3. In which a choice is made
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 3: In which a choice is made
All it took was seven days for the madness to spread and take hold of his people. One for the news itself, and six for the implications to fully sink in. Not a pretty sight to behold. Not even from elves.
He belayed the champion's message for a day, staying up late in the night, listening to the incredible quiet of the last homely house on Middle Earth, his heart full of dread. In the evening before that, he'd held council with his most trusted advisers, discussing how to handle this new turn of events. That hadn't turned out well, but Elrond wasn't too heart-broken over that. He'd already passed the threshold where he still registered shock or alarm for the day.
In the morning after, before the sun rose, he dressed himself in his old work clothes and went out to his wife's garden. He did not know why he wanted to be there. He simply went. He stood amidst the trees and the hanging vines, looking up as the sun lumbered a slow, blinding ascent over the rolling hills of Hilthaeglir. The lights filled his eyes and for one moment he could not see. He shut his eyes, took a deep breath. He could hear the sounds of the garden whose back spilled out all the way into the heart of the forest. He smelled dews and fresh-sprouted grass and the ghost of moonlight just lifting off the trees to make place for the coming of daylight, and just for one second, a heartbeat of a second, he fancied she was still here with him. His wife. His heart. His courage. Who left him for the land beyond the sea...
The next breath he took was long and laborious, shivering to the timbre of his trembling heart. He should not be here. He thought to himself, turning his back towards the sun. The light finally left his eyes, and once more he could see the long abandoned garden. The vines overran the rose field. The plains unweeded, strewn with flower corpses. The well he built for her had ran dry long ago, and now it stood, a bare bone husk of its old self. There was nothing but memory here, that... and regret. Things that stayed underground should never be unearthed to the light of day. Wasn't that what his kinsmen of Gondolin, the great elves of the First Age, once said to the now-and-then over-ambitious dwarves?
He left, quietly, swiftly, sunlight beating on his back as he retreated.
He passed by Gandalf as he came back. The wizard stood before the opened gate of his morn hall, back to the morning hubbub steadily rising inside.
"That was something you haven't done in about five hundred years." Said the wizard, puffing inquisitively from his pipe.
"Five hundred and eight years." Elrond parried, not missing a beat. "And nine days." He paused, eyeing the morning hubbub steadily rising inside the hall. His first instinct was to go for his seneschal to start the exodus of the day, Westward to the sea, as every morning in the last five hundred years, his people leaving Middle Earth, one by one. Then he remembered. Of course, there was no more journey to the land across the sea. He had called that off last night, halted everything with one curt order thrown at Lindir. Gandalf had made his point. There would be no passage to Valinor, not while the magi threat stood unresolved. As he stood there, mulling over the first harbinger of the changes to come, a vision of the seneschal's startled face came to his mind. Incomprehension first. Elves did not react favorably to abrupt changes. A flash of disbelief, gone in a second. His sons might be infamous jokesters and Elrond himself favored a laugh now and then, but Lindir knew better to think he'd joke about something like this. Then, at last, a deep, inquisitive disquiet. A silent and slow-growing kind of dread that would eventually give way to panic if not attended to. Elrond knew it well, this same dread that also beat its wings in his heart. His seneschal hesitated for a moment, as if waiting for him to rescind his order or to at least give an explanation. He bowled when it became apparent that no such was forthcoming, then left.
Prim and proper Lindir, caught off guard. But there he did it. He didn't need to have Lady Galadriel's mind reading to know the exact questions jumbling around the seneschal's head right now.
What happened? He imagined his seneschal would have pelted him with this first opening salvo if he weren't such sticker for etiquettes. What could have happened that would halt the elf's journey to the shining land beyond the sea? The very one that did not stop, would not stop, for the eminent war of the Ring. What new peril had arisen that did what others before it could not?
Ah, and then he would think. Lindir was, after all, present in the council of the Ring but yesterday, and bore witness to the rock.... the memory shard... entrance before the council. And from then, even Elrond's least mentally gifted subject would be able to connect the dot and make out the picture, however unclear it might be.
