Eloquent Elvish Stories
Playlist Navigation Bar
Seeds of Old Trees: 7. The Noldor have their own Problems
"He came to speak with your brother," she repeated, giving her words just the right tone of sympathy to fuel the furnace. It would not do for the anger to cool, for then insult would replace it, calculating and hard. As Earwen had learned from her marriage-family, some things could far more easily be worked when hot. "He is at Finrod's workshop even now, discussing politics, I think."
"Does he think he can come all this way and then ignore me? Does he have nothing to say at all, not even 'sorry'?" Galadriel breathed in, and a look smouldered in her eyes which made her mother grow chill, remembering Alqualondë. Once, such a look had been levelled at her, while the point of a Noldor blade lay trembling in the hollow of her throat. He had recollected who she was - their prince's wife - in the next moment, but the gaze had stayed with her since. Never before had she felt so utterly disdained, so worthless.
Stepping back, warily, from her daughter's presence, her heart faltered. I hope you know what you are doing, cousin, she thought grimly. Unlike Finarfin, she had been Artanis' confidante, and - knowing all - she hoped for a new beginning for what had been a long, successful marriage. In bearing Celeborn's words to her daughter she had tried to further what she perceived as his intent. But it is one thing to shape molten steel, and quite another to stand before a tide of it.
"He will learn better," said Galadriel, in a tone sharp as any sword, and strode from the room, ablaze.
Finrod's workshop stood at the centre of a flower-garden, in the second tier of the grounds. Its walls were screens of many-coloured crystal which could be rolled back, like the curtains of a flet, to let the scented air sweep over the forge's heat. But now, as clouds dimmed the bright morning, they were closed. Rain slanted grey across the bent heads of marigold and roses.
Celeborn, pulled too many ways by apprehension and hope, sat at one end of a bench occupied by a strange sculpture of metal and gems, and tried to fix his mind on needful things. So close to Galadriel, after all these years, an atavistic instinct in him urged him to find her door and break it down, to assert his rights and his needs, to claim her back whether she would or no. Though appalled at the desire, he could not make it go away. It shocked him, he who had always believed himself better than that. He would not do it - for Galadriel's free choice was precious to him, and he would not have her coerced - but still, the thought that he was capable of so base a possessiveness made him feel itchy and irritable, as though his skin was covered in dirt.
She would come to him if she wished. If not, he would accept her decision and go away. But, Valar! The waiting was hard.
"Here's to your return, long despaired of!" Finrod passed him a glass of white mead, and he accepted the toast, not knowing whether it was a rebuke or not. It was good to see Finrod again, his face glowing with purpose, brighter now than Glorfindel and every bit as joyous. Good too, to see the ring about his finger, the completeness in his eyes which told of his marriage to Amarië. The house of Finarfin would be filled up with more golden-haired children, it seemed.
He wondered, suddenly, whether some of the Noldor's discontent with their neighbours might not stem from the fact that their royal house was becoming more Vanyar, more Teleri by the day. Did not Finarfin have Earwen beside him, and Finrod Amarië? Orodreth's wife was of the Sindar, as was Galadriel's husband. Aegnor... poor, Aegnor, foolishly wise, who had neither the courage nor the power to claim Luthien's fate, would not provide them with a full-blood heir. Only Angrod had married within his own people. If they - reasonably - feared their culture being eaten out from within, it might well prompt some aggressiveness towards the other clans.
The thought of full-blood Noldor, and aggression, turned his mind once more to the other reason why he was feeling as grey and oppressed as the sky. Glad as he was to see Finrod again, unmarked by monster's tooth, he was not so pleased to find him working beside Celebrimbor. There was very little about Celebrimbor, from the soot-black hair and iron grey eyes, to the way he lounged on the wooden workbench, perfectly at home, which did not make Celeborn helplessly annoyed. How long had this frustrated lover been haunting his wife's steps while he was absent, plying her with all the things she did not need more of - jewels and power and doom?
"She would not see you, eh?" said Celebrimbor in ill-advised sympathy, and smiled. Doubtless it was meant to be a smile of fellow feeling, but it set his blood on fire. Far more than he could take from the usurper of his Lordship in Eregion and the architect of his most painful loss.
"What are you doing here, Curufinion?" he demanded, scathingly. Without meaning to, he found himself on his feet, fists clenched, standing above the gem-smith's seated form. There was some satisfaction in seeing his rival scramble backwards, instinctively afraid. Celebrimbor, genius though he was, was no warrior. "Come to steal someone else's kingdom? Make sure you hand it back when it gets to be too much trouble, as you did with me."
