Actions

Work Header

The enemy, the smith and the bird who is so done with all of this

Chapter Text

The world is only just beginning to take shape through the labours of the Valar residing on an island named Almaren, or else the Blessed Lands, a place where no evil had hold. Among these Valar, each of them have as their apprentices and wards the lesser spirits also created from the thought of Eru Iluvatar, which are named Maiar. From the first moments of their existence they are more limited in their power and knowledge than their Masters and protectors because of the parts they each took in the great Music; but without them, even the mighty Valar would be troubled at work to build in reality what was first Sung in Iluvatar's great vision. And so the Maiar learn from their Masters and labour with them in their respective Houses, and as grows their experience in their crafts, so grows also their role in the shaping of the world.

-

Mairon of the House of Aulë is very young in the ways of the Maiar, but already he is deemed wise by his peers, and also slightly uptight, but not in a bad way. At least that is what Eönwë tells him, and he trusts Eönwë even though he knows this particular judgement may be slightly biased in his favour. Mairon likes to spend time with the Maiar as often as he can, regardless of the House they are of, and he yearns to learn from them not only about the crafts which they take after their Masters, but also – much more importantly – the stories of the happenings on Arda beyond the Blessed Lands. Neither in the forges of Master Aulë nor in the gardens of Lady Yavanna are such trivial things spoken about often in these times, for the two Valar are hardest at work and so are all spirits who serve them. In their busy presence Mairon learns naught but the value of hard work and the satisfaction coming from it, which he supposes will remain ingrained within his mind for all years that are to come. But he is yet inexperienced in the art of creation and so his assistance in his Master's workshop is rarely required outside of the lessons he takes daily; he does not do much in the forges save for the occasional help to his fellow apprentices or a very discreet correction or another to their works, and to cure himself of boredom, Mairon would often sneak about, disguised as a cloud of smoke or a gust of warm wind. In that form, he is often able to hide and listen in to what the other Maiar speak about among themselves. This way, he knows of things they would not speak of in his presence were he to reveal himself, but Mairon does not feel what he does is wrong. Becoming more knowledgeable is never wrong and anyway, it is not as though the others are so innocent. Everybody of his closer friends does it this way sometimes.

'Lord Manwë is saddened again by the words and the deeds of the dark one,' he hears Eönwë say one day when the stars above Almaren shine as brightly as the protective eyes of Lady Varda behind the dark eyelashes of the sky. His hair is in disarray. Mairon would gladly come out of hiding if only to fix the long braid of pale ashen colour, but he refrains. It would be in vain; Eönwë is untamed, he cannot sit still, and he plays in the wind all the time – and his hair and robes reflect that. Long has it been a cause of Mairon's mild irritation.

The dark one they speak of – he has no name nor face to match it, and he is only spoken about in hushed whispers between the bravest spirits. Eönwë, who is as bold as he is carefree, especially eagerly comes to share the grievances the dark one continues to cause his Master with those that would listen; and Mairon often finds himself perched on top of a hill, hiding within earshot of the Lord of Bird's Maiar, deeply drawn into their speculations about the ambiguous relationship between the dark one and the mighty Valar of Arda.

Mairon knows that Eönwë, who is very protective of him and very friendly, would rather not speak to him about such worrisome matters, which is why he continues to stalk the flock of Manwë's Maiar. It is impossible to make Eönwë talk when he refuses to. Here, he speaks freely and Mairon needs to hear.

'He is a spirit like us,' Tyanëlë, also of Lord Manwë's House, tells the others, shrouding herself with an air of self-importance when her words draw the attention from Eönwë to her. Her puffy cheeks redden as the only sign of satisfaction she allows herself to show. After all, the matter they speak of is grim. 'But his talents were scarce and thus no Master would take him. So he became malevolent.'

'Oh, but surely that cannot be so!' Exclaims Olórin in disbelief at the very idea of causing others grief just out of spite. He is of Lady Varda's House and also beloved of Lord Manwë, and often he chooses to mingle with the other Maiar to learn their crafts, not unlike Mairon who indeed knows his and respects him greatly. It is said amongst the spirits dwelling in Almaren that Olórin carries the favour of no less than four different Houses at once. Somebody else may have become an object of envy from the other Maiar, but not Olórin who is equally friendly and fond of everyone he meets. He is also without question deemed the wisest of their lot and all eagerly turn to him for advice in times of need. Yet Mairon thinks he is also terribly, adorably naïve: he always refuses to believe in the existence of great evil.

'Once I heard say that the dark one wanted to wed Lady Varda,' whispers Ilmarë, looking scandalized. So do the others who begin to chatter upon hearing the news which seem difficult to comprehend, but so exciting were it true!

'By force is what I heard. And still he wishes naught but ill upon the Lord and Lady!' Finishes the fair-faced handmaid of Lady Varda in triumph, immensely joyous at being in the centre of attention which she has successfully stolen from the pouting Tyanëlë.

Mairon laughs a little to himself at the display of immature vanity that is so typical of his peers and, he has to admit humbly, of himself as well. The days of the world are young and so are they all, possessed of material bodies that vaguely match the bits and pieces of the Music each of them was able to understand: but not bound to these shapes, they are limited in form but by their own minds, and to impress another by looks alone when it is so easy to transform into a being much different in appearance - is nigh impossible. But to be able to sate the curiosity of others, to hold a key to secrets that the others have not yet fathomed – yes, in this way they impress one another and compete. This is partially the reason for his own sneaky exploits. They all want to shine brighter than others. It is easy to understand why Ilmarë is so happy.

'She thinks she holds within her palm the solution to a mystery much larger than any of you,' says a soft disembodied voice which only Mairon can hear where he is lurking in the cover of stones and tall grass.

Startled from his hiding, the Maia takes upon the shape he is most used to, a lean male form with skin the colour of earth and galaxies of dark stars painted upon its surface, with hair like the flames blazing in the forges and eyes like molten gold; and in this form which he feels safest – most real – in, he searches for the presence of the one who spoke to him. But he finds nobody and senses naught despite his best efforts. And there is a tingling on his skin as though of phantom fingers tickling his arm, and there is a warm laughter in the air that caresses his confused soul and slowly puts him at ease. It fills him with a new feeling, a new emotion which strikes unpleasantly at his senses. This feeling is fear.

He flees then from his hiding spot, unnoticed by the tiny white and yellow birds that follow the Maiar of Manwë whenever they venture away from their Master's House so that in time of need, messages can be sent swiftly on their little yet dependable wings. He returns swiftly to the safety of the Gardens of Lady Yavanna where, like many others from the forges of Lord Aulë, he has built his own place out of pebbles and sand. That den under the warm soil, under layers upon layers of dirt and stone, deep within the earth where it becomes warm and melty, is where he rests after days full of learning and labour, after adventures and mischief with Eönwë, Curumo and sometimes Aiwendil. There he curls up and soaks within the pleasant warmth, imagining often that he can still hear distant echoes of the Music in his dreams.

The disembodied voice does not follow him there and Mairon easily convinces himself that it was just imagination fed by the stories of evil deeds of the dark one that made him hear it in the first place. Soon enough, he forgets all about it when Eönwë with windy hair draws him from his hiding place and into an elaborate and unbearably messy prank on Lord Námo that involves ridiculous amounts of pebbles, sixteen feathers dropped by the Eagles in the Pelori mountains and a bucketful of Lady Yavanna's best apple ale.

He is not surprised when they are both banned from visiting the House of Námo for a long time after that.

-

The next time Mairon hears the queer disembodied voice, he is working in the presence of his Master in the forges. He has been given a task which is both complex in its nature and trivial in importance, some trinket which was commissioned by Lord Irmo that he would like to have but does not require soon. The work is tedious but the Maia is content: this is the first time he is labouring without close supervision and on a piece that is not just for training. Out of many bracelet designs he envisioned, his Lord Aulë has chosen one after great consideration and although he is scarce in praise for his Maiar, there is no mistaking the fact that he is pleased with Mairon's enthusiasm and creative streak.

Unfortunately for Mairon, the design of the piece was just the first step in its creation and the easiest by far. Right now, he is stuck on the base which he has chosen to make of fine silverite instead of white gold which he planned in the beginning. The material is beautiful but difficult, as it turns out, possibly much more than the gold. It refuses to take the required shape in spite of Mairon's many efforts. In theory, if the temperature of the metal reaches the point when it becomes just too hot to touch with bare skin, that is when it should be pliant under the hands of the smith. Reality proves otherwise, the material all but melts in Mairon's hands, turns into a gooey substance which solidifies as soon as he discards it, and the Maia is struggling not to tear at his hair in frustration. But he will not give up. Those that give up are those who do not learn and he really, really wants to learn this.

Standing with his hands ineffectually trying to somehow knead the uncooperative material into shape – that is when he hears it.

'So determined,' says the disembodied voice from before, close to Mairon's ear, a breathy whisper on smoke. 'Let me give you a hint, young one: hands of liquid fire run hotter than hands of solid stone.'

The Maia whips around with arms outstretched in hopes of catching the invisible intruder, but nothing meets him than thin air. Curumo, bent over his own work, gives him an alarmed or curious look and Mairon shakes his head which is meant to convey that all is well; but his soul is buzzing nervously and his thoughts are thunderous, and what goes through his head is,

What is wrong with me?

It is much later, when he lies burrowed in his den under the earth, that he ponders the actual meaning of the words spoken to him by some immaterial entity that may be his mind playing tricks on him. Hands of molten fire, he remembers and looks down on his own limbs, imagines what they must seem like to these Maiar whose spirits do not burn with the flame that keeps the forges of his Master hot. Then, hands of solid stone, he thinks and immediately his mind goes to Master Aulë, whose form is harsh and hard, tough as though carved from the same material he uses to build the mountains in the world of Arda. His Master's body, he now realizes, works much differently than his own. The heat that Mairon emits is greater, and the metal – the metal he was trying to shape must have been reacting to that! Of course; why has he not noticed it himself before?

He sneaks back into the forges when nobody is there, when Master Aulë and Lady Yavanna are attending a feast in celebration of Lord Tulkas' newly formed House and all lesser spirits in their service probably are with them to join in on the merry-making. He builds a fire, patiently waits for the forge to become ready – he has no intention to fail again just because he rushed through the preparation process - and returns to work. This time he takes into account the difference in temperatures and – finally! - the silverite takes the shape he moulds it into. After that, the rest of the process goes by in a blur: once the base is made, Mairon simply adds elements until his design is fulfilled and he stands back, exhausted but elated, to admire his handiwork. It is almost finished. The last touches can wait until later, after he is well-rested.

That is when he hears the voice a third time, but when he turns with a hammer raised in defence in his right hand, he is surprised to find it is not disembodied anymore. No; right behind him, the owner of the voice stands in a physical form taller than Mairon's and brighter, pale-skinned and black-haired, not marred by a single mark on his body. Like his voice suggests, he is male and he stands shameless in the nude that exposes his masculinity; as used to be the custom in times at the very beginning of the world when Mairon was not yet more than a shapeless fire spirit, the stranger dons nothing on himself but the flesh, as though ignorant of the change in their ways, as though nudity is not something to be covered. But the nudity is not what makes Mairon take a step back; the stranger's eyes, instead, changing in colour rapidly as though a ray of light sent through the surface of the clearest diamond, cause in the Maia a queer feeling that is a mix of fear and fascination.

'I admire the dedication you show for your work, young one,' says the stranger with his voice that, once it comes from a solid source, seems much less threatening and more laced with kindness and not a small amount of amusement.

But Mairon, whose name is befitting of one who always exceeds the expectations put on his shoulders, does not appreciate anyone being amused at his cost and so he does not stand for it. Boldly, he claims, 'Young I may be, but I am in no need of assistance from you who had not the courage to face me directly.'

'Oh, believe me, little flame: it was not for the lack of courage that I did not approach you in full view of those that dwell in these lands,' replies the stranger and something in his face changes for a brief moment, as though a shadow fell on his form and shrouded him from view.

'You are the dark one,' Mairon realizes instantly, taking a step back.

The stranger does not move an inch from where he is stood. His queer eyes are trained on Mairon in curious observation and the Maia should be feeling threatened, but for some reason, he is not. This strange spirit that stands before him so calmly attempts nothing to antagonize him or cause him grief. If anything, he helped with a task by pointing Mairon to a solution that he did not see before. Yet he does not deny Mairon's allegation even though he seems to acknowledge the title with not so much as an indifferent shrug. It is not right. The piece does not fit the puzzle.

'Are you really the one they say has hurt Lord Manwë numerous times?' Mairon asks, lowering the hammer slowly. He still holds it, unwilling yet to let go of it in case he needs a weapon. He does not know how useful it would be to him were the stranger to really assault him, but just the steady grip on the heavy tool gives him a sense of security.

'I fear so, yes,' admits the stranger and a sad expression crosses his face for a brief moment before it morphs back into a look of teasing amusement. 'Why, do you doubt I could hurt somebody?'

Mairon thinks about the question for a moment. He comes to a conclusion and shakes his head. 'No, I do not. You look as though you are capable of inflicting pain,' he says seriously.

The stranger laughs and indicates the hammer with a casual gesture of his hand. 'Do you think I will hurt you?'

'No,' replies Mairon immediately. 'Were you of a mind to cause me harm, you would have done so already. It is clear that you are possessed of a means to journey across the Blessed Lands unnoticed. If your goal was to hurt me, you could have done so numerous times without revealing your presence to me.'

'What if I wanted to reveal it?' Asks the stranger, suddenly coming closer so fast that Mairon has no time to back away. Instantly he knows the hammer is no use as defence – it goes through the stranger's form where it should have painfully dug into flesh, like the body the stranger inhabits is not solid or, indeed, real at all. But at the same time, the stranger emits a sense of coolness that sends a queer and nonsensical kind of warmth through Mairon's flesh.

He is suddenly reminded of the glances he sometimes spies between the older Maiar and of the pretend-accidental touches that they seem to exchange when they think nobody is looking. Young as he is in the world that is younger still, he is aware of some form of physical closeness that the lesser spirits indulge in that gives them pleasure. He has not partaken in these activities yet, he has not responded to meaningful hints from Eönwë or Endëlión. It just... never crossed his mind as something worth considering, before.

He thinks of this now, with the dark one's bare physical form pressed against his own robed flesh, and the dark one is almost frighteningly solid and real to the senses. Ashamed of the ideas his mind entertains, Mairon averts the stranger's look and instead sets his eyes on a pile of leftover iron bars on the ground.

The stranger removes himself from his personal space nigh at once. When Mairon looks up, he finds the dark one stood again at the initial spot, observing him like he was before. There is a thoughtful crease in his brow. The light from the embers in the forge casts flickering shades on his pale physique which Mairon cannot help but watch, transfixed; and for the first time since he was conceived in the mind of the Maker, the Maia experiences envy when his eyes follow the shaky images colouring the perfectly white plains of the stranger's abdomen.

He wants to take their place, or at least to chase them with his hands and lips.

'This,' the dark one whispers, frowning. Mairon risks a quick glance at his face and sees confusion, as though the stranger has no understanding of the feelings that the Maia cannot help but project unto him.

'What is this that you want of me?' The dark one asks hoarsely and clears his throat which must have gone dry. He is clearly expecting an answer, but Mairon cannot give it. He does not know.

His own understanding of these matters is vague. He has seen Maiar touch each other, he has touched others as well, but nothing in his experience was ever about the pleasures of the flesh. He – no, it is a lie. He has in the past harboured a feeling of curiosity when first he has come to exist in a form of defined shape. His senses flared and became overwhelmed so easily back then, but still he remembers how his then-new body reacted to touch upon certain areas of it: how his soul soared and his control fell away, and how he made sounds that were foreign to his ears, and how afterwards he slept in sated content. If that is the kind of pleasure one can give another...

'I... shall leave you now,' says the dark one and this time he is the one to look away as though scorned. Before Mairon can protest or even blink, the stranger is gone in the same way he appeared and the Maia is all alone in the forge with confusing thoughts and images whirling about in his head.

-

Then for long he does not see the dark one again and once more the events of everyday life in Almaren serve to push the queer encounter out of his memory. Lord Irmo is happy with the bracelet Mairon has made and Master Aulë deems his young Maia ready to perform labours in the shaping of Arda. Finally by his peers is he regarded as not a child but an equal, and his time becomes filled to the brim with work and with games that the other Maiar of Aulë enjoy. In those years he learns much about alloys and runes, about gems and construction, about balance and ornaments; but also about song and dance, and about physical activities that are only performed for cheer.

Swimming, much enjoyed by many, he dislikes and water makes him hiss. When Eönwë with Curumo, who both still play pranks readily, once push him into the pond in Lady Yavanna's flower garden, he lets out a high-pitched scream as soon as his body is submerged. He proceeds to exact his revenge by throwing balls of mud at both of his offenders. They call for aid; others join their side and Mairon's as well, which ends in an all-out battle between the Maiar by the fountain. Later, covered in slime and dirt, they all have to work in Lady Yavanna's garden in order to repair all the damage they have caused when caught up in the fun. Nobody seems to be able to decide who won the battle. Curumo and Eönwë decide it was worth it, in the end, but also they promise not to force Mairon into the water again.

'I sincerely do hope so,' says Lady Yavanna, but the twitching of her lips and the laughter in her eyes clearly indicate how much willpower it costs her to keep up the sternness. It is no wonder that the Vala is amused: Mairon's fellow Maiar do look rather peculiar with leaves and branches sticking out of their hair, dirty beyond recognition. Even Olórin, who rarely engages in play these days on account of his studies, is among them. His golden curls are completely soaked and darkened with soil, his face is caked in mud like everyone else's, and he seems just as happy as his peers.

Eventually, Lady Yavanna allows them to get themselves washed up in the fountain in which the water runs much warmer than in the pond. Once the merry band of troublemakers are clean, a small feast of dried fruits awaits them on make-shift tables by the pond. Cranberries and plums, raisins and apples, figs and apricots – all laid out on platters in amounts so generous, nobody goes hungry even if they tarry in the water.

'There is no kinder person than Lady Yavanna,' decides Curumo, quite content, through a mouthful of sour cranberries which are his favourite snack.

'That is not an accurate thing to say,' Olórin disagrees. 'Lady Yavanna is kind and generous, but no more and no less than Lady Nienna, Lady Nessa or Lady Vána, or Lady Varda, Lady Vairë and Lady Estë; simply, we are subjected to her kindness on a more regular basis despite our behaviour having been... somewhat lacking lately.'

Laughing, Melian throws a piece of apricot at him. Mairon usually feels a little bit intimidated in her presence because there is a certain kind of serenity about her: as though she is always waiting, anticipating something that will not come for a long time yet, but readily she waits, patient, lost in a daydream of hope. Today, however, even Melian is more earthly and playful.

'We all know this, silly Olórin,' she admonishes the other Maia in jest as Olórin catches the apricot effortlessly in his mouth. 'I have an idea. We should sing! Each of us – no, Curumo, you will not get out of this – Eönwë! Come back here this instant, you flighty bird, or I shall fetch Thorondor so that he tells us about your latest mischief instead!'

Mairon laughs along with the others when Eönwë splutters and almost chokes on the apple pieces he was trying to stuff into his mouth during his failed escape. Using the fact that nobody is looking at him, Mairon steals two handfuls of apricots which are everyone's favourite and quickly hides them under his robes. Aiwendil notices and opens his mouth to call him out on it, but he is assaulted with an armful of Eönwë who still pretends to be gasping for breath. The commotion this causes allows Mairon to find a better spot to conceal his stolen treasure: he deposits the apricots in a nearby tree and casts a very weak ward for protection against ants and bees.

'He took like a dozen apricots,' exclaims Aiwendil when finally he is able to speak.

Everyone looks to Mairon, who schools his face into an expression of pure innocence. 'You can search me,' he says lightly, 'you will find no apricots on me!'

Eönwë is the one who runs up and starts patting him down playfully. 'Fifty-fifty?' He asks in a whisper that thankfully the others do not hear. Mairon nods in agreement to the terms and Eönwë winks at him. 'Nothing!' He announces to the other Maiar.

Aiwendil pouts and a soft blush adorns his face. 'But I saw it!'

'Oh, we all know Mairon is a bit of a glutton,' jokes Ilmarë, patting him on the head. Even though she serves Lady Varda and Aiwendil is of Lady Yavanna's House, the two are like siblings to each other, an older sister protective of her younger brother. 'He has probably already eaten them.'

'Forget the apricots,' suggests Curumo, 'try the cranberries! They are so sour, I bet you will be able to eat no more than three.'

'No bet,' replies Aiwendil instantly and sees, terrified, as Curumo puts a whole handful of the sour fruit into his mouth one after another.

Nobody picks up this particular challenge, but Melian's idea of an impromptu song contest seems to be more popular even if neither Curumo nor Eönwë are particularly fond of it. In the end, they split into two groups, a smaller one consisting of the two complainers and Olórin who would sooner take the form of a tree and stand motionless until the end of time than sing; and a bigger one which is made up of contestants. When Ilmarë points out that it is hardly a contest if they are to be judged against Melian, Mairon says that he thinks he could win, so instead of a full competition, the whole thing becomes a match between the two of them.

Unfortunately, this duel never comes to pass. Lady Yavanna chooses that exact moment to call on her Maiar because she has new tasks for them which require immediate attention. It is a good time for that because most of the snacks have already been eaten and everyone's robes and hair are dry. Before departing with her Lady, Melian regretfully tells Mairon,

'I was so looking forward to beating you!'

He admits to himself that she probably would have indeed beaten him effortlessly.

When most of the Maiar disperse to either go back to their respective assignments or to search for fun activities elsewhere, Eönwë comes up to Mairon with his hand outstretched.

'My share,' he demands with a grin.

Mairon lifts an inquisitive eyebrow. 'Your share of what?' He asks in mild interest.

Eönwë's face falls. 'You... you would not dare!'

'I have not the slightest idea what you mean,' Mairon says and takes flight before the other Maia can catch him.

Where swimming he finds unpleasant, Mairon is very enthusiastic about flying. With the winged Maiar of Manwë, he often flies across the vast sky above Almaren and observes the shapes forming below him. It feels good, to watch everything from a distance and see how it changes and twists in order to best reflect the visions from the Music. It is a slow process, there is so much yet to be done, so many tasks still ahead of them; but when he chases the clouds and flees from Eönwë after plucking a feather from him in jest, the hardships evaporate into nothing and worries disappear. And clumsy Eönwë is never able to catch him in flight. Mayhaps, he simply lets Mairon win. It is never easy to tell with the silly bird.

So it comes as no surprise when the day ends with Mairon gleefully consuming his hidden spoils while elsewhere, Eönwë sulks, defeated, and plots his revenge.

 

Chapter Text

Sometimes, Mairon spends time with the Maiar of Lord Oromë in their Master's House deep in the woods beyond Lady Yavanna's orchards. He comes to them with questions about their craft since they so rarely have anything to commission from the forges: their jewellery is of their own make, so different from what Mairon knows and makes for different Valar and Maiar, and their weapons also. Once, he becomes so curious about the lands beyond Almaren that they all seem to know so well, he somewhat hesitantly asks if he could join in on a hunt.

'Of course,' says Tilion with a wide grin on his round, pale face. 'But can you keep up?' He asks with a note of challenge in his voice. Of the Maiar of Oromë, he is the youngest and yet also the proudest; most arrogant, too, but with good reason, for his accomplishments are widely known. His hands are adorned with silvery ink and his eyes are bright.

'Watch out, Tilion,' Morinehtar calls out to him cheerfully, 'Mairon is swift like an arrow in flight, you should have seen him a fortnight ago when Eönwë chased him fruitlessly through the sky!'

'Speed can be useful in a hunt,' says Lord Oromë, who sneaks upon the conversation so quietly that none of the Maiar notice him until he speaks up, as he is wont to do. 'I hear you are also observant. You see more than most,' he addresses Mairon who bows his head in an awkward show of respect which can also be taken as reluctant confirmation. In the presence of the mighty Lord of the Forests, Mairon feels small, so mighty and also foreign to him is the aura of power that surrounds the Vala.

The Great Huntsman laughs heartily at the Maia's humility, amused and also unused to such behaviour since to his own Maiar he is more of a comrade and leader than a revered Master. 'Then so be it! Come with us on the next hunt. Rómestámo will be your guide in the beginning: he has most patience, I dare say, with those new to the craft.'

'No more than you, my Lord,' jokes Rómestámo bluntly, tall, broad and dark-skinned, more so than Mairon. His hair is black and styled into hundreds of thin braids which are all adorned with ornaments made out of bone and scales harder than steel. He wears a peculiar earring that he later tells Mairon is a fang of a beast that was his first successful kill. The fang is the length of Mairon's index finger and slightly thicker than his thumb. It stretches Rómestámo's earlobe, but he claims it is not painful at all.

'Triumph over the beast is a feeling that forever will rid you of pain,' he tells Mairon with pride. Then, he frowns, looking at the other Maia with the sort of intensity that would doubtlessly make somebody else uncomfortable. Not Mairon, though.

'Now, this stance will not do. Have you never used a bow before?'

Mairon indeed has not used the long-ranged weapon before, nor has he used any tool which was made with the exclusive goal of killing. He assisted in forging Lord Manwë's beautiful ceremonial sword – all of the apprentices did because it was such a grand occasion it would have been foolish to miss it – but he has never held one, nor has he thought it a useful skill in the Blessed Lands of Almaren. The bow is completely foreign in concept, much different than wielding his hammer. He is new to this, and he dislikes the fact that his ignorance can be so easily seen.

'Can I not simply ride with you and watch as you do your thing? I just wanted to see the Middle-earth,' he mutters, but already he knows that he actually wants to learn the art that is being presented to him. He is willing to keep going even if he does not enjoy Rómestámo's constant corrections to his stance, the position of his hands and even of something as trivial as the spread of his fingers. He sighs when for the third time in a row, the arrow falls to the grass instead of flying beautifully to the target because he held it the wrong way; but he does not give up even when his efforts bring minimal results. It is natural for him to be a perfectionist and he already knows he will not rest until he is at least as successful in wielding a bow with arrows as his teacher.

