13. Derivations of Hope
As of 04/29/2008, modifications have been made to this chapter so that it aligns, although perhaps not seamlessly, with The Elendilmir, the sequel to The Apprentice.
Glossary and comments in End Notes.
One should rather die than be betrayed. There is no deceit in death. It delivers precisely what it has promised. Betrayal, though ... betrayal is the willful slaughter of hope.
--Steven Deitz, American playwright and dramatist, b. 1958 -
Imladris, circa 1300 Third Age.
The heavy oak doors thud as I shut them behind me, their vibrations dampened by the thickness of their dense wood. Pausing before I take the path down to the house below, I take in the view from the height of the forge, perched on an outcropping high above the vale, a view that will transition my focus on molten metals and interlinked steel to the mundane aspects of my life like food and bathing.
The setting sun ignites the western sky with Eärendil and Alcarinquë shining in the arc high above the horizon. The pale limestone cliffs are shadowed in a thousand twilight shades of grey. The scent of pine rises through the summer evening air -- a welcome contrast to the acrid, burning odor of the forge. Rustling leaves in the oak, beech and birch trees, together with the rushing water of the Bruinen, mingle in a summer song. The valley is a haven of peace even though the sundered remnants of Elendil's northern kingdom are under attack from a new threat.
The silver bell in the tower chimed some time ago. Once again, I have missed the evening meal. I am not especially hungry, just dog-tired from many days of unrelenting work on hauberks, helmets, swords and all manner of weaponry. Switching back and forth three times across the cliff face, I plod down the path to reach the terraces of the House of Elrond and quietly enter through a side door. I pass through the kitchen, hoping to avoid others who might be lingering in the dining hall. Some of the staff are still in the kitchen, washing dishes and storing those leftovers which may be preserved. They try to persuade me to sit and have a full meal, but I only accept a piece of bread, an ascetic's meal, no more than I deserve, which I wolf down as I walk away.
My plan is to go to my room before I head to the baths to wash off the crust of forge soot and dried sweat clinging to my skin, but I remember that I want to research the ductile strength of a steel alloy among the volumes in the library. From the music filtering through the house, I deduce that the residents and guests are in the Hall of Fire. I hope to find my information and take notes with no disturbance. I am in no mood for company, but then, I rarely am. I am said to be reserved, even taciturn, but that has not always been the case.
When I enter the library, irritation prickles me when I see that someone else is already there, seated at a table illuminated by an oil lamp. I recognize the figure, whose height is evident even as he hunches over a table, writing on parchment. The distinctive mane of gold hair that flows down his back confirms his identity. I turn to leave because I am not inclined to converse with this man, this lord among my people, who resides in the same household that I do. Although he has always treated me kindly, I find him intimidating at times.
"Good evening, Sámaril." He has heard me and looks up from his work. "We missed you at dinner."
"Likewise, good evening, Lord Glorfindel. I'm afraid I was preoccupied in the forges, and time slipped away from me. I was just stopping by to find a volume before I go to the bathhouse." I hesitate at the door, ready to resume my evening's solitude, but now unsure that I wish to do so.
"Please. Come and sit." With alacrity, he switches his speech from Sindarin to Quenya. "There's no need for 'Lord Glorfindel.' I know you miss speaking our mother tongue, and I do, too. So please call me 'Laurefin.' We can even use the old fricative if you'd like. We are long past the schism of a shibboleth."
He smiles warmly which goes a long way toward putting me at ease. Now I feel ridiculous for being intimidated by him. In spite of his nobility as a lord of the House of Finwë and his reputation as a formidable warrior, he has an easy and approachable manner, even a sense of humor. I pull up a chair directly across from him at the library's large central table.
"Thank you, Laurefin, and yes, I do miss speaking it. It appears our tongue has retreated back to ceremonial use and lore once again."
"Maybe here in Middle-earth, but not elsewhere. This is good timing because I have wished to speak to you about a particular matter for some time now, but you're hard to pin down. You spend much of your time in the forge."
"That I do. Mail and swords don't grow in the garden. You and your men require quite a lot of steel."
"True enough. Your work is greatly appreciated. It's high quality and has spared my men from serious injury on numerous occasions."
"But not all injury, I see." An inflamed cut mars Laurefin's left cheek.
