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~ Storm Warning ~

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C4220086-3496-4-CEF-ACAF-6-CCC4-CB0-E943





~ Storm Warning ~

 

 

OooOooO

 

 

 

OooOooO

 

 

~ Set seven months after the events in Summerland ~

 

 

~ The Timeless Halls ~

 

 

~ The faintest tap of boot-heels on stone under the stride of long, long legs, the whisper of leather, a faint perfume.

He almost did not hear the footsteps under the silvery spring downpour, and never raised his head to look. He knew whom his visitor was; the oncoming presence was as a descending sun; an obliterating power that was, somehow, controlled, compressed like diamond into a human form.

Yes, you still find it hard, do you not?

He smiled faintly as the steps halted.

‘I have a question.’

He did turn then, looked up into those terrible, lovely eyes. A god could burn to ash under that gaze but still, as if held there but sheer will, was the man he had once been and far, far back, never forgotten, the terrified child of Tol-in-Gaurhoth.

Good; never lose your humanity, my son.

‘A question?’ He was intrigued. ‘From you?’

A smile lifted the corner of the hard, beautiful mouth. ‘Indulge me, father.’

Mairon put up his brows. ‘How strangely...optimistic of you, Vanimórë. When did I ever indulge you?’

His son leaned over him, smile deepening, hard as marble and as cold. ‘Consider it in the light of a new experience.’

Their eyes met. Mairon wished, on a spike of frustration, and not for the first time, that he could read Vanimórë’s mind as he once had, so easily. But he repressed the thought, answered smile for smile, said: ‘Ask, then.’

 

 

OooOooO

 

 

It was almost, almost a pity that he could not discuss this matter with his father. Sauron would have some interesting insights beyond and above the knowledge he had imparted. Mouth quirking on that bizarre and impossible thought Vanimórë traced his fingertips lightly across the Portal’s swirling surface. Immeasurable energy danced under his skin; suns birthed and died and galaxies wheeled in stately pavane across the face of the cosmos. He listened for the particular music of the reality he sought, felt the notes in blood and bone and soul as he drew it forth, the one possibility, the one time-line he had inhabited, letting the others sleet by, unregarded (for now).

Earth spun into focus: land masses of dun-gold, green and white, brilliant seas, towering clouds, massive rotating weather systems. The northern hemisphere was still tilted away from the sun. Deep winter.

He drew the vision closer: a heaving grey sea lashed white foam against a rugged shoreline, sea-lochs speared deep into ancient snow-frosted mountains.

Closer: a tiny stone cottage crouched beside a narrow road.

Closer.

His hand touched the stone of the menhir, damp and chill under his fingers. From the Timeless Halls, he could enter other worlds at any location, but to return, he used these thin places: standing stones, tumuli, sacred springs. Thus he preferred also to enter the world at such locations, to know exactly where they were. It was no coincidence that there was a barrow on the grounds of Summerland.

He felt, as he stepped all the way through, the colossal drag, like the gravitational pull of a black hole, the detaching of himself from himself, from the Overmind. It was not an experience he enjoyed.

Wind struck him, raced down the hillside, skittered across the grey loch and left a mist of rain on his overheated skin. Dusk lay grey as woodsmoke over the wild land. The huge, timeworn mountain-heads broke the storm-banners of cloud into streaming wrack. From somewhere a raven called; a crow tumbled past on the gale, winging its way to roost.

He breathed deep of the soft air and, as before, experienced a sense of loss, of a world gone beyond recall. (Save to some.) Especially here, perhaps, in this land that had once, so long ago, been a part of northern Lindon. And west, out there under the long, muscular swells of the Atlantic, lay Himring, where Maedhros Fëanorion had stood on the high, cold battlements of his fortress staring north at the black and fuming peaks of Thangorodrim.

Slowly, he turned his eyes away, looked down the hill to where the lights of the cottage beckoned him; further away, more faint lights glowed in the village.
He set off down the slope.



OooOooO

 

 

His mind-call to her had come without preface, unannounced.

‘Wouldst thou rent a cottage, my dear?’ And he had shown her where. ‘For two weeks, at the beginning of January. That should be long enough. Wilt thou meet me there?’

‘Of course,’ she replied. ‘Am I to know why?’

‘Later, yes.’

