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Author's Chapter Notes: A response to the B2MeM '13 prompt for March 28: But Morgoth himself the Valar thrust through the Door of Night beyond the Walls of the World, into the Timeless Void [...] Yet the lies that Melkor, the mighty and accursed, Morgoth Bauglir, the Power of Terror and of Hate, sowed in the hears of Elves and Men are a seed that does not die and cannot be destroyed; and ever and anon it sprouts anew, and will bear dark fruit even unto the latest days.
Imprisoned in the battle-camp of the Valarin host after the War of Wrath, Melkor receives an unexpected and unwelcome visitor... and does some last-minute sowing.
Toeing the AU line; you decide which side of the line it's on.
Some of the allusions in this piece may make more sense if you've read the first chapter of The Tempered Steel (warnings for torture and other forms of violence). Not that I'm pimping my own fic here. >_>
The flap is opened, permitting a cold stripe of daylight to spill into the tent. Then, the voice of Eönwë, stern and cold: "Half an hour, then. And remember what you promised."
"No reminder necessary," another voice retorts, flatly. "You will find that I have a certain reputation for... keeping my word." Eönwë makes no reply.
The tent flap closes, and the narrow strip of light disappears. Instead of the uniform dimness, there now is a diffuse shadow, cast by the tall visitor.
Melkor straightens as much as the confounded chains will let him, which is not much. He has to crane his neck to be able to see the other's face, increasing the uncomfortable pressure of collar and chains. Rather against his will, a hiss of pain escapes him. The visitor raises his eyebrows, but says nothing.
"Fëanorion," Melkor growls, feeling a flare of pride and fury. It is bad enough to be defeated, worse to be dethroned, worst of all to be imprisoned in such an undignified manner. He hates that his fellow Ainur can see him like this, wearing only loincloth and undershirt, forced onto his knees on the bare earth, his back kept perpetually bent by the chains – but being seen in his humiliation by a former prisoner, by that one of all people, that is too cruel a visitation! He finds it uncommonly difficult to mask his true feelings. Only after a few long, silent minutes does he manage to recover some measure of composure.
Maedhros watches him, still not speaking, but Melkor thinks he can read a certain amusement in those pale eyes. Already his neck is aching from pushing against the iron collar, the collar that once was his crown – but lowering his head is out of the question.
The silence persists. Melkor would not normally mind silence, but then, he normally is in control of things. Now he very much – very obviously – is not, and the more the elf watches him without even deigning to speak, the more Melkor feels how desperate and embarrassing his circumstances are. He forces his face to be blank, tries to mirror the other's expression. He studies Maedhros, hoping that his stare will make the elf uncomfortable; but Maedhros meets his eyes in calm challenge. A long time ago, Melkor remembers, he could drive fear and despair into those eyes. Now there are disdain, grimness, and a slowly simmering anger. All the fear and despair in the tent are Melkor's own.
"Well," he finally says when Maedhros has still not spoken, trying to get some control over the situation. "Have you come to offer your allegiance after all?"
That makes the other laugh openly – a short, harsh laugh more like a bark. "I might as well ask yours."
Melkor purses his lips and tilts his head as if considering the request. "If I gave it, would you have me released?" And, with a flash of his eyes, he adds, "Lord?"
Maedhros does not laugh again, although the corners of his mouth twitch. "There is nothing you can offer me that could ever tempt me to release you, Moringotto - even if I had the influence to do such an absurd thing."
Melkor nods, permitting his neck to recover a little from the strain and trying to find some leverage on his interlocutor. "Ah yes. You are no longer a leader, I expect. They wouldn't let you. Aren't they all so much better than you, these do-gooders?"
Maedhros shrugs. "They've had less occasion to get their hands dirty," he simply says. His voice betrays no resentment, no anger, no bitterness, and in that moment Melkor hates him for his self-control.
"And one hand gets dirtier when it has to do the work of two, I am sure," he says, again hoping to drive the bright spark from Maedhros' eyes.