"That? Well, yes, that knife blade slipped in the space of my helmet, but then, I don't want to have my face completely covered either. Part of the hazards of the job, I suppose. Anyway, I need your help, Sámaril."
Assuming that he requires assistance with a technical question, I glance at his work. The paper in front of him is filled with complex equations.
"I'd like to think I'm fairly accomplished at math, but that is well beyond my level," I say, eyeing the unfamiliar symbols and transforms.
"Oh, it's not the derivatives. I'm just doing this for relaxation. Pure math helps clear my head and allows me to focus my mind." He examines my face, and I realize my thought must have surfaced as expression. "Why do are you surprised? You've long known of my penchant for mathematics. As difficult as it might be to believe, I am not just another muscle-headed warrior."
I laugh aloud at that. "I never thought you were. If it's not mathematics, how then may I assist you?"
He leans forward on his elbows, hands clasped in front of him, and locks my gaze with his sea-gray eyes. "This development to the north of Rhudaur – you are aware of the Dúnedain's reports and their skirmishes with the orcs in the north?"
"Yes, I am all too familiar with their casualties."
The face of one of those casualties -- the young Dúnadan of Cardolan who had asked that I sharpen his knife -- continues to haunt both my dreams and my waking moments. His knife now rests within a small chest in my quarters. His comrades returned to Imladris without him and had given me the blade, its design and craftsmanship distinctive, as a memento for me according to the dying man's wishes.
Laurefin knits his brows together and rubs his forehead as if his head aches. Then he returns his gaze to me, his face now calm with studied serenity.
"The leader of Angmar is known as the Witch King. The Dúnedain scouts say that even the orcs speak this name with fear. The Men of the West do not know who – or what – this evil being is, but I have good reason to believe that he is the chief of the Úlairi. You have knowledge of the Ringwraiths and deep knowledge of their lord. I want you to tell me everything you know about him."
A cold pain clenches my gut, and the knife of guilt slices at my heart. My legs tense, prepared to take me striding out of the library and away from an impending discussion of a reviled subject. In all the years that he and I have dwelled in Imladris, he has never asked me directly about the Ringwraiths. He hasn't asked me to tell him the whole of my history in Ost-in-Edhil. But his is not a question. It is a command.
"You do not know what you demand of me."
"I believe I do," he says firmly but kindly "How long have we known one another? Twenty-one yéni? Yet you have never told me about your experience in full."
Pressing my fists against my temples, I lower my face so that he will not see the grief that threatens to overwhelm me. When I look up, my vision is blurred from the tears welling up in my eyes.
"Do you know how much I lost in the fall of Eregion?"
He meets my gaze directly. "All of us lost someone in Eregion, Sámaril. I live with uncertainty every day because of it.
"I would not ask you to tell me about the Witch King if I didn't have need of your insight. The situation in the North deteriorated when Elendil's kingdom succumbed to civil war. The continued internecine conflict has weakened each kingdom, and it is clear that the chief of the Úlairi intends to exploit this. The more we know, the better we will be able to resist him and assist the Dunedain. You hold key information, Sámaril, and you can help immensely by revealing it."
"I understand. It's just that it is so difficult for me to speak of it. It's not just the loss of my loved ones, but what I did: my role in this horrible mess that still haunts us." The clot of a sob rises in my throat. I have not wept over what happened for many years, but I am near it now.
"Laurefin, I made the Nine Rings of Men. The one that the Witch King bears? I can tell you exactly what it looks like. It is a pale gold ring, iridescent, and set with an opal. That was the first Ring of Power that I crafted."
Then the memories, long suppressed, rush forward, achingly bright in their terrible clarity. All the pain. All the guilt. All the self-loathing.
After I graduated to junior master, the first Ring of Power, the first of the Nine, my journeyman's project, was locked away in the treasury of the House of the Mírëtanor. The Istyar informed me that he was so pleased with my work that he wanted me, of all the masters, to cast eight more Rings, all of which were to contain gold in some form. Although the remaining eight rings would not be finely tailored like the first one was for the Prince of Tharbad, my keen knowledge of the minds of Men was essential for crafting these, he said, for the good and the elevation of Mankind and by association, for the preservation of Elven civilization in Middle-earth.
