“I found your gifts. Or are they peace offerings?”
Mairon did not turn around as Melkor strode into his forge, the sconce from earlier held tightly as he rubbed at it with buffing paper. Melkor paused in the large arched doorway, watching him work, before coming fully inside to plop down onto a stool nearby. Mairon saw from the corner of his eye that he was holding a spiced cake in one hand, unabashedly eating it whole. The villagers had laden him down with food as he left several hours earlier, especially the sweets they found him to be fond of upon his arrival, and he had left them all inside without touching a single one for himself. Obviously Melkor had stumbled upon the box.
Mairon smiled down at his work, taking solace from the gentle waves of the Vala’s familiar energy as he sat so close. The day in its entirety - the last two, as they were - had been horribly confusing, sending his thoughts into some silly sort of turmoil he did not like in the least, and he appreciated having Melkor so close, so calm, a reminder of why he was here at all.
“Gifts, yes,” Mairon replied, finally glancing briefly around at him with the smile still on his face. “For me, technically, though I wished to share rather than gorge myself alone.” Melkor held out the cake in offering, pocked with bite makes, and Mairon shook his head in the negative. “No, no, you may have that piece.”
Sheep bleated somewhere in the near distance, just heard over the gentle scrape of the buffing paper against the sconce, and Mairon lowered his eyes again. This life they had found here after such vengeful war, the peace they had fought so hard for despite so many naysayers against them…
All had warned that Melkor would never be tamed, that he craved war and destruction and chaos, that he desired the death of others and the falling of this world. They had left anyway, taking only those things - those creatures - that mattered to them, leaving the war and the world behind to sort itself out in their quite obvious absence. It had, as it stood, ‘sorted out’ and Melkor - Melkor adjusted rather quickly. Other projects to set his mind to, the sheep and the mountains, various ways to craft and create without harm to life, ways to wonderfully harness his great power without the downfall everyone had always expected of him - all here, so far away. In marvelous peace.
And Mairon had believed that had been that, the end of the confrontations to tear them apart, the end of outside interferences and interventions by kin who should never be involved to begin with.
It both pained him and infuriated him, to know this entire time everyone thought them both dangerous still, up here plotting and in need of being stopped by another vicious battle when all the two desired - all they ever desired - was to be left alone.
“What is it, Mairon,” Melkor asked, his voice soft and gentle as it floated through his tumbling thoughts. “Why are you so distraught so suddenly?”
The Vala stood, setting the cake down in its waxed paper on a bench, and came to stand close behind him, placing his large hands on Mairon’s shoulders. Mairon leaned back and turned his head to nestle against Melkor’s neck, taking a moment to settle his mind. Melkor moved one of his hands to brush aside hair loosened from the hasty braid pulled back to his nape, craning his head to peer down suspiciously at Mairon’s face.
“Oh, yes, something is definitely wrong,” he murmured astutely. “You still have dirt on your nose. I’ll remove that for you, shall I?” He daubed with his thumb across the bridge of Mairon’s nose before the Maia could react with more than a flooding of color in his cheeks. He reached up and playfully pushed Melkor’s hand away, turning his face and moving his weight forward to leave the embrace.
“That is your fault to begin with,” Mairon snapped, even if they both knew the reprimand was not at all serious. “As is this,” he added, holding up the sconce he was still attempting to fix and pointing at a large, blackened mark across the broken side. “Your handprint, right here. It won’t come out, I am going to have to make a new one. I am not sure I even want to know what you were doing to cause this damage.”
“How do you know I was the one who damaged it?” Melkor sulked impishly, hands returned to Mairon’s shoulders as he leaned heavily against his back to gaze down at the light fixture. “I may have been attempting to fix damage already done.”
Melkor lowered his face and pressed it to the side of Mairon’s neck, inhaling deeply against him until Mairon’s eyes fluttered with the sensation. “You smell of magic,” he whispered against his skin, their previous conversation rather forgotten. “A scent I have missed upon your flesh for so long. And your eyes...” The Vala trailed off, sneaking one of his hands around Mairon’s chest to tug gently at his chin until their gazes met. “Your eyes are green as the earth. It has been many hundreds of years since I have seen that hue weaving in the everlasting fire of your irises. You healed them. Didn’t you?”
