“How are your hands, Iaun? Still flexing fine?” Only Sérelókë’s voice could make a simple question so heavy with charged desire. Iaun shivered as Sérelókë ran two long fingers up the inside of his wrist to his palm, ticklish, promising.
The moon was a slender, pale curve in the sky through the trees. It would take some getting used to - both the brightness, painful at first after long ages under the stars alone, and the changes of shape, the waxing and waning and wandering. But his light was gentler and more subtle than the golden fire of the sun, and so Iaun preferred his time of dominion to come out to the forests of Doriath with his companion - and enjoy to the fullest his arts of pain and pleasure.
Iaun was a Silvan Elf of the people of Lenwë, fair of hair and dark blue of eye, slightly small of stature among that people and even more so among the Noldor and Vanyar - he’d certainly never thought to attract the notice of anyone with the light of Valinor in his eye, much less a Maia like Sérelókë. Sérelókë wore a body that blended in among the Eldar - though he still drew notice with his changeable eyes and the odd curls and waves in his loam-dark hair - and rarely let Iaun forget that he had made it himself and could change it at will. Sérelókë was fierce and cunning and wild in his wisdom - and proud, and stubborn, and sometimes utterly insufferable. Yet when his attention shone upon Iaun and he smiled, Iaun felt as he did the first night he saw the moon - indeed, the two were now rather linked in his mind.
So lying bound between two sentinel trees in the ancient forest, protected by Melian’s Girdle and Sérelókë’s alertness, Iaun at last felt safe, at last had come to understand that in this land, as long as the Queen’s will held, there were no hazards for him worse than the exquisite pains his partner gave him, no prying eyes more dangerous than the occasional tree-climbing princess (and they had gone well out of their way to avoid the glades she favoured).
In fact, it felt wonderful to be so helpless, so nearly naked and stretched out splayed-limbed on a bed of elaborately knotted cords that held and cradled him, surrounding and binding him at every joint. The bright moon’s light glinted on the blade of a knife Iaun had insisted Sérelókë keep close to hand in case he needed to be cut loose quickly - and that in itself was a sign of trust that Iaun felt keenly - heady and light and free as small thrills of fear sped through him and vanished harmlessly in his pounding heart.
“Fine, completely fine,” Iaun said happily, for indeed, Sérelókë had certainly learned swiftly by watching how Iaun cleverly strung hammocks of the smooth, resilient rope of Elven make. Trust the Maia’s singularly brilliant mind to apply that knowledge to more specialized and esoteric applications. This was now one of Iaun’s favourite uses of rope - such immobilization, and such security at once. He had rarely felt so content. “So go on, keep telling me your tale, of what brought you out of the bliss of Valinor to this place.”
“Tedium,” Sérelókë sighed, his hand hovering just over Iaun’s chest, not touching. “Unspeakable, unchanging ages of tedium. And then - the tedium broke.”
“Tell me of it. Because of Fëanor -” Iaun said, carefully. “And Ungoliant - really? No, do not speak of that now. How did you come here?”
“Very well, I shall tell you. When Fëanor’s father Finwë was murdered and the Silmarils taken, I would not rest until I had had my own chance to examine the bloody scene at Formenos.
“'There’s no mystery here for me,' I thought with some disappointment. Melkor had all but signed his work. Much evidence had been trampled and removed, of course, and the scene of the slaying was compromised beyond recall - and yet the pale, unmoving, hewn-open body of Finwë still had things to tell me though it could no longer speak.
“Finwë had been taken by surprise - he had deemed perhaps that his son had returned from the feast. Who else would approach so near without introducing themselves until it was far too late? Yet he was armed, and had attempted to defend himself - and would have succeeded against a less dreadful foe - so he clearly had thought that attack from some corner was likely. Why else keep a blade close to hand in one’s own home? Such fear and distrust had not always been in Finwë’s nature - not until his eldest son had given himself over to such pride and rage. Fëanor had not hesitated to draw sword upon his own half-brother, after all. Though he had seemed to accept the rebuke of the Valar, one who threatens close kin once might well do so again. Did the King of the Noldor fear his own son? Or did he share Fëanor’s all-consuming dread that the treasures of his hand were a shimmering beacon for thieves?”
