4. Blood Song
Cognates of Heaven
Disclaimer: I do not own Dragon Age, LOTR, the Silmarillions, the Unfinished Tales, and other published and un-published works of Tolkien. Also, many thanks to the essays of the Silmarillion Writer's Guild and the essay Warm Beds Are Good for giving me a better understanding of Tolkien's works.
Chapter 4: Blood Song
Something touched Hawke in the side. No. Someone. The mind of someone, heavy and wary. It was an old mind, brave enough to touch her, but cautious enough to do so with only the tendrils of its thoughts. As soon as the contact was made, it withdrew. Recoiled. Whoever that was, he or she was unused to the burden of mental connection with the like of Hawke.
It was the merest of touch, ensuing in the split of a second. Still, the damage was done. From within the all-encompassing blankness of her dream prison, Hawke rose, floating up and up until her eyes opened and she was awake.
Someone shrieked. Something dropped on the floor. Clanging sounds pierced her ears and ricocheted all over in her head. What a way to wake up.
She sat up, blinked. She felt groggy and dizzy all over. Her body hurt. Aching muscles. Sleep fatigue. The tangy, coppery taste of blood filled her mouth, overflown, dribbled down her chin. She swallowed. More blood to a bloodmage. The pain in her body vanished immediately. Only the one in her head remained. The absence of Sauron pressing down on her mind was a staggering one. Hawke struggled to regain her balance. A few minutes went pass as she dry-heaved. When she looked up, she saw the source of that first shriek. She was in a room, the very room below the 'eye', and on the other side of the chamber, not very far away, a woman hobbled. A human woman.
Hawke can taste her fear. She reeked of fear, as if she was a piece of cloth soaked with liquid fear to the fibre. Her dark brown skin was ashen and wrinkled with age, like a patch of old leather that had seen sun, and rain, and windflow for decades, and her eyes pinpricks of dark burning coals.
Easterling. Came a whisper in Hawke's mind, drawing from the rudimentary images left over by Morinehtar. The woman was of Easterling blood, one among the slave races of Sauron. Hawke's eyes went down. There was an upended tray at the woman's feet, and a mess of pots, bottles, water and gauzes.
What happened? Came the question. Someone touched the Shard. Someone saw her memories. Someone made contact. The answer jolted her brain awake. Her pleas were heard, but by whom, and to what end?
For a moment, she sat there on a slab of black granite, naked and shivering, and terribly lost. What was she to do? She felt out her magic. They were there, but locked away, stuck under the weight of the ringwraith's powers. She knew those creature's name now. Sauron's generals. Sauron who was a shade of his former glory. If there was one good thing of her people's entry into this world, it was that they never came when Sauron was at the peak of his power.
But he was close . So very close to becoming what he was. Distantly, she felt the turning of his eye as it directed its gaze from the white city to her. He knew she was awake.
Once again, the question came. Now that she was momentarily free from the dream prison. What to do? What chance she had she had used up. Morinehtar was dead. No one else here but her and her wretched flock. The plea was sent. The plea was heard. How long ago was that? Time had no meaning in this place. No one here observed its passage.
Hawke flexed her hands, her strong, flawless hands. Her pale, gleaming skin, plump and bloated. She had been well-cared for. Hawke looked up at the woman on the floor, who was softly crying now.
"Who are you?" She asked.
Her question was for naught. There was no recognition in the woman's face, who was murmuring something in her nasal mothertongue.
"Kush je ti?"
That was the first time Hawke attempted the Black Speech. The words came from her mouth slow and rumbling, like the slithers of snakes on brittle dry leaves, like a thousand snakes hissing to roaring thunders. Magic, dark and primal and hungry, from the language itself. The sound was different from that of Sauron, but the soul was the same. The torchlight dimmed, dancing shadows on the wall. The Easterling woman squealed and shrunk into herself.
