76. The Shadow
Pacing, pacing, he could not seem to stop. He had no idea where he was and would have supposed himself in some hideous dream, were it not for the spear that pierced him through from time to time. Always the same: it entered beneath his left ear and shot straight through his heart and came out his right side, causing a sensation the like of which he had never experienced before. It caused him to shriek in a way that he had heard from others in the lands he had visited, but had never thought to do himself, and what was strange, although there were others all about him, they did not seem to hear.
So this was Pain.
Why was he feeling it now?
Where was he?
Why was he here?
Why could he not escape?
It is a prison. I am imprisoned. But how came it to be?
It was not fair. He did not deserve this.
He could vaguely make out slimy stone walls, some of which had windows, but he could see nothing through them. Desperately he approached each one, groping for an opening through which he might climb, but his grey hands touched only sheer nothingness, and one of them had bars, whose touch produced such a jolt that it threw him to the floor, shrieking aloud, until he struck his head on something there and lay still until that burning spear came to pierce him through once more.
Why am I here? What have I done?
It was not one of his own prisons, he knew. He tried to remember what had happened before he found himself here. But the events were muddy, like a dream he could not recall in full, only bits here and there. There had been a boat. A small one, not like the usual sort. And then that terrible piercing, yes. Then it seemed he stood in a tunnel of utter blackness, cries ringing out, and terror had seized him then, and this horrendous sensation, this Pain….and a mocking voice, somehow familiar and yet not: You have failed, and did I not tell you she would be your undoing? Why did you go to her, fool?
It was so unfair. He should not be here. He had not done wrong. Had he?
Of course some would say he had. But that was because they simply did not understand.
And the piercing came again. If it did not stop, he would go mad. Perhaps he already was. Perhaps this was what madness was. It was not a prison, but a lunatic asylum, and he was locked away…but how to escape?
He must speak to someone. Did they not know who he was? His people needed him. What would they do without him?
He could see others around, in the terrible smoky mist. Just shapes they were, human shapes, some male, some female, but all mere shadows, moving, they seemed to have no awareness of him, his shrieks did not get their attention at all.
It seemed he was utterly alone.
Where was his Master? But wait, he had none. He had been his own master. Always.
He paced and paced. It seemed this prison went on forever, with many halls branching like the tentacles of an octopus, leading to the same endless grey foulness, yet it was the only way to escape that terrible piercing, only if he kept pacing it would cease, or at least become less frequent….
He must speak to someone, convince somebody how important it was that he leave here, he would arrange a reward…but how long had he been searching, pacing, seeking that aperture which seemed to loom straight ahead of him, opening and closing like the mouth of a fish, but every time he approached, it would disappear, and then appear further down, until it seemed he was merely moving his feet, going nowhere.
Why was there no one? Was he the only reality?
Why could he not awaken?
Was it possible that he had done wrong?
Some enemy had done this. Had devised the most horrible prison possible, and he could not escape, never escape, no way out. Some fiendishly clever enemy indeed.
Yes, a fiendishly clever enemy indeed, a voice said, and he started so that his pacing stopped, and the piercing began once more…then, inexplicably, it stopped, as the speaker raised its arm. And he could see someone in the fog, a human shape, but not merely a shadow, this one. This shape had height, solidity, form, color, mass, dimension; it had a voice, a light, a presence, here in this morass of nothingness. A kingly form, tall, straight, with black and flowing hair like his own, a face of grave beauty and terrible love, pale and stern and somehow sorrowful, above dark raiment which could not entirely eclipse the soft light that emanated from the form beneath.
Are you the King of this realm? he asked of the Tall Figure.
Some may say so. The voice came out both deep and sweet, at once soothing and perplexing.
I know not how I came here. I must leave. There are those who need me.
Those who need you? And who might those be?
My people. I am a Prince, you see. I was brought here by some enemy….
You were indeed, said the Tall Figure.
That enemy was…you?
He felt a fool. He WAS a fool. Of course this was the Enemy, however somberly imperial and compassionate he appeared.
How came you here, Prince? the Tall Figure asked him. Have you no recollection?
On the other hand, if this were the Enemy, why did he not feel the piercing now? He fell on his knees.
