1. The Truth of Ugliness
“Amlë?” The name was whispered in the dark. “Say something, Amlë, so that I know you are alright.”
Silence, until, “I am here, Nellin.”
Relief swept over him. “Stay there. I am coming.” He stood unsteadily and blindly felt around for something to hold on to. Finding the wall, he slowly began to edge toward his lover’s voice. It is so dark. I cannot see anything. Nellin was frightened of this darkness. He had been born under bright starlight, and never had he seen such blackness. No light penetrated the chamber they were in.
He treaded carefully around the room. “Amlë, I am coming,” he said again. Since he could not see anything, he had to rely on his sense of smell and touch. His journey came to end when his foot encountered a solid form. “Amlë?”
“You found me.” The pain laced through her normally melodious voice.
Nellin carefully sat down next to her and ran his hands over her body. His hands became covered with a sticky fluid, and after sniffing it, he felt his stomach lurch. She is wounded. She is wounded. I cannot see her. I cannot see her wounds. The sour, metallic smell was now everywhere. “Amlë, tell me where it hurts.” Not that it would do him much good, for it was too dark for him to see anything, and his only experience with blood had been a wound on a deer.
“Do not worry, Nellin.” He felt her shift slightly. “Someone will find us.” Amlë’s voice grew hoarse. “My knee hurts. It hurts. I do not remember how we came here, Nellin.” Neither do I.
Nellin found her hand and squeezed it. “Wait here. I will try to find a way out.” Rising, he carefully moved around her body and began to cautiously walk forward. He kept his left hand on the wall at all times as he searched for a texture change. But the wall remained smooth under his hands. He finally came upon some sort of protrusion from the wall. It was shaped like a circle, and it was cold to his touch. The ring was harder than anything else he had ever felt before, save perhaps stone. Moving his hands around, he found another ring of similar size and composition.
But no matter how hard he pulled and pushed it, it would not budge. Shaking his head in defeat, Nellin continued on. The walls were so smooth. Smooth, cold, and unending. Belatedly he realized that he had not encountered a corner yet. Thinking that perhaps this place was a very long room, he was stunned to bump into a solid form again. “Amlë?” He knelt by her body. “This room is a circle.”
“There is no way out?” His heart tightened at hearing the hopelessness in her voice.
He pressed his hands to hers. “I will find a way out. I promise.”
Nellin heard the even breathing of Amlë and was relieved that she was sleeping. At least in her dreams, she could be elsewhere. But Nellin could not sleep. He was too frightened. The darkness was stifling. It was alive. And Nellin, a child of the starlight, feared that he would come to an end in this dark place. If only I could remember how I came here. If only I could remember…
Days passed, and still Amlë slept. Nellin was concerned because she did not wake up. But he acknowledged that he could do nothing for her. It did not occur to him that Amlë could die, for the only death he had ever seen was the death of animals.
When the red eyes came, he screamed.
He had been sitting quietly as always, looking around but seeing nothing. Every so often he would get up and seek a way out, but in the darkness, he felt nothing except the smooth, cold, unending surface of the wall. Nellin would spend this time rethinking old memories, but they grew more and more dim. He could not remember what his hut looked liked, or what honeysuckle dew tasted like. He could not recall the sound of the water.
Something, he did not know what, prompted him to look up, where he saw a pair of red eyes watching him curiously. How long, Nellin did not know. And through his horror, he felt a sort of detached curiosity. He wondered what it was that the eyes saw.
The eyes would come everyday. With the eyes would come a bowl of food.
Nellin did not like the food. It was meat, raw and bloodied. How he longed for the sweet berries next to the shining lake!
But hunger was a terrible master.
So he ate the meat.
The eyes began to speak to him one day in a language that Nellin did not know. It was rough and inelegant, not at all like his own sonorous language. He hated this language and would cover his ears to block out the noise, but still the words would filter in. When the noise overwhelmed him, he would speak in his own language. But with each passing day, this occurred less and less. Nellin was forgetting his language.
But he still remembered the name Nellin. The eyes could not take that away from him.
A long time had passed, and still Nellin remained in the room, feeding and drinking whatever it was that the eyes had brought him. The chamber had a rotten smell to it now – what it was he did not know.
The eyes came again. But this time, instead of speaking aloud, the eyes spoke in his mind. And Nellin understood.
I can see you. Nellin wondered what it was that the eyes saw. Would you like me to show you what I see?
