Far be it from Iaun to resent the cosseting luxury of Menegroth - at least, as compared to the life in the forest he had known before. Certainly he did not disdain the pleasures of the table there, nor least of all the pleasures of the rooms he shared with the eccentric Maia called Sérelókë, his fastest friend on this side of the world.
Yet if Sérelókë had earned his place by his distant kinship to the realm’s queen Melian (for all of the Ainur are kin to one another in that they are born of the same moment of Eru’s thought, and forge their bonds of fellowship as like calls to like) and by the swift workings of his sight and his wit, then Iaun too must earn his own. He would prefer to have a claim in his own right, not just because Sérelókë was to him both lover and master.
For despite Sérelókë’s promises in his moments of passion, might not that fey creature tire of Iaun as quickly as he’d become enamoured? And it was not in Iaun’s nature to accept a life of idleness, not when the City of the Thousand Caves had so much to explore and to learn, so much work to be done in so many capacities.
Training with the march-wardens who patrolled the forests had given him a great gift already - the knowledge that his keen eye and swift reflexes remained, and the lingering stiffness of his old wound impaired him little with his bow-shots. Life in the underground city was not dulling his senses - joy returned to his heart and spryness to his limbs as he climbed trees and tracked animals like the child of the forest he had always truly been.
And if perhaps he wandered farther than was entirely advisable, chalk it up to a restlessness within him that missed the solitude of his long years awander. For Iaun found little to fear in the Forest of Brethil to the West nor the Forest of Region to the South. (Northward he wandered not, having already had entirely enough of the Nan Dungortheb to last even an immortal lifetime; had he not had the company of the clever and powerful Sérelókë or the fast and stalwart horse of the Valar, Certhasath, Iaun knew he would not have survived the hunger of the spiders - it had been a close escape for them all even so.)
But in realms where the influence of the Enemy was not so strong, forests and rivers beckoned to him freely. The River Sirion in particular sang to him; on the edge of the forest it was wide and gentle, and its waters clear and sweet and full of the comings and goings of fish and birds, the soft dragonfly-harboring shallows full of wispy green plants, called by the Sindar the hair of fair Uinen. Still, he knew its source was near the Mountains of Shadow, and its waters moved through troubled and sinister lands. Iaun would never be able to forget the stench of the carnage at the Fens of Serech, where Iaun and his companion had traveled before approaching the very gates of Angband, where Iaun had first borne witness to the true nature of Sérelókë’s power.
Far away did that terror seem when the clean-scented breeze whispered through the hanging willows and brought the cool kisses of Sirion’s waters over Iaun’s brow.
He had come to a wide-open curve of shoreline, where the trees parted to let the glare of the golden fireball in the sky warm the waters with ripples of bright white light. Iaun was still not used to the constant pressure of her heat on him when he left the dappled cover of the trees - so dense was her fire that over time it could gently turn skin a subtle bronze shade (and how fascinated was Iaun’s companion with this gradual change, how he lingered over faint lines where Iaun’s clothing separated the tones). Cool water would bring relief from the heat that lingered in Iaun’s protective boots and overtunic of soft leather.
Perhaps it was not completely wise to do this alone, but Iaun had always been a strong swimmer, and for all that there was much time and distance between them, his people still had distant kinship with the Teleri, the friends of the aquatic Ainur. Surely this river had departed the influence of Melkor and now was within the sphere of Melian. Rich were its rolling and murmuring sounds with the music of Ulmo, ever a steadfast friend to the Children of Ilúvatar.
So carefully now and with a practiced eye, Iaun searched out the best place to enter the inviting waters. A graceful old willow bent over a space where the banks tapered down to a flat place lined with smooth pebbles, and its branches would help him keep his clothes and arms close to hand - he would not be foolish enough to swim far from those.
Carefully he removed his weapons, hanging bow and quiver in the sturdy branches far from the touch of the water, yet accessible to him with but one swift leap, and his belt with sword and dagger beside. New to him were these, made by the steelsmiths of Menegroth who traded the lore of their craft with the Naugrim, children of Aulë. When Iaun had laid his blade beside that of Sérelókë, whose sword was made by the genius of Noldorin hands across the sea, Iaun liked to think he saw little difference in aught but style. “Mark it well,” Sérelókë had said sadly. “The day will come when swords of these forges will be set against each other, in this land. Then will we know their true measure.”
