1. Chapter One
"The stars are veiled, Mairon," he remarked wistfully, his eyes cast up towards the clouded expanse above.
"Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck," I retorted placidly.
It was an oft practised exchange between us. My lord's attachment to the stars was a source of deep consternation to me. He insisted upon embarking on endeavours only if the stars were unveiled, for he believed that portended a good omen. On nights as these, he would watch the skies and then upon seeing the curtain of clouds refuse to proceed with plans long slaved over by me.
"I have sent the embassy to the Fëanorions," I offered after a long moment of mutual silence. "Nelyafinwë is no fool. He will not be led into parley."
I had to say that though my companion seemed uninterested in the outcome to the said embassy. Melkor looked up at the stars again thoughtfully.
"Yet he shall," he said quietly and foreboding clouded my mind.
"I know of him, milord. He is an excellent strategist. You underestimate his brilliance in expecting him to walk shortsighted into this parley."
"You know of him, Mairon. I know of his fate," Melkor murmured. "I hear that Fëanáro burned away into nothingness."
"He was ever impatient," I said wryly. Fëanáro, I had not been well-acquainted with. But Aulë, my former master, had loved the Noldo and would fondly remark on the legendary impatience of his protégé. "He did not probably wish to await cremation."
"He was reckless, not impatient," was my lord's opinion.
"I beg to differ, milord. When a general, unable to estimate the enemy's strength, allows an inferior force to engage a larger one, or hurls a weak detachment against a powerful one, and neglects to place picked soldiers in the front rank, the result must be rout. Fëanáro did all of those. Their finest soldiers were wasted in the side flanks while the inexperienced were brought to the front for massacre. It was folly, folly brought on by his impatience that thwarted deeper planning."
"Warfare is your domain," Melkor conceded. "If you could only bring imagination into your repertoire, you would exceed your own estimate."
"Milord accuses me of a lack in imagination?" I asked, mildly irked that he would say so. I did not consider it a failing that I was not moved by the beauty of roses or the shafts of starlight. One romantic in the dyad was ample, I felt.
He threw me a good-humoured smile before saying, "Merely that if you applied your considerable brilliance to the realm of hearts as you do with the realm of warfare and politics, you would be near insurmountable."
"The hearts and their motives, or the lack thereof, I have never been interested in," I lied blandly, willing myself not to think of hair haloed by the light of Laurelin and skin warmer than the eastern gale.
His reply was unvoiced, for a messenger came rushing to us, features alit with jubilation.
"The High-King has been taken alive!"
I remembered him as the debonair sartorial master who ruled the court debates of Tirion and Valmar. I had seen him only from a distance, when I had journeyed to Elven courts as an ambassador to Aulë. But even then, I had been impressed by the unbiased, clearheaded arguments he excelled at.
It was difficult to equate the Prince of words with the bloodied, disgraced captive King who stood before us now. Emotion slivered through my veins and I frowned in displeasure, for I had foresworn myself the right to emotion when I had foresworn myself the right to bask in the golden aura of an infatuated fool.
Dispassionately, I viewed him. He was tall and slender, as the Eldar were, though in him the traits were starker. I noticed that he favoured one leg heavily, a cost of the foolish gambit that he had taken. I had never expected a grandson of Finwë to fall for that obvious trap, was he that desperate for the jewel? Perhaps there was more to the rumours of their oath than they let on. Interesting indeed and yet, I found myself discomfited by the sight.
"Cursed shall you be, Moringotto!"
"Naive, is he not?" Melkor murmured to me.
I did not reply, being unable to associate this ranting feyness with the cool rationalist I had listened to not so long ago. I stared into his disturbingly clear eyes. There was no horror or shock in them. Merely resigned acceptance.
"Milord," I began, but the prisoner continued furiously.
"I demand that I be returned to my kin, traitor!"
I frowned and realisation seized me in its uncomfortable grip; he had willingly played along into the ambush. The grey eyes held the narrowest sliver of triumph ere it was covered by righteous fury.
