Characters: Meleth, Eöl, Rôg
Warnings: Body Horror
Summary: As the host of Noldor make their way to Middle-earth, a reunion takes place in Dor Dínen.
Inspired by three challenges: First Lines, Another Place in Time, and Inventions.
Taking his shirt off, he looked over all his wounds, wondering if they were worth the price of getting the information. It had bought his friend some time, but the fresh wounds were slowing them down. They were still far from safety, just at the mouth of Dorthonion, but a sudden sharp stabbing pain on his side had made him stop to examine.
Rivers of liquid black marred his skin, over his chest, between his ribs, and down to his hips. They still stung sharply, made worse by the fact that they had been running ever since his friend Noríol got them out. This same friend was now running several paces before him, not a single stitch of cloth on him as his mad laughter filled the sky. He, Eöl, had been stripped of all cloth since their imprisonment, but right before their escape he located this loose shirt, no doubt torn off yet another elf he would regrettably not be able to save. Morgoth’s servants had been especially active in the past few years, capturing more of his kin than ever before for their ill deeds.
He turned back to Noríol. The sight of his friend nude had long since stopped causing embarrassment. They along with their friend Neswë grew up at a time when no elf young or old was clothed, when the world was still so young and their numbers were still growing. It was so long ago since the time their mothers wrapped them in cloth and taught them the concept of modesty. But it wasn’t an issue of modesty concerning his friend. What disturbed him far more was the manner in which Noríol had changed. Noríol’s body as marred as his own though in different ways. His hair, once pitch black, were streaked with blood; and fire raged in his eyes, his teeth sharp, and his body covered with scars, inflicted both by the servants and by Noríol himself.
That very thought pained Eöl enough to not wish to look. It was already terrible that Noríol’s mind was not the same as the elf Eöl remembered.
Noríol howled again, and Eöl winced at the sudden sound shattering the night.
“I see the gates opening!” Noríol announced as he stood atop a small hill, looking back. “They come for us, and I am ready for them!”
“No, head south!” Eöl begged, rushing to him. “We have no weapon on us! Do you wish to go back in there?”
“They do not frighten me,” Noríol hissed, obviously enjoying the very idea of battling with Morgoth’s servants. “I made his very Balrogs cower before me, remember, dearest?”
“But do you not think giving him a chase will make the battle sweeter?” Eöl said as he studied the horrifying iron prison that stood in the north, its tall towers piercing the otherwise tranquil dark sky.
At his suggestion, the fire flared in Noríol’s eyes as he gave a grin to Eöl that set his stomach twisting with unease. Then leaping like a cat, Noríol plunged down Dorthonion, his laughter trailing far behind him. Eöl followed, glancing over his shoulder occasionally to make certain none of the servants were following.
They were doing rather well, but Noríol’s sudden outbursts from time to time threatened to jeopardize their location. They ran as far as their legs could take them, with Eöl ignoring as much of his pain as he could.
“Keep going!” he’d beg his friend, pushing him forward each time Noríol slowed.
They had travelled as far south and east as they could, passing through Dorthonion with difficulty. Having grew up under starlight, their eyes were sharp and could penetrate through the darkness with ease, and yet in their haste they nearly lost their footing many times. Eöl was certain one foot was bleeding, having stepped on something sharp along the way. But the forest provided shelter for them, as they relied on the hills and the tall trees to veil them from any who would be tracking them down, shrouding them in a darkness so thick no servant of Morgoth could penetrate. But still Eöl feared their victory; any crunch of twigs behind sent a fresh wave of horror through him and another plea for Noríol to keep running.
At long last the dark of the pine trees gave to clear night skies, slightly lighter than Eöl remembered it, but he gave it no thought until the two finally collapsed in the middle of Dor Dínen.
“Doriath…is still…a bit further…south…” Eöl said between deep breaths. The fresh black poison in his body seared with each painful gasp. He glanced about himself, remembering a meeting with the Naugrim, or the rock-people as Eöl thought of them, short but jovial folk who shared in his passion of metallurgy and the building of beautiful things. If only they could come in this direction now!
“We cannot rest now, Noríol. There is but little shadows we can hide under here.”
“The name is Rôg,” Noríol corrected, each word spoken with such delighted mania. He spun around, and plopping down to one knee, gripped Eöl by his throat. “Rôg. Rôg is my name now, dearest!”