Who knew how many more ages of the world Galadriel might have spent with him in Ennor but for Celebrimbor's cursed trinkets. And he dared smile? "Or are you just designing some new device that will suck the life out of its bearers? Shall I describe to you what became of the Men who wore your Rings? The torment of Galadriel? And yet here you are again, meddling! I wonder that they let you out of Mandos at all, for truly you are your father's son."
"Telpë!" a hand caught his wrist, restraining, and he looked aside into Finrod's earnest gaze, just for one moment hating his reasonableness, the interference of his peacemaking. "He is here because I asked for his help. And he does not deserve to be treated thus - has not his death paid for all?"
Yielding to the gentle touch, Celeborn stepped back a pace, told himself this was no time nor place to demand redress for hurts inflicted so long ago. Forgiveness, he had learned how needed it was on this new world, where all former enemies now were asked to live together as friends. Thus far he had tried to give it freely. But this was not like facing Melian, or his family. He had wanted to forgive them, take them back into his life. For Celebrimbor his goodwill extended only to the thought that punching him in the teeth would not be worth the split knuckles.
"Death?" he asked bitterly. "How did his 'heroic death' benefit anyone, except to look good in song? He should have lived, and worked at undoing what he had done. It was but suicide, waiting for Sauron's wrath. Suicide at a time when he had a duty to save his people. Why take them from me, if he cared nothing for them in the end?"
"I too have asked myself that," said Celebrimbor, relaxing slightly as the threat was withdrawn, sliding down from where he had been pressed defensively into the wall. "In Mandos. Many things become clear there, uncomfortable though the knowledge is." He pushed back into his plait one of the many tendrils of hair that lay across his face, whence it began immediately to slither free again. There was, surprisingly, no answering anger in him, and the lack of resistance made Celeborn feel off balance, uncertain. "At first I tried to say 'because Annatar deceived me, persuaded me into it with cunning council.'"
As he looked up, Celeborn caught something in his gaze which had not been present before - the holiness of the reborn, shorn of the Kinslayer's curse. "But in the end I had to admit that I took your people, your country, only because they were yours. Why should you have everything - the deepest of my heart's desires - and I have nothing? I could not take from you that which I most loved, so I took Eregion in its stead. And I led it into evil, as Namo foretold."
Pushing back the wisp of hair once more Celebrimbor smiled, almost humbly. Light touched the iron eyes and brought out a sheen of mercury, evasive and fair. "If I had lived, how much more harm would I have caused? Would I have drawn Sauron to your small army, rather than leaving him to vainly pursue Amroth? Or if, by some strange chance, we ever reached Imladris, would I have contended with you and Elrond, while it needed unity; causing it to fall? I know not. But it was then, when you and I stood side by side and looked out on the seething infinity of Gorthaur's orcs, that I finally understood my fate. While I lived in Endorë, evil followed. Therefore I had to die. And if I chose to do it spitting in Sauron's face, would not you have done the same?"
A silence fell between them. In the hush, the final gust of rain pattered against the crystal walls and snaked in subtle grades of brightness down onto the green camomile of the lawn. The sky brightened into a luminous white dome around them, washed and empty as Celeborn's well of resentment. He did not want to feel sympathy or shame for this ancient rival, but he could not deny a new insight that made so much sense. Not an abandoning, but a final acceptance of responsibility. Anger, draining, left him feeling quietened, stable once more, though malice and humour could not forbear adding Like Turin: the best thing he ever did was to die. If only he could have done it the sooner.
"I would," he said, sighing. "Forgive me. I had not thought of it in that light."
"Too busy rejoicing that you had left me behind?"
Looking up in surprise, Celeborn saw a glimmer of the same wry amusement in Celebrimbor's eyes. Perhaps, perversely, the shared knowledge that they hated one another could become a basis for understanding. He laughed softly. "Indeed."
It had been hard to work together all those years, pretending for Galadriel's sake that they did not each despise everything the other was. But he would not make the mistake, this time, of ignoring Celebrimbor to the point that he knew not what sorcery was being wrought in his own domain. "So, what are you doing here Tyelpë?"
"Little to interest you, I doubt not, for it concerns neither Endorë nor trees."
Finrod snorted, and favoured them both with a look of long-suffering patience, the expression of one well used to being the only rational person in the room. It smoothed the barbs from the insult and helped Celeborn to pluck it out and throw it aside, disregarded. He addressed himself to his gwanur, certain that he would get better answers there. "Rumour circulates among the Sindar that you are working on a weapon."