"Milord," I began again, worried by what I had discerned. But Melkor had begun his speech and paid no heed to me.
"Apparently you are under the delusion that I went to all the trouble of capturing you alive so that I could see your charming face, get shouted at, and then send you back to your brothers."
"You played false, after offering us a truce", the prisoner said indignantly, anger suffusing his pale, noble features.
"After all I have wrought, did you truly think that I cared for battle field honour?" Melkor enquired sardonically.
"Truly have you fallen low then, if you condone abduction and violence!"
"I think I might teach you more than your uncle and grandfather did in your pasture lands of Aman. Untried you are in the ways of Middle Earth. But not for long. Mairon, I deliver him to your tender care." Melkor favoured me with a knowing glance.
I bid the servants hold the prisoner in the nearest cell and arranged for a watch before going to seek Melkor. My worries had turned into dark foreboding. If the tales I heard of the Prince were true, and I had no cause to believe otherwise, he would gamble a war only to win the battle.
"Spirited, is he not?" Melkor remarked as I entered his study.
I nodded stiffly and prepared to plunge into the issue headlong, for it was most imperative that I alert him to what I had discerned.
"You will break him, Mairon," Melkor began quietly. "You will break him beyond hope and light. Slowly. He loves his mind. Break it."
"His mind is a fine thing, milord," I said, strangely hesitant for the first time in my life as a torturer. "It will not break soon."
"What is this, Mairon?" Melkor laughed softly. "Would you actually acknowledge anything of Eä's make as beautiful and fine? I thought you had no use for those words."
"I wished to tell you of my suspicions regarding his motives."
I changed the subject for his words were dangerously close to the truth. 'Beautiful' and 'fine' - I had use for those words and for others of their ilk, amply and frequently, when I had been stewing in a cauldron stoked by hands of gold.
"Whatever his motives be, they will be futile once you break his mind," Melkor said dismissively.
I knew that tone. He would not appreciate further insistence upon the subject. Reluctantly, I shoved away the concern for another time, still unable to ignore the niggling feeling that things were not as they seemed.
"Use the woman."
I stirred away from my thoughts and returned to the conversation.
"He is no fool, milord. Also, he has never been notorious for libido unlike his cousins."
"Yet the woman is remarkable. She is unspoiled. You said you reserve her as bait for your mindgames with the resisting prisoners. He will resist. Use the woman to ease your path, Mairon. He has a chivalrous streak. I know him well enough from my days in his father's forge."
I repaired to my chambers, trying to make order out of the chaos that had descended on my head with the advent of the Noldor. There had been the reckless Fëanáro driving us to desperation with his all or nothing attack. That I understood and classified as the easiest recipe for rout. I had been proved right. Now there was a strategist with no reputation for recklessness who had delivered himself into a glaringly obvious ambush. It reeked of danger. And I was no closer to understanding his motives.
Not comprehending motives never failed to rouse my wrath and I bid the guards bring the captive in.
After the first session, I gleaned appallingly few facts about the prisoner. He was proud, but in a flexible manner unlike the rest of his kin. When pain overwhelmed him, he was not above crying out. Intriguingly enough, he learnt to give in to pain instead of fighting it early on. A fast adapter to circumstances, I had to admit, which merely made it all the more unlikely he was foolish enough to walk wide-eyed into our trap.
I was called away for a few moments by a pressing concern and I returned to find the servants pressing their lewd attentions upon him. I intervened ere that progressed, but I could not help observing that he exhibited neither horror nor fear at their doings. Melkor was wrong; our guest was not half as naive as my lord had declared him to be. It gave me no satisfaction to be proved right though, keen as I was to know the true motives behind this surrender.
The woman Melkor had referred to was Elerrína. In my guise as Gorthaur, I had come across her when the Elves journeyed west. Our minions had taken the party of Grey Elves captive. They were high-born, this woman and her brother. It was writ on their faces. I advocated patience where their fate was concerned, for it seemed a waste to condemn them to mere thraldom when they could serve better purposes. The high-born women of the Eldar, I often used for my experiments in crossbreeding.