He stopped before the door to his mornhall, put his hand on it, pushed it opened, and walked in, Ganfalf following close behind him. The noise below dimmed as he made his way through. The hall was crowded. It was but breaths away from the peak of dawn and the shadow of the sun poured in honey and gold through his hall, interconnecting with the dark casts of marble columns, bringing to light all those that stood within. There were more elves here today than usual..
He did not even pause to think. Too apparent. There were less elves on the road to the Grey Haven today than usual. There were no elves on the road today, period. They stood here in his hall, bewildered, seeking answers.
They hailed good morn and bowed to him as he passed. He heard the reluctance and the questions in their voice. One look at this crowd and it became clear that Rivendell was in a state of flux. The elves were undecided. They sensed something had changed. Something so great not even immortal elves were spared the shock of its onslaught.
No. Not a shock, simply the first ripple, a premonition of what was to come, a speck of disruption that signified the beginning of a great wave that would crash upon their shore. Elrond thought of the sea, of the deep inscrutable depth, of Ulmo whose waves wear down sand and stones, who cast fear in the heart of the Dark Lord himself. He had heard stories of those great waves that bore down the shore and swallowed whole all in their path. This, without a doubt, was one such wave, and it was only in its first ascent from the fathomless depth of the Shadow Land. The elves had felt nothing yet but the first caress that hailed its inevitable coming.
Unbiddenly, he thought of the maker of the stone, the black-hair woman who sent her lover to his death without flinching once, without even looking back. His finger where Vilya sat upon stung something horrible. He could see, clear as day, as if he was still standing in her mirage, the look in her eyes, and the terrible, absolutely immovable will that powered magic strong enough to subdue the greatest of the Elven Three behind it. She was the wave that rose from the dark blue depth and, as much as he'd like to deny it, would deny with utmost vehemency before any audience but his own, he dreaded the moment he would have to stand before her and make the choice.
...to kill or to spare...
… and await as she crashed down on him and swallowed him whole.
He passed the hall and came upon the heart of the chamber. An elf maiden came before him, curtsying prettily as she presented a tray full of dishes on it. Breakfast. Hot from Rivendell kitchen and smelling clear, crisp, and sweet as a child's breaths. Elrond was in no mood for breakfast. He passed her with the barest thank and dismissal, heading for the elf sitting at a table well behind. Erestor. Elrond's shadow engulfed him as he drew near.
"Summon the Council." He said succinctly, fingers twisting around his aching index, around the ring. "And let the news from the East be heard."
Elrond was not the bearer of bad news. Such was not in his duty, nor in his power of persuasion to do. He sat to the side, quietly observing as Gandalf chaired the Council of the Ring (and the Shard, he had to remind himself of that) in the cold morning. He stoked the fire at the back of the auditorium where they held attendance whenever the flame ebbed and whimpered. The menial task soothed his agitated mind.
He watched as Gandalf first presented the Shard to the Council. He watched again as humans, hobbits, and dwarves reared back in fear and recognition and his people recoiled from its sight, and kept watching, silently, unmoving, when Aragorn defended Gandalf from his protesting audience, watched even more as Gandalf held forth the Blue Wizard's letter and read it to a room of attentive ears.
He was growing calmer by the second. The act of simply watching someone other than himself handling it put him at a distance. He found safety in this distance, found room to breath, and space to think. He felt the touch of the Shard left him, and only when the last of its tendrils withdrew from him did he realize the hold it had on him. She despaired. She raged. She begged and wallowed and reasoned and enticed and hoped and desponded. The Shard placed a seed of her, a tiny larvae child form not yet even passed germination, a ghost more like, within him and there she slept, incubated in his chest, until her ghost passed and she fled from him, and he was free from feeling her pain and her anger.
Elrond awoke to the shouts of argument, eyes open and standing up right. He heaved out a breath, feeling light-headed and hazy as her presence left him. The sounds of arguments spiked, drawing his attention.