Whatever patience she had was gone, Hawke rose from the granite slab, wobbling on her legs. Then she stamped her right foot. Atrophy from months asleep had left her body frail and weak, but the force that answered her call was anything but. Her magic buckled in the ringwraith's hold. Black marble ground shattered under her foot. Gravity formed, reached out its invisible hands. And just like that, the Easterling woman was snapped forward towards Hawke like a ragdoll helpless against the pull of a hurricane. She came crashing into Hawke's waiting arms, a shivering, sobbing mess spewing strings of what must be prayers in a language only she knew, to a god only she bowed to.
"Kussshhhh Jeeee Tiiii?" Hawke repeated, locking eyes with her. The woman squealed and cried in response. She didn't understand a word Hawke said. She didn't understand now and she didn't understand then. She spoke not a word of the language of Sauron. But Hawke didn't need her to. Where her hands gripped the woman's arms, the nails drew blood. A connection was made. One in the flesh. She closed her eyes, and followed the blood into the woman's mind.
Her name was Omanathinkal. Omanathinkal Thirunal. And she was the blood of Bor. Bor who answered Maedhros the Elven's call to war against the Great Dark. Bor whose children were slaughtered in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. Bor whose blood flowed in trickles and swallowed by those of Ulfang the Treacherous, Ulfang whose sons betrayed the elves to the Great Dark. Bor, whose name now she bore in fear, and shame, and reverence, and pride, and bitterness.
Hawke staggered. The link between their minds was an almost unbearable pressure on her weakened body.
"Oman..." She said and the woman went still. Omanathinkal Thirunal stared at Hawke, her eyes like dark, wet stones. She had stopped sobbing. "Oma... Your name... is Oma." The connection ebbed and pulsed. Hawke came under.
She was fifteen when she was sold to her husband's family. She bore him five sons and two daughters. No. Six. Six daughters. But four died. It was a harsh land, especially on young girl enfants. He treated her well, as well as any woman of the Wainriders could expect. Fed, and protected, but not much else. She remembered the bodies of her babies, soft, and warm, and pliant, and melding to her breasts for so long they left their own imprints on her. Baby-shaped welts only she can see. She heard the scent of their skin, their hair, their childish squeals as she held them. Like little warm stones on the river banks, smelling of water and sun and fresh grass. Like new butter, like bread soggy with hot milk. She lived in their breaths, in the shine of their yet uncomprehending eyes.
The last babe left her breasts the same time his father came back from the Dark One's call. He came back in a sack, in five separate pieces. He went with valor, they said. They gave her his wain, and bid her adieu.
The Wainriders did not eat their own.
But what was she to do with a hungry wain and four hungry children? Her three grown sons were long gone. Off to serve the Dark One, as all Wainrider boys ought to. She did not remember much, the time afterward. Wainrider mothers had songs about this, of days of hardship and working mouth to bottle. Reality. It was not nearly as poetic and beautiful as they made it out to be in songs and verses. She sold the wain. She would like to bring a knife to it. Meat and lard for the winter, and fur cloaks for her fatherless children. But her kitchen knife against a war wain's jagged teeth? Better not entertain the thought. The coins lasted for a winter. Afterward, they lingered, like hopeless wasps against the pull of the unforgiving squall. Eventually, she herself answered the Dark One's call, for bread, for foods, for a future for her children.
The light does not reach where the wains tread, the elves of old once said,
Omanathinkal Thirunal did not decry them their likening.
The Dark One's army may be made of shadows, teeth and steel, but they ate just like anyone else. And those who ate needed those who cooked. She served for maybe two moons, maybe three. Where she stayed now the Great Eye plotted out the sun and the moon. Eventually, it came to her to take care of the Lesser Dark.
It was a deceptive name, for she was no less powerful and fearsome than the Dark One. She had simply lost, in the greater scheme of things, in a battle in which orcs and trolls died by the hundred thousands, died like little flies, like ants stamped underfoot, to one who was so great sun and moon bowed to him. Like the great mountain was lesser than the earth it stood on. To the likes of her, Snaga they called, Oma was as an ant scurrying about under the rocks of the mountain foot.
