3. The Interview
A short list of primary characters and a glossary may be found in the End Notes of this chapter.
Ost-in-Edhil, Eregion ca. 1490 and onward, Second Age
Throbbing pain above my brows awakens me at dawn. My mouth tastes no better than the shit strewn by the rooster that I hear welcoming the sun from somewhere within the city walls. I wonder how much I had to drink last night - apparently more than I should have. Istyar Aulendil had uncorked bottle after bottle of red wine, the serce valaron, which we guzzled as we celebrated Ferenwë's graduation from journeyman to master. I lost track after several glasses. The Istyar hosted the party at his comfortable row house as he so often does for these occasions. It was a warm evening, so we all sat out at the chestnut-wood and slate table on the stone terrace that faces West and overlooks the hills along the Glanduin River.
Sixteen of us toasted Ferenwë last night: the two grand men - Aulendil and Tyelperinquar - of the House of the Mírëtanor, and their respective journeymen, the apprentices and us lowly assistants. I'm not sure when I arrived home. I vaguely recall weaving along the cobblestone streets under the dim blue light of the street lamps, my arm thrown over Teretion's shoulders, as we made our way to our homes.
Both Istyari were amusing, but my master - Aulendil - was in fine form. He regaled us with his trademark sardonic humor. We writhed in sycophantic stitches, all of us laughing louder than we needed to because of our adulation - because he is, after all, The Istyar. He sang, his dulcet baritone made a little furry by all the wine. We all howled at the ribald innuendo in the old smiths' drinking songs from Aman. Istyar Tyelperinquar tried to keep up, but it was a challenge for him. He is a talented man, too, but he is not The Istyar.
Now my bladder will no longer will be ignored. I swear the damn thing is the size of a culuma. I sit up, and my head spins, but I lurch to the lavatory, uncover the chamber pot, and take aim seriously since my mother will be appalled if I miss. Releasing a satisfied groan as the pressure is relieved, I flick myself dry, managing to catch every drop in the chamber pot, quite an accomplishment in my addled state. I replace the lid and pour water into the basin to wash my hands and face.
After I splash the tepid water on my face, I look in the mirror. My hair hangs like torn curtains. It is badly in need of washing, but I have no time to go to the baths this morning. My eyes are reddened from so little sleep, and the hints of dark circles smudge the skin beneath them. I have been studying diligently and cramming as much as possible into my brain these past several weeks, and last night's indulgence only added to my sleep deprivation.
With Ferenwë's graduation, a journeyman's slot will open for an apprentice to be selected for the position. Subsequently, an assistant will advance to an apprenticeship under Istyar Aulendil's tutelage. I hope to fill the apprentice's position. "I hope to." What an understatement. No, I am living for it. I am not the only one though. My fellow assistants, Teretion included, are vying for the same opening. Advancement in our discipline is competitive, and everyone knows of the Istyar's selectivity.
I fell asleep in my clothes so I strip and give my armpits and crotch a perfunctory wash. It's an exercise in futility since the forges will be scorching today in the early summer heat. After drying quickly, I dig around in my small armoire and find a pair of well-worn breeches and a light shirt, the latter of which I will just pull off once I enter the forge. Still, my mother will not tolerate me sitting at the kitchen table shirtless. I yank my brush through my hair, which should reach my waist in another month's time, I would think. We are all aping the Istyar's waist-length style. Like him, we bunch up our hair to the napes of our necks and wrap it with long strips of leather when we work in the forges. So I secure my greasy and unruly hair now.
Pain jolts to the top of my skull as I trot down the stone stairs. My father sits at the kitchen table, and my mother stands behind him, plaiting his hair in haste before he rushes off to the latest job site. He is the senior master in the Guild of Stone and oversees the new construction in the Guild of the Vine's quarters at the north face of the city. The thriving vineyards have increased the need for more thick-walled cellars and storage chambers so his masons are hard at work.
I pour myself a mug of hot tea and sit beside him. He stares at me, his slate-blue eyes squinting with mild parental annoyance.
"When did you get home last night? Or should I say, this morning?"
"Good morning to you, too, Atar. I don't know. Sometime before dawn."
"You're burning your candle at both ends, boy. You'll need to have your brain sharpened with some rest if you're fortunate enough to be interviewed by the Istyar."
"I'll manage, Atar. None of us sleep all that much." I burn my tongue on the hot liquid in my desperation to get a stimulant into my system. After just three gulps of the tea, I feel my headache receding. I fill my plate with a piece of oat bread, a bunch of grapes, and a sizeable chunk of sheep's milk cheese. I tuck into my breakfast with vigor.
