2. In which a letter changed the world
Cognates of Heaven
Disclaimer: I do not own Dragon Age, LOTR, the Silmarillions, the Unfinished Tales, and other published and un-published works of Tolkien. Also, many thanks to the essays of the Silmarillion Writer's Guild and the essay Warm Beds Are Good for giving me a better understanding of Tolkien's works.
Chapter 2: In which a letter changed the world.
Somehow, despite all the bravado he had used to corner Gandalf, by the time Elrond reached his study, he was suddenly hit by a powerful premonition that this was one among the precious few Istari secrets that he did not want to hear. But by then, obviously, it was already too late.
He walked pass the threshold of his door without missing a beat despite the rotten feeling curling in his chest. Gandalf was one step after him, followed closely by Glorfindel who closed and locked the door behind him.
He turned back, observed the wizard carefully. "You are not smoking." He stated as he worked on bandaging his still bleeding hand.
"Would you like me to smoke?"
"No" He said between his teeth, squeezing his eyebrows for extra effect. It was no secret among those that dwelled in Imladris that the master of the Last Homely House on Middle Earth gave no encouragement to the gray wizard's revolting habit. However, if there was one thing Elrond knew for sure about Gandalf, then it would be that he liked smoking.
Gandalf smoked all the times. He smoked when he was happy. He smoked when he was bored and chewed on his pipe when he was at it. He smoked when he was angry… if he didn't have a sword on hand and there was nothing to strike at with. Elrond had spied him, on the few occasions that he had, asleep with his bedamned pipe stuck in his mouth. And even when he wasn't smoking, he would have that pipe on hand somewhere; either tucked to his belt beside his sword, or betwixt in his hand as he twirled it around as a father sometimes did his favorite child. The Valar must have blessed his Maia body with steel lungs, because if it were anything less, Elrond was sure that he would have died of lung failure long ago, wizard or not.
It was, therefore, a consequence of all those long years spent abhorring the wizard's habit that Elrond knew with absolute certainty that the few precious times Gandalf did not smoke while, for all intents and purposes Elrond's ceiling should already be fully covered with white smog, it meant something was very wrong indeed.
"Are you quite alright?" Asked the wizard, gesturing at Elrond's hand.
"Please, Mithrandir, I have been in wars. And despite what the dwarves would like to say about lily-livered elf warriors, this is not going to kill me. Now…" He shared a look with Glorfindel who put himself between Mithrandir and the door. "… let's get back to the topic we should be talking about before you try to change the subject."
"I am merely voicing my concern, Elrond. The magic the maker of this stone wields…" He twirled the rock in his hand as if trying to make a point. "… is not something I can easily counter."
"And I too am merely voicing my concern over this new breed of sorcery that would give even a Maia cause to pause."
Elrond blinked, momentarily stunned at the tone that came hissing from his own mouth, lacing his words with a degree of emotions that seemed improper for an elf his age. The quiet that followed spoke volume of what was transpiring in the minds of two mildly bewildered elves and one very concerned wizard. Elrond gripped his wounded hands, now suddenly uncomfortable with the thoughts running in his head.
"The stone affects you, my friend." Said the wizard after what seemed like hours of silence. "More than you would like to admit."
Elrond eyed the splatters of blood on the sleeve of his shirt as though he hadn't heard a thing. His fingers were cold and numb and he could feel something alien growing from them, spreading slowly but surely through his very being. Beneath the weight of thousands of years of experience, he could feel something crawling in his gut, a terrible dread that he could not understand. Here was a son of Eldar, Maiar, and Hildor, forced to his knee before this strange magic.
"You did not bring the son of Denethor." He said when he finally managed to collect himself.
"You called an end to the Council, Elrond."
