Disclaimer: As always, all characters, names and places from the Lord of the Rings belong to their respective owners. I own nothing other than a couple OCs. How could I anyway?
My unwavering thanks go to my beta-reader Anie, whose gentle prodding gave me the courage to post these new chapters.
Chapter 1: Elrond
Swift breezes that swept across barren lands, swiveled and turned around the lofty heights of the Taniquetil, carrying with them many mellow scents unique to the surroundings. Manwë Súlimo, Lord of the Breath of Arda, stood upon its edge, beautiful and terrible in all his might but with a soft expression in his deep and ancient eyes. To his side, stood Varda, Lady of the Stars, who found delight in the light that drove the evil darkness away, her beauty surpassing and completing that of her husband's.
Together they looked out into the vastness of Ea, their eyes piercing through the darkness and their ears picking up every noise that traveled in the air. But their countenance was more sorrowful than strong, for their eyes could see and ears could hear, what their hearts wished would never be.
The Maia Curunír had long ago turned against them, lured by forces of evil long gone. But, even though they counted him lost, his spirit had endured and grown strong, once again bringing destruction upon the Mortals they had left behind.
Ulmo often spoke of the mortals' troubles and pleas and Nienna had shed many tears. But the Valar dared not to set out against the stray Maia, for they remembered very well what grief their last expedition had brought on Arda. Instead, they waited and watched, hoping that Men would awaken and see themselves through the danger on their own.
But the Men of this world had long ago forgotten truths that should not have been lost. And Curunír was free to prey upon the world on his own.
Too late did they see through his latest scheme, though, both Manwë and Varda thought the time for waiting was over. They still wouldn't intervene but they were willing to ask some of Elves who had once stood up against him take on the task. Men could no longer be left to deal with a force they did not understand alone.
"Do you think we are too late?" Manwë questioned his wife.
Some of the stars on the sky shimmered in time with Varda's voice.
"I hope not and I pray we weren't wrong in our decision to leave them alone to begin with."
"It was what we thought was best for them. The terrible fate we had to bestow on Númenórë still burns brightly in my memory. Men are weak when it comes to power, they would not have lasted long should we have allowed them on these shores either. But I cannot help but feel we should have acted earlier."
Varda bestowed a light kiss on his cheek.
"We had no knowledge that Curunír had indeed survived. So then we could not have known the full extent of his plans. Such knowledge is for Eru alone, I'm afraid. But we will do what we can now. Olórin claims he knows who will be both willing and best suited for this task. He has already set out to speak with them."
"He asked to go himself, didn't he?" Manwë inquired with a small smile, and a soft autumn breeze swept past him.
"Yes he did" came Varda's reply with a smile that mirrored his own, "but he also understands why we wouldn't let anyone of our kind cross the barriers of Aman. If the conflict of Saruman and Gandalf in Middle-Earth of old was one of the major events for that Age, Curunír's confrontation with Olórin now would be detrimental for their modern world. Secrecy will have to be our ally this time."
"He has always been one of deep wisdom and we should be thankful for his aide. Did he by any chance tell you of his reasons for the ones he chose?"
Varda's smile grew wider and her eyes sparkled with mischief.
"Indeed he did not, but he mentioned they might need an ally in the hither world."
"Aah, I see. It seems that our dear Olórin may have grown too smart for his own good." Manwë's eyes with the help of his wife came to rest upon a dark-haired form among the millions that swirled under his sight on lands far away.
"Oh, can you blame him? He had grown fond of many mortals back in those days, but some will always be his favorites. Besides, I see some wisdom in his thoughts."
Manwë turned his sight back on the bright face of the beautiful Valië on his side and could not stand against the wishes of those brilliant eyes.
"Very well. I shall let Irmo know of his new assignment."
And the two powerful figures retreated from the halls of Oiolossë.
Rid of his physical form, Irmo, Lord of Dreams among the Valar, traveled in great speed over the mortals' world. Hills and plains, seas and mountainsides quickly went by, until one of the many human cities came into sight.
The usual noise and bustling had somewhat lulled under the cover of the night, but it was still a place filled with life and a rare sight for the Vala. Like the rest of his kind, he seldom left the confines of their protected realm anymore.
And it was in the midst of this cradle of mortal lives that Irmo would find what he sought. In a tall building like the rest, in an apartment similar to most, resting in a simple bed.
The disembodied Vala hovered above the form of a young woman in her early twenties peacefully sleeping while cuddled in a heap of covers to ensure some fuzzy warmth. He watched her calm features as she lay there, caught in her own sweet transgressions of sleep. But this was soon to be changed and, regret it as he may, Irmo knew it was but a small step in a greater scheme of things.
A feathery touch upon her brow was all the girl might have registered even if she had been awake and the expression on her face changed. Gone was the peace and serenity of mere moments ago and in its place a frown was marring her features in distress, as she began to toss and turn in her sleep. And even long after the Vala had been gone, she lay there trapped in a different world of dreams.