"How do we even know this letter is the genuine article? What guarantees it is not forgery of the enemy, hmm? And this rock... this thing... we all saw what it did to lord Elrond..." Boromir snarled, gesturing wildly at him. "What's not to say that we aren't all already in its thrall?"
"Think of who you question, Boromir. The very wizard who stands between you and this Shard's power... and the only one that would help us against the no-longer White one." Aragorn parried.
"Who are we to assume the will of wizards?" Boromir looked between Gandalf and the rest of the council, eyes shifting as his voice thinned and threaded. "The mind of wizards are always unknown. Hasn't one of the five, in fact the greatest of them all, already defected to the enemy? How are we to know..."
"We do not speak his name here, Gondorian!" That came from within the delegate of Grey Haven, accompanied by Sindarin trumpets of warning and disagreement.
"... You have to admit. It's terribly convenient, isn't it? What else have we got aside from this one simple letter and his own testimony to go with? A race of... of.... black Istari... out of nowhere who are now imprisoned and exploited by the Dark Lord. How can I believe in such... outrageous... rumors with so little proof? Could this have been a trap from the Dark Lord? Dastardly, ye, but simple isn't it? And far more believable. How are we to know that he himself isn't already in its snare? That his mind isn't already Sauron's? And is now trying to wind us into the Dark Lord's trap?"
That went too far. The moment the accusation escaped his mouth, Boromir sensed he'd made a grave mistake. A great hush descended on the Council, a precipice for the storm to come.
In the next heartbeat, three things happen as once. The Lindonian elves and Aragorn sprang from their seats, Aragorn with his hand on his sword hilt. Borormir reared back, his own hand reaching for his shield. Gandalf bellowed, trying to reign in the elves and one ranger.
While this was happening, Elrond still had his hand around the handle of the stoker. In one swift, clean move, he drew it from within the fire, took three steps into the heart of the soon-to-ensue fight between the Gondorian delegation and elves, and whipped an uppercut riposte inches away from Borormir. The burning coals flew from the end of his stoker and landed in a display of popping fireballs on the floor. That quickly put an end to the fight.
"Gentlemen..." Elrond forced the word out his clenched teeth, eyes going from the humans to the elves and one wizard caught in the middle. "... I did not invite you here to this Council only to let you behave like barbarians. If we disagree, I trust that there are more civilized ways to settle our disputes."
His own people were the first to stand down, always quick to remind themselves of their sense of dignity. The wizard went with them. Elrond studied the face of the Stewart's son. He stood there in front of his fellow Gondorians, half shielding them from Elrond, half trying to hide the multitudes of expressions on his face. Uncertainty for sure, clear in the reluctant movements of his eyes. Self-righteousness that lighted his cheeks in a burning glow. Embarassed, but also determined to let his own arguments be heard. Opinionated... but not unreasonable... not entirely. Besides, Boromir and his Gondorians couldn't be the only voice of doubts in this Council. It was, after all, a valid question regardless of how crude it was raised. It was best for him to address their worries now, whether voiced or not.
"Son of Gondor..." He started, drawing Boromir's attention. "You and your men were the ones who brought this Shard to us, weren't you?" Boromir hesitated for a moment, but conceded in the end.
"Yes... we were..."
"Then shouldn't you be the greater suspect? After all, you were the one who held onto the Shard for nearly a year, while Mithrandir has only been in its presence for a day." He held up a hand as Boromir made to argue. He did not need another dogged verbal fight with angry Gondorians. "But we are not here to make petty accusations against each other. You came to us seeking counsel, and counsel I will give. Get back to your seats and listen well."
They did as he commanded, with great reluctance. When he was the only one left standing in the auditorium, Elrond withdrew Vilya from his own finger and held it in front of the dwarves.
"Tell me, master dwarf, do you recognize this ring?"
From within the dwarven delegation, Gloin, the acting voice of Dain came through. He took one look at the ring in Elron's hand, squinting his beady little eyes, before giving his verdict.