"Indeed I did. An end to the Council of the Ring… which, as far as I know, has absolutely nothing to do with this rock of Mordor. Or perhaps I am misinformed and you would like to correct me. You had but to ask, Gandalf. Boromir had every right as I to stand in this room and partake this conversation." He shared a look with Glorfindel, reading the same thought in the balrog slayer's face. Gandalf had, very deliberately, left the Gondorian out of this.
In response to this, the usually mellow expression on the wizard's face sharpened with intent. "It seems, my friend, that it is not I who dread this conversation but you."
Caught. Like a rat. Elrond gave a harsh laugh. He looked out the window of his study and saw Aragorn wander by down below, then he saw his daughter hot on the ranger's heels. The afternoon sun chased their running footsteps in dances of light and shadow and autumn leaves. His fools in love. Whatever shall he do to them?
When Elrond finally turned back to Gandalf, he knew with no doubt in his heart that whatever he was going to hear in the next few minutes would change everything he'd ever known. Forever.
"Speak your piece, Gandalf." He said.
"I will do better. I'd have you speak for me." With this, the wizard drew something from his pocket. A letter. Ordinary brown vellum. Slightly sodden and smeared with dirt and claw marks that told of a long and probably perilous journey.
He received the letter from Gandalf, holding it gingerly with his numb fingers. He pulled it open and started reading it out loud.
"My brothers of the Order,
I would have preferred our first correspondence since coming to Middle Earth to be of a lighter note, but I regret to say I bring dark tidings, for what else could bridge the gap between us East and West and demand that I brave the Dark Land to bring you this news."
He paused here, throwing Gandalf a dark look.
"The Blue wizards." Glorfindel stated without preamble. "We thought them lost to the Wild Peoples of the East. This, then, is the first missive from them." He joined Elrond, gazing intently at Gandalf. "This should have come here far earlier. Why was it kept from us?"
"I fear, my friend. I fear, and doubt. As you said, this is the first time in thousands of years they have ever tried to contact us, wizards of the West. It was delivered to my hands by one of Radaghast, likely he was the first to receive it through his animal friends. I had no idea whether this was the genuine article or another trickery of the enemies. And in light of the discovery of the Ring, I thought we had no time to spare the investigation. Only when Boromir brought forth his stone did I know for sure. Never the less, we can have our argument after. Please continue, Elrond"
"Something is coming." Elrond continued at the wizard's behest. "Something is coming and it sends out ripples that only us the magical could feel. I fear, my brothers, for both I and Morinehtar knew where the heart of the ripples lie, where the stone struck the water and sent out waves to our hearts. It is in the Dark Land. Something has come and it lies in the dominion of Sauron. We do not know what it is. We must find out." He paused here for a second. Below the part he'd read, there was two finger's width worth of space and when the words resumed, it was in a different colored ink, obviously written sometimes after the introduction.
"We have found what 'it' is. No. Who 'they' are. One of our fortresses of the East fell to one of them. I and Morinehtar went there ourselves. It was called Hithliar and it was the foremost frontier we had built against Sauron's forces and allies of the East. For five hundred years it had withstood men and orcs alike, yet before our eyes we discovered it was felled in a single day, by a single mage."
Elrond paused again, stunned at this piece of news. A quick glance told him Glorfindel was in the same predicament.
"Not…" He picked up again after some seconds. "Not many who were there on that day survived… but the few who did told of impossible stories. They said the earth split apart and swallowed the walls whole, and that fireballs rained from the skies and pulverized the defending forces."
Fire from the skies. A sundered earth. The similarities with the Gondor's Nine Days of Calamity were staggering. Elrond was starting to see a pattern here, and the little that he could see until now was drawing a worrying picture.
"Yet as impossible as they seemed, stories like this became common within months in the land of the East. These are no mere conjurers of cheap tricks, but a force to be reckoned with, despite the fact that they are as mortal as every other children of Hildor. We found ourselves pushed and besieged on all fronts. It pains me to see our thousands years of work, creating havens and rebellions in what was once Sauron's monopoly of dominions, curtailed so quickly and brusquely. We fought, but we dared not pit our full power against this alien magic as the Valar instructed. And what strange magic it is. My brothers, if I allow myself this moment of clarity and honesty, I would say, though this magic is neither stronger nor weaker than ours, it is one that is unbound by all rules of Arda."
