4. Part One: The Fellowship of the Jewel-Smiths
1. The Lord of Gifts.
Celebrimbor, no other, came to his guest-house to bring him the news. "Yes, it will happen, and tonight! You shall be one of the Gwaith-i-Mírdain when our ritual is done; the first who is not an Elf to join our fellowship of jewel-smiths."
"I am honoured." Sauron smiled with lazy brilliance, aware of the whiteness of his teeth against his golden-tawny skin, his blond hair silken in the sun. He had wrought the form he wore with his Maia's powers, to bedazzle Elves and Men with a face fair and strange. Sauron's full height was narrow and regal, tall as an elf-lord or Númenorean. But he was draped along the edge of a window-sill, lissom and relaxed, white robes fluttering in the morning breeze.
"The vote of our council was unanimous. Little surprise, after how you have aided us these past three months with gifts of knowledge." The elf wore his smith's clothes, a leather apron and leggings with the red shirt that only the Mírdain might wear. His swaggering mien softened as he came closer with a quiet question. "You will go through with it in full measure?"
"Why should I not? I have come to dwell among the peoples of Middle-Earth, and do my works amongst them. To do so fully, I should learn your ways." Sauron had learned early on that the Elves swiftly detected lies, but that he could phrase his truth as words they wished to hear. "And it will be you yourself who leads me; none other. You have promised me," he said, smiling again. "Why do you doubt me now?"
Celebrimbor flicked back his silver forelock. "Do you truly know what you will submit to, Annatar?" To him, this was the only name the golden being before him carried. "We elves live in peace now, but I have told you that initiation of the Mírdain is hard for some. It comes from our old warrior's rituals of ansereg, once meant to harden elves for war and torment. Enduring it means that you are as devoted to the Mírdain as the warriors of the past were to their honour, and to each other. The pain--"
Sauron lifted a hand dismissively. "I am Maia, and will endure it, I assure you." He leaned back further against the window sill, and a ray of light spilled from his shoulder to between his legs, his robes made translucent by the sun behind.
The elf-man looked down, drawn by the line of light. He forced his gaze back up to Sauron's face with a guilty glint in his eyes. "It is not right that I should sing the praises of our ritual to you, when I am the one who will put you to pain. I will send another to you, to give you counsel, that you may make a true choice in this matter."
Sauron toyed with a lock of his own golden hair, twining it around his finger like a shining ring. "If you insist. But who is wiser than you?" One of the princes of the Noldor, he thought, the greatest living smith of the Elves, proud among the proud, sparked with rebellion. And ripe to fall to me. He let the hair slip from his fingers and stood. "I trust you fully, Celebrimbor." Sauron stretched one arm towards the elf-man, extending a hand in friendship.
Before the two could touch, they both started at a new sound, a clear horn-call. "That is the call of Lindon," said Celebrimbor, looking through the window. "We have not had one of their messengers since you came to us in midsummer. Did you not journey to Lindon?"
"Yes. Briefly. A fair land, of course; but they are not so cunning as your folk." Sauron stayed back well within the shadows of the room, peering out after the rider only when the horse had passed along the road to Ost-in-Edhil. He did not recognize the rider, but it seemed he was not of rank. The horse was a piebald, not the white horse of a noble. Sauron leaned up against the windowsill with Celebrimbor, and stroked the elf-man's arm beneath the red silk. "Perhaps I shall come with you to the house of the Mírdain now. I would not delay in my tutelage," said Sauron.
"Once you are of the Mírdain, I will teach you everything I know." Celebrimbor stepped aside. "But it is fitting to wait. Matters are strange enough already." The elf did not say anything more, a busy silence, as if he thought much. Sauron thought to be impatient at this. Then he decided it was best to draw Celebrimbor back up to the highlands where the Mírdain's hall stood before he thought to seek the errand-rider of Lindon.
2. An Errand-Rider's Distractions.
"Lord Celeborn, our King Gil-Galad sends this letter to you and your Lady, for your urgent attention." The errand-rider of Lindon knelt before Celeborn and proffered a scroll in a leather case. "Is the Lady nigh?"
"No, my Lady visits the forest realm of Lorinánd, thirty leagues away. She will return in the spring." It was early autumn outside. "Was this all your errand, to bring us one scroll? Do you know anything of the matter?"
The rider, Pengolod, shook his head. "No, my lord. I was the rider because the sea-elves and their lords are busy at this season. And I wished to ride here on my own errand, to learn the language of the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm."
