~ A Far, Fierce Sky ~ by Spiced Wine
Summary:

Book II of of A Crucible Of Stars

Following on from events in A Light in the East, Legolas continues his journey south with Vanim
Categories: Fiction Characters: Glorfindel, Legolas, OFC, OMC, Sauron, Thranduil
Content: Action/Adventure, Angst, AU, BDSM, Drama, Dubcon, Erotica, Explicit Sex, Hurt/Comfort, Mpreg, Rape/Non-con, Slash
Challenges: None
Series: A Crucible Of Stars
Chapters: 51 Completed: No Word count: 255572 Read: 159101 Published: June 30, 2011 Updated: March 16, 2017

Story Notes:

A continuation of the crossover between Esteliel's Ethuil'waew and the Dark Prince 'verse.

Disclaimer: I merely borrow from the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. My stories are written purely for pleasure, and no money is made from them. However the original characters of Vanim

1. Chapter 1 ~ A Web Of Stars ~ by Spiced Wine

2. Chapter 2 ~ The Fruits Of The Soul ~ by Spiced Wine

3. Chapter 3 ~ Memory Is A Doorway ~ by Spiced Wine

4. Chapter 4 ~ Concourse ~ by Spiced Wine

5. Chapter 5 ~ A Time of Pain and Healing by Spiced Wine

6. Chapter 6 ~ The Years of Storm ~ by Spiced Wine

7. Chapter 7 ~ A Night at the Edge of the World ~ by Spiced Wine

8. Chapter 8 ~ Naked To Truth ~ by Spiced Wine

9. Chapter 9 ~ Introspection ~ by Spiced Wine

10. Chapter 10 ~ Strange and Fragile Barriers ~ by Spiced Wine

11. Chapter 11 ~ The Winds of the Night ~ by Spiced Wine

12. Chapter 12 ~ Fathers and Sons ~ by Spiced Wine

13. Chapter 13 ~ Bonfires of Grief ~ by Spiced Wine

14. Chapter 14 ~ Songs in the Wasteland ~ by Spiced Wine

15. Chapter 15 ~ To The Edge of the Shadow ~ by Spiced Wine

16. Chapter 16 ~ Convergence ~ by Spiced Wine

17. Chapter 17 ~ Some Things One Cannot Run From ~ by Spiced Wine

18. Chapter 18 ~ To Keep An Oath ~ by Spiced Wine

19. Chapter 19 ~ Shadow Paths ~ by Spiced Wine

20. Chapter 20 ~ The Eastern Winds ~ by Spiced Wine

21. Chapter 21 ~ Power In The Ash ~ by Spiced Wine

22. Chapter 22 ~ To Find The Light Within ~ by Spiced Wine

23. Chapter 23 ~ The Ending of the Road ~ by Spiced Wine

24. Chapter 24 Soul Searching by Spiced Wine

25. Chapter 25 ~ Hope, Always ~ by Spiced Wine

26. Chapter 26 ~ Upon A Dark Road ~ by Spiced Wine

27. Chapter 27 ~ Like Fire And Falling Leaves ~ by Spiced Wine

28. Chapter 28 ~ Against The Dying Of The Light ~ by Spiced Wine

29. Chapter 29 ~ Where Shadows Bloom In The Sun ~ by Spiced Wine

30. Chapter 30 ~ Hope Is Too Bitter ~ by Spiced Wine

31. Chapter 31 ~ Changed And Unchanging ~ by Spiced Wine

32. Chapter 32 ~ To Burn Down The Truth ~ by Spiced Wine

33. Chapter 33 ~ Windows Of The Mind ~ by Spiced Wine

34. Chapter 34 ~ Blood Cuts Blood ~ by Spiced Wine

35. Chapter 35 ~ Spells Of Darkness, Spells Of Gold ~ by Spiced Wine

36. Chapter 36 ~ In The Dark, My Mind Is Broken ~ by Spiced Wine

37. Chapter 37 ~ Being And Unbeing ~ by Spiced Wine

38. Chapter 38 ~ Blood And Power ~ by Spiced Wine

39. Chapter 39 ~ Power Like Fire, Power Like Death ~ by Spiced Wine

40. Chapter 40 ~ A Confluence Of Deception ~ by Spiced Wine

41. Chapter 41 ~ Night of Fire ~ by Spiced Wine

42. Chapter 42 ~ Close To The Bone ~ by Spiced Wine

43. Chapter 43 ~ Horde ~ by Spiced Wine

44. Chapter 44 ~ Fire To Burn Clean ~ by Spiced Wine

45. Chapter 45 ~ Power You Can Never Use ~ by Spiced Wine

46. Chapter 46 ~ Through Clouded Glass We See ~ by Spiced Wine

47. Chapter 47 ~ Fire, Cinders, Ashes ~ by Spiced Wine

48. Chapter 48 ~ The Uncovered Night ~ by Spiced Wine

49. Chapter 49 ~ Outpacing The Shadow ~ by Spiced Wine

50. Chapter 50 ~ A Jewell In The Storm~ by Spiced Wine

51. Chapter 51 ~ Desert's Heart ~ by Spiced Wine

Chapter 1 ~ A Web Of Stars ~ by Spiced Wine
Author's Notes:

This is one of the themes I like for the DP 'verse. (Or actually any dramatic story.) I love grand cinematic-type music when it comes to Tolkien fanfic. B-) This is called:

Emergence of Empire ~ The Immediate.

(Opens to Grooveshark.com. Good site to have on in the background.)

 

From A Light in The East: Chapter Twenty-nine ~ Shadows In The Halls Of Memory.



~ Thranduil felt himself plunge to his knees as Legolas walked away into a blaze of light. He fell through the grass, the earth, the deep secret roots, the rocks, and into red pain...and darkness. A wolf was howling as it devoured his soul.

He woke rolling from his bed, his hair tangled about his wrists, his thighs, clinging to the perspiration the dream had painted on his naked flesh. His breathing came hard, his chest was constricted, his face wet. He traced a hand across it, half-expecting to see blood, but there was only the salt of tears.

The chamber closed back over silence. Thranduil sat back against the bed, pulled up his knees and rested his head against them.

When his body-servant knocked, much later, he found the king's chambers empty.
No-one knew the ways of the halls or the movements of its people better than the king. And no-one knew better how to leave unseen.

A Far, Fierce Sky ~ Chapter One.


~ A Web Of Stars ~



~ A massive darkness shouldered the firelight apart. The huge stallion snorted, ears flat against his skull.

“Legolas,” Vanimórë said, “Thou wilt ride Seran.”

Legolas stared at him, bewildered.
“With you?”

“No.” All that flashing, flaunting insouciance Legolas had come to find so familiar and reassuring blazed in a swift, brilliant smile.
My dear, Seran is the fastest horse we have. Please.

That last word crumbled Legolas objections, broke something inside him. Invisible fingers seemed to grip his throat, choking off speech.
No. He shook his head numbly. No.

Legolas. For Gîl, for the love I bear thee and him.

Legolas dashed a hand across his eyes, trying to focuss on the face above him, from which the smile had quite vanished. Vanimórë looked unbearably sad. It was too much. Even could he speak, there were no words adequate. A kiss dropped, light as a leaf, onto his hair, and long fingers brushed Gîl's curls. Securely strapped to his breast, the child nestled his small head close, utterly trusting. Legolas drew a breath and swung into Seran's saddle. Lainiell, riderless, hovered close as if worried for him.

“Maglor, Tanout,” Vanimórë rested a hand on Legolas' back. “Go with him. Follow the track. It soon slopes to the Rhûnan plains, an ocean of gold with the morning sun on them. Ride for them, and do not stop for anything.” He swung away. “Rear-guard, to me!”

“Sire,” responded Tanout smartly. There came the jingle of harness, and Maglor, already mounted, brought his horse alongside Legolas. Seran's neck snaked out in unmistakable warning.

“Stop that!” Maglor chided. The stallion snorted, rolled an eye at the Fëanorion's own mount warningly, but drew back.

“We cannot leave him.” Legolas found a small, breathless voice.

“I swore to protect thee and thy son. And he is right in this.” But Maglor's head turned to watch Vanimórë. His lips shaped a silent word, then his eyes swung back to Legolas, regarding him somberly. The prince stared back, mute. The fires had been doused, and the valley was slowly emerging from night. It looked bleak, littered with boulders, and the voice of the waters was a cold chuckle in the gloom.
It was a place where one could easily imagine death.

The sound of hooves gathered as they moved out, snapping back from the rocks. The track was narrow, and the riders rode two abreast. Legolas felt the impatience knotted into Seran's mighty muscles, for the stallion was not used to being enclosed by other horses, but he behaved well, and his pace was smooth as rolling cloud. Tanout lead, with Jobur behind him, Shemar clinging to his sturdy back, then came Legolas and Maglor.

There was no doubt the wolves were getting closer. The howls had ceased, but that was no comfort; wolves did not bay when hunting. Legolas smoothed his son's back as the horses quickened their pace, fear like a shard of ice in his stomach. The sling Vanimórë had given him in Szrel Kain hung at his side, a dagger at the other, but he felt vulnerable and defenseless even in the midst of these warriors.

The light grew, and the sky opened pale above them. Legolas glanced back, seeing a pour of shapes, black against the mountain-scree. The creatures were swift, almost as large as ponies, and every sense within him screamed hate and warning visceral as the running of his blood. Fell-wolves had been an enemy of the Elves from the oldest days. Legolas crouched lower over the stallion's neck as Seran's hooves spat and clashed through a rill of water, and then heard, horrifyingly close, a furious rising snarl, the jangling slam of a horse hitting the ground.

Go! Vanimórë's shout cracked across his mind like breaking thunder, and Seran surged under Legolas' thighs.

No! Vanimórë! He tried to command the stallion as he did Lainiell, with an effortless showing of his thoughts, equally as effortlessly understood. Seran chuffed a great breath, and seemed to slow for a moment, until Legolas' mind caught the edge of Vanimórë's second command that acted like a whip across the horse's rear. His hindquarters bunched, and his leap carried him almost into the horses ahead of him. Legolas heard the increasing thunder of hooves behind him, but knew that somewhere back there the wolves were attacking the rearguard. He turned his head, saw Maglor keeping pace, other warriors following. But not Vanimórë.

The track narrowed through two pillars of rock, a last buttress flung together from the mountains as if to bar their escape. A chill wind thrust at their backs as the horses sluiced through the gap. Beyond, the rising sun struck aslant the grasses of a seemingly endless plain, turning them the colour of mead. The mountains unclenched their fists, loosing a last tumble of detritus and lonely waters. A river jostled at their left flank, all frothing white laughter at its release, and the valley stretched, smiling, no longer a place of desolation. Mild green flanks ran up to gentler hills, cupping the sky like a bowl. It was two leagues to the plains, Legolas guessed, and his mind wrestled with Seran's again, for he could not run, leaving the other to face the wolves. But the stallion was like a Sicannite soldier: once given an order, he would not disobey.

Legolas! The warning shocked through his veins, and his head snapped up. He screamed instinctively: “Tanout!

Wolves, lank, crow-black rose from their bellies. They would have looked like the valley's scattered boulders until they moved, and they were downwind, so no scent had alarmed the horses. Tanout's mount balked and reared, Jobur's wheeled, hind legs flashing back, before a wolf flung itself at the horse's throat. It went down, Jobur kicking free of the stirrups and falling clear, Shemar tumbling to the ground. Legolas felt the bunch of Seran's muscles, heard a the crack of an impacting hoof, then the stallion went up, forefeet lashing out in a red spray. Legolas locked one arm over Gîl and drew his dagger as claws swiped the leather of the saddle, narrowly missing his leg. Seran's head turned, knocking the attacking wolf aside, teeth snapping, then surged forward in a mighty leap, bearing Legolas past Tanout and the wolves onto open ground.

“No!” Legolas groaned, trying to turn the horse, who simply clamped down on the bit, intent on one purpose. The prince's own jaw clenched, wrestling Seran's obdurate will, and his own terror. He was racked between the desire to flee with his son, and the impossibility of deserting people he cared for. The clangour of battle behind him burned in his ears, trickled thence into his blood. But how could he run?

Oh, Gîl, Gîl. Perhaps we were not meant to live.
A sob tore from his throat.
Seran!

The stallion resisted, snorting, and frantic, frustrated tears pricked Legolas' eyes. Then, reluctantly, Seran slackened his pace, wheeling in a wide arc. Legolas blinked, staring back in dread.

A battle was raging around the rock pillars. Horses, men and wolves lay motionless or twitching in dying spasms. Closer at hand, Tanout's mount was almost dancing in a frenzied attempt to keep the wolves at bay, while its rider's scimitar flashed. Maglor was on his feet, wielding both sword and knife in an effortless display that sang a silent song of wrath. Jobur was in a tangle with a snarling dark beast, Shemar pushing himself back as another stalked toward him, white fangs running crimson. The youth groped with one hand, closed his fingers around a stone and hurled it with a sob that Legolas could hear quite clearly through the mêlée. It struck the wolf's shoulder, and the creature yelped, shook its head as if at an irritation, pacing on.

Without knowing how it had come about, Legolas found himself out of the saddle. He was weeping. in some far place within, imagining the wolves converging upon him, what they would do to Gîl, whose little hands gripped his tunic. As if the images were a foe that attacked him, he screamed at them: What would I be if I left them to die? And then: Eru, protect my son!


Cradling Gîl's head with one hand, he began to whirl the sling. In the gardens of Szrel Kain, he had had time to think, to fear his own lack of proficiency. Here he had none. There was nothing but the rising whine of the sling, then the moment when the shot was released.
It struck the wolf in its right eye.
The second shot took it in the left.

Blinded, dying, the creature collapsed not an ell from the paralyzed Shemar. Legolas ran forward and took his hand. The youth clung, gasping, and rose. He looked over Legolas' shoulder, and his eyes went wide.

They were within a circle of the beasts, Tanout and Maglor neatly cut off from them, though the wolves had sacrificed themselves to accomplish the cordon, and more were turning to attack the warriors. There was only one escape route, south toward the plains. Seran stood there, forelegs planted into the earth, stalwart as a warhound, and loosed an almost human scream.

Setá!” Shemar gulped in his own tongue. “Run!”

~~~




They were galloping, the sun rising and throwing their shadows far into the west. The air gleamed gold with summer, dew already fading, heat sighing out of the ground. Fear raged in Glorfindel like another rising sun, and his thoughts were dislocated. Rhovadhros' long legs drummed on the grass faster, faster, though only Oromë's Nahar could have taken him across the wide leagues of the Earth, and to his son, in peril.

~~~




Further west, Celeirdúr reined in, fear like a battle-trump in his soul. He was aware of Bainalph turning to stare at him, bringing his mare back on her haunches.
The world became caught in a pour of honey. Celeirdúr could see the shadow of Bainalph's long lashes as he blinked, the so-slow whip and fall of creamy hair. Time held – and then snapped like a bowstring. The horses leaped from their hocks into a dead gallop, and into a white-gold mist that seemed to rise straight out of the ground.

~~~




The sky flicked above, a lid of blue enamel over the world. Leaves lilted past him, green as drowned emeralds, weeping and whispering in his wake. The world was full of colour. He could even see the burning scarlet of his heart. His heart, buried in the moist earth that had long ago eaten Elvýr's bones, covered his wife's raw, despairing grave; the heart whose fire had gone out like a shuttered lantern. There was rulership, there was friendship, and the dead stood between in silence.
The dead, and the living.

This was not the action of a wise king. Thranduil smiled savagely. What place had sense in his life? a king crowned on a battlefield, siring cursed sons, one dead, one banished – and one who had turned his back. Had it been the Cúalphii alone who left the forest, Thranduil would still be facing an awkward political situation at the least, but it had passed far beyond politics now. From the moment in council when silence followed his declaration that Celeirdúr marry, the king had known that something, somewhere frayed and broke. When repudiation slammed steely shields over Celeirdúr's clear blue gaze, a balance had shifted, and the king had been in no state to redress it. His eldest son was not the same man whom had lead out that ill-advised and unsanctioned patrol to Imladris. Thranduil found himself thinking that he should have divined Celeirdúr's hidden intent, for he was close to his oldest living son – or so he had always believed. Through Elvýr's terrible dying and death, through the king's foundering marriage and curdling guilt, through the birth of a second cursed son and his wife's subsequent suicide, Celeirdúr had been there. He was empathic and intelligent, skilled in the arts of warfare; a son to be proud of. In fact he was Thranduil himself, before ever he had marched away to the red shadows of the Dagorlad and into Mordor, the Thranduil who had been capable of laughter, of passionate love – and of desires he did not want to admit to.

What did they do to him in Imladris? the king wondered, as he had since Celeirdúr's return. The letters his son penned would have been read by Elrond or one of his councilors; Thranduil would have done the same, and he had sought for any hint of ill-usage under the formal words. He had seen none, but Celeirdúr was proud, too proud to admit pain, and on seeing him at last, Thranduil searched his face, the tone of his soul's emanations. To his relief they looked, and, more importantly, felt undamaged. But something had altered deep within, enough so that he had publicly challenged his own father, and now defied him. It was Galuron who had proved the most loyal son, after all. But Thranduil would never trust Galuron's temper with the reins of the kingdom, and despite the haste of his departure, had issued an edict to that effect, which the lords who would rule the Greenwood in his absence would soon read. He would not be away long, and he knew exactly what he was going to do. If Celeirdúr retained any loyalty to his father, he would support him and keep silent. The Cúalphii would simply never return, and his fiefdom pass into other hands. No-one but Thranduil and Celeirdúr would know what had become of him.

The king made the first stage of his journey using the trees. Taking a horse from his stables would have been to announce his departure to the realm, and so must Celeirdúr have known. There was an outpost east of Brongalen's lands where the king's messengers could lodge and change horses. Not far away ran the bridge over Celduin, and this was undoubtedly the way both the Cúalphii and his son would have taken.

The lodge, set half a league beyond the last straggling trees, was a stone-and-timber building within a stockade. The gates were open, and the sun fell warm and placid. A gaggle of geese pecked for food under the wall, and four horses were grazing under a great oak. From within came the sound of a smithy, and two sentries stood motionless upon the wall.

Thranduil could not hope to pass unremarked; all his warriors knew him by sight, and so he opted for subterfuge. He possessed something that would ensure the warriors aid and, he hoped, seal their lips for a time: a letter from their king. He had bound his hair back, concealed it under a deeply cowled hood, and drawn a thin scarf about his lower face, his appearance bespeaking utmost secrecy. The soldier who came forward to greet him indeed looked surprised, but took the letter and cracked the seal.

In the name of the king, you will expedite this messenger's journey, giving him all aid. This is a political matter of the greatest delicacy, and no questions will be asked, nor will any-one offer the information that my servant has passed this way.

By my hand, on this, the fiftieth day of
Laer,

Thranduil Oropherion.

As he expected, the written order did arouse curiosity, but the king was glad to see that his soldiers were well-trained enough to follow it unhesitatingly. Whether they would indeed keep his mysterious passing through a secret, he doubted, especially when questioned by his Lords, as they almost certainly would be. But for now it was enough, and he was sent swiftly on his way with a good riding horse, its saddlebags well-filled. He took the dusty track east toward Burh Stane.
He did not reach it.

The sense of peril ambushed him like an entity, borne on an unnatural, gleaming fog of pearl and gold driven by no wind of this world. It was on him before he could rein in or turn his mount, enveloped his soul with violent growls snagging in the throats of a Fell-wolves, the scent of blood and fear that was terribly, unquestionably personal.
And then, there was silence.

~~~




Sauron walled up his thoughts and swore direly. If he could have risked using even a scintilla of his power without alerting Vanimórë, he would have roasted the Fell-wolves organs within them. Controlling the pack so sedulously and cautiously summoned since Szrel Kain was a delicate business, and the difficulty served to remind him of his necessarily limited power. He had to wrestle for dominance in two-score minds; minds more intelligent than animals, but far less so than humans, so that force was inevitably more successful than reason. But he could not allow his son to sense any link between himself and the wolves.

When his horse was taken down under him, only the greatest restraint prevented him from channeling power into an awl of pain and driving the wolves back. In the crashing confusion, Vanimórë would not perhaps notice, but after, he would certainly remember anything untoward. It was how he had been trained, after all: to be alert to everything.
Sauron threw himself from the wounded horse, rolled and came to his feet, backing from the two beasts who went low and long, slinking toward him. He stared into a pair of red-black eyes, pressed through them into the dim awareness smothered by Ages. He knew what their ancestors had been, and some of that lost power, watered like cheap wine, still flowed in their blood.

So much easier to have intelligent servants, he thought, sending an arrow of fear into the wolf's mind. It was not enough; he had feared it would not be. The creature yowled and came on.

Damn.

And Vanimórë had not trusted him with a weapon, the suspicious bastard. Two wolves. To the Hells with those odds. Even Finrod had only fought one, albeit a far greater one, a true werewolf – and he had died.

Sauron ran, a very real fear rising within him, for although nothing could destroy his soul forever, he had no desire to be torn apart by creatures who would have abased themselves before his power, were he able to reveal it. He could imagine hot, rank breath on the back of his neck, claws tearing through his flesh. At any moment he expected to go down under a pile of furred muscle. Rocks swooped upward before him, the track driving through them.

He jumped, impelled by fear, pulling himself up onto a narrow shelf, clashing jaws following him far too closely. Cursing the animal and all its predecessors, he lashed out with one boot, the side of his heel cracking into a skull. The wolf fell away, enraged and dazed. Bracing himself on his hands, Sauron kicked viciously out at the second – and teeth that could crush an auroch's bones closed about his ankle, slicing through the leather boot. Sauron's lips drew back in their own snarl of fury.

I will wear thee as a damned cloak! he vowed. The wolf bit harder, and pulled.

A shape rose behind it. There was a flurry of blue-black hair, a timeless moment of lethal grace as Vanimórë jumped, and brought down a dagger two-handed, plunging it between the creature's shoulders. Its mouth opened in a wail, releasing Sauron's ankle, and it fell like a stone.

Sauron looked down. His son looked up. Their eyes met, and Vanimórë lifted a hand red to the wrist. His father reached down and took it.

“My thanks,” he said, very dry, itching to slap the hard, beautiful face.

“Perhaps thou shouldst carry a weapon. Just for now.” Vanimórë wrenched the dagger from the dying wolf and tossed it into the air. Sauron caught the hilt, and was propelled ungently through the rock pillars.
Go!

In the wide valley beyond men and wolves fought as a ring of them closed about Legolas. Sauron had wanted to part Vanimórë and Legolas, but it would be an utter waste if the wood-Elf and his son were slaughtered without the proper rites.

“There are too many,” he said flatly and almost to himself, watching from behind the shield that was Osulf.

“Too bad,” Vanimórë said briefly, through his teeth. “One has to try. And one has to succeed.

Behind Osulf's eyes, Sauron laughed exultantly. There would be other times on this journey, and the risk had been worth the reward: his son had seen him pursued by wolves, and had intervened. He, whom had seen Sauron with werewolves at his heels, tame as pets, would never imagine the truth of Osulf's identity.

If he only knew how dangerous he was, I might have a small problem, he mused, watching Vanimórë spin like a dancer into violent, deadly combat.

But there were too many wolves, at least too many for Vanimórë to kill quickly enough to save Legolas. They had come, compelled by Sauron, and recognized the sweet strangeness in the wood-Elf and his son. It drew them to him, and Sauron could not, he now knew, control them without unmasking himself. Vanimórë was too far from Legolas; Maglor and Tanout were closer, but outside the closing circle, harried and attacked. They were cutting their way ferociously closer to the wood-Elf, but they would not be in time. That big bastard of a stallion held the only clear way of escape for Legolas and his child.

Sauron watched.

Only Eru could have fully seen and understood what happened, Eru and Dana, who watched the unfolding Music with ageless eyes. Even to her, it was unexpected.
She saw the interconnected souls like stars, saw the links between them suddenly flash and meet, Glorfindel to Legolas and Gîlríon, Maglor to Legolas and Tindómion, Vanimórë to Maglor, Legolas and Glorfindel, Celeirdúr to Legolas and Thranduil, Thranduil to Celeirdúr, Legolas and Bainalph, and Bainalph to Thranduil and Legolas. The soul-stars formed points of a radiant web and blazed. Power sang through all creation, a power that was, at its simplest and deepest degree that of love, love broken and lost, love unadmitted, love desired and rejected, fierce and as flame, gentle as a spring dawn, love that withstood sorrow and pain unimaginable, that gave and forgave; love like a broken gemstone, waiting for time to be unmade, for the scattered pieces to come together again, and form the peerless whole.

~~~



Time was...

Time was Rhovadhros' white legs flashing across the land, the roll of sun-bleached green beneath, flowing, slowing. Time was like the suspended curl of water before a wave breaks. Time was the held breath of a world. It was Tindómion racing beside him, one hand moving to his sword as Glorfindel reached for his own. It was a child's cry, a youth's stifled, internal terror, eyes shining violet. It was –

– an opalescent mist lasting an eyeblink and an age. The horses were within it and then striding beyond it, and the Earth was a painting on glass. Glorfindel knew that they were riding across Rhovannion. He could see it, beyond and through the glass where mountains hurled black teeth at the sky. The sun was higher than it should be.
Two suns. There were two suns in the sky.
There was no time to assimilate or question. Tindómion's horse breached the mist beside Glorfindel, and on his right, three other riders emerged, fair hair and pale to milky-white. For the briefest moment Glorfindel recognized Celeirdúr and Thranduil, and felt the blaze of disbelief in their minds, then his eyes snapped ahead.
Before him and a little above, a stallion black as Night's eye lashed out at a huge Fell-wolf while others fought armored Men. There seemed purpose in their attacks, not savagery alone. And then he saw whom it was they menaced, and his own purpose exploded like wildfire, burning a path before him.

He saw Legolas more clearly than any. One arm lay protectively over a child secured at his breast, a child with an aureole of rich gold curls, the other hand gripped that of a young Man. They began to run, and then Legolas saw him.
Their eyes met.

He was the same youth Glorfindel had taken in the Greenwood, but in that instant he noted the differences, subtle though they were. Legolas bore the look Glorfindel had often seen in fledgling warriors who had fought, been wounded, seen those they loved die, and carried the scars internally. The great blue eyes held suffering, and there was pain in the rich curves of the mouth that Glorfindel had plundered as eagerly as the slender body. He was so beautiful in his wounded fear that Glorfindel felt the impact in his groin.
Legolas blanched perfectly white, and Glorfindel struck the wolves like unleashed lightning.

~~~




Vanimórë's blades flashed out, each taking a wolf through the throat. He did not even break stride, and as another leaped for him he spun, pivoting on his feet. The beast fell, its head almost decapitated. Turning again, he saw...

...a white mist broiled up from the earth. It was shot with glints of light, and moved against the wind. Out of it surged five riders, and silence ran with them. They were at once solid and oddly indistinct, as if Vanimórë were seeing them elsewhere in the world. Power cracked like a storm front before them, and the trailing mist limned their beauty like gold-dust. Three of them he knew. And it was impossible.

Arda drew in a long, slow breath. Vanimórë watched the eternity between the horses legs striking the ground and lifting again, the liquid toss and flow of the riders' hair, the sun-struck eyes frozen to burning jewels. His own movements seemed arrested, as if his body were encased in resin. The Fell-wolves flinched flat, then turned, bolting headlong back toward the rock pillars, tumbling men in their single-minded flight, and Vanimórë knew they were not afraid of the rider's drawn weapons, but the force they emanated, lethal and terrible. His swords flicked out again, killing even as he ran.

Moving with beautiful, languorous fluidity, Glorfindel leaned in his saddle, molten hair aswirl, and reached down to Legolas. The prince's face was raised in mute shock, and he did not move as Glorfindel's hand passed through his body. His hair billowed as if whipped by wind, and he turned his head, staring, lips parting.
Vanimórë met Glorfindel's eyes for a moment, saw the helpless, baffled rage like an ice-storm in the wild blue, before the riders momentum took them all past him. There was a sensation as of heat passing over his flesh, burning in the roots of his hair.

And then the riders were gone.

~~~


End Notes:
Legolas in the banner is Esteliel's work on Poser.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

A wonderful artist Supersukini on DA (Inikisses on Faerie) created this amazing piece of artwork for me. I had to downsize it, but Click here and double click for full-sized version.. Wow, I am beyond words!

If you've read Unfinished Tales, of the ride of Eorl to the aid of Gondor, you'll remember that as he passed Lothl
Chapter 2 ~ The Fruits Of The Soul ~ by Spiced Wine
Author's Notes:

I tried to find music I liked for the slow-motion effect of what happened in this chapter, and rather like this.

The Final Hour ~ X-Ray Dog.

(Most of the X-Ray Dog tracks are for tv film trailers, therefore tend to be really short. This one is a little longer, about 2 mins.)


~ The Fruits Of The Soul ~


~ The dry wind blew, and the long grasses bowed before it, and Rhovannion rolled, vast and placid into the south.

Thranduil slid from the saddle, heart slamming hard as a hammer against his ribs. A king and warrior both, he could assess situations in an eyeblink, and was not unmanned by turmoil. He would never have survived the battles on Dagorlad or in Mordor had he been prone to panic, but however brutal, those had been events he could comprehend. He clutched the horse's thick mane; the coarse hairs under his hand helped him to moor the drifting boat of his sanity, and red Carangel nudged him concernedly. Taking deep breaths against the shivers racking him, Thranduil leaned against the horse's shoulder. Summer breathed over him. Crickets buzzed like an invitation to sleep, and far away and high above an eagle called. After a while, the king lifted his head, forced himself to relive what he had seen without succumbing to the turmoil of his emotions.
But what are emotions but the fruit of the soul? And what soul does not bear that fruit, but one dead to life itself?

Think! he ordered himself harshly, as if reprimanding a subaltern.

But the plain-grasses undulated, shimmering...

...And pale hair swirled away from a young face turning in shock...

Every moment, from first to last, had seemed to last an Age, thus each was pressed into Thranduil's memory like a seal into soft wax. Closing his eyes, he heard again the wrangle of wolves, felt terror shriek white through his blood, not terror for himself, but for another whom he must protect. Then the preternatural mist enveloped him in absolute and uncanny silence, and when he could see, Carangel's legs were whipping through grass, striking thin highland soil. A mountain pass loured, black sentinel rocks with stark heights beyond, and before them, a vicious battle-tangle of Men and giant Fell-wolves. But Thranduil could still see the grassland of Rhovannion. It was as if two pictures had been painted on separate lengths of translucent silk, and one hung in front of the other, disorienting the eyes. And here, in this impossible world, time ran like resin, was as silent.

A massive black horse reared and plunged, muscles bunching, long teeth closed on a wolf's ruff and tossed the beast aside. Behind it, in the midst of a closing circle of the beasts, Legolas stood, holding a child with a froth of celandine hair. His free hand clasped a Mortal youth's.

Emotional pain is a merciless creature. It sinks through the skin of the soul, penetrating it so pervasively, that long after one believes it absorbed into the layers of one's life, it reemerges, bright and sharp as a killing dagger. Time does not blunt its blade, not for the Elves with their necessary curse of memory. One is helpless before its bite and Thranduil, for all his words or lack of them since Legolas' banishment, had never forgotten his youngest son. The last days had torn open a wound, and the fruits of his soul tumbled forth splitting, over-ripe, acid, potent as wine.

And Legolas saw him. There was fear and a strange determination in the bones of his face, the blue eyes, Elvýr's eyes, that cool Northern blue, in Elvýr's face. Somewhere within the king's mind-storm, flashed the thought that he had deliberately blinded himself to the similarity between Legolas and Elvýr. But Thranduil's memory had always seen Elvýr monstrously pregnant, insane with agony.

Then noiselessly, four other riders poured out of the mist, and the king recognized them instantly, shock impacting upon shock: Celeirdúr, Bainalph, Glorfindel, and the russet-haired Fëanorion, Tindómion. Thranduil had the briefest moment to note that they looked as astounded as he felt, before outrage bleached his mind. He loosed the bow, but what or whom he aimed at he did not know. The action was instinctive, as was his discarding bow for blade and hurling Carangel into a charge at the wolves. He saw Glorfindel's stallion settle back on its haunches then leap forward. A sword caught the odd twin glare of the suns. Three wolves swung, gape-jawed towards the new threat ears flat, pelts slapped against their lean bodies as if buffeted by a blast of wind. The stallion's hooves smashed one aside contemptuously, and Glorfindel's sword flashed down, drawing blood on the upward swing that reversed and sank again to take the other wolf. The rest of the creatures, claws scrabbling soundlessly, wildly, scattered in panic toward the mountains.

Men, suddenly released from combat, staggered and gathered themselves, all so slowly. A tall, ebony-haired Golodh, sword still raised, stared at the riders. Thranduil had never seen him before, but he knew whom it must be. The man's face was the very image of his ill-gotten son, and those extraordinarily luminous eyes quashed any doubt. Another Golodh all in black, spun as in deep water, toward them, sabres shedding streams of wolf-blood. This one Thranduil did recognize from the ashen heat of Mordor.

Thoughts like the falling leaves of years. And no time.

Legolas stood, face frozen, as Glorfindel's stallion bore down on him in silent thunder. Thranduil could see the lazy surge and flow of glittering golden hair, how Glorfindel leaned in the saddle to sweep Legolas up and away. The king was a length behind no more, converging on the white horse to force it aside. But Glorfindel reached – and his hand passed through Legolas' body as if it were vapour. Legolas' hair swept out in a banner of winter-gold, and Thranduil was certain Glorfindel's hand had brushed it, that it had slid through his fingers. In that honey-idle pour of arrested time, Legolas whirled to stare after Glorfindel, and Thranduil saw his lips part. His profile was Elvýr's. Across his head, a pair of gold-green eyes flashed like a summer stream. A wickedly lush mouth formed his name.

Carangel's long strides carried the king past Legolas, the horse executing a perfect flying change mid-gallop and swerving left toward Bainalph or Glorfindel, or both. A big grey horse came between them pounding hard, Celeirdúr crouched low over its neck. His head turned to Thranduil, one hand outstretched and the king glared into his son's eyes, his unspoken command to Carangel urging him across the grey's path, forcing Celeirdúr to draw rein or collide. Bainalph's agile mare had already slowed, turning neat as a cat back toward Legolas. Thranduil felt Carangel's muscles compact as he too slowed, going back on his hocks and wheeling.

The mare and the red clashed and reared. A thread of scent coiled about the king as the long milky braid of Bainalph's hair arced and whipped and fell. The long-lashed eyes sparked with a thousand flecks of gold, challenging. The horses came down together, and then Celeirdúr's grey ramped down before them, a wall of angry muscle barring their way. Beyond him Thranduil saw Legolas, gilded hair rippling out like a silk cloak, and through it the plain-grasses shimmered into the distance, performing their perpetual obeisance to the winds.

The sky snapped blue and white over the world. Rhovannion sighed, dreaming summer dreams.

A sound forced itself from Thranduil's soul; a feral cry of rage, of pain unendurable. He dropped to his knees and Legolas' hair blew through his mind. His own was a whit darker, as was Celeirdúr's, old gold, Elvýr's and Legolas' were lighter, winter sun. But the child held to Legolas' breast owned the same locks as Glorfindel. It was legend, that hair. There was nothing like it save in the forges where gold was melted to liquid. The child.
Legolas' child.
Glorfindel's child.


~~~


“Glorfindel!”

Rhovadhros was already slowing under his rider's command. Tindómion came alongside, seeing Glorfindel's hand still extended to catch at something that was not there. That gold head whipped around, then his eyes slammed into Tindómion's, who held their desperation with his own. Their breaths came harsh and quick.

“I know not.” Glorfindel's words came strained to snapping point, answering the unvoiced question. Tindómion's heart seemed to be falling inside him, and it screamed as it fell.

Vanimórë! The demand, the plea was as involuntary as a spray of arterial blood from a deep wound. Tindómion pressed one hand to his breast, choking.

I do not know! The response was instant, sharp but almost preoccupied. He is unharmed, Legolas. Yes, and thy father too.

Tindómion's world became a furnace of pain and a terrible, unexpected love. Maglor's face was in the flames, set stern and fierce as he fought gloriously, beautifully, in a haze of blood. It turned toward him as if Tindómion had called his name. Silver eyes locked on silver.

“Istelion!”

He was kneeling. The grass smelled of sleep. Glorfindel's hands were on his shoulders.

“I know.” Glorfindel's voice was cramped. “You saw them all?”

“Yes.” Tindómion realized that Glorfindel needed ratification, to know that what had happened had been witnessed by some-one else.

My father. My father. Vanimórë, why didst thou not tell me?

Matters were complicated enough. And I think they have just become even more complex. We must talk, but not now.

“No,” Glorfindel said aloud. The word tremoured, and there was a pause. The second came shaped by hard control. “Now. I felt him. I almost touched him!”

I have dead and wounded men, Vanimórë snapped. I have to get them away from the mountains, down onto the Rhûnan plains. I do not think the wolves will return, but they may. But do not ask me what happened, for I truly do not know.

He was speaking to both of them. Tindómion said, still looking at Glorfindel: “The Valar?”

There was a pause, then: I do not think so.

“How would you know?” Glorfindel asked, but without heat.

I do not, but I know one who does. And that, too, I will have to explain. But now, I must get my men down to the plains.

“Legolas and my son?”

They were not harmed by the wolves. He is shocked. Hells, we all are.
Vanimórë ended decisively, pulling his mind away. As warriors and commanders, both the Noldor knew that his attention must now be on the injured, and the transportation of the dead.

The wind flurried over them, chased into the west.

“Why?” Tindómion whispered. He had never imagined that if he found his father, it would feel like this. He had been prepared for hate, not this incomprehensible, wrathful love.

Glorfindel touched his face. The Fëanorion thought that he was seeing his friend bared to the quick, all the layers that he had constructed scoured away. A flicker of light caught his eyes, something dancing in the breeze, and he glanced aside. A single strand of hair fluttered from Glorfindel's upraised hand, but it was not his own, with that loose, thick wave to it, nor did it shine with Tindómion's ruddy glints. This was very long, rain-straight and fair. Glorfindel, following the direction of his gaze, made as if to flick it away impatiently, then stiffened.

The hair was looped about the base of one finger like a slender gold ring. Very carefully, moving his body to shield it from the wind, Glorfindel drew it free, held it. The light ran like water along the length.

Reality out of unreality.


~~~


Celeirdúr and Bainalph drew rein together, the horses stamping and snorting. They looked at one another to affirm that both had seen what they had seen, then turned to scan the land. Celeirdúr dismounted, cursed breathlessly, and unhooked the wine-skin, drinking, then handing it wordlessly to Bainalph. His eyes were very wide, slate blue in the sunlight. Bainalph dropped to the grass and took a long swallow of wine. It was fire and fruit on his tongue, real, reassuring.

He said, light and high, because his breath was caught in his chest. “Was that real?”

Celeirdúr shook his head, spread one hand. “What did you see?” he asked.

Bainalph frowned. “Everything you did, I would think.” He bent, lifted Hirilel's foreleg, examining her hoof. There had been no sound, but he had seen the ground under the mare's hooves as she ran, grudging soil over the permanence of rock. He straightened, held out his hand. Tiny flat slivers of stone lay on his palm.

“Shale.” Celeirdúr took a piece between his fingers. The brittle solidity of it, the edges pressing into his flesh, seemed to loosen something inside him.

“Shale,” Bainalph agreed. Yes, it was real. We were there, and not there. Or rather, we were almost there.

“But why? How?”

“How can I know?”

Celeirdúr began to say something and then froze.
“My father.” His lips barely moved. “My father must be searching for me. Us.”

“Yes.” Bainalph felt his mouth curve into a humorless smile. He had not believed Thranduil would follow them, though he was certainly intelligent enough to guess they were together, and what their destination must be.
Perhaps I should not have tempted him that night. But this is at least a reaction. His shell is broken open like a river clam's, and I do not think he will ever be able to close it again.

“Did you see what Glorfindel was trying to do?”

“Yes.” Bainalph had experienced a great many things in his life, but nothing he could even begin to compare to the events just passed. “To see, but not to hear, nor touch...Why? Do you think Glorfindel...?”

“If Glorfindel had such power, would he not have used it in the war?”

“Yes, he probably would.” Bainalph closed his eyes. Glorfindel. It was the first time he had seen the fabled Golodh. Celeirdúr's pithy description of him, Like the noonday Sun, had been apt. All that and far more. He would have overwhelmed Legolas with all that powerful gilded glory, and taken him effortlessly.

“If it has happened once, perhaps it will happen again,” he said, controlling his anger, the helplessness that in intimate situations he found so exciting. “Come. Your father is not that far behind us.”

“He must be crazed!” Celeirdúr exploded, clearly glad to be able to release some of the emotions that seethed within him. “To leave the realm at such a time, and alone!

Bainalph settled himself in the saddle, gathered up the reins.
“Are you concerned? Thranduil is not likely to meet anything more dangerous than he in Rhovannion. Unless...Who were the others? The two Golodhrim so alike, and the other, all in black.” Running the threads through his mind, he traced them to their probable origin, and answered his own question.
“Tindómion Maglorion; that autumn hair, and his father? Maglor?” The thought was stunning, sent a rill of hate through the blood of ruined Doriath. “And Sauron's son.”

Celeirdúr's grey passed him, already at a ground-eating gallop. Bainalph looked back once, then followed, drawing abreast.
“Why did you ride across me?” he wondered.

“I wanted to stop my father.” Celeirdúr did not look at him. “I did not know what he might do, if he touched Legolas.”

Bainalph said nothing, but he thought: What would you have done, Thranduil, had you succeeded where Glorfindel failed?
The king had threatened to kill Legolas, it was alleged, and there had indeed been fulminous hate in those steel-blue eyes as he stared at Bainalph.
But it was directed at me, not, I think, at Legolas.
Through the moil of confusion, he permitted himself a cautious smile.
I think he tried to reach Legolas. I think he could not help himself.


~~~


“Legolas.” Maglor reached the prince. “Legolas?” He drew back his hand, which was bloody. “Come. Shemar, thou also.” He heard his voice waver, caught it back into his throat.

He looked like me.

Legolas was feeling his hair with one hand, his expression distracted. Shemar stared at him, then glanced back at the pillars of rock. All around them men were moving, helping their fellows, examining injuries, wiping blood from their swords. Tanout came down from his horse lightly, winced as the movement jarred a wound, and met Maglor's eyes. They began to usher the Elf and the youth away from the slaughter.

He looked like me. And he knew me.

There was a wave building beyond his memory. Maglor could feel it, rising, gathering force, looming over him like a tower, a black tower dewed with red lights, wreathed in smoke...

Vanimórë said calmly: We will speak in a moment.

Maglor kept walking, a hand on Legolas back.

Thou knowest.
Hair with Maedhros' red in it. My face. My father's face.

Yes. And thou wilt remember.
Strangeness in the tone, an underlying anger.

Legolas paused suddenly, looking down at the body of a huge crow-coloured wolf. A pale arrow protruded from one eye. Hesitantly, Legolas leaned to touch the fetching.

“The grey goose feather.” Something caught in his throat, half-way between a laugh and a sob. His fingers closed around the blood-smeared wood, slipped. Maglor clasped his wrist.
“Legolas, no.”

“It is a Greenwood arrow!” Legolas struggled to pull it clear. “I have to...!”

“I will get it.”

Legolas laid one hand over Gîl's face, but did not look away as Maglor snapped the arrow-shaft in half, cleaning it on the wolf's fur, concentrating on the task because he had to. He could not afford to think, indeed he hardly could think at all. Nothing made sense. All he could see in his mind was the face, the face of...

Legolas took the broken arrow, pressed the feathers to his face. He closed his eyes. Tears spread in a gleaming fan under the long lashes.

“Come,” Maglor said gently.

Tanout lit a fire, helping Jobur to lie down beside it. Men went to the river, set pans of water and wine to heat, removed armor and clothes to tend wounds. Maglor knelt before Legolas with a cup of wine, and Legolas sipped, coughed, drank again. Gîl, curly head against his breast, watched with wide, wise eyes, silent.

“Glorfindel touched me,” he whispered. “Did you...see him, all of them?”

“Yes.”

“I thought...for a moment, he was going to ride away with us.” He searched Maglor's face. “And then my father turned...Have you ever known anything like this?”

“No.” Maglor put a hand to his head, holding back the wave.
The wave. The sea. Legolas eyes are blue as the sea in winter. The sea...

A touch on his back, movement as Vanimórë crouched between them. He was stripped to the waist, droplets of water misting his flesh as if he had sluiced the blood from his body in haste. Maglor concentrated on the tattoos that swept aggressively over the hard sinews, precise as if cut with a dagger's point. As Vanimórë swiveled toward Legolas, the scrollwork of harsh curves vanished into the pour of his hair. Maglor fought against the temptation to draw it aside, feel the steely strength of certainty that rested in every sinew.

“I need to speak with Glorfindel,” Vanimórë murmured, smoothing Legolas' cheek. “In a moment. We must see to the wounded, and then carry the dead, and put them in the earth of the plains, but we cannot stay here long. Thou canst ride?”

Legolas nodded jerkily. Vanimórë moved to Tanout and Jobur, speaking in Haradhic, then addressed Shemar in lilting Easterling. The youth glanced up at him, shy, then down again. Tanout laid a hand on his arm. Vanimórë smiled, embracing them all with one flashing gleam, then came to kneel between Maglor and Legolas. He gestured for them to drink a little more wine, and drained a cup himself, then reached out and took their hands.

“Maglor,” he said. “Whatever memories come to thee – and they will – I cannot have thee overborne, not now. I know thy strength. Thou must master thyself. There will be time for regret and anguish, but I need thee to control it. Legolas needs thee.”

Who does he think he is speaking to? But there was pressure on Maglor's chest, weighing deep into his soul. He stared into the vivid purple eyes that held his intently as a burning-glass, and said, stiffly: “I hear thee.”

Vanimórë inclined his head.
“Legolas,” he said. “I believe the answer to what happened lies with thee.”

Legolas looked startled, almost afraid. “Me?

“How?” Maglor asked, holding rather tightly to Vanimórë's hand to stave off the memory-wave. Its undertow was already dragging at him, clawing away the ground so recently regathered under his feet.

“I asked Dana. She saw it of course, sensed it. She is damnably evasive, but she said it was not her doing. I think Legolas is at the center of it.” He looked from one to the other. “I knew Glorfindel, and the one who rode with him.” The pressure on Maglor's hand increased, anchoring him against the sea-surge. The sea....it roared, crashing and gnawing at the base of a cliff. Maglor's mind scrubbed charcoal smudges of smoke through bright, briny air.
Vanimórë held him as the undertow threw its sinewy arms about his legs.
He is immensely strong. As my father was. Maglor fought to keep his balance, concentrating on that satiny voice. He realized what Vanimórë was doing: trying to make the impossible prosaic, lay a soothing balm over the rawness of shock.

“The others, Legolas,” Vanimórë said. “Who were they? I might guess, but canst thou name them?”

Legolas' face shook in a wind-ruffle of unnameable emotions. He looked down at the broken-off arrow.
“My...father. My elder brother, Celeirdúr. And...Bainalph, Prince of Alphgarth. But I only saw him once. I did not even speak to him!” His voice rose in bewilderment.

“The faerboth,” Maglor suddenly found the word that had eluded him, saw Vanimórë's elegant brows lift.
“Soul sex?”

Maglor's cheeks felt hot in the chill wind. Vanimórë simply waited. Legolas bent his head, a sheet of pale hair hiding his features and his own probable blush.
“There are other connections of the mind and fëa, but that which Legolas experienced, that we all felt, is called Faerboth, yes.”

“Thou didst think it was Gîl, whom Glorfindel was bound to,” Vanimórë said to Legolas. “No doubt he is, but thee, also. And the others must be looking for thee.”

“He would have taken me away...” Legolas cradled his son in both arms, and the child lay tranquilly against his breast, his eyes, Glorfindel's profoundly blue eyes, watching Maglor. “And my father despises me. He would never look for me!”

“Didst thou mark their faces, all of them?” Vanimórë asked. “I did. They were trying to reach thee, Legolas.”

“Yes,” Maglor agreed. “I marked that too.”

It had been so strange to see Glorfindel, as if he had ridden out of the blood-buried Ages unchanged. But no, he had changed; it had been there for a heartbeat in his eyes, before fear and resolve vanquished it, something harder, darker. It had not been there in Vinyamar, the last time Maglor had seen him to speak to. He remembered the high gardens over the sea. The sea roared over him, no longer blue; storm-lashed grey.

Like her eyes.

Mereth Aderthad. Vinyamar. The Havens of Sirion.

Vanimórë's grip on his hand closed like a vise.
“I saw thy father in Mordor, Legolas,” he said. “I know Glorfindel and his companion, a little, but not thy brother nor that milk-haired beauty. I am not the center of the web.”

“I did not know the...” Legolas faltered, winter-sea eyes on Maglor. “The other Golodh.

A gull screamed across Maglor's mind. A star blazed in daylight, flying into the west, carrying his burden of dreadful hope. His doom.

She smelled of blood and broken flowers.

This was not a memory unearthed from beneath power or madness, but an act Maglor had willed himself to forget. In the lightless void between rage at Elwing's escape with the Silmaril, and despair at the consequences he had raped. After, the woman had looked at him with such unfathomable compassion that he could not endure it. He had not known her then, (Or did I refuse to recognize her?) had known nothing but anguish, and anguish had, in the end, harried him to the brink of madness. But it was the rape that had driven him over the edge, so assiduously hidden, festering in his soul.

The revelation came with a drench of cold sweat. He had assumed her dead, one more death tallied to many, but not the same, that killing, not the same. Rape was the slow destruction of a soul. But she had lived. She. Fanari Penlodiel. (Give her a name, thou knowest it.) as Legolas had been raped, and had lived for his son.
The bones in his hand ground together. He hissed, eyes flashing open.

I will not be so crass as to ask thee if thou art sorry, and I know thou hast paid, but I would like to hear penitence.

Maglor saw, beyond Vanimórë's stern face, Legolas apprehension.
“How does one make recompense for such an act?” He heard his voice come dim and hoarse. “Legolas. I raped a woman, long ago.” (And is that why I was so outraged at Glorfindel's rape of Legolas?) His free hand made a gesture. “War. Madness. Excuses. Words Glorfindel would use. The one with him was my son.”
Legolas said nothing, but seemed to draw back and into himself. His brows crooked, and he looked down at Gîl's curls.

“I thank thee for thine honesty,” Vanimórë said courteously. “I am going to speak to Glorfindel now.” He released his crushing grip. Maglor rose and extended his hand to Legolas. Gîl's little gold head lifted on its flower-stem neck, and he smiled, all trust.

“Will you tell me what he says?” Legolas asked in a small voice, coming to his feet.

“Of course, my dear.” Vanimórë smiled. “Try to eat, and tend to Gîl. There will be more time later, down on the plains. We will rest there tonight.”
Maglor watched his face, saw ineffable love there, tenderness rooted and blossoming in a granite will, where nothing should have been able to grow.

“Nothing happens without reason, Legolas,” he said gently. “I have to believe it, and thou must come to believe it, also.”


~~~

Chapter 3 ~ Memory Is A Doorway ~ by Spiced Wine


~ Memory Is A Doorway ~



How many times have I done this? Maglor paused in running a cloth along his blooded sword. He remembered exactly how many times, now, and the resultant loneliness blew through his soul, cold and empty as the wind from the brooding black peaks. Memory was a doorway for the Elves, not a window. They did not look through it, but walked into it. That was the terrible temptation: to return to memory, as he had until Dana found him. The world had held nothing for him, only loss.

But now I have a son.

It was a thought like fire. It could warm one or burn. Maglor wanted to rejoice, and was that not iniquitous? He had raped Fanari Penlodiel just as Glorfindel had raped Legolas. Turning, he gazed down at the sleek fair head bent over the child. He was trying to give Legolas some privacy as he tended to Gîl, shielding him from the soldiers eyes. There was little need, for most had accepted him, but there was very natural curiosity, and even had there not been, still Legolas would have been uncomfortable.

He has not accepted himself, what he is, and he must.

And Maglor's confession had done more harm than good. Legolas might be wary of a man who declared he had served the Dark, but the ancient shadow of Mordor was doubtless less real than the immediate proximity of a rapist.

Legolas looked up as if aware of Maglor's thoughts. His face was expressionless as if, behind his eyes, he had barred himself into some secret inner chamber, hoping none would enter. But the barrier was parchment-thin. Maglor wanted to touch his face, draw him close, but the crime of rape had thrust itself between them, a wall of pain and shame.

“My greatest offense,” he said, when Legolas did not speak. Why did I forget? How could I?

But Dana had known, and had said naught.

“But you know it was.”

“Glorfindel knows what he did was an offense.” Maglor swept the oiled cloth the length of his sword a last time, then rammed it into its sheath. He must.

Legolas dropped his head again. The child's bright curls feathered his cheek. Maglor folded to his knees.

“If I had not resisted...”

“No.” Maglor heard the word come on a vibration of white anger, knowing that seeing Glorfindel blazing and beautiful and dangerous, had thrust Legolas straight back into trembling guilt. “No. Do not do this to thyself! In Mordor Sauron raped me.” Legolas flinched, and Maglor forced himself on. “He said, I am the hand of the Valar, Macalaurë, I am the working out of thine offenses.” Ah, it was like thrusting his hand into a forge fire. His very skin shrank from remembering, from forming the words, but he had to. “Perhaps he was, but what wrong hadst thou done?”

Gîl gazed at him, as if agreeing, untroubled. Legolas' shoulder's tightened.

“Oh, Eru, he looks like Glorfindel.”

That brought Legolas' eyes up. A strange expression opened his face.
“You knew him when he was young?”

He cannot imagine Glorfindel as a child.

“We are kin, didst thou not know?”

“Oh.” Legolas looked embarrassed, as if he had committed some social solecism. “I learned of the Golodhrim, but only a little.”

“Of the Kinslayings.” Maglor glanced away. Vanimórë was examining a soldier's wound carefully as a mother, speaking in that sonorous, lilting voice. The man nodded, tried to smile, protested he could walk, and, after a swift mouthful of emberwine, moved away. Vanimórë turned to another, calling orders, his authority like a blanket, as all-encompassing and as comforting.

They will do anything for thee. They do not want to show pain or weakness before their Dark Prince.

Maglor knew the feeling. His father had been Fëanor.

I am a Kinslayer, but what on all Arda is he?

The brilliant eyes snared his, held them, and Vanimórë smiled brief, preoccupied, warm.

“Glorfindel was a beautiful child.” He looked back down at Legolas. “I do not know what happened to him, to make him a rapist. I only know what happened to me. And nothing can excuse either of us.”

~~~

Vanimórë's mind-voice was resonant as lovely old bronze. Glorfindel reined in, Tindómion beside him.
Well?

Maglor spoke of something called the faerboth.

The core of the faerboth is love, Glorfindel responded at last. I should not have been able to touch Legolas' soul. And to take us to him, take all of us? And we were there, physically, for a moment. He thought of the long fair hair, coiled about a ring, tucked into a pocket.
The faerboth is not power. And there was power.

Indeed, Vanimórë agreed. And it was in all of thee. The Fell-wolves fled before thee, not from our swords. The faerboth must have been the catalyst for something far more, unless it is more powerful than thou knowest.

I do not know. Glorfindel's fingers tightened on the reins. Damnation! Why could we not remain there?

That would have flung the wolf into the sheepfold, Vanimórë retorted, dry acid. Didst thou not see Thranduil's face? He knows who fathered Legolas' son.

I care nothing for Thranduil! Glorfindel flashed savagely. The child is my son, and there is a bond between us. Thranduil exiled Legolas. It is late now to revoke such a proclamation.

And can one revoke rape? Sauron's son goaded.

This is not the time! And that is between Legolas and myself! Glorfindel felt his temper shredding into tatters of fire. He took a deep breath.

I agree, Vanimórë said. Thou must talk to him. And do not damned well frighten him again.

I did not want to frighten him, Glorfindel thought privately. I just... wanted him. And he had always taken what lovers he wanted, when he wanted.
But he had not raped them. They had always been willing, even if it excited him to encounter some – feigned – resistance, as with Tindómion, who was strong and knew how the game was played. It had been no game with Legolas though, only lust and the desire to conquer the wood-Elf's futile struggles.
He jerked his head like a stallion stung by a horse-fly. I will not alarm him. I wanted to save him and the child.

Wait until we have encamped, Vanimórë said. I will tell thee now of Dana.

The Noldor listened. Not all of it was strange to them. They had heard of the belief in the Mother, Glorfindel among the Grey Elves, Tindómion among the Nandor of Lindon, but it was a difficult concept to grasp: a goddess on Middle-earth, whom, if Vanimórë were to be believed, had been slain by Morgoth before the Valar founded Valinor.

She dreamed the Ages, until she woke again.

Thou knowest her? Glorfindel asked disbelievingly. He had never considered that the Mother as a real being.

No-one knows her. A flicker of private laughter.

And she was midwife to Legolas?

Yes. But from all she will say – and she is always elusive as mist – it was not she who effected this.

But if she involved herself in Legolas' fate – Glorfindel protested.

Truly. She is, I think, more powerful than any Vala, even the mightiest, but ofttimes, she does not act. Now she has done so twice at least: She lead me to Legolas, and she brought Maglor to Szrel Kain. There was a breath of silence, then Vanimórë continued: She found him in the Ephel Duath, Tindómion.
The Fëanorion froze.
He was trying to enter Mordor. He was mad. She laid the balm of forgetfulness on him, until now.
Tindómion stared south, then raised a hand and covered his eyes.

Wilt thou not speak to him? Vanimórë sounded quite gentle.

Not yet. He wanted to, needed to, and now it had come to it... I cannot.

Does thy mother live?

She lives, Tindómion responded, startled. And she has ever wanted me to find my father, to be reconciled to him.

Then, may I tell him that? In Barad-dûr he paid in blood and agony for his sin against her. At least, A dagger-thrust, He knows the seriousness of his offense. And Eru knows how many times Sauron raped him, for I do not.

Tindómion scarcely heard Glorfindel curse. There was a constriction in his throat, flame in his blood.
Tell him.

I thank thee. Knowest thou Sauron wanted to break him, make him his buffoon?

Outrage stiffened every sinew.
Thou wert there. It was not a question.

How much wouldst thou know, Maglorion?

Everything.

Then thou art a brave man. Vanimórë's tone was still soft. Only Maglor can tell thee everything.

There was a scatter of clouds to the south, dappling the sky. Tindómion fixed his eyes upon them.
How did he escape?

The clouds caught fire, the sky fumed crimson, and the hooves of his horse sent up puffs of pale dust. He was passing through a massive gate, towers glaring down at him. Beyond a hard plain slammed into the west.

Dagorlad.

He looked around. Vanimórë rode beside him, somber and vivid in rich black, hands gloved in black leather.

Where are we going?

I go to Númenor,” Vanimórë smiled teasingly. “As I am so ordered. Where thou goest is in thine own hands.”

Tindómion rode into the sun. Dagorlad melted to grass. A shiver coiled up and through him like a snake, fastening its teeth on his heart.

“You released him.”

He felt the the insouciant shrug.
Sauron had been taken to Númenor. He ordered me to heal thy father and follow him. I disobeyed.

“Why did you not tell me?” Tindómion choked on an upsurge of emotion so powerful he could hardly breathe. “In Mordor. Seven years...You said nothing!

Thou hast always known he lived, not so? Vanimórë murmured. The rest is for him to tell. He does not remember everything, even now. But this I will say: The Mother has weighed his soul. There is so much sorrow in him, so much...He and Legolas. I know not how they bear it.

An eagle was crying far off. Tindómion's eyes sought it, a burn of gold against the blue as the sun caught its wings.

He saved my father's life. Tindómion had shared Maglor's soul too often not to feel truth, yet a shadow lay over his torture in Barad-dûr: Sauron's power. Little wonder he had never been able to see it.
But I should have. I should have shared the burden of agony with him. Oh, father!

“We will find him,” Glorfindel promised, gripping his arm, and Tindómion, shirring himself from horror, found rage pouring into him. It filled him and boiled over.

How dare you!” He wrenched violently away. “My father was raped, and you feel anger? You raped Legolas. The son of Sauron saved my father, and you and my father, Noldorin princes, are rapists. How dare you, you damnable hypocrite!

Glorfindel flinched as if struck by a flung stone. His blue eyes rinsed to blankness.

“You will speak to Legolas Thranduilion,” Tindómion hissed, words like lava on his tongue, seeing Glorfindel through a waver of white flame. “You will speak to him, and apologize, and gently, or by the Everlasting Dark, I will make you wish you had never returned to Middle-earth!”

Even the wind held its breath. Echoes ran from his voice like the thunder of a mighty harp. In the great silence, Glorfindel's face was very pale. He looked peculiarly young, and Tindómion saw a star burning in his soul.

“There is no need to say that,” Glorfindel said quietly. “I intend to.”

~~~

“Can I help?” Osulf asked.

“Dost thou know aught of healing?” Vanimórë asked, tipping away a bowl of bloody water.

“As much as any-one here, I dare swear.”

“Thou hast come through this rather well.”

“I would have come through it better had you permitted me to carry a weapon.” The Northman showed his teeth in a rueful smile.

“If I cared whether thou wouldst live or die, or if I trusted thee, I would give thee a weapon.”

“And yet, you saved my life.”

Vanimórë shrugged. “Whilst thou art traveling with me, thou art one of my people, and I will protect thee.” He nodded toward the river. “Get water and wine. Make thyself useful. Help the inured.”

Osulf did not move. “I am not certain how useful that is, Prince. You know that those wounds will likely fester.”

“I do,” Vanimórë replied, very soft, looking into the pale eyes. “But how dost thou?”

The man jerked the strip of leather around the tail of his braid, pushed it over one shoulder. “There are a Fell-wolves in the North, Prince. Not many, but some, especially in hard winters. The skalds say that they came from the seat of the ancient Dark a long time ago.” His shrug was a mirror of Vanimórë's own. “However that may be, we see them at whiles. Men die raving unless the wounds are treated at once.”

Yes. I know.

He had seen it, both in Mordor and aforetime, in Angband. The flesh blackened and rotted, bringing agony before blessed death, as if the malignancy of the beasts souls passed into Mens blood. The only remedy was to treat the wounds at once with hot wine or vinegar and bind them with honey.

“Do what thou canst,” he said briefly, then: “What didst thou see?”

He thought that Osulf looked hectically amused, and then the expression was gone.
“Ghosts,” he said simply. “I saw ghosts.” With a strange laugh he turned, then looked back. “But would ghosts run off Fell-wolves, Prince?” His brows lifted, then he walked to the supply horses. Vanimórë watched as he poured wine into a bowl, his hands quite steady. He carried it across to Maglor, who shook his head, swept a graceful hand toward a soldier nearby. Vanimórë smiled. That one gesture was eloquent. Maglor might carry shame and sorrow like a torch, but he bore himself like a prince of the Noldor.

“Thou art not hurt?” he asked, stepping to his side. Such wounds can fester.

I know. They did not touch me.

Good. Thou hast not forgotten thy skills, evidently. He rested a hand on Legolas' shoulder. “Well done, my dear.”
The prince looked mystified.
“The wolf thou didst slay.”

“I forgot.” Legolas glanced back to the battleground. “There was no time to think...”

“My Lord?” A soft voice asked, speaking the words in careful Westron. Shemar had come close, hovering, his eyes on Legolas. “My thanks. You saved me. I...am your servant.” He bowed and hurried to Tanout before Legolas could reply.

“There never is, in battle,” Vanimórë said. “One must act, as thou didst.”

All he needed was training, confidence in himself; the instincts were already there. Vanimórë captured the complicated silver fire of Maglor's eyes.

Thy son's mother lives, he said. I asked.

There was no movement, none at all, yet a violent emotion flamed under the Fëanorion's flesh.

Is that not what thou didst want to know? Vanimórë pressed. I would. She sounds remarkable, one of Dana's own. She has always wanted her son to be reconciled to his father.

“We leave soon.” He ran his fingers through Legolas' hair. “I must ensure all are tended.”

Glorfindel does not know what happened any more than I do, Legolas, but he did not mean to alarm thee or hurt thee. He called, “Shemar.”
The youth, kneeling beside Jobur jumped to his feet. “My Lord?”

“Bring more water, wine, clean linen, and a flask of emberwine.” He stepped to Tanout's side. “Let me see.”

Maglor's silence was a weight on his back. He made no attempt to fill it.

“It is naught, Sire.”

Vanimórë leaned close.
“That was not a suggestion, Captain.”

“No, Sire.”

It had been a swiping rake, deflected by the armour but for where one black claw had dug deep, caught and torn loose. Tanout stiffened as the cut was cleansed, and shut his teeth, but made no sound. Vanimórë knew from experience that any wound inflicted by a Fell-wolf stung like salt on a burn.

“I will look at it again when we are down on the plains. And do not damned well think I will forget. I want no silently suffering heroes.” He smeared honey on a dressing, secured the pad with bandages, and helped Tanout to dress.

“My thanks, Sire, but there was no need.” Tanout lowered the cup of emberwine, dark eyes studying Vanimórë's face. “Or is there?”

Vanimórë smiled dry, involuntary, clasping the back of Tanout's neck affectionately.
“Thou knowest me too well,” he murmured. “Fell-wolves carry poison, under their claws, in their saliva. The wounds have to be thoroughly cleaned. I have no intention of losing thee to a damned wolf.” His fingers closed on the young man's shoulder. “Ride with Jobur, I will take Shemar. I want us out of this place. We will lay the dead in the Mother's earth.”

Tanout had flushed, now he bent his head. “Yes, Sire.”

~~~

Vanimórë had not traveled these lands since before the Alliance marched on Mordor, but men lived here now as they had then, and every ell of grass would be claimed by one clan or another. Their coming down from the mountains would be noted, he knew, though as yet even his eyes could discern no-one.

The soldiers pitched camp with swift precision; guards were posted and the wounded settled under the trees near the river. Beyond the mountains, the summer fell heavy on Dor Rhûnan, and Vanimórë wanted his men to rest in such comfort as could be contrived until their wounds knit. If they did. He would know by nightfall. Some of his finest officers, Tanout included, had ignored their own injuries to help others. Those who had come through the battle unscathed, boiled water and wine, scrubbed their hands scrupulously with lye soap, and peeled away the wound dressings on their comrades, cleansing them afresh.

We are using too much of everything.

Vanimórë moved from one man to another, examining, reassuring, concealing his thoughts.
We could not bring enough.

They traveled as a cavalry unit with a few baggage horses, the wagons having been left behind. Unless they could hunt or barter, they would run low on supplies, and one did not hunt without permission, at least not here. The clan chiefs were fiercely possessive of their land, and Vanimórë did not want to engage in battle unless there was no other way.

If I have to, I will.

A little away from the camp, the dead lay side by side. There were five, for now, he amended. Flies were already swarming. Vanimórë had no tools or unguents for embalming; they could not carry decaying bodies back to Sud Sicanna, and so they must be buried here. Locks of their hair had already been taken for the Temple, and their names would be graven in the Hall of Warriors, where their family and friends might come to light incense in their memory.

And what will that mean to those they loved?

The sun beat down like a gold fist, and the wind had dropped.

He dug the grave himself, ordering those who came to help away, cutting and peeling back turf so that they might be laid back over the exposed soil. Bringing water from the river, he cleansed the bodies, before accoutering them in armour, and laying their swords on their breasts. Silence lay over the plain when he had finished. Tanout, limping a little, came to his side, the others, some aided by their fellows, ranked themselves about the grave.

Vanimórë had intoned this last prayer many times. He did not know where Men's souls went after death, but he did know that all Men wanted to believe there was something more.

So do I.

“Thy war is over, sons of Sud Sicanna,
And thy souls have passed,
Beyond the walls of Time,
To fair waters, and green fields,
To love, and to joy unending,
Where death and pain are dreams,
That fade in the light of dawn.
Thy war is over, sons of Sud Sicanna,
Eternity has begun.”

Maglor stood with Legolas and Shemar, the Northman close by, seeming absorbed. Vanimórë spoke in Haradhic, but in his mind Maglor heard the words as Sindarin.

“Art thou sure?” he had asked Legolas, when the prince said he would watch the burial.

“Yes,” was the reply. “Vanimórë left Szrel Kain to protect me and Gîl. And his men died because of it.” His face was sad and resolute. He had said nothing on the ride from the mountains, nothing as they made camp. He had nursed Gîl and then, as the child slept, helped Shemar tear linen for Tanout and Jobur. The older man's wounds were deep and terrible to look on. He was already feverish.

Maglor had said little himself. There was a lightning stream between he and his son, the son he had engendered in violence, who must hate him, whom he dared not reach out to, for shame and fear of the reaction.

“He wants to protect thee.” More, Vanimórë needed to protect. Now Maglor watched him, feeling the sheer presence of the man.
Has Sauron never used him in battle? He would be a deadly opponent not simply because of his warrior skills, but because he could evoke such loyalty in his soldiers. It was not just fear; they respected him, and with some it went further. There was love. All of them were as sons to him. Has he fathered no children of his own?

Legolas hesitantly stepped forward and let fall a woven braid of small flowers, tough, exquisite little blooms that fought their way through the ocean of grasses. Soon the earth would melt back over the grave, and no-one would know that bodies lay there. The warriors saluted, and returned to their bivouacs. Vanimórë turned, laying a hand on Legolas' back. “Come. ”

Two ancient willows arched, boughs colliding to form a glowing green cave half-divided by a falling curtain of leaves. The litter of snapped twigs had been gathered for fires. Near one tree Jobur lay in uneasy rest, and Tanout sat close by, helping Shemar to prepare a small meal. Across from them, Legolas and Maglor had spread bedrolls, and now Legolas laid Gîl down. Vanimórë knelt beside him. He did not speak for a moment, simply looked, then brushed the backs of his fingers across Legolas smooth cheek, who shivered. Tears drew silver lines down his flesh, and Vanimórë drew him into his arms.

He would not come to me. Maglor's heart contracted, throbbed in his throat. Legolas had been shaken, and would not look to him for comfort since his admission of rape.

And I cannot blame him.

The pale head nestled pressing against Vanimórë's reminded him of Celegorm, and an old blade, still deadly sharp, cut into his soul.

Give him time, Vanimórë advised. Wounds like this never truly heal, is that not so?

It was so. Maglor poured out measures of emberwine, proferred the cup.
Legolas pulled back. “The wolves were surrounding me, were they not?”

“Drink. Just a little. There.” Vanimórë stroked his back. “Thou wert the most vulnerable, Legolas, thou and Shemar. They knew it.” He paused. “They might have been drawn to me.”

“To thee?”

He glanced at Maglor. “Morgoth had wolves in Angband, Sauron had werewolves. I have served in both Angband and Barad-dûr. It is possible they sense that. They have memories, Fell-wolves, I think, some knowledge in their blood of what they were, long ago.”

The Fëanorion frowned. “Perhaps they would sense darkness, but why would they be drawn to thee?”

“How kind.” Vanimórë fluttered his eyelashes, laughing morbidly in the privacy of his mind, and Maglor made an impatient gesture with one hand.

“He is right,” Legolas murmured, and Vanimórë kissed his fingers.
“Whatever the reason, they have been driven off, and not by us, but by those who came. I do not think they will return. We thinned their ranks. And the unanswerable question is how the others were able to come here, to thee, Legolas. I have known nothing like this, neither has Glorfindel. This was no dream, no vision. I do not know that even the Valar could do such a thing. I am sure Melkor could not.”

“If he could,” Maglor murmured. “He would never have lost a battle.”

A bird piped somewhere, the river sang. It was almost peaceful. Legolas leaned against Vanimórë. He smelled of ferns and clear cool water.
“There is something...” His voice came muted, hesitant, and Vanimórë said, “What, my dear?”

“When you told us you had...served...Mordor.”

Vanimórë met Maglor's eyes. Soon. He will remember soon.

“I was so afraid. I know you are a good man, but...

A good man. Trust can be deadly.

“I understand. Go on.”

“I fell into darkness, but some-one was there. I could not see them, but they touched me...I felt them...”
His free hand flexed, felt blindly for something. It looked fragile and white in the green shade. Vanimórë took it. It gripped.
I am what was. I am what may be. Do not cry. Find me. I am with thee.

It reminded Vanimórë of his cell in Angband. He had experienced such terror in that place, had imagined some-one was there, a lost child weeping in black corner. He slapped the memory aside like a wasp.
“It did not scare thee?” he asked curiously.

“No,” Legolas whispered.

“I do not know,” Vanimórë said slowly. “Which only adds to the number of things which I do not know. Thou hast brought mystery into my life, Legolas. But I think if it were something ill, something dark, thou wouldst have felt it.”

“No...It was as if some-one cared about me; some-one I did not know. That is why I do not understand why the others would come. They...do not.”

“We do not know how much we love until we lose them,” Maglor said, barely audible.

Come here. Vanimórë spoke into the tortured silver eyes, and the Fëanorion's jaw clenched.

Proud fool.

Wouldst thou wish to know thy father, if thou wert born of rape? Maglor sounded as if he were being racked. Vanimórë looked into the face of that question and loathed every moment of his slavery, every duty he had performed for Sauron, for Melkor. And he loathed himself. He had not marshaled the courage to kill himself and go into the Dark. He should have done so for her, the woman he had never known.

Any man, or woman should want to, he heard himself reply. If only to avenge their mother.

As I did not.
He turned to Legolas.
“There is truth in that, my dear.”

“I felt him touch my hair,” Legolas murmured. “His hand...”

“He wanted to rescue thee.”

Yes.

Vanimórë smiled to himself. Maglor took a breath. Glorfindel had waited, slipped in soft as spring mist and as gentle.

I wanted to protect thee, and my son.

“Gîlríon,” Legolas said aloud, trembling. “His name is Gîlríon.” He looked so young, pain drawing his exquisite features into utter vulnerability, that Maglor leaned forward.

Gîlríon, Glorfindel repeated, and the word melted to velvet, wrapping Legolas and the child in soft gold. His soul feels beautiful.

He is mine! You cannot take him from me! Legolas leaned over Gîl.

I would not. I would protect thee both Legolas.

Why? You...mocked me, and left me. His cheeks were flushed. Fear, Vanimórë thought, but desire too, the memory of dreadful, alien pleasure. It would have been easier for Legolas had he felt only horror; at least it would have been uncomplicated, but guilt and desire intermingled were not easy for one so young to comprehend.

I know.

Maglor made a sound in his throat and rose, casting around as if he did not know what to say or do. He was white with rage, yet his own transgression was a chain about his neck that tightened to choking.

I have to see thee, Legolas. I need to see thee. Glorfindel's frustration and simmering anger came clear. Legolas closed his eyes.
Are you sorry? he asked.

~~~

If he made another sound, he would break apart. His fingers tightened on the grass stems. Images beat against his closed eyes like unrelenting whips. Legolas writhing under Glorfindel, face strained with ecstasy, the Cúalphii crying out, muscles tensed as Thranduil drove into him, Elvýr screaming in horror as orc after orc raped him.

No! His stomach heaved, and he fought against vomiting. He had never seen his dead son's violation, not seen Legolas, but he could imagine.
Too well.
No wonder Legolas had fled rather than reveal the identity of his lover. Such an act was the foulest treason.
Glorfindel.

Thranduil swallowed, raised his head, the blood like a swollen river in his ears, behind his eyes. Still the wind blew, bowing the grasses. An eagle cried from far away.

Ada, help me, ada...*

Elvýr's voice. Legolas' voice, pleading. Rhovannion's golden harvest lilted, shimmering from the Elf's path as he walked, light-footed.

Ada, help me...

Thranduil ran, unthinking. He called a name. The Elf paused, looked back –
– and the king saw the red runnels where Elvýr's nails had scored down his face in poisoned agony.

“No!”

Elvýr stared at him, ruined beauty like an accusation.

Ada, help me!

“I could not!” the king shouted, and Elvýr turned away.

Help me!

Then Thranduil was running again as the eagle called down the wind.

I had to! There was nothing else I could do!

Again Elvýr hesitated, then spun back –
– And Legolas' eyes were filled with the sky, seeing something else, somewhere else. Then fire burned across them. The sun was gone, there was no grass, only black rock under Thranduil's boots as he took four swift steps forward. Legolas stood limned by red, as if a furnace blazed behind him, his hair swirled and lifted. And some-where, muffled by stone, a child cried. Legolas turned, plunged into the ember darkness.

No!

Thranduil's cry echoed across the plain, melted into the eagle's cry. A massive slap of air buffeted him, but he stood against it as the bird skimmed low, the grasses flattening under the beat of its wings, before rising again, circling, its call imperative. The king stared, groping through impossibilities. He had little to do with the great eagles. They were mountain dwellers, though he understood them, as the wood-Elves understood all birds. But the great eagles were different. It was said that their ancestors had been Maia, sent from Aman, but the Silvan legends told of such birds before the Great Journey. Whatever the truth, they were intelligent.

Carangel had bolted in panic. It took some time for Thranduil to coax him back. Shaking as much as the stallion, the king petted him, unbuckled the saddlebags, and freed the saddle and bridle.

“Thank-you,” he said, oddly breathless. “Go back to the lodge, my friend.”
It was not far, and there was water and grazing in abundance. Wolves would not trouble Rhovannion until the winter. Carangel nudged him companionably, almost as if offering reassurance, swung around and trotted away. Thranduil flung the saddlebags over one shoulder, took a breath and waited, staring up. Surely this would be no harder than jumping onto a galloping horse. The wind whistled as the eagle stooped again, leveling into a glide above the rolling earth. Thranduil sprinted. And leaped.

I greet thee, Elvenking, came the bird's voice in his mind, as he settled on brown-gold feathers, softer than he had imagined, sleek over muscle. I am Landroval.

My thanks. Thranduil closed his eyes against the unexpectedly cold slap of air.

He had known that place where Legolas stood. Every dragging day he had fought in Mordor after the death of his father was ground into mind and memory. And after, he had forced himself to climb the hard bitter slope of Orodruin, to enter the Sammath Naur. Many had not, deeming it an evil place, but Thranduil needed to see. He had paused in the entrance to the tunnel that Sauron had driven into the heart of the fire-mountain, then turned and walked inside.

But what he had seen was no memory.
It was prophecy.
Which was why he did not think he was quite mad.

Rhovannion opened below as Landroval rose. To the west the Greenwood flowed in shades of green, and beyond the white-tipped spikes of the Hithaeglir ranked themselves like another world against the hazy sky. East the grass plains swept, as if racing to the edge of the unknown. The king looked south along the curling crest of the forest. The river blinked blue and silver on his right.
Without a word, the eagle glided. Thranduil knelt among the feathers, water tearing from his eyes.

Why would you aid me? he wondered.

Accept the gift, Elvenking, the eagle responded, faintly chiding, and Thranduil nearly laughed, shook his head.

Not quite mad, but almost.

Perhaps it was a dream, perhaps he still slept in his bedchamber. His mouth quirked sardonically. He scanned the rushing land.

They were easy to see from above, purposefully moving shapes on the sun-gilded green. Thranduil saw the dance of Celeirdúr's gold braid, the milky pour of the Cúalphii's. The two did not hear, did not see until Landroval's shadow passed over them, and the great bird slowly banked, and turned. They reined in, the horses stamping in alarm, and both men stared up at him. Celeirdúr's face emptied with shock, but there was no mistaking the Cúalphii's expression.
He smiled. ~

End Notes:

* From Ethuil'waew. Legolas called to his father when Glorfindel raped him.

Chapter 4 ~ Concourse ~ by Spiced Wine


~ Concourse ~



Are you sorry?

I relished it.

Legolas had been lost the moment Glorfindel first saw him, virginal, lovely as the Spring day, too innocent to be real.

His protests amused me, and aroused me.

Glorfindel could play a man's body expertly, give pain or ecstasy, and because he was the man he was, both aroused him.
But Glorfindel's lovers had always trusted him, given themselves willingly into his hands. And that was the word that accused him: Trust. Legolas had not known him, had been been terrified – before he manipulated that shaking body into wanting everything he forced on it.
When he found the young horse-guard again, he had been weeping, but the reason why scarcely ruffled the surface of Glorfindel's mind. The youth was so desirable in his sadness, he became merely something to use, an object of lust. Glorfindel believed the boy kept silent because he had enjoyed the experience, but the truth was, he did not care. He knew he could make the most reluctant lover beg for more, and the wood-Elf was so shy; to watch him crumble into wantonness was intoxicating.

He could feel the pressure of minds against his own, Tindómion's all spitting silver fire, Vanimórë's a strange violet, so dark it was almost black, and Maglor was steel pounded on the anvil of grief, become mellow and beautiful as polished mithril, but now shining anger and guilt. And there was some-one else, or something else, still and cold, opaque as a frozen lake, seething darkness in its depths...
His skin prickled with the anticipation of danger. It was close, yet it glanced away from him when he tried to bring his mind to bear on it, and Legolas' soul was watching him.

I could lie.
Gîlríon was his son, and Glorfindel could feel him, a bright golden star burning amid the pain and the rage directed at him. But it held itself close to Legolas, and observed. Glorfindel could not have his son without Legolas, and he wanted them both, wanted to raise his child and to have Legolas in his bed, showing him what he had told him he was made for: beautiful submission.

He lowered his head to his arms, hard with the memory of the youth of the Greenwood, with the sight of Legolas standing slim and terrified, the touch of hair slipping through his fingers...

I cannot say I am sorry. He spoke into the darkness behind his eyelids. It is not so simple. I regret leaving thee in the Greenwood. I regret not knowing thee, not taking the time to assuage thy fear. I regret my anger and that I unleashed it at thee. But I do not regret having thee, the way thou didst feel when I was inside thee, thy tears, thy surrender. I find great pleasure in lovers like thee. A stranger in an enemy land, an untouched youth. I felt thine innocence like flowers, like milk, and I wanted it, wanted thee, all unawakened and hungry.

Tindómion's hand caught his hair, dragged his head back. A line of burning cold kissed his throat.

~~~


It closed around Maglor an embrace of blood and fire, and his soul drank it. It slid through flesh and blood and flooded his soul.

His son...the return of something lost, his brothers, his father, and blind, wild with rage. Maglor saw the flare of sun-struck metal, felt the knife hilt under his hand, the other buried in a mane of gold hair. He looked out of his son's eyes, felt the murder in him.

No! he cried, and felt the fury freeze, a beast balked for the instant by shock, but poised to destroy.
No. He locked with it like a wrestler Do not do this. Thou wilt carry it all thy life as I have carried my own sin. His son will feel his death!

The wrath flashed back, a wall of flame slapped back by a storm-wind. Maglor felt strong fingers close round his son's wrist, merely holding lightly, and Glorfindel's voice said, “Do it, then, Tindómion. For I cannot lie.”

The name spun like blood through Maglor's soul.
Tindómion. Do not.

A great shudder rippled through every muscle. Words and feelings clashed, flowed one into the other.
Father. Father. How could he do it? How could act so basely? The both of thee. And not to repent, but to want it again? for he does.

I know. Do not.

Glorfindel pushed his hand away, not ungently, came to his feet. Maglor blinked, saw Legolas face white as bleached linen, Gîlríon, in his arms sobbing in huge, gulping gasps. Vanimórë looked as if he too wanted to do murder. Tindómion's voice came like shattered music.
Legolas, he said. The choice is thine, but I swear to thee now that if thou wilt, I will protect thee. Thou knowest naught of me, but neither dost thou know Glorfindel. And I would never force thee.

Maglor listened, loving the sound of him, and entirely unsurprised. Legolas' mouth formed a soundless word, and Glorfindel drove into the moment of silence like the down-sweep of a blade.
Legolas, I cannot explain to thee in words alone, but I do know that thou wilt never truly know what thy needs are, what pleases thee with a man who is not like me.

Wouldst thou mold him, Glorfindel? Vanimórë blazed, apparently unable to curb himself any longer. Maglor knew why he had withheld: this matter truly was between Glorfindel and Legolas, but it was desperately uneven. It could not have been otherwise.
What wilt thou make of him? Vanimórë continued, head raised, eyes all amethyst fire. Thy bed-slave, adept at pleasing thee, bearing thy children?

I have told thee! Glorfindel snapped. He is a prince, and I will treat him as one.

Maglor could feel the heat pouring from Legolas' body. He was racked by spasmodic tremors, and his eyes were closed. Tears swept down his cheeks soundless as the run of rain down glass.

So because thou didst not know he was a prince, it excuses thine actions? It is acceptable to rape a servant?

No! And I did not mean that!

Thou didst not see him as I did, Glorfindel. Vanimórë drew Legolas closer. Sick and pregnant and terrified. He lived for Gîlríon, not for thee, not even for himself! You raped him and his father exiled him, and he is little more than a child. I do not know which of thee I despise the most! Strike from thy mind the belief he was born only for thee to fill with seed, to pleasure thee. He does not know what he wants because no-one ever asked him or guided him, but he has been blooded, he has killed, and he shows great courage. He has the mark of the warrior, and yes, he is a prince, and his home is not Imladris.

A small breeze riffled the willows. Legolas opened his eyes. Vanimórë brushed his fingers through the tears.
Thou hast made him weep too much, he said. And matters have changed, or why would his father and brother and another Greenwood lord have come? And neither Greenwood nor Imladris deserve Legolas.

We are bound. Glorfindel challenged. And there is a reason for it. I do not know how, and I admit there should not be, but the bond is there. He is mine, his son is mine. And thou knowest what he is, what he wants. He may become the most famed warrior of the Greenwood, but it will not change his nature, what rouses him and satisfies him. I had to be taught that my desires were not twisted. I can teach Legolas, no-one else.

Maglor met Vanimórë's eyes.
Glorfindel. He spoke from a well of old love and anguish directed at both himself and Glorfindel. We were all proud once, and not without reason, but thou wert never obtuse. Thou couldst take Legolas a thousand times and make him submit to thee, but thou wouldst humiliate him. If there is no love he would only despise himself for what he will perceive as his own weakness. He will hate his body for enjoying what is done to it. (And he thought As I did? )
And without love, he will not live.

Silence dripped down like falling leaves. Maglor felt Glorfindel's soul as if a door had opened into the past, a door to all he had been, and the Fëanorion saw, for an instant, like thunderclouds climbing across the face of the sun, loss, violence, grief, the relentless struggle Glorfindel had waged to bring back the glory of the past only to mire it in conflict. And at the bottom of his soul lay a dark pool whose black waters Maglor himself had long drunk from; loneliness.
And nothing excused him.

Maglor. Glorfindel's voice groped helplessly. What can I say? What can I say with honesty? Thou hast known me since my birth, known my tastes in lovers...

The Glorfindel I knew would have no more have raped than he would have eaten human flesh.

Though the flinch was instant, coloured with defensiveness, Glorfindel refrained from hurling the words back into Maglor's teeth, and the temptation must have been great. Instead he cried, This is impossible! Words solve nothing. I must see thee, Legolas! Thou knowest I am bound to both thee and my son.

I am bound to Sauron, Vanimórë said pitilessly. It must be Legolas' decision. Yes, thou wilt follow him, and find him, I have no doubt, but if he does not wish to see thee, then thou wilt have to go through me to reach him.

And I, Maglor declared.

Legolas looked up. The tears had ceased, but his eyes were lost blue.
“Let me stay with you!” His fingers plucked at Vanimórë's sleeve. “You are – ”

Legolas, no! Glorfindel's shout cracked across his shuddering words. Thou canst not! He is –

“The only person who has ever cared about me.” He glanced quickly, nervously at Maglor under his lashes. “And you. You saved my life. You and Tanout.”

The young man looked up at his name. He looked pale under the gloss of golden skin, but he managed a warm smile.

I swore to protect him, Glorfindel, he and Gîlríon. And I will protect him from thee if it comes to such a pass.

Glorfindel's soul felt like that of a balked, furious lion.
Vanimórë serves Sauron!

“Not now,” Legolas sounded afraid of his presumption. “My Lord, you said...” He paused, gasped, and Maglor thought, Say it now, Vanimórë. Force Glorfindel into the role of supplicant. For that is what he should be.

Vanimórë took the slender, agitated hand, and smiled that smile into Legolas' eyes. It brought Maglor's heart up into his throat, heat scalded across his cheeks, throbbed in his loins.
I said if I could I would keep thee, love thee, show thee thy true worth, he said. And I would.

No! Glorfindel raged, but there was an undertone of desperation. He does not belong with thee, thou hast admitted it thyself!

I know, Vanimórë conceded. “Legolas,” he said gently, aloud. “Dost thou want to see Glorfindel?”

Legolas stared at him mutely. The answer lay in his silence, Maglor thought. No, and yes. No, because Glorfindel's rape had wounded him, and still reeling from it, he had been forced into exile. And yes, for those same reasons. A bond had been forged in violence, but it was a still a binding. Gîlríon was its fruit, and there was the knowledge, disturbing though it was, that Glorfindel had awoken desires that, if not explored,would trouble him all his life. But without love, those hungers were best allowed to lie dormant.

Yes, he heard his son agree.

“You said I would,” Legolas whispered.

“I think thou shalt,” Vanimórë said. “One day, but I ask: what is thy will?”

The youth shook his head slowly. “I do not...”

Legolas! Glorfindel urged.

There is a city, Vanimórë said calmly. East of the Anduin, north of Ithilien, Tirith Nindor,* it is called.

Yes, Glorfindel answered. The army of the Alliance encamped about its walls.

It was attacked in the recent wars, Vanimórë continued. But it is heavily fortified, an outpost of Gondor, and manned by their warriors. I halted there for a time on my way to Szrel Kain. They knew where I was bound. And the news that I killed Prince Dhölkan, which I did not, ruptured the council and also killed the high priest, which I certainly did, will have reached Tirith Nindor ahead of me. He looked down at Legolas. What sayest thou, my dear?

You would not let him take Gîl? Or...

Glorfindel burned silently. Perhaps, Maglor thought, he was realizing just how confused Legolas was, and how frightened of him. But would that only entice him the more? The Fëanorion did indeed know Glorfindel's tastes; he had made no secret of them.

I would only let thee see him, go with him if it was truly what thou didst wish, Vanimórë assured him. Neither would I let him coerce thee into going with him.

Legolas rubbed his son's back, and took a deep breath. He nodded, once.

“Thou art sure?” Vanimórë spoke just to him.

“He will follow me,” the prince murmured. “It does not matter where I go. He will find me, will he not?” His eyes looked hunted, and though Glorfindel could not see his expression, Maglor felt something in his aura intensify, as if Legolas' words had ripped at a nerve. The words were that of a child pursued by a monster, and there was no glamor in such an image.

And what of Thranduil and the others? Tindómion asked.

I wonder. Vanimórë's eyes were distant. Legolas' fingers tightened on his arm. What has happened that Thranduil now seeks for his banished son?

~~~


Sauron felt the land delicately before stepping naked into the water. There was a great deal of activity in the aether, but Dor Rhûnan, for the moment, was calm. He wished intensely that he could talk to his son about what had happened in the pass. Vanimórë was bewildered, but at least they could have struck ideas one from the other. His son could never resist that kind of discussion, curiosity outweighing even his hatred.

Sauron had existed as spirit alone, he knew what it was to to be free of form, indeed not having any true knowledge of form. As Maia, he had passed through place at the fall of Númenor, when the Ring was cut from his finger, but as form, he had not bent the world as if it were parchment, not since the days of Utumno. The strictures of physicality imposed certain limitations, though none of the Ainur had known that when they came to Arda. Melkor had lost the ability before Utumno was unroofed; he had bound himself to Arda too deeply, spilled the seed of his power too readily. Sauron could now only essay it when his soul traveled unhoused. But he did not believe the Elves had folded the Earth. Even Glorfindel, newly returned from Valinor, reborn and so powerful then that Sauron had felt his presence like an earth-bound sun, could not have folded the Earth. But something had. And it was a close-run thing. Sauron thought that he could conceal himself well enough to pass unnoticed, but he would not wager on it, and could expect no mercy if his identity were uncovered. And yet, it was fascinating. He thought of Vanimórë's mysterious 'Mother', and wondered. If all he had heard were true, she would know who he was and, inscrutably, had not warned Vanimórë. The thought did not reassure.

It pivots on the child and Legolas. Yes, I think Vanimórë is right about that.

All he could do, which he resented, for he preferred to act than react, to control events rather than be controlled, was prepare, and somehow, somehow separate Legolas and Gîlríon from the others.

Not yet.

It would be difficult. He had no doubt Legolas would give his own life to spare the child, and Vanimórë would offer his for both, Maglor too, for those who nurture guilt long to purge it with self-sacrifice. But he needed the wood-Elf and his child securely in his hands before he pitted himself against both his son's will and a Fëanorion's.

Two Fëanorions perhaps, and Glorfindel of the House of the Golden Flower.

The mighty were fallen, but still dangerous.

I have bent the impossible to my will before.

He looked south. Ahead of them, invisible as yet, the Ashen Mountains climbed, dusty and crumbling out of the Rhûnan plains, lower than the Mountains of Shadow, and easier to cross if any-one dared. And then, if Vanimórë decided to return to his desert city, Mordor would march at his flank all the way south through green Ithilien. It was the quickest and easiest route to the Harad. Sauron knew every way into Mordor there was, and he would prefer to tackle the Ash Mountains, closer to Barad-dûr, or whatever the Alliance had left of it, but if not, there were other paths. It was past time he look on Mordor again.

The last of the blood swirled away into the water. He waded to the bank, shaking his wet hair, and glanced back toward the mountains. The wolves would follow, because he was forcing them, but they had lost some of their number, and would be wary.

His son had saved him. That was just too delicious; it had forced out the laughter that Vanimórë had read as shock, and he had not been far wrong. After, Sauron judged it safe enough to approach Legolas and Maglor with offers of wine and water, and his son had not objected.

I will make myself more useful later. Some of these wounded men will not live. Neither of us are healers, but I will work hard to ease their suffering, and you will not forget that, for you care for them.
He sat back, letting the sun dry him.
I will lull you, Vanimórë, my beautiful darkness, because although you suspect me, you are too close to see me.

~~~


Bainalph dropped from the saddle, half saw Celeirdúr's big grey wheel on its hocks to flee, and the prince came down, letting the horse run.
Thranduil jumped, and landed like a cat. The eagle's shadow skimmed over them.
The king drew his sword. Celeirdúr shouted, “Father!

Thranduil swept his son's blade aside, beating him back in a furious attack, Celeirdúr at an immediate disadvantage because he wanted only to defend, not to harm. Bainalph was ready when the king spun to him. Their swords met with a clash, and for a heartbeat Bainalph stared into the steely blue eyes. They fought in silence, but for the song of the blades, and Bainalph knew that he was fighting for his life. He had never even sparred against Thranduil, but he had seen the king in battle, and knew what he faced.
And if he kills me in single combat, it will not be murder.
Then, quite deliberately, he let the thought go, and his mind honed itself to the duel. Like Celeirdúr, he was defending, only attacking to drive the king back a step, to give himself room. The world locked itself into the moment, the movements of war when the body and mind and the weapon one bears are one.
Many of the Silvans fought with the long knives, which were in effect short swords, but the Sindar out of Doriath often used longer blades, as Thranduil and Bainalph, and a dagger for close work. But that was for war, when one desired to kill, and Bainalph did not want to kill.
Thranduil did.
It was a flick of light on the edge of his vision when their swords crossed again, no more, but Bainalph reflexively flung himself back from the knife. He landed neatly, throwing himself forward onto the balls of his feet, swept right and left, to give himself time. The dagger's hilt screamed up the blade. Their eyes met again.

How can you hate what you desire?

He had felt the grass tummock behind him as he jumped. No Elf would have tripped on it, but as Thranduil disengaged, and attacked again like a storm, Bainalph allowed himself to fall. It was a movement that went against every instinct – save the deepest.

The king followed, as Bainalph knew he would. Sunlight ripped across sword-steel, flaring into his eyes, so that he could not see. He heard the air shirr. And braced.
Celeirdúr cried, screamed,Father! No!
The point of the blade was an icy starburst against his breast. Bainalph stared up into the king's eyes.
He had but a moment to remember his life, and how so much of it had revolved about Thranduil.
I served. I loved, and I lived.
He did not think the king had lived since Elvýr's death.
And then his soul filled with music. All the love, the sorrow, the comradeship, Alphgarth, the Greenwood flowed together and rose within him. This was the ristas faer** It was said that as they died, every Elven soul sang its life, the beauty of it, the sorrow, mourning for the severance of fae and rhaw, that should have endured forever before the world darkened, growing richer as age followed age. Bainalph had touched it before, and he had seen it in the eyes of the dying, but never had he heard it so clear. His soul was preparing for death, and the thought came that he would rather receive it at his king's hand than any orc.

But if he kills me he will hate himself the more.

