Artíre's Return by WendWriter

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In a cavern deep underground, Artíre sat in a niche by a pool and brooded. It was dark and dank down there, but it mattered little to him, since he had not taken a physical form. The cavern was huge, with stalactites and stalagmites occasionally joining into pillars. Small luminescent patches gave off a faint glow here and there, as bands of dissolved mineral compounds washed down long ago from the surface were illuminated by the faint glow of the pool. The dim greenish-blue glow occasionally intensified or died down as the tiny pale fish that dwelt there disturbed the water. It was like being in the maw of a mighty, drooling beast whose mouth was partially open.

Though millennia had passed since he was ensnared by Sauron's sinister plan, Artíre's anger towards him had not abated. In fact, he had grown increasingly bitter and resentful of Sauron for tricking him into siding with Melkor against the Valar. His attempts to patch up the rift and keep his former neutral status had only made things worse, and had led to his current predicament: he was hiding from his former friends on both sides.

As he considered the injustice of his fall from grace, a cold fury gnawed at his soul, eroding his reason and his capacity to enjoy his usual pleasures. Artíre began to think about ways of exacting revenge. He had no idea what had happened after the Valar had broken into Utumno, Melkor's fortress, and destroyed it. It was hard to tell how much time had elapsed since the War of The Powers, not that time mattered to one whose existence was eternal. Artíre was certain of only one thing: justice would not be done until he was even with Sauron, whether the Deceiver was caught and punished by the Valar for his other crimes or not.

The Watcher finally made the decision to leave the cavern when he had grown weary of observing the creatures that dwelt in the shimmering pool and their struggle for survival. No light could reach this place deep in the earth, but the creatures that lived and died in the open air far above provided the nutrients that eventually percolated through the soil and through the pores in the bedrock. This fell, drip by drip into Artire's pool. These drips fed the one-celled creatures that fed bigger creatures in a chain that led to the blind pale fish that disturbed the water from time to time, making it glow. Artíre had enjoyed observing their struggle for a while, but the time had come to leave it behind. Making his way from his hiding place, he travelled up the tunnel he had come down and emerged, metaphorically blinking in the sunlight.

Such light! What was that bright yellow thing suspended above the earth, out of reach of any of the rebels? Since Artíre was a Maia, a being of living consciousness who could clothe himself with flesh at will but for the most part chose not to, he was not hurt in any way by the new light. He was fascinated by it, though. Reaching upwards, he strained to touch this new Lamp set high above to light the world, and revelled in its warmth. He wandered around for a while, climbing trees and rocks, and even a mountain, to try to get closer to the light. No matter where he went, he never drew nearer to the light. It seemed to the Watcher that this must be a new star, so much bigger and brighter than the others that its light drowned out that of the others, for they were nowhere in sight. Artíre kept his gaze fixed upon this marvel, and as he watched it the star reached its zenith as it journeyed across the sky, and began to descend. Eventually, it slipped down past the hills on the far horizon, and darkness claimed the land.

Artíre was grieved at the loss of the Lamp, but was somewhat pleased that his assumption that it must be some kind of star was correct. What else could provide light while suspended far above the world? Considering the aspects of it within his range of knowledge, there was no other conclusion he could possibly have drawn. Stars of the usual kind winked on one by one, dotting the night sky in beautiful patterns. As the Watcher continued his vigil, another great Lamp appeared, rising up the sky, and lighting it with a softer glow than the first. That, too, travelled across the sky and laid itself to rest beyond the far horizon. Utterly amazed by the spectacle he had witnessed, Artíre waited patiently for the next act of this pageant in the sky. Not long after the pale star had set, the bright one rose again, painting the clouds in pretty shades of pink, orange and red. Another day dawned, and for the Watcher, this was a continuous miracle. Pondering these things, he made his way down the mountain, and explored the valley below.

The once bare landscape he had fled the previous day had changed. The sunlight had encouraged the growth of trees, plants and flowers which now clothed the gully where the entrance to the cave system was. Birds, animals and insects of every kind filled the valley with the sounds of life. Artíre stared, amazed at the beauty and variety of the living things. For the first time in an age, he smiled and began to immerse himself in the observation of the marvels that surrounded him.

