Written for the LOTR Community's "Believe it or not" challenge. For Harrowcat for her birthday (belated). Thanks to RiverOtter for the beta.
They found themselves standing side by side, the Elf, the Man, and the ruined Halfling.
The Elf was tall, his eyes a keen, haunted grey, and his hair a fiery red. One arm ended in a scarred stump, and the other, which had a decidedly burnt appearance, held a great, radiant jewel.
The Man was tall for his race, although nowhere as tall as the Elf. His eyes were also grey and were both haunted and defiant. His hair had been dark, but was shot through with white strands; and his face was grim, and had been hardened by years of self-discipline and many griefs and disappointments. In his veined hands he held a sphere of dark glass through which swirled ribbons of light and shadow.
The skin of the ruined Halfling was almost grey, fragile in appearance. What color his eyes might once have been had been washed from them by eons spent in dark caverns, peering through the blackness surrounding him. What few hairs clung to his wizened skull were lank and nearly lifeless, a few stubbornly clinging to a dark brown verging on black, but most nearly white. In his thin hand lay a gold ring far too large for his apparently webbed fingers. It did not sparkle in the sourceless light that filled the space in which they stood, but lay sullen and resentful upon the Halfling’s palm.
The space was so white and filled with light that it appeared nearly featureless—featureless save for a dark pool that lay at their feet. What filled that pool, whether black water or fluid metal or starless sky, they could not tell. But within it lay three forms.
All had to them the outward shape of the Children of Ilúvatar. The first, however, was impossibly beautiful as well as impossibly repulsive, its eyes filled with malice as well as need. The second seemed merely a shadow of the first; of its features they could tell nothing. The third was an Elf, one with dark hair and fair features; but the eyes were blank and sightless, while the mouth was twisted into a grimace of agony, the teeth firmly gritted.
The one-handed Elf gave a cry of grief. “Atto!” he cried. “My father!”
The Halfling looked down on the shadow creature with horror, and his hand closed convulsively around the ring he held. “The Master of the Precious!” he moaned. “He is here! He with his nine fingers!”
The Man looked from one of those flanking him to the other, and he held the tighter to the sphere in his grasp. “And who is the third?” he asked uncertainly.
The Elf beside him growled, “The Black Enemy! Long he left me hanging upon the walls of his place! How should I have forgotten him? But how is it he lies now by the side of my father? Lo, they were ever the most deadly of enemies!”
A movement within the Light across from the three of them drew their attention, and they discerned the approach of one from whom that Light emanated. A child this one appeared, but when they met its eyes great age could be seen there—age, dreams, visions, memories….
The ancient child stood across the pool from them, examining them with a compassion so deep it seemed dispassionate. Welcome, my children!
The Man examined the child suspiciously. “And who are you?”
I have even more names and titles than the one you have thought of as your rival since you were young men together, both serving your father. The Elf was certain that he detected humor in the response. Abba, Atto, Great Mother, Kali, Ancient of Days----
There was a snort from the Man. The child continued, Lord God Almighty, Father of All, Creator, Allah, Sun-Father, Brahma—there is no end to the names by which I have been called. But you have been taught to refer to me as Eru Ilúvatar.
The one-handed Elf asked, “Why do Morgoth, my atar, and this other lie there?”
Your father would not remain within the Halls of Mandos, but sought instead to place himself so that when at last the one he saw as his enemy came into the Void he should be there to greet him and so wreak his revenge. But vengeance is Mine, and not his to take as he might will. He had not the ability to find his way there, for My Children are not intended to dwell in nothingness. Now it is time to recall him.
“And why are we here?” demanded the Man.
The three of you are those who were most robbed by these of what you were intended to be, and what you carried with you into Death is needed to recall these to what they were intended to be.
“And what was the Black Enemy intended to be?” demanded the Elf.
My beloved son, he who was to comfort with the peace of darkness. But he sought instead to either gather all Light to himself or to destroy it, and so lost the portion of the Imperishable Flame that was granted to him at his beginning.
“And am I to give him the Silmaril, which he took over the bleeding corpse of my grandfather?” He lifted the shining jewel he held in his one hand in question.
The child gave a gentle smile. He spent his own Light needlessly, and now needs to be refilled. Remember this—all Light is of Me from the beginning, and that includes the light with which this crystal has been filled. Nor did your father create the light within the Silmaril—he merely caught a portion of the light emanating from Laurelin and Telperion, both of which merely showed forth the Light with which I gifted Ëa at its beginning, binding that light into one shape. I did not intend any of the Light I gave unto the universe ever to be held solely in the keeping of one being throughout all ages; to think one can hoard it in coffers or crowns is foolish.
Yea, Melkor stole it and its sisters, and slew another in order to do so; but he was as foolish as was your father, for both came to believe they could possess the beauty of Light ever only for themselves. But light is of no use at all when it is captured and hidden away from the rest of the world. And what use were any of your father’s jewels when they were locked away in his treasury, offering illumination to no one, not even Fëanor son of Finwë?
The Man looked at the child somewhat sidelong. “But if that one was indeed to be the Lord of Darkness, how can he be missing Light?”
One cannot truly see darkness without a contrast of light, any more than one can appreciate light without there being a hint of darkness. Varda’s stars shine the more brightly because they blaze against the dark of night, and the dark of night is the more beautiful because it contains the light of stars within it. And can one truly love the light of the Sun if there is no shade from it? So it is with my Children—each holds measures of Light and Dark.
The child held out His hand. Give me the Silmaril.
