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The Wars of the Valar  by Fiondil

32: The Final Gamble

They gathered on Máhanumazphelun in various states of shock and despair. Manwë’s expression was grimmer than any had ever seen before and Varda was tightlipped, her eyes blazing with a fury that rivaled the nuclear fires of her stars. Aulë’s expression was unreadable, not even Yavanna knew the depth of pain he was feeling at the destruction of his planet, knowing it was also the instrument used to destroy the Children’s World. All the other Valar showed similar expressions of shock, anger, despair and even confusion. Námo’s expression was more abject, even guilty looking, realizing that his miscalculation may have cost them Atháraphelun.

"So, what do we do now?" Vána asked in a small lost-sounding voice. Oromë placed his arm around her slender shoulders and gave her a kiss on her forehead in an attempt to comfort her.

"What we can," he said softly.

"And what exactly is that?" came the sarcastic voice of Nienna. She was holding Estë who was weeping softly. Nienna’s own eyes were wet with tears but she held herself in tight control, refusing to let go yet. Her brothers knew that she would eventually find a private place to release her emotions, but for now she would remain strong, a bulwark of strength for the younger Ayanumuz.

"We fight back."

That was Manwë and they all stared at him with various degrees of shock and surprise, for his tone was implacable and unrelenting. Manwë gave them stare for stare and several of the others had to look away, for the light in his eyes was too terrible even for them to behold for very long. Only Námo and Varda seemed able to hold his gaze longer than the others.

"We fight back," he reiterated coldly, "and we do not stop fighting until Atháraphelun is ours again. Atar’s Children will not be denied their home. I will not accept defeat."

For a long moment there was only silence, then, one by one they nodded, accepting Manwë’s words as their own.

"Let us see to our People first," Varda said. "Some need healing from the wounds gotten in the last battle."

They all nodded to that and one by one they went to succor their Máyar. Manwë stayed Námo with a single gesture and soon they were alone.

"I know you blame yourself for what happened," Manwë said without preamble, "but you must not. If there is any blame it is on my shoulders. I approved of your plan."

"I miscalculated the spatiotemporal distortions that would result from the explosion," Námo started to explain, but Manwë stopped him with a gesture.

"What is done, is done," he intoned. "Let us not waste time with what-might-have-beens and concentrate on what we can do now to change our fortunes."

Námo nodded. "You are correct. Blame and regret are useless and will not win us this war. I am only sorry that our plan did not work as we had hoped."

Manwë nodded and sighed. "As do I, but I do not believe Atar has abandoned us yet. Go now and see to your People. Commend those who helped you in your gamble for their loyalty and sense of duty. I fear they may think that they are somehow to blame for this debacle."

"Yes, I was thinking the same," Námo said, then gave Manwë a grim smile. "I intend to disabuse them of that thought."

Manwë’s only reply was a raised eyebrow as Námo gave him his obeisance and left.

****

The war raged on longer than any of them anticipated. Some time after their flight, the Ayanumuz and their Máyar staged a frontal assault on Atháraphelun. It was not too dissimilar from the one that Melkor had staged earlier but they had no Urushigasumaz on their side to disrupt the enemy. Slowly, incrementally, they regained the outer reaches of the system, making Ullubozphelun their primary base of operations. The remnants of Tirisambar were also theirs and Oromë especially was ruthless in his guarding of that particular outpost.

The bone of contention was Manawenuzphelun. Manwë had decided that capturing that planet would give them the advantage. With Azulezphelun and Phanaiphelun both gone, Melkor would only have Nasarphelun as a base, for Ambarhíni itself was nearly destroyed. All that the Ayanumuz had created was gone. The planet was formless and lifeless. Indeed, the atmosphere was noxious and they would have to spend much time reclaiming it before it could ever be inhabited by even the simplest of life forms, never mind the Children themselves.

In spite of their failure at Phanaiphelun, Oromë and Námo were acknowledged as the leaders of the assault forces. Manwë and Ulmo along with Varda and Nienna acted as planners and coordinators. Aulë headed the groups of Máyar who acted as infiltrators, attempting to sneak past Melkor’s line and sabotage his own defenses. Aulë had a particular grudge against Melkor for the destruction of his own world. Thus, Oromë and Námo often led flashy, brilliantly executed assaults for the single purpose of keeping Melkor’s eyes on them while Aulë and his teams of saboteurs snuck past the enemy’s perimeter to wreak havoc as they might.

It didn’t always work, but it worked often enough that they considered themselves successful in undermining Melkor’s hold on Atháraphelun. There were instances when it seemed as if their plans were known by the enemy ahead of time but there was never any proof that such information was being leaked by any of the Máyar, though both Aulë and Manwë had their suspicions. Aulë even suggested once that they give out false information to see if they could find out where the leaks were coming from but Manwë decided against it.

"We need to trust our People," he said to the Máhanumaz when they were gathered together to hold a war council on Ullubozphelun. The other Ayanumuz were overseeing the perimeter, for Melkor had begun to send his troops against them. "If we start disseminating false information and someone accepts it in good faith and is injured thereby, I do not want that on my conscience."

