The two elves appeared again, and Sauron went forward when they motioned. Immediately inside the doorway was a short flight of stairs, which they ascended. Sauron was a bit more than reluctant to go up them; however, he made it to the top without losing his cool. Standing there, he stiffened reflexively. Before him was a crescent of seats. He knew, without having to count, that there were fourteen. There were some individuals present that were not seated, but these mattered little to him.
Without thinking about it, Sauron clasped his hands behind his back to prevent anyone from noticing that they were shaking. He then allowed his eyes to wander over the faces of the fourteen people that were seated. It had been ages (literally) since he had seen them last, and a part of him recognized them only vaguely at first. But there was another part of him that had known every one of them instantly …a part of him, at least, would never be able to forget.
First, he saw Vana and Orome, who were arrayed similarly in shimmering fabrics, pale blue for Vana, and for Orome a gentle silver that appeared almost to be woven of moonlight. Then, there was Nessa, dressed in a garment of soft brown, the sinuous curls of her flaxen hair adorned with small, white flowers. Her husband, Tulkas, was seated beside her, his golden tresses laying about his shoulders against a mantle of deep, earthy red. His jaw was set, and the light of his gaze was blisteringly hot. Looking at him, Sauron got the impression that he would have very much liked to grind him into the floor, and was almost glad that they were at a council, because it meant that he would not get the chance to do so …for a while, at least.
Este, who was slouching a bit, occupied the chair next to Tulkas; she was sleeping. This did not surprise Sauron much, as that was just about all she did to begin with. Beside Este sat her husband, Irmo, who was very similar in outward appearance to his brother, Namo, only a bit less broody looking. Today he seemed to have himself remarkably well together, and was actually concentrating on what was going on at the moment, rather then just staring off into space, daydreaming.
Then, there was Nienna. Sauron just shook his head when he looked at her somber form, clad in raiment of dark blue, looking as if the cares of all the world rested upon her shoulders… She had always been such a drama queen. Still, even she appeared to be surprisingly well composed on this occasion, despite the slight glimmer of tears visible in her eyes. At her side was her brother, Namo, whom Sauron was slightly surprised to see, as it had earlier seemed that he would not be coming. Then again, he figured, it would not have been much of a party without the Doomsman. Next to Namo, of course, was his wife, Vaire.
Sauron was able to tell that his being here was a very big deal when he saw Ulmo. Considering that he had always done just about anything he could to get out of the councils, The Rainer must have felt that this was highly important for him to be present. While Sauron felt a brief surge of pride at the thought that he had warranted Ulmo getting out of the sea, it also increased his anxiety level by about 35%.
Then there was Yavanna, clothed in a gown of deep, rich green, her golden hair spilling about her like liquid sunlight. Beside Kementari, her husband, Aule, sat in grave silence, as did the other Valar, his piercing gaze focused unwaveringly on the Maia that had once been greatest among his craftsmen. Upon seeing his first master, Sauron felt hundreds of thousands of memories that had long been lost in the enormous mass of them he had accumulated over the course of his life trying to resurface themselves. However, he put a mental cork over them, as this was definitely not the time to go through them …not that he actually planned to ever let himself have the time. Still, he could not simply brush aside the fact that he had learned a great deal from Aule, and that he owed many of his own works to his teachings, however reluctant he was to admit it –even to himself.
The light in Aule’s eyes was cold and grave, yet it contained no trace of the anger Sauron had anticipated from him. There was something almost… sad about it… and something else, some other feeling, which Sauron could not identify. Then, suddenly, Aule closed his eyes. He turned his head away, lowering it slightly, as if in shame. Seemingly in response to this, Yavanna reached out and laid her hand lightly upon her husband’s where it gripped the arm of his chair. At her touch, Aule raised his eyes to meet hers for a brief instant, and then straightened, turning his gaze upon Sauron again.
Sauron quickly looked away, and it was then that his gaze finally came to rest upon Manwe and his wife, Varda Gilthoniel. At the sight of them, in all their radiant power, the Maia felt that his knees were about to give out. This was definitely not acceptable behavior, however, as lying face down on the floor would ruin the plan of acting with conceited dignity. It might have been all right if he had been thinking about going down the path of pretending to sue for pardon, but he had figured out long before (meaning about two days ago, while he lay staring at the ceiling of his cell in Mandos) that the Valar would not be making the same mistake with him that they had made with Morgoth. So, considering that he did not have a Plan B, he had to do everything in his power to keep hold on the original one.
