7. All Rings Great and Small
My examination is trying, but I manage to complete it to the masters' satisfaction. The Istyar sits back, quiet for the most part, and allows Istyar Tyelperinquar and the other three masters to bombard me with questions. I do not stumble on even one of the academic subjects. The members of my committee to a man express their appreciation of my craftsmanship. To demonstrate the lamps' illumination, I lead them into a large dark storage room. The bright yellow glow of the lamps brings exclamations of wonder.
As we walk out of the storage room, one of the masters, who had followed Fëanáro to Middle-earth, praises my work: "Your lamps are much brighter than those of Tirion. Sámaril. They are most innovative and rival those that I knew."
The Istyar then says dryly, "Take that, Fëanáro." This quip sets him and Tyelperinquar off into a round of self-congratulatory laughter.
The celebration in honor of my advancement to journeyman takes place inside the Istyar's home. We are hustled into the expansive parlor where a fire roars in the hearth, and graceful tapestries with curiously abstract designs, studded with polished rocks and beads cleverly woven into the fabric, cover the walls. As always, the serce valaron flows, and as always, we break out into mildly vulgar songs with the two Istyari leading us. Tyelperinquar and the other masters take their leave. Finally, the apprentices and journeymen are encouraged none too subtly to depart. Before I am out the door, the Istyar grips my shoulder with his forge-strong hand and congratulates me again.
"Truly outstanding work, my boy. Be sure to speak with me tomorrow. I have a suggestion for your journeyman's work." At the soft but firm call of Sírityelpë from the interior of the house, the Istyar practically pushes us out the door. "Duty calls, lads. Out you go."
Teretion has also recently passed his exams to become a journeyman with his mentor, Tyelperinquar. He is in rare form this evening, treating my celebration as an encore of his own. We amble home, arms thrown around one another for balance and affection.
"So, what do you think, Teretion? What will be next for us?" My words slur together, my tongue heavy as sludge.
"Rings!" Teretion cries to the wind, stopping and spreading his arms. "Rings, rings, and yet more rings!" He spins like a child's top, and stumbles. I catch him, and we laugh raucously.
Another bleary post-celebration morning greets me. My father, so pleased that I have passed with flying colors, says nothing of my late night carousing. Instead he stands and embraces me before I leave for the House, while my mother looks on, misty-eyed.
"I am so proud of you, Sámaril," he says, patting me on the back and then holds me at arms' length. A wide smile slices through his tears as he looks at me with fatherly pride.
Tears well up in my own eyes. I am not sure which moves me more: the approval from my usually stoic father or the rare praise my teacher doled out last night.
The Istyar is not in his office, but instead I find him in his workshop across the hall. Hunched over a table, he peers through a magnifying crystal set in a table stand, where he engraves a simple ring using a beautifully constructed knife. I stop at the door and wait, knowing that he is aware of me, but the last thing I wish to do is distract him from this exacting task.
He straightens, places the ring on a small glass plate, turns and smiles, beckoning me to come to the table by his side.
"How are you this morning, boy? Still as resilient as ever, I take it?"
"Yes, sir. I am fortunate that way. Thanks again for the celebration. I think you could tell we all enjoyed ourselves."
"Indeed. You lads are masters of subtlety when it comes to your appreciation of my food and wine. I thought you'd never leave." He chuckles. "Right then. As I said last night, we need to discuss your next steps. I would like to move you along to the masters' rites in a timely way. Tyelperinquar and I will require the best and the brightest to push forward the new project in the House of the Mírëtanor."
The indirect accolade thrills me, and I can't help but smile broadly. The Istyar has said in his roundabout way that he considers me among the "best and the brightest."
"First, you need to follow up with Master Erëtáno on your lamps. He wishes to scale up their construction, so you will need to work with him to transfer the technology. We can certainly use your lamps for late night work here in the House. The people in the city have heard of your invention, and requests are being made to the House for acquisition of 'Sámaril's lamps.' Such recognition reflects well on us," I hear the pride in the Istyar's voice. I assume this is partly on my behalf, but also because my innovation contributes to the efforts to transform Ost-in-Edhil into the Tirion of Middle-earth, Tyelperinquar and Aulendil's common goal.
"Once you have completed your work with Erëtáno, and I do not anticipate that will take long, or at least I hope it does not..." he eyes me meaningfully, "...you'll join the select smiths who, along with Tyelperinquar and myself, will craft a new kind of ring."
He then lifts the ring from the plate and holds it between his thumb and forefinger. The ring, made of a silver-mithril alloy, is plain yet exquisite in its simplicity. He rolls it around, light reflecting brilliantly from it. Then he places it in the palm of his right hand, concentrates for a moment, and the letters of his graceful script flare as the fire of stars blazes from the depths of the metal. So beautiful for such a simple thing, I think.
"Yes, it is beautiful as all the rings we craft shall be. Here is what I want you to do for the first stage of your work. I will instruct you on the casting and engraving of your first ring, and you shall practice the techniques by casting more on your own. Use the techniques I taught to you for crafting the hoe, the ploughshare and the fishing spear. Cast your thoughts into the rings: words of wisdom for example - " He looks at me skeptically. "Well, perhaps not that, but you may cast humor, good will, just simple thoughts really, into the metal as it solidifies.
