2. Chapter II
He fell to his knees before her, and Galadriel, hurrying forward to help him to his feet, knew that she was probably the only child of Iluvatar for whom Celebrimbor would show such respect.
Accepting her offered hand gratefully, Celebrimbor leaned on her heavily when he stood. She could see the exhaustion in his steely eyes.
“Eregion?” she asked softly.
Celebrimbor closed his eyes. “Celeborn is holding it. The scholar makes a fine warrior and a better commander, when he’s called to it.”
Galadriel felt something within her relax, knowing that, a little while ago, her husband had been well.
“He sends his love, but I’m afraid it’s gotten all tangled in mine along the way,” Celebrimbor told her, an amused, almost sweet smile pulling at the corners of his mouth as he opened this eyes.
Galadriel returned his gaze, her eyes sad.
“I have come for your counsel, lady,” he stated, straightening, and letting go of her. “And with a gift.” He raised a hand to his chest, pressing something strung on a mithril chain under his shirt against his skin. “How did you know?” he asked her softly.
“How did I know what?”
“That Annatar… was not to be trusted?”
Galadriel shrugged. “I didn’t. I felt it. Too many years with Melian, I suppose.”
“Or perhaps just enough. Things could’ve been worse, had it not been for the seed of doubt you planted in my soul.” His hand went back to the chain around his neck. He turned his eyes back to her, and smiled unexpectedly. “Before I ask your counsel, I must give my hostess a gift, almost worthy of her.”
Celebrimbor unfastened the chain from around his neck, and pulled it out from his shirt. Strung on it were three rings, twinkling in the candlelight. Celebrimbor let them drop from the chain into his palm.
They were beautiful.
This was only natural, since Celebrimbor had obviously made them. Galadriel knew her cousin’s work – it was sometimes a great deal too like her uncle’s for comfort.
I am not Fëanor…
Galadriel knew this to be true, although Celebrimbor’s eyes assured her otherwise at times. Celebrimbor had spent a lifetime trying to atone for the folly of his father, and his father’s father, and to prove their glory to any who cared to see. Celebrimbor believed in the glory of the Noldor, in a time when most of the Noldor had long abandoned it.
Who was Fëanor, after all, but the greatest of the Noldor? The Kinslayer. The Maker of the Silmarils.
Why is it always three? Galadriel wondered irrationally.
“He called them ‘Rings of Power’ when he taught us of their making. And in our vanity we sought to make them as gifts for the Three Kindred of Arda Marred. And three seemed appropriate for the Firstborn.”
“Noldor, Vanyar, and Teleri?”
“Fire, air, and water,” Celebrimbor agreed. “Narya, Vilya, and Nenya.” He extended his hand towards her, offering her all three. “Who better to bear them all, than a child of Finarfin and Eärwen, in whose veins flows the blood of all three races?”
“Celebrimbor, their maker,” she suggested, making no move to accept the rings.
“Celebrimbor the fool, you mean,” he retorted, raking his fingers through his raven hair.
“No,” she replied easily, “that’s not what I mean.”
“Perhaps Celebrimbor the proud? Or… Celebrimbor the vain? Personally, I think fool sums it all up rather nicely.”
Galadriel interrupted his words by reaching out to take his hands, and closing them around the rings again.
“Celebrimbor the fallible,” she suggested. “There is no shame that he tricked you. By Elbereth’s stars, he tricked Manwë himself! No one condemns you for it.”
“I do,” he replied, eyes hard. “And I have lied to you, my lady…”
Galadriel blinked. “On what matter?”
“There is no opinion that I value more than yours. But whatever counsel you give, I shall return to Eregion. And I shall either save my people, or die with them.”
Galadriel squeezed his hands gently.
He seized the wrist of her right hand, turned it over, and placed the rings in her palm.
“You must take them. If I keep them, they may fall into Sauron’s hands at last.”
Galadriel gazed at them, already feeling the throb of their power as they touched her skin.