There was no ire or accusation to his tone, merely curiosity, and Mairon returned the smile already on Melkor’s lips. “Only some of them.”
“The blend of colors suits you,” Melkor murmured, releasing Mairon’s chin and dipping his head to press a kiss to the curve of his neck. “Oh, but I have missed watching you use your power. Any form of it will do.”
Mairon sighed, a mixture of sounds happy and melancholy. Melkor had always been ardent with his passions, open and free with his intentions in this regard toward him. The fire the Vala’s lips left against his skin, moving slowly toward his shoulder now, was magnificent, a feeling he treasured as something among the holiest of all things. Melkor’s hand rose along his arm, finding the loose collar of his working tunic and very gently pulling it aside to plant a kiss to the base of his neck.
“Will you share with me now,” Melkor breathed there, and Mairon could feel his long eyelashes against his skin as Melkor slowly closed his eyes, “what this game is we have become so tirelessly enmeshed in?”
Hesitantly, Mairon disentangled himself from those warm, grounding arms and set his tools down so he could turn around. Melkor gazed at him, bemused, and Mairon reached up to run his fingertips back and forth along the sharp line of his cheekbone. “I have a condition,” he said softly.
“And what is that, you cheeky thing?”
“That you not lose your temper,” Mairon replied with a grin at the reprimand. “I have already found us a solution, if you will hear me all the way through.”
Melkor huffed in agitation and turned his head to look outside, considering the presented option. Mairon knew it was just for show, and he let his fingers slide downward as Melkor’s face moved, coming instead to rest along his smooth collarbone. The sun had started to set already, the brilliant hues painting the sky with marvelous reds and deep vibrant oranges, the underbellies of clouds alight with gold.
He could still hear the sheep, their calm noises a soothing addition to the fire crackling in the forge and the rumbling of Ancalagon’s footfalls in their open enclosure as he (not so subtly as the dragon would like them all to believe) herded the fluffy creatures toward the evening pasture. Draugluin had given the nightly howl not long ago, calling all of the dogs to the house, and the patter of paws could be heard among the grassy yard as they packed together. Nighttime was falling, as it always did, with such easy rhythms and routines.
This moment, right here - this was perfection.
The sun began its final descent along the horizon, and the sheen of light cut across Melkor’s face as he gazed off into the distance with his thoughts. It was beautiful, that peaceful glow of yellow against pale skin and gleaming hair, and Mairon brushed several strands away from his eyes. “Will you, precious one? Keep your temper?”
“It is something to do with my brother,” Melkor replied softly without question.
“I do not have full evidentiary support of that,” Mairon began sympathetically, his hand not leaving the Vala’s face in order to give him something to hold to when his anger inevitably rose. A genuine precaution, though also one brought on by affection he did not bother to hide.
So far, at least, Melkor simply seemed...sad. Mairon frowned, sorrow growing in his own chest as the story became real through its retelling. “Curumo - Saruman - he brought word that there has been discussion among the White Council - ” Melkor shot him a confused look, and he waved his hand dismissively. “Oh, you know, that group of Maiar who have taken on the guise of wise old men, or Wizards, or what have you. Right, it appears some of them do not believe you and I are taking the peace treaty we signed seriously.”
Melkor narrowed his eyebrows, and Mairon felt the first stirrings of anger within the well of energy running through him. He resumed the steady movement of his fingers across Melkor’s face. “Not taking it seriously? We are the ones who suggested the treaty to begin with!”
“Yes, I know.” Mairon stepped closer to him again, allowing his own energy to flow and soothe until Melkor took a deep breath. “Curumo came to see for himself. He told me of the dissention when he understood we pose no threat any longer.”