Celeborn had been about to open the scroll, but he put it down in amazement. "Why in Arda would you want to do that?"
"I am a loremaster, of the school of the Lambengolmor. The language of the Dwarves is as strange as their crafts, and I would learn more. They say that Elf and Dwarf were never greater friends than in Eregion and Khazad-dûm, and so I journeyed here." Celeborn's face grew stern. He obviously did not count himself among the dwarf-friends. "Perhaps someone here might be so good as to aid me?"
"You may do as you please, as long as you like, in Eregion. But if you deal with the Naugrim, you deal with the order of the Mírdain, not the court of Ost-in-Edhil." He gestured to an esquire standing by. "See if one of the Mírdain is near to hand."
"One waits with a message from Lord Celebrimbor," the elf-man said. Celeborn said to bring him in to be heard. Pengolod noted that Celeborn still did not open the scroll, but tapped it in one hand impatiently. "Aranwë of the Gwaith-i-Mírdain, my lord," said the esquire, returning.
"Aranwë?" Pengolod was shocked to meet one of his few fellow survivors of Gondolin.
"Pengolod?" The smith stopped short, like a horse afraid to fall on ice.
Celeborn was brisk with Aranwë. "You two know each other? Splendid. Aranwë, take this guest into the charge of the Mírdain; he has come from Lindon to deal with the Naugrim, and thus is in your order's keeping. Make sure his horse is brought to your stables. Is this the latest requisition?" Aranwë handed over a slate and nodded, still glancing nervously at Pengolod. Celeborn read the slate and frowned. "With winter on the way, I cannot place the Mírdain first for wood and charcoal. Make sure that Celebrimbor knows that."
"He does, my lord, and thus we send the requisition as soon as we might, after our morning council," said Aranwë, patiently.
"Mnh. What about the gate-forging we called for? Bring me news of that, next time. And one other matter. Tell Celebrimbor that he and I must discuss the tithing again. I heard you smiths were very successful in trading at the midsummer festival of the Naugrim."
"I shall tell him, lord." The esquire led the two elves out while Celeborn bent to the scroll Pengolod had brought at last.
They stood uncertainly in the entry-hall. Pengolod spoke first. "This is good to find! Eregion seems to suit you."
Aranwë was incredulous. "Good to find? When we last parted - "
"Is it not said that oaths and grudges lead one to one's doom? I have suffered; and you have suffered; and certain matters have ended."
Aranwë looked down at the loremaster's pleasant, narrow face. "You are very forgiving."
Pengolod shrugged, flicking back his black hair. "So few of us of Gondolin remain. Will you speak the language of old with me? I miss it, and those days."
Aranwë laughed, and his next words were not in the common Sindar, but in a near-forgotten dialect of Quenya. "It is not as sweet to my ears; but to oblige you, I shall. Why are you here, from seventy leagues away, to deal with Dwarves?"
"No, you are my host, you speak first," said Pengolod. "I knew that your name was in the rolls of Eregion, but I did not expect to meet you here so soon. What brought you here?"
"For a time, I was with the elf-men of Maedhros." When Pengolod did not cry out in dismay at that, Aranwë unbent further.
"They were not particular about who wished to join their company, in the last days of that age. When both Morgoth and Beleriand were downed, and the last of the Sons of Fëanor were fallen, Celebrimbor was their heir, and so I joined his van. And I am here still."
"A jewel-smith now, rather than a sword-smith," said Pengolod.
"And glad of the change! The art is - I won't bore you. Now, why are you still in Middle-Earth?"
"There is always a boat ready to part at the quays of Lindon. It makes it easier to wait another day. And I have many works to complete. In Lindon," he said, sweeping his sage-green cloak back with a flourish, "I am the chief of loremasters and leader of the school of Lambengolmor."
"You'll be trying to cozen pen-tips out of me, then," Aranwë said. "Your counterpart here, Erestor, never leaves us smiths alone."
"I had heard of the new metal pens, but we still have only quill-pens in Lindon. When I compare the smiths there to Gondolin..." It was two miles from Ost-in-Edhil, up rising land to the house of the Mírdain, with the piebald horse ambling behind them. Pengolod exchanged all the news of Lindon, then descended into rumour and gossip, delighted at the refuge of the old language.
