For it came to pass that Melkor, as the Valar had decreed, completed the term of his bondage, dwelling for three ages in the duress of Mandos, alone.
There is nothing more mystifying than time. The way it ebbs and flows, how it slips through the fingers like water, how it clings to the skin like fear.
How it can cease to carry any meaning at all.
Three ages was his debt to pay. Three ages spent in the furthest depths of the Halls of Mandos, feeling nothing but the bite of iron that bound him fast.
Three ages alone, in the darkness, with nothing but himself to keep him company.
Himself and his seething rage.
The collar around his neck was cold against his skin, forged from his own iron crown. He remembered when it graced his brow, and all that laid eyes on him trembled with fear.
Now it served no purpose other than to mock him.
And Melkor would not stand to be mocked.
He had been great, second in power only to Eru Ilúvatar himself. And now here he lay, cast down in chains and disgraced.
Try though his brother Manwë might, Melkor would not be broken so easily. Three ages or thirty, he didn’t care. Bury him in the very foundation of the Halls of Mandos for all of eternity and leave him to rot, it made no difference. Nothing could quench the burning embers that were his malice. If anything, Manwë was just fanning the coals into a flame that would soon catch and spread over the face of Arda, marring her face so deeply that his work would never be denied.
Arda would be his whether or not the rest of the Valar—or even Eru for that matter—cooperated with his plans. It was just within his grasp, ready to be seized in his hand. All that stood in his way was Manwë.
But Melkor could bide his time. He had nothing but time.
Ages and ages of time.
Melkor instinctively curled in on himself at the sudden burst of light that assaulted his eyes. The clank of Angainor’s links rang clearly through the air and sent a chill up his spine. He could hear footsteps draw near, but he couldn’t open his eyes. The light was too great, too bright, too much.
He felt hands grasp around his arms and yank him up until he stood on his feet. His head swam for a moment, but steadied itself soon enough.
More footfalls approached and Melkor chanced cracking his eyes open slightly. The image before him, though blurry, was one that he knew well.
So it was done then.
Three ages. Oh how it had felt like an eternity.
Melkor sighed as the image sharpened.
Hearing his own voice after so long was strange, but he had missed it.
The Doomsman of the Valar stared at him, neither anger or grief or any emotion for that matter resting on his face. He only reached up, took Melkor’s hands in his own, and slowly lowered them to his waist. Mandos held them there firmly yet gently.
Melkor looked down at Mandos’ hands for a moment before he lowered his head to them. His lips nearly brushed the back of Mandos’ hands before the other Vala jerked them away. Melkor didn’t move.
“The Elder King will speak with thee.”
Mandos turned on his heel and left, his robes flowing behind him like silver beams of moonlight.
Melkor slowly lowered his hands to his sides and grasped the chains that were fastened to them. He squeezed them until he thought the skin of his palms would be split.
“So it shall be, my lord,” he uttered.
The arms grasping his dragged him forward, but he offered no resistance. He let his foot be caught on the chains around his feet, and he fell to his knees with a groan. He was kept aloft by the arms around his own, and he looked up in time to see Mandos stop and nearly turn around to face him. It seemed as though he thought better of it at the last moment though, and continued walking out of the hall.
Melkor couldn’t help but to crack a sinister grin.
The audience hall of Manwë was just as he remembered it. Large, open, bright.
The air was cool and crisp. Melkor had nearly forgotten what that felt like.
The hall was silent as he was brought in. The only sounds were the clanging of his chains and the slap of his bare feet on the stone. Every other Vala in the room held their breath. Melkor didn’t bother. He carried himself with the dignity of the Valar, spine ramrod straight and eyes forward.
On the far end of the hall sat Manwë Súlimo in all of his glory, dressed in raiment as blue as a clear sky. His left hand held his scepter loosely, and his hair cascaded over his shoulders in an unbroken and shining wave. His eyes flashed when he saw Melkor being led in, and he leaned forward on the seat of his throne.
Halfway through the audience hall, the ones escorting Melkor shoved him roughly onto the floor. They retreated back to the door to wait for Manwë’s bidding and left him to push himself up onto his knees.
For a long time, none of the Valar said anything. Melkor could feel their gazes on him, but he kept his own focused on the ground. His breathing was even, cool, and collected.
When Manwë spoke, his clear voice seemed to shake the hall. His eyes never left Melkor’s kneeling form.
