Valar were outfaced by Vanimórë and their power waned, I did not live. Nor did any of my people. The Valar, Manwë, Varda, Námo, they wanted the Vanyar married into the House of Finwë even before Fëanor was born. They knew of thy coming, Fëanor, if not what thou wert. And I, a slave to them, agreed, pushing my female kin forward as if they were chattels, and they truly were, but in thrall to the Valar.’ His eyes were such a deep, hard blue, like coloured glass. Fëanor remembered him looking like a lovely statue, perfect, passionless, cold. He had been too young then, to know the truth, but he had seen something behind those beautiful eyes that had fired his blood. And now it was no longer hidden.
‘But I remember other times, when we lived free and not, as the Valar would have it, as animals, base and sinful, but with passion and love and wonder.’ Ingwë looked toward Edenel and smiled blindingly. ‘I rejoice that those times have come again.’

‘It is fear.’ The voice that spoke was Elgalad, moving out of the shadows where he and Vanimórë stood. ‘That is why thou doth trammel thyselves within thy minds, constructing laws that have no meaning.’ As he stepped into the sunlight, he burned like a silver flame. There could be no doubt in the minds of those there that he was a god; he shone more brightly than the Valar ever had. ‘I too have lived as an Elf of the Wood, and they exist closest to what is natural to thy race. But before that I was the beloved of Eru, whom Vanimórë has displaced, and I can tell thee,’ he addressed himself to Egalmoth. ‘Thou knowest nothing. When thou hast walked in starfire, stood on the brink of black holes, bathed in the birth of suns, and walked through their long deaths, seen the immensity and beauty of the cosmos, thou wouldst realise that these things thou doth think are so important, matter not at all to the gods.’ He laughed, suddenly and wonderfully. ‘To us. Gods can choose their gender – and change it in a moment, or take form as male and female both. Men and women engender children together, but both can find pleasure with their own sexes. The gods do, when in human form. Any god that condemns it lies to thee and seeks only to control. As the Valar did.’

Fëanor turned his eyes back to Egalmoth, speaking to him and all who followed him. ‘And dost thou know why? Because Morgoth, when he was still named Melkor, had every one of them. And the control was all his. They knew what he was, but succumbed anyway, because he was beautiful then, and could seduce them. But they came to be disgusted with themselves when they realised what he was, and Manwë decreed that such matings were sinful. Hells, he only wanted thee to marry to bear children, more unwaged servants! But only enough so that they could control our population. And any Elf who broke the Laws was condemned to the Void.’ He clenched his hands. He wanted to be done with this, to march on the Valar who had twisted Turgon and his adherents, and so many more. If it had not been put into their minds that it was wrong, they would never have thought it, never let it posses them and eat them into these shrivelled shells. But it had, so let them rot on Tol Eresseä. They had scorned their chance to live in freedom. He looked at Fingolfin, who would not walk away from this unscathed, would never be done with it, and silently damned Turgon and the Valar with a god’s eloquence.
‘The measure of a man is how he lives his life,’ he said aloud. ‘Bainalph Cualphion, Vanimórë brought thee back from death.’

Bainalph still possessed the porcelain delicacy of his rebirth, the wide-eyed wonder of it. He came to Legolas’ side, the light catching the gold-green eyes.
‘He did,’ he said. ‘I was Houseless for...thousands of years. Once I was Prince of Alphgarth in the Greenwood of old. And I am one of those who prefers men, and to lie under them.’ A tiny smile flickered. ‘And more than that,’ with a spurious innocence in those great eyes, ‘I enjoy pain.’ He looked under his long lashes at Tindómion. ‘Yet still,’ shrugging, ‘I ruled Alphgarth and fought for the Wood.’

‘Bainalph was accounted one of our finest warriors,’ Legolas said. ‘And he was a wise ruler who cared for his people and governed them well. You would not have found one of them who thought him less than a man, less than a warrior, less than a prince, for his tastes.’ He stared at Egalmoth, at Turgon’s lords with a derisory little smile on his full mouth. ‘I visited Imladris, and many times, and was Glorfindel’s lover from my youth. I did not understand his reluctance, at first, until I learned of the laws that leashed the Noldor. Never mind gods, no person with a mind to ask questions would pay the least heed to such stupidity. We of the Greenwood would have rejected such gods, considering them mad, And they are – bitter like you, twisted, like you, and wrong, wrong, wrong. And you would judge me? And think I would care?’ He flung back his head and laughed and it was light and scornful as a brazen bell. ‘Yes, let them go, let them fade, for they will.’

‘I thank thee, Legolas,’ Fëanor smiled. ‘They will go, and yes, I believe they will fade, become nothing but shadows that whisper and whine in the dark.’ He lifted his head. ‘Take them. Keep them in seclusion. We will send thy households first, and then thou wilt be taken.’

‘And thou thinks’t they will go quietly? That we will?’ demanded Egalmoth, straining against the impassive grip of the guards as his wife shrieked and all over the hall, private struggles flared. ‘Thou canst not banish us for thinking and speaking of perversion.

‘Oh yes, thou wilt go,’ Fingolfin’s words were temperless. ‘Thinking harms none, but keep thy mouths closed unless another is being harmed or hurt. That is a lesson that has gone unlearned. Thou hast been told there is no wrong in it, and yet stubbornly cling to a lie!’

‘I need no god to tell me what is wrong,’ with a sneer. ‘Dost thou think we will tamely leave the two of thee, incestuous sinners to rule the Noldor? If I say we will not go what wilt thou do? Kill us?’

‘It was indeed incest then,’ Fëanor said. ‘Not that we cared, but how can it be so now? I am not related, since my rebirth, to Fingolfin, or not nearly.’

Balked and enraged, Egalmoth could only shout: ‘But thou didst sin with him!’

‘I see. So leading my people, my sons, to Endor in pursuit of the Oath and all that followed it is, to thee, more acceptable than the fact I lay with my half-brother? Something that is not thy concern in the least.’ Fëanor’s brows flicked up. ‘Thy priorities are interesting, Egalmoth, I will say that. And while thou speakest of wrongness, let me tell thee why I deem wrong: A man whose wife no longer wishes intimacy, but who uses the female servants of his house as he wishes, keeping them in fear. That, Egalmoth, is rape in my eyes.’

His wife screamed at that, a sound of rage and spite. ‘They are servants. It is their duty.’

‘Yes, I will kill thee.’ Fingolfin said and there was absolutely no doubt in his voice. A ripple of shock ran across the hall. The tension turned itself up. ‘And hearing that, I will do so with great satisfaction. Thinks’t thou that I care one snap of my fingers after all we have endured? The word kinslayer never had any meaning for me.’ He rose and his fingers curled about his sword-hilt, drew it half-way from its sheath. ‘On the quays of Alqualondë I fought for the half-brother I loved and his sons, and I would do it again without a blink were it necessary. It was regrettable, but I killed then and will kill again to cleanse this land of thy stench, Egalmoth, and all those like thee. Thou and thy people will have one chance to go peacefully; they will decide if they wish to fight for thee or to remain and take other lords. But peacefully or no, thou wilt go.’

Bravo! Fëanor saluted him, and those superb eyes flicked to him.

‘There is no need to stain thy hands, Fingolfin.’

Vanimórë stepped from the shadows. In some way he had contrived to be overlooked after entering the room, but now he shed that invisibility like a cloak. And it bludgeoned Turgon’s supporters into stupefied terror.

Fëanor saw Vanimórë now as he had seen him beyond Time, the power streaming from him like the sun’s fire.

‘Let us offer them this choice.’ He lifted a hand, casually. The hall darkened save for those Elves who glowed like silvery lamps in the gloom. Beyond the dais, a door opened. It was simple, a lintel of stone and there should have been nothing in it to evoke fear. But there was. The blackness beyond spoke of absolute emptiness, a negation of life, of creation. It was nothing. And it called, a low moaning as of wind through an abandoned chamber. It whispered of loneliness beyond all endurance, of a fall into non-existence.

Not the Void, Fëanor would have known it. The Void was...vibrant compared to this. He stepped up to the dais, his hand brushing Maedhros’, Maglor’s, stared into it. Its emptiness was the most terrifying thing he had ever seen.

‘Beyond that door,’ Vanimórë said. ‘is oblivion. The Outside, beyond everything that makes up the Universe – all universes there are. I sent Ungoliant, screaming, into that nothingness. There is room for all of thee who do not wish to go to Tol Eressëa but would remain here telling over thy petty grievances like a miser tells over his gold. And thou wilt be gone. There will be nothing left of thee, no memory, no thought. Thy souls were born into this universe, but there they will not exist. It is perfect death without hope of rebirth. But thou wilt no longer have to concern thyself with people having relations thou dost not approve of, because thou wilt not think at all. Beyond that door is the end of everything.’

The silence was a brutal thing, shaped out of pure horror; ripping it apart came a raw scream that stripped the nerves. Fëanor turned his head to see Vanimórë dragging Egalmoth toward the door. The man’s legs and bowels had loosened so that he could not walk, and his face was twisted into primal terror. His wife shrieked and shrieked, but huddled back into the protection of her guards like a frightened puppy.

Fëanor let it unfold as Vanimórë, easily as pulling an unwilling child, drew Egalmoth closer. The door was less than an arm’s length away from him. The end of everything. The inward sucking wind strengthened, howling. He thought of empty tombs and ghosts lost in the night.

‘Well, Egalmoth?’ Vanimórë said soft as snowfall. ‘Wilt thou go? The ground thou art standing on is thin as cat-ice. Thou hast no god to appeal to. None of them care. What a shame. Perhaps the perfect peace of oblivion will be welcome. No?’

The man howled, a sound like an animal in a trap. He tried to struggle against Vanimórë’s hold, feet kicking at the floor.

Fëanor said, ‘Hold, Vanimórë.’ He came to Egalmoth, feeling the pull of the door, feeling his hair stream out. He looked into the man’s face, stretched in the contortion of inhuman panic.
‘Well, Egalmoth? Wilt thou and thine go peacefully?’

Tears streaked the livid face, gone flat and lax in terror. He drooped in Vanimórë’s grip, his mouth moving. Please!’ It tore from his throat. ‘Please!’

Fëanor glanced at Vanimórë. Who, straight-faced, winked at him.
‘Take him back.’ He turned to the assembly. ‘Remember this. It is always an...option.’

The hall cleared, Turgon’s lord’s fleeing from the door’s gaping inhalation, silent and urgent as Men running from a plague carrier. A few remained, Rog, Duilin and, of course, Ecthelion. Their faces were hard and white. For a few moments the door remained and every eye was fixed upon it, then Vanimórë snapped his fingers and it melted away.

There was a sound like the concerted loosing of breath.

‘Was that real?’ Fingolfin asked. ‘or an illusion?’

Vanimórë said impassive as doom: ‘It was real. And I have been there. Beyond everything that is, Fingolfin, is that which is not.’

‘And thou couldst send them into that no-place?’

The briefest of nods.

‘Vanimórë.’ Fingolfin took his face in both hands. ‘It would not have stained my hands. No-one would ask thee to stain thine. Not with the destruction of such rabble. They are not worth it.’ He kissed Vanimórë on the lips.

‘My thanks.’ A smile glimmered. Something in it, its warmth, its appreciation of the words, the kiss, gave Fëanor hope. Come in from the cold, Vanimórë. The lovely, destroying eyes came to him. Vanimórë sketched a bow. ‘My Lords,’ he said with deep respect, and walked out of the hall. Fëanor saw Maglor, his face set, stride after him.

Fëanor murmured to Fingolfin: ‘Egalmoth is broken.’

‘I know. That troubles thee?’

‘Not one whit,’ Fëanor said. ‘There is a time, half-brother, to lay down the law. And this was that moment, I think. Thou wert magnificent. And I thank thee, I did not know thou didst fight at Alqualondë for love.’

Fingolfin opened his mouth to speak and Fëanor seized him. The kiss, brief and explosive as a meteor collision, brought the Flame rushing up within him and, for a moment, both of them burned.

‘My Lords?’

He stepped back a pace, watching Fingolfin’s faced, tranced and flushed along the high cheeks., beautiful lips still parted, red as poppies. The guard whom had hurried into the hall, went down on one knee.

‘Sire...’ He addressed Fingolfin.

‘What is it?’ The silver-blue eyes turned reluctantly.

‘It is Prince Turgon, Sire.’ The guard swallowed. ‘He is dead.’


OooOooO





Chapter 22 ~ The Need to Surrender ~ by Spiced Wine
Mag 23


~ The Need to Surrender ~





~ Fingolfin said: ‘How?’

‘The healer was with him, as were we, Sire, and we do not know.’ The guard ducked his head as if to defend himself against accusation. ‘He stiffened, and then there was the death-rattle in his throat. He just died, Sire, no-one laid a hand on him, I swear it.’

The chamber was absolutely silent. Then Fingolfin whirled, his long stride taking him across the floor and out of the doors. Fingon went after him, and Gil-galad. Fëanor followed, but did not enter the healing rooms. Maedhros came to his side, raised a brow.
‘It can happen,’ he said in a low voice. ‘Mind-suicide we called it, when the mind wills death. I saw it in Angband. If the pain is too great...it is rare, but it can happen. I saw a tortured thrall will himself to die.’


Fëanor bent his head against his son’s. ‘But not thou.’

‘There were times,’ Maedhros murmured. ‘that I wanted to, times that I begged myself to die, times I begged them to kill me. They would not, of course. And how could I?’

‘Thou hast Eldenel’s blood in thee.’ Fëanor held him, feeling the warmth, the long, taunt muscles of his back under his hands, the spice-musk of his perfumed hair.

‘And thine, my father. And thine.’

Fingon came to the open doorway of the healer’s quarters, his face bleak as a moonscape. He shook his head. Maedhros took a step toward him. Something unheard passed between them, then Fingon exploded: ‘I care nothing! But what he has done to my father...!’

Maedhros caught him in his arms and copper and black hair mingled. Fëanor walked past them.

The healing rooms had never been large; they had been unneeded in ancient Valinor save for the most trivial of injuries, and the only healers Fëanor had known in his younger days were almost all Unbegotten; their arts had been required before the Great Journey. His ever-burning need to know had brought him here as a youth, and he learned how they used music and massage with drugs, treating the body and mind together. In Middle-earth, from the First to the Fourth Age, healers and surgeons had been in great demand and their skills had grown apace. We are going to need them, Fëanor thought grimly. He did not think they would meet Morgoth without casualties, probably many.

He found Fingolfin standing at the foot of the bed in one of the small chambers. There was the sour stink of vomit and faeces, blood. The healer, in his long blue robe, was drawing a cover over Turgon’s face, but Fëanor saw it for a moment, contorted, spiteful, before it vanished. Yes, no doubt he had found death a triumph, knowing it would wound Fingolfin.

Fingolfin said, not turning: ‘I always envied thee thine unconditional love for all thy sons. Caranthir’s dark violence, Curufin’s arrogant superiority, Celegorm’s wildness. They could have done anything, and thou wouldst still have loved them.’ His voice was flat-calm.

Fëanor laid a hand on the rigid shoulder. ‘Thou didst love Turgon.’

‘I did, until he grew away from me. He could not wait to marry, to leave me, to order his own household. I thought he would be happy and he was, for a while. He was always happiest when he could control everything. Even in the games he played as a child there was only his way, no-one else’s. His rules.’ Fingolfin turned his head, his profile lovely as a line-drawing. ‘He never seemed to want my love, even when he was young. Aredhel, well, she seemed to see any affection as some kind of entrapment. There was only Fingon, truly.’

‘Come.’ Fëanor put an arm around him. After a moment of resistance Fingolfin turned from the shrouded figure.

Fëanor lead him past the watching eyes, the crowds who had gathered unsure whether or not they should leave. He ignored them, drew Fingolfin into the peace of the library; the smell of old parchment, leather, settled like a warm blanket over the shoulders.

‘Thou wilt not take the blame for this.’ He drew a chair forward, sitting and facing Fingolfin.

‘I am not a fool.’ Fingolfin still spoke with that dreadful calmness. ‘People must be accountable for their own actions. He hated thee and could never forgive the fact that I, that Fingon—‘

Fëanor took the slim, strong hands in his own, said, after a moment: ‘I hated Indis, thou knowest this. When I was young, I believe she stole father’s love. I despised her children. But as I grew I realised she was not worth it. I had few friends, none, really; those of my age thought I was strange, even dangerous.’ Fingolfin smiled faintly. ‘I did not hate them either; I was too busy.’

‘So we were not worth hating?’ With a slice of a look. ‘But Turgon felt thou wert.’

‘Turgon would have hated anyone thou didst look at,’ Fëanor said impatiently. ‘Many people hated me. Why would I care?’

‘But why? He was married, he had a child, his own house. He had nothing to do with thee.’

‘Thou didst say it thyself, he could not bear the thought of anyone else being happy, being free.’ His fingers tightened. ‘And there was Fingon. For a long time there was Fingon and Maedhros. Even before they were lovers Fingon scorned to hide his feelings. Turgon hated that, too. His is a crushed, narrow soul, Fingolfin, who found a perverse pleasure in hate, but that is not thy blame either.’

‘Oh, I can hate,’ Fingolfin responded, ‘and well. And I do not care that he is dead, not from the moment he drove that knife into thy back.’ He rose abruptly, pulling his hands away to cover his face.

Fëanor said carefully: ‘Thou didst not kill him.’

‘I did not kill him,’ Fingolfin repeated, lowering his hands. His eyes were brilliant, cold as sun-struck glaciers. ‘Because there would have been too many questions; his people might have revolted then and there. He had to be brought publicly to justice before his lords. There had to be witnesses to his malice.’

It was not something Fëanor could have done. That ice, that logic, was all Vanimórë, and something he lacked. Neither could he have stood here so controlled had one of his own sons just died. He knew how it felt; in the Void he had been shown their deaths, had screamed, screamed even as their souls joined his, reaching out all the power of his will, his love to bring them close against Morgoth’s ravening hunger for destruction.

Fingolfin was watching him. ‘What?’

‘Thou knowest what.’

‘I cannot imagine any one of thy sons as acting like mine. But thou didst want them, Fëanor, and they are filled with thy spirit.’

‘Fingon is like thee, and Aredhel...is like herself.’

Fingolfin walked a few paces, braced his arms against a long table. His hair fell down his back to his knees in a spill of thick silk, light running down it like water. Fëanor wanted to bury his hands in it, bend Fingolfin over that table, help him, somehow, to forget...

‘When we were young, before we became lovers, I wanted thee and hated thee in equal measure.’ Fingolfin straightened, turned, leaning back. ‘I wanted to be like thee, but no-one could be, thou wert Fëanor. And so I decided I would be thine antithesis, cool and controlled. But that was never real. I wonder if Turgon sought to be everything I was not, that Fingon and Aredhel were not? Sometimes when one cannot measure up, the only thing is to try to become all they are not.’

‘I do not know.’ And Fëanor did not care, but because he loved his half-brother, and more, respected and admired him, he kept his words behind his teeth. ‘And do not say thou didst not measure up. I know what lies beneath the face thou doth wear. And everyone knows what thou didst in facing Morgoth.’ He paused, then: ‘Thou wouldst truly have killed Egalmoth?’

‘I said so, did I not?’ Fingolfin raised his brows. ‘I heard it often when I was king: Kinslayer. And always aimed at thy sons, their people. The seemed to forget, those who hissed that word, that I, too was one.’ He made a restless movement like a curbed stallion fighting the bit. ‘I would have fought beside thy sons in Doriath had I lived, at the Havens of Sirion.’

‘I know.’ The two words came throaty, deep. ‘I should never have doubted thee.’

‘The Valar clouded thy mind, set madness in it, as did Morgoth. We have been over this.’ Fingolfin paced away, his fingers tracing over the spines of books.

‘What did Turgon say to thee?’ At the question, Fingolfin stopped, straight shoulders cutting a bar across the light.
‘Does it matter, now?’

‘He hurt thee. Yes, to me, it matters.’ He crossed the few paces, wrapped his arms around Fingolfin protectively, felt Fingolfin’s arms come up to cover his, drawing the embrace tighter.
‘What did he say?’ he whispered into the shining black hair. Fingolfin’s breast rose and fell.
‘Look,’ he said. ‘I cannot say the words. Look, if thou wilt.’

The steely barrier dropped and Fëanor saw. Flames lashed up within him, scalding, and he cursed, then cursed again, and jerked Fingolfin around.
‘Had he not been thy son he would have been nothing, just one of the faint-hearted whiners who skulked in the shadows. A pity he was ever anything else.’ He sublimated his desire, the eternal hunger that paced him like a wolf for this man, brother, lover, obsession, and kissed his brow gently. ‘Do not let his words poison thee.’

Fingolfin closed his eyes, then said, his voice like metal: ‘When we have done what we must do, I will speak to Irmo. Turgon could be reborn.’

‘He could, but he would be no different.’

A silence fell. Fingolfin glanced aside. ‘This place,’ he murmured. ‘A strange place for a seduction, was it not? And nothing I had read in any book or scroll could have prepared me. I had imagined it a thousand, thousand times.’

Fëanor clasped the slim waist. ‘So had I.’ And Melkor had been nothing, nothing compared to this man.

‘Was it not enough,’ Fingolfin wondered, ‘to have been the dutiful son, marrying for duty, servicing my wife for duty when she wanted children and always, always, wanting thee? And I had almost resigned myself to a life of greyness. After...after that time, in this chamber, I never felt more alive.’ The light behind his eyes flamed them into blue-silver star-jewels. With a sudden warrior’s movement he reversed their position and thrust Fëanor against the table.

‘Neither did I.’ His thighs parted as Fingolfin pressed himself close, his eyelids fluttered shut as the delicious friction and heat built between them. ‘Gods.’

‘Never enough time.’ Fingolfin’s breath came hard and fast as they moved against one another. ‘There has never been enough time for this.’

Harder, faster, not stopping even to unloose their breeches but even this, through the soft doeskin, was enough. Fëanor’s mouth made Fingolfin’s name a captive, urging him even as he ground up to meet the hardness that slotted with his, and Fingolfin groaned, ‘Fëanor, Fëanor,’ as if it were a sacred sin. His hair fell about them in a cool black cloud, but within it his eyes burned.

After, throbbing, hearts racing in time, Fingolfin dropped his head against Fëanor’s neck.
‘But sometimes I wonder,’ he whispered, his breath warm against Fëanor’s hotter flesh, ‘what it would have been like hadst thou not existed.’ He straightened, hiding the stain of lust with his tunic. Satiation glossed his skin, but his beautiful mouth did not smile. ‘Would I have been a better husband, a better father, or would I have searched, all my life, for something that was not there?’ His fingers circled Fëanor’s neck, tightened and, through his quickened breathing, the fire sparking through his veins, Fëanor’s eyes widened at his half-brother. Blood beat back into his groin.

Fingolfin looked down at him; Fëanor’s pulse beat like a hammer stroke under his grip. Heat flushed through him in a bright flood.

Fëanor smiled. Fingolfin always surprised him.

For the briefest instant, the pressure intensified. With a hiss through his teeth, molten lead in his loins, Fëanor bucked his hips. Fingolfin’s look deepened like a burning-glass then, slowly, he released his hand. The chamber echoed with their hectic breaths.

‘And thou doth always surprise me, brother.’ Fingolfin turned in a flurry of gleaming hair. ‘We have much to do.’ His voice was flat, but he cast one flashing look back before he left. It was a challenge.

Fëanor exhaled, pushed himself up. It had begun, he supposed, long ago, on that Midwinter night when Fingolfin had taken him, brutally, beautifully, as savage as a storm. Yet it ran deeper than that, far deeper. The need to surrender.

In the peaceful old silence, he laughed.



OooOooO




Vanimórë had forged a path with his exit that was not yet closed by the murmuring crowds. Maglor followed, looking straight ahead to the swing of that long horsetail plume of hair, taut buttocks molded by leather, the long, long legs. He seemed to leave a trail behind him like smoke; the swirl of Power. A memory assaulted him, of Barad-dûr, when Vanimórë had lead him out to freedom. No-one had stopped him, no-one had so much as questioned him. They believed him following orders, of course, but even then, when they were beyond the Morannon’s shadow and he had so blithely told Maglor that he was free, even then no voice had murmured. A slave, yet he had commanded obedience. Now...Maglor had seen the looks, lust and fear commingled. Vanimórë possessed the face and body of a god but it would take a courageous man or woman to approach him.

And that was the great tragedy. Vanimórë needed that: human contact, lest he lose himself utterly.
He turned aside and vanished.

Maglor increased his pace.
Oh, no. Not this time. Since that day he had punched the exasperating, infuriating bastard in the face — and well-deserved — Vanimórë had been as elusive as a half-remembered dream. And for thousands of years before that, mourning Elgalad’s death, he had been equally absent in body and spirit. But now it was more than pity that sent Maglor after him, it was fear. In the hall, Vanimórë had opened a door to Oblivion, and it was that Maglor had seen in his eyes. So, pity and fear...and more.

The long passageway was empty but for the wide-eyed, hurrying servants. Maglor halted, swore inwardly. Vanimórë.

‘Yes?’

He whirled, caught the tail-end of a teasing smile.

His rage fed on itself. Thou.’ He grabbed Vanimórë by the arm, wrenched him into an empty chamber, a small salon with sofas and musical instruments at rest. He slammed him back against the door, glared into the beautiful purple eyes with, at the back of them, that dreadful emptiness.
The words he wanted to say scattered like embers in a storm. He struck Vanimórë across the cheek, light, stinging, fisted his fingers in the soft leather that bared a slice of moon-white flesh at the base of his long, strong throat, and kissed him.

Lightning burst in his mind, grounded through his blood. Vanimórë’s hands sank through his hair, dug into his back. ‘Maglor—‘

‘Be quiet and listen! Thou art going away every moment, every heartbeat, or dost thou even have one any more?’ He laid one palm flat against Vanimórë’s breast, felt the slow steady beat under the warmth.

‘I still live, Maglor.’

‘Live? Is that what is in thine eyes? Living?’ The anger welled up again. ‘We do not care what thou art, Vanimórë. But we will not let thee leave us for that loneliness.’ His fingers played with the loose laces that criss-crossed down the centre of Vanimórë’s breast and tugged them apart. He pushed up the tunic to expose the flat planes of the stomach, felt the heartbeat jump, speed up.

‘Take it off.’ The words were a growl rolled in gold, as he brought the power in his voice to bear. Vanimórë’s eyes widened, but he complied, pulling the tunic over his head, letting it fall. Maglor traced his fingertips up the tattoos from wrist to shoulder, over skin like silk, sinews corded under it.
‘Remember Barad-dûr?’ And, with deliberate crudeness, ‘when thou didst fuck me back to life?’

‘And I would do it again,’ Vanimórë pronounced without heat. ‘Not back to life. I think thou wouldst have lived. But to reignite the fire within thee, to make thee burn again through the long Ages, that I did and with pleasure.’ He caught Maglor’s hands in his own. ‘But thou needst not return the er...favour.’

‘Some-one has to bring thee back to thyself. I thought when Elgalad returned—‘

‘I love Elgalad, but he is not Elgalad.’

‘He is as much Elgalad as anyone, I think. One cannot live a persona for so long without some of it becoming real.’

‘Maglor. It is all right. Once I needed...I admit, I needed to love, for someone to love me.’ His smile almost shattered Maglor’s heart. Whatever the reason, he had been betrayed by the one person he had loved and trusted.

‘Do not say thou doth no longer need that!’ he flashed.

‘It is not necessary.’ Definite and cold as the nothingness that had seeped through the door into Oblivion. ‘I have my sister returned. I do not desire her, no, but I love her, and there is the love that I need. All of it.’

Maglor drew back, searching that face, the face that had lived in his mind as vividly, as violently, as his own lost brothers and father.

Vanimórë picked up his tunic. ‘Do not worry, Maglor,’ he said with a smile that made him want to weep and curse. ‘Go to thy family.’

Maglor pushed him back against the wall. ‘Thou art my family, thou fool. And twice over.’ And this time he did not break the kiss. He felt Vanimórë resist, then surge into it as he pushed his consciousness behind the purple eyes, the hell-forged barrier that blocked them all.

Maglor, no!

He fell into starlight, into an immensity that dwarfed even the imagination. Galaxies pinwheeled, trailing arms like garments, blue-white supergiant stars sang high, cold melodies, red giants a profound lament at their long dying. Nebulae keened labour pangs, supernovas exploded throwing out heat and matter in a magnificent death cry, super-heavy neutron stars boomed like the deepest bass notes and, here and there, black holes opened their throats with a howl of black hunger, inhaling stars, whole galaxies in trails of light that vanished to a place from which no light could escape. Worlds or rock and water teemed with richness both familiar and unimaginably strange, gas giants swirled with stupendous storms, rains of diamonds and boiling metals. Gods and goddesses danced across the stars, came down upon worlds, soft as a feather fall, or violent as hammer-blows. Maglor saw them as pure energy, swirling into faces and forms before melting back into light.