Iaun wriggled in his bonds, for he had been reminded again that, while of course Maiar did need to breathe air when clad in flesh, Sérelókë seemed to take that as a suggestion he could sometimes reject. Certainly he would not suspend his speech for breath's sake if he did not need to.
“Fëanor could not be the culprit. His alibi was unshakeable. Even I had to admit that he would not kill his own father. Finwë was mighty in his own right, and only a very powerful being could have overcome him so quickly. In this matter, at least, the conventional wisdom was almost certainly correct, as little as I liked to admit it.”
Sérelókë sighed and clenched a fist in frustration. “If only I could have asked Finwë what he had seen. It should be possible, Iaun. The Halls of Waiting are right there.”
“Did you ask Mandos, then?
“‘Certainly I did, and he said, ‘My gates are barred to you until your own death brings you here,’ he said. Hardly a nice thing to say to a fellow Ainu - I’m of lesser stature, certainly, but every bit as immortal as he is.”
Iaun tried not to chuckle too hard, for a loop around his belly chafed when he did so, and Sérelókë might not be as amused.
“The motive too was clear. Fëanor and his sons weren’t just master craftsmen, they were treasure hoarders of shameless dedication, and their trove was the greatest in Aman. Still, the taking of the lesser gems was probably no more than a cover, or perhaps a bribe to a greedy accomplice. I could find nothing to counter the belief that the true object was always the Silmarils, the last relic of the lights of the newly-slain Trees Laurelin and Telperion, and the greatest work that the Eldar’s finest craftsman ever had or would fashion. I must admit, I had thought Fëanor’s obsession with their safety to be overwrought, yet it is true they have a deadly virtue in them that overrides the thoughts of rational beings all too easily. Even Fëanor was almost rational once.”
Iaun thought he perceived a strand of sorrow in Sérelókë’s voice, or at least a certain frustration that the world’s ways oft bended in a direction that seemed so clearly counter to wisdom.
“If only he had given up the Silmarils when Yavanna pleaded for them, the last hope to restore life to the Trees. If only he hadn’t refused to wear them to the feast, to deny everyone but his own family the sight of them, then he never would have been in that position. He might dwell there still, still have them in his hand, and his father alive. Yet the Hallowing of the jewels by Manwë and Varda seemed to have done nothing but make them all the more of a focus for idiotic behavior.
“What was the point of even taking such useless observations as these to anyone? I thought. I’m certain you’ll be looking for a being with burned hands... No, that wouldn’t do. The robber was certainly whom everyone believed it to be. The interest, for me at least, was not in the crime that had already occurred, dreadful as it was, but in the crimes to come. The terrible oath Fëanor had sworn, partaken by all his kin, would ensure it. And wherever that deadly trail might lead, I felt bound to follow.”
“You are like a great, brilliant hound,” Iaun said. “There is no scent you cannot and will not follow, is that not true?”
Sérelókë chuckled softly. “And yet there is one scent in particular that always brings me round.” His hand passed down Iaun’s lower belly, fingernails dragging with the lightest of stings.
“Persistent and cruel you are, now more like a cat with a mouse than a hound,” Iaun said. “You will give me no satisfaction until you’re done with your tale, is that your game?”
“You know my methods, Iaun,” Sérelókë said with a slow, seeping grin, giving Iaun’s nipple a light three-fingered slap. “Flex your feet for me, let me see them move smoothly.”
“All is well there,” Iaun said. Sérelókë tested them with a tickle to see them jerk, pink-flushed and responsive. Only then did he settle back into his talking pose to continue, hands drawn back to his chest and pressed together as he found again the thread of his tale. There were other places on Iaun’s body that were in far greater crisis than his feet, but Sérelókë would not deign to relieve his sharpest suffering until he was good and ready.