“It is not the size nor even the temper of the sword,” Iaun had said. “But the quality of the warrior who wields it.”
And Sérelókë had smiled then, and they had sparred together with their swords not of steel, and Iaun had enflamed his master by withholding his surrender for as long as he could bear it. Always now did Iaun bear the bruises and bites and red lines of such duels, given in pleasure and love - but not lightly.
With relief Iaun opened the fastenings of his leather jerkin and soft undershirt, and laid them out carefully on the driest part of the ground, for the day-fire had been relentless, and even the tailors of Menegroth had not yet adjusted to the way her heat congealed between skin and clothing. The wind from the water cooled Iaun’s bare skin and made him shiver. He leaned against the willow’s broad trunk to brace himself to pull off his well-made boots, that were not yet fully shaped to his feet as his old ones had been. The blisters would pass and the leather would soften.
As he unlaced his breeches, he found that the pleasure of the breeze that stroked him, the anticipation of the cool water, the sight and pull of the welts and aches and marks placed upon him by Sérelókë, were alone enough to set his flesh-stalk budding. It was a sweet sensation, and he allowed himself one tug of his sweat-warmed hand, for his master was not present to command or forbid it. He felt no rush to completion, only a slow languid enjoyment of his own flesh and thoughts, soon to be cooled by the bliss of swimming.
Yet the very stings and pangs of his pleasure-wounds served to tempt him to greater heights as he stripped himself bare. Little doubt had he that Sérelókë would know if Iaun had chosen to indulge in self-delight without permission, and Iaun could never be sure in himself if desire to obey would ever prove the stronger urge than the longing for punishment. Still, there was much to be said for anticipation. With difficulty and regret, he lifted his hand from his half-stiff shaft and balanced himself upon a stone as he padded over the smooth pebbles and arching willow-roots, aiming for the gentle river-ford.
Kindly did the water lap and lick his feet and first, then his calves, then his thighs, soothing all his strain and weariness as he felt cleaned and lifted with each step. Even as the water silkily embraced his longing flesh, Iaun gave a deep sigh and let it take him, savouring each rise - to waist, to chest, to shoulders. The current was gentle and his limbs were strong. Pale clouds were veiling the bright sky-fire and making its stare in his eyes less harsh. Iaun closed his own eyes and leaned back and let the gentle rolling lift him off his feet and onto his back.
Water could be dangerous in so many ways, yet here in this place near the forest, sheltered by Melian’s enchantment, there was also security, for Iaun felt most of all a sense that he belonged. The water bolstered him up and cradled him steadily, a softly rolling nest for his head and his back while his feet kicked slowly. This was a bed no less comfortable than his luxuriant one at Menegroth, and if it lacked the protective heat of his master’s presence, it had at least the sun to shine down on him with her golden gaze - and he gave her the full sight of him, in unashamed glory.
There was peace in this trust, the giving-over of his body to the gentle draw of current. Iaun was a quick and strong swimmer who could rally fast if need be, secure in the song of Ulmo that murmurs though all the waters of Eä, the created world. Iaun dreamed of the waters of the broad and brown Anduin of his youth, and of the starlit pool where he had bathed with Sérelókë that first time, when they had perchance become the last lovers to first touch each other in the time of the stars, before moon and sun. Perhaps they had been the first pair unclothed and entangled that Tilion had looked down upon on from his shifting silver sky-vessel that traveled in the time now called night.
In his fond dream, Iaun closed his eyes, as Elves do rarely, even in sleep. The bright stare of the being in the sky whom Sérelókë called Arien turned to soft red in the skin of his eyelids, and then seemed to gentle, burning upon him not quite so brightly.
Had Iaun opened his eyes, he would have seen a change upon the mantle of the sky. Fair Arien now hid her bright face behind a grey veil, such as even Nienna might wear - in anticipation of sorrows to come. The river rocked him harder as waves rippled the water’s surface, and Iaun only began to start awake from his pleasant haze at a deep grumbling sound in the sky, now gone dark grey and wind-whipped. Quickly he roused and flipped over in the water to swim back towards shore, noticing that he had drifted further from his clothes and possessions than he had first thought. A storm approached, and now Iaun thought himself quite foolish to relax so, while naked and unarmed in surroundings that now seemed much less safe than they had been.
