Arafinwë, or Finarfin, as he was known in the Mortal Lands, and his son Findaráto, who’d been called Finrod Felagund and the Friend of Men during his years of exile, stood before the Valar, their faces utterly serious. “You know the news carried by the stones and the refugees,” the King of the Noldor said, his voice hard as adamant, “that the darkness of Morgoth is still not totally banished from Endorë, from Middle Earth, and that Sauron seeks once again to introduce it from Dol Guldur, and that his ring slaves seek to take the city of Minas Ithil founded by Isildur and make of it a place of dread and fell magics. Sauron has sought to take the place of Morgoth since shortly after that one was vanquished and banished by you beyond the Gates of Night, and gathers together those of Morgoth’s fell creatures and servants he has been able to find and free, and then makes even more as he can. His own creations of rings of enslavement have brought him a harvest of ones who have lost their own nature through their betrayal of their friends and brothers and peoples; but unable to totally corrupt others he instead tricked Celebrimbor to create more rings of power as taught by himself, knowing that the trust most hold in the integrity of the great Elves of Middle Earth will make them more likely to accept such gifts, making but one Great Ring himself to rule the others.
“Yes, Isildur cut It from his hand and It is lost to him—but It was not destroyed, and remains a threat to all of Middle Earth until It is found and returned to the fire from whence It came. Until It is found Elrond, Artanis, and Círdan are able to protect their own lands and keep alive in Middle Earth the dream of peace and the memory of blessedness through the wielding of their own rings; but when It is found again all they have wrought will be laid bare to him for the destruction and corruption of all.
“What help can we send them? We cannot allow them to stand totally alone, hearing your counsel in their hearts only.”
Manwë looked at the Elven Lord from his great throne. And how is it you know that the one who seeks to rule from Dol Guldur is indeed Sauron and not another seeking to follow Morgoth as did Sauron?
“Do you think that after over two ages of Middle Earth Macalaurë does not know the taste of Sauron’s foul breath upon the wind? He has sent word by….”
The name of that one may not be uttered here, Aulë pronounced in a voice as stony as that of the Elf.
“Does his very name taint this place? I think not. He is heartily sorry for what he and those who took part in the kinslayings here and there have wrought, and has accepted his exile as right and proper. Surely his repentance must earn him the right for his name at least to be spoken? Or are you indeed as faint-hearted and as desirous of control over others as sworn by Fëanáro?”
It was a dangerous utterance and he knew it; but Arafinwë placed his trust in Manwë’s sense of fairness. Aulë and Oromë mantled, but the gaze of the Lord of the Valar was steady, considering, even sad, while that of Varda showed deep compassion. Nienna and Estë drew closer to their sister and ruling Lady, and Yavanna’s lovely face was thoughtful.
At last Manwë raised his head slightly, again closely examining the two Noldor who stood in the midst of the Valar and Maiar who’d chosen to observe this audience. In this you have the right of it—Macalaurë has indeed professed repentance and accepts his assigned punishment with remarkable grace; and the word he has sent to you is confirmed by messages sent by Círdan as well. But what aid would you have us send to the peoples of Middle Earth? We have vowed not to enter again bodily into the mortal lands lest we destroy far more than we protect; nor may we invoke the intervention of Ilúvatar, for none offers offense against His will to the point He must act against them openly. Already is the world of Arda broken due to the overweening hubris of Ar-Pharazôn, with no view any more of Aman from anywhere within Endorë.
“There must be some aid that may be offered to them,” Finrod stated with a hint of desperation in his voice. “My sister did ill to leave this place in search of the chance to express her own power; but she remains my sister nonetheless, and has offered no true offense against others here or there save the sin of disobedience. I would not see her and all she loves destroyed by this renegade Maia. Is there no way in which you can act against him?”
