It was magnificent… positively awe-inspiring. Nothing Ilmariel had seen before this day could compare to the sight she now beheld.
“That is Tol Eressea, as you know. If you ever want to go there in the future, you may do so. Today, however, we do not have time to stop; it is to Tirion as quickly as possible.”
Ilmariel had enough sense to nod at Cirnil’s words, although she was not entirely certain what he had said. The whole of her attention was fixed on the majestic beauty before her, and trying to soak it in.
There were trees like she had never seen before, taller than even those of Lothlórien, and they were all in flower, their pale-colored blossoms making a striking contrast against deep green leaves. Yet, even for their height, they were dwarfed in comparison to the glistening white towers that rose up among them, tinted with the soft, golden light of early morning.
And this is only Eressea…
They skirted the shore of the island until, finally, a faint line appeared on the opposite horizon.
“We are close, now,” Cirnil said, once he spotted the tall, dark haze.
A few moments later, another group of elves appeared at the bow. To Ilmariel’s surprise, Sauron was among them. He said nothing, and did not so much as glance at Ilmariel as he came to an empty spot at the rail near her.
“What changed your mind?” Ilmariel asked him.
Sauron drew a deep breath, his gaze dropping down to the railing briefly before he looked up again. “I figured I might as well just face it,” he said at last, his voice controlled, but strained.
Ilmariel’s brow twitched slightly. `Face it’…?
For a moment, she considered prying, but something within her held her back. Sauron seemed anxious enough as it was, and her questioning would more than likely make things worse for him. Ilmariel did not really think that Sauron deserved such courtesies, but, for whatever reason, she simply could not pester him when he looked this distressed.
In a short while, their course turned. The while cliff to their left fell away behind them, revealing a sight that left Ilmariel breathless. A kind of reverent silence came over the boat then; even the sails ceased tugging upon their ropes.
Enormous mountains stretched into the sky that was now touched with bronze, rose, lavender, and gold from the morning sun. The highest of them, Taniquetil, was so tall that Ilmariel had to look upwards to see its peak, which was crowned with clouds. Two huge arms of the mountains reached outward, cradling a valley between them. Within this valley was a sprawling city. Buildings with domes of gold and silver, lanes of grass and trees, streets paved with gray stone, tall, glittering, blue fountains…
Ilmariel could not find the words to describe its splendor. Elves had a long history of trying to find words that fit their feelings; but, in this, nothing could come close. Everyone on the boat was lost in his or her own thoughts, taken in awe by the beauty of Valinor. Yet, Ilmariel did manage to pull her eyes away from the view long enough to catch Sauron’s reaction…
Just as the other passengers, Sauron seemed to be overwhelmed by the sight before him. However, unlike the rest, he seemed to be so from fear. By the way quailed at it, it must have been a great amount of fear. The longer he looked, the more afraid he seemed to become. Ilmariel was intrigued enough by his demeanor that her amazement began to wear off, and she was finally able to speak.
“What?” she asked Sauron.
Sauron did not seem notice that the Elf maiden had spoken to him. His gaze was riveted on one thing —Taniquetil, the dwelling place of the Lord of the Breath of Arda and his spouse. The Maia started to mutter to himself while backing away, as though this could actually keep him from getting closer to Valinor. However, what happened next really could have kept him from getting closer…
Having stepped back too much, Sauron bumped into the rail. As it was not very high at this part, added to the fact that Sauron was quite tall, the rail hit him low enough to cause him to lose his balance. He swayed for a moment, a look of complete surprise and dread upon his face, his arms out in an attempt to keep from falling. And then, he toppled over the side, yelling something so profane that everyone in hearing distance gasped simultaneously.
Immediately after Sauron vanished over the side of the ship, a splash was heard, along with shouts from many of the people that had turned just in time to see. Ilmariel ran to the rail and looked over, hearing the sounds of other passengers doing the same. A moment later, Cirnil grabbed her arm and pulled her to the stern, where a couple others of the crew had already thrown out a rope.
“That was a vile thing to say,” Cirnil whispered into Ilmariel’s ear. “I’ve never heard such language! What, was he raised by orcs, or something?!”
Considering that Sauron had probably been the one who taught the orcs such words in the first place, Ilmariel did not immediately reply.
“Anyway,” Cirnil continued in a more casual tone, “talk about coordination. I don’t think that has ever happened on the trip before. It is very fortunate that we are so close to the havens, and have slowed down, or else he’d be far out there by now.”
“It has never happened before?” Ilmariel asked. “Ever?”