Elrond paused momentarily, silently digesting the blue wizard's observation. Unbound by all rules of Arda? "My brothers, you must wonder of what madness I am spouting. Perhaps the Blue wizards, you might think, isolated from their higher brethrens of the West have turned senile at last. But senile I am not, and this I will testify with my very fëa. The magic these strange mages wields is one capable of transgressing into the territory of Gods. And thus… if I dare a guess, I would not like to cross magic with them. My maiar-wrought body might survive their mortal ones, but I doubt my magic will their strange sorcery."
The tension in the room was palpable now. Elrond gripped the letter with both hands, feeling the nervous presence of Glorfindel at his back. "My brothers, I have questions the number of stars in the skies in my head whose answers I fear, yet it is these answers we must seek, or else all is doomed. In the second month since Hithliar, we laid a trap and found our answer at last. Six hundred good man for one of theirs."
Elrond swallowed thickly as he unrolled the parchment. The next part consisted of many crossed out paragraphs and smears of black ink, all telling proofs of the Blue Wizard's struggle to communicate his discovery.
"The truth is...." He picked up. "…they are not of this world."
He ignored Glorfindel's incredulous stare, instead concentrating on the words of the letter.
"Deep within the mage's mind, we find our answer. The man is one among a group of self-exiled mages who came from a different world where a war between the magical and the unmagical was waged. Refusing to be used as tools of war, they followed their leader and escaped to our world looking for refuge in anonymity."
"And a great lot of good that did them." Gandalf commented, eyes faraway. "The poor fools. They jumped right into Sauron's home."
"As much as I fear the potential destruction they are capable of, I also found myself pitying them. They are a wretched people, whose powers simultaneously drown and elevate its wielders. The mage we captured is but a mere shade of his former self, bound to Sauron's will as he was, a mere flesh puppet victimized by his own magic. And he is not the only ones. Much to our horrors, we discovered that the magi, as a people, are preconditioned to be possessed and taken over by the likes of Sauron. In fact, it is this one horrifying and peculiar trait that was the corner stone of the war in their world. The unmagical understandably cannot tolerate a race whose weaker members so easily fall prey to demons and mean spirits alike."
"By Eru…" Glorfindel hissed. If Elrond wasn't already busy with the letter, he would have joined in with the balrog slayer. He recoiled at the very real possibility that Sauron now held possession of a small army of Black Istari.
"We debated on what to do."
"Debate? What is there to debate?" Glorfindel asked. In reply, Elrond read out the next part of the letter.
"You must have questions in your mind now, my brothers. What is there to debate? Indeed, if only what I've told you is the full extent of what we found, then our course here on, though wretched, would be clear to us. But that is not all, my brothers."
A great hush fell over Elrond's study, a nervous anticipation of the news to follow what they had just heard.
"In the deepest part of the man's mind, we found someone's presence there. Not Sauron… for it is his finger prints that were all over that abomination of a mind. Someone else. But… ah, let us not be hasty here for you need to understand one thing about the mages. Not all of them are weak in mind. Not all bowed to Sauron and the demons that preceded him. Despite our worst expectations, they are not simply a race of demon flesh in the making. To the strongest of them, demons bowed to in defeat. In fact, it is for this very reason that the mages rebelled against their unmagical cousins in demand of freedom. And here is the astonishment. The so called man-mage we caught turned out to be a mere child, one that has yet to pass 'the harrowing' ritual that separates those who can resist the call of evil and those that cannot. A mere child, skilled in the way of magic and bolstered by Sauron, and it took six hundred good men to take him down."