Elerrína would have met the same fate. But she had hair that was spun gold and eyes that shone with the light of Cuiviénen. I stayed my hand, setting her away in seclusion until an experiment that would tap her to the fullest came along. Of course, my memories of hair that was gold held no part in my decision.
Melkor had often suggested that I was enamoured by the woman. It could not be further from the truth. To use every man and woman as they deserved to be, that was one of my longstanding axioms. And a fool could see that Elerrína would serve purposes higher than breeding.
It was time now to use her. Thawed by centuries of isolation and fear of despoilment, she would cling to the prince. His chivalry would be the weakest link in his mail when it came to mindgames. Simplicity, was it not?
It unfurled as simply as I had thought it would. He was thrown into her dungeon; broken, bloodied and soiled. She nursed him to health and sobbed over his defilement. The days continued as they had ever done in my lord's realm.
Each session saw his body weakening gradually. He needed longer to recover and lesser to be forced to his knees. He did not fear subjugation despite the many cruelties my lieutenants heaped on him.
Melkor began growing impatient and I increased the length of the sessions. The prince cried, screamed and often limply let us do what we wished. But not a word of compliance escaped his lips and his mind remained as barricaded as it had been on the first day. I feared that we would end up killing him with torment and still be none the closer to touching his mind. His failing health was a cause for worry.
I resorted to the final tactic. The woman.
The most hideous of my lord's servants were summoned and marched to the dungeon shared by the prince and the woman. Fear rose in his eyes for the first time as he realised what my intentions were.
It was a ploy often employed within those dark confines. The woman was no longer unspoiled at the end of the session. She was huddled in a corner, a mess of blood and marred flesh. The prince was still held back by a few of the guards - he had fought his bonds for the first time since captivity.
"What do you say, Nelyafinwë?" I asked him.
His lips pursed and eyes narrowed dangerously before he said quietly, in a voice coloured by melancholy and resignation, "You deserve your name, Gorthaur."
"I see that Elerrína has been teaching you her language," I drawled, smug seeing the first traces of true loathing and fear rise on his features.
"Don't sully her name with your tongue," he hissed, still fighting those who restrained him.
"You seem eager to be her champion, prince. How far would you go along this path?"
He stopped struggling and said simply, "Nowhere useful to you."
He had underestimated me. A dangerous mistake. If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
He had made the mistake of not knowing his enemy. It was time to draw blood.
"Pin him down, strip him, and make him have the woman."
My instructions were precise, calm and not inflected by the least emotion. But his eyes widened in horror and he began speaking. The words went unheard in the ruckus raised by my minions as they dragged over the sobbing woman to him and enforced my orders.
Tears escaped him, but they were not the tears of pain that had fled down his cheeks during physical torment. These were for her and I knew that chinks were waiting in his mental armour, begging to be exploited. Yet, for the moment, I was stilled from thought by the sight of his agony, glaringly obvious in his squirming under the restrainers' hands.
His reaction to pain was very clear to me by then. He had given in at first; it had gradually evened out into an aid for boosting his mental calm. It was purposeless to torture him.
But this, his agony, was not for himself. It was for the woman he had come to care for. How deep was their bond? Her hair cascaded down her back, reminding me wilfully of the fall of gold down a warrior's spine.
When it ended, I bid the guards take the woman away. That left me with the prince, who was still heaving and panting in the aftermath of consummation. A flare of heat rose in me, unbidden and unwelcomed. In the flickering torchlight, I could not help observing that the prone form at my feet was sculpted with such detail to perfection. It did not remotely resemble the magnificent golden body I had once been blessed to touch. No, the beauty I had worshipped and the raw, painful handsomeness before me now were as antithetic as oil and water.
"I am not Laurefindë, Mairon," said he softly in a voice that was regaining calm despite the pain and agony.
