Disclaimer: The characters are Tolkien's, not mine.

(A scene from the Silmarillion. Even the most corrupt heart is never entirely black...)

Dark Forge

By Ithilwen

I burn. The pain flows through my body like molten metal, agony searing every nerve, my very heart consumed. How long has it been since they brought me to this place? Hours? Years? In my torment, I have lost all sense of time. As the pain crests again, I try to voice a scream, but prior cries have left my throat raw, and no sound emerges. That is no impediment to my tormentor, though, for I can feel his mind pressing against my own, hear him whispering inside me. Ósanwe - thought speech. Surprisingly, his mental voice is soft, almost gentle. "Why do you force me to hurt you? I have no desire to harm you, this is all so unnecessary. Just promise me your aid, and the pain will stop. Tell me what I need to know..."

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I have always been a creature of darkness and fire. Indeed, it was these forces that conceived me, for was it not the strength of my mother's flame that caused her to chafe under her brother's loving care? Her fëa blazed, seeking freedom, so she slipped away from her beautiful hidden prison and rode away, only to be ensnared by the dark spells my father cast. And so it came to be that her desire for escape betrayed her and led her in the end from one place of confinement to another, and she traded the sunlight of the mountains for shadows under trees.

They were so different, my parents. She, tall and fair, with the Light in her eyes, and he so grim and taciturn, moody and dark of spirit. Yet I believe that in a strange way they did love one another. She brought a brightness into his life, with her high spirit and her boldness, and in turn she found in him a fëa equal to her own in will, a strong black steel capable of withstanding her fire. But in the end, what love they had was not enough to save them.

My father began it, I think, when he forbade her to wander, insisting that she remain in the forest by his side. Could he not see that she needed freedom and sunlight, as necessary to her spirit as breath to her body? He himself had no use for such things - his forge cast light enough to suit his fëa. He was always most content when working there, the rhythmic blows of hammer on iron soothing the anger in his heart. He did not miss the sun. But my mother did, and though at first she was patient and willingly abided by his restrictions, this slowly changed as the long years passed. Gradually she came to pine for what she had left behind, and grew increasingly resentful of the boundaries he set on her freedom. She began to teach me the outlawed tongue of her people, in defiance of my father's express command, and knowing what the consequences would be to us both if he ever found out. She spoke to me of the city she had abandoned, of its high towers and beautiful fountains, its white walls and hidden gates, and of the Trees, carefully crafted in silver and gold, that stood in the central courtyard. And she gave to me a secret name in her beautiful, forbidden speech. Son of the Twilight, she called me. I did not yet know that mother-names are prophetic. I knew only that it was apt, for I had never known the sun, and her tales slowly awakened in me a desire for escape. I began to yearn for the freedom and light that her brother's kingdom represented in my young mind, and for the proud place she told me I would hold there. For I had come under my father's tutelage, and while some of the lessons were pleasant, others had begun to gnaw at my heart.

My father desired to pass his smithcraft on to me, and at first I delighted in it. I found I had a talent with the forge. The dark supple metal my father had learned to work also yielded easily to my will. He taught me the techniques of smelting and shaping the black steel, of finding and grading ores, of casting sword and mail. He saw that I had an eye for the work, capable of detecting even the smallest flaw in the alloy, and proud of my skill, gave to me a new name - "one," he said "that fits your talent." Eventually, he began to take me with him when he visited the Naugrim, and from that dour and stunted people I learned secrets that no others of my race, save perhaps my sire alone, ever discovered. But as I grew in craft, my father's mood became increasingly fell. For I was not content merely to master the skills of the forger - I wished to learn all that was knowable, and burned with an unquenchable curiosity. But questions about matters other than smithcraft he brushed sharply aside - "You don't need to know that!" - and I came to realize that he meant to chain me to his smithy. He intended that I, who yearned to see the wide sunlit world, should ever remain at his side, beneath the gloom of the trees, as the ages lengthened, cut off from all others of our kind. And increasingly, he began to voice to me his disparagement of my mother's people, reviling them as arrogant invaders, and murderers of our kin. He expressed scorn at my growing curiosity, my desire for any lore other than his - "Your mother's son indeed; I see you've inherited her taint! Noldo you are!" I did not understand. How could he claim to love my mother, and yet speak so about her kin? How could he express such pride in me at one moment, yet in the next tell me that my inheritance was a pollution in my veins? And as the tension between my parents slowly grew, I was caught between the hammer of his sullen wrath and the anvil of her increasing resistance. It was a painful tempering, and I longed for release.

Finally, the day arrived. My father left on a journey, and this time bid me stay behind. My mother quickly proposed flight, and though in part I still loved my father, I agreed to leave with her. For the desire to view the hidden city had, in my despair at my confinement, finally become too strong to resist. And I loved my mother also, and would not be willingly parted from her, as would happen once she returned to her brother's kingdom, where all who ventured in were forced to remain forever, lest the secret city be revealed to its enemies. There the word Noldo would not be a term of contempt, but a point of pride, and I would have a place of honor. Twilight's son my mother named me, but on that day I chose light. And so we ran.