Then the hard earth split as the blade slammed into it. It stood vibrating, not a fingers-width from his body.
And the song sank back into his soul, leaving a chord like the last sweet, sad note of a harp.
Thranduil seized his tunic, and pulled Bainalph to his feet.

~~~


End Notes:
Thank-you for reading. I would really appreciate a review is any-one is following and actually likes it at all.

* Tirith Nindor:
Double click for a large map of North Western Middle-earth.
I use some of the places on here. (And refer to it often.)
The Lind
Chapter 5 ~ A Time of Pain and Healing by Spiced Wine
Author's Notes:
There would either have been one shorter chapter and one long one, so I ended up making them into three. Sorry about posting them all together, but this was a particular 'segment' that I wanted to write and post.


~ A Time of Pain and Healing ~


“Thou needst not see him, Legolas.”

For a moment, Legolas did not reply, did not even look up. When he did, his eyes were as faraway as a winter sky.

“But...you said we would.”

Vanimórë raised a hand. “What we do depends on thee, my dear. Entirely on thee. To lie to Glorfindel will cause me no heart-rendings, I promise thee that. I honour only those worthy of honour. Once Glorfindel was. Now he is not. Just say the word.” He glanced at Maglor. “I know thou wouldst see thy son.”

“Yes,” the Fëanorion agreed, his voice like smoke and dreams. “But I made a vow to Legolas and to Gîlríon.” And he smiled when Legolas glanced at him as if to assure himself Maglor did not merely consider himself bound by duty.

“I was thinking.” Vanimórë murmured after a moment. “For the both of thee, there is always the West. Elves can still leave Middle-earth, can they not? There is said to be a haven south of the White Mountains from whence Elven ships sail. I have never seen it, but if it is thy will, Legolas, we can search for it.”

Legolas looked down at his son. Gîl lay quiet on a skin, seemingly absorbed in the gentle weaving of willow leaves above him, calm now.

“I do not know Valinor,” Legolas said haltingly. “My people are of the woods, the forest streams, the autumn winds.” Vanimórë went down in a hunter's crouch beside him, hearing the love and longing in his voice. He gently swept a swathe of pale hair back from the beautiful face.
“I wish I could give them back to thee, my dear.”

“I do know Valinor,” Maglor said, watching from those dark silver eyes. “What will I find there but emptiness, the absence of those I loved? There would be punishment, I have no doubt. But if it is thy wish, Legolas, I will go with thee.”

The wood-Elf shook his head. “I would never have the right to ask that of you, and I am of Middle-earth. What would I find in Valinor? And Glorfindel was born there, was he not?” Maglor nodded. “What if there are those there, his family, who found out about Gîl and took him away from me?”

Art thou listening Glorfindel the Beloved, Golden One? Vanimórë asked silently, knowing he would be, that he could not help himself.
What is it like, he wondered, sweetly vicious, to find thyself feared as one of the Úlairi, some terror that pursues its prey relentlessly as the coming of night.

Glorfindel made no response. Vanimórë smiled briefly, satirical, and met Maglor's eyes over Legolas' head.

“I do not know,” the Fëanorion spoke reluctantly and with pain, fully aware that Glorfindel was there, his mind close, listening. “Most of his kin were slain. Glorfindel died. The Doom proclaimed that if we Noldor died on Middle-earth our souls would come to the Halls of Mandos, and long abide there. Tirion will be empty but for Finarfin's folk, and Finarfin never had any love for my father or his sons. Only Glorfindel was reborn. And he cannot have been the man he is now.”

“He was not,” Vanimórë said, very dry. “Or not when I met him. But here was rage in him then.”

“He was always passionate,” Maglor said. “Never cruel. I have done worse than he. I have raped, I have killed. We have all felt the battle-lust. Legolas.” The wood-Elf's head came up. “I agree with Vanimórë, thou needst not see him, and if thou art so afraid, I think thou shouldst not.”

Legolas shook his head bewilderedly. “I was not frightened when I first saw him. At least I...” He sought for words, blushed like a rose.

“I know,” Maglor told him. “I know how it is.”

“We must make some decisions, and that soon.” Vanimórë said mildly, after a moment. “I have a duty to my men and to Sud Sicanna.” He frowned. “My city has all the problems of any city of Men,” he went on. “Political rivalries, assassinations, jealousies, rich families vying one with the other. There is wealth and poverty. And then there is me.” He shrugged. “I do not die, I do not change. Men can love the Elves I think, but all, at the root come to envy and hate them. More, they do not really think of me as an Elf, but something of Sauron's.” Which was the truth, after all. “Men live a short span, can die of disease, and they do not know why, nor what waits for them beyond life. They feel bitter and cheated and afraid, when they are faced with ageless life. And I love them. I love Sud Sicanna, but it is not for thee. I cannot – will not – abandon thee. And I cannot abandon Sud Sicanna either. Were I to leave, there would be a scramble for power that would be more bloody than I like to imagine. And I have...nowhere else to take thee. I am sorry.”

Maglor said, “I would guard them.”

“We would both have to, until thou canst guard thyself, Legolas, and thou shalt.” Vanimórë smiled.

“I just want to be with you,” Legolas pleaded. The rim of panic touched his voice again. Vanimórë took his hand.
“There are places I will go thou canst not, my dear.”
And Sauron would be delighted to have thee and thy son.
He did not want to imagine what his father might do to one so unique, but unfortunately he could.
“What did Thranduil want with thee?” he wondered.

“To kill me,” Legolas shrank inward. “I saw his face.”

Did he?
“Thou canst not know,” Vanimórë soothed. “Perhaps he too, wanted to protect thee. I do believe it was thy danger that called them, not hatred.”

“How did he know?” Maglor asked.

“Thy brother,” Vanimórë said to Legolas. “He was a political prisoner in Imladris. He knew.”

The gold head nodded. “Yes. Celeirdúr. He must have told. No-one else knew.”

Vanimórë did not suggest Legolas try and speak to his father. Thranduil had looked fey with rage, but would he truly have murdered his son? He rose.
“We have to rest now, at least. The men need to heal.”
If they can.

~~~


The river captured silver fragments of the late rising moon. It blurred under Shemar's sudden wash of tears, and he scrubbed a hand across his eyes, stoppering water-skin and filling the other. One learned not to weep. It only brought punishment, but...
They were going to die, Tanout, Jobur, and the others who had been wounded. Their fevers had risen through the evening, and now the men tossed and moaned on their sleeping skins, sun-hot to the touch, teeth braced against racking shivers. When they were lucid they gulped water, and Shemar bathed their brows with wet cloths. There was nothing else he could do. The Dark Prince had tended their injuries, and Jobur's looked foul, Tanout's little better. They had been kind to him, these men, he, a whore-slave who was nothing. Now they were dying, and he was helpless. With a swallowed sob, he hefted the full skins over his shoulders, and almost ran into some-one. Strong hands steadied him. He saw the gleam of the Northman's pale hair.

“Steady,” the man said, in Rhûnaic, taking a skin and lifting it over one shoulder. “Here.”

Shemar felt a cup at his lips, smelled wine.
“It is for the wounded,” he protested.

“There is enough. Drink.”

It was strong, rich and Shemar felt it steady him as it sank into his knotted stomach.
“My thanks, sir,” he said.

“You have been working hard,” Osulf patted his shoulder. “And it is not so long ago you were in the temple dungeons waiting to be sacrificed.”

He did not need reminding. It tortured his sleep, and if he were not careful his waking moments too.

“And you are doing all that can be done.” Osulf's voice lowered. “These are strong men. We must hope that they fight the Fell-wolves poison as well as they fought the wolves. ”

Shemar heard his voice crack and break.
“I do not think...they are so sick...”

“Men can surprise you,” Osulf responded. “Come. Let us take the water.”

He drew aside the curtain of leaves. There was a small fire on a patch of cleared earth. Some of the men had suggested that fire was foolhardy in this strange land, but the prince had said, “Even fell-wolves fear fire, and we need it.”
Water had been set to boil, and wine to heat. In the fire's glow, Shemar could see Legolas and the child, the taller black haired Shendi, he of the silver-bright eyes. The youth carried the baby in a sling at his breast, and was pounding something in a cup, while Maglor, whom had been Nhidan, wrung out a steaming strip of cloth. Legolas looked up, and Shemar felt something sweet and comforting breathe across his heart.

“It is for a fomentation.” As if he saw Shemar's confusion, he explained more simply. “To draw out the poison.”

“Good,” Osulf nodded. “It may help.”

“What may I do?” Shemar pleaded.

Legolas rose and carried the herbs to where Tanout lay, and said quietly, “Sometimes my people are wounded by orcs. They use poison on their weapons.” He carefully drew back fur that covered the young man. “They know which plants can heal. I found some by the water.”
Shemar nodded, following the gist of his words.

“Let me,” the Northman offered. “He may thrash.” He unwound the bandage, carried it to the fire and dropped it in, washing his hands. Tanout groaned, and Shemar, fighting to breathe about the constriction in his throat, stroked his forehead.

A clean, pungent scent rose from the pounded leaves as Osulf placed them gently on Tanout's wound. Maglor knelt and bound the hot, damp bandage around it. The young captain panted, cried out, and Shemar caught one of his hands, wincing the fierceness of his grip, whispering reassurance. He was unable to forget yesterday when, after the battle, Tanout looked at him with an expression he had never seen in any man's eyes: approval, kindness and he thought, desire. Was it? He had shivered and blushed, ducking his head, but his pulse had quickened and leaped hot in his veins. He could not imagine that a handsome young warrior would be attracted to him, but his mind had dwelled on the dreamlike possibility as the day lengthened until his shy glances had shown him Tanout's pallor, the feverish brightness of his eyes, whereupon he had gone to the prince.
Vanimórë came, and Maglor too, speaking to one another in the supple, voluptuous language he did not understand, but Shemar could not help but see the concern on their faces. They unwound the dressings, bathed the wounds again, and Jobur was grey by then. He had to be held down.

“Will it truly help?” he whispered now, and felt Legolas beside him. He smelled like the high priest's gardens under summer rain.

“It lessens the strength of the poison,” Legolas said slowly in Westron, and touched Shemar lightly.

“They are like the plants used in the north,” Osulf spoke in Rhûnaic.

“Yes.” It was the Dark Prince, arriving so quietly Shemar startled. “We are fortunate, most only grow near water, or in certain soils. Legolas found them by their scent.” He held a cup, and Osulf lifted Jobur who swallowed, and subsided, moaning. Maglor raised Tanout's head. It was poppy mixed with wine, Shemar guessed, because the painful hold on his hand lessened gradually. He smoothed the tousled black curls.

“My Lord...” He swallowed, could not form the words.

“Stay with him,” Vanimórë told him. “Hold him as he sleeps. And try to sleep thyself. He is dear to me, and thou art more dear to him than I think thou knowest.”

Shemar did not think he could sleep, but when the prince covered him with Tanout's furs and he curled close to the young man, he closed his eyes and because he could not pray to the Dark Gods, he simply prayed for healing. He could still smell the herbs, and something sweeter, lighter, unworldly. And he must have slept, more weary than he realized because, quite suddenly it seemed, the light was a soft green about him. One of his arms lay on Tanout's breast. The flesh was cool, and for one vertiginous moment, Shemar thought he had died in the night, before he felt the soft rise and fall of easy breathing. His own held breath shuddered out of him. He sat up, looked across to Jobur. Both men still looked pale, but the pain had smoothed from their faces.

The willow fronds seemed to draw aside as Legolas stepped through, carrying a cup. He smiled and knelt.

“Their fevers broke at sunrise.” He spoke carefully, and Shemar nodded. “Here, you must eat.”

It was some savory broth, thickened with barley and seasoned with salt and herbs. Shemar drank gratefully as Vanimórë appeared with a bowl. Shemar thought he saw relief on the prince's face when he examined the mens wounds. Legolas brought more crushed herbs and as he applied them, there came that same beautiful aroma.
It is from him, Shemar realized. Not the plants.
“I did not wake, my Lord,” he apologized. “Forgive me.”

Vanimórë secured the new dressings. “Thou wert weary,” he said. “And thy presence did Tanout much good.” His very white teeth gleamed in a warm smile.

“It was not me, my Lord. It was Prince Legolas.” He stared down at Tanout's oblivious, peaceful face. “There is a scent, like a song...”

“Yes,” Vanimórë replied. “Legolas has many gifts.” He gathered the soiled bandages and took them away. Legolas went with him, and Shemar heard the child's contented little sounds, the soft murmur of alien conversation. He reached for the water-skin and poured.

“I am thirsty.”

He almost dropped the cup. Tanout's eyes were open and his mouth curved in a small, tired smile. Shemar helped him to rise enough to drink, then he settled back with a sigh.

“Thank-you.” He held out a hand and Shemar caught it, then was drawn close, the young warrior's grip still strong, to lie against his breast.
~~~

“I thank thee.” Vanimórë lifted the wood-Elf into his arms and kissed him comprehensively, and then Maglor was there and kissing him too, their arms enclosing him, lips on his mouth, on his throat, and for shining moment, all Legolas could feel was love and desire. He closed his eyes, surrendering, heard Vanimórë say, through the kisses, “Osulf, make thyself useful again. Bring us some wine, and have some thyself.”

~~~

Chapter 6 ~ The Years of Storm ~ by Spiced Wine
Author's Notes:
It had to come; the flashback of Thranduil and Bainalph, or part of it at least (this also applies to their backstory in Magnificat.)
The next two chapters will be Thranduil/Bainalph.
~ The Years of Storm~


The ristas faer came down upon him like a predator, like a lover, and Thranduil could not escape it. It was not the first time he had heard the sundering; his father's, his fellow-warriors on Dagorlad, then through his kingship as wood-Elves died to protect their realm, but never had he been so much a part of the song.

Elvýr had never sung it. It was said that those Elves who did not, were never truly sundered from the Earth, more and less than houseless spirits. Forever. He had been raving before he died, insane, poisoned, had forgotten the beauty of his life and the world, perhaps even his own identity. Thranduil had made him suffer too long because he could not slay his eldest son, and no-one else could. But the soul-song did not take him back to Elvýr's death, for which a distant part of him thanked the One. This was Bainalph's song.

The ristas faer forced one to see and feel the truth. And the truth was that nothing had begun – or ended – that gale-lashed night in Alphgarth. Thranduil was not permitted denial.

He saw himself, remembered the time, fifty summers before that night, in the exhalation of weary breath that coloured the first years of the Third Age. It was a quiet, thoughtful time when the Greenwood began to recover, to bear children to replenish those who died on the barren Battle Plain. It was not a conscious act or thought, but an deeper impulse of survival, and had Thranduil followed the example of his lords and chieftains he would have spread his seed as the Silvans ever had after war had thinned them. But he did not. He had ever been faithful, and they were kind years. His eldest son became betrothed to a warrior in his company, but though the wood-Elves were ever alert, the orcs and Fell-wolves seemed cowed by the slaughter of the Last Alliance, and the Men of the North and Elves could breed and grow and harvest in peace.

We should have known they too were breeding and growing.

Then one day Uirephíl of Alphgarth rode to the halls. Thranduil had not seen her since taking her the news of her husband's death, and she had already known. Her son had been with her that day, a child with snowy hair and huge sunlit eyes that stared at him fearlessly under a fringe of fawn lashes. He had been a babe when Cúalph left for the war, and now would never see his father again. Thranduil smiled at the boy, who immediately ran and and jumped onto his lap. It was an ill thing when a child had to grow without one or both of their parents as the king knew well, for he had not been much older than this child when Doriath fell, and his own mother had died there. But Bainalph evinced no sign of love-lack. He unwound and re-braided Thranduil's hair with little, deft fingers and deep concentration as the king took wine and condoled with Uirephíl as he had with so many others since returning from Mordor. The houses were not so close as they had once been, not since Elvýr's birth, when it was discovered he was different. Oropher had told Thranduil of the gift, since he said it was important that his betrothed know, and Thranduil, who had never heard the full story before, had been troubled. Women were made to nurture children; there was no need for men to do so. He could never truly accept this peculiarity of his bloodline, and thought his wife could not either, that she had never truly believed he would sire a throwback. Yet he could not help but love Elvýr, and felt guilt at having looked his firstborn askance. The Cúalphii did not. Uirephíl had witnessed the power of the gift-giving in Doriath, and known the child born of it.

But she could not help when the orc-seed blackened Elvýr's veins.


“Bainalph's begetting day approaches, Sire,” Uirephíl said. “Two vows I made, one to his father long ago, that if one of us passed from Middle-earth, the other would seek them beyond the sea. The other was to my son, that I would remain until he attained his adulthood and the lordship of Alphgarth. He does not wish to leave Middle-earth.”

Thranduil regarded the woman. Her silver-white hair fell smooth, entwined with beads of jet and amber, and her face was solemn, settled in its waiting sadness. Yet there was an enviable certainty behind it.

“He is very young,” the king remarked.

“But he will be a fine prince,” Uirephíl replied calmly, with the shadow of an affectionate smile. “And he will have good advisers. He admires thee greatly, Thranduil. I hope thou wilt stand his friend as well as his king.”

“Of course,” he promised. Alphgarth was the largest and strongest of the Greenwood's lordships. The king found it somewhat amusing that the young Cúalphii admired him, and wondered whether Uirephíl had fostered that to smooth her son's path. She had been both lore-keeper and castellan of Alphgarth, and Bainalph would surely miss her counsel.

Uirephíl inclined her head graciously. She possessed the mien of a queen, and had retained the antique speech of the old kingdom. She had also lost one son, long ago, before the Golodhrim set foot on Middle-earth. The love between she and her husband must have been enduring and powerful to take her away from this living child. Love is a many-barbed rose.

“He will escort me to Edhellond, and then return,” she said, and he raised his brows. The ancient Elf-haven was far in the south, beyond Gondor's White Mountains, though he judged the journey would be safe enough.

“I will choose guards to accompany you, and return with your son,” he stated rather than offered, knowing that nothing would dissuade her, and his folk were not slaves, bound to his land and will. She thanked him, and rose in a hush of blue.

Later he chanced upon Bainalph who had accompanied his mother to the halls. The court was out, some singly, some in pairs or groups, enjoying the first green scent of spring.

Bainalph was in the midst of a group, his back to the king, distinguished by the colour of his hair, which he wore in the Sindarin fashion; scores of tiny braids wound about and weighted by beaded chains so that each movement made them chime. It hung heavy, almost to his knees. He was laughing, and the sound was light and as musical.

“But is it wise?” some-one was asking him. “They say it is very dangerous to stir the sea longing.”

“So I have heard,” Bainalph agreed. “But the call of the land is stronger.”

“You do not know that,” Thranduil said, more harshly than he intended, and wondering why. The group turned toward him, bowing fair heads, and the king found himself looking into Bainalph's eyes. They were long-lidded, green and gold, and glittered with inner light. When the rill of thick lashes swept down their shade deepened to jade green. His brows were delicately marked, his face the shape of a Golodhrim shield, and the mouth was curved sweet as a bow. Dimples kissed tiny stars beside it as he smiled very prettily, revealing pearly teeth.
“Sire,” he bowed. His hair sang.

“Bainalph,” Thranduil nodded. “Let us walk.”

He was not full grown, this young prince, but he was lithe and very graceful. Blossom and steel, the king thought.

“I am honoured to meet thee, Sire.”
He wore blue, a deep cobalt that made his skin look white as frost, save for the tint of rose on his cheeks.

“I would have met you on your fiftieth begetting day,” Thranduil reminded him. “It is not far off.”
All the Greenwood lords would be at Alphgarth on that day, but only Thranduil could formally proclaim Bainalph a prince.

“Of course, Sire.” The youth's blush deepened.

“I also question the wisdom of this journey for you. Perhaps Alphgarth will have no prince.”

“I will feel no sea longing.” He spoke with a child's certainty. “And I would be so pleased to welcome you to Alphgarth, Sire, when I return.” His smile came blinding, so that Thranduil blinked. “It is very beautiful there. But of course,” he laughed, unabashedly. “You know. It is part of your realm. And I remember your visit to my mother.”

The king found he was smiling. Bainalph sparkled like an effervescent wine.

“Alphgarth needs a fine prince,” he said. “And I do believe you will be such a one. I would be honoured to visit you, when you return.”

And all the while, Thranduil stood among the blowing grasses of Rhovannion, looking into the same green-gold eyes, stood in the heart of the song, and saw himself, saw the brightness of his expression. He saw himself place the swan circlet on Bainalph's brow, the feast after when the dances brought them close. And he saw himself wait almost with impatience as Bainalph escorted his mother to Edhellond. The birds brought back news that all was well. Thranduil had wondered if the call of the sea would prove too great, but when Bainalph returned there was no sign of it.
And the king's smile blazed.
“The Greenwood is glad to welcome you back,” he greeted, not knowing how his expression betrayed him. He had mulled wine over the fire, and filled two silver goblets. The autumn was well advanced, a long spell of warm, still weather breaking at last to rough winds and squalls of rain. The trees of the forest roared, fuming at the wild skies.

“I am so glad to be home, Sire.” Again that lovely smile.

They spoke of Edhellond and the Teleri, survivors of Brithombar and Eglarest, who had settled the southern haven when driven from the north by Morgoth's armies. Their culture was old and proud, Bainalph said, their ships magnificent, but more and more departed to the west, and he foresaw a time when Edhellond would lie open to the seas and empty. He set his winecup down and untied a soft leather pouch from his waist, handing it to Thranduil.
“I thought of you, my king, when I saw this. They have very skilled craftsmen.”

It was a wide bracer of gold enameled in green, and a flurry of autumn leaves were blowing across it, yellow topaz, ruby and bronze-red garnet cut and set flush with the surface. When Thranduil turned it, the leaves seemed to blow in an unseen wind.

“It is very beautiful.” He slid it over one wrist where it sat snugly against the skin, and Bainalph's face glowed. “I will treasure it. Thank-you.” A tiny silence fell, and Thranduil had to fill it.
“You truly felt nothing from the sea?”

“I heard the call,” the prince answered. “I chose not to heed it. There are calls deeper and stronger.” And his look took Thranduil like an arrow, wild and aroused. It seemed a long time since any-one had looked at him thus, or if so, he had ignored it, But it was impossible to ignore Bainalph.
The king traced the perpetual drift of jeweled leaves with his fingertip, and looked up to see the young face raised to his, its expression faintly wistful, like a child shown something he cannot have. Thranduil kissed his brow, as a king does.
And Bainalph's skin heated under his lips. The lissome body jerked as if burned, and his breath faltered. A moment, a heartbeat, and then the king drew back and the young man was blushing and trying to pretend he was not, saying in a throaty, breathless voice, “My duty is to Alphgarth, Sire. My duty and my love. And I love...the Greenwood.”

Later, at feast, Bainalph shone like a lantern. He had not yet learned to cloak his emotions, that sometimes it is wise. And Thranduil? He was more than half hard, had been since Bainalph entered the quiet chamber. It was not that he had never been attracted to other males, but Oropher, who had lost his wife in Doriath, had impressed upon his son how important it was for him to cherish and honour the woman he wedded, to get children lest their name perish. It had been common enough practice in the Old Kingdom to take lovers even when wed, or on those days and nights when the Earth power ran deep. Oropher embraced the rites of the Silvans, which were not so different, yet could be wilder, but not that particular tradition, or if he did, not openly. Thranduil must have absorbed more of his father's ways than he realized, for he wed young, and committed himself to learning the ways of the wood-Elves, while preserving the lore of the Iathrim refugees, acting as Oropher's second, and crown prince, and eventually siring his own sons.

The age passed, and it was not always peaceful. There was war in Eregion, and Oropher sent warriors with Amroth of Lórinand, more because of their kinship than any desire to aid the Golodhrim. He would not allow Thranduil to go, for he was still childless. Elvýr was not born until the year after Sauron was driven back to Mordor. Thranduil never knew why children came so late. His wife's folk were descended from a Teleri who married a Silvan Elf on the Great Journey, and had lived always in the Great Wood. Her father was a forest chieftain, a fey, proud man, who had come to accept Oropher's rule, and the marriage was brokered by both men. The couple grew together in love as two trees will. After Elvýr came Celeirdúr, then Galuron, and Thranduil was content. No, this was not the first time the king had been aroused by a man, but it there was a power in this attraction that had been lacking aforetime. He imagined Bainalph's face caught in that impossible paradox of ecstasy and pain, panting, begging, back arched in submission while he, Thranduil took him brutally, loving the sounds Bainalph made, the feel of him. He knew of such tastes, that some, even the boldest warriors, enjoyed pain in the act of sex, that others enjoyed cruel domination. But Thranduil was not of that ilk. Why then did the images come so vividly to his mind, causing him to shift uncomfortably in his chair, look away from that heart-shaped face?

When the dancing began he watched as Bainalph moved, graceful as an otter, in that meld of martial and sexual that marked every kindred of the Elves, even the arrogant Golodhrim. When he whirled past Thranduil's chair, trailed his hand, flashed those laughing eyes, the king came to his feet as if pulled by a cord. There was nothing to remark on, he thought (if he thought at all) for all men and women danced thus with one another. The drumbeats hastened as if driven on by his heart, and he and Bainalph became reflections, each mirroring the other's actions until they came together in the Poised Eagle, so named for the winged position of the arms, heads flung back and bodies pressed close. For all they wore tunics they might have been naked. Bainalph's iron sex throbbed against the king's thigh, and his own ground into the prince's flat stomach. Thranduil thought he would come then, fought almost in panic to control his body's reaction. Bainalph's blossomy scent was all around him, a pulse beating in the slender column of his throat. And then they both fell on one knee, the eagle stooping to its prey, and bowed their heads.

Chapter 7 ~ A Night at the Edge of the World ~ by Spiced Wine
~ A Night at the Edge of the World ~


From the future, Thranduil saw how he looked that night, and the nights and days after. Here was a man illuminated from within, who smiled more freely, whose eyes darkened to a sultry blue. That man, that king, had told himself nothing had changed. That man had thought he could dissimulate, which in itself was an admittance. There was a thrill in his blood, his loins, like none he had ever known. He saw colours more deeply, every sense was augmented because he had fallen headlong, passionately in love.
He made excuses to visit Alphgarth. Nothing happened beyond the fiery awareness that ran between king and prince like chain lightning. Bainalph did not deliberately tempt. He was too ingenuous to do so; it was simply that he was beautiful, dangerously alluring, and so generous that the briefest smile or glance felt like an invitation. Others had been far bolder.

Thranduil was the tempter in those days. He knew what happened to Bainalph when he brushed the slender arm as if by chance, pitched his voice caressingly, held the sparkling eyes a little too long. It became an irresistible game, and the king's times of rest a torment as he envisaged himself breaching the core hidden behind tantalizing little buttocks, of doing such things that made the prince scream and weep and then cry out with pleasure.
He had not heard and did not ask if Bainalph took lovers or had plans to wed, though it was clear that many men of the Greenwood looked on him with frank desire, and Alphgarth was a merry and flirtatious court. As the last scion of the Cúalphii, it was Bainalph's duty to wed, as it had been Thranduil's, but he made no secret of his preference. He was gracious to all, friendly to all, but his demeanor changed utterly when in the company of dominant males, and not because he was weak. Uirephíl had been right; Bainalph would be a fine prince. His archery was superb, and he used both the longer Sindarin sword, and Silvan knives. His body was a ballad of sinew over elegant bones. Thranduil had seen him half-naked in the practice yard, hair braided back, and his eyes devoured the play of muscle under smooth skin. That had been difficult; he had to return to his guest chamber and use himself hard twice before the raging hunger could be temporarily satisfied.


But Thranduil would not have liked the prince so much – and there was great liking in him, quite apart from desire – had he not cared deeply for his people. He was already an astute ruler and immersed himself, like Thranduil, in caring for the lordship and all who dwelled therein, from the few haughty, somber Sindar who had survived the ruin of Doriath, to the wild Silvans who owned Bainalph as their lord, but lived free among the oak and beech, and whose rites beside their solstice fires were dark and beautiful as the oldest sin. He traveled Alphgarth, threw his doors open to all, and the cellars and ice-houses were stocked against need. He traded with the scattered vils of the Northmen, and listened to their warriors and elders. He heeded his counselors, and was not above taking their advice. His folk trusted him, and because it was so clear he loved them, they reciprocated fully.

~~~


In Bainalph's seventieth year, the orcs began to stir again. Snow fell and froze, and the north wind scoured the land. The following autumn brought war to Alphgarth. Elvýr took a company of warriors there and his own forces were cut off from Bainalph's by a wedge of orcs and Fell-wolves. By the time the green leaves fully opened Elvýr was dead. And Thranduil was...

The past was in Bainalph's eyes, on Rhovannion, in his song, as the king's blade lay on his breast, and a red flower bloomed under it.
The king watched a man dismount in Alphgarth's cobbled ward, a man whose heart was dead ash under a bitter frost, whose face showed nothing, whose eyes were empty wells, long since drained of tears. He had not come here since before the attack, and it should have been he who brought warriors here, not his eldest son. But Elvýr had offered, was eager and confident, and news had come too of Fell-wolves seen to the north, where the Silvans lived where they would with no lord but their king. Thus Thranduil rode toward the wild lands between the wood and the Grey Mountains, and Elvýr to Alphgarth.

Bainalph had sent messages to the halls after, as Elvýr sickened, and Thranduil sent back advising him to remain in Alphgarth while there was any threat. He did not want to see the prince, was disgusted that he had wished Bainalph had been the one raped, not Elvýr. Perhaps the prince guessed this, or had enough sensibility to understand.

But Thranduil could not shun Alphgarth forever; it was too important a lordship, and Bainalph was yet young, though he had distinguished himself well in the battles. There had been a hiatus in the movement of orcs and Fell-wolves, a cluster of long summers and short winters. Perhaps they did not need to raid, or were licking their wounds. But Thranduil would never cease to be wary of peace, never again, and he and every Elf of the Greenwood knew that there was a cold spell coming down on them, and the winters would be long, bleak and bloody.

The man, the king, dismounted in Alphgarth's ward, and Bainalph came forward. He wore rich blue, and a chain of uncut polished stones lay on his breast. He bowed, and his hair chimed, and he put out a hand. His face was piquant with understanding, wanting, needing to help, but Thranduil was ice, repulsing him. Bainalph's hand fell back.
“Sire, I thank you for coming.”

Alphgarth was built of stone, which was not uncommon among the Sindar. Cúalph had brought it from the feet of the Grey Mountains, white marble flecked with silver, but withal Alphgarth was more manor than castle. Every floor, wall and step was spread with rugs and skins, draped with hangings, coloured lamps cast warm globes of light, and the fires were strewn with herbs. It was beautiful, welcoming, and existed somewhere beyond the place where the king's tortured soul now dwelt, though he spoke of patrols and companies, stores and escape routes instinctively. Bainalph could not have been a more charming or attentive host, but his eyes, when they rested on Thranduil's face, were helplessly, desperately concerned.

On that last evening, when Thranduil finished his hot mead and the firelight tinted the prince's face rosy, he said abruptly, harshly, out of some unknowable compulsion, “Is it not time you were wed?”

Bainalph's eyes caught the light in a flare of gold. He gazed a long moment, then his mouth formed a small, rueful smile.
“The times are too uncertain,” he said in his soft voice. “It would be ill done to wed, to...” he hesitated, obviously choosing his words with care. “To put such a burden on another.”

“Then wed for the sake of thy house, not for love.” His voice was raw now. “There would be women willing to take thee. Thou art a good man, and comely. They need not love thee.”

Bainalph shook his head. “And not grieve too deeply if I died,” he agreed. “But I have made my will known to my counselors in the event...” He made a gesture, white hands like wings, releasing fate to the herb-scented air.
“Alphgarth will survive me.”

Thranduil rose then, and Bainalph too. The wind ran rough against the walls, stirred the fire so the flames blew aslant, red and gold, blowing the gemmed leaves of the king's vambrace. He raised his hand, watching them flow.
“I will rest now,” he decided, he who could never rest, and Bainalph lead him from the room, up the stairs. His own chamber was close by; guests were always lodged near the prince.

“Sire,” he said, as Thranduil opened the door, and the king turned. Light, warm fingers touched his breast like a blessing. Bainalph's face was open, troubled, and too beautiful. His scent lingered after he had gone.
Wine had been left in his room, the fire lit. Thranduil washed, poured a goblet and drank, moving to the window. The small panes were patterned in coloured glass, valley lily, stitchwort, wild roses, and he traced the shapes as the storm flung itself over Alphgarth and into the dark north. He thought he saw a man, one of Bainalph's court perhaps, beyond the sluice of the river. He looked up toward the window, pale hair blown like a cloud. His eyes were sparks of blue. The wind seemed to blow him into mist, into nothing. After an unmeasured time, Thranduil found his brow was pressed to the cold glass. He turned away, lay naked on the bed, and his sex rose between his legs.

The door opened noiselessly. Bainalph closed it behind him, braced his hands against the wood. He wore only a houserobe, his hair wound loosely at the nape of his neck. His lips parted, his tongue running over them nervously. He did not speak. The firelight pulsed, and the wind wailed like a houseless soul who longs to come home.

Thranduil sprang from the bed like a hunting cat, buried one hand in the massy coil of hair and pulled. It slid like milk through his fingers as he wrenched Bainalph's head back, tore his robe so that it fell to the floor, and then Thranduil was kissing him, ravenously, furiously. The prince's mouth was warm, and he tasted of honey. He whimpered, trembled, yielded, hands clinging to Thranduil's back, and gasped brokenly, as if he could not bear to break the meeting of their mouths for a moment, (And neither could Thranduil.) “Yes. Please. Now. Please!

The bed was a hundred leagues away. Thranduil went down with him on the rugs. Tears flooded the huge eyes, chased down into the pillow of creamy hair, and the king knew, somehow, that they were for him, for his sorrow, his guilt, the loss of his son. The long legs parted willingly, and he drew them over his shoulders. His hair poured dark gold over white flesh, and Bainalph raised his head, his shaft proud, dark over his belly, breath coming hard, swift. Thranduil poised himself at the tight entrance, thought it could never part for him, felt the slick of oil – and pushed. Bainalph fell back, a cry ripped from his throat. Thranduil plunged into him hard, harder, until the prince screamed and writhed and bucked. And then they were both moaning in counterpoint and he heard, “More, yes!”
And his orgasm was so intense he became other. He was the flood of his seed, blood, the night, and none of them could contain him.

Thranduil knew what he had done, but the ristas faer forced him to witness it. He had been a father in mourning, racked and dessicated by self-hate. That night he gorged on desires he had ignored all his life, and on love. Later, when he could think, he would use his grief as an excuse for infidelity, for reveling in the glory of sex when he should have been dead to arousal, alive only to sorrow. How could there be such joy in a world where he had seen his eldest son's body polluted and his mind shatter, a world where he had had to give the laggardly mercy of death?

Because you needed Bainalph's light. It was a gift. You would not accept comfort from your family because all you saw in their eyes was your own guilt. Did I think my wife had failed me, when it was I who failed her, failed Elvýr and my living sons? The only thing I did not fail was my realm.

Bainalph should not have come to his chambers near-naked, but Thranduil could have rebuffed him gently, without embarrassment; he had experience in dealing with unwanted attention. The prince was young, and uncertain of his welcome. It would have been the work of a moment to guide him out, make light of it, and any awkwardness in the morning would have faded with time and distance, because nothing had happened. The situation had been one he could have easily controlled, had he wanted to.

I did not want to.

He withdrew slowly. Bainalph, curled on his side, pain sheeting over his face, and wonder, and bliss.
“Oh,” he whispered, smiling, drawing his fingers over the flat hardness of his stomach, and through his spilled seed. He sucked it from his fingers lazily, tried to rise as the king watched him, gasped, tried again, and came to his knees. He raised his head, cat's eyes luminous in the firelight, and lifted a hand. Thranduil caught it, caught him as he fell forward, hot, pliant in his arms. Their mouths fused again, and there was no satiation in them, only the hunger for more.

“Take everything,” Bainalph murmured. “Take what you need. Do anything. Please.”

Thranduil clasped his rear, dipped a finger into the crease of the buttocks, stroked the fiery, swollen entrance. He heard the prince hiss, felt him flinch, and lift one leg, hooking it about Thranduil's hip.

“Please,” the light voice husked. “Please...”

He drove two fingers deep, feeling the plum-smoothness of that hidden gland that sent men beyond ecstasy when touched. Bainalph clutched at him, cried out, thrusting, mouth against his throat.
“No!” he begged, and his body shuddered. “Please!” He keened as he flung back his head, flesh sheened with damp, and the sounds were pain, like a warrior dying on a spear. Thranduil clamped one arm about his waist and held him mercilessly, fingers slick with seed and oil delving in and in, wanting to wring more pleas from him. It was brutally, shockingly arousing.

“No! I cannot...No more! It hurts...no!

And Thranduil felt, wonderfully and far too soon, his cock swelling as Bainalph writhed on his fingers, and his breath came raw, and he screamed again.
“No. Yes. Yes!

Thranduil let him go so suddenly that he fell back against the door, his face, glossy, flushed, wanton, lips bruised to blood-blossoms.

“Get out.” He did not recognize his own voice.
“Get out. What are you doing? What am I...? Go!

The prince stared, breast heaving, closed his eyes and loosed a moan of loss.
“I love it when you hurt me.” He captured his rigid shaft in one hand. “So beautiful, the pain.”

The king slapped him, and it was like slapping a man cup-shotten who simply smiled as he turned back his head.
“You cannot know how you how you look,” he breathed. “How you feel inside me.”

“Enough!” He was horrified, sickened that he wanted so much, so soon, that he was burning up in the wildfire of this need that had lain under his skin all his life and was consuming him.
I should feel this, should not want this.

“Ah, love.” The gilded eyes held the most complete understanding, then the prince sighed and it caught in his throat like a sob. Thranduil's next words lost themselves in conflict. He swung away from temptation, strode to the bedside table on unsteady legs and poured wine. It slopped over the edge of the cup and he used both hands to lift it and drain it at one gulp.

“Go,” he commanded again, and did not look around, feeling Bainalph's presence like a fire at his back, his sex pulsing with blood. He set his teeth hard.

“Sire,” the prince whispered, like a caress, and Thranduil heard the door-ring move. Winter brushed his shoulders, light and warmth together were leaving the room. He threw the cup aside (and now, within the song, could see how wild his face looked) as he ran, pulled Bainalph back, growling, “No, you shall not! I am not done.” And lifted the lithe body up, legs locking about his waist, and slamming the prince back against the wood as he sheathed himself.

Thranduil!” Tight muscles clenched about him, seemed to pull him in, and he rammed deep. Hands dug into his back, his shoulders, and all he could feel was Bainalph's tightness, his dark-hot core. It was madness, and he needed it, the agonized whimpers that begged him to stop, that it was too much. No more. Please. No more. He swelled the more with each piteous plea, and then there were no more words, only the sounds and then the wild white thunder of release.

Bainalph melted into him, head on his shoulders, heart a war-drum, Thranduil, his legs shaking, managed to walk to the bed and let them both down. He could not speak. He saw the cup he had hurled away, glinting in the firelight, poured wine, slid an arm under the prince's shoulders and lifted him. Bainalph drank, eyes closed, through gulps of breath, then his head fell back, tossed from side to side on the covers. Thranduil swallowed the rest of the wine, watching him hungrily, dazedly. Bruises smudged his skin. He looked used, vulnerable, wanton, the heavy lashes flicking up as the king straddled him, hands locking on his wrists and forcing them back. His breathing came light and fast.

“No,” he moaned softly.

“Yes,” Thranduil told him, and something like fear and the deepest thrill flashed into the wide eyes. Tears spilled, gleamed and vanished. He arched up, his flesh slick against the king's, and tremored, words spilling like the tears, desperate fragmented entreaties that pounded blood violently back into Thranduil's groin. Bainalph acted on him like the breath of Power; this was the rut-frenzy of the Silvans when they mated with whomever they wished time after time, unflagging, when they were the distillation of all lust, were scarcely human, were more, than human. He had witnessed the Silvan rites as a king should, but had never participated. It had been like standing on the edge of a storm, leaving him shaking with hunger. It occurred to him, the thought there and gone, that this was the center of all Elves, of whatever kindred, this sensual magnificence that recognized no boundaries and no wrong, for he was not Silvan and neither was Bainalph. And Oropher had told him of the rites of the Iathrim.

“Please,” Bainalph breathed, as they moved together slowly at first, rhythmically, then, as they hardened, more and more roughly. “No.”

“You said,” Thranduil spoke raggedly through his teeth. “To take what I needed. And this is what I need.”
Bainalph was on fire inside, and throbbed like a heart. He screamed.
“I will take you until you cannot speak.” The king held himself, watching the shaking sobs. “Until you do not know what words are, until you have no breath to plead or cry. I will take you until you swoon, and again after.” He pushed. “Until you are as mad as I.”

And the night lay ahead of them.
End Notes:
Thank-you for reading.
As always, I would very much appreciate a review if there was anything you liked, but thanks for looking anyhow. :)
Chapter 8 ~ Naked To Truth ~ by Spiced Wine
Author's Notes:
Some Thranduil and Bainalph, some Celeird

~ Naked To Truth ~


~ Bainalph was blind now, a length of cloth over his eyes. He stood on the rugs, and there was a beautiful vulnerability in the way he followed Thranduil's soundless movements with his head, trying to hear what could not be heard even by an Elf under the muted howl of the wind.

“What are you doing to me?”
Thranduil heard his voice as Bainalph would have heard it, brushed into dark smoke by strain, by sex.

“Loving you.” And Bainalph's voice too was scoured raw as fine silk, sultry lips bright as berries, bruised with kisses that owed nothing to tenderness. “And I want...” His breath shattered. “My king. Thranduil.” The drawn-out lilt of his name was honey.

Their passion echoed the violence of the storm; when it lulled for a moment, so did they, before the deep undercurrent roused and roared again. But the times of rest were not times of sanity. Conscience spoke with a frail voice, and it was drowned under the tumult of the night.
Thranduil was beyond himself. His life ran under him like a dark river, and he was, for this time, elevated above it. He was not himself.
He was absolutely himself.

The fire had sunk low. Only red embers were left, winking like slumberous eyes. Thranduil did not care. There was enough heat in this room to burn the Greenwood to ash. He was a king, with all the mystery of that indissoluble binding between himself and the land that he had never truly touched; yet it was there, in his love for his people, for his realm. And Bainalph was a prince, and his own blood and care had twined his soul with Alphgarth. When they came together they performed a sacred rite, and Thranduil had not realized it that night, not until he discovered that neither hate nor guilt could sever his link to the Swan Prince.

We brought down the storm, he thought, caught in the ristas faer
We were the storm.

He dragged back the milky pour of Bainalph's hair, forcing the prince to sink to his knees. (And Belain!* that graceful submission beat like flame through the king's blood.) Thranduil knelt, pulled the prince against his breast. He smelled of the white purity of lilies, the musk of sex. His skin was damp, hot silk, and he trembled against the next onslaught. For that was what it was. Thranduil took him more violently each time, and it was never enough. It went beyond physical possession, beyond even the spiritual melding of two souls who loved. It was deeper than the roots of the first trees, it was inhuman and magnificent in its savagery, and it could not be assuaged, not now, not ever.

“No,” Bainalph whimpered, a little catch in the word like tears. Thranduil's hands swept down, over nipples ripe and reddened with bites, over the hard, fluttering muscles of his belly, to the soft pelt. He was swollen thick, tearing fluid, again, and his breathing deepened erratically as Thranduil drew on him.

“Take..me.”

He bit down on the white shoulder. “You cannot take more of this, of me.”

“No, I cannot. But I need...

Thranduil released him, and Bainalph went down on hands and knees, arched his back, hair running from his flesh to the rugs, exposing the bruised beauty of his body, the white buttocks.
He was ferociously hot, tight as the grip of a warrior's hand, palpitating around Thranduil's length. The first vicious thrust drove him down onto his forearms, and he screamed, a sound of wordless, helpless pain. And Thranduil drew back, held himself for ragged heartbeats, watching under lowered lids, as the prince sobbed, tried to move, to press back, long fingers clenching into the furs. The sight of him half-impaled, the feel of the enclosure was enough to drive the king almost to the edge.

“Beg me.” His command was like the deep note underscoring the thrum of the wind.

“All of you,” Bainalph choked. “Please!

Thranduil felt himself, very far away, shudder convulsively. He wanted to spin each moment out into its own separate eternity, but his hunger brooked no delay. His fingers dug into bruises they themselves had impressed into Bainalph's flesh and held him fast, slamming the unbearable tension deeper, harder, flesh crashing against flesh, impaling radiant heat. Supple, willing, Bainalph took him, perspiration shimmering over the sinews of his body, down the sweet hollow of back and hind. Thranduil wanted to force himself so wholly within Bainalph that there could be no severance, no parting, only this, this. Forever.

After, he loosed the cloth, and Bainalph blinked. The solitary lamp still burned behind rose-coloured glass. Its soft light caught the gold flecks in brilliant dilated eyes.

“You are devouring me,” he whispered, and a smile starred those lovely dimples beside his mouth.

Thranduil said, “Yes.” He drew a thumb over the gleam of tears. “Everything. I will take everything ere the night is done.”

The thick lashes fanned down, a tiny, provocative smile curving his lips.
“Yes. Everything.”

The king bent his head, drinking cream from white flesh, tasting the richness of the essence. Then their mouths met insatiably, and Bainalph's hands were in his hair, his shoulders his back, caressing, holding as he begged, “Take it all.”

“I will,” Thranduil warned him. “And I will not spare you. Go now. While you still can.”

He let Bainalph rise. The prince was still lithe, still possessed of a wondrous grace, and he shone like a pearl in the dimness, but his steps were careful, nursing pain.
How much could he take?
Thranduil watched his own predatory face, honed into pitilessness by his desires. He rose, circled Bainalph like a wolf as the prince backed to the door, and for the second time that night, the king knew he would not let him leave.

His old life, the life before this night, this chamber, raised its enfanged maw from the river of anguish, and lunged at his soul, seeking to drag him back into the lightless depths where there was only iniquity, duty, kingship. What right did he have, it demanded, to rut, to find such unhuman pleasure when his eldest son lay dead and his wife had turned inward, smothered by grief as a slim tree is choked by black ivy. Thranduil knew that once dawn came, he must return to what passed now, as his life, if one could dignify his existence with such a vital word. If only the day might be held back forever! But no man could live thus, and certainly no king.
Bainalph's arms, spread across the door, denied the day, barred his life from intruding. His breast rose and fell in rapid, shallow breaths.

The wind poured about the walls in wild thunder. Somewhere beyond the house, Thranduil heard an ancient tree surrender to its force, felt the crack of timber, the bleed of sap as a branch sheared free and fell.
He broke with it, and then there was warm flesh under his hands, lips parting under his. There was such profound desperation in their kisses, no gentleness, no hesitation, and though as ever Bainalph gave before him, he returned them no less ardently. His sighs, the sounds of pain, were seduction. When he was caught in the paradox, unable to differentiate agony from ecstasy, he touched the power within him, and was glorious.

And so was I, that night.

At the end, there were no words, only the moans and sobbing pleas Thranduil's possession wrung from the prince's throat. Bainalph had passed beyond articulation; they both had.
The storm slackened a little with the first light of the slow-creeping dawn. Bainalph lay as if his bones had turned to liquid. There was no part of him that Thranduil had not touched, that did not bear the memory in the dapple of bruising lips, the hard impress of fingers and hand. The gold-green eyes had been washed of all humanity in the latter part of the night. It took some time for it to ease back, even as Thranduil felt his old life approaching, grey as the morning, trailing cerements black as his guilt.

It seemed Bainalph sensed it too. He moved with difficulty, kissed Thranduil with loving sweetness; An unhurried kiss this one, melting and giving. The king had taken everything, and the prince had yet more to give. Then he rose, catching up his robe, wrapping his body in soft wool. He might have looked demure save for the passion-tossed mane of white hair, and swollen mouth.
“The king's pleasure is mine,” he murmured, with an inclination of his head, an upward flash of the light, sinful eyes, and slipped out of the door noiseless as the drift of blossom on a spring breeze.

And alone, Thranduil faced the assault of all that Bainalph had held back. His life descended on him like a gore crow, gouging, tearing his spirit into bloody tatters, and battered, wounded, culpable, he would not fight it.

You murdered your own son, it hissed. and made him suffer while you hoped he would heal or die, knowing neither would happen. You are not fit to be a father nor a husband, and are not deserving of joy, of pleasure.


Thranduil strode to the bathing room, drew water to cleanse that which could never be washed away, and remembered every breath-stealing, blinding moment of sex, how he had been roused by Bainalph's pleas, his apparent helplessness, how Thranduil's violence had brought him to racking orgasm. The king had never experienced such feelings, never believed himself a man who enjoyed brutality in the bedchamber. He had suspected that Elvýr's tastes ran to submission, though he never asked, but sometimes he had seen marks upon his sons wrists as if he had been bound by cords, seen a certain light in his eyes as he glanced at his lover. Such appetites were not distasteful to the king, but the thought of them made him oddly uneasy.
Of course, he thought, dressing in the dark room. The notion kindled desire in you. Not for your son, but the image of a lover at your mercy, begging for you to cease, wanting you never to stop, while you plundered him without mercy and he wept and writhed...

There was nothing fragile or weak about his wife, for all her soft slenderness, but had she implored him to stop, cried that he was hurting her, his desire would have withered instantly, quenched by shame. Neither had he ever felt tempted to treat her thus. Their lovemaking was mutually satisfactory, each giving as much as the other. With Bainalph it was quite otherwise, his protests caused Thranduil's need to burgeon tenfold, and the prince had welcomed it, taken him over and over, past the point – surely? – that any man could bear.

He drank the last of the wine, threw a log on the dreaming fire and watched the embers catch and spark, the flames reach like the eager hands of lovers. As his had reached, again and again for that wanton white prince, himself as feral and as fey.

The window was a dim square of grey. He walked to it as if retracing his earlier steps. As before there was a man walking beyond the river, one of Bainalph's guards, untroubled by the storm as all Elves were. And again, the figure looked up, and Thranduil's hands flattened hard, bloodless on the cold glass.
The man walked into the river, surging dark with the autumn rains, and the water did not touch him.

The king stared down into his dead son's face, and then the current took him, dispersed him, and he was gone. The blue glint of his eyes seemed to linger a moment.

And then, his heart choking in his throat, and perspiration pricking through his flesh in cold needles, Thranduil he remembered what night had just passed.

They called it the Time of Souls, when those whom had died and not followed the call to the Halls of Waiting (and few of the Silvans did) might be seen, and come close to the living. The houseless were reputed to be perilous, were not spoken of, but the truth, Thranduil had always thought, was more complex, and the Silvans recognized the dead, lighting lamps to show they were not forgotten. There could be ho rebirth for the houseless, only agelong drifting, longing for the rhaw,** which was why they were rumoured to be dangerous, ever searching for a body to possess, and know again the wonder of true being. Thranduil had never heard of such a thing happening, and believed it yet another lie brought out of Aman by the Golodhrim, who did not understand the world they had left behind. The Silvans, dwelling in the forest long before Oropher had crossed the mountains, held no such belief, but they were not, either, entirely easy with the houseless, because to be without form was antithetical to all Elves. They were made to endure, to grow ever more bound to the Earth, the very stuff of it, as strong and as unchanging. But, if the tales brought from Aman were true (and Melian the Maia had said the same, Oropher had told his son) the design of Arda had been marred even before its creation, and death came even to the Elves.
And so, there were places in the Greenwood where it was known the dead walked, and they were avoided. Thranduil had heard of Mens' souls haunting homes where they once had lived, but Elven dead did not haunt their kin, and were rarely seen, save on the Time of Souls.

He stared as the daylight came like drifting ash, fearing, dreading, and hoping, but was not the message clear? Elvýr, unhoused, had come to him accusing him of forgetfulness, of unfaithfulness. It did not astonish the king that his eldest son had lingered. Perhaps he had always known he would. And then, slipping in like a killing dagger, and snatching his breath:
I took Bainalph as the orcs took my son, delighting in violence, deaf to his pain, relishing in it.

He gagged on the revelation, braced himself against the wall, clammy, racked with nausea.

No. No.

When he raised his head at last his face was ice, as hard and as cold. Bainalph had come, flaunting his white beauty, offering himself as a chalice, and shown Thranduil what he truly was: a man with the tastes of an orc.
He should have resisted, he told himself over and over, while knowing he never could have. The will was utterly lacking. And he flung up his inner wall again, constructing it with stones of guilt mortared with self-hate. He had not realized that love, that passion, that Thranduil was trapped behind it. And cracks appeared even before he left Alphgarth, the bitterness spilling out onto Bainalph, and then a child who reminded him of Elvýr, of Bainalph, and his own sin. Legolas had not even been engendered in love; the seed that planted him watered in guilt, tainted by his perfidy, but he had thought that by wooing his wife again, laying with her, he could somehow make recompense, that the act would negate his night in Alphgarth, make it somehow not have been.

He had been well repaid for his folly. Níniwen had fled away and either fallen to her death or thrown herself to it. Thranduil believed the latter, because his wife was too surefooted to miss her step, because when Legolas was born, when she saw what he was, she turned her head away, face twisted in anguish. It was Thranduil who took him, perfect save for that difference, and he too was horrified.
And so it will happen again, he thought, and the child had started to cry as if he knew their thoughts.
I will lose this son too. As I deserve to. But he had lifted Legolas to his shoulder, rubbing his tiny back until the piercing wails subsided.

Later he had tried to ignore Legolas, virtually put him out of sight, safe in the very heart of the forest. As he grew, Thranduil unerringly recognized the similarities to Bainalph, and thought he had planted them with his traitor's body, his seed steeped in the Cúalphii's appetites.

But there was something dangerous at the bottom of that white chalice that was Bainalph, something addictive, and neither time nor absence diluted it. Thranduil should have known it for what it was, felt the binding of land and ruler as each link was forged that night, but he had no experience of such rites. One did not know, until one knew. And by then it was too late. He had tied himself to Bainalph, the prince had bound himself to Alphgarth and to Thranduil. Even later, Thranduil did not realize it, when he openly embraced the rituals of kingship at midsummer and midwinter, on the Earth Days, exactly what had happened in Alphgarth. But it had been the Time of Souls, a time of power, and such bindings were unbreakable.
And still, whenever he set eyes on the Cúalphii, on his youngest son, he saw himself as a beast – no, not even that, for all natural beasts lived clean, following their instincts. Beneath the skin, he was indeed an orc.

The Sundering did not spare him, recked nothing of his beliefs, and it showed him as he had been. There was nothing abhorrent in him. The autumn night had been carnal, ungentle, transcendent. It had bared him to the core, until there was nothing left but truth. And the truth was the power and the glory of the Elves.

And now you have seen. The voice was inside the song. This is a time for truth, when all the defenses are gone. When your soul is naked.

No. But his protest had no teeth. It was too late. And the voice grew in timber, filling him with its remembered clarity and sweetness.

You had to take my life. There is no blame. I would have begged thee for the mercy of death had I not been mad. The summer wind, or a pair of fine hands ran through Thranduil's hair. Do you think your heartbreak went unheard, that there could be no balm for you, your wife, your living sons? And yet you could never see what was truly before you. Or did you refuse to Did you hate me for being fertile, for being raped, for sickening, for dying too slowly? Did you, adar?

And the song faded slowly, softly, into the earth, the sky, into its source.

Thranduil's hand, clenched in Bainalph's tunic, fell away. Beyond him Elvýr turned in a lilt of winter-gold hair, and walked to the south. He looked back once, expressionless, before fading into the pale grasses.

Celeirdúr was saying “Father, father,” as if he had no breath. Bainalph could not form words yet. He knew how near his death had come. Not even during the Blood Winter, when he had been fighting in a harvest of dead orcs and Fell-wolves with more attacking, had it come so near.

Thranduil pulled the sword from the ground, and turned to his son.
“Go home,” he said. That, and nothing else, and his brevity seemed to strike through Celeirdúr's shock like icy water. “Rule in my stead, with the counsel of my Lords, and prepare for war.”

“War,” Celeirdúr echoed, and then exploded. “You will plan for war because the son you banished has a son by Glorfindel. You exiled Legolas, but he is a good enough excuse for you to declare another war?”

“Yes,” Thranduil said simply, flatly, and Celeirdúr stared, wrong-footed, then cried:
“Glorfindel took Legolas because he wanted my brother. He admitted it to my face. Legolas did not know him! How could he? Yes, I knew. This Vanimórë spoke to Glorfindel across the leagues, mind-to-mind, told him of Legolas, of the child he carried, and Glorfindel told me. I knew Glorfindel was going to seek for Legolas and his son, and I was glad some-one was, for what could I do? What had I ever done? I said nothing, as I have always said nothing, because why would you care?” He slammed both hands against his father's chest. “Then I came home, and it was as if Legolas had never existed, never been! Well he does exist, he lives, and I think he is, safer with Sauron's son than with Glorfindel or with you. You were going to kill him!”

Thranduil dragged his son close, speaking into his startled face.
“You knew all this?”

“Yes,” Celeirdúr snapped, challenging. “Tell me, what did you think after he had vanished, through last summer, the autumn, and winter Did you hope he was dead, covered by leaves in some forgotten hollow, carried away by a river with the fish feeding on his flesh?”

Yes,” Thranduil shouted. “I imagined that and more, day after day, night after sleepless night! But it took more than guilt – am I not accustomed to guilt? – to move me! I was not going to kill Legolas! Glorfindel would have taken him! I wanted to reach him first.” He suddenly thrust Celeirdúr away and whirled to Bainalph. “I came to kill him.
Emotions chased over his face, darkened his eyes to indigo, flamed them back to steel.
“And you knew I could not.”

Bainalph moistened his lips.
“I chose to trust my instincts, Sire. And to trust you.”

“You knew, then.” Thranduil locked them into privacy, ignoring his son's adamant: “I will not return!”

“Not then. Later, when I chose to celebrate the old rites, I realized.” He made a gesture. “I did not think you could kill some-one who is bound to you, who belongs to you. But if you had, then my unhoused fae would have run beside you like a warhound, my Lord King. For you would also have killed Legolas, who is bound to you more deeply even than I.”

“I could not kill you. Or him.” The king took a deep breath, and the eternal, dry summer wind faltered, dropped. Rhovannion lay silent. Thranduil's eyes reflected sky.

Celeirdúr declared, his face hard. “I set out to find my brother. And I will find him.”

“Your brother.” The words were almost a question. “Elvýr...” Thranduil's hands clenched white on the hilt of his sword.

Celeirdúr shook his head, despair breaking in his voice. “Legolas, father. Legolas.

“Legolas. Elvýr.” The soft tone was more alarming than anger. “I never saw it.”

Bainalph closed his eyes, heard Celeirdúr's bewildered: “What?”

“I have seen him. In dream and houseless.”

Celeirdúr's face shook.

So has he seen his brother, Bainalph thought. And he was not surprised.

“When I see him, I see Legolas.” The king spoke with the same awful calm.

They are the image of one another, it is true. But...

Elvýr had been what Legolas would have been if loved by both his parents. Bainalph had not known him; he had been a child when Elvýr died, had only seen him when he visited Alphgarth. Elvýr had possessed all the confidence Legolas lacked, but the same sweet face and smile, the same primrose-gold hair.

But it is not possible, because...

“Father,” Celeirdúr whispered brokenly. “You are crazed.”

...Elven souls cannot be reborn on Middle-earth...

“I have not been sane since I had to kill my eldest son,” Thranduil said carefully through his teeth. “But Elvýr spoke to me when the ristas faer was on me. And I have seen Elvýr and Legolas as one. Go home, and rule as my regent until I return.”

No, father. Belain have pity on you!”

The king laughed, a terrible, desolate sound that brought Celeirdúr three paces forward to catch his shoulders.
“Perhaps they did. Perhaps the One did.”

“Our souls are never reborn unless we heed the call of the West. Please, father...” But his eyes rose. He was staring at the great eagle in awe.

“Or that is what they say,” Thranduil said. “But I have seen my dead son, and my living in a place that still darkens my dreams. In Mordor. And I am going to find him. For a time we were there, wherever Legolas is, we could almost have touched him. That was power.

Celeirdúr swallowed, his eyes falling to his father's face. “Yes, it was,” he whispered. “Mordor? And I still think you mad.”

“Then consider me mad. I have been for a long time. I may always be. And I have been blind. But by the Dark Hells, my eyes are open now!” The passion in his voice visibly shook his son, sent a hot thrill through Bainalph's blood.

“How,” Celeirdúr asked. “Why? Why now?”

Thranduil's eyes were unblinking on Bainalph. He could have fallen into the blue forever.
“Because Legolas is in peril. My twiceborn son. And the ristas faer showed me still more. I left my realm unkinged to slay this one who betrayed me. Or so I believed.”

“I thank the one you withheld,” his son replied fervently. “A king kills his enemies, and whatever you think of Bainalph, he is of the Great Wood, and not your enemy.”

Thranduil raised a hand. “I know that now. I was made to see it.”
Complexities clashed in his voice. Bainalph could not interpret them. No love certainly, the anger of a man forced to confront some fact he would as lief reject, but the killing rage was gone.

“No wonder I could never forget him, no wonder I cannot kill him or exile him. He is indeed bound to the forest, to Alphgarth, and to me. He is mine.” He tilted his head toward Celeirdúr. “He will come with me. You will return.”

He will go? But you...”

“Hate him? Yes. But he has bound me, and I him, whether I will or no. The Sundering showed me. And he understands Legolas. He was the only one ever to speak for him.”

Celeirdúr shook his head. “I will go.”

“No.” There was no compromise in the king's voice. “You wanted to find your brother and bring him back. I banished him. I ignored him. I looked at him and saw another son who would die of rape. I saw truth but did not recognize it! I shut him out. I will bring him back. And,” he added deadly soft, as the wind stirred again, running up from the south. “I will bring Glorfindel in chains to the Greenwood, and I will kill him.”

~~~


Tindómion had not apologized when he withdrew the dagger, and Glorfindel had not expected him to. He knew the Fëanorions too well, knew too, that Tindómion would indeed have cut his throat had Maglor had intervened.

At any other time, Glorfindel would have fought him, and with great pleasure, purging himself of the anger and confusion that seethed in his soul, but not now.
He had thought the faerboth would smooth his way, draw Legolas to him, would make it easy. Gîlríon was indisputably his son, but Vanimórë was likewise Sauron's son, and detested his father. Legolas was Thranduil's son, and Thranduil had pronounced him exile. Ties of blood were not always ties of love, Glorfindel was wise enough, and had seen enough, to know that. But the bond between parent and child should be inviolable.

Legolas was afraid of him, and it was not the thrilling sexual fear that could arouse, but a fear of some-one monstrous. Or no, a fear of something unrelieved by the grace of humanity.
Glorfindel shrank from the image of himself, and was silent.
Tindómion sat mounted, straight-backed, enclosed in the trenchant honour that would not permit him to turn aside from his companion, comrade in arms, occasional lover. And contempt smoked from him. He had heard Legolas' plea to Vanimórë also.
“Let me stay with you!”

Glorfindel walked to Rhovadhros, gathered the reins in his hand, swung into the saddle.
“Istelion, you know me.” He was not sure why he said it, perhaps it was his own plea for some-one to understand him. Tindómion's profile was Fëanor's, as was that sharp inward snap of the slim black brows.
“Do I? I thought I did. It is a pity you could not see yourself when you walked into Gil-galad's great hall. You might realize what you have fallen from.”
He turned his head. “A thousand years I had lived then, Glorfindel, and you were a legend, clothed in glory like the sun. You were a hero to me. Eru, you were a hero to him.

“And it was too heavy a cloak for any man to wear!” Glorfindel cried. “A hero? I died! I saw people I love die. And I returned to see it again. What did they expect me to do, what did you expect of me, that I alone could save the Noldor?” He rode the stallion into Tindómion's path, spilling anger like battle blood.
“I had to see ruin again, and after, what did we become? towers in Lindon open to the rain and ravens, Ost-in-Edhil grown with grass. And then another damned war!”

“You could have prevented that,” Tindómion flashed, and Glorfindel reined back in astonishment.

“How in the Hells could I have done any such thing?”

No-one could agree on how the cold vein of distrust and bitterness that the wood-Elves felt for the Noldor had burned into a state of war. The Imladrians said that their companies had been ambushed by the Greenwood, and Silvan prisoners declared that the Noldor had ridden beyond Anduin toward the Great Wood with no other purpose than to taunt the wood-Elves with their presence. And then, as such things do, it escalated beyond a show of strength and flung words to violence.

“You are the captain of the army of Imladris. You could have contained the situation. Yes.” Tindómion raised a hand, preempting Glorfindel's interruption. “So could Thranduil. One would think we all saw enough death and agony on Dagorland, in Mordor, to have a surfeit of it. But no, both of you seemed to relish the opportunity to fight again, to hate again, to turn whatever darkness is within you outward, because neither of you can bring yourselves to confront it!

Glorfindel drew in an effortful breath. “The crimes of Thranduil's folk could not go unanswered! I had to witness what was done to my own warriors! And we know it was not the first such time!”

“And what did we do to their warriors?” Tindómion said acidly. “What did you feign not to know, ignored, brushed aside? The Greenwood would not have been able to invest Imladris, just as we could never invade their realm. This was not a war for land or kingship, no battle against the Dark, but one of hate! Thranduil could have curbed his people, you could have curbed ours. The warriors of Imladris look to you, not to Elrond. But neither you or Thranduil truly wanted peace!”

Glorfindel felt the leather of the reins bite into his hand.
“You know damned well that they would have mocked the conventions and imprisoned our messengers, even under truce. Thranduil would not receive us.”

Tindómion had offered to bear the message himself, which would have been inflammatory. He was too strikingly Fëanorion. His suggestion had been birthed in frustrated disapproval, and had been vetoed by Glorfindel, Elrond, and by Erestor. And so the war ground onward, sporadic and messy and hopeless.

“Not Elrond,” Tindómion said. “Not with his bloodline.”

But Glorfindel had, without even arguing, disposed of that notion also. Elrond was the Lord of Imladris, and no-one truly knew whether his Sindarin and Maia blood would temper Thranduil's hatred. Glorfindel was anathema, with the Elvenking laying all blame for the excesses of the Imladrian warriors at his feet. Erestor held Thranduil's folk in the utmost contempt and did not trouble to conceal it. Thus the impasse of violence stretched. Ugly incidents occurred, and a saying had arisen in Imladris, 'You cannot rape a wood-Elf.' They were said to be insatiable in their appetites, would mate with anything to assuage their hungers. The despite ran two ways, rooted in the dark soil of the First Age, when the Noldor had first come in contact with the wild Elves of Beleriand, those who lived beyond Doriath's Girdle. Of all the Noldor perhaps only Finrod Felagund had treated well with them. If the Noldor were seen as arrogant and haughty, the Silvans were fey and barbaric in the eyes of the Exiles. Glorfindel did not know of any atrocities, but he did not doubt there had been some on both sides. No-one was guiltless. The Sindar of Doriath were considered civilized but still somewhat alien, having absorbed (or never lost) the wilder rites that had no place in Valinor. And that was a pity.

“Is this relevant?” he demanded of the man who had almost opened his throat. The cut stung, a small, sharp reminder. Yet his anger had gone somewhere else.

“Can you not see even now?” Tindómion slammed a fist into his thigh, and his stallion snorted, dancing sideways. “It is all a part of what you have become! Legolas is afraid of you. Yes, men do fear you, Glorfindel, but they should not fear your cruelty. There is a line as thin as a hair between what you enjoy with other men and what you did to that youngster. And you cannot see it any more! But I will tell you what it is: You have always treated your lovers as if they were human. You took Legolas as if he were a thing.

“Enough!”

“It will never be enough.” Tindómion was inexorable. “You might be able to persuade Legolas to come with you, but only from fear. I have no doubt you could give him pleasure, if you decided he was worthy of feeling it, just as you decided in the Greenwood to give the poor little soul pleasure so he would not die, and at least you, Glorfindel the Beloved, would not bear the guilt of rape and murder.

“Istelion, be quiet!

“Go home.” Tindómion ignored him, his face implacable.

What?

“You will be needed in Imladris. Knowing who fathered Legolas' son, Thranduil has been presented with an excellent reason for renewing animosities. And this war will never end, I think.”

That was true. Whatever Thranduil's feelings for his younger son, he could not ignore the fact that Glorfindel had entered the forest, taken Legolas, and planted his seed in that fertile body. It would strike at the very heart of the Elvenking's pride.

“Do you believe it would help the situation for Legolas to be in Imladris?” Tindómion pressed.

It would not of course.

“I do not care!” Glorfindel snarled.

“What do you care about?” Tindómion asked.

“My son.”

“Let me tell you a thing.” The Fëanorion rode closer. “After the ending of the Age, when there was nothing for me, I would have followed you. You should have taken the High Kingship. Elrond saw it as cursed and stood aside. But you could have made the Noldor great again. Or so I thought.”

“I came here to fight Sauron's growing darkness, not to – ”

Tindómion pounced on that. “Add to the sum of it?”

Glorfindel could not see. The red light blinded him, was twinned with black, a veil over his eyes, his mind. He heard himself say, “It is over, Istelion. Over. It was over when Gil-galad drew his last breath, it was over when Doom was pronounced upon us. You expected too much of me.”

“I admit, I never expected you to turn rapist. And you expect Legolas to put himself in your hands willingly?” The crack of laughter was excoriating. “Go home. Elrond will need you to command the army, or do you mean to obey him, and bring him Vanimórë's head?”

Glorfindel had clasped his hands to his head. The blood beat against his skull. “Enough!” He fought for words. “They are in danger, Legolas and my son. There is malice all around them.”

“Yes, I have felt it! It is you!

Suddenly, both were out of their saddles, locked in silent, savage fury; too close to wrestle, to land even foreshortened blows. They strained against one another, hands clenched in cloth, digging into muscle, close enough to kiss, snarling like wildcats.

“You think your child needs a father – ”

“He does!”

“I had no father, and did not suffer for it! And how will you raise your son, while you are using Legolas as an object?”

“I will not use him thus! I will teach him to discover what he is!”

“Your bed slave?” Tindómion asked, derision like steel in his voice. “You are not sorry! At least you had the dubious honestly to admit it. I suppose there is some shred of honour left in you!”

“Should I have lied, then?” Glorfindel hissed.

“You should hate the act, hate yourself. I never realized, until I saw him, how young Legolas is, how vulnerable, how unable he would have been to fight you or even understand what you were doing.” The insolent Fëanorion mouth sneered. “And you reveled in it!”

“In his vulnerability, his youth, his innocence, his response. I regret it was rape.” Tindómion's shoulders were iron under his fingertips. “Yes, I will say the word. I wanted to hurt him at first, so sweet and so beautiful in a world where innocence cannot survive.” He caught a ragged breath, for remembrance struck hard at his loins. “You do not understand, but you should.” Tindómion had known his mate and match, he said, since walking into Gil-galad's great hall. “I want him.”

Tindómion snapped brutally, “He does not want you.

“I can make him want me!”

“You will not make him do anything!”

“He said he would see me,” Glorfindel reminded him, rigid with rage.

“And that is courageous of him, but better by far if you did not,” Tindómion was relentless. “And do not speak of the fearboth. Doubtless there is a similar link between Vanimórë and Sauron!”

Glorfindel felt that verbal blow like a crack across the face.
“You would speak of me in the same breath as Sauron?”

“He slew a man I loved.” The Fëanorion's eyes had gone opaque, reflecting the light like twin mirrors. His voice dropped into rough gold. “As did you. I loved you as a brother, a mentor, a hero, a lover. You killed that man, Glorfindel, slowly, and finally when you raped Legolas. There is no longer a Glorfindel the Beloved.”


~~~
End Notes:
*Belain ~ Valar (Sindarin)
Rhaw ~ body (Sindarin)
I suppose the Time of Souls is the equivalent to Halloween, or the Celtic Day of the Dead, although when I was writing it, I didn't consciously remember the date.

If you liked anything about this chapter, I would be grateful for a review, but thank-you for reading anyhow.
Chapter 9 ~ Introspection ~ by Spiced Wine
Author's Notes:
Back with Vanim


Introspection


~ The sun sang out its power into a sky clear from horizon to horizon. Below and within it, the sounds of the camp, domestic and martial both, were oddly calming, falling into a daily routine in this period of rest. Food and clean water were abundant, and the summers of Dor Rhûnan were hot and dry. It could almost have been a hunting trip were it not for the injured men, the grave slowly melting back into the grass.
This quiet time also benefited Legolas. He was calmer now, as if assured that he was not to be hurried to his meeting with Glorfindel, and the discovery that he could heal – which he had at first tended to deny – seemed to give him a sense of usefulness, of self-worth, though Vanimórë wondered if he had clutched at this unforeseen gift because he felt he could do nothing else, his slaying of the Fell-wolf and stance against the madman in Szrel Kain notwithstanding.
Glorfindel had been silent, not reaching to Legolas or Vanimórë, which seemed peculiarly sensitive of him. Vanimórë let the peace stretch; matters would change soon enough. He wondered much in those days about what had happened; two suns in the sky, time slow as the seep of resin, the Elves called to Legolas' aid. Dana remained mute, and Vanimórë had come to know that if she did not act, did not answer, it was because she considered it unnecessary. She had lead him to Legolas, had brought Maglor to him, and now she stepped back, maddeningly, inexplicably, into her mists. Although she was called the Mother, there was much of the bedeviling Lover in her also. The thought brought a whimsical smile to his lips, and he leaned against Seran's muscled shoulder. The stallion nudged him as if to remind him of his duty.

“I am not thy slave,” Vanimórë chided, slapping the wisp against his flank.

Osulf laughed softly, pausing as he passed with a water-skin. The Northman continued to make himself useful, though there was that in his demeanor that suggested he found such service beneath him. His time in Szrel Kain had allowed him to command the elegancies of life, Vanimórë guessed, but among his men, no-one was above service.

“A slave, prince?” he questioned. Vanimórë shrugged.
“We are all some-one's servant. But my master is temporarily absent.”

“It is hard to think of you having a master.” Osulf jerked his head north toward Szrel Kain. “They all feared you, even Dhölkan. He wanted your support in the alliance against Gondor, but I think you never meant to give it. And most of the southron rulers dragged their heels.”

Vanimórë slapped Seran's neck and turned away. The stallion lowered his head to graze near Lainiell.
“I came to acquaint myself with what passed in the east. I have no quarrel with Gondor, if they have none with me.”
He could have sent a representative or spies, and had considered it. But he had known why he came the moment Legolas fell into his arms.

“Do you think Gondor will not look south, prince?”

“Well, of course, and I have alliances with some of the southron rulers. If it comes to war, I will fight beside them.”

“In the north,” Osulf said. “the skalds say that the Ælfar were ever friends to the Men from the Sea. You are surely Ælf, yet you would fight against Gondor.”

“I have Elven blood, yes.”

“Would you fight for the Ælfar, prince?” Osulf asked, sounding curious.

“I did once, for what it was worth.” He cast the eyes of memory back to that last grim, bloody battle in Mordor.

Osulf shifted the weight of the water-skin on one shoulder, “Our route takes us past Mordor, does it not? There are tales of men who try to enter it, and rarely return.”

“I am not surprised,” Vanimórë murmured. He himself had no desire to look on Mordor. He would be called back one day, and that was soon enough. Too soon.

“Is it true?” the man asked. “It is said that hungry ghosts walk there, and their touch freezes the heart and will.”

Legolas, sitting with Gîl not far away, glanced up. Vanimórë frowned a warning at the Man, and made a gentling movement with this hand toward the youth. That tale was probably a memory of the Nazgûl, who had vanished into the shadows after Sauron's defeat.
“And what dost thou believe, Northman?”

The man spread his hands.
“The Ælfar are real,” he said. “Mordor is real. And you are real.”

Vanimórë nodded, gazed toward the yet invisible Ered Lithui. Nearby, Maglor was drying himself after bathing, unconcerned by nudity, and Vanimórë permitted himself a moment's appreciation.
“Yes,” he agreed. “Mordor is real. Thou wilt see its borders, that is all. The road skirts the Dagorlad.”

The sunlight awoke a gleam of soft colour in Osulf's eyes.
“Is that not dangerous enough?”

Shaking his head, Vanimórë turned to Maglor, who had come up behind him. His mass of hair hung wet over his shirt and breeches. Water speckled the high cheekbones like a scatter of jewels. His expression was remote, but Vanimórë knew all the tricks of concealment, the postures adapted against contempt, even pity.

“How do you know?” Osulf asked, and his voice came strained. “How can any-one know?”

“Look,” Vanimórë said quite kindly, but with authority, and speaking as much to Maglor and Legolas as the Northman. “Many people use the road through Ithilien, even in times of war, and troops move along it from north to south. There is only one pass through the Mountains of Shadow, and that is guarded by the citadel of Minas Ithil.” He did not speak of the pass of Cirith Ungol high above the Tower of the Moon, or the terror that lurked there. It was no tale for a bright summer day, and certainly not one for Legolas to hear. He wondered in Maglor's desperate wanderings might have taken him there at last, into the black stench of Torech Ungol. He touched the Fëanorion's wrist, closed his fingers about it for a moment, felt the flash of the silver eyes as they flicked to him.
“Then,” he continued, “further downriver is Osgiliath, the king-city, and Minas Arnor. Behind the Ephel Duath, Northern Mordor is a place of ashen plains and vulcanism. Nothing can live there, not even orcs. They would dwell around Nurnen, in the south, but they cannot pass over the mountains. Mordor sleeps. Even its ghosts.”
At least for now.

“Land of the Dark God,” Osulf murmured, as if to himself.

“An absent god,” Vanimórë said, but flatly, without levity. “And Gondor is a strong land. Perhaps thou wilt prefer to seek employment there, and not continue south.”

“I doubt it.” The man grimaced. “My past would pursue me there, I think. Rulers may use assassins, but never trust them. Anyhow, that is over for me.”

“Please thyself, though I have not yet decided if I have any use for thee in Sud Sicanna. Rulers,” he quoted, “may use assassins, but never trust them. It may be that thou hast turned thy back on it, but it is in thee to kill, and to lie.”

Osulf regarded him intently, then inclined his head.
“I see that I must strive to prove my trustworthiness, prince.” The words were accompanied with a provocative little downward tilt of long lashes that struck Vanimórë with an odd sense of familiarity. He watched the man as he walked away and set water to boil. As if sensing his regard, Osulf looked up and smiled, close-lipped, secretive. The man's dealings with him held increasing invitations of intimacy and, subtle though they were, Vanimórë was accustomed to men and women trying to gain favour with their bodies. He could have told him it was unnecessary, but Osulf was a handsome man, with the hard-chiseled features of the Northmen. In some lights he looked as refined, as flawless as an Elf, his eyes darkening from their inscrutable flint-grey, and Vanimórë had learned to enjoy any pleasure that came his way.

I cannot blame him for trying, and it does show a certain courage, even if he has lost the guts to kill for pay. And we do what we must to survive.

Maglor sat with Legolas as Vanimórë walked the perimeter of the camp, pausing to speak to guards, to stare into the distances. Dor Rhûnan was benign under the sun. It was the best time to travel this land; in the winter, the east winds blew bitter across the treeless plains. He pushed through the willows, where Jobur was showing Shemar how to correctly buckle armor, while Tanout rubbed oil into his harness. Vanimórë motioned them to remain seated.

“Thou canst walk later,” he told the men after examining the healing wounds. “It will do no harm. We will break camp in a few days, and take it easily at first.”

“Not too soon, Sire,” Tanout said. “I know we need to re-provision.”

“I will be fit, Sire,” Jobur declared, and Vanimórë smiled, “I don't doubt it. Tough as oak, thou art.” He dropped into a crouch. “If we do not see any of the Rhûnan tribes, we will have to make shift as best we can until we reach Tirith Nindor, though we may meet with some trading caravans.” He paused, holding their eyes. “Let me ask thee: When the Fell-wolves attacked, what exactly didst thou see?” He had heard the mutters of ghosts. The Sicannites were superstitious, and had good reason to be, but by nature they were not a fearful people, or not any longer.
The two warriors exchanged a swift glance. Shemar's hands stilled.

“People like you, Sire,” Tanout replied quietly. “Lichtlothi* Five men.”

Jobur nodded.

“Didst they appear as shades?”

“I thought I could see through them,” Tanout frowned. “And time seemed to slow.”

Shemar offered shyly, “I felt the air move as they passed, my lord.”

“Yes, they were real,” Vanimórë told them. “The one who tried to reach Legolas sired Gîlríon; others were Legolas' father, his brother. They are looking for him, and are far to the north, but for a moment, they were here.” He snapped a dead willow branch between his fingers. “Something powerful links them all to Legolas and his child. We travel to Tirith Nindor to meet with two of them.”

“Yes?” Tanout said alertly. “But Legolas was banished, Sire. I thought his people did not want him.”

“He has agreed to meet Glorfindel; the child's father, who is not of Legolas' kindred. Glorfindel wants to return with him to the north.”

Jobur raised a thick eyebrow. “And does the young prince want to go, Sire?”

“He says he will meet Glorfindel. If he changes his mind I will abide by his decision, and we will not linger in Tirith Nindor. I will not allow him to be coerced.” Vanimórë dropped the broken sticks, frowned down at them.
“Glorfindel is legend among the Elves. He battled a demon of fire, a Balrog, in ancient times. He died, sacrificing himself for others, was reborn in the uttermost West, and returned to Middle-earth. I knew him once, in the war that saw the Dark Lord defeated.”
They accepted this as his people accepted everything about him.

“So it may come to a fight,” Jobur said without concern.

“I hope not. If it does, the both of thee, with Maglor and the rest of the men will see Legolas safe away, and head south. I will meet Glorfindel. I will leave instructions with thee, if he should kill me.”

“Sire,” Tanout said sharply, then bit down on further words, hands clenching about his harness.

“Do not worry. It would be an...interesting fight.” Vanimórë rose, smiled dourly. “I trained against Balrogs in the Dark God's fighting pits, long ago.”

~~~


“They are good men,” Maglor said later, when the late afternoon lay ripe over the grasslands, and even the river's voice sounded sleepy. Jobur and Tanout had risen for the first time, strolling to the water's edge with Shemar attending them watchfully. There was health in them, the Fëanorion sensed, and he was glad of it.

“Yes,” Legolas murmured. “Do you think they emulate Vanimórë?” He turned his head, his loose hair catching a silvery sheen from the languid sun.

“They strive to be like him, but I do not think they are kind to thee to win his approval.” Maglor smiled. “But for thine own sake.”

It was easy to say, but he knew that Legolas' deep insecurity needed more than words. He had never experienced a lack of confidence himself, unless to be one of Fëanor's sons was to be born knowing one could never match the sire. Yet Fëanor had never made any of his sons feel inferior. Maglor found himself fighting a tremor of loss and longing, a sense of abandonment in a world that had left him behind long ago. But then he felt, braced at his back as one would feel a fellow warrior in battle, his son, offering support without perhaps even knowing it, and he remembered too, the arms that had held him in the dark. On that thought, Vanimórë joined Jobur and Tanout, talking quietly, drawing Shemar into the conversation with that rich smile, disarming and dangerous both. Maglor gazed at him, felt his brows draw inward.
“Who is he?” he wondered.

Legolas looked surprised. “Did he not tell you? He said he was Peredhel.

“When did he tell thee that?” Maglor dragged his eyes away from the tall prince.

“In the city. Before you came with Dana.”

“No,” Maglor said firmly.

“Do you think he lied?” Legolas asked bemusedly.

“No. I do not know. He is Noldoran. Almost he reminds me of some-one.” He rubbed the mark on his palm. “Peredhel? ” He looked up at Vanimórë again. “He moves so easily among Men, but he is not of them. Look at him.”

“Do you not trust him, because he used to serve...the Dark Lord?”

“I do not understand that,” Maglor admitted. “But I trust him.” And as he said the words, Vanimórë turned his head and their eyes met.
“Hast thou ever asked thyself,” he said out of the strange discomfort and his own inability to express the confusion and doubt in his own mind. “what thou wouldst like thy life to be?”

Legolas' mouth thinned as if pinched with pain, and Maglor settled a hand on his back.
“I just wanted...” he hesitated. “I wanted my father to be proud of me. He did...did not...” His head shook. “I thought he would call me back to the halls for my begetting day, but...and by then I knew I did not deserve it because of what had happened. He does not love me, and I cannot do anything to please him.” He gave vent to a desolate little laugh. “Even before I betrayed the Greenwood.”

“And yet, thou art his son.” Maglor drew him close.

“All I want now – ” Legolas' voice quivered, and he took a moment to control it. “is to raise Gîl in peace, and for him to become the man I never will.”

“Maglor,” Vanimórë said, having come up to them silently. “wilt thou hold Gîl' for a while? Legolas,” he smiled. “I know what thou canst be. Come.” He drew his swords from their sheaths and handed them hilt-first, to the startled young prince.

By the time dusk came down, Legolas was rosy, smiling with pleasure. Vanimórë was an excellent teacher, Maglor thought, approving his methods. He concentrated on Legolas' natural abilities, teasing them to the fore. The slender sabers were perfect for the youth; a Noldorin greatsword would have been too cumbersome, and Maglor recollected that Legolas had said his folk favored long knives in battle, as some of the Iathrim had. (And the memory threw guilt and sorrow into his soul like salt.) The prince was ambidextrous, was whip fast, and he had the inborn instinct, whether he knew it or not, to recognize moves before they were made. Maglor found his fingers curling about the hilt of his borrowed sword, and searched his mind for where he had lost his own. It had been made for him by his father, and never failed him. He could not remember, and that hurt, but carrying Gîl down to the river, he made himself smile. The light was too dim now, for Mortal eyes to discern Legolas when he offed his clothes to wash, but still he turned away. Shemar came with a drying cloth, fresh breeches and shirt, handing them to Vanimórë before returning to the willows.

“How feelest thou?” Vanimórë asked, drawing Legolas wet hair from his shirt, and the youth laughed breathlessly.

“Oh,” he said. “I enjoyed it.” Maglor saw his smile flare.

One of the nightfires sprang up on the edge of the camp as they walked to the trees. Legolas hung back a little, turning to say in a small voice, “Did I truly show any...promise?”

The plea went to Maglor's heart.
“Listen,” he said. “And believe me. I trained my own men, and I saw many puissant warriors. That they died does not alter the fact they were magnificent. Thou hast that quality.”
Vanimórë cast him a warm, collusive smile.
“It is true,” he concurred, kissing Legolas' brow, “I would not humour thee. There are many things a man can be if he is not apt for war; a scholar, a craftsman, a diplomat, a singer, a bard, a physician. There is honour in those things, not shame, but thou art gifted. All thou needest is a teacher. I had one, in truth I had many, and they taught me much. Now come, we are all hungry I think, including this one.” He ruffled Gîl's hair.

~~~


It was the silence that wore at him in the end: Tindómion's silence, Vanimórë's, and Maglor's, forcing him into himself, to confront the man he had become.

The Fëanorion's vilification was acid on his soul. Recoiling from it in true shock, all retorts had withered in this throat. He had known Tindómion as long as he had known Elrond, longer than any-one in his first life. Tindómion was Maglor, he was Fëanor, even as Gil-galad had been Fingon and Fingolfin. The two of them had caught him when he returned to Middle-earth, had grounded him more even than Elrond, because they were familiar. Glorfindel had not realized until now, how much he treasured Tindómion, not simply as a sword at his side, a friend, some-one he could talk to, argue with, fight with then make violent love to, but the simple fact of his existence. He was stamped with his makers mark, was the passion and power of the Elder Days.

You were a hero to me. Eru, you were a hero to him.

He had known that, seen how they looked at him, how his every move was watched and commented on. But Glorfindel did not consider himself a hero. He was a warrior who had performed his duty as best he could. Ecthelion had slain Gothmog, and died with him, Tuor had killed Balrogs, yet the chime of Glorfindel's name sounded louder, and he did not know why, save that the witnesses to his duel and death had survived, and taken the tale down Sirion to the sea.

You could have contained the situation.

He wanted to deny it, and could not. Elrond had not lifted a sword since the Last Alliance, was a loremaster and healer, lord of Imladris, deeply respected. All those; but it was Glorfindel who truly commanded the army, and as in Lindon, in Gondolin, the warriors looked to him, even Elrond's passionate twin sons, Tindómion himself.

One would think we all saw enough death and agony on Dagorland, in Mordor, to have a surfeit of it.

Oh Hells, we did.
So why, when the first skirmishes between Imladris and the Greenwood caught fire, had his reaction been one of rage, not sorrow, not temperance?

Both of you seemed to relish the opportunity to fight again, to hate again, to turn whatever darkness is within you outward...

Glorfindel knew Thranduil's darkness, even understood it. The man had watched his eldest son grow orc-seed, and done what any father would do, given him the mercy of death. Such an act would scar the soul, and all that festering anguish could easily fuel a war. Thranduil's father and thousands of his people had died on Dagorlad. That had not been Gil-galad's fault; the Silvans had marched fiercely, eagerly to battle. But they would not suffer a Noldoran commander, and grief looks for blame. And too, relations between the Silvans and the Noldor had never been easy.

If guilt and grief drove Thranduil, what drove me?

Pain. Despair. They had lost so much and gained nothing but a space to prepare for another war against the Black Land. When Isildur refused to destroy the One Ring the future was writ in blood and death. Sauron would rise again, as he always had after defeat.
And who now will meet him?
Gil-galad's Lindon, bereft of its king, had crumbled, and it was there he had found Tindómion, worn to the core by a grief that only the dead could assuage, and had lead him back to Imladris.

I would have followed you. You should have taken the High Kingship...You could have made the Noldor great again.

That had shaken Glorfindel. Had had his father's house not been dispossessed, Tindómion would have been Gil-galad's heir, but the Noldor would never accept a Fëanorion king. Elrond did not want kingship. Glorfindel could have taken it with a word; he had the bloodline, even the right, and he would certainly have had the support, but he had returned to Middle-earth to serve the line of Eärendil, not to take power himself. Yet he was not innocent of ambition, and had been tempted as the Age rolled on, curbed first by his love for Gil-galad and later by the oath sworn to Elrond. But after the Last Alliance, when Gil-galad's broken body was laid in Imladris, had Glorfindel chosen to become an oathbreaker, to claim the High Kingship, he knew that Tindómion would have been at his side every step. Neither of them were born to serve; circumstances had merely dictated it, and the Fëanorion would have supported him, Glorfindel of the House of the Golden Flower, Balrog Slayer, Beloved.

There is no longer a Glorfindel the Beloved.

He found that he had drawn rein as Tindómion rode on. The name had been given to him by Finrod, also called the Beloved, and who deserved the designation far more. Glorfindel had never called himself that, nor even thought of it overmuch, save as a warm memory, but in Tindómion's silver eyes he had seen the wasteland after a battle where love and respect had been slaughtered.

I never realized, until I saw him, how young Legolas is, how vulnerable, how unable he would have been to fight you or even understand what you were doing. And you reveled in it!

He had reveled in, and for exactly the reasons Tindómion enumerated. Because if Glorfindel could have created the ideal lover, it would have been Legolas, or some-one like him. While it was not uncommon to find submissive lovers among the Noldor, the majority enjoyed domination equally, submitting to excise their own grief or anger, using it, as Tindómion did, to serve his own ends. But Legolas seemed to be born with the desire to surrender. The wood-Elf's greatest pleasure would always come from subjugation to a skilled lover.

If he had not fought me, had I not been so enraged...
No.

He might play that game of denial and force with any of his experienced lovers, but Legolas had been untouched, innocent of everything but a scarce understood flowering of desire. Now all there was in him was dread.

Vanimórë's imitation of the prince's words echoed in his mind, a declamation in the dark hall his soul had become.
He was...so beautiful! I thought he liked me.

Like or dislike played no part in what he had done; they were feelings reserved for human beings, and the lovely Silvan youth had been an enemy, the only one Glorfindel could touch in his mission of secrecy.

It does not matter where I go. He will find me...

He was not Glorfindel the Beloved to Legolas, not a hero. And he had not cared. Until now.

~~~


The small fire was coiling to rest in its fire-pit, and the space under the trees smelled like hay, like summer. Each day, the soldiers cut swathes of long grass and laid it as bedding, and Legolas lay like a fawn in a nest, Gîl' beside him, both sleeping as deeply as easily, as Tanout, Jobur and Shemar beyond their half-screen of branches. Vanimórë had massaged Legolas, saying he might be a little stiff in the morning, but that it would fade quickly with further exercise. The training had not hurt him, and he had eaten well before resting. Now, save for the dark song of the river, a splash of some fish or night-hunter, the world was quiet. Such times brought Maglor a rare tranquility.

Vanimórë stood looking out through the cascading branches. There was such complete poise in him, a patience balanced eternally on the cusp of violent action. After a while, apparently satisfied, he sat down, linking his hands about one knee.

Tell me of the Last Alliance, Maglor said.

Vanimórë turned his head. Dost thou not know?

I heard of it from a woman, a Laiquendi of Lindon. It was third, fourth-hand news and more by then. I did not know my son was there.

Thou shouldst talk to him. But the other's tone held no reproof.

Maglor closed his eyes. Not yet. I cannot. I feel him. He touched his breast. But shame is too small a word to encompass what I feel. His mother was a friend. I saw her as a child. Even mad, how could I do such a thing?

He heard Vanimórë shift. I do not know. But thy son is mighty. And Gil-galad loved him.

Fingon's son loved mine?
Maglor came to his feet in one forced movement, heart tearing, eyes burning. Of course. How could it be otherwise? It was there in the blood, the attraction that drew the houses of Fëanor and Fingolfin together despite betrayal and death and an agelong curse.
And Gil-galad died, as Fingon died, as Fingolfin died...

A hand on his shoulder. Yes. Sorrow. Thy son needs thee, Maglor.

And he needed his son, yearned for him with an ache that compounded the everlasting anguish for his father and brothers, For Fingolfin and Fingon and for Gil-galad, last seen as a child, now long dead. He bowed his head hard into his hands.
Oh, Tindómion. My son. Gil. He remembered the moulded young face with Fingon's blue-silver eyes and heavy night-silk hair. That beautiful young boy would grow to love his son. It seemed wrong that he had not known it then, known how it must be.

If I could give them back to thee I would. He felt Vanimórë turn him, draw him close. I would take away thy pain, Legolas' pain, but I cannot. I am only a man. All I can do is try to help thee. And thou art not alone any longer, whatever comes to pass.

Maglor let himself rest against the hard body, in the compassion. It opened a window within him. He said, against Vanimórë's cheek, But thou wilt be.

I am not alone. The rich voice chuckled. I have a city, thousands of people to rule. I have friends.

That is not what I meant, and thou knowest it. Maglor drew back to look into Vanimórë's eyes. They were the eyes of an Aman-born, fiery even in the shadows under the trees.
Who art thou?

It does not matter.

Maglor pulled away impatiently. It matters to me.

Why? Vanimórë folded his arms. A barrier. Maglor grasped his wrists and jerked them away from his body. The sinews were supple stone.
Thou didst save my life, Legolas' life. What can bind a man like thee to the Dark? Not fear.

I told thee: sorcery. And is there not fear? His teeth showed white. Thou hast known Sauron, Maglor.

He could not breath. The memory took him like a wave of black ice in the face. Sauron had left him nothing. He felt the chords of his throat strain against the scream he would not utter, against inhaling liquid filth.

No. Arms came about him again, held him close. Do not go back there. I have thee.

Maglor's ragged breath melted into warm skin. Vanimórë's heart echoed the slamming beat of his own, and he sought the beautiful mouth and joined them in a wild, starving kiss; a kiss to banish horror and pain and despair, until only furious desire was left. His fingers pushed into muscle, ran down the taut back. Whoever Vanimórë was, Maglor wanted him, and he felt his hunger reciprocated in the wildness of the response. In a man so balanced, so controlled even when he fought, the passion was colossal, shattering Maglor into simple, carnal instincts. When Vanimórë drew back, Maglor's harsh gasp protested the severance. The slim, hard hands held his face.

I would. His faced glowed. But not here. Thou art more than a quick tumble, my beauty. I would take thee again and again, until thou couldst think only of me, see only me, feel only me, and the shadow of Mordor was gone to ash in the wind.

A door opened somewhere. It was set deep into dark, glossy stone that reflected lamplight like a mirror. Vanimórë came through it, and Maglor knew that he had been both longing for his arrival and dreading it. When Vanimórë smiled, walked toward him with a predator's unconscious grace, wildfire burned in Maglor's loins. He seemed to wait forever for Vanimórë to cross the space between them, and plunged into another kiss to hasten the memory, pushing breast against breast, feeling the hot, delicious agony of arousal riding hard against Vanimórë's own. Words fell like feathers, like jewels, through his mind, words of praise, of desire. His fingers loosed the braid that tied back Vanimórë's hair, and the raven cascade washed over his arms, heavy as poured water, fragrant as incense burned on the altar of some beautiful and unknown god.

Vanimórë braced his hands against Maglor's chest.
Thou knowest naught of me. He sounded almost angry, and almost amused. Maglor wanted to strike him, shake him.
I want to know thee. When the Northman spoke of Mordor, thou wert there, buttressing me against the memory. A servant of the Dark, sayest thou? But that is not the sum of what thou art. He groped for air, the sound was a moan, and one of the men stirred. They were soldiers, and the slightest sound would bring them awake, though he doubted they would care. Others of the men were lovers. It was impossible to keep such couplings entirely secret, but they were unobtrusive for the sake of discipline, and Maglor could not imagine Vanimórë practicing reserve when love-making, neither would he want it.

I may remind thee of that, one day.

Hands still buried in the flood of all that hair, Maglor strove for control.
Do not mock me.

I do not, beauty. At least not cruelly. Lithe fingers ran up his back. I am imagining thee and Legolas on a great bed, lapped in silk, the light of candles on thee. Hells, what a feast that would be. Knowest thou how beautiful thou art, the both of thee?

Maglor's face burned at the thought, and a lurking smile sparked at him.
And thou, he said. And thou.

Vanimórë's expression was very strange. Maglor stared at him, then slowly drew back. A bird called from the river, a lonely sound, like a cry for comfort.

Thou art like him, he said, knowing he did not have to explain, and Vanimórë did not smile or jest. If he had, he would have lost something in Maglor's regard. He took Maglor's scarred palm and turned it upward. The web of lines gleamed faintly.
In Barad-dûr, his voice brushed the name softly, as if to negate its power and Maglor's memories. he was much in thy mind, he and thy brothers. I wish I could have known thy father, but I am not anything like him.

Thou art wrong.
It was so long ago, and still, and ever a bottomless chasm of pain.

From all I have ever heard of him, he would never have served the Dark.

It was true. Maglor could not imagine his father bound as Vanimórë was, but if such a thing had been possible, Fëanor would have made even slavery an act of transcendent glory, just as this man did.
How long? he asked.

Vanimórë's face was pearl-white against the loosened splendour of his hair.
I was born, he said carefully, two years after the beginning of the Dagor Bragolach. Legolas knows I was in Angband. It is no secret, I simply do not tell many people.

Maglor was appalled, though not surprised. The Elder Days were stamped into those violet eyes, as were many other things. But whence came their luminescence?

How didst thou survive the War of Wrath? He found his scarred hand rising to smooth along the high curve of the other's cheek.

I was not there, Maglor. He turned his head a little into the caress. I was sent away with a thousand men and women to find a place where Melkor might build another fortress like unto Angband, but further East. I was in the Towers of Mist when it ended.
He stirred away then, lifted a wineskin and poured a cup, handing it to Maglor, who drank and offered it back. Vanimórë sipped, looked down at Legolas and his child for a moment.

Thou wert free then, Maglor said in bewilderment. Why didst thou return to Sauron? Then he shook his head. No. wait. There were escaped prisoners...Or we thought they had escaped, but in truth they were bound by Morgoth, and were released by him. They came to spy, returning to him after. In the end, they were avoided and mistrusted, unfair though that may seem. Is that what happened?

In a way, though I am bound to Sauron, not Melkor. Vanimórë turned his head, and now he was smiling, ironically. Do not worry. I loathe my slavery. Art thou not the proof of that? I would never give thee into the hands of Sauron.

I know. But how canst thou be free?

I cannot, unless Sauron is truly banished from Arda, his soul locked in the Void, as Melkor's is, and even then...

What?

Sauron vowed he would take my soul with him into the Everlasting Dark if such a thing came to pass. For me, there is no freedom.

Maglor reached for him, pulling him about. No-one can do that.

Can they not? Vanimórë asked mildly, and Maglor thought of the Oath, and the knowledge that his father, his brothers and others were indeed banished to the Everlasting Dark. He knew they were not in Mandos. He had always known it.