Eöl spluttered under the weight crushing his windpipe, his heart hammering agonizingly fast in his chest. When at last Noríol- Rôg - finally let go of him, he took a deep shuddering breath.
“Please, do not forget the name your father gave you!” Eöl said, “especially not such a horrid name as that!” Their kin did not receive a name until later in their childhoods, around ten to fifteen years of age, as the parents chose the name carefully to fit the elf perfectly. Eöl’s own name was that of the Kinn-lai tongue meaning “thinker,” whereas Noríol’s name meant “runner.” It was a joke among their tribe that of the two elves, one always thought before acting while the other just ran into action.
“Nor- Rôg - we are out of Angband,” Eöl said softly to Rôg’s retreating back. “They will not harm us here. You are injured. Come back, let me dress your wound with my shirt.”
But Rôg did not hear him. “Let them come,” he hissed, the tone sending shivers up Eöl’s arms as memories of devils and monsters in that prison assaulted his mind. “Let them all come! I am ready, ready!” He marched back towards Eöl, pulling his arm towards him and yanking the sleeve back. “Don’t think I do not know what they did to you inside there? I’d hear your screams no matter where I was. My fury made me this monster you see before you, but fear not! It is they who will feel my wrath”
His eyes flashed red again and he grinned, his grip tight on Eöl’s wrist for a moment before letting go. And with another high-pitched laugh, he ran off. Eöl recoiled into himself, fighting back tears as he continued to hear Rôg’s voice in the distance, daring Morgoth to show himself in this moment.
“What has happened to you, my friend?” he mumbled and turned to the sky to look for his most beloved starlight - Aleila - in the sky which gave him comfort. That was when he noticed the strange silverly orb. It was the reason why the sky was a little brighter. He could still make out the other stars even in the orb’s presence, but it was such an odd thing to behold.
He turned back to Rôg, seeing that the other elf’s body had finally given up and collapsed onto the ground, clutching a gaping wound from his arm. There were many others, Eöl now saw, though he did not remember seeing Rôg get injured before their escape; it must have happened during their run to safety, but before he could do anything a warm shadow fell over him.
He looked up to meet a lithe elf of the Hwenti tribe riding a horse. Her large, inky black eyes bore into his, and her mouth twitched at the horror before her.
“Eöl, dear friend!” she gasped.
A sad smile came to Eöl. “Nezwë!” he said just as Rôg called out, “Meleth!” and crawled to them for only a few steps before his attention went elsewhere and he froze on the spot.
Meleth was the affectionate nickname both had given her long ago in their youth in the tongue of their Telerin king. Though a friend to both, it was to Rôg that she gave her heart to years later. Her eyes grew wide at her husband’s strange appearance, and she shot Eöl a silent question for a moment before leaping off her horse to approach him first.
Out of the three, she was the darkest in complexion and the warmest in voice, though she too possessed a bodily strength, having fought Morgoth’s ill creatures that threatened their land before their imprisonment, though she was no soldier but a healer. “I have been looking for you ever since that big round star appeared in the sky. My mother and sisters took it as a sign of hope, that perhaps you had escaped, so I went searching.”
“A sign of hope?” Smiling, Eöl turned back to the orb with a new appreciation. “Perhaps it is then. How long has it been there?”
“About six or seven rounds about the land,” Meleth said and crouched beside Eöl, her cloak pulled back to reveal the satchel full of healing herbs and other related supplies she always carried beside her.
“Please, go to Rôg first,” Eöl said, “for he is injured.”
“But what is that?” Meleth pointed to the thick black veins running up Eöl’s leg. She pushed back his sleeve then pulled the collar of Eöl’s shirt aside to examine him closer. She traced the thick black marks over Eöl’s back and front, her fingers prodding around the black and tentatively daring to touch the wound itself.
“Is this some sort of infection?” she mumbled, more to herself than him. “Do we need to drain it, I wonder.”
“I do not know for certain,” Eöl confessed. “It was some sort of meteorite that feel from the sky. Morgoth wished to test what it could do and if he may use it against us. They filled my body with it in hopes of turning me into one of Morgoth’s servants, one of the yrch. My skin was to be impenetrable by any sword or spear, but they could not poison my mind.”