I think I was captured, he said. By some unseen foe who took me prisoner and cast me into some pit where my faculties were taken from me, then I was brought here. There was a boat…perhaps some brigand snared me in his nets. And there was something—a female. She speared me, it seemed. I felt something piercing me. Then there was…a tunnel.…
Yes? said the Tall Figure. And who was this female? Someone known to you?
Yes, someone known to me.
A former mate perhaps? One slighted by you?
No...I think not.
He had a feeling this Tall Figure was toying with him, that it knew more than it was insinuating. It was taunting him, trying to coax him to divulge what it already knew. Perhaps it was that Master he did not have, in another form...why shouldn't he be able to change his appearance? What did it want of him, and how far would it go to make him tell? Would it use some of the methods he had observed in his many travels? No, no, not that…It was holding back the spear. If he did not tell, it would pierce him again…and again and again….
A relation then?
No. An enemy. Yes.
Ah, an enemy. Of course.
I was betrayed. I was deserted, cast away, left behind...yes. I was betrayed. I was...
Yes, pierced. What know you of this? How came I here?
I think you know already, Darkfin. Have you had enough? Or should I go away and leave you here?
How do you know my name?
And then he knew. What he surely suspected all along, yet dared not face. He was dead. That voice, that other voice, that he had heard before he found himself here. She will prove your undoing. You must find her and kill her before she can bring you low. Kill all of them. Only then will you be safe, only then may you find your true destiny, the ultimate pinnacle. You must destroy them before they destroy you.
And then the great mockery, the laughter. You have failed. You swam into a trap like a fish into a net. And she impaled you and now you are destroyed, your realm is at an end, you are no more. You are Mine. You have failed. All hope is gone. You belong to me, and you are Mine. And you will love me and despair.
I am dead. There is no escaping.
No, none. You did indeed swim into the trap, and you have been betrayed.
Yes. I knew that someday, somehow she would betray me. She never believed in me, she plotted my undoing from the beginning. She did all she could to destroy me, undermine my kingdom, my authority, my sovereignty. She turned my brothers and sisters against me. She wedded a mortal so that their union might overthrow me. How could this have happened? She betrayed me--my own mother! And the Lord of the Seas, he conspired with her....
I believe you heard your true betrayer at the moment of your death, Darkfin. Your own Lord and Master. He it was who said you must destroy her before she destroyed you. And you went in search of her, and it was her daughter who speared you. And he laughed as you fell into his trap. He used you for what he could get from you, then when he could get no more, he cast you aside like an empty wine-bottle. Welcome to the Shadow. You have heard much of it, yes? Well, here it is.
I served no one. He is a liar.
No one? True enough, he is a liar. But so are you, if you claim you served no one.
He promised me much. I wished to know things. I wished to see beyond the reaches of the world, to know what it was to feel, to have pleasure, to know pain, to have control, to know the reasons for everything, to rule, to see, to know. I wanted to see all the lands and peoples. And I traveled about, from a very young age, and saw much. I saw kings and emperors, and queens and slaves and all manner of evildoers. I saw palaces and castles and tombs and mansions, people living in such splendor as I never could have imagined. I wanted it for myself. But above all…I wanted to feel. I wanted to know what gave them such expressions of joy when they coupled with beautiful women, or ate steaming food from gold dishes, or had a slave beaten for some small infraction, or sat with heaps of gold coins lying about, counting them over and over again. I wanted to know. I also wished to know what made people scream in the prisons when they were whipped or had fire put to them. I wished to know all. He promised me I would have all, if I would but do his bidding.
And so you did, and now you have your wish, is it?
No. I was betrayed.
You know what pain is now, yes?
Aye. But where is the pleasure he promised me?
You will have to ask him.
Where is he now?
What would you do if he were here? Demand of him why he betrayed you? Ask him where is the pleasure he promised you?
I do wish to know. I do not deserve this…this…
Yes, this torment. I wish to know why he used me thus. And what I can do to escape it.
