3. Prologue: The Elessar
In the hours before dawn, Celebrimbor climbed to one of the highest points in Eregion, grappling up cliffs of broken granite and schist. Even his strong smith's muscles ached by the time he kicked himself up onto the ledge where he wanted to stand. After the climb, he stood and breathed to calm his racing blood, placing one hand over the burden in his tunic-vest's pocket. Then he laid down the metal tools that had helped drag him to the height, and the small pack he carried.
Eagerly, he turned to the work he had come there to complete. So that his own name might exceed the smiths of legend, he had decided to recreate a lost jewel, fairer and more powerful than before. He had honed a green stone into a gem. This he would now imbue with power, using the secrets of the elven-smiths, won by long meditation and craft. He unbuttoned his vest, then stripped off the rest of his clothes, letting the winds before dawn sweep him.
The sky lit up like pearl-shell from the approaching sun, the dawn of the longest day of summer. He had some time yet before the sun rose. Celebrimbor glanced at the cliffs about him as their layers of rock grew clearer, reading the stones that he loved as keenly as a loremaster read a scroll. Even with no thought for his bearing, he seemed a very statue of pride and desire, tall, strong, and shameless on the height. It was whispered that his sharp-cut, wide face was the very image of lost Fëanor. He ran both hands through his dark, tangled hair, streaked with a silver-white lock to the left of his forehead, and cast his hazel-eyed glance afar.
To the west, a few stars lingered in the sky. They would be shining still over the firth of Lune and the other great elf-realm of Lindon, a hundred and ten leagues away. Beyond the mountain-pass to the south he could see that mist cloaked the valley of Lorinánd and the vales where wood-elves and tribes of Men wandered. Celebrimbor pitied Men when he thought on them, but that was not often. To the east, the triple mountains that capped Khazad-dûm were dark against the dawn, shielding their mighty host of Dwarves, the elven-smiths' friends and rivals. Perhaps the dwarves had the mithril-mines, but the Elves had something they craved in turn; gemstones.
Celebrimbor unfolded a leather wallet from his clothes, and shook from it the wide, flat green gem, transparent, cut so that bars of light overlapped inside it. The large tourmaline had come from the lowland caves of Eregion. In the higher country, garnets could be pried from the granite cliffs, and sapphires and gold gleaned from the mountain-streams.
These varied treasures had drawn the crafters and smiths. Other High Elves had followed, those who would stay and have the pleasures of Middle-Earth without the torment of the sea-call. They had built their city, Ost-in-Edhil, and other dwellings. Beneath the city's spire its rulers dwelled, and many said that there was no greater realm standing yet in all Middle-Earth. Celebrimbor was pleased that his own voice weighed for more as time passed and more of the wealth of Eregion flowed through the order of the jewel-smiths, the Mírdain. He looked down to the Mírdain's hall. When the sun was high, it would reflect from the hall's metal-panelled doors, and light them like a star of gold.
Celebrimbor looked east. The sun would soon rise over the edge of the mountains. His skin was cooled and his pulse balanced again after his exertions, and he turned his mind to his work again. Celebrimbor stood balanced, then held the gem carefully and closed his eyes. He chanted words of calling and binding, and his voice rang harsh down the cliffs.
Thinking on the beloved land before him, Celebrimbor summoned the stones' slow, hot life through his feet. Tilting his head back to the brightening sky, he called down the fast shimmer of light. Breathing more deeply, he drew in the green breath of the trees, the cool hints of the snowmelt from the mountain heights. He centred all the fire of Arnor he brought to him through word and call on the gem cupped between his hands.
Almost all; he felt all his body come alive as if the mountain winds were the hands of a teasing lover, not cold at this time of year. The fire of Arnor formed three points in his body; the roof of his mouth, the meeting palms of his hands, and his loins. He felt no shame at the desire that enlivened him. Was it not life itself he called, to live in the heart of the green gem? And was desire not the quickening of life? He opened his hands and ran the living stone down his body, from the hollow of his throat to the base of his belly, then raised it in both hands to meet the Sun, brushing his erection only in passing.
Celebrimbor widened his stance, feeling the Sun rather than seeing it. All his mind burned on his goal for the gem; that it might give its bearer a power to keep things ever-living, deathless as Aman, pure as at the height of summer, to succour the hearts of Elves in the fading, changing world. It would not halt Time any more than the stones of the river could stop its running, but it would renew the virtues of life. He thought on the twin fires of the morning, the Sun's light and the light of passion, the gift of the Valar and the gift of Illúvatar, and bade them both to bide with joy inside the stone. Lastly, he brought the stone down to the centre of his body. He willed a spark of his own spirit into the maze of light at the gem's heart, linking it to the immortality of the Elves, and cried out words to seal the work.
When his arms felt drained, he opened his eyes. Reeling, he stepped back to the safest part of the ledge, carefully clutching the gem. Perhaps it was only that he looked on it in the full light of day, that its green was brighter and more bars of light stood guard in its centre. The gem was hot to his hand, as if filled with the sun of noon. "You are the Elessar remade!" he said, raising the gem to his lips and misting it with his breath. "You shall be for our Lady. For Galadriel."
Celebrimbor looked down to the tall spire of Ost-in-Edhil again. Even before she had chosen Celeborn of Doriath as her husband, she had turned him away; kindly, as a woman does to a fellow she does not despise, but away nonetheless. The pain of seeing her choice close to hand had faded, as had the longing to see her every day, but he had not loved again. He looked up into the heart of the sun for a moment. He would aid her as he might, with the arts of the Mírdain and with the Elessar, a tool to make the ceaseless change of Middle-Earth easier to endure. Surely she would not spurn a gift that was all her heart's desire.
Before his face as he stood on the mountain-ledge, an eagle flew shockingly close. He took a step back as the eagle spiralled close about, crying out. Celebrimbor raised his free hand to salute the bird of Manwe and a sudden vision came to him. He would place the jewel in an eagle-wrought setting, a fitting gift for a noble lady. For a moment, he doubted. Even without the wide, bright setting he imagined, the stone was already a troublingly rich gift. Then he decided that it was all or nothing, and when faced with that choice, he always took all.
Celebrimbor set the gem in its safe place and began to dress again. In the morning's breeze, his erection had subsided, but he still felt his loins weighted with desire. To relieve himself at that hour would reduce the virtue of his work. He had been celibate for a month before that morning, and he mulled over breaking his body's fast that night with one of the Mírdain. Even unloved, he might be consoled, and the Mírdain had arts of other hardnesses besides metal and stone.
As he drank a draught from a water-skin, he looked up. The eagle was still circling and crying. He looked around to see if, in that vision-swept hour, it augured anything else. Something caught his eye; a spark in the landscape, like a rider in bright hauberk, coming on the west-road from Lindon. It was the same gold as the light that now starred the doors of the Mírdain, moving to Eregion as if like was drawn to like. The eagle called once, and then rode the wind silently, still looping above.
He could not see much of the approaching one, but if it was an elf, someone had great craft, to make armour or weave a cloak that shone so far and bright. He would go to meet them, he decided. Was it possible that another Elf could be a greater craftsman than he? If so, he would learn all the art they had to give, as he had from the Dwarves. With the gem back in its leather wallet, he began the descent, sending scree tumbling from his swiftness.
The eagle circled a few more minutes, and then uttered a last scream as it flew westwards.
Date = Second Age 1252.
A hundred leagues = 300 miles. Not close, three to four weeks' riding if nothing goes wrong.
Illúvatar = The elves' name for The Supreme Being, above the Valar.
The stone described here will eventually be received by Aragorn in The Fellowship of the Ring.