Silmarillion Writers' Guild Chasing Mirages by Russandol

This is the fourth chapter of an existing story. You can find the full story on the archive.

After the awkwardness of our first encounter had faded, we slowly settled into a comfortable relationship, in which Mairon treated me more like a ward, or even a younger brother, than as a guest.

I decided to find an occupation so that I did no longer depend on his charity. So far, he had repeatedly ignored my protests and, at his own expense, provided me with the rich finery an honoured visitor to his lofty household would be expected to wear. He even bought for me two magnificent horses, bred and trained in the royal stables. When I attempted to give him the paltry pile of coins I had brought from Aman he wrinkled his nose in distaste.

Mairon did not boast about the wealth he had amassed as a result of his prosperous trade but the evidence was visible in the lavishness of every aspect of his life. I soon discovered that he had grossly played down his influential standing; he had recently become one of only eight chief counsellors to the ahaw or king of Kiinlúum. Therefore, people treated him with great deference, maybe even awe, no doubt boosted by the aura of mystery and power that surrounded him.

Less than a fortnight since my arrival, Mairon arranged an audience to introduce me to the king. I walked by his side into the great royal hall, where a large crowd of brightly clad courtiers had gathered to satisfy their curiosity about the guest of the honoured Yúum Síihbalóob.

Mairon walked the length of the room confidently but without arrogance. We both stopped and bowed to the king. Then, to my utmost surprise, Mairon knelt before him and bowed his head to the ground. I remained standing.

Líik’en [1],’ ordered the ahaw. He was very young, barely into adulthood, and his long hair displayed the most complicated design of gold beads and green feathers I had ever seen, clearly the symbol of his royal status. His clothes were richly embroidered and he was almost weighed down by the heavy gold jewellery he wore, including a beautiful circlet adorned with green gemstones, wide wrist bands and a solid breast plate engraved with a fiery sun.

Mairon rose and bowed for the third time, brushing his right hand to his forehead. As I could not as yet fully understand the local language, he translated the king’s speech and spoke on my behalf.

‘Most honoured ahaw, lord of Kiinlúum, today I bring to your presence one of my kindred, Eönwë of the Maiar.’ Even before he translated, I noticed his omission of the customary naming of my lord Manwë.

‘I welcome you, Eönwë of the Maiar, to our land. A friend of our friend is our friend.’ I was warmed by his greeting, and bowed again in acknowledgment.

‘Eönwë has travelled from the lands of the Utmost West, beyond the Great Sea, where he has served a mighty king like yourself,’ continued Mairon. ‘He is a wise strategist and a victorious captain of armies, as well as the one who would speak on his lord’s behalf when dealing with friends or foes. Now he seeks to dwell under your protection and offers his services to Your Highness.’

When he translated his words, I said, ‘Victorious captain of armies? Most gracious words, coming from your mouth, Mairon.’

He dipped his head mockingly.

‘Only because they bring a humble craftsman renown, friend,’ he chuckled lightly. ‘However, I failed to name whom it was that you defeated, or to mention that we happened to wage war as enemies.‘

Despite the jest, I considered that his description was a fair summary of my past roles. I was pleased and excited to learn that the king had granted me an appointment in his court, of lower rank than Mairon’s but worthy of a generous stipend.

Once we were free to speak, I questioned Mairon in our own tongue about his exaggerated reverence to the ahaw.

‘Was it mockery? Or have you sworn him allegiance, that you would bend knee to him, one of the Children and barely aged a score of years of age?’

‘Whether young or old, mortal or deathless, such is the local custom, friend, and you would do well to adopt it lest you wish to offend,’ he answered dryly. ‘Exalting him in public is a meagre price for his generous patronage in other matters.’ He smiled, as if amused.

‘I have never seen you pay obeisance so humbly, not even to Manwë himself,’ I retorted.

‘This king has earned my respect,’ he countered. I bristled at the implied insult, but bit back my anger. ‘Would you see me flaunt my superiority and belittle him in front of his own people, to whom he is a god?’

‘Is he?’ I echoed, taken aback.