I flinched and took a step backwards. His eyes were bloodshot, his features bloodied and bruised. Yet he remained capable of coherent thinking. When he heaved himself up biting back exclamations of pain, I remained where I was, struck by the intensity of those smouldering grey eyes.
"He was perfection to you, was he not?" he whispered. "Perfection that evaded everything else you saw."
"Perfection is an illusion, a mere word and a dream unrealised by all," I rallied. "They called you perfection and look at you now."
His eyes sparkled and he leant in, overpowering my senses with the stench of blood and spent lust. "And yet you see something in me, do you not?"
I did not reply, for any reply would have been a falsehood. He was yet lucid enough to discern those. One may know how to conquer without being able to do it. I knew that I could break him now, break his mind beyond sanity and coherence. He had taken the offensive because he realised that his defences had fallen apart. It proved how shaken by the ordeal he was. I could break him, but I found that I was unable to.
"What game do you play, son of Fëanáro?"
"I am not gold, I am not perfection, but I am here, before you."
When he dropped to knees already bleeding, his fingers clumsily untying the laces of my robes, I understood his intention. He must have been on the verge of being broken then, to stoop voluntarily to such measures. I flinched at the swallow he made before applying himself to the task - he was frightened out of his wits. Yet I allowed him to recoup and salvage his mental defences, closing my eyes as he proceeded stoking a lust nonexistent. The nature of the act dictated that I place my fingers in his matted mane, dragging and stroking as impulse commanded. But my fingers grew frenzied and I overwhelmed his inexperienced self with increasing ardour - where had foresworn carnality come from?
When it ended, it ended with a cursed, loved name from my lips that undid every lie of my existence in my lord's lair.
The prince fell back, too extinguished by pain and fear to even clean his lips. With a curse, I sighed and removed my overrobe before dabbing his face clumsily with it and then covering his nakedness.
"You could break me now," he murmured wearily. "I am yet to achieve a measure of strength."
The cave walls seemed yet to resonate with the sound of the name I had exclaimed at my crescendo. I shook my head firmly.
"I cannot promise that you will be spared in the future, prince." For once, I spoke a title and meant it. Grey eyes met my gaze resignedly. "Whatever purpose you plotted," I continued, "it is futile. My lord turns impatient and I cannot do anything if he decides to direct matters himself."
"I know." He hesitated before clasping my hand. "Mairon, you and I are condemned to this hell. We understand it. Leave the woman out of this."
"This place is not conducive to chivalry," I said grimly. "Elerrína shall be used, despoiled and broken until she fades. It is the lot of thralls here."
"I can serve as a vessel for lust," he said quietly, his shudder nearly imperceptible. "I can take what would be her torment, as long as I live."
"I did not know that you had a penchant for whoring," I said acerbically. His hand let go of mine and he flinched as if struck.
I rose and prepared to leave saying, "This is not the place for chivalry, little prince. I would advise you to harden your heart. Your charms will not work forever."
That night, I remained restless and wary. The prince was vulnerable, deeply so. It would not take much to break him. Yet what purpose would it serve? My lord would be pleased. Beyond that there would be no use. The Fëanorions had given him up for dead. In fact, if I continued torturing him as I did, he would die ere the year ran out.
"Come and watch the stars with me, Mairon," Melkor invited me as he prepared to leave for his daily sojourn.
I complied and we meandered through the paths, speaking idly of this and that as we walked. The conversation turned to our prisoner, as it was bound to eventually. I told him frankly of what had transpired, leaving out details of my disastrous interlude with the prince. It would merely cause rise to suspicion about loyalties, something I strove to stay cleanly away from at all times.
"Do you mean to tell me that torment, forced intimacy and gruelling living conditions are yet to make an effect?"
"I hold that he would die if I continued as I do," I said plainly.
"Then I will take charge, Mairon."
I had expected things to take that turn eventually. Yet I felt strangely frustrated. I would rejoice the day the prince died, for he was wreaking havoc on my hitherto controlled emotions.
I was present when Melkor began his inquisition. It was as I had predicted. The prince was no match for a Maia, then what would he do against one of the Valar?