“No! And to think that it happened to him, with him so apprehensive about sailing, and all… I’ll bet you will never get him on a boat again! Just think of the odds!” Cirnil said, in as serious a tone as he could master.
Ilmariel nodded, and then stood at the stern beside Cirnil while the two other sailors pulled in the rope.
Finally, Sauron emerged. Ilmariel and Cirnil both grabbed one of his arms, and pulled him onto the deck. He sat dripping and coughing for a moment, but was otherwise silent. The two sailors with the rope went back to see to whatever it was that required their attention, and Cirnil left momentarily to look for a blanket.
Ilmariel was just barely able to contain her amusement; it really was rather funny, once she had thought about it, what with the statements Cirnil had made, and all. Moreover, the sight of Sauron sitting there looking very dejected, his sopping-wet black hair dripping down into his eyes, was something that nobody beside herself would probably ever be able to say they had seen. Cirnil could also, of course, but he could not appreciate it fully.
Cirnil reappeared and handed over the blanket, which Sauron took and wrapped around himself without a word. In fact, he did not even glance up at Cirnil, but continued to stare blankly into space. Cirnil looked at Ilmariel with an eyebrow raised, but she just shrugged. As if this was a fitting enough response, Cirnil left again. The stern then became a very quiet place.
Ilmariel did try to hold her tongue (for a moment, at least), but her habit of speaking at such instances seemed to be just too strong to overcome.
“Well, your hair looks a bit better,” she remarked.
Without moving his head, Sauron looked up at her.
“It does not look so much like little woodland creatures could be inhabiting it,” Ilmariel elaborated.
Sauron let go of the blanket with one hand, and pushed back the hair that was hanging down in his face. With this done, Ilmariel had a full view of his countenance. Upon seeing the former Dark Lord’s expression, it occurred to her that perhaps– just maybe –she could have tried a bit harder to keep her remarks to herself.
Sauron was mad, more so than Ilmariel had yet seen him. Although she had only had a short amount of time in which to make such assessments about Sauron’s temperament, she sensed that his level of anger at this moment was very, very high, even for him. It had probably reached the `I am THIS close to killing and/or destroying something’ level.
Ilmariel was fairly certain that Sauron was not actually angry with her, personally, but that, since he needed something to direct his rage at, and she had spoken up, she was now the object of Sauron’s wrath. For some reason, Ilmariel got the feeling that this was not a particularly good thing to be.
The Maia then stood, pulling the blanket even closer around himself, as though it were indeed robe or a cloak. He began moving toward Ilmariel with slow, deliberate strides, and she in turn began to back away. She had not gone far, however, when her backside made an abrupt collision with something hard. It was the railing, she realized as she quickly put her hands back, grabbing the wood to steady herself —she was not about to go over the side herself. It also occurred to her then that, unfortunately, there was not really anywhere else that she could go.
…For the first time in millennia, Ilmariel was afraid.
As Sauron stood dripping, a mere hand’s length away, and glaring at her with absolute lividness, Ilmariel was instantly reminded that, although he had been harmlessly immature and smart-mouthed up to this point, he was still, for all intents and purposes, evil. Sauron had not repented of any deed he had done in the past; therefore, there was no reason to think he would have any qualms about breaking Ilmariel’s neck, right then and there.
“Sorry,” she muttered, finding it to be the only word that seemed even remotely appropriate, although she was not entirely certain just what she was sorry about —most likely the fact that she had allowed herself become a part of this whole mess in the first place.
There was a very long pause, which, Ilmariel was becoming increasingly certain, would end with her person on the receiving end of a substantial amount of physical pain. However, much to her surprise –and relief–, Sauron only sighed.
“Yes, I know you are,” he said, and, although he still looked riled, he did not look homicidal. “Listen, you are probably the first Elf I have met that hasn’t completely irked me within a matter of seconds. That is not to say that you do not bother me, because you do; it is just not to the point where I feel like smashing your head in, understood?”
Ilmariel nodded slightly, still hardly daring to move.
“Good. However, just because I am not to that point yet does not mean that I will never get there. I am sure you can think of at least a small number of the things I end up doing to people I start feeling some malice towards… Accordingly, do not operate under the misconception that I have an endless supply of tolerance against annoyances.” He took a step back, instantly becoming less frightening and imposing, and began to walk away. However, he paused for a moment. “Also take into consideration that, when I get upset, it is probably not the brightest idea to draw attention to yourself and give me something to vent on.”
It seemed that he had nothing more to say now, and so was gone, leaving Ilmariel to think about what he had said… but only for a moment.
Among the sounds of wood clapping down on wood and the shouting of people, Cirnil’s voice carried to Ilmariel.
“Welcome to Valinor!”