‘Yes, Eönwë. Not all in Endórë know or accept the rule of the distant Lord of the Breath of Arda, who has abandoned most of his realm, too marred to be worthy of his attention. The people of Kiinlúum believe their ahaw to be divine, the embodiment amongst them of the spirit of the world, and source of their strength and prosperity. His person is sacred, and any illness or injury portends woeful times, unless the Sun, Giver of Life, can be appeased with prompt sacrificial offerings of appropriate magnificence.’

‘Had I not shown him due respect you would have been quick to accuse me of arrogance, or worse, of abusing my power as one of the Ainur to seek to sway him to my will.’ he hissed. I accepted his fair rebuke, despite his hateful contempt towards my lord.

As a companion of the honoured Yúum Síihbalóob, I was invited along him to a private audience after the court was dismissed. The ahaw granted me the privilege of learning his true given name, which had been chosen during his first year of life after careful consultation with soothsayers and wise elders, and was unknown to all but a very limited circle of his close relatives, friends and advisors. The name was meant to be a reflection of his qualities, but also took into account the time of his birth within the complicated calendar cycle used in Kiinlúum.

The ahaw had been named Chakmóol [2], the same kind of wild cat that Mairon kept as a pet, because it had been foreseen that he would be fast and cunning, as well as a formidable hunter and a fierce foe.


Soon I grew to like the young king, who fretted under the rigid protocol imposed on him. Despite being worshipped by his people, Chakmóol was not overproud, and had already proved to be insightful, just and eager to become as wise a ruler as his father had been. Half the maidens of the realm pined for his attentions because he was handsome and yet to be wed. His counsellors urged him to take a wife and produce a heir to secure his succession lest an untimely death bring deep calamity to the whole kingdom.

Mairon was a regular advisor to the king’s council on matters of law, taxation, trade and foreign relations but his shrewd counsel was often sought and followed on many other subjects, and he readily shared his immense knowledge without a hint of haughtiness. Despite numerous attempts by ambitious courtiers to drag him into political alliances and intrigues as an influential ally, he politely sidestepped such advances. Everyone, included the king, admired him for his generosity and circumspection and regarded him as benevolent, lordly and wise.

My initial perception that Kiinlúum was a peaceful country, untouched and unmarred by the lies of Melkor, had been misguided. Indeed they had not participated in the last War, but hostilities against neighbouring countries were an almost constant occurrence, and the ahaw was already a tried warrior and leader of men.

From my times during the War I had learnt how delicate the balance of ambition and power could be amongst the Children’s disparate folks. We Maiar had been sternly warned against interference that might shatter that balance. I would have to be cautious; through my appointment in the ahaw’s court, I could not encourage Kiinlúum’s ambitions to conquer other realms or boost their superiority in an armed conflict.

To learn about the ordering of the armies and gauge their methods and skills of defence, I sought permission to train with the warriors. Chakmóol gave his amused approval and placed me under the direct supervision of his weapons master.

On the morning I first joined the soldiers in their drills, they watched me warily because of the prodigious powers that I was rumoured to possess, as kin of the revered Yúum Síihbalóob. When a practice sword was placed in my hand, I was confident that all my past warrior skills would soon resurface.

I was wrong. I knew what had to be done, but lacked the practice to achieve it. My eyes, hands and feet were hopelessly out of step with each other.

I arrived home battered in body and spirit, seething at my own ineptitude.

‘Did you have a good day, Eönwë?’

I nearly jumped out of my skin. Mairon had the ability to walk so quietly that not even I could detect him, and he well knew it annoyed me to be caught off guard.

‘Never better,’ I grumbled, unwilling to confess my defeat.

‘I have asked for a warm bath to be prepared in your rooms. But I will tell the servants to remove it if you do not need it…’

‘Leave it,’ I conceded. ‘Thank you.’

He accompanied me to my chamber, and lingered while I peeled off my sweaty, dirty clothes and tossed them, disgusted, on the floor. He watched me get into the tub and I was grateful for the water covering me, because of the sudden embarrassment provoked by his intense scrutiny.

‘What happened?’ His breath felt warm on the wet skin of my shoulder.

I glanced back to see him crouching just behind me. I was startled when his fingers began to undo my braids slowly. He poured warm water over my head and began to rub my sweaty, dusty hair with soap, working the lather well into my scalp. The soothing scent of lavender filled the air and the firm, tingling massage felt so pleasant that I let him do it, and blurted all my frustration.

