Summary: Celebrimbor copes with the knowledge of Sauron's betrayal. The shadow of war drives apart and brings together. Sauron and Celebrimbor have their final confrontation, and it is revealed who survives the ruin of Eregion to make it to the valley of the riven dell.
Story Warnings: Rated NC-17, Slash, Torture, Violence, Character Death, No Happy Ending.
Characters: Celebrimbor, Aranwë, Pengolod, Celeborn, Galadriel, Sauron, Erestor, Elrond, Celebrían.
Thanks to beta readers Aayesha and Suzana.
Part 1. Midnight Awakening.
At first, Celebrimbor could not even think about the depth of the betrayal. He felt it in his body, crawling under his skin like poison, a coil of hot wire searing his heart. For Annatar had plunged into his mind and shared his other work, the One Ring, and his other name, the one the Elves had given to him long ago: Sauron. The Abhorred.
He staggered up from his bed. He heard cries of woe, then a massive crash. The floor quivered. Cursing, he flung on clothes and boots, and managed to light a lantern. As he turned to go, he chanced to look on his bed, where earlier that night Annatar - no, never again, ever Sauron - had lain beside him. Before Sauron had stepped out to make his true self known, he had, as always, straightened his side into smooth order.
With a shout of agony, Celebrimbor ripped the linens from the bed, then took up the lantern and raged from his chambers.
He hurled himself down a set of stairs and fell in with some of the Mírdain, also dashing to the main hall. Another shock was waiting there. Outside the hall, two elves were frantically binding someone slashed with a thousand cuts, and a dead elf-man was lain out beside them, in a pool of his own blood. "Did Sauron do this?" Celebrimbor cried.
The wounded elf gave him a dazed look. "Who? No - the hall - the roof—"
The growing crowd peered through the hall's high doors in dismay. For the dome of its roof was burst, the floor ankle-deep in broken glass, lead, and stone. A few of the lamps around the side were still whole, and cast a fitful light. The crowd behind Celebrimbor began to murmur, recovering from their own mind-shock. He turned to them and said, "Outside. The farriers' yard in the back. Tell everyone to gather there." Everyone was so horror-wracked that his shaky words still carried authority.
Giving orders, his mind unfroze at last. Sauron had ever aided the forces of darkness in Middle-Earth, waging ceaseless war with the Elves for all of the First Age, until Morgoth was defeated; Sauron had fled then, a craven, houseless spirit. But in years before he had tormented countless Elves and Men, and slain Finrod, Celebrimbor's honoured kinsman, Galadriel's brother. And this one had taken up the name Annatar to seduce the Elves; to seduce him; to learn all the Elves' arts. Celebrimbor clenched with nausea as he thought of their long hours in each other's arms, Annatar's gilded skin and searing touch, the way he had taken his fill times without count. Sauron's other name had been Gorthaur, the torturer; and this had been the one who knelt before him, and declared himself mastered.
"Celebri, what has happened?" one of the Mírdain asked.
"We are betrayed," Celebrimbor said. "Stay here and send any who come to the yard; we will piece this together there." He turned for a moment to the wounded and his aides, and despaired to see how a word from their lord reassured them. They did not understand that he was the one who had betrayed them. Listening to the crowd, he realized Sauron had touched all their minds, too, not just his. Then he waded into the glassy ruin of the high hall, to retrieve the Ring of Fire from the brazier where it slept.
It was some time before the Mírdain who dwelt at the hall could be gathered in the farriers' yard. Now that the hall was ruined, there was no chamber large enough for everyone to come together. Save for the dome and the hapless elves who had been at a rite of ansereg within when Sauron struck, no others were harmed, but many were still incoherent with anger or fear.
Celebrimbor, having collected his thoughts and the knowledge Sauron had burned into his mind, stood on a mounting block to speak to the crowd. Most of them were half-clad, tumbled from their beds, but here and there some mindful veterans had dug out their shields and swords. Celebrimbor tried to remember their faces, for he would need them, later. One of the farriers had passed him a rider's horn, and Celebrimbor blew it with the call of Eregion to still the crowd, who fell as hushed as death.
