11. Initiation Rites
See end notes for commentary on canon and the Rings of Power.
On the night of the winter solstice, when the night is the longest of the year, when most of the denizens of the House of the Mirëtanor are in their homes, feasting and drinking before the roaring fires in the hearths and amidst garlands of holly and pine that bedeck their homes, I make ready to pour the molten electrum alloy into the lost-wax cast. The darkness weighs on me. The forge is silent, expectant, as if it holds its breath in anticipation of a strange portent ready to be born. The ladle filled with molten metal shakes when I tremble, but my master's strong hand on my shoulder steadies me.
"This will be the first Ring of Power for Men, Sámaril. Cast it with all your knowledge, all the data you have gathered on the Prince. We will craft this ring to aid him, to help control his deviance and bring him aright. I will assist you so that the materials and your data are fully interlinked." He squeezes my shoulder as confirmation and says softly, "Pour it now."
A searing sensation courses through my brain to my arm that holds the ladle and into the liquid electrum. As the molten metal drips from the ladle into the cast, I focus my mind on the structure of the material. The scent of rarified air rises and envelops me. I dredge up my observations, every last detail, of the Prince's psyche. I sense a detached analytical presence, a presence that alongside me precisely manipulates the solidifying metal. My thoughts entwine with those of the detached presence -- the steel-cold calculations of my master -- so that our collective knowledge of the Prince is firmly interwoven with the ring's fundamental structure.
Placing the cast in the centrifuge, I crank it with all my strength to drive the metal into the mold and rid it of bubbles. Once the cast is cool, I break it and pick off the debris from the warm ring then spray it with a solution of metallic salts to give the metal an iridescent hue.
The Istyar takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. "Good work, Sámaril. Take the ring and lock it up in that drawer in my workshop. You know which one, right?"
"You may work on setting the opal tomorrow. Your choice of stone is perfect: an amorphous crystal coupled with the iridescent surface of the ring. So appropriate for Man -- ever changeable and vacillating between the light and the dark."
The work on this ring tires me like none of the others, but it is the most beautiful I have crafted yet. I turn it in the light of my lamp at night in the workshop and in the light of the wane winter sun. The light reflecting from the ring swirls like wisps of pale luminescent smoke in the wind.
A few days later, the Istyar calls me to his office. The sky through the window behind him is overcast, and light snow is falling.
"Well, let's see it, Sámaril."
Leaning forward, I place the ring on his desk. He picks it up between right forefinger and thumb and holds it up in the diffuse light from the window to examine it, rolling it over and over. Then he turns away from the window and closes his right hand around the ring. He lowers his head and shuts his eyes in concentration, his forehead tense. Pearlescent light escapes from between his fingers and then fades. He relaxes and opens his eyes. He smiles, but the opaque curtain is drawn across his visage.
"There. I have hardened the matrix of the ring. It is now complete. Contact your committee and schedule your defense. It's time for your rite of passage into the Otornassë Mírëtanoron."
He hands the ring back to me. It feels different. In spite of its ethereal appearance, it is heavier.
A few days hence, I am initiated into the Otornassë. The grueling ordeal proceeds with hours of questioning from all five masters, including the Istyari, who probe me in search of every last iota of the knowledge they have expected me to acquire during my years of study. They flay me, stripping off layer after layer of my intellect. The masters systematically ream my brain of its knowledge, reducing my mind to a quivering heap of useless gelatinous grey matter.
Then it is time for them to examine my final project. I bring forth a small cask that I have made out of beechwood inlaid with gold and thin slices of white marble from the Eregion quarry. The masters' grey and blue Noldorin eyes, shrewd and discerning, follow my movements as I place the box in the center of the table where they sit. I slowly lift the lid, revealing the nacreous ring, which I hand first to Master Erëtáno for examination. His eyes widen as he regards it. He places it over his finger, brows raised, and sits in reflection for a while before removing the ring. He passes it to the next master on my committee. Each man, with the exception of Istyar Aulendil, repeats the process, each withdrawing into his mind as he contemplates the essence of the ring.
"Most impressive, Sámaril," says Istyar Tyelperinquar as he slides the ring off his finger. "This ring has the capacity to guide and thus elevate our mortal kindred almost to our level of achievement and understanding. The Noldor can further advance if Men support our civilization. Aesthetically, it is fine work."