Immensely flattered and buoyed by his confidence and respect, I dedicated myself to the task. As with the first Ring, he was with me at every casting, his strong, warm hand gripping my shoulder, assisting me as a colleague now, not just as my mentor. In parallel, Istyar Tyelperinquar assisted Teretion in crafting Rings for the Dwarves with Istyar Aulendil providing oversight as they performed their work. He reviewed all the Rings, carefully scrutinizing each one as he had with the first, light flaring through his closed fingers. "Locking the matrix," he called it.
These projects took years to complete. During this time, Aulendil became increasingly depressed and volatile. I was subjected to angry outbursts, followed by contrition and apology. I would find him in his office, trying to drink a medicinal tea, its vile odor competing with his intrinsic ionized scent. "For my moods," he said. "But it's not doing a damn thing. It just tastes as horrible as it smells. But I refuse to take the inwisti-singwë. It will blunt my creativity."
One morning, Istyar Tyelperinquar appeared at the House of the Mirëtanor to tell us that Istyar Aulendil had left Eregion. His departure was abrupt, and other than his notebooks and one of my lamps, he took nothing with him. We were all dismayed and confused, the House of the Mirëtanor rumbling with consternation. Tyelperinquar was distraught when he addressed us.
"Out of respect for his privacy, I cannot tell you why Istyar Aulendil left nor where he went."
We read between the lines. We knew that the occasional vocal arguments emanating from the Istyar's row house had increased precipitously as the result of Aulendil's black moods and simmering anger. These things sometimes happen, and we thought that a separation might provide healing in some manner. The next sentence from Tyelperinquar confirmed this.
"Aulendil said he needed time away from Ost-in-Edhil and that he will return to us."
That consoled us to some degree. We hoped that Aulendil would return one day, and that all would be as before. In the meantime, Tyelperinquar led us as ably as ever, even as he had to step in and deal with the personal wreckage that Aulendil left behind in that comfortable row house.
Years passed, and still Aulendil did not return, but Tyelperinquar was not idle. He undertook the next great work of the Rings of Power. Tyelperinquar, consistent with the creativity so powerful in the Fëanorian lineage, had the ability to reach into materials and shape their molecular structure in concordance with his thought. He called upon Teretion and me to assist him in minor ways, but by his skill alone, he crafted the Three Rings of the Elves, applying the exotic arts that he learned from Aulendil.
I was in my office that day, that bright clear day, when the shock wave hit the House of the Mírëtanor, a psychic temblor from which iron-willed power emanated. Then I was aware as we all were. Aware with crystalline clarity. I heard the verse in my head, the words spoken with his baritone voice — commanding and sepulchral —and I had no need to translate the debased language.
We were betrayed. I was betrayed.
How do you reconcile such profound betrayal by someone you admired and respected? Someone with whom you worked, laughed, drank, and sang, who was one with your people? Someone you trusted with your heart and your life? Someone you may have even loved?
The damage wrought by his departure years earlier did not remotely compare to this devastation. Within weeks, the dark messengers began to arrive at the gates, which were shut to all. They brought word that Sauron demanded the Rings of Power to be handed over to him. All of them.
I set aside all my scientific pursuits, all my projects meant to peacefully elevate Ost-in-Edhil to the Tirion of Middle-earth, and led a contingent of smiths as we produced swords, shields, armor, and mail. The rattling of sabers from Mordor grew louder, and as 1695 of the Second Age approached, Eregion braced for war.
King Ereinion sent his advisors, among them Elrond. Shortly after the arrival of King's herald and his soldiers, the man now seated across from me here in Imladris appeared in the city, leading those soldiers that the King could spare. My parents were astounded.
"That is none other than Lord Laurefin — Glorfindel — of Gondolin. He killed the demon as we fled through the pass, and he died doing so. We saw him fall from the cliffs. He is the reason that your mother and I escaped," my father said. "It is said that he was reincarnated in Aman and alone of our people in exile has returned to Middle-earth to fight the Dark Lord. If he is here, then the situation must be dire."
In spite of his somber assessment, my father refused to leave the city as the armies of Mordor approached Dunland to the south. He rationalized that the masons were needed to reinforce the walls of the city. So my mother stayed, and my sister as well though I begged them to flee. I beseeched Nierellë, now my wife and pregnant with our son, to take refuge in Lindon. They refused, stubbornly confident like so many of the proud Noldor that Sauron could be held at bay by our power.
