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those are pearls that were his eyes

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The Valar are not miserly, but they are not unduly wasteful either.

They prefer to work their will within their expressed Dooms. This is not to say that they will not bend their words, if they must, or break them outright: they have been known to do it. But it upsets the Children when they do so. The Children put so much weight on language, and they hold it as binding, examining all possible shades of meaning in every chosen word. This alternatively amuses and confounds the Valar, to whom any form of Eldarin is imprecise, and even Valarin is less than exact. The only thing that is truly stable in the eyes of the Valar is will and action, the Music itself, and even that can offer unexpected harmonies.

They have said that none who set foot in the Blessed Realm may ever walk again among Elves or Men in the Outer Lands, but when the Third Age dawns, they perceive a need to intervene more materially than in the previous era, which came to its end in blood and ruin and drowning seas.

They have certain resources.

The Sea where Númenor was once lay still roils with pain and loss, studded with broken masts, with battered ships whose smooth hulls face the sky now. Here there is the body of a man, floating on his belly with his robes spread around him like a dark cloud of squid-ink; there a woman, on her back, still draped in pearls. The fish have been at them. Nothing but wreckage above the water remains of the star-shaped land given to Men and then taken back.

Of Beleriand, more persists. It was a land the Valar themselves walked in the time of the Lamps, and its loss was regretted. Small fragments remain. Pieces of Thargelion still cling to the iron spine of the Ered Luin, although Gelion itself was subsumed by the Sea long ago. Crumbs dot the sea off the coast of Lothlann: Himling, Tol Fuin, Tol Morwen, places where a Vala once spread their hand in blessing, minor workings that held against their later will to destruction.

No one sleeps in the remains of Himring Ever-Cold, and the island is a grey, bitter outpost, alone in the Sea as it once was alone in the East, in the days when it was held against all odds by a prince not yet wholly doomed. But he has gone beyond recall, body and soul, and cannot answer Mandos’s call.

In Tol Fuin, the ground is rich with death even now. Blasted earth, nightshade earth, marred with burned unburied bones. Men and Elves mix together, inseparable. Here is a body mostly ashes which held a soul that burned too fiercely to last long; there, one whose finger-bones have come apart as the flesh rotted, but who died still clutching a sword no Orc would take from his iron grip. When Mandos crooks a finger, the bones stir; the grip tightens. Still, he passes on.

The Haudh-en-Nirnaeth lies below the waves, but weeping Nienna once preserved it from the touch of evil. Alone in the blasted lands, it had been evergreen. Now Ulmo keeps that faith. No grass or earth covers that tall hill of bones: instead it blooms rich and strange with corals yellow and red, white and blue, beautiful as flowers, shining with underwater light. Fish dart in and out, gleaming jewel-bright. To isolate a single soul in that lattice of living stone is impossible, and to wake the whole unthinkable. The High King’s ruined bones briefly vibrate as Mandos considers: then they go still again in the eternal embrace of his brothers in arms.

There is no Tol Sirion any longer. The grave it held was lost when the land tore itself apart, and Mandos has no need to search for it. That soul has passed quickly out of his grasp like a star too bright to hold, and walks again in Eldamar.

Tol Morwen is a sharp spike in an angry sea, its sheer cliff still crowned with bent, hardy trees. The inscription on the standing stone is all but gone now, and only a few letters remain: T IN AMBAR, ENOR NIN, ORW DHWEN. They are all beyond Mandos's power, and if he could, he would not. He would not dare.

West of Tol Morwen is a string of stones like scattered beads: seven islets forming a broken circle that once might have been called the Echoriath. The largest still bears the name of Gondobar. One of them, despite the salt spray, is covered with green grass and four-petaled yellow flowers, bright as a field in spring. It sits on calm waters like a golden tangle of seaweed. Mandos pauses, his hand hovering.

Under the stones and soil and flowers, a battered set of golden armour. The bones within are terribly broken. As Mandos considers, they begin to knit together. Splintered thigh-bones and fibulae become whole again. A complicated arrangement of vertebrae straightens back into line. Muscle and sinew are reborn, cartilage hardens. Flesh quickens: nerve endings bloom like flame-flowers. The skull fills. The heart spasms. The fallen jawbone clicks closed, ending at last a long and silent scream.

The mouth opens, pink again, wet. The collapsed lungs try to fill with air and find none. Hands, wristbones still decorated by golden vambraces, begin to scrabble at the stones above.

Mandos waits.

He is in no particular hurry, but the twisting, writhing body under the cairn is. The scrabbling increases. New and tender fingertips start to bleed.

Finally the mound splits open. Stones, laid long ago in love and grief, roll away. Flowers are uprooted, earth scattered, air pulled desperately into starving lungs.

The face is very fair again, but pinched with distress. The head swivels on its rearticulated neck, looking left and right for its long-dead enemy. Respun out of dust, the long hair is matted once more with ancient blood, singed once more by a fiery hand. Once more it is brighter than gold, softer than celandine, richer than flax: purer than bronze, radiant as the sun.

It is an easier thing to return the soul to the body that had once housed it than to craft a form anew, but the effect is not quite right. The work was less, certainly, the Doom against returning from the Circles of the World kept: but a strange white light clings to this reborn Elf in his gilded plate-armour, shining through his form like flame through alabaster. His hair rises as if in a breeze, yet no wind ruffles the waves or stirs the golden flowers. The eyes are clouded, but when Mandos allows himself to be perceived, they widen.

“My lord?” says yellow-haired Glorfindel of deathless valour, and the voice is wrong, too: a whisper on the air, the stirring of dead leaves.

“Your work is not yet done, Child,” says the Judge, the Corpse-Ruler, the Master of the Houses of the Dead.