And In These Days
3. Chapter 3: Off the Road 1
In order to live, everyone had a question to sustain themselves in bouts of self-pity. How many years had he lingered on the Hither Shores? This was Celebrimbor’s self-indulgent question, for in truth, he remembered nought else save the great lands of Enor.
All the blessed realm had been were as illusions, flattering sweet.
His first clear memory had been of the great chariot of Arien, whose brilliance seeped through the strange dark leaves, suddenly alight as if burning.
He remembered he cried, for he had been sleeping, and the light woke him; and whose hand was it that reached to cover his eyes and wipe his tears away? It was not his father’s, for Curufin’s face appeared soon after, wiping his hands furiously on his tunics before taking him from his slumber place.
There were no recollection of the owner of the warm arms that he had slept in, though he had often wondered. The red and gold blanket that covered him was still with him, somehow, through the years. It bore no initials, but the colours were that of Feanor. Lately, with the luxury of time that came, he had taken to stroking it instead of walking in that realm of half-lights.
His first memories faded, and yet he was still not asleep. He dared not to remember more; he could not control them, and he was tired of loneliness mixed with fright. Celebrimbor did not dream lightly. Every time he dreamed, he would be awakened by terror. Neither food, nor music, nor books helped. He had decided a long time ago that he could not afford rest. The delicate balance between fantasy and reality had been irrevocably upset the day his father denied him. So when others slept, he took to wondering outside the halls of Eregion, hoping that the living night would prove to be the slumber he craved, that the next morn would come, and he would be refreshed.
And, as most things he had hoped in his long life, none of it came to pass. He was weary now, and wary, his newly finished city stood still, glorious and magnificence, a reminiscence of some passed majesty that he could sometimes still feel and touch.
Tangible, perhaps, but he wished for the intangible.
As silent footsteps walked the newly paved way, courtesy of Narvi’s folk, he sought for the mithril dream akin to the strange luminescent mines he saw deep in Hadhodrond Narvi showed him. Deeper and deeper into the forests he wandered till his elven strength gave up. Never reawakened, always drifting, he was so tired. The forests dozed around him, their rustling leaves swaying lightly in the wind.
There was a dark path at the end of the paved road. He was a smith who does not mine for stones or ore himself; he was afraid of the dark.
Yet an impulse ceased him today that no longer he sought to detain himself by his childish fears. If he were still young, and his father was still here, there would have been a feast today. 3rd of Naire, he was begotten today many centuries past, Curufin and Celegorm and even Ambarussa had cared.
But there was no one, and dwarves cared not for birthdays. He was the Lord of Eregion with a lord’s dignity to uphold. A refuge he provided those who came, a home to be proud of: the remains of his uncles’ followers and servants. They were all-older than he and had their own sorrows enough; Celebrimbor did not wish to trouble them for a childish whim.
Ost-I-Edhil, and he ruled Eregion, realm of the Noldor with a high road to the West Gate. It was a year since the city was complete.
“A gift for himself then”, he thought, “A gift of strength,” as one foot led the way for the other, past the dark shrubberies into the misting darkness.
Swallowing, his hands tried to feel for the speech of the woods Ambarussa had once told him about. He failed, yet his legs carried him forward, for he dared not to look back, knowing the long stretch of dark path behind him.
He never forgot the way he nearly slipped on the wet leaves and the way the forest seemed to close around him till he thought he would suffocate. Yet the air grew lighter as he went deeper, and the sudden scent of flowers made him felt as if he had strayed into a dream.
The faint murmur of a stream gave him new strength as he sought for a way out. He listened carefully.
Then a faint sound burst from leaves, startling him, for it seemed to speak to him. Where was it coming from? Who would be out here in the forest, singing, this hour of the night, when Ithil’s rays shines the brightest and strange things are about?
“O! what are you doing,
And where are you going?
Your hair need combing!
The river is flowing!
Here down in the valley.”
Celebrimbor followed the singing till he did not need to strain to hear it. There was a slight rise on the ground, and he walked slower, trying to contain the noise of the breaking twigs and leaves beneath his feet.
Finally, he approached what was like a veil of green leaves that hung like a curtain down the gnarled branches. He stood to one side and parted them carefully. Their songs seemed to be taunting him.
“O! What are you seeking,
And where are you making?
The fagots are reeking,
The bannocks are baking!
The valley is jolly,
Finally, he crouched low and gazed at the sight in astonishment.
There was a clearing in the wood and a light stream run through it, a limpid pool had formed there among a carpet of grass, fed by a small spring that flowed out of the rock face that were cut and garlanded as if decorated for a mighty festival.
