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Away to the Wood

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Far, far beneath the Halls of Mandos lies an enormous hall shaped by Aulë himself. No other Vala could have formed such a chamber: a perfect globe shaped in dark rock, adorned with many finely-fluted shelves.  If you ever saw such a place, you would not realise at first its scale, looking only at the shape of it, the way the shelves curve and interlock in intricate regular patterns. 

But if you stood there, in the dark warm middle of it, cupped in the very heart-rock of the world, and looked up, and up, and up, you might begin to see in the faint light of the warm orange lamps, the scale of it all.  This hall is so huge that you could lose a mountain range inside it. And yet every shape and curve is polished to a smooth, comfortable finish, pleasant to the touch. 

This is the hall that Aulë made for his wife, when the Valar learned what Morgoth had done to Yavanna’s children. 

This is where the dragons go.  

*****

There had been a ship, a tiny, impossibly swift ship, surrounded by the soft fast-beating wings of birds, scented with the salt smell of the West, and carrying a light that was terrible, brilliant and inescapable.

And then pain, and falling, terrified, flailing falling. The voice of the Lord of the Earth cried out as he struck the mountainside with a moment of sheer white agony.

Silence. 

 

*****

 

It had been years since Ancalagon’s great body had been able to squeeze into any covered space, but the near-darkness and the warm rock of the great cavern in which he felt his way to consciousness felt familiar.  He had been raised in a pit, a place that stank of sulphur and of old dry blood, writhing with the scaled bodies of his kin.  

It was some time before he registered that everything else was wrong. 

The cavern was too quiet, too calm. There was no terrifying, exhilarating movement running through the bedrock, no savage heat, no biting cold, no orders like a lash laid across his mind. 

There were lesser dragons somewhere.He could feel their stealthy movements rustling over the rock, claws scratching, tails dragging.  But they did not approach and bow to him. They should do. He was the Great Dragon, Lord of Dragons.

He meant to stand, meant to roar them into submissive terror. Except... except he felt so very tired, and the light had seared into his eyes and echoed still within his mind. 

He lay down again, and slept, the long slow sleep of dragons; darkness veined with gold and fire. Slept, and woke, and slept again. 

Now and again his sleep was troubled by a presence. A woman weeping, or so she seemed, but Her face was full of terrible light. Ancalagon had heard rumours of Her, had learned the lore of the Valar that his lord had poured into his eager mind. He knew Her name, and knew Her for a bitter foe. 

He struck at her with all his strength, roaring threats, and found she slipped away from him like mist. 

Time slipped past: century on century, Age upon Age.  Ancalagon slept, and woke, uneasily, snuffing the scent of Her when she came to him, and then slept again. The cavern was quieter now, the other dragons far away or deep in sleep, and the light of the star that had descended to make war on Middle-earth had faded in his mind.  

Deep under the blue shadow of tall dreaming oak trees, in woodlands far from the hand of Man, there lies a pool that gleams dark under the surrounding leaves, reflecting the high dome of the skies.  Even at mid-day, you can glimpse the shadow of the innumerable stars. 

She lay there in the pool, frowning and troubled, her round chin and freckled arms resting on the strong roots that ran down into the green depths of the pool.  Sitting on the moss-covered roots above the waterline next to her, a smaller figure, dressed in simple hunting-leathers, with a clever worn leathery face. He was listening. 

She did not speak only in words. The thoughts of these two Ainur who sang before the world was born are in the rustling of leaves, the moment of fear in the eye of a vole, in sound, in scent, in thought, in motion. In the rhythmic song of blood in the veins,and the electricity that dances, improbable yet musical, from cells to cell to bid the hand to feel or the voice to speak. 

“He has known nothing else,” Yavanna said to Oromë. “No kindness, no pity, no love.  So Nienna has told me.” 

“So you would offer him kindness?”

Yavanna shrugged helplessly.  “He doesn’t want it, Nienna says.”

“You haven’t been to see him for yourself?”

“No.” Yavanna’s face was resolute.  “You know I don’t go into...that place.”

“It isn’t made for you, it’s true,” Oromë agreed, his worn face smiling a little at the thought of Yavanna the Bountiful entering the Halls of Mandos, where there is a good deal of silent thought, but never, ever, life. “I went to see, a little while ago.  Quietly, you know how it is.” 