"Mírdain and company," he said, as loud as he could against the absorbing night. "Many of you saw Annatar ride to us last evening. This midnight, he has shown us how he deceived us. He is in sooth Sauron, our foe of old, clad in fair form." He had to sound the horn again to still the chaos of dismay that rose at his words. "Yea, this is ill news and an ill hour! For he has all knowledge of our ways and crafts. Much of it, much due to me." The crowd was still, so he went on. "Worse, he has found a way to control the greatest of our works, the Rings of Power."
"Did he steal them?" someone yelled.
"No! We have them still!" He held up the Ring of Fire, and prayed to Aüle that the other Rings remained where hidden. "But his will is hooked to them. To wield them now is to be drawn into his power. Who else felt him reach with his burning to tell of his One Ring and bid us kneel to him?" He had to blow the horn a third time to bring the crowd to order again. After leading so long, he was able to speak to persuade even when he felt his heart perishing within him. "Take heart! Sauron is not Morgoth, merely one of his servants. Maia though he be, we shall triumph against him, with counsel and alliance. We shall scout and find where he skulks, and what he has readied against us, and we shall gird ourselves against his wiles. Our craft is great, and even if we may not wield the Rings, we are strengthened by them." The Ring he held aloft burned like a red star of war in his hand. All there were swayed by his words and his resolute, red-lit face in that moment, and roared in approval.
"I go now to counsel in Ost-in-Edhil and with other lords. We shall speak again at mid-day. Friend farrier, ready me a horse! The rest of you, ready this hall for defence, and yourselves for war!"
Celebrimbor remained on the block while the crowd thinned. He did not feel that he lied, but his words rang hollow to him. Stepping down, he saw two old campaigners who had armed themselves well before joining the throng. He went to fortify himself with a word to them, and paused when he realized one of them was not a Mírdain. No, this was the fellow of Lindon Celebrimbor had aided years before, loremaster and errand-rider. By his green cloak, this was the self-same rider who had gone discreetly to Celeborn a week and a day past. Nausea struck him again; what would the tale-teller carry away? Was he betrayed from every side, this hour?
The loremaster was keenly lecturing one of his smiths, gesturing with a short-bow to emphasise his words. "Despite the fine words your lord has, he is wrong in this: Sauron was no mere servant. But he speaks true about war."
The smith, Aranwë, pressed his own temples, a shield on one arm, an unsheathed sword propped against his leg. "Ai, give me a moment, Pengolod. My head still burns."
Celebrimbor stepped forward grimly. "Yes, rider of Lindon. I did not know your errands to Gil-Galad and Celeborn brought you here."
Aranwë glanced up, bewildered, as Pengolod whipped around. "Lord Celebrimbor," he gasped, and bowed. "I would say well met, lord, except—"
Celebrimbor cut him short with a hard gesture. "You were at the Mírdain's rite for Annatar. I remember you. How much do you know, about the Rings, and what has happened tonight?"
"All the tale of their making, lord, and all that you said to the crowd here," Pengolod said.
"And will you take the tale of this to Celeborn as well?" Celebrimbor growled.
"My duty was to take messages to Celeborn, not to spy for him. I am at your hall on my own errand, lord." Pengolod's voice was steady, but he did not meet Celebrimbor's eyes. For a moment the elf-lord was wroth, thinking that it was a lesser liar who waited on his word. But he felt the ring Narya flare in his clenched hand, and saw true where Pengolod glanced for forgiveness: at Aranwë.
The quick look the two elf-men before Celebrimbor exchanged was a small thing, small but true. All the emotion Celebrimbor had tamped down burned him again, the unutterable agony of the great betrayal, the despair at being unloved and used. He collected himself. "Well, since you are here, you shall be of use to me. You shall be the one to tell Gil-Galad of what has passed this night; I assume you would tell him anyway. Stay at this hall until I summon you. Speak to none of the trade-riders of Lindon about what you have seen tonight. Aranwë, he is in your keeping. Make sure he bides by my words." The smith murmured assent and bowed.
