Author's Notes: This is a story that's been wanting to be told for a very long time. For about 4 years it's been developing itself in my mind, but I was hesitant to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and actually present my story to others for a number of reasons. However, again for a number of reasons, I have decided that I can't keep this tale to myself any longer. It wants to be told, and I've finally decided to let it.
The idea of redemption is a powerful theme for me, and I have always seen some spark in Sauron that cries out for redemption. I don't see Sauron as the "ultimate evil" shadow but as a fully-faceted character who has made some terrible mistakes, who is living in deep pain and darkness, and who still, despite all his wrongs, has never completely marred the good, beautiful image in which he was originally created, especially at the time this story is set – at the beginning of the Second Age.
I have reason to believe that Tolkien himself felt the same. One particular quote that has always struck me comes from Unfinished Tales "The History of Galadriel and Celeborn" (page 254 in my copy). "At the beginning of the Second Age, [Sauron] was still beautiful to look at, or could still assume a beautiful visible shape – and was not indeed wholly evil…" I could go on at length about my reasoning behind my particular view of Sauron, but my story itself will show some of it, so I shall refrain. :)
Also, please note that if you are interested, my story "No Going Back" can act as a prologue to this story. Reading that story is by no means necessary for understanding this one, however. NGB explores my take on Sauron's motives for repenting and shows the interaction between Sauron and Eönwë, which I don't get into here because I'd already done it there. NGB is the canon version of these events, but even though "Gorthauro Estel" is AU, my view of Sauron's, and Eönwë's, characters, motives, etc. are the same in both stories.
Warning! I have rated this story T (PG-13). While it will not be overstepping the guidelines for this rating, my story will be earning it. Even though "Gorthauro Estel" takes place after Sauron's service to Morgoth has ended, clearly that period of Sauron's life will have affected him greatly. I do not believe I could properly write this story and Sauron's redemption without addressing the horror and violence he has doubtlessly experienced. I will be tackling these issues (including physical and psychological torture) both indirectly, through character conversations, and directly, through flashbacks and memories. There will also be some physical violence and a great deal of mental pain that takes place in the present timeline of the story.
Much of this violence will be thematic or non-graphic, but when I do use graphic description, it will always be used for a specific purpose within the story, rather than for shock value. However, if my writing is effective (as I hope it will be), there will be a fair amount of disturbing material as I address Sauron's traumatic past.
Much the same can be said of the romantic elements that I have rated this story for, as well. Anything that is graphic will not overstep the T rating and will have purpose within the plot, but much of the mature elements will be thematic (such as the concepts of seduction and abuse). More than this is hard to explain without giving away spoilers for the story, but it will be earning its T rating in this respect, as well. You have been warned!
And to you, all my readers – Mae govannen a hannon le!
by Sauron Gorthaur
Part One: Trial and Tribulation
It was much too bright.
It wasn't that he hated and feared the light the way Melkor had or that it pained him the way it pained the orcs or even that he was unused to it like Gothmog or Ancalagan who had rarely been allowed to leave the caverns of Angband. He had walked beneath the Sun and the Moon many times, for his high position had required many tasks of him. His proficiency at blending and changing forms, as well as the fair face he could give himself when he wished, had allowed him to walk abroad without the shadow of Morgoth always swathing him as many of the Dark Vala's lesser servants had required. He adapted, light or dark, and it had never particularly bothered him before.
But seated now in the middle of the slim Telerin swan-boat with nothing but smooth ocean water and a burning sun to see, he was suddenly overwhelmed with the intensity of the light surrounding him. Everything seemed to glow: the white wood of the craft, the painfully blue sky, and the myriad of white diamond points that glistered across the entire ocean expanse. There was nowhere to hide from it; even the rippling shadow of the sail provided little relief. It was as if everything was made of the light…everything except for him, that was.
He knew he was being pointedly ignored by the crew. In the case of the Elves, it was probably out of fear. In the case of the few Maiar that accompanied them, it might be from anger, hatred, or even awkwardness. No one had spoken to him since they had left Middle-earth two weeks ago, but he hadn't exactly expected joyful greetings. Wrapped still in the black cloak and clothing that he'd worn as Morgoth's Black Captain, he knew he stood out like an ink stain on a white parchment. And so, he was left to his thoughts, though he couldn't decide yet whether this was a blessing or a curse.