The red-stoned one on her right hand, and the blue and white ones on her left…
Dared the murderer of her brother threaten the lives of others? Maia, was he? She did not fear Sauron the Maia, or his legions of twisted, tortured Quendi. Sauron would join his Master in the Abyss, and the orcs she would obliterate. Celeborn would never again have to go through the pain of killing an orc. Celeborn…
“Celebrimbor, you do your work too well. I cannot bear them all,” Galadriel gasped, almost dropping the rings.
“Then choose one. And give the others to whomever you wish.”
They lay in her palm, equal in beauty and power, and nothing alike.
“I have fire enough of my own,” Galadriel said, smiling a little. “Perhaps too much. And wind might fan it. So…” She lifted the silver one, which embraced a white gem like a star, and moved, as though in a dream, to place it on her finger.
Celebrimbor stilled her hands. “No.” His voice had taken on a sharp, commanding tone – one she had heard often enough from his mouth, but never directed at her. “You musn’t wear it. Annatar,” he sneered, using the title as an insult, “thinks to control the works of his pupils, and I fear he might succeed.” He restrung the white ring onto the mithril chain he’d worn, and reached up reverently to place it around Galadriel’s neck. His fingers brushed gently against her shoulders as he drew back.
The chain was long on her, making the ring hang down between her breasts. She picked it up, and considered it in her hand. It looked like it would fit as though it had been made for her…
“So it was,” Celebrimbor whispered, taking the hand holding the ring and pressing it to his lips.
“Mother?” Celebrian looked up from her book abruptly.
Galadriel did not reply, but clutched her daughter’s hand all the more tightly.
“Mother, what’s wrong?” Celebrian insisted, putting her other hand on top of the one squeezing hers.
“They’re killing him,” Galadriel said quietly, her eyes tightly closed.
“Who?” Celebrian demanded, bewildered. “What are you talking about?”
Quiet again, Galadriel squeezed harder.
“Not…” she almost couldn’t say it, “Father?”
Galadriel shook her head. “No… “ She removed her hand from her daughter’s grasp, pulled a chain free from the neckline of her gown, and held it up.
The white gem of Nenya twinkled coldly at Celebrian.
“Celebrimbor,” Celebrian stated softly. “How do you know?”
“I… can feel it.”
Celebrian stared. “What do you mean… ‘feel it?’”
“He’s trying so hard to keep it from me. But… he’s dying. I can’t help feeling a little of his pain.”
Celebrian swallowed hard.
“Mother, if it’s that ring, then you should…get rid of it,” she concluded lamely.
Galadriel shook her golden head. “It is not a connection that I would break, even if I could.”
“Mother! If he’s…”
“No one should die alone.”
“What are you doing in my head?” Celebrimbor breathed the words softly through cracked and bleeding lips. Surely, surely she didn’t mean to pit her will against Sauron’s, and their ring against the One….
I didn’t spend centuries in Doriath merely admiring the scenery, Celebrimbor, Galadriel’s thought retorted irritably.
He felt a twinge of relief. Perhaps if she wasn’t using Nenya directly…“Still, it is not safe. You have it,” he said meaningfully, “and if he senses you, it may all be for naught.” He spoke aloud, too tired to order his thoughts without speech.
Have a little faith in the abilities you claim to respect.
“Get out of my mind, Galadriel,” he murmured flatly.
Pray, don’t presume to start giving me orders, Celebrimbor. I will be careful.
He could practically see the graceful arch of her eyebrows, and her ever so slightly disdainful expression.
“Be reasonable, Galadriel. I’m going to die.”
Are you asking to die alone?
Celebrimbor lifted his head a fraction. “It’s what I deserve.”
You are a fool.
There was gentleness in her reproach. Tenderness, affection even. But not the love he’d wanted. And still did want.
He felt her sadness then, and realized with regret that a little of that sadness was his fault.
“Forgive me,” he murmured.
What have I to forgive? I am not a Vala to forgive your sins - I can only forgive transgressions against myself. And what have you done but…
“Love you,” Celebrimbor completed, unsure of who’s thought it was.
