Third Age 2460: In this year, the Watchful Peace ended, with Sauron's return to Mordor from the far East of the world.
T.A 2463: In this year the Council of the Wise was formed.
T.A 2480: In this year Sauron orders battalions of black uruks out of Mordor to the Misty Mountains to the old orc-holds of Gundabad, Gram, and the High Pass so that they might cut off the passes to and from Eriador. Orcs also occupy Moria.
Chapter One ~ From Light to Darkness.
Imladris was still as a jewel under the silent pour of the sun. Even the lace of the waterfalls caught the light like threads of glass, spun into fragile solidity by the heat.
Melpomaen lifted his head, quill poised in his hand, and looked out over the windless garden. Bees droned in herb and flower, the sound was soporific, and many Elves would indeed be resting now, for who wanted to sleep when the summer stars burned over the valley? Mel however, did not wish to rest. His mind was too fully engaged.
He had initially been flattered when Glorfindel asked him to transcribe a memoir, and then, as the story unfolded, became fascinated. Melpomaen had duties, of course, and the memoir was for Glorfindel's private collection, so the two of them had met in the evenings, Glorfindel relating the tale, Melpomaen writing it down. He knew Glorfindel could have done this himself, and at first believed the suggestion sprang from kindness. Glorfindel, like every-one in Imladris, seemed to think Melpomaen's diminutive stature indicative of vulnerability, and vulnerable children must needs be indulged, cosseted, encouraged. However, Melpomaen was not about to refuse an opportunity to be in the company of the magnificent creature, watching the play of his muscles, the gilt ripples of his hair, the shifting brilliance of the ice-blue eyes. It made his dreams rather...interesting.
He had heard the tale, or fragments of it, all his life, but now he was learning it in full. Glorfindel had the skill of a bard; Melpomaen could taste the ashen-dryness of Mordor on his tongue, feel the towering weight of Barad-dûr across the plain of Gorgoroth, though Glorfindel did not dwell on those things, nor the battles and skirmishes, instead his words centered around a mysterious thrall of the Dark Lord's who had been a prisoner of the Alliance.
Melpomaen was intrigued. This story contained those taboo elements that went to the heart of his own identity: the attraction between two people of the same sex. Oh, Glorfindel had not so much as hinted at anything as yet, but it was there, in his voice and in what he both said and did not say. Melpomaen was quiet and small, and people sometimes overlooked him, which attributes had, quite by chance allowed him to see and hear things that confirmed in him the belief that at least a few Imladrian men and women lead secret lives.
'Little Mel' was not supposed to know anything. It was as if people thought that if they did not talk, he would not see or hear – or even think. It had been this way since the time of the Last Alliance. No messenger had brought the news to Imladris, but somehow, Melpomaen's mother had known when her husband died, so far away in that land of fire and ash. Mel had been there when she cried out and fell like a shot dove to her knees. It had been a time of helpless fear and confusion for him, as her will to live drained day by day until she could not rise from her bed. The women of Imladris, those men who had remained, had become Melpomaen's parents.
Arasboth had died the day the war-weary army returned, and they too became his parents.
As Melpomaen matured, his body stirring to the pulses of sex, he came to realize that his desires did not walk on the white paths of the Valarin Laws, and that no-one – or no-one in Imladris – was going to encourage, entice or seduce 'Little Mel' into imperiling his soul.
Mel, however, had a mind of his own. He considered everything he had been told, studied the books and scrolls of Elrond's library, some of which had come from Ost-in-Edhil, Lindon or Arvernien, and decided that no Power that condemned love was worthy of acknowledgment or respect. He was not alone; others here felt the same, even if they did not actually break the laws. And then there was Glorfindel himself. His relationship with Legolas went unremarked, although Melpomaen could not imagine any-one daring to call Glorfindel's behavior into question, and it was well known that in Gondolin he had been the lover of Ecthelion of the Fountain. No man, however, had approached Melpomaen, and it became increasingly frustrating as the years turned and the embassies came from Lothlórien and Mirkwood. The Silvans quite sensibly ignored laws that had never been given directly to them, but Melpomaen could not elicit any interest although thrillingly, he did receive some looks which sent the blood down into his loins. Matters never went further, however, and he had to wonder if the Silvans were being warned off him. It would be too depressing to think that he had misread those appraising glances, and that in reality no-one found him desirable.