Unwillingly, the Elf complied, and the child took it, blessed it, and held it over the pool, over the breast of the one who appeared both beautiful and terrible. Be filled again, Best Beloved, he said gently, and broke open the great gem, pouring out the light within it as if it were water. The light pooled upon the breast of Melkor, and then began to sink within, as if being absorbed by a dark sponge. But as the light infused him, the visage grew more beautiful and noble, and the horror the three of them had felt on looking on him began to dissipate. At last the eyes looked up from the pool, and, yes, they were dark; but no longer were they terrible in their darkness, for there was a soft spark of light to be seen there also. Laughing, Melkor rose indeed in Might, and bowed before his benefactor. Go now, my son, and join your brothers and sisters, who await you eagerly.
With another bow, the Vala left the chamber, although none of the three could say which way he went.
Now the Ring, commanded the child, looking at the ruined Halfling.
“But it’s my Precious, my Birthday Present!”
You know by and for whom It was made.
Whimpering, the creature at last surrendered up the dull golden circlet. The child examined it, shaking his head. There was a finger within it when you fell to your death, He admonished the Hobbit.
“Yess, there was. But in the Fire it was losst!”
The child turned It within his hand, at last commenting, Ah, but that finger would have been too small for this one. He looked down into the pool, focusing his attention on the shadow creature. Mairon! Waken and present your hand!
A dull red circle of flame began to make itself manifest around the figure, presenting an aspect that most resembled a red eye with a cat-like pupil.
Cease such nonsense, and present your hand. The command was not to be disobeyed, and sullenly the creature raised his hand out of the pool. The child leaned over to grasp it, and all could see that one of its digits was missing.
Foolish child—do you not see what crafting such a thing as this has done to you? By pouring the greater part of your nature and power into it, you yourself became diminished, save when you wore it, and even then much of your nature was far different than you were meant to be. You were intended to teach the Children to rule themselves, and how to focus their abilities, not to seek dominance over them. Lo, wearing it you took to yourself the appearance of one of the Noldor and the name of Annatar, a shape you continued to wear when you removed the Ring from your hand before you surrendered yourself to he who named himself Ar-Pharazôn, and so it was that when Númenor sank beneath the waves you lost the ability to take such a shape to yourself again. A mere shadow of what you were meant to be are you now. Would you be more again?
The response rang through the room like an echoing whisper: Yea, so I would wish it.
The child ran a finger over the place where the finger was missing. Then be complete once more, Mairon.
As the three watched, they saw the finger begin to form where it had been missing before, and at last the child set the Ring upon the finger. Be whole, and go forth to do what you were charged with before.
The flames began to die away, and the shadow began to take on shape, substance, and color. Soon a Maia of incredible beauty rose from the pool, singing with thanksgiving as he bowed in honor to his Lord.
Now, go—your brother Olórin awaits you with impatience.
And leaving behind him the heavy scent of attar of roses, he who had been Sauron departed.
Now only one remained in the pool. The Man looked down on the Elf who lay before him uncertainly. “And how shall this restore him?” he asked.
Give it to me, and you shall see.
The Man gave a brief nod and passed the palantir across the pool. The child held it between His hands as He looked down on the grimacing Elf with compassion. Fëanáro—your enemy has been bested. Come back, and see once more that which you once loved and honored. So saying, he held out the sphere where the eyes must fall upon it.
Within its depths light began to swirl, growing brighter and more colorful by the minute.
“I have looked into the seeing stone more times than I can count!” the Man whispered, “But never has the light been so clear, so colorful!”
The child smiled at him. But you never looked to find what you truly loved, save in moments of anxiety. This was meant to allow communication between those who loved one another. And now the time is come to see this one’s family once again brought together in harmony, centered in My love for them.
And the eyes cleared, the grimace fell away, as the face a red-haired woman of beauty and character became visible within the sphere, and then a dark-haired man carrying a harp crafted of mithril and lebethron, and then five more.
“My amillë! My brothers!”
Are you ready to be reunited with them, my child?
“Oh, yes! Atto! Rise up—let us go to them!” Maedhros reached out his right hand, and grasped that of his father as the Noldo rose from the pool. No longer did his arm end with a scar, and the skin on both hands was healthy and clean as he pulled his father into his embrace. Fëanor looked with wonder on the child and on the palantir he held, and his hands trembling, he reached out to take the seeing stone into his own grasp. A look of joyful anticipation shone on his face, and he bowed before disappearing with his son, the eyes of both fixed on the family they so desired to be with once more.
Now, children, the child said to the two remaining, now that what you brought here has gone where it was needed, now you, too, are restored as well.
The Man looked down at the wizened Pherian, and saw that he now stood straighter. His skin began to change, and was yet pale, but now yet the color of a living being. His eyes darkened, becoming a bright, inquisitive dark brown, and his hair fell over about his head in a dark, full veil. He was smiling, and watching across the chamber where several who appeared to be related to him appeared. “Déagol! Grandmother! Master!” he cried.
And the three figures came forward, radiantly smiling as they all sought to embrace him at once.
“Oh, Sméagol! At last! Thank you for doing what I could not at the end—taking It from me without allowing It to take you!”
Now only the Man remained, watching after the Halflings as they were sent off. He felt somewhat bereft, having seen these others each restored to what they were intended.
Do you think, Denethor, that I have forgotten you? Behold!
And near where the Hobbits had been now several shapes appeared, and Denethor son of Ecthelion saw his sons appear together, followed by their mother, then his sisters, his father, his mother, and at last….
He looked at this last figure, and bowed in recognition. “So, my Lord Captain Thorongil—my father was right about you?”
The King nodded. “Yea, so he was. But I find I am not complete until I have been reunited with yet another I ever thought of as my brother. Come, gwador nín, and let me greet you at last!”
Two who indeed appeared to be brothers by birth reached out to one another as had ever been intended. And as they prepared to leave the Presence, Denethor gave a deep bow, murmuring, “And I thank you, Atarinya.”
Eru smiled as He watched them going, their arms about one another, Finduilas following them, radiant.