5. Four Rings 5
"They would not let me through the Fence at Nivrim," said Sauron. "Those thick-headed wardens threatened violence despite my apologies and humble request to see you. I was forced to walk around to the first Radhrimma gate, where your son Maidros is Captain, and even he was loath to grant me entrance. He accused me of ill intentions. Now I am here at your door, with nothing but respect and admiration for your talents, and you doubt me. Do you not believe that I can help?"
Fainaur, who had situated himself in the doorway as an obstacle between Sauron and the house, gave an inelegant grunt. "It is not your skill I mistrust. Only your motives."
"I wish to help you," Sauron answered. He wore a look of wounded innocence, childlike and frail. "I am a teacher, my Lord Fainaur, as surely as you are. And I am your devoted friend. I am not named Andaur, the Lord of Gifts, for no reason. I intend only to share with you the gift of my great power: secrets you need for your ambitious project-"
"And how did you hear of our project?" snapped Fainaur. "Spies and treachery?"
Sauron stepped quickly back, holding up his hands in a show of open honesty. "Word travels. You are a subject of much admiration, Fainaur of Goldarost. Am I to be any less intrigued by your genius? Your fame has spread even beyond the borders of your land. They in the North envy you: your fearlessness of invention. They envy you, and hate you, but I would see you succeed. I would aid you in your quest for further greatness. Is that not a teacher's role? And I am and always will be a teacher."
From the time Sauron arrived, Elrohir had been standing out of sight along the inside wall at Fainaur's side. Now, he stepped into Sauron's view, wearing what he hoped was a serious enough expression. "How do we know you speak the truth?" he asked.
"A-ha," said Sauron. "The apprentice, are you? Tell me, what do you think of your master's wisdom?"
"I think he is wise to refuse the likes of you."
Again, Sauron adopted his look of innocence. "You hurt me with such harshness."
"We have a right to be suspicious," Elrohir returned. "How have you come to know of our ambition, and how much do you know?"
Sauron looked to Fainaur, who held his gaze with an even coolness. "Rings," he said after a pause. "The word that came to me is that you have a mind to make magic rings."
"Your oversimplification of the matter insults me," sneered Fainaur.
"Of course, of course, I apologise," Sauron said quickly, dropping his head and bowing low. "I meant no offence. Forgive me."
"Magic rings, indeed... I say Rings of Power, fiend. Mark the difference. A magic ring would do what, petty tricks for amusement? I wish to grant the wearer true power. Power over the elements, over time, over life itself..."
"But you lack the knowledge to invoke such power," said Sauron.
Fainaur narrowed his eyes and straightened his back, standing as tall as he could. "For now," he said coldly.
A strange smile crossed Sauron's face. He stepped forward, moving close enough to Fainaur to murmur in his ear. Elrohir barely caught the words. "This is where I can help you, friend. I have the means to trap that power and contain it for you. You need only create the case for it. You create the ring, and I infuse it with anything you desire. Is that not what you want?"
"Yes," Fainaur admitted, "it is what I want. But not from you."
"Then you will fail. What you desire is beyond the capabilities of mere Elves. You can try until the end of time, but will not succeed without my teachings. I am the only one who can help you, Fainaur ion-Finuna. Or perhaps you would prefer I take my very generous offer to Eöl in Elgarth." Slowly, though is eyes never left Fainaur, he began to back away.
"Wait," said Elrohir, and Sauron stopped. "Give us time. We need to consider this more carefully before we accept or decline. Come back tomorrow."
Grinning widely, Sauron bowed again. "As you wish."
He retreated quietly down the street, disappearing around a bend in the lane without once looking back. Only after several long moments, once they were certain he was gone, did Fainaur relax his stance and return into the house. He took a seat at the table and reached for a bread roll.
Elrohir was first to break the silence. "Well... he came sooner than I expected."
"Spies," Fainaur said gruffly. "There are spies for the enemy everywhere, listening to every bit of gossip on the wind."
"We spread the story effectively, then."
"We did. And now that Sauron the Wretch has come, just as you predicted, to see for himself if the rumours about the new project of great Fainaur and his brilliant apprentice are true." With a look of disgust on his face, he stared at the door. "He is either incredibly stupid or willing to take a dangerous risk to further some foul agenda of his own."
"I would guess the latter," said Elrohir. "He was the one who came to Celebrimbor, in the other history.
"I do not like it. Any idiot can see plainly in his scheming eyes that he plans to trick us somehow and wreak chaos."
"As we plan to trick him."
Voicing a scornful sound through a mouthful of bread, Fainaur stood again and began to pace. He swung his arms, slapping his thighs front and back in his usual, curious show of aggravation, and stared at the floor.
