In Valinor, Mairon rises early from dreamless sleep. His gilded cage in the Pelori Mountains is lined with Intricate carpets, and on occasion he is still distracted by their softness as, for the first time in centuries, he walks without pain. His balcony opens above forests and when he wills it, his hröa is once more capable of change.
Great wings spill from his back and --
He sighed as the wholeness of his magic flowed through him, like a mis-directed river finding its course. He was right again, in so many ways, but his might and memory were full of holes and there were scars on his fëa that did not fade.
He took to the air as a great red hawk, then felt a pang of shame at his cowardice. Once he would’ve chosen a dragon, or bat, or other fell beast, for the joy of its terror but today he thought of his jailers, of how he'd been when they's found him, and couldn't summon the courage. Is this how You felt? He thought, to Someone who couldn’t answer. Is this the crawling terror that chained even You to Your throne?
Below him, green stretched on-and-on like the banners of his enemies; defeat clawing up from the earth itself. The slopes of the mountains grew familiar as he passed, but it wasn’t until he saw the great hewn door that he recognized his surroundings.
The Halls of his Old Master towered like an accusation; distant but too close. Too close forever, after all that he’d done.
That realization had only just hit when power swept through him, mithril-hard and forge-hot. A voice that he had long ago discarded rung through his mind like a bell: Mairon.
His captors had stolen what little of his True Lord remained to him, and he wheeled from the touch of another Vala as a troll from the sun. Aulë, my lord. Aulë, forgive me, some sick, sniveling part of him cried. He told himself it was just the weakness Eru gifted to all Maia; that longing to be protected, dominated, and owned. He had not fought for so long and sacrificed so much to fall prey to it now.
Mairon landed, cloaking himself in the shadows of trees until he could almost convince himself that he was home; that he strolled in Dol Guldur and had not lost; that he was merely yet biding his time.
Beneath his palm, the bark of a tree was too smooth. The breeze carried no spider’s chitter and the only noise was bird song. Give up, they screeched to him. He is gone. Give up, you are forgiven. Repent, and Aulë will take you into his arms.
Mairon shook his head, back stiffening as wings fluttered behind him and he heard the soft thump of feet on the path.
“You wander far today, Mairon.” Eönwë said, falling into step.
“Yet never far enough.” Still unsettled by the run-in with his old master, Mairon’s reply was not as benign as he’d wished it, but he forced himself calm. He was patient, he could wait; for there were none in all Eä more skilled in such deceptions than he. His face became a mask of contrition. “My apologies. I am troubled by strange dreams.”
“Strange indeed,” The Herald agreed, expression un-softened. “For my lord told me that Irmo is sworn to deny you such things.”
Only long practice allowed Mairon to hide his surprise. He had not thought his tormentors capable of hiding such things. “Ah, then perhaps it is only my own uneasy reflections, blurring the borders of sleep.”
“Perhaps.” Eönwë looked uncomfortable. Ahead, the woods fell away into meadow. “These are the lands of Yavanna,” he remarked in a tone full of question. Mairon had given no thought to their location, but rolled his eyes as though that had been obvious.
For a little while more, they continued in silence, but as they approached the edge of tilled fields, the banner-bearer of Manwë slowed.
“What?” Mairon asked.
“I had not thought growing things would much please you.”
Despite his earlier thoughts, Mairon had to bite back anger at the assumption. After a long interval, he sighed instead. “Makers of war must have the tools of war. I have no innate quarrel with peaceful things.” He brushed moss from the tips of his fingers and allowed a smile to tug at his lips. “Perhaps you have forgotten, but Ages ago I assisted my first master’s wife in planning her tree shepherds.”
Eönwë’s laugh was the high, soothing song of wind through spring leaves. “Ha! I had forgotten. Yet, I seem to recall your motive more lay in stymieing the works of Curumo.”
“Indeed, and well I succeeded. Ha! In the long term, far better than I knew!” Now it was Mairon’s turn to chuckle, though Eönwë looked at him askance. “Peace, Eönwë.” He raised placating hands. “For even I may have more than one reason for my acts --”
Then his words stumbled to a stop; for nearby on a hill, a figure heretofore unseen arose and, waving its arms, called down to them, “Master Eönwë and Friend, what a pleasant surprise!”