"Sámaril, you're inhaling your food," my mother admonishes as she finishes weaving the ends of my father's plait.
"Sorry, Amil. I need to get to the forges."
"Well, it's not good for your digestion."
My pestering little wren of a sister has arrived for breakfast and is eager to get in her digs one way or another. This morning she takes aim at my lean physique.
"He'll stay skinny no matter what."
I roll my eyes but otherwise ignore her. I clear my plate and mug from the table, and complete my morning's chores. After I kiss my mother and father goodbye for the day, I ruffle my little sister's hair, and she mock-slaps at me. She may be an acute pain in my buttocks, but I love her anyway.
"When do you think he will interview you?" my father asks as I am nearly out the door.
"Ai, Atar! Ferenwë only graduated a day ago! It may be some time yet before the Istyar begins his selection."
"I can only hope you're ready." My father has high expectations, and he has layered some of his own ambitions onto me. My acceptance as the Istyar's apprentice would certainly give him bragging rights among his fellow masons in the Guild of Stone. For a people who place such high value on scientific and technological knowledge, this apprenticeship is not insignificant.
"I believe I am. Don't worry about me."
My father smiles, and it is a rare smile that lights his face, a handsome face that has seen too much pain. "Very well. I won't worry about you. And Sámaril?"
"That lisped pronunciation. It sounds affected."
I sigh. Thanks to old King Thingol's antiquated edict, Sindarin is the predominant language of Elves in Middle-earth, but Quenya has been reinvigorated amongst the Noldor of Eregion. We speak nothing but Quenya in the smithies, and for that matter, this is my mother tongue at home. The Guild of Smiths, again aping its two most prominent masters, has taken this to yet another level by eschewing the more common sibilant sound of 's' in favor of the voiced fricative. Both Istyari favor this archaic pronunciation, particularly Istyar Tyelperinquar, who descends from that famous clan.
"That is how we speak in the forges, Atar. I will see you all later!" I scratch at my scalp as I take my leave.
"Don't forget to stop at the baths this evening, dear!" my mother calls as I step out the door.
My parents are fussy and worry excessively about my sister and me. I understand why now that I am older and know more of their history. They are refugees from Ondolindë - Gondolin - and have been through hell to arrive in this peaceful city, which has embraced the culture of our people. They were married long before they produced my sister and me, my mother giving birth to us only after they settled here. I also know that my father followed the old High King, Nolofinwë, across the Helcaraxë, so he has seen far too much death in his long life. Hence, he tends to be dour, she tends to be nervous, but I know they mean well.
The towers of the city are just now turning vermilion from the rising Sun. The House of the Mírëtanor is sited at a high level in the city, so that the prevailing winds can be directed by huge ducts to drive the furnaces. I arrive at the massive doors, which shine with gold, bronze and silver plating and inlaid gemstones, but they are wide open now, obscuring part of their intimidating beauty. The masters and junior members of the Otornassë Mírëtanoron climb the roughened black granite stairs before the doors, and pour into the building as we ready to start our labors. I make my way through the hallways and up stairs, past the well-lit workshops and laboratories, and enter the dimness of the forge itself.
The forge reverberates with the sharp strikes of hammer on steel. The acrid odor of smoldering coals combined with hot metal permeates the air. In spite of knocking back liter after liter of serce valaron last night, the Istyari each stand at an anvil, pounding out blades. Evidently they have been at this for some time since this is the way they warm up for more exacting work. Although each excels in fine work with jewels, crystals and exquisitely small gears, the Istyari are also talented in the more robust crafting of weapons, armor and tools.
Istyar Aulendil also has knowledge of methods that far exceed those familiar to us in Middle-earth but apparently are commonplace in Aman. He has helped us perfect innovative alloys. He has guided us in making the lamps - glowing with cool blue light - that light our streets and homes. He has ground and polished the crystals that allow us to see with precision the very distant or the very small. He has shared his expertise in chemistry, which in turn has been applied to advancements in both metallurgy and medicine. He is sought after as a mentor because of his deep and expansive knowledge. That is why I have been studying so hard - to pass the exam to become his apprentice and learn these mysterious arts from him.