With a spear, he is marginally better: his arms are strong like they need to be for a blacksmith, so he is able to throw the weapon over considerable distances. Here, however, he encounters a problem with aim. Several trees end up victimized by his attempts, much to the amusement of Rómestámo.

'I have noticed you do the same with the bow. Listen: rather than closing one eye when you aim, you should keep both open and set on the target,' the other Maia suggests. Mairon follows the advice which significantly improves the result, but not enough to gain a kill from a distance and definitely not on a moving target – the large rock covered in a very thick layer of moss which they use for practice has only been hit once, on the part where a beast would likely have its rear.

'You could use a third eye,' Rómestámo jokes and laughs when Mairon glares at him.

'Well, you could use a new sense of humour since yours is obviously lacking,' says Mairon unhappily. He does not pout. At least he does not think he does. But the idea behind what Rómestámo said stays with him.

What if I really had a third eye, he muses when he is busy later in the forge. Lord Aulë is away on a stroll with Lady Yavanna and of the Maiar, only Curumo is at his workshop besides him. In addition to the two of them, Eönwë is sitting perched on a beam under the ceiling like an oversized pigeon. It is as though he always has the leisure to bother Mairon no matter the time.

'You could try to be useful if you really have to be here,' Curumo says, throwing a flawed gemstone at Eönwë. 'Or at least stop chirping; it is getting on my nerves!'

'Well Mairon has abandoned me lately and I have been bored halfway into the Void,' replies Eönwë resentfully. His hair, Mairon notices, is even more messy than usual. It gets on his nerves.

'Do you not have assignments? Tasks? Does the House of Manwë regularly laze about while we are hard at labour here?' Asks Curumo scathingly. He shakes his head and crouches at the boxes with gems. It takes a longer than usual time before he finds what suits his needs and straightens. He looks up at Eönwë.

'You are still here? Go be the future Herald of Manwë somewhere else,' he grumbles half-heartedly.

Mairon chuckles at his grumpy friend. 'If you speak to him, he will not budge. Ignore him for a while longer and he will go away on his own,' he explains to his fellow apprentice, but it is already too late for any advice: Eönwë has apparently decided that bothering them all day is not that interesting after all. He sends Mairon a ridiculously exaggerated pout as he is leaving.

 -

The hunt, when Mairon finally shows enough skill to join it after long, tiresome practice sessions with Rómestámo, is an exhilarating experience. Even though he keeps mostly to the rear, it still feels as though he is a part of something wild and free; he watches Morinehtar uncovering tracks of a great beast which lurks in the great rocky plains, he listens to Tilion's report from where he went for a reconnaissance. He tries to imagine being a great, thick-skinned predator in these barren, unfriendly lands and the idea chills him to the bone. And yet the plains have their own beauty to them: raw and misshapen, the humongous rocks and deep craters create an almost regular pattern, broken by cracks in the ground from which a foul sulphuric odour sometimes bursts out to the surface. What manner of creature could live in such a place? What manner of determination would it take to survive the odds?...

'Six separate tracks, my Lord, and fresh. So fresh I almost can hear them breathing,' Morinehtar reports to Lord Oromë.

The Vala nods in acknowledgement before asking, 'What are they?'

'A pack of scalewolves,' says Morinehtar, frowning, 'and they have at least one female among them. The prints are too big for regular males. Unless it is the leader of the pack, but then-'

'Rómestámo, you will stay in the rear with Mairon,' Lord Oromë commands, 'and the rest – follow me.'

Mairon knows better than to argue with the Vala, but Rómestámo protests. 'It is safe to leave Mairon by himself,' he argues hotly, 'he passed my training!'

But Lord Oromë shakes his head. 'Please do not begrudge my decision, lad; many a hunt still lay before you, but today, your task is to protect the least experienced in our midst,' he says. His voice is ever calm, but the glow of his eyes is dangerous and Rómestámo's face changes when he realizes he has raised his Master's ire. Immediately, his shoulders sag and he backs away, mumbling apologies which are not audible because the sound of a hunting horn comes from the front of the column. The true hunt now begins, but Mairon is not to be part of it.

And yet it matters little, for so much around him still garners his attention! Everything in this land is so strange, so different to what he knows. He touches the ground and the rocks, and he gasps in surprise when his the sharp edges leave shallow cuts on his hand; from that moment, he rather keeps to looking, unwilling to risk more serious injuries from this unfriendly place which he knows so little about. And so he sees: dwarfish plant life, twisted and blackened, so dissimilar to anything Lady Yavanna would have created; a stream of lava not unlike the grand river of molten rock which runs deep under the ground in Almaren, but here it marks the surface in several thin lines of fiery reds and oranges; smoke and ash forming poisonous clouds above many of the craters, hanging without a single stir for the winds from Taniquetil do not reach this land at all. But not everything about the lands of darkness is ugly, Mairon decides; many a spot he sees even from afar, glimmering, and he recognizes without fail the smooth surface of obsidian, so rare in Almaren but found in abundance here. At times, he can see in the distance an eruption at the peak of a mountain, a powerful spurt of magma exploding into the sky, a rain of fire and ash falling from the heights in a terrifying yet captivating spectacle of destruction.

He understands finally why the people of Lord Oromë love this land as much as they do.

After a time, the absence of the hunters becomes dull. The two Maiar left behind do not speak much, since Rómestamo still appears rather sour at the decision of his Master, so Mairon takes to observing their immediate surroundings once more, and thinking of ways to shape them into useful structures. He creates tens of designs in his mind, each one more beautiful and intricate than the other: palaces and gardens, and houses and roads so wide a hundred horses could ride along them next to one another, and he plans in his head of ways to make those visions come to fruition - before Rómestámo whispers, 'Something is not right,' and throws a worried look behind his shoulder at Mairon and the black steed which carried him here. The horse's name is Coal and he knows Mairon well, for often have they met each other in the wide plains of Almaren where the grass hums in the wind. Once, Coal helped Mairon and Eönwë escape after one of their pranks went incredibly wrong and Lady Nienna was rather justifiably angry; poor Curumo did not manage to hold onto the horse's mane and so he was left to take the brunt of the Lady's ire. Mairon sneaked him his favourite cranberries for the entire time when Curumo was forced to serve in Lady Nienna's House as punishment.

When Rómestámo speaks, Coal neighs softly in response. The two speak to one another in a language of horses which Mairon is not privy to and he feels unnecessarily left out; but soon their conversation ends and Rómestámo frowns like what he has just heard seriously worries him.

'Mairon,' he calls, 'mount your horse and hold on tight. Coal will-'

But he is not meant to finish. All of a sudden, a shrill howl pierces the vast desert; it startles Mairon when he realizes how close nearby it sounds, and he stares into their dim surroundings all the more intensely. Then he sees them: glowing red like hot steel in the darkness of an abandoned forge, countless pairs of eyes circle the shallow crater in which he, Rómestámo and their horses are as though trapped. The number of the beasts is immense and their movements – slow and lazy, confident too, because they know their prey cannot escape.

The head of the hunt is too far. They can not make it in time, even if they knew what is happening.

Rómestámo readies his bow, keeps Mairon behind him, shields him with his own body covered with ink that glows bright in the darkness; and if there were fear in Mairon at all, it is gone now, replaced by the rush of excitement, the surge that makes youth do irresponsible deeds: and he does not need to be shielded from harm in such a manner. He is a being of fire, a spirit of creation and destruction as well. He has the strength to protect himself.

It nigh frightens him, this power that surges through his entire being when he draws the longbow with stiff fingers. Yet he cannot think about it now; not when Rómestámo shouts to him, 'Be ready,' and not when the first of the giant menacing shapes with glowing eyes lunges at them from the rocky edge of the crater. Two arrows find their mark at once in the attacking beast's exposed belly. The arrow of bone and feather hits the target with deadly precision and the arrow of Mairon's, brimmed with fire, sets the air alight. In the new-found glowing brightness around the fallen carcass, innumerable dark shapes are looming, circling, their muscles trembling with tension under the fur and scales and skin before the assault. Mairon's eyes are closed, but he sees everything.

And the carnage that follows is no hunt but an orgy of blood and danger, of exhilarating death dealt by prey much bigger and mightier than the unsuspecting predators could have dreamt of. Cries of triumph fill the world and the smell of blood fills his nostrils, and Mairon laughs even as the endless armies of the enemy throw themselves bodily at him and fall under the assault of his arrows. Too many, he thinks, but it is all the better for even his poorly-aimed shots find their marks all the easier in this overwhelming flurry of movement and sound. The primal screams of the beasts awakens a sense of elation and horror in Mairon's soul, but still he stands against them as they fall one by one, felled by his or more likely Rómestámo's deadly aim.

A rhythm resounds in the darkness: the hoof-beat as the head of the hunt draws near. The beasts surrounding crater are soon surrounded, and to their death they fall messily, trampled under the hooves of a hundred horses and pierced by the heads of a hundred spears. When comes the end, Mairon's horse wades in the pool of black and hot gore which also eats at Mairon's feet and calves, and devours the flesh like acid.

But they have won and Mairon wants to sing and dance, but he is unable to, his feet burnt to the bone cannot carry him and he falls head first into the dark mound of gutted corpses; and under his eyelids, all collapses into night.

He awakens to voices and laughter and song, and all at once he knows he is safe back in Almaren. Around him he recognizes the Wisteria Gardens of Lady Estë and with a start he realizes he is in the Houses of Healing, but the voices around him are not of the Maiar of Lady Estë or Lord Irmo, but of those who he joined for the hunt, and even of Lord Oromë.

'They sing of your deeds,' tells him Morinehtar, whose silver hair and yellow eyes give him the look of a wolf or an owl maybe, and whose light robes are only decorated with grey feathers.

'Mine or Rómestámo's?' Asks Mairon drowsily, wondering why it feels so pleasant for his hand to be stroked gently by pale fingertips. He thinks of Eönwë, sulking in the corner of the forge or in the orchard deserted in the night. He misses Eönwë. He wishes his friend was here, almost, but also not. Everything is so confusing.

'Oh, Rómestámo is the first to praise your victory,' replies Morinehtar with a laugh that betrays his fondness of his comrade. 'But most of the songs they bother the peacefulness of this place with are swift to honour you both. Those were no mere scalewolves you fought, my friend.'

'What were they, then?' Mairon asks, but receives no answer. Curious, he looks up and sees the fondness and the awe in Morinehtar's gentle eyes.

Yet he asks no further when soft pink lips touch his own and warm, calloused hands tease his flesh, and he succumbs to a slow and sensual dance. Soon others join them, chanting the victorious song of elation, and in a careless orgy of hands and tongues, Mairon forgets himself in celebration of the hunt and of glorious physicality that overcomes his senses and drowns him in pleasures he has not imagined before.

In the tales of that folk to be told in the days that come, he becomes the Lord of Wolves.

 -

Once, he corners Eönwë in the orchard at the foot of the mountains. His interest in the hunt sated, he seeks to return to the closeness of their friendship from before, but finds with surprise that Eönwë is colder towards him and unwilling to share time as they used to. Why, Mairon is unable to fathom, yet undoubtedly the other Maia avoids him and no longer comes to the forges to find in him a partner for new mischief. But Mairon is not one to be deterred by simple avoidance and so he follows Eönwë on a lonesome stroll, and he corners the other Maia who has no way to escape from him now. The orchard of Lady Yavanna, quite empty before the blooming season, becomes the stage for their talk.

'Your anger with me – have I done something?' He asks when Eönwë unwillingly acknowledges that he has nowhere to hide.

Unexpectedly, Eönwë's physique takes on an expression of ire and his whole body language undoubtedly reveals his frustration. 'You need to ask?' He inquires in a voice that rings louder than it has reason to be.

'Whatever grief I have caused you, I apologize,' says Mairon sincerely. 'If this is about me spending time away...'

'Oh, get over yourself!' Eönwë snaps. 'I am not your keeper, I do not wish to impose on you any limitations on where and with whom you go. If you so choose to run gallivanting into unknown lands and get yourself almost devoured by dark beasts, it is none of my concern!'

Frowning, Mairon analyses the words. Then, 'You are angry because I may have been in danger?'

'May have been,' yells Eönwë, outraged, 'may have been he says! Lord Oromë himself carried you to the Houses of Healing, and your body of flesh was terribly burned and your essence was too weak to mend by itself. Yet all that seems important to them – and to you! - is that the beasts were killed. The cost, nobody appears to give the slightest thought to, but I-'

Eönwë never finishes the rant, for Mairon grabs him by the shoulders and pulls him close. With his lips, he silences his friend and swallows his protest, tastes it bitter-sweet on his tongue, kisses away the anger and the fear. Their bodies touch and their spirits mingle, their hands and their breaths run heated along one another's skin. For the first time Mairon so fully reveals himself to another and he knows, he feels, to Eönwë this is also the first time.

'You are such a fool,' mutters Eönwë when the kiss ends, and Mairon laughs breathlessly. He kisses the other Maia's neck, nips lightly at the soft skin in a gentle caress. Unbidden, his hands wander down Eönwë's sides to finally rest on his hips. So holding him, Mairon brings their hips closer together and their clothed groins slide against one another; Eönwë moans softly, helplessly, and Mairon kisses him again, thrusting his hips against his to swallow more of that delicious sound.

He pushes Eönwë against one of the trees and with one hand pulls down his robes to reveal the toned chest which he then showers with kisses and nips; he sucks on one of the nipples, eliciting a drawn-out groan from the other Maia, and he feels Eönwë's hands grab fistfuls of his hair. It hurts a little, but the pang of pain only heightens his arousal. He once more captures Eönwë's lips with his own, and again their hips move to meet, and the friction feels so good, but not good enough.

'May I,' he mutters against Eönwë's mouth, tugging at the sash holding his robes together.

'I. I have never,' Eönwë replies, gasps when Mairon licks on his lower lip. 'Yes, yes, do it, yes,' he whispers hotly and at the same time he hooks his fingers on the hems of Mairon's robes to pull at them, just as eager to see more of his friend as Mairon is.

They fumble with each other's clothing for a moment while kissing again, and when finally they are naked, Mairon falls to his knees and pulls Eönwë down with him. Gently he pushes the other Maia to lie down on their discarded robes, and Eönwë eagerly follows his lead. But he is unsure what to do next, so Mairon kisses his jaw and whispers,

'I will teach you. I will show you,' and he follows up on the promise by taking hold of Eönwë's hand and wrapping it around the base of his length. At the same time, he wraps his own fingers around Eönwë's shaft and begins to slowly stroke up and down, eliciting a soft moan.

'Good, is it not?' He asks breathlessly. 'Just mirror what I do, my sweet,' he murmurs and groans when Eönwë's hand strokes him in just the same manner he does to Eönwë.

Again they kiss, their tongues dance together in a sensual rhythm, and it does not take long; quite soon, Eönwë gasps and then groans into Mairon's mouth, his hips move out of sync once, twice, and his whole body trembles as he comes, eyes squeezed tightly shut, into Mairon's hand. The sight of Eönwë's orgasm is enough to bring Mairon to the edge as well and he does not need much more before he also erupts with a drawn-out moan of Eönwë's name on his lips.

'They say there will be war,' says Eönwë to him some time after, when they lay naked in the grass curled around each other and when absent-minded hands lay nigh-innocent caresses on soft skin. His hair is tousled from what they did before, barely any strands are still caught within the elegant clasp that before held his thick braid which even normally looks messy. Even so dishevelled, he is – perfect. He is exactly right. Like he should always be. But his words...

'War,' Mairon repeats thoughtfully. The beasts that had no name spring up in his vision, eyes glowing, hard scales and thick fur reflecting arrows with ease. Sharp claws and poisonous, black blood devouring flesh. Breath that smells like rot too close to his face. An army of monsters with naught but bloodlust driving their actions.

'The dark one is corrupting the lands and spreading destruction on the fruit of our labour. Lord Oromë is angered by this and my Lord Manwë is becoming more and more determined to stop this blasphemy,' adds Eönwë, stretching lazily despite the seriousness of their chosen topic. His fair skin is littered with many a bite mark from their activities, but he seems in no hurry to cover them.

Mairon trembles as though from a cool wind at the mention of the mysterious dark power, remembering the stranger whom he had once met and desired in the forges of his Master. So that is what has become of him after all this time: an enemy in faraway lands whose influence grows beasts most terrifying and foul. It seems like a waste to Mairon; he is reminded of how the dark one had come up with a solution to a problem Mairon encountered while crafting before he did, and how he spoke to the Maia about it in secret from all others. That person who he met was not wholly evil or malicious, certainly not like the creatures Mairon fought not long before. Well, no matter. That was something that happened in the past. They met twice, but that was it. Their paths will likely never cross again.

'Mairon, my child,' Lady Yavanna calls out to him as he passes her favourite herb garden on the way to the forges. Clad in a flowing robe that glimmers hundreds of hues, her small form is barely visible on the background of parsley, rosemary and the giant globes of colourful garlic which she planted not so long ago and which blooms so surprisingly beautiful.

She is wearing a crown of flowers unlike any other. There is no harmony, no order to the crown which appears crooked and a bit too loose, as though made by one with no experience in such matters. Daisies make up the crown and a stray tea rose, and ears of rye and several blue cornflowers, and nothing quite matches anything. Mairon smiles when he realizes it must have been Lord Aulë who made the crown for his wife with his big, clumsy hands that could work wonders in the forges but are quite useless at picking flowers or, indeed, making floral arrangements. But Lord Aulë would never admit defeat in a matter such as this – and Lady Yavanna is far too kind not to appreciate even so flawed a gift from her beloved spouse.

'My Lady,' Mairon greets her fondly, idly wondering if ever he and Eönwë should share a bond as prominent as that between Master Aulë and his Lady.

Lady Yavanna laughs, a sound that rings in his ears with the soft voices of songbirds. 'No need to be so formal, my dear child,' she says warmly. 'Please, walk with me. I have news which I want to share before anyone else finds you.'

Intrigued, the Maia follows the Lady of the Gardens as she leads him through the alleyways and to one particularly overgrown plot of land. Once they reach it, she drops to her knees, mindless of the dirt which soils her beautiful gown embroidered with the most intricate floral design by Melian or perhaps the Lady herself. She indicates for Mairon to do the same.

'Look how unruly this part of the garden has become,' she sighs wistfully. Mairon has to admit that she is right, even if his knowledge of plants is rather narrow. To him, all leaves look quite similar to one another and the only way he can tell a rose from a daisy is by the colour.

'This is what happens if you do not take care of your garden,' explains Lady Yavanna. 'If you leave your crop all alone, if you abandon it to its fate, slowly but surely it becomes stifled by the weeds that conquer the soil. Once beautiful, the garden then goes into ruin and becomes this: a tangled, vulgar mass of unkempt vegetation.'

'But it could yet be saved with a kind hand and patient heart,' Mairon says, looking up at the Vala for confirmation.

Lady Yavanna nods her head thoughtfully. 'Yes; as long as what made up the original garden still lives, the order can be returned even from such an over-abundant state. My child,' she pauses, then sighs once more. 'I know your interest in gardens is limited, but believe me when I promise you that this short lesson can be applied to more than growing plants.'

Mairon smiles. 'A lesson it is, then, my Lady? And here I thought you have called me here to spend a leisurely time in my company while exchanging fresh gossip about the affairs of mutual acquaintances,' he jokes good-naturedly.

It earns him a warm chuckle and Lady Yavanna smacks him gently on the nose with a blade of grass. 'Oh, you insolent child,' she says fondly.

Then she looks away, but not before Mairon sees a note of sadness in her usually cheerful face. Instantly worried, since he is as fond of the Lady of the Gardens as she is of him, the Maia asks,

'Is something the matter, my Lady?' But Lady Yavanna shakes her head and when she looks at him again, she is smiling no less sincerely than ever before, but a hint of regret remains in her sparkling green eyes.

Curumo finds them some time later, hard at work weeding the overgrown section of the garden. He comes right when Mairon flicks a speck of mud at Lady Yavanna in retaliation for her assaulting him earlier by blowing a full head of dandelion seeds into his hair. Mairon notices the newcomer first and waves a greeting at him, grinning. But Curumo does not smile back.

'My Lady,' he first addresses the Vala, who nods in acknowledgement. 'Mairon,' he then says stiffly with a serious face and a tense posture. 'Lord Aulë wishes to see you immediately.'

He steals a glance at Lady Yavanna, then adds in a voice that is almost a whisper, as though in fear of being overheard: 'Lord Manwë is with him and, Mairon, they seem... they seem angry.'

This information worries Mairon. First Lady Yavanna's sadness, now this – he has no memory of having done anything that would cause his Master, not to mention the King of Arda, to be angry with him. The only thing he can think of that could be even remotely related to Lord Manwë is the close and intimate friendship with Eönwë; yet he has no clue why it would warrant any sort of interest from the Valar. After all, such friendships are common between the Maiar, and both he and Eönwë have plans to maintain physical relationships with no others since the time they first became intimate not long ago. Besides, there has been no serious attempt at mischief from them in a long time due to individual assignments that require a lot of attention. No, he thinks to himself. This cannot be it.

What, then? he wonders as he follows Curumo after having exchanged a hasty farewell with Lady Yavanna. But he comes up with no answer. He supposes he will find out very soon anyhow.

True to Curumo's words, both Lord Aulë and Lord Manwë await Mairon in the audience chamber of his Master's House. He has hardly ever visited this place, even though like all Maiar of Aulë he helped shape it and he has the freedom to roam the grounds. It may be attributed to the fact that the chamber is too quiet for his liking; he much prefers spending his time in the forges where the other Maiar chatter or hum to the rhythm of hammers falling on anvils. Lord Aulë's audience chamber is situated deep inside the mountain which stands as his home, carved in unrelenting stone with the Vala's own hands. The walls are adorned with the most exquisitely rooted veins of copper and gold that reflect the dim light of the numerous small fire lamps, some of which Mairon recognizes as made by himself. The ceiling, on the other hand, looks as though one was gazing up the sky from the peak of Taniquetil where the stars are the closest, almost within reach; Mairon knows this is due to the gems which must have been cleverly set within the stone by his Master, but many who have seen this chamber could swear that indeed the star-filled sky has taken up residence inside of the House of Aulë.

Yet he is not there to admire the genius craftsmanship of his Master that went into the design and creation of this beautiful hall.

'My Lords,' he presents himself with a respectful bow. He has to admit that he feels a little inadequate in the presence of two Valar with dirt on his face and hands and leaves along with a small branch of very bitter purple berries adorning his physique.

'Greetings, child,' says Lord Manwë. Lord Aulë, Mairon notes curiously, is standing by the wall with his muscular arms crossed over his wide chest. He does indeed look displeased, just like Curumo indicated.

Mairon turns his attention to the Lord of Winds. Manwë is tall and magnificent; his eyes are pearly white, his long white hair is pinned in a complicated and fanciful manner and decorated with blue and grey feathers in an ornamental fashion that immediately rises Mairon's ire due to its lack of symmetry. There is something familiar about his looks, too, but Mairon is unable to pinpoint it, so he files that observation away for later and instead studies the Vala further, resisting the urge to reach out and fix the elaborate hairstyle that he knows is in no need of fixing. He wonders at the colour of Lord Manwë's skin – black like coals when they no longer glow with an inner fire – and the way it contrasts heavily with the light blue robes that somehow seem as though transparent yet not revealing when he moves. His entire form has a distinctly transparent quality; as if at any moment he could disperse into thin air. It is very likely that indeed he could.

'I have heard high praise of you from your Master,' the King of Arda says kindly, even though he must realize that the heated look Lord Aulë is currently directing their way does not make this claim very convincing at all.

'It is an honour to serve in the forges of my Master,' replies Mairon in the customary manner, and he makes sure that it shows on his face that he sincerely feels this way. Maybe if they see his dedication, his love for the work he does, it will work in his favour against the fault he must have committed.

'That is what I assumed, young one,' admits Manwë and smiles at him reassuringly. 'I have long watched you come to your potential. My own Maiar speak fondly of you, so you must forgive me if I wanted to satisfy my curiosity.'

'Get to the point,' Lord Aulë growls. The blatant disrespect of the notion shocks Mairon into a look of disbelief. For so long has his Master taught the Maiar of his House that it is crucial to address the other Valar with utmost esteem that seeing him break this rule in such a violent way is almost terrifying.

Yet Lord Manwë remains calm and pleasant as he turns to face Lord Aulë. 'I am getting to the point, my friend. Do have patience,' he says simply. With a start, Mairon can see his Master pale as though in horror. The reason for this, he never finds out; yet in some corner of his mind, he instinctively understands this one very important lesson spoken as though in Eönwë's voice:

No matter what happens, never make an enemy of Lord Manwë.

'Since your Master insists, I have no choice but to be straight-forward with you, young Maia,' says Manwë, turning back to Mairon with an apologetic smile. 'In recent days, I have received an unusual request. After much consideration, I have taken up that request with a council made out of my fellow Valar, because I felt the decision in this matter was much too important to make on my own. Excluding me, twelve have been in attendance and nine have voted to accept this request.

'Still I was not sure. Among those who have voted against were both your Master Aulë and his spouse Lady Yavanna. I did not want to risk their displeasure over this matter for reasons which will soon become clear to you,' the King of Arda pauses. He sighs, then takes up his explanation.

'I came to them many times since the initial vote took place with arguments that I hoped would eventually sway them in favour of the action I felt must be taken. Lady Yavanna finally agreed to change her stance, although I regret to note that it has caused her great sadness. Lord Aulë-' he trails off.

'Not even if this entire mountain grows nasal hair,' says Lord Aulë darkly from under the wall.

The image these words evoke is ridiculous, but Mairon is well aware that nothing about the situation is funny and indeed, nobody laughs. Something is about to happen, something very serious that involves him in a way he cannot yet comprehend; the thought of a request that has an influence over his fate being under vote of the council of the Valar makes him incredibly nervous.

'Yes, Lord Aulë has remained... somewhat sceptical,' concludes Lord Manwë with another soft sigh that sends a light gust of wind to ruffle Mairon's hair. 'So here I stand without the support of your Master and the time is running short. I had to decide and so I did. Even if the decision does not make everyone content, it was the only decision I could have made.'