We did not realize then that he followed us, burning with rage at our betrayal. Our horses, which we were forced to abandon at the river, betrayed us, their greetings to his steed leading him to the hidden pass. And thus he came to the first of the many gates of the city, and was brought before my uncle, the king, who greeted him fairly and named him kinsman. My father, still enraged, and with his long-held contempt for my mother's people rising in his heart, spurned the king's proffered hand and demanded the custody of his wife and son, that he and his family might return to the forest. The demand was, of course, rejected. The law required that my father remain in the city, never to leave it, and he was in no position to make any demands of the king, not after taking the daughter of the High King to wife without the prior consent of her family. I thought I had seen the worst of my father's anger before, but it was as nothing to what he revealed now. The king could keep his sister, a faithless wife, declared my sire in his wrath, but no Noldo held authority over him, and the king had no right to part son from father. "I am leaving, and my son with me! Come, we are going now!" he cried to me. But I stood silent, and refused to move. I could not bear the thought of returning to the isolation of the forest, of endless years toiling at his forge, without even my mother's voice to soothe me in my loneliness. I would rather die than return to that dreary existence. And die I nearly did, when in anger my father attempted to smite me with a dart. But my mother, my beautiful mother, threw herself before me and took the evil projectile in her own shoulder, to save me, and I was not fast enough to stop her.

In the end, I lost them both. For the dart was poisoned, and during the night my mother sickened and died. And my father, by the king's command, was thrown from the black precipice, punishment for murder. At the end he cursed me, declaring me a faithless son, and swore that at the last I too should fail of all my hopes and share his fate, for I stood silent by the side of the king when they brought him forth to be cast over the edge. But what could I have said? His own rash actions, and no words or deeds of mine, had brought him to this end, and my tongue had not the power to soothe the fury of my uncle the king, who was reunited with his sister after long years of separation only to lose her to the violence of my fell sire. His death was justice, though a part of my heart wept for him. I can only hope that he found peace at last in Mandos' gloomy hall.

Orphaned, and thus freed, I finally found myself where I had long dreamed of being - a bright place, the shining city, where I was finally at liberty to seek my own future. I swore that I would use my skills to preserve and beautify my new home, and to arm it against danger. Child of Twilight no longer, I would revel in the sun. For the king had recognized me as his sister-son, giving to me a name and a place, and I had discovered that it was in his household that the fairest treasure of the Noldor lay hidden. Idril, as golden as the fruit of Laurelin itself. Let me but win her love, I thought, and I will be content. It matters not that she is my cousin; that is not so close a kinship, and laws and customs can in the end be altered. Nothing is impossible, with love.

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I burn. The pain in my tortured body is a mere shadow of the pain within my heart. Mother-names are prophetic, as I have learned to my sorrow. No longer was I taunted with the epitaph "Noldo". Instead, "Moriquendi" they mocked - Dark Elf - though never in the hearing of my uncle. "The sins of the father pass on to the sons" they whispered, and I was shunned, though I had committed no crime. Oh, they have always listened to my counsel, for my father-name proved apt indeed; my sight is as quick to see the flaws within persons and plans as it is to see them in metals. And my smithcraft has proved its value to my adopted home. The king's armories are filled with my blades and helms, the products of my students, and the great inner gates, the final defense of the city, were wrought by my hands. But these accomplishments are a poor balm for my spirit. I desired, not merely tolerance, but acceptance, and that is something that time has shown me I will never achieve. And to think I thought myself miserable in my father's smithy! - there, at least I worked in gloom, convinced that the solution to my growing pain was light. Little did I realize that it is the brightest light that casts the deepest shadows.

Idril! Why did you scorn me? I only sought your kindness, and perhaps someday, your love! Yet you avoided me from the start, as if I carried some deadly taint, a poison so foul that even the merest contact might prove fatal. Why would you not give me a chance to win your affection? Am I so blighted in your eyes? Do not confuse my raven locks with a black fëa, a fell inheritance from my moriquendi sire! I am not he! And then, salt in the wound, you turned to him! Golden he is, yes, fair to look upon indeed, but Idril, he is as nothing to you! A beautiful but brief flower, soon to be withered by the frost, and yet to him you yield your immortal heart. You think yourself content now, with your husband and your son, but what of the inevitable winter to come, when both are gone? You belong with your own kind! The sight of you with him is a torment to me.

Bereft, I sought an escape - from my pain, from my anger, from the vision of you in his arms. I tell myself that my expeditions are necessary; the ores in Tumladen are growing scant, and we will in time have need of more weapons. Unnumbered Tears clearly proved that truth. Surely the king will understand, I say - my violations of the valley's boundaries are not in defiance of his orders, but in fulfillment of them, of his command to me that I must use my skill with steel to keep his city safe. We need the metal. I am careful not to be seen. But in spite of my care, I was trapped, and the servants of the Enemy have delivered me to a wretched fate. Idril! Forgive me, my love, for I can no longer protect you, even were you to accept my aid.

A whisper in my mind ... soft, so soft. "You can protect her, rescue her from herself. Free her from the spell the mortal has cast upon her. Help me, and I will help you save her." The pain is like a fire in my chest now. My limbs ache. It is too dark to see clearly, but I can feel his presence nearby, a vast thundercloud looming over my taut body. His voice in my thoughts. "Tell me what I need to know, and I will see she comes to no harm. If not - well, I will find the way eventually. Am I not Lord of Arda? What will become of your golden one then? Would you see her suffer as you suffer now?"

I am crazed with fear. The thought of you, my shining one, here in this reeking pit - no, I have borne the physical pain, but that image o'erthrows my resistance at the last. To save you, I will do what he asks, betray my uncle the king, who has shown me nothing but kindness, and cast open the bright replica of Tirion to the Night. For your sake, I will do it. I can no longer speak, but that does not matter. My mind calls to his, thoughts floating through the shadows that surround us both. "Please - do not cause her pain! Spare her, I beg you! I will tell you how to enter Gondolin..."