Vanimórë went then, noiseless, graceful, his hand passing through Maglor's hair. Who fell to his knees. He, who had been tortured, could not even imagine what Vanimórë had endured in his ages of servitude, but that too, was in his eyes. He lay down, stretched his arm across Legolas and was warmed when, even in his sleep, the youth pressed back against him with a sigh. But his loins ached, and the wood-Elf's trusting proximity did nothing to diminish the hunger. Again, Vanimórë had caught him as he fell.

~~~


Vanimórë walked his own hungers off. He found himself, as he circled the camp, exchanging soft words with the night guards, pacing in the dawn. The rising sun sought out every fault and crack in the mountains, unforgiving as torchlight on an ancient face, and the wind woke from slumber.
I wanted him to remember.
He smiled, mocking himself.
But I will remind thee that thou didst want me, Maglor, when that time comes. I will not be able to resist.

End Notes:
* Lichtlothi - Elves in the Northern Haradhan tongue.


When I reference the Last Alliance, Vanim
Chapter 10 ~ Strange and Fragile Barriers ~ by Spiced Wine

~ Strange and Fragile Barriers ~


~ The forest paced them, a great green animal moving to the breath of the wind, but silently. All Bainalph could hear was the boom of air that sluiced past him.

He had said nothing as Thranduil and Celeirdúr argued, at first furiously and then, as Celeirdúr gradually forced himself to see beyond his initial reaction, more quietly if no less intensely. The king remained adamant in his intention to search for Legolas,. He agreed that it was a sensitive time, that it was negligent and imprudent, but he trusted Celeirdúr to rule with the council of Lords until Thranduil returned.
“Release Sulluth,” he had said, with a look at Bainalph. “He and Eludhuin can oversee Alphgarth. And do not make the preparation for war too obvious. The patrols have been increased, but let us take no chances. If Glorfindel could evade them it is possible another could.”

And then the eagle returned, and with him one yet greater, whose name was Gwaihir. Bainalph had never heard of the great eagle's involving themselves so personally with the lives of Elves, not since the Elder Days.

We will carry you south, Gwaihir said.

Why?” Bainalph asked then. “How did you know, windlord?”

The bird turned its head, fixed him with a wild golden eye.
We are descendents of Thorondor, prince. Which explained everything and nothing. There are still wars to be fought against the old dark. Then he said to Thranduil, Where would you go, Elven-king?

Bainalph watched his struggle against two imperative desires: to find his son, and find Glorfindel.
“We need to find the soldiers of this son of Sauron,” he said at last. “To discover where he is, unless you know.” His brows tilted in question.

We do not know, Elven-king, but we will aid you as we can.

“Thranduil,” Bainalph said, and the king's face smoothed of expression as water hardens to ice on a bitter winter night. At least this was familiar ground for Bainalph to negotiate. From Thranduil's words to him, he knew what the king had experienced during the ristas faer, and he had heard the Sundering himself, when others died in his arms, but for the one who sang it, it was different, it was pure feeling. And Bainalph did not need the Sundering to take him back to that autumn night in Alphgarth; he lived with it vivid as a fresh wound in his mind. Yet through the years, he and the king had sometimes to perform the dance of social intercourse, and the more serious comradeship of battle. They were courteous before others, and Thranduil seemed at some pains to ensure they were never alone. The night in the library had been pure chance. Or good fortune, the prince amended, unable to resist. But how long could courtly politesse endure when they were alone, and now that the king had faced and accepted the fact they were bound?

But he always knew, in truth. He simply did not want to confront the fact.

“What?”

He gestured. The ristas faer had left him both languid and peculiarly euphoric.
“Can you not ask Legolas where he is?”

Celeirdúr said he could not reach his brother's mind, but surely the father could?

“Do you not think I have tried?” Thranduil snarled like an angry cat. “I cannot reach his soul. It is closed to me, and do not say anything.”

It took much to admit failure, Bainalph thought, and as they flew, Why did he really want me to come? I cannot, and should not, act as his proxy to Legolas.

He closed his eyes to the rush of the wind.

It cannot be true, Legolas cannot be Elvýr.

But Thranduil believed it, and there were mysteries outside Bainalph's experience. It was a mystery that Legolas had been found by the son of Sauron, that there was such a person at all, that some few, some very few male Elves could have children, that Glorfindel had penetrated the Greenwood's defenses and fathered Legolas' child, that the great eagles had for inexplicable reasons of their own, chosen to aid Thranduil.

And then there was that shifting of the world, when the Elves of the Wood and of Imladris had ridden out of a shining mist into a land under two suns, as if Legolas' need had drawn them across the numberless leagues in an instant.

Perhaps it is not so strange that Elvýr might be reborn as Legolas.

But would he not remember? Glorfindel was the only reborn Elf Bainalph had ever heard of, and he certainly knew who he was.

They landed in the evening. The birds flew off to hunt over the grassland. After the cool flow of the wind, it was surprisingly hot under the lazily descending sun. The eagles had scattered any possible game, but there was cold meat, dried fruit and wine. The forest seemed further away than when they flew, the undulations of Rhovannion crumpling its vastness. They had seen, in the distance, the sturdy walls of Burh Alge, travelers looking tiny on the beaten earth of the roads. The wink of sun on metal suggested soldiers, but rather than have the eagles alarm their horses, Thranduil had said they would make their way to the town on foot.

“Once we know where he is, the eagles will carry us.” He unbuckled his pack. “We can purchase horses and supplies.”

Bainalph nodded. He had been sad to see Hirilel cantering west with Celeirdúr, but she was loyal, sweet-tempered, and he would rather her safe in Alphgarth.
“An Earthwife in Burh Stane spoke to one of the Southrons,” he said. “Vanimórë's men think him half a god.”

“Let us hope he does not think that.” The king stretched and Bainalph watched him, as he had so many times, aroused by the taut elegance of his body, the interplay of muscles under soft doeskin. Knowing how he appeared unclothed added an extra fillip of eroticism.

They ate and drank in silence. Small birds piped in the long grass, and the wind dropped, the sunlight thickening like balm. The eagles had set them down close to a spring-fed pool, where they laved hands and faces. After, Thranduil returned to their bivouac and drew a fold of parchment from his pack, spreading it out on the grass. It was a smaller copy of the old map Bainalph had seen in the library, clearly drawn in haste but perfectly reproduced. He moved closer and knelt. Thranduil's head came up, and words of repudiation formed on his mouth, but he did not speak them. After a moment, he said, “It is almost directly south, from here to the Morannon.”

“Thranduil,” Bainalph said, glad at least that the king was speaking to him, and as an equal in this venture. “Do you really mean to enter Mordor?”

“I think I will have to.”

“This Vanimórë, whoever his father, saved Legolas' life. And we saw him. He was fighting the Fell-wolves. Why would he take Legolas into Mordor? If he meant him harm, why not simply kill him before now?”

“How would I know what motivates such a man?” Thranduil demanded through his teeth. “Perhaps he means to sacrifice him in Mordor. I know what I saw.”

The king's anger, whether directed at him or not, always affected him the same way, but Bainalph knew this was not the time to fan those flames.
“What did you see?” he asked quietly, and unstoppered the wineskin, pouring it into a leather cup and offering it. Thranduil took it, stared into the red depths before drinking.

“There was black rock, and fire behind him, and a child crying. He turned and walked into the fire. It was no dream. I was not asleep.” His shoulders tensed, and Bainalph's eyes followed the straight line of them. “I know where he was. The entrance to the Sammath Naur on Orodruin.”

“Are you sure,” Bainalph spoke very carefully, chilled in the warm evening. “That you saw what is, or that the vision represents something else?”

“He asked me to help him.” Thranduil's head bowed, the dipping sun sliding over it his hair, glossing it to liquid honey.

There was nothing to say, nothing that the king had not already said to himself, nothing that he did not already know, but Bainalph stung with anger for the exiled prince, came to his feet.
“I hope this is for Legolas, and not for your guilt.” He could not smooth his voice to its usual calm urbanity. “I hope it is because you care. I wonder: did you hate Legolas because he was like me, or because he was too like Elvýr? Did Elvýr fail you by being raped, Thranduil, by dying slowly, and forcing you to kill him?”

He knew it was too much, that it struck home. He did not see the king move, but the backhanded slap staggered him. Pain rang in his head, and over it he heard Thranduil's words, red-black with rage.
“What do you know?” he cried. “You have never fathered a child. You know naught save how to get pleasure!”

“I know nothing, of course.” He saw Thranduil through fractured light. “Tell me why you wanted me to come.”

The king's hands gripped his shoulders.
“I do not know.” The words came thin with strain. “Legolas may not listen to me, but you understand him.”

“You understand him also,” Bainalph said dreamily. “because you understand me. Is that not one of the things the ristas faer showed you?” He lifted his aching head and smiled.

“It showed me that I was not wrong in what I did that night.” Abruptly Thranduil released him. “But I still do not understand you or Legolas.”

Bainalph waited for the pain to subside and poured himself wine. He smiled.

“I am bound to you, and you to me.” The king paced restlessly. “Yes, I feel it. I cannot kill you, but I do not love you.”

“I know.”

“But you can help me understand my son.” He stopped. “He lied to me about who had him. Why?”

“You know why, Thranduil.” Bainalph sipped, and he thought, This is the true reason you wanted me to come. You need to realize what you have done to your son. Your soul does know it, but it is easier to follow that thorny trail by traveling it with some-one else, some-one not unlike Legolas.

“But why say it was a Man?”

“Perhaps you do not wish to hear this.” He gauged the king's expression. “But if Legolas is like me in his tastes, and I believe he is, Glorfindel, from what Celeirdúr told me, is exactly like you. He would have recognized what Legolas is, in an instant. And wanted him. How could Legolas have resisted him? And he would not have known who he was. He was confused, frightened...”

You were not afraid,” Thranduil blazed up. “Do you imagine Legolas seduced Glorfindel, as you seduced me?”

Bainalph lowered his eyes to hide the satisfaction he knew would show in them. “Is that not what you thought? You called him as depraved as me.”

The king turned his head away.

“Did Legolas entertain a succession of lovers, down there with the horses?” Bainalph questioned hardly. “He must have, to dare to seduce Glorfindel, whether he knew him or no. I had known you all my life, and loved you.” And that struck the gold too, he saw. “I was afraid yes, but you were familiar. So now what think you, my king? Did Legolas seduce the Lord of the House of the Golden Flower, or is it not far more likely that Glorfindel overwhelmed your youngest son?”

He thought Thranduil would strike him again. The king drew breath, and his muscles tightened, but he seemed to be looking at something far beyond Bainalph, and when he spoke it was distantly.
“I was so afraid of him becoming pregnant, afraid of losing him as I lost Elvýr.”

And he had lost Legolas. Bainalph wondered what his feelings had been when his youngest son was gone. The king would never have shown them, but he was neither cold nor hardhearted; it was the commingling of guilt, grief and fear that armoured him against love. But what must Legolas have felt, exiled and pregnant? Bainalph barred his heart against pity, which the king would never accept, and which Legolas deserved more.

“If my family did not bear this curse, if Elvýr had not...”

He is not really talking to me at all.

Thranduil pressed his hands to his head, closed his eyes, his face gone stark.
“If I had resisted you.”

And what a night it was to evoke such renunciation.
He said nothing, holding the hurt close, for the king was no longer furious, the words uttered quietly, almost with desolation. Then, as the blue eyes opened and looked at him, he realized he had to speak, that Thranduil wanted something from him. He felt his mouth curve resignedly.
“I cannot regret that night,” he said. “But if it damaged your soul so much, I regret I came to you. I was young and, with the invincible arrogance of youth, I believed that giving myself to you would help you, at least for a time.” He bowed formally, and walked away, looking over the grassland. He had never expected anything else, but hope was a different matter, enduring beyond all logic and disappointment . The fiery wall of tension between them had gone, and so very swiftly, replaced by honesty and the cold ashes of a dead dream.

“I should have had more control. You were very young.”

Bainalph laughed without humour. “Are you tendering an apology, Sire?”

“Take it and be damned to you,” Thranduil snapped, sounding very much more like himself, and irrepressible amusement bubbled up in Bainalph for a moment.
“I do not need it,” he responded.

“Take it. I will owe you nothing!

Ah.
“You do not owe me anything.” He glanced back. “I am your subject. The king's pleasure is mine.” And, as the blue eyes flamed, he shrugged lightly. “And all the lovers you have taken since then would say the same. I was only the first.”

Thranduil shook his head. “Your ristas faer showed me something I had not realized. Had it not been for that night, I would have truly gone mad. Yes, I have been crazed, and still am, but hating you, blaming you, somehow tied me to a thread of sanity.” His mouth straightened into a hard line. “At least enough to rule my realm, to be a king, if not a father.”

How ironic.

“You are both, and Legolas is not me,” Bainalph said. “We are alike in our tastes, or so I believe, which is not, whatever you may think, something wrong and crooked in us, any more than your need to dominate is a twisted appetite.”

The king did not answer, his brows drawn into a frown. He drew out his arrows, running his fingers down the fetching. The prince sighed soundlessly.
“What will you do if these Southrons are not inclined to help us?”

“Continue south toward Mordor alone, if the eagles will take us so far.” The king paused. “Find my son before he is taken into the Black Land.”

Bainalph did not say that he was uncertain of the king's vision. He believed Thranduil had indeed seen Elvýr and Legolas, but in Mordor? Why? Yet was that why the eagles were helping them?

The king fell silent, checking his weapons, and Bainalph did the same, casting glances under his lashes now and then as the evening came down on them. Despite his difficult apology, Thranduil was as closed as he had always been, and in some ways more so.

I preferred him the way he was. At least I felt there was something there, under the hate.

He shook out a sleeping skin, and unbraided his hair, massaging his skull gently. His cheek felt tender where Thranduil had struck him.
“Shall I take the first watch?” he asked.

“I will watch.” The king rose. “There is no sleep in me.”

There was none in Bainalph either, but to walk in dream would be a comfort.
“I will take the middle watch, Sire.”

The stars were hazy. He stared at them until they melted into the past.



~~~


Legolas sat up, straight from deep sleep, air rushing into his lungs on a startled gasp.

What is it? Maglor asked.

“A dream.” Kneeling, he reached for his pack, and the arrow that was never far from him, that held home in its wood and grey-white feathers. Maglor tucked the blanket about Gîlríon, still peacefully oblivious. By the scent of the air, the as yet invisible power of the sun approaching the dark horizon, it was close to dawn. The camp was quiet. Vanimórë was not there. Maglor wondered if he ever rested.

Of the Greenwood?

“Of my father,” Legolas whispered.

Come. Maglor put an arm about the youth's shoulders, and Legolas leaned against him.
Why can they not leave me alone? They did not care before! Now they are hunting me!

There was so much fear and pain in the mind-cry. Maglor smoothed his hair gently, and Legolas' rested his head on his shoulder, emotions whirling like sparks from a fire, glowing red with hurt and complicated need. His lips whispered against Maglor's throat, effortful, fearful words fragmenting.

Hush, he murmured. We will help thee. He will help thee.

Legolas' mouth parted, gliding upward to his jaw, wordless now, and Maglor could not refuse the desperate invitation. It was sweet and hungry, so different from Vanimórë's fiery black anger, but no less ravenous. Legolas broke the kiss only to wind slim legs around Maglor's hips. He was naked and supple and hot, and his manhood rose hard, thrusting against the Fëanorion's belly. Did he seek love and comfort through sex, and did it even matter? He arched back, pliant as a fine bow, hands running up to cup his breasts.

I am imagining thee and Legolas on a great bed, lapped in silk, the light of candles on thee. Hells, what a feast that would be.

Yes.

Maglor lowered his head to the hard bud of one nipple, dark against the pallor of Legolas' skin, and sucked at it. He tasted rich milk, and swelled to pain against his breeches. Oh, Eru, how strange, and how beautiful! He burned up, and Legolas gave vent to a ragged, breathless little moan, caught at it, trying to be quiet, but needing, needing. Maglor slid one hand down his back, supporting him, with one hand, gripping him with the other, suckling, drinking, drawing on Legolas' until with a racking spasm, the prince spent himself, and Maglor lifted him so that the cry was caught between their rejoined mouths. Again and again he throbbed himself to release, and suddenly melted, liquid as a river, the tension draining from his body. Clamping down on his own imminent orgasm, Maglor held the youth close.

Rest, sleep. Thou art safe.

I do not want them to find me, Maglor! His slim arms tightened. I know I am a coward, but...

Thou art no coward. We will speak to Vanimórë in the morning. Hush now. Do not be afraid.

Slowly, Legolas breathing gentled. Maglor laid him down beside his son, covering him, and then sat back. His fingers were wet with seed, and he licked it, let it mingle with the taste of milk. A red furnace burned in his loins. He fought it, not daring to tend to himself with the camp near to waking, with the child so close. Little wonder Vanimórë wanted privacy.
And what was to be done? Legolas needed a refuge, and the one that offered itself was Vanimórë's far-off desert city. He came to his feet, turned straight into Vanimórë, and cursed himself for blushing like a boy.

I felt his fear.

Then thou knowest he does not want to see them.

He heard the sigh. I know. I cannot but feel it would be better if he did, but I cannot imagine Glorfindel or Thranduil letting him go, neither he nor Gîl. And then we would fight and one, perhaps more, would die.

No. Maglor seized the hard arms. It must not come to that.

And then there is thy son. Whatever he thinks of Glorfindel's actions, he would fight me. And whom wouldst thou fight, my beauty? Vanimórë's teeth glinted.

Thou canst not meet them. Maglor shook him a little, imperatively.

But they will follow.

I know. Because he would himself.

Unexpectedly, Vanimórë leaned his cheek against Maglor's.
There is a town east of Tirith Nindor, called Gelebrin. It is under the control of the Easterlings, but we should be able to halt there. Once we pass into Ithilien the going will be easier. I will talk to Legolas when he wakes. Tell him not to worry. His kiss was light and tender, almost brotherly, and shocked through Maglor's ebbing hardness. He curled a hand into Vanimórë's hair and pulled. This time their mouths came together with clashing savagery.

I can taste him, Vanimórë whispered, and drew away. Neither of the are an incentive to celibacy on this journey. He smiled, and left Maglor aching.



~~~




Thranduil stalked the camp at intervals, circling to return to his sleeping companion. Bainalph seemed remote under the stars, scarcely bound to the world, and Thranduil wanted to pull him back, wake him, shatter the night with the sound of his cries. The ristas faer had destroyed their very peculiar bond, and reformed it into something new and equally strange. What it had not done was erase his desire.
It did not change me, it gave me the gift of seeing the night as it truly was.

He had to force himself not to think of where the Sundering had taken him. His soul had always known the magnificence of it, but his guilt and grief had skewed it into something foul that he flinched from with a disgust that vied with dreadful hunger. That clinging miasma had been swept away, leaving...what? Bainalph's presence was no less discomfiting now than it ever had been, and the king feared that if he dwelled too deeply on the memories of that long ago night he would discover something about himself he could not yet face.

I do not make him uncomfortable, he thought with some annoyance, gazing at the serene starlit face. I never did.

But by the Belain, all he wanted to do at this moment was take Bainalph in every way he knew, make him beg, and weep and come to release over and over until they both reached the point where passion hollowed them, left them with nothing but one another, and the dark-bright glory of sex.
He felt like a besotted fool.

I do not love you, he had said, and Bainalph had answered tranquilly, I know, as if it had been a small matter.

It is not a small matter. I want you equally as besotted, pleading with me to use you, I want you to look at me as you always did, hungry, shameless, even in council with others around us, when I imagined bending you over a table, taking you before all of them. And all the while hating you.

He spun on his heel, strode away and stared south.

I think I still hate you, Cúalphii; you are venom in my blood, but Eru, I want you.

~~~
End Notes:
I would so appreciate a review if you liked anything. They really help me, but I do thank-you for looking.
Chapter 11 ~ The Winds of the Night ~ by Spiced Wine

~ The Winds of the Night ~

~ Five years ago Cadmon, chieftain of Burh Alge, styled himself Prince of Rhovannion, and sent a message of friendship to the Elves of the Wood. He and Thranduil met on the grassland midway between Burh Alge and the Halls, and agreed to an informal alliance. The Easterling invasions had not affected the Greenwood thus far but Thranduil, remembering the fierce Men who had fought for Sauron in the Last Alliance, recognized the importance of Cadmon's rule. Rhovannion was a region of lonely vills, few towns and solitary homesteads. There was little defense against invasion save for sturdy walls and flamboyant courage. The people who had come down from the lands north of Anduin were tall, fair and comely, wielding spears and double headed axes. Cadmon had drawn on that native strength, and formed a mounted cavalry that could move with speed over the plains, but such a widely scattered populace would always be vulnerable to invading armies.

Burh Alge was not the largest of Rhovannion's settlements, but it was the safest, lying only five leagues from the edge of the forest, and the presence of Elves would not be so unusual as to occasion comment. The town was situated on a small rise, and three roads converged on it from the east, south and north, which track Thranduil and Bainalph ran abreast of. There was no sign of the Southron soldiers, who had doubtless pressed on last evening to be inside the gates before they closed, but now they were open, and the tread of feet, hooves and wheels began to stir up dust as people from outlying holdings brought their produce to market. They did not seem to notice the Elves, gold and green and white against the summer land, until they slowed at the gates, guarded but not strenuously this deep into Rhovannion. Heads turned as Thranduil strode to the guard room beside the gate, and the soldier there rose smartly, recognizing not the king's face but his authority.

“Southron warriors?” Thranduil questioned. “Come on a peaceful mission, and heading back south. Where may I find them.”

~~~


The Southron captain, who introduced himself as Chadir, greeted them courteously his men, seated close by watching in silence. Bainalph, glancing at them, was impressed. They were neat, their gear well-maintained, and they had chosen tables where they might sit with their backs against the wall and survey the room. Neither were they visibly disquieted by himself or Thranduil, but of course, they were accustomed to their mysterious dark prince.

“He gave us instructions to deliver the letter,” Chadir said, after mead had been served. “Nothing more. If there was no further messages from him, we were to make our way home to Sud Sicanna.” His eyes were onyx, hard and unreadable, his head shaven bald, showing the strong curves of his skull. This must have been the man the Earthwife had entertained in Burh Stane, Bainalph thought, He had never seen a Southron so close, black as an orc, but there all resemblance ended, for the man was well-made and handsome. And yet it was so strange, for the Men of the East and South were known as enemies of the West, and followers of the Dark. Not these apparently, if Chadir had told truly when he said that there was a temple to the Mother in his city.

“What route would he take?” Thranduil asked, setting down the mead bowl.

“As to that, it is no secret,” the man responded. “South to Tirith Nindor and down through Ithilien, the way we came.”

The king unfolded his map. “Tirith Nindor. I remember it.”

“Did you see Prince Legolas, Captain?” Bainalph interposed, and the dark eyes flicked to him.

“A few times, yes.”

Thranduil's profile was impervious. “How did he, Vanimórë, find my son?”

“Before we entered Szrel Kain, he went hunting one morning. A few of us accompanied him.” Chadir looked down briefly at his platter, frowning. “We saw him, the young Elf, leaning against a horse, almost dead on his feet. The prince carried him back to camp, and tended him.”

Bainalph felt his teeth clench. His hands pressed flat on the table, and blanched.

“Once we reached Szrel Kain,” Chadir continued, “few of us laid eyes on him. The prince kept him in seclusion and well guarded, but he called us together, his officers, and told us of Legolas, that he was an exiled prince, that he was pregnant.” His brows lifted and his head shook once. “Only the Mother knows how such a thing is possible. I know nothing of your race, and am a simple soldier. But I trust my prince, who commanded me into the North. I speak this Westron tongue. All his officers do.” There was something in his eyes as he looked at Thranduil, and Bainalph realized it was disapproval.

An exiled prince.

It would seem Vanimórë had made no secret of his support and partisanship. By the flicker of his eyelashes, Thranduil saw it also.

“What does he mean to do with my son?” he asked, tight-lipped.

“Protect him,” Chadir said curtly. “As he did from the first. There was talk of sacrifice in the black temples.”

The king's face drained to perfect whiteness.

“But our prince,” the man said, “does not serve the blood-priests.” Pride entered his tone. “He would not permit any-one to take the young Elf from him.”

And he had not, evidently.

“Does he intend to take him to his city?”

The captain exchanged a wordless glance with another man, perhaps his second-in-command.
“He had not decided when I left. He thought Sud Sicanna unsuitable for an Elf, but my knowledge is old now.”

As is ours, Bainalph thought. And Thranduil cannot reach Legolas. But there is a way.

~~~


It still early by the time they purchased supplies and left the town. Thranduil did not wish to be seen by any of his people who chanced to be in the town; which might occasion delay, so he had kept his too-well-known face shadowed by his hood, as had Bainalph. Both of them relaxed a little once the gates were behind them, leaving the road and running south into the hot, breezy noon. An eagle called high up, and when Bainalph raised his head he saw Gwaihir and Landroval circling in vast, lazy sweeps.

“Do you wish them to take us to Tirith Nindor?” he asked the king when they stopped at last, unpacking meat, cheese and wine. Thranduil did not look at him when he replied.
“We know Legolas will be there, if not when. With the eagles' help we may reach it before he does, and if we do not, Vanimórë would leave an impression when he passed through.”

“As will we.”

The king shrugged impatiently. “We will be careful, as we were in Burh Alge.”

“We cannot be that careful, Sire, and you know it.” It had not been of great importance in the town, because the people were accustomed to the wood-Elves. Further south they would not be. Elves carried themselves and walked quite differently to Men. Even were they to muffle their faces to the brows, they could not disguise the way they moved.

“Tirith Nindor is Gondorian still,” Thranduil replied. “Their ancestors were Elf-friends.”

“Is it still in Gondorian hands?” Bainalph pressed. “What of the attacks by the Easterlings?”

The king sipped wine. His eyes rose at last, brilliant, and opaque.
“The traders bring word of what passes in the world. As of this spring, Tirith Nindor was still in the hands of Gondor, and there has been no news of fresh attacks.”

Bainalph had to be satisfied. He was ever more concerned with the north and west than the south, and news reached him later than the king. Neatly wrapping the meat and cheese in muslin, he leaned on his side, propping his head on one arm.

“What will you say to Legolas when we find him?” he wondered, lifting his wine-cup.

“That is not your concern.” Thranduil's voice held unmistakable warning.

“Is it not? Did you not bring me because I understood him?” Bainalph asked mock-playfully. “And what should I say to him if he will not hear you?” At the expression on the king's face, he cast aside his pretense of levity, and said, “But he will. You are his father.”

If anything, his words seemed to cause Thranduil discomfiture rather than reassurance. He closed his eyes, lifting his face to the sun. Not even this cruelest of lights could detect any flaw. Bainalph swallowed pain and wine together.

“How strange that now I think I should have sent him to you.”

I wish you had.
“Thranduil, what about his child?”

The question snapped the king's eyes open.

“My grandson. Glorfindel's son.” He came to his feet in a whip-crack movement.

“Legolas' son, no matter who fathered him.”

“You think I would blame the child?” Thranduil demanded. Bainalph did not answer, thinking, But did you not blame Legolas for something he could not help? And then, Scion of two princely houses .
What a pity he was the catalyst of war, not the instrument of peace. But peace was impossible now. Glorfindel would never relinquish his son, and Thranduil would never permit Imladris to take his grandson. Nor should he.
The king said, on a strange note, “You think I would harm him?” Then he flung up a hand, commanding silence.

You were going to kill him!

Celeirdúr's cry echoed between them, rustled in the grasses, and Thranduil turned his head away from the accusation. Knowing his propensity for swift, unthinking violence, Bainalph believed that he might indeed have taken his son's life in the hot blood of rage. Better that Legolas had fled . The king would never have forgiven himself for killing two of his sons, no matter what the reason. Bainalph took a step forward, seeing Legolas' face as he had seen it in that strange shifting of place and time, young and gallant and vulnerable.
“You must try to reach him,” he spoke softly into the eyes gone flat as metal. “He ran from you terror of his life. He has no reason to believe you would not kill him if you found him. Give him a reason to trust you.”

The hardness shattered, but the king's voice was steely as he enunciated:
“I cannot reach him, I told you. Of course I tried.”

“You are the king,” Bainalph whispered, wanting to touch him, but Thranduil had made his feelings clear, and he withheld. “You are the Greenwood. If you cannot reach Legolas as a son, he is yet your subject.”

And then he saw that Thranduil had considered that, perhaps feared that Legolas had gone so far from him that he could not touch him even as king of the Greenwood. He made no reply, sent an eagle-cry into the heights and watched, silent as the birds descended.

~~~


As dusk gentled the shape of the world, the eagles came down close to a copse of oaks, a rare sight on the grasslands. Bainalph recognized it, for he had paused here when escorting his mother to Edhellond. Uirephíl had said that this grove had once been part of the Greenwood before Men, moving into Rhovannion, felled the trees, creating the great indentation in the forest's flank called the East Bite. But this place, they had not touched. A spring rose in the center, never failing nor freezing. Ladywells, Mortals called them, and the wood-Elves said that the Mother, walking the Earth long ago, had called them into being. Bainalph believed it. There were traces of ancient stonework about the spring, and more recent signs of veneration: plaited flowers, straw figures of pregnant women, polished semi-precious stones. The birds sang soft as if they felt the slumbering power, but it was yet a place of deep peace. Daisies and speedwell grew amidst the grass and the water, when they drank, was snow-cold, potent, like some strange wine brewed from moss and fecund earth. Without speaking, they offered a libation of wine before eating.

“I will watch.” Bainalph said after, and Thranduil nodded, dismissing him without word, or look. Although none of this – and so much of this! – was about him, Bainalph's nerves were tender to rawness at the king's proximity, and continued stony facade. There was no need to set a watch here; the sanctity of the grove would debar those of ill-will, but he thought that Thranduil wished to be alone for a purpose. Reaching the marge of the oaks, he looked across the night-blotted land. Clouds had seeped into the sky, trapping the heat of the day. It was humid, windless, very quiet. A league or so away, in some hollow of boggy ground, marsh-lights burned eerily. The night deepened, and Bainalph circled the grove, wondering if he had misjudged the king's intentions.

He has to do it here, now, before we leave the forest behind.

Abruptly, he ceased his restless prowling. The silence was a weight pressing down the pewter sky. The marsh lights hung motionless. Bainalph's breath caught, and with no warning at all, power stroked up his spine. He whirled instinctively toward its source.

He summons me.

This gift of the land was more often used to find warriors who had fought and fallen beyond the boundaries of the forest, lay unconscious, or too injured to move. As long as the Elf lived, they could be found. But why would Thranduil call him?

He slipped through the oaks, and halted on the edge of the clearing. His heart bounded, choked against his throat.

Thranduil was standing before the spring. He was naked, his hair loosed from its martial braid. Bainalph, quivering, braced one hand against an oak, feeling its warm murmuring sleep, the quickening of his own blood. Time measured itself to the king's stillness, as if waiting on his command. The streaming fall of his hair rippled as he slowly raised his head, and above the grove the clouds began to thin and melt, shaded to copper and steel-blue as they drew back from the milk-coloured moon. Thranduil's flesh drank the light and gleamed. The dagger gave one quick flash as he ran it across his palm, and moving as if in some ceremonious dance, he knelt and thrust his hand into the spring.

Blood to the waters of the Earth.

Bainalph's fingers dug into the convolutions of rough bark as Thranduil rose and turned. His eyes burned blue wildfire. A wind sighed out of the ground, lifting his hair. He dropped to his haunches, plunged his hand through the grass, into the soil beneath.

And blood to the Earth.

Light and power exploded upward, caught Thranduil full in its torrent. His hair streamed toward the moon, a river of liquid gold. Bainalph saw, below the ground, tendrils of power crack outward, felt one wrap about him like a vine, burying itself in body and soul both. It drew him forward resistless, to kneel before the king.

~~~


He had put aside his clothes, drawn water from the spring and poured it over his unclad body in preparation. There was a way he could reach Legolas, but the Earthblood was rooted in place. Hence this grove, leagues from the eaves of the forest, yet of it. Thranduil had said nothing to the eagles yet they had brought him here, and again he wondered how much they knew.

He could not allow himself to think of Legolas as he had last seen him, nor of Elvýr's eyes as the dagger granted him death. There was too much rage and pain in those images that overlay one another, became a single face, a twinned soul. Grappling with and finally controlling the tumult within, he sent his mind and memories back to Legolas the child, whose tiny body he had held, loving him, fearing for him.

And I was right to fear for him. But had he been with me, even with Bainalph...

Not a leaf moved. The trees listened, waited until he reached that part of his soul that had loved, that could love still, though crushed under a mountain of anguish and death. From that place he looked up – and the clouds thinned. A half-moon, poised as he was, between the dark and the light, poured, blue and cool onto his flesh. The bite of the dagger was ice, but the spring-water burned, seethed in his cut like acid, or a rebuke from the mysterious goddess who was storm and ripeness, harvest and killing frost, Mother of the Earth. Thranduil clenched his teeth against the pain then rose and turning, saw Bainalph shining on the edge of the oaks. Irrational anger at himself, at the workings of his own heart flared.

Later, he whispered.

Grass, soil, stone, offered no resistance. His fingers delved into them as into wet river sand, and the essence of his soul grew down into the earth.
And the earth answered, shouting silent power into the sky. He could see, in his mind, the spirit-roots snaking outward. One of them seized Bainalph, the others sought until they concentrated into one thought, one purpose – and struck south across the world like a whip. The land roared past him, grass, tree-root, hidden black water, the stone foundations of mountains melting into liquid fire.

Legolas.

His son's soul was a pulsing star, and his own struck it like an arrow, enclosed it, bled into it as it frayed into his.

Legolas. Elvýr.

No words, for there could be none. Thranduil let his spirit pour itself into Legolas, and saw very clear for a moment, the young face, bright with shock, a sleeper wakened from dream, before the power withdrew, curled back into him. He absorbed it like rain. The earth-wind sank back into the ground, but the trees whispered together in a voiceless language, and the glade was filled with nacreous light. His breath came hard as he stared at Bainalph, who knelt before him like a supplicant, exquisite face uplifted and luminous.

“You reached him.” The statement was breathless.

“Yes,” he said flatly.

“I felt it.”

You felt it?” When the search had not been for him? Thranduil caught at the spark of an idea, closed his mind over it, saw the prince's questioning look.

“We are all bound, one way or another. I have no connection with Glorfindel or with Vanimórë, but Legolas does, and I am his father.”

The prince's eyes widened in comprehension.

He needed time to assimilate his newly gained knowledge. In touching Legolas, he had felt the child, and others. His son was surrounded by a wall of force, and yet a dark shadow cut through it, flung itself across him. Vanimórë? Glorfindel?
He pushed back his hair, twisted into coils by the wind, frowned down at Bainalph. There was no need to question why he had been summoned. They were inextricably bound, and in ways Thranduil was only beginning to understand, but he did know that part of their souls had fused that autumn night. What one of them experienced, so did the other, and that place where they came together was sensitive as a healing wound. Perhaps Thranduil's decision to fully embrace the old rites had been influenced by Bainalph's unashamed delight in them. For there had been great pleasure, but nothing that matched, that even came close, to that one wild night.

Nothing.

He said curtly, “I must think.”

Bainalph moved to the wineskin, offered him the cup, long lashes lowered over his eyes. Thranduil drank, watched as he made a bed-place for himself, neatly laying out his weapons, his clothes, loosing the hair that sprang energetically from its braid to cloak him in cloudy whiteness. Re-awoken and unreasoning rage drove into the king's loins. He was erect, knew it for a natural bodily urge, no more, and were it any-one else here with him, his hunger could be sated without guilt-trailing afterthoughts. But with Bainalph, nothing had ever been simple.

Thranduil.

His sudden movement brought Bainalph spinning to face him.

I am glad thou hast reached for Legolas. It has made it possible for me to talk to thee.

“Vanimórë.” The name came hissed between tight lips. “I am coming for my son.”

He saw again the tall figure with twin blades running red, the purple eyes a storm of power drawn from a dark and terrible well, and coldness seeped into his bones.

I know about thy first son, Elvenking.

What? Outraged, Thranduil slammed at him, Do you dare to judge me?

For that, no. For what thou hast done to thy son, thou and Glorfindel between thee, yes. And the anger was all around him, so that almost Thranduil expected to see Sauron's son walk into the glade. The trees sighed and shivered.

And now he tries to comprehend thine actions, for he feared thou wouldst kill him.

No. He closed his eyes; at Vanimórë's sudden astonished question, they opened again.
Thou thinkest Legolas is thy reborn son?

The thought of this man at liberty within the guarded privacy of his mind brought a rush of fear and fury into Thranduil's blood, pushed a hot dew out through the pores of his skin. Sauron's son, got only the One knew how, and with powers no-one could guess. Melian's daughter had walked the hell-lit corridors of Angband, and enchanted Morgoth in the heart of his stronghold. Who knew what Sauron's son could do?

Thy mind is open, and yes, I am Sauron's son. A tint of hard mockery as Thranduil flung away from Bainalph's troubled face.

Legolas does not know who I am, neither is there need for him to know, yet he is safe with me. He is afraid of thee, and of Glorfindel. The tone was chastening. Let him be for a time.

Let him be?

All his short life he has felt worthless. And I, even I, was valued.

Thranduil choked on shame, and the fury that accompanied it, thorn-bitter defense of the culpable.

And now, both his father and his rapist would own him? Little wonder he wishes to see neither of thee.

Rapist.

“Glorfindel took Legolas because he wanted my brother. He admitted it to my face.” Celeirdúr's words.
“Did Legolas seduce the Lord of the House of the Golden Flower, or is it not far more likely that Glorfindel overwhelmed your youngest son?” Bainalph's.

And then, sparing him nothing, his own to Legolas: “You are a disgrace! You are no longer my son! Leave! Leave me kingdom and never return, or I will end this here myself, I swear it!” *

He heard himself panting, Bainalph's sharp question.

It took Glorfindel some time to acknowledge that he had raped thy son. That it was even wrong. Vanimórë was implacable as the onset of winter. He did not want to live with the guilt of murder, if the youth he had taken should fade from the wound to his spirit, and so he gave him pleasure. But he did rape Legolas, who still believes it was his fault, that he somehow deserved it, and was too ashamed to confide in thee. And then all the control was gone in a storm of unveiled wrath. Thranduil's cheeks flamed as if he had been struck. Thou art his father. Glorfindel touched him with the faerboth. I care not. Neither of thee shall force him. I am bound by blood and sorcery, and there is naught sacred in it!

And then swift as the down-stroke of an axe, he was gone. Thranduil flung his senses south, met with a rebuttal absolute and impenetrable as a locked iron door. With a curse he drew himself back. A dark, smoky scent brushed departing fingers across the air, and faded.

“Thranduil,” Bainalph called insistently. “Thranduil!”

Rape. It was rape.

But what had he truly believed, that there had been some force but greater persuasion? He found that he was trembling like a war-horse after battle. The vow he had made to execute Glorfindel now seemed tawdry, hollow as a brass bell. Death could be merciful, as he knew too well. Glorfindel deserved none.

“I want him enslaved. I want him to suffer.

Yes, the leaves whispered, and the wind agreed, moaning among the branches.

“Sire.” Bainalph gripped his arms. Always a surprise, the strength in those slim hands.

“I will see him broken.

It was rape, and I sent him away...

Madness roared against his mind like a beast. He raised his head to the sky, and a dreadful sound broke from his throat, half-cry, half scream of agony, unhuman. The nightwind answered.

Thranduil!”

The prince's hair foamed and swirled like water. Thranduil reached through the pale stream, set his hands on the straight shoulders and pushed. Bainalph sank gracefully to his knees, looking up, and the moon splintered in his eyes. His voluptuous mouth parted, slid over Thranduil's cock, taking it to the root, and his throat quivered against engorged muscle as he moaned, tightening the stress in the king's groin. He buried his hands in the cloud of white hair, shuddering as the hot, supple tongue swirled and licked, the lips tightening to draw on him. Stars burst behind his eyes, and molten lead heated to scalding in his groin. He drew in a tearing breath and pushed the prince away roughly, then fell on him like a wolf. Bainalph's head tipped back under Thranduil's onslaught; he bent like a young tree until his hair spread in a cloak on the grass.

It was raw, savage. This was not the time or place for sport or play, only simple, carnal sex. And it was beautiful, because Bainalph was beautiful. Thranduil watched himself slam harder and harder into the red-hot darkness of the prince's body, watched Bainalph clutch at the grass, arch like a man wounded, crying.

Deeper. Harder. Bainalph ceased to plead, struggle against his violence, and shuddered, moaning wordlessly, helplessly, until Thranduil came to release. A kernel of his mind told him that this was what Glorfindel reveled in, this was how he had taken Legolas, but it blinked out, overborne by ferocious need.

It was not pleasure. Pleasure was wine and food, companionship, fine cloth and bright jewels. There was kindness in pleasure. There were no words for the inferno Bainalph lit within him and kindled again, so that when he moved with a hiss of pain, Thranduil bore him down onto the grass, driving into him. He was slippery with seed within, fiery, and he begged as he writhed against the turf.

Nothing that matched...

That even came close.


And again. And again.

Mine, as the lovely white throat tilted back against his hand like a broken windflower.

Mine, as the soft lips opened to his ungentle ones, a kiss like a punishment, like hatred, the purest, most dangerous distillation of passion.

Mine, as the desperate entreaties swelled him within the tight grip, driving them both mad, and at the last, into peace.

He woke after dawn. There was no wind, and the sky was a calm, dappled blue above the oaks. For a long moment he basked in the glory of satiation and lay languorous, one hand behind his head. He smelled of sex and bruised grass. Then memory battered against him. He sat up.

Bainalph was dressed, hair neatly braided. Thranduil saw his profile clear as he knelt, pouring wine, and its beauty, so hard on the heels of the night, caught the king in the gut and twisted. He pushed it aside. Bainalph had eased him from madness, but there were more important matters demanding his attention. Rage began to build, a hard, hot fire in his breast, rage at himself, at Glorfindel.

“Are you fit to ride?” he heard himself ask curtly. “I must call the eagles soon.”

Tendering the wine-cup, which Thranduil took, the gold-green eyes came up, glittering. There were bruises on his neck, and his lips still flushed to berry-red.

“I am fit.” That light voice, husked by his screams was, in and of itself, a temptation. Had Legolas, all unknowing, tempted Glorfindel?

Of course he did.

“Good.” He drank, then rose and walked to the spring. “It means nothing,” he threw over his shoulder.

“The king's pleasure,” Bainalph murmured, douce as a virgin maid. “is mine.”

~~~


End Notes:
* Taken from Ethuil'waew, by Esteliel.

Thank-you for looking. I would very much appreciate a review if there was anything you enjoyed about the chapter.
Chapter 12 ~ Fathers and Sons ~ by Spiced Wine
Author's Notes:
Included in this chapter are several Back to Middle-earth Month prompts. (It was not written around the prompts, but the prompts fitted)
Mirkwood's favourite son - Youngest/oldest of Thranduil's children.
Relationships - Interracial marriage.
Mirkwood - Misunderstanding.
Mirkwood the Great - strange customs.
Legolas, tall as a young tree, wielder of a great war bow.
Mirkwood's favourite Son - Legolas and his father.
Plain.
Mirkwood - To War.
Intimacy.


~ Fathers and Sons ~


~ “Father?”

Legolas' cry roused sleeping soldiers, sent hands to grasp sword-hilts as men stared into the calm grey dawn. They could not know what alarmed him, but Sauron felt the power that flashed down from the North like lightning running underground. He saw it enclose the youth, so that he was wrapped in light as a man burned alive, but there was no heat, no destruction. Quite the opposite. Green vines swarmed up and around his body. The earth exhaled, and a wind caught his hair; leaves scattering through the blowing cloud. In that instant of power Sauron saw Legolas not as a frightened youngster, but a tall Elf secure in his strength, a great war-bow pulled to full tension. Then the ground breathed in, the wind was sucked back. Sauron, in the baffled confusion, cast a glance back, saw the tendrils of power withdraw into the dim north.

“F-Father...?”

Sauron knew his enemies. The king of the Great Wood, prince until his father died in battle, was a tenacious man. He had fought in Mordor, leading his much-depleted army until the end or, Sauron corrected, what the Alliance hoped was the end. He owed a debt to all who still lived: the Men of drowned Westernessë, the Noldor, the wood-Elves, the son whom had taken up arms against him. Legolas was calling them to him like tame dogs, but of them all, he knew the Silvan Elves the least, had never walked among them as he had the Noldor of Ost-in-Edhil. The power of the wood-Elves was alien to him. It should not be. From Legolas he had learned that they were prolific, even after their losses on Dagorlad. It would have been too easy to construe that as weakness, but Vanimórë had told him it was recklessness and light armour that had felled them in droves on the battle plain.
It would not be wise to ignore them.
Vanimórë came swiftly to Legolas' side, speaking words of reassurance, hands resting on his shoulders. He was yet a romantic, wanting to believe in familial affections, and thought that Legolas should be reconciled to his father. But nervous colts need a light touch, and neither Thranduil nor Glorfindel had handled this little colt well.

And did I not handle mine well. He smiled to himself. But he had known exactly what he was doing.

Legolas' head shook urgently. He seized Vanimórë's arm. The strange light lingered in eyes that shone like ice-blue lakes.
“We have to go!”

Vanimórë responded, very calm: “We will go.”

“You must understand.” Legolas tugged at his sleeve as if to pull Vanimóre with him. “We cannot let them meet! I know what my father plans.”

Sauron kept his face as blankly curious as the soldiers who did not understand the gasped Sindarin, only the panic in the youth's voice. There was a moment of silence.

“There will be war again. He means to kill Glorfindel.” Gîl whimpered. Maglor cursed succinctly, whether at Glorfindel of Thranduil was impossible to tell.

“Legolas.” The calm strength in Vanimórë's voice acted like a boulder in the stream of tumbling panic. “Look at me. I know. Once Thranduil touched thee, I could follow the power back to him”
Sauron watched the youth try to swallow.
“I told him it was rape.”

Yes, you would.

Legolas' face was bloodless. His mouth shaped soundless words. Vanimórë lifted the pour of hair that curtained his face, cupped it in both hands.
“Of course Thranduil wants vengeance. But what he purposes would not be easy to accomplish.”

Legolas' voice came cramped through shallow breaths.
“Then they will kill one another if they meet. We have to go.”

“We will,” Vanimórë said. “Feed thy son, and eat. Then we will go.”
He held the slim body against his for a moment, meeting Maglor's eyes which narrowed, whose head moved once in negation. Sauron skirted the edge of their thoughts, smothered an ironic smile, but was pleased. He could ill afford for Vanimórë to turn back, and if that had been Legolas' wish, he would have. Time was another enemy.
Always a master of shapes, Sauron wore the Northman's physical appearance with ease, but it was not his chosen form and, as his power grew with the proximity to his son, he was changing to an appearance both Vanimórë and Maglor would recognize. He had seen the first signs in his hands as they lost the toughness of physical toil and weather. Forbidden a razor, he was permitted to shave under supervision, but no longer required it and, in the soldier's small mirrors, saw the fine lines about eyes and mouth melt away. The process was gradual but inexorable, and perhaps, Sauron considered, he did not truly wish to stop it. Vanimórë had not yet noticed because Osulf was unimportant to him.

Sauron could be – had to be – patient. His son's mildly contemptuous indifference was the very reaction he had cultivated. Foolish to resent it when it succeeded, but natural. He was stronger than Vanimórë, had bound him, hammered him, tempered him through the First and Second Age, and was not yet finished refining him. To be regarded as a virtual nonentity could not but sting, and Sauron freely admitted his vast ego, but there were compensations: He continued to observe, be impressed by his son, who now rose from Legolas' side, his glance and signal of long fingers sending the soldiers about their business.

They had left their first camp and headed south west. Thus far there had been no sign of the tribes who, Sauron knew, moved east in the summer to the great rivers. Yet Vanimórë meticulously observed the customs of the plains. They caught grouse and hare, but none of the wild antelope, accounted the property of whatever clan claimed the land. He possessed, as Sauron had noted before, the courtesy of a prince of the highest blood.

He learned that from me, even if he would never admit it. And of course, he is of the highest blood.

Just as Mairon had striven to retain his own identity under the titanic shadow of Melkor, so had Vanimórë fought lifelong to salvage dignity from slavery. Both had succeeded magnificently. Sauron thought back to Ar-Pharazôn, perhaps the greatest king in might of arms since Melkor. Set beside Vanimórë's steely beauty, he was diminished, and knew it. Had Sauron not already been deep in his plans, or been able to trust his son, he would have made him ruler of Númenor, co-regent of Middle-earth.
That would come.

The sun, lifting itself from the unmeasured East, drove a flood of gold across the plains. Sauron busied himself with making a tisane for Legolas. His temper, ever piqued by servitude, was tamped down, seethed far below any visible level. He needed Legolas to trust him, which was no very difficult task. Maglor was a very different matter, as was Vanimórë, with the latter especially he was on parole. And yet – as he let the mint steep – it was exhilarating to be so close, to observe, to flirt with danger, with his son.

One of the soldiers beckoned, handed him two bowls of broth. He carried them across to Maglor, who took them with a nod of thanks. Legolas did not seem to notice him, face strained, eyes blank and inward. The child, lying on a cloak in the grass, was quiet.

“What happened?” Sauron asked, returning with the drink.

Maglor's eyes rose briefly, seeing him, not truly seeing him. You will, Fëanorion. You will.
“He is perturbed,” he said, a hand on the youth's back.

Nothing else was forthcoming, and Sauron left them. He stared north, reliving that strange lightning-brush along the edge of his spirit, the blaze of earth-power. No, he would never dismiss the Silvan Elves again.

I should come to know them better.

~~~


He is not afraid for himself.

No. Maglor knelt beside Legolas as he drank the broth, then shielded him while he fed and washed Gîl.

The faerboth perhaps. The bonding to Glorfindel. What happens when two are so linked and one dies, Maglor?

He looked across to where Vanimórë stood talking to his officers.

I think thou knowest.

I know that the Elves will need all their strength when Sauron returns. Legolas may be the only one who can prevent a war.

Maglor handed the steaming drink to Legolas, receiving a pale little smile.
That is why he wishes us to go on. He is changing.

Yes. Life does that to us, does it not?

Life, Maglor said. And death. Fathers and sons... Pain like burning ice in his chest. Vanimórë was the other side of the camp, but as he looked around, his soul surrounded Maglor's in black silk and incense. His swift empathy was unbearably familiar, the same fire, the same impassioned love, somehow caged, but still furious, untameable.
Nothing is ended, Macalaurë.

Some things end. He threaded his fingers through his hair, clenched them. I wish...

I know.

I have been thinking: To feel so close to another succoured me. All Legolas feels is shock and violation.

I can sympathize, Vanimórë said, dry. But that is not all he felt.

No. Legolas fingers closed around his wrists, pulled his hands down. Maglor said, “Vanimórë told me what thy father purposes.”

“Then you know that he – G-Glorfindel – has to be warned.”

“As does my son. I will tell them.” It was too much to expect Legolas to reach out to Glorfindel. “But they will not turn back.”

“I know.”
A pulse beat frantically in the slim throat as Legolas stared at him, and Maglor recognized the expression in his eyes. He had seen it in his brothers when their father had died. Grief, yes, but rage at Fëanor also.
Here was a new thing for Legolas, who had been running since his exile. This was a marker in the road of his life that forced him to stop, to think. His first reaction was fear, but not for himself, his second, coming close on its heels and so new and strange that he did not know what to do with it, was anger.

“If thou wouldst talk of it,” he said. “We are here.” Only after, did he send a wry smile after that inclusive we.

Legolas whispered: “I do not know what to say.”

Maglor drew him close, the scent of green leaves, spring rain, white flowers.
“I know,” he said. “I do know.”

Legolas did not speak again. They rode with the wind at their backs, and Vanimórë and Maglor watched him as he tried to conceal his thoughts, failing because he was not old enough to have mastered the art. Neither of them interrupted him with unanswerable questions. They gave support in silence.

He wants me to warn Glorfindel, Maglor said.

And wilt thou?

I will speak to him, but for my son's sake. If he is anything like me –

Vanimórë looked across at him, a smile dimpling the corners of his mouth.
He is.

Like him in appearance, yes. A bronze-haired Fëanor, and Fëanorion too, in his loves.

Then whatever Glorfindel has done, he will fight with him, for him, though it seems unlikely they will meet with Thranduil.

With all the unlikely events that have already happened, Vanimórë said. I would not wager on it. Legolas and his son are drawing them like a lamp draws moths in summer.

Yes.
Maglor opened his mind, thinking of Glorfindel as he had known him, and been made to know him now. And his heart spoke his son's name.

~~~


The silence between them was the bottom of an empty lake littered with the unfading echoes of words that could never be unsaid. Tindómion's mind was a place of broken glass and heat.

Eastward, the southern border of the Greenwood straggled into outlying trees, and a land of grass and small copses; west across Anduin lay Lothlórien. Almost directly south lay the route to North Ithilien, to Mordor. The last time Tindómion had ridden this way, was in the vanguard of the mightiest army since the Elder Days. They had come to confront the Dark Lord, to throw him down. So they had. And Tindómion had left his heart on the blood-soaked ash of Orodruin. He could almost see, like cloud shadows, the host behind him, the glint of armour, the flurrying swallow-tails of banners catching the wind, and he could see, all too clearly, the ebony shimmer of Gil-galad's hair as he turned his head. His profile was a carved white gem. He looked like Fingon, Glorfindel said, and Fingolfin, when they marched to war against Morgoth.


And died.

Gil-galad was dust in the quiet glade above the House of Elrond. Only his armour lay in the dark grave, under the white slab, empty gauntlets closed over the hilt of his sword. It was only then Tindómion understood why Mortals set such store by tombs and sepulchers, why the Númenoreans had embalmed their dead. They were places where one might feel close to those gone, to part of them that once had lived. At times, in his deepest grief, he wanted to tear up the stone, fill his hands with the dust of bones and beloved flesh. Glorfindel knew when the madness called him, and drew him away. Tindómion felt his betrayal like an open wound, but he should have seen how Glorfindel too, sank into darkness, his golden glory taking on the ominous hue of the sun before a storm.

Tindómion.

Baragar halted as his fingers tightened on the reins.

Tindómion.

Pride, fury, the ambush of unexpected feelings, had prevented him from reaching out to his father. He had not told Fanari, though he assured her he was safe. She had seen him ride out to war too many times to be left ignorant of his whereabouts. But she did not know of Maglor. Tindómion, loving her dearly, often unable to understand her, did not know how to even approach the matter.

Well? He threw up barriers against the complicated love, in itself a betrayal of his mother. He could see Maglor's father's face in his mind, beautiful, moulded by grief, with a fire behind the silver eyes that nothing could quench.

I would not trespass were it not important. The antique courtesy abashed Tindómion's curtness. His cheeks burned as at a reprimand, but he flashed, before he could stop himself: How can a father trespass upon his own son?

No words, only memory, poignant as woodsmoke in autumn. He clenched a hand over the raw knot in his breast, and Glorfindel drew rein, looking back.

Tell me, then.

Thranduil purposes to capture Glorfindel, take him back to his realm, and kill him.

Tindómion lifted his head, stared directly into light-burning blue eyes. The Elven-king's vow did not surprise him at all.
Perhaps I should help him.

Thou knowest thou wilt stand beside Glorfindel.
The certainty in his voice forced Tindómion's mouth into a grim smile.
I was a heartbeat from killing him.

I felt no guilt for killing in battle, kinslaying or no, but I slew unarmed men and women, and I carry those deaths on my soul. I would not have thee do the same.

Tindómion turned his head away.
I wonder if I would feel guilt? I look at him and do not know him.

Maglor said, with sorrow and anger, If my father, my brothers could return from the Everlasting Dark, would they know me?

Yes. The answer came from a place beyond reason, harsh with blinding love. Maglor's silence was filled with astonishment. When he broke it, his tone was very strange.
Thou must tell him, and keep watch, if thou meanest to still follow.

He will follow, and so must I, but for Legolas, not for him. And for thee.

Silence like thunder, like the belly of a storm-cloud. Then: I want to see thee, Tindómion Maglorion Fëanorion.
There was a sense of his father within him. It was nothing like the dreams where he had been Maglor, lived portions of his life. This was a touching of souls, and it shook him to the bone. Needles of fire pricked at his eyelids. He struggled to form a response.
I will see thee. Thou art with Legolas and Vanimórë. At the name his teeth ground together. He was grateful for the thought that allowed him to collect himself. Elrond wants him dead, for one or the other of us to kill him.

Kill him? Maglor's mind-voice changed, gathered weight and authority. Tindómion remembered that he, with his elder brother, had raised Elrond and Elros, come to love them.
Does he know something that would warrant such an act? Vanimórë may be bound to Sauron; indeed thou knowest he has admitted it, but whomever he is, I have come to trust him.

Tindómion stiffened, his eyes sought out Glorfindel's, who frowned intent but mute, and moved his stallion closer.
Maglor did not know the identity of the man he trusted. In Imladris, Elrond had repeated the words of Vanimórë in Mordor, before he rode away south, a mystery, a dark legend.

“I was chained to Sauron from my birth.”

The answer to his origins was there, had they chosen to see it. Sauron was reduced, not destroyed. Vanimórë, for all his strength of body and will, could not match his father. When the Dark Lord returned and called to his son Vanimórë must obey.

Be careful.

Tindómion?

A brush against his cheek like a farewell caress. He could not speak nor think. Then a withdrawal and only the wind, the sun and the endless sky sweeping white and blue into the south.
He said, eyes fixed ahead: “I have been told that Thranduil wishes to take thee as a prisoner to the Greenwood and kill thee. I was more than half-inclined to help him, but it would seem my father knows me better.”

~~~


Rhûn lay arid gold under the late sun when Vanimórë's outriders returned to report a large watering hole, travelers camped around it. Soon their wagons came into view, resembling nothing so much as a cluster of giant beehives.

“Who are they?” Maglor rode up with Legolas, mounted on Seran. Vanimórë fell in on his left, and looked across to answer.
“Didst thou not see them when Dana brought thee North?”

“I do not remember them. It was autumn, raining. That time is still a little unclear.”

“'Tis an effect she has.” Vanimórë threw a wink at Legolas. “They are the Drejim, the wanderers. They trade across southern Rhûn, into North Ithilien, small clans of mixed blood. The war of the Last Alliance scattered many people.”

“Are they like the Mhadi?” They were the first words Legolas had spoken since the morning.

“No, my dear. The peoples of Rhûn tolerate the Drejim because they bring trade, and news. They travel unmolested even in times of war, but they are held in contempt for their blood and perceived immorality.” He pointed. “They wash the wagons white to announce their arrival to the tribes.”

The Drejim had settled on the south shore. In the hot afternoon, men and women sat in the shade of the wagons, engaged in desultory tasks. A few sun-browned children played with a litter of young pups and, uncoupled from their traces, stocky ponies grazed beside taller riding horses. Two young men were on watch, and one loped back to the camp as Vanimórë's troop approached. A woman herded the children into a wagon, and a hide flap dropped into place.

“These places are sacred to the tribes,” Vanimórë said. “Enemies must set aside their quarrels for two leagues about the watering holes. No-one wants a water-source poisoned by bodies. There are similar customs in the Harad. But the Drejim are not my enemy, or any-one's.”

“Yet they seem a trifle unfriendly,” Maglor observed. “Why so many wagons for so few?”

“There has been time for news to reach them from Szrel Kain.” Vanimórë counted visible heads. “The children are within, and some of those wagons will be for goods.”

“Will they deal with us?”

“They will,” Vanimórë said. “They will want horses, and good steel. We have both. But they live and thrive by avoiding trouble. Come. Let us find out what they have been told of us.”

They halted on the north side of the pool, getting low as the summer advanced, but still clear and sweet. As the horses were watered, the men settled to eat, the Drejim watched. Eventually a man and woman sauntered away from the camp; both were in their middle years and wore them with confidence. Bone-handled knives rode at their hips, but the clan was reputed to use them only when it was needful. At a signal from Vanimórë, Jobur and Elar rose, and met them half-way. A short conversation in patois Westron ensued, and ended with amicable nods on each side.

“Soldiers from Szrel Kain passed through, Sire,” Jobur disclosed when he returned. “A dozen of them. It is being said you murdered the prince and the high priest, are an enemy of the East. The new priest has declared you cursed by the Dark Gods.”

Tanout bristled, Legolas' lips parted as if in protest, and Maglor's expression showed contempt, but Vanimórë merely said, mocking: “Cursed by the Dark Gods, again? How do I sleep at night?” And the mens' faces lightened at his tone. One or two laughed softly.
But Maglor said, Dost thou sleep?

Vanimórë held his eyes for a moment, a smile tugging the corner of his mouth.
“The new ruler has to let it be seen he had no hand in what happened. I expected nothing else. They are warning against giving us aid, but they have no authority over the clans.”

“What insignia did they wear?” Osulf asked from a short distance away. Jobur glanced in his direction, and responded: “A fish-hawk, black on green, carrying a bushel of grain.”

“Dhölkan's second son,” the Northman said.

“Yes,” Vanimórë agreed. “No doubt he bribed more lavishly and wisely. Twelve men? They were not sent to waylay us. Which direction did they go, Jobur, and how long ago?”

“North-east, Sire. Four days ago.”

“Headed back toward the trade road.” Vanimórë gestured to five of the men. “Find their tracks, stay alert, and return by dusk.” He glanced at the sun. “There is enough time. Go. ”

Whatever the Drejim's doubts, their mercantile instincts could not pass by an opportunity to trade and gather news. Dickering had commenced during the afternoon and became enthusiastic. As the light drained from the sky, four horses and good swords were exchanged for wine, mead, salt, flour, and emberwine. The soldiers returned to report that there were indeed tracks leading north-east, days old, and they had seen no-one.

“They are headed back to Szrel Kain.” Vanimórë dismissed the men to eat and rest.

A fire, pungent with the scent of dried horse dung, sprang up between the camps and, at a word of permission from Vanimórë, soldiers began to drift toward it. As generous amounts of mead flowed, voices rose, and the sound of pipes lifted into the air.

The half-moon was up, rounding serenely as a pregnant girl. With the darkness, the music grew wilder. Shadows leaped and dipped before the fire, couples vanished into the night.

“I thought the men seemed eager,” Maglor said. “Is this a custom?”

“The Drejim have very few taboos.” Vanimórë teased a little. “Mingled blood is good for the clans. If a woman bears a healthy child, she may choose any man she wishes when she decides to wed. Her fertility has been proven. They might be a threat one day, to the other tribes of the Rhûn. Inter-tribal marriage was rare when I knew the East, reserved for infrequent alliances, even after Khamûl made them one people.”

“And why art thou not partaking of this gift?” Asked without a sting, curious.

“We did not meet with this clan on our way north, but word will have spread. They are quite superstitious.”
He sipped Red Harvest, silky fire in his mouth.
Even could he sire children, he would not wish his blood on any-one. What would a son or daughter be, but another slave? Time had blunted the teeth of shame, but his sterility remained a tender place within.
“And too, as thou knowest, a leader must set an example. If I abdicate my self-discipline, how can I expect them to hold to theirs?” He leaned an arm on one knee. “They deserve this, but stale-drunk or no they will be in the saddle soon after dawn, and they know it.”

Maglor said nothing, but gave a little smile, and raised his winecup in salute.
The pipes were joined by small drums beating a tattoo that raised the blood, and echoed the fainter sounds of enthusiastic coupling.
“How would it be if I took Gîl for a while?” he asked, and when Legolas agreed, tucked a fold of his cloak about the sleeping child. The little gold head rested on his shoulder, and his mind billowed clouds of regret and tenderness. He walked away, though not out of sight, and Osulf, who with Tanout and Shemar, remained behind, strolled over to him.

Legolas pressed his hands to his eyes, exhaled as if he had been holding his breath all day, and his voice came quick, stumbling.
“My father...It was not as it was with Gl-lorfindel. It was as if for a moment, I was...” He brought his hands together. “inside my father's soul. I knew everything he felt for me, his thoughts. Everything.”

Vanimórë smoothed his frown away.

“He was frightened for me.”

“He feared for you because of what happened to thy brother.” Now was not the time to disclose that Thranduil believed his youngest son to be his eldest, reborn. Vanimórë did not know if such a thing were even possible.

Their small fire was dying. The Drejim's glowed white hot at the center, as revelers tossed more fuel on the flames. Legolas face, in the uncertain light seemed struck of fine marble.
“I felt the Wood, smelled every scent.” The words came on shreds of breath. “I was the Greenwood.” He stretched out his hands, turned them. “I have never felt such strength.

Vanimórë clasped the slender hands in both his own.
“That strength is in thee, Legolas. It is thy birthright. But trees take time to grow.”

The great eyes snared the distant firelight. “For a moment I could have gone to him.”

The pipes skirled higher, and there came the sound of laughter. It seemed very far away.

“Thou knowest I would take thee, if it was thy will.”
It would be the best conclusion, and he would have discharged his duty. Except that it would be no conclusion at all, and Legolas knew it. His head shook slowly.
“I cannot. A king or chieftain of the Wood leads his people to war. If my father follows me, he will not be there to lead the army.” He rose, hands pulling free, and turned his head toward the north. The stars crowned his head with ice-white gems. Vanimórë heard the muscular pour of deep, flowing water, felt the chill of winter in the windless summer night. A blink and it was gone.

“My father wants to bring Glorfindel to the Halls, and not to kill in battle, but to...”

“Execute him.”

Sacrifice him, as the priests would have sacrificed me.” He faltered. “Do you think I am a fool to care?”

“No.” Vanimórë kissed him with approval, and great warmth. “Thou art growing. We grow through pain, through responsibility, and through love. Thou hast all these things.” He stroked a thumb across one warm cheek. “I know naught of Imladris or the Greenwood, but they cannot be permitted to destroy themselves in war.”

“I do not want a war fought in my name, to be used as an excuse. But my father will think...”

He wanted Thranduil's approval. Vanimórë thought of his own father, and wondered if he had subconsciously sought the same from Sauron. These long, unfettered years allowed him to consider his life from a distance. When in servitude he could not afford the pain and luxury of such analysis, or the unpalatable truths. He used his sister's death as a sword and shield – Either the one or the other. Either of thee will suffice – remembered how he had begged for help when Melkor took him, how his father had merely watched as he was raped.
The greatest betrayal.

He turned the memory aside, waited. Legolas hugged his arms about his body.
“Celeirdúr told me there was a custom in the forest, long ago. If a grave offense was committed, there was a blood-price.” Vanimórë saw the chasms opening under him, forcing him toward maturity, to deeper vision. It happens to us all.
“The offender would be sacrificed, their blood spilled into the earth of the Wood. That must be what he wants to do...to Glorfindel.”

Hast thou heard of this? Vanimórë asked Maglor.

I have not, but we Noldor ever thought the Dark Elves fey and barbaric. Yet they aided us when we fled from the ruin of the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, and later I knew a Nandor woman. They are a strange, wild folk.

“I cannot let that happen,” Legolas said. “For what, for vengeance? For me? I am nothing.
Vanimórë had never heard such bitterness from him. He winced at the echo of his own words.
“I was never anything to my father. They do not want me for myself. Glorfindel wants me for my son, and my father because his pride has been wounded.”

Vanimórë stood, caught the slim shoulders more roughly than he intended and Legolas, eyes flaring wide, melted toward him.

“You make me feel I am some-one.” Legolas' voice lost its edge, softened. “And Maglor. They never did.”

A fire lit itself in Vanimórë's loins, unfurled hungry flames. Everything he could not say, must not say, caught in his throat. Because he had been kind, because he had openly shown desire, Legolas had come to depend on him. It was inevitable, and how could he not show care, how could he not want?

I am a fool. Ever I desire what I cannot have.

“I must keep them following me,” Legolas said, fine jaw set in resolve. “And if they reached your city, they would come under your rule and laws.”

“Yes, they would.”
I would take pleasure in imprisoning them for a time.
The thought made him want to laugh, but the laughter had a black edge, and he knew it was inappropriate.
“Glorfindel thinks we are to meet with him in Tirith Nindor.” He unrolled a mental map and studied it. “We will have to ensure Thranduil does not go there, lead him to Celebrin. But we will not be there.” He called Maglor across.
Stay with him. I need to think. The Fëanorian nodded, settled the sleeping child, and Legolas covered him. Vanimórë walked to the picketed horses, measuring distances in his mind.

“Wine, my Lord?” his father offered, holding out the cup. It was taken with preoccupied, not unfriendly look. Sauron could see far better than a man could in the light of the half moon. He waited until Vanimórë sipped.
“I am surprised,” he said, “that you would allow your men such liberty.”

“Art thou? They have earned it, and it would offend the Drejim if I forbade it.”

“Why does that matter to you?”

“Is it not better to leave a fair taste than a foul one behind one?”

Sauron was interested. His son combined breathtaking arrogance with extraordinarily sensitivity. That was his Noldo blood of course.
“Most rulers cannot be so fastidious.”

“I am not most rulers.”

“So I can see.” He returned the blazing smile with its progenitor. Vanimórë might not admit that he possessed some of his father's mannerisms, but he recognized them, and when a stillness come into his eyes, Sauron wondered if he had pushed too far, too soon.
But Vanimórë said, “Thou shouldst be aware that no man or woman has ever bought their way into my service with their bodies, Osulf.”

Sauron opened his eyes wide. “Is that what I am trying to do, Sire?”

“Is it not?” His son's face held amusement over a deep vein of self-mockery.
“Thy night would have been better spent accepting the hospitality of the Drejim.”

“I do not think so.” He glanced across at the fire. “I would sit ill with my conscience to sew my seed and move on, never knowing what became of my child. I have a son, Sire.” Laughing deep within at the sword-edge of danger so close, so bright. “Our paths have not crossed for some time, so I know whereof I speak.”

“I am not sure that fathers and sons are ever lost to one another,” Vanimórë said with a touch of grimness, then: “Thou art determined to travel south. I have told thee that thou must prove trustworthy. I am giving thee an opportunity by allowing thee to make thyself useful to Legolas. Hardly an onerous task, yet it irks thee to play the servant.”

Sauron had wanted him to notice that; it was both realistic and true, though not for the reasons his son thought.
“I have had to serve before,” he said. “In Dhölkan's employ, my life was somewhat more privileged. I admit I fell out of the habit.” He tilted his head. “I do wonder why you allowed me close to those you care for. Sire, if you did not trust me.”

Vanimórë had the most penetrating eyes; to meet them was to feel all his strength, and it was considerable, founded on sheer power of will. Only once had he looked away from Melkor, and he was very young. Now he stared directly at Sauron, and the lucent purple shone with mingling of darkness and light peculiar to him.
“I heard thee try to reassure Shemar when Tanout and Jobur were fighting the Fell-wolves poison. And thou didst help the prisoners in the temple.”

A show of kindness. So simple.
I would call it a weak link in thine armour, but the best steel has flexibility.

“But I trust Maglor more,” he added. “He would kill thee before thou couldst blink if he thought there was any danger to Legolas.” And now the warning. “And he would kill thee swiftly.” His hand curled about Sauron's throat. “I would not be so merciful.”

“There is no need to threaten me,” Sauron said, mild, riding the thrill, the complex undertones of flirtation. But his son was not teasing Osulf the Northman; his response came from a far deeper place, though he would deny it. Beyond the deliberate cruelty, the hate and fury, were two minds that sparked from one another. Vanimórë was, all unknowing, flirting with his father.
“Just remember it.” He removed his hand. “And that buying favour with sex is one of the oldest games in the world. I am perfectly familiar with it.”

Of course, you have done it yourself.
To save innocent lives he would do anything, however humiliating, and he lost not a whit of his pride. And Sauron kept his bargains; he used terror and brutality to achieve a purpose. Taking life did not disturb him, but waste was foolish, and the wretched women and children Vanimórë gave himself to save were of no interest to him, simply tools used to shape the deadly, magnificent weapon who stood before him. In the warm night, the scent of his body, sandalwood and soft-worked leather, was heavy, potent as his sexuality.

“Hardly an...onerous task, Dark Prince.” Sauron moved closer, saw the wry curve of the beautiful mouth, leaned toward it. “Your men are trusted,are in your service, and are all half in love with you.”

“And the other side of that coin,” Vanimórë murmured. “is fear.”

“Of course it is.”

The kiss was an experience. His son was well-trained in all the arts of giving pleasure, but performed them with seething rage. Only when Sauron broke through that, did he taste Vanimórë's true essence, the deep, furious river of passion that fed all he was.

The scream arced into the dark like a spear. Shapes ran across the bonfire, the fire they had fed all night so it might draw the eye and conceal the acts in the shadows. The web of unknowing that Sauron had so carefully draped across Vanimórë's mind tore, fell away.

“Sire!” some-one shouted, hoarse with effort and agony. “Szrel Kain!”

As his son leaped forward, Sauron gazed across the black water to the unlit wagons disgorging armed men. Metal rang, feet thudded on hard turf. He followed Vanimórë, heard galloping hooves behind him, saw the shadow as the great black stallion passed in a piling glide of sleek muscle, running to Legolas, whose head was a bright point in the night.

“Get him away!” Vanimórë snapped to Maglor. “Now! Tanout, take Shemar! Go!”

Yes, thought Sauron. The fewer men the better on this journey.

~~~
End Notes:
Any reviews are appreciated more than you can know. Thank-you for reading.
Chapter 13 ~ Bonfires of Grief ~ by Spiced Wine

~ Bonfires of Grief ~


~ “Back east,” Vanimórë said to Tanout. “Then turn south.”

Maglor secured the straps that held Gîl to Legolas' breast, and nodded. The Kainian's might have laid a further ambush in the direction they would expect any southern-bound survivors to flee.

“If I do not join thee by noon tomorrow, travel on.”

He is not coming with us, damn him. But these are his men.

“Maglor?” Legolas said, going up into the saddle like a leaf. Seran wheeled, muscles slid like black oil, and Tanout, half-armour donned, helm at his saddle-bow, rode up. Shemar sat behind him, arms about his waist. If there were a running battle the young captain would be hampered by the youth, who could not yet ride well enough to be trusted with his own mount. There was no alternative.

“Go.” Vanimórë strode across. Maglor, Legolas in in thine hands.

I know. Thou art a bastard. Tanout —

Lacks experience, and is somewhat hampered, as thou canst see.

Best them all. Maglor gripped his wrist. Vanimórë's teeth shone.

It was a hard school, beauty. But I learned well, as didst thou.

If thou shouldst fall?
Even his brothers, his uncle, his father could die. But Vanimórë was already gone like a panther toward the Drejim fire.
Then thou wilt have to decide thy course. I would advise thee to forget Sud Sicanna. With my death the knives will come out. Perhaps Gondor. They at least know of the Elves, and have had friendship with thy kin.

Maglor cursed as he mounted his own horse. A warrior's farewell, devoid of sentiment.
“Keep behind me,” he snapped at Seran rather than Legolas, and the stallion flattened his ears, bared teeth that could tear an attackers arm from their body, as if he dared Maglor to doubt him.

“Maglor,” Legolas cried Seran surged forward. “We cannot leave him.”

I know we cannot.
“And thou knowest we must.”

The night was cool, dry as salt. The sounds of fighting faded too quickly behind them. The only comfort Maglor could find was that that there was no Power as there had been when the Fell-wolves attacked. He took this for a sign that matters were not desperate, but still he dared not leave Legolas to go back. He had sworn.

Father? It was no word, but a question holding his name, his kinship.

Ambush. He sent the image to his son, thinking: How did Vanimórë not guess, how did I not? Why did we trust so easily?

Thou canst tell Glorfindel if any harm comes to Legolas or his son, then Vanimórë and I will both be dead.
He could not bear the wave of fear and hard love that struck him. He had to close himself off and ride, alert for any movement the bespoke danger. And he would not look back.

~~~

There was a desperate fury to the women's screams. They had been coerced, of course, their children held hostage. In the dark beyond the fire, Sauron melted into wolf-shape. The struggle painted spasmodic shadows against the flames. He scented blood, sex, as men died in the act of release. Dampening Vanimórë's awareness had been a calculated risk extended to his soldiers and Maglor, who would otherwise have more wary. The lack of children had alerted Sauron, sent his mind snaking through the encampment even as he draped a gauze-thin shadow over the others. Vanimórë, absorbed in Maglor and Legolas, as they in him, had noticed nothing.

You find their company intoxicating, as you did Glorfindel's when you were a prisoner of war. Thus your attention strays, fortunately for me.
Maglor thought the Drejim unfriendly, Vanimórë guessed they had heard of events in Szrel Kain. Their suspicions had been allowed no further.

Sauron found the Kainian soldiers sweating in the wagons, some guarding mute, frightened children and their mothers. It puzzled him for a moment. The new prince of Szrel Kain should be consolidating his position, not angering the most powerful ruler of the Harad.

A ruler isolated from his land.

He sought deeper.
Ah. A new high priest had clambered astride the wreckage of the temple, a crony of the prince, corrupt as his predecessor, but less self-indulgent. He had proclaimed Vanimórë iconoclast, cursed by the Dark, fanning a religious fervour in the city that he himself did not share but would use to his advantage. Szrel Kain could not take an army south to the Harad, but the priest played the game of outrage, as did the prince, who sent soldiers to kill the sacrilegious — or attempt to. There were too few to ensure success, hence the use of the women; their leader had been told of Vanimórë's unwillingness to make war on them. It had the flavour of a suicide mission about it, but the soldiers lacked the leadership to carry it through.

The camp dogs bayed, scenting him, and he sent out a whip of thought that beat them into cowed silence. Some of the Sicannite soldiers fought even wounded, taking a toll as their blood plumed from neck or groin. Others, less injured, battled in deadly and professional silence.
Sauron flattened close to the ground behind the wagons from which issued frightened wails, and looked out at Kainian warriors who formed up in ranks, and charged at Vanimórë.
To be cut down.
By their advance, they had hoped to half-circle him, drive him back into the fire. It might have worked with others, not with the warrior they now faced. With vicarious pride Sauron saw them fall limbless, headless, and his son broke through the first line, fell on those behind them. Vanimórë had developed his own style of combat, and learned from every-one: Elves, Balrogs, trolls, orcs, Men. He dealt out death with sinuous beauty. His peripheral vision was uncanny. He was so fast he made his unfortunate attackers seem ox-slow, and he fought as if he could not lose. That certainty spread through both Kanian and Drejim like an infection, feeding fear that Sauron fanned. Vanimórë taught his own troops how to combat that fear, to move into a place beyond it, but these troops were not the cream. Only a few of the braver men stood their ground; the majority backed, turned and ran.

Sauron preferred to fight in wolf-form. He had learned arms long ago, but Melkor had made it clear that he did not value his servant's skill in martial pursuits. For warriors he had all the pits of Utumno and Angband could hold. What Mairon possessed was an acute intelligence, and so he had come to cultivate and use his mind rather than his body. His kills as an assassin had not been made with weapons, but claws and jaws. Those who employed him had not cared what method he used, and he promised that no trace would be left unless it were required. But there was no time for blood now. The energy-feed of death was enough. His son's song of slaughter was enough.

More Men crumpled, one hurtled back, kicked, and Vanimórë somersaulted through the gap, blades low, cutting the legs from the men below the knee. He would say there was no power in his swords, but his blood had gone into the making of them, and he judged the strokes to perfection as if there were no other way he could fight. As his father knew, there was not. He landed soft as a cat, moving into the next pattern of attack, Sauron saw him clear for a moment. And smiled.

A woman flung herself across the path of the Kanian's. She jumped at Vanimórë, long knife raised. It was a brave move. He stepped away as if unaware of her, so that she missed him, fell hard to the ground. The Drejim were an irritation, little more, but could not be disregarded. Sauron melted back into human shape as a Kanian swerved into the darkness panting, terror radiating from him like a scent. Still half-wolf, Sauron broke the man's jaw, plucked the dagger from his grasp and rammed it up, past the straps of the pot-helm, into the throat. Blood plumed, painted face and tunic. Good.

It would look too singular were I not marked.

Beside him, the wagons hide flap stirred, and the firelight winked from a steel bolt. Sauron jumped, caught the man's arm, and unbalanced, he fell, the crossbow discharging its quarrel into the earth. Before he could scramble to his feet, Sauron caught his head and twisted, heard the crack.
He shouted in Westron: “'Ware arrows!”

Another Kanian appeared in the wagon's doorway, bow loaded, but the bolt wavered as he swung it from Sauron to Vanimórë. A shadow moved behind him, and he pitched down the steps face-first followed by a Drejim woman. She leaped onto his back with one trailing shriek like a war cry. As if her action sparked fear into fury, her kinswomen joined her, running from every direction. They buried the man in thrashing bodies. A thud, and the sound of small feet hitting the ground told Sauron that the children inside the wagon had unbarred the rear door, and fled. All along the line of wagons shouts rose, as the soldiers struggled with their hostages.

How foolish, Sauron thought. Always separate the mothers from the children; the former were more tractable.

Bodies lay around Vanimórë, the surviving Kanians caught between he and the Drejim who had betrayed him. But Vanimórë had dealt honestly by them, and Szrel Kain had threatened their children. Betrayal sat ill with the wandering tribes, Sauron knew, breaking ancient laws of hospitality. He fed a thread of hate-fear to them, but it was scarce needed. They had seen how this would end from the moment Vanimórë began killing. Now, they could only hope he would not slay them.

He will not. I would, or I would order him to.

“Hold!” A voice cried, hoarse with strain: “Hold, Dark Prince. Hold Drejim.”

Lamplight above one of the wagon doors showed a stocky Kanian, and a girl. The soldier's sword was across her stomach, a dagger at her throat. She was pregnant, perhaps half-way through her term.

Vanimórë became motionless in one heartbeat.

You cannot see the danger in that, and you will not have time to regret it.

“Let us go, and this whore lives. One more step and I will open her belly and spill her bastard.”

The Drejim fell still, seemed not to breathe. The crack and spit of the flames, the hoarse wails of the dying rose loud in the night.

“And then I will open thine.” There was iron in the calm reply. “And leave thee staked out for the vultures. This I vow.”

The soldier quivered. A fanatic, but not so fanatical he was willing to die when the time came.

The leader of this motley group. And a fool. My son knows that if he takes her he will kill her when he is out of sight. He should have tried to appear honourable.

“Bring horses.” The man tried to sound authoritative, and failed. “I will leave her when we are far enough away. Pursue us and she dies.” When no-one moved, his grip tightened. The girl was silent, eyes closed, but a thin line of blood welled across her throat. A few Drejim hastened away.

“Throw aside your swords, Dark Prince, slowly. And that dagger too.”

Vanimórë flicked his wrists. The sabers described an arc, and fell point-down. He drew the dagger from his thigh-sheath, tossed it away.

“Now, this is what will happen.” The man's smile was ghastly. He glanced aside, eyes finding Sauron, and said: “You. Kill him.”

What?” He decided some expression of shock was in order.

From the shadows some-one swore, and kept cursing in Haradhan.

“Quiet,” Vanimórë ordered.

The captain grinned. “I have enough men to finish these dregs if they object. But they will not. So. You will let him kill you to save this bitch, won't you?”

“I suppose I will have to.” The man did not hear the leonine drawl in the reply, like a great cat's throat opening to the roar that precedes the kill.

Sauron walked toward his son. The beautiful face held no expression.

“Had I time,” the man said with loud bravado. “I would cut off your hands and feet, Dark Prince, pluck out those eyes, and take you so, crippled and blind, back to Szrel Kain.”

Would you indeed? A dark, pure rage lit Sauron's mind like black lightning. That such offal should speak so of his masterpiece.
And had I the time, and all my powers were returned, I would do the same to you, and chain your soul to your rotting body for a long, long time.

The night waited.

“I said: Kill him.

Sauron circled his son's mind, felt the concentration honed to a spear-point. He raised his knife as if to drive it into Vanimórë's unprotected throat, and their eyes met in. The understanding was instant, perfect. Sauron's brows lifted infinitesimally. Few would attempt what Vanimórë was about to —
— as Sauron released the dagger hilt, and Vanimórë's hand closed around it. In one move which was a blur his arm went back, snapped forward, and the blade took the soldier through the left eye.

He was dead, pulling the girl down with him. She had the sense to go limp, let herself fall without struggle. Men and women ran to help her. Sauron dived aside, picked one of the discarded sabers and threw it at Vanimórë. He caught it, whirled, and the hilt slammed down on a Kanian's head. The man went down like a felled ox, the helm no protection against such a blow. Vanimórë flipped head-over-heels, straight over a slicing Kanian sword, and his skimming hand retrieved the second blade. Sauron plucked a dagger from the stunned soldier, seeing the run of red seep under the metal from ears and nose.

The Drejim now fought with savagery. A soldier screamed high and terrified as he was dragged toward the fire and flung into its heart. Sauron ignored the animal howls that rose, watched his son cut the last Kanian's down as if the others had been sparring practice. When it was over, his eyes scanned the camp. He flicked blood from his blades.

“Would any-one like to try and kill me now?” he asked.

No-one moved or spoke.

“If there are healers among thee, come. I have injured men.” He strode toward where they lay, and no-one could doubt that violence still fumed in his blood. He gestured to Sauron.
“Attend me.”

A thin rind of dawn was in the eastern sky, the early wind stirred, whispering in the flames. There came a scuff of boots and a woman approached. Sauron recognized her as the one who, with her male companion, had approached the Sicannites that afternoon.
“They said they would kill our children.” Her voice came bare of feeling; she did not expect forgiveness. “We have defiled this place and damned our tribe. News will spread and we will be outcast.”

“Do not ask me for pity.” Vanimórë knelt beside Jobur. Sauron hardly recognized him for the wounds he bore. Blood trailed black lines beside his mouth and one eye was gone. “These men have served me since their youth.”

To Sauron's eyes the rage showed in him like a Balrog's fire. He wanted to slay the woman, turn on all the Drejim, leave nothing of their camp but bones and ash. It was an impulse, a need he restrained. Honed, such control would bring realm after realm to its knees.
For me. I was right to persuade Melkor not to geld him. He would have become nothing more than a monster, useless save as a weapon of terror.

The woman stumbled back as Vanimórë raised his head.
“Healers,” he said.
He did not fear that they would attack him, gave them his back in what might be construed as contempt. But there was no risk now. His presence was more potent than he realized. Fear of him had cowed the Drejim, and shame sat astride it.

The ambush had not been as successful as Sauron had hoped at the outset. There were more Sicannite survivors than he had expected, but none would be able to ride for a time. As for those too gravely wounded, Vanimórë had eased their passing, and their eyes had thanked him. One of those had been Jobur, still alive when Vanimórë knelt beside him. He had not been able to speak.

“We will make a pyre for them,” Vanimórë said, when he had cut the locks of their hair to burn in their memory. The grief in him was red, raw and enclosed, as always, in a mailed fist. The Kanian's were laid alongside the Sicannites, and the Drejim bought oil and emberwine. Bodies could not be buried so close to the water-hole, and Vanimórë would not leave his men to be picked clean by wild dogs and vultures. A vein of pragmatism ran through his decision; such an action showed disregard for his people, but there was genuine distaste in him for such a disposal. A pyre was the only option, but bodies were not, Sauron knew from experience, as easy to burn as people supposed, and so they worked hard to make the fire as hot as possible and keep it so. Others would come to this place, see the remains and, as the woman had predicted, word would spread of the tribe's treachery. Travellers would avoid them, even their own kin, and the Drejim would dwindle and die. They knew it, drew back to their wagons, somber and fearful, worn by the horror of the night and its aftermath. Vanimórë gazed into the flames. The morning wind drove the reek of roasting flesh far into the west.

“Why didst thou come?” He spoke without looking at Sauron, who said:
“You did not tell me not to.”

“True. Thou hast surprised me.”

“Perhaps I aimed to show you I have not altogether lost my courage, prince.” The bite in the words was not assumed. Vanimórë looked at him (and it was still disconcerting to look up at his son).
“Thou art very quick,” he approved. “Quick to think. I appreciate that.”

Sauron put up his brows.
“I did not think you intended to die, nor see the Kanian's leave with a hostage they would kill when out of sight.”

“Thou hast watched and learned.” He swung away from the fire.

More than you know, my son.

“How will you answer this?” he asked. “They have earned death.”

“They will die.” Vanimórë's teeth clipped down. “But I have never put women to the sword. I will not start now.” He strode across to where the woman stood. The night had aged her, but she faced him with bitter resolution.
He said: “Thou speakest for the Drejim?”

She shifted, the previous confidence gone from her.
“With Varak dead, I do, lord. I am Suuna.”

Varak could not have been her husband, Sauron guessed, for her grief was not that of a woman who had lost a mate, but a friend.

“Thou hast ensured the death of thy tribe as thou knowest, Suuna.” Vanimórë gestured to the pyre. “Perhaps thou wilt fail slowly, but it is more likely that the tribes who once welcomed thee will slaughter thee. Treachery is answered with violence.” He paused to let that take root and flower, then: “I offer thee a chance — to serve me. Bring a pitcher of wine and cups.”
When it came, he drew a dagger and cut a line across one palm, holding it over the mouth of the jug so that his blood ran into the wine. Suuna stared at it. She knew what it signified.

“This,” Vanimórë said, “Is my offer: I have injured men who cannot ride, and thou hast wagons. I require that they be taken into Gondor, as far as the city of Osgiliath. I have left troops there, and by that time, my men will be fit to ride with them, I hope. If thou wilt take them, swear blood-oath to me, thou canst continue on to Sud Sicanna, and the Drejim need not die. I will give thee tokens that will ensure thee safe passage through the lands.” He spread his cut hand before the woman's face.
“Hold. Blood-oaths made to me cannot be lightly broken, but think on this: there are women here who carry the seed of my soldiers, many of them dead. There are children. I would leave thee to the untender mercies of the other tribes were it not for them. The innocent deserve a chance at life.”

The pregnant girl broke the stillness, descended the steps of the wagon and came forward. A linen bandage covered the cut on her throat, and a woolen cloak was drawn tight about her as if she were chilled in the hot day. After one quick upward look in Vanimórë's direction, she fixed her eyes on the older woman.
“We must do this, mother.” Her hand shook as she reached for the jug. Suuna pushed it aside, poured a little into a cup, and lifted it to her own bitten lips. Vanimórë forestalled her by placing his hand over the rim.

“Too hasty.” His voice was soft. “Thou hast not heard what will happen to thee if this oath is broken.”

Sauron hid a smile.
It really is immensely pleasurable to watch thee.
And he would use well what he learned.

“My blood will lie quiescent until thy deaths unless thou wouldst betray me or mine again. And then it will burn thee like levin, a fire that will consume thee slowly from within.”

Vanimórë drew his hand away, and Suuna brought the cup to her mouth. For a moment it seemed she might vomit the wine back up, but she struggled, held it down, her face stern.

They followed her one by one, all save the children. Some were terrified, others as resolute as Suuna, and most of these were the women who had attempted — and succeeded — in murdering their lovers. They did not look at Vanimórë, and when they had drunk retreated to the wagons. The men were at once more wary and more belligerent, as if to prove they felt no fear.

It is not that alone, though, Sauron mused. They feel the shame of men who would be more than they are, and were proven less.

When all had drunk, Vanimórë saw the wounded laid in the wagons, and the Drejim made ready to move from this place that stank of death.

“What of the others?” Sauron asked.

“I have spoken to them. They are coming. We will wait.”

There was a little wine left in the jug, and Sauron poured it into a cup, looked at his son over the rim.
“If I drank this would you trust me?”

“Oh, thou didst believe that tale of my blood? I took thee for an intelligent man.”

“It was a lie?”

“Blood magic is powerful, but I have never used it.” The brilliant eyes mocked. “I needed a ritual that would bind them to me, make them fear to cross me. They are superstitious. It is wonderful what fear will do.”

You are wrong, my son. This time, Sauron allowed his smile to show. You deny the power of my blood at every turn, yet it manifests through your will, in your martial skills, in everything that is human, not Ainu, but still it is there, and I doubt not that treachery would indeed kill these Drejim in the way you described. This should never have worked; you do not understand how your power has come down on these people. Now they are wholly yours.

“Well,” he said. “It is still a pity to waste good Dorwinion.” And drank.

~~~

Tanout's face showed traces of the tears he had wept. Maglor had told him as gently as he could, but there was no way of softening such news. Of the one hundred warriors Vanimórë had lead out of Szrel Kain, only twenty survived. Legolas was white and shocked, and all were silent for a long time as they retraced their path south.
“If you had not come with me,” he said as dawn cleared the shadows of the night. “More might have lived.”

Legolas voiced the thoughts of all, but Tanout urged his mount alongside Seran, and said: “Treachery killed my comrades, nothing else.”

“And yet...I was thinking of the Fell-wolves.”

“I too, considered that,” Maglor said. “Thou art thinking that if there was danger to thee, they — Glorfindel, thy father — would come again.”

“Y-yes.” One hand clenched tight about the reins. “I do not know, but if they had — ”

“Yes, if they had, it could precipitate the very clash thou art seeking to avoid, my dear.”

Legolas said, very faint: “I know.”

“Thine only true duty is to Gîl'. There will come a time when thou wilt not need to run, but now is not that time.” Maglor tempered the sternness of his words with a smile, though he had to search for one, as he had in the time after the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, an attempt to comfort the comfortless. Learning that some choices could be painful was part of Legolas' growth, inevitable but forced on him by this perilous journey, and powers that Maglor himself could not understand.

“Lord Maglor is right,” Tanout said, and he, too, was young for this.

I do not know if we could have come, Tindómion said when Maglor told him of the events. I felt that there was danger, as did Glorfindel, but not as imperative as the time we saw thee fighting the Fell-wolves. There was no mist.

A burn of black-gold, and Glorfindel was there.
Thou didst take Legolas and my son out of danger, and the feeling grew fainter. And then, on an explosion of sudden sunfire that reminded Maglor startlingly of his father: Thinks't thou that Legolas would be in any more danger with me than he is with Vanimórë? Truly?

He has come to no harm with Vanimórë.

And how long can that last, Maglor?

I do not know, he thought privately. Misfortune seems to dog us, but that is not Vanimórë's fault.
I will not help thee in this, Glorfindel. Thou hast much to make amends for. He closed his mind against the lash of anger, and rode on, his shadow stretching dark and long into the West.

Nothing could have prepared them for the Drejim encampment, the pyre eating the bodies, the signs of violent battle writ in gore. Legolas' breath drew in, and Shemar closed his eyes against the sight. Tanout straightened his shoulders, rode straight across to where Vanimórë waited. Osulf was there. Maglor had wondered what had become of him. His clothes were blood-splashed, but he looked calm, his eyes opaque as he acknowledged them.

“We will travel with them for a little,” Vanimórë said. “Come.”

He took them out of the sight of the pyre, behind the wagons, as Maglor said:
“Thou art trusting them?”

“I trust their sense of self-preservation.” He raised his hand to Legolas, who came down from Seran's back, and into his arms. Over the golden head, he said: “They have taken blood-oath. They have nothing left for them here but death, trusted by no-one, attacked by other tribes. And the wounded need these wagons.” He opened a rear door; a scent of spices wafted out. “It will do thee no harm to travel in some comfort for a few days, Legolas, or thou Shemar. Come.”

The pervasive scent of the fire was left behind as the track curled south across the plains toward the old city of Tirith Thoron, still far ahead. Shemar rode with Legolas in the wagon, Lainiell walking beside it. Maglor and Tanout remained mounted, Vanimórë sat Seran and Osulf too, rode.
It was a dolorous beginning, silence laying heavy over them all. Tanout's grief and rage were palpable. He sat stiffly in his saddle. Perhaps it was the first time he had ever doubted his prince's judgement.
And Vanimórë? His emotions were barred behind his eyes. Their depths had vanished behind a cold glitter that scattered gleams of indigo in the sun.

They camped before sunset. There was no watering hole here, but the skins had been filled that morning, and neither beast nor man lacked. Salt meat was shredded into a stew thickened with barley, and mead was brought out. The conversations around the fires were whispered, but perfectly audible to the Elves. Vanimórë walked the edges of the camp, paused to speak to the woman Suuna, then visited the wounded. It was dark when he rejoined the others. Maglor met his eyes, and moved a little away.

Thou canst not truly trust them.

Can I not?

These women are nursing the very men they attempted to murder. He gripped the taut-muscled arm. They fear thee, rightly, but too great a fear can lead to madness.

I know that. I feel their minds. And I will act if any or all attempt harm.

Maglor glanced over at the huddled shapes around the fires.
I would I had half thy certitude.
He was startled to see a brief, beautiful smile.
Thou hast, and will have far more, Maglor Fëanorion. Thou canst not see thyself as others see thee. But I see the truth.

And what do I see? Maglor asked.

I do not know, what dost thou see?

Maglor curved a hand around the nape of Vanimórë's neck, drew him hard into a swift, savage kiss. And there was so much in that kiss, a fragment of time carrying all that this man was.
I know this.

I thank thee. Another smile, and he strode into the night that crowned him.

~~~

Legolas' wagon had been made comfortable. Hides hung from the ceiling, creating a partition midway, beyond which Gîl slept under soft wool blankets that had come from a place much further north than Dor Rhûnan. There was no lamp to compromise night-vision, but Legolas' hair was a candle-flame in the gloom, spilling to the fur-rugged floor. The song of cinnamon, ginger, mint lingered, the reason Vanimórë had chosen this wagon and another like it for both Legolas and Shemar: to counteract the reek of death that Maglor fancied he could still smell. He knelt; Legolas leaned into his embrace, the clogging miasma was drowned by pine and fern and flowers.

Maglor did not intend to sleep, though the camp was quiet save the occasional cry of a wakeful child. The sound reminded Maglor poignantly of Valinor, of his father's teeming household. His brothers' seemed to fill the great space they occupied even when children, and Fëanor...one could tell he was in a room before seeing him.

He raised his head at the scratch on the closed hide.

All is well, came Vanimórë's voice in his mind, calm velvet. He entered without sound, with a flare of his eyes
“Let us make a bonfire of our grief,” he said.

And then it was like a dream after rich wine. No candlelight, no great bed of silk, but Legolas between them on his knees, naked and supple with hunger. Maglor took his swollen length into his throat, heard the little whimpers, and lifted his head to kiss, working him with his hand. Vanimórë moved behind Legolas, caressing his breasts, and three mouths lips met in feral collision.

The taste of sweet oil on Legolas' nipples mingled with sweeter milk, and then he bucked, shuddered out a cry that Maglor silenced with a deeper kiss. Vanimórë was still clothed; he must be pleasuring Legolas with his slick fingers, finding the nub of nerves within. The wood-Elf writhed, his breath coming in tortured gasps. His head tossed back. He clutched Maglor, as Vanimórë's free hand reached around to take them both in long fingers.

Maglor's body rinsed itself in fire. Legolas' tremors shook into his bones through the convulsive grip, joined with his own. The orgasm built and built, the pressure exquisite, terrible, surmounting all other thoughts, until he spent, with Legolas, in throb after throb.

Vanimórë moved when they were spent, Legolas across one arm as if drained to liquidity, and drank the seed from his skin, then lay him down on the furs, lifted the lid from the water-bucket and cleansed him. He came to Maglor, then, and the Fëanorion dug his fingers against wide shoulders as lips and tongue teased and licked and sucked. He could feel blood sinking to his loins again, and when Vanimórë rose, Maglor caught his arm with rising anger.
And what of thee? He slid his hand over the leather breeches, muscle straining them, and squeezed it, heard the indrawn breath with satisfaction. This is not enough for thee, not for any of us.