There were no words – just a sort of mental, or perhaps spiritual gesture. Had she been present, she would’ve reached out to him. Her presence was so real, so tangible, and such a comfort, it was almost as though she’d cradled his bruised and bleeding head in her gentle hands, and laid it against her breast, so that he could hear the beating of her heart, feel her soft breath from between her rosebud lips, breathe in the scent of her glorious hair from where it spilled shimmering over one slender shoulder…
You’re trying my patience, you realize.
“Can’t a dying fool dream?” he murmured.
Only if he can manage to keep them to himself. I’d rather not be privy to them, that’s all.
He dragged his eyelids open to see her expression, forgetting for instant that she wasn’t with him. But no Galadriel raised her eyebrows at him. There were only walls. Walls and chains. And beyond the walls and chains, there were orcs. And Sauron.
“Galadriel,” he breathed, almost as though he were praying. “I’m afraid. I’m afraid to die.”
And for a moment, he could feel her pain too.
I will be with you. I won’t leave you alone.
With Galadriel at his side, he did not fear Sauron. With Galadriel at his side…
“Beloved,” he gasped, lips bleeding anew. “Go.” Even the idea of his Three… his Work, his Rings that dazzled him so that he could not raise a hand to destroy them, twisted and tainted in the hands of Sauron…. Even this paled at the thought of Galadriel’s mind put to torment, as his had been. The Rings had come from him, and he loved them. But he loved her more. “Shall it give me comfort to know you are in danger?”
I will stay…until I can stay no longer.
And in spite of his fear, and his pain, Celebrimbor smiled.
He wasn’t sure if he felt it or heard it first. But a moment later, he was staring at his broken sword, while still using the portion connected to the hilt to fend off an orc carrying a sword breaker.
The orc stumbled backward, pinned to its fellow by a slender shaft, neatly fletched with dyed-green feathers, making the arrow resemble a young sapling with freshly unfurled leaves.
Celeborn sheathed what was left of his sword and fell back to join the archers.
“My thanks!” he called, and the dark haired Noldor boy who’d loosed the arrow that had probably saved Celeborn’s life shot him a bright, fierce grin as he pulled another arrow from his quiver.
It was a waste of a fine blade, he reflected sourly as his elbow brushed the pommel amid his movements to unstrap his longbow from his back, string it, and ready a shaft. He wasn’t likely to find the equal of a blade of Doriath in this age, when swords of ancient Elvish forges snapped like reeds in a flood. Someday, he might have it reforged, he mused, letting four shafts fly, and felling half as many orcs. He was still a little shaken, and it was affecting his aim. He couldn’t afford to waste arrows.
On the brow of the hill, which was boiling with the armored bodies of orcs, a standard was raised, a dark stain against the pale, cold sky. Celeborn lifted his eyes from his target to glance at it.
An instant later, he yanked off his light helm, and the strands of his shimmering silver hair that had come free of their loose plait glowed like a halo in the grey morning light.
It was a pole made for a standard, but no banner snapped in the brisk wind. Sauron’s new standard merely swayed heavily.
The body of an Elf was bound to the pole, in a position of crucifixion. His legs were tied to the shaft, his elbows had been hooked behind the cross beam and lashed in place, and his head hung limply, short dark hair stirring across a white forehead.
Celeborn fought back a wave of nausea, and was brought violently from his horror when the archer who’d saved his life stumbled against him.
A nightmare. If only it could be a nightmare.
“We must cut him down,” the boy said, his voice clear, and his eyes streaming. He grasped Celeborn’s shoulder with a grip like iron.
Celeborn flinched as a few black, barbed arrows sank into Celebrimbor’s body.
“No,” he replied quietly.
The boy flushed, wet eyes fierce. “We cannot allow them to…”
“Our concern is for the living,” Celeborn said sharply, pushing the archer back towards his position.
“Then I will cut him down.” The boy started forward, but Celeborn caught hold of his arm and did not let got.