Elrond swallowed. He could see what the Blue Wizard was trying to see, though the wisdom of his words escaped Elrond. All he had written had, thus far, had only served to heighten the elf lord's misgivings of these magi.
"You must already guess what I am trying to say, though I shall not spell it out so soon for you. We discussed how we might fight against such adversaries. We, the wizards, were forbidden to pit our full powers against Sauron, as per the Valar. Though these people are not of Sauron, the destructive potential of their powers alone should give pause to us, those who wish to openly content with them. How else then shall we prepare our battles? By physical might, my friend. As I have mentioned, though their magic is strong, their bodies are mortal. They can be felled by the swords, pierced by the arrows, corrupted with poisons, overwhelmed with numbers. But I caution you, tread on that road; you will have to accept staggering numbers of losses on your forces. It is here that I will bring you, if not the good news then a different direction to this dilemma. There is another way to defeat these magi."
There was a slight scuffle as Glorfindel leaned forward, then reined himself in.
"There is another way." Elrond's voice slowed, his mind racing to swallow the next few sentences. "In the very heart of the Dark Land is chained the Champion of the Magi. It was her presence that we found in the pits of the child mage's mind, trying to protect what little human was left of him. She, alone, is both the salvation and doom of these magi. Salvation… for it is under her banner that the mages rallied. She is the single reason that our Eastern forces have not been flattened under their combined might. It is much to our surprise that we discovered the majority of the mages stood unbowed before Sauron. The 'Harrowed' they are called. It was the small number of 'Unharrowed' youngsters who terrorized our land these past months. A humble thing to know, wouldn't you agree?"
Humble? He would have gone for horrifying. A horrifying thing to know. "My brothers, my fellow Istari, the mere fact that Sauron has the Champion imprisoned in the heart of Barad-dur, the physical manifestation of his power and the place where he is strongest, should speak volumes to you already, but let me put it down in words for you, so there will be no misunderstanding between us and all those who will no doubt read this letter after us. We must not even allow an illusion of misunderstanding on these stakes."
The next sentence was written in red ink. Bloody letters on a cream canvas of vellum.
"As long as the Champion of the Magi stands unbowed before Sauron, the Dark Lord will be denied the full might of their power." Elrond recited, his words coming out heavy and slow under the weight of the Blue Wizard's declaration. "She is the pillar and the chain of the Magi both. Even now, she is locked in combat with the Dark Lord. Sauron dares not loosen his grip on her for he knows he treads on the edge of a blade that may either catapult him to height previously unknown or take his head in one fell swoop. Release her and you shall release the Magi. Destroy her, and through her blood link with them, you will have destroyed a whole magical people."
For a heartbeat, Elrond paused, breathing heavily through his mouth, suddenly exhausted.
"We cannot make this decision." He picked up again. "It must be you who choose. To save or to doom? That is the question whose answer you must seek. The East cannot make this choice. The East no longer has the strength to make this choice. My friends… I regret laying this burden on you, but I see no other way through which we shall find the light. Perhaps, if you choose wrongly, there shall be no light for us. Either way, my friends, here is the place where I bid you goodbye. Morinehtar shall be gone by tomorrow, yonder to the Dark Land, to the burning heart of Barad-dur. We shall try to find the Champion and through her establish a link to the Magi. I fear he will not return, but this is what we must do, what we can do at least. It is up to you whether you use that link to lead them to freedom… or strangle them to their death. Farewell, my friends. Choose well, my friends.
Rómestámo - Ithryn Luin – One of the Five"
Elrond put the letter down. He clasped his hand together, paused, took out a kerchief and rubbed the sweat off his fingers. He pulled a shaky breath in, shivering, laboring under an invisible weight. When he looked up, Glorfindel met his eyes quietly.
"My friend…" He said softly. "… will you also lay this choice at my feet?" He received no answer for his question. But of course, Glorfindel was sent to serve and protect, not to lead. So it was to Elrond the 'yae' or 'nae' go.