I will have my night with thee both of thee, Vanimórë promised, and was gone, soundless, still wearing his own grief like a bonfire.

~~~
Chapter 14 ~ Songs in the Wasteland ~ by Spiced Wine

~ Songs in the Wasteland ~



~ Familiarity with death did not lessen the pain of loss. Vanimórë had seen generations of his soldiers die, some of old age or disease, others violently, in battle. He was still not accustomed to it. He used his grief as a touchstone to humanity, was grateful that he felt it, but now it was obliterated by anger.
These deaths lay on his shoulders. True, they had met a group of Drejim on the way to Szrel Kain, and come away from that encounter with the men eased of the restless itch of sex. But then he had not been fleeing enemies. He had not considered treachery and should have, had seen nothing wrong in the Drejim camp but natural wariness, and should have. His errors of judgement had proved fatal. Too, he was restless. He needed to lose himself in another, wished he could have remained with Maglor and Legolas. But he could not afford to lower his guard again, not here, and there was the child. Childhood, thought the man whose own had been brief and harsh, was to be cherished. Gîl should not witness such things until he was old enough to understand them. He had slept through that too-brief pleasuring of Legolas and Maglor, but the acts Vanimórë vividly imagined would have woken the whole camp. He leaned back against a wagon, cursed his stupidity and his unassuaged desire both.

Tirith Thoron was a northern outpost of Gondor, built after the manner of those people with high walls and strong towers. King Rómendacil, the so-called East Victor whom had won peace for his people, had fortified it yet more strongly, and the banner of Gondor snapped proudly against the sky. From here, their journey should be less dangerous. The roads into Ithilien were well-maintained.

The Drejim would not bring their waggons into the city, but made camp beyond the walls. No-one approached them. In the uncanny way of the plains, news had already gone ahead. Vanimórë did not need to enter the town, only to replenish supplies, and he could well do that among the makeshift markets that sprang up among other travelling clans, merchants from local tribes and villages who brought their goods and stock. Such exchanges thrived outside all cities.

His wounded men had begun to recover; he had lost no others. Most were still unfit to ride, but were no longer bedfast. So far the Drejim had proved trustworthy.

“They are afraid,” Osulf observed.

“As long as they treat my men well, I care naught,” Vanimórë said. He had affixed the banner of Sud Sicanna to one of the waggons to ensure their passage through Gondor. Here, he was leaving them. Their progress was too slow. If he stayed with the Drejim, Glorfindel and Thranduil both would have ample time to catch up with them. Legolas was still firm in his resolve to draw them south. A message came from the Captain of Tirith Thoron, Lord Alcarin, who had met with him on his journey north. Vanimórë corrected the more wild rumours from Szrel Kain, knowing that everything he said was being written down by a nearby scribe, and would be sent on to Osgiliath. The death of Dhölkan did not trouble Gondor, who preferred it when the people of the east squabbled amongst themselves, and spies had long since reported that the Prince of Sud Sicanna had no plans to ally with them. Alcarin offered his condolences at the loss of so many of Vanimórë's warriors, and if he was curious at the tales of the Elves who travelled with him, he asked no questions. As a soldier and nobleman only the political ramifications were important. The Dark Prince, whomever he was, acted as a lid on the seething city-states and sultanates of northern and central Harad, and if he was not Gondor's friend, he was no enemy either. Gondor wanted to keep it that way. Alcarin sent his own physician to examine the wounded, and offered an escort to ensure that the Drejim did not abandon or kill them.

“I thank thee,” Vanimórë accepted. “I have a company waiting near Osgiliath. But it would ease my mind.”

~~~



Then one of the Drejim died screaming.
They feasted that night, but there was no dancing or singing, and only quiet talk. Vanimórë brought beef, which was roasted and served with fresh bread, soft cheese and Dorwinion wine. There was no hint anything was amiss when the fires were doused and the camp sleeping, but at dawn a man, bedded down under a wagon, staggered out, clutching his throat. The sounds that issued from him were dreadful, waking the sleepers, and snapping tent flaps aside. Vanimórë strode toward him as he went down on his knees. The mild morning air smelled of roasting flesh. Blood spumed from the man's mouth, splashed onto his breast, scorch marks ate his torso from within. He tried to shriek, and choked on blood. Vanimórë planted his dagger in the man's heart. The screams ceased.

Men and women wrapped their arms around their own bodies, pale as ash in the sunrise. Maglor jumped down from the waggon, turned to say something to Legolas, and let the flap fall back. Osulf came forward. He raised his brows at Vanimórë who stared at the body, then at the terrified onlookers.
Some-one said, breathless, that the man, Dnak, had voiced his desire to escape into Tirith Thoron, make a new life there. The speaker was quick to say that he had argued against it, tried to dissuade Dnak.

Vanimórë raised a hand. “Bury him,” he said. “And remember that the blood oath is not lightly taken.”

He walked away, and Maglor fell in beside him.
Tell me thou didst not do that.

I did not.

If thou didst not, then who, or what?

I know not. He reached the steps of Legolas waggon and swung up.

“What happened?” Legolas stared from one to the other. Gîl wriggled, put up his arms to Vanimórë, who ran a hand over the gold curls but did not take him.

“The man died as I warned them they would die if they broke their oath to me, but I sought only their obedience.”

Maglor looked at him intently.
I cannot afford him to remember now. He said, “I have seen men die of fear, thinking themselves accursed.”

“In that way?” Maglor took Gîl, and there was a protectiveness in his gesture that pained Vanimórë.

“No,” he said. “And now they are terrified, and will think every stomach ache is a prelude to their deaths.”

“It was not something in the food?” Maglor wondered. “No. More than one would be sick. And they would not die thus, they would have to swallow etching acid.”

“All ate and drank alike.” He was glad when Legolas touched his hand as if to reassure him that he was no monster, and at this moment, he felt like one. “Get ready to leave,” he said.

Osulf came to him, face pallid. He wiped his mouth, and Vanimórë snapped: “Do not even think about getting ill.”

“That is a fairly effective oath.” Osulf took a gulp of hot wine. The Drejim, predictably, were close to panic, and Vanimòrë cursed, and told them to drink. As long as they did not pass out, they could dull their nerves.

“Thou hast naught to fear,” he said, and grimaced at himself; they would not believe him now. “Do as I command, look to my men, bring them to Osgiliath, and then come south to Sud Sicanna.” He surveyed them, and lowered his voice. “It is only human to think of freedom, of escape, but that alone will not make thee oath-breakers. Only thine actions can decide that.”

They had found a pack, some-one said, hidden under the waggon where Dnak slept. He had gathered coin, more than was usual for the Drejim who lived mostly through barter. It was no doubt stolen. Dnak had meant to take it with him into Tirith Thoron. He had no wife or children, and those whom had called him friends were now eager to throw dirt as his name, remembered incidents that did not redound to his credit.

“That is enough.” Vanimórë brought his hand down. “He made a mistake. Remember it, and drink to his memory.”

He went to his men. Elar was the most hale, near recovered, but would remain with the Drejim and his comrades. Vanimórë had not ordered him to do so; he had decided of himself, but was relieved by the news that Gondorian soldiers would be riding with them. Merchants of Gondor came south to Sud Sicanna, and were not unfamiliar.

As well that there is no ill-will between us, Vanimórë thought.

They departed long before mid-morning, a small group now: Vanimórë, Maglor, Legolas and Gîlrion, Tanout, Shemar, Osulf. Two pack-horses carried supplies, tall, solid beasts who could well keep up with the others, and Legolas' Lainiell. The towers of Tirith Thoron fell behind them, and the plains swept on, honey-gold under the sun.

They were not alone on this journey. Traffic was brisk, much of it military, and at night one could see other camp fires twinkling like red stars. In the day, the sky plunged overhead calling them south, settling to a fierce deep blue on the horizon. And, each day, the blue thickened over a line of dark mountains. The road bent west, but the mountains were ever before them, Mordor's northern fence. As their horses ate league after league the Ered Lithui clawed themselves higher, barren as an empty hearth, yet the sky over them was clear. Orodruin slumbered.

Vanimórë watched Maglor, saw how he stared at the mountains as if to challenge them. Pressed deep into his mind lay memories as black as the walls of Barad-dûr, and like Mount Doom, they were only dormant, not dead.

They travelled almost in silence. Glorfindel was mute, though Vanimórë guessed that Maglor spoke to his son. Legolas glanced over his shoulder at times, his face tight with concern, and Vanimórë would go to him, assure him that the others could not so swiftly catch up with them. He felt cold anger at Legolas fear, but save for that, the prince looked well. Less frail now, his pale hair snared white streaks from the sun, and his face glowed firm as a ripe gold apple. He sat Seran with negligent ease, Lainiell keeping pace with the stallion, who had taken a liking to both rider and the smaller horse.

There had been no time to resume Legolas training, but one evening Vanimórë gave him one of Tanout's exercise grips, leather-covered wood set between a strong spring that one squeezed together. Every Sicannite soldier possessed a pair; using them strengthened the hand and wrist. Legolas said that in his home too, the young warriors used similar devices, and each evening he practiced. As did Shemar. Vanimórë had an inkling of what he would become, this waif, this former catamite. He, too, seemed stronger. As with Legolas, much of his improvement was the simple receiving of kindness, which he had never known. Tanout was attentive, but not overwhelming, the situation was too intimate and too complicated for the working out of desire.

Desire. It ran high between all of them as the summer heat rose, the soundless language of lust all the more potent because it was not given voice but was fulminous in look and touch. Much of it emanated from Legolas, and Vanimórë wondered at it. There were times in one's life that changed a person for good or ill, this he knew. Legolas had said that when his father reached for his soul, he felt his home. Was it that? He had been, under his fear, miserably homesick, and had said: “I was the Greenwood. I have never felt such strength.” Perhaps that link, that grounding to the forest had given him this new resolve, this awakening. Certainly he was changing, though he might deny it. He ran now to avert a war, was willing to use himself as bait, an adult's decision, not a child's.

Vanimórë controlled his desires by thinking of his dead soldiers, of the luckless Drejim whom had burned from within. He had always been able to scrape a modicum of pride from the fact that he had never had to enforce loyalty by blood-oath, never drawn on the power that was his heritage. Yet it seemed that he had indeed called upon it, and a man had died in agony. It disturbed him. Maglor's eyes asked What didst thou learn in Mordor? and he wanted to say, Not that. But it would be untrue, He had watched, absorbed; perhaps all it took was a twist of intention to lift superstition into potency. That power, that detested blood, beat through him whether he willed it or no. Legolas had not seen what happened, only heard of it, and that might explain why he did not seem overly perturbed. Or perhaps the wood-Elves also used such oaths. The Noldor did, after all.

~~~



Dana watched them from afar, the three groups, moving pieces on some vast game. Vanimórë, unhindered by waggons, swung south to avoid Gelebrin, a weary-dark town north of the Morannon. They had shared a camp with a group of east-bound merchants, who told them that the grey ague was rampant in the town. By the morning, two of the men were coughing and shivering, so swift was the onset of the sickness. It was rarely fatal, but from what Vanimórë had observed it was gruelling, and left its victims weak and weary. He would have re-provisioned at Gelebrin, but some of his company were susceptible to Mortal disease. He was not sorry to avoid the town. Trade passed through it, and Gondor garrisoned it, but they had not built it. Men disliked being stationed there. It was said the Black Land exhaled its hot breath through the broken Morannon, and darkened the heart, bringing disease. From the south-facing walls, the sentries looked toward the looming spikes of Narchost and Carchost, the Towers of the Teeth, and the gaping throat of the Vale of Udûn. Closer than that, none but the foolhardy or desperate ventured.

Vanimórë left the road, followed an old tribal track that he had known before Sauron's fall. There were no tribes now, not so near the Black Gate, and the trail was almost lost, but Vanimórë had ridden it many times, and gauged his direction by sun, star and the haggard crags of the Ashen Mountains. The long grasses of Dor Rhûnan faded into tangles of dusty weeds as they approached the convergence of the Ered Lithui and Ephel Duath, the iron-bound maw of the Black Land. At night, the silence was a weight of iron, and their sleep was snatched through dreams that harried them into wakefulness. Vanimórë did not sleep at all. He felt the tautness of old fear, old hate settle in his muscles, although every sense he possessed told him there was naught here but shadows and memories. He and Maglor took turns to hold Legolas through those nights. They watched the stars together. When he was not with Legolas, Vanimórë sat near Tanout and Shemar.

And Maglor sang.

When he began, all of them fell silent. Vanimórë had never heard him before. In Barad-dûr, he played; he did not sing. A frisson seared Vanimórë's nerves at the gold of his voice, mellowed by time and pain and despair to a metal not of this world or any other. Even Osulf's eyes widened. The former assassin might like to pretend he had seen everything, but he had not, and he had never heard this. It was the Noldolantë, the Fall of the Noldor. Legolas, who had heard the tales of violence and slaughter, and not the other side of that coin, watched him with awe and desire writ plain on his face.

“Only the Jewels held their glamor,
In those red years,
When anguish lay behind us,
And Darkness before us,
We were the Oath incarnate,
The Doom opened its arms,
We wore it like cerements,
Close as our shadows,
Now it stood before us,
And we embraced it,
Wedded to it long ago,
The most faithful of lovers...”
*

He had no harp, and needed none. His voice was enough, would always be enough. He did not complete the song, but fell silent, as if alone in the night that held its breath, here on the edges of Mordor where he had been broken. This was his own act of defiance. There were no words any-one could say, and their own silence was richer than applause. Osulf rose and walked away. Shemar leaned against Tanout, who put an arm about him. Legolas reached to him and laid a hand on his back, and Vanimórë lifted his fingers to his lips and kissed them, honoring him. In the light of the small fire, Maglor's silver eyes were unearthly.

They rejoined the road almost opposite the Black Gate. It was barren, empty under the sun, looping about the northernmost Ephel Duath, and east of the Dagorlad down into green Ithilien.

~~~



Far away, Dana drew back, and observed. Thranduil and Bainalph had been brought nigh to Gelebrin by the eagles. They had found no news of Vanimórë because they were ahead of him at that time, and guessed it. After purchasing supplies and horses, they camped east of the town, close enough to the road to Tirith Thoron to see who used it. They too, had formed no favourable impression of Gelebrin, and only the bustle of the markets, and their concealing hoods had allowed them to tend to their business without attracting unwelcome attention. There were those in Gelebrin who likewise preferred to go unremarked, and a wise man asked nothing. If the townsfolk thought the two cowled figures moved strangely, or spent too freely, their curiosity dwindled at the sight of their weapons. And it seemed they were hard to follow, as if the air itself hid them. Once free of the town, they melted into the land and waited. But Legolas had passed too close to his father for Thranduil not to sense him, to grow restless.

They scarce exchanged a word, the king of the Great Wood and the Prince of Alphgarth. They watched one another, and pretended they did not. Bainalph's eyes held a deep, secret satisfaction when he knew he was unobserved, as well they might. Dana smiled. Here was one who knew his body and his worth, who utterly accepted himself, as Legolas must come to.

Further north, Glorfindel and Tindómion also journeyed without speaking. There comes a time when silence stretches too long, grows from a hillock to a mountain, and so it was with the two Noldor. They were bound, these two; battle-brothers, friends, sometimes lovers, they had shared grief and pleasure. Tindómion had admired Glorfindel with all the passion of his blood, and seen his golden glory tarnished. Such disappointment can build higher walls even than hate.

Dana looked back to Vanimórë, his small company. He had called her cruel, once, accused her of ignoring the cries of suffering that came to her ears. She had said, Is the sun, cruel? and he snapped: The sun does not feel. Thou hast lived in a body, in many; thou knowest pain.

How do you know that the sun does not feel? she teased, Do you not know the legends?.

I refuse to be dragged into a discussion of Elvish legends and philosophy, he said, unsmiling, Had I thy powers, I could not look away from atrocity. I would have to act.

You will, she had thought but not said. You will have to, and hate it then as you hate it now, even as I do.

This young god-to-be could only perceive with human eyes and soul. He was as a man looking down a path, unable to see above or below it. or Dana there were no such barriers, past and future were alive and each affected the other. Legolas might have become the warrior he needed to be had he fled from the Great Wood to Imladris, but Dana had judged the risk too high. The youth had not been nurtured, would not be unless Glorfindel loved him, and the Glorfindel who had raped him, mocked him, left him heartbroken, would see him as a willing slave. When he discovered who Legolas was, which would happen soon or later, the prince would not benefit; the hatred between Imladris and the Wood lay too deep. Legolas would be both a slave and a political game-piece, if he did not die first through lack of care. Glorfindel enjoyed domination; Legolas would come to see it as reflecting his worth, would exist to be used, and feel he deserved it. He would be given pleasure at Glorfindel's whim, and learn to beg for it, but he could not live like that forever. Without love, his soul would wither, and Glorfindel might not even care. He would have the child he had always longed for.

Thus far, Dana was satisfied with Glorfindel's reaction, with Tindómion's unflagging contempt which pierced more sharply than he knew. Legolas would have given obedience and fear, which would amuse Glorfindel. He could not brush aside Tindómion's biting disapproval nor Vanimórë's wrath. Glorfindel too, must change, become again the Elf-lord of legend. Legolas had the power to change him, little though either he or Glorfindel knew it, but Dana did not want the young Elf to suffer any more than he had. He was rare, and the she, called the Mother, felt great tenderness towards him. So Legolas had travelled south, not west, and both Glorfindel and Thranduil now knew what they had lost.

They have not even begun to regret, she thought, with a flick of ancient, icy malice. Anger and jealousy alone was not enough. It was oft-said, because it was true, that people do not appreciate what they have until they lose it.

~~~



Shemar fell ill as they regained the road. Vanimórë stopped at the way-station south of the Morannon, and its resident physician came to examine the young man to ascertain that his sickness was not plague. Satisfied that it was the grey ague, he said that Shemar must rest, drink much, and brought medicaments to ease his fever.

Vanimórë paid for private chambers, since they could not move on until Shemar was recovered. The captain of the garrison invited him to dine, listened to the events that had transpired in Szrel Kain with interest, and a dour smile. He said he would look out for the Drejim and their Sicannite guests, and would send an errand-rider ahead to inform Vanimórë.

After the meal, Vanimórë strolled out of the gates, down the verge of the road until he could look east and west unimpeded.
The sun had vanished, a last opal gleam lit the west, and the Ephel Duath brooded in cloaks of black silence. He felt their presence, the power that had bled into them over thousands of years, familiar as a well-worn cloak. He did not fear the land, but it was not insensate. No Elf believed that, certainly not Vanimórë who knew the Mother. Such places of power she said, made her ache.
But remember that gods need to feel pain, or they are not fit to be gods.
And she should know, who had permitted Melkor to slay her so that she might truly become one with the Earth. Vanimórë thought of that often, what it meant. The price and power of suffering. Yet had not Sauron known pain? Even Melkor? Pain, he had decided, was bootless unless it brought compassion in its wake.

The stars brightened with the night, pulsing above the mountains. With Orodruin quiescent, they shone down on Mordor, though legend said they did not. Vanimórë did not fear Mordor, only the memories. The future. He turned, and saw Osulf. The man's arms were folded tight across his chest, a barrier perhaps, against his own fear.

Something lay between them since the attack. There was no undercurrent of care or compunction as he felt with Legolas and Maglor; this was a game, and it lightened the seriousness of the journey somewhat. There was not enough lightness. Legolas fretted at the delay, but had said nothing. Shemar could not travel as he was, nor would the prince have wished him to. Vanimórë told him they were yet far ahead of his pursuers, and that it would be well to leave a trail they could follow. But he, too, chafed. There was a power that linked Glorfindel and Thranduil to Legolas. It would hardly surprise Vanimórë if they came riding out of the night. He found himself half-listening for the beat of hooves on hard ground.

“They said in the common-room,” Osulf said. “That the armies of the Last Alliance used this spring.” He nodded his head to the stern cluster of buildings. “That it is the only one between the marshes and Mordor.”

Vanimórë said, “There used to be more.”

Sauron had ordered his troops to poison the springs before the Battle of Dagorlad, but whatever they had done was ineffective. They had legends in Mordor too; that the Elves of the Wood had cleansed the fouled water. The Alliance had been able to drink deep and fill their water-skins before marching on the Black Gate. Vanimórë had seen enough to believe it and this well, now edged with stone, still ran pure, tasted of moss and wood. The other springs had died. On his way north, Vanimórë had seen how the dust of Dagorlad had spread and swallowed them. The Gondorians had built this way-station in the only place they could, a lonely fist of defiance.

Osulf said. “They have Tar boards here. Would you play with me, Sire? This is a desolate place, and there is little to do.”

“What wilt thou stake?” Vanimórë asked.

“The world of course.” Osulf laughed, teeth showing white.

“Bring wine, then. I will join thee soon.”

Osulf had been given a separate room, in an attempt to lessen the likelihood of his contracting the ague. Tanout had said that since he had been close to Shemar he would fall ill or not, as fate willed, and insisted on watching over him. The healing plants that Legolas had found on the plains had been used up on the wounded soldiers, but the physician had dried Athelas that he tossed them in steaming water. When Vanimórë looked into his room, Tanout was awake. Only one lantern burned low, leaving Shemar to the peace of darkness. He was sleeping quietly, and Tanout moved from the bed, came into the corridor to speak.

“He drunk the willow-bark tea.” He answered Vanimórë's look. “It has helped.”

“Good. Now sleep thyself. We can do naught until he is recovered.”

“But you should not delay,” Tanout said. “I could stay with him, my lord, travel with the Drejim when they arrive.”

“I am not leaving any-one else behind.” Vanimórë shook the young man's shoulders gently. “I do not doubt it would be safe enough, but we can afford some time. And this is no place for either him or thee to be abandoned.” He saw the relief in Tanout's eyes, and ran a finger through the tousled curls. Fondness lay sweet in his mouth.
“Sleep. I will come later, and attend him.”

“He is no trouble, not to me.”

“I am very proud of thee.” He kissed Tanout's brow, and it was hot. His eyes, in the dim-lit passage, heavy. “Take some of the willow-bark tea thyself.”

The answering smile was rueful. “I am sorry, my lord.”

“It was almost bound to happen, but thou art stronger than Shemar. Rest.” As a shiver racked the young man, Vanimórë drew him close. The straight shoulders heaved. Worn by grief and the onset of sickness, his tears came hard, silent, the tears of a young man whose childhood and training had not allowed him to weep often. Vanimórë did not suffer the same diseases as Men, but there were poisons that kill both Elves and Mortals. His Ainu blood defeated them, but he he had experienced illness, knew how it weakened the mental defenses.

“I have not been able to mourn them.”

“I know.” Vanimórë held him through the brief, fierce storm of tears that damped his shoulder, then ushered him back into the room, and poured the bitter-tasting willow-bark brew into juice. When Tanout had drunk, wiped his face, he lay down on the pallet. Vanimórë drew the coverlets over him. Bitter winds could sweep down from the north here, and the rooms were provided with thick blankets. He left the lamp burning.

Outside, he leaned against the wall and tipped his head back.

I should not be so concerned. They are far behind us.

Nevertheless.

Out of caution, he had lodged himself, Maglor and Legolas in one chamber. The rooms were devoid of luxury, but not uncomfortable and earlier, Gîl had been fascinated by the bustle in the yard. All the windows faced inward, the better to withstand any attack, and who would want the grim views of the Ephel Duath and Dagorlad? Not yet sleepy Gîl, who had reached the crawling stage, was quartering the room, pulling himself up where he could, and looking immensely pleased with his progress. He looked bright, as if his soul burned against the darkness beyond the walls. Legolas sat close to Maglor on one of the beds, smiling. He looked up as Vanimórë closed the door behind him.
“Tanout is ill,” he said. “I cannot move them, not even in a waggon, if there was one, until they have recovered somewhat.”

“I would not expect that.” Legolas hands clasped and unclasped. Vanimórë moved to him, laid a hand on his shoulder. There was muscle there now; he was still very slim, but the hard riding had toughened him.
“Tanout offered to stay here alone with Shemar, and wait for the Drejim.”

“No,” Legolas said, his voice firm. “Not...not after everything. And not here.” He looked away. “I can feel them. The dead of the battle.” He came to his feet, walked to the shuttered windows “My father was here. I can...sense him, my people, in the water.” He pointed to a jug on the table. “It tastes of the forest. I did not know how much they suffered, I never truly understood, but still the spring remembers them.”

“That is the tale,” Vanimórë said, seeing the winter-blue eyes lit from within. With the water? “Thou art not afraid, my dear? Thou couldst go on ahead. This road is safe, and Ithilien is a pleasant land. Osgiliath is not far.”

“I am afraid,” Legolas said. “But not of the dead. And I will not leave them, or you.”

Maglor said, “I do not know this land, Vanimórë, not as thou dost.”

Thou knowest that is not a good idea, no matter how safe this land.

Once Legolas might have agreed, Vanimórë thought, driven by terror.

Not any-more.

Gîl crawled, quick as a fox, to Vanimórë's feet and raised himself, clinging to one boot. He looked up with Glorfindel's eyes under a cascade of gold. Vanimórë picked him up, a complex sadness in his heart, for the child he could never sire, for the darkness that had overcome Glorfindel whom, once, had been like Gîl, for Legolas' lonely childhood. His son, at least, lacked no love.
“I am going to play Tar with Osulf,” he said. “Shall I take Gîl for a while?”

Maglor's eyes locked on his.
Is that wise?

Yes, Vanimórë said. And I wish I could be with thee.

~~~



Osulf looked surprised, and perhaps a little chagrined when Vanimórë entered his room carrying Gîl. A battered Tar board, and well-used pieces of ivory were set out. A steaming jug of wine and two cups sat on a nearby stool. Gîl reached for the game-pieces, and Vanimórë shifted him away, to the child's annoyance. He wound a small hand in Vanimórë's hair and scowled.

“Perhaps we should postpone this, Sire.” Osulf offered wine.

“He will sleep soon enough.” Vanimórë endeavored to sip the wine without Gîl grasping the silver cup.

As if he understood, and Vanimórë thought that the child understood a great deal, Gîl bestowed a smile on him that would beckon men and women both when he grew older, and nestled against his breast.

“Where wilt thou begin?”

Osulf set down his cup. After his initial curiosity, he appeared to take little notice of the child, but Gîl's vivid blue eyes fixed on him with an odd, adult look. The Man had spent some time on his appearance this evening. He had bathed, combed out his wet hair, which lay flax-pale over his shoulders as he regarded the game-board. Vanimórë was reminded of his father studying maps with the same look of concentration. The times when he forgot cruelty. He felt his face stiffen. Osulf was not looking at him, but the child murmured.

“Here.” He set down his king-piece in Mordor. He spread his fingers over it and glanced up. “If this map is accurate — ”

“It is accurate enough.” Vanimórë stroked the little warm back under his hand.

“It seems one could take the world from here, with the right planning.”

“Well, perhaps thou wilt succeed where Sauron failed.”

Osulf tapped the game-piece with one finger. “Why did he fail, if he was so powerful? I have heard the stories, but — you, you know.

“Why does any-one lose a war?” Vanimórë lifted one shoulder, so as not to disturb Gîl. “There were many reasons. The battle was too bitter. It is not always so. But too much lay between Sauron and the West. No compromise could ever be reached, no truce, no peace. He would give no quarter, and neither would the Alliance. It was not a war for land or supremacy, for a throne, but a war of vengeance on their side. Sauron had to destroy them or be destroyed. That war had to be won or lost. There was no middle ground.”

Osulf's eyes were steady on Vanimórë's face.

“And there was the Ring.”

One of the lanterns spluttered up, hissing. Osulf started, then rose and trimmed the wick. The flame settled. He laughed, a faint shake in the sound.
“Perhaps it is unwise to talk of such things, in this place...” He nodded east, and seated himself, drank again. “But you have no fear.”

“Only a madman would not fear,” Vanimórë said. “But men fear the unknown, and I fear what I know.

Osulf bent his head, traced a pattern over the approximate location of Barad-dûr.
“How strange to think of it. The Ring of Power...”

Vanimórë picked up his own game-piece, placed it on Sud Sicanna.
“Power should never be separated from oneself. He had his reasons for doing what he did, but he was wrong. And he underestimated those ranged against him; he should not have.”

“Did you advise him?” Osulf's eyes gleamed with the darker colour that lit them when he was aroused.

“My part was to take orders.”

“What did you do?”

Vanimórë exhaled. “Not enough.” He sat back. “The first move is thine. Where is thy son? In Szrel Kain?”

Osulf's hand hovered, then he placed another piece close to the Eastern Gap.
“I sired him aforetime, before I settled there. His mother's people made it very clear they wished nothing to do with me, but my son thrives, from what I understand.” His lashes lifted. “A son to be proud of, though I doubt he will ever see it that way.”

~~~




It had begun with one look of mute need from Legolas that took Maglor's breath. He was still afraid, delicate, easy to wound, but Legolas had learned, on this journey, to desire of his own will. No-one had forced it on him. The sensuality of his nature had not been crushed forever and for that, Maglor knew, Vanimórë must be thanked. Maglor said nothing, only moved closer, lifted Legolas' chin, felt him tremble. His lips tasted of the well-water, green and earthy.

Now, Legolas writhed under his mouth, breath making shattered pleas.

Why, Maglor had asked, days ago. Why does he look at us now with this need?

Danger does that sometimes, Vanimórë had said. And he is growing. And because of us.

I can give him naught.

Thou hast already given him pleasure, placed his before thine own, made him feel he has worth, is treasured. There was passion in his voice, and pain. Maglor stared at him, said, So hast thou done all those things, and before I ever knew him.

A twisted smile. How could I do otherwise? How can we do otherwise?

When Legolas looked at one thus, everything in his eyes, invited his own plundering, what man could turn away?

And so, to this.

There was oil to burn in the lamps, and Maglor coated his fingers, massaged Legolas' entrance and gently penetrated him. He saw, through his own rising tide of hunger, the prince buck. He pushed deeper and felt the nub of nerves. Legolas cried out, heat flushed rosy across his face.

“Please.”

And Maglor knew how Glorfindel had felt, seeing the youth quiver, beg. His body, framed by the mass of white-streaked hair was an offering, his lips were full and red with the kiss that had begun gently, and ended here. His beauty, masculine and feminine had never seemed strange, to Maglor, but unique and wonderful. When he sucked on the tender nipples, Legolas moaned, eyes flaring wide.

“Art thou sure?”

Legolas mouthed, “Please.

Maglor tried to enter him unhurriedly, but the moment that furnace heat was around him, he swelled harder, and Legolas' cry was of pain. It took all of Maglor's will to hold himself still. Tears frosted Legolas' lashes. He gripped the thin pillows behind his head, and sobbed: “Please.”

Perspiration rushed down his back as Maglor pushed, watched his cock vanish to to the root, and withdrew to push in again, again. He leaned to kiss the mouth that begged him, tasted the salt of tears, moss and autumn leaves, nectar.

“Yes,” Legolas sounded feverish. “Yes, yes!

Maglor drove in, seeking his own immolation. Legolas' head fell back. He keened, and oh, he was beautiful. He could not know what power he possessed. Fire flashed over Maglor's vision; his consciousness drained into his loins. He took Legolas own hard length into one hand and worked him, saw the wet blue eyes glaze with the blankness of desperate pleasure. The sounds he made were intoxicating; they carried agony and need both, and Maglor burned into him, blazed as he had not since...since...

He knew this, how it felt to be possessed, reft of self by the commingling of pain and pleasure, until no world existed but that flame-red ascent to release. He had felt it, been thus. There had been hate, and fury, and glory. The knowledge was there, and then gone, as he slammed into Legolas, possessing, impaling, driving him to that place where they both would be consumed. Flesh slapped against flesh, and Legolas was unmade before his eyes, beautifully, utterly unmade, lost to himself, to the world. His head tossed, his throat arched. At the last, he raised himself to look at Maglor, and a feral creature was in his eyes.

He wanted more.

Maglor was taken by the fire; a thing he had thought lost to time, to grief. His senses were within Legolas, pounding into the silken grip. He felt the pulse of blood, the rebounding shock of flesh on flesh, the slick slide of oil, the thunderous beat of Legolas' heart. From a distance, he heard his cries.

The fire went white.

Now.

They came with shocking, indescribable violence. Legolas throbbed in his hand, about his cock, as he spilled himself, shuddered, burst again, and again. The waves of orgasm throbbed through them in a twinning of sensation so intense no body, Elf or Mortal, could contain it. Maglor's nerves flared, exploded into darkness and light.

Legolas face swam into his vision, tear-streaked, transfigured. Maglor felt raw, scoured by sex. His hair clung to his damp skin. His breath came in hard, torn groans. He tried to say Legolas' name, but all that emerged was a whisper. His thighs shaking, he withdrew himself, folded to his knees beside the bed. Legolas eyes were closed, essence pearled his stomach, his breasts. When Maglor licked it off, Legolas tensed, and fresh tears rolled down his cheeks.

“I hurt thee.” His voice came from some deep place that still rang with ecstasy. He rose, poured some wine, lifted Legolas and put the cup to his lips.

“I wanted that.”

Maglor looked down on his gleaming head as he swallowed the wine in thirsty gulps. It would help to deaden any pain, and surely there must be. He had not aimed to hurt, but he had himself been as unmade as surely as Legolas, whose eyes rose now to his face. They shone like a winter sky.

“I wanted,” he said as if dreaming, and melted into Maglor's arms, drugged by sex and wine. It could be, at times, that powerful. Maglor gathered blankets, covering the nakedness that stirred him again. He had known this before, this madness of desire. It was familiar, terrible, magnificent.

Legolas lay back, touched his face with a hand gone languid with satiation.

“Thank-you. I needed.”

“So did I.”

“I wanted that, all of it.”

“Thou art — I could not have stopped myself.” Maglor leaned and kissed him, felt the swooning response that was more potent than Legolas could know. Why here, in this bleak place on a dead land swept by war and darkness? But perhaps the answer lay in the question. Why not here? Why had he sung in the wasteland? This too, had been a song in the waste.

~~~

End Notes:
Part of the Noldolant
Chapter 15 ~ To The Edge of the Shadow ~ by Spiced Wine


~ To The Edge of the Shadow ~



~ Gîl' had fallen asleep at last, and was now tucked under one of Osulf's blankets. Vanimórë sat back in the chair, regarding the Tar board.
The two of them confronted each other across the Haradhic city of Sudu Cull, with other markers dotted at far removed places in the East and South. They had avoided conflict thus far, establishing cities, mines, controlling trade routes. Sudu Cull was their first meeting. The stance was provocative but even now, it need not be war. In the game of Tar, power rested on politics as much as armies. A truce might be reached. It was an intriguing game.

“What would you do, my Lord,” Osulf murmured; they had pitched their voices soft so as not to disturb the child. “If you conquered the world.”
The wine bloomed in his cheeks and the candles, snuffed now to a brace that shone over the table, were kind to his skin, making him seem younger than his years. To see how men acted in their cups was useful, thus Vanimórë had not discouraged his drinking.

“If I ever conquered the world it would not be for me.” Vanimórë responded. “But in the event that any-one could conquer an entire world, I would rule. I find it...interesting.”

Osulf spun an ivory disk. “Dark Prince.” He enunciated the title carefully. “I watched your house, in Szrel Kain, as Dhölkan ordered me to. I saw princes of the Harad, of Khand come to you. You are so much more than a prince. But to slay the high priest, to break prisoners from the temple itself, and set it aflame...” He laughed softly, raised his cup in a toast. “That will become legend.”

“It will begin again,” Vanimórë said. “A new high priest, the same rites.”

“You do not have them, in Sud Sicanna.”

“We have...sacrifices.”

Osulf's eyes narrowed. “I thought — ”

“The Mother,” Vanimórë continued. “Must have her due. And sometimes in blood.”

The Northman frowned, set his wine-cup down and rose. He walked around the table, leaned a slim hip against the wood.

“You said no-one buys their way into your favour with sex, Sire.” He raised his brows quizzically. “I do not wish to do that, not any-more.”

Vanimórë watched him for a long moment. He knew what lay behind Osulf's approach: The fort's walls were not proof against the sounds of lovemaking so close by. Neither had remarked on it, but it had turned up the lamp-wick of desire.

“Thou doth no longer wish to serve me, or lie with me?” he asked, amused.

“Well, one does not seem to preclude the other, Sire. I do not have to, but I do,” he paused. “Want you.”

“Why?”

Osulf's lips tilted. He shook his head with a low, faintly baffled laugh.
“Because, Sire, you are highly desirable.”

“Thou wilt make me blush,” Vanimórë said straight-faced, and unblushing. He was accustomed to the way Mortals viewed him, a potent, quick-to-spoil meld of lust and curiosity that so easily tilted into hate for his unaging life. At times he wondered if they thought to absorb his immortality, as the Númenorean's had thought to win it by invading Valinor. He rarely looked at his reflection, because it showed him what was: an accumulation of slavery, violence, rape, showed him the truth: ugliness. But Mortals did not see the truth. They saw a tall man who looked like an Elf, and that facade triggered certain responses. Admittedly, he reacted in the same way to those Elves he had met.
The sum of his appearance amounted to many Mortal lovers but, at the end, all he had seen in their eyes was resentment that he lived when they succumbed to disease, to the infirmities of age, to death. Maglor had said he would always be alone; a penetrating insight. One of his blood would ever be alone among Men. It was discomfiting to admit that his father had been his only true companion, just as Sauron was the only person to see him as he truly was. He muscled the thoughts aside, and as ever, they left a detritus of mournful cynicism.

“I could take thee, and thou wouldst enjoy it,” he said. “As would I. But I think thou wouldst have me lie down for thee, and that, Northman, is not going to happen. I understand that thou seekest to prove thyself and why, but put it from thy mind.”

Osulf's eyes flickered. He looked away into the shadows of the room.
“You see a great deal, prince.”

“Thou hast told me of thy past.”

“I have known men who enjoy that role.”

“So have I. And I do not see it as a lack of manliness, if that is what thou wouldst think.” He set both hands on the Man's hips, drew him forward, and Osulf's legs parted to straddle him. He saw a blaze of surprise in the hard eyes.
“It is not the first time men have desired to take me, but it has ever been rooted in hate, the desire to prove they can master me.”

The high-backed chair concealed them if Gîl should wake, which seemed unlikely; he slept as children do, as puppies do, oblivious. Vanimórë rocked his hips, and Osulf surged into them, each riding the other's trapped manhood. The Man's eyes turned black as his pupils widened to swallow the candlelight. A sound came from his throat.

“Is that what thou doth want?” Vanimórë whispered. Osulf's fingers dug hard into his shoulders, as their mouths clashed, ungentle, demanding. There was more to this Man than killing, the self-doubt that had (perhaps) ended his career as an assassin. Much more. His incisive mind had been proven during their game, and intelligence attracted Vanimórë. And he wanted, needed what he had left behind with Legolas and Maglor. He could not openly grieve for his dead soldiers, not now, not until he reached Sud Sicanna and the Mother's temple, where he might give himself into the hands of the priestesses and pay with pain if he chose. He was forced to tamp down his rage, his sorrow, seek relief elsewhere. There was healing to be found in sex, but he balked at using Legolas and Maglor both, in different ways vulnerable, to ease his grief. One night, he had promised himself and them, one night, and he wanted to give, not take. Too much had already been taken from them. So he had left them. But if he could not drown in sex, he could find some release with this Man, untroubled by affection, a simple matter of lust.

Their hands loosed laces, freed them to strive against one another. The candlelight joined, spread, grew to a blaze that licked hot at Vanimórë's skin. Fingers tightened over one another, slick with the first seep of essence. They stared at one another as each stroke dragged them upward into pure sensation, beyond the point where they could disengage. Feeling the burgeoning pulse under his hand, Vanimórë pressed Osulf's head into the curve of his throat, lest he announce his release with a cry. A low groan, then sharp teeth bit into his flesh, and he felt the sting, before it was obliterated by the blinding, silent thunder of orgasm.

Osulf's breath calmed, whispered against his skin. He leaned back, ran his tongue over his lips which then curved in a smile both languid and hard. Vanimórë rose, and the Man's feet found the floor. He said nothing as Vanimórë looked across at Gîl', untroubled and sleeping, then poured water into a bowl and tossed him a wash cloth. He saw Osulf lick seed from his fingers, his eyelids flutter briefly closed.

He said, “You taste of steel and fire.”

Vanimórë dabbed the bite on his neck. Neither cut nor bruise would last long.

“I would still have you,” Osulf continued. “I think you would be quite astonishing.” He laughed, swept his hair back over his shoulders.

“Keep dreaming.” But Vanimórë was still amused. He picked Gîl' up, settled the child against his shoulder, and left the room, entered his own, where Legolas now slept, curled about Maglor, his hair catching the light of the one candle. Maglor turned his head, cautiously slipped from the narrow cot, allowing Vanimórë to place Gîl' in the curve of Legolas' arm. He took a moment to appreciate the innocent beauty.

It is good to see him thus.

Maglor was fabulously naked under loose clouds of liquid-black hair. He was still half-hard, smelled of perfumed musk, and before Vanimórë could even be surprised, Maglor caught him hard, kissed him.

Behind his closed eyelids, fireflowers bloomed, red and star-white. Their bodies slammed together, and his hands plunged into that heavy hair. The taste of wine was on his tongue, Legolas' seed. He savoured it, the surge of Maglor's planed muscles against him, and let himself believe that Maglor remembered their time in Barad-dûr. With Sauron gone, no-one had disturbed them, and they might have been alone in the fortress, locked away from time. When Maglor channeled his rage into passion, it had been magnificent.

He quenched the thought, ran his fingers down Maglor's arm's and drew back. The silver eyes drove into his like metal lit by fire, and the Fëanorion thrust him back against the wall. Vanimórë was startled, and once again, ferociously aroused.

What did he do to thee? he asked, smiling.

Maglor stilled, then pushed into him again, white teeth flashed in a snarl.

Thou art truly glorious when thou art angry.
He had to tease, the temptation was unbearable..

I feel as if I slept for an Age and more. What hast thou done, thou and he?

Thou wert a dormant fire, not a dead one, Maglor. Vanimórë held lightly to the hard sinews. Thinks't thou with all we have been through since Szrel Kain, the intimacy that has been forced upon us, that thou wouldst not burn again?

Maglor stared at him, then shook his head, the ripples of his hair like a night river. He touched the mark on Vanimórë's neck, and his eyes flashed sidelong, as if he could look through the wall.
I know what thou dost, drawing back, leaving Legolas and I together.

Vanimórë allowed his breath to leave him in a soundless sigh.
Thou canst give him more than I. Somewhere in thee is an understanding of what he needs.

Because there was one man at least Maglor would have desired to take him mercilessly, masterfully.

The Fëanorion blushed, but pressed closer, maddeningly hard.
Thou hast found some pleasure this night. I should be glad, for I know how it feels to lose men, to be unable to give voice to grief, yet I find myself jealous. A night, thou has promised us. I hold thee to that.

Jealousy; the thought warmed, then showed its teeth and mocked him. Only the beggar could find value in dross, and both Maglor and Legolas had, in their separate ways, been beggared.
Maglor touched his lips to the bite-mark.
Legolas is a spring to drink from. He gives great comfort. Thou needest that even more than I. And I do know what thou art doing. The silver eyes nailed Vanimórë's again. Gorthaur will return, and thou wilt lose all thou wouldst care for.

A bitter stone lodged in Vanimórë's throat. His sister's face looked at him from the shadows of lost ages, her eyes, even on that last night, filled with love for him, and — trust. Sauron had not killed her.

The pressure against him eased.
He has already taken from thee one thou didst love. His mind-voice had lost its edge. Vanimórë, I would share thy pain.

No.
The refusal was instinctive. Silver eyes flamed again.
Pride, Maglor said. We seal ourselves up and let no one share it because it is ours, and who else could understand? Ah, we are so arrogant. We embrace our pain closer than any lover. Thou wilt let no-one in. Fool.

He spun away, stalked to the table where he poured wine into two cups, then whirled back and pushed one into Vanimórë's hand.

Thou didst save my life. He made it a challenge.

And thou art not in my debt.

Am I not? Maglor demanded. In the darkest place since Angband was destroyed, when there was no hope, thou didst come.

Hope can be found in unexpected places. Vanimórë drank. Forgive me if I choose not to share my past with thee.

The Fëanorion threw back his head, closed his eyes, trapping the burn.
And so, he said. Thou wilt not allow thyself anything.

Something like that, Vanimórë agreed. He put the cup down, looked at Legolas and the child. A sun streaked windrow of hair spilled across Legolas' face, and he lifted it away.

He could heal the spirit, but I can give him naught in return.

Oh, thou fool! Thou hast already given.

It is worth nothing. He moved away, was brought to a halt by Maglor's iron grip on his wrist. Listen: I am a slave of Sauron. I am cursed. He deserves better, and so dost thou.

Maglor's mouth crooked in what looked like humour bent by derision.
He deserves better too, than the last of seven brothers damned to the Everlasting Dark.

From all I ever heard, the Valar damned thee as much as that Oath. He raised his free hand, rested it on Maglor's hard shoulder. My masters had their own opinions of the Valar. It is not surprising they would denigrate their former kin, but what man or woman with the faintest access to pity would pronounce such a doom as was laid upon the Noldor?

The Fëanorion's chin lifted, perhaps an echo of the defiance with which he had heard that doom. Then came swift-falling anguish. Vanimórë drew him close. He did not resist.
I would do it all again. There was terrible truth in his words. I would swear the Oath for him.

I know. He felt the silk mass of hair under his hands. Knowest thou what the Everlasting Dark, is?

Maglor's head moved in negation.

Vanimórë stared at the lone candle flame.
I was told that it was separated from the world only by our perception and because, as physical beings, we cannot experience it. It was used as a prison for souls, for Morgoth's and those who followed him to keep them away from the world, because there was nowhere else to banish them. But it was not meant for Elves, and so those whom the Valar sent there do not belong there. It is a wrong that must be righted, one day.

By whom? Maglor asked, and his tone was like blood spilling from a fatal wound.

By Eru.

Eru. He shifted. Eru gave the Valar charge of the world, of our fates.

If one of my servants botches a task, I replace them, set another in their stead, and I rectify their mistakes.

He felt Maglor shake with brief laughter, and he pulled back. His face, so close, was flawless, a white jewel framed in jet.
Is that what thou doth hope for?

Vanimórë's smile twisted. I cannot afford to think of it, much less hope for it. Slaves survive physically and mentally by living one day after another, not thinking of the future. Thou, I know, suffer guilt for thine acts. Well then, thinks't thou that I could live as I have, a slave to dark power, and not have it sink into me as coal dust ingrains the flesh of those who mine it? Thou hast seen the best of me, Fëanorion.

Maglor slipped from his hands, studied him from a distance.
I see more than thou doth think, and not only in thee, but in thy men, in Legolas, in the child. What wouldst thou tell me, that thou art a bloody-handed tyrant?

I hope not. But I have warred, I have slaughtered, I have pronounced judgement, executed, and feel no guilt. I have, he continued, watching Maglor's face washed by the dying flame, Danced before the altar of the Dark, opening the throats of sacrifices, and given myself to my master. I am no hero, no man to honour.

A quiver rippled through Maglor's frame, and his muscles braced to quench it. His response was not what Vanimórë expected, although he would never make the mistake of reckoning the Noldor obtuse.
By releasing me from Mordor thou didst go against Sauron's direct order, and brought punishment upon thyself.

Vanimórë shrugged.

Disobedience to thy... master is second-nature, is it not? But there are times thou canst not disobey, when thou art coerced. My elder brother was in Angband, Vanimórë. I know what he saw there. I know what people will do to save another, what I would have done to save Maedhros had he not sworn me to lead our people, to make no bargain with Morgoth.

It was too close, too deep. It was hurting them both.

Thou must make terrible choices. So did we.

While I am honoured to be likened to thou Fëanorions, it is not the same. Vanimórë stepped away, circled the room. Maglor's eyes followed him.
I cannot afford hope, or to regret my choices. He paused by Legolas bed, and drew the blankets up over one bare shoulder. The candle guttered, drowned in liquid wax, and the room fell dark, but there was still light: the soft gleam of Legolas and Gîl's hair, the iridescence of Fëanorion eyes.

Memories. Vanimórë swept a hand through the air. So vivid for the Elves, are they not? for good or ill. I sought to give Legolas better memories than those he had, and selfishly, by extension, to give myself memories of beauty and pleasure.

There is no such cold calculation in thy treatment of Legolas, or thy men, or me, Maglor said. None of this was for thee.

Was it not? Thou canst not know my life. Anger flickered deep within.

Maglor strode toward him. Not if thou dost not tell me, but I do not lack imagination. Art thou trying to make me hate thee with thy talk of cruelty? Thinks't thou that I, my beloved, damnéd brothers, my father, left no acts of cruelty in their wake? His silent laugh cracked in upon itself. The young need heroes, Vanimórë; and so do those of us who have seen heroism and grief answered only by death.

Vanimórë answered gently: And thou hast them, for they are heroes, those fallen stars. To him, the Fëanorion was one himself, though he could not see it. Thy son is another, and so was Glorfindel, once.
He took a step toward the door. Again Maglor halted him, braced an arm across the wood.
Why didst thou not go to Valinor thyself, when first thou wert free?

There is naught for me there.
Once, he had dreamed that the Valar would strike loose his chains. What a fool he had been. Blood-ties could not be severed, were beyond the province of godlings, and the truth was, even had he thought the Valar cared, he had never felt the pull said to afflict (and he used that word deliberately) the Elves. Aman might offer safety, but nothing to challenge the body or mind. It sounded to him like a lingering, painless death. Perhaps his slavery had twisted him beyond all healing. Should he not desire such peace? Apparently not.

Thou art a son, Maglor snapped at him. Thy parents may be re-born. If Glorfindel was, surely there are others.

Burned laughter rose in Vanimórë's throat. He could not approach the question held in that comment even circuitously.
What welcome dost thou think the Valar would give me, a man who serves the Dark rather than take his life in shame? Would they understand my fear of being dragged into the Void? Do they even comprehend human feelings?

Maglor hesitated.
My father did not think so, he offered at last. But thou wouldst have had Legolas go.

Vanimórë turned back to look at the sleeping prince.
He is innocent. If the innocent are judged guilty, what hope is there for any of us, here or beyond the sea?

I saw the Doom fall on those whom did not take the Oath.

I know. His mother had been one of Finrod's people, and they were neither oathtakers nor kinslayers. But the Elves leave, Maglor, and sail West.

Not Legolas' folk. And perhaps they are wise.

Perhaps they were. Vanimórë always tasted his father's opinions after salting them well with cynicism, but the Doom of the Noldor could not be excused or denied. As Maglor said, even those whom had not sworn it were ensnared, dragged down to death, Elves and Men both.

He will not go, so we shall forget the matter. He nodded to Maglor's arm. If thou wilt excuse me. I wish to sit with Tanout and Shemar.

Maglor stood back, said, as Vanimórë left: I wager thou hast run from nothing in thy life save pity.

He swung back as that unwieldy, alien thing in his chest threatened to claw its way out.
Pity? Save thy pity for those who have no choice. I have one. I have always had one.

He flung the unwanted emotion aside, was able to close the door quietly, but Maglor's eyes seemed to follow him through the wood.

~~~


It took a sennight for the grey ague to run its course. Every day Vanimórë watched the road, but only waggons rolled south in clouds of dust. He did not think that Glorfindel or Thranduil could catch up with them so quickly, but Legolas fear was urgent, contagious.

The time of the autumn markets approached, and the traffic became busier, though few paused at the lonely way station unless they had no choice. Errand-riders from Gondor were the most frequent visitors, but when they were gone, quiet descended again. Vanimórë, when he was not caring for Tanout and Shamar, or engaged in his nightly Tar game with Osulf, resumed his training of Legolas. The bored garrison came to watch, and at first the youth was self-conscious. A word to the commander resulted in a more circumspect audience who peered from dark doors and windows, and Legolas, concentrating fiercely, forgot they were there. The resident smith, his expertise appealed to, and glad to have something to break the monotony made, following Vanimórë's instructions, a pair of long knives. He presented the blades with gruff ceremony, knotted brows clearing at the young Elf's delight. The very act of holding them seemed to give Legolas confidence, even as the training gave him something to think of beside the inexorable pursuit of Glorfindel and his father. But when the session's ended, tenseness returned to his eyes, and after he had bathed, Vanimórë massaged him, working out the knots of exercise and stress. He left Maglor and Legolas alone at night, and said nothing. Neither did Maglor speak to him again.

When Tanout and Shemar were up, their appetites returned enough to spoon down stew and sip ale, the hot, dusty days were interrupted by the arrival of a large waggon from the south, escorted by soldiers, and running light as if carrying a small load. It hailed from Osgiliath. The king of Gondor had heard of Vanimórë's journey from Szrel Kain, the loss of his men, and this most recent problem. He had provided a comfortable waggon to carry the two young men through Ithilien. King Tarostar, the messenger recited, would be pleased to meet with Prince Vanimórë.

“He lodges for a time in Minas Ithil,” the soldier added.

Vanimórë inclined his head. He could hardly refuse to see the king through whose lands he travelled, but Minas Ithil was a detour he would have preferred not to make. Built arrogant and pale as a goddess against the Ephel Duath the fortress, overrun by Sauron's forces before the Last Alliance, was now used primarily as a watchtower. No children played in its walled gardens, no women graced its streets; only the tramp of soldiers feet echoed from the towers. Perhaps this king, after his victories, liked to stand in the shadow of Mordor, knowing its lord was defeated.

Rather him than me.

But it could not be helped, and they were all glad to leave this bleak place. Tanout protested at being treated like an invalid, but as the way station receded behind them, and the grim battle plain gave way to the green of Ithilien, he was content enough to sit under the waggon's awning, drowsy in the sun, with Shemar beside him, teaching him Haradhic. Gîl' sat with them. Sometimes Legolas joined him, or rode beside on Lainiell.

Legolas' relief was palpable, and he watched the unfolding of the lush land with pleasure. Ithilien's northern woods rose like green surf to splash at the black mountains that frowned upon them. At night, the air was filled with fragrance, and the stars seemed brighter. There was no further intimacy but, as he watched Legolas, Vanimórë saw a kind of peace in his eyes, a pearly gleam to him. He was, perhaps, coming to accept his desires, and though it was unlikely that Maglor used him cruelly, he was a Fëanorion, and there was enough power and passion in him to give Legolas a taste of what he needed. Whatever Maglor felt or thought, he did not say. Often he looked troubled, but when he spoke to Legolas he was ever gentle.

Osgiliath embraced the Anduin like a challenge to forever. Tall towers trailed snapping banners, and the exhalation of humanity was like the sound of the sea. One could see the river flowing green and low after the dry summer, and the massive Dome of Stars built out upon the waters. Maglor stared toward the islet, and his shoulders were rigid under his cloak. At last he looked away, and Vanimórë glimpsed the pain-taut set of his mouth.

What is it? he asked, but the Fëanorion shook his head.

They had approached Osgiliath east of the Anduin, so need not enter the city, but they saw from the elevation of the road, where a smaller river threw its brisk blue waters out into the main current: the Ithilduin, which flowed down from Minas Ithil. Here, a road climbed toward the mountains, and the wagon turned to follow it. Above them and leagues away, gleamed the towers of Minas Ithil, moon-coloured as its name against the Ephel Duath. One of the guards rode away to deliver a message to Vanimórë's troops who had remained downriver when he passed this way.

“If it please you, sir.” The officer rode to his side. “We will halt beyond the city at noon for food and rest.”

“Yes, I thank thee.”

They stopped on a deep roadside verge where a spring rose. The meal was plain, but welcome, washed down with cups of sweet, dark ale. The soldiers sat together, glancing now and then at those they escorted, and said little. Maglor stared up toward the sparkle of Minas Ithil.
It was beautiful. A bridge arched across the green vale of Imlad Ithil, where flowers grew in green meads. The main road continued east, running through a gorge under louring black cliffs. This was one of the only known entrances into Mordor through the Ephel Duath, and Vanimórë had heard of fortresses built within the borders to watch over the Black Land. His interest piqued, he reined in, noted the litter of rubble fallen from the mountains that lay uncleared.

“That road is not used?” he asked the captain, who followed his gesture and made a sign with one hand.

“Not now,” he said. “There is a tower, but those stationed there...” He paused. “The Black Land is no place for Men. There are old tales of some terror above the pass.”

Yes, Vanimórë thought. I know.

Minas Ithil, built with the skill of Númenorean masons, shone like the inner chambers of a shell, but was disturbingly silent. Sentries patrolled the walls, and soldiers went about their business in that uncanny hush. Street after street showed tall, empty houses, public gardens left to grow frowsty-wild, and tower-windows stared with blank eyes. Ravens called from the crags that rammed sharp, black peaks against the sky. The sound was like harsh mockery.

The highest central tower flew the king's banner, and here at least there was bustle. In the ward, servants went back and forth, a smithy clanged, and cooking smells wafted from a buttery where soldiers gathered. A man in dark blue robes approached as the waggon rolled to a stop. He had the illusionless eyes of an experienced courtier and a scar faded to white across one cheek, relict perhaps of a very different service. Grey-white hair, worn to the shoulders after the fashion in Gondor, was drawn back by a silver circlet.
Vanimórë came down from Seran's back, and the Man's eyes narrowed. He bowed.
“Prince Vanimórë, welcome to Minas Ithil. I am Councillor Celepharn. In the name of King Tarostar, I greet you. If you will follow me, chambers have been prepared.” He straightened, his gaze flicking to Maglor, still hooded, to Legolas, who had climbed down from the waggon with Gîl. “It has been a very long time since Elves have been seen in Gondor.” And he bowed again. “When you have rested, lord, the king will see you.”

Legolas walked between Vanimórë and Maglor, only now and then lifting his head to look around. The rooms they were lead to were wide and beautifully appointed, clearly meant to house nobility. Hot and cold water gushed from pipes in the bathing-chamber, and they washed off the dust of travel with relief. Clothes had been provided, and since the men of Gondor were a tall race, even Maglor and Vanimórë found gear to fit. After, they dined on an array of food which would not have disgraced a royal feast. The evening bell sounded as they finished. Outside the light had thickened, pushed golden blocks through the windows to lie hot on the floor. Legolas wiped his son's mouth with a damp cloth, and put the child down. Gîl crawled to a heavy chair and pulled himself up looking back for the expected appreciation. Maglor went to him, took his hands and let him walk across the rugged floor. Vanimórë hunted in his mind for the Fëanorion's withdrawal. He did not believe his own rebuff had caused it. No, this was somewhat else.

“We leave tomorrow,” he said, and Legolas turned to him.
“I do not like it here,” he said in a rush, and Vanimórë saw Shemar nod in agreement.

“It was taken by Sauron before the Last Alliance.” Vanimórë laved his hands in a bowl and dried them. “Such memories linger. The Nazgûl were here. It is close to Mordor. This king comes here to challenge, I imagine. Save there is no-one to challenge. It is ego.”

The councilor came at dusk. They had gone down into the gardens, and Gîl had played himself to sleep. The scent of night flowers drifted on the mild air, and yet, with the onset of night, Minas Ithil seemed more empty, more ominous than before. A place of echoes, like a vaulted tomb. Vanimórë left the others with a quiet word, and Maglor looked then as if he would have spoken, but did not.

I will speak to him later.

~~~


King Tarostar's hair was streaked with silver, but few lines traced his skin. His handclasp was firm, and the grey eyes held the cynicism of a man who has seen everything, or believes he has. He received Vanimórë in a round tower room with windows open to the twelve winds; in the center of the floor an ornate, waist-high stand bore something covered in blue velvet powdered with the White Tree of Gondor.
Celepharn poured wine, then withdrew to stand against the wall.

“I have heard much about you, Prince Vanimórë.” Tarostar gestured to a couch. “I did not believe most of it, but I see you do have Elven blood.” He continued, after Vanimórë dipped his head. “You seem to have thrown Szrel Kain into uproar, and dissolved their war council most effectively.”

Vanimórë told him then, not all of it, only that which he deemed the king needed to hear. Tarostar tapped a finger on the rim of his glass.
“You did not kill Dhölkan.”

“He was assassinated. Coincidental or no, his death does not lie at my door.”

The king appeared to consider.
“Dhölkan was a clever man, and dangerous. Our intelligencers think that the new prince will not live very long. Politics talks with knives, in the East. You may have provided us with an opportunity to strike while they are in turmoil.” He tilted his cup toward Vanimórë. “I would thank you for creating such a timely mess.”

“That mess, Tarostar, resulted in the deaths of over eighty of my men.” Vanimórë would wage no war against Gondor, but neither was he an ally; he had seen Númenor's gilded death throes, and the only memory of light he had taken from that place was that of a beautiful queen, as lost as he. One could not blame a whole race for the actions of their ancestors, but Tarostar's urbanity reminded him too much of Ar-Pharazôn, and he had known well enough what lay under that facade.

“I am sorry for the loss of your men, prince.” Tarostar could sound sincere enough if he tried, but the Sicannites were not his people or his problem. Nevertheless, Vanimórë responded suitably, and said, “I will take my leave tomorrow. And I thank-you for your hospitality.”

“So soon?” Tarostar put up his brows. “I had hoped to entertain you for longer. You wield some power among the Haradhrim, and many tales are told of you. It is said you were a captain of Sauron, long ago.”

“Is it?”

The king's mouth tightened. A red stain spread to his cheeks.
“For five hundred years I have ruled Sud Sicanna.” Vanimórë allowed a chill into his voice. “Not once have I threatened Gondor. Had I Sauron's ambitions, Tarostar, I think they would have manifested before now. Whatever I was has no bearing on what I am. Does that satisfy thee?”

“Not entirely,” Tarostar's smile was thin. “What you may have been has great bearing on Gondor, and the Eldar live so long that it may take an Age for a plan to come to fruition.”

There it was, the hint of petulance, the sourness in the wine, the unfairness, as the Númenoreans saw it, of their fate: to die and leave the world.

“Truly,” he agreed. “But I have no such long-reaching plans.”
He could not make any, thus he ruled as well as he was able until the time came when Sauron called him again.

“So.” The king sat back. “Gondor has no ambassadorial representation in Sud Sicanna.”

“Gondor has never approached me on the subject.”

“You are ...associated, however nebulously, with our ancient enemy.” The king jerked his head toward Celepharn, who poured more wine. “And the Southrons harass our borders. Yet we trade with you. It may be of benefit to us both to consider an ambassadorial presence.”

“A reciprocal one, of course.”

“Probably unwise. I am thinking of the safety of your people, of course.”

“And I of thine when I refuse.”

The king's eyes sealed over with frost.

“Perhaps in the future. But for now — ” Vanimórë sipped the wine, let the moments glide by, unhurried. “My interests lie with the South and East, Tarostar. There is nothing Gondor can provide that I cannot get elsewhere. Sud Sicanna thrives because we refuse no-one trade — ”

“An easy position to take.”

“ — but were I to allow Gondor an embassy, it could be misconstrued.” He did not raise his voice, did not need to. He had commanded armies for so long that he could pitch his voice to carry weight and authority, and did so now. “Neither I nor my city need the unnecessary complications that might result. Until some lasting peace between Gondor and the Harad is reached, and my own people occupy an embassy in Osgiliath, I will not receive an Ambassador from Gondor.”

Tarostar rose.
“Gondor does not treat with the Men of Darkness,” he said, contempt in his words. “Nor with one of Elf-blood who rules them. Your passage through Gondor went unhindered because you have hitherto been ... neutral.” He emphasized the word heavily.

“Thou shouldst be grateful for that.” Vanimórë crossed one booted leg over the other. “I do not want Gondor.” And he smiled.

The door slammed inwards. On his feet and turning, Vanimórë saw, behind Maglor's cloaked figure, one guard crumpling to the floor. The other plunged after him, set a hand on the Fëanorion's shoulder and received a blow to his chin with the flat of Maglor's hand that snapped his head back. The Fëanorion whirled, eyes fixed on the shrouded centerpiece of the room. He strode toward it, pulled aside the cover to reveal a perfectly round globe, black as polished obsidian, but with movement uneasy beneath its surface. A storm swirled in its depths. Running feet sounded, and more soldiers burst through the door.

Tarostar, frozen in astonishment for a heartbeat, drew a dagger from his belt. Vanimórë seized his wrist, dug in his thumb and with a grunt, the knife fell.
“Call them off,” he warned.

“The Palantiri are gifts to kings.” Tarostar sounded as if he could not believe what was happening, had no experience to draw on that allowed him to comprehend. “He has no right!”

Maglor whirled, hood falling away from his face. One hand rested on the globe, which fumed with diamond light. His eyes were burning stars.
“No right?” His face was that of a man whom had seen the end of his world, and would never accept it. “My father made this.

It became clear to Vanimórë, then. He had heard of the fabled Palantiri, the Seeing Stones of Gondor and Arnor, given to the Men of Númenor by Gil-galad. Some, it was said, had been brought to Middle-earth by Elendil, but they came, originally, from Valinor. Vanimórë had not known that they were made by Fëanor. This explained Maglor's muteness, the introversion of his mood. He could feel the Palantiri, touched by his father.

“No-one has a better right,” he said. “This is Maglor Fëanorion.”

Silence fell like a stone. Maglor turned back to the palantir, caressed it as one would caress a lover's face. The light welled through his flesh. He bowed his head, and Vanimórë saw terrible yearning there. Tears streaked bright paths over the high cheeks. His mouth shaped silent words, but Vanimórë heard them resonate in his mind, the names of his father, his brothers, his uncle, his cousins, those gone into Night. And Vanimórë's heart clenched like an open wound. This should have been an intensely private moment.

Tarostar wrenched against the hold on his wrist, and order fell harsh as a whip into the quiet.
“Take him!”

~~~


In the guest chambers, Sauron raised his head.
Ah, my son. The blood of Númenor is proud. But it is not as powerful as yours. Or mine.

He had tasted Vanimórë's blood that night in the way station, and its potency had flamed through him, bright-dark, radiant. It was enough for him to weave his disguise more tightly, to shunt aside his son's scrutiny, to send tendrils of power into Legolas and Gîlrion. He was not surprised at the resistance in the child, had expected Glorfindel's influence to fight against him, but Legolas' he had not anticipated. The wood-Elf had touched his heritage, and it struck back. Fortunate that both were so young.

On that journey south, Sauron moved gently, persistently as a man feeding poppy to drug another. He knew that he could cradle the two minds with his, bend them to his purpose. Maglor was another matter, as was his son. A different approach had been called for.
Tanout and Shemar had gone to bed, and were, anyhow, of no concern, though Tanout might be a problem. So, let them sleep.

Legolas rose from his seat as if it had burned him. His eyes were huge, otherwhere, and his head turned to stare north. Gîl, asleep on the padded settle, stirred, but did not wake.

Sauron said, sharp with mock-concern: “What is it?”

The blue eyes came back to him.
“There is trouble, with Maglor, the king. Vanimórë said to leave somehow, that he would follow. But we cannot...cannot just leave them here!”

It had been easy to manipulate the king and Vanimórë, who had memories of Númenor lodged like iron filings under his skin. As for Maglor, Sauron had sensed the Palantiri and, because he knew their provenance, guessed Maglor would likewise feel and know them. It had been almost as difficult to nudge the Fëanorion's mind as it had Vanimórë's, but once it was done, Maglor's longing had pushed him down the slope like a runaway cart.

Fëanor still exerts his lodestone pull, though so long dead. What memories might the palantir awaken? Oh, this could be interesting. I almost wish I could see it.

But the time had come.

“Wake the others,” he suggested, and Legolas turned toward the bedchamber door.

Sauron fed a vein deeper sleep to Gîl, picked him up, and walked from the room. There were, he knew, guards outside the door. Now for the test.
The soldiers had time to look at him before Sauron brought shadow upon them. He stepped past them in blackness like the bottom of a mountain, heard their cries of confusion as his own unhuman eyes adjusted. He smiled as he walked, the child's head lolling against his shoulder; to utilize his gifts thus was ecstasy. He need no longer hide, felt himself strengthen, grow taller, the power like lava in his veins, his eyes, the very center of his being. He was stronger than he had unanticipated, because of his son.

Vanimórë, you always impress me.

Vanimórë, whom had noticed nothing, no sapping of energy, because within him burned a furnace that replenished itself constantly.

I will remember that.
No matter how weakened, how tenuous his link to form, as long as Vanimórë lived, Sauron knew he could always return. Even from the Void, where he had no intention of dragging his son, and could not even had he wanted to. But as long as Vanimórë believed that, he would fight like all the demons of Angband to stay alive.

Sauron went silent as a bat down lightless stairs, unhesitating. When Minas Ithil was taken from Gondor, he had plans for this place. They had come to naught, but Sauron remembered, had imprinted every room and doorway into his mind. He knew all the ways out. There was a postern gate that lead down to eastern road, but that way was too obvious. He had another route in mind.

Sauron walked on and wove shadows before him, dropped them in his wake.

~~~
End Notes:
I am always very grateful for any reviews, if you liked anything. Thank-you for reading.

It was pointed out to me by a reader that since Legolas has been intimate with Maglor a few times, might he not get pregnant again? He fell pregnant very easily when he was raped by Glorfindel, after all
In this verse, the answer is: No.
MPREG in Esteliel's 'verse is limited to Legolas' line, and even then is rare, so no-one seems to know much about it, but I believe Elrond suggested Legolas might not be able to get pregnant while he was breast-feeding. (He still is at the moment, though G
Chapter 16 ~ Convergence ~ by Spiced Wine
Author's Notes:
Sorry for the delay, any readers.


~ Convergence ~



~ Dagorlad unscrolled its hard memory before them. The menace of the ash-grey mountains crumbled into the enfanged maw of the Morannon.

Dagorlad. A name of unending grief. Here, Thranduil had ascended to kingship over the body of his father. So many Silvans of the Wood and Lórinand had been lost in that first courageous, feckless attack on the forces of Sauron. Bainalph's own father had been among them.

Thranduil did not speak. His face was carved of hoarfrost and bitterest memory. Bainalph could feel how the past, merciless, undying, lifted itself from the dead plain and descended upon him. On both of them. He wanted to touch the King, draw out the pain, but no-one could do that. To be an Elf was to remember. It was as well that Thranduil had a goal. He would tread this path unflinching if Legolas were at the end. But that, the only thread of comfort Bainalph could find was, in itself, a tangled one. Whom was the King pursuing — Legolas or Elvýr?
The oldest tales told that if an Elf died, they would be reborn among their people. Now, the dead became Houseless, were both feared and loved, (forever loved, unforgotten) but they never came back.

The King had known that Legolas was ahead of him. His connection had drawn him from the dreary town of Gelebrin. He had not explained, not looked to see if Bainalph followed. There was no need.

When the wind dropped at night only the thud of the horses hooves broke the silence of the wastes. If Bainalph listened, he could hear the echoes of that battle long ago.

The lonely way station huddled, dusty and belligerent, a mote in the eye of the Morannon. Which was, Bainalph thought, exactly its purpose, though the eye was now blind.

He had tried to look at the Black Gate. This was his heritage too, and Elven sight was more than adequate to cover those leagues. The Towers of the Teeth were splintered and chipped like obsidian knives, but he could not see between them. There was only the impression of massive, twisted rubble slumping into shadow.

~~~


“Yes, the Prince was here.”
It was custom to offer travellers water, and Aeardol handed the Elves the dipper. His surprise at seeing them ride out of the north would have been greater had the Prince of Sud Sicanna not lodged here a few days ago. The two were garbed for travel in tooled leather and fine doeskin, were armed, with a look of ferality about them. They refused to fade into the background ordinariness of the world. They were jewel-bright, like the others. The eye fixed upon them as it would on shooting stars, a rainbow against a storm-grey sky, something natural but vivid to the point of savagery.

“How long ago?” asked the one, taller than his companion, hair of dark gold, the air of a king, the poise of an angry cat.

“Three days.” Aeardol added: “Sir,” because it seemed fitting.

The man's eyes burned up into steely fire.
“We need food, dried goods, wine and waterskins.” His accent turned the Common tongue to flowing silver. To his companion, with hair like fresh cream, and a look in golden-green eyes that Aeardol felt in his loins he said, in Sindarin: “We cannot spare the time to hunt.”

“You follow the Prince of Sud Sicanna, sir?” It was the captain, come from his rooms.

“Yes. The so-called Dark Prince — ” White teeth snapped down on the title. “Travels with my son and grandson.”

“Yes?” The captain's eyes flicked over him, and he nodded. “It is a pity you missed them. The prince put up here when two of his men fell ill with the ague. King Tarostar sent a message and a wagon to bear them to Minas Ithil.” He added, “The prince did mention that other Elves might come this way.”

“Did he, indeed?”

Their supplies replenished, Thranduil and Bainalph rode on. Three days, the Man had said, and Vanimórë's company slowed by the wagon. By evening they had rounded the shoulder of the Ephel Duath, and were in Ithilien. It was benison. In the green gloaming they pulled off the road, halted close to a freshet that spilled into a pool.

“They will not travel in the dark,” the King said. “Not with a wagon. We will. But let us eat and drink. And talk.”

Bainalph, who had been looking down on the road, empty with the coming of night, turned to him.

“Minas Ithil. There is only one road that leads there.”

Bainalph nodded. He had seen the fortress-city on the map in Thranduil's library. But the King was not looking at him.

“Vanimórë has to accept the King's invitation. He is a ruler himself; he understands the necessities.” Thranduil unbuckled his harness, unlaced his tunic, sat to pull off boots and breeches, then stepped into the pool. Bainalph took his clothes, slapped them on a rock, removing the dust of the Battle Plain. His eyes strayed to the pale shape in the water. Thranduil had unloosed his hair, was kneading his scalp with long fingers. On any other occasion, Bainalph would have taken the opportunity to join him, but not in the aftermath of Dagorlad. He put his own harness aside, drew out a pot of flax oil, and worked it into both his gear and the King's. By the time he had washed his hands and set out food and wine, Thranduil was sitting on the sward. Bainalph undressed, waded into the water. It was cool, the night warm and windless.

The King said, “I was sure I would enter the Black Gates again.” His voice was level, but Bainalph caught at a shiver, ruthlessly crushed it back into his muscles.“But Minas Ithil was built to guard another pass into Mordor.”

Bainalph gathered his wet hair over one shoulder. “You are sure of this vision?”

The King said curtly: “Yes. Come, eat and dress.”

“What do we do?” He walked from the pool, slicking water from his arms and legs.

“First, we find my son. Listen. We — or at least I — will have to enter Mordor. The water-skins must be kept filled. That land is arid. Water was brought in during the siege.”

Bainalph held up a mental map to examine.
“Is there no water underground?”

“In some places. Very deep. It would take a great deal to draw it up.”

“If we have to, I will,” Bainalph said. “If your son is in danger you cannot afford to drain your strength.”

Now, at last, Thranduil did look at him. His face was remote. He said, “I hope it will not be needful.”

But he would sacrifice Bainalph for Legolas, and so he should. Any father would. And Bainalph was willing.

They went on, riding quick and hooded through the increasing traffic making its way downriver to the great cities of the South Kingdom. They were stopped once, with amazement, by a patrol. It had become rare, since the Last Alliance, for Elves to enter Gondor. The Men, who had heard of the Dark Prince, let them go when Thranduil spoke of finding him. There was no reason to detain them, but Bainalph felt the soldier's eyes on them, and was glad when they were out of sight. Had they tried to prevent the King the situation would have become bloody. Bainalph could see the tension massing in Thranduil like a building storm. No-one and nothing would come between he and his son. But what was the danger? Though he could not know, Bainalph found it hard to believe that Vanimórë would harm Legolas. Of course, it could all be an elaborate ruse. Vanimórë was Sauron's son. It just seemed too elaborate. But Mordor lay beyond these mountains; Bainalph could feel it, like the exhalation of a sleeping beast on his skin, and Thranduil had seen his son in Mordor. Bainalph looked up at the peaks, torn by Ages of wind and ice, but they told him nothing. The sky above them was benign, deep blue.

The road lifted itself, the Ephel Duath muscling closer on their left hand. They smelled Osgiliath even before they saw it below them, a crowding gleam of tall domes with a litter of streets and houses at their feet. The people of lost Westernessë were renowned for their engineering skills, but their sewage systems discharged into the Anduin, and the unusually dry summer had lowered the water levels.

“There,” Thranduil said, and they looked up, away from the city. The Tower of the Moon caught the last rays of the sun like a pearl carving. The King's hands were tight on the reins, his profile as pale, and as hard .
“He is there.”

They turned up the road. Shadows crawled down from the mountains to meet them.
They were looking up at the tower when every light in it went out.

~~~


It took some time to wake Tanout and Shemar, as though they had drunk deep. Legolas knew they had not. Alarm flickered like falling leaves through his mind as he shook them, glancing back at the door through which he had come. When Tanout roused, he rolled from the bed with a soldier's instant alertness, and reached for his clothes, Shemar scrambling to follow. He did not ask questions, only listened to Legolas' quick explanation, and frowned as he buckled his sword-belt. He said, “You are sure he wanted us to leave him?”

“That is what he said.”

Tanout pursed his mouth. “It feels unusually sloppy. And it goes ill with me to leave my prince, though I do not doubt his ability to break out of this place, nor Maglor's. But — ”

The lanterns winked out. Legolas, startled, waiting for his night vision to adjust.

“What happened?” Shemar's voice came small, breathless.

Legolas ran into the next room, looked around.
“Osulf? Gîl?”

Panic took him in a stranglehold. He leaped to the door, flung it open. A heavy body blundered into him, and he stepped out of reach. It was one of the guards.

“Who is there?” The Man's voice was tight with fear. “I cannot see!”

Standing frozen, Legolas struggled to make sense of what had happened, to tell himself that Osulf had taken Gîl out of danger.
But where has he taken him?

He felt a hand touch his shoulder, and whirled. Tanout's eyes were wide and black, his head making odd weaving motions. Legolas, staring, realized he, and Shemar behind him, were as blind as the guard. The hallway lamps were out, but there should still be a little light. Legolas could see as in a night-fog, not well, but enough to find his way. Tanout's hand searched gently until it found his hair; he brought his mouth close to Legolas' ear, and breathed: “We have to get out.”

“Can you see nothing?” Legolas whispered, and saw the head-shake. “I can a little. Take my hand. Shemar must take yours.”

He wanted to run. This blackness had an unnatural flavour. He fought against incapacitating terror, gripped Tanout's hand. One of the guards collided with the wall. Legolas pulled Tanout past him.

Vanimórë?
The cry fell muffled in his mind. He swallowed through a constricted throat, What is happening, what is happening? Gîl! and forced his mind to remember the way they had come to these rooms. There were stairs, a sweeping curl of them, wide and shallow, but he recalled another, narrower flight, perhaps used by servants, that might be a quicker way down. He passed the head of the stairs, hearing cries and curses from below. They sounded as if they came through water. The second flight was up the corridor and to his right. Here. It was not so dark. He looked back, saw Tanout and Shemar clearly. Light from the risen moon fell through high windows. The blackness poured down the main stairs like a river and now, beyond its blanketing influence, they could see. His heart dinned in his ears.

“What in the Mother's name — ” Tanout began.

Legolas took his arm. “This way.”

The young man nodded. It was dark on the narrow stairwell, but not as lightless as it had been. They went quickly.

“Sorcery,” Shemar's voice shook.

No, please. Gîl.

Legolas' legs melted under him. He pressed against the wall, tears scalding his cheeks. His sword harness dug into his back, and he thought wildly that at least he had armed himself. With enormous effort, he willed his body to move down the stairs, came out into a narrow corridor. A heavy door stood in his path, opening to an inner ward. The towers gleamed white, deep shadows piled like discarded cloaks under the walls. He shrank into one, closed his eyes. Gîl?

There was an impression of seething darkness red-black like some cloud of fire and within it a bright spot, burning with its own light. But more than that, more than anything, was the presence of his son in his soul, as if he were there. Gîl sensed him, his spirit reached out. Legolas bit his lip to quell the tears that would blind him as effectively as the sorcerous dark.

I am coming, Gîl!

Tanout caught up, Shemar behind him. He cast a quick glance over his shoulder toward the noise of shouts, running feet and said, a trifle breathless, still not recovered from his illness: “Stay in the shadows. This way. If we are in trouble, the garrison will have closed the main gates. But there is another way.”

“Where?” High up, voices sounded. They pressed back instinctively against the wall.

“A postern gate,” Tanout said rapid and low. “The prince told me it was in the south wall. If we can get there.”

Legolas stared at him in the gloom.
“Tanout, Osulf has taken my son. He is already gone.”

Tanout caught his arm. “Wait for the prince. Please Legolas.”

“I cannot. There is no time. I cannot wait.” Whatever was in his eyes then beside the tears, Tanout's grip slowly loosed. He kissed Legolas on the cheek.
“I know,” he said. “Neither could I.”

Legolas touched his shoulder, and Shemar's. The youth was white, tearless.

He turned. The problem, as Tanout had said, was getting to the postern, and it was in the opposite direction. Gîl was being borne east. If Legolas ran into soldiers, they might try to take him. He could not permit it, would have to try and kill them, something he would have balked at in his old life. Now, for his son, he would not think twice, but none of these Men had harmed him as yet. They were also, he knew, better warriors than he.

He looked up at the wall which seemed so smooth in the moonlight, and gathered himself. He jumped, heard Shemar's quiet gasp as he went up. At the top he swung over, found himself on a wide parapet. It was empty. Vanimórë had remarked on how few soldiers were stationed here, and Legolas was glad of it. He peered over the edge, but Tanout and Shemar was invisible in the thick darkness below. He prayed that they would remain so, that they would find their way out.

He crossed the parapet, gazed down at the garden where they had walked that evening. It was empty now, silent. On a long breath, he lowered himself and dropped. It was not high. The scent of greenery seemed to push into and through his booted feet, into his blood, steadying him. He wove in and out of fruit trees, reached the further wall, and climbed.

This time, he was not so fortunate. As he dropped onto the stonework, a voice cried an alarm. Booted feet sounded, and he saw two soldiers running from the tower. Legolas dived over the wall, tucking his legs in, somersaulting, and coming down on level ground.

His mind was spinning a name, Gîlrion, Gîlrion. The child's mind slept, but Legolas felt part of it struggling to wake. Splinters drove into his heart. Osulf was not what he had appeared all those days and nights when he smiled that secret smile. No normal man could throw down darkness as if it were ink trailing behind him. But Legolas dared not go beyond that point, the point that would push his mind over the black mountains.

Sorcery.

He climbed again, came onto another parapet, and he judged that if he followed it, it would lead him to the north wall. There was a guardroom, empty, steps leading up which Legolas jumped, and then he was out, running. He could see the mountains, stark under the waxing moon.

Legolas!

Vanimórë, with a frantic edge to the cry that spurred Legolas faster. He could not answer, his own thoughts flung themselves out into the night like terrified birds.
Osulf makes my son sleep, but Gîl knows; he fighting to wake. Do not fight him, Gîl. Do not anger him.

Legolas, wait! That was Maglor; Maglor whom had shown him that there was glory in utter surrender.
He came to the outer wall, leaned through a gap in the stone and looked out. His heart came hot into his throat. The wall fell like a sheet of linen, impossibly smooth, to a waste of broken rock. There were no windows. The builders had slammed the wall into the stony ground like a challenge, but they had not been foolish enough to give the enemy an easy entrance.

Legolas was not afraid of heights. He had climbed trees since he could walk, but for a moment, panic screamed that he could not descend this. Then, lifting his eyes he thought he glimpsed, down in the tumbled vale where shadows fell sharp, a blot of darkness moving at speed toward the mountains. A sob pushed itself from between his lips. Gîl! He looked down again, knew he could not climb down that blank wall — and knew he had to.

His chest was filled with frozen gravel. He folded his legs over the embrasure, twisted around, arms braced over the stone, and let himself slide, boots skidding lightly down the wall, seeking the smallest crack. There had to be some purchase; he had found it in the other walls. The emptiness below sucked at him. Fear had drawn the blood from his hands and feet. He could not feel them. The width of the embrasure was too wide to grip. Perspiration blossomed, bled down his back. He was going to fall.

Please....!

His wet palms slipped, and he fell, flattening himself against the stone as if melding to it. The grain slid under his hands, his tunic, the tips of his boots, speed increasing. He thought he heard voices clamouring in his mind, but they were lost in raw fear, in the expectation of his body overbalancing, plunging to the rocks below, the pain, the death, the uselessness of it.

Gîl.

He found a flaw, dug desperately into it with the tips of his fingers, knowing it was hopeless, felt with his feet, and jammed them into a shallow indentation. He was not strong, but he was light, and he had caught himself before the momentum of his fall became unstoppable.

His heart seemed to slam against the wall. His mind, wheeling half senseless, clashed back into coherent thought. Breathing hectically, too terrified even to tremble, Legolas held himself still.

Careful. Be careful...

Cautiously, trying to move his body as little as possible, he peered down. The voices circled him like a flock of birds. He could not afford to listen to them.

The sweep of wall was not completely vertical. It angled infinitesimally outward, in the slant of the moon Legolas could see the demarcation of the massive blocks of stone, thin, almost negligible. Perspiration stung his eyes, and he blinked. It was madness. And down there was the man who had taken his son. He could climb back, try to find his way to the postern gate — No, there was no time.

Legolas swallowed over clots of ice, and moved one foot down. And down. He could see well enough when to let himself slide to the next join, and the next. Odd, fractured images cracked, lightning-vivid across his inner vision. He watched them as if they had happened to some-one else, while far away, his breath came in pants, his hands and feet, arms and legs strained. His father's face appeared, white with killing fury, the face he had fled from, and then it changed, became the vision he had seen that dawn on the Rhûnan plains; not enraged but intense with pain.

One more.

The moon looked down, uncaring. The mountains waited blankly for him to fall.

One more.

The toe of his boot slipped. White panic flashed to his nerve endings. He scrabbled, rammed his boot back into the narrow — too narrow — crack, pushed himself against the stone. Darkness blotted his vision, and he thought he would faint. He could hardly breathe. He tasted the salt of sweat, heard himself gasping.

Help me.

He knew he was a heartbeat away from screaming, from a storm of weeping that would loose him from his precarious hold and send him down to break on the bleak ground below. It was impossible, and there was no-one to help him. This was madness, the very edge of death, and it was worse, somehow, than his frail, sickness-dogged journey south, than the temple of Szrel Kain, than the wolves...The Fell-wolves. When they had attacked, his father, the prince of Alphgarth, Glorfindel and Tindómion Maglorion had ridden out of nowhere. Vanimórë had thought that Legolas had drawn them. How foolish. But he wished, wished and willed that they would come now, and rescue Gîl.

Fool. Fool.

Sobs swelled in his throat. He blocked them, tried to breathe carefully, closed his eyes for a moment. Then, arms trembling with strain, he drew back his foot, let it scrape down the wall, unlocked his nerveless fingers. His tunic clung to his back, soaked through.

He saw Vanimórë, his face set into that stern moulding of bone and flesh that could seem so forbidding so, at times, unhuman. He saw Maglor, proud, wounded beauty. He saw, in a blaze of gold, Glorfindel, and the mockery was gone from his face. Over an imagined distance, he heard galloping hooves.

When death is so close, the soul is bared of the beliefs that cushions one's life, that in fact make it bearable. Poised on the very edge, Legolas did not want to die. He wanted, with a fierce, angry despair, to live, to discover what and whom he was. He wanted —

Gîlrion's face smiled at him, innocent in its newness, beautiful. His life, his hope.

— His son.

There was no help, and Osulf was taking Gîl away. A terror-image, sharp as a dagger, drove into his mind: Osulf standing on some high place, hair lifted by rising air, arms stretched, to let Gîl fall...

After, he could never remember how he descended, the pale pour of stone under his wide eyes, bleeding fingers and bruised toes finding creases and cracks. It seemed to last an eternity, and one beat of his hectic heart.

The solid ground met his feet like a lover, barren and sparse though it was. He staggered, close to collapse, legs gone limp as rope. He drew the night air into his lungs, and threw his nerve-lashed body down the slope, almost falling, picking himself up. “Gîlrion!”

~~~


Hold.

His command rang against the marble. There was a faint thrum as if the stone shivered. The guards came to a halt, hands clasped tight on their spears. The lamps fluttered and dimmed.

“Think what thou art doing, Tarostar,” Vanimórë said, and his voice still struck in a demand for obedience so absolute that the men felt their knees quiver toward bending. “Thou wouldst arrest us? For what?”

Celepharn moved then, said, “Sire. The prince is right. It would be... inadvisable.”

But Tarostar was already grimly embarrassed at the situation. Guards had flooded to the chamber at his call, and it seemed for a moment that, lack of weapons notwithstanding, there would be a bloodbath. It would have been ample excuse to take Vanimórë and hold him hostage, (if, whispered a niggling doubt, they could have essayed his capture at all). One did not kill a fellow king save on the battlefield, though for a while Tarostar had deeply desired that conclusion. But Vanimórë simply stepped aside, took Maglor's arm.

Then that voice. It reached deep into him, its edges furred with power.

“Sire,” Celepharn said urgently.

Tarostar looked past him to the tall prince.
“What are you?” he hissed.

“I am not thine enemy.”

The tableau held like a harp-note, then: “Put up,” Tarostar snapped at the soldiers, his indignation collapsing inward to a smouldering coal. True, he had been manhandled, but had drawn first blade. What had he thought to do with it? He looked at the one claimed to be Maglor. It might even be true. There was an ancient, pain-forged beauty to him, not unlike Vanimórë, and his eyes were extraordinary. The Palantir had undoubtedly reacted to his touch, was still burning with an opal-white light never before seen, but Tarostar had no intention of giving it up, and no-one could prove to his satisfaction that the man was indeed Maglor, son of Fëanor, High Elf though he undoubtedly was. Anyhow, the King knew history well, and the Fëanorions were a damned, doomed clan in every account of the Elder Days he had ever read. He set his shoulders as a prickle of unease raced down his back. The Palantir pulsed like a star. The Noldo's face shone.

He turned away, frowned at the outburst of noise that floated up to the open windows. Beckoning to one of the soldiers, he said, “Find out what is going on, and report back.”
He was not unduly concerned; the horns had sounded no alarm, but everything about this night was unbalanced. In fact, the King admitted to himself, he had not felt easy since the prince entered Minas Ithil.

At the moment, however, he must deal with this situation. Celepharn was right, but the King should not have needed the councilor to remind him. Even were the Dark Prince an enemy of Gondor, the King knew how much influence Sud Sicanna exerted in the central Harad. The northern tribes were a thorn in Gondor's side, but if the prince were dead or an avowed enemy, his restraining hand would be removed from the city-states further south. The East was in disarray at the moment, but attacks from the Harad would weld them together. Tarostar would be beleaguered from both sides if the worse scenario he could envisage came to pass. He thought too, of the Sicannite army. If rumour were in any way true, he did not want that army pointed at his realm.

Badly ruffled he glared, unable to help it, at the prince. The man was too arrogant, too assured of his own power. It would be satisfying to puncture that glossy facade, (and mar that milk-white, grainless skin) but Tarostar was old enough to know this was mere jealousy. He said to Celepharn, “Give them wine,” and to the soldiers. “Return to your stations.”

Vanimórë moved to stand before the Noldo, cupped his face, bringing the silver eyes to his. He said something the King could not hear. Annoyed, Tarostar cleared his throat to bring their attention back to him.

Three guards stumbled into the room. They looked dazed; even in the well-lit room, the pupils of their eyes black and blurred. The flick of unease became a whip.
And the guttering lamps went out.

Vanimórë whirled, his face slapped clean of all expression for a heartbeat, and then strain crashing through his voice like a wave, he cried, “Ah, Eru, no. Gîl. Legolas!”

He moved, and the frightened door-guards, with no orders to the contrary, let him pass, Maglor at his side.

“Sire,” one of the men gasped, forestalling Tarostar's order to 'halt'. “Something is wrong here. There is a darkness through the castle like a river, and where it runs we are blind. Every light is out.”

Tarostar's fingertips prickled with cold. He ran from the room, and the soldiers fell in behind him. Vanimórë and the Noldo were already out of sight; he could not even hear their steps, but he guessed from the prince's words where they were going. Moonlight dripped through the light-wells, and the corridors stretched pale and strange as bleached bones.

They came, all of them, to a halt outside the guest's chambers. A flood of ink-black, clearly visible against the pallid darkness of the unlit halls emerged from it swept, as the soldier had said, like a river toward the main stairs. Ice poured through Tarostar's flesh. As they watched a man fell out of it as from water, face white, eyes staring. He almost careened into another soldier, who braced him.

Vanimórë walked straight into it, Maglor at his side. Tarostar would have followed, fighting through the clawed hand of fear that had him by the throat, but Celepharn said sharply: “Sire.”

The King stopped, turned to the guard. “What the Hells is it?”

“Dark,” the man swallowed. “Sire. It was like being swallowed.

The prince breached the blackness, the Noldo at his side. Their expressions were honed like swords. Tarostar thought he saw horror in their eyes, and something more in the prince's, but there was no time to pursue that thought. Both were armed, but the King's brief annoyance flickered and died under the chill that swarmed through blood and bone.

“What have you brought into this place?” he demanded.

“He has gone, and the others,” Vanimórë said. “The Northman who was with me, Osulf. He took the child. Legolas will have followed him, and we must find him. My men, Captain Tanout and the youth Shemar, I ask that you house them, and let them go to the company downriver.”

“How? Why?” Tarostar shouted. Control dragged itself out of his hands like a half-broken horse taking the bit between its teeth. But he could have controlled the horse. He smelt the sweat of fear on his soldiers. “Who is this man that you brought into my land, and why in the Black Hells would he steal a child?

The prince's eyes had gone dark as indigo. There seemed nothing human in them, no expression, nothing at all. Energy was coiled in his sinews like heat waiting for the touch of air to explode it into fire. Tarostar knew that if he tried to stop him, the prince would slaughter them all, and the silver-eyed Noldo would be with him. They would not even break a sweat. He, the King, was simply in their way. They were warriors who had sighted an enemy.

“Sacrifice.” Just one word that carried a weight of blood. “But I can follow this.” He jerked his head toward the blackness.

“You will be blind.”

The prince whirled, threw a look back over his shoulder.
“I can see in the dark,” he said.

Maglor could also see. Vanimórë had wondered, looked back at him, to see his eyes burning like mirrors struck by light. Was it his age, his blood? There was no time to question, and Maglor merely nodded once in assurance. They ran, Vanimóre calling for Legolas as he took the stairs three at a time. A groping soldier hugged the wall, and they went by with a flurry of air that dragged a startled cry from him.

Sprinting, Maglor beside him, down a wide hall, Vanimóre cursed himself. The King's uncharacteristic (from all he had ever heard) behaviour, his own less than tactful responses had been fanned by an outside influence. With that influence withdrawn, they had regained their equilibrium.

But we were supposed to be detained. He thought I would fight, or that there would be enough confusion to give him time. He knew Legolas would follow, that perhaps Tanout would go with him. But those he could deal with. Sorry to throw out thy plans, father, but we have not yet finished out game of Tar.

His father.

He had known the moment Sauron dropped his web of illusion to concentrate his powers on leaving Minas Ithil with Gîl. Vanimórë, who had seen detailed maps of the fortress, knew exactly where he was going.

But how did I not know it was he?

He gouged mercilessly into his memories, every interaction with Osulf, reinterpreted each conversation, look, smile. Sauron had known how to act, what to say, feeding Vanimórë the lies he would always hearken to: driven from his home for protecting a woman, coming to the East to be used for sex until he fought his way into a new life. And all the time watching his son, taunting him, walking on the edge, and, doubtless, laughing.

The glamour he had cast over them had been strong but delicate, just enough for them to accept him, to lull them into accepting the tall Northman as one of them. Not immediately. Vanimórë would have questioned instantaneous fondness for a stranger, and one moreover who admitted to being an assassin. A half-truth that. He had no doubt his father had killed, but if he could take the form of a Man he could take the form of an animal; a Fell-wolf that would make those who attacked them look like fox cubs.

Bloody Hells, he called them to drive us into the Dor Rhûnan, close to Mordor. He wanted to thin the ranks of my men so there would be less to hunt him when he moved. He knew of the Drejim, and I should have. I trusted them too easily. How has he grown strong enough for this?

He threw open a door, followed the passage, pushed down his rage, his chagrin, beating it into a force he could use when he caught up with his father. He remembered, as they raced through a ward, through a gate into another, that sensual bite in the way station. (And that night, he had come so close to taking his father. In other circumstances it would have been funny). It had broken the skin.

The old way. Old but sure; blood magic, another reason for so many deaths and he, Vanimórë, was Sauron's son.

Blood magic and Gîlrion, born of Legolas, sired by one whom had been the Light of the Noldor in a darkening world, was unique, and innocent. There was immense power in innocence.

Postern, Vanimórë told Maglor. South wall.

Maglor had said nothing. They had not even acknowledged the name between them. If he were thinking of his torture in Barad-dûr, he hid it admirably. He was a blade of Fëanorion battle-rage but, like Vanimórë, that rage was tempered.

I would be proud to have a brother like thee, he thought.

The postern was locked, and that was impossible, since no such door would be barred from the outside. This was Sauron's power, and Vanimórë felt it like a last rebuking slap for his obtuseness.

Climb, Maglor looked up. Vanimórë shook his head.

The walls are well nigh sheer. It would take too long. No.

He drew himself in to a tight knot, forced everything he was into it: the Ages of servitude, the shock of betrayal, the terror of a youth sitting in a lightless cell wondering if he was forgotten. Every act of rape, of degradation. All of it. It scoured his soul bare. He needed every scintilla of emotion. Sweat wept cold down his jaw.

Thou hast not regained all thy power, father, not yet, else thou wouldst not need the child.

He felt a hand on his shoulder, drew on Maglor, the soul he had seen in Barad-dûr. It poured into him, fiery starlight, love, compassion and passion, and a terrible, unending grief like a chasm that broke his life in twain. It was older than Vanimórë, and even when that child shivered in a worm-hole of rock in Angband, Maglor had lived and warred with this abyssal grief. And beyond it...

Vanimórë released it all in a fire-burst and through Maglor, through himself, poured another thing, a third soul too brilliant for him to look upon, a silent thunder of glory, a will so powerful even the gods would fear it.

The gate flung open with a force that sent it crashing into the outer wall. Vanimórë was through with Maglor before the backward swing. They hugged the walls, keeping pace until the slope fell to the narrow gorge. The road spilled down like a dropped ribbon. Riders were approaching, hidden by the curve of the land. Vanimórë paid them no heed.

The scream that tore the night was pure pain, terror ripping itself from a human throat, and branding the darkness red. It was Gîlrion's name.

The slope would have been treacherous for heavier-footed men, deliberately kept clean of all cover and plant life, a wasteland of shale and sharp stones. Vanimórë and Maglor went down as if it were a grass meadow. Far below, a billow of pale hair caught the moon.

With his peripheral vision, Vanimórë saw the horsemen wheel at the cry, heard the ring of hooves.
Maglor said, not even breathing hard: “Where is he going?”

“There is a secret way cut into those cliffs.” Vanimórë hurdled a boulder. “Made long ago, before Men came to Gondor from Númenor.”

“Why that way?”

“To thin out any pursuit.”

She had been there before Sauron, he said. A spider in form ,“Like those who haunted Nan Dungortheb, some spawn of the thing the Elves called Ungweliantë” (At that name, Maglor's finger's drove into his arm). Her body alone was the size of a war-horse. When Sauron discovered her abode, he was untroubled. There was no need, at that time, to guard the narrow pass, but should any wander thence, she was an excellent watchdog. Orcs he sent there at whiles, prisoners he had no further use for, or she emerged to hunt down into Ithilien. It was seen she was cunning; she would toy with her prey before capturing them, but she would not eat dead flesh. She wanted the blood warm and flowing.

Would not the Men of Gondor have hunted her? Maglor asked.

If so it was long ago, and they failed. The captain who escorted us spoke of an ancient terror in the pass. And she would have known they were coming, set traps, eluded them or slain them.
This as they ran to the rubble-scattered road.

Stairs opposite the bridge.

The opening was narrow, huddled in shadow. Looking back Vanimórë saw two figures running in silence toward them, the echo of more hoof-beats further up the road. His mind had recognized who they were and pushed it aside. Now he cursed, pushed Maglor into the defile.
Company, he said. The steps went up like a ladder. Go on. The more of us the better in this instance!

Maglor turned his head briefly, and his eyes widened.

Do not speak aloud, Vanimórë warned. The stairs go steep and high, then more gently, until the path reaches the tunnel. There are tunnels, or were, the orcs made them to avoid her lair, but the way through is straight. She will sense us. Him. Sauron can outface her, or he could. We had better hope he still can, as he bears Gîl. We need to find Legolas.

I hear thee. Even at Sauron's name no quiver shook Maglor. Vanimórë kissed him swift, hard, saw the burning glitter of his eyes. He drew a hand down the lovely sculpture of his face.

A breath of wind chased them upward. It carried the scent of moss and fern, of sweet water, deep woodland.