He was a quick and strong swimmer, but nowhere near a match for the being that had taken notice of him.
Not all the waves that lifted and swirled him were borne of the wind - from beneath the surface of the river itself, from the sand and the mud and the water weeds, rose a mighty force, taking form from the essence of the water, whirling and beginning to roar and growl. His song was like unto Ulmo’s, but a wilder, more dissonant form, and if Iaun had more knowledge of the Ainur, he would have recognized a fainter hint even of the theme of Melkor - buried and transformed, but still suggested for ever. Iaun gasped for air as his limbs felt heavy and the shore felt far away. The reeds at the riverbanks whipped in the wind, and the willows whirled their arms and bent low in the sheets of rain.
Iaun was captured - as much by a ring of circular chop as by the smooth grasping limbs that tangled with his own beneath the surface. The thrashing of a powerful creature had dimmed the water with mud from the bottom, and Iaun could no longer see past his own waist, could not see the colour or nature of the supple, unjointed arms that held his legs. He gave just one little sob of terror nearly lost in the rising storm, one little shiver, and then breathed deep to cry for help, though he feared it unlikely that aid would be near. The water song rose up around, deep and gurgling, and Iaun’s voice struggled to rise above it.
Firstborn Child, alone and wandering
Came not to the seas of sundering
Cleaving to the forest wild, never rode the floating isle,
Never saw the ships that burned,
Never the water’s deep ways learned,
Yet comes to my river to take his rest,
Floating naked on my breast,
You whose kin our summons spurned,
But look at how the tides have turned,
A fearless warrior on the land
Twists and whimpers in my hand
Perhaps by charm, perhaps by force,
Shall I steal you to the river’s source.
And Iaun knew then who held him, for tales had come down to him, and the lore of Melian and Sérelókë had given him the rest, in their veiled talk of their kin.
Not so long ago, Iaun would never have believed himself a player in such legends. Now his heart swelled beyond the fear, for although he was helpless, he thought perhaps now he understood how the beguiling art of song might move through even a voice so small as his. He opened his mouth to sing - and closed it again as water splashed in, as a twining tentacle pulled him down, and the source of the voice broke the surface and rose, singing clearer as air exposed him.
He was a handsome creature, features sharp and keen as a wolf of water - ears pointed, gills quivering. To the waist he wore a form like Iaun’s own in the greatest part, the shape of a son of Ilúvatar - but now Iaun knew well how such forms were mere clothing to the Ainur, to be changed or discarded at will.
Thunder cracked violently, and vibrated the land down to the very bed of the waters. “Ossë,” Iaun breathed. “Are you not? Ossë Wind-tossed, Ossë Storm-raiser?”
“I am,” said Ossë, and tightened the coils tighter around Iaun’s thighs, smiling to show sharp teeth. In the flash of lightning Iaun glanced below, moved his own legs as much as he could to feel out Ossë’s shape with his skin. Below the waist, Ossë had granted himself a tangle of writhing, soft limbs, supple and grasping. Above the waist, he held Iaun’s shoulders with long-clawed hands, part covered in silver-green scales.
“Careful, careful - do you not know the peril that lies all along this wave-road?” Ossë spoke swiftly, and the rush of his breath was as white water on stones. Yet it had a sweet, enticing sound, and Iaun found himself glad to hear it more. “To the North, well you know what terrors lie there, but there are other dangers closer than you deem: water-sleepers are lost in the Falls of Sirion, down in the dark caves below ground where the waters run cold and black and there are creatures in them you would not care to meet. Brackish and thick the waters grow at the Aelin-uial, and many are the twisted branches where travelers lose their way for ever. Do you wish to float into danger while dreaming, with no weapons to hand and naked as a new-made form?”
Iaun held his body still, poised to spring, heart thrumming in his chest like the foot-falls of hunting-hounds, desperate for a chance to swim free and put some distance between himself and that voice. For though the being spoke of warnings, there was a tone to his speech that gave Iaun pause and troubled his senses. And still Iaun was more minded to listen; by now he thought his spirit was learning to scent the air of the Ainur and his heart could be swayed by the music of their voices.