"This is the only way," Elrohir continued. "We already suspected it, and Sauron confirmed it. Without his knowledge, we can never capture and use the sort of power these Rings require. We need him. Now he is come, and we are close to accomplishing our goal. We need only keep him thinking it was his idea to help us, at least until the Rings are complete."
"And, at the same time, keep him from double-crossing us," Fainaur added.
"Yes," said Elrohir. "We must act very carefully."
Fainaur paced another few steps before seeming to shrink under the weight of a great sigh. He returned to his seat at the table. It was difficult for him, this secretive plot to steal knowledge from one who just as certainly would be looking to follow a hidden purpose of his own. For all his pride and unwillingness to share his gifts with those he judged unworthy, Fainaur also hated dishonesty. He would rather refuse someone outright, shutting himself away until the task was completed alone, than pretend to cooperate under a façade of friendliness only to sabotage at the last moment. Those games of trickery were Maiglin's line of work. It had briefly occurred to Elrohir, at the beginning, when he first thought to recreate the Ring of Time, that perhaps Maiglin and Eöl would be better suited to the methods required. But he could not trust them. He could not say, without a doubt, that Maiglin would not then turn around and take the Rings for himself, or side with Sauron in the end. At least he could trust Fainaur to keep his word and hold steadily to his part in the plot. If Fainaur agreed to carry through with it.
He took a seat across from Fainaur at the table, regarding him carefully. "You are having doubts."
"It seemed to be such a perfect idea," Fainaur said quietly. "Trick this Sauron, or Andaur as he calls himself, into helping us with the Rings. It sounds so simple when I say it. But now that he is here... I find I cannot trust him at all. Everything about him feels wrong. Almost as if he is made of smoke or shadow rather than flesh, and can slip and sneak into everything we wish to keep hidden from him. As I speak, I feel he is trying to access my thoughts. And I have a fear that if we let him inside, if we let him help us, he will somehow sink his ghostly claws into every aspect of the labour, until it is all beyond our control. Then, even if we do succeed in making this Ring of Time, it will not be ours, but his. It will be his power that charges it, and his will it obeys."
"That is what he did in the other history," Elrohir admitted. "The One Ring he crafted for himself controlled the others. But it did not prevent his defeat. This time, if he tries to control our Rings by means of his own, we could take it from him, or even prevent him from creating it in the first place... use the new Ring of Time before he has a chance to corrupt it fully..."
"And if we fail?"
For that question, Elrohir had no answer. He dropped his head into his hands with a sigh.
"If we fail, we risk endangering our entire world," Fainaur said simply. "But if we succeed... If we succeed... The great things we would do..." His words trailed into a long breath, and he gave Elrohir a thin smile. "It is a chance we have to take, is it not?"
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The first to be completed was Naurien, the Fire Ring. Fainaur claimed this one as his own despite Sauron's gentle but frequent hints that they might share it. But Fainaur let Sauron have Gwilien, the Ring of Air, on Elrohir's suggestion that giving him one of the set would leave him less likely to create a ruling Ring on his own. Nenien they gave to Dior: a fitting gift for the King of the realm. He did not fully understand is power, but enjoyed the way it glittered merrily on his finger even in Menegroth's subdued light, catching the faintest of rays, and so was pleased.
Lúmien was the last. It took a year and more from the completion of Nenien until Sauron attempted the final Ring; he had trouble with its making. Fainaur had shaped the band and set the stone easily enough, but Sauron's part, trapping the elemental essence, had suffered delays. As a Maia of fire he had been able to master Naurien quickly. From there, the other tangible elements had required only small adaptations in their taming. But time was different. It could not be seen or felt, or held in a container. So Sauron had been at a loss. For most of the year following the completion of Nenien, he had disappeared from Goldarost, only returning after Fainaur and Elrohir feared he had left for good. He came with a triumphal announcement: he had unlocked the secret of time. He had learned new and great things from his master.
Aulë! The name leapt into Elrohir's mind, igniting a spark of hope. Sauron had been a Maia of Aulë. If he had learned the secrets of time from the great smith of the Valar, there was hope that the Rings would not be entirely evil. But another thought immediately followed this: one that chilled Elrohir to the blood. Sauron's master was no longer Aulë. Now, Sauron served Morgoth. Any Vala, high or fallen, would surely have power enough to capture time itself. Infused with the taint of Morgoth, Lúmien would be even more volatile than the first three.