"Aught that I might do to aid you, lord, I shall," Pengolod said, bowing again.
Celebrimbor dismissed them and watched them go. Pengolod had turned to Aranwë and put aside his noble manners to say, "What your lord said about Celeborn - I can explain…" He felt that Aranwë would forgive his friend for his silence. And some good might come of it; unlike his own choice. A farrier brought him a horse, and he mounted up, to ride into the heart of the night.
Part 2. The Garden of Celeborn.
Celebrimbor paused at the cross-roads between Ost-in-Edhil and the lowlands of Eregion. The grey destrider he rode snorted and stamped in the chill before dawn. The Council in the city, he knew, would support him; some might have already had the strange news. All at the hall of the Mírdain had supported him as well, stood by him as their lord, and after his deeds that felt so wrong it made him ill. Celeborn was not his friend nor his ally. But it was easier to wake one lord than to collect a council of forty-eight in the hours before dawn. Better to get the worst out of the way, he thought, and look Celeborn in the eye as he, no lesser messenger, gave the evil news. He touched the horse's neck gently, and it began to trot on the downwards road.
Celeborn had not retired for the night when he arrived. Like many Sindar and wood-elves, he preferred dusk and starlight to the glare of day. Without the burdens of governance, he kept those twilight hours. Celebrimbor looked about curiously as a servant took him through the house of Celeborn's choosing, more a set of half-open pavilions than a dwelling with walls. When they came to a garden courtyard, the servant struck a silver bell and left without a word.
"This is unforeseen, Lord of Eregion," said Celeborn, rising from his meditations beneath a tree. "To what do I owe the honour?"
Celebrimbor stepped into the courtyard, placing his smith's boots as lightly as he might on the mossy pathway. "Have you sensed any disturbances about the land tonight, Lord of Trees?"
Celeborn's feet were bare, and he did not bruise the delicate plants when he stepped up to meet the chief of the Mírdain. "I have sensed many strange things these past days. I am not artless, for all that I am not a smith. Explain."
This took some time. Celeborn knew less of the doings of the Mírdain than Celebrimbor had expected, but one or two of the lesser Rings had been used in the lowlands, so he was well aware of their magics. The most delicate part was speaking of his lustful congress with Sauron, admitting that it was after their long sport that evening past when Sauron had taken up his One Ring and made his will known.
At the end of it, Celeborn said nothing. He drifted back to the tree, a birch hung with catkins and silvery new leaves. "Why do you bring this news to me? I am not one of your lords any more, and not on your Council. Nor am I Galadriel, to counsel you in how to handle your strange craft gone awry."
"I remember your arts when you were the chief lord here. You were forester and seneschal - and a leader in war," said Celebrimbor.
Celeborn shook his head. "That was not what Eregion needed. War never came, in my day."
"Weapons are my art more than war, and war will return as well." Celebrimbor shivered. "Neither of us are fools; we have played a long game, you and I. I know you maintain separate league with Gil-Galad, you take audiences with those who have grievances. The lowlands' populace has grown since you moved here." Celebrimbor knelt and held his hands open, beseeching. "Celeborn, one who I thought my ally has betrayed me more than I thought possible. I do not even trust myself, any more. We were never friends. But you were true to Eregion even when Eregion turned from you. Will you aid us?"
Celeborn fingered a branch of the tree, and he seemed to muse at random. "Life is a strange thing, is it not? Once I was the Lord here, with my golden beloved by my side; then you, with the treasure of your heart beside you. And now we are both dispossessed." He looked up. "What would you have me do?"
"You say you cannot counsel me about the Rings," Celebrimbor said. "Would you go to Galadriel, and ask her advice?"
Celeborn inhaled sharply, and was silent for a time. "Ask for other succor from me. There are more walls than the doors of Moria between she and I." He snapped a twig from the birch. "If you feel such counsel needsome, you must send another."
Celebrimbor nodded, even as more shame weighed the pit of his stomach at further misery that could be traced to Sauron's machinations. "With your leave. But promise me this; that you will return to Ost-in-Edhil, and take my seat on the Council, while I journey to her."