He saw the torn gap into the Void, a prison for Melkor and his demons. Not, he realised, a place, but a no-place, pulled from the Outside and sealed to chain the unchainable. And it was ripped now; beyond it Melkor raged in anticipatory delight of vengeance. Maglor turned away from it. Soon, Morgoth Bauglir. Soon. For now, the Constrainer himself was constrained.

And slowly, like a child puzzling over a map that becomes suddenly familiar, the whole of it coalesced into a face, star-white skin, violet eyes, billowing clouds of jet hair that he knew was the invisible matter spread across the universe that anchored the galaxies, preventing them from breaking apart. And behind it....emptiness, oblivion. He stands in the way. He bars it...

He saw...All Vanimórë’s dark, splendid beauty that was somehow compressed into the face and form of a man, was unbound here, and it was colossal, awesome, too great for human eye to look upon. There was a legend, was there not, that no human, Elf or Man, could look upon the face of Eru...?

For a terrible moment Maglor was lost in the enormity of the cosmos, thought he would fray into it, drift into nothingness, his mind flying apart...and then he felt (still) the press of his mouth to Vanimórë’s, the heat at his loins where their bodies joined, both hot, both erect, and he heard the music, the music...all its disparate parts became a choir of voices. At a place beyond his body, beyond lung and throat and mouth, he sang back at it.

He knew his voice had power; he had considered it a gift to be cultivated, not a weapon, not Power. Now he felt it stream into him, himself joining it, weaving it together into one great melody that stretched from end to end of creation.

And he turned it on Vanimórë, all the truth of Thou are needed, thou art of us, part of us. The affection, his own hate-love-desire, respect, shared knowledge of terrible loss and loneliness, of battling powers too great to defeat. He played the Noldolantë with galaxies, with the blazing multitude of their stars.

Vanimórë’s resistance was incredible — and expected. Maglor saw with an intuition deeper even his own inborn Sight, that Vanimórë’s implacable sense of duty, of what he was now, drew him inexorably away from humanity, even as he longed for it. But what he would not admit or acknowledge and never had, was the fierce, tumultuous bond that linked the blood of Finwë, a bond that had lasted beyond death itself. He ought to have understood it; in some inexplicable way, he was the reason they were so passionate. It was, always had been, a god’s passion, too violent to be human.
Vanimórë believed himself unworthy of being included within that familial bond.

Maglor did not care what he believed. Just as Vanimórë had ignored Maglor’s desire to die in Barad-dûr, so now he ignored Vanimórë’s own will. He locked horns with Creation.

He felt, far-off, the avid interest of the gods. It was strange, having known only the Valar, to sense these other powers, but he brushed their curiosity away, all of himself fixed on the over-mind that arced over them, that contained everything they were. The best and the worst. He grounded himself in his body, the sensation of desire, of lust, of the warmth of his own humanity, the warmth that Vanimórë wanted and needed.

With a sudden rush, a push he was back in the palace chamber, and Vanimórë had pulled away, was saying, almost shouting: ‘What in the Hells wert thou doing?’

Maglor let his teeth show. ‘Bringing thee back. As thou didst bring me back.’

Vanimórë stared at him. ‘Art thou insane? Thou couldst have lost thyself.’

‘Could I? Wouldst thou have let me be lost?’

A pause. ‘No, of course not, but gods! that was dangerous.’ He mapped Maglor’s face. ‘Thou didst play the cosmos, Singer of the Song.’

‘So. I could not have been lost. But I fear thou might be.’

Vanimórë turned away. His face hardened. ‘Maglor—‘ He drew the name out with that exotic accent that reminded Maglor of hot honey and the edge of a sword. ‘Dost thou know how hard it is to be this?’ He spread his long fingers on his breast. ‘or rather, to be this without allowing all the other through?’

Maglor thought of what he had seen. ‘I can imagine, yes.’

‘Well, then, what dost thou expect me to do? Eru never set foot in form or spirit upon any world, and this is why: he feared to.’

‘Then,’ Maglor said, ‘We must become as gods, so that thou canst walk among us, as Eru dwelt with gods in the Timeless Halls. Didst thou not say to my father that we were walking into godhood?’

‘And thou art.’ Vanimórë looked at him, smiling faintly. ‘And thou, I think hast already done so.’ Then a flash came into his face. ‘And, yes, thou shalt be gods, Maglor! I shall open the doors of the Timeless Halls to thee. What is Valinor but a memory of the Valar’s domination? Thou art deserving of so much more.’ He laughed, threw back his head. ‘And there need be no waiting. Of course! Fos Almir. I will call it down when Manwë and Varda and Námo are brought before thee in judgement.’ The smile curved wickedly. ‘To see their enemy, Fëanor, as a god, and those who followed him transformed...’

‘Ah, yes,’ Maglor gleamed. ‘Yes.’

‘And thou wilt move between the Halls of Heaven and Valinor as thou wilt, flames of fire.’ He moved toward the door. Maglor caught him, threw him back against it. Vanimórë’s eyes widened.

‘I have not finished.’ Maglor’s hands caught the slim hips, jerked him forward.

‘Dost thou even know what doth want?’

‘Thee. Hard, and violently, with force and pain, Vanimórë. The Anguish. Yes, I know what I want, and I think thou wouldst enjoy it.’ Nonetheless, he was almost startled by the spark in the depth of his eyes. It struck him like a whiplash and he remembered long ago, in Tanith, his dagger slicing a cut. Vanimórë’s purr: ’Beautiful, bloody, Fëanorions.’, the expression in his eyes, the kiss...He enjoys it...

‘Maglor...I did not kill Elgalad, as I feared...but now?’

Maglor snapped himself away from the revelation. ‘Elgalad was Eru’s beloved.’

‘And I am not Eru. It is not that hard to kill a god. I could do so with an intention.’ He shifted as if to move away, but Maglor ground his loins into Vanimórë’s, rolled them lazily, and saw the flush, heard the shake of his breath.
‘Gods, do not.

‘We are bound,’ Maglor hissed. ‘Thou art my obsession, Vanimórë, as much as my father. And I will bring thee back, unwilling or no, not see thee fade into the Universe, to be it, all-in-all, and severed from humanity. And thou doth lie, if thou wouldst say thou doth not need it.’ He moved languidly again, heard — again — the sharp intake of breath. ‘doth not want it.’ His fingers dug hard into Vanimórë’s hips. ‘Deny it, as I did, fight, as I did, but thy body is another matter is it not? It cannot lie.’ He nipped at Vanimórë’s mouth. ‘Well?’ And it was superbly good to be the one chasing, the one taunting, the one (impossibly) in control.

There was no tenderness in the savagery of the kiss. Maglor’s hands found hair, thick and silken as a river, then the hard musculature of Vanimórë’s back. And then, somehow, kissing still, they were wrestling, fighting across the room, over chairs, low tables. They fetched up against a harp; one low string thrummed a plangent moan.

Chests heaving, Maglor’s eyes met blazing purple. He unlaced their breeches, pulled them free, scalding hot and pulsing, and drove them together, watched Vanimórë’s face strained taut as the pleasure built, maddening, furious, watched until all resistance fled in the pursuit of it, and the release, the glory and pain, blanked his mind in white.

He said nothing. Whom would have thought that Vanimórë, so utterly dominant, would enjoy submitting? Yet in a way, not surprising. He had been bred to be a warrior, a commander of armies, could afford no weakness. He had also been a slave, forced by Melkor and Sauron to submit and, perhaps, had come to feel relief in it. Not to fight, not to struggle. Had he, Maglor, not felt that himself, the awesome release of complete surrender, hating and needing it? And, after, still hating, and yet, and yet.
One could hate a thing and yet desire it.

And this...this interlude was not enough, merely the throwing down of a gauntlet, the stamp of Maglor’s intention.

He laced his breeches, went to the door. Vanimórë watched him, bedded in the loosened cloud of his hair. Under the black rill of lashes, his eyes were as brilliant and hard as the gems they so resembled, showing nothing. Then he rose, adjusted his clothes.
‘Tell no-one.’

Maglor’s eyes widened. ‘Thou didst never gloat of how I was with thee in Barad-dûr. And I can understand, I think, although Sauron—‘

‘Then thou doth not,’ Vanimórë snapped. ‘Because Fëanor loved thee.’ He stood there, gorgeous and perilous and raised his black brows in challenge. There was no shame there. None. He had gone beyond it. Perhaps his bloody destruction had seared any shame out of him forever. Or perhaps he was just very good at concealing what he felt. He always had been.

Maglor stared at him. Outside the door voices sounded. He raised a hand in a crisp warrior’s salute, then left the room, closed the door behind him.



OooOooO




Chapter 23 ~ The Walls of the Past ~ by Spiced Wine


~ The Walls of the Past ~




~ Vanimórë stood in Eru’s gardens: hot-bright flowers, fountains weeping, the song of birds. Through a gap in tall, spear-heaped cypress, one could looked across the Timeless Halls to the curve of this imagined world.
Vanimórë felt no inclination to stamp his own personality upon either the palace of the Halls. It was beautiful; why change it? Perhaps the Elves would, creating something that was home to them. He wondered, briefly, what it was like to feel that any place was home.

‘Where has been home to thee?’ he asked.

Elgalad shrugged lightly. ‘The Greenwood I suppose. Even when it darkened, there was still beauty. I was,’ he added, smile glimmering, ‘a wood-Elf.’ And after a pause. ‘I went to them, to Nimrodel and Amroth.’

Vanimórë nodded. As himself, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, he knew everything, but one could not live like that and be human. And I am not human, but I want to live as if I am. I want everything. He smiled sardonically. To block himself was like trying to push a door shut against a hurricane. And he had to do it. He hated the loneliness of the other. Everything, and nothing.

‘It was...difficult,’ Elgalad continued. ‘She carried me under her heart, gave me life, and died before she could hold me. But I was still her son, their son. And yet, not.’

‘I know.’ He had never thought of himself as Móriel’s son, although his reasons were different, wound about with guilt and grief and rage. He was a thing forced upon her by rape. Sauron’s get. ‘They will have other children now. They will heal.’ He squeezed Elgalad’s shoulder.

‘Sometimes healing is not possible.’

‘Not entirely, but people, Elves, Mortals, all are resilient, my dear. They have to be.’

‘Resilient.’ Elgalad threw his head up suddenly, loosed an explosive breath. ‘Not all are like thee, Vanimórë. Gods! Thou art metal, reforged steel. Adamantine.’

Surprised, Vanimórë said wryly, ‘Hardly.’

‘I watched thee. After I — supposedly — died. Thou didn’t not break.’

’I will not break,’ he had vowed, so long ago, in Barad-dûr, not comprehending, in his innocent horror, what it would mean.
‘Broken bones mend.’

‘And broken hearts?’

He thought of Fingolfin, of Maedhros, of Maglor, Tindómion. Of all those whom had lost those they loved and, somehow, lived. ‘Scar tissue.’ Then, ‘What is it, Elgalad? Didst thou expect me to break?’

A warm breeze stirred the silver hair. ‘I prayed, if that is the right word, that thou wouldst not.’

‘Never mind,’ he soothed. ‘I did not break, or,’ with mordant humour, ‘nothing but myself, or not here.’ He leaned against the white balustrade looked down at the serene gardens, rectangular pools, white walls, green lawns, all garlanded by flowers. He frowned. ‘I had to reach that point, Elgalad. I had to be tested to the utmost. To see if I could reach beyond it.’

Elgalad’s shoulder leaned gently against his. ‘Thou didst. And thou doth hate it.’

Vanimórë glanced at him, rueful. ‘When I was simply Vanimórë, the Prince, when I was god-Emperor, I could do something. I could step in, I could act.. The more power one has, the less one can use it. Or should use it. But I want to act. And so I must learn to control what I do, to walk as Elves do, as Men. To leave most of this...’ He grimaced, indicating himself, his terrifying, obliterating power. ‘locked away. And...the gods I freed — not all are benign, if any god could be called that. Many will be curious about Arda because for me it is where it all began. They are intrigued by it. And I can hardly leave Men, and the Elves that remain, to their mercies.’

And because, he thought, I cannot go yet, to become less and more than I was. He thought of Maglor with an inner smile, still surprised, although he should not have been. Fëanorions were...what they were. His senses still purred with delight and astonishment at that startling interlude. He had always dominated in that — no, one could not call it a relationship, those clashing, fiery moments spread across thousands of years. Not that Maglor lacked passion. Quite the reverse. Now he thought, He simply allowed it to seem that I was the more predatory.

And yet...

It is not as simple as thou wouldst think, Maglor. I am like a fly trying to extricate itself from a spill of honey. And I am the honey and the fly, both.

But perhaps... if there was enough of a pull toward his physical form, it would counterbalance, outweigh the mass of the universe itself. Here, in the Timeless Halls it was easy, but here was not anywhere; it was a mind-construct, outside of time and space. And not enough for one accustomed to all the bloody turmoil of living. Everything. It was everything. And not enough.

I could not have understood had I not lived, but now, can I live, as Vanimórë lived, knowing what I am? No, he could not, of course, but perhaps he could try and pick a course somewhere between Vanimórë and the other, the thing that Maglor had seen. Hard, almost impossible, but had his life been simple, easy, he would not have known what to do.

Elgalad was watching him gravely. Vanimórë smiled.
‘I always wanted to change the world,’ he said ruefully. ‘and experience taught me I could not. Or not in any way that does not equate with absolute control. Far easier to destroy. No wonder Eru destroyed the universe he came from.’

‘But thou wilt not do that,’ Elgalad murmured.

‘No?’ Quizzically. ‘Everything that can happen has happened my dear. But the person thou art speaking to now has not done it. Yet.’ Then he smiled. ‘Most people do not deserve to be destroyed and those who do — all of them will come to me, at the last. When their gods have finished with them.’

A bird alighted to drink from the fountain; its plumage was as blue as a flake of sky.

‘It is strange here now.’ Elgalad watched it. ‘with the gods free to come and go as they will.’

‘They have to learn to live. Just as I had to. As thou didst. And not as prisoners.’ They had not departed yet, they would fight in the Dagor Dagorath. But some would side with Melkor and his horde. He had known that when he freed them. There had been no compact between them, no bargain. They would do, as Men did, as Gods, as their own natures dictated. ‘I do not believe many of them would elect to be born as a human, however.’

‘No,’ Elgalad agreed.

‘Living is not easy, not in any dimension.’ The gardens vanished, the universe wheeled, stupendous and magnificent before them. Vanimórë reached out a hand and moved it until Arda spun before them. ‘But gods and Mortals cannot inhabit the same world; the gods will make their own realms and dwell there. It is not easy for humans to perceive gods in any event, for they exist in different states of being. Yet they will want worship, the gods; they have never had any, and they are like children, as yet. Still, they will have to work for it.’ He smiled grimly. ‘Mortals are inhibited by what they see, and overly analytical minds. They want to believe in something beyond them, but will ever need proof. Well, it will be interesting, if nothing else.’

I am too human, or have lived too long as one to be detached. Which was the whole point. But what is the alternative, to keep Mortals folded like sheep? No; they are more than that, far more, they only have to learn it. He looked at Elgalad, said lightly, almost teasingly: ‘Shall we walk on Arda, in different realities, different times? Not, perhaps, quite in this guise.’ And not to see himself (the dreams of that had been too horrific, and he did not know what he would do, if he went into one of those realities to rescue himself other than destroy too much, and that was a slope made of sheer ice) but to see the Elves, in other dimensions. Or, not see, he only had to look to do that, from this rarefied height, but to be among them, still his greatest, oldest desire.

‘I will go anywhere with thee,’ Elgalad responded. ‘That was always true. Nothing has changed.’ His clear eyes regarded Vanimórë. One could see to the beginning and end of time in them. ‘And everything. Thou art not even concerned about the Dagor Dagorath.’ He lifted his brows.

Vanimórë shrugged. ‘This time, the Elves will meet Melkor as gods. They can still hurt, be wounded, but this time they will not die. Or rather, they will be able to return. And the name Dagor Dagorath is something of a misnomer. There will be other battles, other wars, on Arda, among the gods, and the Elves, what they become, will no doubt be part of some of them at least.’

‘But thou wilt give this to them.’

‘Yes, they deserve it. Though I suspect they will always retain Valinor as an outpost.’

Elgalad nodded. ‘And Eru? Thou hast not said what thou wilt do with Eru.’

Vanimórë ground the white gravel of the path under one booted foot, frowning.
‘Eru. My dear, thou didn’t never know Eru. I did. He was Melkor with just enough guilt and grief to regret what he had done. What thou didst know was what was left after I tore Melkor out of him.’

‘Does that matter?’

He raised his head to Elgalad’s still, beautiful face, said, ‘I do not mean to harm him. Indeed, I cannot even find him.’ He smiled tightly. ‘I thought of myself, just now, as omniscient, but I am not. Eru is not from this universe, and so he can hide himself. I cannot predict what he will do. Thou knowest him better than I.’

‘He loved Melkor,’ Elgalad responded. ‘if that is what thou wouldst ask. At the beginning, Melkor...wanted to be with him.’ His smooth brow creased. ‘He was alone. So was Eru, really. He was a stranger here. A...usurper, if thou wilt.’ A small smile that soon died. ‘Thou art thinking he may aid Melkor.’

‘It had crossed my mind.’

Elgalad shook his head. ‘I wish I could tell thee, but I do not know. Perhaps he himself will not know, until the time comes.’

Vanimórë exhaled. ‘Then there is nothing I can do until then.’ A wind sighed over them and the cypresses swayed. ‘

‘I must thank Maglor.’ Vanimórë stared at Elgalad’s words. ‘I saw him go after thee. I knew I could not hold thee in the world because I am not truly of it. It needs to be him, needs to be them.’

‘Maybe,’ Vanimórë murmured, and slid his arms about Elgalad’s waist, smiling now. ‘Yes. It had to be him, them. And thou. I will tell thee truly, I would not be what I am, now, someone who can love, can feel pity and mercy, without thee. And I do know everything I could have become.’ Gently, he pulled away, turned to the cosmos, to Valinor, to Tirion, and the palace where Fingolfin sat beside Fëanor, his face like marble. The superb silver-blue eyes held a terrible wound.

‘There is a way,’ Vanimórë said, watching, ‘for him to have Turgon back. He has not even mentioned it. He knows that if Turgon were to be reborn as they all were before, as an adult, his son would be no different.’

Elgalad said, ‘Fëanor was reborn as a child.’

‘Fëanor remembered who he was, as Turgon would, in time,’ Vanimórë murmured. ‘It would give them a span of years to hope that Turgon would be different It is possible. But Fëanor was the Flame Imperishable; he did not have to come from Finwë and Miriel. Turgon would have to be born of his original parents. His soul, of course, would be the same, whomever his parents, but I do not think Fingolfin would want any other to take his place as father.’

‘Neither do I. But Fingolfin did not want to marry, neither did he love his wife, or she him. And she is held by the Valar.’

‘Difficult,’ Vanimórë agreed. ‘But I think, when she is released, Fingolfin will tell her, and Turgon was her favourite child.’

‘But if she is one of those who go to Tol Eresseä —‘

‘She would want to take her son, no doubt, and perhaps that would be enough for Fingolfin.’

‘Fëanor will hate it,’ Elgalad said positively.

‘So will Fingolfin,’ Vanimórë replied. ‘And yet, for that son, who has hurt him so much, he will do it.’

Elgalad was silent a moment. At last he said, ‘Of course he would. I would.’

‘So would I,’ Vanimórë said. ‘And so would Fëanor, even if one of his sons had loathed him, he would not hesitate. And still, he will hate it. And he and Fingolfin have loved one another in pain, in grief, in shattering passion, with hate and envy and desire and jealousy — and in death for so long. .. I do not think that Fëanor would believe Fingolfin loved another more than he, but I also believe Fingolfin too honourable to use Anairë — if Turgon is reborn as a child he would need a loving family, just as Fëanor did, if he is to become a balanced man, without the hate and jealousy that twisted him into one who attempted to murder his own father.’

Elgalad drew a breath. ‘Fingolfin might remarry, and make every effort to love, or at least reach an accommodation his wife. And she would do the same.’

Vanimórë nodded. ‘Canst thou see any way that this will not tear them apart?’ he asked. ‘Because I cannot.’

‘No,’ Elgalad said baldly. ‘And it will not work. Turgon knew, as a child, that his parents did not love one another, that they maintained a polite pretence, up to a point. And he thought they should love one another. A perfect, close family. That they were not, affected him in some deep way, although not, it seems his brother and sister. How would this time be any different?’

‘Yes.’ Vanimórë regarded him thoughtfully. ‘Better perhaps if Turgon simply returns, as he is, but not better for Fingolfin, who believes, as all good men do, that the fault lies with him. And it is for him to decide, him and Anairë.’



OooOooO








‘No,’ Fingolfin said in a voice that did not admit of dispute. ‘Finwë must be judged as they all are. We cannot make exceptions, Fëanor.’

‘I know.’ Fëanor spun to look at Edenel. ‘But thou and he—‘

‘It was in a time beyond dreaming,’ Edenel said gently, pushing himself from the wall.

‘He loved thee.’

‘Yes, for a long time, but —‘

‘But what,’ Fingolfin said precisely, ‘is in his heart now?’

Edenel looked at them, side by side in their beauty and anger and pain. He said reluctantly, ‘It is time I spoke to him. I did not wish to force my presence on him, but it is necessary.’

OooOooO


Finwë, it seemed, was in his chambers. Edenel hesitated for a moment before the closed double doors and then pushed them open, closed them behind him. Finwë, head going up like a startled stag, froze.

‘Well, my brother,’ Edenel said. ‘This conversation is long overdue.’

He saw Finwë flush. A pregnant silence bloomed, stretched, filled with the past, with unspoken things long locked behind closed teeth and minds. Slowly, Finwë set down the scroll he had been reading.
‘Élernil.’ The name sounded strange. ‘I have been told about...what happened to thee. I am, of course, sorry.’ It was stark, but what else could he have said?

Edenel raised his hand. ‘I am not here to talk about that, about me,’ (about us) ‘but for thy sons.’

A faint grimace crossed Finwë’s features, then stilled, leaving his face like marble. He was so little changed from the man Edenel had woken beside, had loved and lost under those brilliant, ancient stars, that a fist clenched itself in his heart. It grew bloody talons. But one can never go back.
‘My sons, is it? Three sons I had, and none were like me except perhaps the youngest. Thou didst never understand my longing for children.’

So, it seemed that they were going to speak of this, whether or no.
‘Didst thou think I would ever have tried to prevent thee from having a mate? Having children?’ he demanded.

Finwë tipped back his head, stared coldly. ‘Never in words,’ he flashed. ‘But I was thine, was I not? Gods, Fëanor has all thy possessiveness!’ He paced, then flung around in a hush of robes. ‘Thou. Thou wert everything our people revered: Courageous, proud, passionate, intelligent, always the first in the hunt, the first to confront the shadows. I...I wanted only to be at peace, to watch the miracle of my mate rounding with our child. I wanted to be out from under thy shadow. From under thee.!’

It hurt. Still, after so long. He had not imagined or suspected how much it would hurt to hear it, although he knew. Yes, he knew, had seen it, the first innocent love fading into jealousy and dislike.
‘I know,’ he said calmly. ‘And so I removed myself.’

‘Oh, yes, the dramatic gesture! Thou didst remove thyself to die, as far as I knew! But it could not be otherwise with thee, could it? Thou couldst not just speak to me and tell me. ‘ Finwë flung out a hand. ‘Thou didst leave me with guilt, with grief, with a kindred to rule, to bring here.’

‘I am sorry for it, but it was not so easy for me to see thee turn to another,’ an understatement that. ‘and one whom had tried to seduce me—‘

Finwë’s roused anger rolled off him like a hot scent as he strode forward. ‘Ah yes, so we come to it. She wanted thee first.’

‘I wanted no woman then—‘

‘And if thou hadst, we would have shared her, as we shared other lovers? But I wanted her, thou fool. Not to share, but for me, alone.’

Edenel shot out a hand, gripped his brother’s wrist. ‘Thou hadst her to wife. Thou wert proclaimed chieftain of our people, and later, High King. So. Thou didst have everything. What soured for thee?’

Finwë, white now, twisted his wrist. ‘She died. And always, there were looks, whispers...I should have searched for thee, they said. And then my son, Fëanor, nothing like me, nothing like Miriel...’

‘And still thy son!’

‘And then, Fingolfin, who was so much like thee. Thou didst haunt even my seed.’

‘Finwë—‘

‘No! Damn thee. Thou wert everything to me, but not enough, dost thou understand? Too much andnot enough.’ His face shook. He lashed out with his free hand, but Edenel caught it. Their eyes, so different now, were close. Close as they had been so long ago, before Finwë’s discontent and jealousy slipped between them. His words, pulled up from deep, ancient place, ejected like poison, slammed into Edenel’s face.

And yet, had he not known? Their minds, their souls were too intertwined for him not to feel the longing in Finwë for distance, for freedom, for something more than what Edenel could offer him. But how could he simply walk away? They were twins. They were leaders of their clan. He had thought nothing could sever their bond.

Melkor had severed it. In a thousand, thousand screams, through begging and horror and the final white-hot, black-hot fury and pain that had transformed him, Melkor had torn them asunder. And Finwë had felt his brother’s agonals before he changed.

‘It was in my bones, my blood, thy pain, thy screams, and I could not help thee or find thee.’ He sank to his knees and Edenel went with him, holding him as the words came, a torrent undamned, and Finwë struck at him until at last he sank into Edenel’s arms, his cheek hot and damp, his body racked with shuddering, tearless sobs.

‘I am sorry,’ Edenel murmured. ‘I should have stood aside long before.’ But he had not known how to, did not even want to. He has not trusted Miriel with Finwë, would not have trusted anyone who, having been rebuffed, would immediately turn to another. But matings among the Quendi could be enduring, or simply pleasant interludes, and monogamy was, anyhow, unheard of. It was none of his business, except that he had always watched over his twin and could not look away. They had shared lovers before but he knew that in this instance, he was not needed. Miriel wanted a mate to sire a child; in such cases, the mated pair stayed together at least until the child was grown. And more than all, Finwë did not want him.

The desire to procreate had been greater in those ancient times when their numbers were fewer, and they had wanted children to share the beauty and wonder of the world. Finwë’s hunger for offspring was shared by most of the Elves, but not by Élernil-that-was. Sex was enough for him. Whether he would have grown to want fatherhood was something that could never, now, be answered. And he had never felt any sorrow, any lack. When one’s life had been touched by Melkor, by Sauron, such considerations became unimportant.

He was, he knew, fortunate, that he had been accepted by Fëanor, his sons, by Fingolfin and his, absorbed into their passionate, complicated world in a way Finwë, drawing back from them, had not. He had exiled himself. He thought he had lost his sons. And he was saying it now.
‘They are more like thee, Fëanor and Fingolfin.’

‘They are still thy sons,’ he said, taking Finwë’s face in both hands, looking into his eyes. ‘Thy sons, and they need thee!’

Finwë’s expression twisted into a black, desolate grimace. ‘They have not needed me since they found one another.’

Listen. We had no sire, no mother, so we cannot understand, but they had thee. What has happened since then matters naught. They still consider themselves thy sons. They need thee..’ He rose, drawing his brother with him. ‘Enough self-pity! They have endured more than thou canst imagine. Stop hiding from them.’

Finwë’s face hardened into what was a near-snarl. ‘I will not — ever!— condone their relationship.’

‘No-one asks thee to. It is not thy concern. And didst thou say anything when they were young and dwelt here?’

With a snap. ‘I thought...it would pass. And I could not betray them to the Valar.’

‘It has not passed. It never did. It never will. Finwë, thou wilt be judged, just as everyone will be, to be accounted one of us or sent for all eternity to Tol Eresseä. That is why I am here. They cannot make an exception of thee, of anyone.’

Finwë loosed a shocking laugh. ‘So, the sons will judge the father. By what right?’

‘By the right of pain, of being condemned to the Void, by the right of sorrow and grief and regret, by the right of battle against the Dark.’ Edenel shook him. Loose hair strayed across Finwë’s face, his eyes had gone black as night.
‘Do not thou play the hypocrite! We were born from no womb; the earth was our mother, the stars our father, but we were part of one soul, no twins could have been more bound than we were. And I never forced thee, never! Thou didn’t desire me—.’