"This makes me uneasy," Elrohir whispered to Fainaur as they waited in the workroom for Sauron to prepare the Ring. "This time... this Ring... we have gone beyond Sauron's power alone. Now, Sauron channels Morgoth, and I do not know what will happen. Fainaur, I think we have gone too far."
"But the Ring of Time..." Fainaur anwered.
"I know. I know it was the one we wanted most of all-" he paused to correct himself. "I wanted most of all. But..."
Clasping his hands together, Fainaur motioned with his chin to the corner of the room. Sauron had placed the unfinished Ring on a pillar of stone; he paced before it in a half-circle, muttering to himself. "See," said Fainaur. "He is nearly ready"
Elrohir took a breath to calm the fear churning inside. "Do you truly think we should go through with this?"
"Yes," Elrohir said, stretching the word into a long hiss that carried threads of doubt and no authority. He closed his eyes. "No. I do not know." As much as he desired to see Elladan again, as much as he knew he needed to set things right, the risk was so high and the price so great.
"It is what we have worked for," said Fainaur. "Nearly two years of effort have all led to this day. And we knew the danger when we started."
Fainaur had no intention of stopping now that they stood within sight of their goal; the hunger for success burned too brightly in his eyes. He had almost come to trust Sauron during their time spent together. The apprehension Elrohir had sensed in him at the beginning had slowly come to be replaced by hints of selfishness and greed as Sauron's influence grew. If he still held any doubts, they had been pushed deep under the surface where Elrohir could not see, outweighed by his need for greatness.
"No ill has come of this yet," he continued. "The other three Rings were crafted to perfection. Why should we fear the fourth?"
An interruption from Sauron left Elrohir with no time to answer. "Silence: I must have silence." He had stopped pacing, and stood before the Ring's pillar with his arms outstretched. "I must concentrate."
They had seen the pose before. Just as in the making of the other Rings, Sauron stood with his arms spread like wings, uttering low sounds. Slowly, he dropped back his head, leaning as far as he dared, and the dark wisps of his spirit began to seep from his body like smoke. The smoke swirled up into the shape of a man, with head and limbs clearly visible, but distorted and translucent, flickering in the slightest draught. It rose to float, cloud-like, above its abandoned body. The body itself stood eerily silent and still as death.
Even having watched the display three times before, Fainaur tensed at the unnerving sight of Sauron's lifeless body, standing as if frozen before the pillar and still attached at its chest to the figure floating above by some bizarre umbilical cord of smoke. He blinked and looked away. Elrohir, though, observed intently. If anything changed, if anything happened differently from the process used to make the previous three Rings, he would lose no time in beheading the body and sending Sauron houseless back to Angband.
As before, the smoke-figure began to glow. First its centre smoldered with a dark red light, and then the colour spread through the limbs. A smell like heated iron filled the room. Dark red turned to bright red, and the smell grew stronger. Elrohir had to step back; Sauron's spirit burned with the intensity of a furnace. He lifted his leather apron to shield his face from the heat, only peering over the top through squinted eyes.
The arms of Sauron's spirit rippled about him, stretching and shrinking as he seemed to gather something unseen from the air: something that existed on a higher plane, visible only to the Ainur. He moved faster, and faster still, until he became a blur of motion too swift for Elven eyes. His colour changed from red to orange. The heat became nearly unbearable.
Fainaur, coughing as he struggled to breathe through the collar of his tunic, dropped to his knees and crawled behind the sheltering bulk of a storage chest. Elrohir followed with his apron over his face and his heart pounding. Sauron had never burned so hot with the other Rings. He had never moved so fast. Things had started to go wrong.
"We must get to the door!" Fainaur gasped. "The heat!"
"No!" shouted Elrohir. "If he sees we are gone, he can take the Ring for himself! It is the most powerful of the four; he cannot have it!"
"If he grows any hotter, we will die in here!"
"We will die if he takes the Ring! Give me a sword!"
Though his face showed clear uncertainty, Fainaur did not question Elrohir's order. He took a rag from his pocket and reached for a half-finished sword on the table beside them, wrapping the rag about the unbound grip to cover the burning metal. Elrohir wrapped another long rag over his head and face before carefully taking the sword. He stood, shielding his eyes with one hand and only squinting through the tiniest slit between his eyelashes.
Sauron had turned white-hot. All throughout the workroom, wooden tables had started to smoke and char, adding their burnt smell to that of molten iron that radiated from his spirit. His core blazed with a light so bright it was almost blinding, and his pale yellow limbs still stretched and gathered. But they no longer moved with astounding speed. One arm progressed as slowly as a cloud of sand through water, while the other lurched and jumped from place to place, skipping through air and...