Rôg chuckled darkly, his red eyes turning back to them. “He worked out mathematical equations in the dark. I heard him mumbling to himself throughout our time. Thought he had gone mad, but it was keeping him sane. He refused to forge anything for that measly mutt in the iron prison!”
“And neither did you,” Eöl said loudly, then added in a quieter tone to Meleth, “though he has gone mad, I’m afraid. They haven’t successfully turned him into a yrch, but I do not understand what had happened with him. He did change, but into what? Even the most powerful of the dark lord’s servants feared him. As for forging, he too refused to serve, though he…sought to forge something else with me in his madness.”
Meleth’s eyes widened and she nodded her head in understanding. She glanced back at her husband with concern for a few moments, still as a rock. Then suddenly she leapt back to her feet and dared a few steps towards him. In truth nothing did transpire beyond Rôg’s pursuit, and it happened once before his senses returned to him, but Eöl felt it was important she knew of Rôg’s behavior, as he feared for his old friend being among an elf very unlike the one she wed. He watched them carefully, ready to defend Meleth if it came to that.
“Noríol…” Meleth said, extending out a hand to him.
“Rôg! My name is Rôg!”
“Fine, Rôg.” She crouched to his level. “Let me dress your wounds, eh, love? We should be heading to Doriath, or to Nan Elmoth as old lady Wilówë is sure to have something to help you both, but…” She took in the full length of his wounds. “You have many. Best we do this here for, whatever we can heal before we head south. I did not see any trouble come this way in my search, so we should be fine for the time being.”
Rôg wasn’t a violent elf, especially never to Meleth. Even in his odd alerted state he regarded her with the affection and respect Eöl had always seen between them. He listened intently to her words, the strain in his shoulders lessening as he relaxed. When she felt comfortable enough around him, Meleth broke eye contact and busied herself with preparing the healing salve.
“Let me tell you about what’s been happening back home,” she said in a chirpy tone, gathering up the appropriate herbs and the salve base and other supplies from her satchel and laying them out before her. “The Nandor welcomed a new life into their number recently - Nethrillas gave birth to a girl and named her Nellas.”
Eöl smiled, knowing how good of friends his mother and Nethrillas were. He leaned closer to hear more of news from Doriath, smiling more as familiar names filled his mind, pushing back all the terrible memories from their imprisonment.
The preparation for the healing salve happened like magic in Meleth’s hands. Virtually all elves who remained in Middle-earth since the sundering, especially those who grew up in the dark enchanted forests, seemed to have developed such a profound relationship with the world about them that they may control it with just the will of their minds. It was true even in the case of the King and Queen’s daughter, where small starlights blossomed into flowers wherever she walked, though Eöl wondered if part of Lúthien’s magic came from having an ílayë for a mother. He could not remember being able to stir enchantments before as a small child, but it had come to them gradually, become such an innate part of them that they seemingly performed magic with every breath.
And indeed the herbs looked enchanted in Meleth’s hands as she crushed, kneaded, and mixed them with the salve base in the palms of her hands, her chanting words causing a comfort to ripple over Eöl as he listened. Even Rôg’s features softened back to the young elf as Eöl and Meleth knew him, but once Meleth was done with her enchantment, the fire in his eyes rekindled, and the spell broke for Eöl too, remembering where they were and why they rested in the Silent Land. He watched Meleth with concern, ready to defend her again as Rôg hissed while Meleth applied pressure to the first wound. Perhaps it was an effect of the spell, but Meleth did not flinch, ignoring her husband as she went about her work confidently.
“Some of your wounds look new,” Meleth eventually said, breaking the silence. She nodded her head at Eöl.
“I purposely got them just to have time with the servants,” Eöl said. “Rôg went to work on our escape while I distracted them and pretended I was interested in their plans with me and others. When I was finally released, I ran back to Rôg and proceeded our escape plan.
“But that was not the only reason. I went to see for myself…” He took a pause, considering if he should reveal this in this moment. He had been nothing but truthful to Meleth, and she seemed to be handling the terrible changes rather well. He took a deep breath. “Meleth, your sister Ulbandi…they got her, but we could not save her.”
Fear flashed through Meleth’s eyes, but she focused her attention on applying the salve and dressing the troublesome deep gash on Rôg’s arm.