She had not seen Vanimórë since he left Summerland to lure Sauron far away to America, and while they had never discussed it, she had known he would not simply cut all his ties with this world when he might require them at some point. There was still money in various bank accounts, some properties: that gem of a villa in Capri hidden away in a bower of bougainvillea, hibiscus and honeysuckle with its little private viewing platform over the brilliant sea that broke three hundred feet below. Vanimórë had not included that in his gifts to Claire James simply because it was not his to give: had gifted it to Vanya when she expressed her love for it. And there were other places. But it seemed that, this time, they were not staying in any of them.

‘And please bring me some changes of clothes,’ he added with a smile in his voice.

 

 

~ North-West Highlands Of Scotland. January ~

 

 

She arrived at their destination by car, a mud-splashed 4x4; he came another way, out of the mountains and the storm and the dusk. His long hair was wind-whipped, twin swords rode at his back, dagger-belts girdled hip and thigh. She wondered if he knew how much it revealed to her, this guise he chose: the Vanimórë of older times, before his apotheosis, before power beyond power.
Stepping into his offered embrace she smelled leather, sandalwood, the steel of his weapons.

‘Thank you for coming,’ he said with a sweet smile that reminded her too poignantly of the child he had been, then drew glamour over himself: short hair, jeans, a soft wool sweater. Only the scent of sandalwood remained.

The cottage was snug, clean, but small, and Vanimórë’s presence, tempered as it was, seemed yet to push at the sturdy stone walls. The Holiday Agency, said Vanya, had been at some pains to refer her to their website, stating that the house was generally let to hill-walkers and climbers who asked for nothing more than shelter and warmth. There were only basic amenities, and she would have to use the supply of coal and wood for the fire to heat the radiators. She could buy more if needed at the village store, but perhaps she might prefer a very pleasant accommodation just down the road, much larger, and— oh, very sorry, it had just this moment been booked for that date.

Vanimórë chopped wood, hauled coal, kept the fire fed and cooked their meals, but only Vanya showed herself at the shop in her persona of Jeannie Gunn, a tall, tough-looking woman, face weathered by a lifetime of horse-riding and hill-walking. Apart from that, they saw no-one, though the cottage faced the road and permitted a view of any traffic that passed by. Vanimórë sometimes stood near the window, watching the road, but without impatience or urgency.

Vanya did not press him to reveal the reasons for his return, though she could guess well enough. There was no hurry, and they enjoyed one another’s company. For the first few days they walked during the hours of daylight and spent the long, dark evenings in front of the fire.

On the fourth day, as they descended the hill behind the cottage, a black car purred past. Vanimórë, at the first sound of the engine through the clear air, had stopped and knelt behind Vanya as if to tighten a loose bootlace.

‘I recognise that car,’ she remarked as it curved out of sight toward the village. ‘But not that one,’ she added as they began the steep scramble down to the cottage and another vehicle came into view. Low and powerful, it hugged the road like a lover. Vanimorë did not bother to hide this time. He laughed softly.
‘Coldagnir said that when one has wings, one needs a car that at least looks as if it can fly. Very well, my dear, let us talk.’



OooOooO

 

 

Vanimórë put on chains when he dwelt on this world, left the greater part of his power behind. Not so Vanya. She was Gaia, of the earth itself, stone that descended into fire, dark, secret streams where blind creatures lived in perpetual night. She went down to the very roots of things, ran in all the veins of the planet. And so, when he asked her, she closed her eyes and reached out.

‘It is very faint,’ she said at last, returning to herself. ‘I would say it is impossible, a residual memory. I would not have thought to search for it, thinking it him.’

‘Improbable, I grant you. Impossible...’ He raised his brows. ‘I have seen every possibility.’

‘Very well,’ she acknowledged. ‘And if we feel it, so does he. Is that why he came back?”

Vanimórë said, eyes on the fire: ‘He was bound to go somewhere if he freed himself from the Void, and he would hardly choose Aman. And it does not hold its former power now, or very little; it would feel like the sun dimming to a red giant. Just a taste, a scent on the wind that may veer and bring him knowledge of its existence. But he would want it, of course.’ He lifted a brow at her. ‘A very possessive man, our father.’

Only a few candles burned in the room. The fire was the centre of light and warmth. The weather had changed that day, the clouds melting away to bring a crystalline clarity to the air which made the mountains seem close enough to touch. The loch blazed steel-blue back at the pale, wintry sun. But now the wind was rising with the dusk; a black, bitter wind out of the East, bringing snow in its teeth.

‘So, where is it?’ Vanya asked.

‘I have no idea.’

‘Of course you do,’ she protested.