"Paranoia," said Celebrimbor dismissively, and edged out from his seat to return to the sleek and beautiful thing which lay on the workbench, making minute changes to the placing of its embedded jewels.
"Yet the mere rumour is dangerous enough, in these troubled times, to concern Thingol deeply. It is hard to council friendship with those you half suspect of readying to attack you."
"This is Valinor," said Finrod, smiling, as though the suggestion was as foolish as Celebrimbor had said. But when Celeborn did not reply he filled the silence with thought. His smile faltered as memories of Alqualondë, tales of the slaughter at Doriath and Sirion, ghosted behind his darkening, sea-coloured eyes. He at least knew what folly it was to call the Sindar over-wary to a man whose own brother had fallen beneath a Noldor blade.
"Well..." he breathed in and began again more carefully. "We have been silent only because that is the way of the Mirdain. They are jealous of their methods and their arts, and did not want too much curiosity until the thing was done. That has suited us - Galadriel and Celebrimbor and I. We are dreading, a little, the furore that our work may cause, when it is complete."
"You are not reassuring me."
With the cloudburst over, the sun now slanted through the many panes of crystal and warmed Finrod's rueful smile. "It is a long tale," he said, and pushed back one of the bright walls to let the air in. Water dripped from the eaves onto his golden mane, reminding Celeborn painfully of Galadriel - in the mornings of Lothlorien, when she would dance in the dawn light, while dew pattered, shining, from the trees all around her and glinted like fiery jewels in her hair. Would she accept the excuse of his insult and come to him? Or was she really so resolved that she would pass it over with a knowing smile and stay away, isolate and out of his reach? He dreaded the answer.
"You must understand," Finrod refilled the glasses and stood with them in hand, his gaze focussed out beyond the city, perhaps on the mountain of Taniquetil that raised its god-haunted head, white-flaming into the sky, across the Calacirya. "Coming back to Aman was not quite like coming home, not even for us. Things had changed."
"Your father had become High King," Celeborn suggested, aware that while this elevation might have delighted Galadriel, both Finrod and Orodreth were likely to have received it less gladly.
"And that caused ill-feeling when Fingolfin and his followers were re-born. The Noldor are not like your people, Celeborn. You seem to have no pride. Even Oropher came forth from Mandos well content to bend the knee to Elwë once more. But Fingolfin was less happy to find himself subject to his youngest brother. Turgon and Fingon resented becoming dependants, where they had once been mighty kings. Even Gil-galad - he led the entire elven population of Middle-earth, and now he is a mere descendant. We went to Ennor looking for fame and rule, and returned to find ourselves dispossessed in our own homeland. It is inevitable, therefore, that some have resented the new kingdoms and strength of the Ennorim in Valinor. It is a wash of brine over our cuts."
"Finwë should return," said Celeborn, unsurprised, though enlightened by Finrod's information - the Noldor's quarrelsomeness, even within their own clan, had been one of the first things the Sindar had noticed about them. "The body decays because the head has been cut off. Ours prospers because we have Elu back."
"No," Finrod laughed. "It's generous of you to think so, but we tore one another even while Finwë was alive. It is our nature - part of that restlessness which drives us to be such great explorers, both of the mind and body."
"Then explore," shrugging, Celeborn followed Finrod's gaze out through the pass of light into the far distance. The spilled rain was now smoking up from the ground in the yellow sun's warmth, and after twenty miles or so the details became hazy. "Is there not a great continent there, the equal of all the lands of Middle-earth?"
"So we thought."
Celebrimbor had reached under the table and opened a small chest. A radiance like trapped moonlight spilled from it, mingling with the sunshine. He reached inside and brought out what must surely have been a great jewel, if its facets had been visible beneath the outpouring of molten silver. Light welled between Celebrimbor's fingers and dripped, organic and fluid, into the air. A mist of brightness trailed his cupped hands as he moved them towards the workbench, lingering like a faint perfume. It had not the holy and enchanting sweetness, the revelatory clarity of a Silmaril, but he was glad, nevertheless, that there were no dwarves in Valinor. Wars had been fought over less.
"But when we returned," Finrod drew close to his shoulder, watching with him, "we found it had been settled in our absence. Teleri Havens and harbours all about the coast, Vanyar retreats upon the meads, and some of our own 'Faithful' people in the mountains. Sparsely populated, but in such distant time they had long grown used to thinking it theirs. Nor would their established lords bow down to us."