This was proving to be even more difficult than he had anticipated. But then, that part of him in which the disposition of a dark lord had been ingrained (which was roughly 99.973%) kicked in, and this had a very intriguing effect. He almost felt disgusted; interestingly, however, the presence of that sentiment did not make the feeling that he was going to make the ground’s acquaintance go away… It merely gave him enough gumption to enable him to make some snippy remarks, should the opportunity for him to do so present itself.
The two elves slowly walked back towards the gate, but Sauron hardly noticed them go. He was watching the Valar, waiting to see which would speak first. As he waited, one of the people who stood behind Manwe and Varda stepped forward, and Sauron recognized him as Eonwe.
Great, Sauron thought to himself, I’m going to get listed.
At least, that was what he thought would happen. It seemed likely that they would want to rant off all of the things he had done that had gone against their designs –or whatever– in hopes of making him see how bad he had really been. The fact of the matter was that he did not need them to recount all, or any, of his wicked deeds for him to see that he had been bad, as he had known full well what he was doing whenever he had done them (which was quite often). After all, half the fun of doing all those terrible things was in knowing that they were terrible.
“It is the decision of those present that you are well aware of everything you have done, and, therefore, will not need to have those deeds recounted to you,” Eonwe said, in answer to his thoughts.
Ah, yes… He’d forgotten that, just as he had been able to read Ilmariel’s thoughts, they would be able to read his. Well, that would make things a bit more interesting.
“So, if you are not just trying to put me in my place –wherever you happen to think that is– then what are you trying to do?”
“Oh, but they are going to put you in your place,” Eonwe said, a subdued smirk twisting the corners of his mouth. Then, he added in a whisper, “You should have just come along when I told you to; you would have been able to skip most of this.”
Sauron replied in an equally quiet voice. “Yes, but I would have also missed the height of my power, my ‘golden age’, as you all might say.”
“Well,” Eonwe scoffed, “I hope it was worth it.” He then turned to the assembly and raised his voice for them to hear. “Here is Sauron, servant of Morgoth, enemy of the people of Arda,” he said, as way of formal introduction.
Sauron did not really agree with such a declaration. He had, after all, been serving himself for the past two Ages, even if he had been following many of the principles that Morgoth had set down. Additionally, he was not the enemy of everybody, only most of everybody.
Having finished his little introduction, Eonwe returned to his spot.
Then, Manwe spoke, his voice possessing such power that it took Sauron’s breath away.
“Have you anything to say in your defense, Sauron?”
Manwe Sulimo, king above all earthly kings, to whom the voice of Iluvatar himself spoke, sat tall and erect beneath the golden crown that rested atop his gleaming silver hair. His mantle of dark, rich purple matched the color of his eyes with such perfection that it seemed as if they were a mirror to the fabric— or it to them. Unfathomably deep those eyes were, and filled with greater wisdom than was apportioned to any other created being within the bounds of Ea. A dozen or more arrogant, sardonic responses that he might have quipped back sprang into Sauron’s mind; but, while those eyes fixed him with their gaze, which he felt like a physical weight bearing down on him, he found himself quite incapable of speaking any such thing. He took a deep breath and stood as tall as he could, determined to hold onto his dignified, defiant exterior, no matter what.
“I do not.”
“Very well,” came Manwe’s stern reply. He looked first down the line of seats to his left, and then turned to look at his wife.
Varda’s long hair fell from under the silver diadem that crowned her head like so many silken threads pulled from the tapestry of the midnight sky. And indeed it seemed that the blanket of night could have been woven from those glistening strands, so black that their highlights were blue. Blue her eyes were also, more radiantly blue than the most precious safire, set in a snow-white face that shone as if with the very light of the stars she kindled… ageless, yet wise beyond the reckoning of all save the divine. When those piercing blue eyes met his, Sauron felt as if the whole of his being was laid naked before her. Varda’s gaze cut deeper than any blade ever could, and, unsettling though it was, he ws certain that, in that moment, she saw to the very deepest reaches of his soul. And then, something happened that both confused and frightened Sauron…
Varda smiled, a thin, mysterious smile that lingered on her lips for a fleeting moment, and then fell away like a petal from a flower, leaving behind the same sober expression she had worn before, though with less of an icy tinge than had coated it previously.
Sauron breathed more easily, having been released from Varda’s gaze, as Gilthoniel turned to her husband. For the brief time he looked into his wife’s eyes, a flicker of some unreadable emotion touched the Elder King’s features. Then, he turned to face Sauron again, though he spoke to the Vala that would deliver his sentence.
“Let Namo pronounce his doom.”
Sauron swallowed hard at these words that rang with finality, yet still refused to let his expression change.
Namo then rose from his seat. It was interesting to note how much more solemn his mood was now than it had been about a day ago. (Of course, it would have lessened the tension in the air if it had been otherwise, and such trials were usually supposed to be very rigid.)