Yavanna sighed. Child, she said, look what happened in the War of Wrath. Beleriand sank beneath the waves of the Sea, while other lands were lifted up, and in the end the turmoil of the rage we expended against our rebellious brother left the lands of Middle Earth totally changed and most of its creatures destroyed or traumatized beyond recovery. Long Vána, Nessa, and I labored to see the lands again clothed in vegetation and capable of sustaining a variety of life. Long did the tears of Nienna fall to cleanse away the memory of anger and destructive pride. Long the waters of Ulmo served to ease the distress felt.
And then Ar-Pharazôn listened to the blandishments of Morgoth’s lieutenant, and again destruction was loosed upon Arda. Atalantë foundered beneath the Wave; the world was bent and broken, and Aman almost totally cut off from her sister-lands across the Sundering Sea. Middle Earth was itself again damaged beyond the effects of Sauron’s atrocities, and only the return of the Faithful to it effected its redemption.
Varda’s attention was fixed for some moments on the Lady of the Fruits of the Earth, then returned to the two Elves. For us to enter again into Endorë would indeed wreak more damage than good. It would be similar to sending a Műmak to rout a mouse when the services of a cat would be more appropriate—and far less destructive.
Finrod gave a great sigh and shook his head. “I certainly would not liken Sauron to a mouse, no matter how destructive such creatures might be. He is more a ravening wolf, its mind destroyed through the water rage. Against such, a Műmak might indeed serve well in finishing his destructive rampage.
“Well, since Sauron himself was from among the Maiar, is there no way we might invoke some from that number to assist in fighting him?”
Those of that company that were present looked from one to the other, and at last one among them fixed the son of Arafinwë with its attention. It was intended that Sauron himself be a servant and messenger, but as you say he has chosen the way of the ravening wolf over that of the mouse or the dove or eagle—or that of the cat. However, if we send some of our own number to counter his evil, how are we to assure they do not seek to become Műmakil themselves rather than the clean arrow that most efficiently stops the career of the maddened beast? And how do we choose the ones most effective in countering his evil?
It is yet a worthy suggestion, Manwë said thoughtfully, to send those of Sauron’s own order to counter him. But your objection is noted and is most worthy of consideration, he said to the Maia who’d entered the debate.
Oromë shook his own great head. I like it not, to involve the folk of our realm in a battle for ultimate power in Endorë, he said. It is best that the residents of the mortal lands should themselves stand against Sauron’s tyranny. You, Findaráto, have stated perhaps a Műmak might be needed to slay the ravening wolf. Yet the Műmak will destroy more than the wolf when its ire is raised, and its ire must be raised to bring it to such actions. No, in such a case the arrow of the hunter is best—or better yet, the arrows of many hunters working together. And in the case of the ravening wolf, those hunters who will do the best hunting and will make certain the beast is indeed dead are those hunters whose lives and families and stock are worst threatened by the beast.
“Yet there is often the need for instruction in the use of the bow and in tracking in bringing farmers and husbandmen to the ability to slay such beasts,” Arafinwë pointed out. “It might not be best to have Maiar slaying Maiar; but to have Maiar advising the residents of Endorë in how to best stand up to one of their own kind and how to most effectively counter him would be advisable, or so it appears to me.”
There was a good deal of silent discussion amongst Valar and Maiar in response to this. At last Manwë again faced the two Elven lords, and with a slight nod he noted, So be it, then. We will send Maiar to serve as teachers and advisors in countering the evil of Sauron. But they will have limits imposed upon them that indeed they not release too much power and destroy more than they aid; and their primary purpose will not be to slay their failed brother themselves, but instead to inspire those of Middle Earth to stand against him effectively. There is always the danger that those intended to counter may themselves be corrupted and thus seek to replace Sauron in the final service of Morgoth.
But how are those sent to be chosen? asked Estë. We would do well to choose carefully and with much thought.