"Doubtless it is some kind of lesson in humility," said Celebrimbor and set the moon-jewel reverently in a hollow of wrought mithril, as designed for it as the socket for an eye. Pleased with its fit, or the effect, he looked up, his eyes inspired and brilliant, lit with zeal. Still sleeked by clinging light, his craftsman's hands lay possessively over the device, as if the embodiment of his name, and Celeborn was taken aback for a moment by the genius of Feanor's line, and the fear of its cost.
"So this device is designed to put that right?" he said. "And to restore your fortunes. If it is not a weapon, then how?"
Drawing himself up, stretching his back and brushing both hands through his hair, snagging yet more tendrils from the wreck of his unruly plait, Celebrimbor gave Celeborn a measuring, academic look. A tutor confronted with one of his more dull pupils. "What I am about to tell you may go against your understanding of the nature of Ea," he said, with condescension and pleasure mingled - delighted at knowing something the Sinda did not. "Nevertheless I assure you it is true. It was discovered quite recently. Or perhaps we were finally allowed to see what should have been obvious many ages ago... You have been told that Varda created the stars as jewels, filling them with the light of the Silver Tree, before he was slain. And doubtless you imagine that they are pricked to the fabric of the sky like pearls on a cloak. But it is not so. When Varda created the stars she made not tiny gems, seen close, but other suns, like Anar. There is no roof on the sky. Only a void, immeasurably large, in which many worlds spin: afar, but not unattainable."
He paused and waited, in expectation of protest. It had been quite some time since Celeborn had last encountered so clear an assumption that he, as a savage, would know nothing. Nostalgia came over him at the thought - for the First Age, when they were all so much younger, and the world that much simpler.
"This, I have long known," he said, and took some satisfaction of his own in watching the Noldo frown, genuinely puzzled. "The Men of Middle-earth realized it centuries ago, and we have not been too proud to learn from them."
Circling the device, he could not tell even now what purpose it served. He dared not trail his fingers along it to feel if it would speak to him, lest he do it harm. Vanity stirred feebly in his heart, forbidding him to ask, since Celebrimbor was so eager to tell, but he ignored it with ease. "I see. You intend to travel through Ilmaren and come to other worlds, where you may each have realms of your own. This thing will aid you in that. But what is it? It seems a little small to sufficiently guard you against the rigours of that emptiness, which flesh unsupported cannot pass."
Disappointed and taken aback to have encountered knowledge where he expected ignorance, Celebrimbor was silent. It was Finrod who answered him, singing a rill of pure notes. At the tune the device awoke and burst into brilliant, coruscating life, giving forth a long beam of white light, violent as a battering ram. Silver radiance, and pearl wound, ribbon-like down its length, confining it into one pulse, terrible and potent. The ground shook.
"Where there is no wind," said Finrod, his voice trembling with excitement, "This will push forward a vessel. You come in happy hour to see it finally at work, so long it has been in the making."
"It is astounding!" Celeborn winced as the blaze filled his eyes. A power came off the insubstantial light and stirred the hair on his nape even as it urged him backwards. He was not certain this thing could not, after all, be used as a weapon, though that was not Finrod's intent. It should certainly not remain entirely in Noldor hands. He thought swiftly. "What of the vessel?"
"I said..." instinctively, though the pounding of radiance was in fact entirely silent, Celeborn raised his voice, feeling foolish when Celebrimbor chose just that moment to shut the thing down. He eyed its dormant form, pondering. "Have you no craft to which you will attach it?"
"We have not proceeded so far," Finrod was grinning, all but jumping with delight. Celebrimbor folded his arms and sat down, looking smug. "There would have been little use without the power of movement. And we have feared to embark on any project so large, lest it become widely known, and spread doubt among folk who trust not our use of it."
"Do you know my brother, Galathil?"
"Yes..?" At this apparent irrelevance Finrod's look of glee wavered. Torn between satisfaction and his ever-present curiosity he turned bemused eyes on his gwanur's face. "Why?"
"You are not as alone in this conception as you think." The Noldor were not the only far-travellers in creation, Celeborn mused, only the most focussed on arriving and conquering. His own people had a love of wandering, also. Did they not ride the waves only to feel the freedom of the sea, or drift from kingdom to kingdom only to see the new trees? "Galathil has been working on a sail for use in the void - one which may be filled by light instead of wind. As the Teleri way is not to design ship and sail separately, but both together as one unit, he may already have built a hull for his cirilmaren which might be adapted for yours."
