Fading Away by Ireth_Telrunya
ManwÃ« nodded. *Very well. I shall speak.*
He turned his head this way and that, meeting the anxious eyes of everyone in the room. When he was satisfied that all eyes were upon him, the Wind-lord spoke to his comrades in a clear voice.
Â“The hour grows dark,Â” he said grimly. Â“Indeed, it is much darker than many of us could imagine or expect.Â” He glanced briefly at Mandos with those words. Â“Nonetheless, we all are gathered here so that this darkness may be combated. To do this, we must know how our enemy will strike. This I have learned only now.Â”
ElrondÂ’s mouth went dry, and his palms were damp with the sweat of dread. He hung on ManwÃ«Â’s every word, even those he knew he would forever wish he had never heard.
Â“Morgoth,Â” the Vala continued, Â“will indeed strike againÂ… and againÂ… and again. His memory will undoubtedly haunt ElrondÂ’s mind and heart for the rest of his life, although his evil will only reveal itself a select number of times throughout the next ages. I know this number.Â”
Â“What is it?Â” Elrond couldnÂ’t keep from whispering.
ManwÃ«Â’s blue eyes bored into the elfÂ’s. Â“As many as my kindred numbered in days that are now legend.Â”
Elrond tried to remember all of the stories he had heard and read, thinking of the Valar. The number leapt out at him from a corner, bursting onto his tongue, which seemed very reluctant to release it. His voice emerged from his lips in only the barest of murmurs.
Â“Fifteen,Â” he breathed. And including the attack that had just occurred, it added up to his unlucky number, sixteen.
Â“Oh, Eru,Â” Elwing whispered, closing her eyes.
Â“Yes,Â” ManwÃ« nodded, gazing down at Elrond. Â“That is the number of times you will be subject to MorgothÂ’s assault againÂ… fifteen times, in over six millennia.Â”
The elfÂ’s heart fluttered in his chest as a barrage of mixed emotions flooded his mind and spirit. Maybe it wasnÂ’t quite as horrible as he had expectedÂ… the attacks would have to be spaced out, wouldnÂ’t they? Morgoth wouldnÂ’t assail him fifteen times in a row, would he?
ManwÃ« seemed to read his mind, and nodded again. Â“Indeed, Morgoth will not attack you again immediately. His first assault harmed him as well, in no small way.Â”
Elrond nodded, feeling his knees weaken in relief, and was very glad he was sitting down already. But there were still questions burning in his mind. Surely Morgoth knew enough not to attack in an even pattern, making his power unpredictable. And he had servantsÂ… wouldnÂ’t he send them out to him, instead of risking damage to himself by using his own power?
*Yes, and yes,* said a voice in his head. Mandos was staring right at Elrond, nodding as he spoke into his mind.
*Morgoth will indeed enlist the aid of his minions at some times, but for the most part, he himself will be the one you must face.*
*But I know almost nothing about him,* said Elrond despairingly.
*How quickly your memory lapses, Elrond!* the Doomsman reprimanded him gently. *I know these things. I can tell you everything you need to know, and in time I will. But not at the moment.*
Elrond sighed and nodded meekly. He knew better than to argue. This was too important.
ManwÃ« cleared his throat, apparently preparing to speak again. The two friends turned to look up at him, and he gazed coolly at them before addressing everyone.
Â“We now know what will transpire through the next ages, but in no great detail. Each one of us will have to exercise the utmost caution in time to come. Little is known now of the exact reason for MorgothÂ’s sudden intense concentration upon Elrond.Â”
There was yet another shudder in the circle of Valar, but no-one spoke. Mandos shifted in his seat, but remained mute for the moment. The silence that now hung about the room was like a heavy, muffling curtain; despite this, VairÃ«Â’s loom began clicking once again. It was much faster than before, but the sound resonated hollowly in the stillness.
It was now well past sundown, but the room was filled with light; it appeared to emanate from the very being of Varda. The Star-queenÂ’s eyes were upon the Doomsman, whom she had noticed squirming in well-concealed anxiety. She quietly focused her keen ears, listening to his troubled thoughts, hearing and lamenting the anguished murmurings of his heartÂ…
They know nothing of what is to come. Only I know what Eru has decided. Ah, if only I could reveal itÂ…but I cannot, until Eru orders me to do so. Who could guess that the gift of knowledge was a curse, as much as mindlessness? If only I could do more to bring this mystery to lightÂ… to help ElrondÂ… Only Eru knows how I pity him, and more.
At this point Varda tried to ignore MandosÂ’ distressed voice. But the echoes kept coming, like waves over the sea, endlessly lapping at the sandy shore that was her mind. NÃ¡mo, the Doomsman of the Valar, felt pity for Elrond. No, noÂ… it was surely much more than pity. It was authentic affection; love, perhaps. Not the sort of love that united a husband and wife. This had to be more of a brotherly fondness. Even so, it was startling.