“I thought you might.”  Yavanna’s freckled face opened in a hopeful smile. 

“So far as I could see, he doesn’t want love : he only hates. He is remorseless.”

Yavanna shrugged.  “I know. He would kill us all if he had the chance, and would go on killing until there was nothing left.” 

“You could leave him to sleep until world’s end,” Oromë suggested.

Yavanna wrinkled her nose. “I could.  I may have to. And yet...”

“You could undo him entirely, and make him again. Give him love from the start.  No fear, no hate, no malice. Like his father.” Oromë waved at the great golden dragon that was curled in the dappled sun under a tree some distance away across the lake.

“No.” 

“Why not?” Oromë enquired reasonably. His brown fingers were flying as he wove a fine net of horsehair that caught the sunlight and shone glinting in a pattern strange and intricate. 

A frown flitted across Yavanna’s round face as she looked across the pool towards he who had once been Glaurung, Father of Dragons. 

 “With that one, I had no choice to make.  I undid all he was, all the way back to the egg, and began again.  He was a creature of such determined and cunning malice... A horror, truly.”

Oromë quirked an eyebrow, silently encouraging.

Yavanna shook her head slightly. “There was little to save.  Not after he had been so intimately part of Morgoth’s curse upon the Children of Húrin.  Not after he had visited his curse upon them. Those memories were well lost. They were so entwined with who he was, that now.. Now he is someone else entirely.  His old self is washed away and gone.”

“Does he know?” Oromë enquired, once the silence had stretched on for a while in the blue shadows of the trees. 

“Oh yes. He knows all about who he was. I told him when he came of age in his new form. A sombre gift to give... it troubled him deeply for a while.  He spend a good deal of time studying the past, and trying to understand.. And failing, of course. I cannot imagine why... Glaurung... was as he was, and so neither can he, now.  But I could say to him honestly that he is a new dragon, with a new heritage to make, and should not be burdened by what someone so utterly other did long ago.

“But still,  it feels like a loss, to take away everything they were and make them into something that is only the fruit of my own mind. It is destruction: there is nothing left of Glaurung-that-was, now.  And I am not a destroyer.”

Oromë regarded her for a long moment. “No?” 

She laughed. “You ask me that, now, after so long?” 

“Some people have called me a destroyer,” Oromë pointed out. 

“You!” Yavanna laughed and rolled over in the water, breaking the starshadows and making the ripples gleam as they spread out across the still lake. “You, who dance the dance of life and death?  A very mortal viewpoint to say that is destruction; who have you been talking to?”

“Oh, this person and that,” Oromë said absently, flipping the net in practiced fingers. “Do you know the Green Elves make a practice of eating no flesh of bird nor beast?  They hunt nothing but nuts and bark and leaves.” 

Yavanna snorted inelegantly.  “Oh well,” she said. “Elves! They’re full of odd ideas. I’d say your work is dancing.  Remaking, perhaps, too, but then we all do a good deal of that.” 

Oromë began to knot a border around his net and loop a pebble into it as a weight.  “Remaking is surely your province,” he said, and cocked a mirthful eye at her. “Yavanna the changeable, maker of so many different leaves, whose children devour one another endlessly, and whose roots wear away the very rocks.” 

“Yavanna the changeable! A new name, and a fitting one, from you. You dancing your dance from life to death and back again, round and round.  I and my creatures, growing, changing, transforming. Perhaps one day we shall wear out the rock. Or perhaps one day the sun and stars will die and there will be nothing left but rocks: in either case, one of us will mourn the other, and you will be left without a dance at last. Unless the final battle comes, after all... Do you still think it will?” 

Oromë shook his head very slightly, regarding her with level, thoughtful eyes. “Námo thinks not. He thinks the new theme in the music has turned the course of Arda away from that battle.”

“But Námo has been wrong before... from a certain point of view.  I’d say he looks too far ahead, and so risks stumbling over his own feet.”  Yavanna sighed and heaved herself, streaming water, from the pool. “This is gloomy talk,” she said.  “I’d rather talk of dragons.” She shook herself massively, so that golden droplets of water flew in all directions sparkling brilliant in the sunlight.  Then she padded over the mossy roots until she came to a place where the tree-canopy divided, and sat down gleaming in the pool of sunlight. 