No one knew where the Lesser Dark came from. No one knew what the Lesser Dark wanted, and how she came to be jailed under the Dark One's watchful eye. She must have committed great grievances for her to be cast down under him. But instead of destroying her, he preserved her. None was allowed within five levels of the high chamber where she stayed. None except for the Wraith Lords and one... one single caretaker... who would never be orcs or trolls or men. … only women. Aside from the Wraiths, only women of the Wainriders, of the Variags ever were allowed to attend to the Dark Lady.
The Dark One wanted none of their filthy fingers on her. He protected her, in a sense, from the crude and brutal care of the Orcs. She alone was reserved this treatment. Her kind, Oma had seen them, the magika, men and women of unimaginable power but never the less dwelled within simple mortal flesh, were not offered this same tenderness.
A lover's spat between the mountain and the earth must seem like the rumbling of quakes to the likes of her, Oma supposed.
Still, she attended to her duty with the wariness of of worshippers attending to their volcano god. Attentive, simpering, but ever watchful, ever fearful... for that moment when the volcano woke, and they were but helpless wasps against her pull, for that moment when she rose from her slumber.
Hawke came out. She opened her eyes. The room was quiet but she could hear the shrieks of the Ring Wraiths from afar. They knew she had wrung free, but this freedom would not last long. She did not have much more time until the Eye turned its full attention on her and she was brought back to the dream prison again. She tugged her hands and brought a trembling Oma up to bear.
"You will help me." Hawke said... but the words did not come from her. They came from the Easterling woman's mouth, a hoarse, nasal strings of words incomprehensible to Hawke but readily understandable to who it was meant for. The blood connection between them thinned, held. "When the time comes, you will rise from your shackles and help me and my kin. I will give you the strength to do so." Hawke said. Oma said. One voice. One mind. The blood link united them for the moment.
Blood magic. Magic that wasn't wholly magic. A hybrid of the arcane and the fleshly. The greatest magical puzzle of all. It was the only kind of magic which did not adhere to the rules normally applied to its brethrens. One did not need to be a born mage to be able to wield the power of blood. It was a discipline unto itself, a power detached from all other sources of magical energy. That which ran readily within one's vein. That which did not obey the templar's tyrannical rule. That which Sauron knew nothing about and comprehended nothing about... for the simple fact that he possessed no intrinsic physical shell to call his own, and so could not understand the power that came from mortals.
One which Hawke was about to give to this woman, simply because it was the only 'tampering' she was sure Sauron would not see.
"For I know your heart." Oma hitched a breath, her heart pounding, quivering in its ribcage. A thin tendril of blood appeared from her mouth, overflowed, dripped down to her chin. The blood that flew in Oma's veins surged to Hawke's call, simmering, boiling from within their frail fleshly container. "Your frail, petty heart that despises your own weakness, that abhors your helplessness. I will give you strength. When the time comes, you will help me. You will lead me out of here. And in return, I will give you freedom. I will give you power. I will give you the future. I will give you... the world."
The connection pulsed, rose. The air quivered, waiting, bidding for that one final agreement, waiting for the geas to take. Hawke looked Oma in the eyes, that last delicate moment before the transcendence, then she said.
"I know your heart." Her voice came to a whisper, hot, and sweaty, and an inch away from Oma's mouth as they spoke in unison, each in their own language, their voices overlapped, intertwined, sealing the covenant. "It no longer belongs to he who you call the Dark One... for you are mine."
A breath in the silence, upward, hitching, indrawn, like the first inhale of a child fresh from the mother's womb. Then a great wooshh as an invisible pressure left the room. Hawke released Oma just in time for the shrieks of the Ringwraiths to reach the door of her prison. She closed her eyes, listened to the soft breathing of the blood being who she just gave birth to, and waited.
Elrond awoke to a buzzing room with ears wet with blood. He relaxed his fist. The Shard came rolling out of it, printing little dots of blood on the velvet of his recliner.
