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The Prisoner and The Hobbit  by Dreamflower

(This chapter written solely by pandemonium_213) 

Incarceration

The prisoner awoke, rubbed his face, and yawned.  Dim light seeping around the microscopic cracks of the door confirmed that it was morning, although he instinctually knew this.  It had not taken long after the Lord of Mandos had poured him back into his human form to become attuned to cycles of sleep and waking, of dark and light, even if the latter was artificial.

He lay on the bed, his thoughts still fuzzy from sleep, a sleep that had been surprisingly restful and free of nightmares.  He felt the familiar throb on his left forefinger, a finger that no longer existed.  Just phantom pain, but he rubbed the stump with his right hand anyway.  He sat up.  The mattress of the bed crackled when he moved.  He rose and went over to the steel privy in the corner of the sparse room and relieved himself, then washed his hands in the sink, also of steel.  He lifted the cotton chiton from its hook on the wall and pulled the garment over his head and shoulders.

He returned to the bed and lay back down. Then he was still, listening.  There.  The steps of the guard were accompanied by a lighter footfall.  A woman's tread.  He never saw her, but he knew she must be one of the kitchen staff.  Whereas the guard reeked of iron, like all of the guards of Mandos did, the woman's scent was that of baked bread with cinnamon: a warm, comforting fragrance, as inherent to her being as the scent of lightning was to his own.  He wondered to whom she belonged.  Certainly not Námo.  Her scent is all wrong for that.  Yavanna maybe.  Yavanna probably.  But how had this woman ended up here of all places?  Had she volunteered?  Or was her service here penance of some sort?

The ceiling overhead brightened to diffuse white light, coming from nowhere and everywhere at once.  The prisoner wondered how the builders of the prison had achieved this and what manner of power gave rise to the light.  Then he thought about how he would approach such craft...if he could.  He often performed such mental exercises to keep his mind active. 

The lower third of the heavy door that enclosed the cell shimmered, and in the implacably smooth surface, the outline of a small hatch formed.  The hatch opened, and in slid the tray with his breakfast.  It hovered, waiting for him.  He rose once more from the bed, picked up the tray and said, "Thank you" to the door.  Neither the guard nor the kitchen servant responded.  They never did.  But he said "thank you" all the same, because despite everything, he was grateful.  Grateful to be alive and in a real body, a very familiar one, too.  Grateful that the Guardians had shown mercy and had not flung him into the horror that was the Void.

He placed the tray down on the simple wooden table and smoothed his thin chiton beneath his rear end before he sat on the simple wooden chair.  This morning, he had a breakfast of two fried eggs, thick slices of toasted bread with strawberry jam, a glass of orange juice and steaming black coffee.  First, he closed his eyes and sipped the orange juice.  Immediately he was taken back to the warm southlands of Harad, once under his dominion, where orange, lemon and lime trees grew, laden with fruit.  He tasted the burning sun in the juice.  Then he tucked into the rest of his breakfast, letting flavors and textures transport him beyond the walls of his prison cell, to fat hens in their coop clucking and fussing when he reached under their feathery bellies to gather warm eggs, ignoring indignant squawks and pecks, to fields of wheat that waved golden in the wind, to ripe strawberries in the gardens outside the city walls where he taught the most talented of his students their first lessons in manipulating materials.  He poured coffee into the plain white cup on its plain white saucer.  He smiled grimly after he sipped the hot liquid.  Black and bitter, just like the latter days of my rule.

He finished his breakfast, neatly wiped his lips with the paper napkin and folded it into a tidy square.  Then he stacked the dish and cup in an orderly way on the tray and set it in front of the door.  Silently, the hatch reappeared and the tray slid away.  The scent of cinnamon and bread disappeared, but that of iron remained.  He went to the sink and brushed his teeth with the toothbrush, made of a substance like ivory, but. . . not.  He scrubbed them with care, checking to ensure that his teeth were smooth by running his tongue against their surface.  He had no mirror in the cell, but when he drew his lips back, he used the reflection in the steel sink to examine his teeth as best he could and see that he had cleaned his mouth thoroughly.  He picked up the brush by the sink and ran its bristles through his hair, counting the strokes.  He wrapped a band around the dark locks to keep them clear of his face.  Thus he observed those rituals that he could control and ensured some semblance of order.