Finwë wrenched out of his grasp, then sprang, hitting Edenel so that they went down on the rugs, rolling, grappling. The breath hissed between Finwë’s teeth, words of hate as he tore at Edenel’s clothes.
Who knew what he wanted and let him do it. Everything. Always before he had dominated and Finwë had seemed to want it thus, with never a word spoken between them. It would have been easy to fight him off, Edenel was not entirely an Elf any longer, forged in the black crucible of Utumno, but he did not.

He remembered, in the star-shot dark behind his eyes, as Finwë took him, how Morgoth had raped him, many times, wearing Finwë’s face and mocking, laughing like black thunder, corrosive and dreadful. But his mind-link with his brother had been destroyed so long ago that Finwë could not see the memory and Edenel would never speak of it; it was not something the Ithiledhil had ever done, even among themselves.

And, despite the pain, the savagery (body shuddering with each thrust, fingers driving into the soft rugs, Finwë’s scent around him) he felt, as he had even then, in shame and madness, his orgasm mounting, as Finwë cursed him and pounded harder, harder, teeth set in a white link of fury, hair tossing, hands clamping Edenel’s arms at his sides. Who permitted all of it, everything, a payment, perhaps, an apology, for unwittingly spoiling his twin’s life, for not walking away sooner, gracefully retreating. But how could I, how could I?

Then thought dwindled and vanished and there was only the roar of his heart, his voice, somewhere, crying out, and the blazing glorification of release.

Finwë panted against him. There was a long moment where they lay, spent as they had so many times under Cuivíenen’s stars. Edenel, eye-lids heavy with satiation, wanted to lift his arms, run them down his brother’s back, hold him, comfort him. He resisted. After a moment, the long muscles tensed, Finwë pushed himself up, threw back his tousled mass of black hair.
‘Judge me as thou wilt,’ he said his breath not yet settled, (and breaking in his throat) face flushed, eyes hot and cold both. He turned away, pulling on his robes, walked out without another look back.

OooOooO


Chapter 24 ~ Ascension ~ by Spiced Wine



~ Ascension ~




~ The process was not easy; no-one had believed it would be. Not all of Turgon’s people had been present at the palace, and did not believe what they were told. Egalmoth’s wife, in almost as bad a state as her husband, sewed a dark thread of panic and there were weapons drawn. But the whole of Fëanor and Fingolfin’s army and the lords who followed them were set against the few who had supported Turgon and there could be only one outcome.

‘Turgon tried to kill thee,’ Fëanor said to his brother. ‘I am not going into battle with people at my back who may harbour the same intentions. We have given them enough control over us these thousands of years. Now it ends.’

‘Now it ends,’ agreed Fingolfin, cool, aloof as he had been since that time in the library. Concealing the pain.

So commenced the Judging as it became known, each man or women coming before Fëanor and Glorfindel (with Vanimórë an ominous half-presence behind them, unseen but felt) when their inner hearts were searched. Some were defiant, others wept or raged. Some stepped forward eagerly to embrace their freedom or their imprisonment. Not an easy process, no, nor could it ever have been.

The Elves already on Tol Eresseä were judged equally, and those who embraced the new laws were brought to Aman. The most difficult were those whom had been slaves of the Valar in their high palace and used, at the end, as food for their flagging powers. These were sequestered with sympathetic healers to attend them.

The wood-Elves, under Thranduil were not judged, neither was there any need. The Teleri did not (as yet) fall under the rulership of Fëanor and had always been more free in their desires. But Ingwë did bring the Vanyar. It was either shocking (said Fëanor) or not surprising that the Vanyar, whom had lived and breathed Valar-worship should have turned completely away from them and embraced their freedom with passion. Only a very few, such as Edenel, remembered how the Light Elves had been before their long imprisonment, and he said that it was only what he had expected.



They left Finwë until the last. It was not something either Fëanor or Fingolfin relished. First, Taniquetil. The Valar.
‘At least I believe,’ Fingolfin said wryly, ‘that Finwë will not put a blade in our backs.’



It was strange in that the preparation felt like nothing so much as a celebration. At last, at last they would bring to account those whom had imprisoned and doomed so many of them. ‘Arda Marred,’ they called it, said Fëanor, but the Valar had marred it as much as Melkor. Their threads would be ripped from the Great Song. ‘There will be nothing left of them,’ Vanimórë promised. ‘Thou shalt see their destruction.’

There was no feast, but Tirion rang with voices raised in song and laughter. Lights burned each night.

Just one night, Gil-galad was to remember. A little slice of paradise.
They did not have to hide any longer, to curb themselves in public when even a smile, a hand touching too long, might be viewed with suspicion, the report winging its way back to Turgon’s ears. Those born in New Cuiviénen were most overt, though their flirtations blended easily with those of male-female of which there were many. They had never been bound like their princes, had lived by Fëanor’s laws and in freedom. Too, they seemed the most eager to confront Morgoth after the Valar had been dealt with, a fact they spoken of as already accomplished.

Of course, they knew nothing, only ancient tales, even if their own parents recounted them and, after their seclusion in New Cuiviénen, were as innocent and unaware as the Noldor whom had dwelt in Valinor before the Darkening. To them, the Finwëions were godlike figures who could bestride mountains and pull down the sun. Morgoth, a figure of ancient evil, ranked far behind their own princes. And not a one of them, man or woman, did not long for one glance, one sign of favour; ambition ran high as a spring-tide and all dreamed and schemed and plotted for advancement which, in this case, meant proximity to legend.

‘Better if there was some healthy fear,’ Gil-galad remarked to Tindómion as he dismissed his lords from the council. ‘Were we ever so naive?’

‘A different age,’ Tindómion murmured, sitting back as the door closed behind the last lord. He stretched out his long legs; there had scarce been time to rest, even sleep, since the night of Turgon’s treachery, and it was now deep night.

‘And yet closer, somehow, than all those years in New Cuiviénen; it is that which seems like a dream.’ Gil-galad slanted a look at the Fëanorion profile, beauty that cut like the edge of a diamond blade. His heart went wayward and wild suddenly as if released from its bonds by a moment of quiet, by the simple fact that they were alone and together.

‘That is what Vanimórë did, I think.’ Tindómion rose. ‘And perhaps it is better so.’

‘All of it?’

‘Not all.’ That smile. All Fëanorions had that charming, dangerous flash of pearl-white teeth. It could blaze at one across a crowded room and set fire in the loins.

As it did now.

He had possessed Tindómion over the years; he knew it, knew the scent and feel of him too well, never mind the darkness and the secrecy and passion shut behind closed door and veiled eyes. It had been something at least. Now those doors were flung open and the eyes shone clear.

But it was different, being free for the first time in thousands of years, and Tindómion was not an easy lover to capture. No Fëanorion was. Well enough. Gil-galad would not have wanted one.

He thought, with an old anger, freshened by the Judging, of the wasted years in Lindon, poisoned by his mother and her court and beyond that by the Valar. He would never forget, never forgive, and he wanted to see the Valar thrown down and crawling as much as he wished to see Sauron punished and to meet Morgoth.

People spoke of his rule as an age of power and prosperity, of his reign as glorious, longest of all the Noldoli High Kings of Endor. For him, the only light, the only warmth, the only comfort had been the man who walked into his great hall, defiant, proud, bringing with him all the ruined glory of the Fëanorions, the man who watched him now, his face unreadable, eyes gone to opaque silver.

‘Let us go and drink some wine, relax for a time,’ Gil-galad suggested, moving to the door. As they had used to in Lindon. Reaching back, reaching back to a time, an Age that both of them loathed because it was bittersweet and safer than the thin ice of the future.

The hallways were still bright and busy. They heard laughter, music, the murmur of voices until they reached the chambers fronted by the long colonnade, leaned for a moment on the baluster as they had in Lindon, so long ago when their unspoken desire was still new. Gil-Galad shot a glance at Tindómion, said, ‘Come.’

The room was quiet. Through the open doorway, the great bed waited, and Gil-galad’s hands were not quite steady as he poured wine. He smiled at himself, mocking.
‘What art thou thinking of?’ he asked Tindómion, who stood by the open casement. ‘The Valar?’

Tindómion turned. ‘It will be a great pleasure,’ he said, ‘to see them brought down.’ He took the preferred goblet, drank a little. The cloud of bronze hair caught fire from the lamps, cinder-red, rose-gold. Beneath it, the chiselled face was ice, the face of a warrior who would kill without mercy.
‘It is as if it were yesterday, thy death, and judgement. I loathe Sauron with all my soul, but the Valar, Manwë, Varda, Námo, I detest more.’

‘I would agree with thee,’ Gil-galad said quietly. ‘I have ceded my revenge upon Sauron anyhow, to Celebrimbor, to thy father, to Finrod. But he cannot be destroyed.’

‘He can be reduced, and Vanimórë could destroy him. But will not.’ He lifted his shoulders. ‘At least so my father believes.’

‘If he did not destroy Sauron before now, he will not.’ Gil-galad put aside his wine, drew the circlet from his head. Tindómion moved to draw out gems and pins until his hair fell loose. He felt the lean, strong hands sift it, and a flash ran up his spine. Then the hands melted away, and he heard Tindómion speak from a little distance: ‘I must go, look over my men.’

Gil-galad whipped around and stared.
And Tindómion shouted with laughter, throwing back his head. He sprang away from the doorway, caught Gil-galad in a hard embrace.

Gods, he was so fierce, Gil-galad thought with a reciprocal upsurge of passion. So often battened down, locked away, the lava-flow of desire now burst all barriers.

‘Tonight,’ Tindómion said, half a promise, half a threat, ‘I am going to burn thee to ash.’

Gil-galad laughed back in challenge as their steps meshed, Tindómion backing him into the bedchamber as they tore at clothes, kissing, grappling, gasping, hands sliding over skin that gave off heat like fire.

It was an act of devouring and being devoured, of possessing and being possessed, of burning, burning, a blaze that never lessened because their passion fed it. Gil-galad felt like a man starved (though he was not) but now able to gorge, to sate his hunger and relish each bite, savour the taste. This was how it should have been in Lindon. He felt as if lightning blazed across his skin, shone in his veins, each orgasm was a glory of pain and pleasure, the perfect melding, the warrior’s love of a warrior.

They did not sleep but, as dawn approached, they lay quiet in tumbled hair and long, loose limbs. Tindómion’s skin was marked with bruises, bites, as was Gil-galad’s own. He smiled, trailing his fingers over that mottled silk, the steel muscles under it.

There should be another word, he thought, than simply love; what he felt matched none of the descriptions of it. He did not feel protective or tender toward Tindómion, who would not have wanted such emotions and had always been able to protect himself. Neither did he feel as if Tindómion were his other half. It was more as if he and Tindómion wanted each to be the other, and hungered for that part of them they saw reflected. It was a furious need, a radiant white-burning lust underlined with deep respect. Gil-galad could not have loved anyone that did not match him and meet him, fire-to-fire. And Tindómion had been the first he had met as a man, bringing with him memories of Maedhros and Maglor and Caranthir, and days filled with light and love and hope. A hope that had died with his father, with the news that came like repeated blows, the Fëanorions falling one after another, with Maedhros and Maglor, the last, refusing even to see him...

He had felt like a hollow king, a cold shadow in a fading world until, one morning, Maglor’s bastard son strode defiantly into his hall, with his Fëanorian face and eyes, trailing the fire and passion of the past. Balked by poison, by the Valar’s pitiless Laws, that passion had never died, only banked itself like a peat fire with a furnace beneath.

Tindómion rolled out of bed, loose hair hissing down, cloaking him in gleaming bronze. He poured two goblets of wine and came back to sit beside Gil-galad as they drank.

‘I have not often seen thee naked,’ Gil-galad remarked. Tindómion pushed back his hair and smiled. ‘Likewise. It was too tempting. And I could not have hidden my desire.’

‘Tell me thou hast regrets.’

The smile dropped away. Tindómion said, laying his free hand on Gil-galad’s shoulder: ‘I have nothing but regrets for that Age.’

Gil-galad raised his brows wryly. ‘Neither do I. I lived for the fire.’

Tindómion rose and went to the window. ‘Do not think of it. Not now.’ One hand was pressed hard against the embrasure, bloodless.

Gil-galad said, ‘Tell me about Imladris.’ And Tindómion turned. ‘I have told thee. What wouldst thou know?’

‘About Glorfindel.’

‘Ah.’ A smile. ‘He saved me from myself, my destructive bent. I think, were it not for him, I would have wandered, like my father. I could see nothing left after thy death.’ He paused. ‘Thou art asking if we were lovers? Yes, sometimes. He loved thee too, and had lost so much before he returned to Middle-earth. Does it matter?’

‘I am glad there was some comfort for thee.’

‘Comfort, yes, that is what it was, and release and desire, the call of blood to blood. We are kin after all. The tales of pining and dying for one’s lost love, of never looking at another, never wanting another...’ Tindómion shook his head. ‘And if I had died, I hope thou wouldst have found some comfort also.’

Gil-galad smiled. ‘No doubt I would have, but none of them would have been thee.’

‘And no-one could have replaced thee, Gil, my bright star. Thy face was always in my mind and the pain always in my heart.’ A pulse of silence. Gil-galad stretched out his hand. Then, in a different voice: ‘None of them?’ Tindómion sprang onto the bed and they rolled over and over, kissing and laughing. Pinning Gil-galad down, Tindómion smiled, rosy with passion and ground against him, hard, hot until laughter was lost in the pressure and friction.

‘We will talk more of this after,’ Tindómion murmured, with amusement lighting the silver eyes. ‘The Valar await us.’



OooOooO




The army marched. They would not, of course, ascend Taniquetil, but neither would they have to, Fëanor said. The Valar would send their slave-bound Maiar under Eonwé, to attack them.

It was the greatest Elven army ever seen since the hosts that had assailed Morgoth at the War of Wrath. In the Vanguard marched Fëanor and his people, and Fingolfin, the wood-Elves under Thranduil loped to either side, rangy, deadly, bright-eyed hunters, then came Finrod’s folk and the Vanyar.

Despite Olwë, some had come from Alqualondë; Thingol was there and others of Doriath, Daeron, Elúred and Elúrin, Beleg, and Celeborn also.

Those Valar whom had supported the Elves marched with them in their full power: Oromë like a wild Elf from ancient forests, Irmo, trailing smoke and dreams, Ulmo within sea-storm. They were all that remained. Ungoliant had devoured the rest.
It was a river of metal, tossing banners and plumes, of adamantine resolve.
At dawn and dusk, the sheer flanks of the mountain were painted red as the blood the Valar had seen shed. Above it the rent in the Void screamed darkness.

And so, north. Vanimórë, watching, sensed the terror and rage of the Valar in Ilmarin, his father’s wary attention (but no fear) as the mountain’s shadow flung itself long and black as a curse.

A great road lead from Ilmarin down through Valar to Tirion and Alqualondë, gradually widening until it mounted the long spine of Taniquetil. The Valar had gouged their ‘royal’ highway through crevasses of stone; giant statues stared down with blank, jewelled eyes in perpetual admonishment and disapproval at anyone who came this way. Now, the wind moaned, but the road lay empty as an plundered grave.

With a rustle and clash of armour and weapons, the army drew to a halt. Fëanor and Fingolfin rode a little ahead, plumes streaming.

‘Manwë, Varda, Námo, come forth,’ Fëanor challenged in his inimitable voice. ‘Cravens, cowards, gods of ruin, of death, of cruelty, thou art summoned.’ As one, he and Fingolfin raised their swords.

There was an immense silence. The sky above Taniquetil was the colour of sapphires. The sun was at the zenith.

Fëanor signalled. A silver horn rang out, echoing back from the mountains.
And the eagles came, plunging down from the heights. A forest of arrows were raised. But the eagles did not come to attack.

The Elves held in their talons screamed as they were released, arms wheeling, eyes stretched wide as they hurtled, killingly, toward the earth. The Valar’s most devoted adherents, drained of power, helpless, sent as a sign of contempt as one would throw out offal: Finarfin, Galadriel, Indis, Anairë, Tuor, Idril. Olórin.

On that moment, pouring down from Taniquetil, came the legions of the Maiar, winged and lethal (and bound in chains).

And Vanimórë released the conflagration of Fos Almir.

‘Go!’ he thundered from the midst of the flame, his voice cracking the blazing sky. ‘This is your time, people of the Elves! Go, and become more, become greater, become gods!’

The horses might have balked, but the minds of the riders soothed them, and they were both of ancient race, bred for war. Some hearts might have faltered, but for the clamour for vengeance that blew through them all like a storm.

And there was no time. Fos Almir raced to meet them until they collided in brilliance and the fire rushed on across all Valinor, through Valmar, Tirion, even to Alqualondë.

It caught the falling bodies, returning the beauty and vigour stripped from them, settling them lightly upon the earth. Vanimórë knew this changing would not alter their minds, but that could be dealt with later. (They had known, though, before the end, the manner of the ones they had served, known they were nothing but the chant of validation in the ears of the Valar and were despised, worthless save for that). And if that were not enough for them, there was always Vanimórë himself, creation and destruction both...

Then Galadriel gave a scream like the onset of a hunt, and leapt into a run, long-limbed, her hair a banner of brightness. Finarfin, eyes lifted to the Maiar, burned up in wrath.

The army were glorified as they passed through Fos Almir. Their eyes blazed incandescent, their faces shone from within. Vanimórë knew how it felt, that searing passage into Power.

Yes, become what thou wert born to be from the very beginning, People of the Stars.! He felt the fission of it, a feral delight as they burned into their birthright. Fos Almir would have destroyed them had they not been ready, mind, body, soul, for this moment. And, as it stormed across Aman it cleansed the land of the Valar’s miasma, that grey disease that had crawled into every crevice and cranny, bleaching the land, numbing the mind, poisoning thought. Fëanor’s coming had begun the process, and Fos Almir completed it.

The army surged forward like a great fiery wave, and with it came the Houseless Vanimórë had summoned from their agelong shadow-life on Middle-earth. Blasting through them, Fos Almir gave them back their forms, ghostly shades solidifying as they ran. They spanned all the Ages from the first awakening beside Cuiviénen, wearing leather and furs, with spears of flint and bronze, buckskin, armour, hair dressed with feathers and copper, these were the Elves whom had resisted Námo’s call, and drifted, in grief upon the Earth.

Two only were missing (Vanimórë did not count those sent to Tol Eresseä, who were not evolved enough to ascend, not yet). Turgon, and Miriel, trapped in Vairë’s Halls to weave the Doom of the Noldor, Age upon Age. But it was for Fëanor to go to his first mother, left alone in those darkling halls when Vairë fled to Ilmarin, and for Fingolfin and Anairë to deal with the matter of Turgon.

Vanimórë stretched out his arms in a bliss akin to orgasm as the fire raged from him, changing, consummating. Yes.
Now they were truly free, accountable to no-one and nothing but their own laws. This was where the Valar had erred; they had set down their Laws (call them whims, nothing else) without ever having lived. The Elves had lived for thousands of bitter years, and had tasted life to the last drop of the cup, both the good and the evil, the sweet and the bitter. They were not perfect, no being was, but they were tested and tried on the rack of Life, and experience had tempered them.

Were they, perhaps, Vanimórë’s answer to the gods whom he had freed because it was the right thing to do, but dangerous? For neither had they lived, only dwelt in the constructed paradise of the Timeless Halls.

The Maiar cried out as they descended, Eonwë armed, winged, at their head; enslaved so long ago, hating their captors, serving them always, compelled, now, to attack, their voices keened like wolves, like eagles, raw with conflicting emotions, and met the exultant battle-roar of the Elves.

A red meteor split the sky with a double boom of tortured air, slammed into Eonwë. The resultant fireball tore across the sky.
Vanimórë watched, smiling. Beside him, Elgalad suddenly laughed out.

Coldagnir battled Eonwë in a turmoil of wind and fire. Above Ilmarin clouds boiled up, night-black, and the wind smelled of old ice and musty tombs.
The combatants faced off, suspended on air, Coldagnir’s fire-feather wings beating against the sudden gale. His hammered-bronze eyes burning. He called, like a trumpet: ‘Fëanor!’

Fëanor raised his sword, light stabbed upward from it, flashing outward like a great web, striking each of the Maiar in a shower of sparks.
‘Eonwë, long ago thou didst ask me to release me,’ he cried. ‘I did not forget. Now, be free!’

Like dark rain the rusty black chains burst and fell, manacles forged in the deeps of the past, weeping poison rust. They shattered into dust and vanished on the icy wind. From Taniquetil came a shriek of thwarted rage.

‘Thou wert once of Arda,’ Fëanor told the Maia, ‘creatures of air and earth, of water and stone. Return, then, if thou wilt, but do not hinder us, for we go to bring thy masters to justice.’

‘I fight with thee.’ Eonwë spiralled to the ground, Coldagnir remained aloft, crimson wings beating a slow cadence, hair streaming into the fire of his being.

‘And I,’ Ossë in a toss of sea-foam, Uinen, her hair a ripple of waves.

Arien and Tilion, glowing silver and gold, alighted, bowed their heads.

One by one, the Maia came down, facing the glittering army. Olórin (Saruman was in the Void as were the two so-called ‘Blue Wizards’) and Radagast, neither bearing any resemblance to their appearance in Middle-earth, Melian, who did, Ilmarë, Varda’s sun-beam handmaid. Thousands of others.

‘And thou?’ Fëanor asked of Coldagnir. He was smiling. All the Elves were, looking at one another, laughing, talking, questioning, aware of their power, delighting in it, glowing.

Coldagnir laid a hand on his breast, ‘Always, Sire.’ Smiling back.

‘Vanimórë?’ Fëanor said.

Even for him, it would have been shocking, even for Glorfindel, whom had been through Fos Almir to provide a balance against the Valar.

‘It is the natural evolution of all conscious life,’ Vanimórë said, walking toward him. ‘Even for Mortals, eventually. Even for those on Tol Eresseä. But for thee,’ he spread his hands to encompass the host. ‘It was time.’ He looked at them, luminous beauty, deadly within their auras of power. It was easier now, for him to be among them, just as Eru had been able to walk among the gods.

Fëanor saluted him. ‘Then,’ he said, his gemfire eyes lifting to the mountain. ‘Let us end this.’


OooOooO




Chapter 25 ~ Fire on the Mountain ~ by Spiced Wine



~ Fire on the Mountain ~



~ An ending, and a beginning. There were no real endings, Vanimórë knew, but this was the end of the Valar’s hegemony, their presence in Valinor, their shadow over the mind. They had been reduced long ago, but they had still dwelt in Aman, squatting like vultures over a carcass, picking, picking, with their bodies gone to palsy, their powers draining away but still there, the black rot at the heart of a once-beautiful land, and their deeds would always leave scars on the souls of the Valinor Elves. Which was no bad thing. Scars were badges of experience. They were a teaching, a warning; they could offer wisdom if one were willing to learn from them. Few were. He had never been good at that part himself.

He shrugged. All gods were perilous; the Elves were just more dangerous than any of the others. The Fëanorions in particular. They had never regretted anything they did in the name of the Oath, and all Fëanor regretted was that he had died and left his sons to bear its impossible burden. (They knew it of course, but not the depths of his remorse, the horror that still, after thousands of years, brought him awake at night, his mind screaming Forgive me, forgive me! He concealed it, of course, even in sleep, slammed it shut against his sons so they would not be concerned, but Vanimórë had seen it).
But despite this, despite all, he and his sons would kill again in a heartbeat for one they loved. Single-minded, close-knit, arrogant, dangerous, brilliant.

Those who still thirsted for vengeance for the Kinslayings might now being war down upon the Noldor, but war among gods did not bear the same agonies as war among Elves and Men. They could battle across the cosmos for eternity of they wished. It would make no difference. There were secrets, of course, tucked into the universe: how to chain a god (Eru had given the Valar that knowledge to imprison Melkor) how to hurt, deceive. But not to utterly destroy, not to separate loved ones, families for Age upon Age, leaving soul-cramping grief.

And that had been the overriding reason behind Vanimórë’s unleashing Fos Almir. He did not want them to lose one another again, to die, to be lost. Never again. They had suffered enough, even those not under the Doom of the Noldor. Millions had perished in the wars of Middle-earth. Vanimórë wanted to be able to protect them all. And this had been the way. They were on the very edge of godhood as it was; he had only opened the way.

Behind him, he was aware of rising voices. He kept his eyes on Fëanor and said lightly: ‘Gods cannot be killed. Remember in Tanith when Glorfindel and I fought and we agreed that I kill him? His body, made of the stuff of the Earth was slain, but he recreated another for himself, yes? God cannot be unmade. Save by me.’

Fëanor’s eyes moved to beyond him and back, amused.
‘I do not want to kill him.’

‘The boot may be on the other leg,’ Vanimórë murmured.

Fëanor winked, came down lightly from his horse. Fingolfin moved to stand beside him as Finarfin approached, Finwë at his side. Galadriel disengaged herself from her brothers, Indis and Anairë walked side-by-side.

A silence spread out as the brothers looked at one another. It was possible to see the kinship in the high, proud structure of facial bones, the lovely, moulded curve of the mouth, the straight nose, the angled sweep of the brows. Although the twins, Finwë and Edenel were similar physically, it was the latter these three most resembled. They bore his stamp as surely as if they were of his seed.

‘And thou, brother,’ Fëanor said, his voice compelling as a spell. ‘Wilt thou fight beside us?’ He reached out a hand.

Finarfin’s eyes were blue-white fire. All the same emotions were still there, Vanimórë knew, the jealousy, the rivalry, the envy, and under it, the desire, the hunger to be a part of what Fëanor and Fingolfin had and the hammering knowledge that the Valar had deemed it wrong. But the curse of the Valar, the slow death, had been burned away in Fos Almir.

Slowly, Finarfin moved, gripped Fëanor’s arm like a warrior.
‘I will,’ he said, offering nothing more, and turned to Fingolfin who drew him into a hard, fierce embrace.

‘And I will, but not for thee, Fëanor.’ Galadriel spoke then. As magnificent as she had been in the high glory of her days, her hair fairly crackled about her, silver-gold in the sun.

Fëanor laughed. ‘Lady, I do not care, thou art a goddess now, thou can go where thou wilt, create a kingdom for thyself and rule it.’ He raised his voice. ‘And any may do the same. I want none beside me save those who come willingly. Now we have been set free, and truly. Go where thou wilt, make thine own lives!’

Galadriel spun away to her father, her brothers. Only Glorfindel, once disowned by Finarfin for his love of Ecthelion, remained aloof.

Fingolfin paused beside his mother and Anairë, speaking quietly, courteous as always but nothing, not even interest in his eyes, before returning to Fëanor’s side. Anairë looked after him, and her expression was very different, a what might have been, a dark anger as her eyes flicked to Fëanor. Fingolfin did not see it. Too much locked he and Fëanor together: deep respect, the howling malice of the Void, their very blood, their love that survived everything and a passion that paled the Sun. A goddess Anairë might be now, but there would always be the hierarchy Vanimórë bestowed upon the Elves at the beginning, and the House of Finwë would ever be paramount. And how could it be otherwise? Since his birth on Middle-earth, hearing of these figures, glorious and damned, he had always been more than half in love with them, and always would be.

Triple wings took Vanimórë aloft, beating an incense-scented wind.
‘Listen to me,’ he said, his voice carrying effortlessly. ‘I have opened Fos Almir to thee and thou art gods. The universe is thine. To thee, Fëanor, I give the Timeless Halls, beyond measure and beyond Time itself.’ Fëanor’s eyes widened. ‘Thou shalt meet Morgoth and his hosts as gods. Thou can be hurt, even slain, but the power is within thee to remake thy selves anew. Thou art wiser than the gods that were born out of the universe for thou hast lived and suffered and learned. Now, take thy vengeance upon those who cursed and doomed thee.’

The roar that went up raised the fine hairs on the nape of Vanimórë’s neck. It came from the depths of the blood, the Ages of pain.
He did not tell them that Melkor could not be killed, that what happened to him depended on Eru and what he would do. But then, neither could Melkor destroy them, not this time, nor could he warp them into orcs.

‘They are cowering in Ilmarin,’ Fëanor said. ‘Now, what will bring them out?’

Vanimórë laughed. ‘To climb Taniquetil would be long and tiresome, and there is no need. Is there?’

Fëanor slanted him a glittering look. ‘I have been a god for a long time, Vanimórë, yet this feels different, feels more.’ He turned his eyes back to the mountain. ‘Thy father is also up there, Vanimórë.’

‘Indeed,’ he replied. ‘And I will told him he will have no aid from me. But neither can he be destroyed.’

‘As we know well, one need not destroy another to hurt them.’