“I saw what they do to our people. Before I rejoined Rôg I hide in the shadows to witness. They break them, damage their minds with these ill thoughts, disfigure their bodies, drain the spirit out of them. I watched them die over and over only to become reanimated - zúmbâ - to fulfill any deed Morgoth decrees. There’s hundreds of them in his fortress, and they are breeding our people like savage animals to make more of these yrch.
“If we had made enough explosives, I would have used it on all of Angband. Many of our loved ones are in there, their bodies used as a vessel for devilry.”
Rôg grinned. “I would love to have seen that, you blowing up all of Angband. Be a hero and a killer at once. Morgoth would of had it coming to him.”
Eöl shook his head, glaring at Rôg. “But do you not weep for what has become of our kin? Our cousins, my father…they are all there. Morgoth means to mock us by vilifying us in body, soul, and name. Meleth, myself and Rôg…I feel we are not the same as before. Even if we resisted, I do not think they counted us as failures. I’m afraid a curse is placed on us so that decay will follow in our footsteps. It is something Morgoth would do. Why have they not found us yet? Perhaps we are doomed to bring ill to the rest of our peoples. I confess I feel I am unalive…”
“But you do not seem dead to me, neither of you,” Meleth said, glancing at them with sadness. She slowly lowered her hands from their place on Rôg’s arm. “What an existence our kin are suffering as”
“I…” Eöl sighed deeply. “I thought about killing her, your sister, as an act of mercy. But I could not bear to do it. I know she is no longer the Ulbandi we know, but she is still of our kin.”
Meleth studied her hands, bits of herbs stuck to her thumb. Her face darkened with resolve. “I will make a poison,” she said thickly. “Dip the tips of your swords and arrows and javelin in them. Any yrch we see, we kill instantly, and if we fail to do that, the poison shall free them of this world within hours. I won’t allow the devil to tarnish our people or our memory and dignity, to turn us against one another - oh, Rôg, what’s happening!”
Rôg showed no sign of distress, unaware of the blood seeping through the dressing wrapped around his arm. He turned to it to examine but said nothing, equally as confused.
“But I put pressure,” Meleth said, studying his wound again. “Has he been poisoned?”
“He ran through sharp debris from the blast,” Eöl said. “And we tumbled a few times in our haste to get away, caught unto branches and tripped on fallen trees. But I doubt any of them were laced with poison.”
“There might be a shard still in there then, although I did not feel anything in my examination,” Meleth said. “It is best we return to our lord’s halls, and quick!”
“He won’t make the trip,” Eöl said. The blood could easily be picked up by their chasers, and could they, if Eöl fear was right in that they were cursed, risk leading the servants straight into Doriath? He thought of his home again, of the comfort that always came in that forest and of the grand halls the Naugrim had helped to build, inhabited by multiple tribes, perhaps all the elven tribes in existence. The memory was only tarnished by the first sighting of a yrch in that same year, and of the weapons forged soon after to kill their tormented kin.
If only there was a way to turn the yrch against their maker, Eöl thought, and that was when the idea came to him. He glanced back at his own wounds for a moment before digging his fingers into the freshest and widest black piece in his torso.
“Give me a minute,” Eöl said softly. “If they wanted me to be an impenetrable yrch, then perhaps this can work the other way around…”
He twisted his fingers in and around, testing how deep the blackness went. He was right in that they must have went on forever, deeper than his own body. He was truly only half-alive, the thought grieving him for but a moment before thinking of Rôg again. His face contorted into agonizing pain as he felt and dug for a spot he could grab onto. Each movement was a terrible reminder of long sharp claws digging into him, hollowing him out…
Panting heavily, he carefully pulled a thick black glob out. Nothing bled out of his stomach, the black immediately readjusting so that it didn’t seem there was ever something removed from there.
His eyes turned to the black in his hands.
“This is strange, this galvorn,” he said aloud to no one in particular.
The metal was very malleable, and his body’s natural heat made it such that it allowed him to mold it with just his hands alone. The process would have been easier if his hands could stop shaking, his body still rattled from the intrusion, but he pressed on, flattening the piece into a thin layer between the palms of his hands, curling up at the half.