But Maedhros merely snorts. "That, too," he says, and instead of clouding over, his eyes light up with a gleam that Melkor, to his surprise, finds hard to bear.
"I should have turned you into an orc while I had you in my power," he spits, and hates how little force the insult carries, given the circumstances.
Maedhros raises an eyebrow as if to illustrate just that, but he replies in an almost pleasant voice. "If it is any consolation, I am certain that many in this camp think you succeeded."
"That is such a relief," Melkor says. He can no longer resist rolling his stinging shoulders, accompanied by an infuriating jingle of chains. He barely manages not to try and shift his weight; his thighs feel ready to explode, but he has already shown too much weakness.
For of course nothing of his discomfort is lost on Maedhros. "So you feel it, too?" he says, a hint of curiosity in his voice. "Interesting."
Melkor curses this frail form, these treacherous limbs, and counterattacks. "I remember a time when our roles were reversed."
Maedhros folds his arms across his chest, resting his handless wrist in the crook of his left elbow. The amusement is gone. "So do I, I assure you," he says, and Melkor suddenly feels afraid. How much of the half-hour, he wonders, is over already?
"Is that why you are here, then?" he asks, and hears to his frustration that he hasn't entirely managed to mask his anxiety. "To torment me?"
"Any more than these chains, and my presence to witness them, already do?" Maedhros says with a terrible smile; but then he grows serious again. "To be honest, I was not certain that you really could feel pain until just now," he says in a calm, analytical voice. "And even now I cannot help but wonder – is it truly pain, or do you merely chafe at your humiliation?"
Melkor manages to force his lips into a smile. "What did you feel, sweet Maitimo, pain or humiliation?"
Again, the arrow goes amiss. "Both, initially, but soon enough I had no mind left for anything but pain." Maedhros' voice is still even, detached, and even now his eyes refuse to show the hoped-for distress. "It does become quite overpowering after a while. Maybe you will come to that place, too. You won't be surprised that I spent a long, long time there."
This time, Melkor asks out of true confusion. "And yet you have no desire to take revenge?"
Maedhros smiles again. "I have indeed considered it, briefly," he says. "But I have more important things to do. I also do not think I would be good at it."
"What, did you leave Angband too early to learn anything?"
"It is not that I do not understand the workings, Moringotto," Maedhros says, sounding strangely reproachful. "It is just that I do not think it would satisfy me. Eönwë, of course, thinks that I would enjoy it greatly. But then, I think he does not see much difference between the two of us."
"Maybe there isn't?"
"What, you consider yourself no more powerful than a mere dispossessed elf? I am shocked. First half an offer of allegiance, and now this." Maedhros smiles that disconcerting smile again, but then his hand moves impatiently, wiping the subject away. "Even if had the sort of mind that delights in pain and destruction - and difficult though it may be to believe it, I really don't – Eönwë made me swear that I would not try to harm you." The tiniest snort accompanies that statement, as though Maedhros finds it absurd that he is made to swear something, all things considered.
"Goodly Eönwë," Melkor scowls, but he cannot help feeling a certain resentful gratitude to the Maia.
Maedhros shrugs. "He tells me that you will be judged soon and without clemency, so I am not certain that goodliness has anything to do with it. Looking at the way they left you..." Briefly, the tip of Maedhros' boot touches the iron collar around Melkor's neck, and Melkor snarls at him until he realises that it might make him look like a dog. The elf does not appear impressed or intimidated, anyway. "That used to be your crown, is not that true?" he asks, and continues without waiting for a reply. "They certainly know how to humiliate - and how to cause discomfort. They did not even ask what you did with me; it seems they came up with the idea all by themselves. Strange, is it not? Are they not too good and too pure for that sort of thing? Apparently not." He shrugs and begins to pace. "But your fate is not my concern. I have more important things to do."
"More important things!" Melkor snaps, for what could be more important than he? "Like what - the Silmarils?"