'He really enjoys the sound of his own voice,' says Lord Aulë to Mairon in a conspirational tone that he must be aware is clearly audible to the Lord of Birds.

Lord Manwë ignores him, but his elegant eyebrow twitches. 'The request, as you may have guessed, concerns you, my child,' he continues. 'It is like this: my brother Melkor, who does not dwell with us for reasons which bear no import, has found himself lonely and in need of a spouse. Long has he searched before it seemed to me that he simply gave up. Yet, a fortnight ago, he came to me in person. I was pleased to see him and he me, for I dare say even if differences come between us, we are still siblings who greatly love and respect one another – but the point is,' he pauses to look at Lord Aulë, then back at Mairon who is more and more confused as the speech goes on. 'The point is, Melkor has once more expressed his wish to wed, and he specifically named you, my child, as his chosen spouse. That is why I sought to have your Master's approval before I made the decision.'

'… judging from Master Aulë's response, I can guess what has been decided,' Mairon says softly.

He feels... nothing. There is a numbness spreading across his mind and body which, he supposes, is preferable to a fit of histrionics in front of both his Master and the King of Arda. The reality of what is happening has not yet reached him fully. Maybe because it still has not been said directly. Until he hears the words, this can still turn out to be a horrible misunderstanding.

'Yes, my child. You are to be wed to my brother,' says Lord Manwë and it is all the confirmation Mairon needs for the situation to finally set in.

When it does, he is barely able to keep standing upright. His limbs are stricken with a sudden weakness. Five words keep playing on repeat in his head:

You are to be wed

YOU are to be WED

youaretobewed

wed wed wed wed wed wed wedwedwedwed

'But... I do not even know him,' Mairon says finally in a weak form of protest. He knows this is a concern for the two Valar as well, since they look at each other briefly and then back to him. The thing is, it has never happened in such a way before. Lord Aulë and Lady Yavanna, Lord Manwë and Lady Varda, Lord Oromë and Lady Vána, Lord Irmo and Lady Estë, Lord Námo and Lady Vairë: the Valar who are mated have chosen their spouses because their very souls called out to each other, because at the beginning of when they were still shapeless thoughts in the great mind of Iluvatar, they touched and came to know one another. The same is the case with many a Maia that Mairon knows, and even those that have not been fated to love each other from the days before Creation, still they only marry once they fall in love. Nobody has ever been forced into such a union because it could bring no joy, no comfort in the arms of a spouse that is not loved.

Yet it appears that Mairon will be the first.

'You have said your bit, Manwë, now begone from my House,' demands Lord Aulë harshly. For all of his stiff and uncaring demeanour, he is looking at Mairon in what appears to be worry. The Maia does not find it very comforting, however, even when Lord Manwë leaves without further ado; he feels trapped. Roped into something he does not want, for reasons which are not at all clear to him. That Melkor person... How come he has never heard about him before? He was not even aware Lord Manwë had a brother. Moreover, why did this Melkor specifically pick Mairon for his spouse? Did he, really?

Mairon has a sneaking suspicion that maybe – just maybe – Lord Manwë's mysterious brother never requested him at all; that the way it went down was, Melkor came to his brother and demanded that he find him a spouse and the Valar picked Mairon because...

Because nobody would miss him?...

But that is not true, he admonishes himself. He is generally well-liked among the spirits of Almaren. Eönwë calls him a precious friend or maybe even more, Curumo considers him a brother. Lady Yavanna often-times invites him to walk together and Lord Aulë is a stern teacher, but a protective and fair mentor. Mairon's relationship with the two Valar closest to him is almost... familial.

And they were against all this from the start , he remembers. It bothers him. Everything bothers him. Something is wrong in the picture, like the lack of symmetry in the decorative feathers in Lord Manwë's hairstyle, and Mairon itches to correct it, but – he cannot, he does not know how.

He spends the night in the forge, not approached by anyone, pounding on the anvil and ruining not only his hammer which breaks into splinters at the force that comes at it too heavy, but also a rather handsome plate of steel in the process. It helps nothing to relieve him of the frustration he feels. Thousands of ideas run through his head the entire time: to escape from Almaren - where would he go? What would he do? How would he function all alone? And they would find him, they would find him so easily because Lord Manwë sees all – or to beg the Valar to change their minds. Would they listen? Would they care? Maybe to pray to Iluvatar for some sort of mercy. Yet he would not be listened; what is he if not a grain of sand among countless others like him? He is on his own, no higher power can save him. To wed someone else as soon as possible to avoid the fate forced upon him.

Someone else...

Chapter Text

Eönwë finds Mairon in the forge when he is too exhausted to keep going. The Maia of Manwë wordlessly gathers him into his arms and pats his back gently, and his hair is in disarray as though he hurried there on the currents of the wind; Mairon wants to fall asleep in his friend's embrace, but he also wants to hit him like he did with the metal he ruined on the anvil, and he wants to scream, and to cry, too.

'If you need this,' Eönwë says softly, 'let us go and become violent. We can pick a place nobody frequents. You can hurl mountains at me and claw at me and burn me with your flames. You know I will be able to withstand it for you.'

'I doubt it would help,' mutters Mairon. His voice is muffled by Eönwë's skin and he thinks, this? , and raises his head to kiss the other Maia on the lips. Eönwë responds as naturally as he did all the other times they did it before now: he allows Mairon to control the pace, he brushes his lips against Mairon's in a slow and sensual caress. When the kiss deepens, Eönwë swallows Mairon's soft moan and licks at the inside of his mouth, and Mairon tastes the sky and the wind currents on his tongue and for a moment, he thinks he is flying, soaring away-

'Marry me,' Eönwë whispers breathlessly when Mairon's hands tangle themselves into his fair hair, tousling the messy braid even further.

It is as though his entire being is submerged in icy water all of a sudden; Mairon immediately backs away, putting a distance between himself and Eönwë that he reinforces by surrounding his physical form with fire so much hotter than the flames that keep the forges going. The air around him cracks and the stone right beneath his feet melts into liquidized flames.

'Do you think this is funny,' Mairon says hoarsely, and he trembles. Something is wrong with him, something dark awakens within him, and he is terrified. His throat is dry and his tongue tastes like ash. He wants to scream and he wants to cry or to beg, and he thinks in his despair,

Yes, yes, I will, you sweet, flighty, silly bird, I would, I cannot, but I would-

'I... I was serious,' Eönwë protests somewhat helplessly, shocked by Mairon's reaction no less than Mairon himself, but already his stance has changed into defensive and his hands have revealed sharp talons as though he can tell the aura between them is different. Oppressive. 'Mairon. Let us not fight here.'

'Do not tell me what to do,' Mairon hisses, although the last words come out as a shout. Something explodes behind him, filling the entire forge with smoke and the unpleasant smell of burning metal. His eyes hurt. His soul hurts more.

'You are destroying your Master's forge, Mairon. You know that you will feel guilty later,' Eönwë reasons anxiously. He is right, of course he is right, but his stupid hair is messy like always, and his stupid eyes are gentle and his stupid lips are soft and Mairon does not want to hear this, does not want to listen to sense. What he needs is an outlet for the aggression bottled up within him, he needs to feel, he needs to break-

'The plains,' he says, 'meet me on the plains. If you are not there, I swear I will find you. I will tear up your Lord's House if that is what it takes,' he warns and runs, or flees, or. His flesh form feels unbearably oppressive, so he leaves it, turns himself into a wildfire that burns a trail through the earth, that devours all on its path: the grass Lady Yavanna so lovingly planted in the dark soil and the rocky heels Lord Aulë erected to guard the Gardens of his spouse from the wind, and the bare trees in the orchard and the bird's nest in the branches. This senseless violence, this hate that wraps itself tightly around his essence is something never before seen in these Blessed Lands and the part of Mairon's soul that still recognizes the magnitude of what he is doing weeps because – there will be no turning back from such mindless destruction.

But for the moment, for this thoughtless instant, he is free and he is powerful and none can stand in his way, none can decide his fate for him. He is a force they all have to see and acknowledge, he is a calamity they have to take into their consideration. This, what he is doing – they cannot ignore, not like they ignored that he is a being with emotions and feelings like everyone else, not like they ignored that he is not theirs to toy with. He will not be trampled.

When much later he will find his peace again, he will be unable to answer why it was Eönwë's proposal that pushed him off the edge; why it was that and not the words of Lord Manwë that turned him into a wrathful entity. He will know why, he will... sense it, like one senses a coming storm, but he will be unable to put it into words.

Now, he thinks about nothing as he arrives in the plains beyond the mountains that house the folk of his Master. In angry swirls his flames reach out in search of Eönwë, who he knows should have reached the destination so much faster than he; but he cannot sense his presence and Mairon screams in helpless rage, explodes into a rain of liquid fire and burning ash. He wants, needs, he must!... Eönwë, Eönwë, the silly bird, the fool whose heart is dearest, whom Mairon needs, wants, whom he must!... Then something happens: the particles of his being are drawn into a single point in space and time, as though an invisible hand gathered them, and the sensation of being picked up from the chaotic frenzy of mindlessness is so soothing he melts into it, gives in, allows himself to be thusly held together. The presence which wraps him tightly in a non-invasive cocoon of comfort is foreign to him, but carries a note of familiarity which he does not associate with anything he knows, rather with something he desires. Primal like his rage, it lulls him into a shallow slumber and Mairon succumbs into it like a lost child that trusts a friendly face in the woods.

The thought of danger never once passes his mind.

He sleeps in the plains for several days. Throughout this time, he awakens only once to Eönwë gently brushing stray hairs from his face. The other Maia whispers something to him, words of reassurance which Mairon does not understand; but he lifts a hand to try and fix Eönwë's irritating messy braid before he falls into the comfortable blankness again.

-

Mairon returns many days later to the House of his Master alone and scared of the consequences of his terrifying outburst, but ready to take responsibility. Yet instead of the expected scorn, he is met with relief from Lady Yavanna who greets him with a loving embrace that feels so warm, and with calm understanding from Lord Aulë. He looks to his Master in justified confusion; has he not brought destruction on the fruit of labour of his benefactors? Has he not marred their home with selfish violence? Has he not exposed himself for the danger he becomes once irrationally angered?

Has he not shown himself to be just like the dark one whom all fear and despise?

'There will be no punishment,' Lord Aulë tells him when he asks and the words are accompanied by a tired sigh. There is a glint of sadness in his Master's eyes. 'Despite what you seem to think, you have caused very little harm. She who is my Lady was able to mend the few scorch marks on the leaves. Her touch heals the wounds not only in the plant life she so loves,' he says with the kind of fondness with which he only ever speaks about Lady Yavanna.

The sight of his stern Master so softened by love for his spouse has always amused Mairon: how the strict mentor he knows from the forges changes into a clumsy, big fool whenever Lady Yavanna is mentioned. It still does, and it warms his soul now buried beneath the deep sadness that fills him when he thinks how he will never be this way. But to his surprise – and relief – the knowledge of his fate no longer angers him so. The days he spent asleep in the plains, wrapped within an unknown presence healed the hurt of his soul and now he simply – regrets. Grieves. He also does not understand.

'It felt as though a monster grew inside of me and came out. It felt as though I brought doom upon the world,' he whispers. He remembers vividly the trees that died in the fires that fed the core of his hatred, the stone that melted and evaporated in his infernal haze. How could it all have been an illusion? Unless not only his soul has been healed by that presence which protected him from being devoured by anger; but also the very lands which he so scarred. Yet who would have power to do that? Who, if not one of the Valar?...

'Alas, you only brought doom upon your hammer,' replies Lord Aulë in jest. But he is serious a moment later when he lays his hand on Mairon's shoulder and says, 'I know you are angry, lad. I am too. Did you not see? If I could have gotten away with punching Manwë in his self-important face, I would have. Oh, how I would have enjoyed it!'

Mairon giggles despite himself. 'I... would have enjoyed it as well, I think,' he declares. He looks up at Lord Aulë and the Vala laughs heartily at his uncertain expression.

'Yes, I believe we both would have been the happier for it,' he agrees wistfully. Then he straightens. 'Now, back to work. No, Lady of my soul,' he says when Lady Yavanna who still stands close with her arms around Mairon's shoulder in a protective, maternal embrace opens her mouth to protest. 'This is quite enough coddling. Mairon must return to the forges at once. So many assignments await him, so many deadlines! Do they not, my lad?'

Immediately, Mairon nods his head and, bowing in farewell to Lady Yavanna who lets go of him hesitantly, he runs. Without further ado, he goes back to the forges as instructed and finds that his hammer has been replaced. The new one is sturdier and heavier, made of a different, unfamiliar alloy; the grip fits in his hands better and he wonders how come. His old hammer was made by himself - all of Master Aulë's apprentices make their own tools as soon as they possess the necessary technique and as they learn new things, they incorporate them into these tools; so it is indeed quite interesting how this hammer forged by somebody unnamed is so well-suited to Mairon's needs and strengths.

The ground still bears marks where his anger melted the stone, but the damage is not easily noticeable. Likely, Lord Aulë repaired whatever was broken after Mairon's rampage, including the floor. There are all the regular apprentices moving around the forge, chattering and working, and none of them seem to take note of the slightly dipped surface of the ground in a specific spot.

'You were missed,' Curumo says when he first sees Mairon returning to his post. 'I do not know about the others, but I really could have used your assistance with measurements over the past days. Nobody is as precise as yourself.'

'In that case, I apologize for my absence,' replies Mairon and reaches for his protective wear. He really does not need it in the forges since his very nature is rather resistant to any accidents which may happen when working and fire cannot hurt him, but he has long since learned that it is less hassle to change clothing than to remove molten metals from the skin. Even if there is no pain accompanying the process, it is still very time-consuming if one wants to retrieve the metal for further use instead of wasting it, especially when it concerns any of the rarer resources.

'It is forgiven, my friend,' Curumo assures him. 'I do not know the cause behind your absence and I admit that the fact that Master Aulë specifically forbade us from asking about it makes me all the more curious, but nonetheless, I shall not bother you with unnecessary questions. I would rather solicit your help in this current assignment which is troubling me than risk your ire.'

Mairon laughs softly. 'Fear not; you, of all whom I know, have never once ignited my anger,' he says almost cheerfully. 'But alas, tell me of that assignment. I have a lot of time to make up for, I would rather not sit idle for a while longer!'

He is immediately brought up to date with the tasks the Maiar have been burdened with by their exacting Master: a carving in stone that will take up long days of labour, a cast in metal which they know not the purpose of, numerous smaller parts and trinkets commissioned by this Vala or another. The entire House buzzes with hard work in the time following and Mairon, to his surprise, slowly manages to find his lost peace and balance in the incessant noise of the forges. Nobody here knows of his doom so nobody brings it up; and it is not discussed at all even by Lord Aulë or Lady Yavanna, who sometimes visits the Maiar of her spouse to force upon them a moment of rest. She brings them the sweet fruit from her orchard and has her Maiar help with the tasks that do not require expertise of a blacksmith, such as cleaning the tools and keeping stock of the materials. Aiwendil especially comes often with stories from the lands beyond Almaren which, of course, he has from others, especially those of Lord Oromë, including Rómestámo and Morinehtar who like him dearly; he has never gone further than the orchard himself, the sweet child, content with caring for the vegetation and especially the creatures of his Lady in her Gardens. But because of his adorable nature, he is well liked and nobody is able to keep secrets from him, and he is usually the one to whom it is wisest to go in order to learn about the goings-on between the Valar. And Aiwendil shares knowledge eagerly, content to entertain his listeners. Sat in the forges on top of the large basket that used to contain peaches (but no longer, since the apprentices of Aulë were swift to sate their hunger and replenish their strength with the sweet fruit), the Maia tells them all of what he has heard lately.

'I also bring news of the dark one,' he mentions and Mairon thinks Aiwendil must be aware that this is the topic which everyone is most interested in. All that the dark one represents: wrath and destruction, and hatred, and corruption, everything of this is foreign to the dwellers of the Blessed Lands and because of it, all the more fascinating if terrifying.

'Ilmarë herself told me this and she had no reason to hide the truth, so we can be certain that the information is as accurate as possible: there shall be no war! The dark one's envoy came here, to the Blessed Lands, just to negotiate peace,' says Aiwendil and his audience immediately begins to chatter in excitement. None of them save Mairon have met the dark one before, none of them even know what he looks like; it is no wonder the news of his servants make them giddy.

Mairon wonders how peace could be on the mind of one who commands the beasts he hunted, even if once, that person came to him with advice and asked nothing for return.

But Aiwendil is not finished. 'There is more,' he exclaims. When everyone looks to him, he continues: 'Listen. The dark one himself is in Almaren at this very moment. He is a guest in the House of Nienna. Olórin saw him and even spoke with him, and he claims the dark one is different from what we thought. Scary, he told me, but rather striking in looks. And very mighty. He said they conversed shortly about something trivial, he could sense the hidden strength of the dark one thrumming in the very air. He even said that it was like in the presence of the Valar!'

'Oh, that is impossible,' says Endëlión, who is younger in spirit than Mairon but more experienced than him in craft from his unusual affinity for stone and metals that comes from his earthen nature. He is one of the few of his kind in Lord Aulë's House, since most of his peers chose rather to serve under Lady Yavanna, not for scorn of the forges but for their love of the Gardens that are to cover the entire world in a time that will come to pass according to the Great Music.

'It is impossible,' Endëlión repeats, frowning, knitting his impressive brows together. 'No lesser spirit could posses the same might as the Valar unless they are also a Vala; and it cannot be that the dark one, the one we call the Enemy! - is of the same breed as our Masters.'

'Olórin would not lie to me,' protests Aiwendil.

'Lie, no,' Curumo agrees and as always he aims to reign in the conflict, 'but it may be that he simply – ah, misjudged. He is of us the wisest, with the exception of maybe our Mairon and that silly bird Eönwë of Lord Manwë's House; but even Mairon or Eönwë could likely be deceived if a powerful spirit similar to us were to, how do I say it? Cast an illusion,' he looks to Mairon for confirmation.

'In the correct circumstances,' Mairon backs him up. 'Yes, it is possible. I do not think myself wiser than any of you and certainly not Olórin,' he says and is in his words completely sincere, 'but I know a lot and yet I am sure that if the dark one who has caused so much grief to our Lord Manwë wanted to deceive me, I would be easily deceived. Especially if I did not expect such cunning, which I am certain was the case with Olórin.'

'That makes sense,' Aiwendil says. 'It is true that Olórin always expects the best out of all those he meets. It would be no big task to pretend before him to be mightier than in reality.'

'I hope so,' comments Fariana from where she is working on a very detailed ring made out of golden wire and shards of diamonds with the help of magnifying glass. 'Because the alternative is that the dark one who threatened the safety of our peace really is of the Valar. Do not tell me you remember naught of the discord in the Music.'

A horrified silence follows her words when the assembled Maiar realize the implications such a notion would have. The dark one being one of them, similar to them in power and nature, that they can take: that one of them would go to such lengths to destroy the results of their labour makes them angry, but they are able to come up with justifications for such behaviour which may be silly, but at least make them feel better. Yet one of the Valar turning to such vile acts is beyond their comprehension. One who was close to the Music from its beginning would surely never go against it, would never have the will to mar its overwhelming beauty, they think in unison – but they all remember the discord.

The memories the Maiar have of the Music are vague. Mairon himself remembers only the feeling of absolute rapture, the sensation of being curled up within the throes of something so wonderful no words could describe it accurately. Of the discord, he only has one memory: at once, the entirety of his being was set aflame and blazed wildly in the Void, pulsating wildly in a chaotic, blissful rhythm before just as suddenly returning to the peaceful theme like a soft heartbeat. But the feeling associated with the discord is common among them lesser spirits: how threatening it was, how terrifying, how awful in its entirety. The one responsible they fear to this day even as they know naught of what became of him. If the dark one is Vala, he may well be the one who instigated fear into the making of the world.

Aiwendil does not stay long after this remark and, to be honest, Mairon also has no desire to be in the forges where a deep, unnatural silence is now only broken by the hammers hitting anvils and the bellows hissing as they pump air to fan the flames. Yet he has no choice and he remains, but work goes roughly for him. An uncommon occurrence it is for the Maiar not to speak amongst themselves, but such is the case after the news that planted seeds of worry in them all. Curumo, Mairon notices, cannot concentrate on his work where he is trying to smooth out the edges of the engravings on a metal plate; Endëlión has already re-made the same cast for improved arrowheads commissioned by Lord Oromë twice and is now preparing to re-make it again. Fariana has abandoned her station and is browsing through the supply box that holds rubies of different sizes and shapes, even though her assignment does not require rubies at all. Kyleth, who is of all Maiar closest to her and as brother, is busying his slightly trembling hands with sweeping the floor, of all things.

Needless to say, this is not the most productive day in the forges of Aulë.

-

Asereia and Dione from the House of Lady Varda come by some time later to inquire if any of the apprentices from the forges would be willing to join in on the celebrations of the birth of the newest star. Their astonishment is great when they arrive to find the usually cheerful crowd so laden with gloom. To Mairon, one look at the twin dark-skinned Maiar in their sparkly gowns is enough to make a quick decision.

'We shall all join the merry-making,' he announces firmly. The others are about to protest, but Curumo, understanding quickly the thought behind Mairon's reasoning, is fast to come to his aid.

'It is too grand an occasion to miss just because of a silly premonition which is likely not true,' he addresses his fellow Maiar. 'And who knows what wonders we would have to go without! Imagine if Lord Irmo comes. Imagine if we miss out on the caramel apples he usually brings for everyone because of something so silly.'

The argument is, not surprisingly, very effective. Nobody needs to be convinced further once caramel apples enter the picture. This is a commonly known fact: the Maiar of Aulë all have a gluttonous nature and it is incredibly easy to tempt them with sweet treats and snacks; Lady Yavanna, who is very familiar with their lust for food, jokes often how it must be all the hard physical labour that so sharpens their appetites.

So in the end it happens that the whole bunch accompanies their Lord and Lady Yavanna with her House to the celebrations which take place on the grassy hills. Many tables are prepared with snacks for the guests, such as three different kinds of nuts, various dried berries, fresh apples cut into quarters for easier consumption, crispy corn bread hand-baked by Lady Estë, sliced honey-fruit which tastes so good when chewed even for an entire day, roasted pumpkin and those wonderful caramel apples that everyone so hoped for. To drink, they can choose from water or apple cider, or wine brewed by Lord Námo of the grapes that seem to grow best in the vineyards surrounding his halls.

But the feast, although much enjoyed by Mairon and his peers, is just a trifle in comparison to the event which is being celebrated. The stars which fill the sky are plenty and nigh everyone is incredibly fond of their sacred light. They remind the lesser spirits of the Music of which they remember so little, as though little pieces, notes leftover from that glorious beginning, can still be found between the glittering constellations. Today, a new star is born.

'I have seen a light that shone brighter in the darkness than the stars Varda has birthed onto the world,' says a foreign-yet-familiar voice when Mairon sits alone for his companions abandoned him in favour of hunting for more treats. Expecting not to see anyone, the Maia does not look up and continues to play with a shard of glass which he has brought along from the forge by a slip of hand. But a dark-robed, pale-skinned form takes a seat alongside him on the grass.

'I hear it is polite to take notice when spoken to,' says the dark one, offering a smirk when finally Mairon realizes the voice is not disembodied this time.

'Politeness is a very complex concept,' the Maia replies stiffly, 'one I am not sure really applies in our case. After all, I was almost killed by beasts of your make.'

'Yet alight with your might like the embodiment of fury, you blew my beasts into ash and dust,' says the dark one and it may be his imagination, but Mairon could swear the dark one's voice carries a note of awe at the deed.

'But alas, none of it matters,' continues the dark one. His hair, black like the sky would be at night were there no stars to cast their ethereal glow, is tousled from the wind that blows strong tonight from the presence of Lord Manwë in all his glory. 'You were not to be met by death on that day by my explicit orders. The beasts were to bring you to me unharmed, a simple task – yet failed by your hand.'

'Why would you,' Mairon wants to ask, but he can hear the others returning by their footsteps and the cheerful voices and laughter. It is only a blink of a moment when he pays no attention, but when he looks back to the spot beside himself, it is empty. The dark one is gone and with him, the glass shard from Mairon's hands.

'You should have come with us,' says Endëlión loudly and his reddened cheeks suggest he has overindulged in wine and sugar for the evening. 'Even I find it hard to believe and I saw it!'

'What is the commotion about?' Asks Mairon, taking the spoils from the hands of poor Aiwendil, who has been tasked with carrying a box of pears that almost exceeds him in height. The sweet scent of ripe fruit hits his nostrils and it smells – like home.

'Our fair Fariana,' replies Curumo with a grin that hardly befits him. Only then does Mairon notice the absence of the bright-eyed jewel-smith who, he could swear, was with the others when they left to get treats.

'What with her,' he asks, a little bit concerned; after all, the dark one and his envoy are free to roam the Blessed Lands and their ways are dangerous. He does not trust them to be civil, even though he only ever has met the dark one and not any of those who serve him. Still, too well does he recall the feeling of being unable to recount the many days lost to oblivion which he spent recuperating in Lady Estë's Wisteria Gardens before his spirit was strong enough to regain consciousness.

'She asked Melian for her hand,' says Eönwë, shrugging almost indifferently, but his eyes are sharp and his smile is as though faked. 'Of course, Melian said no. She was very polite while declining, but Fariana announced her heartbreak to the assembly of the Valar and then fell asleep on the spot.'

'When Lady Vána asked if she was quite alright, Fariana snored at her,' adds Endëlión and giggles. So do the others, even Eönwë, yet Mairon can swear his dearest friend is only pretending. Himself, he reluctantly joins in the laughter, although mostly he feels sorry for the poor Maia who will probably awaken hours from now to everyone knowing about her hardly acceptable behaviour and she will be extremely embarrassed about the whole ordeal. He wonders if Eönwë is embarrassed or simply angry with him. Or disappointed... or scared.