"This must be none other than Vilya, for I knew not of any other ring worn by the lord of Rivendell. But... how strange, I would have thought it would be..." The dwarf hesitated here and a look passed on his face that made all too clear that he was tripping over the next word for fear of insulting his host.
"Grander?" Elrond offered, not at all offended.
"Something of that effect, yes."
"It used to be. It is half of what it was now." He walked a circle, bearing the ring for the rest of the Council to see. "Take a good long look. This is Vilya, greatest of the Elven Three, forged by Sauron himself in his bid to seduce the elves. With it, I was able to protect my household against the eyes of the enemy for years of thousands. It gave its life to protect me against the assault of the Shard. It is little more than a simple bauble woven in ordinary enchantments now. Does that not prove the Shard's power? And the power of its creator?"
"That proves nothing. We've always known the rock was... dangerous. If Sauron can create the One Ring, I have little doubt he can create something of this Shard's like. And for someone pleading for help, if the wizard's story can be believed, shouldn't their message be less... deadly?"
"The Shard was meant for a full-blooded Maiar... of which I am not. The danger was for me to bear alone. And I beg the question as to why he'd do that? Tell me, how does the Dark Lord profit from making this Shard and sending it here? For the purpose of diminishing Vilya's power? The very ring he created himself in his effort to control the elves? Or is it to launch an unsuccessful and ultimately useless attack against the bearers of the rings? For the two who responded to the Shard's call yesterday, I and Gandalf, are both ring bearers."
Boromir stuttered, unable to respond.
"I will tell you something you don't know, son of Gondor. Before the War of the Last Alliance, none of us ring bearers dared wield our own rings for fear of being corrupted." He turned at this, directing his gaze at Frodo Baggins and the ring that lied in his pocket. "One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them." The halfling recoiled from his gaze. "No truer words have come from Sauron." He looked back at Boromir, whose face had turned ashen. "We suspected foul play when he came to us bearing gifts and a beautiful face. During the war, we hid them and turned ourselves from them. If we had not done that, we would have counted ourselves among the ranks of the Nazgul by now. Only afterward, when we knew for sure Sauron had been vanquished did we allow their power to tempt us once more. And their power is great, indeed. Useful, wouldn't you agree Boromir, to have a ring of power in your hand?"
"But now that Sauron is raising again, the danger returns." Said Gandalf, his hand around his own ring, Narya.
"Yes, it does. Now that he returns, the Three may find themselves under lock and key again." He made a show of putting Vilya, not back on his finger, but in his pocket. "Though I have no doubt they will eventually find themselves in less-guarded hands... as their greater brethren, the One Ring, did. It is only a matter of time. So you see, Boromir, the Dark Lord does not profit from damaging Vilya... and its bearer. Not yet anyway. The more powerful Sauron grows, the more fearsome the ring's corruption will be. It is far better for him to let them be as they are, dragon eggs waiting to hatch within his enemy's ranks. It is not Sauron who created this Shard. The Shard's creator is someone else, someone with power strong enough to contend with Sauron's own."
He paused here, letting it sink in. In the subsequent quiet, he observed the minute fluctuations on the Council member's faces. He felt their doubt, their disbelief rose and fell.
"It is flimsy conjecture at best." The Gondorian offered after a full minute of silence. Though he had not yet committed to the idea, his dissenting voice had lost its edge.
"Flimsy it is. But I too have something to report." Aragorn cut in before Elrond could reply. "On the way to Rivendell, I escorted the ring bearer." He nodded at Frodo Baggins. "We were pursued by ringwraiths. Frodo was wounded. In my haste to bring him to Rivendell, I never reported an oddity in our pursue. I nearly missed it myself, but..." He paused here, then said the next few words slowly, carefully, turning in his seat to look at the members of the Council.
"There were only five ringwraiths after us. There should have been nine."
An uncomprehending quiet followed, then a deep, whispery sound of indrawn breath as they all came to an understanding.
"He could have kept some of them back." Offered one of the dwarves.
