Nay, it was the powerlessness that he had been reduced to; the shame of his defeat and imprisonment chafed at him without ceasing. The knowledge that it had all been done for the benefit of those creatures which were held now in higher reverence than he ever could be again; the Elves, First Children of Ilùvatar.
Oh yes- that was what tortured him the most in this prison. That he, who was gifted above all the Ainur, should have fallen this low, and all because he had been denied the privilege doing what he wanted most; to create something of his own make, an idea unique to him alone. The Children of Ilùvatar had been favored over him, and he would never forget it. Not for all of eternity.
Silhouetted against the doorway stood the tall, solemn, dark-haired figure of Námo, his keeper. The steward of the Houses of the Dead rarely spoke, unless Manwë himself bid him to. He was rarely referred to by his true name, but was instead called by the same name as his domain, Mandos. Somehow, it seemed to suit him better.
With his hands clasped behind his back, Mandos strode down the steps, slowly descending into the cell. Casting his deep gray eyes upon his prisoner, he opened his mouth and spoke but three words.
“It's time, Melkor.”
Melkor lifted his head and met the eyes of his keeper, choosing to remain silent, but letting the understanding pass between them. Then he felt the magical bonds that had restrained him for so long loosen around him, Melkor rose quetly and alowed himself to be led away. He knew where he was to be taken. It was the place where his fate in Arda would be decided by his foes.
The Ring of Doom.
Manwë turned at his wife Varda's voice. Like the stars that she had so lovingly crafted, the love shone out of her eyes with a beautiful light. There he could read all of the compassion, concern, wisdom, and kindness that made up her entire being.
A smile touched Manwë's lips as he lifted his hand to her cheek. “I am, my love,” he said with a sigh. The smile was quickly fading from his face. “My spirit is aches with on this day, as it has since Melkor's betrayal, so many ages ago. Only today I feel it all the more strongly.”
“Yes,” Varda agreed, squeezing his shoulders gently. “During the war, it was easier to bear; for then he was our sworn enemy. But now you have promised to bring him before you with the chance of mercy, and grace, should he choose to mend his ways and repent of his wrongs. With such hope for his submission, and such fear of his rejection of your offer, I cannot fathom the anxiety you must suffer.”
“I can only pray that Ilúvatar will soften Melkor's heart.” Manwë said.
“My Lord!” came a call from a little distance away.
Looking toward the sound, the Valar could see Oromë approaching swiftly.
“What is it, Oromë?” Manwë called.
“Mandos approaches with the prisoner Melkor.” the Hunter replied.
“It is time.” Manwë said, moving to take his seat next to the rest of the Valar.
“Take heart, my love.” Varda said, and took her seat next to him.
Now that Mandos was drawing nearer, Manwë could sense the presence of his old foe, yet it was weaker than it had been before. It had diminished since he and the mighty warrior Tulkas had lead the charge against him in the first days of the coming of the Elves.
In just moments now, Mandos would be coming over the crest of the hill, bringing Melkor with him. Manwë turned his face around the ring of thrones, upon which sat his companions in the ruling of Arda. He met the eyes of each of them as his gaze passed; there was Yavannah, who had crafted the trees and plants, and her husband Aulë, lord of the Earth and its' metals; there was Ulmo, the solitary lord of the Sea, and all the waters on the face of the earth; Oromë the hunter and swift runner; his sister, who was wed to Tulkas, the great warrior; Vairë, the wife of Mandos; Irmo, brother of Mandos, and his wife Estë; and her sister Nienna, the maiden of tears shed for all the world.
Each of these had remained with him faithfully sicnce the beginning of Arda, and each had served in the crafting of Ilúvatar's world. Now each of them would stand by him as he decided theh fate of their oldest enemy.
Steeling himself with a deep breath, Manwë lifted his gaze to face the figure that came into view against the horizo:
Melkor, the mightiest of the Ainur, and betrayer of Arda.
As Manwë had done, Melkor let his gaze pass over each of his fellow ainur, or Valar, as the Elves called them now. He wanted each of them to know that he acknowledged their presence, and that he knew they acknowledged him. Slowly, at the silent bidding of Mandos, Melkor knelt in the center of the Ring of Doom.