“And what were they going to do had no one come to see with their own eyes first?” Melkor snapped, fury lacing his words. “Ride here ready for battle refusing to hear reason as they cut us down in our sanctuary?” Mairon was silent, though he allowed the answer to that question to be seen on his face. Melkor hung his head, the rage rolling off now in waves. “And here, I thought we were free of my kin, and yours, and the lot of them. It was all a lie, wasn’t it?”
“They merely do not understand,” Mairon offered. “They never have.” He raised both hands to cup the Vala’s face, bringing their gazes together. Melkor watched him, letting his breath slide from his lungs.
“What, pray, is this plan of yours?” he finally asked. The anger was not gone, but its danger had never fully risen the way it so easily may have in the past, and Mairon smiled gently at him as he pressed both calloused thumbs against Melkor’s lips.
“We cure the plague,” he said simply. “Curumo is aware of our involvement, which I gave under the stipulation of never being spoken to, thought of, or otherwise bothered again by anyone from the West or elsewhere. I will even send him another contract to sign, after the deed is done. I cannot do this alone, certainly, and will need the assistance of the mightiest Vala to walk these blessed lands,” he paused to grin rather wickedly, leaning forward to move his fingers from Melkor’s lips and instead pressed a kiss there. “But it will be a simple, simple solution.”
Melkor gave him a growling smirk, his hands finding their way to Mairon’s hair and pulling out the loose braid to clutch in the falling strands. “Explain this solution to me.”
Mairon spun away, grabbing Melkor by the wrist as they parted and pulling him easily toward a workbench at the far wall, away from the forge fire. He quickly lit a candle in the growing darkness with sparking fingertips and lowered a milky glass shade over the taper, throwing gently flickering light over a map spread across the tabletop.
“These towns,” he explained animatedly, gesturing to those marked on the map with red ink, “are those in our valley infected. Several more lie throughout the region as the disease passes from city to city heedless of boundary lines.”
“So all of them, basically,” Melkor mumbled, gazing down where Mairon was pointing. It was true; every Man-inhabited town or village in the entire region was starred by Mairon’s quill.
“Yes,” the Maia confirmed. “I was sure to get as much information as I could from the elder I met with this afternoon, and it appears this plague is exceedingly widespread. It is far more devastating than they realize, to be frank. The man I met, he spoke of deaths in his own home nearing a hundred - over half of those who live there. If each town of this size has losses of similar numbers, and those of larger residencies suffering higher counts - they are easily looking at a loss of more than three quarters of their entire population by the time this disease runs its course.”
“Why did we never think of a plague?” Melkor grumbled under his breath as he studied the map, running a finger between the towns on the heavy paper.
“I certainly considered it even if it never crossed your mind,” Mairon said cheerfully. “But the logistics of deploying such a thing…” He shook his head and frowned, lost in the memories of a time long since gone. “And besides, you would have grown bored with it rather quickly. This one, contaminating lands now, has been festering for almost ten years and could go on for another fifty if untethered. You prefer much more direct attacks.” Melkor gave him a snide little glare that was easily ignored. “In any case, this cure. I was thinking - and bear with me here, will you - a rain shower.”
“A rain shower?” Melkor repeated, too surprised by the simplicity of such a thing to continue grudging against any jokingly mentioned shortcomings in the previous jest. “Do you mean, like a magical storm of some sort?”
Mairon beamed at him in the candlelight. “That is exactly what I mean.”
“Are you asking me to rain down fire and brimstone on these towns, Mairon, because that sounds like a wonderful amount of fun.”
His eyes roamed over the map again, and Mairon watched him closely, greedily. It almost felt as though they were transported back in time for that brief moment, to another room in another age, in the war halls of Utumno or Angband, deep in discussions of where to send the next battalions or to re-engage the next troops. The intimacy of those times, wrapped in discussions of futures untold, of victories and great conquests to be waged under their flying banner...