‘I thoroughly embarrassed myself, Mairon. I ended up with my back on the dirt more times than I care to remember. As for archery, I could barely pull the standard issue bow to full draw, let alone hit the targets.’

‘What distance were they?’ He always wanted the details.

‘A miserable hundred paces to start with, then down to eighty.’ I laughed hysterically. ‘Not one of my arrows touched the boss!’

‘How about your riding?’ he enquired calmly. ‘You seem to be doing well with your horses.’

‘Passable,’ I admitted gruffly. ‘Shoddy, but adequate for the moment. It will need honing to move into the advanced drills.’

‘You must be patient, friend. Your hröa is not hardened, your muscles have not developed a memory that will only come through repetition.’

His soapy hands came slowly down my neck, and I shivered with pleasure at his lightly ticklish touch.

‘I am as sore as if all the bones in my body were broken,’ I complained.

His hands gripped my shoulders and worked the knots off the tense, aching muscles. I sighed with contentment, even if his touch was not gentle. When the water cooled down, he pulled me out of the tub and wrapped me in a towel. Exhausted, I let him guide me towards the bed and help me climb onto the soft mattress. I mumbled words of gratitude as I fell asleep. My last conscious thought was a shred of vague surprise blended with pleasure when something as soft as a feather traced my spine before a blanket was thrown over my body.

The following days were no better. Every evening I returned from the practice fields flushed with the humiliation of ignominious defeat. In my mind, now barred from speaking ósanwë, I directed newly learnt expletives to my lord and his doomsman for the painful shortcomings of my shape. Never before had I felt such frustration.

Mairon seemed to be aware of all my misfortunes, and sometimes he could not disguise his glee at my misery. Every few days he would spar with me, but I was no match for his skills and agility, and often felt instead like a child with his first toy sword being humoured by an indulgent older brother. It irked me beyond reason that sometimes he did not even seem to break a sweat while I invariably ended up sprawled on the ground, or panting and disarmed, resignedly yielding the match.

I hoped for him to accompany me to my rooms like the first day, but he never did again. More than once I found myself longing for the pressure of his long fingers on my head and shoulders or, disturbingly, I imagined him touching me more intimately. Whenever that happened, I berated myself harshly for entertaining such musings, but I invariably struggled to discard them from my mind.

I persevered stubbornly and taught my hröa to respond to my commands. Although the process was far more laborious and painful than shaping my fana, things slowly began to fall into place. Or maybe Eru had finally felt pity for my moans of pain and had granted mercy.

Whatever it was, I surprised everyone one day during a sparring bout, roughly two months into the training, when I sent the arrogant swordsmaster tumbling on his back and poised the tip of my blade over his throat. A dead silence, laden with incredulity, rewarded my efforts. This incident would have been considered a freak had it not been for the fact that from that day onwards I seldom tasted defeat, except at Mairon’s hands.

My arrows also started to clump at the centre of the targets, until I was consistently able to hit a willow wand swaying in the wind at one hundred paces, surpassing all but the very top archers in Kiinlúum’s host.

I studied the changes in my hröa, I drew pleasure from exercising my newly honed and hardened muscles, relishing the excitement of wrestling and sparring and the sweet elation of a hard-earned victory. For the first time since that dreadful morning in the Máhanaxar, I began to become reconciled with my new shape.


I would not concede Mairon’s point.

‘You know it is the truth, Eönwë,’ his tone was conciliatory. ‘The Valar were overprotective. Had they not summoned the Quendi to Aman, much evil may have been prevented.’

‘Ilúvatar appointed them as guardians!’ I insisted.

‘Maybe,’ he sneered. ‘But they failed in their task, and you all became gaolers and tyrants instead.’

I saw red. How dared he insult my lord and his brethren in such terms? Instead of prudently veering away, I locked horns.

‘Of course, you would have preferred that we stepped out of your way and let your master steal the Children uncontested, so that he could warp them into such base, loathsome slaves as the Orcor, the pinnacle of his creation?’ I poured enraged mockery into the last word.

‘So, you would have approved, had the Orcor been fair of shape?’ he argued calmly.

‘Do not dare twist my words, Mairon!’

‘The Orcor were bred for a purpose,’ he countered. ‘They were not meant to be ornamental, unlike the thralls Manwë and his kin keep in Aman for their amusement. We also had plenty of pretty fools to play with, but at least we did not deceive them about their status.’ His lips curved into a slight smile. ‘Did Maitimo ever speak of how we employed his charming qualities in Angamando?’