For the first time since coming here, Nellin saw something other than darkness. He saw himself – tall and lean. His auburn air gleamed brightly, and his brown eyes were sparkling in a pale face. I am still beautiful. Nellin searched through his remaining memory. Show me Amlë. Now he beheld Amlë sleeping. Her dark hair lay around her like a halo, her slender form still clothed in a tunic of leather.
Suddenly Nellin realized that he could not see his surroundings. Show me where I am. The scene in front of his eyes shifted. The room he was in was circular in shape. The floor was white, and there were beautiful paintings on the wall. If this place is so beautiful, why have I not been allowed to see it?
Beauty is deceptive. Beauty lies.
Beauty is the truth. Beauty is beautiful.
The red eyes were now flickering with sympathy. Let me show you as you really are. The scene in front of Nellin’s eyes changed again, and he screamed. The room was now a dark, dank cell, the cold walls of gray stone smeared with dirt and blood. Slouched on the floor was Amlë, so rotted that he could only recognize her by her shoes. Next to her was he, bloodied and dirtied, vacant eyes in a waxen face. That is not beauty, he shrieked.
That is the truth. The eyes left, and everything became dark again.
Days passed with no food, water, or eyes. Nellin had removed himself to the other side of the chamber, as far away from Amlë as he could get.
The red eyes returned. Come to me, the eyes beckoned. Nellin obeyed. The eyes watched him for a few moments, and then, Would you like to be beautiful?
Yes. A force caught a hold of him, and in a few moments, he found his hands encased by the hard rings on the wall. How will this make me beautiful?
Nellin hung there without any sense of time. Hunger had faded into a temporary annoyance.
The eyes came back. Have you missed me?
I cannot miss you. You are only a pair of eyes.
I am the truth. The eyes came closer. I am here to make you beautiful, just as I have promised.
Then there was pain.
Pain is not beautiful.
Pain is the truth. Pain allows you to know that you exist. Pain is beautiful.
Nellin found the logic faultless. So he accepted more pain.
The eyes hit his body with long, thick pieces of wood. He would scream, and the eyes would hit him more.
The bindings at his wrist cut into his hands. Blood would trickle down his arms.
The eyes did not give him any water, so Nellin drank his own blood.
Thirst was a terrible master.
Wood gave way to the same substance that enclosed his wrists. The eyes would poke him with the cold shafts. Once, the eyes turned him around and then inserted the cold shaft into the secret place within his body.
He screamed again with even greater pain.
Nellin was so thirsty.
Do you see the truth? The truth that I am?
You are pain. He paused. You are the truth.
The red eyes warmed slightly. And I will make you the truth too.
There was more pain this time. A sharp instrument cut into his skin. He felt his blood trickle everywhere. It sliced his cheek, his brow. He felt the warm liquid fall into his eyes. This hurts. He began to scream again. Why are you hurting me?
You wanted to be beautiful. The truth is beautiful. Pain is the truth.
The eyes would leave Nellin for long periods of time. He would try to remember something, anything. But his mind would not let him enter. Since the past was denied to him, he thought of the eyes.
The eyes came back. We are going to leave this place today. The restraints magically let go of his wrists, and he, unused to standing on his feet for a long time, fell to the dirty floor. I shall help you, said the eyes soothingly. He found himself wrapped in strong, warm arms. Let us leave this place for now.
The pair left the chamber, and for the first time, Nellin saw light. The dim lamps in the stone hallway gleamed brightly to his poor eyes. Blinded, he turned his face into the body of the eyes. It is too bright.
“You can speak now. Try it,” urged the voice.
He noticed with shock how the words reverberated through his ears. Refusing to look up, he said, I have forgotten how.
“Try it.” This time the voice was more commanding. “Try it and look around you.”
He did. But the words that came out were the same ugly ones that the eyes spoke. “I am,” Nellin whispered. He looked up and beheld the face of the eyes. The creature would have been very fair, with the shining golden hair falling against strong shoulders. But the eyes made the creature look ugly. “Who are you?”
“Melkor.” The eyes looked down at him as Melkor strode down the long hallway, the weak form still in his arms. “Who are you?”
He searched his memory. “Nellin.”
The eyes flickered with something. “You will need a new name for your new body.”
“My new body?” Confusion crossed his face.
The eyes laughed secretly. “I will show you.” They pair finally entered a large and ornate room, decorated lavishly with mirrors and silks. Like all the other places Nellin had seen thus far, this place was also dimly lit. The creature gently placed him on a soft chair. “Wait here.” He disappeared, only to return with a large mirror. “Look.”