Then he returned to the table and picked up the reading tablet that Olórin had given to him.  He pressed its face, and words appeared, exactly where he had left off reading the exceedingly strange tome last night.  The tablet was another marvel.  Aulë had certainly been productive during the long years that he, his wayward ward and student, had been away wreaking havoc in Middle-earth.

He resumed his exploration of the political philosophies of a mortal Man who may or may not have been, or who would be, part of this world, his own world.  The prisoner really could not be sure.  He was well aware of the peculiar currents of Time that the Guardians manipulated.  It had taken him a few days to pick up the language of the author, but then he was gifted with the ability to understand the nuances of speech, and had even created a language himself.  He read two other histories in which this writer had figured and understood the background that had led to a war that encompassed the world, a war during which one of his own descendants created a weapon of unimaginable power. 

He swiped his finger across the tablet and a page turned.  He supposed Olórin was giving these books to him as object lessons.  In certain ways, he found he could relate to the writer, but in other ways not at all.  The author of the book had systematically put millions of people to death, all because of their race or creed.  What a despicable waste of resources, he had thought.  Many of those people had been brilliant artists, scientists and financiers.  Many had been fiercely nationalistic, too, and had fought for the writer's own land in an earlier, bloody war.  He should have used them, not destroyed them.  He would have conquered and made his empire with them.  Idiot.  Still, he flipped the pages and read with fascination.

His reading was interrupted when the scent of iron wafted into the cell.

"It's time."  The guard's voice was muffled.

For a moment, the prisoner's heart leapt, wondering if he had a visitor, but his excitement sank as quickly as it appeared.  It can't be Finrod.  He was here just recently and has returned to Valmar.  Then he remembered.  Today he would meet with Olórin for counseling, as the latter called it.  He placed the tablet back on the table, rose, and went to stand before the door. 

Bright light appeared around the outline of the door, and it swung open.  The shackles around his ankles flared and tightened.  Ouch!  Another innovation of Aulë's, I suppose.  The guard and one of his fellows, yet another grey, solemn Fay who smelled of iron, waited on the other side.  The prisoner stepped forward and extended his arms.  Another set of shackles blazed and set themselves around his wrists.

He shambled along the featureless corridor, the guards on either side of him and the shackles hampering his stride.  The corridor took many twists, never with sensible right angles, but instead followed a sinuous path, almost organic.  It was confusing.  Probably meant to be so.  Not that he'd think of escape.  For one thing, he knew he could not Change.  The Guardians had done something to ensure he could not shift his form.  For another, where would he go?  They would find him swiftly, he knew that, and the punishment would be severe.  He shuddered when he imagined the howls of Makar and Meássë's bloodthirsty hounds in hot pursuit. And finally, he had a reason to be here, a slim hope that had drawn him back to Aman to beg for mercy and to offer penance, to set pride aside, at least for a time.  It was a hope that kept him living from day to day.  It may have been that hope, when the Valar perceived it, had saved him from execution, too.

The corridor twisted again, and the guards stopped.   Another door formed in the wall and opened, revealing a large room paneled with dark wood.  A fire crackled cheerfully in the hearth, and long legs in grey trousers, ending in black boots, stretched out from a brown leather chair that faced the fire.  The legs bent, and the man in the chair rose.  The prisoner smelled the fragrances of empathy and mercy, scents he remembered from an almost forgotten past by the shores of a dying sea.

