9. "Go to Bed!"
Ondo and Raumo were trying to crowd each other off the end of the bed, elbowing each other wherever possible as they struggled to stay on the narrow mattress. At a signal from Uru they would scrub their fangs vigorously with their brushes, each seeking to create as many bubbles as possible before the second signal - at which point they would take deep breaths in and attempt to blow great trails of 'smoke' across the bedroom floor. While Melkor did not doubt that their little milk-fangs were gleaming as they had never gleamed before, the stone paving was far from spotless.
"Ondo wins!" Uru skipped to the end of the soap trails, carefully assessing the distance that each of his brothers had managed to puff. In fact Raumo had managed to spout foam a little the further, but aggravating his brother was far more entertaining than fairness. "I declare you the champion smoke blower of Utumno!"
Beaming, Ondo bounced high in the air, only to land heavily on the floor as Raumo shoved him aside with a well-aimed knee.
"That was not fair!" Snarling, Raumo brandished his toothbrush at his elder brother, forgetting the rather more fearsome fangs that he had been polishing a moment before. "I demand a rematch!"
The room was instantly filled with a clamour of dissenting voices as Uru, Raumo and Ondo each repeated their own claims in increasingly loud and shrill voices. Brows flattening into a thin dark line just above his eyelids, Melkor turned to look for the remaining child.
Nárë was sitting cross-legged on the tidiest bed, apparently unconcerned by the shrieking and snarling coming from the other side of the room. He beamed at Melkor with an expression of great innocence, then resumed picking between his teeth with his toenails. Unfortunately for him, the Dark Lord was not deluded for even a minute. He did not even need to see the child's most charming leer to guess who had been directing the activities.
"Boys!" Melkor thundered, seeming to grow into a great and terrible shadow that reflected the very depths of darkness and despair. "Sleep!"
Less than three seconds later, all five Balroglings were lying silently in their beds, apparently asleep. Chortling to himself, Melkor sauntered back down the hallway to his own chambers. Life was good. His room was warm, his bed was soft, and his progeny were too scared to move or speak. Singing loudly in a rather splendid baritone, the Dark Lord proceeded to wash his face and hands and retired to his bedchamber. He paused by the window a moment, addressing a few choice words to the West - mainly regarding delights of an eagle down mattress - then, with a rather un-Dark-Lordly snigger climbed into bed. It had been a long, tiring and really rather entertaining day, but now all was at peace.
"Melkor!" Ondo's voice rose shrill and frightened through the dark. There were some running footsteps and a warm body shot through the air and into the Dark Lord's stomach. "Melkor!"
"What?" Melkor snapped, struggling for breath as he fought with tangled sheets and blankets in an effort to get hold of the terrified Balrogling.
"I dreamt... I dreamt..." Ondo took a shuddering breath and then dissolved into proper tears. "I dreamt that you turned into a fluffy kitten, Melkor, and then Uru and Raumo were picking flowers. It was horrible!"
The child's voice rose to a howl and he began shaking violently. Sighing at the departing of his last chance of an undisturbed night, Melkor sat up and took the little boy in his arms. The tale of Yavanna had proved especially distressing for this little Balrogling, and any particularly stressful day was apt to produce terrible nightmares.
"I have you. I have you." Melkor gently rocked Ondo in his arms, keeping his voice soft and soothing. "There is nothing to fear. Yavanna will not hunt you here. Remember what we do to her spawn?"
"We... we bash..." Ondo gulped back sobs and buried his face in the Dark Lord's chest.
"Yes," Melkor smiled as he softly spoke the familiar words used to soothe any Balrogling with disturbing dreams. "We smash them into bits and bash them into pulp. We skin them and stretch them, we mince and we mangle. There is nothing to fear."
It took some time to soothe the upset child, and by the time that Melkor had finished the fourth gruesome and reassuringly bloody story both Dark Lord and little Balrog's eyelids were drooping.
"Try and get some sleep." Melkor said gruffly, scratching behind the child's soft horns one last time before relaxing into the pillows. Ondo immediately rolled over and cuddled up against the Dark Lord, resting his leathery head against the large shoulder. Rather glad of the warmth on such a cold night, Melkor patted the child's side and prepared to sleep. It was silent in his stronghold apart from the low thump of the drums beating steadily through the night, out of the window the stars were marred by cloud. Struggling against a yawn, Melkor shut his eyes and drifted off into dreams.