The timing of his invasion confirmed his intimate knowledge of the land, the land he described as "beautiful," his home for three hundred years. He waited until the wheat fields were tawny, ripened and dry, and the sere hills browned by the hot sun. The invasion began with fire, spreading across the fields and blasting the dry woods. The fires were lit by ordinary means, but Sauron facilitated other conflagrations by using the deep arts. Smoke choked us in the city while Sauron's army advanced to Ost-in-Edhil.
When his army finally besieged the city, the gates did not hold, not against the power of the One Ring, not against someone who knew so well the defenses of the city and the structural components of those gates, and then guided the rams to destroy them. The House of the Mirëtanor was chaotic as we tried to salvage what we could before we fled the city. Many smiths were in the facility and others of us, including me, milled in the courtyard trying to get into the building. The clash of shields, the tramp of boots, and the bestial howls of his soldiers triggered panic among us, and we shouted and pushed one another.
Istyar Tyelperinquar guarded the doors of the House, no longer the scholarly craftsman, but the grim Fëanorian warrior from the First Age, clad in silvered-steel mail, spear in hand and sword at the ready by his side. Armed men from the Guard of the city and King Ereinion's soldiers flanked him.
Determined to enter the House to retrieve the artefacts of my craft, the treasury of my knowledge gained all those years as a master smith, I pushed my way to the front of the seething throng of craftsmen.
"You cannot go back. You must leave!" A warrior's hand gripped my shoulder, turning me away from the setps to the House. That was my first direct encounter with Laurefin. He shoved me back toward the courtyard. He turned to Tyelperinquar who in turn called to him, "Get them out of here."
Screams carried up through the city to the courtyard. Preservation set in among us, and en masse, we ran toward the arch with Laurefin and a number of the guard protecting our retreat as we fled away from the House. Smoke from the fires in the city and countryside burned our lungs. The charnel odor of scorched flesh rose through the city. When I entered the street, I turned to see the advancing orcs, who howled and yelped like beasts, carrying ghastly standards with severed heads rammed onto their apexes.
One of those heads, held aloft to the sky filled with smoke and circling carrion birds, was that of my father. The agony of shock disassembled my will and paralyzed my muscles. The image burned itself indelibly into my memory. I only tore my gaze from the horrific sight when the orcs began shrieking with terror and depraved exultation.
He rode through their ranks on a black horse, obedient to its master under even in the most terrifying of circumstances. The orcs parted before him in fear. My mentor. My colleague. Sauron. He was clad in embossed obsidian-black armor and held his helmet in the crook of his left arm. His handsome visage now sinister, was surrounded by his dark hair, a midnight tempest lashed by the winds generated from the fires throughout the city. The Ring blazed with its own fire on his left hand.
"How could you do this to me?" I whispered.
His cold mithril eyes, ringed with bruised shadows, locked on mine. I froze in place, the mouse transfixed by the snake. The chthonic horror, unleashed and fully revealed now, writhed in my mind, overwhelming me with fear, fear that was immense, all consuming, and threatened to pull me irrevocably into its spinning undertow. He hissed in my thoughts.
You are a fool, Sámaril, a hopeless gullible fool like the rest of the Mirëtanor.
Then a microscopic trace of silver pierced the blackness. A faint familiar voice, exasperated and anguished, spoke to me from a great distance before it was slammed down into nothingness.
Get the hell out of here, lad.
Laurefin burst through the archway, shouting at us to flee. My paralysis was immediately released, but still I could not tear my eyes away. The lord of vanished Gondolin faced Sauron. Silence fell briefly as the Dark Lord hesitated before him, the warrior who had killed a Maia. Then something caught their attention from within the courtyard. Sauron shouted and urged his horse to leap through the arch with Laurefin sprinting behind him. The orcs were momentarily confused and divided into contingents: one that followed their lord into the courtyard and the other that pursued us, the remnant of the Mirëtanor. One of the King's soldiers pushed me forward. Self-preservation finally propelled my legs and I ran. Miraculously, we were able to escape the city through the secret way, the architects of Ost-in-Edhil having taken their lessons from Gondolin.