‘Not when I am here.’ He shrugged. ‘I left this world almost vowing never to come back. I had done what I set out to do. From the time Coldagnir and Edenel decided to involve themselves, I have not looked in the Portal. I know that it is here, that he does not have it. Yet. It is all I can know. I do not always remember the things I see in the Portal, or know when I shed my form to the Universe. I learned that last time when I set foot on this world. I have to leave behind a great deal of power, and knowledge too. Not all of it, and nothing I know or learned as Vanimórë, but enough to be irritating.’

She mused on that, remembered how it had been when they first came; Vanimórë had relied heavily on her knowledge of the Earth. ‘Yet Coldagnir is here, and Edenel, and both are gods.’

‘This world has known the steps of gods before,’ he said. ‘Long ago they withdrew, vanished into the barrows and the water, the mists and hills. You know that. And there is you, yourself. My tread, in my true form, is somewhat...heavier. I have to be limited. And I am.’

‘I believed you preferred it,’ she said gently.

‘Most of the time, I do,’ he said, somewhat wry. ‘It reminds me of an older world, one I understood.’

‘Or a humanity you do not wish to lose,’ she suggested.

‘That too,’ he admitted. ‘As for the Ring, I suspected it, no more, before but could never sense or locate it. As with you, it is too bound up with him in my mind.’

Vanya leaned forward. ‘But how could it survive? And why did throwing it into the fires of Orodruin destroy him, if it did not destroy the Ring?’

Vanimórë smiled crookedly. ‘The fire burned away the spells, the inscription. It was they that contained the power, the part of him he could not regain. The true power was his intention, his will. But, my dear, I have seen him, wearing that ring, hold lava in his hands.’ He shifted as if moving away from something, some memory. ‘He forged it in the chambers of the Sammath Naur, used the fires of Orodruin in its creation.’ He paused, then said flatly: ‘Before I came here, I asked him if it could be destroyed. He laughed, wondered why I wished to know, but he told me. Maybe the Valar could have destroyed it. Nothing else.’

She was startled. ‘You asked him?’

‘I remember those things that pass in conversation, Vanya, those things that I learn in a conventional manner, when I come through the Portal. Speaking to him, rather than looking in it, was a way of contravening the...rules.’ Mischief sparkled suddenly in his eyes. ‘Do not be concerned, I said I was merely pursuing a thought. Which was true enough. I spoke to him, or so he thinks — and he is not wrong — because I like to pretend I am still—‘ He lifted a shoulder.

His son? Vanimórë. Human? She understood, but thought he had been reckless to consult their father. He knew as well as she how intelligent Sauron was, but at least he could no longer read Vanimórë’s mind.
‘Even so, he does not need it. He would not walk that path again, surely? And how are you so sure he does not already have it?’

‘If circumstances were the same, I doubt he would want it,‘ he replied. ‘But they are not. Think of those he was trying to control: Elves, Númenoreans, Dwarves. All of them had power of a sort and all of them believed in that power unquestioningly. They also believed in other powers. And he almost did win, Vanya. It was so close. Think of the world he would rule now. Mortals...they believe in nothing and everything, and very few of them have any defences against the power he could wield, with or without that Ring. Most of them would never even question his rise to power, or the control he exerted over them. Some would even welcome it. As for his not already possessing it — that is my judgement, based on your own feelings when you searched for it. I believe it would have been a stronger sensation were he reunited with it.’

‘Yes,’ she acknowledged. ‘And it was faint. But would it not be simpler to create another One Ring?’

Vanimórë steepled his fingers. ‘Much simpler, had he another Orodruin. Or its equivalent.’ A smile flickered. ‘Which, with the technology they have here, would not be too difficult, I imagine. However, the Ring did not contain only gold, but rare metals from Mordor and Orodruin itself. Perhaps they exist nowhere else now, or nowhere he could easily find them and extract them. But as for him — or anyone else — finding it...’ He shrugged. ‘It could be buried under the earth, equally, it could have been brought up in a drilling operation, a nuclear test, vulcanism, even construction work. Orodruin erupted; the Ring may have been carried underground, or been spewed out by that eruption. If it were found it might have be discarded as a rather unremarkable gold ring, save for its weight. Gold scratches, but that ring would not. Now, because it has no hallmark, it would look like costume jewellery and might have been thrown away unless one were sensitive enough to feel its emanations. His hand bore it a long time. There would be some residue of that. Nothing like the power that affected Isildur, or Sméagol or Bilbo or Frodo Baggins, but something.’

The flames leapt. Vanimórë stared into them as if seeing other fires, long ago and far away. After a moment, Vanya spoke, musing.
‘Perhaps it has been found in the past. Certain people have risen to power throughout history...’

