Ilmariel paused as she passed one of the halls that were marked with “under construction” signs. No tapestries adorned the walls yet, but she had learned that the hangings in this hall would all depict scenes from the time just prior to the destruction of the One Ring.
What an inflow there had been then! She had been given a whole new group to counsel, made up solely of Elves that died at Helm’s Deep, as had quite a few of the other counselors. That had been depressing, as she had already had about as much counseling work to do as she could stand. Well, trying to look at the bright side, at least there had been some new stories for her to listen to.
She continued on her way, heading off to the room where she would meet with the last of the six groups she had to counsel every day. Of course, “day” was really just a term applied to a given amount of time, since, here in Mandos, it was difficult to tell where one day began and another ended. Ilmariel used it in reference to one cycle of counseling her groups, followed by the “free time” she was allotted before the cycle began again.
She paused a second time at the end of another hall, and turned. Before her hung a tapestry that was very familiar to her. She was not certain just what it was about the image that made her pause to look at so intently, but she did, nonetheless. It was the picture of Isildur lifting the hilt shard of his father’s broken sword, about to make the stroke that would cut the One Ring from the hand of Sauron.
Sauron, of course, was not it the picture. In fact, from what she had seen, he was not in any of the pictures that hung in Mandos. But then, Ilmariel considered as she began walking again, there was no reason for him to be. No one wanted to have any reminders of him around. Not that there was any need for something to remember him by… Most wished that they could forget, but found themselves quite unable to do so.
It had been several months since Sauron was overthrown, for the last time, in Middle Earth, and no one in any of her groups really talked about it anymore. It had seemed, at first, to be all anyone wanted to talk about (except herself, of course; she could care less). Now, however, all the Elf souls were back to blathering about the other things that had been a bother to them in life, like annoying cousins, or getting death glares from Elrond (that was a popular topic of conversation among Elves who had lived at Imladris), or being given a particularly unpleasant watch on the marches, simply because they had done something (they usually had no idea what) that had irritated the March Warden.
It was with this last thought that she came to the door of the room where she would be counseling her last group. Laying a hand on the doorknob, she drew a deep breath, and pushed all her previous thoughts from her head, preparing herself as best she could for what was to come.
Some time later, Ilmariel was sitting with a blank expression on her face, silently staring across the circle of chairs at one of the Elves, who was crying in a highly undignified manner. He was hysterical, pale tears streaming down his ghostly cheeks, but Ilmariel made no attempt to comfort him, and neither did any of the other Elves in the group. They had learned long before now that such efforts were, in this case, usually a waste.
Finally, Ilmariel had had enough.
“Oh, for the love of Eru, Feanor!” she shouted. “Be quiet!”
The Elf ceased his crying abruptly, then paused, and sniffed a little. In the newly regained silence, an audible intake of breath could be heard from the others. Ilmariel sighed, feeling the some of the built up tension disperse. Then, something disappointing, but not unexpected, happened…
Feanor completely lost it, again.
“B-b-but, I’m the most gifted of the Eldaaar!” he wailed. “And he stole MY Silmari-hi-hil-iiiiiiiii!!!“
“For the seventy-six thousand, five hundred eighty-second time, Feanor, we know,” Ilmariel said, raising her voice to be heard over Feanor’s sobbing, and, hopefully, reach his brain.
Nonetheless, the eldest son of Finwe continued to bawl, words floating out of his incomprehensible babble every once in a while. Ilmariel rolled her eyes and rubbed her temple. This was definitely not what she had thought would happen if she died.
One of the other disembodied Elves near Feanor lobbed a rock at him in an attempt to silence him, but to no avail. Of course, they knew it would not have worked; they had tried it hundreds of times, already.
Ilmariel shook her head sadly, and then stood up. What a waste of time (even if time was in inexhaustible supply for them)! It was time to put an end to this.
“Well, everyone,” the counselor said, “I think that is enough for today.”
No sooner had she spoken the words than all of the Elves stood up, sighing “Finally!” on the ends of their breath. Even Feanor stopped sobbing long enough to get out of the room.
Dropping wearily back into her chair, Ilmariel contemplated how she had gotten into this whole mess. Of course, getting killed probably played a major role, but she could not remember just how she wound up listening to all the other dead Elf souls natter about the problems that the led to their demise. She had always thought that, in Mandos, the people received counseling, not that they had to give it. She remembered being told something about her great heart– that she was compassionate and understanding, and would be perfect for the job –but that was about all the explanation she had been given.
For whatever reason, she had somehow been picked out of the masses of Elves as one of the few that had to sit around all the time and listen to incessant complaining. For a long while, she had been more than happy to listen, ready to help the people as best she could. Still, a person can only take so much. She had been listening to sob stories for several millennia, now, and they did not have much affect on her, anymore. Her empathy rating had plummeted until she reached the point where she could hear the most heart-wrenching stories and merely shrug at the end. By now, her emotions were all but sucked dry.
Ilmariel did not really care that she was becoming rather coldhearted. As a matter of fact, she did not care about much, anymore. The only thing that sparked some positive reaction from her was the thought of finally getting her body back and being able to get out of the Halls.
As she sat there, her head resting face down in her hands, she did not notice that a person had come in and sat down in a chair near her. The person cleared their throat, and Ilmariel looked up with surprise. Her surprise instantly deepened as she realized that it was no Elf soul sitting in that chair— It was the Lord of Mandos, himself.