The silence stretched warmly around them regardless of the cold night, and Mairon stepped to Melkor’s side to slide a hand over his shoulder. “Not fire and brimstone, exactly,” he murmured, “but near enough. We need to make a show of it, to make it obvious this is meant to be a - a moment of healing. Can you create rainbows and flowers and small, sweet creatures to pop up out of the sodden ground instead? Something obscenely happy?”
Melkor looked around at him with a booming laugh, understanding the intention quickly. “And I should, what, put the power of regrowth and restoration into the downpour, then? So anyone who is bathed by the water is cured?”
“As well as the earth itself,” Mairon added with a pleased nod. “Though I was being overly dramatic with the ‘small creatures popping up out of the ground’ bit, please do not do that. I fear I may vomit with disgust if you do such a thing.”
“What of those not touched by the rain?”
Mairon could tell his idea was taking hold. Melkor’s voice was fully interested now, and he ran his fingers up the back of the Vala’s neck into his tangled mane of hair as they both turned their gazes to the map once more. Mairon pointed with his free hand to a mountain very near to their own.
“There is a mine here,” he explained softly, “filled with rich veins of dark green fluorite. I can take enough to cut into hundreds of smaller pieces, and imbue them all with lesser healing qualities as I tumble and smooth them. Enough for each town to get at least four or five for their healers to use on those still ill.”
“Clever, not to give them one apiece,” Melkor said with another chuckle.
Mairon leaned his head against Melkor’s shoulder, smiling calmly in the flickering light. “The idea was to stop this horribly nasty plague, not incite a bloody war by only giving out one solitary magical token for them to fight over. Rather a shame, I suppose, but if it will lead to our continued peace here, it is a price I will pay.” Mairon took up Melkor’s hand from the map, twining their fingers together. “Would you like to join me for the mining expedition tomorrow, my love?”
“So I may turn into a pack mule for assisting you? No, I think not.”
“Oh, do come,” Mairon murmured, kissing the back of Melkor’s hand and letting his lips linger there as he continued to speak. “I can think of so many better things to do with you than merely ask you to carry whatever we may pick up.” He let the insinuation hang in the air and smirked, raising his eyes. “Such as opening a few new tunnels in the mines for me using your ferocious power. I will not be able to reach all the fluorite alone, after all.”
The bespelled rain, when it came, was a thing of magnificent beauty.
Melkor stood at the mountain’s precipice, Mairon at his back clad once more in his heavy traveling cloak, as stormclouds gathered overhead to hide what had earlier promised to be an afternoon full of sun. Not three days had passed since the evening of plans had been laid, enough time to gather any additional materials for the stones to be passed amongst the towns and for Melkor to consider how best to cast his own spell across the land.
Mairon stood aside, looking up to the sky as the clouds rolled in. They were heavy with rain, dark and grey even if their presence was only as menacing as a simple spring shower. Energy spilled from them, igniting over his skin in invisible waves that tugged and flowed through his soul. He closed his eyes and threw his head back, soaking it into his body in a way he had not felt in centuries.
He wondered, very briefly, if the people they were doing this for so far below would feel any of this themselves - or if, more likely, they would remain clueless and ignorant of the extraordinary power they were being allowed to witness.
The pitch of Melkor’s chant changed slightly and large, pearlescent drops of shimmering rain began to fall from the lowest clouds. Mairon held out his hand, catching the closest tear of water as it descended from the sky. It splashed against his skin, beading over pale flesh, and, just for a moment, a translucent curl of vine and leaves of the lightest green appeared there on his palm where the drop hit. It tingled pleasantly for the fluttering of a moment and then vanished, soaking into his skin as though it had not existed.
He reached for another streak of the delicate rain, watching as the lovely little leaves appeared within the beading drops against his freckled arm once more. Had he been injured, or ill, or unwell in any way...the wronged would be healed from this tiny pearl of water. He smiled silently, awed by the power and ease of it.
Rain pattered gently against the ground around them as the clouds moved quickly away from the mountain, seeking to release their healing to the intended region beyond. Mairon watched as the few drops left within arm’s reach landed on the grass nearby. Small shoots rose from the cold dirt, sprouting with the same little pointed leaves he had watched blossom across his skin. They remained there for achingly beautiful seconds before vanishing into fragrant wisps of silver smoke.