~~~


The cry, forced from the gut, the very blood, rent the brooding night. The horses jibed, whirled on their hocks and, far down the winding road, Bainalph saw a flicker of light hair.

Stone screamed under steel-rimmed hooves as Thranduil's mount leaped off he road as if driven by spiked spurs. The beast slithered, and squealed as two tall men raced past coming, it seemed, out of nowhere. The King, with a curse, was out of the saddle and running. Bainalph followed, knew their own feet were better on this uncertain ground. There was no time to collect the water-skins. Never mind. If we need water, I will find it.

The road through the pass was a grey blade in the night, but Legolas was not heading that way. He crossed it, was swallowed by the looming cliffs.

~~~


Convergence. Tindómion had been half-expecting it that long evening. Glorfindel's tension grew as they rode into dusk. Too hard, too fast even for their mounts.
Tindómion felt his father's soul-explosion of grief and anger. Then Maglor's mind compacted into one driving purpose that deflected his calls like steel.

The moon was behind them, leagues before them, and they were pulled into some river that caught and carried them into and through the night. There was no sense of dislocation, no tentative conjoining of one place with another. This was definite, uncompromising. The rumble of turf beneath them fractured and shattered to stone. A mountain wall stabbed the stars. Tindómion swerved to avoid Glorfindel, whose stallion went up on its hind legs. They came to a stamping halt. To their right, a road curved up to a fortress, immense and pallid, and though he had never seen it, Tindómion knew what it must be. Behind, lower in the valley, a great sprawl of lit buildings. Minas Ithil. Osgiliath. And before them, the Ephel Duath. Tindómion saw a slim figure jump into the shadows, hair a vanishing flit of white. As he came down from the saddle, old stories scrabbled at his mind. Minas Ithil. The pass above it.

They ran. From the road that wound up to the fortress he heard running feet. Two men, he guessed, young and light. Soldiers from the tower? If so, they did not call out.

Glorfindel came to a sudden halt. He turned, looked up at the towering cliff above, raised his hand. Tindómion came to his side. Narrow steps clambered upward into night.

~~~


Chapter 17 ~ Some Things One Cannot Run From ~ by Spiced Wine
Author's Notes:
Again, sorry for the delay, lovely readers. I just have far less time than I used to, but I am not giving up on any of my fic.



~ Some Things One Cannot Run From ~

~ The Straight Stair, Men called it. Straight it was and steep, cut into the mountainside like a ladder. The steps were narrow, littered with crumbs of detritus from the slow breathing of the mountains; some had split and broken. And Legolas was going up them like a terrified cat.
Only direct sun or moon would light this thin gouge of a path and now Sauron's dark spell trailed down it, but it did not seem to affect Legolas, or he was relying on his other senses as he ascended.

There was barely room for two men to go abreast, but Vanimórë and Maglor climbed in unison and behind them, going as fast were Thranduil and Bainalph, Glorfindel and Tindómion. Vanimórë could feel their minds honed into one single purpose: Legolas. Who might not be aware of them at all. His own purpose was Gíl.

Vanimórë had been this way only once, coming from the other direction, but he remembered the length of the stairs, this one and the next, that wound like a snake up to Torech Ungol.
She would already be stirring up there, feeling Sauron’s power and the hard beat of blood in the veins of those who followed. Would Legolas go into the passage if he knew what waited there? Vanimórë thought he would. He might be terrified, but he would follow his son, and unless Sauron had any purpose for Legolas, he would pass through and leave the prince to Shelob’s attentions.

The thought impelled him. He took the febrile steps three, four at a time, and Maglor matched him. As he climbed Vanimórë cast his mind back toward Minas Ithil, sent a command to Tanout: Do not follow. Go down-river to our men. Return to Sud Sicanna. I will come when I can.

He rarely spoke directly into Men’s minds, even those he knew well; they were uneasy with such things, but Tanout was accustomed. Vanimórë did not think King Tarostar would detain him.

The walls rose, slicked past like black oil. It seemed as if they flew up a tunnel of darkness but crossed the same space again and again. When the steps ended, it was with a suddenness that startled even Vanimórë. Now the path lead up at a gentle slope. Legolas' was a pale wraith, racing ahead.

Maglor, Vanimórë said, quashing the fear, the regret in his heart. There is something we must do.

He could, perhaps, guide Legolas quickly through Torech Ungol. If it were possible, he would have prevented Legolas from following Gîl at all, but it would break his heart, drive him mad, and put him right in the center of a potential bloodbath when the paths of Thranduil and Glorfindel converged. As they would. Vanimórë looked into Maglor's eyes, made promises that he would die rather than break. Their shared look seemed to halt time. Maglor lifted a hand, cupped Vanimórë's cheek, pulled him close so their mouths just touched.

Do what thou must. I trust thee to find Gîl.

And I trust thee, Macalaurë Fëanárion. I trust thee not to die.

Maglor whirled to one side, his sword coming out of its sheath, and waited for the first pair that followed to pass him. The clash between Imladris and the Wood must be averted for now, a gap opened between them, and Vanimórë trusted Maglor to widen it. For Legolas. Gîl's kidnap was enough. He had yet to face the tunnels; Thranduil and Glorfindel would be too much, shock piled on shock. He did not even know that it was Sauron whom had taken his son. So it came to this: he was willing to let the others lose themselves in Torech Ungol, to die or kill. And what then? Sauron wanted the child's blood, but was in no hurry, or at least Vanimórë thought he would choose Orodruin as the place of sacrifice, the Sammath Naur where he had forged the One Ring. It would suit his father's sense of poetry. Well, if Sauron wanted to regain his native power thus swiftly, Vanimórë would give him the means to do it.
My blood is cut with Noldo, and that is a power in itself.
He would have to lead Legolas and Gîl out of Mordor, but Sauron would trust him to return.
He has always known me far too well.

He ran. This slope continued for a league or more, when the wall on the right fell away, and the path curled above a chasm. Fury rose like a lion's growl in his head. They should be together, united against the menace of Shelob and Sauron, but the hatred between the Noldor and the Silvans ran two ways, old and thick as drying blood. Vanimórë could think only of Legolas and Gîl. How long could Legolas hold on to this pace? He was not a weak near-child, not any-more. He had recovered from his pregnancy, the flight from Szrel Kain had toughened him, but he was not an experienced warrior, and he was running into the black net of Torch Ungol.

~~~


The Elves of the Wood went past him with a rush of green-scented wind, one of them so close that the whip of his milk-white hair brushed Maglor's breast. When they had gone, he stepped away from the rock, spread his feet and waited. For Glorfindel. Tindómion.

His blood seethed. He still felt, like a forbidden kiss, the power, the spirit that had rushed into his own soul, titanic as the wrath of stars. There was anguish in him, keen as the first bite of winter, there was triumph, for he had felt the touch of the undefeated dead. And there was love as he looked upon them, his kin. Their faces shone. The House of Finwë; Fingolfin's beautiful features traced into the architecture of Glorfindel's face, Fëanor's glory moulded by Tindómion's, whose eyes burst into an impulsive embrace, shocked, half-unwilling.

Glorfindel's expression wavered as something seized him: memory, old affection, Maglor knew not, save that it was powerful.
He said, “I will stop thee here, Glorfindel, until thou hast listened to me.”

“And I,” Glorfindel returned. “Will pass you if you try to keep me from Legolas and my son.”

“Wait,” Tindómion said, and, Father.

“There is no time for threats or debate.” He wanted to sink into his son's eyes, to hold him, feel him, wanted to hold Glorfindel until he became the man he had once known.
And am I all I once was?
“There was a Man with us, a Northman who was forced from his home to the East. He was not whom we thought. He was Sauron.”

It was like a backhanded blow. They groped for words, for comprehension of the impossible. Maglor could not wait for that. He gave them the tale, all if it, from Szrel Kain to Minas Ithil, mind-to-mind, Vanimórë's warning of the thing that dwelt above the pass, and Thranduil ahead of them.

Glorfindel had pressed close. Maglor felt the heated thrum of his body, and his eyes were blinding blue in the dark.

Let me pass.” Panic whipped through his voice. “I do not wish to hurt you, uncle,* but I will if I must. I have fought creatures like the one you describe in Nan Dungortheb.”

Maglor had not know that. After Turgon shut Gondolin, he had never spoken to Glorfindel again, only seen him in the Dagor Nirnaeth Arnoediad. He said, “I will have thy word thou wilt not go blade to blade with Thranduil.”

“You know I cannot make such a vow!”

The swords clashed, echoing from the rock, held, disengaged. Tindomion's blade swept between them in a move like an admonitory slap.

“Cease!” The command in his words was wholly Fëanorion, though strain braided a cable through them. “Glorfindel.

Glorfindel's eyes locked with Maglor's.

This must not become a battle between thyself and Thranduil!

I care naught for Thranduil, damn thee. Sauron has my son!
Glorfindel rammed forward with one shoulder.

“And thou knowest what Vanimórë will do to save him.”
Vanimórë had not told him, but it was there in his eyes, inevitable, and unbearable.

Glorfindel's eyes flickered. “Do you think,” he said, “that I would not?”

Maglor stepped to one side. Unless he wished to fight in truth, he could not delay Glorfindel further. He sought his son's eyes as he spun to follow, and Tindómion said, We will not let it come to that, not the one nor the other.

Maglor wished he could tarry, do as little as clasp his son's wrist but he could not and the unexpected, the wondrous thing in this Dark-spawned horror was that Tindómion was with him, running at his side. And his look had borne no hatred. Maglor's death might await him in Mordor but for the first time in the unbearable mist-woven Ages since Maedhros had gone into the fire, he was with his kin. His guts clenched with a visceral memory of Barad-dûr, but his heart was aflame.

The path was like the black crevices of Sauron's mind, cutting to the depths of knowledge so ancient it made the stars seem as children. They followed it until the right hand wall dropped away. There was a sheer fall to the valley below.

The moon sailed high, throwing the bleak land into uncannily sharp relief. Maglor could see the upward twist of the track, and those who raced along it: Legolas first, Vanimórë two strides behind, and after him Thranduil and his companion. The Woodland King did not, Maglor guessed, even know who was behind him, so intent was he on his son.

They vanished as the track looped in, reappeared again. Above them the crags of the Ephel Duath spiked the stars.

Maglor ran along tight knots of memory. He heard his own silent screams in Barad-dûr, felt the brine-sweet ocean wind that had played with his hair for unnumbered years. Dana walked out of nowhere and took his hand, lead him from these shadowed mountains to Szrel Kain, a faceless man whose mind was closed, who lived mute, uncomprehending. There was Legolas, lily-pale and languid, Vanimórë, dark beauty burning inward to some place of self-destruction, and Maglor's awakening to what, if not whom, he was. Legolas grew stronger, thrown into bloody battle while his inner wounds still suppurated. Vanimórë's touch was the fire of a black diamond. Legolas' response, the truth of him under the pain, his needs, his passion. The child.

The path straightened, ran up into a slam of rock. Legolas disappeared into the dark. One by one his pursuers were swallowed. As if their passage disturbed the airs within, a scent swirled out, dust and blackness, a tang of ash that Maglor remembered, a faint stench as of something rank.

Thou wilt smell her, Vanimórë had said. Oh, thou wilt sense her too, but she reeks like decaying flesh.

Maglor drew his sword; beside him, in a mirrored movement, his son did the same. They followed the bright war-banner of Glorfindel's hair.

~~~


Vanimórë gauged it finely. He knew Legolas would lose momentum when he entered the tunnel, no matter his fear for Gîl. He had been able to find his way through Sauron's spell, but the darkness in the grots of Torech Ungol was another thing. Though he had never known an Elf enter it, Vanimórë guessed that even their vision would be dimmed. He had asked Sauron, long ago, what the muffling nothingness was that choked and blinded even the night-eyed orcs.

“Unlight,” Sauron had said. “That which is not. Darkness is but the child of Unlight, just as this thing,” (he did not dignify her with a name). “Is Ungoliant's get.”

Vanimórë knew the tale: Melkor's theft of the Silmarils, how he had bargained with Ungoliant, to his later regret. What had happened to her no-one knew, but that her offspring had infested the ravines of Nan Dungortheb. Shelob had doubtless fled from the destruction of Beleriand, and made her way here. She had not delved the tunnels; cunning though she was, she was no miner, and did not burrow. Maybe orcs had dug them long ago. But no orc would come here now, or not of their own will, and the darkness lay thick and deep where Shelob spun her webs. But, as Vanimórë had said to Tarostar, he could see in the dark. When Sauron had explored the passages, driving Shelob back to her nest with the merest gesture, Vanimórë had been with him. Blood of the Ainur in his veins, he could see. Shelob was not Ungoliant, whose Unlight had blinded even the Valar, and he had made his way without recourse to light.

Sometimes one needs darkness to see in the dark, Sauron murmured, smiling that smile Vanimórë should have recognised when it appeared on Osulf's face.

He remembered every passage, every opening, his glimpse of the den where bones and skin crumbled into dust and formed, over time, a ghastly bed for Shelob's bulk. She was a horror, and he would have slain her, but Sauron was content to let her be. She was, he said, a guard upon this gap into his land, more effective than a legion of orcs.

Shelob would be hunting now. She liked to toy with her prey, for them to come deep into Torech Ungol, even to the exits, before she struck. There was an cunning intelligence within her that relished her victims terror and confusion, their futile panic, their doomed hope of escape. For that alone, Vanimórë would have put her to death. She was more than an animal hunting for food.

As he had suspected, Legolas faltered as the cloying dark sank itself into his eyes. Vanimórë swept him up without pause, heard his gasp, and behind him, the abruptly slowing steps of Thranduil and Bainalph. The King shouted Legolas' name. The sound fell deadened.

Vanimórë's eyes adjusted to see the path, the walls, the roof, with its hanging shreds of web that stirred in a faint draft. Unlike the webs of ordinary spiders, Shelob spun trailing rootlets that curtained the passage. If anything touched them she would sense the vibration. Every strand, thick as rope, lead back to her den, and there was no way of avoiding them. Vanimórë brushed through impatiently. There were branches leading off the main passage on both sides, here, and here to the right. He slipped aside. This way curved, parallel with the main tunnel, and too narrow for Shelob's bulk. It was not safe, nowhere in Torech Ungol was, but she could not come upon them, and he needed speed.

But Legolas was struggling against his hold like an eel, pounding at his shoulders.
“Let me down!” His whisper was sucked dry by the lightless press of rock.

I have to get thee out, Legolas. There is a monster here, a creature from the Elder Days, a great spider. And thou canst not see —

“I can see you.

Vanimórë slowed. He knew Shelob had been able to see him, but not that an Elf could. And if Legolas could, then so could the others.

“Osulf and Gîl — ”

They will pass through safely. He hoped his father had enough power for that. I may be able to take thee if we are quick and quiet.

“No. Let me down,” Legolas' breath hitched on a sob.

Vanimórë set him on his feet. Legolas gripped him. An rolling exhalation of air ruffled the fair hair, pushed past them as if somewhere a massive bulk had moved. A reek came with it. Legolas' head went up like a deer scenting the wolf.

She hunts, Vanimórë said. We must go.

No. Glorfindel is here. He is, is he not? I feel him.” Legolas was quite white, his flesh icy. “I need them to follow me, Vanimórë.” Tears flashed down his cheeks. No-one should look as Legolas did at that moment. “When I climbed down the wall I came to know that there are some things one cannot run from. And I cannot...flee from them now.”

For the first time, Vanimórë saw the rubbed doeskin, the scuffed leather toes of Legolas' boots, his blooded fingertips. Legolas had descended the outer walls, that almost-sheer drop, and by the evidence he had almost fallen. A love stripped of any desire save that to protect flooded Vanimórë's heart. He spared a moment to draw Legolas close.

“Why did he take Gîl?” The question fanned his throat with warm, shaking breath. He. Legolas surely knew by now that Osulf was no Man. Perhaps his mind could not go further. But no. Even if he could not voice it, ancient flags of danger had snapped in the wind of Sauron's power. Somewhere within, he knew.

Gîl is unique. A hostage for the future, perhaps. At any other time, it might be true, but Vanimórë doubted it.

Legolas' pulled back. His lips quivered into a strange smile that showed nerves worn to snapping point. He pressed them taunt.
“Gîl is asleep. I told him to rest. That I was coming.” Then the ragged teeth of hysteria tore at his throat. “He will live. He will!” The blackness choked his words, disdaining his terror in this place that had felt so much.

He will live. Vanimórë promised. Too many promises, and this one I must keep.

Legolas nodded. His need to believe was raw, dreadful. Vanimórë felt his heart, battered iron relict, pathetically useless as it has proved to be, crack under the gaze of the blue eyes. Legolas glanced beyond Vanimórë, into the dark. His voice rose.
“Where is Maglor?”

He tarried to delay Glorfindel.

“No. I need them all.” He shook Vanimórë's arms, cold fingers pressing deep. “And I....I have to stop them killing one another.”

Things one cannot run from
Vanimórë wanted to bow to this youth, to the valiant, trembling resolve on his face. Legolas had come to that chasm of knowing alone, in terror. Would he have been able to do this thing at such a young age? He thought of his sister. Across the long ages, he touched her cheek.
Things one cannot run from.
“I think,” he said aloud. “That thou art the only one who can do that.” He caught Legolas hand. “I am sorry. I wanted to protect thee. Come then.”

The cold fingers tightened on his. “You have to come back for Maglor,” he said. “For the others.”

That would leave Legolas alone with his father. If they got through.

My dear —

Promise me!

Thou knowest not Mordor, which way to go —

“I can feel my son. I can follow him.”

A hissing shriek pierced the thick dark like a nightmare. Legolas whirled, his hands reaching for his blades, a fact that Vanimórë noted with admiration. The sound was fury, pain and issued from no human throat. Shelob had been routed, and she was angry.

Come, Vanimórë said.
~~~


When they entered the tunnel, Bainalph felt it. Beyond the darkness, the sense of enclosing rock which, as an Elf, he hated was the presence. Their momentum slowed a few steps in. Bainalph looked back at the moonlight that seemed bright as day, felt his throat close. He could see Thranduil but nothing beyond him, as if the King were a light that cast no light in this place. How could they pass through without sight, and what in the name of the Earth dwelt here? His nostrils flared. There was a smell of fleshly rot, but riding through it, the scent of wood-Elf: ferns and moss and a rich, earthy perfume. He remembered it from the night at the Ladywell, when Thranduil had drawn on his kingly powers to reach Legolas.

He strained his hearing, thought he heard the muffled whisper of a voice, but could not determine whence it came. Beside him Thranduil cursed. They went on, pushing against the wall of black that seemed to sink into eyes, ears, nose and throat like filthy wool. There came a press of air, a slow roil of that stench, and then the unhuman scream.

Perspiration pricked through his skin, and went cold. He felt Thranduil tense beside him. Their knives were out, but Bainalph could not even see the glint of the metal. He forced himself forward, thinking at any moment to walk into something, stone or far worse. He heard his own hard breathing.

Vanimórë walked out of the dark. There was no eldritch light about him, nothing unearthly. Bainalph could simply see him as he could see Thranduil. His eyes were another matter. They held memories Bainalph could not imagine. He was another presence in the tunnel, banishing the other with its force. He was potent, uncompromising beauty, and a sense of utter competence. He took the breath.

With him was Legolas. He had the look of one battered beyond fear, hair in a loosened cloud of gold and sun-streaked white, face smudged with tears that no longer fell. He looked older than when Bainalph had seen him with the Fell-wolves, taller, and still achingly vulnerable. Seeing him, Thranduil stopped, as if now that he had found his son he did not know what to do, had not the time to prepare himself, or perhaps Legolas' frigidity was a more effective barrier than any weapon.

If he says Elvýr's name now, Bainalph thought. I will make him regret it.

Thranduil said, “Legolas.” And moved. Legolas flinched all over, and the King stopped short. Bainalph closed his eyes.

Vanimórë said brusquely: “The child has been taken. To follow him we must pass through this place. A creature dwells here, a great spider. She devours all that come within her purview. Thou hast heard her. Follow me. There is no time.” He turned aside, and he and Legolas vanished. With an oath, Thranduil stepped forward, Bainalph with him and saw a gap in the rock, another tunnel.

“Legolas,” Thranduil said again. Bainalph thought the prince's shoulders tensed at his voice, but he did not turn. With Vanimórë, he began to run.

“Who took my grandson?” Thranduil increased his pace. Vanimórë's mind-voice answered.

Sauron, he said.


~~~

End Notes:
Thank-you for reading. If you liked anything at all a comment would be very much appreciated. They do give me encouragement.

* Glorfindel's heritage (as the disowned son of Finarfin) is the same in this story as my others.

Chapter 18 ~ To Keep An Oath ~ by Spiced Wine
Author's Notes:
Four chapters coming in quick succession, peeps, because this is the point where the plot turns to show the future. I hope you will bear with me.


~ To Keep An Oath ~



~ The moon seemed to give off faint heat, made the land harsh, the shadows solid, places of ambush where the mountains stamped their feet into the crust of the earth. The ribbon-trail of darkness was breaking, thinning in patches. Nevertheless, Tanout drew Shemar with him off the road, onto rough ground. Even a flake of that sorcery would disorient them afresh.

The air broke in a double whipcrack of sound that sent his hands to his swords. Galloping hooves plundered stone, came from nowhere, sudden as if poured out of the sky. Tanout stared down. The preternatural blackness had at least aided his night-vision, and he had good eyes. He saw the flying lilt of pale hair cross the lower road. A moment later two taller figures raced after him. The moon's eye caught the plunge of horses, their riders, who dismounted and ran. All of them vanished as though through a hidden door.

Tanout reached back a hand, felt Shemar's smaller one, cold and damp with fear. He squeezed it with a reassurance he did not feel. The dry earth crumbled under their boots as they half-ran, half-climbed down the slope. Below them, a white horse clawed the air, its cry a protest.

Vanimórë's voice brought Tanout up short, so clear in his mind, that he looked around. Shemar gasped, “What?”

“The prince.” Tanout frowned at the mountains, black and unforgiving under the moon. “He spoke into my mind. He has ordered me — us — down-river to Harlond. A company of our soldiers wait there. He wants us to begin the journey home.”

Behind him, running feet pounded closer. Tanout took Shemar by the shoulders. The youth's face was all eyes.
“I cannot do it.”

Shemar nodded, said nothing. The first soldiers caught up with them, riders clattered down the looping road. Tanout said, “I need to speak to your King.”

~~~


“No.”

“They took nothing, lord King.” Tanout forced reasonableness into each word. “No food, no water — ”

“They will need none where they have gone.” the King said levelly. “If my men have not read the signs amiss, your prince has taken the steps to the upper pass. No-one comes back. And he left instructions for you. I will send you to Harlond where other soldiers of your city wait.”

Tanout cursed silently. Rage and fear gathered themselves into a panicked, burning knot in his breast. Shemar cast a glance of distress at him.

“I heard his voice,” Tanout said. “just before your men caught up with us on the road. I must obey his last order.” He held his breath. A flicker of uncertainty showed in the King's eyes. The grey-haired counselor said something softly in his ear. Tarostar shrugged. The two drew away.

“Osulf,” Shemar whispered. “Why would he take Gîl' into...” His voice tripped over itself. “M-Mordor? What is he? That darkness...”

“I know not. And what danger lies in the pass?” Tanout demanded of the room. Faces stared, looked away, then a tall young man stepped from the gathering of silent soldiers. Tanout had not seen him before. His face was suave, fine-boned, light eyes bright in the lamplight. He was armed, a cloak flung back from his shoulders, dark hair tousled as if he had just come in from some mission.

“No-one knows.” His voice was cultured, courteous. “The folk of Ithilien have tales of a monster that comes down from the mountains to feed. The lair lies up there, in that pass. There are steps, stairs we call them, and a tunnel...” He glanced at the King, whom had had turned back, and now raised a hand.
“Beware of the gossip of common-folk, Celírel. Suffice it to say that no-one returns from the pass above Minas Ithil.”

“I have seen my prince in battle.” Tanout clenched his fists. “Maglor too.”

“Great knights of Gondor went to seek the terror up there,” the King said. “Not even their bones were found.”

“Osulf has gone there — ”

“This man your prince travelled with, brought into Minas Ithil, is a sorcerer of the Dark. Is that not yet clear?”

The counselor, Celepharn said, “We all saw the blackness he wove, and your prince's chasing after the man has serious implications. If he has gone through the upper pass, it is likely that he will not return, no matter how great his prowess as a warrior. Who will rule in Sud Sicanna if he dies?”

A flare of temper dug sharp teeth into Tanout's self-control. He stared at the man.
“He will not die! As for myself, I am a captain of the Sicannite army, one of the prince's personal guard. I took an oath to serve him, and Legolas also. I would walk into fire to fulfill that oath.”

“There were others,” Celírel added. Tarostar grunted. “Four horses. Two of them war stallions, I think. They bore harness, but were riderless.” He turned to the king. “They would not permit us to catch them.”

“I know nothing about that,” Tanout said, concerned. “We were ambushed by Kanian soldiers, as I am sure you know. Perhaps a few might have followed us.”

“There have been no reports,” Celepharn said as the King raised his brows interrogatively.
“Did these riders take the stairs also?” He turned to Celírel.
“I believe so, Sire. Why else would they have abandoned their horses?”

“Catch those horses,” the King ordered. “Send out patrols. I want to know if Gondor is infiltrated by Easterlings. Post guards at the foot of the Straight Stair. Unless they are fools, they will be coming back down.” Several men saluted, filed quickly from the chamber. Tarostar said to Tanout. “Your lord has kicked over a wasps nest, though I am not unmindful of the holes he has torn in the ranks of the Eastern Alliance, and I have no desire to send you to your death, boy.”

Tanout flushed at the drawled 'boy', quashed a desire to walk out, simply leave. They would have to kill him to stop him. But that would help no-one.
“Where does the upper pass come out?” he asked.

“Nigh to the tower there, in Mordor,” Celírel said. “Or so the old maps show.”

“And the lower road?”

“Below the tower — ”

“In Mordor,” Tarostar bore down heavily. “I do not think you quite comprehend where it is you wish to go.”

Tanout raised his head. “A warrior of Sud Sicanna would follow his prince. Into the heart of the Dark itself.”

Some-one said, “The Haradhrim are servants of the Dark, as much as the Easterlings or Variags.”
Tanout looked around sharply to find the speaker, a brown-haired man with a clever face, restless eyes. A retort simmered on his lips. He had almost forgotten that Gondor viewed the South as an enemy.

“I could guide him, Sire.”

The King's face tightened at Celírel's swift suggestion.

“You will not come back,” the King told Tanout flatly. “And if you do, Mordor will have driven you mad.”

“Whether or no, this touches my honour.”

Tarostar folded his arms. Celepharn murmured, “Sire,” and Tanout could almost hear the King's mind turning.
“Again, who rules in Sud Sicanna if the prince dies?”

At another time, Tanout would have understood Tarostar's concerns, but his mood now was red. There was no room in him for sympathy.
“Whomsoever the army supports.” He tried to emulate Vanimórë's control. His words came clipped with the effort. “But I would not be so ready to bury my lord.”

The King slid a look at Celírel.
“Against my better judgement then, I will give you supplies and an escort to the end of the pass. What happens to you after that is not in my hands.”

Tanout bowed. Thank the gods!
“You have my gratitude.”

“I doubt you will feel the same way once you are in Mordor,” the man said dourly. “Celepharn, find him maps. Celírel, ready supplies. Candol,” he pointed to the man whom had muttered of Haradhrim. “You will accompany them.”

The soldier saluted, not with any great enthusiasm. He dashed a dark glance at Tanout, who interposed quickly: “I would ask one other favour.” The King's brows rose. His generosity was wearing itself to an end. “Would you spare an escort to take Shemar to our company in Harlond?”

“No.” Shemar caught his arm. “I will come.” The tawny eyes were terrified, but the set of his chin belied fear. Tanout thought he might understand more Westron than he admitted to. He had said that some of the temple slaves spoke it.

“You are no warrior,” Tanout said softly in Rhûnaic. There was no need to embarrass him before this roomful of soldiers. Shemar made a little, helpless gesture with his hands.
“Can warriors fight against sorcery? I care for them, too. I could carry water...”

“Shemar — ”

Please.

Tanout ran a hand through his hair.
“You have sworn no vows.”

“I have made vows in my heart,” Shemar said simply. His grip tightened.

“Our company could deliver you to the temple in Sud Sicanna. You would be safe there, whatever happens. It is not like the temple in Szrel Kain,” he added, as Shemar flinched.

“The woman Hathar told me that my happiness lay in the south.” Shemar's voice dropped to a whisper. “She had the Dream Eye. I believe her.”

Tanout smoothed back Shemar's silky hair. There came a mutter, a cough from one of the soldiers. Its tone was unmistakable, ugly with disgust. His brief puzzlement faded when he remembered that Gondor had strange laws: they looked with disfavour on male love. He elected to ignore the insult, but it decided him. He could not leave Shemar with these blinkered barbarians.

“I trust the prince, and Maglor.” Shemar's eyes clung to his. His colour had risen. “I do not think they will die.”

“Nor do I,” Tanout answered. “Very well.” He turned to the King. “I take back my request. The prince put Shemar under my care.” He threw a challenge around the faces of the soldiers noting, for the first time, the sourness of them. They had the look of men who bound up their balls, pale and tight-lipped. Unhealthy. “I must be responsible for him.”

~~~


“These maps were drawn after the War of the Last alliance,” Celepharn said. “They have not been updated in hundreds of years, but I doubt much has changed.”

A scribe was copying it as he spoke, a rough drawing, as if he did not wish to dwell on the land it represented.

“This will be your route.” The counselor pointed. “Past the tower, which we are almost certain is not occupied by orcs. The road leads east onto Dagorlad. You will find no water there. This man, sorcerer though he be, is mad to enter Mordor.”

Tanout tapped his fingers on the wide table. “If he serves the dark, then it is quite possible he is mad.” But Osulf was sane, sane and cool and rational. Or I cannot read men at all.
“I know deserts,” he said. “I have marched across the Mirror of Fire, and through the Dune Sea.”

“Mordor is not the same,” the man said. “Power lies on it. Look.” He indicated straight lines running from the volcano to a drawing of a tower; some angled back from the south. “Sauron harnessed the lava flows, turned them toward the Dark Tower. Great canals of molten rock. Orodruin has slumbered since Sauron's defeat, but it is not a land for any Man to walk, no, nor Elf either.” He paused as the scribe folded the map and handed it to him. “But perhaps your prince knows Mordor. It is said he served the Dark Lord. I have gathered such information there is of him.”

“Have you, now?” The thought annoyed Tanout considerably; he was not sure why.

“A man who does not die, is as long-lived as the Elves, who looks like one, and was, they say, was a prisoner of the Alliance?” Celepharn spread his hands. “What would you?”

“Whomever he is, and wherever he comes from, he is an honourable man,” Tanout said stiffly. “We have been betrayed, lost well nigh all our company, because he chose to act with honour. That is all I have ever needed to know of my lord.” He held out his hand. Celepharn passed him the map, his look quizzical.
“Honour has a tragic history. You are very young, are you not? I hope you do not regret your choice.”

But you think I will.
Tanout slammed his resolve, his love, his loyalty into the cynical grey eyes.
“Never,” he said.

~~~


Chapter 19 ~ Shadow Paths ~ by Spiced Wine


~ Shadow Paths ~



~ It was yet night when Celírel lead them into the pass. Tanout's eyes tracked the moon. Little time had been lost.
And too much.
The horses hooves echoed back from the rock, ground crumbs of stone under steel shoes.

Tarostar was no niggard. He had equipped them well, though he did not possess the Haradhrim robes that warded against desert sun. Tanout had fashioned his own, twisted the makeshift veil about Shemar's head and then his own. They had water-skins, a wineskin, emberwine, dried fruit, meat. The packs would be heavy, and grow light too soon. Rain came down from the mountains, Celepharn had told him, but the great plateau where stood the volcano was arid. Only further south the map showed fertile lands, and a great lake or inland sea, which was marked on the map as Nurnen, and was brackish.

I do not even know where I am going, where Osulf is taking Gîl.

Vanimórë would be hard to track, Tanout knew from experience, perhaps impossible. He went so light that he left no trace unless he wished to. The others would be no different. But Osulf (if he were truly a Man) might leave some sign. He grappled with a nascent shiver, fending off doubt, and looked back to where Shemar rode astride Lainiell. The youth was no horseman, but the mare was sweet-paced, easy to sit even at this slamming trot. The horses were another mistake, but both Lainiell and Seran had created a fuss when it seemed they would be left behind, kicking their stalls, Seran screaming his bone-chilling stallion's scream. None of the stable-hands wanted to approach him, and Tanout himself quailed. He knew just how much fatal damage those teeth and hooves could inflict. But there was nothing for it. He opened the door, and Seran walked out mild as milk.

Celírel dropped back from where he was riding with Candol, and said quietly: “The pass will be watched, in case you decide to return.”

“I do not know what my lord's plans are,” Tanout said.

A heartbeat of hooves on stone.

“Why would this man, Osulf, take the child into Mordor, do you think? Who is he to call down the Dark?”

“He was in the temple,” Shemar said haltingly in Westron. “When I escaped with Hathar and the others, he was waiting.”

“I thought he was a prisoner.” Tanout stared at him. “Why did you not tell the prince of this, or me?”

”It did not seem to matter. I thought that he must have escaped, too. If I could, any-one could.” Shemar sounded distressed, his head bowed. ”And he helped to kill the High Priest. He was kind to me, to Legolas.”

“He played a game with us.” Tanout swallowed the bitterness of his stupidity. But Vanimórë had accepted him, thus Tanout had also.
And he always told me to think for myself.

“We all trusted him. I have heard of such things, of sorcerers who cast a glamour over themselves.”

“Even your prince,” Candol called back.

He did not answer, but the truth of the man's statement alarmed him. Who possessed such power?

“And still you will follow him.” Unlike his companion, there was no sneer in Celírel's voice.

Tanout smiled tightly. “Of course. This creature in the mountains, what is it? Would it not have died long ago?”

“So I thought,” Celírel said. “I was curious, and lead out patrols, rode among the hamlets, talked to rangers and hunters. I listened to the gossip of the common-folk, as the King would have it.”

Candol, riding ahead of them, said, “Careful.”

Celírel did not respond.
“Five years ago a trapper took me to see something. He said it was the remains left by this creature's feeding: a bag of skin and bones, wrapped in thick webbing. It had once been a man, and it was left as spiders leave a fly.”

“A spider?” Tanout looked up at the black rocks that rose high and hard above them. It seemed too quiet.

“There are tales from the Elder Days of great spiders that laired in the ravines of Beleriand.”

Tanout shook his head. There were legends of the old days in Sud Sicanna too, but he had never heard of spider-monsters. He found himself listening for something — a cry, the sound of fighting, the scrape and tumble of falling rock, anything. The mountains frowned silence down at him.

“And did you report that?” Candol asked over his shoulder.

“Of course.” Celírel flicked a look at the man, spoke to Tanout. “I climbed the stairs. They go very steep for a long way, high into the mountains, and then the path hugs the edge of the cliff. It ends at the tunnel mouth.” He pointed up, and Tanout's eyes followed his hand. He could see nothing in the dark.

“And you went in?” Candol's tone mocked. Tanout stared at him. He carried a torch, and the light showed his features hard, sallow. There were undercurrents here. Vanimórë would have forced them into the open to ensure cooperation between his warriors. But these two were not of the same company: Candol's insignia was the tree and stars of Gondor, Celírel bore the tower-and-moon.

“I did not,” Celírel returned coolly. “There was an odour. It was faint as if it came from far inside, a charnal stench. Something lives there. I felt as if it knew I was there, had heard my steps, was moving in the darkness, toward me. Fancy, one might say. But I admit I was terrified. The journey back seemed endless. All the time I looked back, expecting to see something following me.”

“A fool's journey,” Candol jibed. “Probably an orc-den. And going up the stairs is prohibited. A soldier of Minas Ithil should know the rules.”

“There are no such rules,” Celírel dismissed. “None have ever been needed. No-one climbs the stairs any-more.”

“Osulf did,” Tanout said. “When he could have gone this way into Mordor. You are sure he did not?”

“I cannot be wholly sure, but why would the others have left their horses if they were using this way? I have good eyes and the moon was on this pass. I saw naught, heard naught.”

Tanout nodded. “Osulf took the stairs because he does not fear what may lair up there. He is leading them to it.”

There was curiosity in Celírel's voice when he spoke. “But you believe your prince and the one with him will win through?”

“Yes.” The image of a monstrous spider was unpleasant and, in fact, difficult to take seriously, but Tanout could not imagine any beast, be it never so dangerous, able to kill the prince.

“If there is no sign of them, I must search the tunnel.”

“If you do, you will die.” Candol wheeled his horse, drew alongside them. “But once you are inside the Black Land, it is not our concern.”

“True.”

The response did not appear to sit well with the man.
“Your prince must be good indeed to inspire such devotion.”

“He is.” Tanout raised his brows. “I trust your own King inspires the same in his men.”

Candol's mouth twisted. “Our King does demand that play the bitch for him.”

Vanimórë's smile flamed in Tanout's mind burned, even now, in his loins.
“We are honoured,” he said warmly. If he ever sat with his lord, with Legolas and Maglor, in some safe place over wine, he would relate this, and laugh at the men of Gondor and their preoccupations. But not now.

Celírel rode between them, forcing Candol to veer aside as he began to speak. Tanout glanced back to Shemar, motioned with his head, and squeezed his thighs. Seran floated into a canter, left the men behind. Lainiell gamely kept up. She had a great deal of stamina, but Tanout's conscience could not allow him to take the horses further than the head of the pass.

Candol cursed as his mount came up with choppy strides, fighting the bit. He was frightened, Tanout knew, angry, holding the horse on a too-tight rein.

“Fall back,” the man snapped, and Seran deliberately swung his muscled shoulder into the path of the other horse. “You damned — ”

“You forget yourself, sir,” Tanout heard Celírel say.

“Do I? You were not there. This Southron's so-called prince dared to lay hands on the King. And the other touched the Palantir.

So that was it. Tanout slapped down his temper.

“I heard that the other was Maglor, son of Fëanor,” Celírel replied. “And that the Seeing Stone responded to him. Which if true, is hardly surprising.”

“That cursed brood died Ages past. How dare they — ”

“Captain Tanout.” Celírel urged his mount forward. “I did not see them. I was on patrol when they came. What say you?”

“His name is Maglor,” Tanout agreed, eyes still searching the sweep of black cliff above. “When he first came to us he had forgotten his identity, and went by another name. I know little else save that he is a deadly warrior, and his voice is like honey.”

“Oh, Valar.” Celírel's voice held yearning. “Doomed or no, I wish I could have seen him. The last son of Fëanor.”

Candol was speaking behind them, his words snapped to pieces by the crack of the horses hooves. Tanout ignored him. The road lifted itself as the mountains thrust themselves higher. Seran's stride shortened.

“How far?” he asked.

“Six leagues, more or less, and the horses will need resting, but the way is clear and straight.”

Too far. Tanout set his teeth. But. I do not believe they are dead.

Hooves clattered behind them. All of them halted, looked back. Tanout expected to see a patrol from the fortress, but the horses bore no riders. Two were tall, elegant creatures, one of them, white as salt, glowed in the night.
With a: “Ho, there!” Candol drove his mount in front of them. They split, foamed about and past him like surf. The huge white stallion drew abreast of Seran, bared his teeth, then swung his head back at a nip from the dark-coated animal behind him. Seran puffed air through flared nostrils and pawed at the ground. If they had been dogs, they would have been fighting. The other two, less aggressive, drew alongside.

Celírel said, “Give me the torch, Candol.” He held it up so the flame glinted from harness. “These two at least were not ridden by any Easterling. Do you mark the devices on their saddle cloths? The House of the Golden Flower, and that is the gemmed harp amidst the fireflower of the Fëanorions.”

“Elves.” Candol peered and swore, thrust his face accusingly at Tanout: “Why are Elves out of Imladris following your prince?”

Legolas had been afraid of pursuit, with good reason. What had Vanimórë said? Gîl's father, and Legolas', among others. But there had been no sign of any-one following. How had they caught up so quickly?
As before, out of the mists... Another kind of sorcery.

“I know nothing of any Elves.” Tanout had been a skilled liar as a child-thief, and it was not so long ago that he had forgotten the gift.

“They are names of legend.” Celírel handed back the torch. “What passes here?”

“I know little.” He dared not trust the young man, and his evasion was not wholly a lie. Vanimórë spoke to Legolas and Maglor in a language he did not understand. What he did not know far eclipsed what he knew or had pieced together.

Celírel looked at him for a long moment. “A pity,” he said.

~~~


They were silent, running, Vanimórë in the lead, Legolas behind him. Thranduil could have reached out and touched his son's shoulder. He did not, though his eyes were fixed on the sway of pale hair noting, with a clench of the heart, how Legolas had grown, shoulders broader, legs longer. It had been a shock to see him bearing weapons. His training would have begun before this in the Wood, but Thranduil had never considered it. If Legolas were to become a warrior, and if he were raped, (which act was an orcish weapon of war) then...Along that path, as dark as this one he now trod, his mind had refused to go. And so Legolas been put away, a half-hidden reminder of grief, of guilt, his failure to protect his family. Twice now, he had failed.

He had come too close to killing Legolas, had endured the repeating images of that moment in his mind. The red-howling insanity had long choked upon its own heat. Fear had smothered it, left the embers of anguish and regret. He had come to believe his youngest son dead — and by his own hand. One did not need to wield the weapon that took life. Legolas' exile, alone and pregnant was the killing stroke.

Thranduil had fed on that realization until it filled him like the black bile Elvýr had vomited up in his last days. The letter from Vanimórë had come like a violent, necessary purge.
Once, as a youth, he had fought a band of orcs. The combat had swiftly become hand-to-hand, no quarter given. The orc he closed with was already wounded, he had given it a gash to its belly before losing his blade. Still it fought, a mad beast cornered. He kicked its feet from under it, then, as savage as any orc, thrust his hand into the wound, wrenched out its guts. Reading Vanimórë's elegantly penned words, Thranduil could imagine the sensation. The letter had eviscerated him but by the sweet earth, his first emotion had been relief. Fury, guilt, inevitable companions came down on it like a landslide, but had not been able to entirely snuff the emotion that weakened his legs, threw his heart hard against the cage of his chest.

And now...? In his visions, his dreams, Elvýr and Legolas had been one, but in this tunnel, looking into his youngest son's eyes he had seen only Legolas. Thranduil had longed, with an intensity that ravaged his soul, for Legolas to throw himself into his arms, to seek comfort, and he had no right to expect such a thing. If he wanted Legolas to see him as a father — if it were not too late — he would have to prove himself. What price blood-kinship in the face of cruelty? The image of his son, white and ill, fleeing the hall in tears could never be erased from Thranduil's memory. Nor from Legolas', whom had wandered into the hands of Sauron's son and, by his actions, trusted him more than his father. A bitter draught to swallow.

They ran. Sauron. Thranduil's mind repeated the name, dared it to sink talons of fear into his heart. He had fought on Dagorland, through Udûn, across the fuming ruin that spread from Orodruin. He would not fear. But — I saw so many die.

He had known Sauron was not defeated forever. There had been that moment when he had reached to Legolas' soul, felt a dark shadow flung across it. Not Vanimórë, Sauron. How in the Hells had Vanimórë not known? Or had he?
Tell me, he demanded of Vanimórë You are his son. How did this happen? If you seek to betray us as your bloody, damned sire did —

Vanimórë did not break stride, but hurled back: Believe in me or no, as thou wilt. Look to thy son

A flash of anger in Thranduil's breast. He held it back.

Sauron has travelled with us since Szrel Kain, Vanimórë said. He said he was a Northman, that he had been driven from his home for helping a woman. He knew well how to elicit my pity. I could not see whom he was. I should have. He all but laughed in my face. He called the Fell-wolves. But other matters concerned me.

It was not impossible. Tales of Sauron went back into the Elder Days. He had been able to change his shape then, into wolf and bat. He had been welcomed into Ost-in-Edhil. The Dark Lord was no novice when it came to deception.

And the child? But he knew.

What thinks't thou? I told Legolas that his son was a hostage. I want him to believe it. But there is power in blood, and in one so young and unique. For Sauron, blood magic is a way of regaining his powers.

What can we do? All Sauron had to do was put a knife to the child's throat.

If he wants blood, I will give it to him. I will bargain for Gîl. Thou must try to persuade Legolas not to follow me. I may be able to cross Gorgoroth but thou knowest that land. It is cruel.

Thranduil agreed. Legolas could not be allowed to pursue Sauron and his son across that waste. Doubts rose, and collapsed through lack of fuel to feed them. Vanimórë might be as accomplished a liar as his father but if he was, there was no help for it. Of course, to trust him would be folly. He did not want to trust. Apart from the danger in it, he would be forced to admit that Sauron's son possessed a largesse of the soul that he, Thranduil, lacked.

Sons can hate their fathers. Thranduil ached.

The tunnel seemed to have no end. Thranduil could not gauge how long they had been running. The walls blurred past, rough, dark stone, stone underfoot, a world away from his lamp-lit, carvern halls. The roof ran low above his head. Silence pressed like fog. He fixed his eyes on Legolas' slim back.

A bend here. Slow down, Vanimórë guided them. A turn, a straight stretch, another curve. Twice they passed gaps to the left, blank dark holes that must lead to the main passage. At the first one Thranduil halted, drew his sword. Vanimórë looked back.
She cannot get through, he said. This tunnel is too small. We rejoin the main one later.

Time chopped itself into unending increments. Thoughts flitted like bats through Thranduil's mind. Legolas. Elvýr. One held at arms length to rebuff future pain lest love betray him again, the other loved so dearly. Insane when he died, but the last look in Elvýr's eyes had been gratitude. That was the poisoned dagger lodged in Thranduil's breast, that and the fear on Legolas' face. This damned curse on his family. Glorfindel in the forest, coming upon Legolas. Taking him, Celeirdúr had said, simply because he wanted him. Bainalph's words whispered, “Glorfindel, from what Celeirdúr told me, is exactly like you. How could Legolas have resisted him?”

Another gap of darkness yawned in the wall. Vanimórë was already past it, when a noise shattered the clogging silence. There was a shock as something huge and heavy rammed into rock; a shriek that buzzed along Thranduil's bared nerves and into his brain, maddening, unhuman. A thick reek pushed into the tunnel like a living thing. Vanimórë spun back, Legolas reeled. Thranduil caught him.

“She hunts now,” Vanimórë snapped. “She will wait at the end.”

A scrabble as of claws on stone. Thranduil pressed Legolas to his right, drew him past the hole. He could see nothing within it or beyond, but the creature was there, a bulk of malice and hunger. Bainalph knelt in one smooth move, set an arrow to the string.

“She has no weaknesses save her eyes.” Vanimórë beckoned. “Save thine arrows. Come!”

Bainalph rose, nodded. Legolas heartbeat struck through Thranduil's hands.
“Gîl?” His voice cracked.

Vanimórë said, “She is not chasing them, my dear.”

My dear. Thranduil put Legolas behind him, slowly unlocked his hands.

“Let us deal with this thing,” he said.

Legolas' heart-shaped face showed fear, confusion but held a resolve that Thranduil had never seen on it before. It was embedded into the fine bones, the great eyes that looked quite black as they drank at the darkness. He had grown too fast, forced into courage by exile and anguish. Almost, he was a stranger.

“Come!” Vanimórë said. Knowest thou, he added to Thranduil, that he climbed down the outer wall of Minas Ithil? There is scarce any gap between the stones, not enough for a fingertip to grasp. I am almost certain he fell, and saved himself. No-one helped him. Is this not a son to be proud of?

Thranduil ignored that last lashing question.
Oh, brave. He saw now the scrapes on Legolas' breeches, his boots, the pads of his fingers rubbed raw. Legolas looked away, toward Vanimórë.

She — it — was tracking them. Thranduil could feel her on the other side of the wall. Would she attack them at once, leaving them no exit, no way save back?

Bainalph.

Thranduil?

If you can get out with Legolas, do it. Do not tarry for anything.

A shiver in his mind, on the edge of refusal.

The man who took Legolas' son, is Sauron.

What! Less a question than a mental explosion of disbelief.

Vanimórë thinks he wants the child's blood. Legolas must not pursue him, but he must be got out of here.

Thranduil... A pause. I will do all I can. You need not ask.

I know.

Vanimórë stopped, held up a hand. Here. His swords were in his hands. The main tunnel goes on. Once thou art in it, keep close to the walls, feel thy way. Thou wilt see the light at the end. It is not far. Now, let me see where she is.

Thranduil watched him step out, look right and left, boots skimming across the rough floor, absoloutely silent and graceful as a dancer. He vanished from sight. Legolas moved and with his free hand Thranduil caught him, held the slim, shaking body hard against his. He had never held Legolas close since he was a child.
“Wait,” he whispered.

It seemed as if Legolas' muscles relaxed for a heartbeat, but then he wrenched away so violently he almost slammed into the rock. Bainalph came to his side.
“Gîl!” Legolas sprinted into the main tunnel. Thranduil could see his head turn, seeking Vanimórë, seeking light. Bainalph was raising his bow as they raced into the blackness, and the horror that exploded out of it.
~~~


Chapter 20 ~ The Eastern Winds ~ by Spiced Wine
Author's Notes:
This is where the story begins to take the road I thought it might at the beginning. Please bear with me.



~ The Eastern Winds ~


~ Imir glanced back at the mage, Chalûn, or what he could see of him, half-veiled and draped in silk. The fact that the robes had gathered dust from the journey gave the young commander a small bite of satisfaction. Petty, he knew, but Chalûn viewed the warriors as his personal retinue. Arrogance glittered in the black eyes. His mouth was languid. He should have been handsome; he favoured his father, but something in him repelled. Those eyes moved, rested on Imir. They promised cruelty.


At the height of summer, when Khand sprawled under the weight of the sun, Imir had been called from his duties on Obarmarl's high walls to an audience with the ruler, Prince Jaezun. Imir could not imagine why he would be thus singled out, one of many soldiers who held no rank. Mystified, he listened while Jaezun told him of Chalûn, a temple mage (not a priest; the distinction was important) who declared the Great Lord's imminent returning. Such prophecies were not uncommon, and the visionaries brief careers inevitably ended with exile into the desert. But Chalûn's voice must be hearkened to. He was one of the prince's many sons.

The men of Gondor called Him Sauron, the Eastern tribes, Kaal, but the Variags, whose ancestors had owned Him as their overlord thousands of years ago, named him Mairon. The word was not their own. It had come out of the deep past. But whatever name one used, the Variags had always regarded themselves as His especial people. Others might sacrifice in their black temples, but Khand was more civilized, serving their Lord with armies and loyalty. They had lost many in the years of the Great Siege and, after the defeat, avaricious eyes slid to their borders, pleased to see them brought low. It had taken a century of warfare before Khand rose once more to become the preeminent power of the south.

“Chalûn's visions,” Jaezun had said. “cannot be ignored.”

“As you command, lord.” Still Imir was bewildered. He was no officer, though his mentor had promised to put forward his name for promotion.

The prince ran his finger down a sheaf of close-written parchment.
“My son requests an escort into Mordor.”

An expedition into Mordor was not completely unusual. Imir had been two years ago, part of an escort. After the Great Siege, the surviving orcs of Mordor had withdrawn south to the lands about the Sea of Nurnen. There they had formed their own petty kingdom. In the early years, they raided beyond the Eastern Gap until Khand sent out an army to drive them back. Now they traded; human flesh mostly, the polyglot but beautiful people from Mordor's great slave farms.

“So.” Jaezun flipped the parchment over. “It is time to promote you, Imir, for the duration. Damak says you have potential. I am sure you will acquit yourself well. We will review the matter when you return. Orders will be sent to you this evening.”

“It is a great honour, Sire.” So Damak had not forgotten him. He was elated, troubled, and not a little frightened.

“Of course it is.” A smile formed on the prince's mouth. It looked forced. Even the mightiest ruler might well fear the return of their great Overlord. “I will arrange a caravan. You will travel with it for a time. It is not long until the autumn markets.”


“I was not consulted.” High Captain Damak, soon to retire to his estate in the west, welcomed Imir later that evening. His new wife, a fine-browed beauty young enough to be his granddaughter, slipped away in a cloud of jasmin. Daughter of a palace official, Imir had heard, and richly dowered. Seven decades of service had been well-rewarded. Those years showed in Damak's scars and slight limp, but his iron grey hair was still thick. Loosed from its warrior's tail, he wore it twisted over one hard shoulder, to which he pulled Imir, kissing his cheek.
“But had I been, yes, I would have suggested you.” He gestured for Imir to pour wine. It was garnet-coloured with a full, rich scent. The common soldier rarely tasted anything so fine. Imir took one appreciative sip and put down the cup.
“I approve. There is more for you, young one, than walking the walls of a trade city. But we are at peace. It is difficult to get noticed, and most of the officers come from the warrior caste these days. I was an exception.”

“You earned it, sir.”
Damak was a legend. Forty years ago, the Balchoth had been aggressive, split into tribes after the death of their Great Khan. Damak had held one of their armies at Talu Gap, not ten leagues from Obarmarl. His Captain had gone down under a mass of horse-warriors and Damak had rallied the men, refusing to give ground. It had been three days until a relief force came from Ûbesêsh, but by that time the Balchoth had decided that Khand was too costly a prize. Now, under a new Khan, there was a wary peace.

“The prince does not wish to send any of his officers,” Imir said. “This puzzles me. If he believed that the Great One were in truth returning, he would send an official escort. I lead a caravan. My commission is temporary. If you did not put my name forward, who did?”

“Princes do not like to look foolish.” Damak stretched out his scarred leg, and rubbed it. “You have heard of Chalûn I do not doubt. He used to sacrifice cats as a boy. Jaezun shunted him off to the temple soon enough. His mother was a slave out of Mordor, thus Jaezun wonders if some power truly does run in her son's blood. The caravan is a disguise, nothing more. Orcs are untrustworthy.”

Imir nodded, unappeased. His orders were locked in his barrack's room, and reading them had angered him. He and his men were to obey the mage's every command. Royalty cannot be compromised.

“Of course,” Damak added. “The prince bears no love for Chalûn. There is only so much the palace can cover up, so many bribes that can be paid. If he were to vanish in Mordor, no-one would mourn.”

A little pool of silence spread. Imir dropped a stone in it. “We go north, sir. All of us may vanish.”

Damak regarded him steadily in the lamplight. “It is possible,” he conceded. “But you are a sword, young one, that has not yet been tempered. It is time.” He downed his wine came, rather stiffly to his feet. “I have maps that may be of use. It will save you the time of requesting copies from the palace. Come.”


The orcs of the Eastern Gap let the Variag caravan pass after the usual passage fees were paid in date wine and Amrûn steel. From their demeanour, it seemed they knew nothing about their former master's return. When Imir mentioned it, Chalûn cast him a cold look.
“Orcs are almost animals. They have no loyalty, no higher vision. The Great One knows that. Naturally he would choose a Man of Khand.”

Imir threw a look at his lieutenant, D'nez, who cast up his eyes. There was no doubt some people were gifted with visions. Imir's own mother was known for the Sight, and told fortunes in the little shop where he had been born and where, in the morning, the shadows of the palace walls fell long and black. Imir had visited her before leaving. She refused, as she always did, the small pouch of silver rings he pressed into her palm, half his wages. He left it to one side. There had been lean times after his father's death when men came to his mother for more than her skills in reading the future. Imir was determined she never again feel the bony fingers of poverty or the grasping hands of men. And his visits served another purpose. Men still looked at her (and her business) with avarice. His place in the city guard, lowly though it might be, ensured they knew she had protection.

She closed the shop, lead him into her private rooms, simple and serene. A picture scroll hung on one wall. Imir had bought it with his first wages. The shop-keeper had said it came from far Cathaia, legendary land of gardens and poetry. Even then, he had not believed it, though sometimes one saw Cathaian merchants in Obarmarl. Of the same Eastern stock as as the Variags, the Cathaians spoke a different language, were aloof and supercilious. They kept to their own camp beyond the walls. But wherever it had come from, the scroll was charming; pink and white blossoms opened on a gnarled branch. Lines of a poem were written underneath. Why do you weep for the falling petals? it ran. Would the world not be poorer without them?

He sat cross-legged onto a cushion while a little slave-girl brought lemon-water. When she had gone, Imir told his mother quietly that he had been chosen to go to Mordor. She looked at him with the unfathomable eyes that had always seemed to bare his soul. He waited.
“Black Chalûn is not the only one who feels the winds rising,” she said after a time.

He thought of the fanatic glitter in the mage's eyes. The coldness, the oddly sinuous body. Black Chalûn.
“You think he sees true, mother?”

There was a long pause.
“Yes,” she said. “He sees true. He was fool enough to go searching in dark places, I imagine.”

Imir was dry-mouthed, and not entirely with fear. She saw it.

“Your life line runs long. I have always told you so. But that does not mean there will not be danger. There is more than one power at play here. I cannot look into it.” She reached for a hand-mirror, one of her scrying tools. Its surface was polished black. Or had been. Now it was crazed with cracks.

“Do not try again.” He caught her hand. “I wanted to know if the mage was a fraud. If he is not...”

“He is not. The world will change.”

Yes. It will, and I will bear witness.


Despite Chalûn's presence, the journey had not been unpleasant, though the weight, the sense of power pressed into Mordor was impossible to ignore. It was far greater, legend said, in the north where the tower brooded, and the volcano slept amidst desolation. The southlands were not so harsh. The caravan passed over Lithlad, its fields waiting for the autumn sowing, and the air grew a brackish tinge as they approached the Sea of Nurnen. An old, well-used road lead to the city of Sturlutsa Nurn that squatted on the north-eastern shore.

The sheer abundance of water awed Imir, child of dry, windy Khand. Gulls swarmed white, and fishing fleets showed red sails. The city walls flickered with bright spots of light where the sun caught the armour of guards, but the gates were open.

Sturlutsa was an odd place. The orc overlords had made the outer city their cantonment while the slaves occupied the streets and courts of the old inner town and harbour. A large market bridged the two. Here the men and women brought the fruits of sea and coastland, and the orcs took it. There was no payment, though the slaves were allowed to keep enough to survive. Few orcs moved beyond the demarcation line of the market save in armed companies, few slaves passed into the orc-city. The orcs preferred their own kind, trusting Men only when they lay firmly under a nail-studded boot. They did not use the slaves as domestic labour, though they had an appetite for women and young men. Imir thought it an unworkable arrangement, though it clearly did work, and he wondered why the slaves did not rise up. When he questioned the merchant, the man said that the slaves of Mordor knew no other way of living, that the orcs would use genocide if it served a lesson. The slaves bred quickly enough to repopulate after a cull. There was a death square in every city. Here the orcs impaled so-called criminals, and the bodies were left as a reminder. There were public boilings and burnings. One would think that hatred festered in such conditions, but the slaves seemed to accept their lot. Unlike the orcs and the Variags, the merchant said, they were not a warrior people, and in any rebellion would be so much meat for orcish blades.

Though Chalûn cursed at the delay, if they did not wish to announce their true reasons for being here they had to halt in Sturlutsa to trade. As Jaezun had suspected, the autumn crop of slaves was being gathered from the breeding farms. Those purchased would remain in the city until the caravan returned, save for two that Chalûn bought for himself, a boy and girl, identical twins. Their skin was shining black, and told of far southern blood in their ancestry. Strange that orcs, so savage looking, should breed for beauty.

Each night when they camped, Chalûn waited for his tent to be erected. Variag warriors were accustomed to bed-rolls unless the weather was inclement, but the mage would not camp so crudely. Imir resented detailing his men to this duty, and the thin walls blocked no scream or whimper from the slaves. In the day they travelled in one of the waggons. The physician assigned to the caravan treated them as best he could, his face professionally blank when Imir questioned him.

They lived for five days. Summoned to Chalûn's pavilion on the sixth dawn, Imir was ordered to take away the bodies.

The mage looked sleek and sleepy, the air thick with the reek of opium, sex, and blood.

Unfortunate to be born or sold into slavery. A Variag soldier would choose suicide if taken in battle. Slaves had no rights at law, could be killed or beaten with impunity. They could also be trustworthy, loyal, and beloved. Officers had taken slaves to war with them, and the unfree had proved brave beyond all reason. Some could win their freedom.

This was a waste. Imir swallowed around the bubble of swelling anger, affecting to ignore the mage's black stare, the smile that hinted of a secret joke. That look had fallen on him with increasing regularity since Obarmarl. Imir knew what it meant, and he would be damned before he offered himself to Chalûn's usage. It would be bad for discipline if the men saw him as a plaything. Yet he knew there would be no question of his offering. The mage would command him, and expect obedience.

He would not leave the dead for scavengers. The waggons carried tools, and graves were dug in the hard soil. Chalûn watched, his irritation palpable. Imir ignored him. He was hastening to a confrontation, and did not know how he would deal with it when it arrived. This sham commission, leading soldiers younger than he. If it were not for his mother's words, he would call it madness, a sop cast by Prince Jaezun who would not be unhappy to lose this one son. All of them were expendable. But Imir trusted his mother, and felt his responsibilities keenly. Too, Damak had believed in him. This was his tempering and more than that. So much more. It was almost impossible to imagine a god walking on Mortal soil, though every legend Imir had ever heard or read of the Great Lord said he would return. A frisson ran from head to heels. He felt Chalûn's eyes on his back.

As the black smoke of mountains nudged the horizons, Imir pondered time and distances. On his previous journey he had gone as far as Urlutsa Nurn, sister-city to Sturlutsa, on the far western shore of the sea. This time his destination lay north. The mage had been quite specific, pointing out the location on a map. It made sense; if the Lord were coming from the land of Gondor, (and that in itself posed a question) he would use that route. There was no other pass into Mordor save the Black Gate. Damak's maps had shown roads with way stations and wells. Imir could only hope that hundreds of years later, the wells still existed. But hope was not enough. They could not take waggons, which would slow their pace, but they must take pack-horses.
His company broke away from the caravan before it reached Urlutsa Nurn, and struck north west along the in-thrusting rib of the Shadowy Mountains. There was a dusty smell to the air. Long-cold ash. The road they followed slashed along the foothills where tough grass grew amid bitter-looking thorns. The horses tore at the grass and, for now, their grain sacks went unopened. On the second day they found an old way station, its walls crumbled, gates sagging open. There was a well in the yard. The pump was long rotted, and they threw down buckets, pulling them up with ropes. The water was far down, but cool and sweet. Imir hid his relief from all but D'nez, and blessed Damak's maps. The main way into Mordor ran north into desolation. There must have been water cisterns, Damak said, but there was more certainty, of finding wells closer to the mountains. When Imir told the mage, Chalûn had regarded him silently, then waved a hand.
“There is time,” he had said. “Very well.”

The heat grew, dry as bone, but the map and Damak's judgement did not lead them astray. The way stations had been built every five leagues, and though some were dry, or their wells filled with rubble, with rationing they could survive. The road ran lower than the plateau, and the mountains were not without life, sparse and struggling. Thin spines of green ran up into the harsh hills where tiny springs rose before sinking back into the rock. When they found one, Imir ordered a rest and the horses were unsaddled, allowed to graze. Food for them could become more of a problem than water.

They came, all but Chalûn, to dread the nights. There were ghosts here. The first night, Imir heard the far-off tramp of feet, horses ridden hard. Were they being followed? There was no sign of any-one when dawn came. One day the earth shook a little, alarming the horses, and a plume of white drifted in the sky to the north.

They camped in the way stations. Even ruined, the walls provided some shelter from the unquiet wastes. The road turned along the flanks of the Shadow Mountains that, in the evenings, flung long shadows across them, gave some respite from the sun. Imir stared ahead, looking for signs of any-one, anything. Sometimes, when the heat-haze wavered over the land he thought he saw shapes of men, dark figures that watched, motionless, and vanished. Only mirages, he told himself.

On the seventh evening, Chalûn ordered Imir to his tent.

~~~


Chapter 21 ~ Power In The Ash ~ by Spiced Wine


~ Power In The Ash ~




“I am not your protégé.” Hatred bloomed hot in Imir's breast. There was fear under it, a great cold cloud. D'nez stood near with hand on his sword. The soldiers watched in silence.

“I am the mouthpiece and prophet of the Great Lord.” Chalûn came forward, spoke into Imir's face with sudden, lashing scorn. “You and your pretty boy-soldiers, playing at being men. Do you think I need warriors? You present an appearance, that is all. You are my servants. Whom do you think chose you? Not a noble among you.”

It was like a mailed slap. Imir fought to keep the dismay from his face. He dared not let his men see him unmanned. This was not play, not for them, not for him. He would not see their pride crumple under that excoriating contempt.

“If not you, then another. But in the end you are all here to serve me.” The mage turned and beckoned Ajan, the youngest, and Imir threw up his hand.
“No.”

“Do you want me to curse you?” Chalûn's voice went deadly flat.

“I do not believe you have the power.” He was gambling. “And if the Great One does indeed wait for us, I doubt he would be pleased at your usurping his prerogatives. Are we not His, rather than yours?” Imir felt D'nez take a step, heard the subtle slide of his weapon in its sheath. Thank the Lord I was allowed to choose one man. He did not take his eyes from Chalûn's.

“Sir,” Ajan spoke softly. “I will do it.” Sixteen years old, a player of the lyre, with a merry face, he now looked terrified. Imir's rage burned hotter, beating back the fear. There was a sensitivity to the boy that he had been keeping an eye on. It had been a mistake to bring him, but Imir had not chosen any of his men save D'nez. Pretty boy-soldiers.

“No,” Imir repeated, and marvelled that his voice was steady. “The Great Lord valued Khand because of our warriors, our loyalty, because we looked to Him, not his priests. Ajan serves under me, and I will not give him to you.”

Fool.” Chalûn laughed. The sound was eerie. “You know nothing. Look at you, dreaming of great deeds, polishing your shiny sword. You will piss your breeches when you look upon the Great One. You think I do not have power? His presence scalds my blood. I will wither you all, root and sack, and you will be worth nothing save as back alley whores.”

Some-one muttered a prayer. Ajan's shaking breath was audible. He slipped forward, slim and nimble, stood before Imir and saluted. “Sir,” he whispered. “Please. For all of us.”

Imir wanted to strike away the smile lurking on Chalûn's face. Bastard. You are bluffing. A black fly buzzed about the mage's head. The red eye glared on its back. A flick of the hand sent it away. Flies are attracted to waste, of course.
“Come with me,” he said and, as Ajan's eyes flicked to the mage, Imir clipped his voice. “That is an order.”

Despite the opportunities for abuse, the Variag army's long tradition of mentor and protégé had an iron code which few broke. Only youths thought to be officer material were chosen as protégés. Ajan was barely out of training. 'Boy-soldier' Imir might be, but he had asked for the records of all the men under him. Ajan, like many of the rank-and-file, and Imir himself, had been sold into the army young. One less mouth to feed, but also a career for the child, and a long step from poverty.

It came to this: Ajan had never had a mentor and though he might be frightened into offering himself, he was not mentally prepared for it. Imir had been lucky. Not all mentors were gentle. They were experienced warriors, after all, and had little truck with softness, but Damak had given him wine, told him what to expect, and used oil to ease his passage. The first time had not been pleasant, but neither had it been agonizing, as he had heard it could be. Damak told him tension made it more painful, and Ajan was stung tight as a war-bow. Even were he willing and ready, Chalûn would be violent.
He said, “The priest may be granted visions by the Great Lord, but he himself has no power.”

Ajan looked at him numbly, not believing. “I have heard tales, sir.”

“We all have. No. He will hurt you.”

“I am a soldier — ”

“You are, whatever he says, but he killed those slaves. At the very least you will not be able to ride. If he thinks you are expendable, Ajan, you are not.” He raised his voice. “None of you are.”

He walked toward the mage, whose smile screamed along his nerves, who sought, and thought he saw, Imir's surrender.

“Do it,” Imir challenged. “Curse us.”

The smile fell into shock. Imir stared into those dark eyes, and the blackness spread, until he could see no whites. A fleck of foam appeared at the corner of his mouth.
“My Lord. Mairon.” The name was rolled dreamily. “Now is the time.” His eyes were as empty as the bottom of a dry well. Then words like flame-edged black knives spat from his throat: Black Speech. Not the degraded version used by the ocs of Mordor but the biting curled beauty of the ancient language.

D'nez swore. His voice trembled. He said, “Imir...sir...!

A droning noise pierced Imir's ears. He thought it was his own terror, but the mage blinked as if shaken awake, looked past him. Surprise slackened his face. His lips moved silently. The sound grew louder, high and furious. Ice broke on Imir's brow, slid down his back.

The air darkened. A column of blackness plunged down, fell like water onto Chalûn.
Flies. Thousands of them.

The mage's shriek came muffled, choked horribly into gagging. The mass heaved. Somewhere under it, Chalûn toppled to the ground. He threshed, kicked, a boiling mound. There was no sound from him now, or none that could be heard over the predatory howl of the flies, a goad to madness. Imir locked his teeth against the screams that clawed into his throat, pressed his hands to his ears. There came the sharp reek of loosed bowels, urine, and the struggling heap went limp. The swarm lifted, whirled up, formed into the shape of a man, tall and slender. Eyes opened in the head, fire-red and gold. Laughter made from wings rippled like silk across the sky. It was pleasant and terrible in its power.

Imir's knees sagged, struck the hard ground. The eyes devoured him, opened his mind easily as he would open an unlatched door. The scrutiny of that ancient, alien intelligence was intent, intimate and impersonal both, and there was nowhere to hide from it. He saw flames, a city of coloured marble, tall men (but not Men) with stars set like jewels in their eyes. Armies marched across a sullen land, a volcano gouted liquid rock, a gold ring glowed on a long, slender hand. Imir felt his sanity teeter on the brink. Far away, he thought that mortal minds were not meant to feel such unhuman power.

The presence withdrew, closed the door. The shape shimmered, stormed away, a cloud that flattened and elongated, driving into the north.

Chalûn had choked to death. Dead flies were crushed about his teeth. His mouth was filled with them. Some still moved sluggishly. The veins in his eyes had burst. Imir was barely conscious of the shivers that racked him. He swallowed nausea, groped for breath. His men came forward. D'nez gripped his arm once, strongly. Ajan's face looked almost white. Imir could not speak. None of them could.

They buried Chalûn under rubble from the way station. After, as the stars opened, they sat, still silent, under the dazzling sky. There was no sound, that night, from the wastes.

Imir rose, feeling battered. He went to the packs, drew out a bottle of emberwine, and set his mind to opening it. He had to gather his resources to concentrate, to cut and peel the wax, remove the cork. The heady smell rose richly. He handed the bottle to D'nez, who poured a measure into the men's cups. They drank, tossing it down their throats. The fiery spirit burned the haze from Imir's mind, quelled his sickness. Another draught was poured and he sensed the men begin to relax, heard the exhalations of their breath. He waited a few heartbeats, then said, “We go on. The Great One waits. The priest did not have his power, or his favour.”

Their heads lifted but no-one spoke. Imir walked to the crumbling wall, climbed up and stared north, whence the fly-swarm had gone. After a time, he heard the murmur of voices, then soft steps behind him, the creak of armour.
“Pretty boy-soldier,” D'nez said beside him. “Thank-you.”

“I did nothing.” He turned.

“You faced him for us. You refused to show fear.”

“Yes. Well. I had to.”

D'nez gripped his shoulder. His smile was bright in the hazy dark, and warmed Imir like the emberwine. “You could have. You did not. You proved yourself to us, and I think, to Him.

Imir wanted to say, I was beyond terrified of the mage. I thought his curse would come down upon me. And that was nothing to the fear I felt when He looked at me, into me. I do not know what I am doing!
D'nez had lived on the same street, they had played together, had been sold into the army at the same time, and had watched one another's backs. They had comforted one another against homesickness, sparred and drilled, learned their arms.
He said nothing. Damak had once told him that a commander never shares his doubts or fears with his men. “They must view you as always certain, always in control. Responsibility brings isolation, Imir.”

D'nez, likewise one of Damak's protégés, knew this as well as he. This was a last closeness before the walls went up.

“You were behind me.” Imir put out his hand, clasped his friend's wrist.

“I hope you know I always will be.”

“Yes,” Imir said. “I know, Lieutenant.”

They stood on the crumbled wall, sipped slowly of the emberwine.

I am still afraid. It had come to him — heresy! — that Men should not have gods, should not worship anything or any-one of such unknowable power. He could not comprehend the mind that had peeled his own back like a fruit rind. That laughter...

This land. It is not desolate because of the volcano. It was the Lord Mairon's presence, like the sun too close to the Earth, that had blasted it. How would it feel to be under those eyes day after day? He would wither indeed, like raw meat in a sandstorm.

Nineteen years old, he was, a man whom had been recognised by a god. He should be proud.
He wanted, desperately, to hide.

~~~


He hated the middling powers he had now. If the damned Valar, sitting on their holy rumps in Aman, thought he had not been punished, let them lose their native gifts as he had, twice now. The first time, Númenor, had not been so excruciating, and he was pleased at the foresight that had lead him to send Vanimórë from the island. Calling him back to Mordor, having him there within arms reach (quite literally) had allowed Sauron to draw on his son's power. It had not taken long for him to rebuild himself, body and mind.

This, the second time, might have been fashioned as his penance, if he believed he deserved one. He did not. Guilt was for the weak-minded.
It was a slow process. Men's blood provided a quick burst, but soon burned away, leaving little behind; it was like climbing a mountain of shale that kept slipping underfoot, carrying him almost back to where he started. Elven blood would, he knew, burn almost forever, provide solid rock for his feet, but Elves were not easy to come by. As for Vanimórë, that small taste of him had been like emberwine. His son's power still smoked in his veins. It had been enough, when he came out of the tunnels, to send his mind into Mordor, where a pathetic priest and his chosen escort of young soldiers rode north, enough to gather the flies, to kill.

At the time, when he left Szrel Kain, seeking those he could use, it had been hard enough to reach that one man, an arrogant fool whose so-called noble blood gave him a voice that would be heard. There were others more gifted but without influence. Thus Chalûn. Sauron had killed him because he despised him. He had served his purpose.
His priests had almost always been a disappointment, but there seemed no way of entirely stamping them out. Religion was a fertile field that unfortunately sprouted many weeds. Sauron preferred warriors like his son, who tended to self-control, something the priesthood seemed incapable of cultivating. That fat pederast in Szrel Kain was a perfect example. The 'boy-soldiers' of Khand would be of far more use to him than the priests when he had finished with them. The young captain had potential. Sauron conjured his face, the olive-gold skin the Men of the West called 'swarthy', those black eyes accentuated by kohl, the sweet mouth. Pretty, the priest had sneered. Yes, they all were. Sauron appreciated beauty if there were steel beneath it.

“One day, child, I may have Vanimórë create a warrior priesthood. He will winnow the wheat from the chaff.”

Gîlrion slept against his shoulder, did not stir. Let them believe him a sacrifice, chase phantoms to Orodruin. He wondered when Vanimórë would realize that his father was not headed there.

A hostage for the future, Vanimórë had said to Legolas of the child. He had spoken truth to reassure but not believing. It was tempting to just slaughter Gîlrion now, let his blood do its work. It would make the Elves his enemies for eternity, but since they already were, Sauron was unconcerned. He was still infuriated that he had had to war against them. He was not Melkor, but he could never shake off the association, nor his actions perceived as crimes. The Elves would never deal with him. They might have dealt with Vanimórë, but would never wholly trust him. His link to Sauron was too strong. There were those who knew that Sauron could see through his eyes.
They would, however, deal with Glorfindel's son, Thranduil's grandson. Trust or no, they would never turn him away.

It was an elegant, audacious thought. Young minds were malleable, and he had experience with them. Gîlrion might host tremendous power within him, but he was yet only a child. He must be nurtured, moulded, raised, not as Sauron had raised Vanimórë, but as a prince, a diamond of the finest water. But first, he must be got away.

Mordor turned it its sleep, recognizing its master's tread. Dust sifted down from the massive tower above, its walls like a ship's prow, facing east. The Men of Gondor had built well, sure of themselves in the aftermath of his downfall, determined that if he stirred again, they would know. Fools. He had supped in Minas Ithil and they had been none the wiser. Sauron laughed, eying the three black courses of stone that soared above the path. A useful place. He would remember it.

“It is not a fair land, I grant you.” To the sleeping child as he hastened down the line of the old road. It was still clear; there was little vegetation to take root, though yellowish grass and stunted bushes clung grimly to pockets of earth. “But it was almost perfect for me.”

Here, he did not have to cloak his power, indeed it was hardly possible. He dealt with the forces of nature, both of Middle-earth and beyond. He had forged the Ring here. His bare finger ached with the memory, but he had come to admit Vanimórë had seen more clearly that he. One should not bind one's power into anything. Too late to wish the Ring unmade, and it served a purpose, two purposes in fact: it still held power, was still intertwined with the other rings, not least Celebrimbor's Three. The second purpose rested for now. Wherever the Ring was, it was a danger to any who held it, the greater the individual in will and might, the greater the danger. That was a double-edged sword, naturally. There were those on Middle-earth who might almost prove a match for him if they bore it. Almost. Or they might prove a valuable ally, until he took the Ring from them and left them hollow. No doubt they thought him irreparably weakened by the loss. They did not know that his son could feed him strength.

He folded his musings away, sent his gaze across the grey-black desert to the sleeping volcano. That was why Mordor had suited him, as much as the mountain barriers that all but enclosed it. He remembered the superheated air rising from the magma chamber, molten rock jetting up so close that, in the fullness of his power, he could have reached out and braided it like rope. He thrust his mind down through battered earth, ash, and rock, to where the lava ran, the earth's blood. He felt it thread into his own veins, painful, welcome. Soon, he thought. It had been too long.

The road dipped, falling more steeply toward the plateau. Gorgoroth, the Elves called it. The rising sun flushed it bloody, but Mordor had long since drunk the blood spilled there. He could not see, so far away, what the Alliance had left of Lugbúrz. Show me, he commanded. Carillions of power, grief made deadly by rage rang in his mind, sundered stone. Cheated of their enemy, the Alliance had determined to pull down the tower. It was impossible. He had wound his strength too deeply into its roots, but they had done what they could, leaving a half-fallen titan. He tucked the thrill of anger away. Lugbúrz would rise again, and mightier than before.

A sound broke the silence. He lifted his head, hoisted Gîlrion higher on his shoulder. Good. The riders came into view below. Twelve of them, armour glinting, and four pack-horses. He saw the leader put up a hand. The warriors reined in, and then, at a second gesture, broke into a trot. Sauron walked down to meet them, half listening behind him. He had no fear that Ungoliant's spawn would kill Vanimórë. It was more likely that she would be slain. A pity if she was. He had not been able to command her to delay them; her hunger was too vast, but delay them she would. He spared a glance up and back, saw nothing but the mountains, cruel against the brightening sky. With a smile, he quickened his step.

~~~


The man was tall, his hair long, pale, silken. He was clad in simple clothes, foreign in make and style: a close-fitting tunic, soft hide breeches, high boots. For weapons, he bore only a dagger. Most strangely, he carried a golden haired child. The sun made the bright curls sparkle.

As he rode closer, Imir saw the man's face clearly, and his throat clenched. Fine, proud features, eyes the colour of lavender, and powerful! This was the incomprehensible intelligence that had stripped him naked, but clothed now in the form of a human. He walked like one who owns the world, and the earth seemed to shiver under his feet so that his footfalls resounded across the land.
Imir came down from the saddle, went down on one knee. He heard the soft footsteps, saw the boots, with their well made, blunt-pointed toe stop before him, and tap, once.

“Look up.”

He did so, found as he raised his face that he could not look away. Flames blew across those eyes in winds not of this world.

“Captain Imir.” A voice cut like a jewel. “Rise. All of you. I am pleased with you.” A glinting smile that held charm, and was cold as the winter wind. “A sling for the child, He is very special. No harm must come to him.”

“Yes, Sire.” He turned. D'nez walked quickly to one of the pack-horses, drew a blanket from one of the panniers. There came a sound of ripping.

Imir had to step close to fashion the sling. The Lord exuded a scent of temple incense. Imir's hands shook as he knotted the fabric, and the the child blinked, opened eyes like blue glass. He stared, struggled, beat on the Great Lord's chest with tiny fists. The little face was furious. He did not cry.

The Lord spoke, a language like silver running over stones, and the boy went still, staring into the lavender eyes. His mouth quivered. He dropped his head. Elegant fingers smoothed his cheek.

Ada,” the child said clearly, with an awful, adult sorrow. Imir did not know what the word meant, but his heart squeezed. A faint smile curled the Lord's beautiful mouth. He said something, softly, and tears bled from under the child's long lashes.

“He is Esshenin*,” the Lord said, caressingly, as D'nez lead forward Chalûn's horse. “And he will be as a son to me.”


~~~



End Notes:


Esshenin ~ Elven (plural) in the Variag tongue. Singular ~ Esshen.
All the Eastern tongues are similar but a little different. I have used Shendi/Shendini as a word for Elves among the Men of the East, which becomes Esshen/Esshenin in the language of Khand.

The Variags have served Sauron since before they became a nation. In Dark Prince, when Vanim
Chapter 22 ~ To Find The Light Within ~ by Spiced Wine



~ To Find The Light Within ~



~ When one is so deep inside terror it becomes, paradoxically, a thing outside oneself. Legolas ran through the vastness of it, through his own mute screams.

Vanimórë's aura shaped the monster out of the dark: the oily sheen of lightless eyes, legs thick as a young rowan, grown with thorns of spiny hair. A beak jutted, struck out in a sickening jerk. A blade screamed white.

Gîl's Ada was hushed by another voice, one Legolas knew, that he had trusted, unsheathed now of soft deception, and terrifying.

The monster shrilled, breaking the silence and under it, through it, he heard Vanimórë shout, Legolas, run.

The spider leaped. Vanimórë and Thranduil ducked, weapons raised to cut at the belly, rolled and came up. But now they were behind it. An arrow punched out of the black, and buried itself deep. The monster's pain crashed against the tunnel walls.

It was coming toward him, the bulk between he and Vanimórë's radiance. Legolas could see his father too, as if the battle fanned the flames of Thranduil's own inner fires. Not far away, slim hands pulled back a bow-string; there was a glimmer of white hair. They are not wearing battle markings. The drawn designs were founded in ancient times, dimming the gleam of their flesh to better move unseen.

Another arrow sank into the spider's eyes. It convulsed, surged forward, hissing. It was as if a rockfall thundered toward him, pushed the air aside, leaving only a breathless stench. He snapped up his knives, ready to lunge, and Vanimórë's mind-voice shouted, Legolas! Go! even as hands caught him, pulled him back, and thrust him away. Bainalph said, “Run.”

He pitched forward, saved himself. One sword struck the tunnel wall.
I cannot see. Behind him...he did not know what was happening. Voices swirled into and out of his mind; his father, Bainalph, Vanimórë said, We have to hold her until Legolas is safe...She likes her food fresh, avoid her sting; it does not kill, she has no taste for dead meat. She takes it to her nest to devour it...

Legolas stumbled as the wall vanished. He fell sideways, steel clattering away as he threw out his hands, landed on raw rock. The cleft was scarce wide enough for a grown man. A gusting stink chased him in; there came a collision as the spider rammed herself against the crevice. Legolas quested for his weapons. Grasping one, he scrambled to his feet, hit out. The sword struck something, rebounded. Blank with fear, he searched blindly for the second blade, retrieved it, and sprang toward the thing. This time both swords connected with that clacking beak, and he thought he heard horn crack, but could not be sure. An acrid scent stung his nostrils, a blast of hot-cold liquid struck his chest, soaked into his tunic. He flung himself sideways, half-sobbing with disgust, heard the spider move and, beyond it, the rising battle-cry of the Wood. Claws scrabbled, and again the rock boomed. It had turned to face its attackers, who were forcing it back. Legolas hacked sightlessly at the thick hunk of flesh. His own burned as if scalded. Poison? He grimaced reflexively, forced himself to ignore it. What was the flesh made of? he wondered, desperate to get out, to get to Gîl. He stepped back frustrated, saw one sword-edge run with light, and whirled, gasping.

The figure gleamed like the moon; pale hair, wintry eyes, a sweet, fierce face. He was tall, with wide shoulders, clad in the armour of the Wood. On his pauldrons the insignia of the House of Oropher interlocked in endless gold whorls. As he walked away, his shining sketched a passage out of the dark.

Houseless. Legolas stared, numb. While the Houseless were not exactly feared, they were viewed with sorrow and not a little wariness no matter how beloved they might have been. Bound to the land, they lingered, rarely seen save at the Time of Souls when autumn drew the nights close over the forest. He remembered whispers that he knew he was not supposed to hear. The man looked back. Long fingers beckoned.
I am mad. But...there was the memory of a kiss in the heart of his fear, a voice...

Swallowing around dryness like ash, Legolas whispered, “Elvýr, please. Lead me out.”

The spirit turned, went on. Legolas ran but could never quite reach the calmly striding figure. Gîl, he cried. I am coming, and then Osulf. Do not hurt my son. I will do anything for you!

And there came back an answer, shocking white through his blood.
Of course you would, young one. Do not worry. Gîlrion is very important to me.

Legolas felt himself almost lift from the uneven floor, dread like a chasm opening under his feet. The voice, soaked and fermented in ancient power, did not come from the mind of any Man.
Who are you? Who are you?

You know me. The Elves have known me for thousands of years. Or thought they did.

Blackness flooded into his eyes. He slapped hard into rock, striking his knee. Breathless, he searched with his hands, finding only stone, and a scream built in his throat. He imagined the walls closing on him, leaving him entombed while 'Osulf' carried Gîl away. He tried to call to Vanimórë, but something was there, blocking him, absolute as the rock. He whimpered. A strong hand (or his own terror) pulled him up. He shuffled sideways, limping, floundered into nothing: a gap to his left where the spirit waited. This way was narrower than the first tunnel, but there was a faint, constant whisper of air, arid, but so sweet to his lungs after the foetid stench of the spider.

Where are you taking my son?

Your son, a bone of contention, a game-piece of war. There was a buzzing in Legolas' ears. The voice slid in and out of it like bloody steel, smooth, sinewy. The greatest gift I can give to the Wood and Imladris is to remove him.

No. Please!

Legolas ran through an eternity of horror. The only sound was his own pounding heart, his hectic breaths and, muffled now and faint, the whisper of battle. Vanimórë, Maglor, all of them, they were gone, shut behind the barrier that fenced his mind.

I left them.

He gulped, pushed aside the pain of his bruised knee, his burned chest, eyes locked on the shape that glided ahead of him, lips repeating his son's name like a talisman. When he first saw his own hands, the dim gleam of the sword blades, he thought his eyes were summoning their own pictures. But they were real, became more solid as light pushed itself into the tunnel.

The ghost paused, turned. Its shape was faint now, little more than threads of silvery light. There was something alien in its eyes, as if it were removed by death from all the emotions that made one human. Was that what happened when one died? Legolas could not imagine it.
“Please,” he croaked, throat so dry that to speak scorched it. He did not even know what he was asking for.

Elvýr reached out a hand. His mouth curved in a smile filled with love and sadness.

Interesting, the fire-supple voice observed. Truly you are unique, Legolas.

The breeze in the tunnel sucked back. The lines of the ghost melted, pulled away with it. Wrath and dread flashed across its face. Flies swarmed through Legolas' mind, fire ate the world, and urbane laughter rippled. He hunched, choking, over the part of him that had been torn away.

No!

Tears bleeding down his face, he tripped out into a crumble of rock and shale. A ruddy sunrise speared into his stinging eyes as he scrambled down a steep incline. A road curved below him, a great tower stood black against the dawn glare. Beyond it rolled Mordor under a crown of red light.
Legolas stopped. A weight bore down on him, remorseless, without compromise or pity. The dusty air cramped his lungs. There was power here, power so vast it had burned the land.

Do you understand now, child? Go back.

Thunder. He limped onto the road, swung his head back toward the mountains and saw, disbelieving, black Seran, and his own Lainiell. There were other riders, loose horses. He recognised no-one but Tanout and Shemar. He put up his hands. The stallion's hooves gouged the hard ground, and Legolas seized at the long, coarse mane.
Tanout had dismounted, was holding him.

“I have to follow Gîl.” His voice sounded light as air, one step from hysteria.

Legolas, are you mad?” Tanout demanded. “Where is the prince?”

In the tunnels, fighting that monster. It did not matter that all of them were warriors. He had left them there, and when they met, his father would —.

“Is he dead?”

He shook his head, dragged himself from the strong grip, found himself settled in Seran's saddle, gathering the reins as Tanout leaped for them, missed and cursed. The stallion wheeled away, from walk to gallop in one stride, racing down the road, under the black walls of the tower, into Mordor. He leaned forward, the dry wind in his lungs, tears dashed from his eyes. Somewhere in that stinking darkness they were battling the monster. Like a fool he had thought he could stop his father and Glorfindel wanting to kill one another, and he had left them because he could, because he had to follow his son.
And he could not bear it, not the one choice nor the other.

His scream of despair echoed back from the rock, rose like a torn banner in the air, and then died.

~~~


Thranduil could not spare Vanimórë so much as a glance. They were fighting in tandem, weaving a thorny fence of steel against the monster's jerking lunges. It was a terrible kind of duel. Only part of the thing became visible when it closed with them.

Go after thy son, Vanimórë said. I will hold her. Do not let Legolas follow Sauron. That is for me to do.

Light exploded into the tunnel. Fierce and shocking, it flung into relief the old, hacked lines of stone, the grey-white webs — and the spider: the monstrous bulk, spined legs arching above a bloated body. Two arrows quivered in one of the clustering eyes.

Thranduil thought Vanimórë had unleashed the power of his dark blood, and he used the sudden illumination to turn, find his son. As far down the tunnel as he could see, there was no sign of Legolas.

Bainalph sent another arrow toward the spider, then whirled and began to run. Thranduil caught up with him. The light was fiery, unearthly. Why had Vanimórë not used it before? Memories pricked him. The light; it hates the light. The spiders of Nan Dungortheb. It is one of them; it must be. Ancient, grown huge with feeding.

Thranduil could see no other exits that Legolas might have used. He must have run while they were fighting. Eru, he hoped so. He remembered the hot tremble of Legolas' body in his arms, but more than anything his son's refusal to hold onto him. The sour taste was not unexpected and no less bitter for it.

“There,” Bainalph said, as the light showed a gaping hole on the left hand wall. Thranduil did not know why Legolas would have taken that way, but in the dark he might have stumbled into it. A tiny breath of air whispered down the main tunnel, twisted ragged falls of web, and with it came a hint of cleaner air, the promise of an end to this suffocating nightmare. The new passage was lightless, the reek thick. Thranduil turned into it without a word. If Legolas was not in sight, he must be down here. Bainalph fell in behind. Thranduil knew he would guard his back. He trusted Vanimórë too, had seen him fighting and did not think the creature would defeat him. If it did... His mouth thinned. Creature of the dark or no, I will kill you before you keep me from my son.

A too-confident assertion; Bainalph had put at least two arrows into one eye and it had not stopped. Its flesh was old, not impermeable — he was sure ichor had run when his blades slashed it, and the eye had bled sluggishly, but it seemed to have no vulnerable points.

He thrust one long knife before him, one above, hearing the occasional scrape as metal dragged on rock. The way was wide, high, and he increased his pace.
Bainalph.

I know.

Thranduil glanced back, saw the prince's face gleaming softly, and briefly cursed the fact neither of them had deemed it necessary to draw on battle markings. The faint radiance made the blackness all around them thicker, more impenetrable, more proof (not that he needed any) that this was more than natural darkness. But the spider could find them whether or no.

Keep close.

I will.

~~~


They had come up behind the spider, visible as a hulking shape that cuts off Vanimórë's strange, hard glitter.

He sees the sight-blurring dance of Vanimórë's twin swords, and fury ignites in his breast at the juxtaposition of monster and beauty.

The light is memory. It is the catch of breath when first he sets eyes on the Silmarils, the feel of hard, loving arms around him. It is the song that flows from him, the shared smiles so complex, so necessary. It is the power and eminence of his blood, what he once was before everything was taken away. It is pain, and welcome.

The spider wheels about and the light plunges into every hair, every crease of the body, into her eyes. A skirling hiss flattens against the stone, spreads. His own sword raised, he walks forward, and the thing retreats before him in quivering, jerking leaps. Vanimórë comes over its body in a diving roll that lands him lightly a few paces away.

He sees himself reflected in the eye-clusters, a thing of numinous flame, eyes star-white. The beak widens, a bitter smell trickles forth, and he spins aside as a jet of liquid spits out. His sword swims in light, as he brings it down two-handed into the dense flesh below the head. The monster's scream is one of rage. It lumbers about, springs away down the tunnel.

A hand closes like a bench-vise about his arm, and he looks into Vanimórë's face, blanched by fire.

With a rush like orgasm, the light plunges back into him. Afterimages sparkle across his vision. His ears ring with the spider's anguished shriek.

Vanimórë's voice sounds distant, then comes louder. “I think thou hast succeeded in making her insane. She will try to kill anything in her path, and Legolas is ahead.” And so, he added silently. are Thranduil and his companion. “She is heading for her nest, but we have to ensure,” even as they run, “that she does not catch up.”

He feels a hand touch his back, glances aside into his son's face.

You burned, Tindómion's eyes are wide, and...proud?

He shakes his head, cannot find words, thinks to himself, That was not me. He does not know what happened, but he remembers how Maedhros' face could rout a legion of orcs, the passion of his fury, all his loss and suffering, his indomitable will compacted into a core of flame. Maglor had thought his own passion long dead, no embers even to stir, to coax alight. Vanimórë had proved him wrong, he and Legolas. But that light was not mine. It was the memory of fire. It was an act of defiance. Light in the Everlasting Dark.

It was them, all of them.

He wants to fall on his knees and weep in recognition of their souls.
He will not turn his head to look at the one who does not shine.

~~~


Bainalph turned. The spider was coming fast, making no effort now to be silent. He thought he heard an odd gait, as if one or more legs had been injured, yet still it was closing on them.
Go on! He drew his knives. Vanimórë must be dead, but why had the monster not dragged him away to eat? So perhaps he had escaped. He felt Thranduil come to his side.
“I will hold her.” His breath caught. “Find Legolas.”

“Bainalph — ”

Go.” He glanced at the King. His expression was...one that Bainalph had known once, a long time ago. “I am sworn to serve your House.”

A cloud of noisome air bulled into him. He tensed, thought he felt a hand on his hair, the brush of fingers, the scent of the woods.

And then she came.

He fought like he had in the Blood Winter. There was no-one to see it, and he himself could barely see anything as he ducked and dodging the thrusting beak, the thumping fall of legs. There was a desperation in the creature's movements, as if it sought only to pass him. It was injured, perhaps like any animal, it wanted to flee with its wounds. He could not let it. Though he had no doubt Thranduil could meet it, kill it, there was not the time.
No time for introspection either yet, in the way of all trained warriors, Bainalph could think of other matters even as he fought. Each moment he held it here would put more space between it and Thranduil.
Bainalph could disengage, vault over her, but could not trust she would continue to fight him.

He danced. His teeth clenched as he gauged the time that had passed, how far away Thranduil was. In ordinary circumstances, any Elf could outrun the spider, but the dark slowed them, and this monster knew its own grots and tunnels.

Time...
Perhaps...
It had hunted them for food. Big as the creature was, it would still take some time to eat.

Too many memories, and he did not want to think of them. He would still remember after death. The dead forget nothing; that is why they come back. Briefly, with all his soul, he wished Thranduil had killed him on the plains of Rhovannion. But that would have served no purpose. This death at least will have meaning.

He would not sing the ristas faer again. It was gone from him. He had already sung it as if in preparation. It was enough. His soul would return to the Wood. He did not wish to drift to the fabled land in the West, to the cold, silent halls of the dead.
The monster gave a bubbling hiss like an inhalation. Bainalph scented bitterness, and then acid struck him full in the face. It ate into his eyes. He heard himself scream, knew he was blind.
Oh, blessed Earth, the pain. Pain without pleasure, as if to punish him for his sensual delights, eating away at them as it ate at his eyes. So be it. Yet he had maintained his grip on his blades. They cut and spun as if guided by some-one else, some-one who stood outside the agony and could ignore it. But he knew he was slowing. The darkness seemed to leach from his eyes to smother his brain. He was confused, eyes and soul both sightless.

I cannot hold.

He leaped back, slammed one knife into its housing, with the other, cut his palm, felt the sear of pain, the hot well of blood. Dashing it into the air, he hissed through his teeth, “I hope you like the smell of blood.”

It worked. He knew it had worked when she came down on him, when the stink of her putrid belly took away his air, when something sharp as a dagger sank into his stomach. Good. he thought, terrified, mad with pain, as the omnipresent blackness ate at his mind, joined with the venom that had taken his eyes. He had thought she might kill him and move on.
She has no taste for dead meat.

Could he last? Would he wake again before she fed?

I have to.