The others reluctantly agreed, though Námo and Oromë held a private council and spoke quietly among their Máyar. Some of them had their own ideas about who might secretly be in league with Melkor, and their guesses surprised the two Ayanumuz.

"Aulendil has always shown his disdain for Lord Aulë," Maranwë told Námo at one point, "and speaks in ways that echo Melkor’s words."

"He has always considered himself above the rest of us," Roimendil said with a sneer. "Lately he’s even given himself the title ‘Mairon’."

Námo and Oromë exchanged glances at that bit of information. "Yes, but as arrogant as he is, can you prove that he is in league with our Fallen Brother?" Oromë asked mildly.

Neither Máya could give absolute proof that Aulë’s Chief Máya was a renegade and so the matter was dropped for the time being.

The fortunes of war, being fickle, went first to Manwë and then to Melkor. At one point the Ayanumuz actually reached as far insystem as Ashkadphelun but were driven back again to Ulbankeluth. One thing they did notice was that Melkor appeared reluctant to have his Urushigasumaz engage in battle.

"They may be rather unstable yet," Námo surmised. "I do not doubt that those four that have merged are now insane no matter which mind ultimately gains control. That will make them as dangerous for Melkor as for us."

"They could easily turn on their master," Ulmo said, nodding in agreement. "Only Cosmoco appears to have escaped that fate."

"Which makes him even more dangerous," Oromë stated and no one could dispute that.

Time crept across the face of the galaxy as the stars made their slow revolutions around the galactic center and for long periods no one had the upper hand in the war. Then, Manwë decided on a dangerous ploy in hopes of breaking the deadlock and regaining the whole of Atháraphelun once and for all.

"Melkor hates me above all others," he said to the other Ayanumuz as he explained his plan. "Even more than Atháraphelun, he wants me. I intend to give him that."

"And what will that accomplish save that we lose you?" Varda asked, her voice tight with anger and fear for her spouse. She knew well the spite Melkor had for both her and Manwë. She knew her beloved’s brother had never forgiven her for choosing Manwë over him. She also knew that Melkor was merely biding his time before exacting revenge on them both for her decision.

"Melkor’s attention is somewhat fixated," Manwë explained mildly. "He seems incapable of thinking beyond his need for revenge and destruction — revenge against me and destruction of all I hold dear. I intend to let him have his way with me in hopes that in the meantime the rest of you will be able to rout his troops and free Atháraphelun."

"And if we lose you as we almost lost me?" Námo asked coldly, not liking the plan at all. It smacked too much of what he had tried to do in rescuing Vairë and the results of that had been devastating on a personal level. He did not wish for anyone else to suffer that way if at all possible.

Manwë gave Námo a calm look. "The decision is not yours to make." And that was the end of the discussion.

"What do you intend to do, then?" Varda asked, clearly unhappy but resigned.

Manwë gazed lovingly at his spouse. "Set myself up as bait." He raised his hand to silence all protest, his eyes going dark with implacable will. "I want Melkor more than he wants me but not for the same reason."

"A trap," Oromë said.

The Eldest nodded. "So I hope."

"Let us hope he takes the bait," Aulë stated, looking unconvinced.

"While Melkor is fixated on me," Manwë said with grave finality, "the rest of you are to disrupt his forces as best you can. I will deal with my brother."

No one was happy with the plan, but there was little they could do about it. Námo and Oromë held a private conference, laying contingency plans of their own. "Manwë does not understand how vicious Melkor is," Námo said with a tone of disgust. "He little realizes just how dangerous his ploy is. There are so many ways it can go wrong...."

"Have you seen anything specific?" Oromë asked.

"No," Námo answered, "but whenever I look, I see nothing but disaster."

"Should you not tell Manwë this?"

The two Ayanumuz turned to see Vairë and Vána approach. Námo shook his head as he embraced Vairë. "He will not listen to me. His mind is made up."

"Varda is furious," Vána said from the comfort of Oromë’s arms. "She does not show it, but we can tell."

"Stay close to her," Námo told them. "I do not want her doing anything... precipitous."

Vaire snorted. "You mean, stupid."

"That, too," Námo acknowledged with a grin, giving her a kiss.

"What are you two going to do?" Vána asked looking up at Oromë, her eyes narrowing in concern.

"We will stay close to Manwë, or as close as he will allow, and make sure he does nothing... stupid," Oromë replied with a grin.

Vána snickered, returning his grin with one of her own. "You mean, precipitous."

"That, too."

In spite of the seriousness of their situation, the four of them could not help but indulge in laughter, though it held a note of grimness.

****

Manwë’s plan, such as it was, was very simple — at the same time that Aulë and Ulmo staged a diversionary assault, with Aulë leading a contingent of Máyar from above the ecliptic and Ulmo bringing his troops up from the south, all aimed at Nasarphelun, Manwë appeared suddenly on the largest satellite of Ashkadphelun, a known outpost of some of Melkor’s troops. He emerged in the midst of them, blazing like a miniature star, throwing the enemy into a panic, stunning the Úmáyar into insensibility. The few who managed to escape Manwë’s blasts cowered before him or fled.