I thought Laurefin was lost to us as he turned back to the House of the Mirëtanor, but a day after we took shelter in Imladris, he appeared with a group of bloodied citizens and soldiers. He immediately sought out Elrond. We did not hear their conversation, but we saw the stalwart warrior break down and weep, and Elrond led him away, consoling him.
I, too, wept when I heard what had happened before the House of the Mirëtanor. From accounts of those few who witnessed the horror and survived, I pieced together my mentor's ultimate act of betrayal against the man who had been his friend and colleague for over three hundred years: the confrontation between the two men; the torment of Tyelperinquar as Sauron vainly tried to coerce him into revealing the locations of the Three; and the Enemy's final violation of the body of the man whom he had called his brother of the heart. The vivid picture that formed in my mind was as ghastly and shocking as the image of my father's head on the apex of a spear. I struggled to comprehend the depths of Sauron's cruelty and how that could have co-existed with the brilliant man who had taught me so much.
But the worst was yet to come. One of the King's soldiers quietly took me aside and told me of the small band of refugees ambushed and slain as they fled the city across the countryside, the band that included my mother, my sister, and my wife. I fell to the ground in a paroxysm of horror and grief and wept until I could weep no more.
Grief consumed me, grief for my parents, my wife and the son I would never know. I was racked with guilt because I had left them, telling them I would return, but that I needed to retrieve my craft, that I would be back for them. I never returned, and they perished. The image of my father's head, its horrible expression engraved from violent death, continues to haunt me in my nightmares, sleeping and waking. Rightly or wrongly, I blame my selfishness — my obsession with my work — for their deaths. I hated myself for being seduced so effectively by Sauron and that I so willingly participated in crafting what he desired.
Ost-in-Edhil and Eregion were ruined, and the remaining Elven populace was scattered. The already sparse populations of Men were decimated and survived by seeking refuge in remote areas of the northern hills, abandoning their crofts and villages to hide under the most primitive of conditions.
I made what I could of my life in Imladris. I avoided most interactions with others and was pegged as the reclusive, brilliant craftsman. I found a purpose so that I could go on with my life, such as it was, and not waste away by the slow suicide of the bereaved Eldar, and gradually my spirits lifted. Tyelperinquar designed a forge for Imladris. He drew up the plans in the months before the invasion, foreseeing that Ost-in-Edhil might fall and knowing of Elrond's intention to remove to the valley in the North. I led the efforts to build the forge, just as Nornwë and Alastion oversaw the construction of the great house. It was a constructive purpose that kept me off the dark path, but it did not bring redemption.
And Zirânphel. I cannot forgive myself for what happened to her. Aulendil and I returned to Tharbad once during the years that I crafted the remaining eight Rings of Men to refine my knowledge of Men. Zirânphel no longer lived with her aging parents, and they refused to speak of her. I finally found her in an affluent part of the city.
She was beautiful, and the air of seduction hung about her like the heavy fragrance of the amethyst-hued lilies that decorated her chambers. All thoughts of brotherly affection fled when the pang of temptation swept through my mind and body even though I bore a silver ring of betrothal to Nierellë. Zirânphel was powerful, wielding influence over some of the most important men of the city. She had gained wealth from shrewd investments of her earnings. But it was how she garnered those earnings that saddened me. She was a courtesan.
She had smiled, but sadness darkened her beauty. She turned her ring around her finger, the simple silver ring with its blue topaz. "I know you do not approve, Sámaril. But what is there for an independent woman of the common folk to do in this society? Our roles are very constrained."
I wished to believe she was wrong about her assumption, but my ring, infused and locked with confidence, had taken an unexpected turn for her. I never saw her again, and I removed myself to Imladris. Her fate is unknown to me, but it adds more fuel to the crucible of guilt that burns me.
The years passed. For a time, I found love and joy with the Númenórean exiles who were the ancestors of the Dúnedain, who now struggling to maintain their diminished kingdoms. But those mortals beloved to me passed from my life, too, while I bore the Firstborn's burden of the long years and lived on to see the descendants of Elendil tear apart the Kingdom of Arnor.
We heard rumors of agents of fear, wraiths that wielded terror among the living. Their presence rose and subsided and rose again. But I knew who they were. I knew their chieftain. My unborn son died with his mother in the destruction of Eregion, but I am the father to them, the Nazgûl. Now their lord has infiltrated the North to establish a stronghold in Angmar, and this nobleman from the House of Finwë who has returned from Aman the Blessed, this warrior who loves the stars and equations, wants to me to tell him about the heart of darkness.