The Istyari look as though they could be brothers or at least near relatives. They are tall men, made muscular by their work. Both have the classic Noldorin features of dark hair and gray eyes although Istyar Aulendil's thick hair is longer, and the irises of his eyes have an almost metallic cast like mithril. He rarely wears the traditional smith's leather apron and most often works in the forges clad only in breeches and smith's heavy boots. The sparks and flames have little effect on Istyar Aulendil, and we have even seen him handle hot metal with his bare hands. "Like Fëanáro..." the smiths whisper with awe.
Like that legendary smith, the Istyar studied intensively with Aulë and was even considered a prodigy. He has been sent to us as an emissary of the Valar. His mission is to aid the Noldor with our recovery from the Wars of Beleriand. He came to us over two hundred years ago as Annatar, but we in the House of the Mírëtanor call him Istyar Aulendil, a nod to his close ties with the Vala who is our patron.
His background is somewhat mysterious. He was one of the Aulënossë, he says, and was born in Tirion after the Flight of the Noldor. Istyar Tyelperinquar admires him greatly. It is clear to all that he feels a strong kinship with Aulendil as if Fëanáro himself has been reincarnated and sent back to Middle-earth to teach Tyelperinquar, his grandson. Indeed, the Istyar's relationship with his chief protégé has a familial quality.
I grab two pellet buckets and go off to gather charcoal for the two great men, knowing that they will burn through piles of it during the course of a morning's work. I nearly run into Teretion, who still looks bleary from last night.
"Has he said anything? Made any announcements?" I ask him.
Teretion rolls his still-red eyes and sneers. "Your ambition couldn't be more obvious, Sámaril. Calm down. He'll summon us when he's good and ready."
I admit it. I am ambitious and ravenous for more knowledge. Truth be told, I am proud of my intellectual acumen and maybe a little arrogant about it, too. Well, maybe a lot arrogant. That is why I am so focused on working with the Istyar. Other masters in the House of the Mírëtanor possess profound intelligence and considerable skill, but they do not have the cachet of the Istyar. Graduating from his tutelage confers a premium pedigree and commands respect. That is what I want. Respect. Recognition.
Filling the buckets as full as I can, I heft them back to the furnaces where the Istyari labor. I set one down by each man. Istyar Aulendil pauses for a moment. He wipes the sweat that runs past the headband he has tied around his forehead. This is saturated within an hour of his work. He rubs his eyes then looks at me and smiles brightly, exposing his straight white teeth, a beautiful smile.
"Well, Sámaril, you look none the worse for wear this morning. I'm impressed!"
I smile in return. "Thank you, Istyar. I'm resilient, I guess. I had a good time last night, sir, and thank you again for inviting me."
"There's nothing like hard work followed by wine to forge camaraderie. You lads were plenty entertaining, too." He readies to remove the carbon-steel blade from the forge, and I start to walk away. Then I hear him call to me.
"Sámaril. Please come to my office at the mid-afternoon break."
Then he thrusts the blade into the brine, steam billowing. After he removes the blade and sets it aside, he wipes his large long-fingered hands on his breeches and moves on to his next task.
"Yes, sir." It is a simple answer that belies the thrills of anticipation, nervousness and sheer terror that course through me.
I wait outside the Istyar's office at the time he indicated. I dare not go into his office alone, but I can see the afternoon light streaming through the western window where it falls on his desk with its neatly stacked papers, tightly rolled scrolls, and silver-nibbed pens lined in order of length. Volumes of books are arranged by subject on shelves and placed so their spines line up perfectly.
I don't wait long before he strides down the hallway, smiles and gestures for me to go into his office first. He follows me, tells me to take a seat in one of the two simple but elegant birchwood chairs in front of his desk and shuts the door. He reaches for his dark charcoal-colored scholar's robe that hang on a brass hook. Dripping with sweat, he shrugs his shoulders into the wool robe and immediately starts picking at the fabric, trying to disengage it from his skin where it is sticking.
"Oh, to Námo with it!" He takes off the robes and hangs the garment on the hook again. "You can stand to speak with me without the benefit of my scholar's garb, can't you?"
I nod in the affirmative.
"Thank Manwë for small blessings. It's too bloody humid to be donning wool today."
He opens the heavy multi-paned window in one fluid motion, and then seats himself in the carved oaken chair behind his equally ornate desk. The Sun lights him from behind, casting steel-blue highlights in his hair. He leans back in the chair and links his hands behind his head, exposing the coarse black hair under his arms as he sits shirtless and relaxed at his desk, which is just as much his domain as the smithies. In the close space, any other of the masters would be rank with their bodies' odor by this time of the day and in desperate need of the baths, but the Istyar is not. His essential scent is that of the air after a lightning strike: charged, slightly metallic, and energized to a higher state. Even so, he is fastidiously clean and relishes the steamy heat of the caldarium; he visits the baths often where he washes out the soot and fumes of the forge from his body and thick hair like the rest of us do.