“Celebrimbor did not give his life that you or anyone else should die for a corpse.”
The boy turned back to him, more tears pouring down his face.
“Live,” Celeborn ordered, sternly, and gently. “And remember.”
Celebrian pushed a few strands of hair behind her mother’s ear, and reached back down to twine her fingers with Galadriel’s slender ones.
“Wake, please,” she whispered, for not, by far, the first time. “Please come back, mother…”
But Galadriel’s face remained a placid mask of concentraion, her eyes staring hard at the ceiling, as though it were a window, or a mirror, and her gaze broken only by the occasional flick of her eyelids. Her body had dropped like a marionette with severed strings a few moments before, as though whereever her mind was required every possible shred of attention and strength she possessed.
Celebrian laid down beside her mother’s still form on the carpeted study floor, and pressed her face into Galadriel’s shoulder, partly wishing to lend her own strength to her mother’s trial, and partly a frightened child seeking comfort in her mother’s familiar smell and warmth.
Her tears soaking in the fabric of Galadriel’s dress, Celebrian huddled close, still calling…
“Mother… Mother, please.”
It was a few moments before she realized that she felt a hand gently stroking her hair.
“Hush, my little one. I’m here, and I’m well enough.”
Galadriel helped Celebrian sit up, and wiped the tears from her daughter’s face.
“I … I was so frightened!” Celebrian took her mother’s hand from her own cheek and kissed it impulsively, tasting the salt of her tears.
“So was I,” Galadriel replied dryly, her expression gentle despite her sarcastic tone.
“Celebrimbor,” Celebrian began, concerned. “Is he… all right then?” He’d always rather intimidated her, but she did not wish him ill.
A shadow of pain flickered across her mother’s face. “All right? Now, I suppose he is. He’s dead.” Her voice was brittle, like thin glass.
“Dead?” Celebrian heard the stunned voice, and wondered who would ask such an inane question.
“He was very brave, and very foolish. And if the suffering he faced today means anything, he will not wait long in Mandos.”
Celebrian shivered. What kind of suffering would make death look “all right”, she wondered? She put her arms back around her mother, and buried her face in Galadriel’s white-clad shoulder.
Galadriel put her face against her daughter’s hair, and raised a hand to stroke through the smooth electrum strands. “Dear one, I don’t know if you knew… that Celebrimbor…” she began hesitantly.
Celebrian looked up, and nodded. “Yes.” She had known, since she was a child, that Celebrimbor had loved her mother like no one but her father had any business loving her mother.
“Try not to hold it against him,” Galadriel said softly. “He tried so hard.”
Smiling through more tears, Celebrian laughed softly. “How could I?”
Celeborn lay prostrate on the mat that served as a bed in his tent. Blades of grass pushed through the weave of the fabric, and brushed against his forehead. For an instant, he envied them… to be olvar and to grow and flower and be beautiful, without knowing fear or hate or pain, to praise Iluvatar by one’s simple act of existing…
He felt a few tears soak into the mat, although he hadn’t felt them fall. It would take a battle like this one to make him wish to be a blade of grass.
There was a time when the very sight of an orc had physically sickened Celeborn, and when simply looking into their crumpled faces tore at his soul. But that was in Beleriand, when the world was young. Perhaps orcs had been less twisted then. Or perhaps it was just that in Beleriand, Celeborn had never cradled an Elf in his arms while that Elf bled out his life into the mud. Part of his soul had gotten hard and calloused from too much use. One could either shield oneself against the pain, or go mad.
His body ached, screaming at him to rest, but the images in his head while he was awake warned him of what his dreams would be.
“I must confer with the Lady Galadriel,” Celebrimbor told him curtly, putting a hand at something strung under his shirt, and pressing it to his skin. “I’m going to Lindon.”
Celeborn said nothing, but Doriath burned in his eyes.
“And I will return to Eregion. I swear it by all the blood that was spilled for the Silmarils.”
Celeborn shuddered. “Don’t… don’t make such a vow.”