This is the consensus of the remaining members of the committee. They each sign my thick treatise, dense with my observations, results, interpretations and conclusions, provided to them prior to the defense. The Istyar is the final master to sign with his distinctively beautiful handwriting. He finishes with a flourish, stands, and extends his hand to me, a resplendent smile on his handsome face.
"Congratulations, Sámaril. You are now a master of the Otornassë Mírëtanoron. Well done, lad!"
Spent from the intellectual torment of the defense, I stumble out of the chamber where my exam has taken place. My fellow junior masters, the journeymen, and the apprentices - all awaiting my arrival in the corridor - reinvigorate me with their raucous and hearty accolades.
Teretion, who recently passed his defense, smirks as he drapes his arm over my shoulders. "Thank your lucky stars that you are Istyar Aulendil's student and focus on the psychology of Men. The Istyari have me crafting a ring for a Dwarf." He shudders. "What a bunch of little aliens."
We cram into the Istyar's parlor that evening, where the serce valaron flows and the vulgar songs of the Aman smithies soar. We toast Aulë. We toast Mahtan. We toast Fëanáro. Then they all toast me -- Sámaril -- along with those legendary smiths. The Istyar -- my beloved, respected and feared mentor -- laughs indulgently. I drink to the point of passing out, falling onto the settee in his parlor, the fire dying down with occasional snaps and sparks from the charred and crumbled oak logs. After the rest depart, their songs receding on the streets illumined by the yellow light of my lamps, the Istyar places a bottle of water by me and covers me with a blanket. I can barely hear the words of his soft baritone voice as the tides of wine-soaked sleep pull me into their depths. His nighttime benediction is not warm and avuncular, but cold, detached and devoid of emotion.
"You are hopeless, Sámaril. You just don't know how hopeless yet."
Notes added in proof:
Canon and the Rings of Power (1)
In the FAQ of the Rings, the question "Were the Seven and Nine Rings originally intended for Dwarves and Men?" is addressed by Stan Brown's semi-authoritative (2) answer:
"Almost certainly not. The intended purpose of the Rings was preserving Middle-earth from change. This is an Elvish motive, not likely to appeal to Dwarves and especially not to Men. (Bolded emphasis - Stan Brown)
In the Ring-rhyme, only the sixth and seventh lines ("One Ring to rule them all ...") were spoken by Sauron. They were most likely part of the spell that created the One Ring, since he also inscribed the verses in the Ring. Gandalf quotes those lines (in the Black Speech and then in Westron) at the Council of Elrond, adding: "Out of the Black Years come the words that the Smiths of Eregion heard, and knew that they had been betrayed" [LotR II 2 (271-272)].
The other six lines were "lore", written by some unknown person after Sauron had seized the Seven and the Nine Rings and given them out to his intended victims. When those lines cite numbers of Rings "for" Elves, Dwarves, and Men, that is hindsight and not an expression of original intent. Tolkien makes this clear at one point where he mentions Sauron handing out the seized Rings and then adds "Hence the 'ancient rhyme' that appears as the leit-motif of The Lord of the Rings" [L #131 (153)]."
However, Tolkien wrote the following in "The History of Galadriel and Celeborn," Unfinished Tales, 1980, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston; p 238.
"Celebrimbor, desperate, himself withstood Sauron on the steps of the great door of the Mírdain; but he was grappled and taken captive, and the House was ransacked. There Sauron took the Nine Rings and the other lesser works of the Mirdain, but the Seven and the Three he could not find. Then Celebrimbor was put to torment, and Sauron learned from him where the Seven were bestowed. This Celebrimbor revealed, because neither the Seven nor the Nine did he value as he valued the Three; the Seven and the Nine were made with Sauron's aid, whereas the Three were made by Celebrimbor alone, with a different power and purpose." (Bolded emphasis mine)
This passage implies the Seven and the Nine Rings were distinct, and that the Three were further differentiated from the Seven and the Nine.
In The Apprentice, I have chosen the "tailor-made" route although the Seven and the Nine were very likely linked into the Elvish desire for preservation of their works and maintenance of their high caste in Middle-earth (note Tyelperinquar's condescending remark concerning Men).
(1) Yes, I appreciate the extreme irony of canon nitpickery on my part, especially given the flagrant heresies of the Pandë!verse.
(2) I use "semi-authoritative" in the sense that this is an interpretation of Tolkien's writings which taken as a whole are quite fluid and at times contradictory as the author created his secondary world. That said, Mr. Brown's FAQ of the Rings is a well-researched and interesting resource.
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