His mood has dropped significantly and he cannot even tell the exact reason for that. Munching on a fresh pear which somehow tastes like an entire garden, Mairon observes his loud friends who seem to feel much more festive than himself. Many of them are wearing flower crowns, beautiful ones most likely woven by Lady Yavanna herself or the Maiar of her House; Eönwë's is crooked to the side on top of his messy braid and normally, Mairon would go over and fix it, set it straight because the unruly look bothers him so much. But he does not, judging from the lack of friendly overtures from Eönwë that the gesture would not be welcome. He silently watches Curumo do it with a scoff, and he suppresses the pang of jealousy which builds within his gut. He wonders if from now on, he will forever be burdened with such bitter sadness: if this is the true punishment for the mindless anger he dared unleash upon the one who truly loved him – thus marring the Blessed Lands with his sin.

If so, he cannot argue with the justice of it.

'I shall take a stroll,' he excuses himself and does not await a reply. Anyway, none comes, so he is free to go off into the darkness. The steps he takes feel heavy, somehow, as though Mairon were carrying a heavy load on his back. The farther he is from the laughter and starlight celebrations, the harder it becomes to go on; and he knows that it is the beast that lives inside of him – asleep now, but still there, capable of coming out at any time and consuming everything that he holds dear – that it is this beast's weight he has to carry along with his own. Already he lost something precious to the monster, something he is not sure he can ever win back.

'Eönwë...' he whispers and shakes his head to banish the unwanted thoughts.

'It seems as though you care almost as little about the stars old and new as I do,' announces the dark one, appearing out of thin air right in front of Mairon, forcing him to stop in his tracks lest they collide. The dark one's head is also adorned with a flower crown, Mairon notes, albeit the flowers in it have already started to wither. It appears as though this gift was not truly heartfelt of Lady Yavanna, or even if it was, the dark one's corruption alone is enough to cause the flowers' early demise.

'I am nothing like you,' Mairon tells the dark one, feigning indifference or even ire while in fact he is startled at how... glad he is for the company, how much calmer for it. It is unwise to feel at ease in the presence of the enemy of the Valar, and yet: the dark one is possibly the only person who could ever understand what kind of a monster Mairon is inside and what it feels like, being so different from everyone else.

'I agree you are not like me in many aspects,' admits the dark one thoughtfully. He steps away so that Mairon can continue his trek and he walks alongside him at the same slow pace.

'Yes: we differ very much,' he decides, smiling, as the time passes between them. Mairon does not look at him to know about the smile. He hears it in the voice. 'Whereas you are a being of perfect order, I much prefer chaos, free and wild. Where you create, I transform. You seek – an ideal that best reflects the vision that you glimpsed in but a dream. I seek to build my own vision.'

'That is impossible,' Mairon says firmly, irritated with the dark one and with himself, for even as he tries to look away, his hands yearn to gather the dark one's beautiful ink-black hair and style it into anything less messy. But valiantly he resists the urge which before he used to only associate with Eönwë's sloppy braid, and instead says, 'Your goal, it cannot be done. The world-'

'Is a canvas that I intend to paint as I wish,' finishes the dark one, as though ignoring Mairon's negation. 'Tell me, can you not imagine it? Pure and unadulterated creation, dictated by nothing else but the idea of your own making. Can you not fathom it in your small, limited mind?'

Mairon only glares at the dark one in response, but already his “small, limited mind” is working to process this completely new and foreign way of thinking. How difficult it proves to take a step outside of the boundaries of his nature of a follower! But he understands, somewhat, the lure of independence, of not being one of a million voices in the Music at the beginning of everything. To disregard all rules and laws, to forego any semblance of conscience and morality: to become a beast which gives and takes whenever it wishes to. It all seems so similar to what he experienced in his blind rage of destruction and fear! And yet all too clearly he remembers the regret which came after the initial elation, the shame which easily overshadowed the brief feeling of unlimited power.

'No,' Mairon says after the silence between himself and the dark one stretches and his ire begins to fade into nothing. 'No, you are wrong.'

'Oh, this is unexpected,' says the dark one in gentle mockery: a contradiction in itself. How can mockery feel gentle, Mairon wants to understand. He does not. He understands so little about this mysterious entity, this person who should by all means the vilest creature on Arda and yet to him seems almost harmless. 'And what, pray tell, am I wrong about?'

'Your entire vision is built on a completely false principle,' replies Mairon, frowning. 'That you seek to be the creator means your nature dictates you do it; but that nature is how you were made in the first place. So even when you think you rebel against the design from the Music, in truth you, too, follow the role you were given like all of us. If your role is to destroy what we build, so be it: that, also, surely fits in with the theme.'

Mairon expects rebuttal and malice, but instead he hears laughter of pure glee following his harsh conclusion. The dark one laughs for long and the sound is pleasant to hear: a deep rumble of sound beginning deep in his chest, hoarse as it leaves his throat, grating on the ears and at the same time soothing, like... like a bitter-sweet fruit, or cold water on a hot day. And despite the moniker they all call him, there is not much that seems dark or evil about this strange person with a habit of following Mairon around as though he were a curiosity. Rather, he seems almost too bright when one looks directly at him for too long, as if beneath the surface, underneath his physical form lay a blazing flame of immense power. As if he were of the Valar.

'I was not aware my words were so funny,' says Mairon, attempting to conceal how off-edge this realization has made him. His skin feels prickly for some reason. He has goosebumps on the back of his head. The air is sizzling – or seems to be – he is not sure of anything anymore. Still he tries to play it cool, to keep the facade of being unimpressed by his unlikely companion.

'Oh, it was not their hilarity that I am laughing at,' the dark one promises. 'I just – you keep amazing me, little flame. Since the day I first spied you, hiding away and sneaking about, listening in to every bit of gossip you came across, I knew you were different from them. You proved me right. The others, they are so careful around me, so scared that I might go off and possibly explode due to something trivial. But you?' He chuckles, almost fondly. 'No, you are completely blunt with me. Offensive even. You are not afraid to say to my face that you find my entire existence... pointless.'

'When you put it that way, it does sound like an insult,' mutters Mairon, vaguely apologetic, although he thinks that the dark one definitely does deserve it for all his hard work ruining the Arda Mairon's Master and the other Valar are trying to build. A gust of wind ruffles the dark one's long hair and a few strands touch Mairon's face. They feel cold on his skin, like an abyss – like the void from before the Music. They feel familiar. Remind him of something soothing, but he cannot remember what exactly. It irritates him, like a thought lost somewhere on the back of his mind.

'No, but I like it! It is so refreshing, so... new. Maybe it is you and not me who does not follow the given role?' Jokes the dark one. He is in high spirits and it shows in the way the tendrils of – smoke? Darkness? - whirl behind him as though sentient, forming shapes which almost resemble something real. His eyes are bright and his face lights up; and he looks nothing like an enemy right now. More like – Mairon cannot tell.

But his mood is mysteriously lifted as well.

 

Chapter Text

The days that follow are rich in excitement and new gossip: the House of Manwë is holding peace talks while the House of Aulë and House of Varda are busy with a task of a magnitude never seen before in Almaren. The time has come to build lamps which will be set upon the lands to the East and to the West to bring light for the entire world. The reason for this is simple: according to Lord Manwë who remembers and understands the most of the Music out of all the spirits who were part of it, very soon will come the time for the Firstborn Children of Iluvatar to awaken. And even though it has been decided that their awakening will be guided only by the light of Lady Varda's jewel-like stars on the night sky, still the preparations for their coming are grand in all parts of the world. Ilmarë, who spends time in the forges with the Maiar of Aulë to help supervise the works and maybe offer encouragement to those who exhaust their enthusiasm in the hard labour, brings interesting news from Taniquetil whenever she can.

'The dark one has ordered all of his beasts to retreat for the duration of the peace negotiations,' she says one time, excitement shining in her twinkling eyes. Then, another time, worried, she tells them:

'Nobody was allowed in the palace today, but Lord Manwë's shouting could be heard even at the foot of the mountain! He was so angry!'

And yet another time, puzzled:

'I think they were talking about dividing the world by continents, but how would that even work? Anyhow, Lady Varda applauds your hard work and sends these sugar sticks in gratitude.'

'What if the talks fall through?' Curumo wonders aloud after Ilmarë leaves for the day. He belongs to the not-so-small group of sceptics which actually makes out the majority in the Blessed Lands. Their leader is Lord Tulkas, whose distrust of the dark one's intentions is well known among the Maiar.

'I do not know why they would fall through,' says Mairon simply, returning his tools to their designated shelf. He is more than ready to retreat for the night. 'Lord Manwë is patient and wise. He will see peace and order brought to the world.'

He does not add that he thinks the dark one is really rather reasonable once a person gets to know him, if infuriating and difficult to understand most of the time. His acquaintance with the enemy remains... highly confidential, and he intends for it to be that way for all of eternity. It would be disastrous if the others found out that he sneaks out from the forges or from his cosy den in Lady Yavanna's garden just to meet with the dark one, the enemy of the world, the foe who is feared by all – in the orchard or in the plains beyond, always under the protective cover of illusion, always in hiding as though he, too, were plotting some kind of a criminal offence in the darkness.

It is pure madness and Mairon knows it. The dark one is dangerous and possibly insane, and such an association with him could very well end in tears or something much worse; but he simply cannot ignore the – the feelings the dark one awakens within him. The reactions, the rush of anger, the surge of exhilaration, the wave of melancholy, the overbearing curiosity – fascination - greed: emotions so strong and so queer, not positive but not entirely negative either. Cleansing. Cathartic. So different from the warm innocence of Eönwë, whose thoughts hardly wander beyond the Blessed Lands and youthful mischief, the dark one makes him – aware. Yes, he realizes: aware is the correct word. He is more aware of the world, of the agonizing efforts of billions of powers which all combine in countless variations to give shape, of the clashes between the forces of the Valar and the chaos of the dark one which result in the creation of something neither of them could have invented alone; even of the particles of air as they caress his skin in little gasps of wind. Aware.

'Be careful,' the dark one advises him in teasing amusement which laces his deep voice each time they converse, 'or you will fall in love with me.'

Mairon laughs at the notion and gives it no heed, discards it as silly and thinks nothing of it. He goes to see the dark one and back he carries newly acquired knowledge of his craft, because the dark one is so much wiser than most Maiar and – dare he think it? - even than his Master in matters new and barely thought of in Almaren. From the dark one, Mairon learns of a way to cut diamonds which brings out their most inner light, that which almost rivals the stars on the distant sky. From the dark one, he receives the secret recipe for steel which is harder yet lighter than the regular alloy: the recipe which he later introduces in the forges to the general awe of his peers. They end up using the new alloy for one of the lamps because it is as though it was created with no other purpose in mind, it fits so well with the design. Lord Aulë, too busy to even speak to his spouse at times, comes up to Mairon to personally praise him for the stroke of genius.

'Oh, how he would hate it if he knew it came from me,' the dark one says and grins when Mairon relates to him the events of the day in the forges. His teeth revealed in mirth are as sharp as the fangs of his beasts, but not as threatening. Nothing about him seems threatening anymore, not to Mairon, and the Maia thinks that the dark one does it on purpose – deceives him and appears docile on purpose. What that purpose is, he does not know yet. Taking the dark one's chaotic nature into account, he might never find out.

-

'Say, little flame, were you to create just one thing. It can be anything you choose, but it cannot be plural. No cheating,' the dark one asks, thoughtful and deceptively cheerful all at the same time. His hands are busy building a construction out of sticks and small stones. It collapses times and again and he starts over, and each time the technique improves, for every new bizarre tower grows taller and lasts a little longer than its predecessor.

'Perfect order,' Mairon replies immediately, then looks up at him, slightly confused. 'I did not think long before I answered,' he admits carefully.

'I wonder what it says about you,' the dark one tells him mock-seriously. 'Perfect order. Hmm. Is that even possible in a world where all sentient creatures, all Children, will be given free will? I have noticed one thing about those who can think for themselves: they make a really big mess and certainly like to pull pranks,' he announces. He frowns when yet another tower falls into a heap of sticks and stones. 'Also, you cheated.'

'How did I cheat?' Asks Mairon, lifting an eyebrow. The mention of pranks reminds him of earlier days, of how Curumo and Eönwë would drag him into their playful mischief. He remembers when one time, they replaced all cutlery in the House of Irmo with plums enchanted to look like the original items. Or how all the fish in the river so gladly ate the rose oil-based ink which coloured their scales a lovely shade of pink – that was Mairon's own idea. How everyone laughed at poor Ossë who came to fume at them with his usually pearly-white skin a sheen of rosy pink! And that time when they covered all of Lady Yavanna's herbs with delicate linen handkerchiefs woven by Lady Nienna, claiming that it was to protect them from the cold – Melian still does it when the wind turns cooler, much to Mairon's amusement. He misses this. He misses... he misses Eönwë from when everything was simpler: from when feelings were simpler.

'You chose something impossible. That is cheating,' the dark one decides after the thoughtful silence has been stretching for what seems like ages and numerous new towers followed the fate of the ones before them. It makes little sense, but Mairon has learned already that not all words that fall out of the dark one's mouth are logically valid. Talking to him often-times proves more difficult a challenge than deterring young Maiar from causing mischief. Usually, if he ignores such instances for long enough, the dark one changes the topic. Sometimes, Mairon simply brings up other subjects to pick the dark one's wandering interest.

'You sound as though you are not fond of the Children coming to Arda,' the Maia says, referring to what the dark one spoke of before.

'Oh, I care nothing about them,' the dark one replies smoothly. He waves his hand carelessly and collapses his tallest tower yet with but a gesture. He is lying and Mairon can tell this too easily, although he knows not why he can tell. There are so many things he does not yet understand about himself, but this strange relationship he shares with the dark one, this – ah, this connection, is possibly the most tangled of the mysteries his existence still has in store for him.

In spite of himself, he realizes, he is falling in love: so sure he still is that he loves Eönwë, yet he never noticed as the dark one started to become too precious to him through their constant conflict and the shared secrets. But he is already promised to another, so he cannot have either: Eönwë whose love he seems to have lost forever nor the dark one whose nature he may never fully comprehend. Even more strongly than before, he wishes everything was simpler.

'I suppose my perfect order may as well be found in the chaos of countless minds thinking their own thoughts,' he says softly, allowing his mind to circle around the subject, idly drawing a circle on a sandy spot amidst the grass with his finger. The dirt gets under his nail, sticks there. The pressure hurts a little. It is so queer how a physical body can be bothered by something so small, so insignificant! Even one grain of sand could cause it suffering if it got under the eyelid. Touch, he thinks, is such a curious sensation: a flower petal feels so different than a cold stone, and both are completely different from a drop of rain or a gust of wind or the warmth in the closeness of fire.

He wonders if these will all feel natural to the Children once they awaken, or if they, too, will have to learn their bodies and catalogue all of the little things that turn simple, impersonal existence of the spirit in the space surrounding it – into what is called life.

So easy has it become to be lost in thought lately! As though the long periods of labour when only his hands are busy but not his mind have to be filled with musings. More often than not, Mairon thinks of the future, of the Children. The Maia both anticipates and fears their coming like many are wont to fear what is yet to them unknown. He remembers little of the Music regarding the Firstborn; in his memories, there are only glimpses of events, visions of dark fire and of ash in the air. In the forge, he works diligently on delicate yet durable elements for one of the lamps, fulfilling the task he was given by his Master; and slowly, so slowly, he watches the masterpiece being formed under the hands of himself and others.

And he wonders, Would he like it?, but he does not allow the thought to grow until, underneath the starlit sky on the snowy mountain peak that seems to touch the flickering lights, the dark one brings up the subject himself.

'They would be so easy to topple,' he says lazily. He forms a new tower, this time out of the snow which takes shape easily under his talented hands. Then, when he deems it ready, he places a snowball on the top. Mairon frowns and the dark one laughs.

'Like this,' he announces and hits at the base of the tower with the back of his hand. The blow is enough to make the snow construction collapse like the countless feeble towers of stick and stone; the snowball from the top rolls a small distance to stop at Mairon's feet.

'Imagine how the light will look as it splendidly spills from the fallen lamps. Do you think it will devour everything in its path? Oh, little flame – how long do you think it takes for a burning stone to begin to melt? Long enough, yes? But the Children, they shall not be made of stone...'

Mairon has nothing to say to this.

-

Negotiations, he hears, are still difficult and little progress is made, and sometimes it feels as if they can never reach the longed-for, sought-after peace. When he asks about it as they meet on the sandy shore, the dark one just laughs carelessly like he is wont to do in Mairon's presence. His form looks so out of place on the pale yellow sand, more alike the dark depths of the ocean which devour the coast with every tidal wave. Mairon threatens to leave and never come back, irrational and childish in his ire, and the dark one laughs again, this time softer yet also slightly mocking, before he finally explains:

'The longer I tarry, the longer I play the enemy – the longer I can remain here, in these peaceful lands, with you.'

It is difficult to come up with a reply to this, so Mairon does not bother. He sits on an oval rock, cool from the breeze that reaches it from the vast ocean, and stares into the distance. The way the stars of Lady Varda are reflected in the waters of Lord Ulmo reminds him of the mountain house of his Master: they are in the same way an extension of the endless sky like the illusionary stars of gems glittering in the gleeful light of a thousand small fires. Once, in the early days of their physical closeness, Eönwë told him that the freckles scattered all over his dark skin make a perfect likeness of the constellations in the sky, and he traced them all with his fingertips in silent reverence. They did not speak of it again, ashamed of the intimacy and fearful, maybe, of the nature of what the words really reflected: of the feelings they revealed.

It occurs to Mairon now that maybe he is giving to much thought to the idea of love and to the entire situation with his eventual nuptials. With the notable exception of Lord Aulë and Lady Yavanna, being married does not seem to mean to the Valar what it means to the lesser spirits who are less abstract and more... earthly, than their powerful Masters. He knows – everyone knows - Lord Oromë has shared in the sensual celebrations after successful hunts with his Maiar, but it caused no grief to his spouse Lady Vana who is simply much less physical a being than he. To the Valar, love and marriage are so much more spiritual than even to the Maiar, because the Valar are themselves more spiritual and less defined in their bodies of flesh. Mairon wonders if the Valar even understand the functions of the vessels they have created for themselves. Likely not. After all, they have larger things to be concerned with than physical pleasures.

That Melkor, Lord Manwë's brother – who is he, even? Why has Mairon never heard of him before the sudden announcement from Lord Manwë? What kind of person is he? What drove him to seek for a spouse so desperately, what made him accept a lesser, male spirit as his betrothed? The questions remain unanswered and Mairon wonders about them even now, sat on the deserted shore, facing the ocean in the company of the darkest enemy of his Masters: in the company of the one he is beginning to care about too deeply to deny it to himself for much longer.

'You are always so serious or else lost in thought when you are with me,' the dark one says softly. Swiftly, he lies down on the sand and Mairon watches his long hair spilling all around him like the thickest ink. Such contrast does his hair make against the purest white of his skin, it makes him appear as though unreal, untouchable. A being of little sense and little sanity. Beautiful, but foreign.

'Do I bore you so, little flame?' Asks the dark one, unaware of the thoughts spiralling like an obsession through Mairon's mind. The dark one's strange eyes seem to look right through him from underneath thick black eyelashes.

'Sometimes,' Mairon replies as though indifferently. He revels in the look of surprise and hurt pride he spies on the dark one's face. He laughs, long and loud, and he realizes with a start that this is the most free he has felt since that day when he lost control of his anger. It is a wonderful yet frightening sensation: laughter fills his chest, bubbles up like boiling water and he has no choice but to let it out. Oh, how he missed this feeling of terrible exhilaration! In this moment, it matters little that the dark one is an enemy of the world, or that his eyes change appearance to match his moods, or that his hair is unruly and untameable like his entire being: for a reason incomprehensible even to himself, Mairon is simply happy in his presence.

'I want to kiss you,' he announces and at the same time realizes that yes, he does in fact want to do it. He has kissed many of his peers before, some of them multiple times, and each kiss felt different to the others. He has kissed Eönwë, shyly at first, caressing his soft lips with his own, whispering words of affection against the warmth of his jaw; and then boldly, taking what he wanted and tasting the monsoon on his tongue. But the dark one is an unknown, an entity he cannot begin to understand. Yet now that he has thought about it, he cannot help but turn it over and around in his mind: what will it be like, what will it feel like, what will it mean...

'Now do you really,' says the dark one softly. He seems thoughtful, hesitant even, and Mairon remembers their first meeting in the forges, the awkwardness of the dark one in the face of what was obviously desire even if Mairon, too young yet, could not fully recognize it at that time. A battle between conflicting emotions shows clearly in the changing hues of the dark one's eyes, and Mairon simply looks down on the beautiful being sprawled lazily so close to him, and he is transfixed by the sight of a pale nipple peeking from underneath the loose robes.

'I will not stop you,' the dark one says finally, and his voice is still laced with caution, as though he is not certain if the decision he has made is the right one.

In a bid to show him that it is, that there could be no better decision, Mairon pulls the dark one gently to himself, almost effortlessly as if there were no dramatic height difference between them; and he captures the dark one's pale lips with his own, kisses him slowly at first, holding back all the things he all of a sudden wants to do to him. The dark one kisses back clumsily, tries to mirror the movement of Mairon's lips with his, and he must have never done this before, never been kissed before, and Mairon revels in this. Constellations and colours explode in intermittent bursts of light under his eyelids and he swallows a soft noise the dark one makes, mercilessly takes it as an opportunity to push his tongue into the dark one's mouth. This action too is mirrored and their tongues meet, and the roughness of the dark one's tongue is unexpected but not unpleasant. His taste – there is none, there is nothing, and Mairon thinks he is losing his mind, but he tastes the Void on the dark one's tongue and it feels like touching an eternity of worlds being born and shaped and turned to dust. It feels like insanity. It feels like, like, ah, it feels like being complete.

The dark one's skin is cool to the touch when Mairon's hands wander underneath his robes to lay gentle caresses wherever he can reach. Meeting no opposition, he pulls at the sash holding the dark one's clothing together, eager to see and feel and touch, and never before has he wanted anyone so much. The trembling of muscle beneath the palm of his hand, the deep moan reverberating between their joined lips, the dark one's eyelashes tickling his cheek; Mairon takes it all in, burns it into his memories so that he may never forget what it feels like to – to love someone so greedily.

He has seen the dark one nude before, but back then physicality was yet a mystery to him; now, however, now the pale bare body so close to his makes him nigh mad with desire. The dark one's frame is bigger than his, his arms are wider, but under Mairon's hands he is pliant and as though weakened; and so Mairon is free to touch and taste and take, spurred on by the soft sounds which leave the dark one's lips. Clumsy smooth hands of the dark one copy the caresses on Mairon's dark skin, long fingers shyly map out the constellations of freckles, hesitant and as though afraid to do anything bolder, to become rougher. No wonder; what they are doing is insanity, but Mairon's spirit is glowing, thrumming as he once more joins his lips with the dark one's.

'I... I know not-' the dark one mutters softly before Mairon interrupts him by biting down on his neck, eliciting a delicious, drawn-out moan.

'I will teach you,' Mairon whispers hotly to the dark one's ear, reaching boldly between the dark one's thighs. He firmly takes hold of the other's erect member and smiles when the dark one lets out another breathy moan.

'I will teach you everything,' he promises. 'Like you taught me of alloys and gems and transformation, I will now teach you of the pleasures of the flesh,' he says and slowly strokes the dark one's length. Each sound the dark one makes strikes a chord deep within Mairon's core and he feels himself becoming harder, but not once does he entertain the thought of doing anything about it. He is too focused on his dark lover, whose full lips fall open and whose bright eyes roll back, whose beautiful long hair paints an inky picture on Mairon's robes and on the sand beneath them.

Like this, holding the other in his arms, whispering sweet promises and pressing kisses everywhere, Mairon can feel when the dark one is close, so close to the edge of the sweetest abyss – and so he stops, retrieves his hand, swallows down the protest from his lover.

'Trust me,' he says and the dark one looks at him uncertainly from underneath those thick, long eyelashes. His face is flushed and his lips appear swollen and glistening, and Mairon cannot resist kissing him again and once more. Then his kisses move down the toned, strong body, across the broad chest and lower. The abdominal muscles tense and tremble underneath the caress of Mairon's lips and tongue, and when finally Mairon places an experimental kiss on the crown of the dark one's length, he is rewarded with a loud gasp. The sound of surprise mixed with pleasure rings in his ears when he wraps his fingers around the base of the shaft and slowly licks the underside from the base to the crown. From the corner of his eyes he sees the dark one's hands helplessly curl into fists, failing to find purchase in the sand.

He smirks and, instead of allowing the dark one to adjust even slightly to the sensual assault, he takes the entire length into his mouth. The dark one is bigger than anyone Mairon has done this to before, but it matters little; he has no gag reflex whatsoever, so he simply moans softly when the tip of the shaft brushes the back of his throat. The vibration, he knows from experience, must feel exquisite – and indeed, the dark one's back arches off of the ground and before Mairon can do anything more to him, the dark one is coming with a low groan. Mairon swallows the dark one's essence which tastes faintly of something completely foreign, of chaos, and moves back up to be level with him. He licks his lips sensually.

'I should not have let you do this,' the dark one mutters. His voice carries a purr-like, satisfied quality which is impossible to miss. 'I should not have... I should not have felt like this,' he adds, frowning as though confused.

Mairon laughs softly. 'The first time is unbelievable, is it not?' He asks before giving into temptation and running his fingers through the dark one's silky long tresses. He could just lay there on the sand for all eternity, holding his lover and playing with his hair like this. Yet in the depths of his mind he knows very well that he cannot. Loving the enemy is forbidden. Especially for him, who has been promised to another, loving the dark one is a crime which, if found out, will be severely punished.

Before they part ways, Mairon insists on brushing the dark one's hair. He does it with his fingers and weaves the impossibly long, black tresses into a braid which turns out so much messier than he would usually be content with. But tonight, he smiles at his handiwork. The errant grains of silver sand in the dark one's hair seem like the stars on the distant sky – or like the notes of Music in a long-forgotten dream.

-

'I need your help,' Aiwendil says urgently the instant Mairon steps into the forge with the intention to begin with his tasks for the day. The other Maia looks seriously distressed, his mousy-brown hair tousled by the wind and his once light green robes dishevelled and dirty. His huge eyes seem so worried it is impossible to simply dismiss him despite the amount of work Mairon has to complete before the day is over in order to keep up with the schedule.