"Obviously," Maedhros says, and Melkor finally thinks he sees an opening.
"Hah! Forget it," he says, putting more scorn into his voice than he currently manages to feel - if he cannot sow fear, then maybe doubt will work. "You'll never get them. They certainly won't hand them over to you."
"Probably not." Maedhros agrees in an affable tone. "Still, there's nothing to do but plead our case."
Now the scorn is real. "What case? After all you've done to gain them, they'll never agree to give them to you."
Maedhros heaves a pointed sigh. "After all we have done, one should think that people would finally realise that we can stop at nothing until we have fulfilled our Oath. Surrendering the Silmarils would have saved so many people so much misery." He tilts his head and smiles down at Melkor. "Even yourself, it would seem. Keeping them from us cannot discourage us; it only makes us more desperate."
"They will never agree," Melkor insists, "you must know that. I think Eönwë just isn't dashing your hopes right away because he wants you to stand trial and be judged – no less harshly than I will be, I daresay."
"You know, you may be right," Maedhros says, making it sound as though he is being extremely generous in admitting the possibility. "On the other hand, I cannot help but notice that I am not trussed up beside you."
"And you really should be," Melkor growls. What little patience he has is waning fast. As there seems to be no hope of convincing Maedhros to side with him, his only chance for freedom seems to be death – to shed this miserable form and become a houseless spirit again, free to escape and start over, before his vengeful brethren can judge and destroy him forever.
But the Fëanorian refuses to be provoked; he merely shrugs. "I expected to be. Yet here I am, free to stay or walk away. So I wonder – is there hope after all?"
"Not for you and not for me," Melkor says through gritted teeth. His limbs are screaming with pain by now; he cannot help but try and shift his weight now, to no effect other than Maedhros' mild amusement. Oh, if only his hands were free, Melkor thinks, clenching them to angry fists where they are shackled at the small of his back; how he would love to throttle the arrogant elf, drive that spark from his eyes! Again, he has to struggle hard to get his anger under control. It will avail nothing; he has no weapon but his words.
"So what will you do, Fëanorion, when they tell you that they will never give you your precious heirlooms?"
Maedhros smiles in a manner that seems almost serene. "We'll burn that bridge once we've crossed it, if it's all the same to you." he says.
"Yes," Melkor growls, "you're good at burning things, I have heard."
Still the Fëanorian's unsettling calm won't be shaken. "Indeed. But for now, I shall simply be satisfied that you get a taste of your own medicine, and hope that your punishment will be merciless and absolute. And when --"
There is a flurry of motion at the entrance. Cold daylight spills into the tent again, and Eönwë enters. "It is time, Nelyafinwë," he says sternly. His distaste for the Noldo is clearly audible, and Melkor makes a last desperate attempt – either at getting himself killed, or at the very least at getting the infuriatingly calm elf into trouble. As Maedhros obediently turns to leave, Melkor tries to force himself upright, straining against the chains with all his might and crying out in true anguish, "Eönwë, do not let him go! He has told me that he plans to steal the Silmarils from your keeping. Yea, he has even tried to enlist my help! You mustn't trust him--"
Eönwë is clearly taken aback; but then Maedhros does the one thing Melkor hasn't expected. He neither starts protesting, spilling out defenses and explanations; he does not run away, nor does he strike out in anger. He simply leans his head back and laughs, not the bark-like sound Melkor heard earlier but a real, loud, amused laugh. "Ah, Morgoth Bauglir," he says when he is done, "you have indeed grown desperate when such feeble lies are your only resort."
He shakes his head in disdain and turns back towards Eönwë. "You are right, Lord Eönwë; I have no more business here. Let us go."
The flap closes behind them, the light returns to filtered dullness; and Melkor is left to feel utterly abandoned, utterly helpless, and utterly without hope. He enjoyed this feeling whenever he observed it in his prisoners; now he despises it. He certainly does not appreciate the irony. Now, his only hope is that his little seed of doubt may grow.