“Melkor,” Manwë said, gravely addressing his long-time adversary, “ you know the crimes for which you have been imprisoned. Defiling every good work of Ilúvatar and destroyying every thing that we, the Valar, have endeavored to create for this world. Since the bginning, you have sought to work your own will into the world Ilúvatar has created, and you have let your pride corrupt your very soul. In thinking yourself worthy to take the place of our Creator, your have set yourself up in a place of rebellion against all that is good. Yet, in the manner of our great Father, Ilúvatar, we have spared you, and have given you time to contemplate the reality of your dark deeds. Tell us now, what do you have to say for your actions?”
Melkor, bowed his head for a moment, gathering his thoughts. Now was the time when he could put his plan to the test.
When he lifted his head, he found that he could not quite meet the eyes of Manwë, his king. Gazing intently at the ground, he began, slowly, and quietly at first, then gradually growing in volume.
“I know the wrongs that I have done,” he said, “and I know the depth of the destruction that I have caused. I know the reasons the for which I did it were malicious, corrupted beyond your comprehension. You are right; my pride and vanity consumed me, and I became a loathsome, dark being, filled with hatred for all that was good and wholesome.; I rebelled against Ilúvatar, indeed, I should have been cast into eternal darkness; that thing which I so maliciously conceived” And I know-”
Melkor's voice broke suddenly, and he closed his eyes for a moment before raising them up to stare directly, pleadingly into Manwë's own, deep blue eyes. “I know that I can never right the wrongs I have wrought upon this world; nor heal they anguish that my betrayal has caused you. I have assaulted each of you in a way so terrible that no amount of time, no amount of repentance can every redeem me.”
The Valar were silent, staring at the once mighty prince of the Ainur. Manwë pressed his finger tips together and raised them to his lips, waiting for Melkor to continue.
Melkor, seeing their silence, took a shuddering breath and spoke again. “And yet... I know that I cold not live with myself if I did not try.”
Once again, he raised his eyes pleadingly to Manwë. “My lord Manwë, I beg you, please give me a second chance in this world. Though we of the Ainur were not born by blood, but by the thought of Ilúvatar, you and I were brothers in his mind. We were princes of equal power and potential. If I have spoiled my power on wicked things, give me a chance now to turn back. For it was within my nature to do the things that I did; the desire to create was put with in me, just as Ilúvatar bestowed each of you with your area of talent. My pride and creativity was my downfall before; but let me now turn them to the purposes that they were originally intended by our creator- for Good.” Melkor paused for a moment, again looking each of his peers in the eye. At length, he finished. “Let me redeem myself. Please. That is all I ask.”
With that, he fell sielent, and waited for his doom.
Manwë drew in a deep breath. This was so much more than he had hoped. When he had ordered Melklor brought before him for his hearing, he had expected to find his brother filled with malice, just as he had been for the past several ages since the beginning of Arda. Yet he saw here before him one who was broken, one who realized the depth of iniquity he had fallen too, and was desperate to prove himself once again.
Manwë could feel the eyes of his fellows fixed upon him, and he furrowed his brow in thought. Melkor's deeds seemed unforgivable; and yet unforgiving was not in his nature; nor any of their natures. Deep within his heart, Manwë missed his brother, and wished just as desperately as he that they could share that fellowship once again, as it had been intended.
“You have spoken well, Melkor. If your desire is truly to turn back from your evil ways, then who am I to deny you that privilege? As you said, Ilúvatar has given each of us a gift, and desired that each of us use it for His glory.”
He looked around toward his fellow Valar. “And what say you, my friends?”
From his place, Ulmo rubbed his chin and nodded. “I am inclined to agree with Tulkas. For myself I would not readily pardon Melkor again. Since before the beginning of this world, he has conspired to twist what was in Eru Ilúvatar's will. My heart tells me that if we loose Melkor the lands will come to much grief because of it. I strongly advise that he be kept in Mandos until the end of Arda and we return to our homeland.”
Tulkas shook his head vehemently in agreement. “Ulmo says more elequently what I cannot express in my own words. I would far rather see Melkor securely away, and these lands safe, than risk his treachery at the cost of Arda!”
Manwë nodded. “I hear your words, Ulmo and Tulkas, and I see the wisdom in them. What have the rest of the Valar to say?”
From her place next to Aulë, Yavannah spoke, her soft dulcet voice like a soothing rain on brittle ground.
