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Alex looked up at Námo and gulped. He had never seen the Vala in any guise other than as Nate, who appeared harmless enough in his duster. But here, wherever ‘here’ was, he saw Námo as the very Lord of Mandos that he was in all his dark, chthonic splendor and ‘Nate’ was anything but harmless looking.
“Relax, Child. You’re safe and no harm can come to you.”
“Wh-where am I? How did I get here? Is this—”
“You are in the city of Valmar and this is the All-Aman Council.”
“Valmar! You mean this is Vala-la-land, where no Mortal dares to tread for fear of being incinerated by the Almighty for his cheek? That Vala-la-land?”
Námo nodded and the delegates stirred, many whispering to one another.
“And I’m still alive how?”
The Lord of Mandos smiled. “Because you are here in spirit only. Your physical body is asleep in Fairbanks. And because I have Atar’s permission.”
“Atar’s permission! But not mine? Huh! Typical.” Alex looked down at himself and frowned. He saw that he was wearing the cotton lounge pants and old Led Zepplin T-shirt that he’d slipped into before dinner. His feet were shod in slippers. “I was reading my historical linguistics text,” he said to himself, slapping his face and then staring at his hand. “So, if I’m here in spirit, how come I look and feel solid?”
“Because I will it so,” Námo replied, “otherwise you would appear to everyone as a ghost.”
Alex shook his head as he looked around, spotting the few people he knew from their visit to Wiseman. He suddenly felt conspicuous standing there with all those Elves dressed so formally in silks and satins, staring at him, many of them in disbelief or maybe it was in horror. It was rather hard to tell from their expressions. He turned back to Námo.
“So I’m here why?”
Námo stole a glance at Olwë, his expression one of deep amusement. “Because someone thought it would be a good idea to lock the doors and let you loose on recalcitrant delegates.”
Alex noticed the Lindaran’s mortified expression and raised an eyebrow and gave him a dark look. “Really? I have to warn you, my services don’t come cheaply.”
“I was just jesting,” Olwë protested somewhat weakly. Alex saw Ingwë and Arafinwë nodding vigorously, looking equally mortified, and snorted, his own humor restored somewhat. He looked around, taking in the stunned looks of the delegates, admiring the architecture — like nothing he’d ever seen before — and sizing the situation up.
“Um… can they understand what we’re saying?” he whispered to Námo, nodding toward the delegates. “Because my Sindarin isn’t up to par and my Quenya still sucks.”
Námo chuckled. “Not to worry. My powers allow me to translate for all. Everyone hears what is being said between us in their own language and you will hear everyone speaking in English.”
“Okay. So what now?”
For an answer, Námo turned to the delegates, putting a hand on Alex’s shoulder. “Allow me to make the introductions. For those who do not know him, this is Alex Grant. He is a Mortal from Wiseman and an Elf-friend.”
“I am?” Alex said in surprise. “No one’s said.”
Námo smiled down at him. “Probably because they did not wish to embarrass you.”
Námo turned back to the delegates. “Alex is also known among the Maiar as Fionwë’s Bane and Manveru and Erunáro of the People of Manwë have declared him their sword-brother.”
“Which is pretty cute, considering I don’t know one end of a sword from the other,” Alex couldn’t help saying, beginning to find the whole situation to be just a little absurd and wishing Derek were there with him; he was feeling decidedly outnumbered.
There was a stir among the Elves and one of them stood, an ellon with dark hair and an imperious look. “For what reason have you brought this…this Mortal before us, my lord?” the ellon demanded, sounding somewhat affronted to Alex’s ears.
“Don’t worry, it isn’t catching,” Alex couldn’t help saying with a sneer before Námo could speak. “Your immortality is safe from me.” Námo squeezed Alex’s shoulder in warning and he gave the Vala a sheepish look in apology.
“My reasons for bringing Alex here are my own,” Námo said in a rather forbidding tone.