I gasped in horror and glared at him ferociously.

I remembered Maitimo well, once proud and beautiful, later driven to near madness by the oath his father had forced upon him and his brothers, doomed to stay in Mandos for uncounted yéni. He had been unable to bear the pain of the jewel, whose light had witnessed his torment at the hands of…

A long chorus of birdsong chirped away the unbearable silence and brought back my awareness of the passing of time.

‘Those heralds of dawn just saved your life, friend.’ Mairon chuckled darkly.

‘How so?’ I snarled.

‘Before long, you would have leapt at me in righteous fury, and I would have wrung your neck,’ he answered coldly and stood up. ‘I have work to do. We can resume our fascinating debate this evening, if you wish.’

After his warning, I learnt to tread more carefully when our arguments ventured into the darkest, most bitter matters.

Despite our differences, Mairon was a generous mentor in all matters regarding Kiinlúum. Our days were busy, but he found time to teach me the subtleties of the language and encouraged me to accompany him whenever he visited other prominent members of this society. Also, during my first months in Kiinlúum, we often attended court together and he unerringly assisted me whenever I faced difficulties with translation or with the local customs.

Once Mairon saw me fluent and confident in my position, he occasionally begged to be excused from attending the king’s council.

‘You were absent again,’ I chided him one evening, when I returned from court to find him poring over designs and endless reams of figures. ‘Are you not neglecting your duties to the ahaw?’

I had missed his deep insight of the Children in court; he was far wiser to their wiles and intrigues than I could ever hope to be, and that made me ponder the truth of his assertion that the Valar and we Maiar were aloof and arrogant. Were we truly so removed from those we sought to protect that we failed to understand their needs and ambitions?

‘The king granted my leave,’ answered Mairon, without shifting his gaze from the drawings. ‘He wants the works completed before the rains start. Today I had to inspect the stonework for the dam, up in the hills, and survey the site for the pump.’

Armies of masons, joiners and labourers worked under Mairon’s strict supervision to deliver his bold designs, meticulously planned to achieve whatever was required: functionality, beauty or both. Three stone bridges, a fine watchtower and a clever irrigation system for the terraced orchards that clung to the slopes of the valley stood already as fruits of his previous projects.

‘Why not send someone with your instructions? You have more important duties than poking in the dust.’

‘I shall leave them to you, Eönwë.’ At last he raised his eyes to mine. ‘You have ever thrived in loftier surroundings than those favoured by a simple smith.’ As often, I ignored his barbed sarcasm.

There was nothing simple about Mairon, least of all his working of metal. His creations, mostly jewellery of a craftsmanship far beyond the skills of local artisans, were true pieces of art, as stunning as those once wrought by Fëanáro. They were greatly coveted in spite of their price, steep because he only crafted pieces with the finest stones and the purest precious metals. He also worked on large forge pieces, like the gates that graced his home or those at the city entrance.

Although he had two apprentices, he would not entrust them with the secrets he had learnt at Aulë’s forge; they only assisted him in the most menial tasks, like tending to the kilns, cleaning the forge and the workshop or, if he felt generous, roughly sorting pearls and gems by purity and size.

He was reputed to be unforgiving of incompetence or dishonesty, but never cruel with his servants. Indeed, a vacant position to serve Yúum Síihbalóob was a rare happening, which attracted numerous keen applicants. He seemed to own no slaves, common in every other wealthy household, or if he did, they had not come to my attention. Of all the evil I had found in Arda, nothing compared to the cruelty of slavery; the absence of thralls in his home therefore gladdened me, though I found it strange, given his past.

A few weeks after my arrival, this thorny matter arose while we were riding, tired and hungry from a pleasant day of hunting, along the dusty road that led to the city, just before it began to weave itself down into the valley.

I slowed down my horse to keep pace with a large group of slaves, linked by their necks to a long chain, who were herded along like beasts by several men wielding sticks. My blood boiled at the sight.

‘We must make haste if we wish to reach the gates before sunset, Eönwë,’ urged Mairon with some asperity.

‘Are you not troubled by this abomination?’ I retorted angrily. His indifference, real or feigned, spurred my outrage.