It was just as he was leaving the gully to explore the wider world that he came upon Sauron, who did not notice him because he was currently engaged in conversation with some rebel Maiar.

"Melkor the Mighty has returned, and is calling all who were formerly loyal to him to remember their allegiance. Will you join with us again?" Sauron asked.

He was in a group of five, all of whom were sheltering from the light of the midday sun in a grove of ancient oak trees. Sauron was in his werewolf hame, two of the rebels appeared to be Balrogs and though the other two had not taken physical form, Artíre was aware of them. Creeping as close as he dared, he listened in to their conversation.

Olu, one of the unembodied Maiar, spoke up. "Most of the others have been hiding, my lord. This new light, this 'sun,' is a great hardship to us. It burns us, and is too bright by far. These 'days' we have had to endure are a torment! We only dare to come out in the hours of darkness. The other light, 'the moon,' is almost as bad, though we find it more bearable. Where is Artíre? He was useful to us, and to our cause. I had thought that he would have come forward by now, to explain these things to us."

"He was useful to us when it suited him," Sauron declared. "Where he skulks now, I do not know, for he has certainly not been useful while our lord Melkor has been away."

"Nonetheless, his news was trustworthy," said Narcawë, the other Maia who had not taken form. "I understand that he has been declared a rebel. I heard it from Oromë's own mouth after the battle for Utumno."

Sauron turned to glare at Narcawë. "How was it that you heard Oromë speak?" he asked, suspicion curling his mouth into a snarl.

"I was hiding from him in a pit, beneath some fallen rocks, my lord," declared Narcawë, holding his ground.

"And why were you hiding instead of fighting?" asked Sauron, all memory of his own flight apparently forgotten as he turned on his comrade.

The other three closed in on the hapless Narcawë. It seemed to Artíre that proving their loyalty now might gain them a greater position in the hierarchy of leadership in Melkor's dominions, or perhaps a realm of their own.

Narcawë metaphorically held his breath and waited for the next step in this deadly dance.

Sauron silently permitted the tension to ratchet up to the point at which it was possible that Narcawë might attempt to fight his way out of the situation he had suddenly found himself in. "You know the Master will not tolerate treachery, so you must prove yourself loyal to him. I give you the task of finding Artíre and bringing him to Angband, which I have kept in trust for our lord. Until you have found him, you will be under suspicion. Is that clear?"

The two Balrogs moved closer to Sauron to emphasize their support for him.

"The enemy of our enemy is not necessarily our friend," Sauron declared with the authority his position granted him. "What if he decides to attempt to divide us by setting himself up as a rival power, or even to play our group off against another so that he can enjoy a little drama? Is that not his way?"

Olu, the other Maia, shuffled closer to Sauron in a silent demonstration of loyalty.

"Artíre must be found, and quickly, along with any others who might prove themselves useful. That is all. Go now, and bring glory to our master, for he will surely reward those who prove their loyalty," declared Sauron.

The group broke up as each of the Maiar went their separate ways.

Artíre, crouching just behind an exposed root, heard all that was said, and was afraid. The things Sauron accused him of, while not a gross exaggeration, were nothing compared to what Sauron himself and his fellow Maiar had been doing. Was it not true that Sauron had hidden like a cur with its tail between its legs? Narcawë and the others must have gone into hiding too, else they would be in Valinor under the judgment of the Valar. If those things were true, what right did Sauron have to say such things about him? While he cared little for Narcawë, he understood that the Maia was in a difficult position. If Narcawë failed to bring Sauron what he wanted, he would be called a traitor. Artíre, however, refused to be anyone's prize, and determined that if he was to continue gathering and reporting news it would be on his own terms.

Sauron had mentioned Angband, and the return of Melkor. The Watcher grinned. He would get revenge on Sauron by making his way to Angband and reporting to Melkor himself. He had only to discover what Sauron's plans were, then make his way to Angband before his enemy could. Then he could put his side of the story to Melkor, and sow seeds of mistrust between the dark lord and his chief lieutenant. The possibility of turning Melkor against Sauron excited him, but he knew he would have to be subtle. One wrong word could send his plans awry, and he would end up back in his cavern, hiding. Artíre made his way directly to Angband, where he had been many times before, to present himself to Melkor.