Alex blinked, feeling the blood rush from his face, quite forgetting that, as a spirit, he had no blood to speak of, but he was suddenly afraid and his non-existent heart began beating faster. Námo seemed to realize what was happening, for he placed his hand on Alex’s head. “Breathe normally, Child,” he said kindly. “All is well.” Alex felt something pass through him and a sense of calm enveloped him like a warm, fuzzy blanket. He took a deep centering breath and found that he was able to focus again. Námo released him, turning back to the delegates.
“You have a unique opportunity here, Children. Don’t waste it. Alex will not be staying long.”
Alex looked about, wondering just what he was supposed to do. Maybe Námo had brought him here to answer questions about Wiseman or more specifically about Mortals, though he could think of lots of other people who would be better qualified to answer such questions. For the moment, though, no one was asking him anything, many of the delegates speaking low to their neighbors. Perhaps they were all afraid to be the first to ask him a question. He ignored them and walked over to where Helyanwë was sitting between two people he did not know.
“Hey, Helena,” he said in a friendly manner. “How’s it going?”
“I am well, Alex Grant,” she said somewhat stiffly, speaking in English.
“I’d heard you’d gone back home. I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you. These your parents?”
“My great-grandparents, Sador and Alassiel.”
Alex felt his eyebrows leave his forehead. “You’re Loren’s Sador!”
“Loren?” Sador asked in confusion.
“He means Glorfindel, Anatar,” Helyanwë explained. “Loren is Glorfindel’s mortal name, just as Helena is… was mine.”
“Well, I’m pleased to meet you,” Alex said. “Loren was really upset that you didn’t come with Finrod. He’s spoken of you a lot.”
“I am afraid it was not possible for me to leave at that time,” Sador said apologetically, stealing a glance at someone, a dark-haired ellon, sitting nearby, who blushed slightly and looked away.
“So we were told,” Alex said with a nod, putting two-and-two together. “Well, it was nice meeting you,” was all he said, giving Sador a brief bow. “Helena, you take care of yourself, okay?” He didn’t wait for an answer, but headed back to Námo. “So why am I really here and why me?”
Námo smiled and Alex was suddenly afraid again. “Show and tell,” the Vala said.
Without warning, Alex felt a hand on his shoulder and reacted automatically, grabbing the person’s wrist and twisting his body to pull the person over his shoulder. He had a brief second to realize that this must be a Maia, dressed in loose-fitting clothes reminiscent of a gi. He did not recognize him. Before he had time to register any other details two other Maiar simply appeared and attacked ninja style and Alex was suddenly fighting and from the expressions on the Maiar’s faces, he knew this wasn’t a friendly sparring match.
“You have got to be kidding me!” he cried out even as he blocked one Maia’s approach with a kata form while delivering a roundhouse kick to the head and then, pivoting, kicking the other in the chest, sending him crashing into the first tier of seats, forcing delegates to move quickly out of the way. Elves were yelling and he vaguely noticed one, a redhead being held back by two dark-haired ellyn and Alex wondered if the redhead wanted to help him or join in fighting him. Then he dismissed it from his mind as now all three Maiar came at him, their expressions feral.
Suddenly, he was no longer in the council chamber but back in Spain before a fountain where three men had accosted him and the fear he had felt at the time came rushing back like a dark wave drowning him and that was the last conscious thought he had. It was only as he heard someone scream in horror as he twisted a neck in his hold that he came back to himself, blinking rapidly and breathing harshly, his blood pounding in his ears. He found himself holding the body of one of the Maiar, his neck apparently broken. For a second he just stared at what he’d done and then he let the body go and stepped back, feeling suddenly sick and weary and… abused.
It took him a moment to realize that someone had been calling his name for some time. He tore his gaze from the body at his feet and turned to see Námo gesturing to him. As if in a dream, he stumbled over to the Vala and then he somehow found himself in Námo’s embrace and without conscious thought began to weep, soul-weary as he’d never felt before, feeling bruised and soiled.