"Time," Elrohir breathed. Sauron's spirit, floating before him, no longer obeyed the laws of time. In an instant, one of his arms could flash to the side, disappearing and reappearing before Elrohir's eyes. The other still moved so slowly. It floated inward while the other flashed, until the wispy, yellow hand hovered over the Ring. Then the other jumped in to meet it, and both reached down to touch Lúmien. His fingers met the stone, and a searing bolt of light filled the room, knocking Elrohir to the floor. His spirit flickered, dropping from white to yellow-orange. He flickered again, becoming almost transparent, then suddenly disappeared with a roar like some terrible animal.
Elrohir remained sitting on the floor, too stunned to move. His hand still gripped the sword. His ears rang, echoing the roar. After a moment of uncertain silence, Fainaur knelt up from behind the chest.
"What happened?" he whispered.
Elrohir shook his head. Words would not come to him.
The torches on the walls had extinguished themselves, leaving only scarce slats of light that filtered down through the chimneys. Coils of pale grey smoke shone in the light-slats. Sauron's empty body, still lifeless in its pose of outstretched arms, stood partially illuminated by a thin beam from above.
"Where did he go?" asked Fainaur.
Again, Elrohir shook his head. "I do not know. He simply... disappeared. He touched the Ring, there was a blinding flash of light, and he disappeared."
Carefully, Fainaur stepped away from the smouldering chest and crossed the room to the pillar that held Lúmien. He reached out to take the Ring, but pulled his hand away with a hiss. "It is burning hot! The Ring! It has melted the stone!"
"Impossible!" said Elrohir. He leapt to his feet and approached the pillar to see for himself. "That Ring is made of gold! Anything hot enough to melt stone..."
"Would easily have melted the metal," Fainaur finished. "But look..."
Lúmien, sitting atop the pillar, glowed with a faint green light. Wherever the gold of the Ring touched the stone of the pillar, the stone had melted away to form a circular indentation.
Fainaur put his hand to Elrohir's chest. "Stand back. I need to get it out of there." He took a pair of long tongs down from the wall, wrapping the iron handles in rags, and carefully lifted the Ring. Upon contact, the ends of the tongs began to glow a dull red.
"How hot must it be..." Elrohir gasped.
"Not even Naurien burned like this," said Fainaur. "Now quickly, help me find a place to put it. I can feel the tong growing hotter in my hands.
"Nothing will hold that sort of heat. Put it on the floor, near the cold air draught."
The tongs changed from red to orange as Fainaur carried the Ring. He set it on the stone floor, safely away from any wood or rags, and tossed the tongs aside. The palms of his hands had reddened from their heat. "I suppose we leave it there until-" he began, but his words were overpowered by another sudden, deafening roar and a burst of red light.
Sauron's spirit had returned. Red as fire, it flashed back into the room with a violent, soul-piercing scream like nothing Elrohir had ever heard. It thrashed through the air, clawing at nothing and straining against its tether to the physical form, though to no effect. The body was drawing it back in. And though that body had previously been unharmed by the white heat of its spirit, it now began to smoke. Hair caught fire, clothing burned, and a sickly stench of hot blood filled the room.
The blaze in Sauron's spirit had become true flame, devouring itself and everything it touched. In Elrohir's ringing ears, the ethereal wailing twisted into something recognisable and horribly familiar. The voice of the Maia had evaporated: in its place, the agonised screams of something like an Elf arose. Sauron had been forced back into his body. But it happened too soon. The heat of his spirit, still alight with power, could not be borne. It was incinerating him from within.
"The Ring!" he howled. His voice had a sickening gurgle to it, as if coming from a throat full of blood. He lurched forward, burning arms extended and fumbled at the pillar where Lúmien had been. Wherever he touched, his melted skin left a smear of foul, black paste. "Where is the Ring?! I need the Ring!"
He fell to the floor, writhing and shrieking in pain. "It has taken my power! I cannot leave my body!" With a retching gasp, he rolled onto his front. Viscous black sludge had started to leak from his eyes, nose, and mouth, and boil up through the jagged wounds where his skin had burned away. He seemed to have neither bone nor muscle underneath: only black filth and red fire. "Fainaur... give me the Ring..." he croaked.
Elrohir, rooted where he stood by the horror before him, could not move. Fainaur could do little more; he shuffled until his shoulders met the wall, and mutely shook his head at Sauron's blazing eyes.