Clear it was that Ossë’s designs upon him were not primarily to protect, and his talk of warning might be a feint to lower Iaun’s guard. Beneath the water, Iaun’s legs parted slightly, and slick movements of Ossë’s waving limbs encouraged them to do so further. Perhaps he did indeed mean to swim between Iaun and greater peril - but that did not mean he was not a danger in himself. Among those Eldar who made their homes by the water, Ossë was loved much and yet trusted not, for he was much given to waves and wild winds, and his careless delight could bring death. Sharp were Ossë’s claws, and strange were his eyes, and the wind of his storm waved his hair as if he swam in water though he kept his proud head and broad chest high above the surface, swimming smoothly with his rippling limbs below, that tapped and slid gently over Iaun’s legs. And sometimes seemed to bend and ooze yet higher between Iaun’s thighs, taking liberties that yet still could be unintentional, just a product of the motions that kept the creature afloat - and Iaun too, in his grasp. He did not think the caresses were all accidental.
“I would take you further than this, if I could,” Ossë said with meaning doubled, his voice seeming to ripple the surface of the wind-whipped water, tickling Iaun’s chest and lapping over his shoulders like a licking tongue. “I would guide you past the perils, and bring you out onto the light of my domain, the Bay of Balar, where the last piece of the floating isle guards the mouth of the river and none may pass without my say. I will let you see the havens and harbours of your kin, and the cities they have built there. And such delights will I show you, my battle-scarred swimmer. You will not fear the storm for long, you will learn to love its wild power as I do. For I am its wild power, and I shall use it to pleasure you.”
Iaun shivered in Ossë’s grip as that voice drew deep and close, and the damp wind of the Maia’s breath caressed the deep places of his ear. “Why . . . why me?” he asked, trembling. For soon he would have to say that he was already claimed, and he did not relish facing Ossë’s wrath when Iaun would refuse to be stolen.
“Did you think I did not notice you have been taken before, little one? That I cannot taste the scent of the Western Lands upon you, and know that one of my kind has had the use of you?” Ossë’s long tongue came close - not at all Elvenlike, long and serpentine - and flicked near Iaun’s mouth, terrifying and tempting. “And do you think I cannot recognize the marks of his torment upon you? You will not speak of it, but you must know I have been in company of the Master of Torment, and I can read the speech of stripes upon skin. I will take you from the cruel master who holds you and wounds you, and I shall make you a far happier thrall. It is not in pain that you will cry out when you are mine.”
No, no, no, Iaun thought, his mind now racing in terror, for now Ossë’s true design could not be denied. Nor did the Maia deny what Sérelókë had whispered to Iaun in the true tale he told beneath the stories told openly, that the storm-making Maia of the Bay had sought out kinship with Melkor in his love of untamed power. What of your spouse? Iaun wanted to demand. What of fair, brave Uinen who was said to have been the one who argued the case of the Valar and brought her husband back from perdition, the only one known to have returned in that fashion?
“My lady will be delighted with you,” said Ossë as though he had heard Iaun’s thought. “We have oft been generous with our pleasures, together. I shall tell her how inviting you were, unclothed and innocent upon my waters, and she will heal and soothe your hurt.”
And now Iaun shivered in conflict and fear, for a thin and supple finger of sensing flesh sent a tingling touch along the sinew of his inner thigh, and his desire stirred. Treacherous was his body, and yet his heart quailed and then hardened against the intrusion. How dare Ossë pronounce his judgments upon Iaun’s beloved, based on nothing but the marks of love freely given, and pain that became pleasure when agreeably shared?
“My lord Ossë,” Iaun said at last, careful to not give offense, for his unbidden desire was entwined with honest fear, and he felt his position precarious. “I do not wish to be anywhere but the home I have found in Doriath. Under the protection of Thingol and Melian. In the company of my friend among your kin, for I have chosen him as he has chosen me, and my service to him gladdens my heart.”