He cast her an acute look. ‘Maybe. Yes. And who would question a simple gold ring? In older times it might have been buried with them as funerary goods, in latter centuries, passed down to the family—‘

‘— Looted or excavated in an archaeological dig,’ she murmured. ‘Sold or pawned.’

‘Yes, and in the case of the former, it may be in some museum, probably not on display; there there are far more interesting discoveries, at least visually, and speaking of that, there are other artefacts from that era: I found one of the Palantiri and there are doubtless more; there were other Rings of Power — the Nazgûl’s — they were destroyed, I doubt the rings would be. The Dwarf Rings...the Elessar...I suppose Olórin might still have Narya, unless the Valar took it from him.’

Vanya shook her head. ‘I do grant you it is a wonder more things have not been found.’

‘Sea levels have risen,’ Vanimórë said, ‘earthquakes, comet fragments...during that last hot summer many archaeological remains were discovered across Europe because of the drought; they were merely thousands of years old but had been lost for a long time. We are talking of much older than that.’

‘Perhaps it is just as well,’ she retorted acidly. ‘The establishment would have collective heart-attacks were Middle-earth known to be real, and go into complete denial. Which makes things easier for our father. Up until the time he revealed himself. And then it would hardly matter. Well, how many people would follow him, do you think? Willingly?’

‘If he went about it intelligently — and can you imagine him being anything other than subtle, and careful? And clever?’ He pushed his fingers through feathers of thick black hair. ‘A great many. People want gods, Vanya, even those who do not believe in them. In lieu of gods they will worship celebrities or their own leaders.’ His mouth crooked wryly. ‘Our father would be both beautiful and charismatic, something many Mortals swoon over.’

She watched his brooding profile. ‘True. And in this world you could have...but you never did like it, any of it, did you? Godhood, and...the rest.’

He stirred restlessly. ‘So could you, Vanya, and did not. And I had my fill of gods in Angband and Barad-dûr. Not to mention the Valar. The ones I created — and a few of the others — are much more...magnificent.’ He threw her a wink, straight-faced. ‘But godhood...it is much too tempting to get involved. You think I do not want to? I am accustomed to doing, war and rule and administration, I cannot become used to just standing back and watching. But — and with no effort at all — I would control everything, and humans are reduced to impotent puppets. It has,’ he said hard as stone, ‘happened in other realities. The Valar tried to do that to the Elves of Valinor and succeeded for Ages. In this world they are succeeding still. Me, I was happier as a warrior, as Prince of Sud Sicanna, even as ruler of the Imperium. At least I knew my limits. Now, I have none.’ He stretched out his long legs said, ‘They have to know.’

‘And so we come to it,’ she said. ‘The reason you are here. And I ask you this: Is Maglor not bearing enough? And what in the hells do they do if they find it?’

Vanimórë turned his head quickly at her tone. His eyes held white fire. For a moment, though it was impossible, she felt the immensity of his power straining at the thin barrier that separated the Earth and the Timeless Halls, titanic and terrible. It could crack this world wide open.
‘Enough?’ he demanded, and the thunder in his voice vibrated in the walls. Vanya held up a hand in warning. ‘Too much. Nothing can take away the pain of his past, his griefs, his PTSD, a new name for an old affliction. But—’ he seemed to wrestle with himself, let out a breath and continued more quietly: ‘it is in his blood, his fate, one might even call it a geas upon him. He cannot escape it. Think about it, Vanya. He might have died long before this, might even have taken his own life. But he did neither. He has survived. And he need not share the burden alone. Not any longer. I have ensured that, at least. I agree, gods! yes, it is a burden, all of it. But they do need to be warned.’ He rose, padded in bare feet to a table, flicking on the lamp. ‘And if they find the damned thing...well, I can take it somewhere where it will never trouble this world again. And so,’ he added, ‘could you.’

At last she said, almost sadly: ‘You are so determined to lighten the burdens of others, dear brother, yet you never shared any yourself, and still do not, not even now.’

‘Yes, well, Sauron would never allow me to,’ he replied dryly. ‘It became a habit.’ He bent his head, began to write, speaking the words aloud as he did so.

’All that is gold does not glitter, they say,
But some things of gold remain true.’

‘I trust he will construe that both ways.’

Though words may be lost to the fire,
The shape that once held them remains,
A lure to the Maker who made it,
To inscribe it with power again.’

‘Not something I would send via email.’ He folded the note into an envelope. ‘Or trust to the post. I will deliver this by hand.’

‘You could speak with Claire mind-to-mind.’

