On a hard, stony plain the army of Fal Carth met the legions of Tanith, and was destroyed. No help had come from the other kingdoms. Vanimórë had ensured it would not. He had visited each of the rulers and offered them extended life if they owned him as their King. For thousands of years these people had heard the tales of Sauron's power and his nine deathless servants. More than power, more than wealth, Men desired immortality.
Sauron had been a dread and distant power who surrounded his throne with fire. This new power was very visible. Only Abisra, King of Fal Carth was young enough, brash enough and courageous enough to defy the Warlord of Tanith, but when he saw the host which awaited him, he demanded to invoke the ancient tradition of single combat. Vanimórë gravely accepted, and Abisra was dead within moments. Even as he died, the Steelguard flung themselves to the onset, crashing into the lines of Carthian cavalry. Demoralized by their King's death, the army was routed, and Vanimórë rode into the city.
It was here that he broke with Tanith and set masons to build a wall across the border between the realms.
"Thou wilt never be attacked by me," he told Khanad. "Behind this wall Tanith will grow and prosper."
Khanad had not believed him, but Vanimórë did not lie. Tanith would become the one realm in all the Harad which was counted as a friend and ally of the Dark God.
Fully a third of the Tanithian warriors elected to join Vanimórë, seeking conquest and glory. They believed him paramount in battle, and their faith made his army unstoppable. Kings bowed before him and great crowds watched his procession through the streets of conquered cities, all in black upon a black war-horse, the purple and sable banner above him.
In the Seven Dominions he consolidated his rule, and the kings died. Their people swore fealty to the new Dark God.
The Lands of Spice now lay open, facing an enemy whom asked that they simply let him in and avoid bloodshed. The Merchant Princes, fat on wealth, lay down like paid harlots. This God did not demand their lives or riches, and his reputation ran ahead of him. It was said that he could not be defeated in battle, that he could change shape, walk unseen, read the thoughts in a man's mind. Some scoffed at these rumors, and the truculent prince of Batri mocked him as an 'Arse-loving impostor.' His severed head was found upon his pillow the next morning, a note pinned to the bed by a dagger.
''Two choices, gentlemen.''
Vanimórë knew Men, knew what motivated them. He earned the allegiance of the armies because he was a warrior himself. His will pulled his legions irresistibly with him. And he cared; physicians moved with the army, those who could not longer fight were pensioned off, widows received a fixed sum, ensuring they did not starve. The army was a good choice of career, under Vanimórë, and a glamor came to surround the warriors who marched under the banner of the Dark God.
''Husband, he is dangerous,'' Sathari said one day. "Whatever he promised you — "
"He saved my life, he could have let me die on the isle and taken Tanith," Khanad responded. "He did not. He has promised us autonomy."
Sathari's father had received reports from his spies of the war-storm and conquest of the south, and he pondered.
''Will naught stop this one?'' he demanded of his adviser. ''Is he indeed some God, the Lord Sauron incarnate again? The assassins fail again and again.''
''He is not Sauron,'' Pallando replied as one who knew. ''He is a god, but first and foremost he is a warrior, Sire. Your assassins,'' he smiled with a hint of ridicule. ''They are children in comparison.''
''Does he pose a threat to us?''
''He cannot bring an army through any pass to the west and south." Pallando assured him, calm. ''This is not an easy land to conquer. The Lord Sauron knew that. It is as well though that you offer Khand an alliance. ''
The khagan twisted his many rings.
''Not Sauron, you say, but mayhap a greater threat. Sauron left us alone. This one...his army worships him A charismatic leader with a large enough army can do anything.''
''Yes,'' Pallando agreed. ''He can.''
''You do believe him, then.''
Elrohir looked up.
''Yes, I believe him.'' He rose and gazed out of the long window. Dawn slid spears of sunlight down into the valley.
"It seems to me few will survive."
''I have been thinking of Doriath," Elrohir said.
Elladan said, ''Menegroth. And Nargothrond? Both built underground. But the two of us and those who remain cannot build such.''
''There are Dwarves in the Ered Luin, and there is this'' Elrohir handed his brother the sheet of vellum. Elladan unfolded it.
''Who brought this message?''
''One of the great Eagles.''
''From the Noldor. Gil-galad wishes to return to Lindon.'' The grey eyes gleamed.
"With Noldor craftsmen and the Dwarfs, somewhere could be built in the mountains."