“I, too, would rather talk of dragons,” Oromë said. “So: Ancalagon the Black, king of firedrakes, Morgoth’s servant and his greatest weapon of war, knows only hate.  And yet you hesitate to destroy what he was, or leave him to sleep in Námo’s halls.”

“He was so young,” Yavanna said unhappily. “So young, and so very mighty, and he fell in fair combat against a worthy foe.”

“And he is beautiful,” Oromë said soberly, looping horse-hair around another round grey pebble-weight. 

“That too.  So very beautiful. He spread his wings above Thangorodrim, magnificent and terrible, and I caught my breath... And so did you, be fair.” 

Oromë looked up from his net to meet her eyes, his weathered face crinkled with amusement around the eyes.  “I see why you came to talk to me about it.” 

“Our colleagues don’t appreciate the beauty of fang and claw,” Yavanna agreed. 

Oromë laughed. “Aulë does, or he would not be your husband, and so does Vána.”

“She’d better,” Yavanna told him. “I have some standards for my little sisters.”  

Oromë laughed, and cast the light net out onto the waters with a deft twist of his wrist. “So you want him to be what he is, and yet accept love and offer pity, too?”

“Essentially.”

“Would he listen if Glaurung spoke to him?”  

Yavanna shook her head impatiently.  “He isn’t Glaurung any more. And I have no wish to expose the sweet golden person he is now to the fire of Ancalagon’s fury.  No, I must find another way. I need ... I need. something that he wants, that I can offer him. That’s how dragons think... An exchange of gifts?”

“They like treasure, I believe.” Oromë began to haul in the little net, carefully winding the anchor-string onto an oak-twig. 

“Who doesn’t?” Yavanna said, thinking of nests full of eggs, nuts and seeds laid in store, of feathers and bright beetle-cases. Then she caught his eye and laughed. “Perhaps not you then.  Not gold and silver and gems, at any rate.” 

“No.  But I was thinking of a different kind of treasure:the sharp thrill on the edge of the nerve as the chase hastens, the fierce joy of the hunter at the kill.  I doubt that the Enemy will have taken that from him, no matter what else he took or withheld.”

“Probably not,” Yavanna agreed, thoughtful. “He would need that, to goad him to the kill. But when Ancalagon hunts, who is his prey?  I can hardly ask Manwë for Eagles for him to make sport with. Deer would be nothing to him.” 

“Oliphaunts?” Oromë suggested with a mischievous twist to the corner of his mouth, and Yavanna frowned.

No.

There was a moment of splashing as Oromë hauled in the net, and plucked from it a sharp-toothed fish with scales that gleamed with an iridescent rainbow of colour, and neatly despatched it with his belt-knife.  

Then he looked up at Yavanna. “Very well,” he said and shrugged, giving up all at once on the wordless contest that had run between them like the sound of bees buzzing behind the sound of music on a summer day.  “If you must have a quarry for your monster, I will serve.”

“You’ll do it personally?  You’re sure?”

“Oh yes,” Oromë said.  “Who should it be but me? A willing quarry is what you need, and you know there is only ever one of those.” 

Yavanna got up, put a long arm around him and gave him a swift fierce wordless hug. Then she pulled away and bowed her head reverently.  

Oromë smiled, stepped back, and gave her a deep bow in return.  Then he picked up his fish, whistled once, and went wandering away. As he went into the trees, a family of foxcubs tumbled out of the trees and trotted after him, their round eyes serious as they followed the scent of fish. 

*****


Yavanna and Ancalagon by WaywardDesertKnight / aphrodites-bloody-rose

Yavanna’s mighty form, grown greater than any forest tree and crowned with flowers, loomed near the Halls of Mandos, by the entrance to the great cavern where fallen dragons sleep. 

Before her in a wide vale surrounded by trees lay a vast shadow, winged and clawed and scaled.  

Around each vast leg and around the dragon’s neck was a ring of gold marked with runes infinitesimally small. They were marks of binding and holding, made with the skill of Aulë himself. Each ring was fastened to a heavy golden chain. 