“Shh…” Námo said, gently rocking him as he rubbed his back. “Hush, Child.” He felt the Vala bend down and kiss him on the top of his head and a wave of warmth and acceptance and, yes, love, swept through him and with a shuddering sigh he sank into it, allowing it to envelop him. He lost a moment or two of subjective time and when he finally came back to himself, he found himself feeling calm and refreshed, as if he’d slept for a time. He stepped back slightly out of Námo’s embrace to see the Vala smiling warmly at him.
“What was that all about?” he asked plaintively.
For an answer, Námo turned him around in time to see one of the Maiar still standing helping the one whom Alex thought he had killed to stand up, looking no worse for wear. In fact, the Maia was even blushing as his two companions chided him for being so careless as to allow a mere Mortal to best him in such a manner. Alex watched in stunned amazement as all three Maiar approached. He looked up at Námo in confusion.
“But I… I killed him, didn’t I?”
“Yes, and no. The Maiar are not fully incarnate, and even if they were, you would only have forced him to disincarnate for a time before he would be able to clothe himself in fana again.”
“It still hurt, though,” the Maia said with a grin, twisting his neck as if loosening tight muscles. His companions chuckled.
Alex felt himself grow angry. “You bastard!” he snarled at Námo, pushing him away. “Is that why I’m here, as entertainment for the masses? I’m not a damn toy for you to play with, you son of a—!” He felt the blood rush from him and his stomach twist in an uncomfortable way as the enormity of what he’d just done nearly overwhelmed him and there was bile in the back of his throat which he forced back down.
“No, Sword-brother!” he heard one of the Maiar call out and two sets of hands grabbed his arms, holding him back from attacking Námo, so he was unable to move, his breathing ragged as he struggled in their grasp. .One of the Maiar holding him spoke quietly into his ear though the words held no meaning for him, but the very calmness of his tone began to register on Alex’s soul and after a long moment he ceased to struggle and became calmer, but the Maiar did not release him. The third Maia held out a goblet that looked to contain water.
“Here, drink this,” he said solicitously and when his right arm was freed, Alex reached out and took the goblet, drinking gratefully, the clear liquid not water but something else, something that cooled his burning throat and brought him fully to himself so he felt more alive than he’d ever felt. He drained the goblet and gave it back to the Maia with a sigh and all the tension in his body left him. The Maiar holding him let him go and he was able to face Námo calmly.
“I am sorry that I did not warn you earlier of what was to happen, best beloved,” the Vala said softly. “I needed your honest response to the situation for their sakes.” He nodded to the Elves, all of them standing, silent and still, their expressions hard to interpret. Alex saw the red-haired ellon smiling at him and giving him a nod of respect which somehow heartened him. “Let me make the introductions,” Námo continued. “These are Manveru and Erunáro of the People of Manwë and trusted lieutenants of Eönwë.” They were the ones who had kept him from attacking the Vala. Námo turned to the third Maia, the one whose neck Alex thought he had broken. “And this is Aicatirno, one of my People, and one of our deadliest warriors.”
“I’m sorry,” was all Alex could think to say.
The Maia smiled benignly. “Now I know why Fionwë speaks of you with reverence, Alex Grant. Perhaps we should rename you Maianahtar, Maia-Slayer, instead.”
“Please don’t,” Alex pleaded, feeling very embarrassed, and all three Maiar laughed.
Manveru clapped him on the shoulder. “Until next time, Sword-brother,” he said and the three Maiar faded away, leaving behind the fresh scent of balsam and something minty, though Alex could not identify it.
Before anyone could speak or otherwise act, Alex rounded on Námo, feeling angry and abused all over again. “I’ve spent months trying to put my sordid past behind me, trying to live a normal life, and now this. Where do you get off jerking me around like that? What gives you the right? Because you’re some freaking archangel? Well you can just kiss my—”
Alex glanced over at Ingwë who was moving around the table where he’d been sitting to stand before him, giving him a wide smile and shaking his head in amusement. “You and Glorfindel. You two are so alike.”