"Melkor?" There was an embarrassed hiss and a distinct smell of burnt wool, and Melkor cracked open his eyelids to peer at a distressed looking shadow lurking at the bedside.
"Uru?" The Dark Lord stared uncomprehendingly at the child for a moment then remembered their discussion earlier and flicked up a corner of the blankets, providently positioning the younger child between him and his eldest little demon. He did not wish to wake up ablaze. "Do not wake Ondo."
"I shall not." Uru said quietly, scrambling into the bed and burrowing his hot little head into the Dark Lord's palm.
"I am not asleep!" Ondo jerked into a sitting position, banging his head hard against Melkor's chin, giving rise to a loud and extremely colourful curse.
"You should be." Melkor spoke through gritted teeth as he turned over on his side once more, trying to ignore the writhing and kicking limbs as the boys struggled for ownership of the blankets. It was dark and silent and if he remained resolutely boring the boys should soon be fast asleep.
There was a patter of tiny feet over the dark stone floor.
"Your bed is bouncier than mine!" Nárë said brightly, scrambling up onto the mattress and leaping high up into the air.
Melkor growled quietly, only just moving his legs apart in time to avoid having a Balrogling land heavily on his kneecaps.
"Look at me!" Nárë squealed in elation, propelling himself upwards once more with peals of gleeful laughter.
"Nárë!" Melkor snarled, only just managing to catch the Balrogling in time to avoid the child making a soft landing in a tender area of his anatomy. "Can you not sleep?"
"No." Nárë smiled cheerfully at the Dark Lord. "I was asleep, Melkor..."
"Are you in pain?" Melkor asked shortly.
"No." Grinning, Nárë shook his head rapidly.
"Has my dearest brother decided to pay a visit?" Melkor's left eyebrow curved elegantly upwards.
"No... I do not think so, Melkor." Nárë turned to look at the door with a puzzled expression. Melkor often spoke about Uncle Manwë but he had never yet come to stay. "Is he going to come? Will he bring presents?"
Melkor shook his head curtly, cutting off the child in mid-flow, and frowned. "Then why are you not in bed, Nárë?"
Nárë looked at him reproachfully, as if this was blatantly obvious. "Your bed is bouncier than mine, Melkor."
Melkor exhaled rapidly through his nose in such a manner that Ondo was quietly surprised not to see smoke and flames issuing from it. "Go back to bed, Nárë."
Looking hurt at the rather obvious lack of patience in the Dark Lord's words, Nárë squirmed free of the Dark Lord's grasp.
"But I want to stay here!" Nárë thrust out his chest aggressively. "I do not want to go to bed!"
"Nárë," Melkor said in a low voice that he liked to think that the Balroglings took as a warning to obey, "Bed."
"But that is not fair!" Nárë scowled, sticking his lower lip out as far as he could manage. "You let Uru and Ondo stay with you. You just like them better than me!"
"Nárë, I do not..." Melkor began short-temperedly, only to be drowned out by Nárë's high-pitched and tearful squeal.
"No, I do not. Your brothers..."
"Oh yes, you do!"
"No..." Melkor made another attempt to be heard trying to ignore the satisfied smirks that the two little Balrogs that he held were giving each other.
"Yes, you dooo!" Nárë sounded perilously close to tears. "You do, you do, you do!"
"Oh all right!" Melkor grumpily extended a large arm and seized Nárë's waist, pulling him down onto the mattress with a bump. "You may stay if you want to."
His tears disappearing in an instant, Nárë beamed at the Dark Lord and snuggled comfortably up against his side, already engaging in a tug of war with Uru and Ondo for the blankets.
Rolling his eyes, Melkor tugged his pillow away from Ondo's sleepy hands and tucked it under his own head before shutting his eyes with a rather disgruntled air.
There was precisely three minutes and fifty-two seconds of peace.
"Melkor?" A voice asked grumpily from the gloom in the doorway, only a slight quivering note telling of the Balrogling's hurt at being left out from the communal cuddle.
With a resigned sigh, the Dark Lord shifted himself across the bed to make room for Raumo between himself and Nárë. "Oh, get in!"