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The Duel

by lightofthetrees

To my surprise, it was Sauron who first began to sing. His voice was loud enough to split the ears, but so achingly beautiful that, like his gaze, it immobilized me. The Maia wove his first notes together with the warmth of creation, but a pang of discord soon turned the melody harsh and brittle. Probing. Seeking. His eyes locked onto mine, and I could feel the barriers surrounding my fëa being peeled away, one by one. Each note now sent pain through me – behind my eyes, under my skin. I could not scream. I could not look away.

I will know the truth of you, the song of Sauron promised. Even if I must burn away all else.

Just when I thought I could take no more pain, it disappeared. Then the knowledge of what I had to do came to me as suddenly as a flash of lightning across a summer sky. Had my own mother not told me once that music was the very fabric of the world? Only now did it dawn on me what that meant. What that meant I could do. That memory of my mother – her silver hair and her gentle voice, the way she played her harp – had eased the pain of the enchantment placed upon me.

I reached for my own harp, which lay beneath the ragged cloak that was part of my orcish disguise, and held it aloft. Its strings were glittering gossamer in the torchlight of Tol-in-Gaurhoth, and the polished wood of its frame glowed a resplendent gold. To think Beren had advised against bringing it.

The activity of the group of orcs around us, the ones who had led us here to their master, had ceased when the song began. The only sounds that could be heard now were the far-off howls of wolves. I returned my attention to the figure standing on the other end of the long hall. Sauron was taller even than I was, and cloaked in a malice I could feel from where I was standing. His hair was a fiery red-gold, and the intensity of his gaze made me remember who exactly it was I was about to challenge. My limbs still felt heavy, my fëa under piercing scrutiny.

But this was no time for turning back. Morgoth’s Lieutenant had surely not been fooled by our outward appearances – he knew we were not orcs. This would be my only chance to free myself and my companions from a fate worse than death.

Defiance flowered in my heart, and I cast aside my hideous helm with a clatter that echoed up the high walls around us.

I built new walls with my voice and harp, stacking note upon note with the strength of mortar until my voice towered like a mountain above Tol-in-Gaurhoth. Still, though, I felt the chains of Sauron’s presence, as if his gaze pinned me where I was like a butterfly in a book of specimens. To be strong was not enough if I could not move, so instead my thoughts turned towards what it was I truly desired: freedom. With a strain of melody sharp as the breaking of chains, my mountain became a river, moving from a loud fanfare to a soft, flowing legato. As I continued to play, the sound of my voice slipped like a fish through my harp’s rushing water, dodging and avoiding glissando after glissando. I would not be caught in any net.

But Sauron needed no net. His melody surged once more, a great wave, and with horror I realized that my fingers were growing numb and I had stopped singing, my mouth gasping for air. Sauron’s song was even stronger this time, and more insistent on confinement. Something sinister and strangling approached and I could not escape.

There can be no victory against me.

The flaying feeling began again, the searching, and I braced myself against it. I could not give up. Though my mind was drowning in the Lieutenant’s spell-song, I had to claw my way back to the surface.

The feeling of a hand on my shoulder – Beren’s hand – suddenly shone like a beacon in my darkening consciousness. Perhaps the beacon was more material than that: the ring of Barahir glimmered on my companion’s finger, and I fixed all my attention upon that symbol of loyalty and friendship. I could move again, think again, and I so began to sing with renewed resolve. Thus, just as his father had rescued me so long ago, so did Beren draw me from the depths of Sauron’s enchantment.

I do not know how long we fought. Strains of music passed between Sauron and myself like volleys of arrows, and each one grew stronger as our contest continued. Always, he sought to ensnare me, and always I escaped. But though each of my songs was more glorious than the next, I could feel that the strength of my conviction would not last forever.

Then, an idea struck me, and I let my voice and harp fall silent as I drew in a breath.

Slowly, delicately, I brought the vision in my mind to life.

My voice soared high above the walls of the Isle of Werewolves, a bird in flight. Beleriand was fair and green below as my thoughts followed the river Sirion, and then the river Narog, and when I brought my voice low over Nargothrond, my harp answered with chirps amidst a flutter of wings. The song then sailed across the churning seas to the peaceful shores of Aman, where waves gently caressed the sand. My harp’s accompaniment rolled like the tides, and I added the faint calls of sea-birds with fluttering grace-notes. In time, the song settled to a rhythmic exchange of harp and hum, harp and hum.

Suddenly, the image of a woman came into my mind unbidden, but the sight of her was not unwelcome. In fact, it was the deepest yearning of my heart to see her again. Amarië. She stood on the shore, gazing out at the water that separated us. My heart full with grief, I longed for her with a simple melody. I sang of her dressed in the white of sea-foam, a crown of pearls resting in her golden hair.

At first I thought it was her voice that twined with mine, but by the time I realized the impossibility of such a thing, it was too late. Sauron had joined me in a mockery of a duet. Revulsion rose within me that he dared to sing of my beloved, yet I could not stop the vision of her from beginning to wail and weep. I could not stop the scene in my mind’s eye from changing to Alqualondë by night. I could not stop the visions of burning swan-ships, the screaming of kinfolk as they were slain, the sea turning red with Telerin blood. The blood of my mother’s people.

The fire turned to ice as Sauron’s music overpowered mine again, his voice desolate and pitiless as the wind over the Helcaraxë. Chilled to the very bone, my body began to ache.

You have shown me enough.

The ache became stillness, spreading like a drop of poison in water. A drop of blood in water. Deafening thunder filled my ears. My mind burned, and the thunder turned to thousands of wordless cries.

When I fell to my knees, I knew all was lost.

End of fanwork

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About the Author

lightofthetrees is a graduate student by day and a writer and Tolkien enthusiast, well, all the time. You can find her other work here.

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