Elladan walked to the table, drew a map forward. ''Gil-galad means to take this route, and look: Vanimórë has taken Bellakar and the eastern desert. ''
Over the years the twins had mapped Vanimórë's conquests; coloured pins showing the progression. He moved like a tide which now had halted at a line which ran from the coast of Bellakar on the west to the border of Khand in the east. Beyond that line lay Gondor. Eldarion had been there when the Dark God signed a treaty with Elessar, and vowed never to raise arms against the High Kingdom.
''He will escort Gil-galad through the Harad, and they will be granted safe passage through the High Kingdom.''
Elrohir sat down, dipped his quill in the standish, and paused. ''Are we decided?''
''Do you even have to ask?'' Elladan said.
He renamed the city Pashaar. It lay at the midpoint of the conquered lands and was ancient, the crux of several trading routes. And trade, these days, was easier than before, because where the Dark God marched, his engineers were with him, and they built straight roads.
Twenty-five years after Vanimórë's first conquest, he held a great feast in Pashaar. Tent-cities sprang up about the walls, and the streets seethed.
On the first day, Vanimórë rode into the city in full panoply. People crowded to balconies and flat roofs to watch. Under the stark blue sky the lockstep march of the legions, the clash of hooves, drummed on the streets.
In the plaza before the palace, the warriors lined up in perfect formation and Vanimórë mounted the steps. He offed his helm, raised his hand. His legions saluted, and their battle-cry went up into the hot air.
In the palace, the guests gathered to feast. From Tanith came Palantir, the heir of Khanad. As yet unwed, he would receive petitions for his hand; such a gathering was a perfect marriage-mart. Many eyes were on him, and Eldarion of the High Kingdom, another unmarried prince.
In unrelieved black Vanimórë greeted his guests. There was an attitude of almost negligent ease in the way he bore himself, but power surrounded him like heat. He did not need jewel or crown to proclaim who he was.
He was worshiped, he whom had forbidden such a thing. Men liked their Gods to be visible. The Haradhrim had long come under the sway of Sauron and Morgoth, and their rites were often bloody. Where he could, Vanimórë stamped out such rituals in savage retaliatory lessons which only added to the rumor that blood sacrifice pleased him. He killed, he conquered, what else would he desire but blood? Not men or women to share his couch, it seemed, though there were some who remembered his silver-haired lover whom had vanished years before.
The straw target sprouted arrows like a porcupine's back there. The archer lowered his bow, walked across to to retrieve them.
''Too easy for thee.''
Elgalad smiled as he turned. ''Blindfolded?'' he suggested.
''Now that is surprisingly arrogant.'' Maglor set down wine. Under the trees the greensward was starred with windflowers. The very air seemed green with spring's urgent growth.
They sat down, the sun dancing in the cool yellow wine.
''How long has it been?'' Maglor asked.
There had been an assassination attempt in the city of Zunad, and had Elgalad's reflexes been slower, it would have succeeded. Vanimórë brought him to New Cuiviénen shortly after. Assassins had tried to take his own life many times, and as this proved impossible, had targeted the one closest to him, who had too much influence, or so it was believed. Ambitious rulers decided the silver Elf was an obstruction to Vanimórë's marriage. So far they had been disappointed. The Dark Prince showed no inclination to take wives.
Maglor's motives in befriending Elgalad were birthed in genuine kindness and his unadmitted desire to see Vanimórë. He had not set eyes on him since their last encounter, and the only news he heard from Glorfindel was of the Far Harad being welded forcibly into one Empire.
Elgalad drank. ''The autumn,'' he said.
How can Vanimórë leave him? Maglor wondered with a thrill of anger. Is he truly becoming something terrible, something that no longer needs Elgalad, or love?
''He is busy. I know how hard he w-works.''
"Is he kind to thee?" Maglor asked. "Have his conquests...changed him?"
Elgalad looked up from his wine-cup. ''There is a ch-change in him,'' he said. "Hurt me? No." And there was a flash of warning in his lovely eyes.
Maglor began to say something, then raised his head, hearing the sound of hoof-beats in the distance. They were coming at a breakneck gallop, far too fast among the trees.
A raking grey horse burst into the clearing. At some unspoken command, it came to a snorting, stamping halt and in a swirl of raven hair, its young rider dismounted. His smile was a sensual flash which sat strangely on such a young face, and was so familiar that Maglor's nerves sparked. The eyes that examined them were fiery gems.