Everything had changed for him one spring, when he accompanied Celebrian to Lothlórien. Apparently such a large and well armed party was deemed safe enough to include him, he had thought, rather ruffled at how long it took Elrond to give his consent. He almost thought the Lord of Imladris would read him a lecture on propriety, but he was spared that embarrassment, and once they arrived in the Golden Wood, he managed to evade Elladan and Elrohir, his unofficial guardians. He had enjoyed himself immensely – at least after the lovely blond Galadhel's initial argument.
“Do you believe that the Valar punish us for this?” Melpomaen had asked. Fanuifer had shrugged.
“Why should I care? I will never leave Middle-earth, even in death. But you Golodhrim are different, and what if it were true?”
“Then the choice is mine, is it not?”
The weeks in Lothlórien had been wondrous: an awakening, a discovery of what pleasured both of them. It had not been love, but it had been affection and a joyous lust that was as natural to Mel as breathing. There was no guilt then or after, only regret that it must, like the summer, come to an end. He thought that Elladan and Elrohir guessed where he slipped away to, and wondered if their sudden laxity was deliberate. They never told any-one, as far as he knew, but some-one must have informed Elrond, for although nothing was said to him, he was not invited to the Golden Wood again. There was always some excuse: he was needed to work on an important document became the most well-used one. In the end, he no longer asked. The message was clear enough.
Back in Imladris, he was again Little Mel, and at times he seriously wondered if that long summer of shameless passion had been a dream, which was why he was astonished that Glorfindel had chosen him to set down this story. It was as if he were being admitted into a secret cadre. He wrote it quickly and later translated it carefully into Quenya.
And as he looked at me with those strange eyes of his, purple as spring violets, I saw what his life was under Sauron.
Glorfindel had ended there last night, and Melpomaen watched him in the lamplight, knowing that his mind was far from Imladris. His voice tuned to the weight of those memories, Mel whispered, “What did you see?”
Glorfindel blinked and looked at him, then come to his feet in a fluid poem of power that affected Melpomaen like his first draught of wine.
“Suffice it to say that it was dreadful beyond imagining. And I do not want you to imagine it.”
It was late and dark, and a breeze snatched suddenly at the drapes. An east wind. Melpomaen turned his head toward the window.
“What happened to him?”
Glorfindel smiled. “We have not come to the end of the story, yet.”
“Does he not have a name?”
“He never gave me his name,” Glorfindel crossed to him and kissed the top of his head. “I gave him one. I called him Vanimórë.”
I saw what his life was under Sauron.
The ink had dried, and Melpomaen covered the vellum and put it away. He had no duties for the rest of the day. Imladris was preparing to welcome a small party from Mirkwood. Melpomaen was interested because apparently Legolas was not coming this time. Thranduil was sending some-one else in his stead. Melpomaen had glimpsed this proxy the first time he had come here, but only very briefly, and had not been privy to the events that had lead to one of the Silvan warriors being stripped of his rank for attempted murder. Glorfindel had told him that Elgalad Meluion was Sindar, not a native of the Greenwood, but of Edhellond, that legendary Elf-haven far in the south, now long desolate. Some-one had lead him thence to the Greenwood, where Thranduil had taken him in and treated him as a son. Melpomaen wondered if he could talk to Elgalad, perhaps record his story. He was genuinely fascinated by people. It had nothing to do with that beautiful head of silver hair he had seen, of course. The only other people he had seen with that shade of hair were Celeborn and Celebrian.
He poured a cup of water and drank, then lay down on the cushioned settle. He did not sleep, but was close to its borders when low voices roused him.
“...for now,” Glorfindel said. “We should meet them close to the High Pass.”
“It will give the men something to do. Do you feel something, then?” That wine-and-cream voice was Tindómion, Maglor's son. Bronze haired, vivid beauty molded to sternness, it had not taken Melpomaen long to realize the the depth of sorrow under the silver eyes. Tindómion was hard to get close to, and many did not try; he was Fëanorion, with all that heritage entailed.
“No, I cannot say that I do,” Glorfindel murmured, after a short pause. “But let us make the most of this peace.”
“If it is peaceful, may I come?”
They turned as Melpomaen stepped out onto the balcony.
“Well,” Glorfindel began, which sounded like the prelude to a kindly-worded refusal.
“I have not been out of the valley in a very long time,” Mel said, playing a wistful note for all he was worth. And it was not all artifice.
“No, you have not, have you?”
As it was usually groups of warriors who rode out from Imladris, Mel knew better than to ask to accompany them. He shook his head.