“No we’re not,” Alex protested in all honesty. “Glorfindel isn’t… tainted. He’s absolutely pure. Something I’ll never be.”
“Ah, Child. You have nothing to be ashamed of,” Ingwë said sincerely, taking him by the shoulders. “I regret that you were subjected to this, but I think I understand what Lord Námo was hoping to accomplish by bringing you here.”
“And what was that?” Alex asked, giving Námo a sour look.
“To show the worth of Mortals to those who might not believe you are anything more than tools for us to use in the coming war. Some are of the opinion that we Elves are destined to command the armies of the Mortals who side with us, and one does not need too many commanders, does one?”
Alex cast a shrewd look about him, attempting to gauge the mood of the spectators. He returned his attention to Ingwë. “Well, they had better rethink that notion. We Mortals are more than capable of leading ourselves. We don’t need a bunch of jumped-up, pointy-eared yahoos who think they’re God’s gift to the rest of us holding our hands.”
“Oh, well said, Alexgrant!”
Alex glanced to see the red-haired ellon applauding, while the two dark-haired ellyn on either side of him nodded in agreement. The way the ellon had spoken his name, Alex felt that he had made it into a single name. Ingwë grinned. “Maedhros obviously approves,” he said softly.
Alex blinked. “Oh, ah, that’s great, I guess,” he muttered, feeling completely out of his depth, not knowing what else to say. He stared at Maedhros, a sense of awe stealing over him as the import of who the ellon truly was impinged upon him and he felt somewhat faint. Námo seemed to know what he was feeling, for he stepped closer and placed a hand on Alex’s right shoulder, giving it a squeeze, which oddly comforted him in spite of the fact that he was still feeling put upon by the Lord of Mandos.
Then, Ingwë’s seemingly rhetorical question about not needing too many commanders took on a whole different meaning for Alex. “Wait! So you’re saying that this whole population issue you’ve got going here is because people figure you’ll do the commanding while we Mortals do the fighting and dying so there’s no need to increase the population?” He looked up at Námo. “Are they serious?”
“Apparently,” Námo replied neutrally.
“And that… that demonstration? What was that supposed to prove?”
“It was supposed to prove that Mortals have much that they can teach the Firstborn about warfare,” Námo replied. “Unarmed defense at the level that you have learned it is unknown here, for there was never any need to develop it.”
Alex nodded, then glanced out upon the spectators. A few, like Sador and Maedhros, looked upon him with expressions of respect, perhaps even friendship, but a number still looked upon him coolly. He took a few steps forward so they could see him more clearly. “You are the most pathetic bunch of yahoos I have ever met,” he said, his voice dripping with disdain, causing more than one Elf to grimace in disgust at being reprimanded by a Mortal. Alex ignored their reactions as he continued to remonstrate with them. “Get one thing straight: when the time comes, we will not be fighting under you, or before you and certainly not behind you. We will fight with you, side-by-side. So my advice to you is to get down off your high horses, roll up your sleeves and get to work. You have a lot of catching up to do and little time to do it in. We Mortals will do our part, but you have to do yours. And don’t expect the Elves who reside in Wiseman with us to carry the load for you. They’re already doing their part with Amroth and Nimrodel having triplets and Elrohir and Serindë getting married and now Gareth and Nielluin are betrothed—”
He got no further for instantly the chamber erupted into shouts of disbelief and more than one person called out to Celeborn to explain himself. Alex blinked in surprise.
“They don’t know about Nell and Gareth?” he asked Ingwë. “You’ve been back for a month. Why was no announcement made?”
It was Arafinwë who answered, sighing and shaking his head in dismay. “We’d hoped to avoid this very reaction. Nielluin is a… prize catch.”
“Oh? But I thought no one was bothering to marry anymore,” Alex said.
“True,” Arafinwë replied with a nod, “but we were hoping to reverse the trend with Nielluin.”