OooOooO


They descended on Ilmarin like a tornado of fire, ripping across the once-perfect lawns where, now, poisonous weeds straggled rampant and pools were choked with green scum, through the endless echoing halls beautified by the hands of the Noldor in ancient days. The Vanyar had walked here, soft-footed, to worship their malicious and empty gods.

Elves and Maiar exploded into the colossal pillared throne-hall like wrath unleashed. The Valar, in their last desperate attempt to regather power, called on the Void. There was an impossible sound, greater than thunder: the roar of negation twinned with the ululations of those damned to that no-place, and the bass roar of Melkor’s voice climbing atop all, a keening scream of hungerjoyrage.

The Elves struck back with a crack of white-hot power that set the Pelori mountains ringing like a bell, severing the connection as a sword cuts through a limb. Over it all, beautiful and terrible, rang Maglor’s voice, the Great Song. The power collapsed in on itself in a shock-wave, pillars cracked and fell, dust mushroomed. The fire and power of the new gods pushed into the inner sanctum in an unstoppable thunder.

Fëanor, Fingolfin, Finarfin, their sons and daughters and grandsons, Finwë and Edenel were the first, others, Thranduil, Legolas, Ecthelion, Beleg and Túrin, backed them.

The Valar sat upon their thrones as if clinging to a memory of power. Stripped now, to the truth of their souls they were wizened creatures with the bitter, lipless mouths and staring eyes of the fanatic, wholly repellent. Námo’s mantis-skull gaped hideously with a hunger that had never been sated and, now, never would be.

‘Come no further,’ Manwë shrilled, lifting a pallid hand. ‘Thou hast no right. Begone!’

Fëanor stepped forward, hurled him from the throne; his brothers cast the others away so that they sprawled ungracefully on the cold marble. Vairë scuttled aside, found her way barred by Galadriel, who tossed her next to her cowering husband. The three sons of Finwë seated themselves as the Valar scrambled to their feet, hemmed in by brilliant, pitiless eyes and armoured bodies.

‘I should keep thee,’ Fëanor said, ‘as thou didst keep the Vanyar, sitting at my feet, kissing my boots, but since I cannot stand the sight or stench of thee, I will not.’ He spread his hands on the arms of the throne.

‘Thou shouldn’t have died in the void,’ Manwë spat. ‘Thou and all of thine ilk, unnatural and filthy—‘

‘But thou didst like it when Melkor had thee,’ Vanimórë interrupted smoothly, stingingly. ‘Thou didst spread for him, eagerly, didst thou not, most holy Manwë, when he tempted thee in the Timeless Halls. And when thou didst find out what he was, that thou couldn’t not change him, thou didst hate him and thyself, and vowed to war against him, not for the Elves, not for any love of Arda, but for thy selves and made the act itself a sin, a crime.’ They glared at him. ‘But this I will say about Melkor, he could see the truth of thee, and rejected thee, even when he was imprisoned for three Ages. Oh yes, he could see right through thee. How many times didst thou go to him, hmm? How many times did he reject thee? For all he could create nothing but abominations, he had a little taste.’

Námo made a high, insectile sound, and Fëanor rose again. The Finwëions looked down at the Valar, gods of light, of war, an awesome beauty.
‘Bring them to the Mahanaxar,’ he said.

OooOooO


The whole of Valinor gathered. They came from Valmar, Tirion, even Alqualondë. Olwë was with Eärwen and Dior but Elwing, with a laughing scream, had spun herself into bird-shape when Fos Almir came down, speeding away to the high cliffs. Tuor and Idril were likewise gone, but Vanimórë could track them as easily as a hawk tracks a mouse.

Olwë’s presence was not surprising; he did not accept Fëanor as High King, but neither did he worship these Valar. The Teleri’s reverence for the Powers was (had been?) exclusive to Ulmo, Ossë and Uinen, not the ruling triad on Ilmarin.

The four on trial needed no shackles but those of the mind as they were marched into the Ring of Doom, unrepentant, mouths sneering. Vanimórë realised that, unbelievably, they meant to appeal to Eru. He laughed inwardly. They were utterly in denial. Their minds had lost the expansive sight of gods long ago, compressed into their cramped, petty little ideology.

There was no jeering, no mocking, only the condemnatory silence, heavy as lead, as Eonwë and Ilmarë, Tilion and Arien pushed them to their knees.

May I begin, Fëanor? Vanimórë enquired and received a flashing smile.

The world vanished; they stood in the vastness of the universe, nebulae, gorgeous and immense birthing suns, glowing red giants, burning blue-white supergiants, smaller yellow suns, titanic black holes, asteroids tumbling erratically, comets with their white tails, gas giants, the rocky planets that harboured organic life, galaxies like clouds, spirals trailing pinwheel arms.

‘The Gods, born out of the creation of the Universe, of all that is, drawn to the Timeless Halls, to the Overmind, by curiosity, because they wanted to learn. And learn they did for Eru came from another Universe, one he destroyed.’
‘Eru was not perfect; he was ancient and powerful beyond even a god’s imagining. And the gods were as children compared to him. He had lived and they had not. So he taught them, but the one thing he could not give them was the experience of living. And the Valar, even the best of them, never learned it.’
‘But the discord was there already: Melkor, and when he descended to Arda, Eru allowed those who became the Valar to follow, to contend with him. He thought they would protect the Aftercomers, Elves and Men. He was mistaken, at least in some of them and after, when he saw his error, he was loath to allow any god to leave the Timeless Halls. Coldagnir came to Utumno, and Elgalad to me, but no more.’
‘Protectors,’ he pronounced with a bite, turning to the Valar. ‘not tyrants. The first thing thou, Manwë, did when the Elves came to Valinor was lay down thy Laws. The Quendi already had laws, and though they were young upon the Earth, they were fair-minded and growing in wisdom, and created laws suited to them as a people. Those were overturned, dismissed. And more than that, they were encouraged to believe their old lives and loves sinful, base, bestial. Then thy stupefying disease poured down from Ilmarin, so that few escaped the malaise that turned a once proud, free people into sapless automatons. The only reason thou didst not succeed was Fëanor, the embodiment of the Flame Imperishable, who kept the fire alive and touched others who carried his torch. Thou didst hate him, the three of thee especially, and worse, out of thine arrogance and hared decreed that any Elf who broke their laws be condemned to the Void when they died. Thou didst never mean for any of them to be released. Now thou wilt be judged by the people thou didst torment and enslave.’

The cosmos vanished. Hot sunlight poured down. Fëanor glanced at his half-brother’s and all of them moved into the centre of the Mahanaxar.
‘Dost thou have anything to say in thy defence?’ Fëanor lifted his brows.

‘We do not answer to thee.’ Námo’s elongated jaws gaped, teeth dripping with venom. ‘We will answer to Eru.’

Vanimórë laughed in his cadaver-face. ‘He has gone from the Timeless Halls to await the coming of Melkor. And thou art wrong in this as in everything. Thou wilt answer to them and to me. They are mine, thou fool, and thou didst dare to touch them, to doom them, to condemn them.’

‘So,’ Fëanor continued, ‘Nothing to say? I have a great deal to say to thee, but my people take precedence. Thou wilt be judged first.’

Varda sneered, ‘We cannot be destroyed.’ Laid bare now, the self-called Queen of the Stars was a thin blade of a creature, face drawn into lines of festering contempt.

‘Wrong again,’ Vanimórë corrected. ‘I can create gods. And I can destroy them. Varda Elentári, who came from a star, but created nothing, only illusions, yet called herself a Maker of them.’

She snarled at him, fingers crooked.

‘I do not want them to die quickly,’ Fëanor mused. ‘They never felt compassion, never felt pity, never grieved for father, mother, son, daughter, brother or sister, for any kin dying in agony, in sorrow. We were nothing to thee!’ He blazed, burning, fire like a coronal about his brow. ‘Nothing but chattel, slaves. Just as the Maiar were, whom thou didst bind to thee. And at the end thou didst permit Sauron into Aman with Ungoliant, hiding on Taniquetil allowing her to devour even thine own kin. Phaugh!’ with disgust. ‘Thou art worse than cowards.’

Finarfin said, cold as the Encircling Sea: ‘Chain them as Melkor was chained.’

Fëanor looked at him, smiled. ‘There is a certain symmetry, a poetry in jailing thee, Námo, in thine own prison where once Melkor was bound.’ He walked toward the former Doomsman. ‘But,’ to Vanimórë, ‘Thou didst speak of the Timeless Halls?’

‘I give them to thee. Thou, and those chosen by thee will rule there. They are limitless, they can be whatever thou doth want—‘

No,’ Manwë screamed. ‘They are ours, they always have been, how dare—

Finarfin stepped forward and slapped his face. Even Fëanor blinked.
‘Be thou silent,’ he hissed, and turned back to Fëanor and Fingolfin. Colour shocked high on his cheekbones.
‘Thou didst not know,’ he said, ‘why I turned back from the march of the Host. I will tell thee. Fëanor, I came to thy tent.’ A slicing glance toward Indis.
‘I was such a good boy, was I not, mother?’ Acid on his tongue. ‘Fingolfin grew beyond thee and thou didst no doubt think that he was safe with Anairë, mouthing the lies forced down the Vanyar’s throat, watching him for any misstep. But I loved them both, my brothers, and thou didst poison me against them, but Fëanor most of all. And still I would have gone with him. I did go. I wanted revenge for my father’s death, and most of all, I wanted out of this cage’ His voice grew in fury as he spoke, the last words lashing out in a manner that surprised even his children. But a father is more than a parent, a husband. At the core is the individual, the boy, the youth, the man.

‘I do not blame thee,’ he said to his mother, more softly. ‘Not now, knowing that thou wert fed the Valar’s poison, just as I was.’ And with that he looked at Glorfindel, long ago disowned, written out of the genealogies of the Noldor as his son, and held out his hand.
‘My son,’ he said, voice taut with strain, ‘Wilt thou forgive me?’

OooOooO


In the end, perhaps Finarfin had suffered almost as much as his brothers, if in different ways. Had he been born in Middle-earth he would have been able to live as his nature intended, as Glorfindel had (and paid the price). But from the beginning, he had been moulded by the Valar’s Laws siphoned through Indis. Fingolfin had turned away from her fanatic purity almost from the beginning, leaving her only Finarfin. Into him she poured her beliefs, threats, warnings and hatred. She herself had been twisted from the beginning and trod the same path with her youngest son. Abuse leading to abuse.

Finarfin had married Eärwen because she and her people were far away from the toxic politics of Lindon. If they were not in love with one another, at least they were willing. By the time he disowned Glorfindel, Finarfin himself was chained and bound, hating (and desiring) and shame-filled, hiding it all under a veneer of calm (and learning that from Fingolfin whom he loved and wanted and was jealous of because of the looks he had seen Fëanor bestowed on him, the privacy of lovers that shut him out in the cold).

But Finwë’s death had changed things, allowed those bludgeoned feelings to come to the surface. The breath of a new (or very old wind) had breathed upon him, the hope of freedom.

After Námo’s pronouncement of doom, Finarfin had come to Fëanor’s tent. Night was coming down, and even the fires that drove the Noldor on must take the fuel of food, drink, rest — and counsel.

Finarfin had never approached Fëanor before. The eyes of his sons, hard, perilous, curious followed him as he entered the tent. Braziers of sea-coal burned, but there was little adornment: a folding chair and table, a pallet draped with furs. Fëanor did not intend to make camp here.

Fëanor’s mane of hair was loose, gleaming like wet crow feathers. He still wore half-armour. His eyes, when he turned, were the Silmarils Morgoth had stolen but, Finarfin thought in awe, more beautiful, more alive, fringed so thickly by those sooty lashes that it looked as if he had ringed his eyes in black paint.

To Finarfin, he appeared half-insane, (he was) and wildly, richly gorgeous. The Doom already wrapped around him like strangling black tentacles — he wore it like a crown, flaunting its darkness. The Valar could never humble him, Námo’s words could not daunt him. When he stood, sword uplifting in the great square of Tirion, his glory had paled the Valar’s beauty as a furnace pales a rushlight. Anyone would have followed him; oh, they might counsel caution but, as Finarfin saw now, released from his chains, Fëanor’s potency had, for that time, swept through the Valar’s spell of apathy. For a while, back then, all of them were liberated.

Finarfin knew, because his brothers had been his most secret study, that Fëanor, and Fingolfin too, could not bear neediness. It was a trait that ran through Finwë’s bloodline. They met one another like forest fires, titans, all-consuming and furious. There was no place in their hearts for clinging hands, for tears, for pleas and they were peculiarly unromantic as a people, although whether that was due to the ‘lessening’ of desire under the Valar or their true nature, Finarfin did not know. All pride and fire, they were, Fëanor, his sons, Fingolfin, too, though he hid it skilfully, and Fingon. As the Valar’s shadows fell deeper, they shone the greater, beacons in a darkening world. They would never respect, let alone be attracted to, anyone who could not stand before them and match them. Few could, and so they sought out one another’s eyes for the reflected passion and desire.

And so, when Fëanor looked at him, really looked, when his lips parted to speak, Finarfin gave him no time, gave himself no time. He stepped forward and kissed that deadly, wonderful mouth.

It had meant many things that kiss: a promise, fraternity, hunger, longing, but it became quite something else, or perhaps all those things when Fëanor returned it. There were no words to describe Fëanor’s kiss, the heat and flame inside it. The long-repressed fire in Finarfin leaped to meet it. Hampered as they both were by clothes and armour, still their bodies pressed flush. Finarfin’s hands plunged through the storm of Fëanor’s hair, his lips eating the unleashed flame.

It was over too soon. There was no time to shed the constraints of armour, to tumble down onto that pallet and for Fëanor to open the last doors in Finarfin’s carefully preserved innocence. Fëanor broke the kiss, catching Finarfin’s shoulders in a hard grip, staring into all the corners and angles of his face as if unearthing all those buried secrets. He said, ‘I am not often surprised, half-brother.’ And then his smile came, blinding and brilliant, even frayed at the edges at it was with all that ate at him. ‘We will have time to...explore this, later.’

There was no later. Finarfin, his breath unsteady, his body aching for release, returned to his own tent. And Manwë came, and Námo, slithering into his mind relentless as a rape, rank as sewage, whispering, whispering.

His children would die, they told him, if he pursued this path, Angrod, Aegnor, Finrod, Glorfindel, Galadriel. How could he even lower himself to touch Fëanor the sinner, the rebel, the curse that ate into the Noldor like rot and had already doomed them?

So many words, piling on Finarfin like unburied bodies, oozing poison. He saw his children, even disowned Glorfindel (whom had the courage of conviction he, Finarfin, lacked) dying — of a firestorm, of dark sorcery, with whips of black-red flame...

But then came the guerdon: Return to us and we will see that they are spared.
How could he do less? And so, to Fëanor’s incendiary fury, Fingolfin’s bitter disappointment, his children’s (save Glorfindel) baffled shame, Finarfin turned his face back, the cloak of the Valar settling about his shoulders until he magnified his ‘sin’ with Fëanor to the blackest depths and, in horror, sought out the Valar to cleanse himself...

And they had died anyhow, his children, all save Galadriel who avoided the wars that cut down his sons one by one. Finarfin came to think he deserved it. His brief freedom, his audacity, his offence against the Valar was unforgivable, lodging in him like a snapped-off thorn, festering. Until they took everything from him, the love he had felt, his emotions, everything but his resentment against Fëanor and Fingolfin which the Valar nurtured like a tender plant, fertilised with the sewer-spewings from their mouths and minds.

Now, the chains were off, the poison drained, and life unfurled for Finarfin like a golden rose.

‘I want,’ Fëanor said to Vanimórë, ‘a cage in Valinor, where they can watch everything we do, see our freedom.’

Vanimórë smiled. ‘Thou may have it.’

‘We will attend to them in due course, but they are worth no more of my time at the moment.’

The Valar vanished, screaming.

‘When thou art ready,’ Vanimórë said. ‘I will show thee the Timeless Halls.’

‘After we have dealt with a few...family matters.’

‘I am honoured,’ said a voice behind them, rich, mocking, ‘that you would consider me family, Fëanor.’

Sauron walked out of the crowd. A flurry of silver-gilt hair shook free as the hooded cloak he had worn fell to his feet.


OooOooO












Chapter 26 ~ Reunion of Light ~ by Spiced Wine



~ Reunion of Light ~


~ Galadriel acted first with a scream like a she-fox, leaping toward him. Perhaps she thought she had the right, and she had been the subject of Sauron’s taunts often enough, in Ilmarin.

No.

A slam of power against her. Celebrimbor, all the Fëanorions, burned up like war-beacons.
‘Thou wouldst dare?’ Celebrimbor hissed. ‘When did he rape thee, break thee in a dungeon, deceive and torture thee? Thy part in this was over long ago. Now step back.’

‘Or what?’ she screamed at him, all control lost in flaying fury. ‘What wilt thou do?’

‘Do not be foolish, Galadriel,’ Glorfindel said in a voice of ice. ‘When we became gods, we were apportioned all the powers we had as Elves. Thou art not stronger than the least of us. No, thou canst not be killed, but thou wilt be caged, like the Valar, if thou wouldst even try to interfere in this. At least for a time. It is no business of thine! Now, step back.’

She raged, a tower of light, but they lashed back, enclosing her within a wall of fire. Strong she had always been, and called herself wise, but she was not them. She had not warred as they had, until the battle-blood was ground into every invisible crevice of the skin, and the smoke smudged the lungs. She had never felt, since the Helcaraxë, cold, or pain of wound, the struggle of weariness. She had never been raped by a god or died screaming. She had never burned in the Void.
And now, it was finally borne upon her that she was not them and never could be. She seemed to explode in shards of bitter, bright light. Not dead, not gone, but vanished from Valinor.

‘I shall ask my sister to speak with her,’ Vanimórë said, ‘Vanya is not bound to Arda, alone. Perhaps she will convince Galadriel to find the truth of herself. She will come to no harm,’ he assured Finarfin, her brothers, Eärwen. ‘Not now. How can she?’

Blazing eyes dismissed her from thought, turned back to Mairon: Maedhros, Maglor, Finrod, Tindómion, Gil-galad, Celebrimbor, and before all of them, Edenel, from the deeps of Utumno. Oh yes, he remembered this one and the optimistically named White Slayers, whom had never killed, or not for Melkor, though later, they had become an unearthly terror among the orcs, eaters-of-hearts, a nightmare told to orc-pups. The term white demons that came to encompass all the Elves had been born of the memory of the Slayers with their white hair and eyes and skin.

These were the ones whose lives he had touched most nearly. Personally. He considered them. It had all begun with Edenel. Mairon had not known what titanic alchemy of will had allowed the Elf and those who followed him to change, become what they did, burned clean in the fires of horror. It had been outside his knowledge, and Melkor’s too, but fascinating to witness: black hair blanching to translucent white, eyes to opalescent pallor, but the beauty was hard as diamond, not ghostly or ethereal. Not Elves anymore, half-gods perhaps, forged in Hell. They should not have been able to break so completely from Melkor’s control but then Melkor had made the mistake of not binding them, believing them wholly his without further intervention. Rarely had he made that mistake again, and the next, he could not bind or break...

Maedhros in Angband, tall, fiery beauty, copper-bronze hair billowing to his knees, burning silver eyes in a face that might have stopped a sunrise. They had broken him a thousand times, more, but that core of steel remained even at the end. A foolish waste, Mairon had called that, Melkor’s uncontrollable rage that at last admitted they would get nothing from Maedhros they did not take.

And how they had taken. Torture, rape, long, slow torment of the mind, and still, still something remained, blazing, blazing, held like a jewel in a fist, refusing to die. He would have died in the end, of course, on Thangorodrim but, even while Mairon was telling over a plan to convince Melkor to bring him down, to use him against the Noldor, he was gone. They did not known, until later, who his rescuer was. They had made no provision for rescue, not believed anyone would dare.

Someone had, and Melkor’s rage had struck Mairon. Fëanor lay at the root of that fury, Melkor’s obsession. Fëanor, who Mairon had never seen in the flesh but who lived like an undying star behind Maedhros’ eyes and burned like acid in Melkor’s memory.

Mairon wondered if he would have known what Fëanor was, had he met him, had him in chains as Maedhros and Maglor had been. He came to understand Melkor’s obsession, all the more alluring because of the ugliness of Angband’s denizens...until Vanimórë was born. His son, the culmination of so many failed experiments.

He had known something then, that this one was special, (shrugging of the fact that he had a twin. She was not important, only this one was, his son). Perhaps Fëanor had felt this way when he created the Silmarils, because it was not the sense of tender, accomplished joy a father might feel for a child, but a knowledge that one had created perfection. The One Ring had evoked a similar emotion in him, long after. But child-Vanimórë was only the beginning. It would take Ages to hone him, to polish him, for him to become a masterwork. But the effort was pleasurable, and there was always the secret knowledge that the Blood of Fire ran in him.

And, like Maedhros Fëanorion, neither did Vanimórë break.

His son was an utter mystery that Mairon wanted to unravel. What power (and Vanimórë was more than a Power) would consent to being born into slavery, to undergo rape and torture?

Finrod, in Tol-in-Gaurhoth, with that lovely face and creamy hair. He had looked, unveiled on the Isle, nothing like the proud, fiery Maedhros yet his heart burned with its own light; he shone like the Sun. Hardly his fault, when he sung of Valinor, that he had no belief in the words, that the Fëanorions ran rampant through his mind, the forbidden desire that the Valar had made a sin.

Yes, Mairon had known all about the Valar, how Melkor had fucked them into ecstasy and then laughed at them and walked away because they were nothing he would want beside him.

‘They were so innocent,’ Melkor had sneered long ago in Utumno. ‘So dull. They had no vision, and never cultivated any. That is a sin in itself. Obtuseness. Wilful ignorance. Knowest thou why they came to Arda? Not to protect the Children; they wanted to follow me and when I mocked them, they fought me. But it was nothing to do with Elves or Men. They trailed after me like deflowered virgins whose lover has abandoned them, and those who held themselves up the highest, they were the most pathetic of all. They were even useless at fucking. No passion.’

Little wonder he had been drawn to Fëanor’s intemperate passion, and then it had been Fëanor who laughed at Melkor and walked away. In the very deeps of his mind (buried lest Melkor see it) Mairon had admired Fëanor for that. Even under the guise of a penitent, Melkor was as dark, deadly and beautiful as in imploding sun. But then Fëanor, the Flame Imperishable in his soul, would not even have been impressed. He was more. Melkor, in the end, looked into the eye of destruction and yearned for it; Fëanor was life.

His eyes moved to Tindómion, flaunting magnificence and power like the cloud of bronze hair. He had been so close there, so close. Maglor’s son had been half-mad with desire for Gil-galad, but something had come out of the failure: he had been able to track down Maglor.

And Celebrimbor...at first, in Ost-in-Edhil, Celebrimbor had been nothing but an open door, a way in. Yet, while the doors of the Gwaith-i-Mirdain had opened to him, Celebrimbor’s own personal door had been closed for a long time. He was engrossed in his work, enjoyed their shared conversations, but his soul was barred.

‘He regrets leaving his father,’ Vanimórë had said, when ‘Annatar’ was gone from Ost-in-Edhil for half-a-year, returned to Mordor. ‘He grieves for him and that they were not reconciled before Curufin died. It is no great mystery. He grieves for his uncles, his grandsire. Thou didst have no father and cannot comprehend.’

‘Oh, and do you miss me?’ Mairon asked sweetly. ‘I am sorry my work has taken me away from thee for so long.’

Vanimórë had merely looked at him from those fabulous purple eyes and turned on his heel.

At the time, Celebrimbor had a lover, but he had faded into memory as, almost against his will, the Fëanorion turned his attention toward Annatar as if dragged by a magnet. Galadriel, herself a power in the city, was disregarded. Therein lay one of the thorns in her flesh. Mairon had never considered her at all; her coldness, her suspicion were repellent, and certainly not worth trying to overcome. Yes, she was strong, clever, but there was no charisma, no charm, no vision beyond her own self-aggrandisement. Celebrimbor, on the other hand, radiated all three qualities like a furnace. And so, Annatar had dismissed Galadriel with a flick of his eyes, and oh, how she hated to be overlooked. He wondered if she would have welcomed torment had it brought her the recognition she so craved.

Still, he had hated her in later times, hiding in Laurelindórenan, never daring to face him, clutching one of Celebrimbor’s Three Rings to her, having the audacity to think she could ever match him. She had almost tried; he had felt it when the One tempted her. Fool. She had no idea who or what he truly was. Begrudgingly, he lauded her strength of will in rejecting it, but even had she not, she would never have had the power to confront him. His respect plummeted when he came to know she had only done so to avoid punishment by the Valar, to buy herself back into Valinor. And they had punished her anyway.

She should have been wiser. In the Annals of Valinor, she had been depicted as a great mover of events, a near-goddess, a penitent Exile, a hero. He had read the Annals when he first came here, a jumble of biased lies, elevating the mediocre, damning the great, each verse rotten-ripe with the smugness of the Valar and their puppet scribes. Laughing contemptuously he set the tomes alight before the Valar’s furious, impotent eyes. He had loved seeing them crumble, their final horror in their eyes as they realised that their erstwhile thralls, those they had damned and doomed, were now forever above their grasping reach.

The world focussed in the depths of Celebrimbor’s eyes of polished ice. There had always been a light behind them, the unquenchable flame of the Fëanorions. Now it was deeper, immeasurably more powerful. The last time Mairon had seen him he had been broken, still defiant, ruined glory. Mairon did not know how far he would have gone had Vanimórë not killed Celebrimbor, a swift mercy-kiss. Half Marion’s rage at his son’s action had been born out of bitter relief. He loathed having to mutilate beauty.

Celebrimbor’s soul would go into the Void, Mairon knew that. A shame. Melkor had heard the Valar speak of the fate of those who reviled them, long ago, when he was on parole in Valinor. A damned waste, (again) but there had been nothing he could do. And yet, against all reason, he did not think it was the end. Did not want it to be. The Fëanorions could not come to that.

And the sex, gods! the sex had been cataclysmic, far more pleasurable than it was with Vanimórë because his son fought, denied it with clenched teeth and hate in his eyes. There was satisfaction in destroying those barriers, bringing him to shattering release against his will. But with Celebrimbor, save for the battle for dominance, there had been no resistance. Celebrimbor revelled in it, the blurred line between hate and love, the power, the erotic fire, the savagery. He had been magnificent. His pain and rage at Mairon’s betrayal had been equally as intense.

Slowly, Mairon lifted a clenched hand, opened it to expose the jewel-box he had crafted out of obsidian. He opened the lid. Narya, Vilya and Nenya sat within purring, burning — around a jewel that suddenly burst into incandescent flame as it recognised its maker. The Thrree Rings nestled around the Silmaril Elwing had brought to Valinor, that the Valar had stolen — and not been able to hold.

Celebrimbor’s eyes flicked downward, then up again. Mairon pouted, mimed a kiss. These rings Celebrimbor had died rather than give to him.

Celebrimbor became a conflagration. Mairon burned up to meet him.

The air exploded in sudden violence. There was a clamour of voices, the whipcrack of unleashed power.

They came from the south, falling, screaming like stooping hawks, Tuor, Idril, Elwing, Olwë, Dior, Teleri of Alqualondë, Sindar of Doriath, come with vengeance on wings of power.

Celebrimbor, blazing, whirled, Fëanorion to the bone, willing to forgo his own vengeance in defence of his family. Mairon cursed through his teeth, oddly insulted at the interruption, at Celebrimbor’s dropping him like an old shoe. But had he not known, always, that a Fëanorion loved their own blood first? Celebrimbor had ever tucked away a portion of his heart, his obsessive love, and Mairon had never been unable to prise it open.
And he had not cared. Jealousy played no part in his plans or his nature.

Laughter, dark and faintly malicious behind him. He gathered himself, faced Vanimórë. Who said, mouth curled into a smile: ‘Liar.’

‘Was this a good idea?’ Mairon demanded as the sky lit with the battle-rage of unleashed gods.

His son shrugged. ‘It was fair. They were walking into godhood already, I just had to wait until they rid themselves of the dross. Anyhow, they cannot die now. So let them have their fun.’ His eyes widened as he looked past Mairon. ‘Ware right!’

Elwing was diving toward — not Mairon, but the Silmaril that still exploded like a burning diamond. Inhuman she was now and doubly so, a great white gull, claws extended.

Vanimórë caught up the Silmaril and tossed it toward her. Elwing screamed, fumbled it, and was caught in a conflagration of light. For one moment, the skeleton of a bird etched black against the glare and then she was gone.

Mairon narrowed his eyes.

‘Oh, she will return,’ Vanimórë said. ‘And purged of her madness, poor woman.’