"My Lord!" The face of Erestor came into his vision. He pushed the Nondorian elf back, took a slow, heavy breath in. His heart calmed. The visions of the other land receded.
"I am fine." He said as he wiped the blood off his face. His hands came away red and soaking. There was a table next to the recliner, draped over with a simple white, laced cloth. He pulled the cloth off with one swift move, wrapped it around his head. The blood stemmed. Heaving, he stood up, picked up the Shard from the floor. It shone in jags of obsidian, glistening in the firelight. It had drank its share of blood. He could feel its power renewed.
"How was it?" That was Gandalf, standing by the door of Elrond's study. The wizard had his pipe in his mouth, and there was a thin trail of smoke coming from one end, floating all the way up to the ceiling.
Elrond frowned but decided not to comment on it. "It is as you said. It's meant for a full-blooded Maia. I could barely understand the images." He looked at his retainers, Erestor, Glorfindel, Lindir. Galdor of Grey Haven. "Perhaps it was a bad call."
"Perhaps." Glorfindel agreed. They shared a look. The lord of the House of Golden Flower made no secret of his disagreement with Elrond's decision.
"You know it is all for the best, Glorfindel. I am hardly unfamiliar with battlefields, no matter how vaunted my skill in the healing house is."
"Is it?" Glorfindel made a show of crossing his arms. "The last lord of the Nondor, whose royal line ended with the great Gil-Galad, out on scout's errand while his people stew in uncertainty. And who knows what awaits him on the roads? Drakes? Ringwraiths? The horde of Mordor? For surely if the Dark Lord knows of this... Shard... he will do anything to stop its message from reaching the peers of Middle Earth." He shot a look at Gandalf, then back at Elrond. "It is a task better suited for a warrior, not a ruler of the realm."
"Like who? Glorfindel? Like you? Who has not the blood of Maiar in your veins to awake the visions of the Shard?" Elrond parried, bringing up the Shard in question with one hand. "I would have liked for things to be different, but the fact is, there are only two of Maiar blood suitable... and available to us in all of Middle Earth right now. One..." He gestured at Gandalf "... will have to lead the Fellowship into Mordor and ensure the destruction of the Ring. It is inevitable that the other must take up the Shard and bring its message to the rest of the realm. The two tasks are of equal importance, to us and to Sauron both."
"... your sons..."
"... are not suited to navigate the currents of interstate and interspecies politics, which they will surely have to face with each peer of the realm they present the Shard to. Think you not that I have forgotten the friction between us and Mirkwood? Or our volatile relation with the kings under the mountains? Even the humans have long closed their doors to us. Think you that Thranduil would lend his ears to the princelings of Rivendell? Or that the dwarfs would let open the door to their earthen halls for two elf princes? Or that the humans would welcome them who come from a land they barely remember? No. It is the lord of the elf who must show his face, this once, or none will recognize the validity of this magi threat except for Lothlorien. They would all have their heads buried under dirt and see not this one warning for what it truly is, as the men of Gondor did, until it is too late."
He paused for breath without stopping their stare-off. "And if you think to recommend my daughter for the task, I'd have you out in the courtyard now, with your sword out."
A tense moment crawled pass. Then Glorfindel broke the gaze. He swung his stare towards the open window. "Our people are afraid." He said finally, his voice a thin, reedy note.
"That we do." Galdor of the Grey Haven cut in, patting Glorfindel's shoulders. "We elves do not adjust well to changes. Those of the Grey Harbor can attest to that. But we have no choice." He turned to Elrond. "I may not be able to invoke the Shard's visions to others but I do have the trust and willing ears of my own lord. Grey Haven is a long way from here, and your path even longer. I will set for my own home, and make sure that the warning is heard in the land beside the sea." Then he took Glorfindel by the hands, and led the other out. Erestor gave him a measuring look before following suit. He closed the door as he went.
Then it was just Elrond and one huffing-and-puffing wizard.
"So... how was it?" Gandalf asked around his pipe.