'So you are saying you lost Lady Yavanna's tools,' Mairon repeats in mild disbelief after Aiwendil briefs him in his problem. The gardening tools on hand are Lady Yavanna's favourite set forged very long ago by Lord Aulë of a mysterious, light alloy that seems to emit a glow of its own; some say he must have nicked some material from Lady Varda when she was creating the stars. Only the Lady of the Garden ever uses these tools, but sometimes she allows her Maiar to clean them as she knows they deem it a honour. Everyone knows that only under the Lady's gentle touch and through the enchantments intricately inscribed on the tools she uses, the seeds planted in the soil begin their cycle of growth; without these two factors, nothing would ever bloom and the Blessed Lands too might have become a barren wasteland like the lands beyond.

'I did not lose them!' Aiwendil exclaims hotly, drawing the attention of everyone around them to himself. He blushes darkly and sets his gaze in the floor. He continues in a much softer voice, 'I promise, Mairon, I did not lose them. I took them to the stream by the orchard. I polished them, not a speck of dirt left, then I placed them carefully into the chest. I returned to the stream to wash my hands, but when I went back, the chest was gone.

'Do you think,' he asks somewhat fearfully and his voice trembles, 'do you think someone might have... stolen them? I mean,' he pauses. 'There have been many strange individuals roaming the Lands lately, what with the envoy of the dark one...'

'Have you seen anyone suspicious when you were there? In the orchard maybe?' Asks Mairon, preferring not to comment on the suggestion Aiwendil has just made. He really does not think the dark one's servants had anything to do with the disappearance, or maybe he just hopes so. Even so, his heart skips a bit – what if?...

'No-one suspicious,' replies Aiwendil. 'There were only Curumo and Eönwë, and they were arguing I think. They did not seem to have noticed me.'

At that, Mairon frowns. The last time he saw those two, Curumo and Eönwë looked awfully friendly... to the point that he was jealous. They also never used to have arguments before. What could have happened to have changed that? He will have to corner Curumo later and ask for the details. But back to the matter at hand.

'We should go and check out the place where the chest disappeared,' he decides.

So Aiwendil leads him to the exact spot where he allegedly placed the tools inside their beautifully crafted chest engraved with flowers in full bloom. Mairon notices that there is indeed an indentation in the soft ground where the heavy chest must have been. The tall grass would only reach to about two thirds of the chest's height, so there is no possibility that it was simply moved somewhere else as a joke played on poor Aiwendil. There is no trail a heavy chest could have made if pulled or pushed on the ground and through the grass. In fact, nothing indicates that something was moved from there at all. There is only one set of footprints which belong to Aiwendil.

'I wonder,' Mairon mutters, looking from the ground to the sky and then back down. 'What is that?' He asks, then moves to pick something up from between the thick blades of grass: a feather, but this one is unlike anything he has ever seen. Completely black and hard like a piece of metal, the feather reminds him rather of scales he had seen on the wolves back in the lands of the dark one, yet he can still tell without a doubt that it is a feather. No bird of Lord Manwë could have dropped it, he thinks.

Then, But I bet he also has birds in his employ.

Aiwendil looks at him in question as Mairon continues to ponder the piece of evidence in silence. It is obvious he has not come to the same conclusion Mairon has, which is no wonder: the other Maia is still so naïve and trusting, he rarely makes assumptions that could be hurtful to the others. Even his initial suggestion that it may have been agents of the dark one sounded unconvinced. Could it be, however, that it was actually the truth?

Frowning still, Mairon looks around for more feathers, but he comes up with nothing. There is something not right with this picture that is being painted in front of him, as though something is missing. Or maybe there is too much of something? This is so confusing! It would be so much easier if he could simply talk to the dark one at any moment. He would just ask outright: was this your people? Why would you do it? What do you gain? - but alas, the dark one is stranded in the House of Lord Manwë in another round of negotiations that he admitted to Mairon he has no desire to end soon. They will not be meeting in a long time.

This is almost funny how already Mairon misses him dearly. How is he supposed to spend an entire existence without him?

'I think,' he says to Aiwendil, 'that it would be best if you went to the gardens. Go somewhere where you will not be easily found. If I do not come to you before the end of the day, you have to tell Lady Yavanna everything. In the meantime, I will go and talk to Curumo and Eönwë, maybe they have seen something,' he pauses, suddenly struck with a thought.

'Ummm, maybe I should help you?' Aiwendil asks hesitantly.

Not looking at him, but rather focused on the feather, Mairon shakes his head. 'No, no, go to the garden. If you are in luck, I will have that chest back safely in no time,' he says. He does not even notice when Aiwendil leaves, so engrossed he is in his thorough examination of the black feather. He studies the texture, the feel of it against the sensitive pads of his fingertips; he brings it up to his face to catch the distinct smell of the feather, then sticks out his tongue and, with a grimace, licks the rough surface.

And after a while, he realizes what he has been looking for.

-

He goes to see Curumo first because it is easier to predict where he could be. As expected, the other Maia is in the forge, hard at work on the element of one of the lamps which was assigned to him. He nods his head in greeting when he notices Mairon entering, and he is taken completely by surprise when Mairon grabs him by the forearm and pulls him outside, hammer still in hand.

'Mairon, I have work to do!' Curumo protests, but Mairon cuts him off.

'I only need a moment of your time,' he says softly. 'Where are they?' He asks and observes with a feeling of triumph as Curumo's eyes widen and his face pales.

'I do not know what you are talking about,' the other Maia lies, but Mairon can see how he is aware that already the game is lost. Like most spirits dwelling in Almaren, he is not a liar by nature, and Mairon can read his face like an open book; and in his eyes dwells guilt and shame.

'Curumo. Where are the tools?' He asks again. He holds out the black feather and smiles in encouragement.

Curumo shakes his head. He still refuses to end the charade. 'I really have no idea what you are going on about. Listen, I really need to-'

'I wonder which one of you came up with this,' Mairon interrupts him. 'Eönwë strikes me as the bolder one, but he is not as cunning as you, my friend. And this little joke of yours required a lot of cunning. But you forgot one thing, Curumo,' he pauses. His smile stretches into a grin which is much less friendly than the earlier smile. 'I am exceptionally good with metalworks. This feather is one of Eönwë's, is it not?'

He looks straight at Curumo, who sighs and does not meet his eyes. 'Yes,' the other Maia replies in a voice barely above a whisper. 'I coated it with an iron alloy. Eönwë said Morinehtar once showed him something like this, a hard, scale-like feather from some beast he hunted in the lands beyond. If we had more time, we would have borrowed it, but...'

'But what?' Asks Mairon gently.

'We wanted the dark one to be unreachable and now is one of the few opportunities. Otherwise, we could not have incriminated him. We needed to do this to break the negotiations and get him gone,' explains Curumo quickly, causing Mairon to blink in unexpected confusion.

'I thought,' he mutters, frowning, 'I thought it was a prank. But you?... You would actually want the war to happen? Are you mad?'

Curumo closes his eyes and bites down on his lower lip. When he looks at Mairon again, he seems as if very tired. 'Mairon, I saw you.'

'Saw me? You see me quite often, why can you not just start making sense?' Asks Mairon, impatient now because he cannot wrap his head around the situation which is becoming more complicated by the moment.

'I saw you with him ,' Curumo hisses and – his eyes are so cold, so distant. So distrustful all of a sudden, as though... as though they were not friends anymore. As though somehow, through this admission, they have become strangers or worse - enemies. With his blacksmithing hammer held firmly in hand, this new, unfamiliar Curumo seems weirdly threatening. Mairon is not used to feeling threatened in the presence of those he treasures. It is a queer feeling. He hates it.

At least now he knows everything. Now, finally, the situation is making sense, in a frightening, ugly kind of way. His affair with the dark one has been found out.

'Did... did Eönwë...' he whispers, because for some reason the idea terrifies him more than anything in the entire world.

'He saw nothing,' Curumo replies coldly. 'I dragged him away before he caught a glimpse. But I told him what I saw, Mairon. And we came up with this plan together.'

Mairon nods, slightly relieved even though the sense of dread does not abate but instead seems to build up deep within his core. It is as though the ground is slipping away from under his feet, and he struggles to keep himself upright in the midst of everything collapsing. Curumo knows. Curumo saw. Will they believe him if he talks? Yes, Mairon suspects. Lord Aulë would believe him, and rightly so, because no Maia could lie to their own Master convincingly enough to get away with it. No Maia but Mairon and he is... he is not one of them. Unlike them, he is flawed. Crooked.

The enormity of his transgression has never seemed so overwhelming before. Only now, in the light of having been found out, does Mairon understand how grave a crime he has committed. He sneaked behind everyone's backs to meet with the enemy. He used said enemy's advice in his work and claimed the dark one's ideas for his own in front of his Master. He lied. He chose to believe the word of the enemy above the word of his people. Then, after having done all this – he engaged in a forbidden relationship with the enemy, with the one who is not his betrothed.

'This plan of yours, it will not work,' says Mairon and sighs heavily, struggling to hold the pretence of calm even as inside, he is shaking. 'I saw through your trick, so it is obvious also Master Aulë would not fall for it. Return the chest, Curumo, and let it be through. Otherwise, you are making the situation hard on Aiwendil. He has nothing to do with this. Spare him the worry.'

Curumo's face softens at the mention of Aiwendil. 'You are right,' he says, 'there is no reason to involve him any further. But you will have to speak to Eönwë about the chest. He took it and hid it; I merely planted the fake evidence.'

The prospect of a conversation like this with Eönwë is hardly appealing, but Mairon realizes he has no choice. Everything feels like a trap; if he leaves Curumo now, nothing will stop the Maia from going to Lord Aulë and revealing everything. But if he stays, who knows what Eönwë might do? Frustrated as well as anxious, Mairon shakes his head.

'If you wanted to have a hold over me, you succeeded,' he tells Curumo softly, letting his voice convey the defeat he is slowly beginning to accept.

'Are you mad?' Asks Curumo, staring at him in wide-eyed disbelief at the proclamation. 'Oh, Mairon, for one of the wisest of us, you can be such a dense fool! We did it for you, to protect you!'

Stunned silence follows the exclamation; Curumo breathes heavily, anger and self-righteousness show on his face as he stares resolutely down at Mairon. His hammer lies forgotten at his feet, his hands curl into fists and uncurl as he appears to be fighting an urge to punch something – someone, maybe. It is the most emotional Mairon has ever seen his usually collected friend. Uneasily, he is reminded of his own violent outburst, so much more destructive than this; he bites down a snappy remark which he has on the tip of his tongue, something about minding one's own business instead of sticking one's nose into what other people do. As cold and angry as Curumo wants to be, Mairon feels now the waves of concern that flow his way from the older Maia, that surround him and attempt to wrap him into a cocoon of safety. Of course Curumo cares about him. Even if he feels betrayed by Mairon's actions, he is still first and foremost his loyal, steadfast friend.

'I apologize,' Mairon mutters sheepishly. 'I – have not realized. I guess I was... preoccupied with my own problems and I never thought that you guys might worry about me.'

'Do not flatter yourself, I do not worry about your sorry butt,' says Curumo stiffly. 'Just... go and find Eönwë. He should be in the woods, he was supposed to be helping Lady Yavanna arrange the nesting spots for a new bird species,' he pauses, hesitates for a moment. 'I will not tell anyone what I saw, Mairon. I... I just want what is best for you,' he says at last and reaches out to pat Mairon awkwardly on the shoulder. Having done so, he picks up his heavy hammer from the ground, dusts it off for some invisible dirt only he can see with the sleeve of his robes which he must know always drives Mairon mad – and turns back to return to the forges.

-

Eönwë is much more difficult to find; the woods are vast in the east of Almaren and Mairon lacks the sense of direction the earth Maiar find so useful to navigate among the trees. Cursing himself for not having sought out Aiwendil before coming here, Mairon wanders the narrow forest paths, careful not to step on something alive; he stops once to pick up some raspberries on the side, thinking it might be a good idea to have something to bribe Eönwë into talking to him with. Each time he comes to a point when the paths are crossing, he tries to go as straight ahead as possible, hoping that it means he is still heading east; but more than once he is forced to take a turn and soon, he realizes he is lost when he stumbles upon the same raspberry bushes he took fruit from some time before.

'Oh, damn that silly bird,' he says under his breath and proceeds to eat the raspberries out of spite. They taste sweet and Mairon wonders if the dark one would appreciate them; does he even like sweet things? Somehow, it seems as though Mairon barely knows anything about his forbidden lover. He knows not even his name, not to mention less important things like his likes, his tastes, his fears. No wonder Mairon's friends wanted to enforce their parting. They are basically strangers to each other. Strangers in love.

'If you are trying to find me, I have to say you are not giving your best performance,' says a voice from above. Mairon looks up in time to see Eönwë's long braid of fair hair disappear among the leafy branches. A moment later, the other Maia jumps down and gracefully lands on the ground right in front of Mairon.

'How did you know I was looking for you?' Asks Mairon, barely suppressing the urge to fix the mess of Eönwë's ashen locks like he always used to.

'Well, you rarely go deep into the woods on your own,' Eönwë replies softly, 'and you have the look to you that says you want something from me.'

With a sigh, he loosens his hair from the braid and ties it into a lazy bun. On his newly exposed neck and collarbone, Mairon can see black markings he has not seen before. They stand out attractively against Eönwë's warmly tanned skin, forming decorative swirls and curves of scripture. These markings are nothing like the inked shapes the Maiar of Lord Oromë are fond of; instead, they appear to carry in them an enchantment of some kind, one which seems vaguely familiar.

'Lord Manwë,' he whispers, remembering the depth of the black colour the King of Arda's skin carries, the way it looks as though it reflected light instead of devouring it like one might expect; and these markings, they are the same.

'I have been appointed as Lord Manwë's Herald,' explains Eönwë drily, 'and thus the one to reign superior over all lesser spirits of Arda.' There is no pride in his voice, no trace of joy – only bitterness, as though the honour that befell him means nothing to him at all. This is so different from the way he used to be, Mairon can barely recognize his friend.

'Of course, officially, I am not the Herald yet,' continues Eönwë in the same, blank tone, his face schooled into a most neutral expression. 'I have been told that the I will be introduced to the position in front of everyone quite soon, however... on the day of your wedding, in fact,' he finishes sharply. His bright blue eyes appear to pierce right through Mairon's very soul in disapproval so fierce it almost feels tangible.

'That is to say, if there is a wedding ,' says Eönwë and ends the biting remark with a sneer that looks ill-suited on his face. How difficult it is to reconcile this hateful, malicious Eönwë with the silly, happy friend – with the shy yet eager lover - whom Mairon misses so much! But alas, this is no time for resolving tensions between the two of them. Aiwendil is waiting, Mairon has to remind himself. Aiwendil is counting on him.

'I know you took Lady Yavanna's chest,' he says softly. 'Curumo told me everything. I really need you to return it. I understand why you did it, but-'

'You understand nothing,' Eönwë interrupts him sharply. Only now does he raise his voice. 'You understand nothing at all, do you? No, of course not. First you spend every moment you can spare with me, only to ditch me for Lord Oromë's folk. But I forgive you and I never even let you know how lonely that made me feel, and besides, when you returned, you-you taught me physical pleasures our bodies could share. Then, after news of your forced engagement reached me, I offered to help, I offered myself to you once more, yet you did not even find it in you to refuse. Instead, you wished harm upon me! Still I held nothing against you, and above all I hoped what was between us could be fixed. I even accepted that you were out of my reach, that you were promised to another,' he pauses, bites his lip and then looks up straight at Mairon. Raw emotion is painted on his face in the way an angry red flush adorns his cheeks and an unusual fire dances behind his pupils. His eyes, so cold a moment before, well up with tears which threaten to spill even as he valiantly fights the urge to cry.

'And after all of this, after all this time, I learn that... that you chose the enemy of all creation over me,' he finishes in a much softer voice that almost breaks by the end.

He composes himself quickly enough, however. 'I never moved the chest from where it was,' he says drily. 'It is still where Aiwendil left it. I just cast an illusion. Funny thing is, you taught me that enchantment. I would have expected you to recognize it. Well, I guess you are too busy chasing your last dalliances of freedom with the foe of your kin.'

Mairon just about has it. 'You have an awful lot to say about things you have no idea how to understand,' he snaps. 'You act as though you are somehow entitled to – what? My time, my feelings? My body? - and you do not even stop to think that maybe I simply do not love you !'

The lie hangs heavy in the air between them, like a dark cloud just before a storm. Mairon immediately wishes to take it back, but he knows he cannot; it is too late, the words have been said, and he will bear the consequences no matter how much pain they bring.

'So you love him, then?' Asks Eönwë scathingly, eyes narrowed, poised to attack or defend himself if needed. Smart bird, Mairon thinks.

'Maybe I do,' he replies and moves to deal the first blow.

When much later Lord Oromë releases them from the dungeon at the heart of the forest where his House lies, the two Maiar refuse to say what the destructive battle between them was about. They are both pretty evenly damaged from the fight, their egos are severely wounded as a result of the imprisonment they had to suffer as punishment, but – the enmity between them is gone, burnt out in the explosion of violence.

They return the chest to Aiwendil together.

 

Chapter Text

Working on the column of rock and steel upon which the eastern lamp will be poised, Mairon remembers the objection the dark one had against the construction. Voiced like praise for the ease with which the lamps could be toppled, the dark one actually allowed Mairon a valuable insight into the ways in which a destructive mind works. To further confuse him, his own mind also supplies scenarios to consider, and he cannot help but ponder them even when he is not in the forges.

Sitting on the edge of the stone fountain in the vast yard of Lord Manwë's House on the peak of Taniquetil, Mairon thinks of pebbles. His musings are disturbed from time to time when either Eönwë or Curumo pass him by, since they seem to be as busy chasing each other with buckets of water for some silly reason or another as Mairon is continually ignoring them. Pebbles, he thinks. By its lonesome, a pebble may not do much damage to a structure erected to withstand the darkest thunderstorms. But given time and patience?... And still there are so many other concerns!

'If a being of destruction acts against the towers, that is to be expected and can be fought against,' Mairon explains to his audience: a small black bird with curious beady eyes. 'But thirst for knowledge can lead to the same catastrophic results indeed. The Children, once they come, will be a force of chaos, as is all life that has been gifted with free will. Even you, little fellow, given enough incentive, could cause destruction albeit unwillingly. And what about the places where the light does not reach?' He asks the bird, who chirps melodiously as though in reply. 'Oh, no, it will not do. You see, the world of Arda is so vast as to have no end. It is a sphere of humongous size, hanged among the stars Lady Varda birthed out of love for creation. If we simply put the lamps somewhere... well. There will be places always bathed in light, as well as places forever cast into the darkness. It does not sound right.'

The bird chirps again and pecks Mairon's hand, in which he holds a little bag of grains. Chuckling to himself, the Maia feeds the little critter. 'Well, I should have figured you would have no interest for tales of the lamps. Food most likely interests you so much more. Thank you for listening, anyway.'

'Mairon, are you talking to the birds? Better not say anything incriminating,' says Eönwë, coming up to him with a handful of colourful feathers which used to be a headdress sticking out in random directions from his hair. His abrupt arrival scares the tiny bird away. 'Lord Manwë tends to shift into a bird form and spy on us when his work gets hectic. It relaxes him and I bet you he loves gossip as much as we do.'

At that, Mairon laughs. 'Well, I do hope it was not Lord Manwë then, for I fear he might take me for a rebellious soul,' he says in jest, throwing the rest of the grains to the pigeons and sparrows which, undeterred by the mischief of the loud Maiar, gather in large numbers at the foot of the fountain.

Eönwë sits down by his side. 'He would be so right,' he decides. 'Fix my hair,' he demands nigh childishly. 'If I let Curumo near my hair one more time, he might actually try to cut it. He thinks this length is unacceptable for someone who drops by the forges so often. How come he never says anything about your hair?'

Again an amused chuckle is Mairon's reaction. 'He used to try to cut it by surprise,' he recalls fondly, reaching out to pluck out the errant feathers from the remains of what once was Eönwë's messy braid, 'but I placed an enchantment so that each time Curumo so much as looked at my hair, it caught fire.'

'Oh, I remember that!' Eönwë exclaims and giggles. 'You scared Ilmarë and the twins halfway to the Void when you forgot to disenchant the flames. I think – was it Aiwendil who poured a whole bucket of dirty water on top of your head to put it out?'

'It might have actually been you, smart-ass,' Mairon says drily and pulls slightly on a particularly tangled strand of hair. 'Your head is a disaster. I honestly think if Curumo shears you like a fluffy sheep, it will be an improvement. You could even get some ink on your head if you were bald. That way it would prove useful for something .'

' That was very nice, thank you. I already have Lord Manwë's markings on my head, under the hair,' replies Eönwë, then stick out his tongue at Mairon who again pulls at his hair as punishment for wiggling around too much.

When Curumo joins them with a small pouch of hazelnuts, Mairon is almost finished weaving a perfectly symmetrical braid of Eönwë's ashen hair. To his horror, however, not a moment passes before the hair returns to its usual state of disarray as though tousled by an invisible wind. This leaves him with two options: he can start over or he can just let it be. Being who he is, he refuses to be defeated by hair of all things; but it is a losing battle he is fighting as every attempt he makes ends with the same result – Eönwë still looks like he has just finished smooching a tornado.

'That is why I offered to cut it for him,' says Curumo smugly, obviously very amused by Mairon's valiant attempts at taming the untameable. 'He would look adorable with his hair at below-the-ear length. Or even shorter. Like Fariana.'

'You touch my hair and I will have a whole flock of hungry pigeons shadow you wherever you go,' threatens Eönwë immediately, hiding behind Mairon whom he clearly intends to use as a shield.

'Speaking of hungry pigeons,' Mairon pipes up, 'were you planning on sharing those nuts, Curumo, or are you going to stand there in front of us and munch on them all by yourself?'

The older Maia offers him a crooked smile. 'I was actually going to bring them up. See,' he opens the pouch to show them its contents, 'these are no ordinary hazelnuts. I actually... kind of nicked them from Romestamo. He had more, so he will not miss them,' he shrugs at the twin doubtful stares he receives at the revelation.

'Anyway. These nuts come from a plant that only grows in one place: just outside of Lord Oromë's woodland palace. What is special about them is that whoever eats a single nut becomes very, well, let us just call it affectionate and leave it at that,' he pauses. His grin widens. 'I thought about slipping them to some unsuspecting folk as a practical joke,' he falters when he sees Mairon's face.

'If these cause intoxication, the person influenced cannot consent to any of that affection ,' the fiery Maia says sternly. 'Curumo, this is a bad idea. What if someone takes advantage? I cannot believe you thought even for a moment that this would be funny.'

'Relax,' Eönwë tries placating him, a thoughtful expression on his face. 'I have a better idea. Why not bake cookies with these nuts in them? Then we could give them out to everyone. Of course, we would warn about the possible effect, and anyway, the intoxicating factor would be greatly diluted like this, would it not?'

'I still do not like it,' mutters Mairon. A treacherous little part of his mind, however, comes up with an image of the dark one being... affectionate with him. Those incredible eyes darkened in desire, locked on him from under the thick curtain of lashes, a rosy blush adorning pale cheeks, soft, surprised little moans falling from between the luscious lips, the deep, warm voice begging for more-

'Mairon, are you drooling?' Curumo asks and pokes him on the forehead, which results in the fantasy vanishing into nothing in an instant.

'I, uh, I think cookies sound great,' Mairon says quickly in hopes of covering up his slip-up. The fact that his friends can most likely tell what kind of images and about whom ran through his mind just a moment ago is awfully embarrassing.

'Why would Romestamo even have those nuts, I wonder,' muses Eönwë out loud, idly scratching between the feathers on the tip of his left wing. He is not used to maintaining their physical form, but it has been useful lately to mark his higher rank among the Maiar: the silvery plumage along with the markings on his neck are clear symbols of him being closest to Lord Manwë.

He looks mighty like this. He looks... prettier than ever before. He might not be aware, but the aura of confidence which surrounds him since he was appointed Lord Manwë's herald is almost disturbingly attractive. So much so, Mairon almost wants to pin him down and strip him of that confidence with his mouth and teeth to leave him a shivering mess begging for release.

'You know how the Maiar of Lord Oromë are,' says Mairon in an attempt to distract himself from the inappropriate thoughts about the silly bird this time. He hopes his voice is less shaky than he thinks it is. What is wrong with him? When has he turned so lustful and greedy to physically desire not only the one he loves with his whole being, but also the friend whose feelings he pretends not to return? As if on cue, images of the two of them together flow unprompted through Mairon's mind: of Eönwë's lean legs wrapped around the dark one's waist, of messy ashen locks tangling with silky black tresses, of the dark one's large hands easily supporting Eönwë's weight against the wall as he pounds into the Maia, and oh, how deliciously would Eönwë moan, and how the dark one would groan softly in a dangerously hoarse voice, and Mairon would watch them perform for him, and oh, how they would deliver!...

'I am pretty sure I never want to find out why Lord Oromë even grows these things,' says Curumo with an involuntary shudder. 'Cookies, though,' he frowns, 'does any of you know how to make them? Because I have no idea.'

At this, Mairon and Eönwë look at each other and giggle. Once, very long ago, they sneaked into Lady Yavanna's fabled kitchen to prepare a cake. They ended up with milk and flour all over themselves and the entire chamber. Needless to say, they got caught and had to clean up the mess. The ordeal took a long time, but when they finished, Lady Yavanna gave them a handsome loaf of sweet bread with raisins each. It tasted magnificent, especially after the hard work – certainly much better than anything they could have baked on their own.

No, they are definitely not capable of baking cookies with the lust-inducing nuts.

'There goes that plan,' says Curumo and looks wistfully at the pouch. 'Well, I guess we could always try them right now,' he suggests, smirking. 'I mean, Mairon, you are certainly not a stranger to physical pleasures, and Eönwë... well, I saw you pleasuring yourself at least one time too many to remain oblivious to the practice.'

