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The Prince of the Kerubim kept out of sight for the most part during the following week as he waited for the time when he could act. He was sometimes seen in Manwë’s presence, the two primarily discussing training and tactics. Occasionally, Oromë would join them.
“Though really, you should be talking to Námo,” the Lord of the Hunt said at one point. “He’s our greatest strategist.”
“It would be better to wait until after,” Raguel countered.
“Oh, and will there be an after for any of us?” Oromë practically sneered while Manwë went white.
Raguel sighed and deigned not to answer, simply asking his questions about tactics as if the Vala had not spoken. Reluctantly, the other two answered him and the subject of Námo was not brought up again.
In truth, none of the Valar were in a good mood with him there and they studiously avoided him. Ulmo flat out refused to leave his own realm and Raguel was forced to go to him instead. Ulmo was polite enough in a distant sort of way but it was obvious that he had no use for him and wished him gone. When he was not in conference with Manwë, Raguel spent much of his time in the conservatory in Ilmarin, sitting on a bench before the central fountain. It reminded him so much of the gardens of the Timeless Halls and he felt closer to Atar there than anywhere in Valinor, which he knew was ridiculous, for Atar was ever with him wherever he went.
He understood why they all felt as they did, but it didn’t make it any easier for him. In the end, he was one lonely Ayanuz and wanted to curse Atar for sending him there, for even making him who and what he was. Why couldn’t someone else be the heavy for a change, let him play the good guy for once? It was a ridiculous notion, of course, and he knew it, but it didn’t make it any less true, and in the end, everyone hated him.
*Not everyone, child,* came the gentle voice of Atar.
“Just once, just once,” he said out loud. He could almost see Atar’s smile as he felt the brush of his Creator’s hand on his forehead and His love sweeping through his fëa, and gave a sigh of pleasure, closing his eyes. After a moment, as he felt Atar withdraw, leaving him to himself, he opened his eyes to see someone standing before him.
“Hello, Raguel. It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?”
Raguel blinked and stood up. “Olórin?”
Olórin smiled, opening his arms to embrace him and after a moment’s hesitation, Raguel hugged him back, the two exchanging kisses as between brothers. “Still giving Atar a hard time, Raguel?” the Maia asked as they separated.
“What do you mean?” Raguel protested. “I’ve never given Atar a hard time, unlike some Ayanumuz I know. You, as I recall, were often getting yourself into one kind of scrape or another.”
“Still am,” Olórin said with a chuckle, then gave Raguel a shrewd look. “So, Atar finally caught up with us, did He? Well, it had to happen sooner or later, though I imagine we’re pretty far down His to-do list, hmmm?”
“That I wouldn’t know,” Raguel said primly. “I just go where He tells me.”
“So when will you be hauling Lord Námo over the coals?” Olórin asked as he sat down on the bench.
Raguel sighed as he resumed his own seat. “Do you think I enjoy this, Olórin? Because I don’t. I never have, but it is what I was created for and I do my job to the best of my abilities.”
“Oh, I know that, my friend,” Olórin assured him. “You and Eönwë probably have the most thankless jobs in any universe.”
The Maia nodded. “I can’t tell you the number of times he’s come to me practically in tears, forced to record some of the oaths uttered by the Children.” Olórin shook his head in dismay. “When Fëanáro… I thought Eönwë was going to have a heart-attack or a stroke like some Mortal. He could barely hold the quill in his hand and I had to support him. And then when Fëanáro’s sons uttered the same oath!”
“I have nothing but the deepest respect for him,” Raguel said softly. “His strength of character is amazing to behold and if I did not know that he was of the Second Choir, I would think him one of us who belong to the First Choir.”
“Many think he is,” Olórin said with a slight smile, “or should be. In truth, though, he is content to be who and what he is.”
“And you? Have you ever wished you had been placed among the First Choir and been one of the Valar?”’
“Oh no! I am quite content with my lot in life,” the Maia assured him. “Besides, fewer headaches and I get to travel.” He gave Raguel a sly smile and Raguel chuckled. “So, how soon?”
