1. The Temptation of Rimbrion
He glided about the castle like one who has died an unspeakable death. His feet seemed barely to touch the floor. Looking straight ahead, seeing no one before him, although there were others in the room. She had told him to lie down and rest, but he could not. He was beginning to wonder if he actually were dead, after all, doomed to haunt the place where he had met his fate.
What he had seen in the dungeon literally turned his hair white. He wondered if he looked like them also. He saw no mirrors about the place. She had looked upon him with horror and pity, as she had upon those others. He dared not ask, but he felt if he did not find out soon, he would go mad.
She was attending to the others now. The men who still had faces, however altered. They looked upon her with worshipful eyes, as they would have done, no doubt, even if she had been as plain as the dust beneath their feet.
Rimbrion had heard of her before. The bards sang of her beauty, young men dreamed of her, and he himself had longed to see her. Now here she was before him, and the reports had not been at all exaggerated. On the contrary, they scarcely did her justice. Yet it was a mortal man who had won her love, who had drawn her here, given her the courage to face down Sauron and his monstrous wolves, and she, together with the great dog, had vanquished the Dark Lord...for the time being, at least.
What a fool he had been to come here. He had wished to know, to glimpse the hidden things of the world, to see what lay on the other side, to hear the songs of darkness, to breathe the scent of the unknown....Yet he had little dreamed the price he would pay. The descent into the unspeakable, which he had at once feared and yet he yearned to peep behind the veil, to see what he was missing, what the light dared not penetrate, what would make him as a god. And now he had seen, and he would have given anything to unsee it all.
Rimbrion, he heard her voice speak, what is it you seek?
Blindness. The cooling waters of death. The womb-like chamber of madness.
He stood as one who cannot remember which direction to turn, all roads appearing the same. Each one he walked would take him to the same place.
Rimbrion, come with me.
Yet he could not go, for he feared there might be a mirror in the room. It was the thing he feared most.
Come with me. I have a drink that will ease your pain, make you forget...for a while.
And so he let her lead him. His hands trembled so that he could not hold the glass, and she held it for him. Her eyes were below his, yet in them were mingled night and day, stars and water, dreams and thunder, haze and sparkle. And he could not see himself in them. They mirrored only herself, a thousandfold.
And her hand was cool on his arm as she led him along and made him lie down, and drew a cover over him, then the fingers passed over his brow without quivering at what was beneath them. And he slept without dreaming, although his eyes would refuse to close, looking up at the ceiling, the chain that hung from it, the iron circle hanging from the chain, the lights that stood upon the black ring. The window that framed the stars without. The walls with the smell of iron and granite upon them. Then his lids would droop, and dreamless sleep covered him like the blanket that had been spread over his inert form.
When he awoke, the darkness was gone, yet he shut his eyes once more, so as not to see his other selves all about him, even when She brought him bread and meat and butter and cool water to drink. He ate blindly, stuffing it in as though fearing it would eat him first, spilling much of the water upon himself. When he felt the need for relief, he did it in a corner without wondering or caring if anyone saw him. Someone told him to use the pot beneath his bed, but he merely looked upon the speaker as if he were something that had turned inside out. Like those unthinkable beings that had once been his own kind. Creatures like himself who had longed to see and know.
Days went by, and once more Rimbrion began to walk, more steadily now, and things began to fall into place. He still had not seen himself, but he noted that no one drew back in abject horror at the sight of him. Evidently he had escaped their fate. In fact, he had seen none of those others. Where had they gone? He finally brought himself to ask her, and she said they were all in the room below; they could not bear to be seen, and so she had allowed them to keep to themselves. She thought some of them must have escaped, for there were not so many as there had been before. She had heard them making strange noises, like beasts, and it was obvious that they were mad.
I recognized a few of them, she said with tears. One of them lived in my village. He used to pursue me, although I would not have him. Finally my father had him banished, and I saw him no more. But I know it was he. He recognized me also. It was he. But it is he no more.