'So, in conclusion, you want to engage in a threesome with the two of us?' Asks Mairon incredulously while Eönwë is busy blushing and spluttering in embarrassment. He looks incredibly cute as he does so.

Curumo's reply is an indifferent shrug followed by laughter when he notices Eönwë's red face. 'That bird, he is much too easy to antagonize,' he says cheekily and carelessly lifts a nut from the pouch and into his mouth. He chews and swallows in a very theatrical manner. Nothing seems to happen as the time passes, however, and both Mairon and Eönwë stare at Curumo suspiciously.

Finally, lifting an eyebrow, Mairon asks, 'Was this whole thing just a way to trick Eönwë into making a fool of himself? Because you need not have included me in your folly.'

'Actually, I hoped to trick you both into leaving my snack alone,' says Curumo and grins. There are bits of nut between his teeth. He removes them swiftly with his tongue. 'But spluttering Eönwë is an added bonus that I always like to see.'

'Did you really walk in on him pleasuring himself?' Mairon asks then in a scenic whisper that he knows Eönwë can hear clearly. He wonders how come he never managed to walk in on that, even when they were practically inseparable. Or did Eönwë only start the practice after their friendship experienced difficulties?...

'He did,' mutters Eönwë darkly, 'and he promised not to tell anyone. Shows that one cannot trust the Maiar of Aulë, that much is certain.'

Both Mairon and Curumo actually take offence from that on behalf of their Master who is definitely not to blame for any shenanigans his Maiar get up to; and they make Eönwë pay for it by throwing him into the fountain before he has a chance to do anything about his wings. He sends them irritated looks throughout the whole time when he tries to fluff out his wet feathers to dry.

Everything is almost back to normal but Mairon, who has an even harder time dealing with his feelings than before.

-

Around that time, Lord Aulë begins to work on something in the secrecy of his private workshop beneath the mountain that is his House, and so he leaves much more tasks in the hands of his most crafty Maiar. Mairon, for example, is chosen to supervise the creation of the pillar of metal and stone for the lamp which will stand in the West. Despite his reservations as to the actual usefulness of the contraption, he tries his best not to disappoint the trust placed in him, and he turns out to be a good leader: he points out mistakes and offers ideas on how to fix them, but he is also generous with praise when one of his temporary underlings exceeds his expectations. As a result, his team works faster than others and their part of the task is finished before Lord Aulë returns with new requirements. Following the advice from Lady Yavanna, who knows how irate her spouse gets whenever disturbed in his workshop, Mairon delegates his team to join the others in their tasks.

Himself, he ends up under Curumo's lead. He immediately has ideas how to improve their efficiency, but since theirs is a team that works best without his intrusion, Mairon gets very delicately asked to stop being a bother find himself something else to do in the forge. Curumo even has the audacity of telling him to play with a bauble or another to relieve the stress of leadership . Damn him to the Void and back.

But the idea of making something simple yet pretty, a trinket, preferably out of gold which Mairon favours most of all metals for jewellery – it grows in his mind until he absent-mindedly begins to doodle with his finger some designs for rings on the lead surface of his work table. The designs vary in level of detail and ornaments, and in the end, he chooses to craft a simple band, wider than regular rings. In the middle of the band, he engraves a symbol of an eye; and only when he is done does he smile at the memory of wishing for a third eye brought upon by a silly remark back when he joined Lord Oromë's hunt. It turns out, all it took was a trinket. Laughing at himself in the recesses of his mind, he makes another one and makes sure it looks exactly the same. He knows not why. Most likely out of boredom.

The dark one awaits him that night in the cavern overlooking the ocean. His long black hair is messily tied tonight, but Mairon barely notices, because the robes the dark one is wearing are made out of an almost sheer fabric and the sight of the beautifully toned chest and abdomen underneath makes the Maia want to ruin him . Yet he restrains himself from the greedy urge and as though completely calm, takes a seat beside the dark one on the smooth stones that litter the ground of the cavern.

'I missed you,' he says in a whisper that carries softly like the lightest puff of air. Then immediately he feels foolish, because he knows why they could not have met before now; and he wonders if the dark one will scoff at how clingy the Maia is, or maybe laugh at this foolish neediness.

But the dark one smiles instead, touches his hand with long and pale, cool fingers. 'I grew cold and lonely without your company as well, little flame,' he says. Indeed, a warmth seems to glimmer in his strange, strange eyes when he looks upon Mairon.

Encouraged by this, Mairon leans in and presses a chaste kiss to the dark one's lips. He is rewarded with a blissful sigh and he takes it as a sign to deepen the kiss, to press himself fully against the larger body of his lover, to share his own heat with the dark one who seems to revel in it. For a while, they engage in the sensual dance of tongues and bodies, wrapped up in each other's embrace, re-discovering the pleasures simple closeness like this can provide; and if Mairon craves more, and if he is scared of the desire to possess that inhabits his soul, he lets nothing of it show.

All too soon, the dark one pushes Mairon away. He is gentle as he does this, but the Maia cannot help feeling hurt and terrified: has he overstepped a boundary, has he performed an act so unwelcome as to be scorned? Yet still the dark one smiles, and his hand finds Mairon's face, calming him.

'The negotiations are nigh completed,' the dark one says then, whilst his fingertips paint an elaborate pattern on Mairon's dark skin, as though attempting to connect the scattered freckles into shapes. The soft, deep voice flows around Mairon as though music, caressing his soul like a highly addictive drug. But the meaning behind the words is clear and brings a sense of dread that grips tightly at the Maia's core: Will this moment signify their last time together? Will they be forced to part ways for an eternity once the final details are worked out between the dark one and the King of Arda?

'Take me with you when you leave,' Mairon asks, begs , raising the dark one's hand to his lips to press a kiss to the knuckles. Still he manages to fake a calmness he is unable to assume, and he wonders if the dark one is able to see through his deceit – if the dark one knows how desperately Mairon loves him.

'This, I cannot do,' says the dark one and looks away. 'You knew since the moment you first knew me, little flame; you knew that I would one day be gone from the Blessed Lands.'

'I knew,' Mairon repeats after him. He shakes his head. 'Damn you!' He exclaims all of a sudden, making the dark one look back at him in visible surprise. 'This is not fair. You appeared from out of nowhere and you changed me, you made me love you, but soon you will be gone and I will never be able to see you again. I hate you. I hate you!'

And yet even as he proclaims his hatred, Mairon does not let go of the dark one's hand, which he still holds in his in an iron grip that likely hurts. In a movement so swift the Maia could not react, the dark one gathers him into his arms and holds him pressed to his chest; with the strong, cool arms wrapped around him, Mairon fights the tears which threaten to fall. He will not cry, he cannot, not in front of the one person he wants to seem impressive to at all times.

Yet all resistance dies in him when the dark one kisses the top of his head, when he says, 'I shall cherish you always,' in that hoarse, deep voice which makes Mairon's entire form shiver in pleasure from hearing the sound. And even amidst this pleasure, he feels the tears spill and flow down his cheeks, and he hides his face in the dark one's broad chest in hopes his shame will remain unseen.

Then he remembers the rings he crafted earlier, the simple gold bands with the eye he so carefully engraved on them, and he finds one in the pouch attached to his belt. Biting down on his lower lip, he takes the dark one's hand and slips the ring on his finger without saying a word. When the dark one looks quizzically at what must seem like a mere trinket to him, Mairon awkwardly explains,

'So that you remember me when you are gone,' and he hopes the audible breaking of his voice by the end goes unnoticed.

The dark one moves his arm so that he is able to examine the ring more closely; Mairon dares not look at him in fear of being ridiculed for the sentimentality or even for his craftsmanship which he knows is impeccable, yet may still be deemed lacking despite its quality. But instead, he is gathered into a new embrace and his lips are captured in a searing kiss which steals away a gasp of surprise that he makes. The dark one kisses him as though nothing else in the world comes close in importance, and his tongue is cool and rough against Mairon's and his lips are soft like flower petals and his hands tangle in Mairon's hair, no doubt tousling it beyond repair. It matters little, because this kiss, it feels different – good, yes, oh, so good, but also deeper, more significant, like a promise, like an oath, like a-

Like a vow.

'May the many stars of Varda bear witness to this moment,' whispers the dark one when their kiss ends yet they are still so close that the words nigh touch Mairon's lips. 'May they bear witness, little flame, for here and now, I bind myself onto you and I bind my fate onto yours.'

The soft promise flows from the dark one's lips in a gentle breeze of an enchantment and plants itself above Mairon's collarbone, forming a mark like a scar in the shape of a crown; and its meaning is clear to the Maia: by the custom of the spirits who dwell on Arda, they are now wed to each other and no matter how far apart they become, their souls will always be connected.

For a single instant, Mairon's mind freezes up in fear: for if he is now wed, how will it affect the arranged marriage with Lord Manwë's brother that is soon to be his lot? Then he realizes that it matters little; for certainly no enforced marriage would form a bond between souls such as this one he shares with the dark one. Nobody will notice anything wrong with Mairon even when words spoken during the ceremony in front of all of Almaren fail to create a true bond as such between the Valar who choose their spouses.

So instead, he allows happiness to fill him and he once more joins his lips with the dark one's, elated when he feels the coolness of the dark one's skin dissipating under his caress. His hands, he allows to wander all over the dark one's chest and lower, to his abdomen; the muscles there contract at his touch and oddly, this makes Mairon's desire for his lover increase. He strokes the toned stomach and gladly swallows the deep rumble of a moan the dark one lets slip; he moves the caress even lower, to the thighs, and he rests his hands there, teasing. The dark one groans into the kiss and bucks his hips so that his prominent erection presses into the warm skin of Mairon's forearm. Yet he does nothing else to enforce his will and the fact that one so mighty easily offers himself for Mairon to do as he pleases is incredibly erotic; so much so that the Maia cannot help a moan of his own from leaving his lips as he breaks the kiss.

'I shall take you as mine,' he promises in a hoarse voice that is so laced with insane desire that he barely recognizes it as his; and then, when the dark one unsuccessfully attempts to pull him back into a kiss, Mairon says, 'I will join our bodies, and I will make you unable to have a single thought in your head that is not about me.'

He leaves a wet trail of kisses on the dark one's neck and collarbone; he seizes a handful of black hair into his grasp and pulls, unforgiving, until the dark one tips his head and allows Mairon easier access to his slender pale neck. But his hand falls from Mairon's neck between his own legs where he attempts to touch himself; batting it away, Mairon bites down on the soft skin under the dark one's jaw in punishment. The rough treatment makes his lover groan and the Maia pushes him to lie on the ground, uncaring if the stones beneath dig uncomfortably into the dark one's back.

'Your arms, put them above your head,' he whispers into the dark one's ear, licks the earlobe and smiles, pleased when his command is obeyed. 'Now, I want you to holds them there until I say you can move them. Will you do this for me, my precious?' He asks hotly.

'Yes, yes I will,' the dark one replies eagerly in a breaking voice that feels like honey to Mairon, and he leans in to taste its sweetness once more on his tongue. The kiss he gives his lover is forceful, demanding, nigh enough to leave a bruise on his lips – and oh, is it an enticing thought, to be able to gaze upon the dark one covered in love marks left on his body by Mairon's greedy mouth! But he reigns in the urges and instead he ends the kiss with a final lick to the dark one's lower lip which leaves it glistening with his saliva. Those lips, he thinks, those lips would look so pretty wrapped around his hard length, but no, he has another ideas for this moment; that one, he will leave to imagination for when nights grow lonely.

Eagerly, he removes the heavily embroidered sash tied around the dark one's waist. Struck with a sudden thought, Mairon wraps the sash around the dark one's wrists and smiles at the frown the action is rewarded with.

'I told you I would keep my arms up,' the dark one mutters, but Mairon silences him with a gentle kiss.

'I know,' he says soothingly, 'but I enjoy the view of you like this. If I could, I would tie you up and keep you beneath me forever,' he whispers and bites down on that tempting lower lip, careful not to break the delicate skin.

'Now, I will not have you speak unless I ask you a question. I will not have you make a sound. Nod your head if you understand,' he demands. The dark one obeys once more, silent, and Mairon rewards him with a chaste kiss which barely lasts long enough to be satisfying. Having done so, he opens the dark one's robes to reveal more of the white, unblemished skin; he caresses the already hardened nipples with eager hands, pinches them, licks one while twisting the other hard enough to transform the dark one's hoarse moan into a soft gasp of pain in punishment. The dark one's arms tremble and Mairon watches as his lover bites down on his lip to stifle what might be a protest or encouragement; once more pleased with his lover's compliance, the Maia brushes the dark one's erect length in a feather-light caress that causes the dark one's hips to buck into the touch.

It feels so good to be in control of this, to bestow upon the one he loves the pleasures of the flesh; and that the dark one accepts this offering with a desire that matches his own makes Mairon's own member harden impossibly further. He rises to his knees between the dark one's spread thighs, gently urges him to spread them even further, and he admires the view of his mighty lover so laid out for his eyes only: black hair tousled around his form like spilled ink, white skin partially hidden away under layers of richly embroidered, sheer and shimmering fabric, long, strong arms trapped above his head, legs open wide to allow Mairon access to his most intimate regions. And how the Maia loves the image painted before him! Overcome by desire he can no longer suppress, he leans down to lick a wet trail up and then back down his lover's naked thigh. The dark one is shivering under him, but he makes no sound, obedient and so beautiful, and Mairon swiftly removes the last pieces of fabric which hide the hard length he so wishes to take into his mouth.

The dark one is barely able to stifle the low moan which builds up in his chest when Mairon begins to caress his straining member with his split tongue; and he groans helplessly when the Maia wraps his fingers around the base and begins to stroke rhythmically up and down, setting an unbearably slow pace to prolong the teasing and simultaneously deliver punishment for making a noise. Still he does not stop himself from licking eagerly at the tip, feeling as though drunk on the rich taste of his lover, on the voice he has made the dark one try so hard to hold back. He caresses one of the trembling thighs with his free hand, revels in the way the dark one attempts to stop himself from pushing his hips up into the nigh-torturous touch and fails, fails so thoroughly.

Taking pity on his tormented lover, Mairon wraps his lips around the tip of his length and sucks gently, eliciting a drawn-out, broken moan for which he punishes the dark one by delivering a forceful slap to his thigh. This does nothing to help stifle the dark one's sweet noises, so in retaliation the Maia stops what he is doing and changes his position to lay on top of the dark one's larger body.

'You are so naughty,' he murmurs and clicks his tongue in admonishment. 'I should leave you like this, so wanton, so needy, I should stop touching you altogether. Do you want that?' He asks, lowering his voice into a breathy whisper against the dark one's ear.

'N-no,' his lover says, stutters, nigh-whimpers. Seeing and hearing him reduced to such a state makes Mairon want him all the more; impatient, he grinds his hips hard against the dark one's, causing both of them to groan at the friction. Growing tired already of teasing his lover, eager to have more of him, the Maia makes a swift job of undressing himself; he feels the dark one's strange eyes follow his movements, and only briefly does it make him self-conscious. But he is gorgeous, he knows this; possibly not a single Maia in Almaren would deny his beauty, and Mairon also in his lover's features can read the obvious admiration for the physical body he inhabits – and for the flaming hot soul which resides within.

Fully naked, Mairon once more lays on top of his lover so that their bare erections touch; he moves his hips to create some of the delicious friction while he plants tiny kisses along the dark one's sharp jawline. He licks and nips at the soft skin with his sharp teeth, leaving indentations and a trail of saliva. But his patience is running thin, and so soon he pushes himself to his knees again to kneel between the dark one's spread legs. He teases the straining erection with a fleeting caress of his heated fingers before moving his hand much lower; he traces the puckered ring of muscle encircling the entrance with his finger, massages it, gently dips just the tip of his finger inside. The dark one hisses, unprepared for such an intrusion, and Mairon stops the assault, unwilling to hurt his lover.

He has nothing to use as lubrication, but it matters little; with just a small enchantment whispered under his breath, he conjures a small jar of oil not unlike the one he used before in his... exploration... of physicality. The oil has a faintly floral scent. Mairon uses it to generously coat his fingers and glances up at his lover's face; he is surprised to see a look of – hunger? Admiration? A mix of both? - on the dark one's features. Then he realizes in a surge of inspiration that the look has likely been caused by his casual use of enchanting. He smiles and licks his lips before returning to the task at hand. Once more he circles the puckered hole with his finger, once more he dips the fingertip inside and this time, the reaction he gets is a soft gasp, muffled when the dark one presses his face against his outstretched arm.

'I know you feel discomfort now,' Mairon whispers reassuringly, 'but very soon, it will pass. I will have you moaning, begging me for more, my love, my precious. And you will enjoy this so much, once you are gone, you will be remembering the way I fill you up, the way our bodies fit so perfectly together, and you will be pleasuring yourself to these memories,' he promises, sliding the finger in deeper, unhurriedly overcoming the initial resistance. Gathering to himself the last threads of his patience, he slowly prepares his lover, adding a finger once he decides he is ready, scissoring them to stretch the tight entrance, then adding yet another finger when the dark one begins to move his hips in rhythm to the gentle thrusts. Once he thinks the dark one is ready, he removes the fingers, much to his lover's obvious displeasure – and coats his erect member thickly with the oil; swiftly he positions himself and finally, after what felt like too long a wait, he joins their bodies together with a firm thrust.

The dark one groans, bites down on his lip hard enough to draw blood; the sight of red spilling against the paleness of the dark one's skin is too much to bear and Mairon leans in to lick it away. The metallic taste is queer on his tongue, but not unpleasant; in a bid to share it with his lover, the Maia kisses him hungrily. When he draws back, the dark one's lips are smeared with blood, a stark contrast on his face, and he looks debauched; unable to stop himself, Mairon begins to rock his hips, thrusting inside that amazing tightness, and this elicits a deep moan from the dark one who wraps his legs around Mairon's hips in an attempt to bring him even closer. Soon enough, both their hips move faster, harder, more, and Mairon cannot help but shamelessly moan his bliss into his lover's neck. He knows he will not last long, he can feel the climax building up in his abdomen, but he is determined to make the dark one come first; he pushes his hand between their bodies to wrap his long calloused fingers around the dark one's length and he strokes firmly to the same unforgiving rhythm with which he measures his thrusts.

'For me, my love,' he murmurs urgently, bites down on the dark one's earlobe. 'Come for me, now, my precious, now, when I fill you up so good, just for me-'

The dark one lets out a broken cry and his back arches off the ground, his head hits the stones below as he helplessly obeys Mairon's soft order; he comes in thick spurts which coat Mairon's hand and both their abdomens. The tightening of his muscles when he reaches his bliss is too much and Mairon follows him into the white abyss of pleasure, sinking his teeth into the dark one's collarbone to muffle the scream that would otherwise leave his lips.

Completely spent, he remains on top of the dark one, his length still sheathed in his lover's body which no longer feels cold to the touch. The dark one moves his arms from above his head to wrap them, still bound, around the Maia's smaller form.

'Thank you,' he says in a voice that sounds even more hoarse than usual. When Mairon looks up, their eyes meet and the Maia feels a different kind of bliss overcome him: for the moment, nothing else matters in the entirety of Arda but the fact that he loves and is loved in return.

-

Upon returning to the forges on the following morning after two more sessions of extremely pleasant love-making, he is greeted by the sight Eönwë who looks both very lost and very flushed. His hair is in complete disarray, because it seems he did not even attempt to braid it this time; and his state of undress is worrisome: the haphazardly tied tunic is barely covering his chest and he completely lacks the usual ornaments he was always so fond of carrying on his body. His wings are not there, a stark contrast to how he has been carrying himself lately it is almost weird to see him without them.

'Eönwë, are you alright?...' Mairon asks, worried, as he approaches his friend.

Eönwë jumps a little when he notices him. 'I... Mairon,' he says, mumbles more like, and he looks away, blushing even harder if possible. 'Hi. I just. I dropped by.'

'Yes, I can see that,' Mairon replies, rolling his eyes. 'I would say you look as though you had a fun night if not for the fact that you appear terrified. Come, I will sort you out,' he wraps his arm around Eönwë's shoulders, ignoring the little shiver that goes down his friend's body, and leads him to the spare tool shed which is rarely used. He hopes nobody disturbs them while he tries to find out what happened to leave Eönwë in such a state.

He is surprised when as soon as he closes the door behind them, Eönwë pushes him against said door and kisses him forcefully, holding his wrists so that Mairon cannot easily overpower him and escape. Not that he tries to; his mind goes blank and all he does is respond to the kiss. He allows Eönwë's eager tongue inside his mouth and only begins to weakly protest when the other Maia releases his wrists in order to begin disrobing him with a kind of urgency that Mairon recognizes as hunger.

'Please, please,' Eönwë whispers against his lips, 'I need you, I need this, Mairon, please,' and he plants the softest kisses all over Mairon's jaw and cheeks.

'We cannot,' Mairon says, resolving to be firm in this even as he feels new arousal stir in his body.

'Please,' Eönwë repeats, licks his lips. 'I watched you, I watched you with him, I saw everything, why do you want him and not me?' He asks desperately. 'I will do anything, I will, I-'

'No,' Mairon mutters and draws the shaking Maia into a tight embrace. 'My sweet, silly bird,' he whispers, kisses his forehead and sighs. 'It is not true that I do not want you,' he confesses. 'I do, Eönwë, I love you, and it confuses me so much because I love him too. I do not know what to do.'

'Yet you are bonded with him,' says Eönwë softly, and even though his face is hidden in the crook of Mairon's neck, it is easy to deduce from his breaking voice that he is crying.

'You saw that too?' Asks Mairon and shakes his head. 'Of course you did. You saw everything, did you not? And you pleasured yourself as you watched us,' he guesses, finally understanding Eönwë's appearance.

The Maia in his arms stiffens at the words. 'I- I did not,' he lies ineffectually.

Mairon chuckles. 'No, I do not mind,' he says. He lowers his voice into a breathy whisper. 'Did you enjoy the view of me taking him? Did his moans arouse you, my sweet?' He asks, gently stroking Eönwë's back. He can feel the tension in his muscles, the trembling of his entire form. What he is doing is disgusting, he knows it, but he cannot stop himself: he loves seeing Eönwë this worked up, this driven by desire, for even in the days when they shared physical pleasures with each other Eönwë was never like this.

'Mairon,' whispers Eönwë, 'please,' he repeats once more, then bites his lip as he looks up at him and Mairon cannot find it in himself to deny him any longer.

He is not normally stronger than Eönwë, but in this state it is almost too easy to lift the other Maia and carry him to the dusty worktable by the opposite wall. Seating him down, Mairon immediately unlaces his breeches and frees his erection, which he promptly takes in hand and strokes gently, similar to the delicate caress he earlier treated his back with. Eönwë gasps loudly and Mairon kisses him quickly before retreating.

'You need to remain silent,' he warns, 'or they will hear us in the forge. You do not want Curumo to see you like this, now do you?' He asks teasingly, slowly moving his hand up and down, applying just enough pressure for Eönwë to feel it, but not enough to be satisfactory.

The other Maia bites down on his lip and shakes his head; he puts his hands on Mairon's shoulders for support and Mairon leans in to lick a wet trail from his collarbone down his chest. He uses the free hand to lift the offending tunic and he attacks one of Eönwë's nipples with his tongue and teeth. This draws out a soft groan from the Maia; Mairon smiles to himself and covers Eönwë's mouth with his hand, never pausing in the slow, relentless touches he delivers to his length.

Eönwë's eyes widen and he grasps Mairon's wrist and forearm with both hands; he holds on for dear life when Mairon bends down and teases the tip of his length with his split tongue. But he goes no further than this; instead he straightens and removes both his hands. He admires the beautiful, debauched sight Eönwë makes: messy hair, a dark flush across his high cheekbones, pretty full lips parted as he struggles to contain a noise of protest. Mairon does not keep his hands to himself for long. Nigh immediately, he moves to pull the linen tunic over Eönwë's head and then beckons the other Maia into a half-lying position.

'Open your mouth,' he demands. Puzzled but trusting him, Eönwë parts his lips further and makes a faint noise of surprise when Mairon pushes a ball of cloth – his rumpled tunic – into his mouth. 'My sweet, you are so good, so obedient,' Mairon praises.

Eönwë averts his eyes and Mairon laughs breathlessly. 'It is only to muffle your pretty noises,' he assures him and tugs lightly on his nipple, teasing it into hardness. 'Because I intend to make you lose your mind with pleasure,' he promises hotly.

Again he bends down and swiftly engulfs the entirety of Eönwë's straining erection in his mouth, completely foregoing the teasing from earlier. He hears the cry of pleasure stifled by the cloth and he knows what Eönwë's face looks like now, scrunched up in bliss; he envisions the rosy lips stretched over the cloth and thinks how beautifully Eönwë would take the dark one, how he would enjoy it if his pretty mouth was full of that large length. How he would moan around it as he does around the improvised gag as Mairon starts sucking on him, how he would choke at first when the tip of the dark one's large member hit the back of his throat and how that would make him even harder, how eagerly he would lavish the underside of it with licks and kisses – how he would look so pretty with come all over his beautiful, flushed face, his lips swollen and his eyes glazed over in desire.

And to Mairon, the images are like an aphrodisiac; he releases Eönwë's length from his mouth, and ignores the muffled whine of disappointment. Instead he removes Eönwë's breeches and boots before he kneels on the floor and nuzzles Eönwë's sack with his nose. The tiny gasp the other Maia makes does not escape his ears and he enjoys it, but he is too impatient now to keep on stalling. He gently sucks on Eönwë's balls, eliciting another noise stifled by the cloth, before he moves his caress even lower.

He has never done this before, although he had this done to him by a very eager Morinehtar; but he figures he is a quick learner. Carefully at first, he circles the ring of muscle around Eönwë's entrance with his tongue, ignores the way the Maia begins to shake; he gently teases the tight opening with little licks that cause Eönwë to grab fistfuls of his hair. The pain feels surprisingly good, intense, and as a reward of a kind Mairon pushes his tongue inside.