The house of the Mírdain stood tall at the top of a rise, before more foothills marched up into mountains nearby. It was as great and many-roomed as the main hall of Ost-in-Edhil, ringed with outbuildings. Aranwë explained that the hall was far from the city so that the wrights could harness a mountain stream with a waterwheel, and not disturb the tree-lined city streets with the forges' smoke and noise. The order of the Mírdain encompassed all the metalworkers of Eregion, and they vied to make even pot-hooks things of beauty.
Once the horse was stabled, they came to the tall doors of the Mírdain, twice Aranwë's height and covered in a thousand worked panels of gilded and jewelled metal. Two grey hounds panted on the step in the sun, scratching at their gold and leather collars. Aranwë did not pet them; they were guard-hounds on duty. Pengolod had to endure their curious noses before they let him pass over the red granite steps.
3. At the Table of Celebrimbor.
Celebrimbor knelt on one side of a wooden table; the dwarf Narvi stood on the other. With a sombre nod, the dwarf placed the short necklace that he examined back on the table. "No need for you to consult with me on this, my friend; the diamonds are clear as water, and diamonds true for all that."
"That eases me. I was afraid they were lesser stones, white sapphire or spinel."
"Not like you, to doubt your making, Celebri," said Narvi, giving the elf an earth-wise glance.
"I did not cut the stones myself. The work needed to be done quickly, since this jewel is for giving tonight." A bell was rung immediately outside the door. Elf and dwarf both sighed at yet another interruption. "Enter!" Celebrimbor said.
"No, it has no particular name," one of his smiths was saying to a companion, speaking an old dialect. "It's just a door-bell."
Celebrimbor listened as Pengolod introduced himself and his errand, then Aranwë mentioned how Pengolod was their guest by Celeborn's word. "Of course, of course," said Celebrimbor. "And luck is with you today; please have the honour of meeting Lord Narvi of the Khazad." Narvi removed his hood and bowed, then stood and straightened the skull-cap he wore.
"At your service and your family's," said Pengolod, kneeling smoothly.
Narvi bristled as he looked at the elf willing to place himself eye to eye. "So, you wish our knowledge. We are not as you Elves are, with days to squander; our time and our tongue are precious to us. You are not of the folk of Eregion. You look kin to the Sindar, and they scorned us as uncouth, long ago. Why should I aid you?"
Pengolod took out a suede bag the size of a plum. "I would not squander your days either, lord of the Khazad; I have brought pearls."
The dwarf's beard fanned out as he smiled. "My friend from the Sea! Narvi shall be your guide. No other dwarf is as well-spoken as I." He bowed again. "Celebri, I shall return; this good elf and I must take counsel. I would not have him rooked in the depths of Khazad-dûm." The two smiths managed to keep plain faces while the loremaster and his would-be teacher left.
Celebrimbor leaned onto the table, eyes narrowed with laughter. "That turnabout was worth one of the pearls! So, how bad were matters down in the Great Hall?" Aranwë relayed the news, and Celebrimbor's mirth turned to anger. He smacked the table, then strode about the room. "Always the same thing, as if we are a river of wealth from naught! First he foists this fellow on us, then stints us of what we need while pressing for more of our jewels in tithe. It began when our Lady left in early summer, and he tightens the screw. What kind of lackwits does he take the Mírdain for? How does he think the steel for his gates comes to Eregion, and the metal of his silver chair? We Mírdain won it for him. Were these matters in his hands, we would dwell in the lowlands and eat acorns."
He lifted a placating hand to Aranwë. "I am ranting; do not mind me. But if he was so cold to you, who have the manners of old, we are low in his favour. Celeborn can wait until tomorrow. I suppose our guest did not sweeten his mood by speaking of Dwarves. I heard you chattering to that fellow in an old language. Friends, are you? Is he a widower like you? He's well-favoured," he added.
"Nothing like that," said Aranwë.
Celebrimbor's teasing smile was gentle. "I thought you appreciated those narrow Sindar backs? Bring the loremaster along tonight, to witness the circle of ansereg for Annatar. He will take the tale of our great deeds around. And it will give you two more to chatter about."
Aranwë was less appreciative of this than Celebrimbor expected. "I never knew any Maia of Annatar's name or seeming when I lived in Aman. And Pengolod told me that Gil-Galad sent him forth from Lindon, distrusting his intent."
"What? What was awry?" asked Celebrimbor.
"He could not say; only that he spoke with their lords, and went forth swiftly afterwards, riding hard from their gates."