A gust of wind rose, and the clouds continued away from the mountains. The rain fell harder, a thick sheet to blanket sick land and its people.
Melkor grew silent after a moment and Mairon walked forward to come to his side. “It will fall for the rest of the day and into tomorrow,” he explained softly. “Enough to touch as many of your ailing souls as possible. Will it do?”
“This surpasses all expectations,” Mairon murmured, the words honest and quiet. He slipped his arm around Melkor’s to hook their elbows and continued to watch as the clouds moved onward. It was impossible to see any people below from this height, though by now the first two towns were feeling the falling rain.
“Shall I join you when you journey out to pass around your little rocks?”
There was enough lilt to this that Mairon smiled, hearing the joke comparing his own magical work to this great masterpiece. He lowered his hand from Melkor’s elbow to grasp his fingers. “If you would like,” he replied. “I fear it will be a long and rather boring trip, all told. To go to every one of these towns...what do you reckon, several weeks to be through the region and back again?”
“If you will transform yourself into something that can fly, the trip should only take a day,” Melkor argued halfheartedly. There was something else to his tone that did not quite make it to the words themselves.
Mairon was silent for a moment, gazing down at the gentle storm. The smoke, as it rose with its silver tails, looked like a thin sheen of mist that clung so close to the land. “Flying still does not solve the problem of transporting all of the goods I must carry,” he finally said with a small grin.
“If you are a large enough creature, I could come with you to carry whatever must be brought.”
“Oh, I do not like that idea at all,” Mairon retorted immediately, pushing Melkor’s shoulder playfully. “I will not turn into some - some winged llama for you to fly all over the land!” He was unable to finish with a composed expression and began to laugh. Melkor grinned widely, shaking his head, and Mairon continued before he could be interrupted. “If you are so put off by the time away, you can stay here. Those weeks are nothing for us.”
“I would rather not be parted from you again,” Melkor said.
The statement came so abruptly that Mairon considered for a moment he had misheard, and he turned his head to look at Melkor’s face in confusion. The Vala did not look at him in return, apparently lost in his own consuming thoughts.
“We did not leave everything behind, Mairon, only to risk losing it all again,” Melkor murmured. “If you are leaving for any length of time, I will go with you. I am not acting as protector, or with fear, or out of some obsessive need to keep my so-called possessions close...”
He trailed off, leaving the thought unfinished. After another moment of silence, he met Mairon’s eyes and gave him a lopsided smile. “I do not wish to be parted, is all. There is no reason why we should be, and so we will not.” He reached out to cup Mairon’s cheek in his palm, rubbing his thumb along his high cheekbone. Mairon sighed and leaned heavily into the tender touch, covering Melkor’s hand with his own. “If this game is unfinished even with all our pieces cast as they are, if my brother is discontent to leave us be as he promised to - I will not be more than a moonsbreath from your side. All I have wanted these last years is peace in my own mind, and I have found it with you.”
Mairon tilted his head to press his lips to Melkor’s palm in a feather-light kiss. “You know I will follow you anywhere, through any trial we may face,” he whispered. “And I would certainly allow you to follow me, if you wish it. Even on such a trivial journey as this.”
Their chosen method of travel, it was finally decided, was flight by way of Ancalagon and a journey of only two days. They landed far enough away from each town to avoid detection - or at least as much detection of the dragon as possible. Melkor stayed behind to grouse about the accrued time as Mairon raised his hood and ventured into each village center with the prepared gift of little fluorite stones.
He spent several hours showing the healers and whoever else wished to see how to tap into the magical properties, how to use them to purify water to give those still ailing, or how to press one to a fevered forehead to drain away the illness; how to pass the tumbled and smoothed rock over blistered skin to restore health to rash, or press them to soles of feet to withdraw impurities. He was careful to explain that these had been specifically created for this particular plague and, once the illness had lapsed away and the people were brought back to their fullest wellbeing, the healing powers of the stones would fade and they would be no more than pretty green trinkets.
