October 30th, 2019

Happy birthday, Ignoble Bard: Thranduil Goes to Hell

New birthday story for Ignoble Bard, written in the Jael!verse and borrowing certain elements from the Pande!verse with her gracious permission.

Thranduil Goes To Hell

Námo found Manwë in his airy meditation garden with a goldfinch on his finger and a large blue parrot perched on his left shoulder. Other small avians darted and twittered about the Wind Lord's head. As per usual with his brother's tastes for the outdoors, the fluffy tops of the clouds could be seen far below the drop-off of the promontory, and the air was thin, chill and gusty. The parrot was hanging on for dear life.

“Forgive me, Brother, for disturbing you but --”

“Do me a kindness, Little Brother and lose the snake tail and the rattles behind you. You know how serpents upset my little ones.”

Námo adjusted his fana, grumbling. “I don't suppose you could return the favor and turn your hair back into hair for a moment. Those tentacles make me shudder.”

“Oh, very well, if I must . . .” Manwë heaved a great sigh, making the parrot dig in deeper. “Do you like my new pet? Aiwendil had him sent west with a flock of geese and condors as an escort. He's not much of a flier, but his vocabulary is amazing. He used to belong to Cìrdan, but the old salt finally ran out of filthy words to teach him.”

“I don't doubt it,” said Námo.

“Crooked Hillary, crooked Hillary, awwk, suck my nuts,” exclaimed the parrot.

“What a cesspit the world of Men must have become!” said Námo sourly.

“At least Varda finds him very amusing,” replied Manwë. “Now, tell me what brings you here in such an urgent mood?”

“I, ah, we have, in my Halls, a . . . a . . . situation.”

“What, does Fëanor want to be let out again? Just tell him no, and this time, say it like you mean it.”

“No, my Lord. We have a new arrival.”

“Oh my,” said Manwë. “I thought we were through with all of that. Why, we haven't had one of those in . . . truthfully, I can't remember it has been so long. So, do what you do, give him some counsel and a new hroa and send him out here to meet the rest of us. After a suitable delay just to teach him – or her? – a lesson about not dying. Have you become so lazy for lack of work that you can't handle a houseless fëa? Ilúvatar knows, you have the room for one more in your quiet Halls.”

“My Halls are no longer quiet. That is part of the problem. The newcomer refuses to allow me to counsel him and simply yells at me to let him the huithad out of there. I cannot reward such impertinent behavior. Why, he even called me a nachuithron!”

“Nachuithron, awwk!” responded the parrot helpfully.

Manwë snapped to attention. “Oh no! Don't tell me Oropher is back again!”

“Even worse,” said Námo. “It is his son.”

“I begin to see the problem,” said Manwë, pinching the bridge of his nose as if to stave off a headache.

“No, you do not begin to know even the tiniest fraction of it, Manwë,” Námo shouted. “The noise! The incessant demands for wine, although I fail to see how a disembodied fëa could have use for alcohol of any sort. I have had to deal with it for three weeks, five days, eight hours, twenty-three minutes and an odd number of seconds since that lone spirit showed up and immediately began disturbing our general peace and quiet. Poor Nienna has increased her weeping such that she has completely washed out my bed of prize nightshade seedlings. Her nose-blowing is almost as trying as the new resident himself. I'm not sure, but I took a quick peek into Vairë's weaving room and saw a quick sketch of me alone in the void with none but Melkor for company before she threw a cover over it. I don't want to be alone in the Void with Melkor. He was always such a bully to me during the time of the Music, pinching me in the nether regions to spoil my notes during a crucial chord and calling me Lord Gloom and Doom. Ilúvatar always let him get away with it, too. You were safe because you were Ilúvatar's favorite.”

“No, Námo. It might have seemed that way to you at the time, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Melkor was his favorite. Our Allfather always seemed to be looking the other direction when Melkor made kissy-faces at me and called me little Goody Two-shoes. I hadn't the faintest idea what shoes were, but I knew it wasn't a compliment.”

The two were silent for a time, nursing old grudges.

“Well. We fixed him, now didn't we!” Manwë said with a triumphant smirk. Look who's happily married to the Queen of Stars and ruling the air itself. And you, you did very well for yourself too, Judge of the Dead and all. As I confess that while I may be married but not yet dead, I have noticed your lady wife is very easy on the eyes as well.”