Varda added, And we would do well to give much thought also to how we should impose limits on their actions and their appearance and personal power that those who follow their advice do so not out of awe but out of choice. To obey the commands of one known to be sent by Eru and ourselves solely because of his rank and nature as a Maia does not teach the one who obeys to choose to oppose Sauron because he has become evil; it simply teaches blind obedience to authority. If those who seek power as has been taught by Morgoth and Sauron are to continue to be opposed, it must be due to the free choice of those opposing them. And, those who oppose evil must recognize fully that freedom is a careful balance between obedience and free will, and that humility is necessary for that balance to be reached. The ones sent must be examples to be followed, not authorities to be obeyed if the lesson is to be learned thoroughly.
Yet they must have sufficient power and ability to wield it effectively in case they find themselves facing those of their failed brethren who have followed Morgoth and Sauron and who have been frozen into the shapes of evil they have chosen, objected Tulkas. They cannot be among the weakest of the Maiar.
“What about Sauron’s Ring of Power?” asked Arafinwë. “If It survives, Sauron will only return again as he does even now; and It remains a threat of corruption to all others. Does It yet exist?”
All looked to the Smith of the Valar. Aulë lowered his eyes. Ulmo had not attended this conference, and it took an effort of will to contact him and enlist his aid. At last Aulë broke off his communication with the Lord of Waters. The gold which hosts the spell and has served as vessel to hold so much of the spirit of Sauron has not come back to me, he noted. Therefore I must assume It still continues in the purpose given It by Sauron. Nor does It rest in the depths of the earth. I have a sense of It, but It lies between my realm and that of our brother Ulmo. I have just spoken with Ulmo, and he says It does not lie near him in the heart of his realm there within the Sundering Sea; instead he says the waters of Anduin carry occasional word to him and the taste of the foulness that fills It. Therefore It lies yet in the bed of the river in which It was lost.
“In which case,” Arafinwë said, “It remains a danger to all within Middle Earth, and particularly should It fall back into the hands of Its Master. How shall any ensure It is destroyed that such does not occur?”
Manwë paused momentarily, and finally spoke slowly. The means by which that might be accomplished are even now under consideration by Ilúvatar, and I, at least, will not seek to second-guess Him. When the time is right we, His servants, will be apprised of His will.
One of the Maiar stepped forward. I studied by our fallen brother’s side and served also in the forges of Aulë, he noted. I am knowledgeable in the lore of Middle Earth and the great struggle against Morgoth, and have learned of the making of rings. I even understand somewhat how Sauron reasons, and so am in a better position than most to devise counters to his plans. Perhaps I should be one of those chosen.
Aulë nodded with approval. Curumo would be a good one to send, I believe. I will support his claim to stand against Sauron.
The Weaver of the Valar straightened. I will agree that this one is sufficiently learned and powerful to stand against his brother. However, Curumo has ever been one proud of his accomplishments, and such pride as he has shown may in the end lead to his destruction. The patterns such leads to…. Vairë said no more, but shrugged eloquently.
Curumo’s form grew still with offense. I have no intention of failing if I am indeed chosen to go to Endorë and face Sauron, he communicated coldly.
The Valië straightened, her gaze steady and evaluating him thoroughly. Few intend to fail when they set themselves to go against such power as is wielded by he who was a brother to you, she indicated with equal coldness.
Oromë ignored the argument between the Maia and the Weaver as he fixed his attention on the Lord of the Valar. If Aulë will send Curumo, I would see Alatar go also. Of those of the Maiar who have served under me, he is the wisest and most powerful, and in following my hunts within the mortal lands he has learned much of Endorë, particularly in the eastern lands that have in the last two ages lain most strongly under Sauron’s influence. I would think he could be most useful there in teaching the people of those lands to fight the black one’s will.
Yavanna also sought to gain Manwë’s attention. I would wish one who holds an interest in the earth itself and its creatures sent also. We have seen what Morgoth did with all lands he laid claim to; and Sauron follows the example set for him two ages of Middle Earth past. Everywhere he and his creatures go they do their best to destroy all of any use to others or of any beauty that no one may benefit from them or know any delight in them. Aiwendil delights in birds and beasts and fertile places. He may not choose to seek to oppose Sauron directly; but in encouraging life to flourish in spite of Sauron’s will and in helping to restore the world once Sauron is vanquished he can do much to bring Endorë back to the point of balance.