He lasted long enough.

~~~


End Notes:




This is actually an image of Beleg by Jankolas on Deviant Art. I am just using it as a look-a-like.
Chapter 23 ~ The Ending of the Road ~ by Spiced Wine


The Ending of the Road


~ The scream pulled him back like a hand at the throat, faint and muffled by stone though it was. A hard body collided with his. He caught their arms, saw it was Glorfindel, and almost flung him away.

Maglor said, “That tunnel we passed—” and began to run.

“Leads to the nest.” Vanimórë had ignored it, guessed the spider would take that way, to den and nurse her wounds. They could have left this place without further delay, were almost out now, could see the end of the tunnel ahead of them like a gateway into freedom. Legolas, even terrified and alone, would surely have followed the cleaner air, as would Thranduil and Bainalph. But there was no time to wonder. They sprinted back. The fug of the beast that had lessened now returned as they plunged back into the cloying dark, came to a wide passage on their right hand.

“Legolas did not come this way,” Glorfindel said tightly. No-one answered him.

The tunnel ended at last, forked left and right. There was no doubt where the nest was located. The effluvium that poured out of the cave was thick enough to choke on. They trod a carpet of powdered bone, rising in heaps each side of the monster's track, higher than Vanimórë's head. Fresher skeletons had tumbled down the slope, grinning eyelessly. Vanimórë saw the skulls of orcs, of men, of horses, goats, wild-cats. Rotted cloth, leathers, harness, sacks of skin, all had been reduced to a rank humus of death.

She was there, hunched hugely over a long shape entombed in thick webbing.

They hit her in honed, vengeful fury, hacking at her legs, the bloated sack, the stinger that jutted from it. Already maddened, ravenous, she screamed. A sword, shining, came down two-handed in a stabbing motion, and the monster's pain buffeted the stone walls. Black blood sprayed Glorfindel's hair as he wrenched the blade out. Ululating, she heaved herself back in a quivering leap.

Vanimórë knelt, set the tip of one sword gently under the webbing, and sliced.

“Thranduil's companion.” Maglor ripped away the strong, sticky substance, rage in the movement of his slim hands, the dip of his brows.

“Legolas called him Bainalph. He must have been the rearguard.” He was beautiful as a drowned moon, face marked, even as the moon's face was, by the sear of venom.

“Legolas was never here.” Glorfindel flicked the creature's blood from his blade.

“He may already be out.” And that frightened Vanimórë to the bottom of his soul. Unless, somehow he had found his father. Even so, against Sauron...?

Maglor's eyes met his, then dropped again to Bainalph's face. “Venom?”

“She spat it at me. I could see, thus avoid it. This one could not, yet he fought magnificently. He did not let her pass. And so she blinded him.” He reached out a hand, touched the burns gently.
Ah, that was gallant, beauty. Alone, in darkness. The flutter of a soul's wings brushed him; he tasted pain, love, grief. Hush, my dear. Thou didst well. His throat felt constricted.
“He gave his lord time. There is another way out into the world; the tunnel to the right.”

“Thranduil left him to fight alone?” Glorfindel demanded, his attention flicking away from the monster; mouth curled scornfully.

“Hast thou forgotten fealty, loyalty to one's lord, Lord of the House of the Golden Flower.” The title excoriated. It was meant to. “I am almost certain it is thou they tell of battling a Balrog to give the refugees of Gondolin time to escape, and dying in the act. Even in Angband I heard that tale. But that was another man entirely, was it not?”

Glorfindel went white. His mouth straightened.
“Come, we will take him.” Vanimórë, a white fury torching his soul, wanted to blind her, as the white-haired warrior had been blinded, to methodically cut off each leg, and leave her to starve in the stinking nest where so many had come to an agonising, lonely death. His bones shook with the desire for violence. She was no natural thing, moving to the rhythms of the world. Her hunger was too vast. And she knew his thoughts, jerked further back into the dark.

Maglor lifted Bainalph's body. The long white throat arched back. Something in the grace of his pose reminded Vanimórë of Legolas.
“I will bear him,” Maglor said.

“Thou canst see,” Vanimórë said. “even in here. Canst thou not?”

“Enough. I can see enough. Art thou not coming?”

“I will come behind thee. I do not trust that creature. I think she is clever enough to fake greater injury.”
His eyes went to Glorfindel. There was no light in the Elf-lord save what his vision offered. I should hamstring him, leave him here, let her feed on his still-living body. Who would grieve? The man he had known in Mordor had died long ago. He turned away, scanned the ceiling. Bloated egg sacks hung like pale, poisonous fruit from the dim roof. He wished he had fire to burn the nest clean, to watch the spider writhe in torment as she was eaten by flame. One day, he vowed. I will return here and end thee. Then he sneered at himself. What use vows? he had made too many, and they mocked him.

Glorfindel came to his shoulder, sword still raised.

Thranduil came this way because he did not know where Legolas had gone, and could not risk leaving this passage unexplored. Vanimórë stared into the massing shadows where the spider crouched. How knowest thou that Legolas was not here?

The faerboth —

Vanimórë whirled, one sword out. Glorfindel's blade clashed against it, and the spider staggered forward. They stared at one another for the barest moment, then Vanimórë shrugged past Glorfindel and out of the cave. He walked backward, eyes on the entrance that gaped like a black throat.

The faerboth, he snarled. But Glorfindel was linked to Legolas, however little he deserved to be. I should have crippled thee, left thee in that den, a fitting end to thy life.

You could have tried, Glorfindel snarled back. You do not understand—

I have travelled with Legolas. I understand completely. He heard the spider moving. The unevenness of her gait was not feigned, but still he did not trust her. I know how the sweetness, the innocence calls us. We want to plunder it, to own it. It is everything we are not, that was lost to us. We want to drink it into our veins, unravel the pureness to watch it stain as dark as our own memories, yet when it remains pure, when it comes apart for us, only for us, when we see it as hungry, as wanton as we are, then it is priceless, because we cannot besmirch it. What didst thou want? he lashed. For Legolas to find sex shameful, and yet not be able to resist thee? That is the drug of power Glorfindel, is it not, to play another like a harp, to push them to breaking, to make them feel things they never dreamed of, to reduce them to toys, making them loathe themselves. Where is the respect in such behaiviour? He spun back, swords up, and they circled. Didst thou see nothing of his soul when raping him? Or didst thou see and not care? I have impaled men like thee beyond the walls of Sud Sicanna, so that they may know the pain and fear their victims experienced before they themselves die. Look at thyself! There is nothing left of the man I knew in Mordor.

His words seemed to sluice from Glorfindel's face like rain on fine marble. The fury in Vanimórë urged him to shatter the beauty, to break bones and teeth so that Glorfindel must wear the ugliness of his soul, show it to the outer world. He felt his sinews tighten.

Stop. Glorfindel let his sword drop with the word. There is no time for this. Do you think I have not thought all this myself on this journey? That I have not regretted the manner in which I took him?

It is he thou shouldst be telling that to.

I will.

He wanted to stand before thee and his father, to stop thee from killing one another. He would have too, were he not chasing his son. He called again for Legolas, but there was no response. He was too focused, or Sauron blocked his mind. Do not hurt them, he begged his father, pride fallen in ashes at his feet. Please.
Thou fools, to war against one another after the Alliance? What in the Hells did thou think thou wert doing? I know how many died on Dagorlad, in Mordor.

And do you know what happened after? Glorfindel asked. A black vein throbbed in his voice. We won, if you can call it that. And Lindon crumbled. The Noldor there went West, save for a few who came to Imladris or lingered on the shores of the sea. There is nothing else for us but decline, and Valinor or, for most, Tol Eressëa, herded onto a prison island for eternity, or as close as. The seeds of our doom were sewn long ago, and still they bear fruit. And they wanted me to be a hero! I am no hero, Vanimórë, I am bitter, a man sent back not to fight evil but to witness a second downfall, to see the Doom fulfilled to its ending. Not in blood, not with courage and honour, not for any matter of dubious glory, just a slow, grey fading. And there are the wood-Elves, with no chains, innocent because they were never given any Laws...

That is the reason for this idiotic war? But Vanimórë understood. Suddenly, and without wanting to, he understood. He remembered Glorfindel in Mordor after their first savage, astonishing coupling, saying, I may have damned thee. Thou wert willing . Or dost thou not know the Laws of the Valar?...They could banish thee to the Void, as they have others.

Glorfindel, and those with his appetites were damned. If he died, he was doomed, if he lived there was nothing but, as he said, a slow fading.

Tindómion was right, Glorfindel said. I could have stopped this war before it begun. I did not want to. Who were the wood-Elves to live so prolifically and so free? I saw them in Mordor, as did you, on the night of the Solstice, recking nothing of laws or dooms as they took one another. I hated their freedom. And then it became uglier, as all conflict does. When I saw Legolas I was more than half-mad with rage. All that beauty and innocence, untouched...yes, I wanted it. He bent like a reed to me.

You almost broke him!

All my other lovers were experienced. But he was everything I dreamed. He even took away the hate, for a while...

Go, Vanimórë told him. Catch up with the others. Thy presence offends me. Go, and offer thy life for that of thy son. Sauron will laugh, but he may even accept.

He backed, turning at times to run, backing again. He caught up with Glorfindel, who clearly could not see, and who followed a step behind him. The spider was not pursuing. Perhaps she was truly too injured. There was another exit she could take, but it would not intercept with their route. He sprinted faster, the raw rock walls sluicing past him. Old terrors and new clawed at his soul. Father, he cried again. Whatever thou doth want, I will better it. I have thy blood. Will that not give thee power?

The silence was Sauron's dismissal of him. All Vanimórë could see, as they came upon Maglor and Tindómion, was death, the beat of carrion wings over the end of this doomed journey.

The morning light was enough to offer prayer to, as they broke from the tunnel. It was Mordor's unforgiving sunlight, and welcome. They did not pause, though Vanimórë saw the others glance up at the great tower that flung its black shadow onto the cliffs. It bulked against the sky as they skirted it and came to where the road crested, then fell to a bridge. The Morgai, inner fence of northern Mordor bared ragged teeth below them and, far away, Orodruin rose from the shattered land about its feet. There was a shift in the earth, stones rolled and bounced from the fortress, skittered past them.

Vanimórë's heart beat in his throat. He pressed down on blooming fear. Mount Doom recognised its master's tread.

The crack of hooves on rock brought all of them wheeling about. Vanimórë saw two riders pounding up the road, one far ahead of the other, and two loose horses. They were Men of Gondor, soldiers. The first to reach him, a young man with wide grey eyes stared, then came out of the saddle.

“Sir?” He moistened his lips. “Prince Vanimórë? Your men have followed the young Elf.”

“What?” Vanimórë shouted, and the man recoiled but continued, as if reporting ill news to a senior officer: “We were back there.” He pointed back up the pass. “The young Elf came out of some gap in the cliff. Captain Tanout was riding the black stallion, and dismounted, but the Elf was afraid, in great haste. He took the stallion and rode on into Mordor. Tanout and the youth Shemar went after him. There were four riderless horses, and the pony Shemar rode. They took the Elf-horses because they were faster. The pony followed after them.”

Vanimórë stared down toward the bridge. The sun was in his eyes but he thought he could see the upflung dust of the riders' passage before the road cut into the canyon that sliced through the Morgai.

With Legolas on Seran he would catch up with Sauron swiftly, perhaps he was even now with him.
He drew in a breath.

Glorfindel cried, “Gorthaur.” His voice, a war-commander's, echoed against the fortress walls, rolled into Mordor like the challenge of thunder. The sun tangled in his hair, burned it into spills of melted gold. “Take me.” He strode a few paces forward. “I know you can hear me. I will give myself for my son, myself for Legolas.”

The moment froze itself into Vanimórë's mind. Maglor and Tindómion stared at him; their expressions had leapt into astonishment, then gone still. The land waited, and again came the mutter that shook itself through the bedrock like laughter.

A black cloud whirled and raced up the road, a high-pitched drone running before it. Vanimórë knew that sound, but there was nothing to be done, and then it was before them, rising to form a human shape that stared down on them from fire-gold eyes. Horses screamed; hooves scraped on stone; men called out.

I do not want you. The words seemed hissed through the flies wings, spinning and sinking through the skin of the mind. I do not want any of you. Turn back. If you follow, I will leave the bodies of Legolas and his child, and your young men, my son, with hands and feet cut off for you to find. I have plans that do not involve their deaths, but I can make new ones if this goes awry. They will be safe in my hands, and you will see them again if you turn away. Do not test me.

An awful pause in the flaying buzz, then: “What do you want of them?” Glorfindel shouted. Fear had stripped the flesh of pride from his bones, left him without skin, wholly exposed. Even Vanimórë flinched at the pain in his voice.

Not their deaths, Golden One. A smile curled around the voice like idling blood. Or should I say, Fallen One, for you have fallen so very far. It amuses me. But I will have their lives. Yes, their blood could give me all the power I need, but I will rebuild my native strength without it. And I can look ahead. Can you not imagine their worth to me?

No.” Glorfindel flung himself forward, sword raised, and the cloud dipped, spread, resolved itself again further down the trail. A smoky hand lifted. Vanimórë saw two men ride out of the swarm; one was Legolas, older, beautiful, his face polished to a hardness that had long-ago lost its sweet vulnerability. The other was tall, gold hair caught back in braids, eyes a dense, spectacular blue. Glorfindel's eyes, Glorfindel's face. The son was almost an exact copy of the father, but there was something in him, a bright, edged coldness that Vanimórë had never seen in Glorfindel even now, at the nadir of his life. Both men were splendidly accoutred, and behind them a banner snapped: the Red Eye on sable.

It was the future, Sauron's gambit to bring the Elves into his hand. Vanimórë heard some-one groan a terrible sound torn from the heart, another voice swore fluently. His own mouth was ash. Glorfindel reached out as if to touch the vision, and the flies came down like a wall. When they swept away, their retreating hum mocked.

Tanout and Shemar? Vanimórë flung after him, and Sauron might have stood at his side as he answered, Legolas knows them; it will make his journey more bearable, no?

Oh hells. He wanted to drop his head in his hands, to scream at the colossal unfairness that had choked them all, brought them to this pass. He could count those boys lost to him. He would not see them again.

He only saw the man step past him when it was too late. Glorfindel turned, as if something pricked his senses through the shock, and Thranduil's blade touched his breast.

The King's face was scoured white, but his hand was perfectly steady. Tindómion was on his feet, but Thranduil threw up his free hand.
“If you move I will push this home.” Not a tremor in his voice. “I vowed to bring you back to the forest, and take your life there. But I cannot bring myself to care overmuch if I kill you here or there. If you move, Fëanorion, or you, Kinslayer, I will put this into his heart.”

“And then I will kill you,” Tindómion said matter-of-factly.

“Will you?” A terrible half-smile bent Thranduil's lips. “And perhaps I do not care overmuch for that, either. I have a son to take my throne.”

Glorfindel met his eyes, and there was an unearthly blankness in his own. He said, “Do as you please. The one or the other.”

Vanimórë started. Glorfindel glanced at him.
“I surrender to your judgement, Thranduil. I wronged Legolas gravely. I will make restitution.”

“Glorfindel—” Maglor said hotly, helplessly, then closed his mouth.

“Well, this is a nice bit of mummery.” Vanimórë was furious, equally helpless. “And almost an excess of nobility, but I think thou shouldst know, Thranduil, that Gîlrion's soul is bound to Glorfindel's. I felt it at his birth.”
He did not need to explain further. The King knew what that meant. His body quivered like a hunting hound waiting to be released. The tip of his sword pressed deeper and a kiss of red showed through Glorfindel's tunic. Who did not move. His surrender had reft him of his arrogance, the gilded cruelty, and finally Vanimórë could see something of the man he had been.

“It may be better for my grandson to die,” Thranduil said, the words coming through set teeth. “Than become what Sauron would make of him.”

“Vanimórë is also Sauron's servant.” Maglor had moved to his knees, still cradling Bainalph's body. The king had not even looked his way.

“If you kill Glorfindel, I doubt it would likewise kill Gîlrion, but it would damage his soul perhaps beyond mending. And he will need a great deal of strength to counteract Sauron's training.” Vanimórë came abreast of the King. “They are not in danger now, hast thou not realised? Whatever power that brought thee to Legolas and Gîl when they were threatened is not here. Sauron changed his mind, and now he will not hurt them. He knows what will break an Elf, but he is not interested in that. Thou must give them as much as thou canst, both of thee.”

Thranduil and Glorfindel were looking at him, then turned their heads to the east.

“Where will he take them?” the King asked, and blood shaped his voice, blood, vengeance, grief.

Vanimórë's eyes followed their gaze. “Many lands have bowed to him. He will leave Mordor. But you cannot search for him. I know him better than either of thee. He will make good his threat and shed their blood, make new plans if he has to. Wilt thou risk that?”

The hot wind sifted dust.

“And one day he will send them out, his creatures, to us, knowing we will not refuse to see them.” Horror and inevitability flattened Glorfindel's eyes, and under it an uncoiling fire, clean and deadly.

“They will still be able to think, to love,” Vanimórë told him. He did not say, I can, but Glorfindel knew him at least that well. “And I may see them myself. When Sauron has enough power to force me to return to him, he will call me. He will want me back. He has uses for me.”

Thranduil withdrew his sword. “I will have thy word,” he told Glorfindel, his voice gone to steel. “For my grandson's sake I will not take your life, but I will hold you in my realm, and you will pay, again and again, the price I demand for the rape of my son.”

The atmosphere was so fragile it seemed a breath might break it, bring down the world, and leave nothing but the memory of a moment — and Glorfindel took that moment and refashioned it. His fingers loosed from his sword hilt. The blade fell.
“You have my surrender,” he said. “And my word.”

Vanimórë, wrenching away from a desire to kill them both, for how would this help Legolas or Gîl? turned away.
“There is another matter.” He stepped to Maglor's side, to Bainalph. “And not a small one.”


~~~



Chapter 24 Soul Searching by Spiced Wine



Soul-searching


Gîl was in his arms, warm little body burrowing into him. Behind them, Sauron stood, pale hair fretted by the breeze. The black-white juxtaposition of fear and relief was too much. Tremors wracked Legolas' bones, filled his eyes with tears. But he would not weep. I cannot cry any-more.

Half-numb, disbelieving, he listened as Sauron explained the situation without waste of words. Behind him, veiled warriors sat motionless astride their horses. He and Gîl' were to be taken far away. They would become, in time, Sauron's ambassadors to the Elven lands.
“Alive, you and he can be useful to me, and believe me or no, to your own people.” He placed his fingertips under Legolas' chin, lifted it. “You are very beautiful, and unique. It would be a shame to destroy you, to let your son grow up alone. Are you understanding me?”

Fear pounded through Legolas' flesh. He mouthed, soundless: “Yes, lord.”

“They will not refuse to see you. Blood is, after all, blood.” His smile was was beautiful, pitiless as the teeth of winter.

Unreality descended on Legolas then, a veil between him and a world that had fallen into madness. But Gîl's body, the soft brush of hair against his chin, brought him back, tethered him. There was no-one here to pick him up, as Vanimórë had. Tanout was powerless, Shemar little more than a terrified boy. Legolas was alone. He must be alert, aware and do everything Sauron commanded. Everything. Anything.

He rode Lainiell now, Sauron having taken the stallion. Seran had bared his teeth and screamed, but the Dark Lord had spoken sharp-edged black words and, hide shivering, Seran had walked to him. A little behind Lainiell came Tanout and Shemar on two superb Elf-horses, one white as hoarfrost, the other red-coated. Tanout, once the Dark Lord had spoken to him, had given up his weapons with a taut mouth and blazing eyes.

Legolas steeled himself to look, to learn. He gazed at the warriors who rode in a tight cordon about him. All he could see above the veils was gold skin, dark, uptilted eyes that had looked on him with wonder when he arrived, panic-stricken and breathless. Their language was not that of Vanimórë's Haradhrim, though as yet he had scarce heard them speak. There were no lines, he noted, about their eyes, which meant they were young and, he began to realise, as frightened of Sauron as he. Sauron whom had been Osulf. There was scarce any resemblance now, to the Man whose form he had worn. He looked like an Elf and more besides: something alien. All that time he had travelled with them, and fooled them, even Vanimórë.

Vanimore. Maglor. Where were they now? What had happened to them? And the others...a cluster of hot coals lodged in his swelling throat. He was too afraid to try and reach out to them with his mind. Sauron might sense it...
He knew it was no coincidence when Sauron turned the great stallion and drew alongside. Legolas could not help flinching, but Gîl raised his his head and silently stared.

“Let me tell you what happened, lest you fret unnecessarily.” Sauron spoke Sindarin perfectly. “Vanimórë, thinking that I was going to sacrifice your son in the fires of Orodruin, which did cross my mind, offered his life. He is predictable. Glorfindel however, surprised me.” He smiled, just a brief bend of the fine mouth. “No-one is coming to rescue you, Legolas. If they attempt it, I have told them I will leave all of you, including your son, with hands and feet cut off, for the flies of Mordor to feed on. The time for running and rescue is over. You know that, do you not? All you must do now is raise your son, and both of you will learn what I teach you. Yes?”

Something unhuman dwelt behind Sauron's eyes, something far more vast than the body that housed it, like a thunderhead rising white and titanic over the plains, its upper courses challenging the sun.

Legolas nodded. Yes.

“Excellent.” Sauron flicked his cheek lightly, then rode to the front. Legolas closed his eyes.

Tanout said his name softly, urged his horse to Lainiell's flank. The warriors made no move to stop him. Legolas looked up.
“Please,” he whispered in Westron. “Do not do anything to anger him. I do not ask only for Gîl, but for Shemar. And for yourself, too. I could not endure it if anything were to happen to either of you.”

Tanout cast a look toward where Sauron rode. His jaw showed a tight clench.
“I will not,” he promised. Tanout and Shemar would be tolerated if they were obedient, Sauron had said. But it was clear that Tanout was raging. He was a warrior. Helplessness did not sit well with him.

“I am sorry,” Legolas told him.

“You did nothing wrong.” Tanout essayed an effortful smile. Legolas was grateful for it. “And I think my lord would rather we were with you than that you were alone with...him.” His eyes moved to the soldiers. “Variags of Khand,” he said. “I do not speak their tongue, but the prince has dealings with Khand.”

“Do you think that is where we are going?”

Tanout shook his head. “I know not.”

Legolas could not help looking back down the road. Nothing moved there but heat-battered dust. He did not understand anything. Dana, the Mother, had lead him to Vanimórë, but she had done naught when Gîl was taken. She did nothing now. His mind was chaos, a smashed hive of terror and confusion.

“You saw the monster.” Tanout kept his voice low. “The prince...Vanimórë was alive?”
Legolas took a breath, cautious, and told of the spider, how he had fallen into a narrow passage and followed it out. He did not speak of Elvýr, said he felt his son call to him.
“I had to follow.” Guilt bored acid-holes in his mind.

“I know. Legolas, do you feel that they are still alive? Can you speak to their minds?”

“I think...” He flicked a glance toward Sauron, moistened his lips. “He will know if I do, and perhaps punish you or Shemar. I cannot risk it. Forgive me, but I will not.”

They were silent, riding through a waste of rising heat. One of the soldiers turned back to Legolas, held out a white veil, and gestured at Gìl. Legolas took the cloth with a nod of thanks, covering his son's golden head. As for himself, he did not notice the sun, only the deadness of the desert, the harsh flanks of the mountains gnawing at the sky. They were headed south along the line of an ancient road. The wind blew ashen dust, twisting into spirals that danced and dropped away like exhausted wraiths. Legolas thought of Elvýr's spirit leading him through the dark, how it had, at the end, been wrenched away. He had felt the loss in himself, and the wound still gaped, emptily. Coldness snaked through him. Elvýr. The brother whom had been like him. He did not understand, and there was no-one to ask, save Sauron.

Pain wakened in him; the bruises and scrapes got in his flight from Minas Ithil, ignored until now, throbbed. His skin burned where the monster's venom had struck him. But he could feel that there was no serious wound. He would heal. Gîl was alive and unhurt and would remain so, as long as Legolas obeyed Sauron's orders. And he would. He swallowed around a clot of helpless fear. He wanted Vanimórë, he wanted Maglor. He took a deep breath, another...
And smelled greenery. Water, sun-warmed grass, the honey of wild-flowers, ferns growing beside a small stream. Home. Some-one held him close. It had the forest's name, his father's name.Home. He looked about, saw nothing but the desert, the harsh sky, the dry hiss of the wind-coiled dust.

Father? He bowed his head against Gìl's. He shook through every sinew. His breath came hard. So swiftly it had come, only to be withdrawn.
Father?
OooOooO

“You may feed the child here,” Sauron told him. They had reached an ancient way-station as the sun fell behind the mountains. It was almost a ruin, square buildings eaten by the wind and sun, but the well was deep, the water sweet. Further back from the road, a rough cairn stood. Flies buzzed endlessly about it.
As soon as they stopped, the soldiers set up a tent, and Sauron gestured for Legolas to enter.
“There is no reason to be afraid,” he said in that voice of his, steel dipped in honey. “And no reason for these men to know your secrets. Shemar will attend you, and Tanout will bring food and water.”

Thus Legolas tended to Gîl in private. It would not be long before his son was weaned from milk, he thought. He was growing fast, and the rigours of their journey from Szrel Kain had not harmed him; indeed he was thriving. After, Tanout guided Legolas to a corner of the building where he could wash with water hauled from the well. All three cleansed themselves, then Gîl, who gasped at the coldness of the water, and protested,“Ada!” in delight. He laughed. The sound was bright, untroubled, shocking. The soldiers turned their heads. Legolas thought he saw one of them smile.

After, Tanout examined Legolas' injuries. One of the Variags approached with a pot of unguent, and Tanout gently dressed the scrapes and bruises.
“What did this?” he asked, fingers hovering over the raw, pink patches on Legolas' chest.

“The spider. Venom, I think.” He grimaced, remembering. “It burned, but it is not so bad now.” The balm was soothing, and despite all, he felt better with the dirt of his flight washed away.

One of the Men brought fresh clothes for him, doeskin breeches, a shirt of fine linen, a tunic. He almost dropped them when he saw the symbols embroidered on the hem of the tunic: the golden flower, petals twisted into points like a sun. His hands closed on them, breath trapped, for a moment, in his throat. Shemar and Tanout looked at him, and he forced himself to relax. His own gear was torn and soiled. Glorfindel's still held a faint scent of the lavender they had been stored with. The breeches and tunic were too big of course, but he pulled his belt tight, a flutter of memory shaking his gut, then joined the others for a meal.

The Elf-horses carried a little food, but Lainiell had been provisioned in Minas Ithil Tanout said and so, with the dried meat and fruit there was flat-bread, a wheel of cheese, and wine. The soldiers fell to with a will. They must have travelled a long way on short commons and rationed themselves, Legolas guessed. He made himself eat, remembered his sickness when he was pregnant, his weakness. This was not a time to be weak. There is never going to be a time.

There was no fire; nothing to burn in this bleak land. Darkness fell fast, and the chill came close on its heels. Seated close to Legolas, Shemar shivered. Tanout put an arm about him, and offered Legolas his other. Legolas was not cold, but needed the comfort, and leaned against him.

Sauron had not joined them until now, though Legolas was aware of him standing, looking north, a tall shape against the dimming sky. Now he strode into the centre, lifted a hand, and dropped fire to the dry earth.

They scrambled back as the flames ate at nothing, red-gold, heat washing outward. The fire reflected from Sauron's eyes like a feral cat's, traced his faint smile. He said something to the soldiers, who slowly edged back, then turned to Legolas.
“Come,” he said.

Legolas' blood ran thick with ice. He clasped Gîl's little hand and rose, shaking, to his feet. Tanout was at his side, supporting him, and Legolas forced himself to look into the Dark Lord's eyes. There was nothing human in them.
Sauron said in Westron, “There is nothing to fear. Come, all of you.”

It would have been black-dark in the tent, but Sauron made fire again, small and bright. It was a casual, terrifying reminder – as if any were needed! – of what he was. Two pallet beds had been made up; the largest spread with furs. Legolas looked quickly away.

“I will not rape you,” Sauron's mouth thinned as at a brief, bitter thought, then curved charmingly. “I cannot risk you dying. And you are worth more to me than sex. Glorfindel, Vanimórë, Maglor, all of them looking at you and seeing a lovely body. But I see somewhat different. From this time forth, you are my student.” His fingers moved as if playing a harp. “You and your son will come to no harm, and neither will Tanout and Shemar. But to give you my fullest protection, I require your aid.”

Legolas fought to push words past his lips. “H-how, my lord?” Gîl had woken, was silent in his arms. Sauron was speaking in Sindarin. Tanout and Shemar watched Legolas' face.

“Blood is life,” Sauron said. “My power returns daily, but without sacrificing Gîlrion or yourself, the process is not as swift as it would otherwise be. We will travel through lands where I may be tested. Some Men are loathe to confront their gods. I must be able to protect both myself and those with me. And so, a little blood, Legolas. A cut on your finger will suffice.”

He shrank back, a No, shaping his lips. It died in the fire of Sauron's eyes. He passed his son's hand to Shemar, said in Westron: “Do not worry. He is not going to harm me.”

The dagger glowered red with the reflection of sorcerous fire. Sauron's hand closed lightly about Legolas', and there was a thin pain as the blade slipped across the pad of one finger. Tanout made a sound as a bead of scarlet bloomed, gagged it as quickly.

Sauron took the bleeding finger in his mouth, delicately. Legolas felt the moist rasp of tongue, the gentle scrape of teeth, the pressure as Sauron sucked his finger. It was impossibly sensuous. His knees almost buckled. He fell back into Tanout's braced arms.

“Very sweet,” Sauron murmured, with the flick of a smile. “They could not give you what you crave, could they? neither Vanimórë nor Maglor. They would never force you, take away your choices. But those nights with them have shown you what you truly desire. Difficult to know whether Glorfindel shaped you or read you like a scroll. And at this moment, if I commanded you to give yourself to me, you would.” He turned Legolas inside out with his eyes, then said crisply: “You, your son, and Shemar will sleep in this tent with me. Tanout, you will bed down outside the doorway. You are Legolas and Gîlrion's personal guard. I am sure the duty will not be onerous.”

Legolas knew he would not be able to rest in such close proximity to Sauron, and Shemar looked petrified. Sauron's brows went up; amusement lilted across his mouth. He stooped to retrieve a dark-green cloak from a neat pile beside his pallet. It was made of some fine, oil-treated wool, and the high collar was sewn with Glorfindel's sun-flower insignia. “Here.” He held it out to Legolas. “The cold can bite deep under clear skies.”

Legolas' gripped the cloak, releasing a faint wave of rich fragrance. He remembered how Glorfindel had galloped out of a gleaming mist, almost pulled him astride his white stallion. Instead, his hand had passed through Legolas as if he had been a wraith, like Elvýr. But so close. At the time, the possibility had terrified him. Now...He shivered, blinked up at Sauron.
“My...Lord?” Hot and cold flashes raced up and down his body.

Sauron raised a brow. He looked, incredibly, like Vanimórë.
“You may speak,” he said. “You are to be my emissary, Legolas. Your voice must be heard.”

His fingers dug into the cloak.
“Are they alive?”

“Ah.” His head tilted. “You found the courage to ask. Yes, they are alive. Ungoliant's get is dangerous, surely, but she met her match. Now sleep. You need it.” He ducked out of the tent. Incense trailed behind him. The fire shrank to a comforting glow.

Holding Gîl to him, Legolas sank to his knees. He choked, said in Westron: “He said they are alive.”

Tanout cursed his relief. “I know it makes no difference to our situation, but...”

“Yes,” Legolas said. He pulled one of the blankets from his pallet. “Take this. We have enough.”

The camp settled quickly. Legolas drew Shemar down on the bed, Gîl between them, and covered them, the cloak uppermost. He whispered, “As long as I do what he commands, no harm will come to you. I need you, and Tanout.”

Shemar turned on his side, his eyes huge in the dimness. “Thank-you,” he murmured. “The High Priest used to talk of him, the Great Lord, Kaal.”

“I do not think the priest knew him. He will not kill us if we are useful.” Legolas prayed he was not lying. He curved an arm over his son and Shemar both, and they lay in silence. His body ached for rest, but his mind would not be still. He had thought that matters could get no worse, that there must be an end to the fear and uncertainty of his life, though he could never imagine it. Yet he had hoped. He closed his eyes, sought for memories, and saw Glorfindel's face, superb, cruel, as he pushed him to a pleasure Legolas had never believed possible, then mocked him, left him humiliated. He saw Vanimórë, the gentleness that lived behind the luminous eyes, Maglor, and the nights in the way-station. The Fëanorion was a warrior, powerful, passionate, (ah, yes!) but, like Vanimórë, kindness ran deep in him. “They could not give you what you crave, could they?” Legolas fought to repress a convulsive shiver. Because it was true, and Sauron had seen what he did not want to admit. But there was no Glorfindel now in his future, and he did not know whether to weep with relief or with loss. He forced himself not to think of it, but his other thoughts were no less confusing: his father holding him in the tunnels. Why, why? Elvýr reaching out a long-dead hand...The Greenwood around and within him.

He stifled a moan. Nervous fear shocked through him in little bursts.

There was no-one here, he knew, but he felt as if an arm went about him, his body drawn against another, warm, hard, protective. Warmth sank down through his flesh. He wanted to say something, but sleep was a merciful thief that night, stealing fear and will together. He fell into darkness like the embrace of a lover.

OooOooO


Dana! Vanimórë shouted into the Void of her apparent indifference Thou didst not guide Legolas into my hands for him to fall into Sauron's. He walked away from where Thranduil knelt beside Bainalph. There was a look behind the king's eyes that could set the world to weeping, but Vanimórë could find no pity. He wanted to drag the king's head back and open his throat, leave Glorfindel hamstrung for the spider when at last she came from her lair. Both of them were responsible for Legolas' flight from the forest.
But he was in my hands!

The land gave back silence. He knew how contradictory the Mother could be, but he would not accept it.
Dana!

Thou thinks't thou knowest everything. Her voice came like smoke, wrapped about his mind. Thou wert what Legolas needed then. Perhaps thy father is what he needs now.

Art thou insane?

He is in no danger. Thou hast said it, and it is true. They will both be treated like the most precious of gems.

And he will not be Legolas when my father is finished with him. As for his son—

He does not desire to destroy the Elves unless he has no choice. Legolas and Gîlrion give him a chance he did not have before.

Searing, silent laughter choked in Vanimórë's throat.

Thou art judging by thine own experiences. And perhaps, she murmured. thou hast too little faith in Legolas.

My father has been an enemy of the Elves since Utumno. He has killed them. He tortured Celebrimbor, his friend.

Elves have slain Elves.

And are the Kinslayers forgiven? Where are they? He stared blindly into Mordor.

Who knows what will happen? She circumvented the question as she so often did, leaving him breathless with fury. I see all possibilities, Vanimórë.

And I Do. Not. Care. Bring them back. Now.

I will not, Her refusal was unassailable as a wall of ice. Glorfindel would have made him a willing slave, thou wouldst have coddled him. His father, were Legolas with him now, would treat him like fragile glass. Under Mairon's aegis Legolas will grow into adulthood and strength. No-one will either use him or protect him. Thou wert forced to rely on none but thyself, and the result is...powerful.

Vanimórë picked up a chip of stone, flung it down the path in his father's wake.
Legolas is not me. I have Maia blood.

He will not be raised as thou wert.

He has endured enough. Vanimórë wanted to pull the world up by its roots, shake out the insanity, the crimes, and smooth it under his hands, hold it against his breast. Thou art not human, but how canst thou not feel? Gîlrion is a babe. Legolas is not even of age.

And thou doth feel too much. It blinds thee. There is such a thing as as fate.

To the Hells with fate. This is chance. This is my father.
He turned back to the others. The young Gondorian stood at his horse's head, wide eyed and white even as he soothed the frightened animal. Thranduil held Bainalph, Maglor had risen, was standing beside his son. Glorfindel was alone. His head was tilted as if listening to something far away.
Please, Vanimórë said, blood squeezing hard through his veins. Dana, I woke thee. Dost thou not owe me something? I have never begged thee for anything. I beg thee now. Take my life if thou wilt, but bring them back.

I owe thee naught for following the steps laid out for thee.

Thou capricious bitch! he blazed. How art thou different to the damned Valar? Thou wouldst call thyself the Mother, and would leave two children in the hands of Sauron? If thou wilt not aid them, get hence! I will make my own bargains with my father!

Glorfindel's head came up. His eyes turned, fuming blue fire, to Vanimórë, then flashed toward Bainalph. He said sharply, “He is not dead.” He strode to Thranduil's side. “Help him!”

White hate bleached the grief from the king's features. “What?” he snarled.

“What?” Vanimórë echoed.

“You have never died, either of you. I have. I know what – who – waits for the souls of all Elves. Mandos is calling him. No, not calling, grasping him, greedy as a starving man.”

For the briefest and longest of moments, they all stared uncomprehendingly at him.

“I felt his spirit,” Vanimórë went down on his knees beside Bainalph.

“And so do I feel it. Mandos wants him. The wound...”

Moving like a man in a dream, Thranduil uncovered it; the spider's stinger had plunged into the flesh of Bainalph's waist, above the kidney's, below the stomach.

“If that was a sword-wound, it would not have touched any vital organ,” Glorfindel said rapidly.

“The poison paralyses. It is not meant to kill.” Vanimórë looked into Thranduil's eyes. “She will not eat dead meat. When the venom has done its work, and her prey is unconscious, then she feeds. He would have died thus for you. He fought the venom until the end, and released his own soul. I know what the Valar do to those who wink at the Laws.”

“Not in the Greenwood,” the King snapped. “Our spirits remain in Middle-earth. We are not bound to the Laws.”

“That makes no difference. They believe they own thee.” It was Maglor's dark-gold voice. “Whatever kindred, whether thou knowest of them or no.”

“And why would Mandos want this one so particularly?” Vanimórë wondered. Bainalph lay amid in the tumult of voices, his face like a bruised flower. “Medicaments,” he threw at the Gondorion, who opened his horse's saddlebag and came running.

Thranduil vented a terrible laugh. “I know,” he said. “He is like my son. But Bainalph Cualphion is bound to me, not the god of death.” Holding Bainalph's head on his lap, he closed his eyes.

“He may need help.” Something had happened to Glorfindel with his submission to Thranduil. To Vanimórë's eyes it was as if layers of grime on a statue had been washed away. But the change was not external only. There was arrogance still, but it had changed its face, showing him the man he had known and respected when held a prisoner-of-war. The fire in his eyes was not an old burning, held there by bitter will. A new breath had blown upon it.

“How?” Vanimórë carefully spread ointment on the burned skin and puncture-wound.

“You felt his spirit. Search for it. Deny the Doomsman his vengeance.”

“I have searched for the souls of the dead,” Maglor said, and the endless years of wandering were in his words.

“If you stand against Mandos, he will have no mercy on you,” Glorfindel warned. “I know this.”

“Where are my father and my brothers?” Maglor asked, eyes like the first rising of the stars. “Where are Fingolfin and Fingon?” Tindómion closed a hand about his arm. Glorfindel stared, shook his head minutely.

“And I know that, Glorfindel. How not? But this is not the time to speak of it. Come.” He knelt gracefully beside Bainalph, glanced up at his son, who dropped beside him. Their fingers entwined. So much pain in this place, and no end to it that Vanimórë could see. He turned to the young Gondorion.
“What is thy name?” he asked.

“Celírel, sir. Captain of Minas Ithil.”

“Celírel, if anything stirs in this pass, anything, tell me.” He gripped the firm shoulder. “And watch.” He pointed toward the now hidden cleft of the tunnel. “The spider is wounded. I do not think she will come, but stay alert. Dost thou understand?”

Celírel swallowed, nodded. “I do, sir.”

“Good.” He smiled his thanks, sank down next to Glorfindel. Thranduil was already far gone into the otherworld, his face a porcelain mask, his eyes blank and brilliant.

“He must lead Bainalph back,” Glorfindel said. “When I died the Earth called me, but what did the Noldor know of that? I did not understand. I turned away. But Mandos did not call, he dragged me into his domain. Bainalph is fighting, but it is no easy thing to deny a Power in his own realm.”

“To the Void with the Powers.” Vanimórë linked his hand with Glorfindel's, with Maglor's on his other side, and Tindómion closed the circle. “This day has brought enough grief. Let us salvage something. And after, Glorfindel, thou must connect to Legolas through the faerboth, something I think Sauron cannot sense, and to thy son, and gve him strength. There is hope. I would not lie to thee about such a matter, but he is young, in terror, and no-one can help him but thou and his father.” It was ironic, he thought, that the two whom had caused him so much pain might be the only ones who could help him now.

Glorfindel's fingers closed on his like a vise. “I will.”

Vanimórë did not know how to prepare for what he was about to do, and so he did not. He simply closed his eyes, and sent his inner eye out into the aether, searching for Bainalph's soul.


OooOooO



Chapter 25 ~ Hope, Always ~ by Spiced Wine



~ Hope, Always ~



~ The Earth's call was a river of deep green, swirling with the richness of soil, vari-coloured rocks, clear water. The pull of Mandos was a roiling grey shot with soot-black.  Bainalph's gold-green flame struggled between the two.

Thranduil's emerald fire crashed like surf into the grey tendrils that clawed and tugged. Vanimórë could feel the voracious maw, cold, grasping hands. He did not know how to fight it. His warrior skills were no use to him here, but his will might be. He had dashed it against his father for a very long time.

The sluice-gates of fury opened. Once, when he learned that there were other powers beside Melkor, he had prayed to them to save him, prayed as only a child can. If the War of Wrath had been his answer it was one of violence. The conflict had sunk Beleriand, killed uncounted numbers. Only Men and Elves though, not the Ainur, of course, who could shrug off earthly wounds. Vanimórë had rejected them. His rage sprang from the damnable unfairness of their judgement on the souls of the dead who did not bow to their Laws. In Angband, the names of the Noldorin had been whispered through the pits and tunnels, spoken over Vanimórë's head by Melkor and Sauron. To him, the Exiles were heroes.

He threw his soul into the miasma and, with flares like falling meteors the others joined him; sunfire, wildfire, starfire. Mandos reared back, then descended again, a smothering mudslide. Vanimórë saw, for a moment, the shape of a man, a narrow face, mouth pursed, eyes so black they drank the world. He had seen evil, thought of it as a lack of empathy or, in his father's case, empathy without kindness. But in the face of Mandos was the deaf-blind obtuseness and belligerence of a bully. Whatever he once might have been had long been lost. Melkor and Sauron were both Ainur, and had proved that Power was no guarantee of goodness.

They were vulnerable here. If Mandos succeeded in taking them, their bodies would die, and there was no doubt in Vanimórë's mind that their souls would be thrown into the Void. But there was no thought in him of defeat as he slammed his will against the Vala's. Mandos turned on him, sucked like a maelstrom. He felt as if he were clinging to a ledge as his fingers were prised, one by one, from their grip. Grimly, with violent mental imprecations, he resisted.

An explosion like a storm falling as Maglor and Tindómion attacked from one side, Glorfindel from the other. Vanimórë felt their rage like heat. To his inner eye they appeared as gods clothed in fire. Mandos was forced to loose his hold, spinning to face them, ghost-hands reaching, only to whirl again as he was struck from another angle. Bainalph, freed from him, burned up, Thranduil with him and fell upon Mandos. Vanimórë flashed into the offensive. There was no doubt the Vala was powerful but he was not, here, facing physical forms weaker than himself, but souls whom had voluntarily discarded their bodies. They were not, save Bainalph, newly dead, lost and confused with nowhere to go but the Halls or the Earth. They had come here for this battle. Vanimórë knew his own strength, and that there were limits. He had been made to know them. Here there were no limits but the mind. And the mind is always stronger than the body.

He was drenched by thoughts and memories not his own. There was a vast light and glory, a blue-and-white world spinning. Mountains spilled into raging seas while a god's voice echoed in pride and torment. A dead body, shining with terrible beauty, burned into ash and smoke, white walls blackened and fell, and a creature of dark fire lashed a great whip. A king smiled from star-coloured eyes, died under the weight of an armoured foot. Black arrows plunged hard into a fair-haired king, sending him to his knees as his son screamed, fighting to come to his side, holding him as he died. A white haired warrior, soaked black with orc-blood stood knee deep in corpses, a look in his eyes of uttermost despair that he was still alive...

Your heroics will destroy you one day. His father's voice sounded as clear and intimate as if Sauron stood beside him. He tried to seize me, after Númenor, and when the One was cut from me. You do not want his hands on you, my son. There are some very unpleasant and repressed appetites gnawing at him. He would have done well under Melkor, but had no courage for it.

Vanimórë did not answer, but his rage grew until he could see it fuming from him into this no-place, this limbo between life and death.

Take him back! he heard Glorfindel cry. There is no time.

Time. He was right; there was none, and less for Bainalph whose soul had left his body. Elven corpses decayed far more quickly than Mortals.

The grey fog lurched like a wounded man, twisted — and descended upon Maglor, the last Fëanorion whom had looked into the teeth of his doom.

Thou shalt not have him.

They struck him, green, and gold, and the red of fire, thoughts like swords, slashing, stabbing, and a light glowed through the fog as Maglor defied and denied. Vanimórë unleashed his hatred, his lifelong wrath, and felt it explode from all of them, pain, grief, loss, forged into weapons. He saw the shape that was Mandos' face become skull-like, jaw unhinging, a fanged horror, unhuman. Facing it, a thought passed between them. As one, they plunged into the cavern of that gaping throat.
Choke on us.

A howl went up that tore the limbo apart, a curse, a promise of damnation, and — he blinked, air flooding into his lungs, the stark landscape of Mordor slamming against his eyes.

“Sir?” Celírel was saying, a deep quiver of anxiety in his voice. “Sir?”
Vanimórë put up a hand. The others were stirring into life, blank eyes flashing into life and light. For a moment, he could still see the colour of their souls burning around them like a sky aura.

Bainalph, his head on Thranduil's lap, shuddered, gulped air into his lungs, and coughed violently. Gasping, one hand came up to grip the king's arm.

“Can you see?” Thranduil demanded of him. “Look at me!”

Green-gold eyes came up, bright as jewels.
Bainalph nodded. Some-one breathed out in relief.
”Yes. I was blind...in the tunnels. It is a little cloudy, but I can see.” He shivered, but when Thranduil pulled him against his breast, he drew away, knelt, arms wrapped around himself. His eyes narrowed as he looked around the others, then back to Thranduil.
“Thank-you,” he said simply, while tremors raced again and again through his limbs. Then, sharply, lifting his head: “Where is Legolas?”

A shadow fell over Vanimórë. Celírel proffered a wine-skin. Vanimórë nodded his thanks, unstoppered it, and held it out to Bainalph, who ignored it.

“Sauron has taken him,” Thranduil said, cold and controlled into the silence. “And has said he will maim and kill both he and the child if we pursue. He wishes to make them his emissaries to the Elven lands.”

Bainalph stared at him, breathed: “No.” He came to his feet and swayed, moved away from Thranduil's reaching arm. He looked at Vanimórë.
“What can we do?”

“Nothing,” Vanimórë was forced to tell him. “When Sauron sends them out, as he will, one day, then will be thy chance. And until then, those with a connection to Legolas and Gîlrion must maintain it. Legolas must know that when he returns there will be something for him.”

“There will be.” Thranduil threw a scalding look at Glorfindel.

Bainalph ran his hands through dishevelled hair. He blinked as if trying to clear his vision. Wordlessly, Vanimórë handed him the wineskin. This time, Bainalph took it, drank deep, passed it to the king. The skin went round.

“I thank you all,” he said again. “I do not know if I could have fought the death god alone. I tried...” His brows drew down. “The Earth was strong, but he...he caught me. I have never—” A flicking glance at Thranduil, “felt so utterly despised. I did not really believe the tales. I...I have to wonder if any of our people were unable to go back to the land.”

“I also wonder,” Thranduil told him. “But such thoughts are bootless. They will drive us mad.”

Bainalph shook his head. “Why did you help me?” he asked, and the question was aimed at Glorfindel. “We are enemies.”

“I would not wish the judgement of Mandos on any-one,” Glorfindel returned, blazing under the skin. “I know how pitiless he is.”

“Yet he did not send you to the Void.” Thranduil was still cold. Vanimórë saw it for the effort he exerted not to kill.

“My brother begged Mandos. He went on his knees before that creature, and begged he have mercy on my soul.” There was a vicious edge to Glorfindel's voice, a vast and ancient hatred that, in the end, had darkened his soul and tarnished his glory. “Finrod's death allowed Beren to live, for he and Lúthien to steal a Silmaril, which came at last to Valinor.” The climbing sun struck white from his cheekbones; his jaw was set. “Mandos' mercy was to send me back so I might see the fulfilment of his prophecy, to see the uttermost end of the Noldor in Middle-earth. And I have seen it. We are a failing people with nowhere to go but back into a cage.”

There was nothing to say to that, but Bainalph said it. His chin went up, the pink patches of burn across his face already peeling to show new flesh. “We of the Wood do not fail. We rebuilt ourselves after the losses of the Last Alliance. Is that what you hate? We are barbarians to you.”

“I entered the forest secretly because some of my men had been captured.” Glorfindel spoke with a terrible restraint. “They were badly misused, and I had to watch, ordered to report on what I saw, not to be captured. And it was not the first time, was it?”

Thranduil's backhanded slap brought a red stain up into his face. Vanimórë saw the instant reaction, the impulse to fight back, before Glorfindel stamped down on it ruthlessly.

“Is it thy custom to mistreat hostages?” Maglor stepped between them. “Shame on the both of thee for allowing matters to come to this!” His eyes blazed mithril, and now he was the Maglor whom had held Maglor's Gap in Beleriand, had ridden to war against the hosts of Angband. “On thou, Glorfindel, for raping an innocent youth, on thou, Thranduil, for banishing Legolas, on both Imladris and the Forest for turning upon one another! And on the Valar forever.” He cursed. “Both of thee should know that we might have won the battle of Unnumbered Tears had Doriath and Nargothrond brought their forces. And now an ancient shadow grows in strength while thou turn inwards to fight one another. Hast thou learned nothing about division in the face of the enemy?”

Glorfindel and Thranduil both moved. The king went breast to breast with Maglor.
“Does a Kinslayer who destroyed my birth-home dare to speak thus?”

Maglor did not give back one pace. “The deaths,” he said levelly, “I regret. But they need not have happened.” The king drew in a breath. Maglor cut across it. “Part of my father's soul— ” A crack in his voice, rich and raw. “resided in the Jewels. They belonged to us, not to Morgoth, who stole them, not to Beren and Lúthien who stole them from him. They should have been returned to us. Is that not the truth, King Thranduil? If thou wert to judge such a matter, would our claim not be absolutely valid?” A high anger emanated from him. Tindómion's hand was on his sword-hilt. He would move at the slightest hint of threat toward his father.
“And they are gone, my father, my brothers, all but me. They are dead and more than dead, as he almost was.” He pointed at Bainalph. “A soul is worth more than any kingdom, is it not? And they have paid with theirs.”

Thranduil looked into his eyes. Memories warred with a ruler's pride and sense of justice.
“And what of you? Have you paid?”

Maglor's face closed.

“Sauron captured him.” At Vanimórë's words, the king turned.
“It was just before the army of Númenor came to Mordor, or he would have had more time to...work. Maglor was given into my charge, to heal. I was ordered to bring him to Númenor. I did not. Yes, Thranduil. Believe me. He paid.”

There was a small, hot silence.
“I see.” Thranduil moved away, snapped his long fingers impatiently. “None of this helps my son and grandson,” he said. “And there shall be no war between my realm and Imladris if Glorfindel is my hostage. Is that not so?”

Glorfindel's expression was unreadable. “I shall send messages to Elrond. Tindómion will act as Captain of Imladris in my absence.”

“You have done this thing, Glorfindel,” Tindómion said, blazing eyed, “Knowing what it will mean: Pain, humiliation.” He crossed to Thranduil. “I give you my word that I have never mistreated any prisoner of war. I will not say it has not happened, but never at my hands and never with my knowledge. Do you truly expect me to sit idly in Imladris knowing what you will do to him?”

“Do you think he should not make recompense?” Thranduil hissed.

“To Legolas. As should you.”

That stung, Vanimórë saw, because it was true.

“It is done.” Glorfindel spoke. “This is of mine own will, Istelion. There is no other way now, for me to reclaim the man I used to be. And I want to reclaim him.”

And he wanted to be there, in the Woodland Realm when Legolas and Gîl came, riding under the banner of the Great Eye. There was self-interest at work here, too. Vanimórë asked, “Why?”

The vivid blue eyes flashed to him.
“I did not shine in the darkness,” he said. “I could not see.”

Bainalph looked from one to the other. At first he looked puzzled, and then, as if he realised what they spoke of, he took a long breath. “Thranduil. Let us speak.”

He stumbled a little as they moved away. The king caught his arm. Vanimórë watched them. Though they spoke mind-to-mind their body-language could not be concealed, and it was clear to read as a scroll. Bainalph's back was to Vanimórë, but he could see Thranduil's face, his furious response to something Bainalph said. Yet even through the ensuing argument, his eyes, brilliant and tormented, rested on Bainalph as if he, Thranduil, had to ensure he was alive.

Do you truly believe Sauron will not hurt Legolas or my son?

Vanimórë turned to Glorfindel, assessed his emotions, and spoke aloud.
“Sauron is extremely intelligent. He wants to fashion Legolas and Gìl into ambassadors. His creatures too, of course. He has been in Legolas' company long enough to know how he responds to kindness. Does Sauron feel kindness? No. But he can pretend it. He has already proved that. And when did he ever have such an opportunity before? He will not waste it.”

“He had the opportunity, if you would call it that, in Ost-in-Edhil.”

“He thinks of the Elves refusal of him a betrayal,” Vanimórë said dryly. “Yes, thou may well look thus. It drove him to fury. That is a rare thing. He controls himself very well. Legolas is unlikely to anger him as Celebrimbor did.” He saw Maglor's head come up at that, and cursed himself.

“No,” Maglor said. “The news reached me. I thought...I was the last.”

Tindómion touched his arm, and he looked into his sons eyes like a man finding a green isle in the midst of a trackless ocean.

“Does Sauron also know how Legolas responds to dominance?” Glorfindel asked through his teeth.

“Of course, but sex is not one of Sauron's primary motivators. And I know his tastes. I ought to.” Vanimórë looked, without a shred of pity into the cobalt-coloured eye. “As I have said, all thou canst do, all Thranduil can do is wait until Sauron sends him forth, and in the meantime give them all the love and support he needs.” He folded his arms. “Thou art thinking that slavery, ill-usage will pay for rape, that it will cleanse thee, be thy salvation. It will not. Thou must repent here.” He laid a hand on Glorfindel's breast. “In thy heart. Or it means naught. And even so, no-one but Legolas can forgive thee.”

“You think I do not know that? But there is no other way, and there is more at stake. This war between Imladris and the Wood must end. There will be some communication between our peoples now.”

“A pity there was none before.” Vanimórë turned as Thranduil and Bainalph approached. The king's face was set, lips tight.
“You will go to Alpgarth.” The words snapped from a place within that had already killed Glorfindel an hundred times. But he would not, Vanimórë thought. It would be too brief a satisfaction. “which, if you did not know it, is Bainalph's principality within my realm.”

Glorfindel's eyes narrowed as he looked from Thranduil to Bainalph. Something flashed in their depths, a recognition of what this white-haired prince was. Thranduil had said it: He is like my son, but even had he not, one could guess. Vanimórë had known such people before. Yet in Bainalph there was acceptance. Legolas had thought himself crooked.

“We must be permitted to see him,” Tindómion was saying. “We will need surety that he lives.”

“He will live,” Thranduil promised, and it sounded more like a threat.

Yes, he would live. But Vanimórë could not believe Glorfindel would willingly walk into slavery. It did not tally with anything he knew of the man. The blue eyes came to his. Dark brows lifted infinitesimally. Well, whatever his agenda, it was beyond Vanimórë's province. His involvement ended now. He half-listened, his mind stretching east into silence, then said abruptly: “Gentlemen, I am leaving. These matters do not concern me. I must return to Sud Sicanna. If I hear aught from Sauron I will tell thee. I can reach all of thee.” He looked at Bainalph. “Thou also, prince, since I have seen the colour of thy soul.” He stepped up to Maglor, held out his hand.
“My thanks.”

“Is there naught else we can do?” Fëanorion's did not give up.

“Not without harming Legolas and Gîlrion. For the moment—” He cast a glance around them. “he has Tanout and Shemar for companionship. He has his son. It will help, somewhat. And although he does not know he has thee—” to Glorfindel and Thranduil. “He will. He has more courage than thou knowest. Maglor and I have seen it.” It was not enough. It would have to be enough. “Do not speak into his mind, not yet. Sauron will expect it. But reach his soul, embrace it, comfort him.”

Maglor gripped his wrist.
”I am the one who should thank thee,” he said. “And I do.”

There was so much Vanimórë wanted to say, and could not. He could too easily trespass into the memories Dana had filled with mist. No doubt it was for the best.

“I am honoured to have known thee.” And he meant it, both on this journey and aforetime. “I am glad thou hast found thy son.” He hesitated, then spoke out of his heart: “Do not abandon hope for the beloved dead, nor for Legolas and Gîl. One day there will be justice.” There was a agelong yearning in him that there be some fairness in a world he had long known was wholly unfair, a need to believe that Eru was not as cruel as his offspring. He inclined his head to them all. “Go well.” He spun on his heel. “Captain Celírel, if thou wilt escort me back to Minas Ithil, I need to speak to the King.”

“Of course, sir.”

“I do not advise any of thee go there,” he said over his shoulder. “This king is a proud man, and like many such men has a tendency to pry into matters that do not concern him.” From the corner of his eye he saw Celírel flush. “But my own men, or those that remain, are in Gondor, and so I must deal with him. If thou must buy horses and supplies I suggest Osgiliath.”

Celírel brought forward his still-skittish mount. Vanimórë shook his head. “Lead him. I will walk.” He strode up the path.

“Vanimórë.” Maglor's voice behind him brought him around.
“I should have known!” He shattered the quiet. “How did I not know? I should never have left Legolas! I felt my father, the Palantir—”

“So should I have known.” Vanimórë raised a hand. “Do not take any blame upon thyself. I have been Sauron's slave a very long time, and I saw naught.” I asked Dana for aid. She would not help. She said Legolas did not need it.

I know. He looked baffled, enraged. I called on her too.

I swear that when I see him, I will do all I can, but Sauron knows the threats that will chain me, and Legolas and Gîl are two of them. He gripped the Fëanorion's straight shoulder. “Farewell.”

Maglor's mouth struck his own, ungentle, vehement. It commanded a response, and Vanimórë gave it. Their hands were everywhere, hips flush, grinding, eyes closed. Lighting meeting lightning.

“Thou didst promise me a night,” Maglor whispered, rough gold and fire. He clasped Vanimórë's head between slender hands, holding him there, eye to eye. “And Legolas too. A great bed lapped in silk. I hold thee to that.”

“I have not forgotten.” Ah, but we did have our night, beauty, Many of them. And when the memory returns, thou wilt hate me again. I wanted thee, and saw a way to fan thine embers into flame. I wanted, and I took. I gave thee pleasure in the dark heart of Middle-earth. But who was I, a slave, to touch thee, to give thee no choice but hate me with all that Fëanorion pride? I do understand. Wouldst thou have climbed out of that pit without me, Maglor? Yes. But I think I did help thee. Or perhaps I merely want to believe it.

Emotion whipped across Maglor's face. “I wish they could have known thee.” It was the greatest accolade he could bestow.

“It is not given to us to know the future, beauty. Perhaps one day.”

They looked at one another. Vanimórë smiled, tasted the sorrow in it. He traced a finger down the beautiful curves of Maglor's brow and cheek. Then he walked away. This time, he did not look back.

OooOooO



End Notes:
Vanim
Chapter 26 ~ Upon A Dark Road ~ by Spiced Wine
Author's Notes:
So sorry for the delay, dear any-one who is still reading.

~ Upon A Dark Road ~


His world had changed. There was no way back to his old life. There never would be.

Lord Mairon had not lingered in Khand as Imir thought he would (For who was more loyal to him than the Variags?) They had passed through after Mairon's visit to Prince Jaezun. That had been an alarming meeting, at least for the prince. He was accustomed to granting audience, whereas it was Mairon whom had deigned to give one.

Imir had no doubts of the Lord's powers after what he had seen, but people forget easily. Khand, though loyal to Mairon from its beginnings, had begun to forget. It is easier when powers are distant or gone entirely.
Mairon was indisputably neither. His power had grown on the journey through Mordor. There was a presence to him now that grew greater each day. He drew all eyes. The air was heavier around him, hotter. To be close to him was like standing too close to the sun.

Imir looked back along the line of wagons as they rolled along the ancient road. The first bore the Lord, the second, its flaps drawn back, carried Legolas, the child, and Shemar. The handsome Haradhan warrior Tanout, rode beside them.

Imir had never seen anything as exquisite as the Elf, with his cloud of gold-white hair and those pale, brilliant blue eyes. He looked as if he were fashioned from alabaster, like the wine-cups used by the nobles of Khand. There was a sheen about him. Imir had never really believed the stories of the White Demons of the North. Like the Great Lord they were legends, but it seemed that he was living in a time when legends walked out of the past and took on flesh.

As the leagues fell away, he thought, unhappily, of his last meeting with his mother. When he learned that he was leaving Khand, he was fearful for her future. From somewhere, he knew not where, he had gathered the courage to speak to the Lord while his face grew hot and his words caught, broken and dry, in his throat. She could cook, he said, and head bowed to the floor, he waited through the ensuing silence.

“You remind me of some-one,” the Lord said with what Imir thought was a touch of amusement. “I have no need of women.” His hand came under Imir's chin, tilted his face up. Fire bloomed like sheet lightning in his eyes. His smile chilled, slipped under Imir's skin and froze his bones.
“We go to Tashon Narr.” The silken voice sheathed steel claws. “Do you truly want your mother to come?”

Tashon Narr. There were legends of the city of Darkness. If they came even close to the truth, his mother would be safer here. They all would. Mutely he shook his head.

“Do not fear. None there would dare to harm what is mine. It is better, young one, and infinitely safer, to walk in the shadow of the wolf.”

His mother had not wept at his departure. He would return, she said, making the sign of protection against fate. She had foreseen it. He hoped she was right, but he could not shake the certainty in him that the Lord would punish him for his request, that he considered it weak, childish.

There was little time to speak to the others save when they stopped and set up camp. Much to Imir's surprise, Tanout took on the task of cooking. His prince, he said, wanted all his warriors to be versatile. Though the food was simple, it was palatable, and no-one complained.

Slowly, Imir sent out intimations of would-be friendship toward the young Haradhan. Sud Sicanna traded with Khand, after all, and the Dark Prince had been a guest of the Khagans for hundreds of years. Imir had ever been fascinated by the tales of Vanimórë.

Tanout responded favourably, and thus Imir learned, in increments, the truth of what had happened in Szrel Kain and the events following it. The Haradhan said little about Legolas save that he was an exile from his home far in the north. As for Lord Mairon, Tanout vowed that he had come among them in the guise of a man and been accepted. He shook his head when he spoke of it, cast long glances toward the Lord's wagon. There was fear in his eyes but also a stone-hard hatred that Imir considered dangerous in the extreme. D'nez joined them at times, and thus the story sidled into the ranks of the warriors as the days went on.

The land seemed changeless at first: barren steppes sweeping to the horizon, singing with wind, but there were way stations and caravans all busy with trade. This was one of the oldest trading routes in the world, and the remotest. Merchants travelled in large groups, and always hired guards.

When they turned north-east, the scenery began to to change. It was greener, with stands of trees. Bright wild flowers flecked the sides of the road. They were riding north to to meet the autumn, which in Khand meant welcome rain to fill the huge cisterns, and warm winds. Here the world turned many-coloured, and there was a scent on the air that made Imir think of coolness and candlelight set in a window to guide a weary traveller home. Home. Despite his mother's assurance, Imir wondered if he would ever see Khand again.

At times they bought from a caravan they passed: wine, salted meat, dried fruit. The Lord paid in silver, and seemed to have a great deal of it. As for Mairon himself, he remained aloof, speaking only to issue orders from the head of the train. Mostly he rode the great black stallion, Seran, (Prince Vanimórë's mount, Tanout told him). At night, a lamp burned in his wagon. Imir was not sure if he slept. Each dusk, Legolas and his child went to him but never for long. Imir did not think the Lord used him for bedsport. There was neither sound not sight of it. The Elf's beautiful face remained still, guarded, save when he spoke to his son, the only one among them who seemed utterly unafraid.

After one stop to trade, Imir handed up a jar of honeycomb to Legolas, who unstoppered it and, with the child peering curiously, smiled. It was a sweet and sunlit smile, like a gift.
“My thanks,” he said in Imir's own tongue. “This is very kind.” There was a desperately lonely expression in those wonderful eyes. Imir returned the smile.
“You are most welcome. Both of you.” And the child, too smiled, the breeze in thick golden curls, his eyes an unimaginable blue. They were not the eyes of a child.

The Lord either did not notice Imir's tentative overtures of friendship (which was hard to believe) or he did not care. Probably the latter. He had, after all, made it plain that both the youth and the child were valuable to him.

Imir took the first watch that night with Ajan, whom he still kept an eye upon. The young man was, to Imir's eyes, too young for this journey, and far too young for such a master as the Great Lord. Then he smiled at himself ruefully. He was but two years older. Ajan still played the lyre at night, comforting himself with songs of home. His family was a large one, and he would not been missed, or so he said.

Legolas and his child had paid their brief nightly visit to the Lord, and returned to their own wagon. Tanout slept on a bedroll nearby as he had since the journey began. Shemar was within, and all of Imir's men bedded down. Paradoxically, for they were further north than Khand, the nights were milder than in the desert. The sky was dappled with cloud which the moon's disc turned to bronze and blue. Up and down the road Imir could see other night-camps, the glow of dying fires. It was comforting. Then he thought of what lay at the end of this journey and a shiver took him. A dark city steeped, it was rumoured, in sacrificial blood...

A mutter of thunder crept out of the east. He stiffened, hands flying to his swords. There was no storm in the air; he had spent enough nights bivouacking to recognise the signs. The noise grew louder, and he identified it. He took a deep breath, and shouted: “Raiders!”

As his men jumped from their wagons, Imir ran toward the oncoming riders. Starlight caught a downsweeping blade, and he rolled under it, came to his feet and flung himself up behind the rider. A rough, rank stench assailed him. Orcs or half-orcs, out of Mordor.

Its death wound spuming arterial blood, the creature slid to the ground, landing at Mairion's feet. Imir saw him stoop gracefully. When he rose, his hand, black with blood, gestured.

The liquid, flying from his fingers, bloomed into fire. He intoned words in antique Black Speech, the tongue of the priesthood. Flames whipped through the clangour of battle. Imir heard howls of anguish, saw the head of one half-orc with skin splitting, melting to bone, the skull cracking apart, bursting like an over-ripe melon. Others shrieked in the darkness, the sound half-beast, half-human, wholly agonised. A burly shadow pushed out of the night and Imir closed with it, catching the handle of an axe on one blade, ramming his second into the groin. It scraped over metalled tassets, then bit deep. He spun away, jumped over a body that spasmed horribly, saw a whirling cloud of light hair. Legolas jumped from his wagon, moving like a flick of light, and flung a dagger. It span until its light was quenched by the flesh it pierced. The attacker dropped like a sack. And then, quite suddenly, there was nothing but the squeal of horses, the pants of warriors waiting, the drip of blood from their weapons. Imir blinked, his night vision lost. But Mairon glowed. Fire wreathed one slender hand.

“Warriors, to me.” Imir concentrated on steadying his voice. “ Report.”

There were wounds, but nothing serious, for which he was both glad and proud. The half-orcs did not, either, use poison on their blades. That was a relief. Legolas had come down from his wagon, swords drawn. Tanout's blades ran with red. All the half-orcs were dead. Save one. It kicked itself from the harness of its hamstrung horse, teeth bared in pain or hate, a great curved scimitar in one fist. It backed, snarling, ready to run. And could not.

Mairon walked toward it, light-footed, elegant. He clamped its head between both hands, and the stench of burning flesh soured the air. It screamed as words traced themselves through the air, echoing as if spoken in a tomb.

Imir wanted to look away as the things eyes ran liquid, and yet it lived, its cries silent as its throat was destroyed. The heat sent them stumbling back, all but Mairon, who did not move until chunks of the skull exploded, brittle as porcelain. When he turned from the wreckage, his eyes held a world of flame.
“Pull the bodies from the road,” he commanded. “Leave them as a warning. Take the horses.” His rich mouth curved in a disdainful moue as he returned to his wagon. “Take a drink after,” he added.

It was an unpleasant task. The corpses stank of burning, but not one of the warriors grumbled. After, Imir poured emberwine for them all, waited while the others drank before downing his own. It traced a fiery path into his sick stomach and settled it.
“Is this common?” Tanout asked quietly, cleaning his blades. “I have never seen such creatures.”

“They come out of Mordor sometimes.” Imir dipped water from a barrel and laved his hands. “I have never seen them before, either.” He hesitated. “By the Dark Gods, they disgust me.”

Tanout laid a hand on Imir's shoulder. “They are not pretty,” he agreed with a faint smile. “My prince likewise detests them.”

Imir could only nod. “We will continue our watch.” He looked for Ajan, beckoned with a tilt of his head. The boy had suffered a cut and some bruising. His nerves would be on a rack this night. Better that he occupy himself.

Nothing else disturbed his watch, but when he stood down, he could not find sleep. He fed the fire, listened to the far-off cry of night-hunting birds, went to the wagon where three of them, D'nez, Ajan and himself, bedded down. They were not sleeping either. He patrolled the edge of the camp, unable to banish the images that seemed branded in his mind: the Great Lord's power as he drove fire into the attackers, burned them to the core...

“Come here.” The voice, soft as a cat's pelt brought him around with a start. His mouth dried.
“Sire.” He bowed.

“Come.”

The interior of the wagon was rich, walls hung with tapestries, floored with fur. Soft cushions scattered the floor and the air smelled of spices. One oil lamp burned.

“You did well.” The smile was white but benign, even approving. He poured wine into silver cups.

“Thank-you, Sire.” Fear ramped through his nerves like a maddened horse.

“Legolas and the child need personal guards,” Mairion continued. The lamp caught the pale sheen of his hair as he turned. “Such people must be loyal; to them of course, but primarily to me. And you are loyal to me. Imir, are you not?”

“Yes, Sire.” He moistened his lips.

Flame-light flickered in Mairion's eyes. “Of course you are. Now, drink.” He proffered the wine. There was a cut on his hand, clotted, almost healed.

Imir soothed his throat with the wine. It was rich. He tasted fruit. Blood.

Heat punched though his chest, spread down his body, into his limbs. The cup fell from his hands. It seemed to fall for a long time, fell as he did. There was music in his mind, like the fierce, silvery note of a great harp. A harp of fire. It wound through him, his veins, his sinews.

“It is so tedious, replacing loyal men when they grow old.”

The words came from all around him. There was soft fur under his cheek. He could see nothing but fire. Voices wrote themselves in words upon his eyes.

“I think there should be some stability in Legolas' life, do you not agree?”

“In this instance, I must agree. But thou knowest what they will become. Malantur showed thee.”

Imir tried to move, to find the second speaker with his velvet-rich lilt.

“Malantur.” Laughter. “He was already rotten when he came to me. Any-one could see that power would corrupt him. Still, he has his uses, and these young ones are not as he. I had my doubts about this one, but he is only inexperienced and young. That will change.”

The conversation wavered, faded; the flames dwindled to a starry point, and then went out like a shuttered lantern. Was this death? Imir wondered.

“No, thou art not dead.”

He saw a man, a stranger, yet something in his smile stirred chords of familiarity. Soft lamplight gilded an unhumanly beautiful face, sparked the eyes to violet gems.
“He has given thee immortality, more or less. There are a few, here and there.”

It was the voice he had tried to identify. With horror like a disease in his bones, he cried: “The wraiths?”

“The Nazgûl serve a certain purpose,” the man responded. (Are you who I think you are?) “They are utterly loyal, bound by the rings they wear, and are weapons of terror. Thou and thy men will be Legolas' guards and companions.” He moved closer, elegance and danger melded. Waves of jet hair flowed down his back. “I can reach thee because he gave thee his blood. Diluted of course, else it would have killed thee. I am Vanimórë.”

To the Men of the West, the nine wraiths were Mairon's greatest servants. The Variags knew better. This man stood far higher than they. But no-one knew exactly what he was.

“Immortality?” Imir echoed.

“Use it well,” Vanimórë advised, smiling wryly. “and do not lose thy humanity. Legolas and Gîlrion will need thee. And one day, Sauron will call me back. So thou wilt be kind to them wilt thou not? It is what he wants, also. Legolas has been through a great deal. Treat him kindly.”

Tanout had said that most warriors who served under the Dark Prince were loyal through a desire to please him. Imir could see why. The warmth of the voice melted through his dream. He wanted to reach into it, to feel...

“Sleep,” Vanimórë said. He smoothed one hand down Imir's cheek. His smile warmed like honeyed wine. “Do not fear.”

The touch, the words slid him into dark depths where there was only peace. He thought, waking in his own bedroll the next morning, that it was a dream until D'Nez asked him if he were well, said that he had emerged from the Lord's wagon, seemingly walking in his sleep. It was known to be dangerous to wake one who sleepwalked, so D'nez had guided him to his bed and left him to sleep.

He was cold, yet the day was mild. “I cannot tell you,” he whispered with a quick glance around. “Not yet. Later.”

It was impossible to believe he was immortal. He felt no different, and then it occurred to him in a pulse-leap of shock that he might never feel any different. And that night Tanout was summoned to the Lord, to emerge in the same dream-state as he. The third night D'nez was called. Imir was on guard duty, but at the change of the watch, he made his way to Legolas' wagon. He found them all, save the child, awake. He sat down, stared at them without speaking, not knowing what in the world to say.

“So,” Tanout broke the silence. “at least,” he looked at Legolas. “We will not die and leave you alone.”

Legolas' brows drew down.
“I want to say I am glad. I am. But his blood...” He shook his head. His hair was unbound for sleep, a great wave of white and gold.

“Your prince,” Imir began, groping. “I dreamed of him. He warned me not to lose my...humanity.”

“He came into my dreams, too,” Tanout glanced at Shemar, sitting beside the sleeping Gîlrion. “Or perhaps it was not a dream. He can speak into the mind. He said Sauron waits for Shemar to grow a little older.” He ran his hands down his face. “I do not know how to feel about this.” A faint laugh died in his throat. “Do you know how many people in Sud Sicanna would sell their very souls for immortality? All of them, and yet now...I do not know...”

“I am not sure I believe it.” Imir looked across to the Lord's wagon, his thoughts on D'nez. “I know there are the wraiths, and the Mouth of Sauron, but...I heard him talking – not to me, to the prince. He said it would not be like that.”

“Vanimórë has also spoken to me,” Legolas said. “He knows, of course, but sees no harm in it. No-one will come after us, and I will do nothing to endanger my son. Vanimórë told me what he would do to you if you tried to help me.”

There was a long silence. Imir strained to hear any sound from the Lord's wagon; he wanted to be there when D'nez was released. There was nothing but the ruffle of wind across the canvas, a few spots of rain.

“He, Sauron, wants us, you and I,” Tanout nodded at Imir. “to continue to train Legolas when there is time. I think it is wise. You did well when the raiders attacked,” he added with a smile at the Elf.

Somewhat to Imir's surprise, Legolas' face hardened.
“They would have slain my son,” he said as if that explained everything. Which it did.

It is wise.

It took one look for Imir to see that the voice was in all their minds, the same cream-and-wine melody of his dream. If it had been a dream. A feeling of security enfolded him, as if he were held within protective arms that would never let him fall, never allow harm to come to him. Legolas' face brightened. Tanout relaxed, even Shemar looked less fearful. The wagon felt warm, a haven from the rain beginning to bat more heavily upon its roof. The brazier hissed gently.

Live each day, and try not to look beyond it, not yet. Thou art all valuable to Sauron, remember.

Lord, Imir tried to gather his thoughts. This city he leads us to...

Tashon Narr, yes. I have been there.

The tales are terrible...

Yes, Vanimórë replied calmly. But wherever Sauron dwells, he ensures it..befits him, shall we say. His powers will grow swiftly there, and he will not remain for long. And he will not allow harm to come to thee.

When will you come? Legolas' mind-voice yearned.

When he permits me to, my dear. There was so much warmth and gentleness in those words. Imir, whom had only vague memories of his father, felt his eyes burn. But thou art not alone. Thou wilt change, all of thee. That is inevitable, it is part of living. Be loyal to one another. Look after one another. Thou wilt not earn his anger for doing so, I promise that. Willing servants are less trouble than unwilling slaves.

There was a last mind-embrace, all strength and power with the golden thread of compassion woven deep into it. Imir dropped his head. He had not realised how homesick he was, how frightened. One could not show fear, of course. But Vanimórë knew. There was no sound for a time but the pull of the wind against the roof, hard spots of rain.

“We will do that,” Tanout said softly. “We are all in the same situation. We will watch for each other. The prince is wise.”

“I agree.” Imir leaned over and clasped his hand, and then Legolas, and lastly Shemar's. “I must go now to be there when D'nez comes from the Lord's wagon.”

OooOooO


I appreciate your interference. Sauron sat back on his cushions. This time.

Thou art welcome, his son returned flatly. Easier for thee, surely, and easier for them. Legolas needs a bulwark about him, reassurance. He needs companions. Then without preamble: Tell me of the soul thou didst draw from him in Cirith Ungol.

Sauron lifted his brows, approving. You sensed that in the middle of that débâcle? Impressive.

Vanimórë bit back a retort.
Tell me.

Fascinating, but none of my doing. The souls of the Sindar and Silvans seem more tied to the world. Sometimes, perhaps often, they refuse the call of Mandos. He laughed quietly, stretched forth a hand. Like threads of starlight or the ithildin upon the Doors of Durin in Khazad-dûm, the soul shimmered into being. Ghostly chains ran from his neck and wrists. Sauron held them lightly. The Elf turned his head as if he could look through the walls, see his young brother. Perhaps he could; he was no longer bound by earthly laws. This one, Elvýr, was part of Legolas, but not as a twin is. The moonsheen eyes returned to him, showed rage and despair in equal measure. With flick of his fingers Sauron drew the soul back to him, shut it away in that no-place within himself that reached back to before Arda was shaped. At least Elvýr had some company...
Not a possession, almost like a kindred spirit. I think his father held him so strongly he could not leave even had he wanted to. Interesting. Something to think about.

What wilt thou do with him?

I have not yet decided. D'nez stirred, woke like a man still dreaming. Sauron said, “Go. Sleep.” And the young warrior left. Sauron heard his light, uncertain steps joined by another, knew that Imir had come to help him back to the wagon. He settled back.

Let him go. Please.

You soft-hearted fool. Sometimes you irritate me. He flashed the words and laced them with pain, felt his son's internal flinch as they struck before his will drained them away. It interests me, and is in no real pain. At least he thought so. He let the silence grow, then: But for all your faults, you play as good a game of Tar as ever. I wonder, did you really not know?

I should have, Vanimórë returned, bitter as a black frost with self-recrimination. Thou didst almost flaunt it before me.

Beware of those who spin you bleeding-heart tales, he said along a smile. He could see his son's face, the deep burn of his eyes. It was an...interesting experience for me. It continues to be so.

And what of Tashon Narr? Vanimórë demanded. They are too young for such sights. And Malantur is there. Of course – with a flick of acid. He should be. The bottom of a cess-pool is the right place for him, but not for Legolas or Gîl or any of the others, and thou knowest it.

Malantur will not touch them. I will show them only as much as I deem they should see. Their duties are otherwhere. He waved a hand, watched the glitter of the jewelled rings. Prince Jaezun had been more than eager to shower him with gifts, but none of them compared to what he had lost.
But they are young, as you say, and need some...experience. Tashon Narr is useful to me now, but one day I will raze it. He edged his fingers around the wine cup, asked teasingly: Did you miss me?

No. Vanimórë's mind sent a wave of loathing into the aether. Sauron laughed.
We will meet again, soon enough, he promised. After all, we have not completed our game, have we?

No. Tightly.

Good. Now go.

Vanimórë withdrew himself, yet still Sauron could feel him like a dark, brilliant fire against the walls of his mind. He lifted the cup in a salute that was only half ironic. His son had returned to Sud Sicanna, having gathered the remnants of his warriors, and after reaching an agreement with King Tarostar to open a legation. Four Gondorian's had ridden south with him, one of them the young captain Celírel. Had Sauron been a little stronger, he would have journeyed to Sud Sicanna; he was impressed at his son's rule, but he did not trust what he had learned of the Mother. The fact that Vanimórë had in essence thrown down Melkor's temple there and rededicated it to a goddess was almost amusing, but until he regained all his native strength, Sauron would not walk into her domain. Tashon Narr was much simpler. There would be blood and to spare.

OooOoooO
End Notes:
If you are still reading, and liked anything, I would be very grateful for a comment. Thank-you for reading.
Chapter 27 ~ Like Fire And Falling Leaves ~ by Spiced Wine


Like Fire And Falling Leaves

~ The fire settled itself for sleep. Bainalph gazed at the embers for a long time. The weather was still mild, but autumn's skirts brushed the air at dawn and evening, and there was comfort in a fire. He still felt cold to the bone, but it was no earthly chill. Death had pulled him through its gates, and it had been nothing like he expected. The others had drawn him back, but some shadows lingered. The thought brought him to his feet.

He had told no-one, and perhaps he was an ungrateful fool for feeling bereaved, but that rapacious dark Power whom had so nearly dragged him into its lonely halls had reft him of his very self.

Mandos had stripped him of desire, and it hurt. On the interminable journey back to the Wood, even consumed as he was with keeping Thranduil a safe distance from Glorfindel, he had been dreadfully aware of the grey emptiness within, where once he would have felt passion.

Desire was such an intrinsic part of whom he was, he scarce felt alive now that it was gone from him. He had lain watching the stars and tried to feel something, anything. He had been robbed of himself.

He strode from the room, followed a sweep of stairs to a long hallway. One of the doors was guarded. He took a heavy key from a ring on his belt and opened it, stepped inside. The guard locked it behind him, a standing order.

This was not the imprisonment that Thranduil had wanted for Glorfindel, but it was the only one Bainalph was willing to countenance, for Legolas' sake.
“Anything you do to him will affect the child,” he had said. “Perhaps Legolas, also. We cannot know.”

Thranduil wanted Glorfindel to pay for his crime. Thus far, he had not. The king had not even visited Alphgarth since their return to the forest. Perhaps he did not trust himself enough. Thranduil had great self-restraint when it was needed, as Bainalph knew well. He also knew there would come a time when it would snap.

A fire burned in the rich chamber. Thranduil would have thrown Glorfindel in a cell, but there were none in Alphgarth.

Bainalph hated the legendary Golodh for what he had done to Legolas, but Glorfindel had also known that Bainalph's soul was imperilled. He had seen, then the golden warrior legends spoke of. He did not know if Thranduil could see anything beyond his hatred.

Bainalph knew what he must do. One day, Legolas would return to the Greenwood with his son. Before then, Glorfindel had to come to comprehend him, the ways of the Wood, and respect both. Perhaps Thranduil hoped that by that time, Legolas would not care about Glorfindel's fate, and he could spill the golodh's rich red blood into the loam. But Bainalph understood Legolas instinctively, though his own hungers had been sucked away like marrow from a bone. Legolas' hungers had been awakened, and he would truly never be satisfied with anything less than domination. As I am... was not.

Glorfindel was reading. If he had thought the Greenwood possessed no books, no learning, he had been disabused of the belief. While it was true the Silvans preserved their lore orally, the Sindar kept books and scrolls. None had come out of Doriath, but on settling in the forest, the survivors, Bainalph's mother among them, had begun to set down their history and tales in letters. Later this extended to the histories of the native Silvans. While their libraries could not, Bainalph imagined, compare with that of Imladris, famed even here, they were not contemptible.

Glorfindel set the book down on the small table. As he always did, he surveyed Bainalph as if he were a map. Once Bainalph would have blushed under the scrutiny, gone breathless. Now there was nothing save an aching sense of loss.

There was wine open to breathe. Glorfindel always waited until Bainalph came in the evening to pour it; it was one of the habits they had fallen into, so civilised, courteous, armour donned against an untested foe. Now he filled two silver goblets, handed one to Bainalph, who took a chair opposite.

“You smell of the forest,” he said. How he made it sound seductive, Bainalph did not know, but it could not touch him. Glorfindel rose, restlessly, stretched, walked to the window.

If there was anything that truly irked him, Bainalph thought, it was a curtailing of his movements. One did not shut a blood-stallion into a stable and hope it would become accustomed, and Glorfindel was his responsibility. Bainalph did not think that he would try to escape, not while there was the slimmest chance of Legolas one day coming here with his son, with Glorfindel's son, but one could not be certain. Also, there was the matter of his safety. Glorfindel's presence had indeed become a flag of truce between Imladris and the Greenwood, but there were too many who hated the Golodhrim, and would hate him even more if they knew what he had done to one of their own. That remained a secret between Thranduil, Celeirdúr and Bainalph. To any-one else, Glorfindel was a hostage held against renewed hostilities.

He said stiffly: “I have been thinking. You need more than these rooms.”

Glorfindel turned his head from the dark square of the window.
“That would be pleasant,” he commented.

Bainalph took a sip of the wine. “Yet I have to think about your person. You are under my protection.”

“You think I will be slaughtered by some savage Silvan who does not heed the command of his prince or king?” He did not look concerned.

Bainalph bit back a retort. Neither the Wood nor Imladris were guiltless of mistreating prisoners of war. Fortunately, there had only ever been a few, which was why Glorfindel had been sent into the forest in secret. Perhaps he would not have raped Legolas had he not seen his men abused. Not that anything excused him. Legolas was the only innocent in the whole affair.
He said, after a moment: “I do not fear that in my fiefdom. But it is something I had to consider. However, there are a tribe...they were here long before the Iathrim came. They are very insular, and were not involved in the conflict. They are called the Ithiledhil. We will go to see them. They dwell to the south, and they are part of Alphgarth, yet not.”

Ithiledhil.” Glorfindel turned the name over in his mouth. “I have not heard of them.”

“They are secretive.” He knew what Glorfindel was thinking: that the Ithiledhil were some clan even more savage than the wood-Elves. Let him. It was not altogether an erroneous belief. But Bainalph had another reason for going to the Ithiledhil besides allowing his prisoner a little freedom: the Equinox was approaching, one of the Earth Days when the wood-Elves enacted their wild, sensual rites. He did not want Thranduil near Glorfindel at those times, as control was one of the first things to be lost. It would be no different among the Ithiledhil, but there was a certain safety in it. The tribe bore no hatred toward the Golodhrim, indeed, as he had told Glorfindel, they remained aloof from the war. Their chieftain had condemned it as foolish, as was his right; any of Thranduil or Bainalph's lords were allowed to state their opinions. Whatever any of the other wood-Elves may have felt about the Ithiledhil's neutrality they said nothing. The Elves of the Dark Moon were no people to antagonise.

And Bainalph thought...hoped that he might feel something. He had gone to the Ithiledhil after that night with Thranduil, after he had been shown how much the King despised him. He had been bewildered, wounded almost to the edge of death with rejection, and the chieftain had understood and helped him. Thus he had bonded with the clan as even his own father had not. As for Glorfindel, if he wanted violent sex, the time of the Earth Rites was wild enough, and there were not a few who would oblige him. Bainalph might have been one of them, once. Once, weeks, an Age ago.

He needed to speak to the one person he felt could understand him, a man whom, unless Bainalph were utterly astray had, long ago, endured something so black, so monstrous that Bainalph's soul winced away from giving it a name. Perhaps he would understand Glorfindel, too.

“We will go tomorrow,” he said.

OooOooO

They had talked, at last, (not merely exchanged words) when they had passed through Osgiliath and taken the northward road. Tindómion did not know how long it would have taken them to properly talk, but for the night Maglor screamed for his father.

They shared watches when they camped, although neither of them slept much. Tindómion knew by his father's breathing that he was wakeful.

But that night, he slept.

They were in Gondor, and would keep the Ered Nimrais on their left until they passed into the west of the realm. The great marshes of the Nindalf and the Mouths of the Entwash formed an effective barrier to the north, and Tindómion had decided to ride west until they could ford the Entwash and cross into Calenhardon. From there they would strike north past the forests of Fangorn and Lothlórien. He had decided that unless their need grew great, he would not enter the Golden Wood, not with Maglor. While he could admire Galadriel, he had no real liking for her, and she certainly had none for him. As for his father...

For the time being, though, their need was not great. Tindómion had enough gold on his person to buy mounts, though he purchased them from travelers on the road, rather than in seething Osgiliath. The traders had examined the heavy gold coins with raised brows, bit them, and cheerfully done business. Twice they had been stopped by soldiers, who quickly saw them on their way. The old alliances were not forgotten. Tindómion did not desire company, but at times they made use of the wayside inns, keeping themselves apart by dint of paying well and hiding their faces under dark hoods. They were noticed, nevertheless, but no-one had the nerve to question them, even when the ale and wine flowed freely. In Lindon, Tindómion had become adept at aloof haughtier, and as for his father...well, he was Fëanorion to the bone.

Autumn came slowly, this far south. It was still hot in the day, and the nights were warm so camping was no trial, and both of them had endured far worse conditions. Tindómion had purchased a tent from the traders, simple cooking supplies and there was always dead wood enough to cook the game they brought down.

One night a storm came down from the mountains. Lightning flickered from the far-off peaks, and rain sluiced down. They set up the tent, spacious enough to accommodate two men, but not for all the unsaid words that lay between them. Silence fell, and without consultation Tindómion sat in the open door, watching the rain hiss.

At some point, Maglor slept. The storm still grumbled in the distance. From somewhere came the bark of a hunting fox.

Maglor said something in his sleep as if his throat were filled with blood.
“No,” he repeated like a man faced with the impossible, with something he would not — could not — admit was real. And. “No.” And then he cried out, with all the grief in the world: “Father!

It was dark in the tent, but Tindómion could see enough: the sheen of Maglor's pearly skin, the pain that racked him so that he curled up like a man kicked in the gut. Tindómion moved, knelt beside him. He loved this man he had wanted to hate, to kill but so much lay between them, and he did not know how to bridge that chasm. Or had not. But now it struck him like a blow: the endless years Maglor had been alone, without hope, without those he loved. That last was worse than all. Tindómion too had woken after Gil-galad's death, crying out in prohibition. But he had never been alone. There was (always) his mother's steady love, and Glorfindel whom had come out of Imladris to find him mad and broken, in Lindon. (In the days when Glorfindel had still been glorious) Maglor had nothing. No-one.

“Father—” He could not say: 'It is all right.' There are some things that will never be, and he could not replace the seven empty spaces in Maglor's heart. “Hush.” He sank a hand into the tossed river of midnight hair.

Maglor had told him of the Palantiri in Osgiliath. Had that episode, seeing something of his father's, that Fëanor's hands had touched, brought this dream? There was another palantir in Lindon, in the Tower of Elostirion. Tindómion did not know if seeing it would be wise or desirable, but he would accompany his father there if he wished it.

Maglor surged upright then, so swiftly that Tindómion had to draw back. His eyes were open, blazing silver and wild starlight. He turned them on Tindómion, who did not know if they were seeing him or something — some-one — quite different. And then it became horrifyingly clear as Maglor threw back his head and screamed like a man dying: “Father!”.

It was a cry that echoed through the ages, all the way back to when Fëanor burned to ash in his sons arms. Its grief was surely woven into the very tapestry of Time. Tindómion's own voice stuck fast in his throat. He caught Maglor's arms, the muscle locked into steel, almost wrenched him into his embrace. Maglor's heart was pounding like a tabour, his flesh radiated heat. For a moment, he was rigid, then breath shuddered into him. His hands came up, moving Tindómion's head back. Tindómion had seen nothing like his eyes save when he had dreamed his father's life — and those had belonged to Fëanor.

“Father.” The word was a breath, and then his lips descended on Tindómion's with the panic of desperation and relief. Maglor kissed his cheeks, his brow, every part of his face, then came back to his mouth.

Tindómion had gone utterly still with shock, but this — he knew what Maglor wanted. He had walked every mountain and crevasse of his father's life with him save that dark, hidden time in Barad-dûr. Maglor was still more than half-locked into dream, and Tindómion was, Glorfindel said, so like his father. Whom was so like Fëanor.

The realization pulled out his heart and set something else there. Now Maglor was whispering feverishly, “Father, father, please...!” and Tindómion wanted to pull down the stars that had watched Fëanor die. He would have done anything, anything at all to bring Fëanor back, to bring them all back, to heal this anguish. And he could not.

A great shiver curled up from his stomach, sent whispers of fire into each frozen vein. It felt familiar to him, something he should have known, a frantic, half-guilty but wholly-overmastering desire, and it was only when he was already returning the furious kiss that he recognised it. He let his helpless fury run.

It pulled him from himself into a world where this was not wrong, only tinged with a fugitive thrill, a place that went deeper than laws, was far older, and was right because the fire in the blood that bound them could not be tamed or denied. This was part of that binding. This.

Pity, so puerile and bootless in the face of Maglor's suffering, disintegrated under the storm-call of passion, and there was a rightness in this, also. Maglor did not want pity. Between hectic kisses, Tindómion loosed his belt, but it was Maglor's hands who pulled off his tunic and shirt as it was his own that removed Maglor's. He could not get enough of that hot, velvet skin, whiter than mountain snow and as immaculate. His hands and lips wanted to feel every inch of it, and they did.

Maglor had slid his boots off before sleep. Tindómion had not, until now. And then they were naked, bodies pressed together, hair falling about them. Both of them were trembling, hearts shaking the cage of their chests. Tindómion found his voice. It came out of him deep and thrumming.
“I love you.” He wanted to climb within his father's body, knit himself into his flesh and skin, to make Maglor his. He wanted to possess him, but he thought if he stopped for one moment, to search for the leather-oil, to prepare them, he would fall apart and never find himself again. He could not pull himself away, and so his hand closed about Maglor's length, so fire-hot it seemed to burn. He heard the deep groan, echoed it with his own as slender fingers took him in hand. Their breaths mingled, panting,

The storm he had thought gone lit the tent with a sudden lightning flash that showed him Maglor's face, white throat arched back, lips parted, the shadow of long lashes black on his high cheekbones. Thunder rent the skies with a long tearing sound as if the Valar reached out in hatred and disapproval to smite them. At any other time Tindómion might have laughed at whimsy, but he knew incest was one of the many things the House of Finwë had been punished for, daring to aspire to the Valars perquisites — for were they not all the offspring of Eru and therefore siblings?

Tindómion brought Maglor's head to his and kissed him with all the storm's violence. It was reciprocated in full measure as they both reached the edge and fell over it. There was nothing for a while, the pleasure too far outside the world to be given a name in any tongue.

He came back from it slowly, spasming until he was empty. Their brows rested together. He stroked Maglor's back through the thick fall of his hair, and gathered his breath. Slowly, with languid pleasure melting into his bones, with arousal stirring inside him again, he kissed away the spilled seed on Maglor's chest.
“Go to sleep,” he murmured, caressing. He still did not know if, for Maglor, he had been Fëanor for that time, neither did he care, but he wanted his father to sleep, for his mind to relegate the night into the pathways of dream, not from shame or guilt but because if Maglor thought Fëanor had truly been with him, to wake again to the knowledge that he was dead, was never returning, would be a living crucifixion. As if he had not already lived one, was living it still.

Maglor's arms tightened around him, drew him down. They moulded into one another like long-familiar lovers. And Maglor slept, truly slept, his breath coming deep and slow. Tindómion did not want to move, to release him, but he did at last, disengaging himself, picking up his clothes. In the morning, he would see what Maglor said and did, but he himself must appear as if nothing had happened, not for himself, but for Maglor's sake. Tindómion knew from his dreams that Fëanor had first awoken passion within his second-born son, and even if he had not taken matters to their conclusion, Maglor lived ever after with the guilt of wishing he had, and when Fëanor was dead, the anguish that he had not. What he might think about performing an act of sex with his own son, Tindómion could not guess, but he would spare Maglor remorse whether or no.

He walked to the little stream, one of many along the line of the mountains, and now swollen with rain, washed, then dressed again, combed out and re-braided his hair.

The rain had stopped, the droplets falling from the leaves of the trees in tuneless melody. Returning to the tent, he was glad to see that his father was still fathoms deep in sleep. He could not dress Maglor, but the night had been muggy before the storm, and he might think he had removed his clothes for coolness and not recollected doing so.

Gently, Tindómion drew a blanket over him. It was astonishingly difficult not to touch him, not to bend and place his lips on those beautifully scrolled ones now gentle in sleep. Tindómion shook his head and sat, as before in the open flap of the tent. He ran the passion they had shared through his mind and found nothing to trouble him, so he turned his thoughts to Legolas, so far away, heading East. He imagined the youth were enclosed in his arms, and that he held him as he had held Maglor. He hoped the others: Glorfindel, Thranduil, Vanimórë, the beautiful white-haired Bainalph did the same. He knew his father did. Legolas could not have too much comfort.

Maglor drifted from sleep with the coming of dawn. Birdsong was everywhere, and though the morning was fresh, the rain-dew would soon evaporate. It would be another hot day.

Tindómion heard the stir within the tent, and poured a cup of wine. He entered to see Maglor sitting up, pushing back his mane of hair. He was a breathtaking sight. The blanket had slipped down to his hips, and the dim light painted shadows under his cheeks, the defined muscles of his stomach. Tindómion had to pause to admire, just for a moment, and to see where he would have to step.

“Why didst thou not wake me when it was my turn to keep watch?” Maglor asked.

“Thou hast been through a great deal more than I, and needed thy sleep.” Without consciously thinking about it, Tindómion had himself slipped back into the antique speech of the Elder Days. It seemed to bring them closer, was both sweet and bitter on his tongue. He proffered the cup.

Maglor's eyes searched his face, but Tindómion was a past-master in keeping his emotions concealed.
“I thank thee,” he said, “There was...was there a storm? Or did I dream it?”

Did he remember nothing at all? Tindómion doubted that. If he had dreamed of his father, he would remember it, but perhaps he, Tindómion was not the only one to expertly hide his feelings.

“No, there was a storm. It was no dream.”

“I thought not.” Maglor stared at him, but his eyes were pure silver and unreadable. Tindómion thought he did remember dreaming of his father, but was unable to speak of it.
“I dream, at whiles,” he said as if his throat were constricted. He took a sip of wine. “The dreams have been my only companions, the only way of holding on to them.

“I know. I have travelled the paths of thy life, father. I have dreamed thy dreams.”

Horror opened Maglor's face. He set the cup down.
“Then thou didst...see me rape thy mother?” His beautiful voice cracked.

Tindómion, with a whip-flick of his ancient hate that came with the memory said, “I was thee, raping my mother.”