Olórin walked through the labyrinth of gardens where the twin sons of Elrond told him to look for their father. It was another beautiful day here on the island of Tôl Eressëa on the east of the main lands of Aman, but the beauty that surrounded him was the least in the troubled Maia's mind. Upon noticing the once powerful keeper of Vilya, strolling through a narrow path, he quickened his pace until he was walking by his side.
"Lord Olórin" the dark-haired elf acknowledged him. "What brings you here, so far from the gardens of Estë that you so prefer?"
"Work, my old friend, as always." The Maia's voice was sober. "Lady Varda herself has bid me to ask a favor of you. I bring dire news, indeed, and we need to discuss of evils we thought long-gone. I was hoping the former Lord of Imladris would be able to spare some of his precious time for me?"
Elrond laughed at his words, but it was short-lived and shallow. A traitorous feeling of warning had been awakened upon the Maia's arrival and it wasn't easy to ignore.
"My dear Olórin, it has been years beyond reckoning since last I was called that. I dare not think what kind of events could bring forth such a reference to things of the past" he said with more than just a little amount of bitterness and longing in his voice. "But time is one thing I have in more than abundance on these shores. And if you claim that Elbereth Gilthoniel herself has sent you hither, I would be more than happy to oblige. Come, I know a nice spot where we can sit and talk."
With Olórin's approval he led both of them on a smaller path that took them through the trees and rich plantlife that was so common for the luscious gardens of Tôl Eressëa until they reached a small isolated glade. Seats carved out of stone stood surrounded by the wildlife and it seemed as if they were placed there especially for the comfort of those that wished to spend time away from the eyes of many. Settling down in one of them, Elrond turned his full attention on Olórin.
"Now tell me, what kind of dire news would bring Olórin on our paths?"
The Maia sighed and began his tale.
"You were right to ponder on my choice of words for your title. This… new source of worry for the Valar comes with a long history, one that goes back to your days as Lord of Imladris."
Elrond was now staring at him, his face calm and pensive as always, but in truth more than a little intrigued, while Olórin continued.
"In fact, it concerns directly the events during the War of the Ring."
Elrond's eyes widened imperceptibly. Few dared to refer to that part of their history in the presence of the Peredhil family anymore. The loss of Arwen Undómiel had been mourned by many but, as always the case with such tragic stories, it was no more than a legend now to most while her family still ached for the lack of her presence in the Blessed Realm. Elrond and his twin sons even missed the mortal man they had adopted as family and who had stolen the heart of their daughter and sister.
"What of it then?"
It was barely there, but Olórin didn't miss the slight strain in his voice. Yes, indeed, he thought, this mission may be useful in more ways than one.
"I understand that you are well informed of all the events that took place that fateful year, including Saruman's demise."
"Yes, of course" was Elrond's simple reply.
"Saruman was slain by his follower Wormtongue after his plans to destroy the lands of the Shire had been foiled. Curunír's spirit, once freed from its physical form, tried to find its way back into the West where as a Maia he was bound to return. But the Valar, having heard of his treason, would not allow him respite. A gust of wind sent by Lord Manwë himself blew at that moment, scattering his tarnished spirit away."
Elrond nodded, struggling to deal with all those names and events that awakened memories he had long ago considered deeply buried. Olórin, on the other hand, seemed to be getting discriminately uncomfortable as his account progressed on.
"It was believed that once removed from his own kind and banished in Arda without a corporeal form, Curunír's spirit would be broken and lost, perhaps even returned to the Void from whence we came. But we were wrong. Curunír had grown too strong in the Dark Ways and his spirit was allowed to endure even when separated from the rest of his kin. In search of a new source of power, he… he began to feed on the woes of Men in order to grow strong…"
Elrond was certainly surprised. This was most likely not new knowledge and if that was so, why they never heard of it? Why had he never heard of it?
"Explain yourself Olórin."
A deep sigh preceded the Maia's next words, signifying that he wasn't exactly happy about the situation either.
"Curunír virtually fed on the mortals' pains and suffering, very much like Morgoth and Sauron before him fed on their victims' fear and despair. When he was strong enough, he even took for himself a physical form that would allow him to meddle in the affairs of that world. By that time, Gondor was gone and Rohan had ceased to exist. Men had forgotten all about our existence and even that worked to his advantage… He employs his powers for the control of the World of Men, wreaking havoc in his wake. But his latest scheming means to bring about a destruction of immense proportions. He has been allowed his share of evil for too long and needs to be stopped!"
But Elrond was hardly paying attention to his last words.
"You say Gondor was gone?" he asked instead in a tumultuous voice. He could never expect a kingdom of Men to stand for ever, Númenor was proof enough of that, but to hear the news from Olórin's mouth was disturbing nonetheless. "What of my daughter's line then?"
Olórin smiled at the distraught elf-lord.
"Your daughter's descendants are fine and well, even if there no longer is a kingdom for them to rule. And they are also the reason why you should carefully hear me out for what I am about to tell!"