Perhaps it was Eöl’s pain, but the world about him was looking odder by the minute, strangely bright. Perhaps his own death was near. He shook his head, focusing at the task. First heal Rôg, then succumb to death.
When he was done, he first tested the piece on his own arm before removing it and handing it over to Meleth.
“Just clamp it around the wound,” he said. “It’ll hold tight.”
Meleth did so, the black metal fusing almost instantly over Rôg’s arm tightly. Minutes passed but no blood seeped past.
“Good thinking, Thinker,” Meleth said, smiling.
The world was still looking stranger, Meleth harder to see although it wasn’t that his sight was growing darker…
Just then a massive glow of fire engulfed the sky, seeping high over the tall trees and drawing out cries of surprise from all three. Eöl jumped to his feet in utter fright, wondering what servant of Morgoth had discovered them. The fire lit everything, the colors much sharper and more painful to behold, and it was everywhere, a source he could not pinpoint.
That is, until he looked up. A great ball of fire blazed in the sky, engulfing all the light of the precious stars, including his Aleila, the star of his comfort.
The world was surely to end in that moment. The disk would fall and burn everything of this world. Or it would turn out to be the greatest and most terrible of the Balrogs of Angband, its breath alone instant death to all of Beleriand.
The seconds ticked by, but the orb did not fall. Eöl cast his eyes to it, looking directly at it. Instantly his eyes burned, and he spun around, crying out in pain. He fell to his knees.
Meleth too wasn’t looking directly at the fiery disk, but her eyes were roaming about the greenery about them, taking in their new appearance under the bright light.
“These are strange,” Meleth said. “So it appears the silvery orb now has a companion. Don’t look directly at it, but around you, Eöl. Your eyes will adjust in time. I’ve never seen the world in this light, but it is not so bad. Isn’t this like the fires of your smithy?”
Eöl shook his head, his eyes still adjusting to the light, but it was far too bright for him. “The fire in my smithy is contained, but this is high above us, about to strike at any moment! Nothing good can come out of this.”
“No,” Rôg hissed delightfully. “All the good comes from this!” He laughed, the pitch growing higher and madder as he got to his full height, throwing his arms wider as if to welcome the ball of hellfire that had just scorched Eöl’s eyes. Under this light, he very much did not wish to see Rôg’s naked body. “No secrets left, my loves! There is nothing to hide now - the fire that will swallow this world has come, and the war I’ve foreseen shall begin!”
And off he went again into his mad rant again, screaming for Morgoth and all of Angband to come fight him. Frowning, Eöl and Meleth gave one another a silent look before glancing out to their old home, marred by the devil’s light. The premonition of the future did come to Eöl then, ill and lying thickly in his stomach, of the curse placed upon him and Rôg.
“Nothing good will come out of this,” he uttered again under his breath. “Oh, I wonder what ill things will come our way…”
End of story notes:
My headcanon is that Rôg and Meleth are actually Avari elves who were adopted into Turgon’s party when his party resided in Nevrast. Rôg proclaimed himself to be a Noldo (and indeed he is a Noldo-Avari though his complexion is darker) and his wife Meleth to be one of the Sindar, though due to her skin tone she was antagonized among them until she found friendship in Aredhel and Idril. A story exploring that may come one day.
This story was also to challenge the light/dark dichotomy of the Legendarium to see things in reverse.
Galvorn is said to have been a metal derived from a meteorite, but no inventions from it was ever made after Eöl’s death. In this story the reason for that is shown: the metal galvorn was physically fused into his body, hence he was the only person who had access to the resources.
Ulbandi, in the Lost Tales, was said to be an ogress who mothered Gothmog with Morgoth. In this tale she was once an Hwenti-Avari, as her sister Meleth, but she was taken and turned into an orc. This propels her to create the poison that ends up killing Aredhel in “Of Maeglin.” I haven’t found a translation for the name Ulbandi, but in this tale it is a Hwenti word.
The description Eöl gave Meleth of the creation of orcs reminded me of old lore on zombies, hence why Avari elves see killing orcs as an act of kindness and mercy to end the life of their tormented kin. Although we see elves despising orcs by the Third Age, I always wondered how the elves during the Year of the Trees saw them, especially the Avari, since these orcs were most likely their own loved ones.
The Hwenti word “zümbië” translates to “reanimate,” again a reference to zombies.