"And that is all the news." Celebrimbor picked up the necklace from the table, wrapping it around the knuckles of one hand like a fierce ornament. "Annatar's words to me ring true; that he is returned to bring order to Middle-Earth, and work with its peoples. Perhaps he spoke too much of change to them in Lindon. He brings us many a new thing, although his mien is ever modest." Celebrimbor's eyes became sharp. "But he will not be so modest after this night. It shows the merit of the Gwaith-i-Mírdain, that one of that high kind bows to us."
"That reminds me of a promise I made to Annatar. Can you spare more of the day? I hate being torn from my work-bench myself, as you do, but this is a more engaging errand," said Celebrimbor.
"As long as I need not go to Ost-in-Edhil again," Aranwë said.
"Someone should counsel Annatar in the laws and bearing of ansereg, before tonight. Will you speak with him?"
Celebrimbor's smith looked pleased but perplexed. "Certainly, but why me?"
"After bearing the scourges of Gondolin and the brand of Maedhros, and the many times you have knelt for ansereg amongst us Mírdain, who better?" Celebrimbor ran the chain through his hand. "And if you still think matters are awry, after you speak with him - come and tell me."
4. Humble Persuasion.
Sauron strode the hall of the house of the Mírdain where he would take his trial that night. It was tall and round, with a roof domed in stained glass, and a floor tiled in curved patterns like the dome of the heavens. The tiles swirled together into a central circle. He sought for what might make the space ready for torment, and was puzzled to see only a narrow iron bar with pulleys halfway across the dome's height. The door opened with a boom, for the chamber echoed every sound threefold.
"Good afternoon, my lord," said one of the elven-smiths. "Cele-the lord Celebrimbor sent me to offer you what counsel I may."
With irritation, Sauron noted that this fellow was as tall as he was, with the height of the High Elves of old. Not as fair as he, of course, but who was?
Sauron knew that he had more than one Mírdan to win over. Tonight, he had to seduce all of them to him, those who served as well as their lord. He would see how easy it was to draw this one in as one of his allies. "Let us sit here in the shade and speak. I would know what I might of the bearing of ansereg."
"Do you even feel pain, being a Maia?" the elven-smith asked.
"I have more mastery of my body than the children of the One," said Sauron, unable to bring himself to say "Illúvatar." "But it is still a body, subject to the laws of flesh. Yes, I will feel pain."
The smith frowned. "The Maiar I met at the forges of Aüle in Aman felt little."
Sauron gritted his teeth and honeyed his tongue. "This must be why Celebrimbor has sent you to me, then. That soothes me."
"I knew Maiar of old, yes. It is unusual to meet one with a name not heard long before."
"Middle-Earth is great, and I have wandered far. I did not abandon it during the dark days, yet I have spoken with Valar many a time." Morgoth had been that Vala. "Now that I come to know the Elves and their wisdom, I wish other tasks had freed me sooner. Not all my works have gone as I wished," he sighed. "I hoped to try again, to repair the hurts of Middle-Earth, which I love."
The elf-smith looked through him, grieved with memory, and Sauron hid his glee. "I understand what you say about the past not being as you had wished." The elf looked down at his scarred hands. "And wishing to make amends."
Sauron bowed his own head in false commiseration. "I thought I would find kinship among the Mírdain. I have great knowledge of the earth, its stones and metals and their craft - some my own secrets, as you smiths have yours. And once I join the Mírdain, it will be shared amongst them." The elf-man's look was hungry at those words, he saw; this was one of those to whom their work was near to all. He leaned in closer. "Is it not our task to work together, we of Aman, to ease the misery of Middle-Earth?"
"How?" asked the elf-smith.
Sauron said, "Perhaps my design is foolish. I would wait to speak."
"You are wise, Annatar. It is meet not to trust all at the first meeting. But our lord trusts you, and so you have our trust." The elf-man seemed to relax. "I will tell you all you need to know of bearing ansereg. And perhaps later you might think of me when you wish to teach us Mírdain more."
"Most willingly. This matter of ansereg - I should think it as simple as not crying out. How much will they torture me?" Sauron asked.
The elf-man said, "You speak words of fear and dread. There is pain, but not beyond what you may bear. My own story will show you!"