Nellin looked. The body was even worse than it had been before. His hair had lost its sheen. It was now a dirty dark color. Blood coated most of his skin, and he was also covered with his excretions. What little skin that was visible now had a faint greenish tinge. His face was misshapen, his eyes uneven from all the beatings he had received. His ears were sliced.
“You do not like what you see?” Melkor looked curious.
“That is ugly. I am ugly.”
“But do you see the truth?”
He sighed, frustration evident in his marred features. “I do not understand anymore.”
Melkor bent down and stroked his cheek softly. “For you to understand the truth, I must show you a lie.” Melkor silently raised his hand toward the door. “Look.”
He looked and saw one of the Quendi be pushed into the room. One of his kind. She was tall and glorious, her shining silver hair as sweet as the moonlight he had not seen in many years. “She is beautiful.” Melkor slapped him, which caused blood to flow from one of the injuries on his face.
“She is a lie. That beauty is deceptive.” Melkor strode up to her and pulled off her clothes so that she trembled naked in her fear. “You see her now, with pale and unmarred flesh. But much evil lurks beneath.” Melkor drew a hand across her pale skin. “Even now, her heart is hammering with revulsion at the sight of you.” Nellin looked into her eyes and saw that Melkor was right. “Do what you will with her.” Melkor spared the girl one last glance. “Make her see the truth.” With that, Melkor strode out.
Nellin stared at the girl for a long while. Each flicker of revulsion that would cross the girl’s face made him angrier. “What right have you to judge me?” he shouted. The girl only blinked at him, unable to comprehend his words. “I will show you what I am.” Nellin lifted a sharp, pointed object off the table.
When Melkor came back a week later, the girl still lived – but she looked like Nellin.
Melkor caressed the rough skin of Nellin. “You are beautiful to me. I love what you are. I would not love anything other than the truth.”
Nellin felt himself grow pleased. “Make me more beautiful so that you love me more. I, in turn, will make others more beautiful.”
“As you wish.” Melkor picked up a knife and inflicted more pain.
He hated to go outside. The light from the hated stars hurt his eyes. Sometimes they blinded him. But Melkor was insistent, so every once in a while Nellin would venture forth outside. Animals fell under his spear, and often in his hunger, he would eat the meat raw. Once he came across some berries, but the taste of them made him nauseous. He also had companionship, others who had once been lies but were now truth. His favorite was Sidahir, a fervent creature of the darkness.
Nellin came across Quendi one day. Very familiar ones. From his hazy memory, he gathered them to be his predecessors. Parents. The word appeared from nowhere. His mother shouted his name. “Nellin, oh Nellin, my son!”
Deep hatred welled within his breast. These lies had fouled his name. “Do not call me that,” he growled. And methodologically, he slew them.
He was hungry.
When he returned home, he went straight to Melkor, where he told of the soiling of his name. “You need a new name for your new body,” repeated Melkor.
“Graznik.” The name was ugly enough to be the truth.
“It is a beautiful name.”
Melkor summoned Graznik to his throne. Standing next to him was a fair creature. “What ugliness is this?” asked Graznik.
The fair one smiled. “I am a deceiver. I am ugly, but I wear a shield of lies.”
“Sauron loves pain.” Melkor handed the fair one a long knife. “Sauron loves what you are.”
Graznik knelt as Sauron slowly came closer. “Trust in me, beautiful one.” The knife began to slice.
But Graznik was deceived. He discovered the truth, the real truth, one day. “You are not the truth,” said Melkor calmly. “You are a corruption of it. You are a lie.”
“But pain is truth. Pain is beautiful.” Graznik’s ugly features twisted even more.
“I lied.” Melkor gave Graznik a pitying glance.
Graznik howled with anger. And within his breast grew rage. Rage at Melkor.
Rage at the truth that he was not.
Graznik did not forget any of Melkor’s words. If I am a lie, then so is Melkor. Melkor is not beautiful. Sauron is not beautiful. They are lies.
I am Nellin.
No. Nellin is a lie.
So is Graznik.
Author note: I’ve always wondered how such beautiful creatures could be corrupted. Hence the strange concept of how beauty is perceived. Beauty does not necessarily mean fairness, as is the case here. And the tormented protagonist (maybe antagonist is a better word) certainly changes his perceptions. As always, I welcome reviews, comments, and arguments.