Raguel sighed. “Soon enough. I need to wait for certain events to happen first.”
“Certain events, meaning, Alex Grant.”
Raguel gave him a surprised look and Olórin smiled. “Oh, don’t look so surprised, my friend. I know what happened with the Mortal when he was brought to Valmar in the spirit. Poor boy’s been having nightmares. I’ve checked in on him when my duties do not keep me in Wiseman.”
“I understand you and Fionwë are both there keeping watch,” Raguel said. “A bit of overkill, wouldn’t you say? One Maia is enough to take out the entire star system, never mind one small town.”
“Ah, but with both Glorfindel and Finrod under the same roof, my Lord Manwë’s not taking any chances.”
“Even Atar refers to Glorfindel as ‘that impossible ellon’.” The two shared a laugh.
When they had calmed down a bit, Olórin stood. “Speaking of which, I need to get back to Wiseman. Between Glorfindel fading and Alex… well, a Maia’s work is never done.”
“Atar said the situation with Glorfindel was well in hand,” Raguel said as he stood also.
Olórin shrugged. “Depends on your definition, I suppose. Glorfindel refuses to acknowledge that he is in danger of fading, that the Enemy is targeting him especially. Lord Irmo’s dream I think has set off a chain of events the outcome of which I doubt even Lord Námo can safely predict. Add Alex Grant into the mix and you have trouble with a capital T, as they say.”
“And my being here doesn’t help matters,” Raguel said with a nod.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Olórin countered. “I think you being here is probably what we all need.”
“Why do you say that? In fact, you seem to be the only one who actually is glad to see me.” Raguel eyed the Maia with some suspicion.
“Of course I’m glad to see you, old friend,” Olórin said with a chuckle. “I may just be a Maia and not even very high in standing among my fellows, but I’ve always been sympathetic toward you, you know that. Now, I’m not saying that I wish to see Lord Námo chastised, but I knew as soon as I saw what was going down in the council chamber with Alex that there would be trouble. I will not speak against any of my masters, but I honestly believe you being here can only help us, however painful the process might be. Now, I must go.” The Maia gave him a heartfelt hug and then was gone. For a long moment Raguel just stood there staring at the space where Olórin had been and then resumed his seat.
“Thank you, Atar,” he said quietly, accepting the gift he had been given. He felt Atar’s presence brush against his fëa and sighed in contentment, filled with Atar’s Peace.
The All-Aman Council resumed meeting on Aldúya as Manwë had said, but they did not get far in their deliberations. When Ingwë brought up the possibility of enforced colonization most of the delegates protested rather loudly and threatened to simply walk out. Some even demanded that the Council be disbanded so they could all go home. Raguel, when he heard this, went to Manwë who was with Varda, the two taking their ease in one of the gardens surrounding their mansion in Valmar. Eönwë was with them, standing attendance.
“They need to remain here,” he told the Elder King. “I don’t care if they meet or not, but they cannot leave, not yet.”
“Yet, for how long?” Manwë demanded in frustration. “You say you are here to see Námo chastised but then you do nothing and we’re left twiddling our thumbs while you apparently are waiting for the magic moment. If you’re going to do it, do it and then go and leave us to pick up the pieces. Why Atar sent you to torture us this way, I don’t know and I don’t care. You want the Children to stay until you decide they can leave, you figure a way to do it. I’m too busy.”
Raguel stood stunned to immobility as Manwë stalked away, fading into the fabric of the universe, leaving him alone with Varda and Eönwë both looking uncomfortable in his presence.
“He’s been under a lot of strain lately,” Varda said apologetically after a moment or two of embarrassed silence. “We all have.”
“I don’t like this any better than you do, Varda. In fact, I hate it and I hate being here.” And with that, Raguel thought himself away, away from Valmar, away from Arda, until he was standing on a world in another galaxy whose present light would not reach Arda for several million years. It was an airless world that circled a blue giant and beset by violent stellar storms. He did not bother to incarnate, but simply allowed the coruscant flares from the star to bathe him with their electromagnetic warmth until he felt less tense and was able to think more clearly.