Yavanna lifted her hands, gently, reverently, the expression on her face fiercely concentrating. A monstrous eye opened, and Ancalagon, re-embodied, staggered to his feet, and turned to look up at her. 

He felt the pull of the chain upon his mighty collar, coiled against the golden cuffs and spat, snakelike, every line of him vicious and angry. 

But Yavanna met his fiery eyes with her own, that were filled with a light like the shining leaves of spring, and she smiled. 

“Welcome back to life, Ancalagon the beautiful.”

“I shall never serve you,” the dragon hissed, jerking his head so that the chains rang. 

“My province is life,” she said, still smiling. “You are alive.  Are you hungry?”

Ancalagon pulled back again silently, and she said nothing more, but only waited, silent and watchful. 

All at once, he stopped pulling. “Yes,” he said, his voice grating with iron resentment. “I am always hungry.”

“Your master made you so.”

“My master fed me on the blood of wolves and men, and through their flesh I tasted their fear.”

“Did he.”  Yavanna’s voice was supremely unimpressed.  “I shall feed you on the flesh of cattle that have lingered long and joyfully in the long grass of the pastures of Aman.”  She closed one hand and opened it again to show him a bull, lying dead and bloody in the palm of one huge hand. 

Ancalagon’s fiery eyes narrowed and he snorted flame.  Yavanna shook her head. “You cannot burn me. I am water-meadows in spring. I am marshes green with reeds.” 

“Water-meadows and marshes burn,”  Ancalagon spat, and loosed a great gout of red and golden flame. 

But Yavanna stood beside him, her dress as green as pine-forests, quite unmarked,and shook her head.  “Ancalagon the beautiful,” she said quietly, her head a little on one side, and her merry green eyes watchful.  “Darkness and flame, scales and claws, last and mightiest of your father’s children. Come. Eat.” She threw the dead bull to his feet, and stood quietly waiting, while the great dragon huffed and glared, and at last, snapped up the morsel that lay beside his mighty clawed feet.

Ancalagon ate, and raged, and slept at last, safely chained.  Yavanna did not leave him. She sat a little way away from him, watching his heavy black scales move and rattle with each deep slow breath.  Her bare toes wriggled absentmindedly into the grass underfoot. After a while, a smaller golden figure crept quietly from the trees and laid its long serpentine head upon her foot.

“He seems very angry,” Glaurung said, his shining eyes blinking uncertainly. “Mother, are you sure that this is wise?”

“I am not.  Wisdom is not my strength.  I am for the heart, not the head, and my heart sees him and cries out that he should not be lost.”

“I am not lost,” the golden dragon said.  His voice was like the singing of bronze trumpets, but he was using a small cunningly-spun enchantment to keep his words private. “I have my studies, and my craft and my friends.  I have a world of joy here in this new life, knowing nothing of the old life but what I have been told by others.”

Yavanna stroked his shining head and he laid it along her palm, resting the weight of his head there trustingly.  She said, “Perhaps then you are wiser than I am.”

 “Can my son not also be happy, just as I am?  Unchained, remade, free of his past?”

“You think I should raze away all he is and make him anew?  When we spoke of this before, you were intrigued by the complexity of a pattern not your own.”

“I remember.”  He lifted his head and turned it sharply, angling his scaled neck to inspect the hulking mass of wing and claw that was his son, so that the light glinted on the fine scales around his chin. “But now I see him, I am afraid.”

“Yes.  That can come along with wisdom.  But as I said, wisdom is not my strength.”

“He tried to burn you.” He lifted a long-clawed foot and set it delicately on her wrist. 

“And failed.  He has eaten, he is sleeping. He did not break his chains or try to trick me with cunning lies. He was delightfully straightforward, for a dragon of Morgoth, truly. Have hope, little one.” 

He looked up into her face, and fixed her with his eyes, deep and complicated, layers on layers of folded flame and coils of gold. 

They say that you should never look into the eyes of a Dragon. But those who have seen the Valar in all their fearful power could well say the same. If you meet the eyes of the mightest singers in all of Arda, beware. For the Valar cannot be overcome, only persuaded, and for those who do not have great strength of mind, it is easy to be overwhelmed.  