‘I care nothing for that —‘

Olórin hit him in a burst of white light, carrying both of them away in a rush of explosive power. Vanimórë laughed softly and drew back to watch the battle. The sheer relief he felt at not fearing for them, knowing that they could never again be killed, imprisoned, torn from one another was like the weight of worlds removed. Like Elwing, they could be disembodied for a time, but their souls would rebuild their bodies. Even Melkor, when he came, could not destroy them.

But one more thing...He looked at the Silmaril hanging like a star. Fëanor did not wear the one he had recovered long ago; he meant to fashion all three into crowns for himself, Fingolfin and Finarfin. But they were part of his soul and the time for them to return to him was ...now. He must be utterly complete before Melkor descended.

The Silmaril Maedhros had cast into the Earth’s fires had never been recovered. Fëanor had not sought it. There was, he had said, time. It could not be unmade and, perhaps, he meant to prove to his sons, his brother, his people, that the jewels had no hold on him any-more.

And yet, they were part of him. Looking back, as he could, through time, Vanimórë saw the young Fëanor at the height of his power, before the creeping miasma of the Valar twisted him, before Melkor’s malice and jealousy wormed itself into his heart, before madness and grief tarnished him, eager, brilliant, pouring creation itself into the Silmarils, thinking he was seeking to capture the light of the Trees, but making something far more: jewels that held parts of his own transcendent soul. He burned, caught in a bejewelled cage, raging at it, trapped, trapped, trapped, desiring the half-brother he had not, then, seduced, loving his sons, pouring his fire into the Silmarils.



A cool hand came to rest on his shoulder with Elgalad’s scent of hawthorn and spring rain. He smiled. Watch.

From Tirion came a flare of blue-white light, climbing like a star into the sky, racing north. From the east came an explosion of red gold as the Silmaril long lost in Arda’s fiery depths flung itself across the barrier between Middle-earth and Valinor. Free now of the unclean ‘hallowing’, of the Valar’s lust, the Silmarils blazed a path toward their Creator.

When they met, the air detonated white then, in the shocking afterglow, formed the vast shape of a man: Fëanor drawn in lines of ice and fire and lightning. It walked towards its maker, and the two merged.

The shockwave screamed across Aman in an expanding cloud of force —
— and, with a terrible crashing roar, Ilmarin collapsed. Home of slavery, of colossal, egotistical hate and cruelty, every pillar, every priceless gem, every window and tile burst asunder and hurtled down the white slopes of Taniquetil, disintegrating in a thundering spume of rock and ice.

Vanimórë made sure that Manwë, Námo and Varda saw it. In the ringing silence, he lifted a hand, opened the gates to the Timeless Halls.
‘Come,’ he said. ‘All of thee who accept Fëanor as High King. The rest of thee may stay — for now. What more dost thou want? Vengeance? Thou wilt not have it because none of thee, now, can die, and all of thee can remake thy bodies by thought alone if they are destroyed. Think about that. Thou hast had thy bit of fun,’ he added bitingly, ‘and I will not permit thee to bring thy quarrel into the Timeless Halls. There are other things to be done.’

In a fury of light and fire they passed through the doors. Vanimórë looked around, saw Olórin and his father facing one another, Mairon changed into the form of a giant Fell-wolf, his preferred shape for battle. Striding between them, he caught the great scruff in one hand, the neck of Olórin’s robe in the other. ‘And the both of thee, get in there.

The gates vanished in the faces of the Valinor Elves. Those who wished to follow and rejoin battle found they could not. He understood them; their desire for revenge was no different to those who desired Sauron’s destruction (impossible, of course) but they could not be permitted to disturb what must now happen. There were explanations, renewals, reunions, personal matters to be addressed and, he thought with an inner sigh, Celebrimbor and Mairon.

The Elves saw what he had seen when first entering the Timeless Halls: the impossible planets that loomed over half the sky, the mansions of the gods, the forests, plains, rivers, the mountain that was a world in itself: Eru’s palace.

Vanimórë spun on the air to face them, smiling.
‘Come,’ he invited, and his wings flashed out, carrying him to that empty, beautiful, impossible palace. ‘It is thine, all of it. Make of it what thou wilt.’

Fëanor’s wings were the colour of the Silmarils. He turned toward Vanimórë, blazing, laughing, came to him, and kissed him.

‘Valinor was never going to be big enough for thee,’ Vanimórë murmured.

‘Eru’s palace?’ Fëanor raised a brow.

‘He is gone and barely used it. What would I want with it? Do with it what thou wilt.’

Fëanor’s eyes gleamed. ‘We are going to love this,’ he predicted. He took Vanimórë’s arm in a hard grip. ‘All of us.’

They descended to one of the great courtyards, the same one, had they known it where Eru had unmade Gothmog. Manwë, Námo and Varda were there, caged and impotent. Sauron was free, but facing Celebrimbor. Again. The Fëanorion though, had gathered himself, something had closed behind his lovely, perilous eyes. He glanced at the cage, turned to Vanimórë.
‘This can restrain even gods?’ he asked.

I can restrain — or destroy — gods,’ Vanimórë replied calmly.

‘Then restrain him.’ Long black lashes swept down to veil Celebrimbor’s eyes. ‘until I decide what I want to do to him. For now — get him out of my sight.’ He turned on his heel and stalked away.

Vanimórë choked down a laugh. ‘Of course,’ he said.



OooOooO




‘I wish thou hadst come to me before,’ Fëanor said, looking over the titanic sweep of the Timeless Halls.

Finarfin shook his head. ‘I was not courageous enough, until the end, when it was too late,’ he added with a wry smile, ‘I was too intimidated by thee and envious of Fingolfin because he did not appear so.’

Fëanor turned to face him. Those eyes still burned a path of fire to Finarfin’s loins, brought his heart into his throat.
‘And I should have spoken to thee instead of ignoring thee, I should have spoken up before the Noldor, lead them away from Valinor, not later, in madness and grief, but at our noontide.’

‘They would never have let us go.’

Perfect black brows flicked up. ‘Perhaps not, but then they would have had to reveal themselves to us, explain why.’

‘And we would have been enslaved far sooner. Just as I was, as my daughter was, all of us who went to Taniquetil, hoping — Eru knows what we hoped, and in the end, they would have killed us anyhow. Perhaps I always knew that, in the bottom of their shrivelled hearts those three loathed us, the Elves, but it was not until then I allowed myself to know it. And still, I could feel nothing until —‘

‘Fos Almir burned thee free of them.’ Fëanor put a hand under Finarfin’s chin, tilted it up. ‘I do not think thou didst have a chance,’ he murmured, ‘no more than did Ingwë or the Vanyar. Thou wert my half-brother and so the Valar reeled thee in like a fish. I wish I could have given thee more reason to trust me, but we cannot know what would have happened in Middle-earth. Thou might have died, like me, like Fingolfin —‘

‘There would, at least, have been honour in it. And I could have been with thee in the Void.’

Fëanor caught him then, into an embrace so strong, so forgiving that Finarfin felt as if the sun encircled him, pouring through skin and bone, healing and intoxicating. It was followed by a kiss that (he knew) claimed him, because Fëanor claimed, if he wanted enough, and now, now, Finarfin knew fully, finally, what that meant and why Fingolfin had never been able to look aside, why he had hammered his betrayal in Araman into pure, steely resolve and lead his host across the Helcaraxë. Following his half-brother. Knew why the seven sons had sworn the Oath with him, knew why, when Fëanor’s fire touched the heart, it bound forever.

— And it did more. Fëanor had always seen into the soul. His claiming of one blasted through all falseness, all masks, the societal poses and manners one adopted, all lies. His power unearthed the potentiality. When touched by it, when he claimed one for his own, that one became their truest self.



OooOooO




Vanimórë had said Turgon could still be reborn. Or Vanimórë could remake him — with the same hatred and biases that he had died with.

And so. So.

Anairë stared into the pool where gold and black fish flicked.
‘Killed himself.’ Her hands were curled into fists. ‘Because of thee.’

Fingolfin pressed down his reflexive anger. ‘Because he could not accept what I was, who I loved, whom Fingon loved.’

‘So,’ she said, after a moment, ‘we will wed?’

‘No,’ he said immediately, ‘neither do gods, what we are now, need that.’

‘But that is the only thing Turgon will understand.’ Her eyes narrowed.

‘Turgon will accept and understand whatever he is raised to accept,’ he responded. ‘There are no more Valar, Anairë. Those who remain are no greater now than the least of us. Their Laws were never ours.

Her eyes mapped his face, frowning under delicate brows. ‘We never had a chance, did we?’

He shrugged. ‘Thou didst not. I do know, Anairë, that thou hast never truly lived, never had the freedom to know what, or who, thou truly art. Thou wilt have that, now.’

She gave her shoulders a little shake, nodded. He continued, ‘Vanimórë will not permit Turgon to be a god, not yet, but he will give him the chance to grow into one. Either that or he will be sent to Tol Eressëa with all those who are not yet ready to ascend. When he comes to maturity, he will be judged.’

‘And I?’ she asked. ‘will I be judged?’

‘Yes,’ he returned, quite gently, ‘Fos Almir saved thee from death and conferred godhood on thee, but Vanimórë can unmake gods, even destroy them. Thou art on parole.’

She swung away from him, pacing the garden, blue skirts misting around her. Fingolfin sat on the edge of the pool, watching the flicker of the fish until she returned and sank down not far away.

‘I like this feeling,’ she admitted, ‘of being free. Although it is strange. There was a time when I believed that the failure of our marriage was my fault, that I should have —‘

He cut across her. ‘No. It was no blame of thine. The fact is, I should not have been married because I had no desire for such a state. I married thee because it was my duty, out of pique because Fëanor was wed and had children. All the wrong reasons.’

Her face was averted, but he saw the downward curl of her lips. ‘And I,’ she said thinly, ‘simply obeyed orders. I had no desire, then, to do aught but worship Varda. I believed that marriage — sex — was a necessary evil for the betting of children.’

‘I know.’ How he knew! And he had been grateful; he had never desired her, never wanted to bed her save under the influence of a drug.

She clasped her hands in her lap. ‘I do want Turgon back.’

‘So do I, but I am beginning to think now, that I do not care if he loves me or even respects me.’

‘Why?’

‘I have the love of greater souls than Turgon could ever be.’

‘Those who accept thee and thine...appetites.’ She stood up.

‘Yes.’ He was unconcerned. Turgon’s words still rang and rebounded in his mind, but did they matter? ‘They are perfectly natural, Anairë, just as it is natural for a woman to desire another woman or, sometimes, a man. Or desires no-one in that way at all. It is unimportant. But Turgon’s hatred of me was not based solely on that. He was jealous, really, of the Fëanorions, that I loved one, that Fingon did. Well, that cannot be helped. It is his problem. Or was. But he was never a happy man, and I would like him to be happy.’

Anairë said, reasonably, ‘But he is going to remember his old life, is he not?’

‘Yes, just as Fëanor did, gradually, in increments.’

She slapped her hands together. ‘I want my son back, but thou art not going to leave me with the raising of him, Fingolfin, whether we are married or no we will live as if we are until he is grown. It is, I think thou wilt agree, only fair. And, if he is not to be surrounded by those he hated, we will dwell for that time here, in Valinor.’ She paused, then said, ‘I know thou wert a good father, Fingolfin, while I spent much of my time away, on Ilmarin.’

A weight like a boulder settled in Fingolfin’s chest. Trapped, trapped, trapped again, with a women he did not want, a son who did not want him, in hated Valinor. But he pitied her. She wanted her son back, yes, but around that, floundering, was a woman who had never lived. If she had the time, perhaps she would discover that woman. And anyhow, what man of worth would leave a woman to raise her child alone? They might be gods, but there should still be some decency. He was relieved, in fact, that he did not feel a great deal different in all the ways that mattered to him.
He inclined his head. ‘I agree. But first comes the battle against Morgoth.’

Fear lit her eyes. ‘Can he come here?’

‘Valinor will be protected. But now — we cannot be slain, captured and tormented as we were before. If our bodies are wounded, destroyed, we can simply remake them. Glorfindel did it on Middle-earth. We will meet Morgoth on more equal terms. After, we shall speak again.’

She stared at him, then nodded. ‘Very well.’ He bowed as if she were a stranger, which she almost was, and walked away. Her voice halted him.
‘I am sorry for — for thy death at Morgoth’s hands, Fingolfin.’

‘I thank thee,’ he said politely.

‘Wait!’ He turned back, brows raised.

‘I made Turgon hate thee,’ she blurted, a flush on her cheeks. ‘I knew thou didst love Fëanor. Varda told me.’

‘What?’

‘Thou hadst not been unfaithful to me save in thy mind, but she told me it was the same thing.’

‘She was right,’ he said, ice-cold. ‘And thou didst tell Turgon?’

‘I told him that the Fëanorions were wicked. Rebellious. I told him —‘ She moistened her lips. ‘I wanted him to hate them, and thee, too. Fingon was already a lost cause, and Aredhel as near to mad as made no difference.’ Her back was straight, something, half-hate, half-plea in her eyes. ‘I did not even know what she meant, Varda, she had to explain it to me, men loving men.’

There was a long passage of silence. At last, he unlocked his teeth and said, ‘And wilt thou, my wife-that-was, tell him the same, this time?’

‘I do not want to be sent to Tol Eressëa,’ she pronounced. ‘Not with them.

‘The Judging will strip thee to the soul,’ he told her. ‘Thou canst not hide behind words. The truth of thy heart will be known.’

She gave an odd, harsh laugh. ‘I do not know the truth of my heart, Fingolfin. How can I?

It was so entirely unanswerable, and so true that he did not reply. Had he been able to feel pain, a headache would have pounded behind his eyes. He pressed his fingers to his temples, unsure of what he thought he was doing, unsure, now, if he even wanted to try. But there was Turgon, who might have a chance, and Anairë, who deserved one.

‘I will say nothing derogatory about them. I will try to say as little about them as possible.’ She floated forward. ‘I promise.’ Her mouth quirked in something that was not a smile. ‘Yes, I hate them, but the reasons I hate them are the wrong ones. I think I new that long ago and would not accept it. But I am willing to learn. And Ingwë himself has bowed the knee before Fëanor.’

‘This seems a very swift reverse-face,’ he commented.

‘Not swift at all,’ she refuted. ‘There was an endless length of time after the Exile, when I dwelt with Nerdanel and we spoke at length. She never had any love for the Valar, too long absorbing her husband’s opinions, no doubt! She opened my eyes somewhat. I went back to them because...oh, because I could not bear the thought that I had lived a lie all my life, I wanted them to prove themselves in some way. They did. They made me mindless. A slave. They could not bear that anyone would question them.’

‘I can imagine,’ he said dryly. ‘And I am sorry, Anairë. Varda twisted thy mind and it will take some time to accustom thyself to freedom.’

‘Some yes.’ Surprisingly, she smiled. He had never seen her smile like that, unrestrained. ‘But less than one would think. Fos Almir burned the Valar’s influence away like the Treelight on mist. It was...painful, but I thank Eru for it.’

‘Thank Vanimórë for it,’ he corrected gently.

‘Will Fëanor still dwell in Valinor?’ She asked. ‘In Tirion?’

‘For a while, I think, yes, he is — we are — high kings.’ His mouth softened from its hard line as he considered it, heard Fëanor’s words: ’We will rule together, my brothers, as we should have.’ ‘Where wilt thou live?’

‘Valmar,’ she decided. ‘But Olwë and the Teleri, the Sindar, who attacked thee?’

‘Gone back to Alqualondë to consider,’ he said grimly. ‘They can attack us for the next Age if they wish and accomplish nothing. But we will barricade Tirion against them until they see reason. What Olwë seems determined to forget is that his people spilled blood first. But I hear that Eärwen is a sensible woman and Thingol has made his peace with Fëanor. We shall see if that tree can grow any fruit.’ But some of the attackers had been lost: Elwing, Idril, Tuor, among others. Vanimórë had said they would return, but when they did he was ready to strip them of godhood and send them to Tol Eressëa.

‘Then I will make us a home in Valmar,’ Anairë announced.

Cages and walls. He said, ‘Very well.’



OooOooO




And so, Fëanor, walking his own path into the halls of Vairë, abandoned to the moan of the wind that fluttered the tapestries.

So many of them. They stretched into a darkling gloom webbed with shadows, curving illusion and space-time so that they seemed endless.
And all of them — all of them — were visions of grief. He felt the fury billow up. What kind of mind would set this punishment for a woman who had done nothing except die? Námo of course.

The images seemed to come alive as he looked at them. He saw himself battling the Balrog sent out from Angband, saw himself burned and hacked, dying in fire and ash and the fading smoke of a dream, saw his sons grief. He spun away from it. I am so sorry.

Here was Fingolfin, dying like a fallen star, and he reached out now, as he had reached out then through the veil of death. Brother, lover, I am with thee! Come to me! His fingers, when he withdrew them, were red with blood and Morgoth’s iron laughter echoed in his ears. For a dizzying moment he thought himself trapped in the Void, as if this scene, this death were happening now.

With a curse, he strode past the endless images. They screamed at him from the dimness: Maedhros raped and tortured in Angband, Angrod And Aegnor perishing in fire, Finrod wrecked by Sauron, Fingon trampled under Gothmog’s power, Celegorm, Curufin, Caranthir laying in their blood in Menegroth, Glorfindel falling with the balrog to his death, blind and agonised, Amrod And Amrod together in death in the Havens, while the smoke of burning houses rose behind them, Maedhros, eyes whipped to emptiness and desolation throwing himself into a crevasse, Maglor wandering in madness and heartache until Sauron captured him, Celebrimbor betrayed and tormented, Gil-galad —

He raised a hand, sent white fire billowing along the tapestries. They caught alight as if soaked in oil and the air reeked of old blood, the sourness of pain, the salt of unnumbered tears. Black flecks floated in the air.

Without them, the halls seemed even vaster and more endless than before and dead, utterly dead, as if no life had ever come here, and no life could. A tomb for memories. But he could feel something, far away, some mote, dim as a rushlight.

There was no time here, so he could not tell how long it was until he found her, discarded like a bundle of old rags left in a corner, curled in upon herself. All he could see was the gleam of silvery hair that fell and spread like spiderwebs about her.

Going down on one knee, he reached out a hand, touched her. A frail thread of sound reached his ears. She was humming. With a wince, he recognised the Noldolantë.

‘Miriel,’ he said gently and, with difficulty, ‘Mother?’

Her head rose, so very slowly, as if she had forgotten how to move. Her face was wasted, drawn taught over the immutable, beautiful bones. Her eyes were black as night as if they had stared into too many horrors and absorbed them all. Her wrist, when he caught it, was thin as a starved child’s.

Colour of garnets, their blood,
Gorged by the earth like wine,
All life leaving, and leaving us beseeching,


Miriel,‘ he repeated.

Colour of his hair, the fire,
That took him, the brightest son,
Gemfire holding, gemlight cursing,


With exceptional care, he drew her to her feet. She did not struggle as he lifted her into his arms. Her robes smelt of cold, agelong dust.

He carried her out of the halls and with one thought, sealed them forever, before reducing them to memory.



OooOooO



Chapter 27 ~ Shaking The Foundations ~ by Spiced Wine


~ Shaking The Foundations ~



~ Sometimes, Lómion had imagined what he would say to his father if they ever met again. But Eöl’s fate had been that of the Houseless, without peace or rest or hope of rebirth. Not that there was anything restful or peaceful about Námo’s Halls, and the Void had been an eternity (or seemed like it) of terrible, screaming struggle against dissolution.

But Vanimórë had called the Houseless from Middle-earth and Lómion could feel his father, a finger upon his heart. As he walked, he told over the memories of his youth like treasures long buried and now unearthed. He loved his mother, but he had twoparents, or had, once.

And he had loved his father, although Eöl was not a man of affectionate moods. He smouldered, dark and mysterious as a fire seen through an autumn mist. But there had been times — Lómion recalled accompanying his father to the Dwarven cities, of days spent learning smith-craft beside him, nights walking the enchanted dimness of Nan Elmoth. If only...if only what? If only Eöl had allowed Aredhel to leave, provided her with an escort instead of laying down his intransigent commands and threatening to shackle Lómion. But still, he would not have permitted his son to go with her, to enter Gondolin and never return. In the end, he had wanted his son, not his wife (and, in the end, he was mad with hate and fear).

For years after, Maeglin-that-was had tried to tell himself that his father deserved his ignominious death, had succeeded (to all outward appearances) so well that the highest lords of Gondolin, Glorfindel and Ecthelion, had mistrusted him, a man who would not openly mourn the cruel fate of his father; the punishment those two had expedited under Turgon’s orders. And yet Lómion had wanted to befriend them; they were different, those two, from the common mould of Turgon’s lords, and the fault had not been theirs. Maeglin had known where the blame lay: in Turgon’s bolted, caged, overly-controlling mind. His first flush of awe had swiftly faded and was finally swallowed by disgust when Turgon refused to break the leaguer of Gondolin when Dagor Bragollach razed the North. By the time Fingolfin’s beautiful, mutilated body had been buried, Maeglin was sure of one thing: his uncle was a past-master at artifice. His grief was too perfect, his actions might have been planned out beforehand and executed like formal dance-steps.

Years later, his suspicions were confirmed. He could have stepped into the Great Hall and told Turgon’s High Council that their king visited Fingolfin’s cairn to empty his bladder on it, to mock, to curse like a man half-drunk on new wine. Maeglin had seen it for himself and though little could shock him, that desecration did. For he could call it nothing else. Turgon’s masks were all ripped away into a virulent, jealousy that appalled.

Maeglin told no-one. Who would have believed him? And, whatever Turgon was, he had not betrayed Gondolin to the forces of Morgoth. That was Maeglin.
He had betrayed out of madness and balked lust, and Morgoth had tortured him anyhow and sent what remained of him back to Gondolin, healed in body but not in the mind that Morgoth haunted. So he had betrayed and died and been flung into the Void for the sin of laying with another man, not for the greater crime that had seen the ruin of a city and the deaths of tens of thousands.

His new life, he had come to accept, had brought him as close to healing as he could come, but there would ever be a gap left by his father’s death and absence.
Until now.

The Woods Of Oromë were vast, sprawling across hills and valleys and, unlike most of Valinor, still maintained a sense of wild lands, of the untamed, just as Oromë had never truly been tamed to Valinor. He had gone now, back to the place he had fallen in love with: Middle-earth, and the Elves who yet remained there in remote fastnesses. He had no intention, this time, of persuading them to Valinor; rather, as the world changed and Men waxed, he would conceal the Elves, keeping their lands free and clean. Thranduil and his wood-Elves were to be given these forests, if they desired them. Or, gods now, they could fashion their own in the Timeless Halls.

Lómion walked, remembering Nan Elmoth, thinking of the secrets tucked behind his father’s eyes, how the eerie gloom of his home had wrapped around him, how he could shape it, use it. It was common knowledge that Eöl had left Doriath, mistrusting Melian the Maia, not wanting to be enclosed within her Girdle. But Lómion knew little else of his father. As a god he supposed he could, now, see those secrets, but chose not to. His father could speak or be silent.

Beleg had offered to come with him, having known Eöl long ago, but Lómion refused.
‘It is something I must do alone.’ And Beleg nodded, understanding as he ever did.

And so he walked, lead by that touch upon his heart, until he came to a clearing. At its centre a great mossy stone lay like a fallen beast or some ancient temple. The air smelled of rich, damp earth, the gentle rot of leaves.

‘Maeglin.’

He remembered Eöl as a tall man, sometimes stooped by smithcraft. Not so now; he was tall and straight, thick black hair caught back and spilling to his knees. His eyes were like cut obsidian, his skin pale as milk. He might, but for that certain set and stamp about him that spoke of his Sindar blood, be of the Noldor.

Lómion’s throat was arid. There was so much he wanted to say but all words choked into dusty fragments. It felt...it felt as if the spear that Eöl had hurled in Gondolin was still in motion, still approaching, and that it struck him, now, as Eöl had intended. It was the pain he had not allowed himself to feel after his father’s death, cracking through his breastbone, piercing his heart, cleaving it in twain. He cried out with the agony, watching as his father fell from Caragdûr, his body smashing to the rocks from such a height his form appeared nothing more than a child’s broken doll.

And then his father’s arms were around him, holding him as if he were a boy, and Eöl’s warmth soaked into the cold, raw places of his heart. He bowed his head against his father’s shoulder and sobbed out his pain, his guilt, his regret.



OooOooO




‘Thou art sure about this?’

‘Yes.’

They stood on the cliffs north of Alqualondë, the wind sweeping over them, gulls wheeling like white flecks. Tol Eresseä was out there somewhere, lost now to Valinor, adrift. A shadow-isle of shadow-people, the poison in their minds corrupting them, twisting them (poetically, Vanimórë thought) into monsters. Less than orcs. Creeping, cannibalistic figures; ghouls like those that had haunted the twisted forest about Dol Guldur, crawling through the dank mists, forgetting all glory, all beauty, even their lives, condemned by their own twisted minds. Their choice from beginning to end, their fates shaped by themselves. As it should be.
But, because there would always be a few who would come to a realisation that they were wrong, who would open their eyes, Vanimórë would not utterly turn his back on the isle.

Too, he observed the Teleri and Sindar of Alqualondë, the re-embodied Houseless. One thought and they would be reft of their godhood. What he had given, he could take away as quickly. But for now he watched. They would have one chance. He would visit them soon and inform them of that fact.

‘They have not asked this of thee,’ Elgalad said quietly.

He turned his head. ‘I see it in their eyes when they look at me. But they will not ask.’

‘The Fate of Men —‘

Vanimórë turned to Elgalad. ‘Is the same as Elves ultimately.’

Because the Timeless Halls were not one place, or even many, they were an idea. For the souls of humankind, it contained every permutation of an ‘After-life’ — and exactly what they deserved. After aeons, the enlightened would pass through their own apotheosis, others would remain in their private heavens or hells for eternity.

‘And anyhow, it is not fair, is it? They are become gods, but they will never stop grieving for those they lost. They are still separated from them.’

‘This is against the order of things, my love.’

‘Not against my order of things.’ Vanimórë showed his teeth in something that was no smile. ‘And Eru is gone.’

Elgalad cast him a look under shadowy lashes. ‘Not forever, as thou knowest.’

‘Well, we can argue about it when he deigns to return. Besides, I have already done it.’ He touched Elgalad’s shoulder. Laughed. ‘Come.’

Elgalad’s unfathomable eyes searched his face. ‘Eru dreams,’ he said.

Vanimórë stopped. ‘What does he dream?’

‘This, perhaps. Thou.’

A gauntlet of iron fear gripped Vanimórë’s throat. He thought of his own ‘awakenings’ in Angband, in Barad-dûr, broken, mad, dying slowly. What if they were not dreams? What if this was? What if my father is right?

‘Elgalad?’

As if emerging from a trance, Elgalad blinked. Vanimórë laid a hand against his cheek, spoke his name.
‘Art thou...speaking to him?’

Elgalad shook his head. ‘No.’

‘Well, my dear, if he speaks to thee, or dreams of thee, tell me.’



He had asked them to come to the Healing rooms, to a chamber set aside for those who visited. The slaves from Ilmarin were now quartered here along with others such as his own mother and, now, Míriel. Vanimórë could not heal them, not with all the power he possessed, not and leave them as the same person; he would have to wipe clean their minds, reconstruct them, create a completely new being. Sometimes he wondered if he should.

When the door opened, he rose from his seat, offering it to the lady, who smiled curiously at him.
‘I thank thee for coming,’ he said courteously to the five of them, Elrond and his sons, Celebrían. Estellion, son of Aredhel and Eldarion.

‘There is something we can do, here?’ Elrond asked.

‘Thou canst try,’ Vanimórë responded. ‘But that is not why I asked thee.’ He opened a door at the back of the chamber, held it open so that those gathered there could step through. And then he left.

Elros, Arwen, Aragorn, their son, Eldarion, their daughters, and Khanad of Tanith, whom Gilraen had married and loved.*

No-one had asked him and, in the end, he had asked Estellion, whom had known Eldarion only as his king, not his father, whom had seen the final days of the decay of the High Kingdom before the comet-fall that wrecked the world. ’Wouldst thou want thy father back?’

‘Oh, gods,’ Estellion had said, his eyes breaking open to the never-forgotten loss that lies between Elves and Men. ‘Yes.