He turned to Gandalf, gaze sharpened to a pinprick point. "I see now why you did not take the son of Gondor to this meeting. You want something from us."
"Does it not gladden you then, my friend…" The wizard answered. "… that I agree to your point at last? That the race of Men, perhaps, does not yet have the strength to make this one choice? Would the Eldar then push this task on their younger brother and watch Men crumble in fear of this new unknown and reach not for the shields but the swords and the spears… and make a choice before they can comprehend what it truly is?"
"And my race is qualified?" Elrond very nearly exploded. "My race… whose days on Middle Earth are near the end. My people, who once walked this land freely, now huddle together for protection in a few pockets left of our former glory? We once ruled this land as God's avatars, now we are hard-pressed to protect our maidens from orcs and slave traders. How many great elven cities are still left on this land? Four. How many are the human's? I do not have enough stars in the skies to even begin counting. Is it to be elven blood that paves the road through this war the humans could have prevented years ago with Isildur? Six hundred elves for a Magi child. How many for a Magi Champion? Shall we then have Isengard at our back and Minas Morgul at our front? Shall we then chase after the One Ring and cater to this Rock both? My people should be safe under the protection of the Valar. Tell me, Gandalf, what is there to keep me in this forsaken land while I can peacefully sail for the West with the rest of my people? If it was human's hands that seed this disaster, why then do I need to stick out my neck for them?"
He staggered as the last word left his mouth in a huff. He sat down on a chair, feeling the years being wrung out from him. Glorfindel laid a hand on his shoulder in a show of support. The sounds outside flew in through the many windows of his study, tumbling with warm sunlight and a fragrant wind. The sounds of his people going about their everyday lives. Elf maiden's giggles carried in the breeze like jingling glass bells. The inviting scent of elven dinner and wine being prepared.
Gandalf's blue eyes met him in the cold silence of his study. He suddenly felt old and sick to the heart. He was considered young among the ranks of elven lords and rulers, but not young enough to think his spontaneous rant would deter the Gray Maia. He was but a stray leave in the face of the coming storm and he awaited the wizard's sword on his neck patiently.
"We have no choice, my friend." Said the wizard, his words delivered with the gentleness of a dagger through the heart. "None of us shall have a choice. What the Ithryn Luin never spoke of in his letter is the true heart of why the Magi were enslaved in their origin world. They killed their gods, Elrond. That is the Original Sin that condemned them."
Elrond stared at him, wide-eyed. "Theirs is a godless world… and so shall ours share the same fate if the Eldar spurn the making of this choice. Just as Saruman bred the Uruk-hai, Sauron too will attempt to breed a new generation of Dark Magi free of the Champion's influence. If he succeeds, not even Valinor will stand before the might of an army of Black Istari. Sail to the West now, and the only thing you will accomplish is to cement the black fate that will befall us all."
The silence afterwards was a dark and bottomless sea in which he drowned. Elrond collected himself piece by piece. He stood up, slowly, gently, as if he would break if he stood too fast.
"I understand." He said. "However, it is not my place to decide. Bring the words. This is the one choice all the Eldar will partake."
Gandalf nodded, apparently satisfied with his answer. "I shall then go to prepare this announcement." He said as he turned to the door. A glance from Elrond sent Glorfindel trailing after the wizard.
Then he was left alone in the airy room of his study, with too many windows and too many sounds that echoed its empty heart, and the too heavy silence that persisted despite, or perhaps in spite of, all that noises. He was right after all. This was the day that he saw the letter that changed the world.
End Chapter 2
Writing Elrond is hard. He is, I think, one of the more human elf characters. It is hard work to balance him between the timeless wisdom of the elf and human vulnerability. I can only hope I do an adequate job of it.
Writing Middle-Earth-speak is hard work too. I was more used to the short and to-the-point gutsy style of modern literature. I hope I did not over-use the purple prose here.
Unbeta-ed. So sorry for the typos.
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.