And why, demanded Aulë, would we send one not intended to face Sauron directly?
Because to encourage growth is yet another way to oppose him, his consort responded. As was true of his master, Sauron has lost sight of the need for growth. He would rather consume all to his own engorgement, mistaking possession and consumption for his due.
Oromë objected, But the purpose of sending these will be to teach the people of Middle Earth to deal with Sauron. If he would be unwilling to face Sauron or his creatures, what good is he?
Yavanna’s expression was fixed. There is more than one way in which to oppose Sauron’s tyranny, brother.
We will consider it, sister Yavanna, Manwë decided. I will consider others as well.
How many would you send? asked Estë.
We will consider that also, Manwë said with finality.
“And what of my sister Artanis?” asked Finrod stubbornly. “Is there no manner in which the ban on her return might be lifted? There in Middle Earth she keeps alive the memory and awareness of the Valar and Lórien here, defying the memory of Morgoth, defying the will of Sauron. She was born here in Aman, and stood beneath the Light of the Trees. Must she be forever banned? She has sought only to oppose evil since she went to Middle Earth.”
The Lord of the Valar examined the son of Arafinwë dispassionately. Our daughter left this place in search of the chance to know power and to practice it. She accepted one of the three rings of power created by Celebrimbor to heighten her abilities. Is she willing to return here, no longer a ruler but subject to us? If she were offered the chance to heighten her personal power, how would she react?
No, child, until she demonstrates she realizes there must be a limit to power grasped she will not be allowed to return. The test will be offered to her, and if she accepts that in reaching for more she will lose herself then the ban will be lifted. Otherwise, she will only follow Sauron and Morgoth into the abyss. Will you accept this as fair?
Finrod looked to his father. The Lord of the Noldor sighed, and then answered for both, “Let it be so, Lord Manwë. If she reaches for more power, then she demonstrates, once and for all, that she has lost herself completely. But to know that there is a possibility that she might indeed return here to the land of her birth eases much of our worry and grief at her absence from our company.”
Nienna fixed her own attention on Arafinwë. You stated that we cannot expect the peoples of Middle Earth to rely on our voices spoken within their hearts. Why do you say this? Why must we send messengers instead?
Arafinwë weighed his words carefully. “Even here in Aman it can at times be difficult to separate the words of the Valar from our own imaginations, sweet Lady. It is even more difficult in the Mortal Lands, particularly with the need to fight also the influence of Sauron and his minions, the urging of those who would corrupt others for their own gain, and the whispering of Morgoth’s own voice, a whispering still audible to the hearts of too many. Often it is only the ability to see the face of the one doing the urging that allows the listener to sort out the false words from the true.”
And too often even then a pleasant aspect may convince the listener that lying words are true, Nienna noted. Look how Sauron, in the guise of Annatar, convinced Celebrimbor to trust him, and later did so again in Númenor as Zigűr. Until the peoples of Endorë realize that a fair face can easily mask foul advice and motivations, all will ever remain in danger of being overwhelmed by evil.
Even so, agreed Manwë. He rose. So be it—we will send a number of Maiar to Middle Earth as advisers, but in such guise they will raise feelings of respect rather than worship from those whose hearts are guided by their own honor, and with limitations on them that they shall not be easily tempted to follow the example of Morgoth and Sauron and will not do more harm in Middle Earth than it can bear. Are we agreed?
The rest of those present looked at one another, and finally turned to their ruler and indicated their assent.
Arafinwë and Finrod bowed deeply, their hearts lightened for daughter and sister and for all she’d come to love within Endorë. There was hope that Sauron might at last be vanquished and banished after his chosen Master. “Thank you, our lords and ladies,” Arafinwë said as he accepted his dismissal. “For Artanis and all our kindred who remain in Middle Earth, we thank you.”