And so, then, Vanimórë had gone to them to the dead, to the different worlds they inhabited, timeless, endless, uniquely personal to each one. Even Tinwen and Alphwen, whom he had married as God-emperor and condemned to death, had shed the poison of Ungoliant’s influence. He hardly recognised them as the same women. Arwen had received a mere silver of Ungoliant’s influence, enough for her mind to elevate her to a second Lúthien, enough to spoil her, until death opened her eyes. That too, was gone. As for Eldarion and Gilraen, they were as they always had been; he had always considered them lovely people. Elros, he had not known, and had wondered if he, whom had chosen the Fate of Men, would refuse the offer. In the end, he did not; his love for his twin had never faded. Love, it seemed, survived Mortal death; Vanimórë had always suspected it, and Elros had regretted the choice that should never have been forced on him, long outliving his first mortal loves and friendships.

There would be others. As he had said to Elgalad, the Fate of Men was not dissolution or an endless afterlife, no matter how benign.

He did not wait to see the reunion; so private, so longed for. He closed the door very quietly behind him.

‘Vanimórë.’ Fëanor was beside him. ‘I want to speak with thee.’ His eyes were furious wells of light.

‘Very well.’

‘I want to know,’ Fëanor said when they were private, ‘if my mother will ever heal.’

‘Possibly,’ Vanimórë replied. ‘Fëanor, there are endless possibilities, endless realities; I cannot, and will not, lock them into one. That is stagnation, entropy. Does she recognise thee?’

‘Recognises me, yes, although her mind is a mist of images; those bloody tapestries she stitched, Age upon Age.’ He covered his eyes with his hands and breathed, said through them: ‘I had hoped it might be different, simpler, with power, but I never truly believed it would be.’ He lowered his hands. ‘And I do not feel any different from a human Fëanor, with all-too-human emotions.’

‘And I,’ Vanimórë said, ‘feel the same emotions I did as Vanimórë, Sauron’s son — and I pray it never changes.’

‘Ah, Yes,’ Fëanor agreed with a twisted. ‘And yet, one is still not able to do anything to help heal the mind.’

‘The mind is an extension, and more, of the brain, that crosses every dimension. Even a god would touch that at their peril. It is uniquely personal, individual and yet part of the cosmos, too. For everything that has happened to me,’ he said slowly, ‘I would forget none of it; it made me.’

‘Neither would I,’ Fëanor agreed with a touch of anger against himself. ‘So what can we do for her?’

‘Be gentle, be patient. Allow her to come to herself. Her memories are there, somewhere. Let her see those whose fates she was condemned to stitch in scarlet thread, that they live. She is not alone and is well tended.’

‘Thy mother is there. Móriel.’ He glowered. ‘My daughter. And she is still not healed.’

‘I would never ask her to accept me as her son, poor lady. But her case is not dissimilar to Míriel’s. I do hope for natural healing for both of them.’

They walked together to the palace. The walls of the white streets spilled flowers in a gay froth of colours. For the first time in Ages, Light lived and shone in Tirion.

‘I am glad Ungoliant did not destroy our prisoners,’ Fëanor remarked along the edge of a dangerous smile. ‘My mother might have been sent to Vairë but it was Námo who judged her soul.’

‘I am quite sure thou wilt ensure they pay in full measure,’ Vanimórë responded. ‘But let us not forget Melkor.’

They looked up at the sky, at the now huge tear, like a black ribbon of fire that stretched, hissing and undulating, almost from horizon to horizon.

‘Hardly would I.’ Fëanor drew his gaze back to Vanimórë, who observed the flames in his eyes, that seemed to occlude the air about him. ‘What to do with him? Gather the pieces and throw him back into the Void?’

‘Hall I? Or wouldst thou like him grovelling at thy feet?’ Vanimórë asked, like silk, smiling.

‘I am not Dana, Vanimórë. But how does one destroy something that is indestructible?’

‘Something that is in the fabric of all creation, because he was a part of Eru. The universe is like a vast mind, Fëanor. How can you take so great a piece from it without damaging it, or changing it beyond recognition?’

Fëanor’s eyes narrowed. Vanimórë said, ‘It matters nothing whether Eru took the idea of this universe from my mind, or whether, in our battle, I brought it into being. Melkor was within me, as a memory. So either way, he is here.

‘Looking into my thoughts?’ Fëanor demanded.

‘No, I just knew what thou wouldst say.’

A mercurial smile flamed. ‘Very well. He was chained, before.’

‘That we can certainly do. It may be the only thing. But at least now, he cannot harm thee, any of thee.’

The fierce expression melted into charm, even into love. ‘And I am indebted to thee. Whatever happens they cannot be taken away from me.’ He moved closer, the heat of his inner flame melting through Vanimórë’s body. ‘Thou knowest I have always feared that. We all have. I could not afford to despair in the Void with Morgoth waiting for any sign of weakness, to devour our very souls, leave us nothing but the flutter of gnats burning in a candle-flame. And yet I almost did despair. I could not see a way out, and there was no time, nothing to measure anything, only the visions he imparted to us, the very worse, death, ruin, agony. No hope. We did not fade, we did not break, but I could not see how we could escape. We were exactly where Morgoth and the Valar wanted us. Eternal punishment for our sins. And then, one day, there was Light. And now —‘

‘Yes, I know. Now.’ Vanimórë smiled into those splendid eyes. ‘And there is no debt between us. Ever.’

Fëanor’s mouth curved in a smile of pure temptation. ‘And what does one do for eternity, Vanimórë, as a god?’

‘Let me show thee.’

A great flight of steps appeared, a stairway into the sky, an illusion-path between Valinor and the Timeless Halls. They ran up it together with fierce, shared smiles.

‘This I will show to thee.’ Vanimórë lead him to the palace, to a garden within the walls. ‘Thou art the Flame, and so not fixed nor bound into Time.’

In the garden was what looked at first like an immense sheet of black glass. Then one saw the ripples that moved outward from the centre, the sparks of electricity that flashed and flickered across it. Its edges frayed into nothingness. It smelt of salt and and ice and metal. Around it stretched quiet green lawns and, far above, soared the impossible heights of Eru’s palace.

‘The Portal,’ Vanimórë said. ‘Every world, every possible reality. But let us concentrate on Arda.’

Images grew, became sharp, clear. When one fixed the eye upon one it expanded to fill everything, a moving picture viewed from the outside. One of these opened before them: Fëanor armed and helmed, drawing his sword to set it at Fingolfin’s throat. He pushed it home. Blood sprayed, and Fingolfin, hands at the terrible wound, sank to his knees.

Fëanor recoiled. ‘That did not happen!’

Vanimórë turned to face him. ‘In one reality, it did. Look.’

The same scene. This time, Fingolfin gripped the sword, blood welling through his fingers; Fëanor, mesmerised, let the blade fall with a clatter, dragged his brother into an explosive kiss in the sight of all. Vanimórë heard his soft, heated laugh. ‘That, I can imagine. I wish it had.’

‘It did happen. Somewhere.’

Infinite possibilities. The half-brothers met again and again, fighting, kissing, arguing in love and hate, in passion and venom. At times there was contempt or indifference.

‘Thou art showing me this because?’

‘Because sometimes it was a better reality, sometimes far worse than thou hast seen, Fëanor. What wouldst thou do?’ he asked. ‘if thou couldst change the outcome?’

The garden was windless, quiet with a silence like a far, deep music; behind them, the Portal rippled and rippled and sparked with an eternity of worlds.

‘Ah.’ The fire leapt like a pulse. ‘As myself, or —?’

‘They are all thee, Fëanor, and the Flame Imperishable exists in all worlds. It would be a kind of possession, I suppose, just for a moment, if one can possess oneself, before they became...thee.

‘I could go. And return?’

Vanimórë smiled. ‘There is very little thou canst not do. Thou hast not even touched upon thy potential as yet. Yes. Thou wouldst never lose sight of this, of what thou art.’

‘It will change every world.’

Vanimórë shrugged. ‘Some of them, my dear, are very dark, and the universe allows for changes. Were it impossible, it would not be.’

‘Yes,’ Fëanor murmured, ‘Thou hast changed it thyself. Or begun it. Which?’ Fëanor’s hand came up, laid itself against the side of his face. ‘Well? Didst thou not? Eru told thee whom he was, whom Morgoth, was, the part of him he ripped out. Yet that is not how it happened, is it? Or it was then, but is not now.’

‘Perhaps. Eru is the one thing in all this I cannot know, cannot read. He is an alien in this universe.’

‘The wild card,’ Fëanor said.

‘When I play that card, I will ensure it is a winning hand,’ Vanimórë promised.

Fëanor’s eyes crinkled in amusement. ‘I have no doubt of that.’

‘Elgalad said, Eru dreams.’

The faint smile faded. ‘And what did he mean by that? Dream what?’

‘This, perhaps. I quote Elgalad. Maybe we should er...pray he does not wake up.’

The smile flickered again. ‘Maybe we should at that. Do we want him to keep on dreaming, or to wake? What of Morgoth? Eru does have an interest there, does he not?’

‘I wish I knew. But Morgoth does not dream,’ Vanimórë said, ‘He howls for thine destruction.’ He moved away, impelled by a surge of anger. ‘Everything Eru loathed about himself and I gave it form! And Sauron said he was charming, beautiful. I saw a remnant of his beauty in Angband, and I admit it was, even then, formidable. I know why my father followed him, of course, to have some claim upon his world, upon Arda, even under the foot of the usurper, but to be attracted to him, because he was, at first to desire him — that I find that impossible to believe.’

Fëanor’s laugh startled him. He stared and a beautiful brow quirked in mockery. ‘Come, Vanimórë. Are we going to talk paradoxes here, then? Are we going to discuss where the real power lies? Dost thou need me to tell thee why thy oh-so-clever father desired Melkor-that-was? Perhaps thou art too close to see it. Yes, Morgoth —‘ The name collected ice and blood in his mouth, ‘was once magnificent. I mistrusted him utterly, would never have followed him, never opened by ears to his lies, I would see him nailed to eternity in the deepest agony for what he has done! But even I will admit he had presence and beauty. What he was like before —‘ He opened his hands, ‘can only be imagined. How can anyone possibly understand what it would feel like to be created out of a moment of violence to carry, inside oneself, only the part which hates, which thirsts for absolute power, for destruction? And yet, aforetime, he had something. I used him, thou knowest, mined him for knowledge, tempted him because it was clear he wanted me, and all the time I knew he was as dark as the blackest pits of the Hells. Well, art thou not seeing it yet? Let us go back a moment. When thou didst speak to Eru — here in the palace, I assume — for the first time, he told thee that he had created Melkor by ripping the part of him that hated, that had destroyed a universe. That part which took on its own form and identity was the dross, no?’

‘Yes, of course,’ Vanimórë replied impatiently.

Fëanor gestured to the Gateway. ‘And so Eru did do that very thing then — in a different reality to this one.’ He paused. Vanimórë began to speak and stopped, frowning. Fëanor continued: ‘Now, tell me of thy battle with him, when he wanted to take what was within thee to create this universe.’

‘I have told thee.’ Vanimórë shrugged. ‘We fought, and in that collision the universe was born. Out of my own wrath, I think. Because there was more of Melkor in that Eru than any other thing and it brought back too many memories. Of course I would give him nothing, not with Melkor inside him! What I sought to do, I believe, was destroy Eru, but instead I created Melkor.’

Fëanor gave a close-lipped smile. He trailed his fingers down Vanimórë’s chest, around his hip, cupping his rear.
‘Where thinks’t thou that the charisma and beauty and presence came from, if all Melkor were were the offal thrown from a butcher’s block? As that he would have been in that case, was little more than a blundering monster, terrible but well nigh mindless, easily dealt with by whatever Eru became after. For Eru still had immeasurable power.’
‘Sauron followed Melkor to Arda because he wanted Arda, yes, but what attracted him was—‘ Fëanor’s diamond eyes sparkled over Vanimórë’s face. ‘Surely it has occurred to thee? Eru fought with thee. he took something from thee, also, which thou didst then rip from him as dross. The part of Melkor that was beautiful and charismatic, that was clever, came from thee.

Sauron’s words echoed in Vanimórë’s mind, mocking. 'You confound me at times, my son. For a clever man you can be amazingly obtuse. Shall I tell you? No, I think I will let you work it out for yourself.'
‘No.’ A flood of icy cold drenched his veins from head to foot. But Fëanor said, unrelenting: ‘As well Eru did take that from thee, perhaps. It left thee with the ability to feel love and compassion. Unfortunately, it gave Morgoth the intelligence to become the greatest Enemy of Elves and Men.’

Vanimórë could hear, in his imagination, his father’s laughter. He tried to wrench away, but Fëanor clamped him close and his arousal was iron hard. How could he...how could he feel desire for someone whom had set Melkor loose upon the universe, and not as a blundering force or evil, but as something that could think and plan and take delight in cruelty? And, worse than all, something that had a part of Vanimórë within it?

Fëanor’s eyes captured his, and he said, ‘Do not be a fool. Thou didst give Morgoth thy beauty, enough for me to fuck him.’ He winked, unabashed and glorious. ‘Thinks’t thou I would have had him if he were the dross? But the part of him that was not, was thee.’ Vanimórë twisted away. Fëanor grabbed his wrist.

The fight was, after Vanimórë’s first surprise, engrossing, even amusing since neither wanted to hurt the other, and both resisted using power. It had been too long since he had been able to test his skills in unarmed combat against another, and there was something deeply reassuring, deeply grounding in it. It made him feel...human. They grappled, tossed, whirled, strained close, their hair coming loose to spill in tousled black clouds. Fëanor pressed against him, eyes like Light, mouth curling, white teeth gleaming, more beautiful than a star’s birth, and plunged them into a kiss. For a long time there was nothing but the ferocious, frenzied clash of mouth-on-mouth, their gasping moans for air, until Fëanor drew back a little.
‘Let us make the Timeless Halls shake to their foundations,’ he invited, shameless.

Vanimórë, shaken, laughed his astonishment, flinging Fëanor back with an unfair burst of power. Fëanor, startled, was still returning the laughter when Vanimórë’s stopped utterly, caught in a chokehold of shock. His power had thrown Fëanor directly at the Portal, which Fëanor must have realised as great wings exploded like diamond flames to brake him—

— a heartbeat too late.



OooOooO




Chapter 28 ~ Searching For Reality ~ by Spiced Wine



~ Searching For Reality ~




~ He stumbled to his knees, He plunged into another mind. The mind was familiar as a well-loved book, as the angles and planes of his own face. He knew that fell-burning rage, the hatred the yawning madness that lurked like a hungry ghost, lunging in to tear off chunks of his sanity, until so little was left that he was here..here...

I remember this...

He wrestled with that kin-mind, with that Fëanor, as one would with a beloved brother who has fallen into hysteria and self-inflicted violence. Firm, but gentle, gentle. Always, he knew, his temper brushed too close to intemperance, even madness. In the days of his fall, in Valinor and before his death, the Valar and Melkor had dug their claws in deep, tearing up the foundations of his sanity until everything rocked, was destabilised. How better to destroy someone than by using their own mind against them?

But he was older that this raging soul, so much older, with wisdom learned in the crucible of the Void, through the loss of those he loved. He had been reborn twice, elevated to power a little more each time, until Fos Almir gifted him his birthright. He understood now, that to have accessed that power before would have destroyed his physical body utterly. He had to come to it more gradually, reborn from the Void, reborn as Vanimórë’s son, with his Maia blood and then through Fire itself, Fos Almir, which was part of him.

He took his kin-mind and burned out the madness, the hate that he understood but which was destructive in itself, blinding him to danger, to everything save vengeance.
Like a child woken from a nightmare to its parents comforting arms, the mind gasped, shaken, and then they were almost, almost one. Not quite. The elder Fëanor rose above the mind of the younger, careful not to transgress too much, to fill his kin-mind with a future that had not yet happened (and might never, in this different world). But the insanity was gone.

Fëanáro knew this place.

He had fallen onto bare, grey-black rock, and now came to his feet, feeling the slide of armour, silk-light and steel-strong, the cup of the helm about his head, the curl of his hand around a sword.

Dor Daedaloth.

An icy wind ribboned twists of snow fine and white as sand; a rubble of rocks hunched under the blast, flecked with agelong frost. Like some giant fallen in forgotten years, the boulders rose ever higher into broken hills before they hit the sheer wall of mountains that rose, black and naked and implacable into cold-blowing mists: The titan’s teeth of Thangorodrim.

He had not known the name then; for ten days they had battled from their encampment beyond the Ered Wethrin, through the passes of the mountains and across the great plain Ard Galen. It was the Noldor’s first encounter with Orcs, and they had slain them in droves. He remembered the faces of his sons, shining like the blades of their swords, eyes blazing as they slew and slew until the sheen of their armour was dulled by black, brackish blood. Alqualondë notwithstanding, in that first assault the Noldor had discovered within themselves battle lust that fed on slaughter. (And the aftermath; the shaking, the nausea, the shock, but less than at the Swanhaven; the orcs very existence was an offense against their Elven blood; there was no guilt, no shame). And Fëanáro had pressed onward, thinking to come at Morgoth himself, following the survivors who fled north.

Later, it was said that Fëanáro had outpaced the vanguard and there were few about him here there was no-onw. He was entirely alone. A few leagues back an ambush had fallen on the Fëanorions, forcing them to stand and give battle again. Fëanáro had not even seen it, had been aware only of the clash far behind. But how could he just have left them? Oh, gods, his sons...! That black, ravening cloud of hate, hate, hate... urging him on...

He stared south, dreading that he would see or hear sign of their approach but there was nothing, only the forlorn lament of the wind. A dead sound. He had no doubt his sons could deal with the ambush, already had, but he did not want them to follow him here to this grim end of the world where, (he knew) he might die. His madness had made it easy for Morgoth to lure him to this end.

His breath plumed in the bitter air, sour with more than the dust-and-metal scent of snow; the steam and smokes of Angband’s subterranean workings fed upward through the hollow pinnacles of Thangorodrim and even the wind could not disperse the taint. Fëanáro smelt sewage and liquid metal, poison and acid.

Bodies speckled the land; the orcs he had followed thus far, killing as he rode. The last and latest victim of his blade lay sprawled not far away in a dark pool already growing cold. It was a big male, squat and heavy, wearing the crude armour all the orcs wore. He had his sons had speculated that the orcs were merely arrow fodder, that Morgoth cared nothing how many died and equipped them poorly for that very reason. If so, there were more terrible monsters waiting in Angband cavernous guts.

There were indeed.
The horse screamed. Fëanáro spun around as it bolted in a clattering flurry of hooves. The wind seemed to mock. Dry-blowing snow whirled and hissed.

Here in this land of frost and ice and the stink of Morgoth’s designs, at the very feet of the Enemy’s stronghold, Fëanáro had found his mind again, and it seemed to him that a heavy blanket had been removed from his head. Perhaps it had smothered him for years. The insanity was gone. He let out a breath, almost a laugh of relief, until he realised what his madness had encouraged him to do: Alqualondë...

He shook it off. He had asked Olwë to join with him, but all Olwë, that milk-hearted fool had done was rebuke him and bleat that he trusted the Valar — the Valar whom had released Morgoth, whom had been able to do nothing but run around in confusion as Darkness crashed over Valinor, blind as everyone else, and then bemoan the fate of the Trees. And pressured him to give up the Silmarilli to remake them, and all the while Námo had known that Finwë was dead and said nothing!
And so, yes, he had boarded the swan-ships, he and his people but not killing, not drawing weapon, until the Teleri brought their arrows to bear. It had been slaughter on both sides, but he had fought for his own life, for his sons, his people and felt no blame. If Olwë had only offered to crew the ships and sail the Noldor oversea— but he had held those damned ships closer to his heart than any league of friendship, naming them as dear to him as the Silmarilli. Little he knew. When he created the jewels, Fëanáro had felt something pass from him, some power that he could not reclaim, and had judged it worthwhile. But it was after that the black cloud began to descend on his mind, to crawl into every crack and crevice.

He breathed of the tainted, icy air and lifted his head. He did not regret — would not; had left nothing in Valinor worth a moment of regret. Except...

Perhaps they would never return to Aman, creating mighty kingdoms in these vast, unexplored Outer Lands as he had dreamed and spoken. But if he did, if he could ...

Ember light bloomed and winked through the mists, moving toward him.
Fëanáro’s mouth dried in fear even as he fell into a fighting stance, eyes narrowed. From the new clarity of his mind came the words: Valarauker. Demons of Flame. Maia bound to Morgoth’s service. ‘Ware their whips. He wondered how he knew it, but did not question the knowledge; there was no time to do so. He could only give thanks that his sons were not here, though all of them would have stood at his side, unwavering.

Nolofinwë too, would have been with him. With this new, clear sight, he realised that his half-brother was no traitor to him, that he had never said one word against him on that bitter march to Araman. Nelyafinwë had not believed the rumours, had tried to prevent him burning the Swan ships, though for Findekano of course.

Fëanáro had not listened, had listened to nothing then and after but the devouring demons of hate and madness that savaged his mind but now he remembered Alqualondë: Nolofinwë fell and beautiful and terrible in his wrath, eyes blazing like blue diamonds, sword sheeted with blood. Nolofinwë, whom Fëanáro had hated for being Indis’ son, usurper of Finwë’s affections, for his cold haughtier, his superb beauty. Nolofinwë, whom Fëanor had come to desire more than anything in his life...

The demons came out of the snow.
The Balrogs were not ugly, that was Fëanáro’s first thought, not vile as the orcs were. it was the power they carried, that went before them like a shock of heat, that awed. (But Fëanáro had stood before the Valar and not quailed).
Almost human in face and form, they were, but as if lava had cooled and blackened over organs made of liquid fire. Inward curving horns crowned their heads, and their hair was a ripple of flame. Each one bore a huge sword and a whip that spat and crackled.

The leader was huge, thick-legged, black armour excrescenced with spikes — no, not armour, it was the flesh itself grown into cruel talons, shifting over the inner fire. He towered twice Fëanáro’s height. The other two were a little smaller, almost Elven in their build and grace. Their eyes were slanting pits of red.

The leader opened a mouth hot as a kiln. Its breath, hitting the bitter air, smoked.
‘Fëanáro.’ His name curled out with tongues of fire, soaked with malice and lust, crawling with eyeless things that move in the dark places of the earth. ‘My Lord welcomes thee to Angband, indeed, he is anxious for thy presence and sends us as an honour guard. I am Gothmog, High Captain of Angband, commander of —‘

Fëanáro bore no shield; he had left it hanging from his saddle and his horse had run. But that lack left one hand free. In one practiced motion, he drew one of his daggers and threw, did not even wait to see if it struck true; he knew it would. Even as it left his hand he was moving, rolling to come up again. He was alone, without one warrior around him. So be it. He smiled.

The dagger took Gothmog in one eye and his bellow blasted the air with fire. One clawed hand reached up to seize the hilt and pull and Gothmog roared again. As the dagger came free, ichor spilled out, fuming. The whip fell, coiling and hissing like an adder, its fire fading out as it struck the stone. Fëanáro dived forward, caught the stock, warm, but not burning, and leapt back. It was too long for him to wield, he knew, and threw it away, never taking his eyes from Gothmog.

A snap! and heat lashed across his pauldron, heating the metal, burning down into his flesh. He stumbled, teeth biting down on the sudden flare of pain. Stupid! There was more than one. He turned the stumble into another roll, and came up spinning, diving, sword flicking out — to slice into one of the demon’s wrists.

The metal of his sword sizzled, a dull red against the Balrog’s fire, as Fëanáro had guessed it would. But the blades he had forged were unequalled, and it cut true through the tendons. The Balrog’s sword fell with a clatter, and Fëanáro picked it up. It was heavier than his own, finely made, no crude orcish work this. The fire that licked down the metal died as it was removed from its source — and then exploded into white flame.

It shocked Fëanáro so that he almost dropped the blade, and drove the Balrogs back for a moment. The sword did not feel heavy now; it sang in his grip like a forged star, its light cutting through the grey-white gloom, turning the snow into a thousand golden motes.
His power, his. He could feel it surging out from his core, his soul, running down into the blade, felt it as he had felt it when he made the Oath; there had been power in him then, too, though born of grief and fury and insanity.

Not so now. This was a clean, high rage that set the sword humming, set Fëanáro’s veins alight. As he looked at the Balrog, he knew he was smiling, that his eyes were blazing and, in the back of his mind he thanked Eru that when he and his artisans had conceived body-armour they had vowed not to compromise the wearer’s freedom of movement. Fëanáro had conceived and fashioned Ithilnaur, superbly strong yet with enough flexibility that a blow would contract its countless tiny scales. He had taken Eönwë’s armour as a model for the rest: thin flexible strips banded diagonally atop the mail.
It had not saved them of course; enough pressure would drive the steel into the flesh (they had learned that under the axes of the Great orcs) and many had died. Fëanáro himself bore healing wounds and bruises, but it did provide protection, and at least one could move.

And move he did, as if the sword were an extension of his body, as if he had become the weapon itself, the blade that sank itself into the metallic black hide, and burned the Balrog from the inside-out. Its death-scream abraded the nerves, a sound of agony and pleading; it went up in a black-red pillar of flame. Burning cinders spotted Fëanáro’s face, stung his eyes. The air smelt of charred meat and oil.

‘I will watch my Lord fuck thee to death,’ Gothmog vowed, amber-coloured fangs dripping. Fëanáro was already moving when the Balrog’s sword game down, clipping his left shoulder, sending him staggering sideways, and rolling away. There would be a tremendous bruise forming. Never mind. He came to his feet; he could still fight. Gothmog was huge, powerful, terrifying, and dangerous.
But he was not quick.

And I will make thee slower, yet.

Fëanáro spun around him, struck low. Larval ichor gushed as he sliced the tendon above the heel. Gothmog pitched forward, roaring, and Fëanáro whirled to face the last Balrog.

A name pressed at Fëanáro’s lips. A Valarin name. He had learned a little of that tongue, though in fragments, for no Vala wished to teach it and the shape of the words were strange in an Elf’s mouth, made for mind-speech.

Nemrúshkeraz.

Circling, holding the blade ready, he held its red eyes with his own. Its fiery hair whipped out in a torn banner, scarlet against the whining snow.
‘Thou wilt do naught, Nemrúshkeraz. Thou wilt return to Morgoth and tell him Fëanáro declines his invitation — for now.’ Behind him Gothmog was lumbering to its feet, a great crouching shape. Fëanáro narrowed his eyes, gauging, then ran, leapt upon the wide back. A roar, a hand groping for him, claws skidding from his boots. He leapt again as if mounting a steep hill and then sprang upward from the broad shoulders. At the apex of his spring, he pointed the sword’s point downward, both hands gripping the hilt and, as he dropped, drove the burning blade between neck and shoulder.

It stuck there, jammed in tight muscle as Gothmog screamed out fire and shock, dropping his own sword, clawing for the blade that rose out of him like a sword-thorn and burned, burned, burned, widening the wound which gushed hot ichor.

Fëanáro hit the ground, picked up Gothmog’s huge, heavy blade. It sprang into white light. Pivoting on one foot, crying out a curse, he swung it like the flat of an ax, as if Gothmog were a tree. The sword cut with fire, sank half its width and more into the demon’s side. Fire exploded, flaring upward with its screams. It burned like an oil-fed torch.

Fëanáro turned back to the motionless Nemrúshkeraz.

Lightning split the sky. The air boomed and warped. The mountains quaked and debris thundered down their bare flanks. Fëanáro struggled to keep his feet.

A tall, dark figure walked out of the snow. A cloak hid the face, but Fëanáro thought he saw a gleam of violet eyes in the shadows. Around him, the snow turned to rain. Around him the air shimmered like heat-haze. His footsteps drove earthquakes through the rock, sent the sky screaming. An immense pressure forced sweat from Fëanáro’s skin and he set his teeth on a groan. And then, as if a great hand were withdrawn, it was gone.

This was a Power; Fëanáro had assumed there were no Valar in Endorë save Morgoth. He had been wrong.

It stopped beside the Balrog, touched its shoulder, a fleeting, familiar brush of fingers —
— And the Balrog seemed to shimmer, its face, for a moment, losing its alien cast and shining with inhuman beauty; the eyes were scorched bronze. Scarlet hair streamed in the wind.

The Power spoke to it, but Fëanáro could not hear the words, and the Balrog looked at Fëanáro for a long moment, then bowed its head and went North, an ember eaten to darkness by the rising storm.

Fëanáro, weaponless now, waited. The wind tossed the dark cloak, pulling it loose; a flying wrack of ink-black hair streamed about a face carved of flawless ice, the face of a god who had kissed the face of sin.
‘Well done, Fëanáro. Of course, they were not supposed to kill thee. Gothmog had orders only to capture thee. Melkor is going to be disappointed.’ A voice like honeyed wine served in a cup of cold steel. ‘And thou didst have aid of course.’

‘Who art thou?’ Fëanor tensed. His arm throbbed. ‘Aid?’ he demanded incredulously. ‘What aid?’