Celeborn looked at him again at that, surprised, and Celebrimbor shrugged. Eluding that he had said he would go to Galadriel, Celebrimbor pleaded, "They need someone, I see it already. Disaster makes people seek leaders, and such a leader you have been."
"Disaster," Celeborn mulled. "More than that it will be, if war comes to this land. We are ill-protected on three sides, open hills and plains, and the fame of Eregion's treasures is legend. If the growing darkness of the lands about gains a guide in Sauron, then disaster is on our steps indeed."
It was strange that Celeborn's grim words reassured him, but they did; the truth was the truth, for all its direness. Dawn was starting as a touch of grey against the sky. "Will you ride to Ost-in-Edhil with me? We need to set the Council in motion."
Celeborn tucked the budding birch-twig behind one ear, and gave a last look at his garden; barely tended, lonely, yet peaceful. It came to Celebrimbor that this was the garden of someone who had hewn with war-blades enough to never want to strike anything down again, even the least plant. Celeborn was silent until he passed over the garden's threshold, respectful enough of its peace to leave it entirely before calling his servant for travel garb and weapons.
3. The Glade of Galadriel.
When Celebrimbor passed through Khazad-dûm, the swiftest road to Galadriel in Lorinánd, he felt as if his shadow grew longer. It was a relief to be among the Dwarves who respected his silence. The comfort he felt among them increased his guilt. With no orders to give and no leaders to charm, nothing to do but trudge through the depths and think, he ran through all his actions again and again. At first he thought there had been no hint of Sauron's treachery in their many years together, but the pieces came together, undeniable. Subtle words that seemed to reach for peace; greater knowledge than the Children of Arda should have; most of all, the strange looks of resentment and denial that had drifted across Sauron's face as they lay together or engaged in ansereg. The trap had been laid, and he had walked into it, and claimed it proudly as his own.
By the time he left through the East-gate, he was convinced that there was no greater traitor, living nor dead, amongst his folk. Not even the radiance of the three Rings which he bore, looped together on a chain around his neck, could light his despair.
He emerged from the East-gate into a grey dawn; the valley of Lorinánd was draped in a thick white mist, and he passed down the path to its vales as silently as a ghost. An elf-sentry clad in mithrim-grey greeted him with a gesture at the vales of the valley's forest, and bid him follow. After the coal-smoked airs of Khazad-dûm, the forest's mist was refreshing. Its soft coolness against his face made him feel all the more sullied.
The glade they entered was entirely natural. Even the rock where Galadriel had her seat was raw and mossy, not a worked chair. The sentry left Celebrimbor there, stiff with astonishment, as Galadriel rose to greet him.
"Did you think I would not sense your coming? Like calls to like," she said, touching the brooch of the Elessar that she wore. "I do not know what it is you carry, but it is your greatest work yet, I ween."
He shivered to look on her, paler far than he remembered, and to hear her chill voice. "My most infamous, it may yet be, if you cannot aid me - aid us," he said.
"Eregion would not have me," she said, expressionless.
Celebrimbor inhaled. "Matters are changing again. I gave Celeborn my chair at the Council myself. He has the chief word in Eregion for now, and they are glad of him, I gather." Galadriel's eyes lit with curious hunger at these words of her husband, and he was both glad and despairing at the sight. "Let me tell you the tale."
Again, it took some time to explain. The story spilled out of him, longer than he had told it to any other, for he added many of the remembrances and thoughts that came to him as he walked Khazad-dûm.
Galadriel was calm when his self-castigating tale was done. "So it was Sauron who deceived you. I thought it a lesser servant of Morgoth, some trickster sent to seduce your heart."
Celebrimbor asked, anguished, "Why did you say nothing?"
"I, who turned you away, tell you to reject your lover? It was not only your own affairs that were soothed by Annatar's passions! Would you have listened?"