As he approached Melkor's lair, he saw, in the light of day, how ugly, twisted and utterly devoid of life the place was. In the twilight, and even in the dark, it had been a writhing hotbed of activity. Now that the sun was shining on the world, it looked barren and empty, apart from the smoking piles of slag and volcanic stacks that littered the place. A great heap of enemy corpses dominated the stinking landscape.

The nearer he came to the miasma of fear and horror, the more Artíre began to question his motives for coming to this place. Surely the Valar would grant him pardon if he asked for it? Surely they would understand that he had thought of his whispers to the Elves as a game, and had meant no real harm? Shuddering as he passed some skeletons and large bone fragments overgrown with moss and lichens, the Watcher gave himself more and more reasons to turn and flee. Ultimately, his rage against Sauron, not only for forcing him to take sides in the first place, but also for maintaining his outlaw status pushed him onwards, right up to the door of the stronghold. Though the gates were open, his progress was barred by two huge Trolls.

"Who are you?" asked one of the Trolls, leering at Artíre as if he was about to devour him. The fact that the Watcher could destroy the creature if so inclined did not occur to it.

"I am Artíre the Watcher, and I bring news for thy master," said Artíre, in tones that dared the Trolls to argue.

"Go on, then," the Troll replied, and allowed Artíre through.

The Watcher made his way through the stronghold to the throne room, and what he saw there astonished him.

Melkor was sitting on his throne wearing an iron crown in which there were three of the brightest jewels Artíre had ever seen. Moreover, it seemed that the crown was burning the dark lord, and he was suffering greatly. Could some kind of enchantment have been placed upon him? Could this be a punishment of the Valar? Was this a sign of weakness in Melkor? Fascinated, the Watcher approached him, forgetting the usual obeisances required of those who went before the evil one.

"What news, Artíre?" Melkor asked, obviously suffering.

"I saw Sauron with four others," Artíre replied, "seeking others to join thee. They called me thine enemy, my lord."

Melkor leaned forward. "Art thou mine enemy, Artíre?"

"Nay, my lord," Artíre replied. "I am thine to command, and thine alone. Send me where thou wilt, and I will go, gathering news for thee wherever it can be found."

Melkor was silent for a while as he apparently considered this. It was clear to Artíre he knew that the Watcher had been declared outlaw by the Valar, and that he also knew that something had happened between Artíre and Sauron, but knew little about it. Perhaps Sauron had avoided discussing the matter, and Melkor was unwilling to press his lieutenant because he needed him in his quest to dominate Middle Earth.

"Artíre," he asked, "what chanced between thyself and Sauron, so that ye are opposed to each other? I will not have squabbling in the ranks."

The Watcher, who had been about to complain against Sauron, realized then that doing so would compromise his already weak position with the dark lord. "He seems to believe that 'twas I led the Valar into Utumno," Artíre replied.

Melkor sat back. It clearly had never occurred to him to imagine that Artíre would work for anyone else but him. Artíre was nervous as he considered his position with the dark lord. Melkor had always found him useful; but was unlikely to alienate Sauron, who had held this fortress in trust for him. If Artíre could find a way to make the dark lord see this as a way that Sauron had presented the facts rather than what had actually happened, his plan to divide them would succeed.

"Artíre," he ordered, "I command thee to go and observe Sauron, and to report to me the things he sayeth and doth. Go now and seek him, and if he doth complain, send him back to me forthwith."

The Watcher bowed and left the room, walking backwards to atone for the lack of respect he had shown earlier. As soon as he was clear of Angband, Artíre cried out for joy. The first part of his plan was working - Melkor now considered it necessary to have Sauron watched.

Working for a master suddenly appeared to be a good thing after all, he mused, as he made his way south to seek his nemesis.

Chapter End Notes:

Melkor's affectation of an Archaic form of English is a conceit I have given him to make himself look remote and godlike.

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