“I am not thine enemy.’ The man smiled like sheet lightning. Fëanáro did not know him and yet...and that smile. ‘One might say thou didst aid thyself. A touch of...divine fire which shall never leave thee.’ He laughed softly, walked toward Fëanáro. He had a warriors predatory prowl, a dancer’s grace and a heated sensuality that overlay both; he might have been strolling to his lover’s bed.

‘Art thou Vala?’

‘Do I look like a Vala?’ A black brow rose. It was impossible, but Fëanáro knew him, and did not fear him, though there was a thunder of power in the air about him like a storm front that would fell mountains and spill seas. He thought of Manwë, emasculated, pretentious, formed out of an idea of perfection, lily-white, lily-pure and, for all his power, forgettable as a dull meal. Almost, he smiled. ‘No.’

‘No,’ the man agreed. ‘Fëanáro, Hearken to me: thou hast come to reclaim the Silmarils and wreak vengeance upon Melkor. Thou canst not kill him, or not yet. He is not merely a Vala, but something more. The Valar could imprison him because Eru aided them. I tell thee this so that thou wilt not waste thy life, thy sons, thy people in suicidal plans and plots. But thou art here now, and within his grasp. He will bring down war upon thee. And the Valar will give no aid. The Noldor and the Elves who dwell here, who have never seen Aman, will form a defence against Melkor returning to Valinor.’ His delicious mouth curved in a dry smile. ‘They will care naught how many die, considering it a just punishment for thy rebellion.’

Fëanáro stepped forward until they were breast to breast. They were of a height. Eyes like coloured lamps looked back into his. The man smelt of spices,sandalwood, and beaten metal.
‘Who art thou?’ he hissed. ‘Answer me.

Fabulous eyes twinkled at him. ‘Here, in this world, and now?’ He tilted his head as if listening to something. ‘No-one. Nothing. I will be born here, Fëanáro, in the future. Remember this: There are infinite worlds, infinite possibilities. Thou wert to have died at the hands of the Balrogs. And now thou doth live.’

He turned away, hair blowing like a cloud of night, fraying into the wind. Stars winked and glowed there. Fëanáro, with a curse, reached out to catch his arm, fingers digging into hard muscle. The man swung back, his face amused, and then something changed in those impossible eyes and his lips parted as if he would kiss — but at the last moment he deflected, saluted Fëanáro’s cheek in a gesture almost chaste.

Fëanáro wrenched his head back, felt the warmth of his skin, the pulse of vivid, vital life. Blood rushed to harden his sex, and he brought their mouths together in a kiss like an explosion in a forge, the kind of kiss he had been born to give and receive: savage, powerful, a meeting of equal desires. Only once, once! in a fury of frustrated passion and anger had he experienced anything like this, when he had kissed Nolofinwë, a snatched moment that seemed to last an Age and ended too soon. It had been his first experience of true sexual passion, but he had not been able to explore it further. Now, even in this place, he could have gone down on the rocks, in the snow and ice and blood and had this man there and then.

The man broke the kiss, drew back, smiling. ‘Enough. Dost thou always greet strangers thus?’ Teasingly. ‘While it would be rather spitting in Melkor’s face to lay with thee under the very shadows of Thangorodrim, I must go. And, Fëanáro? Be not so sure thou wilt not see thy half-brother sooner than thou wouldst think. Did he not tell thee that he would follow thee? It is he that thou doth lust for. Among others. And thou may even be sated, if he ever forgives thee for abandoning him.’ A flick of steel.

Fëanor stared, panting, questions blizzarding through his mind. The man laid warm fingers upon his cheek. Fëanor felt the sword-callouses, the humanness of the contact.
‘Goodbye, Fëanáro. For now.’

Fëanáro gripped his wrist. ‘No. I have no time for riddles. What meanest thou?’

‘Really, Fëanáro?’ Violet eyes danced. ‘The most brilliant mind in all Arda has no time for riddles? Thou wilt unpick them like a tapestry until thou hast the answers.’

‘I defy anyone to unpick a few threads and make up a whole cloth,’ Fëanor retorted.

‘Half a cloth, a quarter, would be enough for thee,’ the man laughed. There in this icy no-land, the borders of Morgoth’s realm, the sound was shockingly rich. There was no tension, no fear whatsoever, as if he were untouched by any fear, by grief, or sorrow.

A scream tearing from his throat, ripping out all the innocence left within him as Morgoth took him, raping him with brutal thrusts, pulling his neck back, hands fisted in his hair, so that the cries strangled in his throat and a man with pale hair and lavender eyes shading into fire, watched, cold faced, and in the shadows of a cavernous hall where red light set the walls glowing shadows slunk and gibbered and laughed... There was so much pain, a feeling of being filthy and degraded and used, and self-hate that ate like acid into the core...

He reeled back, felt himself caught. The man said, ‘Thou shouldn’t not have seen that,’ sounding puzzled for a moment. ‘I am sorry.’ A sweep of black lashes veiled his eyes. ‘Fëanor, I cannot tell thee, not here, not now. Already thou hast altered this reality.’

‘Explain,’ Fëanáro ground out, but his hands rose and settle on the narrow waist. ‘Thou didst say those things...Balrogs, were supposed to kill me?’

‘They were, yes. And thy sons would come upon them, and drive them off and bear thee away, and thou wouldst die, and they body burn into ash.’

Fëanáro stared. His hands tightened.

‘And thy sons would attempt to fulfil the Oath and they, too, would die, all but Makaläure, who would wander, forgotten and lost.’

His heart surged into his throat. ‘No.’ He denied it. Oh, Eru, his sons!

‘It may not happen here. Otherwhere...’ A shrug. ‘So many different realities, Fëanor. Some differ only in the minutest degree. A rock here, that is not in another world, a tree...and we move through those quite easily, without even knowing. But here, thou hast killed Gothmog and that will change so many things.’

‘What? What will it change?’

‘Perhaps everything.’ He paused. ‘No, I cannot get involved. It is far too tempting. I should not have spoken.’

Fëanáro felt as if the man had walked out of a world of knowledge, of all the answers to the universe, and was feeding him, like a baby, only spoonfuls.
‘How dost thou know all this?’ The wind tore away his words, whining like a wolf. Around them the powdery snow whirled and whipped, but his face was wet with rain. ‘Who art thou?’

‘I am from the Outside,’ the man said. ‘And if thou doth meet me...tell me thou hast met me.’

What?’

The man stepped back. Immense triple wings exploded from his back, silver, black, indigo, flashing like a thousand burning gems. Hot, spice-scented air beat at Fëanáro’s face, drying the rain. The man rose like a sun into the black-and-white air, and his face glowed, too bright to look upon, stern now, a god of fate and fire and darkness.

Extending a hand, palm-out, the man said. ‘Thy sons are searching for thee. Go now. Thou wilt be quite safe for a time. Melkor will not know what has happened and will be wary.’ Then he was gone in a burst of light.
And the night was black.

Fëanor waited, eyes narrowed against the sting of the wind, but there was nothing save the roar of the fire as, behind him, Gothmog’s carcass burned.

Limping, bruised, ravenously curious, yet oddly buoyed, he set his face southward, toward his sons and, as he walked, he smiled. The stranger had laid mysteries in his hands; he was going to unravel them. He stopped as his feet stumbled over something soft, and stooped, picking up the cloak the man had worn. Long and warm, of some rich wool, it smelt of spices. He wrapped it around himself and walked on.


OooOooO



Vanimórë drew Fëanor back through the portal, laughing.
‘I apologise.’

‘How much of myself did I leave there?’ Fëanor asked. His eyes were wide and blazing.

‘Enough.’ The laughter died. ‘Enough to give thee, him a fighting chance. The universe does allow for change, Fëanor, or everyone would would tread an unwavering path from birth to death; there would be no freedom of will, no ability to choose. Everything is a potentiality until it become real, and even then...’ He lifted a shoulder. ‘It is too tempting is it not?’

‘Yes,’ Fëanor agreed tartly. ‘And Coldagnir?’

‘Coldagnir has remembered what he truly is. Oh, do not worry, it will be hidden from Melkor. I have ensured that. And who knows what he might do?’

Fëanor stared at him. ‘Thou couldst have torn Angband from its roots and cast it into the sea.’

‘Do not think I did not consider it.’ His jaw clenched. ‘And how long would it be, smashing through world after world, ordering it to my designs, before I could not stop myself? Before even the gods were just puppets dancing on my strings? I am not a good man, Fëanor. I knew I would kill Elgalad, and I took him anyway. That I could not kill him matters nothing. I did not know. I had him anyhow. I am a survivor. Survivors do anything they have to survive. There is no room for softness, for pity, for mercy. When I love, I will do anything for those I love, but it is a selfish love, dost thou understand?’

‘It was not selfish of thee to kill thy sister.’

Vanimórë took a long breath, released it slowly. ‘I was little more than a child then. Dost thou know how close I came to the Dark as God-emperor?’

‘Yes.’ Fëanor approached him. ‘I do. Is there not a saying, that sometimes to fight evil one needs not good, but another kind of evil?’ His mouth crooked. ‘A survivor, is it? And a gambler too. To destroy thyself, gambling thou wouldst be strong enough to reach beyond thyself, and the Outside.’

‘Well. What else could I do? No god could have bested Ungoliant.’

Fëanor threw back his glorious head and shouted with laughter. ‘Oh, I do not know, Vanimórë. What else indeed?’

Vanimórë could not repress an answering smile. Fëanor was, of course, superlatively beautiful, but he was also incredibly attractive, which elusive gift was often more dangerous than mere beauty. The Valar had been beautiful once, but as cut-crystal is beautiful, without animation or fire.
‘I will leave thee to thine amusement. I am reminded that I must speak to the Teleri.’

‘Oh, gods, if they want to launch attacks on Tirion for the next few Ages, let them. They want revenge, and I do not blame them I suppose.’

‘Generous of thee,’ Vanimórë drawled. ‘But there are enough gods scattered out there who are troublemakers without them adding to it. If they have no true vision, no largeness of mind, they are not fit to be gods. I understand revenge but I have the greatest dislike of entrenched stupidity, Fëanor.’

Fëanor’s mouth still held its smile. ‘So do I. It must be in our blood. Keep me apprised.’ Then: ‘Art thou running away?’

‘From what?’ Vanimórë widened his eyes.

‘Go away,’ Fëanor said, laughing again. ‘We will continue this...conversation? another time.’ But he placed a hand flat on Vanimórë’s breast and the other drew through his hair. ‘I hope I do meet thee, over there, in that world.’

‘I died in most of them,’ Vanimórë said emotionlessly.

‘In that one?’

He thought of the dreams which were more than dreams. ‘Yes.’

Fëanor’s fingers clenched in his hair. ‘And thou wilt not change it?’

‘No. I told thee. No.’

‘Fool.’ Fëanor’s eyes gathered fury. ‘This reality is not the only one that needs thee.’

‘Or thee,’ Vanimórë replied, ‘or Fingolfin, or Galadriel or Maedhros or — it could be any-one, Fëanor, anyone who can change or shape a world.’ He pulled away, walked from the garden, from the Timeless Halls, as Fëanor’s gaze burned against his back. Then Fëanor called: ‘And perhaps I might have changed that, too, Vanimórë. Perhaps, in that world, thou wilt indeed survive.’

Vanimórë paused, then shrugged. ‘Perhaps.’ And walked on.



OooOooO




Fëanor found Fingolfin in the Hall of Blue Dreams, a chamber where blue stones melted through marble and moved in the light like the drift of streams. At once his temper took a different mood, if no less passionate, but the set of Fingolfin’s mouth gave him pause.
‘Is something wrong?’

‘Yes. I need to speak to thee.’ He nodded to the door. ‘Somewhere private.’

‘Of course.’ Fëanor cast him a look and took him by the arm. ‘Come to the Halls. There is something I would like to consult with thee on.’

Fingolfin was as tense as a strung bow, but he did not speak until they were in the vast palace, when he disengaged himself and took a few steps away.
He said, as if they were resuming a recent conversation: ‘If Vanimórë returns Turgon as he is, he will be the same man who suicided, the same biases and hates. If he is reborn as a child, although he will come to remember his old life, as thou didst, he may be different.’

Fëanor folded his arms. Turgon’s very name made him want to spit.
‘And, hast thou considered if, when he remembers, all that hatred and bias may return to him, just as my feelings did, to me?’

‘Yes,’ Fingolfin said uncompromisingly. ‘Anairë told me it was she who encouraged him to hate thee and thy family. Varda told her, long before we were lovers, that I wanted thee. Anairë never desired me, but the thought of what we did — might do — was so disgusting to her, so sinful...And Varda dropped poison into her ears about thee, evil, rebellious Fëanor—‘

‘And?’ Fëanor snapped.

Fingolfin said, eyes unblinking, steady on Fëanor’s face:And she will not do the same this time. We will both raise him and perhaps he will be different. I care little whether he is or no; he is not just my son, he is also hers, and a husband, a brother, a father before his daughter—‘

‘No.’ Fëanor felt the word come in absolute flat denial from his mouth.

‘No? Thou wouldst do it for one of thine own sons in a heartbeat!’

‘None of my sons would have pissed on my grave!’ But in some world they did, in some world they hated me. The man he was now could not have endured that, but Fingolfin bore it, (How? How?).
A flash of emotion whipped across Fingolfin’s face before it moulded to marble, cold, aloof.

Fëanor’s control snapped; it had not been control at all but disbelief, an unwillingness to accept what he had known Fingolfin would say as soon as the name ‘Turgon’ dropped from his mouth.
‘Thou canst not go back to her, be a husband to her! We are going to rule here, all three of us, sit on the thrones of the Timeless Halls together.’

‘I am not going back to her!’ Fingolfin refuted. ‘We are not married, nor will we be, but will have to lay with her once, yes, and remain with her until Turgon is grown, so that we can both raise him. Fëanor, I do not want her. I do not even want Turgon. But if he could be born a decent man, free of his corrosive hatred, I must do this..’

‘There must be another way! Let Vanimórë bring him back, let him be the man he was —‘

‘Then he will be sent to Tol Eressëa.’

‘And so?’ Fëanor unlocked his arms, sprang from his rigid stance. ‘Thou hast said thou doth not want him. Let him go there then!’

‘Wouldst thou, if it were one of thy sons?” Fingolfin threw at him, and stood there immaculate and proud and haughty as the High King he had, in truth, always been.

‘Thinks’t thou that Anairë’s womb will open so quickly?’ The words sounded hot and jagged. ‘Even as a goddess? I saw how she looked at thee, probably for the first time in her life, woken at last from the Valar’s imprisonment. She will keep thee at her back and call for a thousand years!’

‘Do not be a fool,’ Fingolfin said coldly, though there was a flicker of uncertainty, just for a moment. ‘She is just reborn out of Ages of slavery. She barely knows what she wants. She has no more personality than a child! She may not even like men. But she does want to know how to live freely. Dost thou blame her, shaped by the Valar for all her life? Turgon is her son, too. She wants him back. This is not only about me, Fëanor. How could I make the decision to do naught to help Turgon? He has a mother too.’

‘It is thou who art the fool! Want him back, when she left thee and left her children—‘

‘Thou wouldst do it, half-brother, and expect me to understand!’

‘I would not have to do it!’

Fingolfin turned his slim, lofty back, with the straight shoulders that never failed to stir the lust in Fëanor rigid as steel bars. His carriage and poise were always perfect, always princely.
‘I will leave thee.’ But he sounded as if he were dismissing a tiresome petitioner. ‘This is not subject to dispute. There is nothing more to say. We both know thou wouldst do this thing for one of thine own sons.’

And he would. He would! But he would hate it and rage against the necessity, not accept it with this glassy, infuriating calm. Fëanor wrenched Fingolfin back to face him. ‘I am still High King, and I say thou shalt not. And how, Fingolfin, art thou going to bed her when thou doth not want her? Well?’

‘I am a god, am I not?’ Fingolfin returned. ‘Or no doubt I can still find the herbs used to induce lust. Or imagine she is a man. I had to do it before—‘

‘And we vowed we would never do any such thing again!’ We promised one another, we promised our people! ‘We vowed we would be free.

There is no other way!’ Fingolfin shrugged Fëanor off. ‘And why is this even important? We take pleasure in others and care nothing. And this will not even be pleasure, but duty.’

Fëanor caught his arm. ‘Because they would never try to separate us. Anairë has always hated me. She is not going to undergo some miraculous change of heart no matter what kind of woman she becomes!’

Fingolfin looked contemptuous. ‘She could no more separate us than a fallen branch could bridge Valinor and Endor. Only thou canst do that, Fëanor.’

‘Do not lay this at my feet. It is not I who will tear us apart!’

The struggle became a tussle, became, rapidly, a fight. Fingolfin’s apparent equilibrium proved thin as cat-ice. They could not hurt one another; in these bodies, injuries healed even more rapidly than they had before. And in strength, they were perfectly matched, had always been so. Nevertheless, there were tricks, and completely uncivilised ways of fighting, and they used them all until their clothes were ripped and their hair flowed loose.

They rolled across the steel-crystal-stone of the floor, over great squares of cloud-soft carpet, and Fingolfin came up on top. He thrust a knee between Fëanor’s legs, cursing him in Quenya and Sindarin in language Fëanor was surprised his half-brother knew. And Fëanor allowed it, all of it, because Fingolfin had lost his temper and his eyes raged like stars through the spilling curtains of his hair and Fëanor loved seeing him this way, when for so long they had met in darkness and secrecy for brief, snatched moments. His eyes devoured his half-brother’s raging splendour even while he hated him for what he was going to do. Hated him, and wanted him, and wanted this.

Fingolfin punished him with sex; Fëanor gloried in every savage moment because Fingolfin was inside him and there was no-one else in his thoughts but Fëanor. Their eyes met in a stare like two wrestlers locked together. Fingolfin raised Fëanor’s hips and took him without a facet of tenderness, as warrior sates himself after battle, with rage and cruelty. Fëanor stifled a cry at the heavy, powerful penetration, but gods, gods! it was so good.

Wrath radiated from Fingolfin as he thrust harder, harder, the rhythm building faster, more brutally, and Fëanor’s teeth locked over his cries of pleasure and pain until it was impossible to hold them in. Fingolfin swore at him, and Fëanor cursed back, words of hate and blame and viciousness. Fingolfin caught Fëanor’s throat in one hand, pushing his head back, and drove in, primal as a stallion mounting a mare.

A lightning storm built about them, fed on their emotions, crackling, seething, illuminating the chamber. Fëanor devoured every movement of his half brother inside him and wanted more, wanted to be plundered as a slave is taken by a conquering warlord. The pain was magnificent, burning up into pleasure, awful and wonderful. It was the breath of freedom to Fëanor, to be possessed and owned with violence and he revelled in it, in this Fingolfin, a wild god of light and power and fury.

He came to orgasm again and again, and finally, in the starbirth of ecstasy Fingolfin released inside him, his head flung back, teeth bared in an expression of hate and agony and sheer, intoxicating ferocity. The Fingolfin that lived under the skin of that proud, beautiful face, that kingly poise, should never, ever be curtailed or hidden or bow to expediency.

Slowly, Fingolfin’s hectic breaths grew gentler; he drew himself away, rose to his feet, gazed down at Fëanor, long, slim legs apart. His smooth skin was sleeked with perspiration over taut muscle, his hair a wild black cloud. A magnificent sight. He also appeared faintly puzzled, as if he did not know whether he had won the argument (he had not), as if he was not quite sure what had just happened. His eyes quartered Fëanor’s face seeking answers Fëanor would not give him. He was, in fact, a little surprised at his own reaction to Fingolfin’s dominance. So he merely returned the smouldering stare with his own, searching for the regret he did not want to find. There was none. Good. He did not want apologies, no soft: ‘I am sorry, this will never happen again, I do not know why I did it. Forgive me.!’ He wanted — needed — this raw, untamed Fingolfin who had always, when they were together, been passionate, sometimes skimmed close to revealing his truest self (that night of winter when he had taken Fëanor with blood!) but ever there was something out of reach behind an impenetrable wall of steel.
Well, that was smashed now, gone, even if Fëanor alone knew it and had experienced the truth. (And he had been right, it was always there).

But, because he was still so angry, he did not laugh, allowed no triumph to show in his expression.

Fingolfin, with a growl of irritation, spun unapologetically on his heel and strode away.





OooOooO




Chapter 29 ~ Under The Power Lies Uncertainty ~ by Spiced Wine


~ Under The Power Lies Uncertainty ~



Fëanor threw the pen across the room, shoved the parchment off the table and came to his feet, hands hard on the surface of the wood. He bowed his head, wincing, though any lingering soreness from Fingolfin’s savage (superb) possession only existed in his own mind, and he rather enjoyed that feeling of being so throughly used. His anger, his hurt at Fingolfin’s betrayal was like black fire in his breast (although somewhat mitigated by that incredible sex. If he could pull that reaction out of Fingolfin, enmity was almost worth it!) But when were they going to live as they had vowed they would? Did Fingolfin even want that? Had he ever, really, wanted that?

For a while, trying to forget the whispering, pricking doubts, he had busied himself with sketching plans for Eru’s Palace. It did not matter than he would never physically build it, that Power would fashion it with a thought; he did not want to rely on power alone, enjoyed working with his hands too much, and wanted — needed — to retain his humanity. Just as Vanimórë did. And that meant he must spend at least some time in Valinor, more tethered to the world. Or...he smiled to himself, other worlds.

Finarfin and his sons were there, now, in the Timeless Halls.
‘Vanimórë does not want Eru’s palace, and it is a beautiful enough place, but if we are to dwell there we should set our own stamp on it, should we not? Go, and then tell me thine own thoughts. Explore the Timeless Halls, create what thou wouldst wish.’ He had cupped Finarfin’s beautiful face in his hands and kissed his brow. ‘This is freedom, brother. At last.’

But it was not freedom. Not for Fëanor.

Finarfin had gone, but the palace had just been an excuse; he wanted time with his sons. There was a great deal of healing that must take place between them and Tirion, so crowded now, was not the place for it.
He smiled, glad for them, but simmering anger stilled nipped at him like a hunting dog so that his creativity faltered and now he stared at nothing. He thought of the many times Fingolfin had defected him, turned his shoulder, even pushed him away. Had Fëanor been mistaken all the time? Perhaps Fingolfin considered him nothing more than an annoyance, good for sex when the mood took him but in his heart wanting to return to marriage, a wife, a child...And yet, had he not spoken up in the Great Hall after Turgon's attack, faced them all down, admitted (and so gloriously unashamed, unrepentant) to their relationship?

No, he could not fall prey to paranoia and doubt again, not when he knew where it could lead. He could feel the Flame, in his veins, in the roots of his hair, burning...He held out his hands and saw the fire licking under the skin. Closing them, he breathed through his nose, held, released, repeated it until his hammering heart and breath slowed. With tight, brittle control, he sat down again, pulled a fresh sheet of parchment forward and considered battle formations. As gods, they need not be bound to the earth to meet Morgoth. He would have to call in Maedhros and Fingon, Finrod, Túrin, Ignwë, Glorfindel, Gil-galad, Thranduil — everyone who had commanded armies in Middle-earth. Vanimórë too, and, naturally, Fingolfin...

‘Grandfather?’

he raised his head. Celebrimbor had come into the chamber. He went into the offered embrace, then eased back and sat with the chair angled toward Fëanor.

‘How is it?’ Fëanor put down his stylus.

A slight grimace crossed Celebrimbor’s mouth. At Fëanor’s gesture, he poured himself a cup of wine.
‘I am still deciding what to do about Sauron.’

Fëanor raised his brows slightly. ‘Hast thou any ideas?’

‘Many. But almost all involve killing him, and even as a god myself, I cannot do that.’ His voice was ash-dry.

Fëanor sat back. ‘Unfortunately, no,’ he agreed. He had considered whether he himself could destroy Sauron, what the Flame Imperishable might be capable of; but ultimately it was Life, not death. He thought, now, that the Flame was the reason so many people had wanted him so greedily, had both hated him and desired what was in him. Nerdanel, Morgoth, Galadriel, the Valar, hungry eyes following him. Only with his own family and Fingolfin had he ever felt that they wanted him, Fëanor.
Well, none would ever trouble him again. Only Fingolfin, willing to go back to Anairë’s bed for that waste of a younger son...! Gods, a sly coward, going into battle only when he saw the High Kingship in his grasp. For cowering in Gondolin during the Dagor Bragollach, Fëanor would never forgive him, but perhaps Fingolfin would have challenged Morgoth anyhow. Or we might have challenged him together.

He drew his fingers roughly through his hair. He could not stand even the thought of Turgon reborn, and did not imagine he would be any different, but in some other reality, he must have been. He could not blame Fingolfin for hoping.

Yes, I would do it. And I would loathe every moment.
‘Vanimórë could destroy him,’ he said stamping down on his self-destructive thoughts. ‘Is that what thou wouldst wish?’

Celebrimbor’s eyes met his, fierce and hot as pain. ‘He would not.’

No, he would not. ‘In our family,’ he said slowly, ‘love can mean so many different things. What didst thou feel for him?’

‘Love! People prate of love and sing of it, and to us it is passion, hurt, lust, even hate.’ He loosed a long breath, set his wine aside and steepled long fingers. ‘When he first came to Ost-in-Edhil, as Annatar, I did speak to Gil-galad, asked why he had banned him from Lindon.’ A shrug. ‘Gil-galad and I were never very close. it was not Gil’s fault, but I could not stand his court, his poisonous mother and her faction. I never went there, rarely saw my cousin, a fact I regretted. He said he did not trust Annatar, that there was something too calculating about him. He thought he might be a spy for the Valar.’

‘And thou didst not?’

‘Of course! And I did not trust him, but I could not imagine the Valar putting such words of despite or contempt in the mouths of one of their servants.’ A faint smile flickered, a glance back at memory, at a shared loathing. ‘He said there were some in Valinor, not many, but some, who disagreed with the Doom, with the way the Valar had handled the Noldor. It gave me some hope that one day...’ He looked away, his head shook once. ‘One day those I loved would be returned. And I needed hope! I needed allies.’

Fëanor laid a hand on his knee. ‘Yes,’ he murmured.

Celebrimbor gazed at him, eyes burning white-hot behind the grey.
‘I had no-one. Gil-galad was in Lindon, bowed under the duties of a High King and in love with Tindómion and equally shackled by the damned Laws. I envied neither of them anything save their love. I was the lord of the remnants of the Fëanorions and had to contend with Galadriel. She and her husband founded Ost-in-Edhil, but they called upon me and my craftsmen to build it! I wish thou couldn’t have seen it.’

Fëanor smiled. ‘Perhaps I will.’

Celebrimbor stopped. ‘What?’

‘Later. Go on.’

‘Galadriel set herself up as a so-wise ruler, yet did nothing. But the Gwaith-i-Mírdain became a powerful force. We dealt with the dwarves of Khazad-dûm, and we both benefited greatly from it and trade with the lands beyond the HIthaeglir. Thou knowest all this.’ he swept a hand through the air. ‘ When Annatar arrived—‘ His mouth twisted ruefully. ‘Of course I should have listened to Gil-galad’s warnings and Galadriel’s too, but Gil-Galad was far away, and I was sick of Galadriel. I never liked her and her attitude that all should treat her like a queen when she did nothing but hide away until the wars were well over. She could have acquitted herself well in battle, but she never wanted to, because do not tell me that anyone would have tried to stop her.’ He shifted and shrugged. ‘Annatar did approach her of course; she was the Lady of the City, but only to pass through to my own district. He said, later, that she held no interest for him, and that I did believe. He took up his cup again, sipped.
‘She was no part of the Gwaith-i-Mírdain anyhow, and had no real interest in it, save that she wanted me to create things for her.’ His mouth curled. ‘And I did, if only to shut her up. It was not for her to say who joined our ranks. We were autonomous. I would never have settled there and allowed her any power over me.’

‘Of course not,’ Fëanor agreed. Some of this he had known, but never pressed Celebrimbor to reveal more than he wished to. He just wanted his grandson to speak, to unburden himself.

‘Anyone who desired to join us had to pass certain examinations, naturally, and Annatar was no exception, Maia notwithstanding. He was brilliant.’ Another small twitch of the mouth that might have been memory or irritation at himself. ‘All my craftspeople were skilled, but I had not seen anything like him since working with my father — and thee. It was ....shattering.’

Fëanor’s throat tightened at imagining Celebrimbor’s loneliness. Yes, he could imagine it would have been.

‘I did not trust him, but we could talk, discuss, theorise...’ Fëanor nodded. ‘And we worked together, until it seemed as if we almost echoed one another. Trust? No. Love?’ He barked a laugh. ‘I fully believe Sauron is incapable of love, of empathy, of compassion, of any spark of human feeling, because he is not human, but Hells, he was clever and could be charming, and—‘ He did not blush, did not look away as he said, ‘The sex was explosive.’