Maglor came to his feet.
“Hells,” he breathed, and cried out. “Why couldst thou not have been spared my life?”

“Because I am thy son.” It had been long ago, in Ost-in-Edhil, only the once, but once was more than enough.* “I know thou wert mad—”

“Listen to me.” Maglor's hands closed on his shoulders like a drowning man's. “That does not excuse me. Rape is an act of violence. It is not desire, not unbridled lust. Whether by Elf or Man or Orcs, it is always and only violence.”

“I know that.” Tindómion felt his father's heart beating through his hands.

“That woman...Elwing, had left your mother with those children.” Broken images splintered behind the silver eyes. “Amrod and Amras had died to try and reclaim the Silmaril. Your mother was protecting them, Elrond and Elros, and for a heartbeat I wanted to kill her and them. Instead I raped her. It was vile, an act of war. I thought it would kill her and I did not care, not then.”

Tindómion's stomach knotted. He held himself perfectly poised between hate and love.

“Do not forgive me for what I did to her.” His father's order took on the carillon of command. “I cannot forgive myself.”

“I never would have,” Tindómion told him. “Had she not. She could have died, and then I would never have been born. She could have slipped into madness. She could have hated me. But she lived, and she loved me. It is not for me to forgive, it is for her to do so, and she did, even, she said, before I was born. To make her forgiveness naught would be to make her of none account. Dost thou know how she was viewed by some in Lindon: the woman who bore a kinslayer's ill-gotten son? She went into Gil-galad's throne-hall alone to declare whom I was! She was proud of me then; she is proud of me now. I will not make her nothing by refusing to forgive thee.” His hands rose to clasp his father's face between them. “Maglor Fëanorion. Father. I love thee.”

Maglor stared at him, and then his face opened to such soul-consuming pain that Tindómion felt his own heart shatter. Words could not abide in the face of such utter desolation. Tindómion drew his father hard into his arms, felt Maglor's own close about him so fiercely he could scarce breathe.

“I love you,” he repeated, his heart locked in a vise. He did not know whom he was to Maglor then: Fëanor, Maedhros, any of his lost and beloved brothers, or himself. Perhaps, for that moment, he was all of them.

OooOooO

End Notes:
* Magnificat of the Damned. Book I. Chapter 36: One Ring For The Elven King.
Chapter 28 ~ Against The Dying Of The Light ~ by Spiced Wine


~ Against The Dying Of The Light~



~ It was a strange, dislocating homecoming to a place Tindómion had never thought of as home. Elrond, naturally, knew what had happened; Glorfindel had spoken to him mind-to-mind, but Tindòmion did not think that Elrond truly believed until he and Maglor rode into the Valley.
Neither was Maglor's initial meeting with Elrond what Tindómion expected. Elrond was much changed from the boy Maglor had known, even from the herald of Gil-galad Tindómion had met in Lindon. That man would never have permitted hostilities with the Greenwood to become war. Maglor, anyhow, did not meet long with him.
“I would see Fanari Pendlodiel,” he said, and indeed had been steeling himself for this moment throughout their journey to Imladris. Word of him had already run through the valley. “I would not have her hear of my arrival second-hand.”

Maglor did not seem to notice the eyes that followed as Tindómion lead him up soaring steps and over arched walkways to his mother's chambers. She had not come to meet him; she had grown accustomed to his duties in war and peace, knew that he would come when he could. Thus he found her sketching in the infalling light. Her back faced him, hair drawn back with gold and pearl pins. Although he made no sound she straightened and then suddenly went stiff before coming to her feet. Her hands spread flat on the table, then she turned. Shock struck itself like mailed gauntlet across her face. Her cry was cut off as her hands clamped over her mouth. Then parchments and and pencils were scattered pell-mell, her chair tilted and overturned.

It was the one thing they had agreed on, he and Glorfindel, that no-one tell Elrond or Fanari that Maglor was coming to Imladris. Tindómion did not want her to wait all the long days in aching anticipation, turning over older times, old wounds. He deemed it better for her if the meeting was unanticipated.

She dropped her hands. “Thou didst find him.” Like Maglor, Fanari clung to the antique speech of the First Age. She went towards him with her arms stretched out. Tears streamed down her face. Maglor seemed unsure of what to do. Tindómion had assured him over and over that Fanari had long forgiven him, but this effusion of welcome was not at all what Tindómion had imagined. It was also not what Maglor wanted. He needed to abase himself, or told himself that this was what was due to the woman he had raped, but when he went down on one knee, Fanari tugged at him.
“For Eru's sake,” she gasped. “Didst thou not tell him, Tindómion? Maglor, get up!”

“Lady,” he began. “I cannot ask thee to forgive me.”

She dashed a hand across her eyes, then seized one of his in both her own.
“I forgave thee long ago, so that it seems almost impossible to me thou didst not know.” She took a long, shuddering breath, whirled to Tindómion and embraced him. “I knew thou wouldst find him, one day.”

They took wine then and, when she was calmer told her, between them, what had happened. She became very still first, and then her face flamed with anger for Maglor, for Legolas. She got up and paced the room, then faced them, arms folded.
“And nothing can be done for that poor child,” she stated. “Knowest thou how long Glorfindel has been my friend? Since I was a child. He shone. Eru, I saw him die. And I could kill him myself for this!”

They were interrupted by one of Elrond's men. Elrond obviously felt he had waited long enough for an accounting, and Tindómion was informed they were holding an impromptu war council. He left his mother and father together. They needed the time.

Imladris seethed with violence, the desire to avenge their captain, but what could they do, when Glorfindel had given himself up to Thranduil? There was nothing to avenge. Elrond finally admitted as much himself. Tindómion left the hastily assembled council and returned to his mother's chambers. He heard voices as he approached. They were still talking. Tindómion paused, listening.

“...sorry that I could not return thy feelings. But if it is thy wish, I would amend it, if thou wouldst consider the last son of Fëanor a suitable husband.”

Tindómion started. He was astonished, but could not help note that though Maglor might attempt to sound humble, pride resounded through his father's name like a song. Fëanorion humility would always sound like arrogance.

“Oh, dear.” Fanari sounded as if she were trying to stifle dismay and amusement which, knowing her as he did, she probably was. He heard the hush of her skirts. “I was obsessed by thee when I was young,” she said. “And I doubt I was the only one. But Glorfindel told me that thou didst not favour women, and I came to terms with it. What else could I do? Pine? But the truth is, I have not desired to marry since before my son was born, and I do not need a husband.” Then: “Tindómion dreamed of thee. I am sure he told thee.”

“Yes.” The one word was wrapped in complications.

“He has not told me all,” Fanari said quickly in obvious reassurance. “But...enough. My son is a joy to me. I did not need anything else then, and I do not now. I see that what I thought might be between us was our son, whom I love and am proud of.”

“I cannot beg thy forgiveness or marry thee, and I know not what else I can do.” Anger and anguish mingled in his voice,

“For me? Learn to forgive thyself. Elwing had taken the Silmaril.” Fanari's voice hardened. “She left her children to save it. I cannot comprehend a mother choosing anything over her own children. At least I can understand the attack on the Havens, though it is not for me to forgive that, and indeed I cannot. I can only forgive what was done to me, and I do. But thou hast paid. For everything.” Tindómion heard her cross to the balcony. She entered his line of sight but did not see him.

“What happened,” Maglor asked after a moment. “to Glorfindel?”

“Thou knowest that,” she answered. “He lost hope. We all did.” She turned her head and saw Tindómion. Her smile was welcoming, if fleeting. She beckoned him.

Maglor was standing, wine-cup in hand, as if he was too restless to sit, but the frown on his brow smoothed as his eyes met Tindómion's.
“Didst thou lose hope?” he asked.

Tindómion poured himself wine. “I have had no hope since Gil-galad died.”

“And I none since Maedhros' death. Or almost none. Until now.” They shared a shadowy smile.

“So, my dear.” Fanari was smiling too, as she watched them. “What art thou allowed to say about this council?”

Tindómion shook his head. “Too much outrage and nowhere for it to go. And Elrond said we should have killed Vanimórë.”

Maglor's eyes went to fire. “Couldst thou?” Tindómion did not trouble to answer. “No more could I. He is an unwilling servant of the Dark Lord and cannot escape. And I owe him my life. What has he done that deserves death? Thou didst not see how he was with Legolas, or with me when I knew not whom I was, and when I remembered and was lost...” He walked to the balcony. It was a windless day, the heads of the waterfalls smudged with mist. Now and then a leaf drifted idly to the grass. Autumn had come to Imladris. Its melancholy reached into their hearts.

“Thou didst say it is likely Vanimórë will see Legolas, anon,” Fanari murmured.

“When Sauron calls him,” Maglor nodded. “Which he will, when he has regained more power. Vanimórë is no weakling. Indeed he is incredibly strong, but I think he would not resist anyhow, knowing Legolas and Gîl are there.”

“And where is 'there'.” Tindómion wondered. No-one here cared for Legolas plight save he and his father. Glorfindel was a prisoner of the Wood and powerless. Elrond was concerned with the future, when Glorfindel's son would be sent forth as Sauron's emissary. Tindómion was concerned with what was happening to Legolas and the child now. It had been hard to imagine anything worse than Legolas as a pleasure slave of Glorfindel. This outcome was worse.

“Elrond will not let thee come to the Greenwood with me,” he said abruptly to his father. Tindómion had agreed to travel to the forest before winter closed the mountain passes. He would meet with the King and see Glorfindel. Thranduil had agreed to it before they went separate ways.
“He thinks it too dangerous.”

Maglor's tuned voice grew a layer of steel. “Elrond does not command me.”

Fanari looked from one to the other. “Thou hast met Thranduil, and perhaps he would do naught,” she said. “ As all of thee helped to bring Prince Bainalph back from death, but the other Sindar and Silvans have no love for the Noldor.”

“Least of all a Fëanorion. I know.”

“Forgiveness is a dry well in these times.” She reached out to touch Tindómion's arm. “Be careful.”

Tindómion drew her close, kissed her brow. “I will. But, Hells, I wish to do more.” He swung to his father. “Vanimórë said he knew where Sauron would go?”

Maglor had not ceased communication with Vanimórë since they separated. If it concerned Sauron or Legolas and Gîlrion, Maglor would tell him.

“He knows,” Maglor said, and hesitated. “But thou knowest that if we attempted to follow, he has said he will kill them.”

Tindómion flung himself into a chair. “So we sit here and do nothing while the Dark Lord twists a youth and a child into his service.”

“Vanimórë fights it,” Maglor said quietly. “Do not assume Legolas is a weakling. He is young, and his character unformed, but there is strength and courage in him.”

“I do not think him weak. Eru, he would not have survived were he weak! But he will do anything to ensure his son survives. Anything.”

“Yes, he will,” his mother interpolated. “Any parent would. Or most,” she added.

Tindómion looked at her. “Thou wert not truly surprised, were you? That Glorfindel did what he did. Thou wert angry.”

She frowned, swept a hand through the air. “Not surprised, no. I wish I had been. I have known him in both his lives. I know what he is, what he enjoys.” Her brows lifted at Tindómion's expression. “People talk, my son, and in Gondolin he and Ecthelion were much spoken of. Usually, it is a game. With Legolas it went further. From what thou sayest, that young prince is exactly the kind of lover he would want, and yet so very rare among the Noldor. We are hardly noted for our submissiveness, are we? Had Glorfindel not been so enraged— ” She shook her head, eyes gone cold as a winter sea. “He cannot undo what he has done. And now he has fallen back on nobility and honour when it is far too late, and cannot help Legolas at all.” She threw her bliaut over one arm. “And thou knowest what lies under it as well as I. Elrond might bar Legolas and his son from Imladris, but Thranduil would never bar them from the Greenwood. Glorfindel is precisely where he wants to be.” She swept to the door, turned to say, “I am going to arrange thy chambers, Maglor. Thou canst have Glorfindel's. He will not be returning soon, and they are adjacent to Tindómion's.”

Tindómion nodded. “Wilt thou order our supper brought to my rooms, mother? I am in no mood for the feast hall.”

After she had gone, Maglor sat down next to Tindómion.
“I am coming with thee to the Greenwood,” he said in a tone which brooked no arguments. “I will speak to Elrond, but he will have to lock me up to stop me. Tindómion, I ruled as a prince, I was a king while Maedhros was in captivity.” He glanced away. “I am no tyro in the dances of politics, only out of practice.”

“Father. I know. How could I not? But—”

No.” Maglor raised a slim hand, searching his son's eyes. “I am coming with thee.”

The possessiveness was strange and, Tindómion had learned, thrilling. It seemed a part of his heritage that he had never known until now and yet, even not knowing it, had missed.
“I just want thee safe,” he said.

“Safe?” His father smiled humourlessly. “No place is safe on Middle-earth. It never has been.” He rose, and Tindómion watched his grace as he paced the room, his sheer presence.

Maglor had not dreamed since that night of the storm, or if he had, it had not been violent enough to wake him. Tindómion understood that he was never free of grief nor memory, no Elf was, but he himself provided some element of comfort against the relentless assault of anguish. And it did not run only one way. He needed Maglor, too. He rose, came to his father and drew him into his arms. They clung to one another.

“There is something,” Maglor murmured. “I was thinking of when I was in Szrel Kain with Dana, not knowing whom I was, disguised. And then...knowest thou of the tale of Finrod? How he penetrated Tol-in-Gaurhoth? Of his song-duel with Sauron?”

Tindómion stiffened, shifted back to stare into those unearthly silver eyes.
“I know it.” Wild surmises, and the tales of his father coalesced into certainty. “Thou canst not—”

Maglor gripped his shoulders. “Celegorm and Curufin,” his voice deepening into love and loss. “brought the tale from Nargothrond. Songs of Power.”

“And thou,” Tindómion said slowly. “Wert called the greatest singer among the Noldor.”

“I can still sing,” his father said. “Although whether I could sing with Power is another matter. I have not done so in a...very long time. I am not the man I was.”

Tindómion spoke through a mouth filled with choking heat.
“Thou art. Art thou saying—”

“I speak of it only to thee. Thy mother would worry, and rightly. But it is just possible that I may be able to disguise myself, my mind, and enter this place, Tashon Narr, where Legolas and his son are, or will be. Vanimórë said it is a city on the Eastern Sea. A place of darkness. Well, I have known a greater darkness. And Sauron is not as strong as he was, that we do know.”

“Father.” His throat was dry. “Thou must be very sure.”

The strong, slender fingers tightened. “I know.”

They stared at one another in silence so that the sound of the waterfalls seemed to grow louder.

“Dost thou think thou canst do this?” Tindómion asked quietly, then: “I do. I know the man I see before me, but I want thee to know him also.”

Maglor's face opened to a rush of emotions. His lips gripped together for a moment. He seemed to look back through all the years of his life.
“Yes,” he whispered, and more strongly, the music thrumming through his voice like the prelude to a spell: “Yes. And so I must go with thee to the Greenwood and strike east from there.”

“We,” Tindómion corrected him.

“No. It is too dangerous. I am not sure I can disguise any-one but myself.”

“Thou wilt. Thou must.” Tindómion clutched him. “Ilúvatar! Thou didst follow Fëanor to doom and damnation. Think'st thou I will not do the same? We have only just found one another. I will not be parted from thee!”

“Tindómion...” Those eyes held the ruin of a world and the death of all he had loved. “I love thee so much. I could not bear to lose thee in some city of darkness.” A shudder took him.

Ah, Eru, he was tortured in Barad-dûr! And yet he was still willing to walk into danger for Legolas and his son. What would Sauron do if he discovered him again?

He said nothing. There was a time when words were useless be they never so eloquent. He slipped a hand behind his father's head, fingers sinking into that mane of hair, and kissed him on the mouth. The kiss said everything he could not. It ignited and roared into the furnace waiting for it, exploded into a conflagration that legitimised all sense of wrongness. It was possessiveness that met and matched Maglor's own; it was love and sorrow and passion that eclipsed the sun. It was like coming home.

They were both panting and trembling when they drew away. Colour painted Maglor's high-boned cheeks. His eyes were molten, so bright they made the room seem shadowy. Tindómion had not wanted to stop; his erection strained hard under his breeches. It took him a moment to gather breath to say, “I will not leave thee. If we live a thousand Ages or the world falls in fire tomorrow, I will be with thee.”

Maglor's face shook. “I said those words,” he whispered. “ To my own father.”

OooOooO


Vanimórë was not the only one who could mould untried boys into a fighting unit, and Mairon was cautiously pleased at the results. Of course, they had been trained before he claimed them; the Variags were superb warriors, and they were not Vanimórë, who was puissant, but they would serve.

Mairon neither wanted nor expected the love that his son could evoke; (and needed) what he demanded was respect, and he had it, save perhaps from Tanout, whom had been too long in Vanimórë's service to easily take another master. Anyhow, they all feared him, and there had been no problems. This was partly due to Vanimórë, who wanted to see a secure cordon of guards around Legolas. His son could not conceal his mind when it slipped into the young soldiers', praising, comforting, encouraging. Mairon did not try to prevent him; their desires marched together at least this far, and he understood that a glamour hung around Vanimórë. Dark Prince.

Imir and D'nez were undoubtedly the best of the young Variags, but the others did not fall far short. All save Ajan and Shemar (who were too young; give them a few more years) had had partaken of his blood and were, more or less, immortal.

Immortality affected people in different ways, but it was better to change them while young. Malantur, the Mouth had been too old, already spoilt and indulged by rank and power. Even to Mairon, whom had seen everything, he was a vile creature, a swine with his snout in the trough of depravity. Still, he was useful and, because more than anything he feared death, he was loyal. He wrought his own dark spells to prolong life, drinking the blood of innocents after he had tortured them or Vanimórë's, when Mairon allowed it. He would not let his young men have much to do with Malantur, and meant to make that plain to him.

As yet, he thought, they did not truly believe it. Belief would come slowly when their flesh remained firm, their bodies supple, their hair untouched by grey. That was a pivotal time. By then the child would almost be the age Legolas was now, and they might be returned to Mordor or at least somewhere more congenial than Tashon Narr with its stink of soot and blood.

Mairon knew quite well why Men and Ainur had been drawn to Melkor and, after, to himself. There was freedom in a lack of conscience, the license to explore one's foulest desires, the pits of darkness that dwelt in every soul, without guilt or fear of reprisal. But therein lay the trap: when every appetite was slaked, what was left? Some went mad. Others, a very few, (and Mairon among them) delved into the blackness, picked it, and their own minds apart, studying both. They emerged with complete understanding of it and themselves, but knowing that there must be a controlling will or chaos ensued. Mairon had no patience for chaos. Arda and the firmament beyond were ordered, held structure and so, he decided could that thing Men and Elves chose to call 'evil'.

Melkor might have lost his grip on control ere the end, consumed by hate, eaten by madness, but Mairon never had. He did not concern himself with a certain amount of depravity, and thus permitted Malantur and others like him their fun, but there was a limit. Barad-dûr had been a machine of order where every-one knew their place. He would make it so again and, unfortunately, he needed Tashon Narr and its ready supply of blood. He could not rebuild Barad-dûr as he was now, and had elected to look further than the fast route to power that Gîlrion's blood would have given him. There was an even quicker way, had he chosen to use it, but he had never, even when his diminished spirit whispered among the dust of lonely lands, considered killing his son.

The route to Tashon Narr meandered, skirting north of Chey Sart, which kingdom, enclosed by mountains, controlled its borders and trade with what amounted to paranoia, then looping back south through the steppes of the Abar nomads. The latter, unlike Chey Sart, welcomed trade for the wealth that passed through. Only wolfshead bands would attack traffic on the road, and the Abar dealt with such outlaws severely. They passed, now and then, cadavers that had rotted away from their impaling spikes, left as a warning.

The steppes rolled, green with the autumn rains to the horizon, seemingly without end, but they would end, Mairon knew, giving way to the hills and forests that fringed the Eastern Sea where Tashonn Narr squatted like a black toad, its effluent staining the bright sky and waters. They would outrun winter eventually, but not today; the wind blew cold on their backs.

Legolas was riding, his son too, Gîlrion perched upon the gentle mare that had followed Legolas from Mordor. The child's hair was bright as a coin, even under the leaden sky, growing longer in thick curls that clustered around his neck and face. Legolas watched him with bright, protective eyes. Gîlrion was beginning to chatter, his vocabulary growing daily. He was fearless and too young to fear Mairon. Those huge blue eyes would stare unblinking into his own as he delicately took blood from the child's finger. He healed so fast there were no scars.

There was nothing comparable with Vanimórë's upbringing, but Gîlrion was not Vanimórë, nor would he be used for the same purposes. Gîlrion was loved and cared for, whereas Vanimórë had been tested from the time he could speak and walk.

Gîlrion had been fed by Legolas. Mairon had found orc-sows to nurse his twins and had to supervise them, for though the sows were protective of their own young, they would have feasted on the tender flesh of Vanimórë and Vanya had Mairon not made it known that any-one who touched the children would suffer a prolonged and dreadful death.

As they grew, he ensured they were not over-fed. He would not see the boy starve, but he wanted to know what would happen when hunger gnawed at their small bellies. He ensured Vanimórë knew the ways of the fortress and then he observed. As the stronger of the twins, the boy might have stolen his sister's portion. He did not. He learned to thieve, taking food back to their chamber to share with her. That was interesting, if irritating. The girl was worth nothing save as a toy for Melkor when she grew older, but Vanimórë doted on her. To feel love so young might sabotage his training from the outset. Mairon was delighted when Vanimórë killed her. He did not think the youth had it in him, not at that age. It was then he knew he had succeeded in breeding something very special.

Gîlrion would never be forced to steal food, to kill those he loved. (probably) He would be raised as a prince, a politician, trained in the arts of war and rule, as would Legolas. There was potential in him too, now that he had outrun the fearful child within.

Each night, unless it rained, Tanout and Imir would train Legolas. The young Elf had changed, was still changing. When one cannot run or hide one must face the world alone. That was when you learned if there was metal in your soul, or slag. Mairon had reached that point, as had Vanimórë and Legolas had come to it. He hid his fears when Mairon summoned him, did precisely what he was told, and concentrated almost obsessively on his lessons with sabre, knife, bow and the art of fighting without weapon at all. His embarrassment and uncertainty had been discarded as if he realised they no longer served any useful purpose. The young Men were good teachers and patient. Mairon was satisfied thus far.

The wind slapped against the canvas flaps as darkness fell. Alone, Mairon sat cross-legged over a small writing table. He did not seek company from either the warriors or Legolas. The truth was, most people bored him. There were very few who did not. His son was one. And this man...A face grew under the swift, sure strokes of his pen, a face of hard angles and sweeping cheekbones, brows that tilted upward over huge, long-lashed eyes that could burn with the power of his thoughts, or with passion. Mairon sketched the hair as he had liked to see it, a loose mane of gleaming black, though the Elf had customarily worn it braided or bound up so it would not interfere with his work. Fierce, brilliant, doomed. Celebrimbor.

Mairon lifted the portrait, held it at arms length, scrutinising it for flaws in the execution and finding none, as he had found none in the original. Arrogant Fëanorion beauty blazed back at him, unsullied by torture, untouched by death. He could see Maedhros and Maglor in the haughty features, the sultry mouth, though from all he knew the brothers had not been identical, just very similar, inheriting the Finwëion features of their father and grandfather. Here, too was Tindómion, Maglor's bastard and splendid son. A slight turn of his wrist and Gil-galad, even Finrod watched him from brilliant, unforgiving eyes.

He had not been bored in Ost-in-Edhil, among the Gwaith-i-Mírdain, * most especially in Celebrimbor's company. Their minds had meshed in an almost instant recognition of shared intellect. As for their bodies, that was another matter. Celebrimbor was a born dominant, and although Mairon had been forced into a submissive role under Melkor, he was no more submissive than his son. They had, inevitably, clashed, but desire won, and did not disappoint. In the end it did not matter who gave, who took. They were both more than capable of separating lust from the work that consumed them, but the hunger was there, running like a dark river beneath their days, surfacing in a look, a sidelong smile, a flashing glint in the eyes. It had been...intoxicating.

What a waste. Melkor had erred in making the Noldor his enemies, but perhaps it could have been no other way. They did not easily bend those proud necks, even in the pits of Angband and Melkor would have realised, sooner or later, that he could not control them. What he could not control, he would destroy. Mairon had done the same, Celebrimbor's agonised, corrosive laughter, his defiance driving the daggers of failure into his flesh even as he rent Celebrimbor's own. Mairon had learned, over the ages, to control his temper, but Celebrimbor's intransigence had pushed him over the edge into black fury. His vision of a world where the Noldor and, eventually, all the Elves marched under his banner, where the best and brightest of them worked with him to create the greatest empire on Arda, (even beyond) burned to ash and took Celebrimbor's life with it. Could he have done anything differently? He did not want to walk Melkor's path but in destroying Eregion and Celebrimbor he had done just that. It had been a hard-learned lesson.

A finger of wind curled under the flaps, shivered the drawing. It seemed to Mairon as if the lineaments shifted slightly creating a new face that blazed like a detonating star with eyes that outshone it and promised him that one day he would pay for Celebrimbor, for Maglor.

Mairon flashed a streak of fire across the image. For a moment it seemed as if those eyes burned within it like diamonds, alive and mocking, before the parchment curled, blackened. He crumbled it between his palms, let the ash sift to the rugs.

What was that? Vanimórë demanded.

Nothing, Mairon told him calmly. Fëanor was gone, further away even than death, as was Celebrimbor, shut into the Void with Melkor.
A memory, he said.

OooOooO


He had thought the Ithiledhil might dwell in talans like the wood-Elves of Lothlórien. To his surprise, they did not. He had not (yet) seen Thranduil's caves that were said to reach back in memory to Menegroth, but the Ithiledhil had also taken natural caverns and extended them. Here the earth heaved up as if a sleeping dragon hunched beneath. The main entrance had been smoothed and carved into a doorway. It was good stonework, to his surprise. His surprise grew as they were lead down a sloping path. Lamps hung on the walls showing branching corridors. It would be easy to get lost here. He could smell, from some deeper level, the fire-metal scent of forges, hear the distant, echoing tap of hammers.

The Elf who guided them was tall and broad shouldered with hair like spun glass. His eyes too were pale, pearl-coloured, surrounded by dark lashes. His face was as impassive as a closed door.

At last, they came to one door that they did not pass by. Their escort knocked, then entered. Glorfindel and Bainalph were ushered inside.
The chamber was much larger than Glorfindel expected. Fine woollen hangings covered the walls, and braziers burned. Another door opened into a larger room. Here were padded settles, chairs, a table, tapestries, wolf-pelts underfoot. The air was warm, scented.

A man rose from his seat at the table. He was Glorfindel's height with a warrior's build, and the same glassy hair as their escort. All the Ithiledhil Glorfindel had seen owned this blanched-white hair. This man's was bound back in a great coil behind his head, exposing the sweep of his cheekbones, the winging black brows. His mouth was moulded in rich curves, and he showed ice-white teeth as he smiled at Bainalph, but his eyes, their strange opalescence surrounded by a black ring, showed no expression at all.

He looked fleetingly familiar, am impression that deepened as rounded the table, his movements graceful as a cat's, and inclined his head to Bainalph.

“Edenel,” Bainalph introduced him. “I bring Glorfindel of Imladris.”

“It could be no other.” Edenel's voice was mellow as a lute, yet deep and carried within it a thousand unshed tears. There was no trace of the Silvan lilt, and indeed nothing Silvan about him at all. He might have been Sindarin, but Glorfindel discarded this notion. He found himself staring, wanting to reach behind those unreadable eyes. It was a solecism one should not commit without invitation, but he could not help himself. He ran up against a white wall of denial that reached as deep as the fire at the Earth's core and as high as the untouchable stars. Edenel knew what he had done, flicked him a lightning glance that held an unmistakable warning.

“I need to speak with you,” Bainalph said.

“I am here,” Edenel said gently. “Sit and we will take wine.”

“There is no need to say this to you, but it must remain private.”

Edenel nodded. “Of course.”

I will tell him everything,” Bainalph had said to Glorfindel, whom had shrugged one shoulder. He had come to feel shame at what he had done, did not care if the whole forest knew, though it might make his captivity dangerous. He was waiting, and would wait through whatever 'punishments' the King dealt out to him, until Legolas and his son returned. There was only the time between now and then. Nothing else mattered. Or so he had thought at the beginning.

He had not reckoned on finding anything within the forest realm to interest him, but he had. Bainalph interested him, the books of lore and history he read had, at times, angered him, written solely from the Sindar and Silvan perspective, but Glorfindel was honest enough to admit that Noldor histories were as biased. They too, were of interest. And now, just as his curtailed movements had begun to nag at him, there was the Ithiledhil.

Bainalph's light, pretty voice spun the tale and, for all his resolve, Glorfindel could not but wince internally as his part in Legolas' banishment was revealed. Perhaps he was seeing it now from the eyes of the wood-Elves, and it reeked of violence. Orc work.

Edenel's head turned to him, and then he moved so quickly that the slap across his face caught even Glorfindel by surprise. His hand snapped up, caught Edenel's wrist, felt the steely tendons under the skin. Fire sparked as if from some deep crevasse in the Ithiledhel's mind. Then Bainalph own hand came down between them.
“No,” he said. “Edenel.”

“Consider that blow my opinion, Lord of the Golden Flower.” Edenel's words were cold iron. “The hostage laws require that I do nothing more at this time.”

“I seek to make repartition,” Glorfindel said tightly, choking down fury. In all his two lives he had never been treated thus. Thranduil's disgust and rage, his excoriating tongue had scoured him all through their long journey from Mordor to the Greenwood and, for all his determination to face his crime, it burned like salt in an open wound. Slowly, making a point, he released Edenel's wrist, sat back in the chair.

Edenel returned to his seat, danger limning every graceful movement. Only when he looked back at Bainalph, did his demeanour relax.
“Go on,” he said.

Glorfindel forced himself not to interrupt and Bainalph wove the story on, to the pass above Minas Ithil, the stinking tunnels, the spider. His own death. Here he stopped, the pallor of memory on his face. Glorfindel knew his death had been more terrible than his brief words hinted. Edenel, by his expression, knew it too. He rose, came to Bainalph's side, laid a hand on his shoulder.

“My soul was seized by something terrible.” Bainalph pressed his voice into control. “I did not know what or whom it was. But Glorfindel felt it. He must tell you the rest.”

Edenel threw him a look of surprise. The line of his mouth softened a little.
“You died,” he said. “It was him, no? The Judge of the Dead. The one they call Mandos?”

“I did not think the Elves of the Wood recognised or knew of Mandos,” Glorfindel responded, lifting his brows.

“My people are not of the Wood, and we have lived long enough to learn many things. Well?”

He spoke of Vanimórë leading them to Bainalph's web-wrapped body, and leading them out, of feeling, like ragged metal scraping against his soul, the intimation that something was wrong, and then what it must be. He told of the soul-battle when they fought against the ravenous hunger of Mandos' jaws and Bainalph's awakening. No sign of his ordeal remained. His eyes, blinded by venom, saw as far as ever, and the scars on his face had healed long ago.

And then, as he looked at Bainalph, he realised that though he had returned from death, he had not come back whole. Many things fell into place. “He is like my son,” Thranduil had said in Mordor, and Glorfindel had known it for truth. The predator always recognises the prey. But it had gone from Bainalph, all that formed his desires, stripped away from him like flayed skin, leaving emptiness.

Glorfindel had tried, deliberately to flirt with him. Bainalph was very beautiful, after all, and Glorfindel had not changed; he wanted the perfect submissive. But Bainalph did not respond. Glorfindel had thought he simply did not want to, was unaffected or judged that, as Glorfindel's host, he should not become intimate. But he had also held himself aloof from Thranduil, whom had said, “Bainalph Cualphion is bound to me.”

A flood of anger poured through Glorfindel from head to heels.
“He took it from you,” he said, rising from his chair. “That pitiless piece of filth.”

Bainalph said hopelessly: “Yes.”

“He took...?” Edenel slipped a hand under Bainalph's chin and lifted it to look into his eyes.

“My desire.” Bainalph's white throat moved as he swallowed. “I cannot feel anything. Nothing at all.”

Edenel swore.

“I meant to give myself to you.” Bainalph slanted those wonderful gilt-green eyes at Glorfindel. “So that you would understand Legolas because I do not believe, whatever he becomes, that it will change his desires. But I can teach you nothing. What I was...is gone.”

Glorfindel met Edenel's furious, searching stare. “You know this?” he asked. “That Mandos believes love of one's own gender is a sin, running against the natural order of things? And he has the power to imprison Elven souls for an eternity if he wishes, so that they may consider their crimes. We brought Bainalph back, but Mandos took what he could. He must be laughing, save I never saw him so much as smile.”

“Then why were you not punished?” Edenel demanded.

”I was,” Glorfindel said briefly. “But never mind that for now.”

“I came to you for two reasons.” Bainalph's words drew Edenel's attention back to him. “The equinox is almost upon us.” He looked back at Glorfindel. “You do not know the Earth Rites, and how they effect us, but you have read of them. The lust builds throughout the day. We become more wild, less...controlled. I fear that Thranduil may come to Alphgarth and...”

The thought had not occurred to Glorfindel, but it should have. He stiffened. He had lain down for only one man, ever. Then a cooler, cynical inner-voice pondered if rape could pay for rape, and should he not permit it? Everything within him recoiled in outrage.

“What makes you think he will not come here?” Glorfindel asked, striving to sound calm.

“I have complete authority within my enclave,” Edenel told him. “Even the King will not trespass against that. Although we too celebrate the Earth Rites. And the other reason?” he asked Bainalph softly.

“I hoped...” His voice shook. “that you could help me as you did once before.”

Edenel closed his eyes for a moment, and Glorfindel saw something lying like a shadow under the beautiful bones of his face, something ancient, something so terrible that even he, with war and death and grief behind him, (and still within him) flinched from it.
Who are you? he wondered. And why are you familiar? Why does Bainalph think you can help him when, if any-one could, it should be Thranduil. He had seen the desperate lust in the King's eyes every tortuous step of their journey. And why in the Hells do I think you can help him?

He shook the questions away as Edenel opened his eyes, curved his hands about Bainalph's face.

“Long ago, I too believed I had forever lost all desire.” His words wove a tale that came out of the darkness of forgotten years. “But, you see, I could not allow that to happen to me. And I cannot allow Mandos to strip you of yourself either, my dear.” The lanterns flickered, went out until only one remained, a lonely light in the sudden pressing gloom. Edenel shone in it like a solitary star. “I think,” he murmured. “that I can help you.”


OooOooO



End Notes:
* People of the Jewel Smiths.

The idea of Maglor being able to sing songs of power is shamelessly influenced by Encairion's Maglor in The Price of Vengeance II. Chapter 8.

Note: Elrond was not, I thought, an admirable person in Esteliel's story. He seemed initially to find it amusing that Glorfindel raped Legolas and was using him as a sex slave. Erestor was horrible, so I intend to write as little as I can about both of them.
Chapter 29 ~ Where Shadows Bloom In The Sun ~ by Spiced Wine


~ Where Shadows Bloom In The Sun ~



~ Rumour had reached the city that their prince was dead. It was unimaginable, and while some staunchly rejected the notion, panic is an arrow eager to fly. People took to the streets of Sud Sicanna, flocked to the Mother's temple. The high priestess herself, old in wisdom and years of service came forth to speak to them, declaring Vanimórë lived. Yet the fear rumbled on. The Dorwinion Embassy was mobbed, forced to seal its doors until a legion of warriors marched to their aid. The army themselves had no doubt the prince was alive, (the alternative was too outrageous to contemplate) but behind closed doors people whispered and murmured, “What if...?” Powerful houses eyed eyed one another.

Then outriders entered the city, sent ahead from Gondor with the news that Vanimórë was returning. Many of his entourage had been lost to treachery, but their prince was coming home. A collective breath was released.

Sud Sicanna waited to greet him. Paid assassins refused all contracts. Ministers and temple priestesses came to the gates and when he was sighted a roar went up that shook the brazen sky.

OooOooO


It took some time to put everything in order, but people do not like sudden change, which Vanimórë's death would have brought, and relief swept the city as they settled back into their accustomed lives. They might not love their ruler, but they were proud of him. He was legend. He was theirs.


“I knew he was thy father,” Vanimórë said. “There is a resemblance.”

“And still you chose me to come, prince?” Celírel regarded him with mystification clear in the grey eyes. “I am not the man the king would have chosen. He made that very clear.”

Rather too clear, and to Vanimórë unnecessarily cruel. It had sealed his decision.
“Thou art the one I chose.” He crossed one leg over the other.

The sun had set, and his long day as prince of Sud Sicanna had come to an end in theory, if not in fact. He never stopped ruling. And, as his position dictated his days, his mind stretched eastward to Legolas, to Gîl, to Tanout and Shemar, to his father. And often it reach north, to Maglor.

“You have done me great honour,” Celírel said. “I do realise that, and am grateful.”

Vanimórë smiled at him. “Thou art worth more than being hidden away in Minas Ithil.”

He had not wanted the Gondorian legation staffed by older men whose contempt and suspicion for 'barbarians' had become entrenched over decades, but equally King Tarostar knew that young minds are more malleable, and the possibility of his emissaries becoming acclimatised to the Harad, tainted by its culture and mores, was unacceptable to him. A compromise was reached, and Celírel was accompanied by two senior men. Vanimórë did not hold out any hope of their stiff necks bending, but they were concerned with mercantile affairs of which Celírel knew nothing. With them came secretaries and servants, so that the Gondorian legation numbered ten, with a compliment of twelve soldiers. Vanimórë had spent every evening with them as they journeyed south, explaining the city and its politics.

On their arrival, Vanimórë hosted them at a feast, and thereafter Celírel was a frequent guest at the palace. This was not remarkable. Ambassadors and Envoys were often invited and Vanimórë, knowing the young man was finding his feet, wanted to keep an eye on him.

Celírel himself trod carefully in Vanimórë's presence. His experience in Mordor had shaken him to the bone. He had not wanted to leave Gondor believing, as did his king, that Sauron was about to launch an attack upon the kingdom he had hated for so long.

“He will not,” Vanimórë had responded calmly. “He has not the power yet, nor the army. He is gone from Mordor and will be, I think for many years.”

Inevitably, they had not believed him.

But Sud Sicanna was another world; a city-state untroubled by war that flourished under Vanimórë's rule. Merchants of many nations thronged its streets, the markets teemed and, behind high walls, gardens like jewels gave shade and sang with the soft music of water. There was poverty, as in any city, there was crime, and there was punishment, crueller than in Gondor and more public. Vanimórë's laws were stern.

Celírel sipped at his wine.
“My lord prince, it troubles me,” he began. “the fate of those in the Dark Lord's hands...”

“They are alive,” Vanimórë told him.

“So you have said, but for how long?” Celírel wondered.

“As long as they are useful.” He rose from the divan, crossed to the long balcony where urns spilled bright flowers. His gardens were dim, scented, the most peaceful place in Sud Sicanna. He beckoned.
“Come.”

Beyond the walls the distant hum of the city sounded, but here a night-bird sang and night-blossoming flowers filled the air with fragrance. There were no lanterns to foil night-vision. While it was almost impossible for an assassin to enter the gardens, Vanimórë bridged the gap between possible and impossible with common sense.

“I have heard tales of a city of blood in the far East,” Celírel said. “Are they true, Sire?”

Tell me more of this city.

Vanimórë's head came up, turned north at the unmistakable voice that sounded in his mind.
Maglor. He smiled. He would not wish the perils of that journey from Szrel Kain to Mordor on any of them, yet his heart was hollow as it had been when Maglor rode from Mordor and when he, Vanimórë, was released by the Last Alliance. He missed their company, their presence in his life. Now the ache of loneliness had returned to its nest in his heart.

How goes it? he asked.

“Tashon Narr,” he said aloud, so that both would hear. “It was founded on blood. And for blood.”

I ride to the Greenwood with my son. Tindómion is authorised to speak for Elrond.

Thou doth not need me to tell thee to be careful, Vanimórë said. Thranduil is proud as be-damned and a man who cannot forgive himself, and that is dangerous.

A trace of amusement tinted with sorrow came into Maglor's reply.
I know the kind, Vanimórë. But I will not be parted from my son.

I am glad thou didst find one another. And then, into the void that held so much pain, so much love, he said without thought: And they need thee as much as thou needest them.

The silence stretched like the silence before thunder.

Thou doth feel them, he pressed. They are not truly gone, not forever.

I sometimes wonder if all I feel is my memories.

No. It is more, Maglor. Thou knowest that. It has to be more. Vanimórë wrapped his certainty about Maglor's mind like an embrace. He forgot his loneliness; surely it had never been so abyssal as Maglor's.

Eru, I hope... Had they been standing face-to-face, their brows would have touched. I have to hope.” Grimly. But tell me of Tashon Narr, what it will do to Legolas and the child, to Tanout and Shemar.

Vanimórë frowned. “Sauron went into the East after the War of Wrath, before he ever founded Mordor. He was running as far as he could, thinking the Valar would track him down and imprison him.”

He founded the city? Maglor asked.

“There is a legend, and Sauron says it is true, that the first human sacrifice to Melkor took place there. Melkor spoke to Men in their minds, became their god instead of Eru. A god who demanded blood. It was very long ago, before Men moved into Beleriand from the East, fleeing from the darkness in their past only to find it waiting for them. Let us say that Sauron used what was already there.”

OooOooO


Temples dominated Tashon Narr. Mairon had founded his upon the bones of even more ancient foundations, and it still stood, round-domed and massive, abutting the northern wall. Others had sprung up over the years. Unlike many cities where one might find different religions represented, in Tashon Narr there was only one.

“But Men will survive. They will live and breed. And so they do.” Vanimórë folded his arms. “No-one starves in Tashon Narr, and there is very little crime.”

From above, Tashon Narr would appear as some labyrinthine maze. It was a secretive place of twisted alleys, houses piled together, every building's flat roof as high as the outer walls. It was possible for a fit man or woman to cross the entire city using the roofs alone. The smoke of offering had blackened the stone to a uniform dingy grey.

It was a city where fear ruled, where neighbours, even family spied upon one another. People whispered, slanted sidelong looks, ever watchful and still, somehow, they thrived. The land and sea were rich, the climate benign but for the sudden violent storms that could sweep in from the ocean. One expected, in such a place, some glittering city of legend. In Tashon Narr, the legends were writ in blood and smoke.

The twisted serpents that arched together had once been pale stone; now the soot of years had tinged them grey-black. Each side, towers rose like fangs.

Mairon had been calling to the priests since Mordor, first pushing into their dreams, then speaking to them in their waking hours. Priests were all cut of the same cloth but those of Tashon Narr did, at least, believe. They were waiting for him beyond the gates in full panoply of red and black, shaven headed, foreheads tattooed by the Eye. The High Priest, a tall, bony man with the face of an aesthete, held his staff and a skinning knife. The latter was in no wise a mere prop of office; that blade had seen much use. His litter waited behind him but he had stepped down from it, as was proper, the lesser clergy gathering behind him.

In Tashon Narr the priests held absolute power, but there were other Men present, richly dressed, the heads of wealthy families. And Malantur, the Mouth, in black-and-gold armour. Mairon had never considered him handsome, but had been personable enough in the early days of his service. Now he looked what he was: a monster tainted by perversion and power, skin an unhealthy white like the belly of a dead fish.

Behind them, the whole of Tashon Narr had turned out. The walls and streets were solid with people. But there was a peculiar silence, peculiar at least unless one knew the city, where people ever watched to see which way the wolf would jump.

Mairon was not discomfited. He sat black Seran, regarding his welcoming committee, his mind passing over them. Then he let the colour fade from his eyes and the fire burn from edge to edge.

There was a susurrus of awe. Those who could see, including the High Priest, folded to their knees, their reaction washing back through the crowd like a ripple. After a calculated moment, Mairon slid one foot free of the stirrups, held it out delicately. Malantur strode forward, formed his mailed hands into a cup, and Mairion stepped down.

“Sire,” Malantur bowed. “I rejoice to see thee.”

“Of course you do.” Mairon snapped his fingers as the man's charnel eyes slithered past him to the young men in his train. Mairon was pleased with their poise for he sensed their fear. Their armour was polished and they sat straight and expressionless in their saddles. Legolas and the child rode together in a wagon, its flaps tied down, for their safety as much as anything. It was not necessary for this mob to know of the Elves, though no doubt word would seep out soon enough. Malantur pulled his eyes away, fell in behind him as Mairon walked past the High Priest and settled himself into the litter.

Let no-one here be in any doubt where the true power lay.


“But they will survive,” Vanimórë said. “No-one will touch them. They must endure Tashon Narr. And I believe they can.” They must.


To Imir, the city reeked of a fear so old it had become ingrained. The tall houses with their tiny windows cast a perpetual gloom over the narrow streets. Tension wrapped itself around his shoulders as he followed the litter, passing crowds of bowed heads. All were, somewhat to his surprise, colourfully dressed, most wore ornaments of silver or ivory or gold. A rich place, but they paid for that abundance with their lives.

The temple was vast, its enormous dome streaked ominously black, but they did not enter it. Imir wanted to thank some god for that, but his god was here, and Imir already knew there was no pity in him. The entourage turned aside, entering a courtyard where slaves dressed in grey rushed forward.

The palace lay behind the temple, built against the city's outer wall. It was a sprawling complex of chambers, courts and corridors, but it became apparent that no-one had lived in them for a long time. By the smell, they had been aired (insofar as it was possible) and elegantly furnished.

Legolas and Gîl were installed in a suite of rooms that connected to Lord Mairon's by a short corridor. Two warriors were with him at all times, and the rest slept in a large, comfortable room beyond. No-one could approach Legolas without passing either Mairon or the soldiers. This placed a heavy responsibility upon Imir, and he did not intend to fail in his duties. Tashon Narr was a terrible place; he had seen the horror in Legolas' eyes when he let fall the long robe that had hidden his features from the masses. Incense burned, but could not entirely mask the pervading stink of burned flesh.

But there was something unexpected and most welcome. The Lord took them through a locked door, down steps into a tunnel that came up outside the walls and into a huge garden that could not be seen from within. They might have trodden into a faraway world. Here the sea breezes sang, paths lead between flowers, groves of fruit trees, little waterfalls and pools. Taller trees hid the walls that bounded the garden, giving an impression of woodland stretching into the distance.

“Only you and I are permitted here,” Lord Mairon told them. “There are slaves who tend to the gardens, but they will not disturb thee. Traditionally, they are mutes.”

Tanout said, “Sire, if I may ask? What of the...Lord Malantur?”

Yes, though Imir. That one. While Lord Mairon instilled a fear of vast and alien power, the Mouth represented a different, more familiar threat. He had come with them into the palace, the heavy, ornate armour clinking.

Imir would not have looked twice at him save that he had heard of the Mouth, and those tales chilled him. Malantur was a Man of the West with their fair skin and grey eyes, but the look in those eyes... Here was another Chalûn, but one magnified, as it were, a man who explored his darkest lusts with impunity, who tortured and killed for pleasure without a shred of empathy, and would smile as he did so. It was like looking into the eyes of a mad orc, but worse. It was always worse when it was a Man. Imir had gone cold and clammy when those eyes moved to him, then the others. The expression in them was vile. But Imir had faced down Chalûn, and no matter how sick his fear, he would not show it. His hands snapped to his swords on reflex. Without a word, the warriors closed ranks about Legolas and Gîl.

But Mairon had intervened, saying something in Black Speech. The Mouth's lips went thin, fear flared in his eyes, made him seem...almost human. Relief ran like wine through Imir's body. The mad dog was leashed.

“They are not for you,” Mairon said. “I will not tell you again. All of them belong utterly to me. Do – You – Understand?”

“Yes, Sire.” Malantur bowed, and Mairon looked at him with distaste writ clear on his beautiful features. The Mouth's pale skin flushed. “Send me a head servant, an intelligent one, to oversee our needs. After I have dined, we will speak.”


Now, in the beauty of the garden, Mairon said, “Malantur will not touch any of you. He will not use these gardens. For him, beauty lies in...other realms. And you are not in his service, but mine.”

Tanout bowed his head. “Thank you, Sire.”

They watched him in silence as he went from the garden, a force of elegance and power and more so, it seemed, each day. Imir gestured with his fingers and the warriors spread out. It would not do, here, to take anything for granted. Imir and Tanout remained with Legolas. Gìl tugged at his hand and Legolas walked on to where a shallow stream played over a bed of coloured pebbles. A bird called from somewhere among the trees, and there was the music of fountains. It was almost – almost – peaceful.

Tanout murmured: “Strange to say it, but I would trust Him over that mad bastard.”

“So would I. And that would be foolish.” Imir watched Legolas, remembered how he had galloped into their midst in Mordor, breathless, blooded, frantic, looking so young. He had changed on their journey; they all had but Legolas more than any. He no longer showed fear; his blue eyes had become like ice over a deep lake. He carried himself with more assurance, and his face was composed.

He knows he cannot afford to panic, Imir thought. There was no way out of the situation, not with a child.

In this thou canst trust him, to a degree.
Imir was not sure he would ever become accustomed to hearing Vanimórë in his mind, seeing the face behind the rich voice. He was everything Imir had imagined, and much more. Legend had it that he was an Elf, and he looked it. So did Lord Mairon, but the Dark Prince was far more human. Imir found himself wishing that Vanimórë were here; there was something immensely comforting in his mental presence, but therein lay danger. Vanimórë was not here. They could depend on no-one but themselves.

He has invested himself in thee, Vanimórë said. Given thee his blood. It is not a thing he does often. Even the Mouth was not given his blood, but mine. Except in extreme circumstances he will not allow thee to be harmed. He wants an elite guard for Legolas and Gîlrion. He will protect thee from the Mouth and from all that happens in Tashon Narr. If thou art obedient and useful.

Legolas kept his eyes on Gîl, as the boy paddled. I intend to do whatever I must to keep my son safe.

Vanimórë's mind-voice wrapped warm about them.
Thou art very important to his plans. But do not think about those yet; think about nothing but living. Learn all thou canst. And live.

Legolas' face was as still as marble, as if he did not dare to let any emotion show lest it crack his hard-earned poise.
I will.

As for the Mouth. Be wary. He fears Sauron, and fears death more. But he is used to having a long chain. If he does anything, attempts anything, report him. Sauron can see through him like glass. He will not take Malantur's word over thine.

Imir met Tanout's eyes and swallowed. They nodded.

Thou knowest what happens in Tashonn Narr and why, Vanimórë said. There is nothing thou canst do about it. Thou must stay there for a time, and must make it as endurable as possible.

We will, my lord, Imir responded. It had not, anyhow, entered his head to try and escape.

The others returned, reporting that no-one else was in the garden. Legolas held out his hand to Gîl and they walked the paths. Strange flowers and trees grew here, lush and hot-coloured in the tropical climate. They had left the cold behind them. Mairon had told them that it was warm or hot all year and there could be killing typhoon winds, but Tashonn Narr's peculiar architecture was usually proof against them. Imir was accustomed to the heat of Khand's summers, and the temperature did not trouble him. Legolas and the child seemed almost immune to either heat or cold.

”We could train here,” he suggested to Legolas. They had been shown the great training grounds for the temple guards who were the personal army of the high priest and, Imir judged, little more than a collection of thugs with license to intimidate and bully the citizens. He would have to have somewhat to do with them, he supposed, but privately vowed those interactions would be brief.

“Yes,” Legolas replied after a moment. “That would be preferable.”

“D'nez, take another with you and bring us wine,” Imir said. “I would say we deserve it.” He smiled at Legolas. “And some juice for Gîl.” The only one of them who seemed to feel no fear at all.

It was the first time they had been truly private since the beginning of the journey, though Imir believed that Mairon could see into their minds and so there was no real privacy. Nevertheless.
“Whatever we can do for you, we will do,” he said to Legolas. “And for Gîl, too. We will make ourselves the best to watch and ward you.”

Legolas smiled. He did not often smile, but it was like light and honey, and to be treasured.
“Thank you, Imir. But I also must be my son's guard until he is old enough.”

“You have great skill,” Imir told him with perfect truth. He had come to see that Legolas needed constant reassurance, and was more than willing to give it. The Lord had told him about Legolas, as had Tanout. “You have the instincts of a warrior, and a speed greater than any Man. All you need is more training.”

“And experience,” Legolas said flatly.

“You have had experience, in Szrel Kain and with the Fell-wolves,” Tanout said. “And you will obtain more. Perhaps not here. This city is as cowed as a whipped dog, but somewhere, at some time.”

“Yes,” Legolas whispered. “This city...” His hand curved around the gnarled bark of a willow. It seemed to Imir that the leaves reached toward him in a caress. “I am so glad,” he said through the shimmering greenness. “that you are all here with me.”

He bound Imir's heart to his with those words. Though they all served Mairon, it was Legolas at whose feet Imir laid his sword, his loyalty, and if need be, his life. The allegedly almost-immortal life that he did not quite believe in and, having seen the Mouth, was afraid of.

Legolas turned to look at them with those luminous blue eyes. “You will not become like that,” he said, and it was a promise.

OooOooO


Is there any possibility of them escaping? Maglor asked. When Gîl is older, perhaps?

Nothing is impossible, Vanimórë frowned. But it would be difficult, and incredibly risky.

Then the city is not a closed place?

Far from it. Much trade enters its gates. Whether they ever attempt to escape or not depends mostly on Gîlrion. If he is moulded by Sauron, comes to look on him as his lord, even his father... His lips curled. He tasted bitterness. That is what Sauron hopes for, of course. It just makes things...simpler for him.

Celírel said, “Where is it, sir?”

“Very far from here.” He smiled reassuringly. “Come within and I will show thee.”

By lamplight, Celírel studied the finely-drawn map.

“He will never come here,” Vanimórë told him. “Perhaps in his disguise as Osulf, he would have, but not as himself. He would not deign to. He will call me, when he judges the time is right.”

And how long will that be? Maglor asked.

I know not, Vanimórë answered him. But there is a great deal of blood in Tashon Narr.

OooOooO


Secrets twisted within secrets.

In the end, there was only the two of them. Many, Tindómion did not trust, and the ones he did, men he had trained from youth, he would not risk. Or that was what he told the Imladrian council. Elrond did not want to risk either of them, but Tindómion had made the arrangement with Thranduil before they parted, and he would hold to his promise. And there were other promises he had wrung from both Thranduil and Elrond. Secrets.

Maglor had no idea who Vanimórë was. Neither did Legolas.

It would hardly have bred trust, would it? Vanimórë had told him, sounding wry. And I needed them both to trust me. They had suffered enough grief and terror, dost thou not agree?

Yes, Tindómion agreed.

Wilt thou tell Maglor? Vanimórë asked.

I do not know.

He found he could not. It was too brutal. Vanimórë had saved Legolas' life, Maglor's too, and there had been trust between them. To shatter that, when it might be needed later...No. If any-one told Maglor it must be Vanimórë himself.

Thranduil did at least agree that Legolas must not be told, and was willing to extend his silence to Maglor, but for his son's sake. A connection had formed between the Fëanorion and Legolas during their journey, and who knew what thoughts the young Elf might hear? Also, Vanimórë might be useful in years to come. Elrond, whom had wanted Sauron's son dead, did not see why Maglor should not know.

“If thou art thinking my father is in any way healed,” Tindómion leaned across Elrond's table. “let me disabuse thee. He came to trust Vanimórë, and it seems there was good reason. I am not throwing that caltrop under his feet, Elrond, not when he is only just beginning to find them.”

“Trust him?” Elrond raised his brows. “Does no-one else find it extremely unlikely that Vanimórë – of Maia blood like my ancestress! – could travel with his own damned father and not know whom Sauron was.”

“Sauron hid in plain sight. He can shift his shape,” Tindómion said impatiently. “Vanimórë never thought to see him, and he did not, not until it was too late.”

“You...'speak' with him often?” Elrond inquired.

“Not often, but sometimes, yes.”

“You have said Maglor is not himself, and Legolas was little more than a terrified child. Their judgement of Vanimórë is not to be trusted.” Elrond steepled his fingers. “Both were vulnerable. In fact, you cannot say, because you do not know, that this was not all an elaborate game.”

“Thou art right.” Tindómion's eyes did not leave Elrond's. “I suppose one could interpret all Vanimórë's actions in a different light, but I can only judge men by what they do, and my father has told me a great deal. To me, there was too much love, too much honour, and too much care in Vanimórë's actions for him to be false. Yes, he is Sauron's son. Hast thou truly considered what that might mean? He fought with us at the Last Alliance. I believe he would be an ally if he could.”

He had left that meeting in a temper. Perhaps his travels had opened his mind to what Imladris had truly become, to the changes that were needed. The valley stifled him. They had grown inward, plants in a dark garden. He wanted to throw open the gates, let the light in.

At least Elrond had agreed, if unwillingly, to say nothing to Maglor of Vanimórë's parentage and, fortunately, few people in Imladris knew the truth. Tindómion could only hope that the Elves of the Greenwood were equally ignorant.

Autumn painted the land in rich hues; the wind, still mild, tugged at the first falling leaves and the scent of soft decay, the ending of things was heavy on the air. The Greenwood, that great barrier across the northern world, was a tapestry of colour.

They were met by King Thranduil's eldest son, Celeirdúr whom, if he had no reason to love Tindómion, equally had no reason to hate him. As he had said in Mordor, and truly, he had never acted with less than honour toward any prisoner of the Wood.

And there was no need to introduce his father. Tindómion knew how striking was the resemblance between them.

“You would have me welcome... this man?” the prince rode close to speak and kept his voice low. His eyes were ice, yet he would doubtless have been informed of Maglor's coming by Thranduil.

Maglor sat his horse with a face of marble smoothness. He made the autumn sun seem pallid.

“I do not expect thee to welcome either of us, under the circumstances,” Tindómion responded evenly. “But my father was one of those who helped bring Prince Bainalph's soul back from the dead, as I am sure thou art aware.”

Celeirdúr's mouth thinned, then he inclined his head. “Then come.”

“How is Prince Bainalph?” Maglor asked in his inimitable voice.

“No doubt you will meet with him.” Celeirdúr swung his horse, rode to the head of his escort.

They rode in a bubble of seclusion. Only Celeirdúr spoke to them, his manner excruciatingly formal, at least initially. The other wood-Elves watched them with bright, cold eyes. Celeirdúr thawed only after asking, as if compelled, of Legolas. Maglor regarded him for a moment as if gauging him, and then complied.

It became clear that there was a well of guilt in Celeirdúr, an older brother whom had taken little notice of the youngest and realised, too late, that he could have done more, been more, to Legolas. It was equally obvious to Tindómion that his father could not imagine a brother not loving his siblings, but he did not, by way of punishment, withhold anything from Celeirdúr.

And Maglor dreamed. Perhaps this forest reminded him of another, long drowned under Belegaer. The silence was thick, green, the trees ancient, weaving their branches together high overhead so that at night the darkness was almost impenetrable. Many years after, the Greenwood's name was changed, and such a journey would have been perilous, but at this time it was only dim and quiet. Nevertheless, it was unknown territory for Tindómion, and he remained alert, waking even as Maglor jerked upright. He gripped his father's arm.

I am here, he said, mind-to-mind, and Maglor took a shuddering breath. There were some things he would still not speak of, even though he knew his son had shared his life through dreams, and Tindómion understood. Words held power; they made the unendurable, the impossible into unalterable fact.

Maglor slid a hand to his shoulder, gripped it.
Not that, he said.

Not the dead.

What is it?

The guards were watching them, almost invisible in the heavy darkness, but for the glimmer of their exposed flesh.

I am not sure. Something...ancient. Terrible pain.

Here, in the forest?

Maybe. He lay back on the bedroll, staring up into the night. Tindómion laid a hand on his breast.

Whatever it was, it did not come again.

OooOooO


Thranduil's halls impressed Tindómion, though his father looked on their airy splendour with eyes gone dark. The hill had been carved from the inside out and down into the Earth's depths. There were air currents, the sound of water falling somewhere, the glint of unmined gems on wall and pillar. Thranduil greeted them in his great throne hall where bridges and walkways curved and the roots of great trees seemed fashioned about the stone. The king's face was expressionless. He bent his head as they bowed.

“Be welcome to my realm.” His voice carried. “We will see you comfortably lodged. Tomorrow we hold council.” He rose from his throne, paced down the sweep of steps, spoke just to them. “You did not ask Celeirdúr of my prisoner. From that I infer that you speak with him personally.”

“No,” Tindómion refuted calmly. “I trust thy word and that of Prince Bainalph.”

Thranduil's eyes flickered. It was there-and-gone, but for a moment, Tindómion had seen it: complicated, bitter emotion.
“Well you might.” He lifted a hand to the guards. “You will be escorted to your rooms. Later we will talk privily.”

Tindómion drew a long breath when they were alone. The guest chambers were spacious, rich, though the light came from lamps of tinted glass.

“That was rather the welcome I suspected,” Maglor said, offing his cloak.

They had spoken of Thranduil possibly imprisoning, even executing Maglor for his past deeds, but Maglor had said he would not.
“He is bound by a blood-debt to me,” he had stated. “He claimed Bainalph was his. Whatever he feels, he will not kill me.”

Now he said, “His primary concern is Legolas and Gîl. And he saw Sauron, as we did. He knows his enemy, and it is not me. He is rigidly controlled, almost frighteningly so, but there is not enough personal hate for me in him. His emotions are running only one way, and I understand that.”

“So do I.” Tindómion stretched.

Maglor began to work loose his braids. “Vanimórë said Bainalph was...damaged. I wonder if that was what I felt, that night on the road? No,” he answered his own question. “It was too old. Maybe a memory.” Waves of dark silk rippled across his face.

“Father...? Thou hast been so quiet on this journey.”

That brought Maglor's head up. He drew Tindómion toward him. “I am thinking. I have not attempted anything like...what I will do. Fighting for Bainalph's soul reminded me that there were other ways to do battle. But if I fail, it is not just me who will pay the price.”

“Do not try and dissuade me,” Tindómion whispered.

Love and pain flared across Maglor's features. “I am so afraid of losing thee, and now...for too long I did nothing. I let my steps take me where they would. I lived only in memory and in madness. I could not...face life without them.”

Tindómion drew him close, fiercely protective. “I know.”

Maglor rested his face against Tindómion's hair. “Yes,” he whispered. “I think thou dost know.” He moved away, paced to one of the walls where a tapestry hung, passed his fingers over gold and white flowers. “I am afraid of failing.”

“Thou wilt not fail.”

“Such trust! They trusted me. And so did he.”

“Vanimórë?” Tindómion guessed.

“He would not let me fall back into madness. He faith in me. I do not know why.”

“Thou hast talked to him often.” With that came a sudden dark, and rousing jealousy. And it came from nowhere, like a blow in a lightless room. Yet he knew it. Through the blood that linked them, through his father's memories, he recognised it. The Finwëions turned toward one another in love and in hate. Rare it was that any outsider could enter those ranks.

“Yes.” Maglor came to him, his slim hand caressed Tindómion's cheek. His eyes understood. “I admire him. He reminds me of...father. I told him that, and he said they were nothing alike, and in a way that is true, but in all other ways...Vanimórë is unbreakable. Even death would not break him I think.”

“Glorfindel admired him also.” His voice sounded throaty and difficult.

“He owed us nothing, Legolas and I, yet he caught us both and stood by us. He cannot look aside. It is not in him. And I cannot even remember how he saved me in Barad-dûr...”

And if I told thee that I think I know? Tindómion had lived his father's agony, and the shattering ecstasy that followed it. Swimming up out of unconsciousness into blazing lust, he had reached out to Gil-galad. Nothing could have stopped him. He shirred himself away from the memory. In Barad-dûr, some-one had thoroughly, beautifully seduced Maglor, and who would it be but Vanimórë?
But he does not remember, and it is not for me to tell him.

Nevertheless, there was something between his father and Vanimórë that required no memory.

“Thou hast told him of thy plan?” he questioned.

Maglor shook his head. “Of course not. It would be far too dangerous. But I have learned more of Tashon Narr. Vanimórë was speaking to some-one – that young Gondorian who was in Mordor – and I listened. Our minds are linked, as mine is to thine, and was to my...family. I can overhear him, even if he is not speaking to me.” He pushed back his hair. “I asked him of Sud Sicanna and then, when the opportunity arose, of Tashon Narr. He believes me curious, worried for Legolas and the child. And I am, Hells I am, but I needed to know more of that place.” The lamplight glanced silver from his eyes. “I could see the city as through his memories. They were horrific. And we will have to disguise our very souls from him. Fortunately,” his mouth bent. “I have some experience. When I was Nhidan, I was nothing but a lost madman. But thou must also hide thyself.”

Tindómion gripped him hard. “I was...lost after Gil-galad died. I can conceal myself.”

His father stared at him. White teeth glinted in a smile. “Not to me. Not to any-one who knew what they were looking for. But let us hope Sauron does not look. The canopy over our minds has to deflect his, as if it were sunlight. Beneath it, we will be ourselves, to any-one else we will be Men.”

There was a rap at the outer door, and Thranduil entered. He had laid aside his crown, but his face was as coldly perfect as it had been when he greeted them in his hall.

“Glorfindel is well enough, it is reported,” he told them as he sat down. “I have not seen him.”

That surprised Tindómion. Thranduil had himself under a tight leash indeed. One that almost choked him. As if the king had read his mind, he said harshly: “My grandson is being raised by Sauron. I cannot risk giving him pain if he is bound to Glorfindel.”

“There is no doubt of that,” Maglor interposed. “When thou,” he looked at Tindómion, “laid a dagger at Glorfindel's throat, wanting to kill, Gîlrion knew it. He reacted.”

“When was this?” Thranduil demanded.

“After we saw all of thee when the Fell-wolves attacked. I saw through my son's eyes.”

Tindómion nodded. He had come so close to killing Glorfindel. Only his father had stopped him.

Thranduil's eyes went distant. “I will wait,” he said, all ice and control. “until my son and grandson return.”

“The truce between us exists only as long as Glorfindel lives,” Tindómion reminded him, with upwelling anger. He hated being in this position; he too believed Glorfindel should pay for his crimes, but not with his death. That was too easy. With what, then? Torture. No. They were not orcs, although when Elves acted with cruelty one could (with horror) see the earliest beginnings of that cruel, damned race. He had seen it in Glorfindel, and recoiled from it.

“I have not spoken of his death.”

“But that is thy desire.”

“And would it not be yours?” Ice limned the king's face. Black fire burned under it. “But I have said he will live.” He rose. “I have not seen him since I returned.”

And how much is that costing thee? Tindómion wondered. To stay away from the both of them? A great deal, I think. The man was going to snap, eventually.

“After the council, I will send an escort with you to Alpgarth,” Thranduil said, and then with a small marble-cold smile. “You should reach there in time for the autumn Earth Rites, but of course, you need not participate. You Golodhrim do not, do you?”

He knew quite well they did not, Tindómion thought. He had heard of the Earth Rites, even seen them during the War of the Last Alliance. Looking unblinking into the King's glittering eyes he said straight-faced: “We are not here to enjoy ourselves, Thranduil.”

Maglor, unexpectedly, laughed, a low, rich, sound. An expression of startlement flashed across the King's face, melting the ice for an instant. He tilted his head, looked from Tindómion to Maglor.
”They say that it is impossible to resist the call, even for...outsiders. But I have heard,” with a whip-flick of mockery. “that you are a past-master at restraint, Tindómion.”

“I was, once.” and I think mine was nothing compared to thine.

“Then perhaps it will not be difficult for you.” He came close, eyes drinking them in. He smelled like the deep, secret green places in the forest, the roots of trees, moss in the dark hollow of an oak.
“Fëanorions,” he murmured. “Well, I am sure Bainalph will look after you.”


OooOooO


Chapter 30 ~ Hope Is Too Bitter ~ by Spiced Wine


Hope Is Too Bitter.



He no longer prayed 'Let me live', but rather: 'Let him live.' Let Gîl live.

Legolas knew there was an inherent risk in this new life, and it was not – or not only – the obvious danger that was Mairon. For Legolas to become what Mairon wanted, he had to learn certain facts about the Maia, about Mordor, even Angband, that an enemy (his own people) could perhaps use. But he had to learn, and thus each day became, in theory, a greater risk. Mairon had to trust him a little, and Legolas was certain he trusted no-one.

Yet Mairon was patient, charming. So nauseated was Legolas by the presence of Malantur that he swung in horror to the one person who could control the Man. And if he suspected that he was deliberately being lulled and cozened there was nothing to be done about it.

Legolas could not read Black Speech – yet, and though the language they spoke here was a variant of Rhûnan, he was not in the company of any-one who spoke it, save Mairon, so could only learn it slowly. Therefore, Sauron taught him through speech and much of what he said sounded reasonable. Legolas had to catch himself, had to remind himself of what Mairon was and yet...he would also find his thoughts flashing to Vanimórë who served Mairon, and was...Was Vanimórë.

Each morning began with a meal served by silent and deft-handed servants supervised by a thin, pleasant faced man whose eyes missed nothing. After, they would walk in the gardens, then Legolas would go to Mairon.

Legolas had always learned more quickly from stories than written accounts of history. Celeirdúr had told him of the Last Alliance and, though his brother had not been there, the gruelling battles and long siege unfurled in Legolas' mind: the armies, the black-armoured legions of the Enemy, the arid heat of Mordor, Orodruin spuming fire and smoke and the titan-brooding of Barad-dûr. The deaths. Now he was shown the Last Alliance from Mairon's perspective. It discomfited him.

“They attacked my land, Legolas,” Mairon said in his voice of silk. “What could I do?”

Vanimórë's mind did not touch Legolas' during his lessons. It was, Legolas came to realise, too dangerous. He could not afford to question Mairon, and the idea of contradicting him was unthinkable. Legolas was afraid that if Mairon grew angry, he would vent his displeasure not on Legolas himself, and not Gîl, but on one of the others. And so he sat at Mairon's feet on the days when the air felt as damp as wet silk, heat clinging to the palace and listened. And said nothing.

But Mairon, it transpired, did not want that; he desired Legolas to engage with him, show that he was learning. He would walk with Legolas in the evenings, asking questions. Fear concentrates the mind, and Legolas was able to answer, desperately honing his senses as if they were blades against a whetstone, alert to any hint of anger. He still had to brace himself to look into those eyes. If he looked too long, he found himself gazing into the fires at the heart of the earth, and falling... But – and here was something he could not bring himself to speak of to any-one – Elvýr was there, somewhere in the midst of that power, that fire. Legolas could feel him. It was a desperate, terrifying knowledge.

Only when Mairon left him could he relax. A little. Tashon Narr was not a place that fostered peace of mind. The temple lay at the heart of a cult of ancient fear.

Fear. It crawled through every passage, every room like the tainted smoke. Legolas had not seen the temple, Imir and Tanout had. They were pallid, eyes scorched by horror when they returned. Both of them had seen violent death before but this was worse. To Legolas' initial surprise it was Shemar who comforted them; he had been a high priest's catamite, and witnessed human sacrifice. But he was terrified. He had been so close to being sacrificed himself that the spectre of it haunted him.

Tanout and Imir refused to tell Legolas exactly what they had seen, and he could not but be glad of it. His imagination was more than sufficient.

Do not dwell on it. Vanimórë's voice had poured into his mind, as dark and soothing as heavy velvet. It was like a steel-strong arm about him. Impossible, I know, but thou must live here and so for thine own sake, must close eyes and mind to it.

I know. And he did close his eyes, there in the air of the garden whose multi-hued fragrance could not quite mask the smell of burning. Vanimórë's presence seemed so close Legolas almost believed he could sink into that imperturbable comfort and that everything would be well. But it was dangerous to toy with whimsy. He took a breath, opened his eyes again.

I know, he said I know what I must do. I think it... His throat closed. I think it would be better if you and...all of them did not speak to me.

After a silence, Vanimórë murmured, Because it makes thee feel more of a prisoner, unfree, and we are all so far away.

Yes. It...the distance is too great. I need it, but I cannot afford to need it. Hope is too bitter. And I have them: Tanout, Imir, Shemar and the others. They are here because of me. They had been given Mairon's blood to better serve him. I am not completely alone. And I have Gîl. He was, he realised, trying to reassure Vanimórë.

Oh, my dear. Vanimórë knew. He knew absolutely. Because it had happened to him. Legolas remembered the terror-dream that had jerked Vanimórë awake in Szrel Kain. But dost thou not see that this is exactly what he wants? For thee to be cut off from any influence but his?

It does not matter. It may be the only way I can live this life. You must tell them. I cannot do this any-more. I must not. He tremoured. Tears burned in his eyes and he blinked them away.

Vanimórë's incandescent and helpless rage touched Legolas like the first heat of a bonfire.
Thou knowest I am here, as close as a whisper. And so will they be.

Legolas swallowed through the ash in his throat. I know. And it would be better if they were not. He was not going to answer them or reach for them. No more.

Ada?” Gîl slipped his small hand into Legolas, his solemn little face upturned. Legolas knelt and lifted him, pressing his face into the curls of coin-gold hair. Gîl's arms locked tightly about his neck.
OooOooO


Every bed-slave Malantur took was of a type, Mairon mused: long black hair, fair skin. Like Vanimórë, or as close as he could come, because there was no-one like Vanimórë. The Mouth had his people buy slaves from most of the world and used them up rather quickly. Men were too delicate for his attentions, and Vanimórë was a rarely-given treat, a punishment for his son, and a sickly delight to Malantur. One day, Mairon would allow Vanimórë to kill him, but at this time the Mouth was useful.

Malantur withdrew his hand from where it was buried to the wrist in the boy's rear passage, dragging a moan from the slave's lips. He was strapped down, long hair falling over his face. His pale skin was bruised from neck to ankle, old bruises, burns and fresh ones.

“There is a time for pleasure.” Mairon lowered himself to a couch as Malantur, sheened in sweat, reached hastily for a robe. Two slaves plied the huge fans with redoubled energy. Their faces were blank, but their eyes were wide with fear. “I see I was away too long.”

“Sire.” The Mouth looked singularly foolish, his erection withering to droop between his legs. “How can I serve thee?” He was flushed with chagrin.

“Wine,” Mairon ordered. “Let the boy attend me.”

Malantur jerked at the slave's bonds, pulled him roughly from the table.
“Pour wine for the Master.”

The slave half-stumbled and caught himself, shook the hair from his face, wincing, but there was grace to his movements as he crossed to the table and poured two goblets of wine. Mairon gauged the play of muscle on that slim body, the eyes, almost black, that flashed a swift upward glance at him as he went down on one knee proffering the cup then, very correctly, lowered.

“You were a soldier,” he observed. “Well?”

The dark eyes came up again. Mairon's own reflection danced in them.

“Yes, Master.” His voice had an unusual accent. It took Mairon a moment to place it.

“You are Cathain.”

An aloof nation who prized their racial purity and saw the Variags as a debased offshoot, their blood mingled with savages, it was rare to see a Cathaian slave. They were an old and venerable empire who believed that their first ruler descended from the gods and affected to be unimpressed by Mairon.

“Yes, Master.” The sultry, bitten lips pressed tightly together.

“Unusual.” Mairon looked at the Mouth.

“A trading caravan, Sire.” Malantur could not hide his satisfied smirk. “He was a guard. I believe he fought well.”

No caravan was entirely immune to the depredations of banditry.

“Quite a recent acquisition,” Mairon mused in Black Speech. “Not yet broken.” There was still rage in him.

“He will break, my lord. Sooner or later. They all do.” Malantur's eyes slid like oil down the young man's nakedness.

“Not quite all.” He saw Vanimórë's name inscribe itself on the Man's inner eye, (Malantur had not been permitted to even see Maglor) and repressed a smile. “Trained in arms. Then he is wasted here.” He enjoyed the helpless protest that flared in Malantur's mind and eyes. “I am creating a personal guard for Legolas and his son. It is not yet at full strength. This one will suit.” He had not told Malantur what he had done to the others. The Mouth was fiercely jealous of his longevity. It would be amusing to see his reaction when he discovered it. “You have grown slothful in my absence. It will do you no harm to restrain your appetites for a time. Perhaps I should send you to...invite my son to Tashon Narr.”

Malantur blanched. His voice came rough.
“Thou art summoning him, Sire?”

The Mouth would sooner face a legion of uruks naked than encounter Vanimórë outside the tight sphere of Mairon's presence.

“Just for a time.” Time enough to assure Vanimórè that Legolas and Gîl were in no danger, (one could push him only so far, and it was a delicate enough game) for Mairon to exert his control over his son a little more. And Legolas needed to see exactly what his hero was, and that he served Mairon. Vanimórë was not expecting a summons and it would surprise him, but he would come, and his behaviour would be impeccable because of Legolas and Gîlrion.
There were other reasons, naturally. Mairon had always been sure, when he spoke to Vanimórë, that his son could follow and match his mind, even if unwillingly. He might be seething with violent hate, but he listened, comprehended. Mairon wondered, at times, if this was a weakness in himself. He remembered Melkor, before madness had poisoned him, Celebrimbor's brilliant eyes, even Finrod, beautiful as a sunrise, in their song-duel. They had been able to track the paths of his mind, as could his son. So, was it a weakness to appreciate that, or pure ego? If the latter, let it be so.
He added maliciously: “To see how a man acts when one's back is turned can be illuminating, no? My son is exceedingly impressive.” Once, Vanimórë had declared that were he free, he would find somewhere remote and quiet and live in peace. The first thing he had done when Mairon was was reduced to well nigh nothing was depose a ruler and make himself prince of a city. He was his father's son and, one must not forget, of the Noldor nobility. Blood will always tell.

“Yes, Sire.” Jealousy and fear were inextricably mingled. “May one ask when the Slave will arrive?”

The Slave. Malantur never failed to call Vanimórë by that degrading title. While Mairon had created it and used it himself, it irked him that the Mouth, far more a slave than Vanimórë, should use it in an attempt to humble his son. Try. No-one had ever succeeded, not even Melkor. For a moment Mairon seriously – and rather mischievously – toyed with the idea of really sending Malantur to Sud Sicanna, but he discarded it with regret. Vanimórë knew he would be punished if he harmed the Mouth, but such was his hatred of the Man he might willingly accept it.

“I have not yet decided.” He glanced at the youth still kneeling on the floor and clicked his fingers. “Go, wash and dress yourself and return to me. Do not look at him for orders. You are mine.”

With a hurried bow, the youth left the room. Mairon noted his injuries, both visible and hidden, and saw that he would heal without recourse to a physician. He had healthy young flesh.

“I will send you to Mordor in a while. Have your people start buying slaves for clearing work: strong ones.” Malantur of course, could not rebuild Lugbúrz;. Mairon must raise it from the ruins, dragging power from himself and the earth. It was fortunate, though not surprising, that no-one had been able to destroy the foundations. But Mairon would have to regain all his lost strength before he could attempt it and for that more practical reason he needed his son. It was simply easier to feed from Vanimórë's stupendous life-force when he was physically close. Even the almost unlimited blood available in Tashon Narr was no substitute for his son's, and Mairon no longer drew blood from Legolas and Gîlrion. He had seen how close to madness that had driven Legolas, and could not risk the young Elf's mental collapse. Mairon knew to a hairsbreadth just how far he could go. With any-one.

“And an army. I need a good army.”

“The orcs are numerous in Nurnen, my lord.”

“They will be regathered of course,” he said. “But I want Men.” Orcs were excellent shock-troops and vicious enough that their terror ran before them, but the core of Mordor's army, the true army, would be Men, trained by his son.
“Buy young slaves, ten or twelve years. Build an encampment and training ground outside the city. And breed them. Be careful with that. No inbreeding. I want generations of warriors.”

“I will begin at once, my lord.”

“That you will. Immediately. And had you any foresight you would begun long ago.”

“I did not know your will, Master.” Malantur's face was beaded with sweat not wholly attributable to the humidity.

Vanimórë would have. Naturally Vanimórë would not have done it, but he would have known what Mairon wanted.

“I feared you...gone.”

Probably he had feared it. He did not truly know how much of his longevity would pass from him were Mairon passed utterly from the world.

“Never.” He rose, stalked toward one of the slaves. Saw the tremors that took him as he permitted his eyes to slide into red fire. He placed the tip of one finger below the slave collar, drew it down the smooth breast. He heard the whimper, saw the flesh split. Malantur's breath huffed in anticipation. But Mairon was not interested in drama for the sake of it, or not at this moment. He merely drank. The man, dead, held upright by Mairon's power, did not fall until he was finished.

The young Man's name was Kan-dai. Washed, wearing a short cotton tunic that left his legs bare, and with his hair drawn away from his face, he looked exotic and beautiful even dappled with bruises. Mairon heard the slight limp in his steps as he followed. He had seen what remained of the slave, and his mind shouted terror. Mairon did not reassure him. There were others better suited for that task.

They were in the garden, Legolas and the young soldiers. It might have been too hot and humid to train, but they never let that stop them. Tanout and Imir were sparring with the young Elf, while the other watched. Gîlrion looked up from his seat beside Shemar. The child's intensely blue eyes were unblinking.

“My Lord.” Imir bowed, and silence fell over the hot gardens. Mosquitoes droned.

“This is Kan-dai,” Mairon said. “He will become one of you. He was a caravan guard, so already has some training. He will rest a few days first.”

The young man was down on one knee. He did not look up.

“He comes from Malantur.” Mairon saw them assessing the marks on arms and legs. The look Legolas flashed him was horrified at the thought of any-one being in the Mouth's power. It melted into gratitude, and Mairon smiled inwardly. Such a useful emotion, gratitude. It was the needle-pointed dirk that slid through the mail shirt of the untrusting and fearful. Legolas stretched out a hand.
“You are most welcome, Kan-dai” he said.

OooOooO


Prince Bainalph was not in his residence of Alphgarth, neither was Glorfindel. The castellan, a woman who introduced herself as Eludhuin, greeted them. Her eyes were like flint as they fell on Maglor, but clearly word had gone ahead; either that or Bainalph had left orders that whomever might come from Imladris were to be made welcome in his fiefdom.

“The prince is gone to the Ithiledhil.” Eludhuin told them, unsmiling. “And the hostage, Lord Glorfindel, went with him.”

No hesitation nor stress on Glorfindel's name. So the shameful secret held.

“I will have a message sent,” the woman continued. “In the meantime, be welcome to Alphgarth.”

Alphgarth was nothing like Thranduil's halls; here was a white stone mansion, graceful and strong. Its walls were thick, and the windows high above the ground for defence, not unlike a Noldorin stronghold, but something in its lines was distinctly Sindarin. Within, it was spacious, walls covered in bright tapestries, the floors tiled and strewn with rugs. Fires burned in the guest-chambers though the day was mild. Maglor walked to a window, opened it. Air fragrant with the gentle decay of autumn lilted in. The ground sloped gently down to a shallow river that widened into a pool graced by the swans that gave the place its name. Beyond, the woods were taking on their richest hues. A redbreast twittered its sweet-sharp fall song.

“A pleasant place,” Maglor remarked, and glanced over at his son. “And whom are the Ithiledhil, thinks't thou?”

“Some clan within the Wood, father. As I understand it, there were many different groups before Oropher became king.”

“Thou couldst ask Glorfindel.” Maglor gleamed a grim little smile.

“I will not speak to him until I must,” Tindómion retorted. “Thou canst see well enough what is happening here.”

“His only punishment, it would seem, is to be away from Imladris.” Maglor tilted his head, then added: “Thus far.”

“Hells, I want him to pay,” Tindómion exploded. “He should. But at the same time, I do not want him dead.

“Punishment comes in many different forms,” Maglor said almost gently.

Tindómion's jaw hardened. “That I know, father. But Legolas and his son are in the power of Sauron, while Glorfindel is, to all intents and purposes, treated as a guest of the Wood.”

“At the moment. Thou canst not know what the future will bring. Perhaps it is not Thranduil who will punish Glorfindel, but Legolas himself, or even Gîl.” He laid his hands on Tindomion's shoulders, who felt the warmth and strength of them strike to the bone. “Leave this now. Let us bathe and go down to supper.”


“Yes, the Ithiledhil are a clan,” Eludhuin confirmed at the formal meal. With her was the Captain of Alphgarth, her husband Sulluth, and a few lords with too-calm faces. They were reserving judgement, Tindómion thought, which in itself said a great deal about their love for Bainalph. Yet the atmosphere was strained. He had not expected it to be otherwise.
“Their enclave is to the south,” the woman continued. “You will see it – if the prince sends word for you to join him there.”

There was little else to be got from her, and Tindómion respected her silence.

He was wakeful that night as the breeze died, and the sounds of the woods beyond the mansion drifted into his chamber. At length he rose, walked to the open window, tilting his head slightly trying to bring something into focus: a deep and discordant note among the antipathy that he had expected, that underscored it.

He heard the door open, turned and saw his father gleam in the dimness.

“Thou art feeling it now.” Maglor joined him at the window.

“Less than thee, I think, but yes; there is something.”

“I wondered if it might be Thranduil, but it is not. And it is closer, here.” A little owl called from the trees. “It is old. I feel, older even that I...”

“But not dangerous.”

“No,” Maglor murmured. “And I have felt it before.”

Tindómion stared at him. “Where?”

His father's eyes looked into another world. “In Barad-dûr. From Sauron. And Vanimórë. He – if one can look past his glitter.

Oh, Eru. Then what...

“And in Maedhros,” Maglor continued, “When Fingon brought him back from Thangorodrim.”

“What...what are we feeling, father?”

“Memories,” he said on a thread of torn gold. “Memories of pain. Save pain is a trite word that means nothing in the face of this.”

“Some-one here was tortured in Angband,” Tindómion said flatly.

“Perhaps.” But there was doubt in his father's voice. “There were some escapees. We always feared they were under Morgoth's will, but...Maedhros was not, so it is possible there were others. Vanimórë?” he spoke aloud. “Canst thou feel this?”

There was a long pause before Vanimórë's unmistakable voice came into their minds, bringing with it an image of him, frowning violet eyes under those black, sweeping brows.
Yes, he affirmed.“There is sorcery. Or was. Melkor's. Sauron's. And something else I cannot identify.

At Melkor's name the fire of inherited hatred sparked through Tindómion He saw it glow in his father's eyes.

“Didst thou know of any escapes?” Maglor asked.

I knew that there were some who escaped, yes.

“And were never accepted back among their people save my brother.” The words were filled with gall. “Perhaps one of them found refuge here.”

It is possible, Vanimórë agreed. But it is very strong. This scar is deep, Maglor. And there is something about it I cannot comprehend.

“Is it as deep as thine own?” He felt the barriers go up, saw Vanimórë's eyes turn adamantine. So willing to help, so unwilling to accept even the mildest sympathy.

They did not sleep that night.

Chapter 31 ~ Changed And Unchanging ~ by Spiced Wine



~ Changed And Unchanging


He turned the lamp wick down, let the darkness, the silence of his chamber settle over him. It brought no peace.

I do not think I can do this.

“The Lord Tindómion of Imladris is coming here, my Lord,” had said the messenger, one of Bainalph's men. “And his father. Maglor Fëanorion.” His eyes were full of speculation, but Edenel said merely, “Very well. Thank you.”

Maglor Fëanorion. He had vanished after the War of Wrath, when he and his eldest brother Maedhros stole (or reclaimed, Edenel thought) the Silmarils recovered from Angband. Both were believed dead. But after, whispers arose that Maglor's voice had been heard on the gull-haunted shores beside the Great Sea. Then, when Gil-galad fell and his kingdom crumbled, even the whispers passed into memory. The great houses of the Noldor had fallen. Few now bore their blood. One of those was already here, and two more were about to join him.

Edenel could feel Maglor's approach like an oncoming storm-front; the unending loss, the almost obsessional love, the pain, the fire. It pushed his own carefully contained emotions close to the surface, begging for release. He had avoided Glorfindel after their first meeting, but it would be impossible to avoid at least greeting Tindómion and Maglor. Would their blood sound the carillon of recognition? Though he had been preoccupied, Glorfindel's had. He had tried to look within Edenel whom had denied him ingress, slammed a door in his face.

Glorfindel, a living legend twice-over. Reborn. And a rapist. Ancient fury had blazed up in Edenel on hearing Legolas' story. Emotion was not a thing he could easily feel; none of the Ithiledhil could afford to. But rape could kill, not invariably, but often enough that it was deemed a crime among the Elves, whatever their kindred. Perhaps that was one of the purposes of the Earth Rites. What occurred then was not rape. No-one was unwilling, everything was accepted. Everything. But the Rites had not been for that purpose originally. The Ithiledhil had chosen days when they might abdicate their control, give their anguish voice. Sex was inextricably interwoven with it, a forging of pleasure from memories of rape and pain. But they could not live thus always and so, after, they returned to the calmness that had been so necessary to them.

Edenel moved about the room, letting those other, darker senses take over so that he could see. Legolas and a son, imprisoned under the hand of the Dark, and one he knew intimately. Bainalph, stripped of his generous, yielding sensuality by a judge who knew no pity. Thranduil, burying his desires and guilt together so that they bled into one another. Glorfindel. Tindómion. Maglor. Finwëions exerting a tidal pull upon him.

He leaned his forehead against the wall.

Thranduil and Bainalph believed the Ithiledhil had been captured and imprisoned as thralls in Angband. It was close enough to the truth. By the time Oropher came to the Greenwood, Angband was destroyed, the Great Enemy thrown down and gone from the Earth. Oropher had accepted the Ithiledhil as different, but without prejudice, and so did his son. By the time Oropher guessed what the white-haired tribe might be, the old mistrust of escaped thralls was clearly bootless. The Ithiledhil continued to live as they had since coming to the forest, in their enclave on the borders of Alphgarth. Tacitly, they were part of that fiefdom while remaining insular.

Three Finwëions. How Edenel craved their presence – and feared it.

He stared into the dark behind his eyes.

“I think it would be best for our people. And she loves thee.”

A flash in eyes that were black as a pearl is black, a pink stain colouring milk-white flesh.
“Thou doth have a duty to our people also.”

He nodded. It was true. But he had woken with his hand in this other man's, his twin, and it had been so natural, the closeness, the love. Only later had he come to believe that he was standing in his brother's way. The woman with her silver hair and delicate hands watched them both, but he himself retreated, unable to return her desires. Her eyes turned to the other. Edenel (who bore another name then) began to spend more time away, tearing himself from the connection that could never truly be severed. Heartsick, he had wandered further and further afield into the shadow-haunted forests and hills. He knew the dangers. Every-one did. Perhaps he had tempted the Dark, wanting to die.

He had not died, but he did not return, or at least not as the person whom had left. He saw his brother only at a distance and long after.

(He did not know that his disappearance was an unhealed wound in his brother, that he had not found the heart to bond with the woman until the Quendi came to Valinor. It might have been otherwise. Perhaps, had Edenel not been captured, his brother would have sired a son beside Cuiviénen and that son, born to Middle-earth, might never have wanted to leave it. Edenel would never know, had never seen his nephew save in dreams and in the faces of the Exiles who returned).

He had thought the torment of Utumno, his changing had torn all he was out by the roots. It had not. When the Exiles returned, the Ithiledhil travelled north, to see but not be seen. Edenel learned of his brother's death at the hand of the dark god whom the Noldor called Morgoth Bauglir and felt his heart, long sundered as it was, break in twain.

Finwë, I never said I was sorry for leaving thee, and I could not reach thee, after... Utumno and the Dark had broken their connection forever.

He heard of Finwë's first son, Spirit of Fire and dead of fire, of his sons. Of the Oath.

Mereth Aderthad had given him the opportunity to come closer to the Noldor. Cowls drawn over their faces, the Ithiledhil might pass as Sindar of Doriath, especially at night.

He saw them all: Fëanor's sons, Fingolfin and his children, Finarfin's offspring. They were like the stars when the clouds of Utumno's destruction cleared from the skies, beauty he had long thought lost to him in those power-forged pits. And he wanted them, these perilous shining ones, his kin. But he could not go to them. He was marred, twisted by sorcery, altogether changed.

It would have been a blessing not to be able to remember the change and what had preceded it, but that benison was denied him. He remembered everything. The dark god and his bright, terrible lieutenant had done what they had done, wanting to create a race of warrior-thralls. The pain and perversions were supposed, over time, to bend the Quendi away from their very selves and, for the majority of captives, it was successful. Edenel had seen their beauty moulded into ugliness, their soul-fire turn to violence and cruelty. It was unbearable. The same should have happened to him but, in the depths of Utumno the agony, the horror had screamed him beyond the will of the dark, and he had woken as he was now, hair and eyes leached of colour, his mind clear.

He was the first, and they had come, those dark lords, and surveyed him with interest. There was even a thoughtful smile on the face of Mairon.

There were others, after him, not many but enough. The White Slayers, they had been named. Trained as warriors, answering only to the Dark. They were useful because they still looked like the unsullied Quendi, and so they were sent out to infiltrate, to spy, and to bring back more prisoners.

Their first mission was also their last. Unheralded, light blasted out of the West and fell like wrath upon Utumno. The Slayers were far from the fortress by then, but they felt the air concuss, the ground shake. Unleashed power drove agony through them like flame. They thought they saw, poised above the icy northern mountains a figure with streaming white wings edged with flame, a host behind him, faces like swords. The Dark God's rage and fear was titanic, but though he called on his minions and all his power, he was defeated. They felt it. His presence receded from the world, left deep shadows behind. And Mairon remained, a red-gold ember still burning.

After, when first moon showed through the storm-rack, Edenel took his new name and fashioned one for his comrades. They came from different kindreds, but what they had endured made them one people: the Gwaith-en-Ithilvorn. The Folk of the Black Moon.

They spoke only rarely of Utumno, and did not say much. Some thing go beyond words, beyond understanding even compassion. All agreed they would make a new life and never answer to the call of the Dark. Torment, changing, had scoured their minds free and clear. They fought it instead, going to the east of the Ered Luin when Caranthir Fëanorion dwelt beside Lake Helvorn, ambushing orc patrols. They were accepted among the Green Elves of Ossiriand and lived among them save when they marched to war. In those times of blood and madness it was never known who they were. In the end, though, it did not matter. The bright stars fell one by one.

He heard the outer door open and straightened as a knock came.

“Enter,” he said, knowing.

“My Lord,” the guard said emotionlessly. “The Fëanorions are here.”

OooOooO


Why now? He pressed the seal into the wax without a tremor.

Do not get any ideas. You will not be here overlong.

Very well. Vanimórë handed the signed papers to his secretary, then pulled fresh parchment toward him and wrote. The only noises in the chamber were the scratching of his pen and the rustle of papers. His secretary's newest underling was very young, and this was the first time he had been in Vanimórë's presence. His hands were shaking as he gripped the parchments his superior had given him. It was useful to have people fear him; indeed Vanimórë had cultivated intimidation since his youth. It had been a matter of survival, and the first time a hulking brute of an orc had backed away from the look in his eyes had been deeply satisfying, but he took no pleasure in alarming children. He wrote more quickly, stifling irritation. People wanted to serve at the palace because they might see their prince at close quarters. If there was a jest there, Vanimórë was not the one laughing at it. Their reactions, nailed half-way between fascinated and petrified made him feel isolated.

“I will see Generals Sallar and Fa'raz at the sixth bell tomorrow. I will see my ministers at the ninth, and the high priestess will attend me at the twelfth. Make copies and return them to me for my seal.”

“Yes, Sire.” The secretary bowed and left the chamber, the boy following on stiff, frightened legs. Vanimórë rose as the doors shut behind them, went to the huge wall map, plotting distances and routes, frowning.

Do you foresee any problems with leaving your city for a time, after the recent débâcle?

Vanimórë shrugged. I took some measures on my return, and the most powerful houses are very finely balanced. It is better for Sud Sicanna and their treasuries if I stay alive. And my army is very loyal.
Youngsters had poured off the streets in droves to join. The fact that their prince had lost most of his escort to Szrel Kain ignited a wave of patriotism. The army were lauded, Vanimórë worshipped. His mouth crooked in a bitter-tasting smile. It was ridiculous. They were hoping to die gloriously for him, while parents, widows and children still mourned the men they had lost. All he could give them was a decent pension.

The Khagan of Khand is visiting me. We meet each year, in Khand or here. He will be here for a sennight. Thou didst alarm him badly by appearing and disappearing in his land without summoning him.

All in good time. You may tell him I am pleased with his continued loyalty, and thank him for the use of his warriors. They are doing very well.

Vanimórë let that go. He knew.
I would still ask: why now?

I am not obliged to tell you anything, but I am sure that if you exercise your intelligence for a moment, you will reach a conclusion.

Legolas.

Legolas is terrified, naturally, Sauron said coolly. He is a perfect pupil. He does nothing wrong, nothing that could bring punishment down on his friends. But you are still his hero, my son. He still pins hope on your rescuing him as you did before.

Vanimórë paced, turned back to the map.
Every-one needs to hope. Especially Legolas.

Not so, his father corrected him. When you gave up hoping, when you knew no-one would ever rescue you, you created a strong foundation I could build upon. You were about Legolas' age.

His hand came down flat on the map with a slap.

And before you trot out the wearying 'Legolas is not me' pleas, again, Sauron forestalled him, you were not all that different, just as frightened, just as damaged, at least after Melkor had you. You are not unique in your suffering.

Vanimórë tensed and – very deliberately – relaxed. He stared, unseeing at the map.
I know that. But Legolas is not going to be me. He does not need to be...raised as I was. He responds to love.

He will grow to love me. A kind of love at any rate, until he comes to realise he does not need it.

Vanimórë would have laughed had Sauron not been completely serious. It sounded absurd beyond measure, but his father could play a part with artistry. He had in Ost-in-Edhil – or had that been artifice at all? Legolas could indeed grow to love his captor, simply because there was no-one else he could look to.

Are you jealous? The question was provocative. Vanimórë leaned back against the wall, closed his eyes.

He could be like you. Perhaps. But...no. It is true he has a different purpose. And it would be wasteful to break him.

Make him too much thy creature and the Elves will not trust him.

Believe it or not, I do know what I am doing, his father returned, dry as ash.

Vanimórë forbore to mention the One Ring, or Númenor, or the Last Alliance. Or following Melkor in the beginning. Instead he said, Thou knowest I speak to him.

Of course. The others too. It has been helpful, thus I have allowed it.

Legolas told me he wanted me to cease.

Wise of him, Sauron remarked. He is trying to face reality. But you are part of that reality. He must see you as what you are: mine, as he and his son are mine. Nothing more. Despite what he says you are still his hero, you and probably the beautiful Fëanorion who was teaching him to enjoy shameless sex. I want him entirely, utterly focused on me. He must look to me for everything.

And that was the sum of it, thought Vanimórë. His father wanted every-one to look to him, and so had Melkor, at least before he decided to destroy the world that would not.

He said, The arrangements to leave will take a few weeks.

Tashonn Narr meant his father, Malantur's brutality if Sauron was inclined, and doubtless he would be. Vanimórë had threatened and mocked Sauron-Osulf, and ultimately flirted with him, wanted him. The last might not earn him punishment but the former offences certainly would. Or he might choose to personally punish Vanimórë, which was worse even than the Mouth's savage rapes because at times, and depending on his mood, Sauron was (terribly) refined. Vanimórë quashed the long-familiar spasms of dread. Tashonn Nar was where Legolas and Gîlrion were, Tanout and young Shemar. Vanimórë would have ridden out now, if he could.