“It would be a beautiful ride.”
Glorfindel and Tindómion were exchanging thoughts, he knew. He held his breath.
“Ask Elrond,” Tindomion said unexpectedly. “If you believe it is peaceful enough.”
Elrond, predictably, hesitated. It was Celebrian who came to his aid.
“We are sending warriors to meet the Silvans,” she said. “Mel' will be perfectly safe. It will be good for him to ride out.”
Melpomaen wanted to hug her, and did. The land was soaked by the sun, and even the distant Hithaeglir seemed gentled by it. It was not that he was unhappy, but perhaps Glorfindel's tale of mystery and subtle sensuality had stirred him to restlessness, or the summer, which bade fair to being long and sultry, echoed that glorious sojourn in Lothlórien too long ago. Whatever it was, Mel felt the urge to leave the valley, put aside his work for time. He loved it, that went without saying, while it served as a distraction for his unfed desires, he was by no means reconciled to his celibacy, and leaving Imladris might – one never knew – bring opportunities. It was possible that when warriors traveled together they were less circumspect. But, and here he sighed as he folded a tunic, that was probably wishful thinking. Outside the borders of Imladris they were likely to be more concerned with possible dangers than sex. Still, Mel was by nature an optimist.
It was a beautiful dawn. The valley still lay in shadow, but the sky above was a deep, endless blue, and it was already warm as they set out. Mel was somewhat surprised at the horse he was given, a long-legged grey belonging to Elladan. Daedhuin was too big for him, battle-trained, but obedient to the lightest touch, and with a pace smooth as honey. Mel realized that he had probably been given the mount because he was trained for battle and very fast; he would see his rider safe out of harms way. They were still cosseting him, he thought, but he was too excited to care overmuch.
He had been up the eastern tack, which the riders took in single file, with Glorfindel in the lead and Tindómion the rear, many times, for he liked the scent and cool green of the pinewoods up here, but it was still within the bounds of Imladris. Only when they mounted an old track through a wild land of birch and heather, and tiny streams, did Mel feel he had truly left the valley behind.
There were six of them, including Mel. Elladan and Elrohir went ahead to scout. They worked as a team, fought as one too, Mel understood, and he had his own reasons to believe that relationship went even further. Tindómion remained as rearguard, and in front of him Corech, who, like Mel, had been orphaned by the Last Alliance. Glorfindel remained in the lead, and there was little conversation until they stopped at noon to water the horses and eat. Elladan and Elrohir did not return until dusk, when they bivouacked. Corech and Tindómion took the first watch and a small fire was lit. Elrohir had shot a grouse and the smell of hot meat made Mel realize how hungry he was. He looked up to find Glorfindel's eyes on him. He was smiling.
“You look like a child escaped from his lessons,” he said.
“I feel it,” Mel admitted. “But not a child, Glorfindel, please !”
Elrohir looked up from carving the bird, and winked.
“The land is quiet.” He handed a wooden platter to Mel, and turned to Glorfindel, who nodded.
And still they watch, Mel thought, as he sipped wine and lay back, looking up at the stars.
The following days proceeded in much the same pattern. The foothills gradually became steeper, and the mountains frowned down from their battlements on slopes of scree that not even a mountain-goat could have climbed. Far ahead, a huge vein of quartz streaked across a cliff of grey-black rock, the agelong sign for travelers seeking the High Pass.
Mel did not like the mountains, save as a grand backdrop. He had read the old legends that the Hithaeglir had been raised in the dawn of the world by Morgoth. Whether it was true or not, there had always been a darkness about them, and they were a place where orcs and trolls, and sometimes lawless men lurked. Patrols from Imladris regularly came this way to look for signs of orc activity, for the High Pass was the route most often used by the wood-Elves. Legolas mother had been slain there long ago. *
Without a word spoken, the warriors fell into a heightened awareness. Mel could see it in their watchful eyes, their movements, and he felt his own muscles stiffen. They built no fire that last night, and if they spoke, it was not audible to him.
He did not realize that he slept at last, close to dawn, but when he woke it was to Tindómion gently shaking him. He felt the tension through the bones of the Fëanorion's hand.
“What is it?” He sat up.
“There are many carrion-birds higher up the pass,” Tindómion said. “Glorfindel and Elrohir have ridden ahead.”
Elladan stood at the edge of the pines. Outside the dim, resinous shelter of the trees, the light was bright, the air warm, yet Mel shivered as he rose, taking the the drink Tindómion poured for him.