Both grinned and gave each other the high five.

“Alas, said Námo as the momentary merriment died away, “my marriage is not the happiest at the moment. You have not solved my problem.”

“Pish,” said Manwë with a wave of his hand. “Where is your creativity? Why don't you introduce him to Fëanor so they can keep each other company?”

Námo frowned. “Bad idea. You forget our new charge is a distant relative of Elwë, and Oropher no doubt filled him with all sorts of uncharitable bias about the Noldor and the Fëanorians in particular.”

“So what? They can't exactly kill each other. They're already dead.”

“That would be even noisier and I'd have to mop up the spirit blood. And consider this – what if they got along? What those two could think up together frightens even me.”

“Hmm, I suppose the same thing could happen if we let him out into the general population. He'd offend the Vanyar, but it is the others that worry me. He could stir up discontent. That was why I was so glad to see Oropher go, no matter how much we owed Legolas. I can't believe that nice young fellow came from such stock. In fact, I'm surprised to see his father here. I didn't think Thranduil was the dying type.”

A tear slid down Námo' face. “We're doomed then. Or at least I am.”

“Doomed!” added the parrot.

Manwë laughed. “Cheer up little brother. Be patient for a little while longer. I have a feeling that our problem will sort itself out shortly. Keep your eyes trained on the sea.”

“What?” Námo spluttered. How do you know that? The view isn't that good, even from up here.”

“Let's just say, a little bird told me.”

“You can't mean that outrageously blue profane creature on your shoulder!”

“We-elll . . .” said Manwë, I'd like you to believe that, but I've been pulling your leg enough for today. This has to remain between us, but Aiwendil has gotten hold of a Palantír, and he and I have been in fairly frequent communication over the long-years. You would not believe what has happened with the world of Men, Brother. At times it can lead you to despair, even bring you to weep, but at others! What those Mortals have done with only a minute fraction of the old magic we had! It becomes almost addictive to watch them. Thanks to Aiwendil's warning, I put up a spell of invisibility around Vingilot just in time. They have gone there and even farther.”

“Yes, Mortals are very cute and the best thing since sliced lembas, but how does that help me?”

“This time, Aiwendil asked me a favor. He was very upset, and my observations and conversations have made me do some extra deep thinking since we spoke. Just keep your eye on the eastern horizon.”

* * *

Less than two days later, sentries at the top of a tall tower in Tirion spotted a sail coming out of the sunrise. The small ship bypassed Tol Eressea and made straight for the harbor at Alqualondë. A dark-haired man whose accent had marked him as Green-elven as he asked for permission to tie up, stepped down onto the dock.

When asked how many were aboard by the startled harbormaster, he replied, “Many, but I am the only one not under the ban.”

“Other than him, you mean,” said an amused dockworker, referring to a silky-haired black cat who had stalked up from the cabin below as if he owned the placed and settled himself in the sun on the port side of the mast.

“Ban?” queried the harbormaster as if becoming concerned. “What is your business here then?”

“I am here because this is all my doing,” replied the dark-haired Nando, hanging his head. “I need an audience with the Valar.

Every eyebrow in the near vicinity immediately went up. “ That is a tall order, stranger,” replied the harbormaster sternly. “We'll see what we can do.”

The petition made its way up the bureaucracy to King Olwë himself and thence through the ascending grades of Maiar with astonishing speed, until one day later the Valar found themselves assembled at Máhaxanar. Manwë, of course, was there with Varda by his side, stern but radiant. Vairë sat on his other side, looking cross, while Nienna sniffled quietly next to her. All of the others looked as if they had somewhere else to be. Aulë, his face still flushed from the forge, had not bothered to remove his leather apron, nor had Yavanna wiped the dirt from her hands. Tulkas, bored as usual, amused himself by doing arm-curls with a dumbbell made of the hearts of black holes. Ulmo had sent his regrets, muttering some vague excuse about floating masses of plastic garbage in the southern ocean and pollution from mine runoff in West Virginia. The only other Vala missing was Námo.