“Long and deadly would that journey be, I knew as I listened to Fëanor’s rash but stirring speech. If I were slightly more foolish, I could have been swept up in it myself; it was so cunningly and swiftly devised - though I suspected he may have held some phrases in reserve for just such an occasion. I said nothing to them, of course, for I swiftly perceived it would serve no purpose - My voice was as nothing to Manwë’s, after all, and even the second-mightiest among the Valar had already been told where he could stick it. Fëanor was committed to his mad path of vengeance against the first-greatest. Nor could anyone have been heard over the din of prideful shouting as Fëanor’s sons and relatives and hangers-on fell all over themselves to try to be the leader in rash, arrogant, foolhardy commitment. But I was enthralled anew -- I saw that my pursuit would take me across the sea and into the Eastern lands I had never seen. Perilous the journey might be, but I would gain new knowledge at every turn, and for me, there can be no greater enticement.”
“Never?” Iaun said with a lick of his lips. “Never any greater enticement?”
Sérelókë laughed, low and promising. “Carnal knowledge is its own reward. And its own form of very worthwhile learning and lore.”
“But you still have not told me why you thought Fëanor needed your pursuit,” Iaun said, hoping to move the story further along to its climax, which might eventually bring Sérelókë’s attention around to a climax of a different sort for his listener.
“Listening to what Fëanor demanded of his friends and kin, it was just as well that justice was not my primary motive,” Sérelókë said. “It was not Fëanor’s either, no matter what he might wish to claim.
“I needed to stay with them, close enough to bear witness, but not to be seen, at least in such a way that they would take notice of me. As you have seen, Iaun, the form I wear is not a true hröa like yours - it is a fána, shaped by my own mind to clothe my spirit. It can take many shapes, and I need not wear one at all. So to follow Fëanor’s horde, I took on the shape of one of the quiet Eldar who hung back in doubt. When we reached the Teleri city on the eastern shore, my dread began to grow. Fëanor did not ask his kin for help crossing the sea, he did not make a request - he made harsh demands for the ships, as though they were his due and the Teleri were beneath him and bound to obey. And I could see in their faces that the Teleri would not give them. And why should they, Feanáro?, I thought. You did not yield your own treasure in the time of another’s need. You all but accused the Valar of thievery. I confess, my anger may have been roused most for Yavanna’s sake, for she was ever kind to me and her spouse Aulë generous with his lore. Simply speaking ill to the other Valar, well, that has never troubled me much.”
“As I had observed, woe betide anyone who stood between the new King of the Noldor and his grief and his rage and his madness, all wrought together as one wild force that even the Valar themselves had declined to withstand. It was not my place to put myself there.
“I adopted the form of one of the Teleri, feigning at death in the cold seas as the terrible battle began. In the domain of Ulmo, I fashioned myself a shape better suited for the waters: Eldar from the waist up I remained, but I gave myself a mighty tail with long sweeping fins, powerful for swimming, where my legs had been. Uinen often wore a similar shape to converse with the Teleri, and they held her in great reverence. I could see its practical advantages.”
“Ah, brilliant,” Iaun said longingly. “I wish I had been able to see that. You must have been stunning. Not that you are not always so.”
Sérelókë smiled and looked away for the beat of a glance - Iaun already knew he did not always want that sweet flush of his to be seen when Iaun praised his cleverness; he had a sincere weakness for praise of that sort.
“In this shape I watched from the shelter of the waves, missing none of the cries of the wounded and dying, the terrible sprays of blood and the dreadful contortions of maimed limbs and ruined faces - and the horror in the eyes of the late-coming hosts who rushed to Fëanor’s aid with little thought, even as they hewed the bodies of friends and kin and covered the silver quays and white sands of Alqualondë in blood.
“I shivered in the void-dark sea as I swam, desperate never to lose sight of those ships no matter how perilous the seas they sailed. Fëanor had caused what even Melkor did not dare: a wanton slaughter of Ilúvatar’s Children on the very shores of Aman. Ossë and Ulmo were constrained not to aid me in my pursuit, but they also hindered me not, and Uinen gave me safe passage through the mighty storm of her rage.