"So, Sámaril. As you know, I have an apprentice's spot opening up, and I think I assume correctly that you might be interested in it."
"Yes, sir. That is correct."
"Well, then. I have some questions for you..." and the grueling interview begins.
"Determine the eutectic point of an iron-mithril alloy." He nods toward the slab of smooth slate framed in oak that hangs on the far wall and hands a piece of chalk to me.
This isn't so hard. I derive the simultaneous equations and arrive at the answer quickly, sketching out the phase diagram. I am rather proud of my acuity, and I expect him to be impressed. When I turn from the slate board, feeling accomplished, my pride is deflated when I see that he maintains a singularly unimpressed expression.
"That's correct. Now do the same for a gold and silver alloy."
I hesitate. "Uh, I can't, sir."
"And why not?"
"Because a gold-silver alloy has no eutectic point."
The barest hint of a smile flickers. "That's right, Sámaril. Now describe the effects of temperature differentials on microaggregation states in iron-carbon steel."
My confidence is buoyed by his nearly imperceptible response to the tricky gold-silver question. He continues to grill me on metallurgy. I answer all his questions perfectly and sit down again, self-assured and less tense.
But then, his questioning takes an unexpected direction.
"Describe the three sub-species of athelas, their current distribution in Eriador, and their rank order of therapeutic potency."
Biology? He's asking me questions about biology? Why does a smith need to know anything about biology? I scratch behind my right ear, a nervous tic when I have some thinking to do, since I have not studied this subject in depth in preparation for this interview.
I reach back into my memory and find those conversations I have had with my mother, who was a healer and expert in medicinal herb lore when she lived in Gondolin, a path that she abandoned when she and Atar moved here, where she threw herself into weaving and then childrearing. So I improvise and answer the question as best I can. He is satisfied with the answer - not impressed - but satisfied. A trickle of sweat drips down my back.
He cocks his left brow at my answer to the means of differentiating Draco ignis borealis from Draco ignis australis.
"That's barely adequate. You're winging this, aren't you, Sámaril?"
He slowly peels a layer of my intellectual ability away to expose my less-than-complete knowledge in biology.
"Oh, no, sir. I have actually studied a...a fair amount of biology." That is more or less true as the statement is couched.
"If that is the case, let's move on to the most complex of sentient life. Tell me what you know of the culturally and biologically derived behaviors of humans."
He leans forward, resting his elbows on his desk, clasps his hands together, and fixes me with a chilly gaze from those mithril eyes. I am a mouse frozen by the snake's stare.
I swallow hard as another layer is stripped away, exposing that I am not as scholarly as I thought. I respond with a question of my own.
"'Humans?' Do you mean the Followers, Istyar?"
He keeps my eyes locked in his, the snake now fixing the mouse within striking distance, as if he skims the surface of my thought processes.
"Yes, but I mean your - our - kindred, too. Do you not understand that the Firstborn and the Followers are the same species? There may be profound differences between our mortal brethren and us, but the underlying mechanism which gives rise to those differences is subtle beyond your understanding. But never mind that. Tell me how the two kindred compare and contrast in behaviors of chronobiology."
A shiver of anxiety races down my spine along with more sweat. How should I answer this? Should I take the same tack as the rest of the biology questions? Here is a subject that I cannot confidently address as I can materials science or improvise as I did with my answers to his questions regarding athelas and fire-drakes. At age forty-eight, I am young. I have yet to really talk to a mortal Man in depth nor have I bothered to read any scholarly work on the subject.
My anxiety heightens to the point where my hands tremble. I finally respond, and the waves of nervousness cease. They are replaced by resignation because I realize he will see right through me and strip my layers to the core if I am not forthcoming.
"I am sorry, sir, but I honestly cannot answer that. I have no real knowledge of Mankind."
Straightening in the chair, I attempt to disguise my mortification. He regards me silently. A soft breeze puffs through the windows, stirs his hair and ruffles a pile of papers on his desk, which he immediately re-orders neatly. He turns his full attention back to me. I discipline myself to remain composed and not squirm under his intense regard.
Finally, he speaks, his eyebrow arched again, but with a slightly softened and thoughtful expression. "At least you have the good sense to admit you have much more to learn. Otherwise, why should I bother to teach any of you? That will be all, Sámaril."