This in turn makes Eönwë to involuntarily close his legs around his head, so Mairon used his currently free hands to force them back open and he holds them like that, lifted in the air, exposing the wickedness he is inflicting upon the other Maia; he imagines the dark one watching it as he stuffs Eönwë's pretty mouth with his length and the fantasy is mind-numbingly erotic. Spurned on by the images, Mairon licks at the inside of Eönwë's opening, feels the ring of muscle clench around his tongue; he releases one of Eönwë's thighs which falls upon his shoulder and he swiftly pushes the tip of his index finger inside the other Maia alongside his tongue.

Eönwë's hold on his hair tightens and Mairon moans softly, pushes his tongue and finger deeper in, moves them in and out in a steady rhythm. He adds another finger, its passage made easier by the saliva which coats the inside of Eönwë's tight hole, he brushes that sweet spot which forces sweet sounds out of Eönwë's mouth with every thrust, and finally he removes his tongue to return his mouth to Eönwë's erection. He sucks on him and fingers him relentlessly all at the same time and Eönwë thrashes and writhes on the table, attempts to simultaneously push his hips up to Mairon's mouth and down onto his fingers, and all of a sudden, caught between the two pleasurable sensations, he is coming with a cry that rings in Mairon's ears even through the cloth.

After a moment, Mairon stands up on slightly shaking legs, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. When Eönwë, completely spent but still with the cloth in his mouth, looks at him from behind a curtain of hair that must have fallen on his face while he was writhing, Mairon licks the remains of his come from his hand and then leans in. He brushes Eönwë's hair back with his fingers, removes the gag and places a chaste kiss on his lips.

'What about you?...' Asks Eönwë softly, looking down at Mairon's crotch.

'Do not worry about me,' replies Mairon with almost a grin. 'I am afraid I will have to clean my breeches with an enchantment before I go to the forges,' he explains to Eönwë's quizzical look.

The other Maia laughs tiredly and stretches where he sits on the work table. 'I want to stay here and sleep,' he announces. 'No, do not tell me I cannot,' he warns before Mairon can say a word. 'I know it is impossible. Let me be nonsensical for a moment.'

'For a moment?' Asks Mairon in mock-surprise. 'Do you mean to tell me there are times when you actually do make sense?'

Eönwë smacks him with his balled up tunic. 'Stop being an ass,' he says, but he is fighting to remain semi-serious. But his face darkens and he looks away. 'What happens now?' He asks softly. 'You are wed to the dark one, the stars were your witness. Your souls are connected.'

'Yes,' Mairon confirms, 'but so are ours,' he says and frowns, wondering how he is so certain of this. 'I can feel it, Eönwë. I can sense the thread that binds us together... It is as though a braid of strands ashen and fiery, messy and yet just as orderly. Close your eyes, you silly bird,' he urges. He needs Eönwë to see what he sees, he needs to have a confirmation, he needs this.

Eönwë obeys; he closes his eyes and his entire form appears to emit a soft glow as he concentrates his power in search of what Mairon is talking about it. It is easy to tell when he finds it: his face brightens, his glow becomes almost blinding; he opens his eyes and the shiny aura disappears, but Mairon is not able to appreciate it because Eönwë immediately draws him into a long, sensual kiss. Only when he lets go does it dawn on him that their situation is highly unusual.

'How can you be bonded to him and me?' He asks doubtfully.

This question Mairon knows not the answer to. The only thing he knows is that Eönwë is beloved to him in much the same way the dark one is, even if the two are complete opposites. How improbable is it that his soul simply touched and connected with two instead of one another back in the time of the Music when they were but shapeless powers like clouds of light and colour and thought? It must have happened like this, otherwise he could not have built this connection between himself and two of his most precious lovers.

Finally he understands why subconsciously he knew he had to create two of the same rings with the ornate eye symbol. One he gave to the dark one to signify their union. The other, he retrieves now from that same pouch and slides it onto Eönwë's finger. It fits him perfectly.

'And thus we are bound,' he proclaims with a little smile, 'and our souls belong together.'

Eönwë kisses him in response. When he draws back, his wings are proudly outstretched; Eönwë plucks a few silvery feathers from them and briefly winces at the discomfort it causes. Then, he expertly weaves them into Mairon's hair in a perfect braid.

'So you do know how to properly braid hair,' Mairon exclaims, but Eönwë, the arrogant bird, shuts him up with another kiss. To that, Mairon cannot really protest.

-

When he finally comes back to the forges much later after having walked Eönwë to the foot of Taniquetil where they shared a rather heated goodbye kiss, a message from Lord Manwë awaits him. Olórin apparently brought it much earlier and missed him, but he could not stay to deliver it personally. Curiosity overtaking him, Mairon opens the sealed envelope and finds inside only a small card with short text written on it in masterful calligraphy. It seems Lord Manwë is much concise in writing than in speech. 

The note reads:

I hope this notice finds you in high spirits, for there is reason to rejoice.

Your nuptials will commence on the morrow! A number of ceremonial robes have been sent to the House of Yavanna, please see the Lady and choose the set which most suits your fancy.

With kindest regards,

Manwë, Lord of Taniquetil, King of Arda

 

Chapter Text

Lord Aulë is missing when Mairon keeps slamming on the sheet of steel on the anvil with his hammer as though the metal were guilty of causing his sour mood. The Master's absence is not unusual, but what strikes the angry and maybe just a little terrified Maia as weird is that nobody seems to be working around him, not even Curumo or Fariana who, after that humiliating incident during the celebration of starbirth, turned even more serious and work-oriented. After pounding a few more times on the steel for the sake of letting off some steam, Mairon finally drops the hammer and turns to Curumo.

'What is going on?' He asks, reaching behind his friend for the wash cloth placed conveniently on the shelf. He cleans his hands while awaiting an answer.

Curumo shakes his head as though serious, but his lips twitch, betraying his mirth. 'Of course you had to miss out on the biggest event since the Music,' he says, amused, and leans in closer to Mairon's ear to explain.

'Lord Manwë and Lord Aulë apparently held a meeting here this night. It did not go very well,' he pauses meaningfully and Mairon looks around, only now noticing the scorch marks and scattered pieces of equipment, some tools melted into the eastern wall and ash and coal covering the ground around all three biggest forges.

'Yes, they argued. When I arrived in the early morning, they were still going,' Curumo says, 'but when they realized I was here, Lord Manwë stormed off, shouting actual obscenities. Lord Aulë followed him. I reckon they are still at it, either on Taniquetil or somewhere on the way there,' he concludes with a barely concealed grin.

'I see... But why are we not working?' Asks Mairon, wondering how an argument between the two Valar could be connected to the general lack of activity.

'That is the funniest part, if you look at it from the right angle,' replies Curumo. 'They apparently fought because Lord Manwë sent orders to cease all work on the lamps. We are to receive the new instructions within a fortnight.'

At this, Mairon stares wide-eyed at his friend. They have been working on the lamps for a long time, and the task was almost at its end – why the abrupt change? Is it possibly the influence of the dark one? After all, it is quite probable that he shared his view of the brittle nature of the planned sources of light with Lord Manwë during their long sessions of negotiation. After that, Lord Manwë may have come to the same conclusions Mairon did and so he decided to scrap the project.

But it is no wonder it made Lord Aulë so angry. After all, much energy and effort went into the forging of the two pillars and the lamps capable of withholding the beautiful yet scalding light of Lady Varda's creation. To have it all dismissed with a wave of a hand... Lord Aulë is not a person who takes well to such careless treatment of his and his Maiar's labour. He always takes care to teach his Maiar to appreciate the work of others and he expects the other Valar and Maiar to extend to him and his the same politeness. Clearly, Lord Manwë did not meet his standards on this front. It is quite possible that this, in addition to Mairon's forced marriage, was the last straw.

'If Valar were mortal, I would be worried they might kill each other,' mutters Mairon, earning himself a light chuckle from Curumo who sobers up quickly.

'To be honest, I am more worried about you,' says the older Maia and pats Mairon's shoulder. 'We have all received invitations to the celebration tomorrow. Are you ready for this? Are you going to be fine?'

'I have to,' replies Mairon with a sigh. He feels strangely more peaceful knowing he has his friend's support to lean on. 'After all, there is nothing I can do about this. If I am lucky, I will be allowed to be after this. Like with Lord Oromë and Lady Vána. Nobody doubts that they have love for one another, but they go their own ways.'

Curumo nods. 'Let us hope that is the case. And hey, maybe that Melkor will turn out to be your type?' He jokes.

Mairon lifts an eyebrow. 'I do not have a type,' he says, unimpressed.

'What? How about “tall, dark and mysterious”?' Asks Curumo inquisitively.

'That is one person,' replies Mairon. 'None of these fit Eonwë. Well, maybe the “tall” part. No, not really. He is slightly taller than me, but you are taller than him and Olórin towers over both of you,' he remembers.

Confused, Curumo watches as Mairon returns the wash cloth to the bowl. 'But... what has Eonwë got to do with this?' He asks finally, seeing that the other Maia has no intention of offering an explanation.

'Guess,' Mairon says and indicates to his braided hair. Realization dawns on Curumo's face, or maybe it is pure horror – it is difficult to tell, but Mairon does not stay to find out. He quickly leaves the forge to get some rest before what is to come.

-

Lady Yavanna is in a very good mood when Mairon finds her that night. Her orchard is in full bloom, which always causes an uplift of spirits for the Lady and her Maiar; and it is such a contrast to Mairon's slightly scared and gloomy demeanour, he feels very out of place in the House filled with cheerful song and merry-making. Nobody sleeps in the time of bloom in the House of Yavanna, he observes.

'Ah, there you are, my child,' Lady Yavanna calls out upon seeing him. Easily does she put an arm around his shoulders and leads him to one of the chambers, smiling all the way.

'It is so fortunate that the ceremony is to be held now, when all the work of my labour is at its highest beauty; mayhaps I can convince Manwë to move the celebrations to my orchards?' She wonders aloud, apparently having not noticed Mairon's rather sour expression. 'Or not,' she sighs, shaking her head. 'I reckon Manwë is not in the mood for new arguments after what he went through with my Lord,' she concludes.

'But how are you feeling, child?' She asks Mairon, beaming at him. 'I apologize,' she says hastily, 'the orchards in bloom always make me feel giddy and here I am, all happy, while you must be nervous.'

'Nervous is a bit of an understatement, my Lady,' Mairon replies softly, unwilling to break the Lady's good mood but also unable to hide his feelings from a Vala.

Lady Yavanna nods her head in gentle understanding. 'I wish I could have done something for you,' she says wistfully. 'Alas, I can only help you choose your attire to best suit you during the ceremony.'

Thus begins the long process of selecting the perfect robes. When Lord Manwë wrote that he sent a number of robes for Mairon, he certainly was not joking. There are literally hundreds of outfits in a myriad of colours, all of them ornamental and rich, and decidedly uncomfortable. At one point, Mairon wonders if the ceremony should be pushed back a few days or years maybe, because the morning is coming closer and closer and still he cannot choose.

'I look foolish in all of them,' he exclaims finally.

Lady Yavanna frowns slightly at the outburst. 'I agree that they are not exactly what you would typically wear-'

'My Lady, with all due respect,' Mairon interrupts, and this shows how frustrated he is with the whole ordeal for normally he would never interrupt a Vala. 'They are not only not what I would typically wear, they are what I would never wear. These clothes are gorgeous, no doubt about that, but on me? I just look like I am trying to pretend to be somebody I am not. To be honest, if I ever tried to impersonate Lord Manwë, I would certainly pick one of these outfits,' he finishes and, feeling defeated, plops down on the ground amongst the heaps of clothes.

Lady Yavanna hides behind her hand to pretend she is not giggling at the image Mairon's words must have evoked in her mind; and finally, she shakes her head in fond exasperation.

'You are right, my child,' she admits. 'I think too much has been decided for you already. So instead of any of these,' she motions to the outfits on the ground and on the tables and, really, everywhere in the chamber, 'you should dress in what you feel good in. Dolling you up is nonsensical, after all – you are pretty even without those ridiculous robes.'

'Thank you, my Lady,' says Mairon gratefully. Quickly does he decide what he wants to wear to the ceremony: a simple set of dark emerald robes designed to highlight his toned chest and contrast with his hair. He conjures the clothes and quickly dons them; he has never worn this particular outfit before, but judging from Lady Yavanna's smile, she approves of the choice. From herself, she adds a freshly woven flower crown which she places on his head, followed with an affectionate kiss to his forehead.

'Now you are ready,' she says.

Mairon shakes his head. 'I do not feel ready,' he says, re-braiding his hair with Eonwë's feathers. 'My Lady, I... I love another,' he confesses, ready to face the outrage this will cause.

But instead, the Lady nods her head. 'I am aware. Eonwë is a good child. He loves you as well,' she says thoughtfully. 'Would you have wed him, had you the choice?'

Mairon does not know how to tell her that he already did that, so instead he mutters, 'I was talking about somebody else, although I do love Eonwë too.'

At this does Lady Yavanna look actually surprised. 'Two people?' She asks. 'This is most unusual, although not impossible,' she says thoughtfully, as though speaking to herself. 'Who is this another you speak of? Is that another the reason for your sadness, my child?'

'It is the dark one and I will probably never see him again,' replies Mairon, spitting the words out rapidly so that he cannot stop mid-confession. Now he really does expect scorn from the usually kind Vala, or horror, or any other negative reaction which would be justified in the situation. What he does not expect is laughter.

He watches in confusion as Lady Yavanna laughs merrily, as her eyes twinkle and her entire body shakes in mirth. Her laughter sounds like birdsong or like the wind among the branches in the orchard, soothing and beautiful, but at the moment Mairon is too lost to appreciate it fully. He feels as though something is missing in this puzzle, a very important element that nobody told him about. Nothing about what is happening makes sense and he really hates the realization that he is the only one here who understands so little.

'Oh, my child, my darling child,' says Lady Yavanna finally when her laughter recedes. 'I wonder, was this his plan all along?' She asks no-one in particular. 'I can see how startled you are, Mairon. I promise you, everything will be clear to you very soon. Come now,' she urges him, 'we shall go. The ceremony is bound to begin soon and it cannot start without you there. It is best not to cause further grief to Manwë at this time.'

With that, Lady Yavanna leads Mairon out of her House and onto the path leading to the mountain of Taniquetil.

-

The amount of spectators to Mairon's wedding is astounding and all of them are staring at him so much that he almost feels inadequate in his decidedly too simple outfit. Everybody he knows is there and even many Maiar he has never met before. Lord Oromë came with his entire House, for once foregoing a hunt in favour of an official ceremony. Lord Ulmo, who usually does not honour Almaren with his presence, is there along with his Maiar, of whom Mairon has only briefly met Osse and talked once to Uinen. His closer friends are gathered together in a group: Curumo clad all in white with very small gems beaded into his shoulder-length hair, Olórin standing beside him with suspiciously similar gems in his own dark locks, Melian whose robes seem to be covered in tiny flowers, Aiwendil with a squirrel on his shoulder, Fariana dressed like always with the exception of a flower crown woven out of the same flowers which cover Melian's dress. Eonwë is not with them; he stands beside Lord Manwë's throne between his Master and Lady Varda and his wings glimmer in the beautiful light cast by the lamps scattered all over the chamber. To Mairon's surprise, on the other side of Lord Manwë's throne stands the dark one, and he is dressed in the same fashion Lord Manwë is, but where Lord Manwë's robes are light blue, the dark one's are navy and almost seem black in contrast. In fact, there are more similarities between the two, now that Mairon can see them beside one another: their hairstyles are done in the same elaborate fashion, Lord Manwë's decorated with feathers while the dark one's – with obsidian hairpins; their physical bodies appear to have the same posture, their hands are large and have beautifully long fingers, but whereas the dark one's skin is white as freshly fallen snow, Lord Manwë's is black like the Void itself.

But their faces, Mairon observes incredulously, looking past the difference in skin colour. Their faces are like mirror images of one another.

Realization dawns on him and he moves before the command to his feet really registers in his mind. He will kill that smug bastard. If there is any way to kill a Vala, he will find it if that is the last thing he does, and he will do it right now in front of everyone to teach him a lesson.

'Mairon,' Lord Manwë greets him, but Mairon does not even look at him, approaching the dark one without so much as a pause to acknowledge the King of Arda.

The dark one has the audacity to smile at him and that is the last straw if there ever was one. Without hesitation, Mairon draws back his arm before swinging it to land so hard a punch on the dark one's face, his head spins. The action is accompanied by a noise of surprise or outrage from everyone gathered in the chamber, including Lord Manwë who most likely has no idea what is going on.

Mairon does not care much. When the dark one – Melkor, Lord Manwë's brother who has been deceiving him all this time – recovers slightly from the punch and looks back at Mairon, the Maia announces,

'You are such an insufferable ass!'

'If I recall correctly, you seemed to have enjoyed my-' Melkor replies, but Mairon interrupts him by grabbing at the front of his robes and pulling him down into a punishing, rough kiss which leaves Melkor's lips bruised and swollen and his eyes glazed over.

'What is the meaning of this?' Asks Lord Manwë loudly, trying to be heard over the general buzz of excited conversation in the chamber. He seems ruffled, as though a very insulted, fluffy bird, and he stares at Mairon as though expecting an explanation.

Well, he asks for it. Who is Mairon to not deliver when the King of Arda himself wants something from him?

'Your brother, my Lord, has been pestering me for a very long time. He was extremely annoying at first – no, that never changed, now that I think of it – but he grew on me in time. So much so, in fact, that just two nights ago, we bonded under the stars,' the Maia says calmly. He can see from where he stands that Eonwë blushes at the mention of that night, but also struggles to keep a straight face. He also realizes another thing: the buzz went down and literally everyone is listening to him speak. The thought is unexpectedly chilling.

'Melkor,' Lord Manwë says icily, 'is this true?'

The dark one – Melkor, Mairon really needs to get used to this name – nods his head sheepishly. 'I know you told me not to go out,' he mutters, 'but I was bored in here. Especially when you never let anyone know who I was. Even your Maiar scattered in fear every time they saw me because of the whole “dark one” business.'

'I had good reason to keep it secret!' Lord Manwë exclaims and it is impossible not to tell he is incredibly angry right now. Even Eonwë steps a little further away from the throne.

But Melkor does not even flinch. 'Yes, I know. You did not want anyone to know how your brother was the one who brought discord to the Music,' he says casually. Mairon stares at him. 'What? You never realized? See, Manwë, even he who is bonded to me never realized it was me. Your entire reason to keep me in containment was invalid from the beginning.'

'Well now everybody knows!' Yells Lord Manwë, standing up from his throne. Lady Varda, Mairon notices, simply rolls her eyes at her spouse's behaviour. It seems as though she is used to Lord Manwë's spiking temper in the presence of Melkor.

A familiar booming voice from the gathered crowd reaches them all of a sudden. 'Sit back down, Manwë, and deal with this like the King you are, not like a temperamental youngling!'

Lord Aulë steps into view and he is especially impressive as he stands with his arms crossed on his chest. To Mairon's surprise, Lord Manwë immediately obeys the command and looks away from Lord Aulë as though ashamed of himself or embarrassed for some bizarre reason. This is so different from the last time Mairon has seen these two Valar interact! He wonders what prompted the change. What in the name of all that is holy had to have happened between them since they left the forges in a flurry of shouts and flying or burning objects?

'Now you,' says Lord Aulë in that same commanding voice as he addresses Melkor, 'I really hope for your sake that you treated my apprentice with love and respect, because if I find out that you ever hurt him, I will make sure you regret it dearly.'

'That will not happen,' Melkor tells him smoothly. 'I would rather think Mairon may hurt me; you have seen the show he put on here in front of such great an audience,' he jokes.

Mairon does not regret punching him one bit even when he is being made fun of for it. In fact, his hand itches to go for it and punch the smug bastard again, just to show him who is the boss. He controls the urge, but he is not sure he will not give in later without so many Valar and Maiar watching them.

He is pretty sure Melkor liked it when he hit him, anyway.

'And finally,' Lord Aulë says and, to Mairon's surprise, he looks straight at Eonwë, 'I wish I understood what in the Void you are getting yourself into, but if I were you, kid, I would rather grab my belongings and run, because it looks like a very risky business.'

Eonwë blushes and looks down at his feet. 'I will be fine,' he mutters.

Lord Aulë watches him for quite a long time. Finally, he nods. 'Yes, you will be,' he decides and smiles. The smile changes his entire face – it makes him look softer, kinder and definitely much more handsome. Rarely does he let anyone see him like this, for usually he seems grumpy and frowns all the time.

There is not much of a ceremony left to follow the spectacle, since Lady Varda confirms that Melkor and Mairon are bonded and their bond has been written in the stars. Lady Yavanna proposes they celebrate the happy proceedings in her orchard and Lady Varda enthusiastically agrees, to which her spouse can only say how lovely the idea is. And so the chamber empties slowly as the crowd of Maiar and Valar walk away in a merry procession down the steep pathway leading to the orchards of Lady Yavanna.

-

Soon, only Melkor, Mairon and Eonwë are left in the throne chamber and the silence which stretches between them is somewhat awkward. The dark Vala keeps stealing glances at Eonwë when he thinks the Maia is not looking and Eonwë does the same when he reckons Melkor is examining his fingernails. To Mairon, the whole affair seems more than ridiculous, but he is unsure what to do. The ideal outcome of the situation to him would be a few sessions of enthusiastic love-making between the three of them; his mind supplies him with some select fantasies which all seem to involve Eonwë on his knees, mouth full of Melkor's thick shaft while Mairon fills his tight hole from behind. He tries to shake away the image because it would not do to become aroused in the company of the two objects of his filthy desires.

But just as he thinks that, Melkor leans down and asks in a soft whisper which feels warm against his ear, 'Can we keep him?'

When Mairon stares at him quizzically, the dark Vala shrugs his shoulders. Still whispering, he explains, 'Just look how pretty he is with that messy hair and those full lips. Especially now that he got rid of those ridiculous wings. I bet he would make the most exquisite sounds if I took him on my brother's throne...'

Mairon nervously licks his lips, remembering the sounds Eonwë made for him each time they shared in any intimate moments. The image Melkor feeds him with is too tempting; he can almost see it even with his eyes wide open: Eonwë stripped naked, riding Melkor's hard member as Melkor kisses him and swallows down all the sweet noises he makes in ecstasy. How long would it take to bring him to the edge like this, how long until he cried out, until his back arched and his seed splashed against his and Melkor's abdomens? But this would only be the beginning, because Mairon would not be satisfied only watching; and he could do anything he wanted to the both of them, because they are both his, they both belong to him, his beautiful, precious lovers.

'Eonwë,' he says softly, beckoning the other Maia closer with his hand. When Eonwë cautiously approaches them, Mairon asks casually, 'So you did not know the dark one and Lord Manwë's brother were the same person?'

'I did not,' replies Eonwë, incredulous that Mairon even has to ask this. 'I would have told you immediately if I did.'

'Yes, you would have,' Mairon agrees. He lifts a hand to gently cup Eonwë's cheek and leans in to plant a chaste kiss on his lips. When he draws back, Eonwë looks at him surprised before he glances at Melkor as if to ascertain whether the dark Vala is angry.

Melkor grins at him, flashing his sharp teeth, probably unaware how creepy it may look to anyone who is not Mairon. But Eonwë barely flinches even when Melkor bends his head – he just seems surprised – and when he realizes what is coming, it is already too late because Melkor captures his lips in a kiss which is not at all chaste and gentle. Eonwë attempts to push him away, to somehow fight him off, but sooner than Mairon could have expected, he melts into the kiss and begins to respond. That is when Melkor breaks the kiss and straightens with a satisfied smirk.

'What,' Eonwë mutters, looks at Mairon in question, then at Melkor, then back at Mairon.

'You are, like I, my little flame's spouse,' says the dark Vala, licking his lips, 'and that opens up many new possibilities before us.'

Mairon does not ask how Melkor knows of it; most likely, the dark Vala can feel the soft thrumming of his bond with Eonwë alongside the one they share. Right now, this is the last thing on his mind as Melkor, who seems very good at pretending to be indifferent, lists the ideas available to them.

'One: we can agree on a schedule to divide Mairon's time between the two of us. Awfully dull and not really fail-safe because both of us have duties which at times may keep us away from enjoying our turn. Two: we can let Mairon choose which one of us he wants when. Better than number one, but also may lead to some unhealthy rivalry between us which will become very troublesome in the long run, because our duties will likely force us to work in proximity of one another. Three: oh, this is a good number,' the dark Vala pauses to chuckle. 'Option number three is the simplest: let us simply enjoy ourselves together. All three of us. I believe Mairon really enjoys this idea,' he adds unnecessarily.

Eonwë's eyes widen and a crimson blush appears on his face as he realizes what exactly Melkor means by this.

'No, no way,' the Maia says firmly, then, 'I cannot believe you are even proposing such a thing. This is preposterous. No, I am done with the two of you. With you especially,' he announces, poking Melkor's chest with his finger hard enough to cause pain.

The dark Vala only grins like a predator, exposing his sharp teeth. 'Somebody here is lying through their teeth,' he says, 'I wonder who that may be?' He takes hold of Eonwë's wrist and raises his hand to his lips. He licks the offending finger and slides it into his mouth before Eonwë can protest.

The Maia seems ready to bolt at any opportunity, so Mairon takes his other hand in his and entwines their fingers together. He smiles at Eonwë in encouragement and earns a very weak smile in response, but he can easily tell that the silly bird is frightened of what is being discussed and displayed here. No wonder; even to Mairon, it seemed before as though a sinful fantasy which could never come to fruition. Subconsciously, he used to fear that he would have to choose between the two he loves because never before has anybody been in a stable relationship with more than one person at once.

It is almost greedy, now that he thinks of it, to keep them both to himself. But he does not mind. He already knows that he is greedy. This is just another incarnation of the trait.

'I- I do not know,' whispers Eonwë, looking down to his feet. He holds onto Mairon's hand as though he needs it to not crumble or collapse, his entire form shakes a little. With his other hand, now free, he nervously brushes his hair away from his face. He is afraid, afraid to acknowledge that he wants this, afraid to admit that he desires the dark Vala; this realization is not new to Mairon, for he has suspected this since the moment Eonwë confessed to him that he saw him with the dark one. The act of love-making he witnessed did not arouse him solely because Mairon partook in it, but precisely because of who he was with.