Sauron listened, fascinated, as the elf-man described the ritual of ansereg with the words of one who knew and loved it well. No word of this had come to the dungeons of his old citadel, Tol-in-Guarhoth. Nor had Celebrimbor spoken half so much of taking it as this elf-man did. If the elves endured these trials at their own hands, even found a measure of lustful pleasure in it, small wonder many had lived through Sauron's own tortures as long as they did, in the War of the Jewels a thousand years and more ago.
He nodded as the elf before him, won over by his listening beauty, said that there was great wisdom to be had from it. There certainly was, Sauron thought. When he moved to topple the Elves, he would not make the old mistakes, trying to break them in the ways they knew. Instead, he would bind them to him. Their link to the life of Arda would be his to use. If he failed, and the Elves were not won to him (as he thought they might easily be in their pride and hunger) he would destroy them without compromise. He did not need them as thralls. There were mortal Men for that, in this age of the world.
For now, he would endure this trial to win all their trust. The smith was telling him enough that he might mimic what the watchers desired to see. By seeming to give, he would take all. As for the one who would deal to him tonight; he would be the Lord of Gifts indeed, and give each torment back to him a thousandfold when the time was right.
A dark hope began to glow in the hollow of his spirit where another being's heart would have been, as he bethought new ways to bind the Elves. "Your tale is wondrous!" he said. "Tell me more of the way pain is bound up with desire. It thrills me to think of it."
5. The Circle of Ansereg.
That night, Celebrimbor walked about the concourse of the Mírdain, who were ringed around the edge of the domed chamber. The hall was crowded up to the edge of the tiled circle. Almost all of the Mírdain were there, two hundred and more, the elf-men in black and silver, fewer elf-women in silver and white, a sombre company. The only jewels any wore were the chokers of the Mírdain, of the same make on each throat, but varied in gems and metals. One of the wedding-jewels of the Noldor was a necklace; thus the choker symbolized that the Mírdain were wedded for life to their order and their works.
Two silvered chains had been hoisted to the bar that split the dome's height, their lengths sparkling in the lamplight. Each ran from the bar to coil for several ells along the floor. Celebrimbor saw that the watchers for the ritual had arranged some helpful things: water to drink, dark-dyed wool towels for catching sweat or blood. He took his ease, strolling the edge of the circle and speaking with all and sundry. He was not like Celeborn, he thought, who was high and remote. No, all the Mírdain were equal together, after the circle of ansereg and the Mírdain's oath.
At the edge of the circle, Celebrimbor could see Pengolod, and smiled to note that he was wearing a borrowed black and silver cloak that was too long for him. Well and good; there would be a story taken around, to increase the merit of the Mírdain. It was up to him to make it a tale that was worthy.
Celebrimbor realized that he was thinking of anything but the golden flesh that was about to come under his hands. Annatar's beauty in the sun that morning had unnerved him. Hearing that Annatar had craved deep counsel of ansereg, receptive to every idea, was the last spark needed to kindle desire for the Maia. Part of his mind said that he aspired too high, and that he should share only knowledge, not desire, with one not of elf-kind, lest he come to a strange fate. But his spine felt stronger and his flail-arm itched at the thought of having all a Maia's power kneeling at his feet.
The ritual did not begin until the one who was to be initiated was ready. A Mírdan came with that message, then left to bring Annatar. One of the seconds rang a clear bell, and the crowd fell silent. To the side, a musician began to play a drum; the music would endure for the rite of ansereg.
And Annatar entered.
The door was closed with a boom behind him. In the silence after its echo, he stepped forth into the circle, head bowed, tall and supple as a willow tree, wearing a brief linen loincloth. Amidst the dark throng and their pale faces, he was unique, a being of gold, revealed by near-nudity to be unalloyed and pure. He cast one hesitant look around the crowd, then knelt and locked his gaze to Celebrimbor's, as if taking refuge there. Celebrimbor had seen many things in the faces of those who knelt before him; nervousness, pride, dark hungers, incipient joy. Annatar mingled a touch of fear with a profound receptiveness. The beautiful, waiting face before him seemed forged from the precious metals of his dreams. He collected himself; everyone was waiting for him to speak.
"The initiation of the Mírdain begins!" he said. "Tonight this one is come to show his worth. Name yourself!"
"I am Annatar."
"And name your desire."
"To join the Gwaith-i-Mírdain; to be one of your number, and labour with you."
And at this near all the watchers said, in one voice, "What do you bring us?"
Annatar opened arms and spread hands, and said, "Myself."
The crowd cried out again. "How do we know this?"