“Those seas were so cold, Iaun, and the chill set into my very fëa as I pursued the swift white ships towards the cold northern realms of grinding ice. It was not a matter of the ice alone, nor the cold waters, nor the wailing winds of the harsh region that separated the lands. So far as I knew, none had dared to make the crossing at this place except Melkor himself, and he had been hard put to it, pursued by Ungoliant. She is a formidable enemy, I know that well.” He allowed himself a little smile, remembering the role that he himself might have played in arousing her wrath. “She would have been even hungrier than was her wont, I think.”
Iaun had often tried not to think too much of that dreadful encounter, for sometimes Sérelókë’s daring and his particular appetites lead him to dangerous and appalling acts indeed, where even Iaun could not follow. Uneasily now, Iaun tugged at the intricate knots and weaves of ropes that held him bound very securely with no strain upon him. The thought came to him that perhaps Sérelókë had learned something of webbing not from Iaun’s own rope-craft, but from a far greater natural mistress of the art.
“These warriors were no skillful sailors as the Teleri had been, so it was perilous for Fëanor’s men to keep the graceful white swan-boats as near to the coast as they dared. Fëanor wished to stay as close as possible to those of his forces who marched alongside on land. To ensure their safety? Or their loyalty? Oath aside, surely all now knew that bonds of kinship and friendship were no longer a reliable guard against treachery.
“Therefore, in the cold and unpopulated Guarded Realm, the ships were close enough to the bare peaked rocks of the shoreline that all aboard might perceive a dark hooded figure who stood upon a promontory, radiating grim purpose. And then Mandos - for it was he, for all that there are those who question it - spoke words that carried across the width of the sea, though he seemed to raise his voice not at all.
“The words he spoke would set dread in the hearts of any who had yet the wisdom to heed them. That amounted to about half of Fëanor's company. Even in this frigid palace of stone and isolation, the half in the lead were still kept warm enough by their oath to listen to their doom proclaimed with staunch defiance. I remember all the words he spoke, missing not a one, Iaun. They are burned into my mind as though he spoke them to me, though rationally I know I do not partake of this doom. For they are words meant to be remembered, and all who heard them shall do so, until the remaking of the world:
Tears unnumbered ye shall shed; and the Valar will fence Valinor against you, and shut you out, so that not even the echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains. On the House of Fëanor the wrath of the Valar lieth from the West unto the uttermost East, and upon all that will follow them it shall be laid also. Their Oath shall drive them, and yet betray them, and ever snatch away the very treasures that they have sworn to pursue. To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well; and by treason of kin unto kin, and the fear of treason, shall this come to pass. The Dispossessed shall they be for ever. ...
Iaun gave a shiver in his bonds, and was glad to have a caress of Sérelókë’s warm hand on his thigh. The words’ deeper meanings sank into him, their dreadful, all-encompassing inevitability. “Terrible,” he muttered. “I could almost feel sorry for them, had they not recklessly slain my distant kin over boats.”
“Had Fëanor not committed that act, he would still be foolish and dangerous, but he would not have put himself beyond the realm of hope,” Sérelókë said. “He was remarkable. He fathered seven sons, he gave them all his ferocity and fortitude if not his genius, and still had enough left over for himself to make rude gestures at the Valar, doom himself to perdition, and be so energetic about it. It gave me new respect for Nerdanel, if nothing else, putting up with that for so long. It wasn't as though Fëanor did the real work in making seven sons, after all.”
Iaun laughed. “Yes, credit where credit is due. Now go on. Finish telling me how you arrived here, and then I would love to have you work as though you were trying to beget seven sons upon me.”
“That is - not a terribly enticing way of phrasing it, Iaun,” Sérelókë said, choking for a moment on laughter. “Very well. My form grew weary and the cold slowed my progress, so I changed to an even more malleable shape, the form of a frozen mist, and there I hovered as the ships came to a stop and the gathered hosts grew, deciding their next path. Fëanor himself showed his face over the railing of the greatest ship as he looked north to the ice, and west to his gathering followers, and east to the land where he must march, to victory or destruction, for Valinor was closed to him now.
“You cannot turn back, I thought. But it is not too late for some who follow you. If you were not completely mad, you would at least give some of them a chance to turn back with honour. Yet of course a floating mist is not heeded by those who have lost all wisdom. If it says what the listener does not want to hear, it may as well not have spoken at all.