Three maidens stood in the water, all unclad and surpassingly fair, washing their long hair, they were singing, and four neri were with them, also washing themselves, occasionally splashing the maidens who shrieked and laughed, and then splashed back.
He saw the bows and arrows lying on the grass, but could not tear his eyes off the sight. They were still singing in those clear laughing voices that seemed at once enchanting and gently mocking.
“O! Will you be staying,
Or will you be flying?
Your steps are straying!
The night is dying!
To fly would be folly,
To stay would be jolly
And listen and hark
Till the end of the dark
To our tune
“Ha, ha indeed.” Someone said above him.
Celebrimbor realized too late that arrows were pointing at his heart.
“Declare yourself.” An elf with light eyes and light brown hair came out of dark trees while those by the pool seemed oblivious. He had a circlet of flowers in his hair that rivalled any crown Celebrimbor had ever made.
“Celebrimbor, Lord of Eregion.” He said carefully, and softly- well aware of the strange accents of the Elves and the sharpness of their arrow heads that grazed his chest with a discomforting stillness and precision.
The strange elves laughed merrily.
“There are no Lord of Eregion here, Celebrimbor, you have entered the realm of our lady unbidden, undeclared. I am to inform you that strangers who pays no heed to where they tread are not welcomed here. We had been watching your stumbling about the woods, the whole forest was groaning at your intrusion to their rest. This I think, will be a crime that shall not go unnoticed by our Lady.”
Celebrimbor flushed, barely, and gave him a curious look before bowing in acknowledgement, “However, I think it is a matter better preserved for daylight perhaps, marchwarden. I am weary, and had not desired to come to this place from my own will. Surely the hospitality of your people offer more to a lost wanderer.”
To his surprise, he felt the flashing of several pairs of eyes, and the arrow on his chest became almost painful on his skin.
The one that spoke him first continued, a keen edge to his voice, “Are you afraid, Noldo, that you speak so lightly of Tilion, is his light not enough for your proud eyes?”
Before he could reply, his hands were bound his back and he was blindfolded.
Waves of heated breath filled his ears, “Now you know exactly of our hospitality, Celebrimbor of Eregion, lord or no, you are no longer among your own people, and not even the graces of the stone-hewers can reach you here.”
An ire rose in Celebrimbor from being treated in so lightly, and so indignant a manner. He was bound like some mad beast and marched between unsheathed weapons that hovered too close to his person. Where did this enmity came from? And who were the stone-hewers? Narvi?
Through winding, slippery paths, the Elves beside him were careful and clung so tightly to him that it was impossible for him to fall even when he tripped. He had long ago gave up trying to memorize the twist and turns of forest and gradually, his smouldering anger cooled and became replaced by a sensation more akin to fascination than anger.
A fear existed of course, but now among people, he knew his place, a lord of the Noldor. He could hear the sound of the stream fading, and the path beneath his shoes had turned smooth. A river must have run through here once upon a time, he thought, noting that particular texture of the ancient riverbed.
Whisperings of the leaves was replaced with the soft voices of Elves, speaking in a tongue he thought bore a strange resemblance to Sindarin and Quenya, yet neither. Avarin, and he finally understood. Curufin had tried to teach their language to his young son, in vain, for Celebrimbor’s gift lie in his hands, not in his tongue. His father was very vexed at this; Curufin spoke beautifully, much as Feanor did.
A voice very fair was singing in the background to the accompaniment of a melodious instrument that sounded like a lyre yet purer in pitch. However, at his coming, all sounds fell to hush.
Carefully now, the pace had slowed until they gradually came to a stop. He had came within a circle, and no one was touched him. In the blackness behind his blindfold, he felt eyes on him. A heavy sweet scent lingered in front of him, and yet there was silence. Food, also, and the smell of wine invaded his senses. A fire was burning somewhere nearby.
“My Lady, one Celebrimbor of Eregion had strayed near the Pool of Eriol, we found him thither, alone and unarmed.” The one who had humiliated him spoke, his tone no longer condescending nor mocking. It was filled with something: respect, reverence, and something else he could not name because he never knew it.
Celebrimbor waited patiently, knowing that he was a stranger in a foreign court.
He stood still and proud, knowing that we was being scrutinized, measured. There was no sound till a stern silver voice broke it.
“Kindil, why have you bound him? I have heard it say that the people of Eregion are true to their words. It’s unmannerly of you to bring him forward thus during a celebration.”
“He angered the trees, milady, in part, it was to appease them that we have brought him forth thus.”
Celebrimbor fancied he heard laughter, and sighs all at once.
“Very well,” The voice continued, if a bit tired, “Untie him now, and take that ridiculous blindfold off his face.”
A finger brushed his ear, and he tensed, and then relaxed again as his hands were loosened from their ties and the cloth removed from his eyes.