“Perhaps...dead animals?” he offered. No-one answered, and the sun suddenly looked cold.
Glorfindel and Elrohir returned near noon with two wood-Elves. Both were wounded. One had a head injury, the other a deep cut to his thigh and smaller abrasions. It was he, Alagduin, who related the news.
There had been eight of them only, he said, and they were, as always, cautious, but the orcs had ambushed them from the caves at the top of the pass. There must have been over a hundred of them. The wind was from the east and carried their scent away from the Elves, but that of the Elves directly to the orcs. At least two trolls had been stationed above, hurling down great rocks. The darkness had not affected the accuracy of the Silvans bows, and as the orcs finally charged from cover, they had slain many. The trolls were slow and clumsy, but their work had already been done, their missiles casting three warriors and their mounts over the side of the track and to their deaths. The rest had fought, though Elgalad ordered them to break free and ride on. Then the orcs had come on him in a clot, and he had been dragged away.
“I tried to follow, but they were gone like rats down a hole, and Fainereg could not walk unaided.” The soldier winced as Elladan drew a curved needle through his torn flesh, bringing the edges together.
The silence that followed was dreadful. Something had dropped away inside Melpomaen leaving a sucking hollow.
“I am sorry,” Alagduin's shoulders heaved.
Glorfindel and Tindómion looked at one another. There was grief and rage like a bonfire under the bones of their faces.
Elrohir said softly, “He will already be dead.”
“No,” Glorfindel said. “He is not.”
“Sir, it happened last night,” Corech protested, as his captain moved to the horse. “If he is not dead, it is better that he were...”
“That is enough !” Glorfindel's eyes blazed with a perfectly unworldly light as he spun back. “Elladan, Elrohir, how long until they can be moved?”
“I am not leaving,” Alagduin pronounced, his face harrowed, the glint of tears on his cheeks.
Elrohir, kneeling beside Fainereg, shook his head. “His skull is not broken, but he should not be moved yet.” He had vomited, Alagduin had told them, and was dazed, unsteady on his feet.
“If the orcs follow their scent, they will come straight to us,” Corech said almost apologetically. “And there may be many more in the caves.”
“I know,” Glorfindel nodded. “You must leave with Mel.”
“No,” Mel protested. “You are going in there, after them?” Into the tunnels and the darkness...? His heart came up in his throat, but he could not beg them to stay. He could not imagine the torment that orcs would visit on a captured Elf, but he had heard stories he had not been meant to hear.
“We have to.” Tindómion was already donning his mail. They had not carried full armor, but hauberks that reached to the knee, the flat links small as a bird's eye, and steel helms with cheek and nasal guards. Mel was unsurprised to see the twins unbuckle their own from the saddle-roll. His hands felt icy.
“Mel,” Elladan said, “You must go.”
They may not come back, Mel thought, and he straightened, lifting his head to look Glorfindel in the eyes.
“This is my choice,” he heard his voice come firm and cool. “And I choose not to leave. You need Corech, do you not? And if Fainereg cannot be moved, and Alagduin will not leave him, then they should not be here alone.”
“Mel, you are not a warrior,” Glorfindel said gently. “What can you do?”
It was undeniably true. Mel spread his hands.
“You will have to tie me up and have Corech lead me back to Imladris,” he told them flatly. “And you are wasting time.”
Alagduin was looking at him with a faint smile.
“I can still use my bow and knives,” he said.
Elrohir said unwillingly, “There is a cave half a league south. We passed it. It is low, but goes back into the mountain; I do not know how far, but there was no spoor, and grass growing back into the mouth.”
“And one man can hold such a place for a long time,” Glorfindel finished. “We will give you as many arrows as we can spare.”
Mel had thought there might be more weight to the farewells, but perhaps this was how it truly was: no promises where there could be none, no lingering goodbyes. There were fierce embraces which he returned, and then he watched as the four of them rode for the pass. I will not cry, he thought, and pressed his eyes to his sleeve for a moment, before entering the cave.
As Elrohir had said, the entrance was low, but the roof rose a few steps within, and there was a breath of air from the dark rear, but no scent save the musty stone of the under-earth. They made Fainereg as comfortable as possible, laying him on and under their cloaks, and he lay as injured Elves do, with eyes closed against what Elrohir said must be a shattering headache. Alagduin, his injured leg flat on the ground, sat close to him and restrung his bow from threads of his own hair.