"Why would he do such a thing?" asked Celebrimbor, half mockingly. "Out of the goodness of his heart? I think not - the Teleri have never forgiven us, nor ever wanted to build aught with us again."
"He would do it if I asked him."
Alone of the many elves Celeborn had encountered thus far in Valinor, Celebrimbor had been a knowing Kinslayer, coming to Ennor in the host of Feanor, bloody handed. That he had repented of it was clear - or he would not yet have been reborn. But some of the attitudes persisted. "Perhaps we do not want Teleri help?" he said, darkly.
But Finrod had curled catlike into his chair with the look of intense absorption he wore when composing poetry, or peace treaties. "No," he said. "To have a prince of the Teleri royal house aiding us would cut through at one stroke the objections of those who think this another mad Noldor project, to be dreaded. And the Teleri are..." he shrugged, smiling. "They are the Eldarin experts in ship-building and star-navigation. It does not make sense not to involve them, if we may."
"And it makes a deal of sense to set our quarrelling peoples to some task they may do together, where each needs the other's unique skills," Celeborn agreed. "Are not the Troubles between us due more to idleness - in which every small slight can put down thirsty root - than true dislike? If our hands were full of new and exciting work, who would put it down to take up a weapon?"
"That would be well enough," Celebrimbor lifted the moon-like jewel out of its place and gently lowered it into its casket. "But that it is your people - the dark elves - who are the problem, and they have no skill to bring to buy their way into this bright future." Recognizing, finally, the wreck of his plait, he unwound it and sat for a moment clad in satin darkness, his long locks spilled over his shoulders. Gathering them up again and rewinding the braid he said, "Perhaps we shall just leave you behind. The 'Eledhil' may stay here, while the Calaquendi spread to every star. Would that not be ironic?"
In the past, Celeborn had sometimes suspected the gem-smith of deliberately needling him to the point of fury, as if to show his wife what a fool she had married. For surely no one could be that irritating by accident? He took a deep breath. This was not a good day for calm. Where was Galadriel? The rain had stopped and still she had not come. A pain beneath his ribs intensified at Celebrimbor's talk of being left behind, and his mind refused to be distracted from it any longer. O Valar! She really had meant it. She would not come.
"You will," he cleared his voice - his throat had closed, as he found himself believing, for the first time, that he might not be able to just walk back into his marriage; that he might, in truth, have forfeited all. Just so she must have felt, every time a ship came in and I was not on it. "You will have to eat dirt then."
Known as the gentlest, the most empathic of the Noldor, Finrod must have sensed the sudden breaking of his hope - the plummet into deep waters that followed. He moved closer and put a hand on Celeborn's back. The friendly, encouraging touch made him want to weep.
But not in front of Celebrimbor. He tried again; "Men say that every world they have thus far seen is barren. You will be Lords of airless rocks. Yet my people have just taken the ooze at the bottom of the sea and turned it into a realm full of blossoming groves. I'm sorry, Celebrimbor, but you need us."
"I need to think," the jewel-wright replied, and stood, striding away with his mouth down-turned. Perhaps, like Feanor, he was unwilling to allow his creation to be used in a way he had not foreseen. But he would return - he would not be able to bear the thought of Galathil's sail taking the lead over his device. Better to work with us than for us, thought Celeborn, in a last spasm of harsh humour - watching his enemy go with a sense of sudden vulnerability, as though dragon-fire had burnt away his shield.
While Celebrimbor had been present it had been impossible to give himself over to grief. Anger had disguised his agony. But now, as if it were a great drake, as if it were Glaurung with his merciless, labyrinthine gaze, despair came on footsteps alternately dull and piercing, and he was lost. Darkness arose over him. He had arrived too late. He had gained paradise and lost everything. What use were all his plans? He put his head in his hands and closed his eyes.
Galadriel had not come.
gwanur = a brother who is not related by blood.
Telpë = a Telerin shortening of 'Celeborn',
Tyelpë = a Quenya shortening of Celebrimbor.
Ilmaren = Outer space. Yes, Tolkien did invent an elvish word for it, as the ships of the Teleri have to pass through it on the way from Middle-earth to Valinor. I am assuming that up to now they have been protected from it by the direct intervention of the Valar, as - in some strange, unspecified, multidimensional way - Valinor and Ennor are part of the same world. But the elves are now looking to become a bit more independent than that.
cirilmaren = space ship.
Playlist Navigation Bar