The Tall Figure shook its head. What a child you are, Darkfin. You consider yourself ill-used. You see enemies at every turn. You believed your saviors wished your downfall, and you embraced your betrayers as gods. You believed yourself guiltless, that every evil deed you perpetrated was the fault of someone else. And yet it's exactly as he wished. He turned you about and about, and you joyfully allowed it, all for the promise of ultimate knowledge. And now you have that knowledge, and you are not content with it. You see it as torment. How very ungrateful of you!
It is not what was promised me!
But it is. You got exactly what you wanted. For all eternity.
That is a lie. I shall escape.
I think not.
Why have you come? What is it you want from me?
I have come to offer you a chance to be free once more. How sounds that?
You would free me? On what terms? And why?
Here are my terms. You will return to Earth as a mortal Man. You will take the name Greenjade, which was your original name, and you will wander homeless for all of your life, which you will dedicate to protecting those all around you, defending the oppressed, cleaning up the filth of Sauron, helping to rebuild his fallen realm, and whatever other opportunities and deeds will present themselves to you for your doing. If you turn back to evil ways, you will quickly find yourself back here, even worse off than you are now. You will have the knowledge you craved. You will know of pain and pleasure. You will know of sickness, and fatigue, and loneliness, and cold and hunger and thirst, and you will feel the scorn and hatred of others, and eventually, you will know death. How and when it will come, I cannot tell you. But if you succeed in atoning for the evil you have done, you will know peace and joy and rest. Come with me and I will show you a foretaste of what you will know.
He followed his would-be deliverer to a window, a small and dirty window laced with cobwebs and filth, which the Tall Figure brushed away with a wave of his pale, shapely hand. Darkfin peered out and saw a soft and beautiful light outside, far away, like a large star. All he could see was the light, at first, and he was seized by a sudden and inexplicable longing, as the light grew brighter and larger until it nearly outshone the sun.
He fought the longing with all that was left of his might. He must not be feeling this. It was weakness. It was outrageous, and he knew what it would involve, all the things most repulsive to him. What could possibly have come over him? For he would have to bow down to It, obey It, prostrate himself before It. And then what? He would no longer be himself. He would belong to the Light. He had no use for It. It was his enemy, his betrayer, and now It wanted him for Itself? It wanted him to be Greenjade. He was NOT Greenjade, never would be. He was Darkfin. His rightful name and rightful self.
Yet he found himself unable to take his eyes from the Light. And as he watched, It began to recede and diminish, and he could see something below. It was a garden, the like of which he had never seen before, full of trees and flowers of colors unknown to him, fragrances he could smell from the wretched window, soft sounds, sweet, sweet music, such as he had never heard even from his Sirens, wafting over the perfume. Waterfalls flowing from high jasper walls, in which were carved steep and winding stairways, lit by small star-like lanterns, but whither they led, he could not see.
And he could see people moving about, male and female, adult and child, some skipping and playing about, some dancing, some diving into a clear stream that was filled by the crystal waterfalls. Others he could see were climbing the stairways in the rock walls.
Where are they going? he asked. Those climbing the stairs.
They go out from the Halls into the Mountain of Discovery. What lies within, I cannot tell you, for it is different for each one who enters. They stay until they have been purified and are ready to take their place in the Garden. Some stay in for a very short time. For others, it takes a good many years before they are ready to come out into the Light.
And what do they learn there?
I cannot tell you that, any more than I can tell you what you will learn in your sojourn into the world of Men. It has not been disclosed to me.
A bath of the soul, is it?
One may call it so. A bath, a purging, an education, a sleep, a healing, a trial, an exorcism, a communion, a processing…all these and more.
And is it a painful thing?
Not nearly as painful as what you endure now...which will grow worse.
Why am I being given this chance to go back?
Because some have interceded in your behalf. One of them being she whom you tried to destroy in the cruelest manner you could devise. She would give you this chance to prove and purify yourself, for all there are few less deserving of it.
Why does she do it? So that she might gloat over my suffering?
Is that what you truly think of her? Why do you hate her so?
I told you already. She wished for my destruction, and did all she might to bring it about. She made an enemy of herself to me. She betrayed me. She tried to bring me down. She refused to believe in me. She…
I think we both know better than that, Darkfin. Her one mistake was allowing your father to change your name, and she did that in a misguided attempt to keep the peace in the family. And because he managed to persuade her, fleetingly, that you were destined for great things.