‘No,’ he admitted. ‘Slaves are common in these lands, captives from war or raids into other realms, whose kin have been unable or unwilling to pay the required ransom. However much the scene raises your hackles, this is the way of Kiinlúum and all the neighbouring lands. Go to the market tomorrow and buy their freedom, if your conscience suffers so greatly. They will return to their country only to fight the ahaw’s armies again, with hatred kindled even hotter in their hearts. Otherwise let them pay for defeat with their sweat.’

‘Callous words, most suited to one who turned thousands into thralls or worse, ’ I cried indignantly. Grim memories of broken bodies and cries of despair and madness in the pits of Angamando filled my mind and I shuddered. ‘It pains me that I see no trace of remorse or shame in your face.’ My challenge was voiced with deliberately harshness.

‘What is past is past, Eönwë.’ He shrugged, without rising to my provocation. ‘It may soothe you to know that I own titles to no thralls; in fact several times I have turned down slaves as gifts or payment for my work. If you doubt me, ask my servants; all will tell you they serve me freely. I reward their labour generously.’

‘And what portent has caused such an admirable change of heart, I wonder?’ I plied sarcasm to my tone.

‘You have a penchant for doubting the motivations behind my every choice,’ he replied irritably. ‘Even those that should deserve your approval. Yet you remain blind to your masters’ flaws.’

Before I had time to formulate a suitable response, he galloped towards the town without waiting for me or looking behind to see if I caught up. I sighed in exasperation and followed. A few hundred paces from the city gates he suddenly reined his horse to a halt and rested his gaze on the hills that glowed boldly in the red sunset light. I admired his proud profile, and wondered what occupied his mind, admirable but so tragically tainted by Melkor’s blight.

‘Look at the horizon, friend, and watch the colours die. Light changes beauty to harshness, vibrancy to dullness and oblivion. Light can guide or deceive, caress or blind.’

‘Light conquers darkness,’ I replied blandly, wondering where his thoughts were leading.

‘Trite and inaccurate, friend!’ he snarled bitterly. ‘Light is traitorous, darkness is guileless.’

Shocked by his unwarranted vehemence, I mutely watched him turn to stare at the dazzling amber orb of the sun. His eyes, flecked in gold sparks, rivalled its brilliance.

‘Light it is, not darkness, that casts shadows to lead one astray. Light can unveil truth or mask lies behind its beauty.’ His speech lilted into a chanting rhythm, as if reciting a tale unfolding before his eyes.

‘Wrapped in lulling swirls of silk, as soft and tenuous as dreams, one chases wondrous mirages, wrought by a gentle glow that promises wisdom and power. He runs and reaches out to touch these tempting visions, but they fade, one by one, before his eyes, revealing a barren waste. A cry of despair dies in his throat when he finds himself crushed under the glare that laughs at his plight. Deceived and bereft by the brightest, most implacable light; bound by irons too strong to cleave.’ His whisper was drowned in bleak pain; his gaze now gleamed with shards of consuming rage, and with unshed tears.

When the sun’s last ray sank below the horizon, he tore his eyes away and unclenched trembling hands from his horse’s mane. I saw him blink, blush in chagrin and bite his lip lightly, then he busied himself with the girth buckles of his saddle. I was too startled for words, having glimpsed the truth that lay behind his mask. My heart thumped with useless regret at Melkor’s betrayal and with hope that Mairon might yet be swayed to seek forgiveness.

The silence hung tensely between us, until it was mercifully broken by the passage of a creaking cart. We hastened back through the gates, as the trumpets blared the call warning of their closure into the darkening dusk. When we arrived back at the house, Mairon hurried to his workshop, curtly pleading an urgent matter of business.

I often recalled the words he spoke that day, even many yéni later.

Author's Notes

Many, many thanks to elfscribe for beta reading this chapter, highlighting many ways to improve the original draft, and to pandemonium_213 for her constant encouragement. Thanks also to my lizard friends for their comments and nit picking.

[1] Líik' (Yucatec) (v. intr.) To rise, get up. Líik'en is my (possibly inaccurate) attempt at creating the second person (sing.) of the imperative.

[2] Chakmóol (Yucatec) The proper translation is “red jaguar”, but I imagine it as a bigger animal, closer to a leopard.

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