Annatar folded his arms to his bare chest. "I offer myself to the Mírdain in the circle of ansereg, that they may witness how I endure to gain my desire."
Celebrimbor alone spoke. "Then rise you and take up these chains. As long as you can endure, hold to them; nothing binds you save your will and pride."
Annatar rose and stretched his arms high, taking the chains. He might run his hands down the length to splay on the floor, or even swing higher if he was strong enough. Celebrimbor took the measure of the elegant back, the cupped croup divided by white linen, the sweeping lines of the arms and legs. He paced around the postulant in a circle, running a hand over the golden chest to gauge the weight of flesh, and had to tear his hand away. Annatar's skin was temptingly radiant to the touch.
Celebrimbor went to the side; a word to a second, and the first of his flails was in his hand, a light horsetail that stung more than it seemed. He whisked Annatar sharply, every inch of his back, raising a touch of redness to that flawless skin. When he went around to the front, Annatar gave him a taunting look, as if to say; is that the best you can do? He flushed himself to read that, and handed off the horsetail for a flail of leather straps.
The drummer paced faster as Celebrimbor began to flog in earnest. All the fine craft of his hands was extended into his flail-arm, and the same joy and tension of creating ran through him. As at his work-bench, he was lost in the art and in the gold before him, its shape and response. Annatar was silent beneath his hammering, only arching slightly, making the chains chime. The snap of the flail met the rhythm of the drum and the pulse of his wheeling heart.
Celebrimbor paused when the back was evenly marked to admire his work. There was a golden girdle of skin about the waist where the flesh was fragile, but from the ribs to the shoulders, and the spine-base to the thighs, was flushed red from the strikes. He strode around Annatar and realized that his victim might be Maia, but his body was flesh with the flesh's betrayals. Beneath the linen loincloth, he was erect, and he met Celebrimbor's eyes daringly. "Give me fair measure; for I am Maia!" said Annatar, the words drawing a murmur from the watchers.
Celebrimbor leaned close to him, running hands down Annatar's chest, clasping his dark-golden nipples and twisting them. "Do you mean that?" the elf asked, not daring to believe.
"Yes. I swore to give myself to the Mírdain. Take what you will." The face before him, shadowed within the long golden hair, was both rapt and knowing. Celebrimbor called for another tool, and handed off the flail.
He took up the scourge of one tail that he adored, a snakelike whip as long as his own arm, and the seconds pressed the crowd back tighter. A fitting tool, he thought, graceful for this graceful one. Hardly anybody could bear it for long. He usually saved it for a few strikes at the end, that he might take a taste of what he craved to deal out, and that the postulant might feel some terror and, later, pride at the stripe or two they carried. One of the seconds gently brought Annatar further forward in the circle so that there was more space to swing. Then Celebrimbor began.
He stalked behind Annatar in an arc, dealing out strike after strike. The scourge made both Annatar and the air itself cry out. He felt himself smiling, and shook himself to loosen his shoulders more. The sweat poured down his own bare back, and he felt his cock hard, his body seething with dark heat. Sparing a glance at the crowd did not abash him; they were as humbled watching as Annatar was beneath his whip. The seconds looked stunned. All hung on his hand, his moves, Annatar more than any other. He felt that he drew the hunger of the watchers into him, and whirled the whip again, to give them more. The blood surfaced, brilliant as rubies; one, two, three more lashes, and Annatar still held the chains. But he slumped to kneeling.
Celebrimbor went and stood in front of him. Annatar cast up again the same serene, receptive look, his lips parted dreamily, as if he was vision-swept after his suffering.
The elf dropped to his knees and took the Maia's face in his hands. Celebrimbor's voice shook as he spoke, but all heard his words. "The trial is borne. Are you ready to be made Mírdain?"
"Yes," said Annatar, untroubled and clear.
One of the seconds handed Celebrimbor first a towel, with which he wiped his own sweating hands and brow. Then he handed over a small knife with a sharp, flattened tip. Celebrimbor grasped it; to hold it was to feel as if your hand itself was a blade. He tilted back Annatar's head, and measured one thumb's depth below Annatar's winged collar-bones. Along the surface of the skin, on each side, he made a slow slice. Some barely bled at this, but Annatar's crimson flowed again. From a breeches-pocket Celebrimbor took the short chain of gold and adamant he had completed that afternoon. He ran it through the blood, then held it over his head and stood back up.