Before, Celebrimbor would have shouted that of course he would have, but the triple sparkle of the Rings over his heart seemed to warn him from that. "No. I would have thought it was Celeborn's words in your mouth; his dislike of ansereg, of smiths, of me." He looked up. "I misread him much."
"Misread who?" Galadriel asked.
"Celeborn. And Annatar - no, Sauron - as well." Celebrimbor took the Rings off their chain and laid them upon his palm, holding his hand out to her. "These are the Rings I described to you. We dare not wear them to use them, lest our minds be laid bare to Sauron. What is your counsel? How can we free them from the bond of Sauron's will?"
Galadriel stepped forward, and a touch of rose flushed her face as she held her hand over Celebrimbor's outstretched palm. He watched her close her eyes and read the power in the jewels, saw her wince as she felt the link to Sauron's own power within them, and drew his hand away.
"You cannot undo what you have done," she declared. "I have never heard tell of a thing of power such as this being unlocked, to free what is within it; to try is to destroy."
Celebrimbor closed his hand around the rings. "No! We will be diminished, if we do; all the Elves who remain, all us exiles. There must be a way!"
"Ai, Celebrimbor!" she cried. "Ever do you run contrary! If I told you to treasure them forever, would you unmake them?" She paused for a moment. "May I see them again?"
Celebrimbor opened his sweating hand, and she picked up the ring Nenya. At her touch, a light breeze swept the glade, thinning the mist enough so that the grey veils of it turned to white, the sun milky and luminous as it rose. "If only we might gain the One Ring," she murmured. "But if it has the same call that these fair things do, he will not willingly be riven from it." She replaced the ring in Celebrimbor's hand and looked him in the eyes.
"If you would not unmake them, do not keep them in Eregion. Hide them. Sauron has said he will return to claim them. Knowing that Sauron moves again explains many things. I have felt a fell force to the South, far from the Greenwood. Wanderers say that a mountain there smokes like the pits of Morgoth did once."
Celebrimbor gazed into her face, framed by her light golden hair, waved and disordered in the humid morning. "They shall go to Lindon," he said, with a pang. "When I send Gil-Galad news that I have betrayed us, when he feels these Rings, he might understand. If I am bringing war on the Elves, I would show him it was not my intent, at least."
A small smile touched Galadriel's face. "Ever the diplomat, when you cared to be, Celebri."
He took courage from the fragment of approval. "Will you come back and aid us? Celeborn - well, I'd miss you, if you were mine." Galadriel walked away from him a few steps, withdrawn, but whether at the mention of Celeborn or his own yearning, he could not tell.
"Galadriel. Don't be angry at me for saying that. I never chose to love you as I did. Much of what I loved in you - I thought I had found it again in him. The strong will, the love of craft, such fair golden beauty. Such pride. I thought we'd stand in legend beside Thingol and Melian." He saw her appalled at the comparison, and went on hastily. "And I was never more wrong. No, I was only right when I said to you once it was not for me to be loved. For you see what my seeking love has brought to us all."
Galadriel sighed. "Oh, Celebri. It still hurts me to hear you say that. Do not blame love or passion, nor even your ansereg, for this betrayal." Her eyes narrowed. "Blame the lies of evil, that seek to deceive and empty our hearts, that they be cold as the Void."
"I blame myself," said Celebrimbor, "and I will do penance for my blindness."
They were both silent in the glade; the full-risen sun had dissolved the last of the mists.
"You will not come back?" he asked again.
Galadriel took on the same look of hurt. "I suppose you're the last person he'd give a message for me."
Celebrimbor had no reply to that. He had not asked if Celeborn wanted to send one, and she spoke on. "Then I will not, just yet. I will aid you from here. We will ward the passes and the river banks; we will send our scouts forth, and gather in the wanderers. There is much to do."
Celebrimbor held out the ring of the Three she had chosen. "Take this one. Its name is Nenya, the Ring of Water."
She held up a hand in an ambiguous gesture, seemingly pushing away, yet stretched out towards the jewel. "Too rich a gift by far, Celebri."