He looked up, frowning under his brows. ‘Maglor has taught her Osanwe, according to Coldagnir, but my using it to contact her without her permission would be an imposition.’

‘Would you respond if she reached for you?’ she asked.

‘Of course. I may feel compunction, but I am not mannerless, my dear.’ His white smile glinted.

‘I think you are — and rather foolishly — constrained by guilt,’ she observed.

He grimaced slightly. ‘One might say so. And foolish...is it, really?’

‘You saved her life,’ Vanya pointed out. ‘Thuringwethil—‘

‘I should never have put her in the position where her life needed saving,’ he snapped. ‘At least not in that way and not without her consent. That still troubles me. But there was no time to build any trust. I used to be able to deal with Mortals. Here, it is far more difficult.’

‘You could deal with Mortals in a world where you were the son of Sauron,’ she said with laughter in her voice. ‘You are not accustomed to dealing with them in a world where they do not believe in any such thing. Say rather, it is they who cannot deal with you, even when you use glamour. How could they? It is hard enough for Maglor, and he has far more practice. And how you would have been able to convince Claire that you were not, as she feared, a raving lunatic or murderer in the short time she knew you, I know not. As it was, she did trust you in the end. So let it go. You were ever prone to brood on your perceived mistakes. Well, that was not a mistake. Not to my mind. And I am what I am.’

‘So you are,’ he acknowledged, then said decidedly: ‘No, she was not a mistake, and I could not have let her die, even were Maglor were not part of the equation.’

‘Well, then,’ she said as if drawing a line under his doubts. ‘Sit down. How did you know they were coming here?’

‘Coldagnir mentioned it.’ He returned to his seat.

‘He is spying for you?’ she questioned.

‘I do not need a spy,’ he replied coolly. ‘Coldagnir, or rather Aelios, as he is known here, has his own reasons for coming to this world, as does Edenel, and we do communicate at times. It came up in the course of a conversation. Claire visited her family for part of the holidays, then wanted to go away for a short time, to discus plans, and just to be somewhere remote and quiet. And so they all met...here.’ He reached to lay a log on the fire; sparks sprang, flew up the chimney in a flurry of red and gold. Vanya leaned toward the flames, made a movement with her fingers. One of the oldest of magics, this, and the simplest: scrying.

 

 

 

OooOooO

 

 

Another house, a large room, a fire in a wide hearth, overstuffed sofa and chairs. Candlelight. The glint of whisky in glasses. Three glasses for the three gathered there: Maglor, eyes like mercury, his chiselled profile hard and white. Claire, her hair, in the firelight showing a spiralling red-gold as the metal Maglor’s father had once worked into beauty. In champagne-coloured cashmere, amber teardrops in her ears, she looked as rich and bright as lamplight. In her hands she held the Palantir from Summerland. Her brow was creased a little in thought as she spoke, downdropped lashes shadowing her eyes. And there was Coldagnir/Aelios, shedding his glamour among these two, in this secluded place, scarlet mane coiled up, eyes molten bronze.

Almost, and even here, the Elf and the God looked a little as if they had ranged themselves as bodyguards each side of Claire. Instinctive chivalry. Vanimórë did not blame them; his own instinct was to protect, due in no small part to the woman beside him, but he vividly remembered Claire hefting that Palantir and bringing it down on Thuringwethil’s skull again and again, teeth clenched, eyes blazing with resolve. She had detested what she was doing, was sickened by it but did not stop, would not quit until Thuringwethil was dead. That was a quality he had always looked for in his warriors. Fear was nothing. Everyone feared; what mattered was whether one could conquer it. And she had. His last sword-stroke had been unnecessary except insofar as it gave him a certain satisfaction to sink a blade into Thuringwethil’s flesh, something he had never been allowed to do under Sauron’s rule, but he could as well have stood back. The monster was already dying.

Gentlemen, Claire has steel in her soul, all women do, and now she has power too, growing within her and through her and melding with that steel.

He had chosen well, or rather Maglor had, perhaps without even realising it, seeing something her that reached across the chasm of pain and race and time. And needing that, not wanting to need it, yet unable to deny it.

Looking at Claire, Vanimórë knew in a way that was older and deeper than any knowledge gained through power that his blood had not twisted the woman into something unrecognisable that, in essence, she was still the person Maglor had grown close to, come to trust and confide in, a woman of warmth and intelligence, and deep compassion. There was a certain relief in that realisation. One could never be sure. He was Sauron’s son, after all, had been bred up to be, but Noldor blood ran beside the ichor in his veins.