But Dragons too are strong. As the stars of Varda wheeled bright and merciless across the deep emptiness of the sky, Yavanna held her Dragon’s gaze and on a level deeper than speech, on the level of hot blood,  scale and bone, they understood one another. 

 

******

For a while: a week, a year, a handful of lives of men, Ancalagon waited. Chained and flightless, fed from his enemy’s hand, as the sun rose, as the rain fell, sparkling in beads of light across his dark scales, as the stars shone, as they had never shone in Angband. 

Around him, the ground was black and burned where he had scorched it in his fury. 

He saw Glaurung, unchained, come and go.  The first time Ancalagon saw him, he called out for aid, but there was something strange and new about the Father of Dragons. He smelled different, he walked differently, the light in his eyes was the light of stars, and not the burning brilliance of the heart of Arda.  He smelled of fear, and that was wrong too, and yet he came to lay his head in Yavanna’s hand.  

The hand that brought food, the voice that was like his Lord, in that it had the power to lay a lash of pain upon the mind.  But the lash never came. Only food, and now and then quiet words that he ignored.

He gave up sending bursts of flame pointlessly across the ground, and the grass crept back towards him, straggling at first, then long and green.  He watched it with suspicion, as it swayed in the gentle wind. 

Small nibbling things came and cropped the grass, so small that he must move his claws with great precision to kill them. 

They were too small to eat, too brief to torment, and anyway he was well fed. He left off killing them, and watched in fascination as they ate and coupled around his feet.  

Small predators came, winged and fleet, more nimble than Ancalagon had ever been.   That, he could not endure, remembering the armies of the birds before Thangorodrim, and he sent up jets of flame until they learned to keep well clear of him, and he went back to watching young rabbits run.

Yavanna watched him, and she smiled.

Dragons change slowly, but all living things are subject to change at last. 



******

A clear morning, the sun climbing into a pale sky strung with faint puffs of rose-tinted cloud.  In a wide vale carpeted with springy green turf, the sleeping dragon lay chained, black and vast as a mountain, and now caught, for those with eyes to see it, in a shining net of dreams.

He slept deeply as Yavanna approached him, and with her there was a great company of her friends and servants. 

Wing by wing, claw by claw, Yavanna moved Ancalagon, lifting him gently as he hung limp in her hands, lifting him just enough that he could be loaded onto the backs of a thousand proud serious-faced Oliphaunts.  

There were rather more than a thousand in total, of course.  The Oliphaunt matriarchs had brought their children along. The small oliphaunts, much less solemn than their mothers, came skipping along behind, pulling one another’s trunks and tails.  From time to time they noticed something strange and new, such as Ancalagon’s vast eye slipping a little open, squealed and ran away, trunks raised. 

But the dream that netted around Ancalagon had been woven by Irmo and Vairë together — although Yavanna had not explained to them exactly what she wanted it for. They knew her well enough not to ask.  No doubt they would have something to say if things went wrong. 

But Yavanna had spent long ages of the world building systems infinitely delicate and yet resilient.  She had worked the life of Arda so that it could defend itself in a million different ways, so that it could adapt even without her conscious thought, to use all her power and her cunning.

She was not accustomed to make mistakes, and she did not expect to make one now. 

The Oliphaunts set off, their heads bowed beneath their load, and their tree-like legs thumping the earth, and their children scampered ahead.  They were following their Lady, who led the way south and east, towards the forests of Oromë. 

*****

The trees of the forests of Oromë are taller than any other trees in Arda.  No axe comes near them. Now and again, Yavanna walks among them singing their praises, and the longer she sings, the taller they grow. The greatest of the trees are not limb-lithe: they cannot walk as some of their smaller cousins can, those awoken and taught by the Elves. 

But they can sing.  As Yavanna and the Oliphaunts approached the forest, the trees awoke, and raised their voices in joyful greeting, deep and breathy like a chorus of monstrous wooden flutes. 

She called back to them, laughing, and then cut herself off as the sleeping Ancalagon blinked and half-raised his head at the sound of her voice.  

She knelt beside him as he blinked and half-lifted his head from the support provided by a group of tall Oliphaunt matrons, who stamped and shuffled disapprovingly. 

“Hush now,” she said, both to them and to the dragon, and saw his half-open eyes close again as the net of dreams shimmered. She began helping the Oliphaunts to set down their heavy load, aided by the strength of many great muscular trunks, and when at last the dragon lay again upon the earth, she looked up and saw Oromë approaching through the singing trees.