*Running away doth not help matters,* he heard the gentle reprimand from Atar.
*Perhaps not,* Raguel allowed, *but it was either that or stay and end up systematically destroying all of Valmar and most of Valinor while working out my frustration.*
Atar’s amused laughter rang through his fëa.
*It is not funny, Atar. I meant what I said.*
*Of course thou didst, child.*
*Manwë’s right. I should have simply come in, done my job and then left. Hanging about, waiting for some stupid Mortal to have a hissy fit, what’s the point? Other than to drive everyone to distraction, including me! If my brethren didn’t hate me before, they certainly hate me now. I’m tired of playing Thine enforcer, Atar. Thou dost wish to punish somebody, do it Thyself because I quit!*
*And what wilt thou do instead?* Atar asked curiously, sounding not at all upset or angry.
*Take up farming or basket-weaving. I don’t know or care. I just know that I’m tired of it all. I’m tired of my brothers and sisters despising me. I’m tired of being greeted with fear and suspicion instead of with joy and thanksgiving. I’m just tired. Find someone else to do thy dirty work, Atar. I’m no longer available. I’m sure Chayyiel will enjoy taking over my duties.*
*Chayyiel knoweth his limitations; he will not appreciate the… um… promotion,* Atar said with faint amusement. *Child, I know thou’rt frustrated and angry, but I assure thee all will be well. Námo’s chastisement is but a small part of thy mission and not even the most important part.*
*Then why couldn’t I have just come at the proper time and gotten it over with?* Raguel pleaded. *Why art thou making us all sweat?*
Atar’s joyous laughter rang through the universe and, in spite of himself, Raguel could sense his own mood lifting at the sound of it. When the laughter died down, Raguel felt Atar’s kiss of benediction and then He withdrew, leaving the Ayanuz alone with his thoughts as the flares continued to warm him.
*Ah, there you are.*
Raguel did not turn around, for in his natural state there was no need; he simply altered the focus of his attention to see the last person he was expecting: Tulkas.
*How did you find me?* Raguel asked. *Did Atar—?*
*You left a trail that the stupidest, blindest Mortal could have followed,* Tulkas replied dismissively. *I am neither stupid nor blind.*
*And you are here, why?*
*Well, I have half a mind to pick you up and throw you into the nearest black hole, or maybe I’ll just bat you around the universe for a bit until you stop feeling sorry for yourself.*
Raguel, had he been in fana, would have dropped his jaw in disbelief. As it was, his normal blue-white aura went toward the yellow spectrum in shock. Tulkas just chuckled.
*Why are you here, Tulkas?* Raguel asked again.
Tulkas answered by surrounding him with his own self in the electromagnetic equivalent of a bear-hug. *Because you should not be alone,* came the surprising answer.
*I’m always alone, Tulkas, even when I’m in the company of others, or haven’t you noticed?* Raguel countered rather heatedly.
*Oh, I noticed,* Tulkas said. *I also noticed that you are no more happy to be here than we are to have you, but when has that ever stopped you from carrying out your duties. Well I remember the number of times you hauled me before Atar’s Throne and Chayyiel! Is he still as bloodthirsty as he was back then?*
*He’s not bloodthirsty, Tulkas,* Raguel couldn’t help saying in a teasing tone in spite of the situation, *merely dedicated.*
*I suppose that’s one way of putting it,* Tulkas allowed. *Raguel, in spite of appearances, I have nothing but the deepest respect for you and what you do. It’s a lousy job, I know, but I cannot think of anyone else I would rather see doing it.*
Raguel’s aura shifted slightly toward a particular shade of green that always signified puzzlement for him. *I would think you would be the last person to defend me.*
Tulkas boomed a laugh. *Oh, I am not defending you, Brother.* He paused and his normally reddish aura flickered golden with amusement. *Do you know who you remind me of? Námo.*
*Yes. You both have thankless jobs, and believe me, Námo’s job is indeed thankless, having to deal with the fëar of Elves and Mortals when they find themselves in his Halls. The Elves are the worst from what I’ve heard. Yet, in spite of it, he fulfills his duties with joy and with compassion even when he must act the Judge. You’re much the same, or you used to be. Certainly you were with me. Even as you were bringing me to task for some misdemeanor or another, I could see that you genuinely wished for my betterment. Whatever punishment you meted out was not done out of cruelty or vengeance but for correction, and I will be the first to acknowledge that I needed a lot of that in my younger days.*
Tulkas boomed another laugh that fairly shook the world they were standing on, nearly sending it out of its orbit.