“I have felt the deeds of Melkor most harshly; for it was mostly upon my own creations that he wrought his destruction. My trees, and flowers, grasses and shrubs, have all felt his wrath and suffered for it. All my time here has been spent building, and tending, then watching it all be torn down. No matter how many times I repaired the damage, there was always some other cruelty awaiting the new plant life. In Middle Earth there is not a patch of ground that has not been defiled at some point.”
Yavannah lifted her hand and gently brushed away the tears that had sprung up in her eyes. Aulë moved his hand and rested it over hers to comfort her. Giving him a grateful smile, Yavannah continued.
Aulë spoke. “All of you know that Melkor and I are alike in our ambition; both of us wished to create something of our own design, completely original. I can understand him in that way. And while I have not, and would not stoop to go in the way that he has, still my heart does harbor some small pity for him. I want justice done, but I also wish to be merciful and bountiful, just as Ilúvatar was to me, when I crafted the dwarves contrary to his plan.”
Around the circle, there were many slow and solemn nods, save from Ulmo and Tulkas. The majority of the Valar seemed to be in agreement; that Melkor should be given another chance.
Letting this revelation sink in, Manwë spoke again. “All who wish Melkor to be set free, let them raise their right hand to show their support.”
One by one, the Valar lifted their hands. When at last it came down to Tulkas and Ulmo, they exchanged grim glances and bowed their heads.
“Very well,” said Ulmo, “I will constent to this. But let it be remembered that I do so against my better judgment.”
“And I as well.” Tulkas conceded.
Manwë turned to Mandos. “Námo of Mandos, pronounce your doom.”
Mandos nodded solemnly and spoke out, his deep, smooth voice echoed out across the mountains.
“Thus, according to the will of the Valar, Melkor shall be released from his prison, since he has repented of his evil. Under the supervision of the Valar, he will be permitted to turn his talents toward goodness; but he shall not be allowed to leave our sight until such time as he has proven himself worthy to be free once more.”
As soon as these words were spoken, Melkor felled the bonds that suppressed his power loosed completely, and he breathed a deep sigh of relief. Bowing low to the ground, the thanked his brethren.
“My lords... I can never repay you for your great mercy. I will do my best to be worthy of your trust. Thank you, my Lords.”
And deep in his heart, he laughed, for all had gone as he had intended. Manwë, in his desire to redeem his brother, neglected the fact that he himself could never comprehend evil. No, Melkor was not truly in desire to return to the goodness once again. It was only a matter of time until he found a way to have his revenge, once and for all.
“Such beauty, and I never took the time to see it for what it is.” Melkor said, feigning wistfullness. He gave his brother a sidelong glance.
“Yes,” Manwë agreed, smiling with a hint of regret behind his eyes. “But all that is about to change, if you truly meant what you said.”
“Oh, I do, brother!” Melkor lied, his eyes wide. “I do. I feared I would never get the chance to tell you that I was sorry, but I should have known you. I should have known that you would never give up on me. Now, thanks to you, I have my life back again.”
Manwë smiled again, his the ache in his heart subsiding a bit. They turned back to look out the window, moments of companionable silence passing between them.
Far below, in the gentle rolling hills and lush forest, the small, graceful figures of the elves could be seen mingling happily with one another. A light entered Melkor's eyes when he beheld them.
“Are those... is it them? The Children of Ilúvatar?” he asked, a hint of excitement in his voice.
Manwë nodded. “Yes. They are the elves. Beautiful, are they not?”
“More beautiful than I had imagined.” Melkor breathed. “So different than what I had expected. I see now why you wanted so desperately to protect them. They are more precious than the rest of the world put together.”
“Yes, we have waited long for them. They appeared in Middle Earth, across the sea, but we brought them here to be closer to us. They have so much to learn, and we have so much to teach them about the world that they live in.”
“May I see them? I mean, meet them, speak with them... see what they are like?” Melkor asked, looking to Manwë.
Manwë nodded. “In time. In time, you will earn the right to walk among them. When they are ready to meet you, we will present you to them as our brother.”
Melkor smiled. “I look forward to it! And I shall wait patiently until that day.”
Yes, I shall wait patiently indeed. For no one knows better than I that revenge is sweet in the end. Beware, oh Children of Ilúvatar, cause of my destruction. Your doom will come.