He must be as fond of that form as I am of this one, the prisoner thought when he looked into the man's dark eyes under silver brows.  Olórin had trimmed his hair since he had returned to Aman, but retained the luxuriant white beard. The wizard smiled, and the corners of his eyes crinkled, but the strong white teeth and firm skin belied the illusion of an aging mortal. 

Per the routine, one of the guards removed the shackles around his wrists, and he responded by thanking the guard, who said nothing in response, just stank of iron and imprisonment. 

"You may leave us," Olórin said curtly.  The Fays left, but their iron odor remained.  The prisoner knew they were just on the other side of the door, ready at a moment's notice.  "Please, Mairon, be seated."

"I asked you not to call me that," the prisoner said as he settled into the upholstered chair opposite Olórin's.  He looked around the room.  It was different than last time, when the room had been all white and steel with upholstered chairs the color of blood.  Today, the dark, almost black, wood reminded him acutely of his old office in the Barad-dûr.  Must be a worm-eaten heap of rubble by now.

"My apologies.  Sauron then.  It's just that I remember when..."

"I know what you remember.  I am in no way admirable in this state.  Let's leave it at that."  Because I will never tell you my real name.  I never told Melkor. Why should I tell you?

"As you wish.  So, how are you feeling today?"  Olórin leaned back in his chair and began to stuff pipeweed into his pipe.

That was the cue for Sauron to bare his feelings, which, of course, he did in a most judicious and guarded way.  Both he and Olórin knew that he buried his deepest thoughts away from the scrutiny of others, but to extract them would take coercion, and painful coercion at that. 

Don't I know it!  He had applied the fine art of coercion over the ages and took pride in his ability to gain information from his enemies.  But he had been on the receiving end more than once, too, most recently when the Guardians ripped into his very being to discern the sincerity of his repentance as they stripped him naked in the Máhaxanar.  After that, they had left him alone and quaking, shortly thereafter to be hauled off to the Halls of Mandos where he had been entrapped in an exotic substance - at once crystalline and liquid - while a body had been made for him. 

Olórin's guidance came later.  Sauron coolly examined the man, now puffing on his pipe, who sat across from him.  His counselor could be insufferable at times, but all in all, Sauron didn't mind him all that much.  Truth be told, he welcomed the wizard's company.  It broke up the monotony of his days.  He also enjoyed provoking Olórin to the point where his counselor would drop that kindly demeanor and snap impatiently.  Sauron enjoyed a good fight with the old wizard, and he quickly perceived that Olórin was not adverse to it either.  That twinkle in the old Istar's eyes gave him away every time. 

It could be worse, he reminded himself, remembering Eönwë's expression after the trial in the Ring of Doom.  Smug, self-righteous prick.

Olórin asked him about Mein Kampf, the book on the tablet that he was reading, and he forthrightly told him his opinion of the author's views.  His counselor maintained a cool and neutral expression, such that Sauron could not tell whether he disapproved or was pleased.  Then Olórin asked once again, as he always did, about the Time Before, a distant history that he and the wizard shared from their youth, but Sauron still could not and would not speak of it.

Their conversation dwindled to silence, but it was not an uncomfortable one. Sauron might have even called it "companionable," but he could not imagine rekindling the long lost friendship with his counselor.  Besides, Olórin had to remain detached in order to help him, or at least that was what his counselor claimed.  Sauron suspected that Olórin did not want him to get under his skin, and thus maintained emotional distance.

Probably wise. He thinks I'm still dangerous. He might not be wrong about that.

The wizard rose and stepped to the big roll-top desk.  He pulled open a drawer and plucked out a sheaf of ivory paper and a handful of pens and handed them to Sauron.  He ran his hands over the paper and fingered the pens.

"What's this for?  My memoirs?"

"In a sense.  He said 'Yes.'"

Sauron could not hide his surprise nor stop the smile that formed on his lips.  "He did?" 