"Can you speak the oath of the Mírdain for us, Annatar?"
"Thy works are my works, thy secrets are my secrets, and I am bound to thee. I shall stand by you watchers, Mírdan among Mírdain."
Celebrimbor pulled Annatar up from the floor, brushing aside the heavy hair to clasp the collar around his neck. "The deed is done; Annatar is of the Gwaith-i-Mírdain!" he cried. The drum ceased.
In the moment of silence, Annatar flung himself upon Celebrimbor, the lean golden body melding to the strong-thewed elf-man, bent to kiss him. The crowd gasped, and the seconds stood wary. Celebrimbor reeled at the fiery whisper in his ear, "I am undone." He felt the Maia's erection pressing high against his loins.
"Wait, wait but a little," breathed Celebrimbor. So much had passed between them in touch and glance, it seemed natural and destined.
"Here and now," Annatar said.
Celebrimbor wrested back the urge to pin Annatar to the floor and turned to the hovering seconds. "We shall stay here," he whispered. One of the seconds rang the bell again, bringing the ritual to an abrupt end. Annatar's wild move had silenced the crowd of the Mírdain, and held them back from congratulating their new member and their leader. The pair was isolated as the crowd slipped out, respectful, dazzled, titillated.
The pair swayed in their embrace as the last watchers went. When the great doors shut with their echoed boom, Celebrimbor grasped Annatar's hair, and they kissed again, hot mouths probing each other without restraint for minutes.
"I never dreamed the arts of the flesh were so fine," breathed Annatar. "No wonder Elves and Men love Middle-Earth, if such bliss is to be found here, on the other side of its suffering."
"You understand we who linger better," said Celebrimbor, reaching down to undo Annatar's loincloth. "What would you have of me?"
"Others have spoken to me of what it is to be taken, of your warrior's loves."
Celebrimbor's knees buckled. Was Annatar reaching into his head to draw out what he desired? "You know it may be painful."
Annatar stroked Celebrimbor's cheek, and his chrysoprase eyes half-closed in mirth. "I am learning that Elves say that about the most interesting things they do."
Celebrimbor tumbled Annatar into another kiss, while finally undoing the linen ties of his loincloth. "Lay at your ease, while I..." He cursed to himself as he felt his pockets, no tin of unguent or even a lump of jeweler's wax about him. The seconds had not thought of this, and he had not dared anticipate it. Then he laughed at his cleverness, and walked to the wall, taking down one of the many glass oil-lamps. He blew the lamp out, touching the hot glass lightly to undo its light shield and wick, bringing the oil-vessel back to where Annatar reclined.
"First, I shall soothe your pain, before we see if any more suffering awaits," he said, pouring oil generously into his hands. He slathered the light-warmed oil all along Annatar's beaten back, then worked along his arms, thinking they might ache from clasping the chains so long. Annatar turned about like a coaxing cat in the oiled embrace, laughing lightly and tracing his own fingers along Celebrimbor's limbs. They pressed and slid against each other, and Celebrimbor, in a move as old as the life of the Eldar, slid his hands down to Annatar's rump, sleeking oil into the skin and the cleft. Annatar uttered a sound halfway between a breath and a gasp.
"Try this, a first finger."
Annatar closed his eyes and rolled his head. "You lied to me, Celebrimbor; there is no pain."
Celebrimbor laughed against Annatar's shoulder. "There is a lot of oil, here! Let me bring more." He turned to the lamp-vessel again, and slicked his fingers further, then worked two fingers into Annatar's backside.
"Is that well, beautiful one?"
"Take what you want, elf-man. I will grasp your chains again, and if you do more than I can bear, I will release them. Agreed?" Annatar leaned along the floor and grasped the trailing ends of the chains, bending over in offering.
The sight inflamed Celebrimbor. The shining golden body linked to the silver chains, dripping gems of oil on the blue tiles; the spill of shimmering hair; best of all the look of anticipation on Annatar's face, on the brink of knowledge, sly and wicked, daring him. He wiped his hands on his own chest and unhooked his breeches, then knelt up behind and slid his aching cock along the oiled flesh until it glistened. Annatar shoved himself back, looking over his shoulder again to see how well Celebrimbor was endowed. For the first time, the Maia made a request. "Could you oil yourself more? Just to be certain."