Oh, that's what she wanted you to believe. I suppose she presented herself as an innocent and hapless victim of my father and myself. She did not tell you, I suppose, that she raised an army to destroy me?
And I suppose you were not plotting to take over the whole kingdom, and annihilate any who opposed you? It was never her intent to destroy you, only to save her other children and the rest of her people. So you will not take this chance to redeem yourself, and escape this 'prison'? If you spurn it, you will have no other chance. Trust me, Darkfin, your mother is the only ally you have.
What about my family, my mate, my children?
They were all killed in an uprising. You made many enemies, Darkfin, some of whom have become as ruthless as yourself. You made them so. Their revenge was swift and thorough.
They were killed? My line is broken, none will come after me?
That is correct. You are alone. No one else will intercede for you.
Where are they now?
Your children are in the Halls. Eventually they will find the Garden. Garland is here. You can save her if you will. But she will not intervene in your behalf. You made an enemy of your own mate, of the mother of your children. So. Shall I go and tell your mother you have refused her offer, and will abide here for all eternity?
Why should she do this for me?
Why are you questioning it?
Is this her way of atoning for her betrayal?
I suppose I cannot yet expect you to truly understand, Darkfin. Your mother became mortal when she was wedded with a mortal being. In doing so, she took on both the physical and emotional attributes of a mortal. And it has been both greatly to her joy and her sorrow. You might have done likewise, yourself, had you been deserving. But you willfully chose the way of the Dark Lord. But since she chose the will of her Creator, she has had to pay the price in experiencing the normal emotions of those of the Land, including the strongest of all, the awakening of the true maternal instincts, of which she now has a tenfold of what she possessed as an immortal. In other words, it is her love for you that motivates her, and if you do not believe that, yours will be the greater suffering. She wishes to see you turn from the Dark One and find your way into the Light, of which you have seen but a glimpse. Do you hate her so much, that you would embrace your own doom, your own eternal torment, to increase her pain? For hers will know comfort and surcease, in both worlds. But yours will not. For the last time, will you take what is offered? I shall not ask you again.
And there it was once more. That piercing, even more intense. When his eyesight cleared, he could no longer see through the window, which was filthy and filmy once more. All he could see was the black air all about, the Black Breath that was all he would ever know. It was worse than the Pain, in truth. It would enter and suck out every vestige of his soul, making of him a shell, a toy for the dark one, a rack of bones that could only crawl and beg...and the piercing would not stop.
I suppose I have no choice, he said sullenly. I will take your offer.
You shall not see your mother or your siblings again, until you have reached the Other Side, if and when you do, said the Tall Figure. You may never visit the Isle on which they now reside. However, you will not be utterly alone. You shall have a companion. He will travel with you not as a servant, but as an aide, who will accompany and assist you in your journeys. In this way will he also redeem himself. Should you part, for any reason, you are on your own. Your mother's companion has interceded on behalf of this one, and so I send him with you. Your creator will be no help to you in your sojourn on land, and you will have to turn to the One to help you…which he will, if you will accept him thus.
Darkfin looked down at the creature the Tall Figure had indicated, the one who would be his companion. It looked scarcely human at all, yet not animal either, writhing and moaning before him in seemingly ceaseless torment. Darkfin had seen human beings roasted, and that was how this one appeared, with the skin completely burned away, little but bone and scraps of charred flesh clinging to it, its eyes huge and round and bulging in its nearly naked skull like ghastly bubbles. A putrid stench arose from it. He drew back in horror and loathing. This thing was to accompany him? What sort of foul joke was that?
And yet as he gazed, unable to wrench his eyes from it however much he wished to, he felt something else that nearly unnerved him utterly, so foreign, so unexpected, and so ultimately terrifying it was to him.
He felt pity.
You will take Sméagol with you? Lord Námo said, and it seemed he nearly smiled. The charred bony figure stopped writhing at his feet and was still and quiet, as a wounded animal under the stroke of mercy. There was some cessation of the stink, and the flesh began to appear more wholesome, more covered, more...fleshly.
I will, said Darkfin.