“We have some time,” he said matter-of-factly. “The orcs will not leave their caves until dark – if they do. And if they do, Melpomaen, is it? if they do, and if I die, cut Fainereg's throat, and take your own life rather than let them put you to the torment.” His eyes held Mel's in the dimness.
“It will not come to that,” Mel could not give that thought room in his mind. Cut some-one's throat? He felt sick. “It will not.”
“You think I do not know their worth, those just gone? I do. But they are going into the domain of the orcs. They will shine like candles. If they are not returned by tomorrow noon, and we have not been disturbed here, then you must not linger. But I will not leave Fainereg.”
“Is he...are you...lovers?”
“We are wed,” Alagduin said simply. “And that is why I will not leave him, and why I ask you to be merciful if I am slain.”
Mel formed his small hands into fists. “I will not leave you,” he said. “And I love my friends. I cannot leave them.” And he meant it, but he also could not believe that Glorfindel, Tindómion and the twins would meet their deaths at the hands of orcs, not after all they had done, not with their prowess in battle.
...going into the domain of the orcs...
Eru, protect them.
Time passed with unbearable slowness. Mel went outside, staring toward the pass. The silence of the hot afternoon seemed to mock him with its peace. He could see nothing, hear nothing but the speech of the land.
Noon came and went. Had they reached the caves yet? Were they even now inside, fighting, killing. Dying?
...cut Fainereg's throat, and take your own life.
The shadows grew longer. Fainereg seemed a little better. He took water and his speech was not so confused, but it was clear that he could not walk anywhere for some time. Mel left Alagduin speaking softly to him in the Silvan tongue, and walked to the rear of the cave, feeling the walls carefully with his fingertips. The stone was grainy and dry. His hands groped into nothing, and he felt cool air brush his face. Exploring, he found a gap eating deep into the rock. His eyes adjusted to the gloom, and he could see as if walking in a thick mist.
“There is a tunnel here,” he called back softly.
“I thought so, there is moving air,” Alagduin said. “Do not go far. We are not Dwarves to walk in such places. It would be easy to get lost.”
“I wonder if there is another way out?”
“Thranduil's halls are built under a hill, and there are air shafts, but they are narrow. The breeze may be coming through small cracks.”
Mel turned, not without some relief, to the cave. He was not hungry, but he drank a little wine. Silence fell as the evening advanced, and oh, he was frightened, and not for himself. The mountain flanks faded into the dusk, only the last peaks holding the light.
And the orcs came. They came quietly, but Melpomaen heard them, and smelled them, a strange bitter-earth scent that raised the fine hairs on the back of his neck. With the terror came a wave of almost incapacitating grief. They would not be here had they not slain his friends. An image of their bodies, hacked and still, forever buried in the black dark, rose in his mind.
Alagduin reached out a hand to him and knelt, cursing as the stitches pulled in his thigh. His face glowed pale and resolute. Fainereg roused himself and felt for his weapons, and Alagduin snapped something at him in the Silvan dialect.
“No,” Fainereg whispered. “I will not go, and you are a fool to think I will.”
“Go and see if there is indeed a way out,” Alagduin looked at Mel, and smoothly, he set an arrow on string, and loosed it.
Perhaps there is a way out, but that would mean leaving them. Mel shook his head. This could not be happening. But it is, and I am here. And I will not leave two injured men.
Wild cries sounded outside. Fainereg rose unsteadily, to his knees, and crawled to Alagduin. Mel felt something powerful and unseen pass between them, but heard no words. There came the steady hiss, hiss of arrows, the screams that told of their driving home into the bodies of the orcs. Then there was a whine and slap. Fainereg dropped, an black arrow in his throat.
A terrible sound of grief and battle-madness erupted from deep in Alagduin's chest. He threw his bow aside, drew his knives and plunged out of the cave. As he staggered, on his wounded leg, Mel heard the impact of arrows into the warrior's body, a fleshy thud,thud,thud. For a moment, Alagduin swayed, then slipped to his knees. The orcs brayed triumph, and swarmed onto him like black flies.
Melpomaen did not know how he came to have Fainereg's dagger in his hand. His world had broken and he was still falling. He tensed to run out – and an arm came around him and lifted him off his feet. He kicked back, tried to thrust the knife down into his assailant. A hand gripped his wrist, twisted and the nerves in his fingers went numb. As he drew breath to scream, the same hand settled over his mouth.
Be quiet. I am not the enemy.