"Once you have completed these to my satisfaction, I want you to make rings for your family. When you cast and engrave these, you will also cast and engrave your love and affection for them - and any other good wishes - into the rings. That is the first stage - to create these simple rings, just as the one I hold here. But you are not to tell your family of the rings' purposes or the nature of the arts you use to craft them. You must present them merely as gifts."
His expression is warm, even wistful, while he regards the ring in his palm, the star-fired letters now faded. As he strokes the silver-mithril ring with his left forefinger, I am shocked to see that tears well up in his eyes.
"Ai, never mind me. I am a sentimental fool at times." He laughs at himself. "Now go away, Sámaril, so I can complete this. Let's meet in a few days to discuss your progress with Master Erëtáno and your lamps."
The transfer of my methods to Master Erëtáno proceeds smoothly. The master is a brilliant man, and quickly sets procedures in place to scale up production of my lamps. He has a large number of apprentices and journeymen, and junior-level masters reporting to him. These men work as a team to replicate and expand my craft. Within a few weeks, the golden lamps, Sámarilo calmar, begin to replace the dim blue lights along our streets, and Ost-in-Edhil glows bright in the late winter darkness. People stop me in the streets and praise me for my invention. Such recognition adds swagger to my demeanor. And the rings, such an important project, will give me even more reason to take pride in my talent.
As promised, the Istyar takes me through the steps of casting my first ring, a simple gold and copper alloy. The engraving is more difficult. I decide to make the ring for myself, and I think of something that amuses me, and so I write a funny verse on the ring. My script isn't remotely as graceful as the Istyar's, and he notices.
"It's not that I expect you to write as well as I can for that would be impossible." The Istyar is never shy about assessing his own abilities. "But this is just ghastly, Sámaril. Now that you can cast your rings independently, try a few more, and for Manwë's sake, please practice your calligraphy on parchment every day for at least an hour. An hour! Do you understand?"
I nod sheepishly, and so I follow his instructions over the next couple of months, producing a number of rings, some plain, and some set with gemstones, some cast with my offbeat sense of humor directed toward the metal, and others with profound thoughts added. I practice my calligraphy for an hour a day. My hand steadies and over time, my script improves notably as I painstakingly engrave the rings. The Istyar checks on my progress and examines every ring, turning it over and over in his callused smith's hand. When he reads my attempts at humor in the verses, he rolls his silver eyes or smirks with a corner of his mouth cocked in a half-smile and left eyebrow arched.
The Istyar asks to see my latest ring. He scrutinizes it critically, and my letters flare as he holds the ring to his eye. As he reads the verse, his stern expression contorts and he bursts into laughter.
"By Aldaron's ass, that one is damned funny, Sámaril!" He has laughed so hard that tears track over his cheekbones, but he recovers his dignity. "The script is adequate. Now cast the rings for your family and give careful thought to those characteristics that you cast into the rings. Remember, the methods we use to craft these rings is to be confined to the Otornassë Mírëtanoron."
When I cast the rings for my family, I think of my love for them and send these thoughts to the molten gold alloy - to link into the microstructure of the solidifying metal - but I add a little something extra to each ring. For my father, I wish him comfort from all the pain he has experienced and the capacity to enjoy life a little more. For my mother, I wish calmness and peace, an anodyne to her nervousness and anxiety.
But what should I wish for my little sister? She is happy, untouched by the cares of the world. Ah! She is always complaining about her hair. She envies me with my luxuriant dark bronze locks, which I must keep trimmed so my hair doesn't grow past my waist. She says my hair is wasted on a man. Her own hair, a non-descript dark brown, tends to be lank, and she struggles to grow it out. She frets about this, and fears no man will find her appealing. I think her worry is ill-founded, because even if she is my little wren of a sister, she is pretty. Yet, if thicker, longer hair will boost her confidence, then I will cast that wish for her into her ring.
The Istyar examines the completed rings. He smiles gently when he reads the simple sentiments engraved in the metal. He claps me on the shoulder, somewhat painfully. "You are a good son and brother, Sámaril."
I give the rings to my family that evening. The rings' simple beauty and the elegant set of the gemstones impress my family. Touched by the verses that convey my love for them, my mother and father embrace me in gratitude for their gift-rings. My sister, on the other hand, is perplexed, because the verse I have chosen for her is rather obscure and uses abstract symbolism in place of direct words concerning her hair.
Smiling, I hold her hand and slip the ring onto her finger. "Just wear it for a while. Call it an 'experiment.'"
While crafting various and sundry rings, I send serious or whimsical thoughts shimmering to molten metal with each casting. As the weeks pass, I notice that my father laughs more and looks upon my mother with a renewed love. Similarly, my mother is more tranquil, and she, too, regards my father with warmth, sometimes blushing when she gazes at him. Based on the sounds I hear at night from their bedroom, I conclude their love has indeed been revitalized and rather vigorously at that. It's embarrassing yet at the same time sweet.
My sister's hair thickens, its color now a rich walnut-brown interwoven with fine strands of red-gold highlights, an unusual feature for a Noldorin woman, and it has grown at least three inches in the past six weeks. She is ecstatic and profusely thanks me for her ring, hugging me so hard that I stumble.
"Sámaril, the ring is wonderful! I know you will not - and maybe cannot - tell me much about it, but you are a wonderful brother! I love you!"
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.