After Celebrimbor obliged, he worked fingers into Annatar until the kneeling one moaned and rested his face upon the floor. Then he replaced his crafty fingers with his cock, and groaned to be buried in the flesh he had tormented. The arse-channel was so hot, it felt like the fire of Anor seared him at the root. He bent almost double as he moved, placing his hands on Annatar's shoulders, then reaching to feel Annatar's collar of gold. He placed his hands over the collar and the throat, feeling the life pulsing there, not compressing, only holding his hands where he might compress. Yet this was a Maia he pierced. There was no need to be gentle. He could not slay him, could not break him, could just go on and on, taking more than he'd ever known could be given.
The heat of the flesh beneath him seemed drawn from the fires in the heart of the Earth, more than any elf's touch. He felt the smooth legs bucking back to meet him, the divine, impossibly tight arse all but milking his cock with its pressure. He looked at the perfect lines of the back below him, the red marks of the whip beautiful to his eyes, looking down further to watch himself taking, possessive and proud. Reaching down, he rolled his grip along Annatar's cock, an arm-motion that reminded his body of the joy of wielding the scourge. As he had timed his strikes to the drums, so he timed his thrusts with his hand's pull now. Annatar bucked back against him with a cry of astonishment as he came, and Celebrimbor let go at last, emptying himself with a cry that resounded in the echoing chamber.
When he returned to himself, Celebrimbor moved back, careful and stunned, and sank against the inlaid floor, glad of its coolness. He would bring them both water - surely the Maia would thirst - once he could stand. Annatar withdrew to sit upright, his arms ringed around his knees, serenity broken by a smile.
"Marvellous, for the first time," said Annatar.
"A first time?" he asked.
"I was told it would be better the second time," said Annatar, innocently.
Celebrimbor laughed, and said "One for the Mírdain!" He reached out to embrace Annatar fully.
In the halls outside, Aranwë fell back from the group that he was talking to, conscious that Pengolod was walking alone, seeming bemused.
"What did you think of all that?" Aranwë asked.
"You know, when we bring someone new into the Lambengolmor, we gather in concourse, dressed in our cloaks of green - and then have dinner together. Perhaps we might be more interesting." They both laughed. "Of course, they made us leave at the part I would have most liked to watch," Pengolod added, and Aranwë became silent and grim.
"Have I offended you?" said Pengolod.
"Yes. What you craved to see is not what our rite is about. A private trial, maybe, but that was...unusual." Aranwë spoke half to himself. "That was on the edge of its laws, there."
"I would not offend a Gondolindrim. I will speak nobly of the Mírdain and this rite, I promise, by the ink on my hands."
Pengolod's raised right hand was blackened on one edge and several knuckles from the ink of millennia of scribing.
"Ah, you are marked by your work, as am I," said Aranwë. "We smiths forfeit our hands to our making." Pengolod clicked his tongue in commiseration, and ran his ink-stained hand over Aranwë's scarred ones.
"It has been better than I thought, to meet an old city-mate," said Pengolod, speaking low. "Perhaps you and I might speak more in the language of old - its most intimate words?"
Aranwë stepped back, and a few long strides took him well away. "No! This is just the heat of the hour. You would be sorry, tomorrow." He did not explain why. "I would not lose a friend thereby." He went to go down a smaller corridor, away from Pengolod's path.
Not knowing what else to say, Pengolod cried, "I still have your cloak!"
Aranwë turned around. "Keep it for your journey to Khazad-dûm tomorrow. You said yourself it is warmer than your own, and you will need it in the sunless depths."
Then Pengolod was alone in the stone hallway of the Mírdain, its few night-candles dim after the lamps of the chamber of ansereg.
Readers familiar with canon will see that we are going with the complicated version of the history of Eregion as noted in "The History of Galadriel and Celeborn" in Unfinished Tales.
The loremaster Pengolod and his time among the Dwarves are canon and detailed in "Quendi and Eldar," The War of the Jewels, History of Middle-Earth series. His previous acquaintance with Aranwë is described in another story by Tyellas, "The Thrall of Gondolin."
Gwaith-i-Mírdain = Fellowship of the Jewel-Smiths. Mírdan = singular for jewel-smith. Lambengolmor = Loremaster of Tongues (Languages). Gondolindrim = Of the people of Gondolin. All words in which Tolkien's Welsh inspiration for Sindarin comes through.
( These two last parted under stressful circumstances in the Tyellas story "The Thrall of Gondolin," available at http://www.ansereg.com at the Gates of Steel sub-page.
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.