He fidgeted uncomfortably, tugging at the embroidered hem of his sleeve and pulling his cloak tighter about himself to ward off the cool sea breeze. Squinting his eyes against the overpowering light, he watched the hurried activity as Elves tugged on ropes, readjusted the sails, and went about other sea tasks, the purposes of which he could not guess. Melkor had hated the sea, and Sauron had found that Melkor's hate was infectious. Not that Melkor's fear and hate hadn't been justified, for he had unfortunately been correct in guessing that his doom, and that of his servants, would come from the sea. And now here, he – Sauron – was, sailing across that very sea from which his enemies had come, and not only that, but straight into his enemies' hands. Melkor would call me an absolute fool, Sauron thought dejectedly. And maybe I am.
A young Elf, one of the Vanyar if his golden hair was any indication, was scrubbing the ship railing across from Sauron. As if it needed to be any brighter, Sauron thought. The Maia watched him out of boredom, and to keep his thoughts from straying to the ship's destination and his own fate. He curled his lip slightly at the menial task. Doubtlessly, this Elf would take great offense to be called a slave, and yet, Sauron could see little difference between him and the slaves that had labored at Angband. Could this Vanya have refused the one, Maia or Elf, who had given him his servile task any more than one of Melkor's slaves could have disobeyed the Dark Vala?
The Vanya fidgeted, glanced around, and saw Sauron watching him. The Elf quickly averted his eyes and scrubbed even harder at the spotless wood a few seconds before abandoning all dignity and hurrying to some part of the ship where Sauron's piercing gaze could not reach him. Sauron smirked a little. At least, he was not completely bereft of the power and dark aura that he had gained in Melkor's service. At least the Elves still knew to give him a wide berth and a healthy dose of respect. For now. Until the Valar dealt with him.
Dark thoughts closed in again at that. Frowning and dismissing all thoughts of the Elf, Sauron leaned his head against the railing and closed his eyes, but he could still see the sunlight blazing white through his eyelids. He sighed and pulled his hood over his face.
That was a little better. Darkness finally settled over his vision. The creak and moan of the ship, along with its unnerving movement, could not let him completely relax, though. Nor could his thoughts. As one of Melkor's chief servants, he had learned to control his thoughts, but everything that had happened over the last few months seemed to have chipped away at that particular ability. Now, when he wasn't agonizing over the decision he'd made only a few weeks ago in Middle-earth, he was agonizing over the fate that awaited him in Valinor.
He preferred the former, simply because he knew there was absolutely nothing he could do about it, now that it was already behind him and set in the stone of history. He had made his decision, for better or worse, and Eönwë had supported him in it, though he wasn't sure whether that was a good or bad omen. If anyone wanted to see him run straight into his doom, surely it was the commander of his foes' army.
"There is some wisdom left in you," Eönwë had said, looking at him with eyes as piercingly blue as the sky of the Vala he served. "But you're still afraid."
Of course, I'm afraid, Sauron had thought with a mental sneer. He turned from Manwë's Herald and fiddled with the blue and gold curtains of the tent, running his fingers over the smooth silk. "The Valar were not exactly merciful to my…former…master," he said slowly in his practiced voice even smoother than the silk.
"You forget that Morgoth was already given an opportunity to repent once," came Eönwë's voice from behind him. It was hard and sharp, like one of the swords with which Eönwë had such skill.
Sauron smiled bitterly to himself at the words. Ironically, Eönwë's point was exactly what he feared. He would hardly call the fate Morgoth had originally suffered merciful. Humiliated, humbled, tossed in a dungeon for three ages. Sauron felt his stomach twist and his cheeks flare. As far as he was concerned, that was a living death. For not the first time, he wondered whether he really wanted to go through with this or not. He could slip out that night, blend into the shadows, and creep away into the rent world that was left from the war. But if they caught him then…
"The Valar learned their lesson with Morgoth," Eönwë said suddenly, and Sauron jerked around to face him. His breath caught as he first wildly thought that Eönwë meant that he would not be spared after all or granted any mercy as they had first done with Melkor. He looked around, half-expecting to see armed guards surrounding the tent, ready to drag him straight to the Void. A dungeon might be humiliating, but the Void… torn from the world he'd bound himself to, left as a meaningless scrap of life with no purpose, no real existence, no form… But Eönwë was shaking his head slowly, as if he could read Sauron's thoughts.
"Whether you believe it or not," the Herald continued, "the Valar were merciful to Melkor. But they didn't count on his rage and hate. All his punishment did was make him hate them all the more and make him angrier than he'd ever been. Leaving him alone to his own thoughts, letting him simmer in the dark for three ages, was no way to bring him back. They won't be making that mistake with you."
He eyed Sauron thoughtfully then beckoned to him. "I have something to give you," he said as he turned and drew back another tent flap leading into the inner room: his private chamber.