"Kept them back for what?" Erestor questioned. "For defense? He doesn't need that. Gondor is pushed back day by day. The land itself turns against us. The Ring and he are one and as long as they are separated, Sauron's power is kept in check. What task could be more important to Sauron than the regaining of the One Ring? For all intents and purposes, he should have unleashed the full might of the ringwraiths on the ring bearer. But he didn't. Why?"
"Because he couldn't." said Galdor of the Grey Haven., continuing Erestor's line of thoughts. "What could be more important to Sauron than the regaining of the One Ring? None. But there could be one of equal importance. The subjugation of the Champion of the Magi. If the Blue Wizard's tale is to be believed, then he needs the aids of the ringwraiths to keep her in check... or risk a magi coup within his own domain. Diminished as he is, the Magi Champion stands a chance of triumphing over him. He couldn't keep all of the ringwraiths for he needed the Ring back with him as much as he needed to keep the Magi Champion under control. So he sent the Five after the Ring, and kept the Four around the Champion."
"Say it is true that whatever we have here is really a trap of Sauron's making..." Elrond continued. "... then it is a poor trap at best and a self-defeating one at worst. Tell me, son of Gondor, in the event that his ploy succeeds, what has Elrond achieved other than to force another alliance between men and elves... and quite possibly..." He glanced at Dain's representative as he said this. "... dwarves."
"I... what?" Flabbergasted expressions on the other Council member's faces said Boromir wasn't the only one stumped by his statement. He turned and addressed the whole council.
"No Rivendell elves will leave for the Grey Haven until this magi threat is satisfactorily resolved." He let not an inch of his own doubt and insecurity leak into his voice. Now was not the time to show such weaknesses to a people already shaken by the strange, the new, and the uncertain. Now was the time to show resolution and the promise of direction. "Think, my good people. Not even Valinor will stand before the might of an army of Black Istari... of which one is sure to come if we sit back and do nothing. Men, elves, dwarves. We unite or we die." He looked Boromir in the eye, daring the Gondorian to protest. No, he wouldn't. Gondor needed whatever aids it can get. The time of the proud and powerful children of Elros had long since past and what now sat before him was but a shade of former glories.
"Surely you jest..."
"I don't, Galdor of Grey Haven. A mere magi may not stand before the wrath of heaven, but they may yet multiply their number while each Valar to be felled by their sorcery is one forever gone." Truly, he did not even know whether it is possible to kill one of the Ainur, but he wasn't willing to take the chance. "As Gandalf said, their magic is neither stronger nor weaker than that of the Maiar. However, it is one that is unbound by all rules of Arda. Would you wager in on Sauron not taking advantage of that?" Galdor went quiet, his face pale and bloodless. "I didn't think so."
"Tis true." Erestor contributed. "The magi is hardly blindsided as the drakes of Angband did, who required years in thousands to breed and to fully mature into power. If Morgoth had an army of their likes, the War of Wraths would have been a very different one indeed."
"It is true then..." Gloin of the dwarves muttered. "... what the Blue Wizard said. It is true." Not a one contested his statement, not even those of Gondor this time.
"Well, that's swell and good to know. But what does that mean to us?" Gloin's nephew, Gimli, joined in. "Pardon me, master elf, bus wasn't this Council summoned for the purpose of deciding what to do with the One Ring?"
A deep, unsettling quiet settled in following Gimli's question. Of course, the One Ring. The original queen on the chessboard. There was some scuffle when a little hobbit hopped down from his seat, walked to the center of the room, pulled a tiny cloth bundle out his breast pocket, and, with extreme caution, let the One Ring slide out from it. The ring landed on the plain stone pedestal at the center of the room with a crisp, cold cling, all eyes in the room followed its trajectory as it fell. Gandalf rose from his own seat, and, mirroring Frodo's action, let fall the Shard from his own pocket so that both artifacts of power lied side by side.
The air of the auditorium was cold and heavy with contemplation.