So I am dismissed with this ambiguous comment. I return to my work in the forges, sweeping, running errands for the masters and journeymen, and otherwise performing my duties as the Istyar's assistant, trying to keep myself distracted with my work so that I do not obsess over the interview. It's impossible for me to focus since I replay the conversation with the Istyar in my head and criticize every nuance and detail of my answers, wincing at my responses and doubting myself. It doesn't help that I notice the absence of my fellow assistants, and I know they are ensconced in the Istyar's office, similarly being roasted over the fires of his questioning.
It is late afternoon, not long before we leave to dine for the evening, although many of the apprentices and journeymen will return to work on their projects well into the night. I have cleaned the black soapstone benches in the Istyar's laboratory, and I'm in the process of making a new solution of dilute acid used to treat alloys when someone walks into the spacious room. It is Istyar Aulendil.
"Sámaril, you'll start work tomorrow morning as my apprentice. I have a particular project in mind for you so you may as well get started quickly."
The whoop of victory escapes before I can contain it. The Istyar regards me coolly, his eyebrow arched again. Then I feel my face flush. I am embarrassed by my unseemly outburst, but I try to recover.
"Thank you, Istyar! Yes, I will be ready."
He stands before me with his arms crossed, a stern commanding presence, but then corners of his mouth twitch with a suppressed grin, which breaks into a full smile.
"I expect you will be. Finish up here and meet us at the steps. Your fellow apprentices, my journeymen and I are headed for the baths, and I daresay that your mother will be happy if you arrive at home clean for once."
He strides away. Once I hear his steps clattering down and off the stairs that lead to the first level of the House, I hoot again, dancing around the lab, and leap a couple of times for good measure, no doubt assuring the pair of journeymen who pass in the hall that I have lost my mind with giddiness.
The primary characters:
Sámaril: Aulendil's apprentice/journeyman; his name translates as "brilliant mind."
The Istyar: Aulendil/Annatar/Sauron. You'll also see another name used once; that's a hint of the AU that reveals itself on occasion throughout the story.
The other Istyar: Tyelperinquar (Q.) = Celebrimbor (S.)
(Q. = Quenya; S = Sindarin)
I have indicated my own bumbling constructions by der. = derived.
Istyar (Q.): scholar = Professor
Serce valaron (der. Q.): blood of the gods. The non-canonical grape that is the source of this red wine of Eregion may very well be the ancestor of sangiovese, the "blood of Jove" which is used to produce Chiantis and Brunellos. I have used the genitive to denote origin since the implications of the possessive are, well, rather icky.
Culuma (Q.) = orange (fruit)
Atar (Q.) - Father
Amil (Q.) - Mother
Mírëtanor (der. Q.): jewel-smiths.
Otornassë Mírëtanoron (der. Q.): ~ Gwaith-i-Mirdain (S.); Brotherhood/Guild of the Jewel-smiths. "Otornassë" as "sworn brotherhood" makes sense to me. Again, based on Tolkien's writings in The War of the Jewels, this construction seems appropriate.
Aulënossë (Q.) Those Noldor who remained in Aman after the rebellion and exodus.
Draco ignis: The Latin equivalent of the formal Quenya taxonomic classification (and you know there must be such among the Noldor) of the fire-drake. Borealis is "northern" and australis is "southern." Also, caldarium, Latin for the hot water baths of Roman bath complexes, is used, and presumably has Quenya and Sindarin equivalents. In the pandemoniverse, Ost-in-Edhil has some qualities reminiscent of an ancient Roman city.
Yé! Almië! (der. Q.): Lo! Good fortune! Otherwise known as "Booyah!"
Eutectic point: See the summary of eutectics and the definition of the eutectic point (sits at the boundary of the liquid and solid phase of a eutectic mixture) here in Wikipedia. A eutectic mixture consists of components in a proportion that yield a minimum melting point and will crystallize simultaneously in the phase change from liquid to solid. Certain alloys are derived from such eutectic mixtures. I am no metallurgist, but I really liked physical chemistry so I hope you can forgive me if I geek out over this. I expect both Sámaril and Aulendil know far more about eutectic mixtures than I do.
On "science and technology:" These are direct translations of nolwë and curwë. See The History of Middle-earth, vol. XII, "The Shibboleth of Fëanor."
Note on the years presented in this story: Dates may not be precise. JRRT's chronology of the Second Age had some fluidity. So does mine.
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.