Sauron followed cautiously, still not convinced that other Maiar, or perhaps the Valar themselves, wouldn't show up to bind him in unbreakable chains and drag him off to Valinor in humiliation. But Eönwë was simply leaning over a chest by his bed, putting aside his few belongings as he looked for something. Sauron folded his arms, frowning, and waited impatiently.
Finally, Eönwë turned back to him, and as he did so, Sauron's breath caught. At first, he wasn't sure that the object in the Herald's hand was really what he thought it was, but as Eönwë approached, he recognized it beyond any doubt. A numbness crept over his heart, and he withdrew as if Eönwë was holding a poisonous snake. "I don't want that," he said in a choked voice, his sculptured composure finally crumbling for a moment.
Eönwë looked grim. "I was asked to give it to you when I met you here." Sauron gave him a shocked look, and Eönwë nodded. "Yes, the Valar knew we'd meet here. They didn't know whether you would be brought here captive or whether you'd come of your own will, but you're not as far from the Valar's thoughts as you think you are, Sauron. And hopefully that comforts you."
He set the object down on top of the chest but did not put it away again. "You may use my bed for the night, and you will not be disturbed until the ship leaves in the morning."
There was an unpleasant knot in Sauron's throat, and he had to swallow before he could answer, attempting to regain some of his nonchalance and dignity. "And I suppose I will be well-guarded," he sneered.
Eönwë gave him a long, steely look. "To keep others out, not to keep you in. You're not exactly popular in this camp, and the Elves are not as merciful as the Valar. They also have tendencies towards revenge, or didn't you learn that from the Noldor? If you chose to leave, you would not be stopped. But if you run, the truce is over, and we will hunt you down again."
Sauron let his lip curl slightly upward. The only card he had left at this point was clinging to his dark ambiance as the Black Captain and keeping up his pretense of cool arrogance. Despite the fact that he'd very nearly been caught that morning already and his fear of the howling dogs on his trail had been a large deciding factor in his decision to surrender, he wasn't going to admit that before Eönwë, the Valar, or any other opponent.
However, Eönwë's piercing look made Sauron feel uncomfortably certain that the Herald could tell his bravado was for show only. "There is spare clothing, as well," the Maia of Manwë added. "You might want to change out of that before the morning," he said, glancing over Sauron's dusty, torn garments.
Sauron folded his arms. "I am satisfied with what I have on, thank you very much," he snapped, casting a scornful eye over the blue, gold, and white (white!) articles of clothing that Eönwë had put to the side for him.
Eönwë rubbed his temples with slender fingers and closed his eyes briefly, letting out a long, audible sigh. He gave Sauron an aggravated look. "Listen, Sauron," he said exasperatedly. "You might want to ask yourself what you're doing here. If you think the Valar are going to let you just parade into Valinor and live there like the arrogant dark lord you're used to being, then you're going to be disappointed. If you really are sorry, even if you're just afraid, you've still got a home, but we're done with dark lords in Valinor. We're of the same order, and I can't punish you anymore than I can pardon you, but the Valar aren't going to put up with your insolence like I am. So, ask yourself, Sauron, what exactly do you want?"
He turned and vanished through the tent flap, and Sauron was left alone to brood for the first time over the decision he'd made. What exactly did he want? He could hear the sea and the faint creak of the Telerin ships moored there. He was glad he had not eaten the bread that Eönwë had offered him earlier as he wasn't sure he would have been able to keep it down now; his stomach was fluttering wildly. He lay down on Eönwë's bed, hoping that would keep his nausea at bay, but in that position he found himself looking at the top of the chest and the hammer that still lay there. He tried to ignore it, but he found his gaze glued to it as the red light of sunset slowly vanished from the tent. Three times he got up and walked to the entrance of the tent, the last time even putting his hand to the flap, each time telling himself that he would leave, that he had no place here and certainly not in Valinor, but the image of the hammer kept burning in his mind, and each time he returned and lay down again.
Finally, when it was perhaps midnight, he reached over and picked up the hammer.
He had never forgotten it, the hammer that Aulë himself had made for him and with which had taught him the skills of the forge. He had spent hours with that same hammer in his hand, toiling beside the fire, watching with delight as chunks of gold and silver and shapeless gems had turned into beautiful works of art. Morgoth had not wasted his Dark Captain's skills, but the cruel weapons, countless chains, and instruments of torture to which Morgoth had set his talents were hardly the same. He wondered how long it had been since he made a ring, a brooch, something, anything, beautiful. As he rubbed the rough, familiar wood, he remembered what it first had felt like to know he had a purpose in the world and that he was doing what he was created to do.