Companionship, understanding, love, of all kinds and all flavours, a hand to hold. It all comes down to the same thing, Maglor, in the end: someone to share our lives. Yes, I wanted that too, and created my Khadakhir out of pure selfishness and loneliness, but Sauron never let me keep them. I understand, Maglor. Thou didst learn to be alone, most of the time, just brushing past all these lives for thousands of years, because who could bear the weight of those memories? Thou didst think thou couldst not share them.

No Edenel? Vanya asked.

He may be joining them later, Vanimórë replied. He is close, anyway. Widen your range a little. Focus on him.

The view drew out, showed a figure walking high up in the mountains. Dressed for hiking in unobtrusive modern gear, yet there could be no mistaking the effortless, predatory, wholly Elvish stride that made nothing of the terrain or the weather. He stopped at a promontory of rock, went down into a hunter’s crouch, and stared down. It was an eagle’s survey and as farseeing. White eyes shone in the dimming light like uncovered lamps. The vision widened again to show the loch far below, the lights of the village. Edenel’s eyes narrowed upon one point. He smiled faintly, rose and, with a springy, casual jump started down the steep slope.

 

 

OooOooO

 

 

In the hallway, Vanimórë pulled on socks and hiking boots, shrugged on a coat and tucked the letter into a pocket.
Vanya opened the door, looked out into the greying world. To the east the light was dying fast under ominous black clouds. ‘A storm is coming.’

‘Yes.’ Yes, it is. ‘It will be a wild night.’

‘I will mull some wine,’ she offered. ‘for when you return.’

‘Thank you.’ He kissed her cheek. ‘And then I must go. Neither Claire or Maglor are fools; they know my writing, and will guess that whomever posted this letter cannot be far away.’ He had considered altering his handwriting, but what was the point? There were only so many people in this world who would know who they were and write them a riddle as a warning. ‘Not that I think they would search for me.’

‘I will stay,’ she said. ‘for a little while. I look nothing like Nanny.’

‘No, but I am not sure Claire or Maglor would not sense something,’ he replied. ‘Perhaps, should anyone knock at the door, you should simply not be in.’

‘No-one will find me unless I wish them to.’ She laid a hand on his arm. ‘A moment. I have one or two questions.’

‘Then, ask, my dear.’

‘Why are you here?’ Her voice was soft under the wind. ‘You could have had Coldagnir or Edenel tell them about the Ring.’

‘I could have,’ he allowed. ‘and perhaps I should have.’ He rubbed the back of his neck. ‘Over seventy years we were here, Vanya, off and on, accruing wealth, searching, trying to fly under Sauron’s radar and, in the end, failing. It is difficult to sever those connections. The Maglor here is not the one I know, but he is still Maglor, and how could I not care after what I saw of his life? It is very strange to interact with him there, and know what he endures here, and it is peculiarly unsatisfying — frustrating — to do nothing.’

‘It must be. Let us hope he and his father do not find out about this reality.’

‘There are ways of hiding the Portal,’ he returned, ‘even from gods, and I have moved it to a less conspicuous place. Thus far only a very few know of it. Fëanor is interested. He would be of course. But I would not want him or any of the Fëanorions to see Maglor in this world.’ He had seen other realities than this; it was not something he wanted to dwell on. The Portal was dangerous; he wished (and did not) that it had been forever hidden. But the fact was, he did not need it. It was simply that it was there. Irresistible.
‘Vanya, I know how it is to live among Mortals and want so desperately to have a friend who will not die, just to share something with.’ He shook his head, driving away old memories. They would not be driven. ‘For most of my life, until the War of the Ring and my apotheosis, the only person I could speak to, who understood me, was Sauron. I know how Maglor feels.’

Her lips tightened. She nodded. ‘I know you do.’

‘And Claire...’ He gazed out into the bleak dusk. ‘If I had known Claire in my old life, if there had been a woman like her, I would have — had she agreed it it — made her Khadakhir. I always chose well. Impulse played a part, yes, as it does now, I admit, but I never chose unwisely.’ He turned back, met his sister’s eyes. ‘Never.’

‘Well, and so she is Khadakhir, in a sense.’

He smiled faintly. ‘With rather more freedom than they had. She is not bound to me, nor to him.’ Although he knew Sauron would feel her if she were close enough; she was marked by shared blood. But I gave her power to counteract the danger.... ‘Vanya, I saved her life, yes, and took it away, in one move, all she loves and holds dear. Like Maglor, she will lose everything.’