That he so easily gave into Melkor's kiss only confirms this observation.

'You do know,' Mairon whispers, drawing Eonwë closer to himself. 'I will not pressure you into anything you do not want,' he promises softly. 'I will accept any answer you give. But be true to yourself, to what you feel. Above all, I love you and I want you to be happy.'

To that, Eonwë laughs weakly. 'So sentimental, it is not a good look for you,' he says. He shakes his head. 'Mairon... will they accept it? I mean, the others?'

'Who cares?' Says Melkor rebelliously. 'If they do not, I can just unleash some mild chaos upon Almaren until they kindly change their minds.'

'You are incorrigible and I hate you very much,' Mairon informs the dark Vala. 'Also, Eonwë, I think the real question is: are you ready to face the storm if it comes or do you prefer to shelter yourself from it even if it turns out to only be a soft breeze?'

In response, Eonwë kisses him and he tastes like light rain in the orchard. When he draws back, Mairon catches a whiff of the scent of rain on his hair and he pulls him closer again to let the delicate fragrance fill his nostrils. He decides he likes it; it is different from the dark Vala who always smells of storms and fire, smoke and ash. He wonders how the two scents will mix together. Spurned on by this thought, he gently pushes Eonwë into Melkor's waiting arms.

'Kiss him,' he demands and watches as Melkor dips his head, grasps Eonwë by the chin and directs him to lift his head to meet his lips halfway. Thus distracted, Eonwë only moans softly into the kiss when Mairon begins to undo the tiny silver clasps on the front his robes. He remembers making them in the forge a long time ago, when he was just beginning to work with silver. Under his fingers, he can feels every little imperfection in the metal as he works the clasps open; but for once, he is not bothered by this, because the view in front of him is much more worth his attention: the way Eonwë strains to better respond to Melkor's lips, the way Melkor's rough tongue licks eagerly on Eonwë's full lower lip, the way the dark Vala's large hand rests casually on Eonwë's throat.

Having finished with the clasps, Mairon moves on the the intricately tied sash at Eonwë's waist. He has a faint idea how to untie it, so he sets to work, only occasionally distracted by a gasp or moan the other Maia makes from naught but a kiss. In a way, it makes Mairon proud of himself – after all, he was the one who taught the dark Vala how to kiss in the first place; that he is a master of the art now is only Mairon's doing. Not that it takes much to make Eonwë moan; he is ridiculously sensitive everywhere and at times, Mairon did wonder if he could make the other Maia come from just kissing and nipping at his lips. If he does not hurry now, he may just find out if it is possible.

Finally, the sash falls discarded to the floor and as if on cue, Melkor draws back from the kiss. Mairon smiles and this time he captures Eonwë's lips with his, tasting rain and ash on his tongue. With his hands, he slides the rich robes down the other Maia's arms. He can feel how Melkor helps with the task and soon, the heavy fabric lands between them on the floor and Eonwë stands in naught but his undergarments, trembling in their arms.

'So beautiful,' Melkor sighs when he leans in to kiss Eonwë's neck. 'Both of you, like this. You have no idea, do you, little bird?'

Eonwë groans softly into Mairon's mouth and Mairon realizes this is caused not by the words, which the other Maia may not even comprehend fully, but by the fact that Melkor's hands are wandering all along the expanse of his chest. They pause at the nipples and tease them into hardness, causing Eonwë to moan again and then throw his head back so that it hits the dark Vala's shoulder when Melkor pinches the hard nubs and twists them between his fingers.

'Mmm... He likes this as much as I do,' the dark Vala says in satisfaction.

'Oh, he likes many more things which you do,' Mairon promises him hotly.

Still playing with Eonwë's nipples, Melkor leans down and allows Mairon to kiss him hungrily. Their tongues dance sensually together to the accompaniment of Eonwë's breathless gasps as he is being relentlessly teased by the dark Vala's clever fingers. But too soon, they part and Mairon says,

'Sit on the throne,' and Melkor immediately obeys the command.

Bewildered and aroused beyond reason, Eonwë stares from Mairon to Melkor and does not seem to understand what is happening. 'The... the throne,' he says as though in question. Then, 'We cannot do this here, someone might see- Lord Manwë will find out!'

'He will not,' says Melkor. Seated on the throne with his legs spread open, he looks incredibly gorgeous even if the hairstyle or the clothes he wears do not suit him. There is a prominent bulge visible in the crotch area of his breeches that nigh makes Mairon's mouth water, but he has another idea of what to do in his head. Gently he urges Eonwë to the throne and then indicates for him to kneel between Melkor's legs.

'Have you done this to anyone?' He asks softly and, as he expected, Eonwë shakes his head in reply. 'It is quite easy,' he says, tracing the black pattern on the other Maia's neck. 'I enjoy doing it even more than receiving it,' he adds, smiling when Eonwë leans into the caress.

'I will do my best,' the other Maia says. Mairon kisses his neck and then watches as Eonwë unlaces Melkor's breeches with slightly shaky fingers. He does nothing to rush him, because he knows Eonwë and he figures it will be best if the other Maia does everything at his own pace. He is pleasantly surprised, however, when upon seeing Melkor's large erection spring out from the confines of the breeches, Eonwë sighs in wonder and immediately wraps his hand around the base. Mairon's own breeches become uncomfortably tight as Eonwë tentatively licks at the tip. The foreign taste on his tongue makes him falter for a short instant, but he must be determined because almost immediately, he repeats the experimental caress, drawing a sharp intake of breath from Melkor.

Mairon kneels behind Eonwë, plants encouraging kisses down the other Maia's spine; he is careful not to distract Eonwë from the task at hand, but he groans softly when Eonwë finally gathers enough courage to take the dark Vala's member into his mouth, so slowly, just the head at first before he allows it to slide in as far as he can. And the view is as erotic as in Mairon's sinful fantasies, if not more so: Eonwë's pretty lips stretched around Melkor's thick length, his face flushed and his eyes scrunched shut in concentration as he struggles to figure out how to do this. One quick glance up at Melkor confirms to Mairon that Eonwë is a fast learner or maybe naturally talented at this; the dark Vala is looking down at them from under his thick eyelashes and his eyes are almost black. He is biting his lower lip, a sight which Mairon will never tire of, and his hands grip the armrests of the throne so hard Mairon really hopes the throne survives this.

'You are doing good,' he whispers to Eonwë, gently caressing his chest and abdomen. In reply, the other Maia moans softly around his mouthful, which in turn causes Melkor to let out a low groan. It would be enough, Mairon thinks, just to watch his two lovers like this; but then Eonwë accidentally slides his barely clothed butt against his crotch and Mairon groans. No, this is not enough, he needs more, so much more; and oh, he wishes he knew of an enchantment which would let him assume two physical forms at once, because then he would be able to take both his lovers at once and hear them moan wantonly just for him-

He is swift in removing Eonwë's undergarments. The other Maia's naked form as he kneels between the dark one's legs with his head bowed is beautiful; entranced, Mairon runs his hands up and down Eonwë's spine, causing him to shiver. Then, inspired, he lands a smack on Eonwë's left butt cheek with his open hand; Eonwë yelps and lifts his head, looks back at him over his shoulder, bewildered. Melkor grumbles in displeasure.

'You were not told to stop, Eonwë,' says Mairon firmly and slaps the right butt cheek this time, slightly harder, in punishment.

Eonwë all but arches into the touch, but obediently returns to his task. He takes Melkor's erection so deep it must hit the back of his throat, because he chokes and has to release it from his mouth again. At that, Melkor grabs him by the hair and lifts his head so that Eonwë has no choice but to look at him, but the rough treatment is contradicted by the gentleness of his tone as he says,

'You do not need to rush it,' and he leans down to kiss Eonwë, mindless of how the awkward angle must be uncomfortable to him.

Mairon watches the nigh-tender display, transfixed at the way Melkor's hair escapes from the elaborate hairstyle and how it contrasts with Eonwë's ashen locks; but all too soon the moment passes when Melkor draws away and, still holding Eonwë by the hair, pushes the Maia's head back down to his crotch. Much slower this time does Eonwë wrap his lips around just the tip of the shaft and sucks experimentally, prompting Melkor to grunt an encouraging,

'Yes, yes, you are so good-'

Mairon leans in to whisper in Eonwë's ear, 'You will drive him crazy with that talented mouth of yours, my sweet,' and he bites on the other Maia's earlobe. Then he draws back and begins to massage Eonwë's buttocks, he kneads the soft flesh, eliciting a soft moan which gets muffled as Eonwë takes Melkor's length deeper; Mairon brushes his calloused fingers against the crack between the shapely cheeks, then spreads them and bends over to lick a wet trail from Eonwë's back all the way down to his entrance. But he refrains from caressing the tight hole with his tongue, choosing instead to suck on his own fingers, coating them in saliva, before he pushes two of them inside Eonwë mercilessly. The choked cry he is rewarded with makes his blood run hot, and he looks up at Melkor who is gazing at him hungrily.

Mairon indicates for Melkor to release Eonwë's hair and pulls the other Maia into a loose, one-armed embrace; the change of position makes Eonwë groan.

'Eonwë,' Mairon says and realizes his voice comes out hoarse. He swallows and continues, 'Eonwë, I am going to prepare you like this. Then I will take you and I will not be slow; I will pound into you hard and fast while you pleasure Melkor with your mouth, and if you stop for even a moment, I will punish you. And you will enjoy it,' he promises, kissing alongside Eonwë's neck and shoulder.

'I will,' Eonwë replies breathlessly, then, 'Please,' and he licks his lips while his hungry gaze is drawn to Melkor's straining erection. So Mairon releases him and watches as Eonwë once again bends over between Melkor's thighs, supports himself by putting his hands on the dark Vala's knees and takes the large length into his mouth, this time swallowing it easily.

Such a fast learner!

Gratified at the show, Mairon begins to thrust into Eonwë with his fingers, hard, fast movements, in and out, stretching him, but never adding another finger; and soon Eonwë starts making little muffled noises which translate into Melkor's groans at the vibration the sounds cause. So Mairon removes the fingers, ignores the desperate, stifled wail from Eonwë and quickly unlaces his own breeches, glad that he decided not to wear one of the elaborate outfits sent by Lord Manwë. Then he spits onto his hand and strokes himself a few times before he positions himself at Eonwë's entrance – and with a single, firm thrust, he sheaths himself deep inside his lover.

Eonwë's choked moan is exquisite, as is the way he cannot keep himself upright and is only held up by Melkor's relentless grip on his hair; Mairon reaches out and grabs the other Maia's arms which he then folds on Eonwë's back and holds them there, relishing in the thought that like this, Eonwë has to rely on both of them for support. But he suspects from the way Eonwë's whole body is shaking and from the little whimpering sounds he is making around Melkor's length that the other Maia is already too far gone to realize how helpless and powerless he is between them; in a way, this just makes the whole idea seem even more erotic.

Unable to control himself any longer, Mairon begins to move his hips. He withdraws from Eonwë's tightness almost completely before he slams back in, driving Eonwë further into Melkor's crotch, then he repeats the motion, then again, and again; the harmonious moans of pleasure which now come from both his lovers make him harder still and his movements become more chaotic, his thrusts more forceful. He knows he has found that sweet spot deep inside of Eonwë when the other Maia's cry reaches his ears. Melkor groans and urges him hotly,

'Again, just there, little flame, so good,' and so he hits that spot again and once more, and then with every thrust, reducing Eonwë to a shivering, moaning mess; the other Maia is unable to do anything more but moan, Melkor's erection slips out of his mouth and the dark Vala wraps his free hand around it. He begins to stroke himself to the rhythm of Mairon's thrusts, slides the tip against Eonwë's swollen, glistening lips, then all of a sudden he stiffens and moans raggedly as he comes with his head thrown back and his eyes squeezed shut. His grip on Eonwë's hair becomes even more painful as his seed splashes against Eonwë's face in thick spurts, and the Maia moans, licks hungrily at his own lips-

Mairon slips out from inside of him, pulls him by the arms he holds; a bit too roughly does he manhandle the other Maia, forces him to nigh-lay on his back in Melkor's lap, trusting the dark Vala to support Eonwë; so Melkor wraps his arms around Eonwë's chest and holds him while Mairon lifts the other Maia's legs, hooks them on his shoulders and once more pushes inside of him. The position is not ideal, it would be easier on a bed, he thinks, but the thought disappears when Eonwë cries out at the first thrust, then at every next, until his voice grows hoarse and he can no longer scream, so he just lets out pitiful little whimpers as Mairon pounds into him mercilessly while Melkor teases his abused nipples and fleetingly touches his abdomen only to withdraw when Eonwë bucks ineffectually into the touch.

It does not take much longer before Eonwë's hoarse moans cease and he arches back against Melkor's chest, unseeing eyes open wide and lips parted as his whole body is overtaken by mind-shattering bliss. His muscles tighten, clamping down on Mairon and this, along with the sight of Eonwë's pretty face covered in Melkor's release, makes Mairon come as well so hard that he almost blacks out.

It takes some time before he is down from the high his orgasm wrought upon him; but when he does, he removes himself from Eonwë and allows him to sit more comfortably in Melkor's lap. He watches the two share a lazy kiss before Melkor pulls him closer and kisses him as well. Then Mairon gets to kiss Eonwë; and this, he thinks, is what perfection feels like. He finds it hard to believe that he will get to feel such bliss for the rest of forever: that his two amazing lovers are really his, bound to him and – if he is correct – to each other, with a connection which cannot be severed.

Of course, the moment could not last.

'Damn it to the Void,' Eonwë says all of a sudden after Melkor has wiped his face with a needlessly elegant handkerchief. 'We did it on Lord Manwë's throne. The two of you are insane! He will know we did this, he knows everything! He is going to flay me alive!'

'Oh, he is not,' laughs Melkor. 'He would rather take this opportunity to hurt me. I bet your sweet butt that he will blame this entire idea on me.'

'If he does, he will be correct,' supplies Mairon casually. 'Come on, we had better collect ourselves, clean up the mess we made and join the celebrations before the crowd realizes we are missing. We definitely do not want anyone searching for the happily bonded couple to come upon us like this.'

The words could not have been said at a worse time, decides Mairon a moment later when the huge inscribed door to the chamber open and at the entrance stands Curumo. At the scene he witnesses, he goes very pale, but his face remains carefully blank. Mairon feels bad for him. He supposes he would react the same way if he caught his two friends and a Vala in a compromising situation like this... unless those friends were Morinehtar and Rómestámo, and the Vala was Lord Oromë. Then he would just shrug indifferently and leave. Or join them. It depends.

'… Anyway,' says Curumo finally. It is admirable how he manages to keep his face so motionless and his voice so steady. 'Everyone has been searching for you. Unless you want the entirety of Almaren to observe your mating rituals, I would advise you to get dressed and go to the orchards,' he tells them swiftly. He turns his back on them as if to leave, but then he looks over his shoulder. 'Also, Mairon, Eonwë, do not speak to me in the forges. I am afraid if I have a hammer in my reach, I may use it to smash your heads. Now excuse me, I need to go and drown myself,' he announces and walks away at a brisk pace without bothering to close the door behind himself.

After a moment of silence, Melkor concludes, 'Well this was awkward. Let us not do that again.'

-

The celebrations last for many days, because if there is a thing the Valar and Maiar like more than merry-making, it is definitely merry-making for days at a time. Mairon does not mind this much, because he gets to eat his favourite treats and does not have to fight the other Maiar for them except for Eonwë who has the gall to steal the wonderful fruit salad with raisins and caramel-dipped nuts right from his plate. Melkor, on the other hand, turns out not to have a sweet tooth at all, although he delights in wild berry wine.

Mairon learns with glee that yes, the Valar could get drunk on wine if it is supplied in a large amounts. Or maybe that is just Melkor. Either way, that particular night ends very pleasantly for both him and Eonwë, because intoxicated Melkor is a very wanton Melkor. They take turns filling him. They also make him come so many times, when they are finally done with him, the dark Vala is exhausted and sleeps through the entire day.

The three-way bond they all share is of course noticed as soon as they join the celebrations, but to Mairon's astonishment, nobody seems to mind. If Lord Aulë looks a little grumpy, well – Mairon attributes this to the fact that Lord Aulë is always grumpy and anyway, his Master usually looks like this whenever Lord Manwë is nearby. If he did not know better, he would suspect some kind of tension between the two Valar, but it seems very implausible.

The mental image the thought gives him is very unwelcome.

Finally, the long-lasting celebration of both the bonding and the successful end of negotiations between Almaren and the dreaded dark one comes to an end. Slowly, life returns to normal, with the one exception that Mairon no longer has to sneak out to meet his dark lover. Getting used to this is difficult; in time, Melkor is to establish his own House in the Blessed Lands and his Maiar from the lands beyond are to be welcomed in Almaren. It is one of the resolutions postulated by the peace act. Others speak of things like the spectrum of duties the dark Vala will be expected to perform in the shaping of the World and further in the rule over it. Apparently, Melkor is a very special case: of all Valar on Arda, he is he mightiest, and of every craft of theirs he has knowledge, even though he is a true master of none.

Mairon disagrees. Clearly, Melkor is a very talented master of deception. Yes, he still has not fully forgiven him for what the dark Vala made him go through by hiding his identity all along. And hiding small stupid details as well, such as the fact that he was the one who made Mairon's new and improved hammer and also he calmed him when he was overcome by blinding rage; or that he followed Mairon on the rampage from the forges in immaterial form and healed every damage the Maia caused with his fire. When the dark Vala finally told Mairon about it, he ended up tied to the bedpost in his guest bedroom on Taniquetil and had to watch Mairon and Eonwë having lots of fun without him as punishment.

Anyway, the general consensus is that the Maiar of Melkor shall join the other Houses in their daily tasks until Melkor can fully establish his House and its purpose in Almaren. That is how Mairon meets Gothmog – what a strange name, he thinks, but he never voices the thought in fear of causing offence. Gothmog is a fire spirit just like him and turns out to have a knack for smithy work but very limited imagination when it comes to designs.

He still proves useful in the forges when the new task for Lord Aulë's House is finally revealed; the new design is for two ships that will sail the night sky all around the world of Arda. One will carry the fiery hot light of the forges which will brighten the daytime and cause Lady Yavanna's creations to thrive. The other shall travel at night-time with the gentle and soothing light of Lady Varda's stars, and among them it will thrive; where its silver glow lights the earth, weary travellers will find rest.

And then, to Lord Aulë's frustration, Lord Manwë changes his mind again when the forges are hard at work on the ship designs. Mairon suspects Melkor had something to do with it because the new idea sounds exactly like something his convoluted, insane mind could come up with: the light of day shall not be set on a travelling ship, but instead set like a beacon in the centre of the universe, so that the whole world of Arda could revolve around it.

'Like this,' Lord Manwë explains patiently to Lord Aulë who becomes more red in the face with anger the more he hears him speak, 'not only shall we have the cycle of day and night, but also longer cycles of seasons. Imagine the possibilities this will bring, Aulë! Yavanna's beautiful plants will not have to all grow simultaneously; no, each season could have its own. A season for the flowers to bloom, a season for the plants to collect as much as daylight as possible, a season for harvest of the sweet fruit; and finally, a season for rest, when nothing grows and the world is covered in a blanket of snow. Does it not sound wonderful?' Asks the King of Arda and this is the first time Mairon sees him so excited.

'It would, feather-brain, if it did not come from that arrogant brother of yours,' mutters Lord Aulë, unconvinced. But his face suddenly softens. 'I will see what we can do. But next time the two of you start scheming to make my life harder, warn me beforehand. I do not wish to listen to this sober if I can help it.'

-

The months or years that follow are exhausting because the time for the Children's awakening is edging closer still. Mairon spends every waking moment in the forges, barely eats – not that he needs to, none of them need to, they just enjoy it a lot – and also hardly ever sleeps. His thoughts circle around his labour and not much else, for he has been given a very responsible task of designing the daylight beacon to be placed in the centre of the universe. He thinks of the stars, their circular shapes, the way their light is concentrated, and so he designs a spherical contraption, inside of which he places an exquisite palace – for he cannot imagine such an important treasure in the sky to remain unguarded for eternity.

'Just like the ship in the sky will need sailors to keep it on its course, the beacon will need guardians – like... like a lighthouse for the ship,' he explains when Lord Aulë inquires about the curious addition. 'If there ever appeared another enemy, what would stop them from corrupting the daylight to devour everything on its path with never-ending fire if we leave it without protection?'

'Only you would come up with such idea,' supplies Fariana drily. 'You are bonded to the one who created the discord.'

'Yes, I am,' admits Mairon easily, 'which is why I have more insight on how a mind filled with chaos works. Do remember, please, that many of those who joined him in his Theme have not come to Arda yet. He says a lot of those spirits were stronger than you or I; that in that time, he swayed to his side even some who would surpass the Valar in might if they chose to descend to Arda.'

'It is true,' says Lord Aulë grimly. He shakes his head. 'Let us not ponder this. Mairon, I am going to approve your concept. You will head the team assigned to building the beacon. I will speak to Manwë about assigning guardians to it. Good job today, everybody. Keep this up.'

When Lord Aulë leaves, Curumo comes up to Mairon. He is no longer that traumatized by what he saw that time in Lord Manwë's throne room, which is likely thanks to his budding relationship with Olórin. Mairon still cannot believe how he missed the signs of this happening right under his nose. Mayhaps he was simply too overwhelmed by his own personal drama at the time.

'You will of course select me to be in your team, no?' Curumo states more than asks. His hair, Mairon notices, is getting longer. It seems weird. He has only ever seen it as shoulder length before.

'Maybe,' he replies teasingly. 'I definitely want Gothmog, he can work wonders with white steel. And maybe Endëlión, his knowledge of alloys and melting could be useful. Fariana is more of a jewel-smith, so she will do better working on the ship...'

He sees Curumo frown and laughs. 'Of course I will have you in my team, silly. I need someone to criticise me all the time lest I become too arrogant.'

Curumo smirks. 'Well, I am a master of that,' he admits proudly.

They have no time to talk any further however, because the work on the ship is already advanced and the other Maiar need as much help on it as they can get. So the next days before “the beacon project” starts, Mairon is busy making sure all elements are correctly measured and then aligned on the body of the ship, since he is best at numbers of the Maiar of Aulë.

Then he finally assembles his own team and begins the hard labour on the beacon.

So encompassed in work are the Maiar of Aulë along with their Master that the news of the Children reaches them with delay. Alas, during one of his rides to the lands beyond, Lord Oromë and his hunt came upon the Firstborn, whom he calls the Eldar, as they awoke at the shores of Cuiviénen. Their awakening, witnessed by the stars of Varda, marked the moment they have all been waiting for, and so Lord Aulë allows his Maiar a break so that they can leave the flesh and see for themselves the Children who are to become the fulfilment of their existence.

And upon seeing them, so similar to himself from the days long ago: lost, but slowly learning of the world around them, with chaotic minds which desperately tried to give order to their existence, Mairon's spirit weeps with unbridled joy.

-

The Children call the beacon the Sun and the ship – the Moon.

-

Melkor's House was built by expanding the cavern near the shore where he and Mairon bonded. Mairon sees it for the first time soon after Arien, one of the Maiar of Lady Vána, leaves alongside the company of her close friends to guard the fires of the beacon from corruption by any unknown darkness; Tilion of Oromë leaves too, accompanied by some of Lord Ulmo's Maiar to pilot the silver ship across the night sky. Their farewell celebrations carry on even after they are gone, but Mairon does not stay because neither Melkor nor Eonwë are there and more than anything, after being parted from them for so long due to his duties, he desires to see the both of them and maybe sleep for days spooned between them on a soft bed.

When he finds the new House of Melkor, he smiles and goes boldly inside, undisturbed by anyone. He is not sure exactly where to find the dark Vala, but he can feel his presence close by just like he can sense Eonwë is with him; so he follows his instincts walks the winding halls until he comes upon a door made out of obsidian. On it, he finds an indentation forming the shape of a hand. Curiously, he touches it with his own hand and the door as though melts away.

The chamber beyond is bathed in a soft glow of sweet-smelling candles. In the of it centre stands a bed which could easily fit at least all the Maiar of Lord Aulë, it is so big; and atop of it, Eonwë sleeps curled up in the arms of Melkor, who smiles upon seeing Mairon.

'Come and join us,' he says softly as not to awaken Eonwë.

Swiftly does Mairon undress to his shirt and undergarments and climbs onto the bed, careful not to disturb the sleeping Maia. He settles down behind Eonwë's back, wrapping his arm around his form and allows Melkor to kiss him in greeting. The silver feathers braided into his usually unruly hair match the current colour of his eyes.

'He fell asleep waiting for you,' the dark Vala explains. 'I may have exhausted him a little with my bragging.'

'Bragging?' Inquires Mairon curiously. He gently strokes Eonwë's neck, smiling to himself when the other Maia leans into the caress in his sleep. He kisses the spot on Eonwe's shoulder where the lines of his marking as herald meet the small tattoo shaped like a crown.

'Oh, yes. About my new duties. Did you know I managed to get rule over a whole season? Welcome, winter storms and unpredictable snowfalls. Also avalanches,' says Melkor triumphantly. 'And I get to share night with that boring Irmo. He sends dreams, I send scary things. Everything that dwells in the dark is mine. I am also still allowed to make an occasional volcano because Manwë is too much of a softie to deny me. And thunderstorms in seasons which are not mine. Basically, I am the Lord of Chaos, and even Aulë agrees that some chaos is useful when applied cleverly. Well, I am the cleverest Vala of them all, so- Mairon, are you asleep?'

'Almost,' says Mairon teasingly. Then, surprising himself, he actually yawns.

'Maiar these days,' mutters Melkor, feigning being offended. 'Well, sleep, little flame. Tomorrow will be a hard day for you. Both me and Eonwë have missed you a lot,' he says with a meaningful glint in his strange eyes.

The last thing Mairon hears when on the verge of sleep is, 'I can always boast about my skills after you ravish me.'

He smiles and dreams of the Music and beyond.