He had taken the form of a stag, but greater than any stag that had ever walked in Middle-earth.  His tall crown of horns dwarfed even the Queen of Oliphaunts, and against the dark leaves of the singing trees, his white fur shone like moonlight on a river. 

The Oliphaunts had gathered up their tired children, and were herding them away, back safely into the North. Yavanna waved her thanks to them, then turned to bow reverently to Oromë.

Then she turned to the dragon, and the net of dreams fell away before her thought like leaves in autumn.

“Awake.”

The word shuddered through the air, echoed through the trees, and Ancalagon’s eyes blinked open to show a whirl of dark flame and suspicion.  He came to his feet in one swift movement, chains jangling, and his head darting around as he saw the changed scene.

“Ancalagon the Black, mightiest of dragons,” Yavanna said, her voice slow and rhythmic. “Ancalagon of the rushing jaws, the biting storm. Fire-serpent born of my enemy. I wish to make a bargain with you.”

Ancalagon put his head down and hunched his neck, his wings bracing defensively. “What is this bargain?” 

“I would have you obey my will and my word,” Yavanna said. “I would have you friend to my friends, enemy to my enemies. In return, I offer you freedom, within the limits of my word.”

Ancalagon lifted his black crest and narrowed his blazing eyes. “Freedom?  That is no freedom. You mean a longer chain.”

“No,” Yavanna said.  “I mean freedom. But you will never again have the freedom to make war upon the forests or the peoples of Arda.”

Ancalagon would once have roared and poured out black flame at that, but he was older now, and he had learned patience... and perhaps something more. 

“How then is that freedom?” he asked sulkily. 

“I offer you the freedom of the skies and of the forests, if you agree to hunt only as I direct.”

“Hunt?”  His eyes were fixed upon her face.  She had caught his interest. 

“Agree to obey my thought and word, as once you obeyed your master, and I will give you the sky and the chase and a quarry that is worthy of you,” Yavanna said, her eyes fixed on his, knowing that this moment was the key. And there, yes, a flicker of uncertainty, of a change in that brutal will. 

“Why would you trust me?” Ancalagon hissed, but she knew that she was winning. 

She laughed. “Because I will treasure you as you deserve to be treasured.  Because you are proud, and you know your worth, and I know it too. Because you long to spread your wings.  And most of all, because I will set you to hunt one of the Valar.” 

Ancalagon let out a long hiss of steam, and his eye opened wide and eager, with a fierce light burning deep within them. “Yes.  For that, I will give you my word, and hold to it against earth and sea and stars.”

“So be it!” she said, and she struck the collar from his neck, and the chains around his great feet fell with a ringing sound.  “Come!” she said, and her smile was fierce and fey as she pointed to the great deer and the wood. “Let us go hunting.”

Ancalagon shook his head and wings, making a great rattling sound like a landslide, and then he leapt into the air.

The white deer that was Oromë fled before Ancalagon, swift as thought on hooves like pearl, and Ancalagon’s great wings beat in answer, soaring above the trees as Yavanna ran through them, dipping down into the wide clearings as nimbly as a falcon.

Oromë ran, lightly at first, with little effort, joyfully leaping through the trees, and then later, dewed with sweat, white showing around the rims of his brown eyes, onward, onward.

Until at last, he found himself upon the border of the wood, with Yavanna close behind him.  Desperately, he dashed out across the open lands, when from high above great wings stooped upon him and caught his neck in one huge savage claw. Oromë kicked once, twice, more from instinct than from any real expectation of escape, and with one swift twist, Ancalagon broke his slender neck, and dipped his long savage muzzle to feed. 

Then he hesitated for a moment, his eyes going to Yavanna, whose swift feet had kept pace with him, every step. 

“Lady,” he rumbled, slowly, reluctantly, and then he threw up his head with a proud cry. “Lady, our kill.”

And Yavanna stepped to the body of Oromë, twisted and bloodied as it was.  She dipped her hand in the deer’s dark blood that ran thick across the moonlit fur.  She smeared it across her own forehead, and then across the dragon’s snout. “Eat, Ancalagon,” she said.  “It was a good hunting.”