"Tell my brother that I’m looking for him," Manwë said with cold disdain, then thought himself away before anyone could react.

Three more times he emerged somewhere within Atháraphelun’s system, moving closer towards Nasarphelun. The element of surprise had been lost with his first appearance, but Manwë managed to keep Melkor’s People off-balance by emerging in unexpected places. After Ashkadphelun, his next destination was one of the asteroids now comprising Námo and Vairë’s world.

"No longer will it be called Phanaiphelun," Námo had told them after they had fled the system. "Forever will it now be known as Avatháraphelun."

The area where Manwë emerged was void of life; there was no sign of the enemy anywhere. Manwë made his presence known by the expedience of ‘grabbing’ three nearby asteroids and lobbing them directly at Ambarhíni. At the same time he sent out a call on all frequencies. "You want me brother, come and get me." Then, he disappeared again before any of Melkor’s minions could reach him.

He next emerged, not further insystem, as everyone, even the other Ayanumuz expected, but back at Ashkadphelun, indiscriminately flinging electro-magnetic bolts at the planet one moment and then at the approaching masses of Úmáyar led by Cosmoco the next. Manwë merely sneered as he tumbled them away with a single thought. "Are you a coward, Melkor, that you will not face me yourself?" he called out. Then he left the Úmáyar howling in impotent fury, emerging finally atop Dáhanigwishtelgun.

All this while Námo and Oromë had kept track of Manwë’s movements, waiting for Melkor to make an appearance, but he never showed. Even Aulë and Ulmo indicated concern. They had reached Nasarphelun to find it oddly deserted and had ordered their troops to spread out across the planet and check for enemy outposts, but there were none. When Manwë arrived at the mountain, the three held a hasty conference, then Aulë and Ulmo left Manwë alone.

"Where is he?" Námo cried in frustration. "What is Melkor up to now?"

He and Oromë scanned the immediate area of Atháraphelun and then moved outward to the nearby systems, but nowhere could they sense their fallen brother.

*I like this not, Manwë,* Námo bespoke the Eldest who still stood on Dáhanigwishtelgun, waiting. *Something is wrong. Where is Melkor and why have we not...*

*Varda! No!*

*Vairë!* Námo yelled, recognizing his beloved’s voice, and thought himself to her, only to emerge in the midst of chaos.

All around him a contingent of Úmáyar led by two of the Urushigasumaz were bearing down on Varda and her People. Vairë and Vána were also there. The Ayanumuz had been taken by surprise and were clearly outnumbered. In spite of a valiant effort on everyone’s part, one of the Urushigasumaz managed to get under Varda’s guard and grab her, thinking them both away before Námo or any of the others had a chance to retaliate.

Almost at the same time there was a cry of alarm from Oromë. A quick scan revealed that Melkor had finally shown himself, along with Cosmoco, the other Urushigasaz and a larger than expected contingent of Úmáyar. They were all surrounding Manwë, who was putting up a valiant effort of resistance, but he, too, was outnumbered.

Cosmoco and the Urushigasaz had managed to grab Manwë and now Melkor was pouring bolt after bolt into his brother and laughing as Manwë screamed. "Did you really think your little ploy would work, brother?" Melkor sneered. "I have you and Varda both and I plan to make you watch while I and my... playmates have a little fun with her. Before I am through with you, little brother, you will be begging me to let you join me and I will... as my most devoted slave."

His laughter was pure evil as he continued to pour his malice into Manwë, who writhed in agony. In spite of himself, Námo felt his fëa shrink in horror and disgust, remembering all too well what sort of ‘games’ Melkor and his servants liked to play, especially the ones bearing fire-whips. He felt powerless and none of the other Ayanumuz seemed capable of rallying their People and effecting a rescue of their leader. Where Varda had been taken was anyone’s guess.

Melkor continued laughing as he went on tormenting Manwë, the sound of it ringing through the cosmos, its echo darkening the light of the stars, but after a while he stopped, both his laughter and his torture. The silence that spread outward was shattering and Námo felt himself cringe even more at what it might portend.

"Come, children," they heard Melkor say as he gazed dispassionately at his brother, now nearly insensate with pain, "let us take our prize and go elsewhere to play. We do not want Varda to miss all the fun, do we?"

If he meant to think himself and Manwë away at that point, he never got the chance, for just then, laughter, soft yet clear, filtered through Eä, stunning them all into stillness.

And it was getting louder....

****

Mairon: (Quenya) ‘The Admirable’. According to Tolkien: ‘Sauron’s original name was Mairon, but this was altered after he was suborned by Melkor. But he continued to call himself Mairon the Admirable, or Tar-mairon ‘King Excellent’ until after the downfall of Númenor.’ [Parma Eldalamberon 17:183, italics are original to the text]. As I did not have this information before writing this tale, I have decided it is a title that Sauron gave himself while still acting as Aulë’s Chief Máya. Obviously, some of the other Máyar are not impressed by this.

Avatháraphelun: (Valarin) 'Shadow-Appointed Dwelling'. It was also later called Ascatainambar ‘Broken World’ by the Eldar.





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