I watched with rising discomfort as my lord gained supremacy. The prince was no match, but even then I was surprised by the easy victory he had handed over to Melkor.
"Is this what you could not achieve, Mairon?" Melkor asked me dubiously as he nudged the near insensate form with his boots. Grey eyes flashed vengeance and I exclaimed in alarm as Melkor blanched suddenly.
The quality of decision, Irmo had once told me, was like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enabled it to strike and destroy its victim. Therefore the good strategist would be terrible in his onset, and prompt in his decision. The prince was a strategist par excellence. The onslaught of his mind, thus far deliberately subdued and weakened, left Melkor reeling and crying in horror. I rushed to my lord's aid, but the white fire that seared through my thoughts had me exclaiming in pain.
The fire was young yet and Melkor rallied rapidly, his wrath overwhelming the prince and rendering him broken in less than an instant's time. Yet there was no triumph on my lord's face, only fear. I wondered what dark secret the prince had wrested from Melkor.
"Throw him into his cell!" Melkor snarled. "I will pass judgement in a while."
I stared, stunned at the fact that Melkor, who had not balked even in the face of the might of the joint powers of the Lords of the West, was shaken enough to demand reprieve after a wresting with the prince.
Sobs, high-pitched and reeking of insanity, brought my attention away my lord to the vanquished prince. The very ground on which he lay had been charred by the force of Melkor's wrath. I gingerly cast a spell of protection on myself and moved towards him, my heart hammering in fear as I took in the condition he had been reduced to. It was not merely physical pain; his mind had been ripped apart by the inferno of my lord's fury.
"Come," I murmured, "before he returns."
The prince did not understand a word of what I said, instead huddling into a heap and continuing the sobbing. When I touched his shoulder, I could see every thought of his, unshielded and plain. Melkor had destroyed his mind utterly beyond salvation.
I removed him away from the chamber. I had never used my healing powers without prompting before. Yet I found myself murmuring nearly forgotten enchantments and whispered words of healing as I tried to bring the wretched soul a measure of consolation.
"You cannot save me, Mairon," he said, for once too past caring to try and conceal his fear. "But save yourself if you can."
"Bloodguilt lies heavy upon me, Prince. I am past saving."
"Save Elerrína then," he said softly.
I did not reply, choosing to leave him to his darkness. Elerrína was there, but for once she remained in the farthest corner of the dungeon instead of coming to his side, her face blanched in horror.
Melkor's command came swift and unforgiving: poison and then the Thangorodrim. When I drew near the dungeons, poison in hand, I saw Elerrína beside him, trying to soothe him into lucidity.
"He will not recover," I told her.
"Please!" She fell at my feet, prostrating herself. "Kill him cleanly."
She was a remarkable woman, Elerrína of the Sindar, and I wondered what noble blood flowed in her veins; perhaps the blood of Singollo himself.
I knew the purpose of the poison I held in my hands; it was not concocted with a swift end in sight. Melkor had dictated prolonged agony upon the unforgiving rocks, exposed to the vagaries of the elements. Whatever secret the prince had uncovered, it was a powerful one indeed.
The prince came to then, and his grey eyes roved about, seeking a hold to anchor themselves to. When he met my gaze, I saw his thoughts, and understanding and pity flared through me. I turned to face Elerrína's imploring gaze. I suppressed a shudder. Would she pawn herself to a cause futile?
Laurefindë had called me the least impulsive creature he had had the misfortune to meet. But what I did then cannot be explained away by any reason but impulse. I turned tail and left the dungeon. I closed the door behind me and leant against it, deafening myself wilfully against the primal sounds of coupling that echoed through the corridor.
When silence prevailed again, I entered and bade him drink the poison. He did so with nary a flinch and when those assigned to taking him to Melkor arrived, he accompanied them quietly.
I was left with Elerrína. Her face was drawn in sorrow and her eyes were alit with bone deep courage, and she spoke quietly the very words that Laurefindë had declared to me at our parting.
"I regret nothing."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.