24. Aica's Second Lucky Rock
"Such a cunning plan," Melkor said, clapping his hands. "Very nice the way you slaughtered those elves. Imaginative."
Ungoliant smiled as she played with the strands that held her captive. "You're flattering me," she said. "You know as well as I do that I can't hold onto that fiesty Haradrim. I'm lucky I got into her mind for a second. It's long lost now. But what does the great manipulater want?"
Melkor's eyes went to Feanor, bound and gagged in silky threads. "Him," he said.
"And in exchange…?"
Melkor reached down and seized Maeglin. "You want this traitor? I'm sure he's tasty once you get past the rotten bit. But don't worry, that's just his heart."
Maeglin yelped. "No, Master!" he begged. "Please don't!"
"Toss him over the river," Ungoliant said. "You have my word I'll give you Feanor."
"And what good is your word?"
"Better than yours."
"It better be," Melkor warned, throwing Maeglin over the river. He landed with a thud on the rocky ground.
"Master!" he begged. "Why? I served you well!"
"I was planning to kill you after Gondolin fell. Fortunately, Tuor saved me the trouble."
"Why?" Maeglin asked. He looked shocked by this betrayal, and Melkor found it ironic that the traitor to thousands couldn't imagine betrayal in others.
"Give me Feanor," Melkor said.
"As you wish," Ungoliant said, throwing the elf to the first Dark Lord. "And now, little elf," she hissed, turning to the cowering Maeglin, "I'm hungry."
Melkor ignored Maeglin's screams as he picked Feanor off the ground and sliced away the webbing. They were as sticky and thick as he remembered them, all those years ago when Ungoliant had imprisoned him and tried to end his life.
But the Valar cannot die.
"Good to see you again," Melkor whispered. "Such a shame it's on my territory."
"Don't touch me," Feanor hissed.
"Really? Why not?" Melkor ran a hand through Feanor's hair. "I've been waiting for ages. Literally. I think it's time for my revenge."
"You're back," Aica said with little relish. "I suppose you brought a stone home again."
"Oh," Ringe said, his face falling.
"You did! I can't believe you'd be so stupid!" Aica slapped Ringe across the face. "You imbecile! You brought me another rock!"
"You liked the first one!"
"A rock! You bastard! We're not on top of the Barad-Dur anymore! I don't need a rock!"
"I'll get rid of it then," Ringe muttered, starting toward the door.
"Let me see it," Aica snapped.
"But you just said –"
"Let me see it!"
Ringe held out a large round stone. It was some kind of dark crystal as far as Aica could tell. It was beautiful, and very cold. In the center, it almost looked like there was a small flame burning.
"I like this rock," Aica said.
Ringe smiled warily. "I did good then?" he asked.
"Yes, it's fine. Where did you find it?"
"I went to Osgiliath, just like you said. I didn't see Ceure there, and I made sure not to draw attention to myself."
"And what did you see?"
"There's a civil war going on. Eldacar's been thrown out, and his cousin Castamir's on the throne. They were burning this domed building, and I ran in to see if there was anything valuable."
Aica frowned. "And the stone was in there?"
Ringe nodded eagerly. "It was just sitting there in the center of the place."
"Like it was important."
"Exactly. But it's just a rock. I thought you might like it though, so I brought it back."
"Good job," Aica said. "You can go now."
"Should I tell Morion I went to Gondor?"
"No," Aica said sharply. "We'll keep that between ourselves."
As soon as Ringe left, Aica examined the stone closer. Found it all alone in some big important building, huh? she thought. That must mean it's important too. It's a very pretty rock.
She put her hands on it and tested the weight. Something started to happen in the center of the rock.
"What –?" She gasped as colors and lights swirled in the center of the stone, expanding to fill the whole orb.
She felt like she was falling into it. Deeper and deeper into the stone she looked, and she could see things. Valleys, plains, mountains, cities. Everything lay bare before her eyes.
Is this real? she thought. Am I dreaming?
Show me Fornost, she thought, focusing her will on the stone. And lo and behold, a city fell into place. The tall towers and fortified keep of Fornost appeared. People milled about in the streets, talking to each other. Aica strained to hear what was being said, but it was like they were talking on the other side of a wall. She caught a word or two, but she could see far better than she could hear.
The king's palace. I want to see Araphor's palace.
The scene shifted, and Aica was watching a handsome young man pace back and forth. It was Araphor, king of Arthedain. And he was so close to Aica she could almost touch him. Except they were thousands of miles apart.
It ended suddenly as Aica's concentration broke. The rock fell to the ground with a crack but didn't break.
"I saw Fornost," Aica muttered, watching the stone roll to the other end of the room. "I saw Araphor. What is that rock?"
Whatever it was, it needed to be kept safe and hidden away. Particularly from Khamul.