"Terrible." Replied Elrond, succinct, and to the point. He held up the blood-soaked tablecloth as if to make a point. His other hand spotted a pinkish slash line right across the palm, still glistening. "It is crude, this blood letting. But it is the only way I can wield the Shard as a full-blooded Maia." He let out a long, tired breath. "I can barely make sense of what I saw. We can rest assured that whoever I show it to will only see as much as I do. I am not confident a few blurry images and a single letter will suffice as proof to other kings and queens."
"It will get better." Gandalf promised. "You simply need time, and practice. The maker of the Shard meant for the message to be heard."
Elrond snorted, but said nothing. Part of him doubted the wizard. He strained under use of the Shard. It was a haze, every time he tried to gaze into the images... memories... encoded deep within it. His attempt at bringing others in had been... haphazardous at best. The rest of his council had begged leave, citing splitting headaches. And there, deep there, down in the spiraling depths of flashing images and coursing memories, he can feel a terrible pressure, a knowing, watching kind of pressure, as if someone was always there, beside him every time he dove in.
Could it have been the Magi Champion? If it were her, he hoped she was as friendly as the blue wizard made her out to be. He was a sitting duck in her realms. If she wanted to take over his mind, he imagined there would be little he could do in protest.
The other part of Elrond, simply couldn't care. Here was the tactician that was the herald of Gil-Galad. Do, or do not. It said to him. There is no in-between, and no need to wonder.
"How of you then, Mithrandir?" He turned the table on the wizard, making a sweeping gesture at the window. "Confident in the chances of the Fellowship? Four hobbits, two humans, one an estranged king and the other a recalcitrant stewart's son, a dwarf who hates elves, an elf whose father hates dwarves... and one wizard, up against the horde of Modor. Let it be known that there has been no stranger company since Bilbo Baggins and his thirteen dwarves came into my home." The fact that such an alliance came to be was already amazing in and of itself. He could only hope the future alliance he was to make with the other races against the magi threat would be half as easy.
Gandalf merely shrugged. "We do what we must... for we have no other choice."
In the morning six days later, Elrond led his horse out the gate of his own home. An entourage followed close behind. Past the gate, they splitted up.
"Hark!" Aragorn shouted as led the Ring's Fellowship South West to the Gap of Rohan. Galdor bidded him good bye, then he himself led his people Westward back to the Grey Haven. The dwarves were already well on their way to Esgaroth, bearing not the full news but a herald of things to come to their king.
Finally, he was left alone with only Glorfindel. He turned, patted the other elf heartily. "Keep our home safe. Our people need to rearm themselves to war. Let them know the days when we can simply flee to the West is over. There is no one I can think of, who will do a better job than you."
"You should have taken Asfaloth. He would have brought you there on half of the days this horse would." Said Glorfindel, pointing to Elrond's chestnut mare. She was named Amilro, an average specimen of her species. Her coat was a nut brown all over, spangled with splotches of black and deep, thick brown around her legs. She was not known for her speed.
"She is quiet." Elrond simply said. "That's all I need for this journey." He stopped there, not pointing out the fact that Glorfindel hang bells on his horse, hardly a good thing to do on a mission meant for secrecy.
With one swift, graceful move, he was astride Amilro. He glanced back once, then forward to the open road before him. Eastward, to Mirkwood, as he had promised one concerned elf prince. Then to the reclaimed Erebor, catching up to Gloin's entourage in his one bid to involve Durin's folk in the coming war. Then followed the Great River to Lorien, and further down to Rohan's Edoras, only to finally end his journey at Minas Tirith, the front of the war... or so the plan said. What else awaited him on the road, not even his elven far sight can foresee.
The Shard lay in a pouch against his breast, chained to his neck with elven rope. He could feel its warmth through several layers of traveling clothes. It was not the warmth of rocks heated by fire, but the warmth of a human heart.
"We do what we must." He told himself. His voice carried over in the breeze, thin and soft as gauze. Then he took to the road, into the forest.
End Chapter 4