Celebrimbor smiled mirthlessly, and his eyes were hard. “It is made.”
Breaking the silence, through his pain and concern, Celeborn spoke up. “Tell her I love her.”
Celebrimbor’s hard smile turned wry. “I’m certain she’s aware of that.”
Celebrimbor stood on the stairs of The House of the Mírdain, his blade black, his eyes bright. Celeborn stood at his back, his sword hilt wet and slick with the orc blood, still warm on his blade, and dripping down to his hands.
It was chaos - a nightmare. Celeborn could almost believe he would wake in a cold sweat to Galadriel’s gentle voice as she ran her hands over his face. He often dreamed of Doriath.
But Galadriel was safe in Lindon, with Celebrian. And Eregion was as real as Doriath had been.
More real, perhaps - in Doriath, he’d had a child and a Silmaril in his arms. Here, he had a sword, and his hands were hot with blood.
A few centuries ago, Celeborn thought as he waited for the next wave of orcs to scale the stairs, bemused by the sticky black blood covering his hands, he would’ve been fighting back the need to be ill, and felt his vomit burning the back of his throat. Now, it wasn’t as if he was suppressing it. It just wasn’t there.
Celebrimbor kicked an orc off of his blade, and it tumbled with those immediately behind it down the stairs. He took the moment of respite to survey the horde pressing forward, and the meager force defending…
“Celeborn, lead the retreat. Take the catacombs, so we can get them lost if they try to follow, and pick them off slowly,” he ordered briskly, bringing his sword back to its ready position as the orcs lumbered back up the marble stairs. “And be careful,” he added softly.
“You do the same,” Celeborn answered, laying a hand stained black on Celebrimbor’s shoulder.
“Go, if you want any of them to live,” Celebrimbor snapped, jerking his head at the Elves fighting around them.
Celeborn nodded, turned, and was soon lost in organizing the retreat, then deep into the catacombs under the city.
He hadn’t known that Celebrimbor had meant to stay on the steps, until the orcs overcame his desperate last defense, beat him, mutilated him, and carried him back to their master. Perhaps he ought to have, but he didn’t.
“Peace awaits him in Mandos,” he murmured, words meant to be heard by himself, and his creator, “but may he someday find joy…”
“Lord Celeborn,” a voice called from outside the tent.
Celeborn sat up, pushed his braid of burnished silver hair over his shoulder, and stood. “Come.”
The dark-haired Noldor boy backed into the tent, the flap falling open for him as he carried a burden larger than he was, wrapped in a piece of tent canvas.
Hardly a fitting shroud for a Prince of the House of Finwë.
“They left him in the field, among their fallen. Like so much trash.” The boy’s arms shook, either with emotion, or merely the exertion of carrying Celebrimbor’s dead weight for miles. “I had to go back…” he murmured, falling to his knees. “I know I disobeyed you, but I…”
“You did what you felt was right. And you’re alive,” Celeborn said gently. He accepted the body from him, and laid Celebrimbor on the grass. The canvas fell aside, and his head lolled out. Celeborn flinched – his short raven hair was matted with blood, his face bruised and swollen. But his expression was peaceful, as though he had found some strength beyond himself. The light had gone out in his grey eyes, and their fire was extinguished. Kneeling, Celeborn reached out a gentle hand to close Celebrimbor’s eyes.
No, not extinguished.
[ Draft II, courtesy of Finch, who knows Ring-lore much better than I probably ever will. Thanks for correcting me!
Whew. Over at last. This story has been, I think, the most challenging for me to write. I’m not sure why. But many many thanks to everyone who I got to read over drafts for me… Anne, Artanis, Woman of the Dunedain, and particularly Deborah, who’s been so supportive throughout. It’s months and months late, and not what you asked for, remotely, but…. A very merry unbirthday?
As usual, this is a further expression of my respect for Professor Tolkien, and my love of Middle-earth. I dearly hope nothing I’ve written would offend him. But *cries* I’m just a poor little hobbit girl with a fascination with Elves…I can’t HELP it!]
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.