“It was a good hunting,” the dragon agreed and tore the deer open in one swift bite. 

*****

In the Great Hall of Mandos, before the throne of the Doomsman of the Valar where no wind of the world ever blows, a flurry of moving air grew swiftly into a whirl of wind. Lesser Maiar and the spirits of dead Elves went fleeing and fluttering away from the energy of it.  It reached for one startling moment to the dark ceiling, then coalesced into a small figure, no more than the size of a Man. 

Lord Námo stepped down from his throne.  “You again?”

“Me again, I’m afraid, Námo,” Oromë replied, rubbing ruefully at his neck with one hand.

Námo sighed. “You could just rebuild yourself out in the world of life,” he suggested. “You have no need to visit my Halls, Oromë.”

“That was true long ago,” Oromë said. He stretched the arms of his spirit-form, and shook his head so that his hair moved, and when it settled again, he had the antlers of a stag upon his human head. “But now... I don’t know. Arda has changed us all.  In Arda, your Halls call to all living things that die. I feel that call, just as I feel the rush of living blood in my veins.”

“Are you suggesting that you could not make a new form for yourself?” Námo said, and since he too was in spirit-form, his shape echoed his emotion, covering him in stiff spikes. 

“You look like a startled hedgehog,” Oromë observed, amused. “I can’t be sure.  I haven’t tried for so long... We are bound to Arda, just as the Elves are bound, and the hedgehogs too.  We bound ourselves, if you recall. It was bound to have an effect.”

Námo frowned, his prickles flattening into armoured scales, and any lesser being would have found it hard to endure his glance. “It seems wrong that any of Us should be so changed. Undignified.”

Oromë met his eyes and grinned. “Oh, come on Námo. There are joys to being just a little like a hedgehog, you know. How long is it since you left your dark halls?” 

Námo frowned, if possible, even more dauntingly.  “An Age or so. I have a great deal to do here.”

“An Age! Has it really been so long since you came hunting with me, or danced with Vána, Yavanna and Nessa in the great forests?”

Námo became prickly again. “Does it matter?  As I told you, I have much to do.”

“Whatever you have to do,” Oromë said firmly, “it can wait.  Come, O Lord of Death. Let us clothe ourselves in the stuff of the world, and walk out under the stars.  You were once a dancer, too.”

 

*****


Between the Forests of Oromë and the Halls of Mandos, the plains of Yavanna are wide and golden. A million different grasses grow there: the nodding long-tailed heads of oats float upon the breeze, while far below,  the small and sturdy stems of fescues and meadow-grass march green and determined, studded with the flowers of the day’s eye, with buttercup, heartsease and eyebright.

Nessa’s swift feet race across the short grass, swifter even than the deer.  Her form is likethat of an elf-maiden, and her shining hair streams behind her in the wind.  She is laughing, but the light in her eyes is wild and spiced with fear.

Behind her the hunters come: great Yavanna, crowned with flowers, a golden dragon bounding joyfully beside her.  Oromë, horn-crowned and mounted upon his tall white horse shod with gold, and beside him like a shadow, Námo lord of Mandos, riding a horse the colour of midnight under stars.  With them is a great company of Elves and Maiar riding horses and stags.

The music of their hounds is belling out through the swaying grass as Nessa’s white-clad figure pauses for a moment, and looks back over her shoulder. 

Above the hunters, dark wings beat with a sound like thunder, once and again, and then stoop to land beside Nessa.  Her pale figure stumbles as the great claws hit the ground.

Then Yavanna’s arms are around Nessa, and reaching up to caress Ancalagon’s great neck, and Nessa falls back laughing into the curve of his great tail as the hounds leap joyfully around them barking.  Námo dismounts to congratulate Nessa gravely upon her leading of the hunt, and Oromë teases her cruelly for having hesitated when she saw the dragon’s wings. 

Today the hunt is play, and they will dine on nuts and honey, sweet roots and mushrooms; Yavanna’s bounty spread upon the generous earth.

Tomorrow it might not be. Tomorrow, Ancalagon’s cruel jaws may bite deep, and Oromë will spill red blood upon the grass so that it can grow thick and long, and all Yavanna’s kingdom rejoice.