He heard a soft gasp as he bent his head in greeting.
Looking from the corner of his eyes, he was, indeed, in the centre of a circle, and many Elves in strange garbs of green and brown sat or leaned on the various chairs around him, possibly enjoying themselves before his interruption. Those who were standing had tall bows and spears, their armour, though well wrought, oddly without lustre even in the light.
White and green gems were suspended by filigrees of silver off the boughs, emanating a soft silver light mixed with the natural green. The ground beneath his feet was worn and smooth, and carved with some ancient skill.
Tables laden were with food: wild game and several different sorts of fruits, and roasted venison.
He looked up and in front of him was a dais in a strange natural alcove of rock and boughs entwined, a table was also set there, and behind the high-table there sat a proud Queen and a King, their crowns garlanded yet the light of large, rough, uncut jewel formed their centre, supported by finely etched furbished gold.
“Curufinwe?” The King asked, and his face was blank, devoid of any emotion.
Curufinwion looked up, a painful knot begin to form in his stomach as the undoubtedly bright grey Noldor eyes of the King searched his face, then glanced up and down his person.
He did not reply.
“Curufinwe Feanorion Nerdanelion of the House of Finwe?” The King repeated, scrutinizing him with even more piercing looks.
“Nay, milord, you are mistaken, for I am Celebrimbor of Eregion, formerly of Nargorthrond.” He said with practised ease, determined.
“Yet,” The King mused, “I cannot be wrong, you look so alike.”
“Yet I am not he.”
The Queen laid a jewelled hand on her husband’s arm and said wistfully: “It is not him. He is dead, and you know this.” She turned to Celebrimbor, “Welcome Celebrimbor, Lord of Eregion, long had I desired to speak with you and yet had not the chance. Tell me, are you satisfied with the extent of your realm?”
Unable to fathom beneath a fair visage and the strange light in her eyes, Celebrimbor answered carefully, “My years have been successful.” Her face was beautiful, if the small mouth a little cruel, and her hair almost Noldorin dark than he could almost fancy he was speaking to one of his own if not for the dark eyes that glittered like the black Telerin pearls he kept in a small box in his room.
The Queen smiled, “My name is Galadhwen and I am the Ruler of this Wood, which was named Maldor in the language of Grey Elves once upon a time by a beautiful gold-haired golodh, with a strange resemblance to you, perhaps you know her. She had a silver haired ner with her who was near of kin to mine own people.”
Artanis’ name came swiftly to mind, but Celebrimbor merely nodded. He did not trust them: the Queen’s voice and the King gaze troubled him. Nay, his presence provided an even greater puzzlement. How could it be that one of the Noldor is here, reigning a wood with one of the Moriquendi?
“I am Culfinlin, Lord of this Wood,” The said King said not without a certain grimness to the tone, and Celebrimbor had the feeling that those awful eyes knew what he had been thinking. Never one to fail at this game, he tried to ignore the other pairs of eyes and concentrate instead upon the individuals. Surely a lifetime of diplomacy with Elves and bargaining dwarves taught him enough to deal with mere woodland monarchies.
“What is your Quenya name, Lord Celebrimbor?” The King asked, and wry smile was on his face.
“Telperinquar.” Celebrimbor answered, and said no more.
“Telperinquar,” The King said the name once, carefully, he tasted the name as if some new fruit, “Telperinquar Curufinwion?”
“Telperinquar.” Celebrimbor replied adamantly, then said: “Tis an epesse given at the smithy, for I am an artisan and others had thought my works to be from hands which must have been favoured by Elbereth Gilthoniel, hence silver.”
“More than an artisan, an artist would you say, of Eregion. He is a good friend of with the Naugrim, worthy companions certainly.” The Queen continued, disarmingly amiable.
He could not distinguish a sign of contempt and so felt much more trusting. Those were people unsophisticated in the deceits of the Exiles, they were unlearned, and therefore trustworthy, it may be that he’ll need their aid at a later time, Celebrimbor thought.
He saw that the wine they poured were a pale and clear yellow, he drank of it, and thought it tasted faintly of honey and rose petals as the liquid flowed down his throat and settled in his belly.
A sensation, so soft that it pushed, wrapped around him and he sat down on a chair that had been brought to him unawares as well as a small table. There were soft cushions on it, and dearly he wished now to sleep. It really all seemed faraway and unimportant; there were neither silk banners nor emblazoned colours that cruelly tore into memories and history until each word, each gesture became a labour.
Harping had begun in a distance, and he could fancy that he saw shades of dancers not afar off from the corners of his eyes.