The subject of a correspondence had come up some weeks ago (at least he thought it had been weeks) at the end of the conversation with the aging mortal visitor.  That had been difficult, but less so than the confrontation with the other mortal, the kinsman of the old one.  Sauron had offered his apology to the younger of the two mortals, which immediately was thrown back in his face.  Understandable.  The small mortal had suffered tremendously and so he unleashed a torrent of pain, as scathing and biting as a balrog's whip, upon Sauron, the Great Enemy, the Dark Lord, now reduced to the lowly status of a prisoner and reluctant repentant.

Yes, I deserved that, he had said to the small one, but in the end, he had been unable to restrain his pride.  He sharply reminded the little fellow that the Ring, after all, was his and his alone and what did he think would happen if he kept such an object of Power in his possession?  You may as well have asked a kitten to bear a bloody Silmaril!  He winced at the memory of his outburst.  No, that had not gone well at all. 

But the second conversation with the older mortal - hobbit, yes, they like to be called hobbits - had been different.  Awkward and painful to be sure, but oddly enough, shared passions came forth:  a keen interest in languages for one, and whisky and pipeweed, as the hobbit called these things, for another.  Olórin had called for whisky and cigars, although the wizard stuck to his customary pipe.

Their conversation ended all too soon, for it was not in the hobbits' best interests to remain long in the Halls of Mandos, where their already short lives would be subsumed all that much faster in the rarified atmosphere of the Blessed Lands.  The prisoner had offered to continue the conversation by letter, that is, if the old hobbit would be willing.  His visitor said he would think on it.

 The wizard nodded.  "He wishes to correspond with you.  I think it's best if you write first."

Sauron looked up at Olórin.  "I agree."  He clutched the paper and pens to his chest like a maiden would clutch the first bouquet of flowers given to her by a swain.

The guards returned and so did the shackles that bound the prisoner's wrists. 

"I will see you next week, Mai. . .Sauron."  Olórin handed the paper and pens to the Fay who was not securing his wrists.  "Have a care with these,"  And in fact, the guard was careful with the paper and pens, even if the other grey, iron-scented man was not so gentle with him during the circuitous journey back to his cell. 

The door shut silently.  After Sauron heard whoosh of the seal, he sat on the simple wooden chair at the simple wooden table.  He laid one piece of paper down and a second one on top so that he would not puncture the precious paper on the uneven wood.  He picked up the pen and clicked it a few times, admiring its mechanism.  Clever, very clever.  He pressed the nib against the paper, enjoying the sensation of the pen in his fingers and the smooth paper against the side of his right hand, and he started to write with his distinctive cursive script:

Dear Master Baggins...


Chapter End Notes:

In the Pandë!verse, with its humanistic view of both the Good Guys and the Bad Guys, Gandalf's prophecy (outlined in The Return of the King,  Chapter 9, "The Last Debate") of Sauron's demise, should the Ring be destroyed, comes to fruition.  At least in part.  My version of Sauron is nothing if not a dogged survivor, and during the initial crafting of the Rings, he created a potential failsafe if things went awry with his powerful but imperfect technology.  As a consequence, he winds up reincarnated (by the Valar, who in the Pandë!verse can be by turns compassionate, obdurate or indifferent), but incarcerated in the Halls of Mandos. 

Then Elrond mentioned something quite curious in a chapter of one of my recent stories (Chapter 6 of A Rose By Any Other Name on the SWG):  Bilbo and Sauron met one another, and a difficult conversation between the two fellows had a surprising outcome.

Makar and "his fierce sister" Meássë, as depicted in The History of Middle-earth Vol. I, The Book of Lost Tales I, are the Valarin equivalent of a brother-sister god and goddess of war.

Sauron's recollection of the shores of a dying sea refers to Light Over the Mountain.

Finally, Tolkien's notes on the root √PHAN in Parma Eldalamberon 17, in which he described incorporeal Maiar as being detectable by their scents, inspired me to incorporate odor and the sense of smell as being highly important to the Fays a.k.a. Maiar.    

 





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