The wind wailed around the cottage, a lost and lonely sound, like a soul abandoned to the night. Vanya laid a hand on his cheek.
‘Elf or Mortal or god, we all know loss, my brother. And I still wonder, are you here for him or for her?’

‘For me.’ He smiled hardly, then: ‘All right, both, perhaps. Maglor by remove, one might say.’ He briefly laughed. ‘Though try telling that to Fëanor if he knew! He would consider it the merest quibble! Perhaps he would be right. This world is so impossibly close to the one we were born in, Vanya. It feels familiar. And Claire...for better or worse, carries my power, my blood.’

She nodded slowly. ‘I see.’

‘Do you? I am here because I cannot just look away, pretend this world does not exist. At least,’ he amended sardonically. ‘not all the time.’

‘Very well. I know, it is not in you to look away.’ He tilted his mouth slightly in grim admission of the truth of her statement. ‘One more question: How did Sauron escape from the Void?’

He regarded her ruefully. ‘The same way as before. He was linked to someone on Earth.’

‘But you said you — the Vanimorë of this world — died, and is imprisoned in the Void.’

‘He did and so he is, the idiot.’ He had no sympathy for that fool, getting himself killed in the War of Wrath. ‘But Sauron had two children, Vanya. And your spirit running throughout the planet would be enough, though it might take him some time to realise it.’


OooOooO

 

 

The loch was dark as pewter under the louring sky, the hoary-headed mountains crouched like ancient titans at the end of the world. He took a deep lungful of air, gazing down the road that hugged the loch, a slender trail almost lost under the shadow of those giants. The oncoming snow was sharp on the icy wind, that metallic, dusty scent, under it and through it wove cold, clear water, the dark-green of pine, wet rock, heather, moss. And, always, the distant salt of the sea.

He set off down the road, grey in the darkening world, toward the village, a strung-out huddle of cottages, a store, a small hotel, an old Manse beside the forlorn shape of its abandoned church and graveyard: a few wind-bitten trees, gravestones lichen-patched and canted, one enormous gnarled yew growing over the crumbled wall.
He turned into the churchyard. According to an old book in the cottage, there was a shortcut here, long unused.

The grey dusk fell like smoke; the church porch was black with night-shadow as he passed it. A few dead leaves rustled within, the sound of old men whispering secrets in dust-dry voices.

At the corner of the building, he stopped. A woman stood on the overgrown path, a motionless black shape of long cloak and pale face. As Vanimórë paused, eyes narrowing, she seemed to fold inside herself as paper chars in a fire. He stood perfectly still, waiting. A moment later and she appeared again, close to the wall and the huge yew that bowed over it. Her hands were clasped, face remote and mourning.

A haunting, a memory of sadness. Nothing there to touch, no shadow-spy of his father’s, but a grief deep enough to imprint itself on a land that could absorb emotions like blotting paper. There were many such hauntings, and all of them visible to him. Vanimórë, and those like him, walked through a world where shades and echoes were as visible as living people at times, and some of them one must needs be wary of. But not this one.

He paused close beside the ghost, its shape blurred now, grainy as an old black-and-white photograph, and ran his fingers over the icy gravestone. The lettering was almost illegible under the blurring lichen:
James...Brodie...1850?...1875

In 1875 a young women had stood beside this stone, grieving. He reached out a hand to her, felt a touch as of cobwebs on his skin.

I sorrow for thy sorrow, lady.

Almost, it seemed, she looked at him across the chasm of the years and death. Her eyes, once, had been green. Vanimórë saw, through her nebulous shape, another grave, the stone fallen back against the wall and cracked across the name.
Muriel? Ellen Brodie...1876...?
If this was she, and this stone marked her resting place, she had not long outlived the man.

Muriel...

There were few times he wished for the power that awaited him beyond the gates of this world, but this was one of then, As he was, he could not send this woman’s soul to peace; he had never, before his apotheosis, had his fathers necromantic...facility with the souls of the dead, and neither had he desired it. Vanya, however, could deal with this, and easily.

I will send her to thee, Muriel. Straightening, he lifted a hand to her ephemeral cheek. And then, all these lost years will be no more than a dream.

Turning away, he wondered suddenly if Claire could now see and sense these things. She had always been one of those who felt the thin places, the edges, and his blood would push those doors wide open. It would, at first, be alarming, but Maglor, too was one who could see, and Elves did not fear the shades of the dead.

