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Houses of Might

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"Let none admire
That riches grow in Hell;
That soil may best
Deserve the precious bane."


 

When he had been a young god, fresh and brazen in his power, the earth had seemed too fragile for him. He had been made before it, out of scale with it. There was nothing put up that he could not knock down; from the densest core to the vastest plains of bedrock. All were as malleable to him as clay.

When the world had been lit by volcanic fires and the two, fixed lamps, he delved Utumno, his first dwelling.

Delved, not built

He had sunk his immaterial hands into the heaving red rock and plunged himself down. He scooped up pillars out of onyx, and scraped level his chambers with a swipe of his arm. He'd rummaged in the guts of mountains and pulled out seams of gold and copper; with a breath melting them, pooling them, unhammered and unpolished, over the floors of the monstrous caverns.

The immeasurable pillars there he twisted and clawed until they resembled coiled serpents holding aloft the jagged ceiling. Rivers of open magma lit his home, and the churning growl of the pits echoed forever through his halls. His throne was a high mound of raw jewels, and rippling blue-black lava. Nothing mortal could have survived his presence or his domain in that early age; no eyes but the Ainur's could see the splendors he'd wrought there. All things in Utumno glittered, though darkly.

He missed it, that rough-hewn palace. It pained him to know that in his current state, even if Utumno still stood, he could no longer endure it. He did not fit its scale now. He could not wade into oceans nor plunge his head in the streaming red clouds. He stood, yes, like a fearsome tower over his enemies, but what a pittance that was! The rumbling of the earth now simply made his ears ache.

Every splendor had been muddied since the beginning-- the primordial fires had cooled and green choking things crept over the earth. Even the icy walls and spines of Thangorodrim could not shield him entirely from the sun, the hateful eye of the Valar leering at him in his pain...  His only shelter was inadequate on so many levels.

 

Angband had been built for war and war alone. Nothing there glittered, but for steel and blackest glass. It was a dull place. A designed place.  It was true that in the early days, he'd hollowed out the spiraling pits of its dungeons, the lava-nests for the Valaraukar to rest in… but the rest of the construction he had left to his minions. Angband had been built of quarried stone and the mind of an architect. This was Sauron's fortress; his siege breaker, his battle trench, the breeding ground for armies, and though the loyal Maia had done his best to accommodate his master, it was still cramped quarters for a Vala. 

His lieutenant had salvaged some fragments of Utumno that had escaped the Valar's wrath; obsidian from the halls, gold from the floors, glittering gems from the throne. He'd sought to please Melkor, fearing perhaps that his master thought him idle during the long years of his imprisonment in Aman. He had reshaped the dark pillars-- carving them beautifully into the shapes of wyrms, snakes whose coiling bodies sought the roof and whose ruby-eyed heads formed the capitols. What once had been wrung into an unnatural helix by a mighty and careless hand, was now meticulously crafted. Every detail, each flute and column carved in the perfect likeness of serpents-- no longer nature but art.

Melkor had not been able to conceal his disappointment.

Hastily added luxuries brought the Vala little comfort. Porphyry basins that could hold a steaming lake were still a poor substitute for boiling seas, and a gold-plated throneroom floor was not a gleaming netherworld. His own body had a disgusting permanence to it now; form fitting function, fixed in mass.  As he saw himself reflected in the volcanic glass mirrors of the walls and the more he hated this cage,  almost as much as he hated the sun and moon. He was too vulnerable to venture far into the world-- the earth had grown strong while he had diminished.

 

There had been a time when the bright gold god had not known fear; when he had plundered the world, ran over it rough-shod; feeding the air and stone to his fires and casing the rest in ice. His siblings had objected, but had he not been set above them in their Father's esteem? Had he not been named the rising star, the mightiest of the Valar? He had loved his power dearly, and the steaming Earth and his freedom most of all, though he'd been made to feel ashamed of this love.

Melkor knew shame, but he had not known fear-- not because he was brave but because he had never been introduced to it, and therefore knew nothing of its dangers, like a child who has never been burnt is careless with matches.

But he came to know it in a sound: the thunder-laughter of the one who fell as a comet from heaven, making glass ripples in the desert.

When they'd unhoused him in Utumno, he'd fled to the bottom-most pit. He'd not understood that it was fear taking him there, in the unguarded chambers of his mind. At last he’d drawn himself up like a mountain, his face a lurking monster from the crushing depths of the sea, so hideous and needled it would have brought madness in a mortal mind. He had wreathed himself in flame and magma and the sound he shrieked in challenge was a hurricane's wail and the sound of brittle ice forming amplified a thousand times. But the ruddy Vala had stepped forward onto the rock bridge and smiled, and all Melkor's fire turned to flaccid tar.

They grappled. The Champion's brazen hands dared the barbs and crackling heat of Melkor's flesh. Tulkas broke the golden god's face with his fist, crushed the furnace of his ribs, wrapped his mighty arm about the blazing head, so that strive as he may, his opponent could gain no purchase. Melkor flamed, and shrieked, and fought, and scarred the rock with clawing, but at last-- and from then ever after-- he was thrown to the ground by the Champion of the Valar, and his face struck the earth in bitter shame.

 

Three ages after, he had not forgotten. When time is wrapped up like a ball of twine and Arda is undone, Melkor will still not have forgotten the  day when he met Fear and learned to hate him.

 

Yet having met fear, the dark Vala learned to recognize it in himself. Deceit was the first art he learned, after three ages gnawing on his own thoughts in the monotony of Mandos. He learned, for example, to withdraw his cowardice deep and unseen into his heart, or reproduce all the outward effects of fear while inwardly he sneered and preened.

Before the throne of Manwë he had shivered and pleaded. He flinched like a rabbit before the eyes of Tulkas and looked with contrition up at Yavanna, whose hatred was expressed by the vicious curling and uncurling of her thick-twined hair; and for Nienna, who spoke in his favor, he conjured his most credible sincerity. And all the while inside, he laughed-- not like thunder, but a stygian clatter of wings.

Now in the darkness of his keep Melkor reflected, picking at the scabs of gold that sloughed off his unhealing wounds. Each season his skin shed, and unlike a serpent, it left him duller and more tarnished than before. Each shedding left him in a tighter skin, constricting his spirit within a cage of matter.

It had always been his flexibility and cunning that had served him best; his deceit, his patience, his poisons, his knives in the dark-- these had led to victories, to escape.  Towers and walls were solid and immutable; they were a liability that he was forced to rely upon… Even Formenos whose doors had been slammed and barred against him had fallen.

 

Angband was a mighty stronghold, fenced with mountains of fire and iron gates, but it was still fixed. It was immovable-- inescapable. As much a prison as Mandos had been.

Even if he won the war against the armies that battered his gates, even if his siblings did not rise up against him, he would be entombed here, he knew. It would fall, eventually, as all things fell. And though this terrified him almost as much as the thought of diminishing to nothing, it brought with it a gallows-comfort: the idea that all towers of might must fall, that no place of power was sacred; that perhaps even, given time and strange turnings, the Halls of Eru too would crumble, and return into the endless, silent Void.