*You weren’t that bad,* Raguel said, looking upon the younger Ayanuz fondly. *They miss you, you know, your friends, even Phanaínithil.*
*Now I find that hard to believe,* Tulkas retorted jovially. *I was the bane of her existence. Is she still reciting lousy poetry.*
*She has improved over the ages,* Raguel said carefully. “Ullukeluth eventually agreed to give her lessons.*
*Hmm…* Tulkas’ aura shifted toward blue to indicate skepticism before returning to its normal shade. *Well, when you go back, please give them my greetings. In the meantime, are you going to continue sulking or what?*
*I am not sulking!*
*Right. Which is why I find you hanging about in another galaxy far, far away. Besides, you’re missing all the fun.*
Raguel’s aura shifted to a shade of yellow that indicated disbelief. *What fun? What are you going on about?*
*Oh, just that Ingwë, Arafinwë and Olwë have Manwë cornered demanding that he Do Something,* and the way he said it, Raguel could almost see the capital letters.
“Do something? Do what? And how does any incarnate corner one of us?*
Tulkas’ aura brightened with a smile. *Ah, well, if you want to know the answers to your questions, you’ll have to come back and see for yourself.*
Raguel was almost tempted, but in the end, he decided he didn’t care. Let them deal with their own problems themselves; he had plenty of his own and was in no mood to return just yet. Tulkas seemed to guess what his decision was before he even spoke, for he gave Raguel another bear-hug.
*Well, it was just a thought,* he said. *Should I stay and keep you company? Nessa won’t mind if I’m not back until later. She, Vána and Yavanna are busy plotting ways to inspire certain ellith to want to conceive. Of course, I pointed out that the said ellith need willing ellyn to achieve that goal as it takes two to tango, as the Mortals would say. None of them appreciated my input.*
Raguel chuckled. *I appreciate the offer, but really, you do not have to hang about with me. I’ll be fine. I really just need to be alone for a little while longer. I’ll be back soon enough, I promise.*
*If you’re sure,* Tulkas said doubtfully.
*Yes, I am. Now off with you. And Tulkas, thanks… for everything.*
Tulkas just laughed as he thought himself away. For a long while that could have been measured in hours or days, Raguel remained in contemplation. *First Olórin, then Tulkas. Who’s next, Atar? Námo?*
Atar’s only answer was laughter.
Time fled and while Raguel was several million lightyears away, he knew what was happening back in Arda and in particular, what was happening with the Mortal Artemus. Thus, the day that he’d been waiting for came and with a single thought he was back on Arda where he sought out Manwë taking his ease with Varda in the conservatory in Ilmarin. They both gave him startled looks and he had the feeling that they had hoped he would just stay away for good.
He ignored the hurt he felt at their reaction to his arrival and said, “It is time, Manwë. Summon thou thy fellows and the Eldar of the All-Aman Council to the Máhanaxar.”
“And should I have Námo brought in chains while I do?” the Elder King asked acerbically.
Raguel grimaced, but before he could offer a retort, there was a flurry of multi-color lights and Námo was there in all his chthonic splendor. “That won’t be necessary, Manwë,” the Lord of Mandos said. “I am here. Let’s get this over with, shall we?”
Note: Phanaínithil ‘Bright Lily’ and Ullukeluth ‘Water Mirror’ are mentioned in Wars of the Valar, chapter 34.
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