“It was not within my nature to turn back either. I was under no curse and bound by no oath, but my curiosity was a force upon me as great as Fëanor’s rage. Although Fëanor’s path seemed all too clear to me, I thought that beyond the visible weavings of Vairë there might yet be mysteries and surprises in the new land to the east that I had never yet seen with my own eyes.
“And I watched the horror deepen and the betrayal worsen: I heard the angry curses of those left behind as Fëanor and his sons took the swift ships alone and left their friends and allies wailing on the frozen shores. Surely some among them must suspect that once treachery held sway, it would never miss an opportunity to manifest.
“Surely some among them must not have been taken by complete surprise when the first red flowers of flame breached the horizon on the other side.
“The sight of the lovely ships framed in flame and collapsing upon themselves held my gaze, and long I watched them burn in awe. For just a moment, I froze in the air and nearly congealed. A strange sensation wracked me then, Iaun, and I barely knew its name. Now, I believe I would have to call it sympathy, for I was witnessing a fatal twisting in a brilliant mind - Fëanor had denied the Teleri the same understanding he had pleaded for himself earlier. “Such treasures that it is given to one to make once, and once only,” he’d said, explaining why he could not give up the Silmarils to save the Trees. Such treasures the white swan ships of the Teleri were also - the world would not see their like again, and so ruthlessly Fëanor destroyed them, as if they were his own castoff toys. It would not make him repent of his pride. If he ever even thought of it, it would only enrage him further, drive him on harder in his maddened rush to oblivion.
“I could not have prevented that even if I wished to. Fates were in motion now far beyond my measure. What I could do was abandon all pretense to encumbering flesh, and speed my way as fast as my spirit could fly, eastward into the lands of Middle-earth where the forgotten ones dwelt, to learn the lay of their land, before the oncoming storm changed it forever. As dim fingers of fog I reached forward, swift-traveling ahead of the storm-wind from the west till the starlit land opened beneath me, and I descended through the trees like silver dew. Swift as the deer of Nessa’s kin I ran until the dwellings of Ilúvatar’s children, those who had never crossed the sea, began to surround me.
“I landed in a cool, mountainous land that kept a careful watch on the dreadful marches and mountains to the north. Hithlum; I know its name now. Against the twilight sky full of Varda’s faint lamps, I could see a dull reddish glow over rocky peaks to the North, and as I reshaped myself, my senses perceived a smell of burning. As I became more solid in my most accustomed shape, the stench and smoke and gases stung my nose and made my chest ache, and I knew Melkor’s hordes had not been idle.
“The Valar had smashed his first stronghold of Utumno, but, as was to be expected, had botched the job and left the greater part of Melkor’s forces to rebuild in his absence. I was near his second fortress of Angband, farther west and far more daring. Now I perceived Melkor’s strength was much greater than before his captivity, and likely better it would be had the Valar left Melkor here to his own dark devices and never brought him back to Valinor at all. Well, better for all except the people of this land, of course, and I am sorry, Iaun.”
“You’re not the one who should be sorry, Sérelókë,” Iaun said quietly. “Except for the ache of my staff and stones, which you have kept waiting far too long.”
“Ah, for that I am not sorry,” Sérelókë said. “Do you compare that to the long suffering of your people beneath Melkor’s hand, truly? You are welcome to try him, see if he will be more generous with your pleasure.”
“I’ll take my chances with you, if you please,” Iaun said, twisting his wrists, for now he enjoyed the sensation of the gentle chafe. “You are mad, and often filled to the brim with yourself, but I could have done much worse.”
“You know the rules, Iaun. I shall finish answering your questions fully. Your interruptions only prolong your torment.”
“As fey and determined as Fëanor might be, he could now only move at marching speed, and that with all his companions weary with grief and toil. From my vantage point on a starlit peak, I could see the land all around him. To the north, as noted, the fire and stench of Melkor’s works and his servants - some of whom were Maiar, like myself. Fëanor could have little hope of victory in open warfare. To the west, the road to the Sea where Fëanor would come marching. To the east, lands uncharted, beckoning. To be explored later. To the south, valleys and yet more mountains, and a strange sense of light and power that tugged at his senses. One of my own kind dwelt there also, but one utterly unlike those who had allied with the Darkness.