Manwë brought the meeting to order by clearing his throat, earning himself a glare from Vána, who had finally gotten her hair just right but now found it disheveled by the wind. “Now that we're all here except for those who can't be arsed to come, we can get down to business. Námo, bring forth our newest inhabitant.”

Out of the thin air coalesced Námo, who was still looking a little pale, even for his usual self, and a golden-haired Elf-man who began to blink in the sudden sunlight. “Whuh?” he blurted after taking in the sight of the encircling Ainur. “How did we get from that gloomy place you call home to here so fast?”

“Thranduil Oropherion, know now that the doors from my Halls lead to many places. This is where you need to be at this moment.”

“If the doors lead to anyplace, why didn't you just release me back where I came from?”

Námo blinked, because such an option had never occurred to him before. “Because the Valar need to determine your fate, that is why. You might also thank me for letting you 'the fuck out of' there, as you so delightfully put it, and giving you a new body.”

“I have a new –?” Thranduil exclaimed, and held his hand up to the sunlight, wiggling the fingers as if to count them. He pulled off his shirt and smiled to see some strange dark marks on his chest. “You let me keep my tattoos. Thank you, they are very special to me.” Then his brow knit in sudden concern at some new form of Valarin treachery. He pulled out the waistband of his pants wide in the front and looked downward. He heaved a sigh of relief.

Námo rolled his eyes. “I can't imagine any reason why I might want to change the least smallest detail about you, Thranduil, after you have been such a joy to host these past weeks. No, you are exactly as you were when you arrived. Anything else would be unprofessional.”

The color drained from Thranduil's face and returned just as quickly to flaming pink. “Exactly . . .? Oh, sweet Eru in Eä, please let this be a dream.”

“Oh, you wish!” snickered Irmo.

“So this is supposed to be a Grey-elf? One of Elwë's people? He looks more like Princess Nerwen if you ask me,” Tulkas chimed in.

“Enough! Not another word on that subject, “Manwë hissed, with a look that made even bold Tulkas drop his gaze.

“Look, I can explain,” said Thranduil sheepishly. “We were celebrating the Dead Days – the Mortals call it Halloween these days – and someone made a bet that I didn't have the b--, er, guts, to dress up as a Haradran dancing girl. It was simply bad luck, because most days you'd find me in a business suit or micro-fleece warmup pants and a hoodie.”

“I would say personally that dying in the first place was extremely bad luck,” said Manwë, “especially the manner in which you perished. I have never heard of anything so reckless and foolish in all my days, and those days go back a very long time.”

“Master Wood-elf,” Vána interjected before Manwë could continue with the lecture, “you simply must tell me how you get your eyes and lips to look that way. I am positively envious.”

Thranduil shrugged. “The brows are my own. The rest? I dunno. I just sent Hal out to the Deerfield Costco for something that looked suitably whorish. My wife said he succeeded. The lipstick promised to last all day, but it didn't stay on for sh--, um, for very long once I started drinking out of the bottle.”

“You still smell like a brewery too, “ said Námo with a helpful smile.

“Very kind of you, I'm sure,” replied Thranduil. “Now please, decide what you want to do with me. I don't care much now that I've lost everything worth living for, but I'd at least like a toothbrush, a shower, and a change of clothing.”

“Not so fast,” said Manwë. “We are not to the point of decision yet. Eonwë, bring in the petitioners.”

By now quite a crowd had gathered as the news of an unusual trial had spread. Maiar belonging to the trains of the attending Valar were present, along with many Noldor and the Sindar from Alqualondë. Even a few curious Vanyar had journeyed from the foothills of the mountain to see what was going on. Through this throng, Eonwë led a group of elves -- men, women, dark-haired and pale.

“You came!” Thranduil's eager smile faded to a look of dismay as he realized the ramifications of the presence of these people. “Oh no, you came.”

A small child broke from the group, yelling, “Grandfather . . .” as he burst into tears and ran into Thranduil's spread arms. “It was so awful! You looked so pale and so still.”