"I am sorry, Laurefin. This is so hard for me. But I will tell you."
He listens with immeasurable patience, taking account of every detail when I tell him of what happened at Tharbad and what I learned of the Prince. Laurefin maintains a neutral expression, but I can see the corner of his mouth twitch in revulsion at my revelations. Then, inexplicably, I launch into an account of my training with the Istyar. He listens just as avidly to this, and even smiles, as do I, at some of the stories of my former mentor. Then, I am silent.
We sit together, not a word spoken for some time with the soft yellow glow of the lamp encircling us. Finally, Laurefin speaks.
"That was helpful, Sámaril, and in more ways than you can know. It's not only what you told me about the Witch King, but also about him - your Istyar. That helps me understand how it was for you and the others in the Otornassë Mírëtanoron. Your experience with the Prince in Tharbad and your encounter with the darkness that lurked in your mentor must have been terrible."
"It was, but that was nothing compared to his ultimate betrayal. How could he have done this to us? And why did we trust him?"
"All humans are complex, Sámaril. I would think that you learned this from your teacher, who, when you knew him, was quite human in many respects. I expect that is why he was able to fit into our people's way of life that much more effectively, and that was why you trusted him. He was one with the Noldor. As difficult as it is for me to say it, Aulendil must have had the remnants of something good and worthy in him which made his betrayal that much worse."
"He did. Few would believe that though."
Laurefin's expression is sad and distant. "I believe you. Now I must ask you something else directly."
"What is that?"
"When will you go to the Havens?"
I cannot answer because I cannot imagine that I will ever be accepted in the West. I was born here in Middle-earth, and I have never seen the light of Aman. I am cursed with my love of knowledge and craft, cursed as all the Noldor are. In that, I firmly believe the Istyar was right: the Valar despise us.
"You believe you will not be accepted? You are wrong," Laurefin states this bluntly. "The Valar are reconsidering much of their past actions against the Noldor, but I have only vague hints of their plans. I only know I am somehow caught up in their web. But I do know this. The Oath of Fëanáro and the rebellion do not taint you, and you did not intend to effect evil by crafting the Rings for Men. You bear guilt that is not yours. You must leave for the West, Sámaril. You will never heal in Middle-earth."
"I don't know, my lord. Betrayal willfully slays all hope."
He reaches across the table and takes both of my hands, callused smith's hands in his callused warrior's hands, and tells me, "There is always hope, Sámaril."
As he speaks, a silver mote of light expands and flashes brilliantly in my mind, and I see the face of my mentor, not the horrible entity nor the cold amoral presence, but Aulendil.
He is right, lad. You are not hopeless. You never have been. You are a good man, a talented man. It is not your guilt to bear. It is mine. Go to the West and heal from all the pain that I caused you. Go and sing the old smiths' songs. But first you must seek the answers to your questions before you travel the Straight Road.
The silver light is snuffed out, quickly and completely, as if it does not wish to be discovered. Have I imagined this? Most likely it is a hallucination born of many days with no real sleep. Or it may be wishful thinking on my part, as if my tormented mind craves a benediction from my former master. If I learned anything at all from the Istyar, it is to be ever skeptical.
Aulendil once used the phrase "cognitive dissonance" when we studied the psychology of Men back in Tharbad. He described it as a state of conflicting thoughts and the ability to convince oneself that falsehood is truth. Such discordance of thought has remained with me since the day the House of the Mírëtanor shook with the vibrations of betrayal. The silver baritone voice, diminished like that of a dying man, resurrects the dissonance. My mind informs me that this must be an illusion, a wraith of my neural concoction, because remorse from such an entity cannot be real.
Laurefin's expression tells me otherwise, because he is startled. He is perceptive, so perhaps he heard the voice, too, or he is taken aback by my abiding need for my mentor's approval. Whatever the source of the vision, for the first time in years, I am at peace, and I know that I will begin my journey in the morning, seeking the answer to the mystery of the young Dúnadan and his blade before I turn to the Havens. I look up at Laurefin.
"You are right. I am not hopeless."