Sauron thought that Namo had a pretty nifty job description, with the whole “Lord of the Halls of the Dead and Doomsman of the Valar” thing. Nevertheless, he did not think that he would actually want to have the job …except, of course, if it was just the “doom” part. The word doom always seemed synonymous with bad things happening to people, and that was always fun …unless you were on the receiving side, as Sauron was now. He was shaken from his thoughts by the sound of Namo’s voice.
“From now on, you shall abide in Valinor, and that condition will never be lifted for any reason.”
This was disheartening to hear, but not unexpected.
“For an Age, you will not be allowed to go anywhere without Ilmariel of Lothlórien. After that time, you will have leave to come and go within the limits of Valmar as you please; yet, if you have need to go any farther than that, Ilmariel must accompany you.”
Well, that certainly was a pity for Ilmariel… It would wind up being more a punishment for her than for anyone else.
“You will not lay hand on a weapon of any sort, for any reason.”
Sauron did not see himself missing the feel of a weapon in his hand; to be quite frank, he hardly remembered it. He had only actually wielded one on a few occasions (namely when the situation looked very, very bad), so he had not developed any sort of love for them —the art of making them, perhaps, but not the things themselves. Then again, having his finger hacked off hadn’t really increased any appeal they had held for him.
“Occasionally, you will be required to assist with different tasks as we see fit,” Namo continued.
Sauron congratulated himself on having successfully guessed that one.
“Under no condition will you reveal your identity to anyone.”
“I’m serious. For no reason. If you do, not only will it backlash against you, but we will make sure that you feel it was not truly worth saying.”
Sauron wondered what more they could possibly take away. This, however, was not a good thing to wonder, as it is a law of nature that, whenever such a question is speculated, something will inevitably come along to make the situation worse.
“Finally,” said Namo, “any power you have that puts you above the Firstborn will be blocked against you until such time as you have proven to us, the Powers of this world, that you are worthy of our trust.”
This last statement took some time to process. Sauron’s attentiveness had peaked when he heard “power,” as that was a word that had always been highly important to him. However, the rest of the sentence did not at first make complete sense.
…And then it hit him.
Sauron felt as if he had swallowed a chunk of lead.
“You are not serious?” he said as more of a shocked statement than an actual question.
“Actually, we are,” the Doomsman replied.
“But…” Sauron began, but the rest of the sentence stuck in his throat.
“‘But’ what?” Namo asked. “Do you not think we have the authority to do that?”
Sauron did not answer; or, more accurately, could not answer.
So much for conceited dignity… the plan had been virtually crushed by that lead weight.
“See, this is the part that is putting you in your place,” said Namo.
Sauron stood silently, mind reeling, for a moment more, trying to figure out what all this would mean. Then, suddenly, the anger that until now had been merely a glowing ember within him burst into flame. He clenched his hands into fists as a wave of heat rushed to his face. For the intensity of what he now felt, he was rather surprised that it had been so faint all this time.
“My place is not as an Elf!” he spat, his ears ringing so that he could not even hear himself speak. He also felt a strange urge to stamp his foot, but he suppressed it.
“Nor was it as the ruler of Arda, yet you seemed to think that you could grace such a position,” Namo responded, an icy vein evident in his voice. “Now you will simply have to learn to look to a new station.”
Sauron felt his brows pull down into an even tighter knot than they had been in before. “You do not think that enough of my power was destroyed in my ruin?” he asked, although it was a struggle for him to form the words on his tongue.
“I think the actions we are taking indicate that we do not deem enough of it has been destroyed,” the Lord of Mandos answered calmly.
Sauron wanted to reply to this, but something stirred up inside him and doused his rage. There was no way that he could fight the present situation and win. He knew that he could not change their minds, and that arguing would more than likely make things worse, rather than better. Therefore, although he in no way wanted to accept that this was how his life was going to be, he did… to a point. Having resigned himself to the fact of the matter, a question entered his mind that somewhat revolted him. It was not really the question itself, but that he had thought it so promptly that bothered him. It made him think that, perhaps, he was accepting this a bit too quickly.
“Now,” he began slowly, absently tugging on his belt, “when you say that I will only have those abilities, or whatever, that the Firstborn have… are you referring to the Eldar or the Moriquendi?”
Although he could not say for certain, Sauron thought he saw a subtle smirk cross Namo’s face. However, the expression was so fleeting that it could have been nothing more than a shift in the light.
“Well, it would not do for you to have any advantage over Ilmariel. Therefore, you will be the same as her: Moriquendi.”
Sauron cursed under his breath, but said nothing audible.