“The stones will know when this comes to pass,” he said each time with a mysterious smile.
And it was true, he had gone to great lengths to ensure such a thing. Partly, and he could not lie to himself about this, was because he did not want such power of his own floating about in the world of Men for all eternity. The deal was to solve the problem of the plague, not grant them reprieve from all illness and injury. His sympathy only went so far.
Before he left each village, he was bombarded by questions of the rain from the previous evening. These he evaded with more unassuming smiles and coy words, both taking responsibility and giving it to another higher power. They were all under the impression both he and Saruman were their saviors, and he was willing to leave it there. Especially since Melkor had come all this way only to refuse at the last moment to actually join him for the final deliveries. The mighty Vala would receive no credit by those he saved. So be it.
“There is one more stop I would like to make,” Mairon said as he returned to the clearing where Melkor and Ancalagon were lounging in the sunshine streaming through the trees.
“I thought that was the last village,” Melkor grumbled, rolling to his feet and poking Ancalagon to do the same. The ground quaked as the dragon shook along his spine and stretched out his wings. “Where else do you possibly have to go?”
“I have the contract drawn up. I would like to deliver it to Curumo myself and watch with my own eyes as he signs it.” Mairon smirked, walking forward to run his hand along the smooth scales and hard muscle of Ancalagon back haunch. “You do not have to come inside. In fact, it would be best if you do not.”
Melkor glared at him as Mairon climbed on to the dragon’s back, already prepared to leave. He opened his mouth to respond, but Ancalagon beat him to it. “Because,” the beast rumbled in response to the unasked question, his voice echoing through the trees and frightening a flock of birds, “you tend to make such matters worse rather than better with your sharp tongue and quick temper. Let Mairon tend to this final chore so we may return home. I fear we may have lost several sheep in our absence.”
“Oh, do not fret about that, my dear Ancalagon,” Mairon said with a laugh as Melkor sulked petulantly behind him in the leather saddle, finally ready for flight. “Draugluin can keep a clever eye on them for you while you are gone.”
“What in the name of Eru are you doing here?”
Saruman looked across his desk, papers and scrolls stacked in neat piles around him, and dropped his quill with a clatter to the parchment spread before him. A fire flickered cheerfully in the grate beside him, filling the room with its warmth and bathing the many filled bookshelves with gentle light as it blended with the late afternoon sunshine spilling from high arched windows.
Mairon strode through the room as though he belonged there, a smile widening across his face as he reached into this cloak for a rolled scroll to offer forward in answer to the question.
The wizard snatched it from his elegant fingers, scowling. “How did you even get in here?” he asked sourly, pushing the band off and hastily opening it to see what could possibly be written there.
“I believe we have already discussed your - what was it, the power you traded back in return for your ventures here?” Mairon shrugged and paced away, eyes roaming in a bored fashion along the bookshelves. All titles he either owned already or had no interest in. “Getting through your barrier of spells was little more than a sneeze on my part. What a nice tower you have here. Very...visible from quite a distance.”
Saruman sneered at him, glancing up again after having read very little of the missive in his hands. “How did you even know where to come?”
“Oh, please,” Mairon said with a jeering snort. “I’ve known where all of your Council resides from the moment you came here. Now -” He gestured to the paper, growing impatient. “Sign this and I will be on my way. Melkor is just outside, he will grow bored shortly at being kept waiting and I promise, you do not want him in here. Your little library would not stand a chance against his wandering hands.”
“He - Lord Melkor is outside? He’s here?”
Saruman stood quickly, genuinely startled, and rushed to a window overlooking the vast gardens below. He caught sight of Ancalagon trampling the purple dahlias and into the large rose bushes, and turned again in a swirl of white robes, flustered and stuttering over words that would not come. He spun back to the window, eyes wide and searching. Melkor was nowhere in sight.