It descended with the mad enthusiasm of a Warg on its kill, yet Mairon heeded it not. For beside him Eönwë had gone rigid as stone, and for all their centuries this was the first time he’d seen a twitch in the swordsman’s jaw, or his throat working without sound. The little creature nearly tumbled down the last bit of slope, then stared up at them with periwinkle eyes.
“Master Eönwë, I say, I am sorry to bother, but it’s years since we’ve seen you in these lands, and I’m afraid Bilbo’s been telling his stories again, and we’ve got newcomers clamoring for your eagles.”
‘Your?’ Mairon mouthed over the thing’s head, and watched with satisfaction as the Herald bit back a grimace.
“My apologies, Frodo. I am afraid that of late, my lord has assigned me to less pleasant things.” Here his gaze darted to Mairon. Following it, Frodo’s own widened.
“Ah!” He smacked himself in the forehead. “I’m sorry, I’ve been terribly rude. Frodo Baggins, at your service, Master…?”
Baggins. The name fell, sinking into him like a hook. But Mairon’s memory was bruised, beaten and gouged through with holes; whatever significance it might’ve had was lost to him.
Beside him, Eönwë choked and Mairon burned to know what had his old enemy so desperate.
He dipped his head in a gesture of rueful regret. “Ah, I am afraid I have many names, Master Baggins.” For reasons beyond him, he found himself emphasizing the ’s’ at the last. “Yet Eönwë has ever favored ‘Mairon’, so perhaps it is best.”
“Well met then, Mairon! Though I must say, it seems the collection of titles must be a pastime for you Ainur. Valar knows I can’t follow all of Gandalf’s these days.”
“Gandalf?” Mairon lifted his brows at Eönwë. The Standard Bearer’s face took on a fascinating green tinge. He explained:
Then darkness flashed behind Mairon’s eyes and a vision appeared; of shining spears, a high king, and a white old man on a strong white horse. A mouth that was both his and not-his spoke, and he felt each word as it passed, thick with venom.
"…Then thou art the spokesman, old greybeard? Have we not heard of thee at whiles, and of thy wanderings, ever hatching plots and mischief at a safe distance?…”
His mouth tasted of ash and stinging pain. Somewhere his Ring, his precious, was falling. Was falling while above a small face -- Frodo’s face -- looked down and there was heat, burning, death —
Very slowly, Mairon brushed a strand of flame-bright hair from his vision. Then the whole of his being was turned on the hobbit -- yes, hobbit, that was what they were called -- and in a voice steady as steel he asked, “Oh! I don’t suppose, by any chance, you are --”
Eönwë clapped loudly, startling both of them. “Ah, Frodo, but we’ve trespassed overlong and should leave, ere we become unpleasant.”
Frodo’s brow wrinkled, and his words took on the uncertain note of one seeking a joke. “I daresay while you and your eagles may be unexpected, I can’t imagine you’ve ever been unwelcome.”
Marion snorted with a noise like a donkey braying. Eönwë kicked him in the shins.
Yet, before the Herald could attempt another awkward escape, Frodo squared his shoulders and addressed Mairon straight on. “I had not thought the story had gone so far as Taniquetil, but yes, I am he they call the Ring-Bearer. Yet, I have spoken with many great heroes in Valinor, which I see from your countenance that you must be, and in comparison, my labors were but a small thing.”
“Oh, I would not say that.” Mairon’s voice issued soft and delicate as gold-leaf on icing. The Herald of Manwë cleared his throat.
“Then I am glad we have not to have bothered you, Frodo. Yet, we have much to accomplish and must bid you farewell. Come,” he ordered Mairon, as his hröa shifted into that of an eagle.
Yet despite the command, Mairon lingered, forcing the great bird to rest on his arms. Talons dug deep into his shoulder.
“It was… interesting, to meet you Frodo.” He said at last, when the threat of a beak pressed into his neck. “You have given me answers I did not know to look for, but I find that somehow, I have only more questions.”
Then Mairon summed the full weight of his regard, which had made grown men cower and elf lords weep. The hobbit stepped forward and grasped his hand.
“Any friend of Eönwë’s is a friend of mine. I do not know what you have suffered, o Mairon, but I know a little of burdens and would help, if I can.”
His fingers against Mairon’s seemed cool, almost cold. When he concentrated, he almost thought he caught the echo of a familiar whisper. Meeting the hobbit’s gaze he felt the eagle’s grip tighten, drawing blood.
“Thank you,” he said, meaning every word. His shoulder throbbed. “I would like that."