"You... deceitful... Elves!" Sauron spat. He wailed again, a hideous, tortured sound, before he retched and a stream of the foul black sludge poured from his mouth. As if fuelled by his agony, the fire that engulfed him crackled brighter as one arm, blackened to ash, fell away from his body. His legs crumbled and his head dropped from his neck. The charred jaw shattered on the floor. The fire burned a minute longer to consume every last scrap of flesh, then sputtered and died as quickly as it had come. Nothing remained but ash and pieces of char.
Shaking, Elrohir sank to his knees, and sat. Behind him, he heard the rustle of a body against the stone wall and knew that Fainaur did the same. Neither spoke for a long while. Elrohir held his head in his hands, putting every futile effort into driving the echoing screams from his ears and clear the stench of the inferno from his nose. The sight of Sauron's monstrous, ruined body haunted his vision. He would never be rid of it.
Fainaur broke the silence first. "We should... ah. We should not stay here."
"No," Elrohir agreed. Warily, he stood and stepped forward to examine the blackened waste that had been Sauron. Fainaur came to stand by his side.
"Burned into nothing," said Fainaur. "But I suppose he cannot truly die. Unless..." He glanced to the Ring on the floor.
"Unless the Ring is unmade," Elrohir finished, nodding. Holding the rag from the sword handle over his mouth, he touched the hideous remains of what had been Sauron's head with the toe of his shoe. A thread of the black sludge stuck, tar-like, to the sole. "Stars," he murmured. "He merely touched the Ring. The instant he touched it, his spirit disappeared, and then when it returned..."
"He must have transferred too much power to it," said Fainaur. "As he did with his One Ring in your history. And just as you wrote happened then, the separation of his body from the Ring destroyed him."
Elrohir nodded. So he and Fainaur had both come to the same conclusion. Whether he had meant to or not, Sauron had used Lúmien in place of the One as a vessel for some part of his being. "But why? He was not so affected by the other three."
"I do not think he meant it to happen," Fainaur said. "You said it before we began: we were going too far with this one. I believe Sauron went too far. We knew that the Ring of Time was beyond his knowledge, and it also proved to be beyond his power. It took too much of him to create it, he lost control, and it must have ripped his spirit in two. The greater part of his essence is trapped in the Ring. The rest returned to his body, without strength enough to even save itself."
Pushing his hair back from his face, Fainaur sighed. "But as I said: we should not stay in here. We do not know for certain that the portion of his spirit left outside the Ring has been killed, dead as it looks..." He, too, prodded the blackened filth with his toe. "I do not trust to leave Lúmien anywhere near his remains. We can stay with Curfinu, or - No. Not far enough. We should take the Ring to Elgarth. Stay with your family at Menegroth."
"I agree," said Elrohir. Even with Sauron burned to nothing, the workroom still felt wrong, as if it held the lingering essence of something sinister.
"Go pack what you can, as quickly as you can. Take the rest of the bread and a jar of wine. Then, the drawer in the table at my bedside has a false bottom, and beneath that false bottom is a purse of gold and small jewels. Take it, too. I will join you in a moment after I see what I can salvage here."
"I will pack clothes for both of us," Elrohir said, starting toward the door.
"And get Naurien!" called Fainaur. "From the hiding place in the kitchen!"
Despite the gravity of the situation, Elrohir could not help but smile at the memory of Naurien in the kitchen. Over the past year, Fainaur had grown adept at using the Ring's power for the frivolous task of lighting the stove. They had shown Sauron their little trick the previous night, which had led to his complaint that his own Ring had few such practical household uses.
Elrohir stumbled to a halt in mid-step; a sickening weight dropped into his stomach. Sauron's Ring. "Gwilien!" he said aloud, spinning back around to face Fainaur. "Where is Gwilien?!"
In six paces he had flown back across the workroom to the remains of Sauron's body. He knelt on the floor and dug through the filth with his bare hands, heedless of the heat that still radiated from smoking embers. His fingers brushed against a scrap of brittle, charred leather, a belt buckle, and a thin dagger that Sauron must have kept concealed beneath his cloak. Toward what had been the neck, a heavy gold chain had fused together and halfway melted. He found a pair of sooty local coins, twisted silver tunic clasps, the remainder of a wooden boot sole, and teeth covered in the black sludge. No Ring could be found anywhere in the ash.
"Stand back!" shouted Fainaur. In his hands he carried a pail of water from the great barrel near the forge. He doused Sauron's remains, washing away the ashes, but still no Ring appeared. Amid the mess of black water and charred pieces, no metal glinted. No matter how thoroughly they sifted through, they could not find it. Gwilien was not there.
Elrohir looked up to meet Fainaur's eyes, and he knew Fainaur had realised the same, alarming fact. Sauron had given the Ring of Air to Morgoth.
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.