Bringing his emotions back in tight reign was no new feat for Elrond. He came with many long years of experience from having to put his own troubles aside and see to the needs of many.
"Lady Varda Tintallë must have sent you here for more than just a mere appraisal of the situation. Tell me what it is you want me to do."
Olórin nodded satisfied.
"Lord Manwë himself has decided it is time to take some action. Mortals have no knowledge of Curunír's true identity and they are virtually defenseless against his plotting. We will have to intervene, but it is the lot of the Eldar to do so. It would be too destructive to unleash another battle between Ainur in the World of Men right now."
Elrond was frowning and had a disturbed expression carved across his features.
"So you mean to marshal an elven army to dispatch against the former leader of the Istári?" he asked in disbelief.
"Oh, no my friend, no, no, no!" A deep roaring laugh accompanied Olórin's words. "It will certainly not be an army we are sending!"
His tone regained its earlier soberness as he went on to explain the situation.
"Like I said before, Men have all but forgotten our existence. And while we have been enjoying the prosperity of the Blessed Realm they had to survive in a world that was not always friendly for them. They have grown suspicious of the unknown, more so than you remembered them to be and even then it was enough, while their constant battling against each other has rendered them extremely efficient when it comes to warfare. An army of elves appearing out of nowhere would instantly be considered hostile and treated as such. You would have to fight against both Saruman and the forces of Men. And I fear that even should you survive the former, you would stand little chances against the latter. No, my friend, an army would certainly not do."
Elrond was listening to him perturbed. It was hard to imagine a world where a host of Elves stood no chances against Men. Could the mortals have become such fierce warriors?
"It sounds to me like they have no need for help in defending themselves against Saruman, then. Or if even their forces are not enough, what do you expect of us, Olórin?"
"It is from their own selves that we have to protect them!" was Olórin's immediate reply. "Saruman's power is great, yes, but his greatest weapon is corruption. And it pains me to say that Men are the most vulnerable to that particular weapon. It is a rare occasion indeed but it is a fight I fear they are not equipped to fight. Either way, secrecy will be our ally. A small group of five or six may succeed where an army cannot."
If possible Elrond appeared even more perturbed.
"If what you say is true, then it is a perilous task indeed that you wish to appoint Olórin! What could so few of us do against such forces, and worse yet, against a Maia that survived the wrath of the Valar?"
Olórin raised an eyebrow and seemed to be appraising him for a moment.
"Was it not you, Lord Elrond, that sent a similarly small group into certain danger with a far more perilous task all that long time ago? And how did that turn out? I do not see how the wisdom of believing in the chances of the few has changed since then."
Elrond knew what it was the Maia was talking about. The Fellowship had turned out an immensely unexpected success. Perhaps there was some reason behind it after all.
"And I assume you wish me to be a part of this… mission?
"There is no real obligation" Olórin explained. "The choice is yours and yours alone. But I will not deny that your presence will be valuable. You are a fierce warrior and a gifted healer, you had seen generations and generations of Men walk through the Halls of your House. Your bloodline alone makes you a choice better than most."
"I am not certain of this Olórin. You say I have seen many generations of Men. And yet even I have spent more years here in the isolation of the Blessed Realm than in Middle-Earth. We have no knowledge of the world they have formed in our absence. How are we ever to find Curunír and deal with his plans? There are too many details that have not been explained…"
"All in due time, my friend, all in due time" the Maia soothed. "All I may say for now is that you will have help once you get there. There will be a mortal waiting to assist you with your plans, if you must know. Lord Manwë and Lady Varda have seen to it."
Olórin's blue eyes took on a special glint upon the mention of this 'ally' and Elrond immediately grew suspicious.
"What kind of 'ally' may that be, Olórin?"
The Maia was actually grinning with a look of mischief on his face by now.
"Oh, but that would be telling, wouldn't it?"
But upon seeing Elrond's annoyed expression, he let out a short laugh and hastened to add
"Don't worry, my friend, I will let you know before you leave. But I will have you make your choice for all the right reasons first. I must go; there are others I must also speak to. Take the time during my absence to think this through. I suggest you take the time for a long conversation with the fair Lady Celebrían. The twins will need to know of this as well. At least, that is if they wish to join, which I am sure they will. I shall be back in a few days."
"Explain it to others Olórin? I hardly understand it myself!" the elf-lord complained in a tired voice. "But I understand your need for discretion even if I do not approve of it. I will use the time wisely and will let you know of our decision upon your return."
Satisfied with the response, Olórin gave a final nod and turned around only to disappear in the surrounding plant life, leaving a very troubled elf-lord sitting alone behind.
A/N: This is my second attempt at writing a story with an actual plot that is longer than a mere drabble or one-shot. My first attempt was… less than successful. In fact, this is a complete re-write of the original "Ilúvatar's children". Still, I am not that much confident about the result and if it weren't for Anie's reassurance, I wouldn't be posting yet. And, since this is still WIP, I cannot guarantee any regular updates.
So, can I count on you going easy on me?