The first icy flecks of snow touched his cheek, and the wind moaned among the tombstones. What was it called? Gwynt Traed y Meirw. The wind from the feet of the dead. Yes, such places as this leant themselves to forlorn imaginings: forgotten bones mouldering under the earth, snow sifting among the slanting stones, the lamentation of the grey wind at nightfall. Cold as the grave...

He looked over the wall. A light glowed from the Manse, all its curtains drawn against the darkness and the storm. Frail as a moth, that light seemed, in the vastness of the darkening land, under the great, empty mountains. It was deceptive; there was immense power within that house.

That is the problem, they are like beacons, for those with eyes to see...

The ancient yew was a night-cloud over him. He vaulted the wall and stood, touched the cool bark, listened to the wind sing a dirge through its heavy green branches. It was indeed old, there were not many such in the Highlands. The village and the land beside the loch had been inhabited a long time: there was the solitary menhir beyond the cottage, a so-called holy well in the grounds of the Manse, the ruins of a castle, frowning at the reflection of its decay in the cold waters, a Pictish stone...

And this tree. Like the famed Fortingall Yew in Perthshire, it was thousands of years old, and yews were rich in symbolism and myth. There was, Vanimórë knew, some truth in that symbolism, and it grew close enough to the Manse to be seen as actively protecting it. Under its arms, he felt the sensation of melancholy desolation ebb away. Perhaps that was the reason the Manse had been built here, under the tree’s guardian wings, so to speak. Within a few feet the atmosphere was entirely different, as if a cloak had settled over him. It even felt, despite the biting wind, a little warmer.

The Manse and the land it was built on was warded place, had been long before the house was built. Perhaps that was why Claire or Maglor had chosen to come here. Ghosts such as that poor woman in the graveyard were harmless, but there were some things from ‘beyond’ that were not. He thought of the Nazgûl; Sauron had always known how to use (and create) such beings: the doomed, the damned, revenants, there was no reason to think time or a sojourn in the Void had blunted his abilities.

The last thing we need are more bloody Nazgûl.

The appalling truth was that now, as then, there would be people who were ambitious enough to grasp at such power. Eagerly.

He trod soundlessly up to the Manse, an austere, elegant building, softened by wreaths of ivy. The half-circle of driveway provided space enough to park the cars that stood there and he smiled faintly as he slipped past the Bentley.

At the lit window, a gap in the heavy curtains showed a slice of warm light. Claire moved across his field of vision. She had put aside the Palantir, was holding a whiskey glass, one hand cupping an elbow. The tiny frown still etched her brow, though the expression was of someone concentrating on a puzzle rather than of anger or fear.

Vanimórë stepped smoothly aside. To any normal person within, it would appear almost dark outside, but no-one in that house could be termed ‘normal’, and Claire’s eyesight and night-vision would have improved dramatically in the months since she had seen her.

I am sorry, Claire, and Maglor too, that I have to add to that puzzle. And to the danger.

He crossed quickly to the front door, carefully slid the letter into the letterbox, ensuring there was no betraying rattle. With luck, they might not find it until the morning, but Vanimórë had never trusted to luck. Turning, he retraced his steps, then paused to glance back and saw the curtain drawn aside. The light shimmered on Claire’s hair, gilded one smooth cheek. Her expression was a little pensive as she gazed out into the swift-falling night. What had drawn her to the window? Probably she had simply wanted to check the weather. But, and as he knew too well, blood calls to blood.

He half-raised a hand in a gesture of salute then, mouth tightening in self-denial, dropped it to his side. The wind rose and the air whitened with snow. Vanimórë stepped back, withdrew into its blinding veil.

The great yew tree sang a threnody back at the gale as he jumped the crumbling wall into the churchyard. He searched for the ghost but she had gone, melted into the shadows of forgotten graves. ~








OooOooO

 

 

 

 

 

 

In case anyone (besides Narya) reads this and doesn’t know: The Khadakhir Vanimórë’s immortals, or ‘Guards of the Prince’, are (in my ‘verse) mortal men who Vanimórë (or Sauron, in A Far, Fierce Sky) made Immortal. The most famous canon example is the Mouth of Sauron. Vanimórë’s Khadakhir were young warriors from many different races, (Variag, Easterling, Haradhrim, of Gondor and far Cathaia) There were not many of them, and Sauron did not permit them to serve Vanimórë, who they loved and respected, but sent them away to far lands.
When Sauron was defeated in the War of the Ring, they made their way north to find Vanimórë again.

 

 

Narya, if this does not fit in with your Summerland sequel in any way, just ignore. I just wanted to put something in your stocking, and got this idea so I ran with it. If you want me to post it on Faerie, I will, if not no probs.