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The Golden and the Black

By Alystraea

Romance / Fantasy

The Halls of Mandos

Mandos stands in a radiant pool of light at the centre of his halls, shrouded in his hooded cloak, looking at the innumerable rooms and chambers spiralling around and above him into the heavens in many layers. His halls lie to the west of the Blessed Realm. Large as the soaring white structure may seem from without, it gives no clue as to the vast, almost infinite space that lies within.

The air amid the swirling light and shadows is heavy with the voices of multitudes—cries and laments and sobs and sighs, blending together into a heartrending chorus, sorrowful yet strangely melodious, for the voices of the Eldar are fair.

Across Belegaer, the Great Sea, a white city encircled by high mountains has fallen. The souls of slain Eldar are flooding into the halls of the dead. Mandos watches them float in through the white dome above, each with their own light, some dimmer, some brighter. His maiar guide each soul into its own appointed space, some higher and nearer the brilliance of the white dome above, some lower.

Mandos waits for one. It comes finally. A small, dark, swirling shape. The vala catches the dark fëa in his hand as it sinks heavily downwards to where he stands. He hears its wail of torment and hate and despair as its shadowy form swirls wildly across his palm.

It is almost black… almost, but not quite. At its heart, still a dim golden glow, flickering and fading. Compassion sits with judgement on the brow of Mandos.

A portal in the ground yawns open before him, to a vast dark space where many chambers lay. He descends below, gliding down upon the voices of the wretched who sojourn there. He breathes upon his palm, and sends the dark soul floating into a chamber where it takes form. The form of a broken body fallen from a great height, its edges blurred and shadowy. Where the heart should be, the faint light. He breathes again, over the glowing heart.

“Let the release of pain begin.”

Gwîr the Weaver, consort of Mandos, raises a hand as anguished sobs come from the form, its black edges eddy and shift. Upon the walls of the chamber various images of a life begin to appear in rapid succession. A dark forest. A dark, angry face. A woman falling with a spear in her shoulder. A golden-haired beauty. A torture chamber. Dragon fire on darkened mountain heights.

Small wisps of shadow float forth from the dark soul like smoke, and are sucked down into a black abyss below Mandos’ feet, the pool of all the pain and grief of the Eldar.

The pain and guilt is deep,” the vala says to the grey-robed maia who tends the souls at this level. “Let it purge for a millennium.”

The Lord of the Dead then ascends towards the dome of his halls, the rooms brighter and whiter the higher he rises. At the top levels, the souls of the innocent glow, the bright blossoms in his garden. Children and infants, cruelly slain. The love of Eru rests powerfully upon these, he thinks, smiling upon them. Their small forms are white and gold, but at their hearts, the crimson stain of the manner in which they had died.

The vala is waiting again. It comes. He receives in his palm a white, shimmering shape that floats lightly into the dome. It lies there, swirling white and gold, flecked with crimson. He cradles it in his hand, feeling it warm and restless, admiring its radiance. He breathes the love of Eru upon it and wafts it into a chamber near the bright dome. A form takes shape. Though shining bright, it seems as broken as the dark one had been. Vivid streaks of crimson flicker through the form, like terrible lacerations.

Gwîr has arrived. On the walls of the bright soul’s chamber appear images of white towers falling, of a mountain path along a ravine, and a vast black-winged demon with a fiery whip.

Heal,” Mandos commands the shining soul. “Rest.”

To his wife, the vala says, “His spirit is strong. He will not be long here with us.

On the walls of the chamber, images appear of a mountain pass. A backdrop of high peaks topped with snow.

A vast eagle bears a broken body in once-bright elven armour in its claws. He lifts it up from the chasm, beating his mighty wings. From the claws, still-bright golden hair hangs down, scorched and dark with blood.

A fair elven lady, her hair a lighter gold, receives the bloodied and burned body into her arms, weeping the terrible, rending tears of a mother bereft. She rocks back and forth on her knees in grief, clutching the slain knight to herself. The group of elves encircling the two weep inconsolably.

A mortal man tenderly loosens the lady’s arms and coaxes the body away from her with gentle whispers in her ear.

The refugees of Gondolin leave behind a cairn of stone, hurriedly raised. On it, the stems of golden celandine, plucked from the wayside and laid with loving hands, tremble in the mountain breeze.

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