Alex stared around at the angry expressions as more than one ellon shouted at Celeborn who refused to respond in kind, glaring at them all coldly. Alex turned to Ingwë. “They’re not angry because they weren’t told. They’re angry because they wanted Nell for themselves or for their sons or grandsons, right?”
Ingwë nodded. “So I am assuming.”
Alex actually laughed, the sound of it cutting through the furor of the Elves, silencing them. “And Atar foiled their little dynasty plans by giving Nell and Gareth the whammy when they first met. Sneaky bastard,” Alex said admiringly. “I bet he’s laughing himself silly over it.”
“Something like that,” Námo said, his expression one of mild amusement.
“Well, I’m glad Atar managed to pull a fast one on this lot,” Alex commented. “Gareth’s a great guy and Nell couldn’t do better if she tried.”
“Atar?” someone asked.
“He means Eru,” Námo answered before Alex could reply.
“You speak rather familiarly of Eru Ilúvatar, Mortal,” one of the delegates said, an ellon with silvery hair, similar to Olwë’s, so Alex assumed he was a Teler.
“Well, we Mortals are on a first-name basis with Himself,” Alex retorted, offering them a nonchalant shrug. “Besides, I’ve met Him face-to-face… after I died the second time. We’re old friends.” Which was a slight exaggeration, of course, but the Elves didn’t need to know that. He doubted Námo would contradict him and as Atar didn’t seem inclined to strike him down with a thunderbolt for his temerity, he figured he was safe enough. Stealing a glance at the Vala he saw a glimmer of amusement in his amaranthine eyes. The Elves, on the other hand, just goggled, probably unsure how to react to his statement. He did notice Maedhros grinning widely, obviously amused by his words. One of his dark-haired companions, however, was rolling his eyes, apparently unimpressed with Alex’s boast.
“It is time for you to leave, Alex,” Námo said.
Alex nodded. “I’m still mad at you, you know.”
“I know,” Námo said equably, raising his right hand in benediction. “Farewell, Alex Grant. Until we meet again.”
Before he could respond, Alex felt everything around him fading, the chamber dimming and people apparently receding as if he were being drawn backward down a long tunnel. The last thing he saw and heard of the council chamber was Maedhros standing, giving him a salute. “Farewell, Alexgrant! We will meet again soon, I promise!”
And then everything went black….
Alex woke with a start, grabbing the textbook he’d been reading before it slid off his lap and onto the floor.
“Whoa! I need to leave off the anchovies from now on!” he exclaimed to himself, shaking his head, trying to clear it of the cobwebs of sleep. He was alone, sitting in the living room of the apartment he shared with two other men, Chad and Chris, whom Alex thought of as the Bobbsey Twins. Both roomies were out visiting with friends, so Alex had the place to himself for a while longer. He picked up a mug of coffee sitting on the table next to him and took a sip, nearly spitting it out when he realized it had gone cold.
“Gah!” he said in disgust as he got up and went to the kitchenette, dumping the cold coffee down the sink and pouring a fresh mug. “Man, Ron’s gonna have a blessed field day with me when I tell him about my crazy dream.”
He returned to the living room and settled into his chair, picking up his textbook, the memory of what happened already fading as if it was a dream as he concentrated on reading about the Great Vowel Shift in Middle English.
And back in Aman, Ingwë attempted to call the Council to order, but in the end, he dismissed them, declaring that they would resume their discussion on the morrow. Maedhros made an immediate beeline toward Námo who had not left, demanding that he be allowed to leave for Wiseman as soon as possible so that he could “be with my new gwador, Alexgrant, so he can teach me how to fight without a weapon”. Maglor and Denethor attempted to calm him, but he paid them no heed as he continued to importune Námo. Only when Arafinwë took him by the arm, promising to tell him all that he knew about the Mortal did the Reborn firstborn son of Fëanáro allow himself to be led away, much to the relief of Maglor, Denethor and Námo.
Aicatirno: (Quenya) ‘Fell Watcher’.
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