“Melian it was, who loved the land and the wild things and was wont to wander this unknown country alone to learn its ways. Some might say she captured a wild thing of her own, when she took an Elf-chieftain to husband.”
Sérelókë gave Iaun a lusty look then, caressed his own lips with darting tongue, and ran long fingers through his own hair. Iaun writhed and bared his teeth. “Indeed,” Iaun said. “It was good to know from their tale that my kind can lie with yours and survive it, as Thingol must, for it is not said that they found the princess Lúthien in a cabbage patch. Having witnessed only your performance in the Battle Under the Stars, I might have doubted that.”
Sérelókë’s eyes flared up in wild light and then darkened, calming. “For all the suffering you beg from me, you should at least know I am careful not to harm you.”
“You are,” Iaun said gently, testing his tethers again. They held firm but did not hurt. “Sometimes I think too much so.”
“That is a matter for another time, Iaun. I doubt you would wish me to postpone your release yet further while we reconsider our terms.”
“As always, you read me right,” Iaun said. “Please go on with your story. Of course you will, whether I wish it or not.”
“I knew that the realm they had made was protected by her power, so that was the one place Fëanor and his followers would be certain not to go, for they did not flee Melkor, they pursued him. Foolhardy and foolish, but there was now no holding back that tide. And in Melian’s realm they would find little welcome. She would not think kindly of those who brought war to her borders and gave Melkor’s forces an even greater prize to seek there.
“In my mind I traced the paths they would be likeliest to take: the most direct route to Melkor’s fortress, skirting the mountains and passing close enough to Doriath that whispers of their passing would be known. And when they reached the great mountain gates of Thangorodrim, the land entire would hear the sound of their battle. Did Fëanor believe that Melkor was alone there? Did he believe that the fortress and its hordes of twisted creatures had been idle in their master’s absence? Had he any idea that such legions and their deadly war devices even existed? Irrelevant. It would not have stopped him.
“And Melkor would not stay still and wait for them to come to him; he would send his forces forth through the lands they already held by wholesale slaughter not too long ago. I thought it most likely fate would tangle them north of the Fens of Serech, on the hostile Dor Daedeloth plain.
“Before the inevitable, I thought it best to learn what I could lie of this land - its mountains and meadows, its forests and rivers. I wished to see the inland sea, where the Children of Ilúvatar first awakened at Cuiviénen on the eastern shore; I wished to see all the lands of those who had not crossed the sea on the floating island, to see what they had built without too much of the guidance of the Ainur, what they had made of forest and cave and wilderness. But that would have to wait for a calmer time.
“I decided to start with the lands nearest Melian’s realm and move north then, for her resonance would draw some creatures to her, and repel others; I could learn as much by observing the nature of those barred by her power as by observing those admitted, and perhaps I would have time for a more pleasant scenic tour later.
"Beyond the certain risks, there might also be pleasures to find, on the other side of them. What they might be, I could not imagine, and those gaps in my imagination thrilled me.”
“And are you pleased with what you have learned here so far?” Iaun asked, with a small roll of his hips that he hoped would catch Sérelókë’s blade-sharp gaze. It was successful, for Sérelókë left his perch by their little campfire and stalked over, climbing into the rope-nest between Iaun’s held-open thighs. His weight made the ropes tug and stretch over Iaun’s skin as his large, fire-warmed hands made sweeping and possessive strokes up his legs and around his hips.
“Oh yes,” Sérelókë said, in a voice that sank into Iaun down to sinew and bone, heating his blood, rousing him further. “Very pleased. I am especially drawn to study the lore of you, the music you make when I play upon you . . . “
“Until you weary of me, when you know all my mysteries,” Iaun said with a smile, desire warming him head to toe and pooling at his center as Sérelókë crept over him, bending his dark head to taste.
“I think I shall take my sweet time, and I do not expect I shall ever get there,” Sérelókë murmured into the skin that longed for him, soothing Iaun's need with biting kisses.