Ilmariel swiftly rose to her feet and dropped a low, graceful curtsy. “My Lord Namo,” she said, still quite shocked. She had only seen the Vala on two other occasions in the 4,597 years she had been in Mandos (not that she was counting). It was especially rare for him to be seen down in the Halls, as when he had business with someone, they were normally summoned.
Namo then stood himself, motioning for Ilmariel to follow with a flick of his hand. Ilmariel promptly fell into step with him, remaining what she hoped to be a respectful distance behind. They walked on for miles, or so Ilmariel would guess. It was rather difficult to tell those sorts of things, now, since she did not have a body with which to judge the distance. The Halls were always being expanded to accommodate new arrivals, and things would often get congested, what with the construction signs set up everywhere, and all. Ilmariel had never actually seen anyone working, but it had become apparent over time that things were indeed getting larger.
After some time had passed, Namo spoke. “You are one of the counselors, are you not?”
“I am,” Ilmariel replied, shortly.
“And what do you think of the stories you hear?”
“Not much,” Ilmariel answered, truthfully. She figured that she need not be concerned about Namo being put off by her lack of emotion. After all, he himself had only been moved to pity once in the history of time.
“Then you would be willing to accept a special case, seeing as you would be little touched by what you might hear?”
Ilmariel did not answer straight away. She really had no desire to have a new member in her groups, but she was not about to say that to the being that decided whether or not she would ever be re-embodied.
“You do not want another person, I see,” Namo said.
Ilmariel stopped walking for a moment, but quickly caught up. Stupid mind-reading Valar cra– she began to think, but, when Namo paused, she speedily added but they are entitled to it, so great and wise and wondrous as they are.
“Perhaps I did not speak enough of what I wanted to convey,” Namo said, as he began walking again. “If you accept this one case, you will no longer have to continue counseling your other groups. And,” he said, stopping in front of a stone door, “you may get that which you have been waiting for.”
Ilmariel almost felt herself smile. The thought was more than tempting… no more crying ringing in her head at all hours, no more sitting around listening to the same old stories, no more Feanor… and, most of all, she would finally get out of the Halls. She would be free!
“Will you do it?” Namo asked her.
“Of course!” Ilmariel replied instantly. When Namo raised an eyebrow at her, she quickly spoke again. “I mean, yes, my Lord.”
While the Vala fuddled around with opening the door, a question entered Ilmariel’s mind. This was a question, she realized, that she should have asked prior to agreeing.
“What is so special about this case?”
The stone door finally opened. Behind it was a staircase, which they descended for some time. It was darker down here, lit only by wall-mounted torches, and the air was close.
“You are aware that Sauron was overthrown, recently?” Namo asked.
“Yes…” Ilmariel answered slowly.
“In his ruin, his body was destroyed.”
Ilmariel arched an eyebrow. “He was just a huge flaming eyeball. Can you really call that a body?”
Namo furrowed his brow. “Well, whatever you want to call the form he took while trying to recover his Ring. Anyway,” he said, moving away from the subject quickly, “many people believed that so much of his power would be lost in the destruction of his Ring that he would never be able to come to power again …which is rather stupid, actually, since he could just go around for a while gathering it back up, and then take another form and work his way up from there…” Namo rambled on for a bit before he finally arrived at what Ilmariel assumed would be the point. “Therefore, it was decided that he could not be left to roam Middle Earth freely.”
“Eh… that’s nice,” Ilmariel said, not really sure how else to respond.
“So, his spirit was brought here.”
“Ugh!!” Ilmariel cringed. “That’s just creepy!”
Namo rolled his eyes. “You’re telling me.”
Ilmariel looked at the Vala, surprise etching her features; that was not the kind of response she would expect to hear from the Lord of the Houses of the Dead. Namo cleared his throat quickly, and then, stopping in front of a cell to his left, turned to face Ilmariel. He jerked his head towards the cell, and Ilmariel hesitantly looked inside.
The dim torchlight from the corridor they stood in spilled into the cell through the doorway, which was closed off with a gate of iron bars. In the area of light between the shadows cast by the thick stone walls of the prison, a figure lay curled up on the floor. After leaning closer to the bars, and cocking her head to one side, she was able to actually see the person a bit.
The person’s hair– if it could be called hair –was extremely disheveled; it actually looked more like a particularly unkempt animal that had crawled onto their head and died there. Additionally, they were very thin, almost to the point of creepiness. There was little else that Ilmariel could determine, since the person was turned away from her, but their general appearance gave her an uneasy feeling.
Ilmariel stepped back and blinked a few times, then turned to look at Namo.
“He needs to be counseled,” said the Vala.
“He needs a haircut,” Ilmariel replied.
Namo made no response to this but to gaze at her expressionlessly.
“Uh, anyway… this is my ‘special case’, then?”
“Okay…” said Ilmariel, “and what did Sauron have to do with all this?”
Namo did not immediately answer, but simply stared at her for a long while, as if he could not believe that the Elf was actually serious about the question.
“…That is Sauron.”
It was now Ilmariel’s turn to stare. Her already pale appearance blanched even more. She opened her mouth, and then promptly closed it. Her eyes flitted back and forth several times between Namo’s face and the still figure within the cell. Finally, when she opened her mouth again, she screamed.
“THAT’S SAURON?!?!?! YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”