“Oh, do not fear. I asked him to at least give me enough time to settle this myself,” Mairon murmured, coming to his side to peer outside as well. “He is probably just snooping around attempting to amuse himself.” He hid his smile, knowing full well exactly what the Vala was doing out there. Only getting into trouble if taking a nap in the sun while his dragon sniffed the pretty flowers and worried about his sheep was considered ‘rude behavior’.
Saruman dashed back to this desk, unaware of Mairon’s thoughts, and grabbed up the discarded paper again to read through it quickly now. “What is this? What have you brought to me?”
“Our contract,” he replied casually, still gazing out the window. “Sign it and we will leave.”
The glare he received in return for this was intense enough that he felt it boring into his back. He caught sight of Melkor’s booted foot as Ancalagon ambled a little further into the garden, and then the Vala came into view lounging against the trunk of a tree. He appeared to be asleep, though Mairon knew he was aware of everything going on around him. It would take nothing more than the slightest tug along their mental link for him wake from the light slumber, to join him here either for fun or destruction.
“Normally,” Mairon continued softly, listening to the rustling of paper as Saruman obviously read, “I would give this to the intended party before our part was completed. But I acted in good faith on the assumption you would honor your end of the bargain we agreed to. I trusted you before, Curumo, do not prove I was mistaken to do so again.”
There was a hint of threat in those last words, and their eyes met briefly as he glanced over his shoulder. Saruman took up the quill, dipping the tip into the inkwell and quickly scrawling his name across the bottom beside Mairon’s own. He cleared his throat, looking up again and then away as he rerolled the scroll to hand back. Mairon strode back to accept the extended paper.
“You should know,” Saruman said haughtily, “you went to action far faster than I expected you to, with that fanciful rain of yours. I have shared this information with the council. However...word has not yet reached the Valar in Valinor of our agreement.”
Mairon curled his lip in true disappointment. “Here, then,” he grumbled, pulling a second copy of the same contract from the lining of his cloak. He tossed it on the desk unceremoniously. “Keep this one as your own evidence and do not back out now. You saw the outcome for yourself. The plague will be fully contained within three days, our part is done. We are to be left in true peace from this point forward, as we should have been before.”
He took a step back and turned to leave, reaching over his shoulders to pull up his hood.
Suddenly Saruman stood again, shuffling through another stack of papers and stalking forward with three of them. Mairon raised his eyebrows, surprised by the vexed expression on the old man’s face. “What is this?” he asked as the papers were shoved into his hands.
“Were you aware?” Saruman asked with a curious fury, pointing with a gnarled finger at his chest. “Of these designs?”
Mairon looked down at the papers, smoothing out the angry wrinkles to expose, of all things, plans for a statue. A statue of a figure with what appeared to be his own face staring back up at him with little dimensions scrawled out to the side in untidy, unfamiliar handwriting. He burst with a barking laugh, his eyes starting to water with its growing intensity. “What is this? Your own idolization of me? I’m surprised at you, I would have thought that fanciful little infatuation with me from Aulë’s ancient forge long passed.”
“One of the towns is building this!” he snapped, grabbing the papers back right out of Mairon’s hands before he could look any closer. Color rose scarlet along his sunken cheeks. “The base has my name! You gave them my name as your own!”
Mairon extracted the plans again, amused beyond reason now. He studied the second page, confirming that yes, actually, this was most certainly his likeness. “Oh my,” he murmured, chortling happily and not even trying to cover it. “Oh, goodness, Curumo, look at this! He is so handsome!” He held the sketch of the statue’s face near to his own and broke into a wide, toothy smile, simply elated. “It looks just like me!”
“The name, Mairon, what did you do!”
“Oh, relax - no, no, silly, I’m keeping this one, you may have the the rest -” He shoved Saruman’s hand away and folded one page, the one with the proposed granite face, to put into his cloak as a souvenir. He handed the other two pieces of parchment back, and the wizard snatched them away irritably. “Stop being so upset, I simply wished to defer the attention away from myself as I gave the assistance you so rightly requested. You wanted the glory, I gave it to you.”