“Spoken as one whose mind may have been bent,” Ossë said with a gleam of his uncanny eyes as the sky darkened further, and all the river around them became a churning maelstrom, such that Iaun knew there would be no escape for him by swimming now. “Do you think I do not know how thralls are broken and changed by such cruelty? How their very thoughts may be warped by long lies and by false hopes? With my own eyes I have seen it!”
Iaun noticed then that as the waves swelled and surged in the storm of Ossë’s anger, the Maia began to look around him, subtly, his uncanny eyes sideways darting, his grip on Iaun tightening. Then Iaun fluttered between hope and even greater fear, for it appeared to him now that not all the storm was of Ossë’s making, and not all under his control any longer. Iaun knew not whether to shout or cower. For of all those beings mighty enough to drive a storm, not all of them would come to his aid, and many would make a captor far worse. For if Manwë ruled the winds and Ulmo the waters, there was one still greater who held a part of both their arts, and many were his servants.
Then a wave erupted in a spray of foam as lightning seared the sky, and as one with the thunder Iaun heard the deafening smack of a water-slap of a huge fluked tail. At first Iaun thought it might be fierce and fair Uinen who was wont to wear a whale-tailed shape, come to rein in her wayward husband’s wrath and bring him back from the edge of shadow, as she had done before if the lore was true.
But then Ossë howled in pain and rage, as if struck below the surface, and Iaun was whipped wildly about in the convulsions of his limbs, even choking briefly as his head was pulled for a moment beneath the surface.
There were two voices now in the wild wind, and they spoke a fierce tongue that hurt Iaun’s ears - until one changed his tone and began to chant words Iaun understood, and that voice made Iaun’s heart soar, for it was dear to him.
Twice-treacherous Ossë, faithless plunderer,
Release him now, this innocent wanderer,
Quit the sweet water, back to the brine
And never again try to steal what’s mine.
Wild in his fury was Sérelókë, greater than his usual size, and the lower half of his body wrought in one long and mighty tail of a sea-creature, azure and violet and inky black in shimmering scales. Snapping in the water like a sea-serpent enraged, he dealt Ossë great blows - and once, Iaun noted, accidentally striking far closer to Iaun than the Elf would have liked.
If Ossë was subdued for a moment, it was by the deep tones of Sérelókë’s voice, but he was roused again to wrath by the words.
“Yes, I was lured astray,” said Ossë. “I desired above all to practice my arts - my lightning and thunder, my wind and rain, my whirling foam-crowned waves, dark sky slashed by sword of light. And I was deceived, and then set to right again, and I serve no longer the Lord of Pain.
“And you, come fresh from Valinor, clear fresh scent of Taniquetil still upon you and Varda’s holy light in your eyes when you are not consumed with rage, Sérelókë. What is your excuse for treating a child of Eru so - claiming still to walk in light when you are cruel for no purpose and leave such marks upon one in your service and your care? Better I pull him down now into Ulmo’s realm and hold him there til his spirit takes flight to honest Námo and pitying Nienna. Let him suffer no more at your hand.”
“How dare you,” Sérelókë said, and low and dangerous was his voice, rising into a furious growl and seeming to to take on many tones. “How dare you. Harm him, and I shall see you returned to your true master, in whose image your heart seems now shaped. Your design was never to free Iaun, only to take him for your own, and now your false mercy is to threaten his life when you are challenged.” Sérelókë’s eyes seemed to blaze, and sharper now were his claws and teeth. “I followed the Noldor whom I deem fools to kill and die for stones, but this mine own treasure, I will fight for, unto such death as our kind can know - and if you kill him, I swear upon the thought of Eru of which we both are made, you shall not leave this cove alive.”
“Rash words, rash oaths,” said Ossë. “You are no slower to swear them than the fiercest of the Firstborn. I never meant to kill your thrall, and indeed to harm him less than you have done. I meant to keep him in greater ease and use him for kinder pleasure. But now I am half minded to do that which would bind you in your oath, for it would amuse me to see you try to slay me. Great you are in wit and reason when you are not driven half-mad by jealous guarding of your possession, but that is no weapon of war. And I have heard from wind and water how you mastered and mounted Gloomweaver and Firewhipper - but I know you slew them not, and I deem you would have done if you were able.”
“Then you deem wrong,” said Sérelókë, “and you know not my mind, Stormwreaker.”