What exactly do you want, Sauron?
Why had he not fled yet? Why did he not slip away to some dark hole far away in the ruins of the world and hide until the Valar had forgotten that he ever existed? Eventually, they would. Why did he submit himself to this humiliation and mental anguish, why did he even consider returning to the land of his foes, when he could live on, unpunished, unhumbled, himself alone in some dark land?
In his heart, he knew the answers, and the sight and touch of the hammer simply made those answers bubble to the surface. Deep down, he knew he did not want to pass away: some dark, forgotten shadow on a breeze of a forgotten age, spending the rest of his existence merely cowering under a rock in fear. He wanted to think he was more than a rag tossed away after all use had been wrung from it. He wanted to know he still had a purpose in Arda.
Suddenly, he broke. His legs gave out from under him and he collapsed on the strange bed, curling up upon himself and holding the hammer to his chest. The storm of emotions that had been building up inside of him over the last days and weeks and months and, perhaps, even longer – heart-rending fear, searing anger, numbing despair, empty loneliness – cracked and tears were suddenly running down his face into the soft pillow. Alone, exhausted physically and mentally, scared and angry and sick at heart, he wept long into the new morning.
And at the dawn, he had boarded the white elven ship to sail to Valinor.
On the ship, lost in thought and memories, with his dark hood shading his face, Sauron's consciousness slipped further away from the present. Vaguely, on the very edge of his awareness, he could still feel the steady rock of the ship and hear the ghostly creak of wood. Darkness pressed down on his eyes, darker than the mere shadow of his hood. Through the darkness, he saw a pinpoint of light, and he moved towards it. His feet were unsteady though and the ground treacherously shifting, as if he were balancing on pieces of floating ice in a river. He struggled on towards the light, but it didn't seem to get any closer. He could see some of the landscape now: a bleak, desert-like plain. He realized it was Anfauglith, and then he saw that there were great cracks running through the burning plain and that underneath, the earth was still on fire from the long ago battle. Fumes and an evil red light rose from the cracks, which themselves suddenly seemed larger than they had been a moment ago. He knew that if he were to reach the light he would have to jump across what he now saw were gaping chasms. But he knew he could not stay here – why, he was not sure, but the burning plains and the fiery chasms terrified him.
He looked up and saw a tower rising in front of him now, and at its very top was the yellow light that he had first seen from a distance. It was close, but he was separated from it by the widest chasm of all. But his heart leapt, as looking down, he saw there was a bridge crossing the abyss. He ran for it, knowing somehow that his life counted on reaching it in time.
He stepped onto the bridge, a fleeting hope of survival passing through him, but the moment his foot touched the stone, he saw the dark shape lying in the middle of the bridge. His spine tingled.
The giant wolf, its fur pitch-black and its evil eyes blazing red like fire, rose and stared at him, and terror coursed through him. He suddenly recognized the bridge and the tower; it was his own Tol-in-Gaurhoth. He could not pull his eyes away from the wolf as it moved towards him, its hungry, cruel gaze boring into him. His voice was useless. His legs would not move. The tower was the only place where he could be safe, but the demonic wolf was stalking him. Its eyes filled his vision, and he tried to scream, but he could only make muted cries. He was afraid, utterly afraid and utterly alone.
He gagged, and his eyes flew open. Panic was still coursing through him, causing his limbs to shake violently, and his skin was hot and sticky as if he'd been trapped in a furnace. His throat felt strained and raw, and he realized he had woken himself up with his own strangled screams. He lifted a shaking hand to his neck, swallowing, and tried to regain his composure and adjust to the fact that he was awake and it had been nothing but a nightmare.
He squinted against the light – if anything, it had grown even brighter while he slept – and realized that several Elves and a couple Maiar, a dark-haired woman and a red-haired man, were looking at him oddly. Probably, they had heard his choked cries, but they made no move to help him. He snarled at them like a feral beast, and the Elves quickly turned away. The two Maiar watched him a few seconds longer, their faces unreadable, but then they too disappeared. Sauron huddled back down into his seat, completely miserable, an empty ache eating away at his insides.
But then he heard the cry from the swan prow of the ship in a clear elven voice that was filled with the nauseating joy of homecoming. It was just about enough to make Sauron want to strike the voice's owner over the railing and into the sea.
The emptiness was immediately coupled with the familiar knot in his sore throat. Sauron squeezed his eyes shut and listened to the pulse in his ears.
They had arrived at Valinor.