"He sends the Five, and keeps the Four." Said Galdor, repeating what he'd said, breaking the reverie. "For he needs her under his will as he needs the Ring by his side."
"A board of two queens means peril for the white king." Erestor commented, cementing on the fact that the odds were stacked against them.
"Whatever shall we do then?" said Boromir. "We hardly even know what to do with the Ring."
That summoned a storm of questions and queries. Elrond held out a hand, momentarily dimming the discussion. "We may not yet know what to do with the Shard and the fate of its creator..." for they knew next to nothing of them. The Blue Wizard had said the East did not possess the strength to make the choice. In Elrond's personal opinion, he wasn't even sure if the combined power of elves, men, and dwarves in the West was up to the task. "... but we know what we shall do with the Ring. The Ring must be destroyed."
Surprisingly, there was no dissenting voice from the humans. Perhaps seeing two artifacts of great power and being under the influence of one of them had put things in perspective for them.
"It cannot be destroyed by any crafts we here possess." He beat a hasty resume as he saw Gimli about to rise from his seat with his axe in hand. "The Ring was made in the fires of Mount Doom. Only there can it be unmade. It must be taken deep into Mordor and cast back into the fiery chasm from whence it came. One of you must do this."
"... that is folly." Boromir responded after a full minute of silence. "One does not simply walk into Mordor." But the voice that escaped from him was weak and weary and his dissension blunt to the edge of Elrond's arguments. It could have been worse, but the appearance and influence of the Magi's Shard made it plenty clear for those of Gondor the inevitability of their course of action.
"Yet it is what we must do. The danger we face is now multiplied tenfold by the addition of the magi. We act now or we die. It is as simple as that." He saw that he had the attention and obedience of the Council members now. The Ring was a surprise, but an expected one. The Shard was not. It was a complete unknown to all who stood in this Council and as usual, confronted by the unknown, the Council chose to follow the single voice that promised direction. His voice.
"One of you must do this." He repeated as he turned and directed his gaze at Frodo Baggins. Another Baggins in his house, another who bore the One Ring with better tenacity than beings far greater than them. he had foreseen the course of this one hobbit, and it was inevitable.
"I will do it." Came the reply from the hobbit, weak and timid, but growing in strength. "I will do it." He repeated to a waiting Council.
"Very well." Elrond said simply. "And as to the Shard..." He carried on without preambles, not giving others any chance to interrupt. He needed to see this through before he let them descend to arguments over the small details again. "... others need to hear its message and the message of the Blue Wizards from the East. Lords and Ladies of the realms, our allies against the enemy. Even more needed to be persuaded of the authenticity of this message." He paused here, observing the Council. He could see that none of them disagree with the wisdom of spreading this one message to all who needed to hear it.
"The Shard and the Blue Wizard's letter must be taken to the rulers of other realms. I will be the one who do this." He said simply, and listened as uproaring noises of pandemonium exploded in the auditorium.
End Chapter 3
Happy New Year, everyone. My resolution of this year is: to pay more attention to Cognates of Heaven. Oh, also, to buy my first house now that I have saved up enough money for it.
1/ Elrond is a right bastard to write, what with all the purple prose speeches going on. I will be very happy when the story switch to Hawke's more down-to-Earth grim and gritty style.
2/ The historical points in this chapter allude to Morgoth/Melkor's time and his War of Wrath with the host of Valinor. In case you didn't know, Morgoth bred fire drakes/dragons as elite creatures in his army against the Valar army. It nearly worked to as Ancalagon, the greatest dragon, was said to be large enough to blot out the sun with his outstretched wings even from afar. Morgoth's plan failed for the simple reason that dragons breed and mature too slowly to be used in a widespread fashion against the Valar, men and elves. In this story, Sauron attempts the same maneuver. The magi are very similar to dragons in terms of power, the only difference being: they breed a hell lot faster than the dragons of Angband did.
3/ Sorry for any typos, grammatical mistakes. This story is un-betaed and written by a non-native speaker/writer.