“My poor Galen, it's all right. I'm here now.” He looked up into the light grey eyes of the dark-haired woman who had run to him along with the child. “My beloved Lalaithiel! I didn't feel truly alive again until I had looked into your face. I'm so sorry I did this to you all. It didn't hurt, really. I saw the ground come rushing up at me, then things went dark for a bit and I opened my eyes expecting to have my head in your lap with you looking down at me, the way it was first time I fell out of a tree. Instead, I found myself looking down at my own body with my neck at an unnatural angle, everyone panicking and you yelling at me to head west immediately or else and we would sort it out later.”

Thranduil stood up without letting go of the child and put his free arm around his wife. “I assume this is later. But how are you even here? How are any of you here?' he said looking past her head to the rest of the group, which included his son, daughter-in-law and his parents. “I thought you were all under a ban of no return.”

“I sailed the boat here,” said Galion, stepping out from behind Oropher. “ Seeing that this is all of my doing.”

“Oh, I think we all had a hand in it,” said Oropher drily, “other than poor Galen, who is taking it as hard as the rest of us.”

“I,” said Manwë, not to be ignored, “ lifted the ban until this situation could be resolved with justice and mercy to all concerned.”

Legolas let out a patient sigh. “This is a fine mess you've gotten us into, Dad.”

“I'm mostly to blame,” Galion insisted. “I heard you say you weren't drunk enough to run the trees yet, but I kept on daring you.”

“You were pretty drunk yourself, and I didn't have to listen to you, you know.”

“How long have we known each other, Thranduil? Longer than even your wife, and I know that you can't resist a dare, especially if strong drink is involved. I knew you'd do it. What I didn't foresee is you breaking your neck.”

“I think you finally cured me of that foolishness, old friend. I'm very glad to see you all, but, Galion, I never expected you to leave your wife behind, even for me.”

“He didn't,” said Thranduil's mother. “Mariposa is back on board the Lasgalen with the cat.”

“You brought Tevildo?”

“The idea was to cover all the bases, my love,” said Lalaithiel. “No matter how this all turns out, we'll be together.”

“Together,” said Thranduil. “I can face anything as long as I have my friends and family with me. But where and how? Mariposa can't set a foot on shore. Everyone but Galion, Nestalinde, and young Galen are under a ban and may not be able to stay. And even if that weren't so, we'd be in a cage. A beautifully gilded cage, to be sure, but it's still a cage.”

That drew an audible gasp from the crowd of spectators. One Vanyarin lady swooned at the sacrilege of describing the Blessed Realm in that sacrilegious manner..

“Don't tell me you're all shocked,” said Legolas. “I recall saying much the same thing and worse thousands of yeni ago when I pled my own case before you all. Shall I repeat it now? I begged you then to let me go home or to allow me to die the true death. I would ask for the same now, but my son is still a child. He deserves his own life, and he deserves to live it in freedom. Whatever favor you owed me for helping to rid the Middle-lands of Sauron is long forgotten, but I'm still asking.”

“It is not forgotten, Legolas.” The voice was deep and unmistakeable. A tall Maia, Mannish in his form, stepped from his place beside Nienna. His face was youthful and his hair and beard were dark as a raven's wing. “At least not by some. Brethren,” he continued, “I spoke for Legolas before when he needed an ally, and my counsel has not changed.”

“Gandalf!” said Legolas, rushing to embrace him.

“Well met, Mithrandir,” said Thranduil in a tone that was cordial but not quite so fond.

“Aye, Thranduil. You have reason not to trust me, for I used you to my own ends, and often it came at great price to you and your folk. I freely admit it. My Lords and Ladies,” he said turning to the assembled Valar, “whatever we owed his son for risking his life on the Ring Quest, we owe Thranduil twice over.”

“It is not your place, Olórin, to question the decisions of your betters,” said Námo.

“Now, now,” said Manwë, who had been watching the exchange raptly. “We all have our opinions. What say you, brothers and sisters? What shall we do with this recalcitrant Elf and his equally recalcitrant family?”

“You damn betcha,” piped in Oropher, loudly enough to make his golden-haired wife tug at his sleeve. “We're recalcitrant and proud of it.”

“You go, Grampa,” said Legolas.

“Seriously?” said Tulkas. “You dragged us all here for this? I personally do not give a rip about the fate of some Wood-elf with delusions of grandeur, and I'm sure most of us feel that way. Except for perhaps Námo here, who has his head so far up his own arse that he sees daylight ahead.”