“You do not remember me?” The King’s voice drifted pass as the angles of the face became familiar. Celebrimbor wanted to rest now, but something poked at him from the back of his mind. So familiar..who..who..
“I apologise, Lord Culfinlin,” Celebrimbor said, courteous to the last, and no stranger to conversations held in a wondering state, “But it may be that my memories are scattered and lost through the years.”
Lost indeed! He did not even want to remember most times.
A goblet reached his hand again, and his fingers grasped and welcomed the cool metal. He watched, almost fascinated, as he watched the King’s face from the rim transforming before his eyes.
“Jumbled, yes, but are not all of our memories strangely distorted the first time our feet touched these shores? These lands do not do well to the constitutions of the Eldar.”
Startled at this, for it reminded him of something, he felt the softness unwrapping from him. Perhaps it was the tone…“Perhaps,” Celebrimbor replied, “I would not know as I was asleep. My father carried me here.”
The King and Queen laughed, their silvery voices rang and every golden leave seemed to shake. It was not till then till Celebrimbor realized that those who he had first seen had not departed. They had been silent all this time, and had remained grim while others made merry despite of them.
There was a joy not felt for many years-people happy, truly without tragedy- he could pretend it was for him, a game with his own mind.
“Ah, Curufin, so kind,” Culfinlin’s voice whispered, and the tilt of his head strengthened the strange familiarity. Once upon a time, he could have known him, could he? “Tell me, Telperinquar, do you not remember your mother?”
“I know only my father, and he too, was a smith before me.”
It was a curse and blessing betwixt.
“What happened to him?” The tone hardened, barely, and the body of the King leaned forward as if better to question, the front of his shirt nearly dipping into the trencher, or to measure the verisimilitude of his reply.
The coarseness of the posture irritated him. He, Curufinwion Feanorion Finwion, and a Lord in his own right, brought like a prisoner to a King and Queen who had nary an excuse for his treatment. Interrogated like a criminal in front of a barbaric court, a thought said. Celebrimbor’s colour heightened at this and felt his tongue stir, ready to launch into some unkindly debate.
Then a sweet voiced Galadthwen said: “Cease, milord, it is clear that the young one before us do not know of whom you speak. Can you not see, he is weary, and we do poorly as hosts to question so eagerly him since he arrived.”
Yet Culfinlim did not listen. He was angry. “But I do not believe him, there could be no one outside the house of Feanor who could look like THAT!,” He pointed a finger at Celebrimbor’s face which was doing its best to remain stoic, “Tell me, Curufinwion, why do you lie?”
“I do not lie.” Celebrimbor said softly because he feared what a louder voice might turn into,; and it was the truth, for he had not uttered any falsehoods, and the accusation stung as memories trudged up from the depth.
He had not eaten anything they had given him yet.
The King stood up tall and walked down from the dais till he loomed over Celebrimbor, the majesty of his person physically palpable, and his voice was harsh and cold, “Then know that I am Culfinlim son of Glorfindel of the House of Golden Flowers. I am also,’ There a flash of sadness passed his features, “Curufin’s wife’s same-day-born brother! What did Curufin do to you that you would deny everything that you are, that you do not know the fate of your own mother?”
It’s been so long since he was reminded he had a mother once.
“She remained, or so it had been thus related to me.” Celebrimbor said, louder now, and barely disguising the agitation in his voice. He had also stood up and found that the eyes were level with his, and yet the Elves around them stirred not at the confrontation between their lord and this intruder.
“We were the last of the host of Nolofinwe, for Lord Turgon had remained undecided until the last.” Culfinlin said.
He allowed the implications of his words to sink in, quietly observing, “She perished in the Helcaraxe.”
Reason for a long bitterness…
“We sent message to Curufin, who was residing with his brothers at the time. Our messengers returned, the message delivered, and news that a band of orcs from Angband was coming from the South. My company was ambushed at Celebrant by a force far larger than we had expected. I was lost till Alvari found me, unconscious, washed ashore the river. There I meet my queen who had but newly lost her lord in a skirmish with Morgoth’s forces. According to her people’s custom we were trothplighted and wed on the banks of Celebrant. We waited for news of my sister-son and Curufin.” He paused, and sat down, “If not for him, she would not have been lost.”
So many mysteries, so many questions unanswered. Curufin told Celebrimbor that she left them, that she was safe in Aman. How many times, as a child, had he wished that his mother was there when Curufin’s counsels lasted into the night and was not there to comfort him…
Then, how many times had he rejoiced that she was still in Aman? How many times was he angry?
Celebrimbor bit his lower lip till it bled, then realized that no air was in his lungs, “I did not know the people of the woods to be so cruel.” He said, breathing out, and could not look in the eyes of the son of Glorfindel.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.