“My fellow Valar. On this day we have before us Melkor, one of our own gone astray from that which is good.
“Melkor, thou hast been sentenced to bondage in the Halls of Mandos, chained by the great chain Angainor, for three ages of Valinor as recompense for thine crimes against Arda and the creation of Eru Ilúvatar.”
He paused for a moment to let his words sink in. “Thine sentence has been served in full.”
Manwë tightened his grip on his scepter for a moment before lowering his voice. His face softened some, and a touch of sadness colored his voice.
“Dost thou have anything to speak before this council?”
The entire hall turned to Melkor and strained their ears to hear what his response would be.
For a long time, Melkor didn’t speak. He mulled over his words and stared down at the stone that he knelt on. Its surface was cool, polished to a mirror shine. His reflection was distorted, but he could make out his own features, ones that he hadn’t seen in three ages.
Long and unkempt dark hair.
An angular face that hadn’t seen the light of the two trees in so many years.
And the undeniable anger in his eyes.
So he clenched his jaw and took a deep breath before he did the unthinkable.
He bowed forward until his forehead nearly touched the floor, and he began to speak.
“Manwë, the one who in the mind of Eru Ilúvatar is my brother and he who holds both my judgement and fate, may I beg thee mercy before this council.
“For three ages I have lain in the dark, in the very belly of the halls of the dead, bound fast, and I loathe for my mind to return to my torment. Be it known that I grieve for mine actions, and if it were possible, I would redress them with mine own blood and flesh and bone. Brother, I beg thee to receive me as such once more, for I am disgraced and seek pardon. I daren’t lift my face before thee for my shame.
“Judge me as thy will, but bear in mind that I hath served mine term of torment in full. And I swear before this council that henceforth I shall be a stranger to evil deeds, lest Eru Ilúvatar himself strike me from the face of Arda.”
The words burned his throat like bile. He cursed himself for them, for how weak they made him appear. But he knew that he was at the Valar’s mercy, and he hated them for it.
Ulmo’s voice rang through the hall like the raging sea. “Do not take us for fools, Melkor! Your words are poison! They are nothing but lies hissed through your clenched teeth!”
“I must concur with Ulmo,” said Tulkas, “I do not trust that his words ring true. Three ages may have passed, but I do not believe that it has been nearly long enough. My lord Manwë, I beg thee to not release Melkor. It would be madness!”
Nienna, the sister of Mandos, sprang to her feet. “Nay Tulkas, how couldst thou call mercy ‘madness’? Have thee no heart for thine brother who has gone astray and now seeks redemption? And Ulmo, thine distrust of Melkor has never known rest. Dost he not show remorse now? What more could thee wish for?”
Ulmo rose to his feet as well and pointed a finger at Nienna. His anger was hot, and he allowed it to be fed by the murmured unease that filled the hall. “Open thine eyes, Nienna! Hast thou not seen his deeds? Doth thou know a different Melkor than I? Surely thou must! Tell me if it be so!”
“Enough!” shouted Manwë. Immediately the hall fell silent. “I have heard enough.” Manwë sighed and leaned back in his throne in thought.
Melkor could hear the blood pounding in his ears. Steady, yet expectant. In the newfound silence, he spoke just loud enough to be heard. He kept his eyes pinned to the ground a mere inch past the end of his nose.
None of the Valar spoke. None of them knew what to say. They all waited with bated breath.
After a time, Manwë spoke. Softly, yet with absolute authority.
“The will of Eru Ilúvatar has been made known to me, albeit not in its entirety. However, it must be known that I believe that the will of Ilúvatar speaks unto the virtue of mercy. My brother Melkor shall be a recipient of such mercy. However I am no fool. His leash will be short indeed.
“Melkor, thou art not to leave the sight of the Valar. We extend this grace to thee, but do not take it lightly, for it shall be offered once and once only. Betray the trust of this council and thou shalt suffer its wrath. Is that understood?”
Melkor didn’t move, but his stomach churned in hideous rage. He wanted nothing more than to shove Manwë’s ‘mercy’ down his throat and crush everything he held dear in his hand.
But he would bide his time.
He had plenty of it.
Plenty of time to craft his revenge.
Melkor couldn’t help but to let a smirk tug lightly on the very corners of his lips at the thought.
“Yes, my lord.”