Mandos suddenly turned to her, his eyes sparking. *Did it never occur to you to ask what I am feeling, rather than intruding upon my thoughts?*
*I am sorry,* Varda apologized humbly. *I was only trying to help you.*
The Doomsman sighed quietly, seeming to grow a little smaller as his shoulders slumped. *I know. But you cannot hope to help me. You cannot possibly comprehend what secrets lie buried in my heartÂ… even those I have unwittingly revealed to you,* he added, with an increased note of displeasure.
*You doÂ… feel for him, then?* the ValiÃ« asked warily.
*If that is what you wish to call it. I haveÂ… grown rather close to him in these past five years. But he does not know.*
*Will you ever tell him?*
*Perhaps someday,* Mandos replied. *But not now. Too much is at stake.*
Varda nodded, just as ManwÃ«Â’s voice rang out through the silence.
Â“Friends, our time is against us. We have but one choice: Elrond must be protected at all times. Each one of usÂ…Â” he again stared around the room Â“Â…must be eternally vigilant. If we are to have any hope of keeping Morgoth at bay, we all must do our parts. Thus,Â” he said, Â“it is my verdict that we all are to become ElrondÂ’s lifelong guardians. He must be watched day and night. And we must be ready to fightÂ… should need arise.Â”
In the following hush, each Vala and ValiÃ« nodded solemnly, making a silent vow. Even the ones who would usually have been most reluctant to engage in combat Â– Nienna and EstÃ«, for example Â– were now hard-eyed and grim. Elrond glanced at his mother, seeing her, too, making the pledge with glistening tears in her eyes.
Â“So be it,Â” said ManwÃ«. Â“Our task begins immediately. This council is adjourned.Â”
The Valar rose, and the Wind-lord snapped his fingers again. The fourteen thrones faded, and the desk and chairs reappeared as the bed, whose pillows and blankets were suddenly spotless, zoomed back to its original position.
Elrond I glanced down at the soft sound of a yawn, seeing that his other half was close to dropping off to sleep in his motherÂ’s lap. Elwing smiled fondly and sadly down at Elrond II as she absently ruffled his hair, then looked up at Elrond I, her face becoming graver.
Â“Well,Â” she said softly, Â“at least you wonÂ’t have to face your fate alone.Â”
The elf-lord sighed. Â“I wish I knew more about my fate. There are so many things I need to find outÂ… so many questions that need answering.Â”
Â“Why I dreamt about my entire body unraveling, for one. What it meant.Â”
Â“When did you dream of that?Â” Elwing asked.
Â“A few days before I found you here.Â”
Â“I see.Â” His mother still looked concerned and confused. Â“Well, that was a while ago.Â”
Â“But itÂ’s likely very important,Â” Elrond told her. Â“IÂ’m not about to take it lightly.Â”
Mandos fidgeted uncomfortably yet again. He knew full well that he mustnÂ’t say a word. But right now, keeping quiet about what he knew was proving to be the hardest feat in the world.
Â“Are you all right, NÃ¡mo?Â” asked a voice to his right.
The Doomsman turned to look at Tulkas, who was frowning at him in concern. This was indeed out of the ordinary for the Wrestler, who generally spent as much time laughing as Nienna did weeping.
Mandos nodded insincerely, glancing discreetly away. Â“I am fine.Â”
But he was far from it. He alone knew exactly what the rest of ElrondÂ’s life would hold. Coupled with sadness for his brother, this was a weighty burden. Emotion was indeed a curse for one who had barely experienced it in his past life, which constituted countless thousands of years. And now, to be crushed by so many diverse feelings all at one timeÂ… Mandos was amazed his heart had not exploded by now.
Â“ManwÃ«,Â” said EstÃ« quietly in the Wind-lordÂ’s ear, Â“perhaps Elrond should be allowed to rest for the remainder of the night. I am surely no substitute for Irmo, but I will do all that I can.Â”
Â“Very well,Â” ManwÃ« agreed. Â“I believe it would be best if you would watch over him as well, at least until morning.Â”
The Healer nodded, striding gracefully to the elfÂ’s bedside. Elrond realized her intention, and lay down, allowing her to lay a cool, smooth hand on his forehead as the perfume of lavender flooded his nostrils. The elf felt instantly soothed, and he soon became dimly aware that the ValiÃ« was singing to him, a lullaby he thought he recognized. The melody blocked out everything else; he let himself lift upon the sweet notes and slip away from his worries.
Elwing and EstÃ« sighed gratefully as Elrond I and II descended quietly into a calm sleep, untroubled by visions. Elwing leaned forward, gently kissing both the adult and child on their cheeks.
Â“Sleep well,Â” she whispered to him, her eyes glistening slightly with unshed tears. Â“Sleep while you can.Â”