You are meeting the high priestess, you said. That is something we really must discuss: your Mother worship, Sauron was all silk over blood-red metal.

I do not worship Dana, Vanimórë replied. Which was true. The people of this city may worship whom and what they will, unless their religion involves human sacrifice. But it is obvious this would be her place. Melkor destroyed her body here. She chose me to wake her. I do not know why, but I do not think I could have avoided doing so.

The silence stretched around Sauron's thoughts. At last he mused: I remember every Ainu before Time, but not this one. It said nothing and a great deal but Vanimórë was not interested. Dana had lead him to Legolas and Maglor, then allowed Legolas and Gîlrion to be taken by Sauron. Her reasons for allowing it meshed too closely with Sauron's own machinations, enough to leave Vanimórë deeply suspicious. He could not trust her nor place any hope in her.

I must see the high priestess because when it becomes known I am travelling to Tashon Narr there may be unrest. It is surprising how people appreciate not being sacrificed.

It has its uses, Sauron returned idly. And I am sure you are neighbourly to other places where it is practised.

Yes, although it has been formalised in many cases. Tashon Narr is an ancient nightmare.

His father's shrug travelled the distance between them. Of course. Melkor once set foot there. He left his mark, as he did in Sud Sicanna. Fortunate for me, no?

Melkor's mark was still here, buried under the new worship, Dana's temple reconsecrated, just as her presence had slept beneath the statue of Melkor. A god's tread was heavy.

Very. He spun away, but could not outpace the laughter-threaded response.
I look forward to seeing you again, my son. You are quite illuminating when you are not hating me.

I am glad I could provide thee with some amusement, my Lord.

Amusement, and other things. Then his voice turned to adamant and fire, touched Vanimórë with the raw edge of pain.
You will not offer Legolas comfort. There is none to give, as you should know better than any-one. Like him, like Malantur, like the Nazgûl, you are my servant. Tell me you understand.

I understand. He could not hide the flash of rage. I understand perfectly.

Good boy, Sauron said. There is no need to bring tribute. Just bring yourself.

OooOooO


“Absolutely out of the question.

Celírel's jaw was set, his lips firmed into a determined line.
“Sauron is the greatest enemy of the people of Westernessë – ”

“And for precisely that reason I am not riding into Tashon Narr with a son of the King of Gondor, illegitimate or no.” Vanimórë put up a hand. “The king sent thee to Minas Ithil so thou wouldst be out of the way; he acceded to my request to bring thee here because it was thou or no-one, and it is even further away, and thou art thinking that to return to him with intelligence of Sauron will raise thee in his esteem.” The young man stared, colour high in his cheeks. He looked suddenly very young. Vanimórë hardened his heart and swept on remorselessly: “Either that or thou art thinking, like these lads joining my army after the absolute bloody shambles of our flight from Szrel Kain, of a noble death, a name carved in stone upon a great tomb. What will happen is that thy heart and entrails will be cut out upon an alter and burned while thou art watching. And that is after thou art raped by the Mouth. Perhaps many times. Thou art just the kind he enjoys. There is no honour in that, Celírel, only agony and death, with thy blood feeding Sauron's growing power.”

Celírel looked as if he had been slapped. He moistened his lips, and when he could speak, his voice came hoarse but steady: “It is not true that I seek the king's favour, Prince Vanimórë. Neither do I need it. Not any more. But I love Gondor. And yes, if I could find out anything – ”

“Hells, I can tell thee that now: Sauron has returned. He will grow in power and resurrect Barad-dûr, and one day he will march upon Gondor.”

“But he cannot conquer without the One Ring,” Celírel said.

“Ah,” Vanimórë said. “That.” He handed the young man a glass of wine. “Where didst thou learn that – wildly optimistic – bit of information.” He offered wine.

“I read it, Sire, in Minas Ithil's library.” Celírel drank, more quickly than usual. He tended toward temperance.

“Then of course it must be true. Some-one writes something down and it immediately becomes a truth.” He sat down, crossed one leg over the other. “I do not know,” he said. “I do not see how any-one can know. Sauron is of the Ainur. As far as I understand it, they were never born, they can never die. Even Morgoth Bauglir is not dead, only locked away from the world until the end.” He stared into the wine, unseeing. “I would not,” he said eventually into Celírel's stillness, “put any faith in speculation. When the One was cut from him, he was greatly reduced. He lost form and vanished away into the waste places. It took him hundreds of years to regain power. If they had destroyed the Ring...They had their chance. But now he has returned, taken form and will regain more power each day. Anyhow, he will have something that is perhaps more useful than power.”

“And that is?”

“A damnably big army.” He set the glass down. “One does not need power to conquer. He will have orcs by the tens of thousands, Men from the East and South who call him their God. There will never be another Last Alliance, Celírel. The Elves are leaving Middle-earth. And thou canst not win against Sauron without allies.”

A touch of anger came into Celírel's face, as if he had been personally insulted. “You take a grim view of it. Gondor is strong.”

“A realistic view. Gondor is strong, I agree. It is also assailed, thine enemies taking bite after bite out of thee. Gondor's kings do not want to make peace with barbarians and never will, save at the point of a sword when their enemies kneel in the dirt. The Valar gifted thee with Númenor and long life, and made thee completely unbearable, arrogant beyond measure.”

“Our first king,” Celírel said stiffly. “was the son of Eärendil. If we are proud, we have reason.”

Vanimórë laughed shortly. “Every tribe and nation of Men I have ever known is proud – and rightly – of something.”

“I was forgetting,” the young man up his chin.“that you have served the Dark Lord.”

“I have been free since the end of the Last Alliance.” Vanimórë kept his voice perfectly level. “He will call me back when it suits him.”

After a moment, Celírel murmured, “Then I am sorry for it.” He looked away, gestured. “It is difficult to imagine. This is what you are: a prince, a warrior, not a servant of evil.”

“Many people thou wouldst not call 'evil' own Sauron as their Overlord.”

Celírel appeared to consider that. “Is he calling you back now?”

“Not yet, I think. This is a...meeting, if thou wilt. And I very much doubt,” he added sardonically. “that he will order me to declare war on Gondor.” Not yet. “Now, thou shouldst go. I have a great deal to do. I will speak with thee tomorrow.”

At the door, Celírel looked back over his shoulder, said tightly: “The king would wish me to go to Tashon Narr.”

“Then let him send an official embassy there,” Vanimórë mocked. “He should be making use of thy position here. It is a long time since Gondor has sent any peaceful delegation into these lands.”

“I was ordered to report on you, Prince, and learn all I could. I do,” he admitted, “send reports.”

Vanimórë nodded. “I know.”

“Do you know,” Celírel said. “Why the king wanted to see you when you passed through Gondor? Why he sent an escort to you?”

“Because I never acknowledged him when I made the first journey through Gondor to Szrel Kain. Kings hate to be ignored.”

“It was a slap in the face. And you call us arrogant?”

“I believed,” Vanimórë smiled a little, “that those who were neutral to Gondor were permitted to pass through the realm. That is not many, admittedly. So, thou art a spy for Tarostar?” He had known that.

Celírel's hand was tight and white on the door. His face burned. Eldacar and Aldamir, minor lordlings whose families had made their wealth through trade had, when they learned of the Prince's forthcoming journey to Tashon Narr, called him to give council and it soon became apparent that the King had completely passed over Celírel, that, to him, these lords were far more vital than he. It was like a blow to the gut.

“You must certainly go with him,” Aldamir said, steepling his plumo beringed fingers, and Eldacar nodded. “The King said that you must acquire any and all information you can.”

Celírel had practised calm in the face of contempt for years. He said stiffly, “Of course I told the Prince that myself. He will not permit it.”

The men exchanged a long look.
“But this is important, captain,” Eldacar spoke as if to an imbecile. “If the Dark One is truly there it is a matter of urgency.”

“If,” Aldamir echoed. “It is very difficult to believe that the Dark Lord even exists now. We only have your word for what happened in Mordor.” Celírel bristled. He knew what he had seen and more, what Vanimórë had told him.
“But the King believes any information should be followed up, and the prince is...” He tapped a finger on the table. “He – or some-one who looks exactly like him – was reported as being a prisoner of Gil-galad during the siege of Barad-dûr.”

Celírel had read that too, a few years ago in the Annals of the Kings. There was no name, but the description was enough. A last note had mentioned him being freed and riding south. It had been Vanimórë, there could be no doubt.

“The King commands that you do everything in your power to find out all you can about the Dark One from our host.” Aldamir unexpectedly, and rather shockingly, leered. “Come now, captain. On the journey from Gondor you could not keep your eyes off him, and we know your...tastes.”

Celírel brutally quashed his violent need to haul the grossly smiling man to his feet and strike him senseless.
“It is Sauron in Tashon Narr.” His voice was icy, and the leer slipped like melting snow from Aldamir's face. “The prince knows it. And he has been very open with me. I have written down all he has told me in my official reports.” He turned on his heel and strode from the room.



“I would offer thee a position in my army, where thou wouldst be judged on thy true worth.” Vanimórë took pity on Celírel's discomfort. He knew exactly what the young man was supposed to do. “Tanout was an orphan and illegitimate. And no-one cares what sex thy preferred bedmate is. I enjoy men, and women. It depends on the mood, the opportunity, if there is any...heat.”

“I cannot leave Gondor.” The response came through a swift-rising blush. “I am not a mercenary – nor am I a deserter.”

“I know that. I just wonder what the future holds for thee.”

A faint, bitter quiver passed over the young man's mouth.
“I do not think the king will call me back.” He aired the idea slowly, dark lashes lowered. “I believe he will see it as the best place for me, far from Gondor. For the rest of my life.”

Hence his need to do something that would if not earn him his father's favour, at least allow him to go home. He jerked as Vanimórë touched his shoulder.

“This is worth nothing, I know, but I would be proud of a son like thee.”

However much one might deny it, a son wanted approval from his father.

Sauron laughed at him.
Oh, I know, he said along the glinting curve of a smile. I do know.


Chapter 32 ~ To Burn Down The Truth ~ by Spiced Wine



~ To Burn Down The Truth ~



~ “Wherever thou art, come back.” Celírel was forced into a desperate leap back to avoid the cut of Vanimórë's blades.

“At ease. We will take a little rest.”

Celírel drank gratefully from the water fountain. Sand clung to his boots and hot skin. The seating area was, as usual, filled. He had learned in the last few days that soldiers assigned to the palace were well aware of their prestigious position and took full advantage of its perquisites. One of those was allowing their family, friends (or indeed any-one with the coin to pay) to see their prince when he used the training ground.

At first, Vanimórë said, he had been wary, and forbidden it. It would be easy enough for a would-be assassin to bribe their way in. Later, he came to realise that not only did his men love him, they wanted to show that in some way they had access to him. In any event, an assassin would find him (or her) self at the mercy of Vanimórë and as many armed soldiers as happened to be in the training area at that time. Vanimórë had proved impossible, so far, to kill and there had been no attempts for a long time.

Thus it was that a stream of avid viewers added considerably to the purses of the palace guard. Vanimórë did not mind. He paid his army well, but none save the generals could become as rich as the merchants and noble houses with their inherited (and often corrupt) wealth. Since many of the soldiers came from poor backgrounds, he tended to appoint them to the palace for a few years to give them the chance to make money. Celírel could not imagine King Tarostar doing such a thing.

But then, Tarostar was not the Dark Prince. Celírel had never seen him in combat, but to watch him spar was to realise how deadly he would be. He was a predator, could explode from utter stillness to violent movement quicker than a cat, and precisely controlled. His training gear was little different to what his customary unrelieved black, though clearly tailored for his tall, elegant figure, but he did not need armour to look lethal. He looked dangerous sitting on a couch with a goblet of wine. He also had more presence than any-one Celírel had ever seen save the Elves in Mordor and (the reason most of the women and not a few of the men came to see him) was too beautiful to be real. He exuded the promise of passion with every movement and Celírel often found his mind either completely blank or occupied by purely sexual thoughts that brought heat into his cheeks.
Vanimórë was devastatingly charming but Valar he was also terrifying.

Strands of wet hair had escaped their tie. Celírel raked them away. He had let it grow since coming to Sud Sicanna and wondered now if it were in unconscious emulation of the Prince.

“Something thou doth wish to speak of?” Vanimórë asked quietly, as the observers buzzed and murmured.
Celírel, hoping his flush looked like exertion, said the first thing that came into his head: “Your hair, my Lord Prince, does it not invite an enemy to seize it?”

“Of course.” Vanimórë smiled. “It is a taunt. But the test is to clear every enemy within arms reach so they cannot grasp it.”

“I would like to see that,” Celírel said unthinkingly.

“Perhaps thou wilt.” He gestured to the sand. “Ready? Now, be of this moment. Think of nothing. Thou art thy weapon. Flow into it.”

It was the hardest spar Celírel had ever taken part in. The Prince had been pushing him more each day and for the last hour they had swapped swords. Vanimórë was as skilled with one longer blade as with his twin sabres, but Celírel was left-handed only. He thought he had not disgraced himself and he had certainly learned, but his right arm ached and he was sweating freely as they went to the baths.

There seemed no embarrassment among the men who bathed or lay being massaged, although they scrambled to salute as the bath attendants bowed. Vanimórë motioned for them to relax. Celírel quickly sank into the water, trying not to look at the Prince who was now naked, gloriously so. It did not get easier. He would have liked to deny Aldamir's statement that he could not keep his eyes of the Prince, but it would have been a lie.

“Something is eating at thee.”

Celírel could not deny that, either.

Vanimórë soaped himself briskly. Celírel had noted that the bath attendants never washed him, a standing order it seemed. His eyes followed the sharp lines and curlicues of the tattoos that marked his back, curved over his shoulders and traced down his arms. He had been horrified when he saw the Red Eye at the base of the Prince's spine. Usually it was hidden by the fall of black hair. It smouldered as if it were alive. Servant of Sauron.

“Is thy mother alive?”

The question dragged him from his reverie.
“She lives in Dol Amroth,” he replied. “She was no whore,” he added quickly, because it was something often thrown in his face.

“Thinks't thou I would care?”

Celírel, with an effort, met those too-bright eyes.
“She was a serving maid in a tavern the King stayed in while on progress,” he said. “She was dismissed of course, and her parents disowned her. She would not tell any-one whom the man was. But she had an aunt, widowed, who took her in. She is still there.”

“When didst thou last see her?”

“Five years ago, my Lord. I was on furlough. She has never told any-one that the King is my father, which suits him, so he has does not forbid me to see her.” But Dol Amroth was far from Minas Ithil and he had seen her only twice since joining the army.

“Generous of him,” Vanimórë drawled. “Does he provide for her?”

“No. I do my best, and she...works in a laundry.” His mother would not be dependant on him.

“And she never married?”

“She always told me she did not want to.”

“It is a difficult life for a woman who does not wed,” Vanimórë mused. “Though not necessarily a worse one. Women can suffer much in a bad marriage. We will send her a gift.” His eyes danced. “Join me later this evening, and we will decide on what it will be.”

OooOooO


“You will return.”

“This time, yes.”

The High Priestess lay among scattered silk pillows in dark magnificence, heavy breasts sheened with the perspiration of sex. Her thick hair was an aureole about her head, her eyes black and unfathomable.

“All thou must do is keep the people calm, reassure them.” Vanimórë offered her wine. She lifted herself on one elbow, took the glass and drank. She said, “The Mother is silent on this matter.”

“How very unsurprising. She is silent on almost all matters.”

The High priestess chuckled complacently. They were all alike in that as soon as they took the office they became very like Dana in the way interacted with their Prince. By that, and the way they knew things about his life that few did, he believed that the Mother did indeed touch them, that it was more than dreams and visions seen in smoke. In his experience, normal women (and men, too) were never so relaxed in his company. The High Priestesses were a different breed entirely.

Narith had held her office for over twenty years. Relations between palace and temple were formal, with a very clear unspoken rule that Vanimórë not interfere. Not a religious man, he never did, but expected that the temple adopt the same policy when it came to his rule of the city.

In the beginning, Dana had wanted him to take each High Priestess as his Queen. He had absolutely refused.
“Imagine the knives that would come out generation after generation,” he had said. “Families pushing their daughters into the temple whether they wanted it or not, the rivalry would be deadly. The ambitious would see it as a sure route to power.”

Now, it was known Vanimórë would not marry nor even maintain a seraglio though, from time to time, princes and kings would send him comely 'gifts' hoping that this time would be different, that he would change his mind. He never did, though he took lovers at whiles. One of them was always the High Priestess and, notwithstanding the formality of their public relationship, all their meetings began informally – with sex. That was his offering to Dana. He thought how similar Powers were. Melkor had demanded that of him also, as had Sauron. Dana had laughed when he remarked on it, and said it was 'different.' It was not, or not to Vanimórë. But he did not blame the priestesses. It was a sacred duty for both them and him.

He told her, after, of meeting Dana in Szrel Kain and all that happened. He was usually open with Narith simply because she had a spy network that would be the envy of most rulers, and had probably known before any-one else that he was going to Tashon Narr. The High Priestesses were also the only people to know he was Sauron's son.

“Sauron will not be concerned with Sud Sicanna for many years yet,” he said. It was the best he could promise her, or any-one in Sud Sicanna. If Dana wanted her city inviolate she would have to involve herself.

“You want to go,” she murmured. “One has to wonder, at times how much of a slave you truly are, and how much of a son.”

There were some boundaries one did not cross. He drew his hair over his shoulder and began braiding it loosely.
“She wonders, or dost thou?”

“She knows, no doubt. I wonder.”

“Then do not,” he warned.

“There is something else,” she added, after subjecting him to a long scrutiny. “she would have you do.”

Vanimórë nodded for her to go on. Oftentimes, Dana ignored him but would speak through her priestesses.

“The young Gondorian.”

His hands stilled. “What of him?”

“You should take him with you.”

“I have spent quite some time making it clear he cannot.

Narith sat up. Vanimórë rose and heaped pillows for her to lean against. The resplendence of her flesh offered forgetfulness, but he did not touch her. Forgetfulness was not possible for him.

“Tashon Narr will not give him death, but life,” she said. “You know of what I speak. The young Elf's personal guards.” Her brows rose. “Immortals, or so near to it as makes no difference.”

Dana had been busy. Perhaps she was in Tashon Narr herself.
“That is not always a gift,” he said harshly, thinking of the Nazgûl.

“Not always,” she agreed, imperturbably calm. “But this one, and perhaps the others too, will become loyal to you. And you may need them one day.” She shifted, traced a finger over his shoulder, trailed it down his chest. That assumption of ownership again. Like Melkor, like Sauron. He did not move. “Dana is pleased that you bethought yourself of the young man's mother, abandoned by the Gondorian King. His son will avenge that, in time. He will kill Tarostar.” *

So, just one of Dana's whims? “You have seen this?”

“She has vouchsafed it to me.” Her fingers were busy. “I see him, a captain out of the East, kill Tarostar, and glimpses of his life though thousands of years.”

“Poor bastard.”

She shrugged. “He wants to be like you. I need no foresight to know that. I saw him enter the city with you, and it is reported to me how he looks at you.”

“Gods,” Vanimórë said disgustedly. “Celírel would not serve under me even if he did become an immortal. He would serve Legolas, under Sauron.”

“Maybe,” Narith agreed. “for a while. You might consider what else he has in his life.”

“Sanity.”

“A touch of madness is not always a bad thing. He has nothing else does he? He will grow old here, never recalled to Gondor. He may turn to wine or the dreams of opium, forgotten, a cipher, nothing more.”

Vanimórë looked at her and, inside his mind, reviewed Celírel. Narith (or Dana) was likely correct in her prophecy. Tarostar would recall his current men, but never his bastard son. In time, Celírel would become a forgotten relic, an old embarrassment, a jest to those who came after. But was that better than the alternative?

“Dana cannot guarantee his survival if he travels to Tashon Narr,” he said at last. “And I most certainly cannot. Sauron hates the Men of Westernessë. To give one into his hands – ”

“The Mouth is a Man of Westernessë.”

“And nothing like Celírel.”

“No doubt, but Sauron took Malantur into his service, overlooking his blood.”

“He thought it amusing to corrupt a prince of Númenor,” Vanimórë said in distaste. Loathing crawled like fanged snakes through his gut. He hated the Mouth more even than Sauron, than Melkor because his cruelties held pettiness, the thin skin of his own fear, his constant need to prove himself. There was no grandeur in him, no greatness, no charisma (at least Melkor and his father owned an abundance of it). When he looked into Malantur's eyes he saw lust curdled with fear. It was pathetic, rotted. Vanimórë flung open the door to Maglor's wounded fire, Legolas' fresh, untuned sexuality, soaked himself in them until felt clean again. He had to build himself a fortress of those memories before he was given to Malantur. His length hardened. Narith's hand squeezed, snapping him from arousal.

“Well?” she prompted. “Do you not trust Her?”

Almost, he laughed. “I do not,” he said. “She is too fickle.”

The lamplight wavered, light glissaded along the rich hangings, gold, silver, blue. Vanimórë smelt ice, molten metal, myrrh burned on ancient alters, first to Melkor, then to Sauron. Precious, bitter spice.

Bring him. He will do very well. Why not? his father's smile travelled the leagues between them like a silken lash, curled about him. You will get no answers from her, so ask me. I will not kill him. I have not touched the others. They will be useful.

Vanimórë heard Narith's gasp, half-saw her sit upright, hands clenched.
“Get out,” she commanded.

Sauron laughed. You invite my son into your sanctuary, priestess. You might as well invite me. But enough is enough. Come, Vanimórë.

Stay.” Dana's voice thundered through Narith's. “Our meeting is not yet concluded.”

Vanimórë put up his hand. “Do not place me in the middle of thy power-games.” He rose. “The meeting is concluded now. Some things, Lady, take precedent over thy wishes.” And Legolas in Sauron's power was one of them.

She surged forward, eyes snapping black ice. “You think because there was a rapport between you when he played at being a Man, that it will change something? Do not be a fool. To him, you are nought but a tool and will ever be.”

“And I certainly need any-one to tell me about my relationship with my father.” Vanimórë stepped into his breeches. She did not care, never had, though she knew his life. When he gave himself, his body, to wake her, she had ploughed through his mind and taken everything. But it was not that which angered him. Pity was not what he wanted. He flung his tunic over his head.

Sauron's laughter pealed like a bell through their minds.
A tool? Mayhap you are right, Mother. But what was he to you? I have seen it. The amusement faded to steel, shining with what Vanimórë could only construe as anger. You used him to wake you, to service woman after woman that night. And when each woman reached her pleasure you woke a little more until, at the end, you took pieces of them to rebuild your form and then you raped him as they did. He was nothing to you but a body to give pleasure and feel none himself, bound under your power –

He offered himself, Dana cried, as the air swirled hot and thick in the room. It was his choice –

It is his choice too when he offers himself to me to save some child, some woman from torment and death. Do not try to teach a master. I know exactly what you did to him. We both use the same lever: his conscience. The pressure rang in Vanimórë's ears as if some giant hand were flattening the air in the room downward. What happens after is rape. I will call it by its name. Will you? There is no difference. He was a tool to bring you back. If he were not whom he is, Maia and Elven blood, he would not have survived that night. No wonder you used him. I use him too, but to me he is a weapon. Weapons have more elegance, Dana. Oh, and know this. You are not going to win now, not now, not ever. And you will never take my son from me.

Vanimórë's hair whipped free of its loose braid and his emotions threatened to follow in a wild scream of rage and pain. His rib-cage wanted to crack open, the horror and despair tearing free. A pain sawed savagely through his head. He reached through it, flung his mind at the memories, slamming them back into their cells, refusing even to glance at the names writ in degradation: MelkorSauronMalanturOrcsFellwolves. Dana. He tasted blood in his mouth. Their powers, each founded in the place before Time, wrenched at him as if he were a carcase torn at by wolves.

“Enough,” he snarled through the agony. Enough! . He moved through the fury in the room slowly, straining as against iron weights. The scent of myrrh and metal swept him to the door. It slammed behind him. He stood for a moment in the antechamber, resisting the desire to fall to his knees. There was an overwhelming silence but for the sound of ritual drums deeper in the temple. He pressed the heel of his hands to his eyes, then pushed back the windfall of his hair. Two priestesses stared at him. He essayed a faint, ambiguous smile at them as he walked away.

His guards waited with their horses in the outer ward and came to attention as he approached. The entourage clattered out onto the busy evening streets, cleaving the pedestrians aside with the onrush of their passage. Back at the palace, Vanimórë went straight to his chambers, stripped off his clothes and stepped into the bath. He forced the tremors deep beneath his flesh. It had been an Age and more since Melkor and Sauron had spoke over his head as if he were a nonentity, but never had they quarrelled over him. Sauron had sounded possessive. Of course, of course. He certainly would not want his son in Dana's hands. Well, there was no fear of that and never had been. Vanimórë deeply mistrusted all and any gods, Powers or whatever they chose to call themselves.

Vanimórë?

His soul swung toward his name spoken in gold and flame. Maglor's mind-voice was rich and complex, beautiful as his music.
What is wrong? What happened?

Nothing, he said, hiding his consternation.

It was not nothing. I felt...pain.

That was unexpected, but had he not felt Maglor's pain?
It is nothing, he repeated. Then, with a mental shrug, because it hardly mattered if Maglor knew: I am ordered to Tashon Narr.

When? There was astonishment in the word, shock, something else that Vanimóre could not untangle. When dost thou leave?

Soon. I will travel fast. I hope to be there before midwinter in the North. He massaged soap into his scalp; his head still ached from the flash-over of power. Not for long. Not yet.

Take care, Maglor said after a moment.

He would. He would take very great care. For Legolas' sake. He pushed the lever that brought clean water to rinse the soap from his hair, then stepped from the bath. There was no time to dawdle. He had much to do before his departure.

I wish...I want to see thee again, Vanimórë.

His name made itself heard as a carving in red-gold steel, and again, he was startled.
I thank thee, he said after a moment.

I want thee.

This time, Vanimórë could read the inflexion perfectly well and the images that accompanied it were even more clear. Maglor wanted him, to posses him. A flurry of arousal and denial shook through him, both instinctive. When he had a choice, he wanted to be the one that dominated, a reaction against his own usage, he knew. But still...this was Maglor and a thrill curled low into his belly.

Maglor... He dried himself quickly, then drew his damp hair over one shoulder like a mourning cloak, began to draw a comb through it. He could never have imagined or hoped Maglor would want him, not when he was free, not now, when he had found his son and was safe. It had been different in Barad-dûr, some peculiar time-out-of-time. It had been different in the journey from Szrel Kain. Maglor had been vulnerable both times, coming back to himself after how many years of madness and wandering?

And I took full advantage of that.

He buried one hand in his hair, closed his eyes. With what he had to do in Tashon Narr, with his life mapped out for him, there was not even the glimmer of any possibility of meeting Maglor again.
So kill the desire, set it alight, not to burn but to destroy it.
Maglor, thou still hast not remembered what happened between us in Barad-dûr.

The answer came with surprising calm. And thou art going to tell me?

Vanimórë let out a long breath, deliberately relaxed his hands.
Dost thou want me to? I thought Dana had taken thy memories as she did when thou wert in Szrel Kain, but perhaps not. Maybe it is thine own subconscious that prefers not to remember.

Perhaps it is, Maglor returned levelly. And yet I would know. I remember everything else.

Very well. There was a long mirror upon a stand, shrouded with a length of rich cloth. He hated looking at himself, but if he wore ceremonial armour used the mirror to check his appearance. He rose, pulled off the silk. It sighed to the floor. The servants had lit lamps while he was bathing and the light spilled over him, warming his skin to pale gold. But he did not look at himself. He knew well enough what he looked like. Instead he stared into, behind his eyes, reached for honesty.
When I took thee from the wheel I bathed and tended thee, but I thought thou wert dying, willing thyself to die. My...Sauron...I believe he thinks thou wouldst not have. I was ordered to take the to Númenor, after all. And he was in Angband when thy brother Maedhros was imprisoned. He has more knowledge of the strength of a Fëanorion soul than me, no doubt.

The mirror darkened, cleared again. Maglor's face looked out of it. He was standing in a chamber, a wall-hanging behind him, a lamp. His hair was caught back and braided, shining like liquid jet. His eyes, under those perfect black brows, were inward looking. Vanimórë reached out a hand to the cool surface of the mirror, ran his fingers as down the high curve of Maglor's cheekbone. The Fëanorion's long lashes quivered.
Go on, he commanded.

I could not reach thee; thou wert like a man drugged with poppy. I needed to give thee something to focus on, something to fight. And so... He dropped his hand. I seduced thee. Aggressively. Thou wert in no condition to say me nay.

Maglor's eyes widened. His brows crooked, head tilted as though chasing elusive thoughts. And then, quite suddenly, he was looking directly at Vanimórë.

Thou didst recover, and far more quickly than I had bargained for. I had succeeded in mine aim, given thee something to hate. Sauron was gone. I wanted to keep thee a long time. Forever. Thou didst not speak to me. We...fought. But the end was always the same. And it was glorious. It was everything I had imagined, everything I wanted. But at the beginning, I raped thee. Thou wert vulnerable, not in thy right mind, new-come from torture. I did not care. I would have done anything to keep thee alive. And I did. I gave thee pleasure, unwilling, just as Glorfindel did Legolas. Glorfindel may well be sorry for his actions now. But I am not. Hate and tension and lust that exploded into violent, beautiful sex. Day after day, night after night.

Maglor's face was wiped clean of all expression for a heartbeat, and then the flame went up between them, a wall of fire, red and white, furious. Its shadows danced on the walls. Vanimórë could still see Maglor's eyes filled with flame, with rage. With the hate he remembered from Barad-dûr, the pride of a Fëanorion that could burn like levin, and Vanimórë had trodden over his free will, his choice, arrogant as a Fëanorion himself, refusing to recognise it, making Maglor live.

He picked up the silk sheet, draped it over the mirror. For a while the glow showed through the thin material and then, abruptly, it went dark.

Vanimórë drew fresh clothes from a chest, dressed and braided his hair. He struck the gong that brought a door-ward into the room.
“Have Captain Celírel sent for,” he said.



OooOooO


The next morning, though the underlying unsettling pain remained, the atmosphere in Alphgarth was perceptively different, like the irresistible, unstoppable tilt of Arda toward the Sun. The eyes on Tindómion and Maglor held a different light: speculative, almost predatory. It was three days until the autumn Earth Rite, and the effects of it were rising like a tide among the Elves of the forest.

Tindómion felt it himself; it was impossible not to, surrounded by it as he and his father were. But, he thought, it was not for him. He was not a wood-Elf, and there was no such custom of uninhibited sex among the Noldor, he reminded himself. But it was more than that, of course. The Earth Rites were rooted in the land and the king's relationship to it, and to his people. It was very difficult to envisage Thranduil undone by sex, yet hot-silk images wove themselves in his mind.

The message came back from Bainalph in the morning.

“The prince,” Eludhuin said. “Considers it would be wiser for you to remain in Alphgarth during the Rite, but he would not prevent you from seeing your friend. However, the Ithiledhil are...” She paused as if searching for politic words. “Their own rites have a...darker flavour.”

“Therefore on our own head be it?” Maglor raised his brows.

Her eyes glinted. “If you wish to put it that way, lord golodh..”

“We will accept the risk,” Maglor said dryly. Tindómion nodded agreement. After all his father had endured, sex, even dark and feral, was nothing to be concerned about.

The enclave of the Ithiledhil was half a days ride away, though from what they had seen, the wood-Elves preferred to take to the trees than use the paths through the forest. Here, the land crumpled and rose, studded with caverns that had been worked with a great deal of skill. A road, laid with river cobbles, lead up to the entrance. The doors, of wood so old it resembled stone, opened to greet them. Two men came forth. Their hair was as white as snowfall.

All of them, Tindómion came to understand, had that glassy-white hair. But that was not the most striking thing about them. That lay in their eyes, the same colour as their hair. Behind them Tindómion felt the sucking maw of darkness. Not perpetrated but experienced, lived through. It was atrocity endured and survived. Tindómion heard his father's indrawn breath.

This was the heart of it, that anguished song of suffering and dark sorcery. Moonstone eyes regarded them calmly.

The shadow of the gate passed over them.

The lamplit walls were smooth, passages branching away. The chambers they were lead to were not far from the entrance.
Everything was warm here, the colours, the light, the little fires burning, smelling of pine-cones and herbs tossed onto the flames.

“My Lord Edenel,” one of their escorts said. “Prince Maglor and Prince Tindómion.”

Whence came that elevation in rank? Tindómion wondered.

Glorfindel and Bainalph were in the room with the Ithiledhil lord, who rose to greet them. His braided hair was wound about his head in a thick coronet; he wore nothing else to distinguish his rank and did not need to. He was a frozen sculpting of white flame. And...Oh, Eru, Tindómion thought. He...What happened to him?

“Welcome, my lords.” Edenel bowed, smiling faintly. His face was impossibly beautiful.

“We thank thee and the Prince for this invitation,” Maglor said slowly. He looked like a man struggling out of one bad dream into another.

Bainalph, exquisite as spring, said, “I trust you were welcomed at Alphgarth, my lords?”

“I thank thee. We were.”

“I did not think you would come, Maglor.”
Glorfindel looked the antithesis of a hostage, but there was something in his eyes that checked Tindómion's anger.

You feel it. His blue eyes fixed on Tindómion's. Do not try to look into him. I did. He is closed. We need to talk.

Very well. His father shot him a glance, nodded infinitesimally.

“I will have you shown to your quarters.” Edenel said politely, formally. “No doubt you wish to speak with Lord Glorfindel.” Without a summons, the door opened.

Tindómion was accustomed to servants who went about their duties with quiet grace, but the Ithiledhil simply did not look like servants. The woman who conducted them to their quarters was dressed like a warrior with a knife at her hip.

“They are all thus,” Glorfindel said when they were seated in their chambers. These too were bright and warm. Food and drink awaited them: wine, autumn apples, cheese and meat.

“Thou canst feel it, then?” Maglor prowled the room restlessly.

“Something happened to these Ithiledhil. A very long time ago. Yes, I feel it. When I came here I was thinking only of myself – and Legolas and my son, but meeting Edenel...I could not shut it out. But I cannot see into him. I tried. And there are other matters. Bainalph said I might tell you.”

“So,” Tindómion crossed one leg over the other. “Tell us.”

“When Bainalph died, “ Glorfindel said, white teeth snapping the words. “We brought him back, but not whole. Mandos took the essence of what he is. Thranduil said Bainalph was like Legolas. You know what that means?”

“Yes.” Maglor turned, frowning. His eyes flamed silver. “Ah yes, how Mandos would loathe one so sensual.” He swore. “And what can be done for him?”

“Bainalph seems to think that Edenel can help him.”

“How?” Tindómion asked.

“Because Edenel said, in my presence that once, he too, had lost all desire. And that – surely – devolves from what happened to him.”

Maglor pressed his fingers to his temples.
“Maedhros...was like that for a while.” His eyes were hidden by the spread of his lashes. “I was...” Tindómion's breath backed into his throat as he wondered if now, now his father would remember Barad-dûr and Vanimórë. But it passed. It must come, Tindómion thought. Elves remembered everything but perhaps it was Maglor himself who was blocking the memory. Tindómion could sense, at times, the chiaroscuro of emotions twisting like serpents under the surface of his father's mind.

Glorfindel said, his voice unwontedly gentle: “Maedhros had help.”

Maglor nodded. All Maedhros' brothers had tried to help him, in every way they could, but it was Fingon whom, if he did not entirely banish the demons of Angband, placed himself before them so that Maedhros could see only him.

“I hope Edenel can help Bainalph. Is it...will it be part of the Earth Rite?”

“I suppose so.” Glorfindel shrugged. “I know little about it. Bainalph and Edenel have both promised that I need not participate. Bainalph brought me here because he thought that Thranduil might use that time to punish me.” A look of battle sparked into his eyes. His teeth showed. “As I understand it there are two days deemed the most important, midsummer and midwinter. The Summer King must give himself to any-one, the Winter King may have any-one. The other days it does not matter. If Thranduil thinks he can overcome me, let him try.”

“Hast thou been too long celibate?” Tindómion asked dryly.

“There is precious little else I can do here.” Glorfindel crossed his arms. “Except wait.” He rose suddenly, slammed a hand down on the table. “And Hells, I cannot just wait.

Tindómion said without much sympathy: “Thou wilt have to. It will be years before Sauron sends Legolas and Gîl out as his ambassadors.” If they both survived. If they became what he wanted them to be.

“I know. But there has to be something – ” He stopped dead, said, “Maglor?”

Maglor's pacing had taken him to an oval mirror hung on the wall. He was staring into it, but his eyes were blank and otherwhere. Then they focussed, as if the mirror were a window.

“Father?” Tindómion said sharply.

Without warning, Maglor's eyes birthed flame, blazing silver. Tindómion took two paces, caught him by the shoulders.

“Vanimórë,” Maglor said, in a voice that hate stripped to silver steel.

The mirror blazed like a portal into fire, the glass cracked, fell in shards to the floor. The carpet charred, curls of smoke arose, the scent of burning wool.

The door swung open. The Ithiledhil, Edenel came into the room. His eyes flew to Maglor, the broken mirror.

“Vanimórë,” Maglor said the name again, and it came twisted into pain and betrayal. He stood frozen under Tindómion's hands.

“Thou hast remembered,” Tindómion said.

The blaze in his eyes quenched itself as Maglor looked at him.
“He told me. He was good enough to tell me that he raped me as Glorfindel raped Legolas.” And he is going to Tashon Narr. Sauron has called him. He should be there by Midwinter.

Father! Tindómion understood. Thou canst not turn this into a quest for revenge!

Maglor looked at him like a living memory of the power of the past.
Can I not?


OooOooO



End Notes:
*Two years before his (Tarostar's) succession to the throne, Gondor was suddenly beset by Wild Men out of the East, and Tarostar went to war in place of his father, who was in the last days of his old age. Tarostar's war with the Easterlings was a hard one, lasting for ten years, and seeing the death of Ostoher and Tarostar's own succession to Gondor's throne. At last, the Easterlings were driven back, and Tarostar took a new name, R
Chapter 33 ~ Windows Of The Mind ~ by Spiced Wine



Windows Of The Mind



So, after all your words to me, you yourself are not blameless. Glorfindel threw himself on a settle. The air still carried aftershocks of power and rage, but the chamber was empty but for himself.

No. Although, like thee, I tried very hard to convince myself I had done nothing wrong.

Glorfindel tilted back his head, closed his eyes and pressed his fingers to his temples.

Some things are for Maglor alone to tell, Vanimórë said into the silence. I was told to heal him. I thought he was dying and I could not let him. Hells, he was Maglor , a Fëanorion, and so beautiful. How could I let him die? His mind was adrift, unguarded, and I saw that hate, rage would bring him back, and so I gave it to him. I pleasured him, but he was in no state to refuse me, fight me, as he did, after.

He fought you?

Ah, well. And Vanimórë's voice sank voluptuously into memory. The kind of fighting that is a prelude to sex. I admit to selfishness. I wanted him so badly.I would not let him die. And there was an Elf, a Noldo in Angband. He was my first instructor. I wanted to call him a friend, but...Morgoth killed him. He died in my arms. I could not save him.

It explained a great deal. Glorfindel took a long breath, remembering Fingon cradling Maedhros' unconscious body, face a white blaze of grief and fury. Among the other torments Maedhros had endured in Angband, he had been raped. Glorfindel winced away from the thought that drew the fierce, accusing eyes of the dead to bear upon him. They had known so little then, in those early days, but they had learned fast. Rape could kill. It had not killed Maedhros because the fire that burned within him bared its teeth at death, but the fact remained. A soul so wounded could die, and had. He covered his eyes, said, Did he truly want to die?

Perhaps, and not from any weakness but from loneliness.

I saw how he was with you. It is rare that the eyes of a Fëanorion light for any-one but their own blood. Why did you tell him something that would make him hate you?

Because he would have remembered in time. Because I could take his hate and desire but not his trust. His mind-voice was metal-hard, clipped. Because he does not know who I am.

Vanimórë... Glorfindel stood up, circled the chamber. The lamps hissed in the silence. It was so very quiet here. I do not know how you have achieved it, but you are not just your father's son. You are far more. Elrond was right to say you were dangerous, but wrong in wanting your death. Maglor can still trust you. As I do.

Do not be a fool. My father can break my will at any time, force me to do as he wishes.

Not your will. Perhaps everything but that.

I am going to Tashon Narr where Sauron keeps Legolas, Vanimórë told him curtly. Glorfindel stopped in his tracks.
I will see him, but will be able to do nothing, not even offer him succour. Hast thou even noticed that he does not respond to thee any more? Nor to me. He feels it would be better if he did not hope, and I understand him very well.

He has not responded to me at all. Glorfindel stared at the wall. But he never has. Even with the faerboth I can only feel him. He closes himself off from me.

Unsurprising, Vanimórë returned. He has far more imminent things to think about now. A pause. Thou knowest that Legolas will be nothing like the boy he was, the one thou didst rape, when he is sent out as Sauron's ambassador. To survive he is going to have to grow hard. As for Gîlrion, I simply do not know. Thou may get nothing in the end.

I will not believe that. Glorfindel folded his arms. Because of you. I know what you have endured. No. He checked himself. Of course I do not. But you are what you are despite all. Once you were Legolas' age, my son's age. You survived.

Vanimórë said slowly: I had incentive. Legolas has Gîl. But survival strips us to the bone, Glorfindel. We live one day after another, not daring to look into the future.

It has not stripped you. If anything it had enriched him.

Has it not? How do I know what I would have been had I been free?

“I think,” Glorfindel said aloud. “Very little different.” And shame hit him like a hammer in the gut. Shame that Vanimórë, Sauron's son was a better man than he, shame that his own actions had placed Legolas where he was now, and guilt that he wanted the abstract idea of Legolas more than the person, that his heart and mind were fixed upon his son.

The vision Sauron had showed them of Legolas and Gîlrion in the future had seared itself on his inner eye. It was, he had come to realise, so easy to fall from honour, not in one moment but over years until you looked back at the person you had been and did not see yourself. Of course he had seen himself, but through a slanted glass. It had taken, not Legolas' rape, but the events proceeding from it, to force Glorfindel to see the man he had become. And then Sauron had shown him what his son might become: a monster in the truest sense, all empathy long extinguished, spoilt, indulged, merciless. The favour of an Ainu was no light load to bear.

“Vanimórë, you must try to help them. If they become as we saw them...if my son..”

I was fortunate in that my father did not love me, Vanimórë murmured, and Glorfindel knew, with a twist of the heart, what he meant: Vanimórë had not been spared and, out of self-sufficiency, became himself.
Of course, he will not love Legolas or Gîl either, but he will enact it, and they will come to believe he does. Glorfindel, I do not know how I can help them. I will do anything I can that does not place them in danger. It may be very little. It may be nothing at all. They will look to Sauron, not to me

But you will try. He himself could do nothing here, who was a willing prisoner, the act a furious fillip of defiance, an attempt at honour thrown down like a gauntlet at Thranduil's feet. But not that alone. He had deeper reasons: his imprisonment placed him where he knew Legolas and his son would come. But it might be too late to salvage anything. That was the creeping dread that had grown in his mind. If Gîlrion were to become Sauron's creature Glorfindel would have to kill him, and if not him, another. As if the admittance of even the thought ignited it, denial exploded in his breast, drew a groan from his lips. Sauron was raising the stakes very high, gambling that the Elves would not do harm to one of their own. Perhaps he thought they had lost too much (and they had). But what if they had no choice?

"Vanimórë – ” He choked off the thought as one would strangle an orc.

Yes, Vanimórë said as if Glorfindel's tumultuous thoughts were written on parchment before him. Perhaps they were. Glorfindel had not hidden them, and it was easy to forget whose son Vanimórë was, the power in him.

Glorfindel slammed his hand into the wall. No, and no, and no. He could not kill Gîlrion. Neither would Thranduil slay his son or grandson. Elrond was a different matter, and another reason that Glorfindel had chosen to become a hostage of the Wood. Elrond had wanted Vanimórë dead because he was Sauron's son and dangerous; he would not baulk at killing Gîlrion.

Glorfindel, thou knowest the Elves will never ally themselves with Sauron. There is no point at which thou canst meet – except Legolas and Gîl, and it will not be enough. And Sauron will be expecting thee and Thranduil to subvert them. He will not send them out until he is absolutely sure of them both, and it is hard to deceive a deceiver.

No!” Glorfindel cried out. “Not my son. I will not.” His breath sounded harsh in the quiet of the room. “You know I cannot.”

Thou wilt do it if there is no other choice. And sometimes there is not.

OooOooO


“Should I forgive him, then?” Maglor swung round on Tindómion. He had strode out of the chamber, back to his guest-room on a tide of fire. Tindómion followed him. “Thou didst know this.” His eyes narrowed. “Thou wert not even surprised.”

“It is not for me to ask thee to forgive Vanimórë.” Tindómion curved his hands over Maglor's taut shoulders. “When thou wert in Barad-dûr I felt it, although I did not know where thou wert, only it was somewhere terrible. And I felt, too, when the torment eased and later there was ecstasy. Sauron tortured thee. Vanimórë healed thee and saved thy life – thou hast said it.”

The faintest whisper of confusion shivered across Maglor's face.
“He released me. Yes, he did save my life. But before that...” His hands came up to lock around Tindómion's arms, fingers digging into muscle, almost painful. “He took them away. Gorthaur took them away from me, my father, my brothers...They were with me until then and he took them. I had nothing. Nothing. And I...”
His face was heartbreak. Tindómion's own heart throbbed as if it might itself tear open. He looked into an Age and more of madness.
“Father...” Maglor had lived with ghosts conjured by his mind because it was better than the reality of utter aloneness.

“They were not there, of course.” His voice turned on itself, scouring the gold with acid. “Not even Morgoth could have taken them from me had they been real. But I could not bear it when they were gone. Perhaps I wanted to die. Vanimórë had no right to take that choice from me.”

“I know.” Tindómion's voice was cramped. “Forgive me, but I can not judge him for that. I cannot.”

Maglor opened his mouth, then bit off the words before they could emerge. His arms came about Tindómion and held him. His body thrummed like a harpstring.
“What didst thou see?” he asked into Tindómion's hair.

Tindómion spread his fingers on his father's back, tightened their embrace and then drew back.
“It was – I was unconscious, father. I remember feeling a sense of...dread, for days before.” Maglor's eyes delved into his, searching. “I did not even want, then, to think it was thee. When I saw visions of thy life it was as if I were thee. Sometimes they did not come for years, and when they did they were not linear. It was...confusing and...” Terrible in a way that surpassed any formless nightmare because some sliver of awareness in him watched and knew what would happen, and could do nought to prevent it. “The visions were so vivid I would snap from them disoriented, wondering where and whom I was, but that time, when thou wert in Barad-dûr was different. I do not remember seeing anything, but I felt thy pain.” I am sorry, father, I wish I had found thee before then! He drew Maglor back to him; the thought of his torture was unbearable. His father breathed into his mouth: “Go on.”

“Then, there was a time of...nothingness. I do not know for how long, until I felt some-one...their lips their hands, their mouth. I could see nothing, but I felt.” The breath went out of him on a shiver of memory that hurt like fire against his naked heart. “I could not fight it; I did not want to, and then I was awake and Gil-galad was there with me. It was the only time we truly made love.” Grief backed up in his throat. He closed his eyes. “It was glory. It was...”

Both of them were shaking. Maglor said after a moment: “My dear, I need to tell thee. I have not spoken of it to any-one else. I must confront it, get the truth of it before we leave for Tashon Narr because no, I cannot put Legolas' life in danger whatever my feelings for Vanimórë. But – if this were my brothers...but they are not here.”

Tindómion gathered his own grief and pushed it back into his soul.
“I am here for thee.”

“They would adore thee.” The smile was too loving, too broken for Tindómion's heart. “And father would have been so proud of thee.”

To that, Tindómion could say nothing. He looked around for wine and poured it, pressing his father to sit on the cushioned settle. Maglor sipped, closed his eyes. When he spoke Tindómion might have been listening to an ancient lay.

“I remember some-one – Vanimórë, ordering me cut down from...” Tindómion curled one hand about his father's. “...washing the filth from me, then a bed. It had been so long since I had lain in a bed. How odd to think of that at such a time. Then I saw him and thought I was still mad or dreaming because he looked like a Noldo, save for his eyes. And then he spoke. He said 'Maglor, come back.' And then: 'Thou shalt heal. Hear me, thou shalt heal. But I must give thee something to hate. Hate against the despair which consumes thee. I will give thee...myself '*. I did not understand him. I thought I was dying. All I had held on to was them, and they were gone.” His brows drew in. “Perhaps I thought that if I died I would find them, even in the Void. I do not know...but I cannot – will not – believe their souls could be destroyed even by that.” His eyes drove into Tindómion's, pushed with the weight of a conviction that nonetheless grew doubt in its roots. “They are imprisoned, captive, but not gone. I have felt them. I know.

Tindómion could not speak until he had swallowed down the avalanche of pain that choked his throat. “Yes, father, and I know too. I believe that.” He had to, for Gil-galad, for his father's anguish.

Something in Maglor's fierceness eased, as if Tindómion's agreement had braced him.
“Then...There are still gaps in my memory. I slept. Vanimórë fed me, gave me to drink, tended to me in all ways. And then one day I woke and he...” His breath was an explosive gasp. “He pleasured me. It was like coming back to life. I could not resist him. I wanted to slip away, go to them in the Everlasting Dark, but he forced me back to life, to feeling.” He tossed back the rest of his wine, snapped the cup down. “Give me something to hate, ah yes, that he did. Myself and he whom had made me need, forced pleasure on me. I had almost forgotten what it felt like. I could not fight it or him.” He surged from his seat suddenly, his grip on Tindómion's hand so tight it dragged him up with his father. Maglor braced himself against the wall. The lamplight turned his mane of hair into a river of streaming darkness. He struck his fist against the hanging. “He did not touch me after that until I was recovered. And Hells, I wanted him, and loathed him and myself for needing him. Sometimes I imagined it was my father. And he knew it. My mind was so broken, he saw it, and did not care. I fought him, but...” A flush raced across his cheeks.

Tindómion rested a hand against his father's back, felt the tremors running through him. “Thou needst not say any more.”

“No. I must. He...was away during the day. He had duties, I suppose. I remember the rooms: black, carved stone, rugs on the floor, barred windows against an empty sky. The days were the worse. But he had a study, maps, scrolls books, some in Sindarin, some in tongues of Men, Black Speech, I think. I used to wait for the night, dreading he would come, longing for it. And he would come. He reminded me so much of my father. He walked as though he would fuck the world and rule it too and would excel in both.” He turned his head, his profile hard and fine as an ice-carving. No wonder Vanimórë had wanted him. But it had not all been one way.

“And he held me.” Maglor's breath broke. “When I slept. I felt safe, in that place, as I had not since my youth with father's arms around me. Vanimórë was a thrall to Sauron, a no-one – his words not mine! And yet of course he was not just that. No-one looking at him could believe him a slave.”
“And in Szrel Kain and after he said nothing. I watched him as a prince, a commander, a warrior, saw how kind he was to Legolas yes, and to me. His utter competence in everything he does. But he...I wanted to be with those I love, and he took away my choice, ignored it as if I were a child who knows no better. He drew me back into the world – without them! – with hate, with sex. It had been so long. Sauron emptied me.” His eyes slammed shut. “And Vanimórë filled me. I gloried in him, and loathed that I did.”

“Father, I understand.” Maglor, his soul still raw from Sauron's torment, of course he would have turned toward Vanimórë, to the wild passion, half-hate, half-love, to something that consumed him and drove away the Night.

“Thinks't thou I was weak?”

The sudden question startled him.
Weak?” he repeated. “No.” He shook his head, drew Maglor to face him. “No. What didst thou do after he released thee?”

“I...” Maglor blinked, brows winging together. “Didst thou not see, in thy visions?”

“Nothing, after Mae...after thou didst take the Silmarils was clear, father.”

Pain lashed its pitiless whip across Maglor's face. “No. I suppose not. Not clear, just as my mind was not. I went West to the sea again. I met some Nandor. They brought me clothes. I played for them. But I could not speak for a long time. Sauron wanted me to beg him. I would not, and so I did not speak. He told me that if I...if I called him Lord he would tell me about father, my brothers, all of them.” His next words came like a spume of arterial blood: “And I would not!” His white teeth bared in agony. “But he might have known.”

Father. So thin, the veneer layered over his everlasting grief and those flashes of horror Tindómion was all-too familiar with, the hack of a weapon, wounds that could not be healed, the light fading from beloved eyes. The implacable absoluteness of death.

“Vanimórë told me more than once to hope. How would he know? From Sauron?” Maglor's fingers gripped Tindómion's wrists.

“Thou didst not ask him?”

Maglor's head shook in one sharp movement that poured a spill of shining hair over one shoulder.
“Dost thou know how...hard it is to speak of them?” he whispered like the cut of a jagged blade. “To allow myself to imagine where they are: shut into the Everlasting Dark whence the Valar cast Morgoth? Thou dost.” One hand came up to cup Tindómion's jaw. “Fingon's son. That beautiful child. Why dost thou think I have asked thee so little? Not because I do not care, but because I know how it feels.”

Tindómion bowed his head hard against his father's brow. His eyes burned. Maglor knew, knew how the anguish became almost an inability to speak of them, one's throat stopped with compressed heartbreak.

“And yet...he told me to hope, and almost I do. Who is he? I hate him now. He has betrayed me and everything I saw in him. But I want him, and I feel him. He was in pain. I asked him what was wrong and he said it was nothing.” Maglor's head drew back to meet Tindómion's eyes. “He will not accept pity, and I understand that. What I cannot comprehend is what binds him to Sauron. I said it was not fear. He disagreed, but I do not believe it. He is too – he is one of us, or nearly so.”

“Perhaps it is not fear that binds him, father, but blood.” There was no easy way to say it. “I did not want thee to know this, and certainly not Legolas. Elrond wanted Vanimórë killed not only because he serves Sauron, but because he is Sauron's son.”

A pulse of silence bloomed like a great black flower in the room. Maglor stared. Expressions chased across his features, wrath, disbelief that faded into shock.

“Vanimórë told Glorfindel. Thranduil knows. But while thou wert with him he judged it wiser that neither thee nor Legolas knew of it.”

Maglor whipped round. The air rang with the harmonics of power in his voice. “Is this true?”

Tindómion heard Vanimórë's reply fall softly:
Yes.

Maglor fisted the empty air, panting shallowly through a snarl of white teeth. He grappled for words, finally pushed out: “How? What poor woman – “ Then his eyes closed. “Ah, hells no.” and Tindómion recalled a terrible vision of long ago, when Maglor ruled the Gap, and a woman had been found, horrifyingly pregnant with some monstrous seed.* Maglor had killed her as Thranduil had killed Elvýr. Acts of mercy, both.

I was a successful experiment, Vanimórë said tonelessly. I was born in Tol-in-Gaurhoth. The woman died after, of course.

Tindómion, on a wave of nauseated outrage, saw a shudder run through his father's body. The silence this time stretched longer, and Tindómion could almost see Maglor's thoughts weaving one into the other like flame, as hot and as furious.

I needed both of thee, thou and Legolas, to trust me. I could not tell thee whom I was. Matters were too dangerous and difficult without adding that into the mix.

Maglor drew in a long, tight breath. “Were we right to trust thee, or was everything a lie?” he demanded. “Thy care of him, of me?” And before Vanimórë could answer he exploded. “That is what I want to believe! And I do not. Thy men loved thee. And yet – ”

Yes. And yet. I am Sauron's son. I raped thee. I simply could not let thee die.

“And that was my choice,” Maglor hissed.

Melkor and the Valar gorged on too much Noldorin blood. Vanimórë's mind-voice was hard as metal, rough at the edges. So I judged. But thou art right to hate me for my actions.

"And thou doth tell me this now. Why?"

Vanimórë said, quite softly: Because thou didst reach out to me. Because thou didst...like me. Or an illusion of me, and it was unfair on thee.

“Such honour,” Maglor threw bitterly.

Merely honesty.

Tindómion thought Vanimórë sounded weary. From the expression on his father's face, he guessed Maglor heard it too, because he said, “What happened to thee? What did I feel?”

Vanimórë's voice freed itself from control. Anger seethed in it. As if a curtain had drawn back Tindómion, mind linked to Maglor's, saw him. He was standing in some lamplit room, white walled and pillared, and he was stern as a sword, gorgeous, mouth unsmiling, purple eyes brighter, richer than the lamps. For a moment, he appeared unaware of them, but then grew still and his head turned, tilted in query, brows lifting.
Dana, he spat. She used me as Sauron does. If thy paths should ever cross again, do not trust her.

“I do not,” Maglor said. “She could have saved Legolas and Gîl from Sauron, and did not.”

She plays her own games of power. Or perhaps she simply did not wish to confront Sauron. A sense of distance eased between them as Vanimórë withdrew himself from the eyes of vision. Maglor threw himself after the retreat.
“Stay!” he commanded. “We have not nearly concluded this.”

What dost thou want me to say to thee, Maglor? Vanimórë became clear again. He stood at a great desk, gathering papers, and stilled his movements, laying fine hands flat on the stone. I would have done anything, anything! To keep thee alive. Even unconscious and half-dead thou wert the most beautiful thing I had ever seen! A scorching wind of passion blew through the words. His eyes opened to a deep inner fire. It would take a greater will than mine to have let thee die there in Mordor, unremembered save in old tales. A sad, unremarked end for the last son of Fëanor. I do not think he believed thou wouldst die, but I feared it. I am sorry that I took thee without thy consent, but I would do it again. Because thou art alive. Now, put me from thy mind. Thou hast thy son, and surely that gives thee some solace.

“Put thee from my mind?” Maglor exclaimed, sounded more exasperated than angry. “Thou hast placed me in thy debt!”

There is no debt between us, Vanimórë refuted. Those nights after repaid any debt. They were magnificent. At least for me. A tiny smile lifted the corner of his mouth, immensely, dangerously charming. With a frission of shock, Thindómion recognised it. Annatar had the same charm – when he chose to use it.

Maglor's face shone, a fire in the room fuelled by unnameable emotions. But Tindómion thought he could indeed put a name to them.
“Shall I leave, father?” he asked, and Maglor said, “No! We have no secrets, thou and I.”

What dost thou want? Vanimórë questioned. Vengeance?

“That was what I was looking for, was it not? Even in my madness, I was drawn back toward Mordor. To thee.”

There was a dark ghost of amusement in Vanimórë's reply. His smile deepened quizzically. Me? Not Sauron? Why?

“Do not toy with me. Thou didst get under my skin in a way Sauron did not. And thou art telling me to put thee from my mind?”

It would be better if thou didst.

Maglor's eyes narrowed. “Is thou what thou doth wish? That thou art so unremarkable that all thine actions leave no trace upon me? I have called thee a fool before.”

And I agreed with thee. I am Sauron's son and his slave. That is all I will ever be. His hands moved among the papers. He picked up a pen.

A grim, furious little smile folded the corners of Maglor's mouth. “That, of course, would explain everything thou didst for Legolas. And for me. The love thy men bear thee, the loyalty thou doth command. Do not try to play me for a fool, Vanimórë!”

Well, then, Vanimórë said. What wouldst thou have me do? We will not meet again.

Tindómion raised his brows at his father, who reassured him with a quick shake of the head that he would say nothing of their plan to travel to Tashon Narr.

“In that thou art wrong,” Maglor challenged Vanimórë's prediction with flung-back head and burning eyes. “Nothing is ended between us. Thou didst use me, heal me, save my life. In Szrel Kain thou didst give me back myself, trusted me to be Maglor, even though I did not know whom I was. Thou didst arm me and lead me into a battle. I might not have remembered how to fight. I might have fled, endangered others. Thou didst know I would not.”

Maglor, thou couldst never truly forget what thou art. It is bred into thy blood and bone, the muscles of thy body. I needed thee to help me guard Legolas, to be a warrior. As thou didst, as thou wert. And there is no man I would rather have beside me. The warmth in his words, his eyes was so deep, so sincere that Tindómion saw it sink and curl into his father like honey into a tisane, sweet and strong. Maglor's lips parted.
“What in the Hells am I supposed to do with thee?” he demanded, and sudden, surprised amusement broke over Vanimórë's face. He slid one hand over his mouth as to stifle laughter.

I know thou art trying to sever the connection with him, but my father took the Oath and followed it to the bitterest end, Tindómion said for Vanimórë alone. He will not so easily be dissuaded.

Then thou must dissuade him, Vanimórë returned, his beautiful face giving nothing away. It is too dangerous to seek me out with Sauron's power growing. He will have to put his desire for revenge to sleep.

I do not think it is entirely revenge.

It does not matter what it is, Tindómion. Twice, chance, fate, what thou wilt, has brought us together. I have basked in thy father each time. And each time he has been alone, hurt in mind or body – or both. But thou knowest as well as I that if this were the First Age, I would be no more than an enemy and Maglor, his brothers, indeed any of the Noldor, would simply execute me.

No, Tindómion rebutted. We did not execute thee when thou wert our prisoner in Mordor. Thou art more than an enemy.

I can never truly be more than that. He was withdrawing again, and Tindómion saw his father sense it.

“Vanimórë!” Maglor shouted, face tinted with colour. “Do not dare close me out!”

I will keep thee informed about Legolas and Gîl, he said crisply, and then smiling fully, devastatingly: Fare thee well.

And then there was nothing, just a blank dark wall of refusal, a black wind running between them.

OooOooO


It was not teaching as he had taught Vanimórë whom had been raised first in Tol-in-Gaurhoth and then Angband and had never known anything else. What learning Legolas had was fed him from the other side of the barrier. He had to be shown there was bias. Admittedly on both sides.
Legolas' youth was an advantage. He had seen no vast, bloody battlefields reeking with death. Mairon had wanted to do this to Maglor: convert him, bring him into his service, but he might not have succeeded; Maglor had lived through too much. Legolas had barely lived at all. His spirit was still malleable.

“The one the Noldor call Morgoth.” He swirled the wine in his glass, red as blood. “You know what the Ainur are. The Belain?”

“Very little, my Lord. We speak of Tauron, the Hunter.”

“Ah, yes.” He set the wine aside. There were no deaf-and-dumb slaves here to wield fans. Mairon was unaffected by heat, and he knew well enough that Elves had a much higher tolerance for heat and cold than Men. Thus the elegant chamber was empty save for they two. Gîlrion stayed with Shemar and the young warriors when Legolas came for what Mairon whimsically called his 'lessons', but were really a history that he had never learned.

But how to tell some-one so young what it had been like to witness the birth of Eä, the power-beyond-power that cast it out into Time, the colossal fire and energy of the young Universe, inimical to all life save the bodiless, the strange, almost negligible influence of gravity which bound atoms together, formed stars and planets.

“The Valar looked on the Song and would change nought, but Melkor saw how he might change things.” Mairon smiled in wry memory. “They said that he Marred the universe, and yet there would be nothing without him. He was innovation, change, invention. Without him there would be entropy. There would be no Elves or Men, either – at least not in any way you recognise. They would live unchanging in a perfect world, but that is not living. The brain of a human, who sharpens a point to make a spear, who creates a written language, who uses fire to cook and warm, is – ” He opened his hand. “Melkor's gift, unwitting, to you. The freedom of the imagination, thought, the ability to reach into creation and improve on it. That cloth you wear, this palace, this pen, this book, that cup – all of them are born of the imagination, the desire to create.”

Legolas sat dutiful and stiff as an effigy, garbed as a prince of the East in loose leggings, a long tunic and tasselled belt of silk. His colours, Mairion had decided would be blue to match his eyes, and black. His hair was braided and wound over and under his head like a crown. He seemed less delicate now, growing toward his adulthood. The great eyes were intent as a hunter's, absorbing each word. He was determined to learn. For his son's sake. His nimble mind was scrambling, Mairon knew, to comprehend something only the Ainur could truly understand.

“The Valar called it discord. Marring, even though it was in them, also. They have always fought it even when reaping its rewards, using it. But they could never control it. The desire to peel back the secrets of creation was strong in the Noldor as it is strong in Men. But let that rest a moment.”

It had rained, and through the silk-hung windows came the heavy odour of flowers. A scent-drugged warm afternoon. He could hear no sound from the gardens, which meant that the child was probably napping. Mairon wondered how much the boy understood. Vanimórë, at that age, had been aware of everything. He had been afraid, and fear is an excellent teacher, but Gîlrion was different, his child-mind like a cloud embedded with sharp jewels, unformed, difficult to read.

“Melkor knew what he was. He who gave choice to the world, had none, and that was what drove him mad, in the end.” And the madness of the most powerful of the Valar was shattering. But Mairon thought his greatest mistake was Fëanor. Melkor had been obsessed by him, and Mairon had been jealous, even as the part of his mind that ever observed, cool and weighing, admitted that the Silmarils Melkor brought back with him from Valinor were the most magnificent creations he had ever seen. Because they were not merely jewels mined from the earth; they were alive with the spirit of their maker. In them, Mairon saw Fëanor and and knew that if he had joined Melkor the world would have been different. He caught tantalising glimpses of futures that fanned the fire of his spirit. They were (or had been) possibilities, until Melkor's obsession snuffed them out. Now they were dreams.

He was unsure both then and now, if Melkor had sent Balrogs to slay Fëanor because he thought (hoped?) that Fëanor would slay them, Maia though they were. From the reports they brought back, trailing ichor, the battle had not been as one-sided as expected. One of the Balrog's, Coldagnir, had said Fëanor burned as bright as the sun, and only the whip wrapped about his arms had disabled him. Mairon had never voiced his suspicions for Melkor had already slipped more deeply toward they abyss of hate that would consume him.

But once, he had been a visionary and Mairon, restless, had known, as soon as Melkor's song began, that he must follow him. The visions of the majority of the Ainur were so narrow, fixed wholly on their own part in the Music. Melkor saw everything, challenged everything. That was his purpose, his curse. But despite that, or because of it, Mairon joined him. Of all the Powers who chose to set foot on Arda, there was none he would bow to. Aulë was a useful teacher but, like all of them, his personality was cramped, insular. They were all bores save the wild Oromë, secure in their might, rigidly self-righteous. Mairon came to believe one had to experience physical life to develop character, and in form, Melkor exuded a dark magnetism that was intoxicating. He was beautiful beyond words in a way none of the others could touch. He had looked, in fact, much like Fëanor.

But taking form changed everything. It created boundaries, made one think within its limitations, and yet it was addicting to feel the solidity of matter both one's own and the world's. After a time, though Mairion could revert to spirit-form, he grew to dislike it. Physical pain had been a shock, but so had pleasure. Both were useful teachers.

“Naturally Melkor wanted to rule over Arda,” he said. “He could not control what he was, and thus he sought to control anything else he could. Now he is gone, and I remain, and naturally I wish to rule Arda. I am very good at ruling. But I wish the Elves to work with me, not war against me. I can save them from the slow diminution that awaits them. Because they will pass oversea, back to Valinor where nothing ever changes, and die slowly, or they will remain and grow fewer and fewer until, to Men, they are only a myth of older times. Men cannot be permitted to overrun the Earth. Their population must be controlled. But not the Elves. I would see them wax and spread upon Arda.”

Tanout and Imir came to escort Legolas from his chambers. He did not trust the palace guards, too deeply had Malantur dug in his claws. That would change, of course, was already changing much to the Mouth's chagrin, but at the moment, Legolas would be guarded only by those Mairon had bound to him.

He walked to the window. The rain had begun again, soft, warm. His mind snapped over the leagues to Vanimórë, feeling the slow burn of anger in him beginning to settle as he focussed on his journey to Tashon Narr. Hovering around him like a cloud of angry hornets was Dana's wrath. He smiled, but anger licked at the bow of his mouth. She had misjudged Vanimórë who was so accustomed to doing things he did not want to that he saved the sum of his anger for those he truly loathed. All else, he would simply do, almost automatically.

Dana had mistaken his apparent acquiescence to her whims as worship, respect, even love, when the truth was he simply had not cared about her enough to dispute it. And now she knew. Vanimórë was no dog to fawn on any-one, man or woman. It would be a bitter knowledge to this self-proclaimed goddess who thought herself irresistible. All powers had monumental egos as Mairon well knew.

Let her crouch in her temple in Sud Sicanna. He would root her out and destroy her. Or perhaps Vanimórë would. There was something incalculable in his son, half-Maia as that bitch Lúthien had been but, unlike her, Vanimórë had ever turned away from his inherited powers. Mairon had not cared. He did not want a rival in his arts; he wanted a superlative weapon, and whether Vanimórë knew it or not he had somehow channelled his scorned Ainur gifts into the skills of a warrior. Which was exactly what Mairion needed.

He himself preferred to battle with power, or in the shape of a giant Fell-wolf. His stepping onto the battlefield in Mordor had been so he could use the One Ring directly. Vanimórë, had he not been captured (allowed himself to be captured) should have been at his side, instead he had fought with Gil-galad's Noldor. Mairon had not even been surprised. During the years of Vanimórë's capture, Mairon had summoned his son, and Vanimórë had fought like a demon against it. It had been impressive, actually although Mairon was careful not to pull too hard. If Vanimórë succumbed and was drawn back to Barad-dûr he would have been killed by the Elves. Nevertheless, an interesting test.

Now, he need not use his powers at all. Vanimórë would come because of Legolas, whether he had any hope to give or not.

He settled himself on a couch, dipped into his soul, found the threads he searched for and drew them out. They shimmered pale as moonfall, drew together to form the shape of an Elf, tall and beautiful. Mairon's mouth quirked.
“Elvýr Thranduilion,” he murmured. “You could be quite useful also.” A suggestion of chains sparkled from Mairon's hand to Elvýr's throat just as, once, Vanimórë had worn a chain when he danced, first for Melkor, then for Mairon. A whim, no more. He did not need chains to hold this soul.
“Slain by your own father, your soul would not go to Mandos. No wonder. You saw a hint of what would happen to you if you did, no?” The dead eyes glinted with a hint of lost blue. “And so you wandered, houseless until your mother conceived Legolas. The lure of being embodied was too great for you to resist, was it not? You might have lived within him forever, until you drew yourself out to aid him in the tunnels.” Elvýr stared back at him, cold as a creature of spun ice.
“I could lock you into a human body. Both you and your host would no doubt go mad, but...no,” he decided. “You are of more use like this. I must find a way of letting Thranduil know I have you. Come here.”

Elvýr did not resist. Like Legolas and for much the same reasons, he never resisted. Mairon curved a hand about the phantom cheek.
“What a waste of one so special. Orcs are abominations. Melkor hated them too. He was a great lover of beauty.” His mind flicked back to those few whom had indeed been beautiful, transformed, but not into orcs, coarse modellings of the Elves they once had been. Those white-haired changelings had vanished and could not be called back. A pity, that. “One day I will conduct a war of genocide upon the orcs. Vanimórë will enjoy that. It will probably be the only order I ever give him that he leaps to obey.” He smiled. “Now. Dance for me, prince.”

OooOooO


End Notes:
* Dark Prince: Chapter 12. The Darkness Has Its Own Light.
Chapter 34 ~ Blood Cuts Blood ~ by Spiced Wine



Blood Cuts Blood



~ He sat motionless, legs folded, hands tightly clasped. The chamber was dark. He was accustomed to darkness, and loathed it, but he was not aware of it now, only the images and voices behind his eyes.

Once, he and his twin had slipped so easily in and out of one another's minds. There was no sense of violation; it was natural as breath. But he had learned, in Utumno, how it was to have his mind unroofed and devastated so that it was left bleeding, harrowed by pitiless power.

He had lost the connection to Finwë then, though he did not know when, and he thanked Eru for sparing his brother, but the ability of itself remained. There was enough trust between the Ithiledhil to allow for such communication, and enough shared history that they rarely used it. They did not need to.

It was not the Ithiledhil in his mind. It was the Fëanorions, all music and indomitable will that pressed into his consciousness, impossible to ignore.

He did not want to ignore it. They were flames; scorching the skin of his soul. He had resisted, refusing to acknowledge, thrusting temptation away – until he had walked in upon them, the mirror lying in smoking shards at Maglor's feet...

Edenel was skilled at barring people from his mind. He had used the power of deflection on the three Finwëions, as he had at Mereth Aderthad and in other places when he had not wanted to be scrutinised. They were Noldor and hard to englamour, but it had been just enough to nudge their minds away from him, helped not a little by their own personal distraction. It was a subtler thing than glamour and, for the Ithiledhil, more useful.

Now, though, he let them in. They were too insistent, too beloved to resist, broken harp-notes, the strings snapping in the fire of anguish. It reached to him and because he had known agony too, he could not shut them out any longer. This was how it had been with Finwë. He had not wanted, until the end, to bar his mind from Finwë, and so had felt him, always, his thoughts, his emotions. He listened to their words, and felt no shame, then went deeper, into the unspoken thoughts. It felt like decadence, like drinking down molten rock, honey mead, a thousand moments of arcing passion, and he was desperate for it. Even the pain.

And he learned of their plan.

Edenel opened his eyes there in the dark.

Since he lead his companions from the ruin of the North, when the world still groaned and echoed with Utumno's fall, he had vowed (they all had) to fight the very powers that had tried to break them. When they could, they had. But they had also vowed never to let themselves be re-captured by those powers.

He could not let Maglor and Tindómion walk into imprisonment. For Maglor it would be the second time. He was only here because of the unaccountable mercy of Sauron's son.

Mercy. From one who carried the blood of Mairon, as Edenel had known him then. Mairon was only merciful when it suited him, when the greater game required it. But not all slaves were obedient; the Ithiledhil were proof of that. Perhaps Vanimórë was another such. It could happen, if there was enough hate, enough will. Maglor's mind spat thoughts of Vanimórë like lava, all desire and steely hate, shame and the incandescent memory of ecstasy.

Edenel could not reach out to Vanimórë. Blood cuts blood; it is both blade and shackle it had been said. It was true. He had reason to know.

Unfolding himself, he came to his feet. His thoughts twisted, split, flew apart like startled birds. If he said nothing, Maglor and Tindómion would ride out of the forest and set their faces East toward the city of Tashon Narr.

there were old tales – old, but younger than the Ithiledhil, of a city founded on blood. He had heard it whispered long ago and even these days, traders to Esgaroth carried it in their tales, as they did Sud Sicanna, where the son of Sauron ruled. Everywhere Melkor had trod he left an imprint of power, a shadow flung long and black even after he was gone.

His hands clenched into fists against his thighs as he considered Maglor's power. He had heard Maglor sing at Mereth Aderthad, seen the images his song wove. Finrod Felagund had used glamour to disguise himself and his companions. Ultimately, his Song of Power had failed, and he died there on Sauron's Isle that had once been his own tower of guard, Minas Tirith. Edenel did not know if Maglor's own power was weakened or strengthened by his years of wandering and madness. Even if he succeeded, he and his son would have to penetrate the heart of Sauron's lair to find Legolas. It was far more likely that they would be captured. Not killed. Unless Sauron-Mairon had changed immeasurably, he would not waste two Fëanorions. And that was what Edenel feared.

He could say naught. He could tell Thranduil, who would doubtless imprison them rather than see them risk his son's life in a doomed-to-fail venture.

Or.

He could help them, these mad blood-kin of his.

He could go with them.

The decision had planted itself in his mind even as he listened to the Fëanorions. He could not let them go, not alone, knowing what their fate might be.

A shudder blossomed up from the base of his spine, flashing frost-cold through his skull. If he did this, he could not involve any other of his people. They would come, he had no doubt, but a small group was more likely to succeed than a large one. And if they were unmasked and captured, he could at least kill them and himself. He would do it rather than see them fall into Sauron's hands.

And Edenel possessed powers of his own, many of them, ironically, explored and used in Utumno. While they could not challenge Melkor or Mairon, they were not, either, negligible. They had all, who burned in the black crucible, been Unbegotten, too innocent, but strong. There was no pride in that thought. It was simply the truth, and had meant nothing then, because they had still been tormented and used and changed. But perhaps, perhaps, they could be of some use now.

A sense of fierce protection had come alight within him, and he included Glorfindel in that, despite his sins against Legolas. He could not forgive it, but he could understand the darkness that had rooted itself in Glorfindel's heart and did not think imprisonment would lift it.
He had been pushing Thanduil's thoughts away from revenge, aided not a little by the King's own furious mental impasse: To hurt Glorfindel would be to affect the child, Gîlrion, far away under Sauron's hand. Thranduil would not risk it, but the frustration at having his son's rapist a prisoner of the Wood and be unable to unleash his vengeance was tearing the King's mind apart. Thranduil risked being driven still deeper into the black pit that had opened in his soul when Elvýr died. When he killed his son.

Edenel loved the King, in his way, and respected the man whom had taken his father's bloody crown on Dagorlad. He even understood the cold that had locked the King's heart away after Elvýr's death, but he could not countenance his treatment of Legolas. Or rather his lack of treatment, sending the child away to try and forget that here was another who bore Elvýr's curse, as he named it.

Edenel had not known. He rarely attended the King's Halls. Alphgarth represented the Ithiledhil and, save for Bainalph, there had ever been few visitors to their enclave. They were, even by the wood-Elves, and even now, considered strange. It was deemed better to leave them alone.

He wished he had known, although what could he have done? No-one could change another's heart, and now that Thranduil's heart was changed, it was too late, and the King would have absolutely refused any offer to foster his youngest son, especially to Edenel. The Ithiledhil's wild sexual rites were notorious, even if only Bainalph had ever partaken in them, and had never spoken of the experience. There had always been rumours, since before Oropher's time. And the rumours were true.

Bainalph...Edenel had thought to try and retrieve his stolen sexuality, but that would not be possible now. Because one thing above all others he knew: his people would not let him go. He was their chieftain, yes, but not their king. They had not needed one after what they had passed through, did not require strict hierarchy, and they had the right to question him, prevent him, if they could. Because no Ithiledhil would raise arms against another, they would not fight him, nor he they, but they would prevent him. He thought it unlikely they would inform Thranduil. No, they would simply keep him locked up until Tindómion and Maglor had long gone.

But the day of the Rites was almost on them, the one time when they would be wholly given over to the release of their pain, the only time when Edenel might slip away. He was nominally the leader of the Rites, but if he told them that he meant to help Bainalph privately, and appointed another in his place, they would accept it. Bainalph was beloved, and too fragile in his present state to to be exposed to the feral storm of the Rites, no matter that he had joined with them before. He had been willing then, and hot for it, gorgeously arousing in his utter surrender. Although he was willing now, would try anything that would help restore him, he felt no desire. He would submit, but without need. Better that it be one man than all the Ithiledhil. Because once the Rites began, they would not be able to keep their hands off him.

As for Bainalph himself, he would keep to his chambers, alone and all- unknowing. And after? When they missed him, when Glorfindel, too had vanished? There would be uproar. But no-one would know where to look, and they would certainly hunt north or west first, toward Imladris. Edenel could shadow a trail even from his own people and anyhow, they would not consider that he might have gone East. Imladris' hands would be clean; they would be as confused as the Greenwood, and there would be no provocation to break the truce.

He took a gasping breath of air, moved to light a lamp and began methodically to gather his gear. They would have to leave at night when the forest slept. All of them. An outsider might think it foolhardy, but the power of the Rites defended the Greenwood more surely than its folk on such days. No enemy could have penetrated the enchantments laid on tree and stone and grass. As the sun rose the Ithiledhil woke and unleashed themselves from the iron chains that bound them save for on these days. It would be hard – almost impossibly so – for Edenel to withhold himself.

No. Nothing is impossible. Except this heroic quest that absolutely befitted the damnéd House of Finwë.

Leaving the pile he had neatly stacked on a clothes chest, he went to the arras and drew it back.

The Ithiledhil had excavated these caves on coming to the forest, but there has been ancient diggings here even before them. They guessed it was the work of the Noegyth Nibin * who would doubtless had fled the incursions of Elves into the forest in the Elder Days. There were only two open ways out of the caves, but there were some that were secret, known only to the Ithiledhil, and here was one. A sturdy wooden door lay under the cloth, its bolts and hinges well-oiled. It opened inward with barely a sound. He lifted the lamp and stepped through.

All of them walked the tunnels at one time or another to ensure they were clear, checking for seepage or rock-fall. He saw none, only the unsmoothed walls, the grit under his boots.

The Ithiledhil did not breed, and so these passages were not ways of escape for mothers and children (They had only fled once, from Utumno. Never again.) But did you not flee from your own kin?Are you not still? This one ran north-east, to bring those who followed it out behind an attacking enemy. The Enemy had ever come from the North or the East.

The air was stagnant, smelling dully of stone, and it was utterly silent. Edenel had challenged himself to perform this walk in darkness while the memories crowded him and he bit on his lip to stop himself giving voice to the terror and despair. Sometimes he had been left alone in the dark for – he did not know how long, only for it to be smashed apart by furnace light and greater horrors than he had imagined. (Oh, they had been innocent then! Melkor and Mairon had ripped that innocence from them) They had tried, at first, to tunnel out using only their hands and nails, a desperate, useless act. They would not have succeeded save in the softest rock, but the One only knew what Utumno was formed of, forged by Melkor's powers, sculpted into a labyrinthine colossus.

At least the tunnel did not stink as Utumno's pits: excrement and sweat both animal and human, spilled seed, vomit, fire, hot steel and the peculiar acrid potions Melkor and Mairon brewed. There was nothing here but...sweet grass, spring flowers....

Edenel whipped round, his dagger already in his hand before he felt the faint press of air where another trod in his footsteps.

Bainalph walked into the small circle of light with eyes blown wide. He too, after his valiant sacrifice in the spider's lair, had no love for the dark, Edenel thought. But he carried no light, as if he sought to prove he still had courage.

“Edenel.” A curious smile brushed the lovely mouth. “I did not know this was here. An escape tunnel? Excuse me but...” His hands fluttered eloquently. “The time grows short before the Rites, and I...”

“Not escape,” Edenel told him. “Another way of attack.”

“Ah, yes.” Bainalph nodded. “How far does it run?”

“A league or so. There are others. We walk them to ensure they are still usable.” He could not think how to send Bainalph back, and did it matter? Bainalph would wait in his own chambers, if he agreed.
“It is not touching you,” he said. “is it?”

“No,” Bainalph's voice was shorn to the bone. “I feel nothing. I hoped I might.”

Edenel took one of his hands, felt the warrior's hardness in the slim fingers, stared at the flower-like face.
“I have thought,” he said gently. “that it would be better if it were just you and I.” As Bainalph's lips parted on a question, he continued: “I do know what it is like. After a while, you cease to care, you look at memories, and they could be of a stranger.”

Bainalph's eyes fixed on his. “Yes,” he whispered. “It is not me any-more, that person, and I am beginning not to care. And this is what it could be as long as I live.”

“Are you still willing to try?”

“Yes.” Urgently. “ Yes, before I do not care enough to try.”

“And still,” Edenel said sorrowing because he would not be able to help him, not now. He wondered if he could appoint this task to another, but it felt like a betrayal. Bainalph had come to him. “it cannot be as it was before, not at first. You will only feel the invasion of your body. I can give you pleasure, because that is the way men are made. You know that. It has nothing to do with your mind. It was – is – my hope that I could give you pleasure over and over so that something would break in you, some barrier, and you would want it as you did before. It is exactly what Glorfindel did to Legolas, which troubles me, save that you are willing.”

A faint blush, almost invisible in the lamplight tinted the smooth, high sweep of Bainalph's cheeks.
“Is that what...forgive me. Is that how it was with you? If you were all...if you all felt no desire how could you even begin?”

Edenel said, “Come,” and lofted the lamp. “Walk with me. It was...when we could speak of it, we came to the decision that we had to become what we were before our capture. But at first, there was no desire. We had to go back to our imprisonment. Our...torture.” His breath stuck like a rock in his throat. He swallowed dust. Only that once and they had never spoken of it again. “We had to unleash all that was within us, Bainalph. All the pain, and go beyond it to the time before, when we were free. When we were ourselves. Our true selves. With that release came desire.”

Bainalph drew him to a halt, slid his arms about him and held him. He said nothing, but his empathy soaked through Edenel's tunic and skin, into his soul. When he lifted that heart-shaped face, the great eyes were filled with tears. Edenel raised his free hand to catch them where they spilled.
“Thranduil is such a damned fool,” he said roughly, his emotions bending the bars of their cage as the Rite approached. “You are so lovely. You could have healed the King and, if he had ever been willing to look at Legolas, to understand and accept him, he would have known you could teach his son so much. There is such beauty and grace in your surrender. It could drive a man mad. It did drive Thranduil mad.”

Bainalph swallowed, shook his head until the white hair rippled like blown cloud. “I made Thranduil hate what Legolas was. Because he is like me.”

“You did no such thing.” Edenel gripped his shoulder. “He was half-crazed and more than half besotted by you when he came to you in Alphgarth. It was himself he could not accept, and it was you and Legolas who bore the brunt of his self-loathing. You know this.” His eyes searched Bainalph's. “The Judge of the Dead took more from you than your desires. I have known this self-doubt. Those who survive atrocities begin to wonder if they deserved it, brought it upon themselves. You have not. You did nothing save wake Thranduil to his own true hungers.”

Bainalph's tremulous smile was heartbreaking. “Please! I cannot think of him now, Edenel. Not until I am as I was. I cannot...but if I am that man again, I mean to help Legolas. Whatever he becomes, he will still be the same as I underneath, just as I am the same. Somewhere under what the Death God did to me.”

Neither of them said that by then, it would be too late. Edenel knew Mairon. Intimately.

He wondered if he could attempt Bainalph's healing before he left. At least give him something, or try to. But the Ithiledhil did not engage in carnality save for on these six days of the Rites. There was too much within them: pain, horror, grief. Sex unbound it in a way nothing else could. There was no law against relationships, only a deeper understanding what lay between them was so close it needed nothing more. And it was too furious, too fierce. Edenel had always feared that if he did not chain it, the hunger would consume him and he would become little more than a savage.

Thus Midummer, Midwinter, the Equinoxes when the sun seemed to stop in the sky, the Day of Souls, autumn winds harrying the bright leaves from the trees and the Flowering, Nost-na-Lothion, on the rich green brink of summer. Edenel thought, during those days and nights that it could never be enough, that a thousand Ages could not quench his hunger, his wrath. It left him sated, bruised, bleeding and, for a while, (too short a time) at peace. He also hated that it was so needed, that he became that man, ferocious and feral. He had not been like that before. There had been passion, yes, but no hate, no fury.

“What is it?” Bainalph asked quietly. His voice fell muffled against the stone. Edenel jerked back to himself.
“Nothing.” He curved his free hand over Bainalph's shoulder, feeling the taut muscles as he squeezed gently. “If you agree, you may wait for me in your own chambers. Bathe and take some wine. Try to relax, though I know it will be hard for you.” There was a potion he could slip into the wine before it was served, that would induce sleep. No-one would question if he mentioned it was meant for Bainalph to relax.

“No. No. I remember how you were. I want it. I cannot think what else might break this...curse.”

Edenel closed his eyes. “Very well,” he murmured. “Now go back. I must finish this walk. We will take a meal later.” He forced a smile. “Do you think you can sup with the House of Finwë?”

“Of course.” Suddenly and without effort, Bainalph was the Prince of Alphgarth again, elegant and enamelled, poised as a lily. “Do you think– ” and again those insidious doubts crept into his voice. Edenel could have slashed his blade across the Death God's throat if such a creature were not already more than dead, some dusty revenant oozing a miasma of malice against joy and sensuality. “would they join us for the Rites?”

What?” He almost dropped the lamp. “You wish it?”

“Bainalph would wish it, would he not?” He laid his hand on Edenel's breast. “The man I was would want it. And I would give you more than myself, should it not succeed.”

“Yes, you would want it,” Edenel agreed steadily. “And yes, so do I. How not? But you, yourself, are enough. It is an honour to be asked to share this with you.”

“But I know how you are, how we all are on these Days, but the Ithiledhil most of all. And I know also that that these are the only times you will allow yourself to...break open. Do not waste it.”

“It would not be a waste,” Edenel said truthfully. Not one day, not for Bainalph. “And it would be very much rougher with them. Although it is not in their culture, they feel it, and it would not take much for them to sip from its cup, I think. There is enough pain and passion in all of them to recognise the taste and drain it to the dregs. The sight of you would be enough.”

The smile Bainalph slanted him was only a poor shadow of his old flirtatious look.
“And of you,” he whispered.

“And they are Finwëions; two of them are Fëanorion's. I do not know what it would unleash within them. And we did not bring them here for this.”

“I know, and I think they need it. I could not take the risk that Thranduil would come to Alphgarth. There would have been bloodshed. But here, it is different.”

Even so. But it could not happen, even were they willing. By noon of that Day, when the Rites ruled the Elves, Edenel hoped to be at the border, into the wild lands between the Wood and the Grey Mountains.
“Think of thyself, Bainalph,” he said gently.

“Oh, I am,” the prince returned, eyes wide. “But of you also. I can never forget what I owe you, what you shared with me here, how you helped to heal me after Thranduil rejected me. And I have seen the way you look at them.”

Edenel could not refute it, so he said nothing.

“I will ask them,” Bainalph said. “when we dine.”

OooOooO


Glorfindel spun as Edenel strode into the room, a frown between his brows. He tilted his head as if reading the echoes of the words, both silent and audible that had traced themselves in the air. Glorfindel flung him a look that could (and had) made warriors step back from him, but Edenel did not react.

“What is it?” Glorfindel asked impatiently.

“I ask you the same.”

“Vanimórë,” he said flatly. 'Sauron's son.”

Something flickered in the strange eyes. “Surely it is not wise to communicate with him. I doubt his thoughts are secret from his sire.”

“Sauron knows I can do nothing,” Glorfindel spat, the venom directed inward at himself. “And there is no other way for me to learn of my son and Legolas.”

“There may be,” Edenel said.

Glorfindel went still. “What?”

“Listen to me and ask no questions.” He raised a hand. “And there will be some I cannot answer, but others can.”

Outraged, Glorfindel glared at him.

“First, I do not believe you should be held in the Wood,” Edenel told him. “Your presence here, inviolate, when Thranduil wishes to punish you, is a wound that will fester and poison him to madness, his son and grandson notwithstanding. And you will have no chance to redeem yourself here. Do you agree?”

Through tight lips, Glorfidenl said, “I agree.”

“Secondly, then. You are Noldo and kin of Finrod Felagund who wove power to disguise himself from the Enemy and then strove with Sauron in a Song of Power, though he failed, valiantly, and died.”

Glorfindel could not speak. He had felt Finrod's striving, and then his dying, when he was safely enclosed in Gondolin. He had gone mad. He bent his head in acknowledgement.

“Maglor Fëanorion proposes to attempt the same: to gain ingress into the city where Legolas and your son is held. He will take Tindómion, who will not be parted from him.”

Ice drenched Glorfindel from head to foot, followed by airy, dizzying heat. It drove him two blind steps toward Edenel, groping for words. They had said nothing to him. They had said nothing.. They would leave him here to rot while they tried...

He spun toward the door. Edenel barred his way with an outflung arm.
“I will go with them,” he said. “And I will release you to go, also.”

Glorfindel absorbed it like a hammer-blow. Took a breath, or tied to. The air was gone from the room.
“Yes,” he bit. And then, dumbfounded, he stepped back. “Why? And why in the Hells would they tell you?”

“They did not. I heard them.” Edenel's face was inaccessible as the winter moon. “And once, I was Noldo.”

The breath exploded from Glorfindel's lungs. So that was it, the strange familiarity he felt?

“Escaped thralls, we Ithiledhil. But that was long ago. I am no servant of the Dark.”

“No,” Glofindel said. “I do not believe you are. You have been here since before Oropher, it is said. Well then. Go on.”

“Maglor has been a prisoner of the Enemy, and so have I. I would not see him captured again, nor his son and no, not even you. But we all of us have some powers, dormant or buried, and while I do not think we can succeed, I think we should try.”

“Yes,” Glorfindel agreed, teeth shut. “So do I.” And then, suddenly, he could breathe again. “Thranduil is like to kill you when he discovers it.” But he was beginning to smile. He felt it fierce as a wolf's snarl on his lips.

“That depends on the outcome. And if it goes ill then I will never return for him to kill me.” Edenel's voice, that Glorfindel now listened to for the first time, finding hints of ancient inflexions in it though oddly naked without the whorl and formality of the antique speech, was calm as milk. “You have told me that Sauron swore he would kill Legolas and Gîlrion if any-one followed him, but I think that a bluff. I observed him for long enough to know that while he may discard that which is of no use to him, he has a love of...rarity. And Legolas is incredibly rare; your son even more so.”

“You knew Sauron.” Glorfindel searched his face. “How well do slaves ever know their masters?”

“Perhaps you should ask that of Sauron's son. We know them better than most.”

“Vanimóre is a most unusual slave,” Glorfindel commented dryly.

“And so was I, or they thought I was, I and all who became the Ithiledhil. Sauron, and his master. You do know, do you not, how greatly they desired to have the Elves under their hands, and the Noldor most of all?”

Yes, Glorfindel knew, and he had seen Sauron's brutal vengeance when his plans crashed down around him. He had been with Gil-galad and Tindómion when Vilya flared and Sauron's voice wove through it in the incantation of the Rings.

“And so,” Edenel continued, “that is why I do not believe he would kill any Noldo he captured, especially a Finwëion. He certainly will not kill Legolas, his greatest chance in hundreds of years and royal, young, and beautiful. He made that threat when he was alone and, from what I understand, still lacking his full power. But this city of blood, this place, he has taken Legolas, is old, and bears the imprint of Morgoth Bauglir. It is a place of dark power. Sauron will regain his strength quickly. He will not have any need to kill. There are other ways, for an Ainu, are there not?”

“How do you know so much?” Glorfindel demanded. He did not truly suspect Edenel of duplicity, but could not help the suspicion that crawled, spider-like into the back of his mind. It occurred to him that speaking with this man was not unlike speaking to Vanimórë.

“I know my enemy,” Edenel replied, light sparking in his pale eyes like a distant storm. “Ever since the Ithiledhil fled from the Dark I have listened to whispers on the wind, rumours of far-off wars, even when Morgoth was gone, when Sauron seemed defeated. I weave what I know of him into the information we gather. After the War of Wrath even the wisest deemed Sauron fallen with his master. I did not, and he came, disguised, to the Noldor and thus the fall of Ost-in-Edhil, of the Island of Númenor and ultimately Gil-galad. And I was there. I have fought in any battle you could name and some you could not. I would drive this dagger into my own heart before falling into his hands again, but my people will not, either, flee him.” He closed the distance between them and heat beat from his skin with a scent of faint, clean fire. Glorfindel thought, without knowing why, of diamonds burning, of Fëanor. “And what did you do, the Wood that I made my home, and Imladris, but turn inward, tearing the scabs off old prejudices, old wounds, until what you had was not even open war but a wreck of conflict born out of grief and jealousy, one for the other. The Noldor are fading and the wood-Elves do not. But they were fortunate: they never knew Valinor.”

“Do not tell me what I know! We were all steeped in bitterness after Gil-galad's fall.” But so had Tindómion been, more than any, yet he had not fallen, as Glorfindel had. Never so low. “You spoke of redemption,” he snapped. To the Hells with that! I cannot redeem myself, cannot unmake what I have done. But I want to bring my son and Legolas Thranduilion out of captivity if I perish in the act! I never believed I would have a chance.

Edenel regarded him, dark brows flicking down. “It is a slender one. We would not only have to reach the heart of Tashon Narr undetected by Sauron, but find Legolas and your son and bring them out with you.”

“A slender chance, like the one Fingon took when he brought Maedhros from Thangorodrim, like Lúthien and Beren took when they entered Angband.” He grimaced. “Petty thieves stealing from a greater one, though some would have it otherwise. But it worked.”

“Like Fingolfin riding to challenge Morgoth?” There was no mockery in the question. Shadows of pain moved behind the white eyes. He had a remarkably beautiful face though so cold, so stern. Glorfindel wondered what had changed his hair and eyes, changed all the Ithiledhil – and then found himself not wanting to know. It would have been terrible. To ask would be to trespass and it was not needful. There was no deceit here. Sauron might spin a plan out over thousands of years, but Glorfindel did not think that Edenel was a sleeping spy any more than Maedhros had been. Had Maedhros ever glimpsed this man before Morgoth took him and hung him on the walls of Thangorodrim?
“Sauron is not Morgoth,” he said, and remembered Fingolfin's body, broken, still so beautiful, that they had entombed above Gondolin, star-blue eyes closed forever. He shut his own, biting down on the past. “But if he were, I could think of no more honourable death.”

“I do not think,” Edenel said sombrely. “that Sauron would give you an honourable death. And you may yet come to hunger for it.”

Glorfindel did not blink. “So be it.”

OooOooO


“Art thou mad?” Maglor demanded. The slam of his hand against the wall was loud in the wake left by Edenel's words. “No. Do not say it. I have been thinking of little else.”

“The Great Song is within you, son of Fëanor,” Edenel said, watching the unbearable emotions flick across the beautiful face like jewel-light. “But none of us are without power, and there is a thing I have considered.” He watched the silver eyes flash to Tindómion's, the ripple of silent words.

“Speak on.”

“Finrod failed, so it is said, and I believe it, because he could not hide what he was from Sauron. That does not surprise me. The Noldor shone like burning swords, steel in a furnace. But I learned, in...my captivity, to become as lead.”

“Such a base metal.” Maglor's eyes moved over him. “I do not think so.”

“It is...like a dampening,” Edenel sketched the word with one hand. “It encourages even the most powerful minds to skim over us.” That had been after his changing, when Mairon took him away from the pits. It was Mairon whom had shown him, which left an odd taste in the mouth. The lavender eyes with that red flame ever burning in them had come close to his own, the moulded lips curved in that half-mocking smile.
Thou art no fool, he had said. and have proved strong beyond imagining, but if he decides he wants thee for bedsport – or any other sport – out of desire or spite or frustration, or for further experimentation, I cannot stop him. There is little beauty here, and he has a...peculiar relationship with beauty, hating it and desiring it equally because he cannot create it, it would seem. Thou must encourage him to forget thee. And so must I. Oh, of course he will not, but he will allow me to handle thee until he decides what to do with thee – because thou art unforeseen – and I have some suggestions for him. Which do not include – (This with a glint of amusement, the sweep of a long-fingered hand through Edenel's loose white hair) being used as a toy for his lusts. I have said thou art strong, but I do not think thou couldst survive him in one of his dark moods. So learn. Let thy mind be lead, cold, unreflecting...A base metal, but it has its uses.

And he had learned. They all had. No-one in Utumno could match Melkor's powers. No-one would even try. But one could be overlooked, at least for a time, and certainly Melkor had many other matters on his mind, matters that far outweighed one strange thrall.

Edenel learned Mairon's lessons, taught them to those who came a