“Indeed,” said Nessa. “I have some deer to outrun.”

“You know how I feel about it,” added Oromë. “My original invitation to the Firstborn was to a sanctuary not a prison. Better they go than stay and be unhappy and spreading discontent amongst the rest.”

“I do not care what you decide, just make it quick so I can weave my latest tapestry,” said Vairë. “And if you do not do it quickly, beware, for I shall weave it on my own, and there will be those who do not like it.”

Námo gulped.

“Anyone else?” said Manwë. After no response but a wordless honk and a dismissive wave from Nienna, he continued sotto voce,” Why does it have to me me all the time? Oh well, I have a few more questions to ask of my own, best done in private. Thranduil, follow me. The rest of you – talk amongst yourselves.”

They ended up in a small glade encircled by heavy shrubbery. “So, this is where we get down to it?”

“Yes,” said Manwë. “The rest was for show, although I must admit it was very entertaining.”

“I warn you, I wasn't born yesterday. I once had Donald Trump on his knees and agreeing to pay me for my wasted time when he tried to buy one of my buildings. Give him a Louis Sullivan to remodel into an imitation of Versailles Palace? I think not.”

“Word of your negotiating skills has reached the ears of the Powers of the West, Thranduil. I feel almost in awe of you.”

Thranduil laughed bitterly and shrugged. “ Come off it. An appeal to the ego won't work. After appearing before the the Ainur themselves in full makeup and dressed like a girl, I have nothing left.”

“Nothing but the truth. Which is what you and I are both down to. Tell me, Thranduil, what do you really want?”

“I just want to go home. Me and my family and my cat. What do you want in return?”

“I want peace and quiet, which I do not think I would have if I kept you here.”

Thranduil nodded. “True.”

“I have long been thinking, as news came west of you and how you thrived in the World of Men, unfading, that I had made a mistake long ago, to bring the Firstborn here to the Undying Lands to keep you safe. It was the easy way, but often the easy way is not the best, nor what was intended. Ilúvatar put you in the Middle-lands for a reason. You are married to one of the Avari, are you not?”

“Yes,”Thranduil replied, “and she is the source of my strength.”

“I owe those folk an apology,”Manwë said.”They are the true faithful, as they call themselves. They will never hear it from me of course because things must seem as they seem. But here is the truth. I will open the Straight Road for those who wish to take it, and I will walk among you more often. It seems as if you could use the help. As for me, I had come near to fading myself for lack of challenge.”

“What's my part of the deal, then?”

“That you keep up the defiance and never breathe a word of this to another soul, living or dead."

"But what about The One who sundered the earth in the first place?" said Thranduil, casting a nervous eye toward the sky. "I thought He made the Straight Road a one-way trip for a reason."

"Think, for once. It was I who opened the way back when the Istari were needed in the Middle-lands. It was I who allowed your son to come home, with never a word before or after to say me nay. Thranduil, I have not heard the voice of Ilúvatar in a very long time.”

“Me neither. Some in the Mortal world think he's dead.”

“No. That you should die after cheating death so many times is a message to me. As it should be to you as well. He may be off outrunning deer, but he is still with us.”

“That would be nice,” said Thranduil. “I'll keep mum, but how will you explain this?”

“That Vána insists on checking out the Deerfield Costco, whatever that is? Promise you won't break your neck again?”

“After this humiliating experience? Not likely.” Thranduil looked dubiously at Manwë's extended hand, and then reached out to take it. “I'll do my best.”

Back out in the public assembly, both Manwë and Thranduil looked suitably stern and exhausted. Young Galen ran to Thranduil. “Did you fix it,” Grampa?”

“We drove a hard bargain – a very hard bargain – but everything will be all right. We're all going home.”

* * *

Manwë watched with a smile as the sails of the Lasgalen disappeared below the eastern horizon, sped by a friendly westerly wind.

“Awwk! Will wonders never cease?” said the parrot on his shoulder. “Elves becoming stewards of the planet and guiding Men, with the approval of the Ainur.”

“Who are you, really? Manwë asked quietly.

The parrot began to groom beneath his wing and remained silent.