''Fëanor." Maglor attempted to frown. ''Dost thou not know better than to ride full-tilt through the trees?''
''I was riding with Celegorm.'' The child tossed his head. ''He did not want me to come here, so I lost him. May I have a drink?'' Those marvelous eyes fixed on Elgalad, who, assaulted by the memory of Fëanor within him, taking him into the flames, hoped nothing showed on his face.
"So thou art Elgalad," Fëanor said.
"Yes, and thou art Fëanor," Elgalad replied. He went into the house, returning with milk, dried fruit and meat. Fëanor thanked him and sat down, casting curious looks from under long lashes.
''Celegorm would not come,'' he said over a bite. ''He said Elgalad is...out of bounds, but of course he did not mean to me.''
"Elgalad is a guest," Maglor told him, hiding a smile at that purest form of Fëanorion arrogance. "Fingolfin has said none are to disturb him unless they are invited.''
"Oh, I knew that of course. I saw it in Fingolfin's mind. That was why I wanted to come and see."
Maglor and Elgalad shared a glance.
''Thou canst see thoughts?'' Maglor asked.
"If I wish to," Fëanor said matter-of-factly. "Mother said it was uncivil and I should not, but sometimes the thoughts are so loud I cannot avoid hearing them." A faintly wicked and very adult glint was in his eyes. "Thou wert thinking of a lover, both of thee."
"Now that is enough," Maglor raised one hand. "Fanari is right. People do not always wish to share their private thoughts."
All of them found it strange to be around Fëanor. He was curious, quicksilver, and one was never sure what thoughts moved behind his ageless eyes. At times, and increasingly, his expression, his words were not those of a child at all.
''I will try not to look. But is is hard.'' The boy came lithely to his feet.
"I will ride back with thee," Maglor told him. "If thou art all right, Elgalad?''
''Of course.'' Elgalad smiled.
''I will come back and see thee again, Meluion.'' The black head tilted. ''If I may?'' This with a charming smile.
''Thou art w-welcome.''
When they were gone through the trees, Elgalad walked to the workshop at the rear of the house. The aroma of wood-shavings was strong and sweet, but another scent that drifted through them brought his head up. Arms came around him from behind.
Elgalad's bones turned to water, to fire. He turned within the strong arms. His eyes had gone wide and wild.
''I have missed thee,'' Vanimórë said.
Elgalad arched back as he was taken, the wonderful, welcome pain crashing into pleasure. He knew Vanimórë was devouring him. He did not care. He wanted to be taken to the Anguish every time.
And he was.
Sun-spiced raven hair coiled on Elgalad's damp skin as Vanimórë drank his spilled seed.
''I missed thee'' Elgalad said, languid now. ''Take me back with thee.''
He asked each time Vanimórë came, and each time was refused.
''It is no place for thee. I want thee here.''
Elgalad let out a breath. "What has been happening?" he asked.
Vanimórë lay back, drawing him close. Their bodies moulded together.
''I had some setbacks in Bellakar, flux in the army. Pallando, who has long served Chey Sart, came secretly to speak with me. I will not leave thee so long again.'' His fingers delved gently through Elgalad's hair.
There was so little time left, so little time.
''I need thee, never doubt that.'' He rose. ''I will get wine. No, stay there. I have enough servants. Let me serve thee.''
He brought back wine and poured it, his eyes searching the naked beauty displayed for him. There was a sense of otherness about Elgalad now, even as his lovemaking climbed to heights that few sought or could attain. His skin was pearl-white, his eyes seemed to look beyond the world. Aching with grief, Vanimórë kissed him.
I wish the world were simpler, but the truth is, I need thy purity. My soul is too twisted from its roots to love thee as cleanly as thou dost love me. I know I am killing thee, and I cannot stop.
He said, aloud, ''I saw Fëanor and Maglor. I chose to wait until they departed.''
''He can see peoples thoughts clearly.'' Elgalad said. "I wondered what he might see...or remember."
''Everything, soon enough. His memories come ever closer to revealing themselves. It is to be expected.'' Vanimórë drained his cup and set it aside
The rain-colored eyes darkened with desire.
"Thou art not leaving."
"Not yet." He should leave and could not. Who was more addicted, he or Elgalad? And as they came together again, he sent out a call.
Maglor, I will come soon.
For that was the other half of what he needed. ~