Rimbrion was dumbstruck. Yet relieved to know he was not one of them. But for her, he would have been. She had saved him. She and the great dog.
We should leave this place, she said, save that I do not know where we should go. These poor fellows cannot go far so soon, yet I would have them away from here. I can but remove the things that would remind them of him, destroy them. Perhaps some of you can begin cleansing the place, purge it of his filth. Yet I scarcely know where to begin....
He had been about to say the same--where to begin? One would have to turn the place inside out. Well, but he would go. He could not return home, he was certain. He would not be recognized. His father would shudder, even if his appearance had not been so hideously altered as those others, and refuse to acknowledge him as his son.
But where were the others?
They were below, she said. Ashamed to be seen. What would become of them?
And so he began poking about the place, while she was busy attending to the others, including her mortal lover. His eye fell on this and that object: a sword hanging above the fireplace, a jar sitting upon a shelf, a wolf's pelt tossed on some article of furniture, a carving of some unnameable beast....
And a book.
It lay upon a table in a dim room, the room where he had first sat and conversed with Sauron and his son Gaergath. He did not remember seeing the book. Surely he would have noticed it. It froze the blood in him just to look at the cover, which was dark with what appeared to be a dragon's eye, lidless, wreathed in flame. It lay there, cold, dead, inert, completely malevolent...yet even as he looked, he seemed to hear a voice calling almost inaudibly from within. It sounded rather like a child trapped inside a closet, crying to be let out....
He stood as if petrified, gazing at the monstrous thing, wondering what could possibly be within.... The crying grew louder, piteous, desperate, and he was certain he heard his own name spoken....
Yet he could not move. The tiny voice cried out that it would die if he did not help it, it was imprisoned as he had been, and it could help him if he would only free it from its bonds. Help him escape his own torment. Show him the way into the light. Help those other poor beings that had been twisted and mutated beyond all recognition. It was their only hope. He had to but open the book and set it free from Sauron's evil magic.
And his left foot moved, and then his right....and he could hear the tiny voice singing, sighing, sweet and muffled, pleading....and his feet moved, and his hands reached for the cover, and the eye no longer looked like that of a dragon, but rather a beautiful face, haloed in light....
And then he heard a motion and turned his head with a jerk, to see Her standing in the doorway.
Burn it, she said with a loathing look at it that transformed her utterly...for but a moment. Cast it into the fire. Burn it to ashes. Now.
And he nodded, shivering. A moan was heard from another room, and she whisked away, leaving him alone with It, the voice within stilled.
He picked it up and carried it to the fireplace, shuddering inside, thinking how close he had come to finding himself where he had been before.
Yet as he stood before the fire, a strange paralysis seized his limbs. And he heard another voice, but this one was not from the book.
Give it to me, the flames whispered. Cast it in. If it be not mine, then none shall have it.
And all at once a face appeared. Sauron's face, appearing in the burning eye just like on the book cover, flames spurting out from every direction. Burn it. Now. Give it to me.
I will not, Rimbrion said with spitting breaths. And he clutched the Book to his breast, and the flames receded with a snarl, the face disappearing.
He glanced over his shoulder to see if she were about. Then he took the wolf's pelt and wrapped it about the Book, and slipped from the room, his legs trembling so he could scarcely walk.
It is mine now, he thought as he crept through the dim hallway embracing his bundle as a mother with her new infant. I know it must contain his secrets. Perhaps I can use it to reverse his evil. Free the others from the things he has done to them. For they were Elves once, like myself. Mayhap this book can tell me how to undo his work. Perhaps that is why he wanted it. He feared what I would do with it. Father will claim me once more, and I will be the great smith he wished me to be.
And mayhap she will forget her mortal man, and be mine...mine alone....
And the laughter issuing from within the Book was too soft for his ears, drowned in the rumble and clamor of his burgeoning plans....