“And now my name will be forever attached to an image of you!” Saruman snarled, incensed. “I pass through that region regularly! And now -”
“They think it is you,” Mairon interrupted, rolling his eyes. “Or at least some old, forgotten version of your old form. Do let it go, won’t you? Besides, I will never see these people again, it matters very little to anyone save your vain self.”
“You, calling me vain? What a turn of events.”
But the anger was gone from his voice, and Mairon’s smile this time was almost genuine. “You do not have a forge here, do you?”
Saruman met his eyes, baffled by the question so different than the conversation they had previously been holding. “No, I do not. I no longer have time for such trivial things.”
“That is a shame. Goodbye, Curumo.” He raised his hand in a gesture of goodwill as he backed toward the door again, readying to leave. “You will find a clause in the agreement you just signed, should you read it over closer, that stipulates neither you nor any other members of the White Council you lead so judiciously never come to our home again, even under the banner of friendship. So this is our last.”
Saruman did not speak again, and did not stop him as Mairon turned and walked from the room. His footsteps echoed through the marble halls as he made his way toward the entrance, and the deepening spring sunlight upon his face as he pushed through the heavy wooden door was a welcome warmth. Melkor sensed his approach immediately and cracked an eye open as he neared the tree.
“How did it go?”
“As well as I expected it to,” Mairon said, extending his hand out to needlessly help Melkor to his feet. “Better, actually. Look at this.” He extracted the folded paper with the sketched plans from his cloak again and let Melkor take it from him, watching as he began to chuckle.
“A statue? They are building a statue of you? That will certainly stoke your ego, as if it is not already quite large enough. Just what you need - a marble effigy to last as long as your immortal life as reminder.”
Mairon hummed noncommittally at the playful jibe, basking in the sound of Melkor’s voice and the warming sunlight to chase away the lingering winter’s chill. He retrieved the paper and tucked it into his cloak once more. “They are carving Curumo’s name on the base to go with my perfect face.”
The chuckle turned into a booming laugh. “Oh, I can imagine how well that went over.”
“And it will be granite, not marble. I do not believe the limited budgets - or limited skills - of Men would allow for them to carve in marble. Their own loss.” They both smiled, looking at one another as the sun began its slow descent on yet another day. “Shall we return home now?” Mairon asked.
“Home,” Melkor repeated softly, the word falling from his lips like an oft-repeated prayer that had not been raised in far too long. “It seems like such an odd concept even still, don’t you think?”
Mairon continued to gaze at him, watching as the Vala turned his attention to the horizon and the far range of mountains. Not their own, though close enough. It had been an odd concept, at first. In the years after the initial treaties and agreements had been signed, after the other Valar had so grudgingly allowed them to have their solitude in return for peace through the land (even if it had been more one-sided than originally thought, a problem now quite taken care of) - yes, at first this idea of “home” was a foreign one.
When before they had been always surrounded by vast walls of stone, engulfed by fumes of sulfur rising from the pits of the earth, the sounds of their own armies always moving to and fro through the halls, forever accompanied by hundreds…
This, now, was so vastly different, so filled with ease and simplicity, and the previous lifetime may never have existed at all. Or, perhaps, it had merely been viewed through a crystal mirror, as though by an indifferent seer to share so many varied outcomes for one single soul’s path, ready to shed them like cards into a fire at her whim.
“No,” Mairon finally replied, reaching out to take Melkor’s hand into his. “This idea of home, it is not so odd any longer. Or at least, no longer for me.”
He nodded, turning his head to look out toward the mountains as well. It did not seem strange in the least to be having this conversation here, in Saruman’s gardens, while the wizard himself likely looked on from that high window in his frivolous tower. Mairon smiled, a sense of contentment washing over him as he took in the sight and thought of what waited for them just beyond that range of snow-dotted peaks.
“This whole world is our home, Melkor. We have simply continued to keep our place in it, here among all things.”