With his own memories of explosive sex still thrumming through his veins, Fëanor smiled.

‘I hated myself for being so thoroughly deceived,’ Celebrimbor said tightly. ‘for being duped, being so blind. I hated him. But that I do not regret.’

‘As thou hast said, sex is not always about love, not for us,’ Fëanor said. ‘If it is, it is an added...flavour, a deeper trust, but it is often tied up with hate and envy and jealousy, anger. And with pain.’

‘Is this true even of Maedhros and Fingon?’ Celebrimbor seemed to relax, as if he had been unsure of Fëanor’s reaction to his confessions. But Fëanor had fucked Melkor and had not wasted one moment in shame or regret.

‘I wonder,’ Fëanor mused. ‘Theirs is a love that has known great pain. And love that passes through war is develops in strange ways, I believe.’ But even they were not monogamous. He was unsure if they ever had been.

‘He raped Maedhros,’ Celebrimbor bit. ‘Sauron. He told me.’

Fëanor’s breath felt like fire in his throat. A sound began under his feet, like some great harp string and the white walls hummed. He controlled himself with an effort.
‘I know,’ he said. ‘I know.’

Celebrimbor’s face was cut granite, as cold and implacable. ‘That I did hate myself for. Enjoying him, when...’ He moved sharply. ‘He said Maedhros had begged for it in the end.’ And now he did flush, a high stain across his cheeks, but the set of his jaws was pure denial. ‘I thought he would have died, rather.’

Fëanor’s whole body quaked with pain and fury. He understood, as he wrestled with it, how hard it had been for Vanimórë to rein in his power. He said, briskly, as if it were no great matter: ‘I think we would all like to believe we would die rather than break under torment in any way, but Maedhros had something to live for: the Oath — although that was not worth living for, as I knew as soon as I died — and his family, who were. Because he could not break, he found a way of dealing with it. I believe all prisoners do. They have to.’ He had spoken to thralls and they all had found their own ways of surviving. As had Vanimórë. As had all of them banished to the Void.

‘I know,’ Celebrimbor said letting out his pent breath. ‘So.’ He sat back, crossed one long leg over the other. ‘What do I do with him, this one who brought misery to millions, who raped Maedhros and yes, Vanimórë and so many others, who crushed Finrod, who tortured Maglor, who brought ruin to Númenor, who slew Gil-galad, who almost became tyrant over the whole Earth?’

And did, somewhere, Fëanor thought. He leaned forward, half-smiling.
‘What dost thou want to do?’

Celebrimbor’s words came flat, fierce: ‘I would have him on his knees before me, the traitorous cur.’

‘Oh, thou didst,’ Fëanor said, laughter in his throat. ‘somewhere. And who knows—‘

‘I did...somewhere?’ Celebrimbor’s eyes were intense and burning on his face.

The door opened and his sons swept in; Fingolfin, Glorfindel, all those he had summed to the War council. He gripped Celebrimbor’s arm a moment, held his eyes in a promise to resume this conversation later.
‘I thank thee for coming,’ he said to the others, and with one look that crackled at Fingolfin, who returned it, unsmilingly. ‘We now have to learn how to adapt our battle tactics to fighting not on foot or horseback, but in the air.’

He cast Celebrimbor one last glance, and his grandson bowed, then quietly left the room.


OooOooO



~ It looked nothing like a prison. Half-room, half-garden, marble and fountains, divans scattered with cushions, tables of crystal, bright hangings against pale walls, flowers spilling over low walls, coloured lamps. A breathtaking view across the fable that was the Timeless Halls.

Vanimórë had sent him here with no more than a thought. And no-one had come since his imprisonment. At least the Valar were nowhere in evidence. He had endured enough of their caterwauling to last eternity.

The Halls were familiar from so long ago, when he had come here, curious to know all, and found far more. The gods whom had once lived here were gone, scattered across the universe. Mairon wondered if Vanimórë had, in effect, thrown them out to make way for his choice of gods: the Elves. It would be like his high-handedness. Vanimórë played favourites, always had, and if one were to challenge it, he would shrug.

Mairon smiled. He had done well with his son. The child who had thieved for his sister, tried to protect her, the youth whom had wept over a dead Elf, a dead child, had become a man of ice and fire and steel. And, now, of power incalculable.

Mairon knew well enough that his son had wanted — needed — his love, but had never asked for it, never begged, never become a pitiful disgrace. Mairon would have loathed that, been disgusted and killed him had Vanimórë ever looked at him with pleading. Children, whether Elf or Mortal all seemed to need love, and his twins had been no different, save they looked for love in one another.
He had doubted that Vanimórë would survive the grief and horror of killing his sister, but against all expectations, he had done so. It had set cold fire in his eyes and steel in his backbone. He had stared defiance, hate, even contempt into Mairon’s eyes, and it was a triumph. He had endured every degradation, every rape, every punishment. It had eaten him alive, twisted him to breaking-point, but he had endured because he was too proud too crumble (he might say it was fear of being cast into the Void, but at the root was pride) yet he had retained that odd, incalculable compassion only leavened by a streak of inherited pitilessness.

The danger was that if he sired children he would turn soft, and so Melkor had ensured he would not — at Mairon’s suggestion. He did not want his son absorbed by offspring, his care and love for Elgalad had shown him to be just the kind of man who would swoon all over a child of his loins.

He had loved his sister, and killed her anyhow. Had loved Elgalad, or what Elgalad seemed to be, and appeared to kill him. He had slaughtered thousands in battle, put hundreds to tortuous death. And Mairon was wise enough to know it was not only his own blood, but Fëanor’s. The Fëanorions could be just as ruthless — and had been.

And so, Mairon did not think for one moment that Vanimórë would save him from the wrath of Celebrimbor.

Red light flooded the chamber. Mairon spun around as Coldagnir alighted, triple wings vanishing in a wash of glitter. Scarlet hair fell around him like tongues of flame.

‘Well, this is a surprise,’ Mairon drawled. ‘I do receive the most unexpected visitors, first in Valinor and now here. Both of them,’ he added dryly, ‘were supposed to be dead.’ He moved forward. ‘You ate Gothmog’s soul. That was most impressive. Melkor was furious.’

Coldagnir’s mouth formed a small, cold smile. ‘Gothmog is gone, Eru destroyed him. But I imagine thou didst feel it.’

‘I should think the universe felt it,’ Mairon agreed.

‘He was filth, wallowing in brutality, rapine, war, death. A bully. He licked power from the boots of those greater, a fawning cur at Melkor’s feet and thine. Nothing more than thy rabid dog.’ Coldagnir flicked a white hand down his tunic as removing the dust of an unpleasant memory.

‘But such an obedient dog. Like all of you.’ He stepped up to Coldagnir, breast to breast. ‘Like you. You enjoyed raping my son, you enjoyed the sweetness of slaughter. You enjoyed everything.

‘I came to. I fell very far from what I was in the beginning, and those Ages still torment me.’ The hammered bronze eyes met Mairon’s without blinking. ‘But thou didst also kiss Melkor’s feet. And hated it. And raped thy son. And enjoyed it. I wondered why, when all his servants were reduced to vileness and ugliness, thou wert not, how thou wert able to remain beautiful, to rebuild thy body after its destruction, to survive so little changed.’ He laughed, a hard sound like a glass chime. ‘Thou wert drawing on him, on thy son — if that is even what he is.’

‘Fascinating, is it not?’

‘It has gone far beyond fascinating,’ Coldagnir said suddenly stern and cold, though his eyes flashed hot metal. ‘Thou art too entangled with Vanimórë, and for too long.’

‘And this troubles my son?’ Mairon narrowed his eyes. ‘Strange, he does not usually use a proxy.’

‘I am not here on behalf of Vanimórë,’ Coldagnir told him. ‘Eru sent me.’

So.

So.’ Coldagnir circled him, close as a lover. ‘Thou didst not try to escape from Taniquetil, and have not tried to escape from these chambers.’

‘I am a prisoner,’ he said dryly.

‘Vanimórë left thee room to escape, Sauron, let us not play games. He will not help thee, but he left a few loose threads.’ Coldagnir completed his circuit. ‘Subconsciously, one might say.’

‘And why would he do that, hmm? For sweet love’s sake?’ He showed his teeth. ‘You underestimate my son.’

‘Underestimate him?’ Coldagnir put up his brows. ‘Hardly. But Eru understands his...complexities. Thou art remaining here for Vanimórë, or Celebrimbor, perhaps? Melkor?’

‘The only interest I have in Melkor is to see him throughly vanquished.’ And that was true. ‘He was stupendous, glorious, beautiful beyond belief, but he lacked vision. And, in the end, all he wanted was nothing. A Void for himself, a Void for everything else. He would have eaten the universe and howled for more. For some reason — a trifling one, no doubt — I would rather not be part of his feast.’

Coldagnir eyed him. ‘So it is thy son, or Celebrimbor, the man thou didst use and betray and...love.’

‘Love.’ Mairon used the word like an ax-stroke. ‘What need has any god of love? Do not fool yourself into believing you know anything of it, Coldagnir.’

‘I certainly learned nothing of it in Utumno or Angband!’ A snap that carried Ages of slavery and horror. ‘Very well then, desire, respect, need, lust, even affection. Do not pretend thou didst not feel all of those for Celebrimbor.’

Celebrimbor had been different, and Melkor had not been breathing down his neck as when Maedhros Fëanorion was a prisoner in Angband. Mairon had been quite sincere in his desire to rule the world with the Elves as his allies, but had reckoned without their stubborn adherence to old wounds. They could not look past his ‘crimes’, would never understand that he had to follow Melkor, who claimed lordship over the whole world, Marion’s world. No god had the power to fight Melkor, or at least not until he had poured himself into the warp and weft of Arda. Only then had the combined might of the Valar been able to chain him.

It had been inviting his own rape. Melkor was alien to this universe, there was no other way he could influence the world (Mairon’s world) save by penetrating it with his power. And, as Vanimórë had said, there, only there, at the heart of the rape, could Mairon thwart him. Melkor had not known that; only that his designs went awry, that he could not order all to his will and whim. He could be marvellously, stupidly blind. Or perhaps he had never possessed that kind of deep vision, which was fortunate.

He said, ‘Celebrimbor was — is — brilliant. I have always appreciated intelligence. Can you blame me? Look what I had to put up with in Utumno and Angband.’ He flicked his eyes slowly over Coldagnir, remembering the beautiful creature whom Gothmog had brought to Utumno, and what it had slowly become. Not so different to the way the first Elves twisted into orcs.

‘Thine own choice,’ Coldagnir said implacably. ‘Mairon, Lord of the Earth.’

He swallowed furious words. ‘The only choice there was. And if the bloody incompetent Valar had kept Melkor instead of releasing him,’ His fingers curled into fists. ‘much would have been different.’

Coldagnir’s mouth flattened with distaste. ‘No argument from me. But I wonder if much would have been different? Thou hadn’t learned to enjoy being a master of slaves too much, I think.’

‘Slavery? Over orcs and other such miscreatures. They were worth nothing more. Perhaps thou didst not know, Nemrúshkeraz, that in latter times the Variags Of Khand believed themselves my chosen people. They were not far wrong, either. And I never enslaved them. But of course I would have preferred the Noldor. Who would not?’

‘Enough! With Melkor thou didst bring those miscreatures into being. I was there. I remember. Elves born to starlight and freedom, snatched away from home and loved ones to become experiments.

Mairon arched a brow. ‘I could not have stopped him,’ he pointed out. ‘And those experiments might have been far worse had I not been there to skew Melkor’s grand plans. Middle-earth was exceptionally lucky that all the Elves did not become Other, like Edenel and his Ithiledhil.’ His eyes hooded. ‘They were precisely what Melkor desired, and was he not delighted with them? He did not create them, but he believed he did. And was he not enraged when he could create no more?’

‘Yes,’ Coldagnir said curtly. ‘Then where did they come from? And why so few?’

‘Oh, come. Vanimórë knew of them, and so they came into being with this universe.’ He sent Coldagnir a mocking smile. ‘Well, what does Eru want with me?’

Coldagnir stood back, turned like a guard at a door (and he had been a door ward in Angband). ‘My Lord,’ he said.

Vanimórë contained the power within him by dint of sheer will, and even so it bled from him like heat from a furnace. Eru made fewer concessions — or had less practice; Vanimórë had dwelt long on Middle-earth as a god, and learned to chain the power within him.

The chamber blazed blue-white, blinding even the eyes of a god, momentarily.

‘Mairon,’ Eru said, and his voice filled the chamber like wind. ‘It is time we spoke again, thou and I.’



OooOooO




Olwë stared at Vanimórë with fear and hate, fingers clutched on the carved arms of his throne. Vanimórë almost (almost) pitied him. He was in the awkward position of loathing some-one (or rather many people) and being unable to do anything about it. Beside him sat Thingol, (poised) Dior (restless and reckless) Eärwen (a lovely and intelligent woman) and Celeborn (trying to emulate Thingol’s poise, and curious). Of them all, Vanimórë would have preferred to deal with Eärwen and Thingol but unfortunately Olwë was, at least for the moment, Alqualondë’s ruler.

‘Perhaps thou canst not understand,’ Olwë enunciated with dangerous precision, though the words came with a slight tremor. ‘The Noldor slew my people, and have never, ever paid for their crime. So, some of them were sent to the Void, some to the Halls of Waiting. They did not come before the Teleri!’ His jaw worked; he uncurled a hand to slam it down as if to give greater weight to his statement. ‘They do not even have the decency to feel guilt!’

‘They felt exactly the emotions thou didst feel,’ Vanimórë told him impatiently. ‘Shock, grief, horror, sickness — everyone who kills, save orcs, or those who lack basic human decency, feel the same. This was not a slaughter of innocents, Olwë. It was a battle. Thou didst also kill.’

‘We had a right to stop them stealing our ships!’ His voice rose.

‘Fëanor should have asked thee to crew them, of course, but his mind was unhinged, eaten by the Valar, by Melkor.’ He moved forward, and Olwë sat back, fear leaping like a spark into his eyes. ‘But do not pretend it was all to do with a few bits of floatable wood and fine cloth, Olwë! The Valar threatened thee if thou wert to help him!’

Olwë opened his mouth, closed it again. Eventually, the words coming like bile from his gut. ‘I had a duty to my people.’

‘Granted,’ Vanimórë acknowledged. ‘But thou couldn’t have gone behind thy walls and ignored the Noldor, let them take the damned ships. But thou didst not.’

Olwë’s eyes flickered, then snapped rage. ‘Fëanor was a dangerous madman! And thou hast made him a god!’

‘Fëanor is the embodiment of the Flame Imperishable. He always was, He is as old as this universe. Dost thou never listen?’ Vanimórë planted his hands on the arms of the throne and leaned toward Olwë. ‘Art thou as cloth-eared and sclerotic as the dross sent to Tol Eressëa? There is nothing thou canst change! And Fëanor does not wish to be king over thee!’
‘Thou canst not kill them, they will not apologise. Thou didst attack them when they confronted the Valar, and were trounced. What hast thou ever done save sit on thy backside beside the sea, because thou wert afraid. Thou didst not even fight in the War of Wrath! Finarfin did, even the Vanyar did. Well, the Valar are gone, and if thou thinks’t thy grief for thy dead kindred in any way matches the unnumbered tears and torment of the Exiles, thou art delusional. I wish thou hadst known the dragging brutality of the wars of Endor.All bereavement is grievous, but Námo rehoused the dead Teleri almost immediately while the Noldor, even those who were not sent to the Void, remained in the Halls of Waiting for Ages. I was undecided about allowing Fos Almir to pass over Alqualondë, but it matters not, I can take away what I gave thee.’ He straightened and snapped his fingers. ‘I am here because Dagor Dagorth comes upon us. I will shield Valinor, but by the Hells, if thou doth not stop whining about stale, old grievances, I shall let the battle have thee and thou wilt be nothing more than Elves fighting the legions of Morgoth and the Void. Good luck.’

Eärwen rose, a hand at her throat. ‘Thy words are harsh, my Lord.’

‘I have not even begun to be harsh, Madam.’ Then Vanimöré smiled at her, and bowed. ‘But not to thee, for thou art a woman of excellent sense, and I hope thou wilt share some of it with thy father. I understand the desire for revenge, believe me.’ He stepped toward her, and her head came up on the long slender neck, but when he put out his hand she, after a moment’s hesitation, took it.
Lady, I shall, of course, not permit Melkor’s hordes to destroy Alqualondë, but I would like thy father to think it, for a time. I pray thee, do not reveal this to him.

Her hand jumped in his; her lashes lowered in an infinitesimal acknowledgment.

‘For justice,’ Olwë cried. ‘Not vengeance. Justice!’

‘Justice, vengeance.’ Vanimöré released Eärwen’s hand. ‘I have wanted it too, and found I cannot have it. Or, which is more to the point, should not.’

‘They killed my daughter.’ Dior cried. Thingol’s hand shot out to grab his grandson’s wrist. ‘He killed her!’

‘No-one killed her,’ Vanimórë snapped. ‘She wanted a Silmaril and she touched it. It destroyed her body, but she will return without the sickness. Almost a pity she got to it before thou didst, Dior.’

Dior wrenched himself from Thingol’s grasp and flew toward Vanimórë. Who raised a hand so that Dior was raised above the ground, held in an invisible fist of force. His legs kicked; he screamed and thrashed.

‘Time for this to end, I think.’ Vanimórë dragged the lingering madness from Dior’s mind. It appeared as a whirling ball of sickly colour, faintly sparkling as with diamond-dust. Dior howled like a man whose guts are torn out, and Olwë lunged toward him, but Thingol, stronger, caught him back. Eärwen merely watched, fair brows pinched.

Dior sagged, silver hair curtaining his face and Vanimórë slipped his fingers into the toxic cloud, absorbing it into himself. Eärwen touched a hand to Dior’s wrist, said to her father: ‘Peace, he is not dead.’

Vanimórë took the unconscious Dior in his arms and settled him back in his seat.
‘He will wake with his mind clear,’ he said calmly, to Thingol. ‘And then, perhaps, he should seek out the sons he left to be killed in Menegroth, for what was anything worth beside the Silmaril? As for thee, Olwë, take heed of my words. I will give thee a day, no longer, to relinquish thy determination to be revenged. And believe me, I will know if thou art serious.’ He snapped around, strode to the doorway of the hall. Outside, he waited while Thingol joined him, and they walked away from the guards.

All the former Iathrim and half of the Teleri would take thee as their king, Vanimórë said. Or Eärwen as queen. And if Olwë persists on this course, one or the other of thee will indeed sit on the throne.

Thingol cast a glance back toward the throne room. Only those born in Alqualondë are pacifists, content with Olwë’s rule. The rest of us who knew Endor, we want to fight, even if we do not take Fëanor as High King over us. And whatever the Vanyar have chosen, one could hardly expect it! Once thine ultimatum becomes known, they may demand Olwë’s abdication. I have not challenged him only out of respect for his daughter.

Vanimórë nodded. He has one day, Thingol. I am no tyrant. I do not care who rules the Teleri. Nor does Fëanor. But I will have no backstabbers when we meet Melkor.

I will lead those who fight Morgoth, Thingol vowed.

Vanimórë smiled. Good.

Olwë will not understand, or does not care, that Fëanor, through the Silmaril, saved me from being completely absorbed by my wife and daughter, or rather by the Valar working through them. His brow grew heavy with memory. I loved Olwë once, but we were too long apart, our lives too different, and I cannot respect or even like the man he has become. Just as I am contemptuous of the man I was once. He reminds me too much of myself, in Doriath. I do not say I fight for Fëanor or the Noldor, but I will fight against Morgoth.

‘Ah, yes, mirrors are disturbing,’ Vanimórë agreed. ‘Ensure he realises what is at stake. I have neither the time nor the patience for fools.’ He nodded, then walked away.



Elgalad linked his arm through Vanimórë’s. ‘Thou art scowling.’

‘Oh dear, am I?’ Amusement banished it. ‘Well, I am bored of it. I had to live thousands of years as a slave, longing for vengeance and, when vengeance was within my reach I could do nothing because yes, I could kill my father, and I could destroy Melkor, and thus get revenge, but should I? Others have a greater right, after all. So when these idiots wail and whine about Ages old slights that they cannot do anything about, I am very near to losing my temper. Besides,’ he added, ‘what would we hate if everything we hated was gone?’

‘Thou art a pragmatist.’

‘Am I really?’ He grinned, slung his arm around Elgalad’s shoulders, bent their heads together. ‘And I thought I was a romantic.’

‘Thou art,’ Elgalad murmured. ‘Perhaps that more than anything. And Olwë is not truly a craven.’

‘I know that. Both Thingol and Ingwë have told me how he was long ago. His trouble is living here too long, becoming idle. Hells, canst thou imagine the boredom of it? Enough to turn the brain to gruel! Well, I have lit a fire under his complacent backside, and it will do him no harm to believe Alqualondë might be razed to the ground.’

Elgalad smiled with a downward sweep of lashes. ‘I am sure he does believe it. He does not know thee.’



If Alqualondë dreamed on the edge of the sea, Tirion crackled with energy like a war-beacon, all fire and challenge.
It was easier now, to walk in Valinor among gods; Valinor had, for a long time, not truly been a part of the world, not since the sinking of Númenor when the Valar removed it from Arda. There was not as much freedom as in the Timeless Halls, but it was bearable. And yet, people melted from his path as if a force pushed them aside, then turned and stared. If they had bowed, he thought he would have truly snapped, but there were enough whom had known him, or at least of him, who saluted or even smiled, who did not fall back as though he were plague carrier in a Mortal city.
He stopped in his tracks when the familiar mind of fire swept over his like a beacon.
‘Fëanor wants us in the palace,’ he said. ‘Battle formations. It is important.’

‘Then I will see thee later.’

‘Promise?’

‘Promise.’ The rain-clear eyes swept Vanimórë’s face. ‘Thou art happy.’

‘I suppose,’ Vanimórë shrugged a little. Then, ‘It is good to be able to do. What is it?’

‘Nothing.’ Elgalad touched his cheek. ‘I was just thinking, such a rare thing to see happiness in thine eyes.’ He pressed a swift, hot kiss on Vanimórë’s mouth. ‘Later, then.’

Vanimórë watched him walk away, turned when he felt someone stop near him.

‘Dost thou trust him?’ Edenel asked softly.

Vanimórë laughed shortly. ‘No. But neither do I need to. And there is no harm in him. I would know that.’ He smiled ruefully. ‘Would I not?’

‘Perhaps that was the wrong question,’ Edenel acknowledged. His burning, opal-pale eyes moved over Vanimórë’s face, searching.

‘The question was, why should I still love someone who lied to me and betrayed me? Why should Fingolfin love the brother who betrayed him? Though I grant thee love is too simple and uncomplicated a word for what lies between those two.’ He laid a hand on Edenel’s straight shoulder. ‘If Elgalad had not lied to me, enacted a part all those years, made me believe, if only for a moment, that he was utterly dead, his very soul destroyed forever, I could not have reached beyond myself. I suppose another question is: does he love me? And I say to thee: It does not matter.’

‘Vanimórë—‘ Edenel frowned. ‘Does it not?’

‘In the scheme of things? Hardly.’ He smiled. ‘Art thou attending Fëanor’s meeting?’ He gestured down the wide, white-paved road. They began to walk. ‘What didst thou cling to, Edenel? Not love.’

Edenel paused. He said, after a moment; ‘I think...myself.’

‘Yes, and in the end, the only person who can ever truly destroy us or aid us or betray us — is ourselves.’ He met Edenel’s eyes, saw the awful agony that even godhood could not burn out, the mysterious and emphatic beauty, hard as quartz, moulded in the black pits of Utumno. ‘There comes a time we have to stop casting the blame on others, stop leaning on them, stop looking for them to supply something we lack. In Elgalad I looked for the innocence I lost. It was foolish of me and wrong. We have to stop hoping for aid from outside, Edenel, do we not? In the darkest moments, when we scream and scream for help and no-one answers, all we have is ourselves.’



OooOooO




Chapter 30 ~ Bright Threads On A Dark Loom ~ by Spiced Wine
Author's Notes:

The first part of this chapter is based on Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth in Morgoth’s Ring. I found this gorgeous image of an old Andreth meeting Finrod for the last time. As most of you know, Andreth loved Aegnor, his brother, but he did not marry her because Elves don’t marry or bear children in times of war. He died before she, as Dorthonion faced Angband across the plain of Ard Galen and the Dagor Bragollach crashed against it in flame, and she lived on to become an old woman, as Finrod had prophesied. I thought, this is too sad, I must do something about this!

Italics are quotes from Athrabeth.

 

'Whither go you?' she said. 

'North away,' he said: 'to the swords, and the siege, and the walls of defence - that yet for a while in Beleriand rivers may run clean, leaves spring, and birds build their nests, ere Night comes.' 

'Will he be there, bright and tall, and the wind in his hair? Tell him. Tell him not to be reckless. Not to seek danger beyond need!' 

'I will tell him,' said Finrod. 'But I might as well tell thee not to weep. He is a warrior, Andreth, and a spirit of wrath. In every stroke that he deals he sees the Enemy who long ago did thee this hurt. 'But you are not for Arda. Whither you go may you find light. Await us there, my brother - and me.'

From Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, J.R.R. Tolkien. 

 

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Art by Lady of the Flower: https://www.deviantart.com/samo-art/art/I-will-tell-him-Andreth-and-Finrod-626202886


 

~ Bright Threads On a Dark Loom ~






For her, there had been only the hope. A fragile thing, yet she had clung to it through the years of weariness, the last pain, only relinquishing it as she went peacefully, even gratefully, into the last, unwaking sleep of her long life.

It was born of so small a thing, that hope: an intuition that hardened as her years lengthened, that Mortals were not created for death, that their fate was unnatural. Long ago, Finrod had said to her: Therefore I say to you, Andreth, what did ye do, ye Men, long ago in the dark? How did ye anger Eru?

There was a tale, ancient even in Andreth’s youth, that the Dark God had lured Men and seduced them with great knowledge so that they worshipped him as a god, and thus gained Eru’s displeasure. He had, it was said, stripped away the immortality they’re were born with in the beginning. But this vague, dark legend was held as an oral tale among the women, never written down, and Andreth could not break the oath that bound her lips. Not even for Finrod whom they called the Beloved.
His brother.

Long she lived, the great love of her girlhood tucked into her heart as her body aged and her hair grew white wings that slowly, stealthy as a night-thief, stole the shining darkness of her youth. No man, much less Elda, would have looked on her with desire when she met Finrod for the last time. She had not know, then, it was the last time, and she allowed herself the indulgence of passing on a message to the one who still shone bright as the sun in her mind and soul.

Will he be there, bright and tall, and the wind in his hair? Tell him. Tell him not to be reckless. Not to seek danger beyond need!'

But Aegnor burned with a flame of wrath, as Finrod had warned her, and: ‘All too soon,’ he had said, ‘in the north wind, his flame will go out.’ And in flame he died when Dagor Bragollach lashed Dorthonion.
All that bright golden beauty gone to ash and cinder in the ruins of his fortress.
And she would swear she felt the moment of his death even as her own faltering heart broke (again). Yet she lived on and that, too Finrod had prophesied.

It had not been a barren life, despite the body that had never known a man, never quickened with a child; there was a quiet satisfaction to be found, a gentle contentment as the years spooled on (But all of them a hard, hard labour because he was gone, he was gone, and love is never forgotten) There were other widows of war, and she was not even that, yet the comfort of women is warm and steadfast. But, even as lines scored her skin and her joints ached in the cold, inside her beat the heart of the girl whose reflection Aegnor had seen in Tarn Aeluin.

Every memory of him was sharp as a winter sunrise, hued in brilliance. And his rejection of her, kind though it had been, was equally as sharp, and that, too, was never forgotten.

‘If I allowed myself to be with thee,’ he had said, holding her hands, ‘I would wish to take thee far from this land, far from the siege and dwell with thee in peace as long as thy life lasted. And I cannot. I am bound to my people, Andreth, and though I swore no Oath like the sons of Fëanor, in my heart I have sworn to myself, and my people, not to retreat from the foe one ell. And Dorthonion leaguers Angband.’ It was true. On a clear day one could see, from the pine-clad northern hills, the titan peaks of Thangorodrim and the dark, venting smokes.

‘But I would never ask that of thee,’ she had protested. ‘Do the men or women of my House flee?’

‘Perhaps it is different for Men,’ he replied, his beautiful brow troubled. ‘But the Eldar do not marry or get children in times of war.