2. "For the Love of Eru!"
Uru made his way to the edge of the tub, dragging his claws along the stone floor with a dry scratching screech. Standing on tiptoes he could just see over the curved wooden edge into the dark and icy depths.
"Do you think that I really need a bath?" Uru dipped one finger in the water and shivered. "Would you like me to help you to bathe the others, Melkor? I would be very goo. . ."
Uru's eager pleadings came to a sudden end as he was swept up and deposited in the freezing mountain water with a mighty splash. Ignoring the reproachful look that his eldest gave him, Melkor grabbed Raumo and tossed him over his shoulder to join his brother.
"Cold!" Raumo surfaced again with much wing flapping, sending waves of water lapping onto the bathroom floor. "Freezing!"
Instinctively, Melkor turned to look behind the door, Nárë's favourite place for hiding when bath time loomed. The refuge was empty, the only reminder of the Balrogling that should be hiding there being deep scratch marks in the lower panels of the door. Nárë held special dislike of cold water - he was happiest when curled up somewhere warm and cosy, hidden from the world.
The pattering of tiny feet brought the Dark Lord back to the present, and one large hand shot out to seize Ondo's tiny arm.
"Not so fast." Melkor swung the tiny body up to his chest for a hug before lowering him into the water, carefully arranging him on a step to avoid the water rising over the tiny squashed looking nose.
They had taught him much, these little creatures. He had never really appreciated what it was to have control over others before now. He had anticipated the feelings of power, the pride in perfecting the design, and the satisfaction of having others worship him. But the joy in their most insignificant achievements, the pain when they suffered, and the feeling in his chest when one of them would look at him and trust him completely, was new to him.
He had never known what it was to love something so small and worthless before. He had long wanted to bring things of his own into being, yet he had never imagined that the gifts they would bring would surpass those of material wealth.
Sometimes he wished to speak with his brother, to see if he too had come to feel this way, to show him that now he understood.
But that hour had passed.
The Dark Lord looked down to find Gomig leaping up and down at the edge of the tub, seeking his brothers. Occasionally a wave would splash over the edge onto him, and he would laugh like the others trying to join in the game, but he was finding it increasingly frustrating and his small face was darkening with impatience.
"Gomig." Melkor smiled down at the littlest Balrog and extended the little fingers on both hands towards the child. Gomig gladly grabbed them, one fist curled around each finger, and bounced excitedly.
"Up! Uppie!" The tiny feet pedalled in the air as he was swung into the tub. "Me pay!"
"Will you look after him, Uru?" Melkor placed Gomig down beside his brother, scratching behind Uru's horns fondly when the child nodded eagerly and placed a steadying arm around Gomig's shoulders. "Thank you."
Raumo scowled at his brother, then grabbed Ondo by the arm and dragged him over to sit beside him. "I shall look after Ondo!"
The announcement was partially drowned out by Ondo's screaming protests that he did not need to be looked after and that Raumo was mean and smelt, but Melkor merely patted the pair on the head and told them to look after each other.
Noticing his mentor's rapid progress towards the door, Uru spoke up earnestly. "Will you not come and bath with us?"
The game was always much more fun when there were huge knees to crawl under or slide down, a back to hide behind, or shoulders to climb onto.
"Aye, later." Melkor said absently as he left the room.
The Balroglings should have made the water pleasantly warm by the time he returned. He had made a habit of never bathing until the water was gloriously hot, and steam rose in clouds from the Balrogling's bodies. Dark Lord though he was, he had never appreciated cold baths or thin blankets. More importantly though, one of his Balrogs was missing, and he would not find peace with himself until he had all five corrupted little souls splashing and shrieking in the tub.
"Nárë?" Melkor called as kindly as he could through his irritation. He would have liked to find the middle Balrog quickly, and then returned to the bathroom, but Nárë did not seem eager to cooperate. He had searched high and low, but there was still no sign of the drooping wings or large thoughtful eyes.
Provided that Gomig did not drown during one of the Balroglings' violent and splashy games, there was no real risk in leaving the children alone. All the same he did not feel quite safe in having them out of sight for longer than a few minutes, especially when he was outnumbered five to one.
Ondo, and Gomig especially, had a habit of nestling up against the nearest large warm object when immersed in large bodies of cold water. Usually this would be Melkor's hand or foot, but without his presence they would seek warmth elsewhere. Snuggling against Uru and Raumo would at first keep them pleasantly warm, but as time progressed the water around the elder Balroglings would begin to simmer, and then bubble. While the heat itself would not hurt the tiny Balrogs, a long soak in boiling water would infuse them with seemingly unlimited amounts of energy. Much the same effect as allowing a human child free rein in a maple forest at syrup gathering time, in fact. He had no desire to spend his morning chasing two hyperactive scraps of evil around the fortress.
A slight snuffle from the direction of his study caused the Dark Lord's face to light up, and he proceeded towards the source of the noise wearing a slight smile.
"Nárë?" Melkor looked around for the child then, on hearing a miserable scratching, knelt to the ground and looked under the furniture. "Are you in here, Nárë?"
There was no reply, but the darkness of the shadows beneath his desk seemed to shift slightly.
"Nárë?" The Dark Lord got onto his hands and knees and crawled after the shadow, moving his hands stealthily like the paws of a panther about to pounce. "Is my bounciest Balrog in here?"
Nárë had got that name years ago, long before Ondo and Gomig had entered their little family. The chubby Balrogling had barely even found his feet when he discovered his wings, and whenever he had managed to toddle away to hide, Melkor had always found him perched on the windowsill above the huge bed. He would count three random numbers, then leap with a gleeful smile onto the mattress. The tiny outstretched wings had not stood a chance of supporting the plump little body, but on hitting the mattress, the child had bounced higher and higher. He could still remember the shrieks of delight and high-pitched laughter.
Smiling at the memory, Melkor held out his arms to the darkest corner, "Please, Nárë. Bath times are no fun without you."
There was a moment of hesitant silence, then something small, warm and damp shot into the Dark Lord's arms.
"I did not think you would come." Nárë sniffed and wiped his nose in a sticky trail along one bare arm. "I did not think that you cared."
"Nonsense. My Nárë is special." Melkor wrapped his arms around the small body, the shared closeness bringing back fragments of a memory from a timeless past. "We are all special to our makers."
"Then why do you not listen to me? Nobody even listens to me." Nárë whispered despondently and shook his head sadly. "Sometimes I do not feel special at all."
"But you are special because of that." Melkor said reasonably, his mind working furiously to think up a plausible reason. "For I do not have to attend to you every minute. I do not need to stop you fighting as I do Uru and Raumo, and you are not so little that you need help on the simplest tasks like Ondo and Gomig."
Nárë swelled with pride. "I can make all my letters now, and I can even understand some of your papers."
"Really?" Melkor said with interest, making a mental note to lock certain of his papers away before the Balroglings became old enough to understand the context as well as the words. "Well done."
"When I grow up, I shall be a Dark Lord too." Nárë nodded decisively. "I shall be just like you Melkor."
Melkor smiled a little sadly and nodded. He had once been so like Nárë.