"Please! Even if you cannot wield it fully, it has its virtues. And dividing where they hide makes them harder for Sauron to find," he said, "You are one of the few strong enough to endure him, I ween; like to a Maia yourself."
She reached out and accepted the jewel, and he held his breath at the brush of her fingers again. "I will guard this Ring; and we will hold the Anduin, and send our own scouts to the South. We will see how much we might hope, in the days to come. Will you take the other Rings to Lindon yourself?"
"No; even with Celeborn in my chair, I am needed in Eregion. There are others who will ride for me."
Part 4. An Errand-Rider's Farewell.
Two ridings to Lindon were assembled at the stables of Ost-in-Edhil. The trade party had been bid to stay until Celebrimbor's return. Now they were free to ride out. Another group would leave at the same time, riding hard and fast; twenty-four knights of Eregion, in red livery and golden armour, each with a swift white horse, to bring tidings and a precious burden to their King, Gil-Galad. All the knights carried a ring on a wallet fixed fast inside his armour. Only two of them were the true Elven-Rings.
"Very fair and noble your riders are," said Pengolod. "A shame I go with them; I ruin the look of it." He scratched the nose of his piebald mare, no noble's steed but swift enough to keep up with the burdened knights, and adjusted the pannier of scrolls she carried. Celebrimbor was sending a great deal to Gil-Galad; maps, trade notes, not least messages and warnings that Pengolod carried in memory only. "It is good of you to come and see me off, Aranwë." He gave the trade riders a shrewd look. "I'd forgotten that the traders had a spare horse. You could come along with with them - they'd appreciate another sword for their defence, I think. And you'd have a fine welcome in Lindon. I'd make sure of that."
Aranwë had borne no grudge about Pengolod's errand to Celeborn, and that was well in the days of waiting they had endured. The embraces that had been their pleasance in the days after the Rings were made became a desperate refuge after Sauron's will was known. The two survivors understood, more than many others, what horror and loss war might bring.
Aranwë shook his head. "I'm a terrible rider. I would be more hindrance than help. And I do not have your luck." He grew more somber. "You have been a boon companion to me. But I have my duty, as you have yours. I am Celebrimbor's man, and sworn to the Mírdain. We are the ones who placed all our folk in peril. It is our place to take the brunt of what may come." They both looked up as one of the knights blew a silver horn with the proud call of Eregion. The noble riders began to clamber onto their horses.
Aranwë helped Pengolod mount, then gave him a harrowed look. "If it comes to war - again - then try to forgive…"
Pengolod did not let go of Aranwë's arm, looking down into his eyes. "Gondolindhri, I forgave you long ago."
They remained so, one standing and one mounted, until the horn sounded for a second time, calling the riders to assemble. After one last firm grasp, the two elf-men let go. Pengolod rode to take his place in the middle of the double line of knights.
The horn sounded its third time. All the knights clashed their pikestaffs against their shields, moving as one, and their horses stamped forwards together. Pengolod's mare matched their pace but not their stride, seeming amused by all the fuss, and the loremaster turned back with a wave and a call. "I'll see you again when I need more pen-tips!" Aranwë was not the only one laughing at that as the riding left. When they were gone, those who remained felt doubly diminished, bereft of both splendour and mirth.
Part 5. A Long Noose.
Later, the survivors remembered the century before the Elves' nameless war with Sauron as both a long torment and as time that sped by like a bitter draught, swallowed quickly.
First, messengers came, mortal Men as presentable as Sauron could muster. Three times they came to Eregion, demanding in the words of Sauron that the Elves enter leaguer, or give up their Rings, since they could not have been wrought without the aid Sauron had given them. Each time, the messengers warned that declining this offer would lead to war. Each time, they were refused.
Sauron seethed at their unwise lack of gratitude, and set his plans in motion.
In Lindon, the gulls cried, the shipwrights hammered and the ships sailed. Some went to plead to Numenor for aid, and some to carry ever more Elves over Sea, away from the shadow growing.
Pengolod's scribes had fewer children to teach, and then none, for Elves did not bear children in times of war. Instead, the loremasters were put to teaching those who would be soldiers the languages of Eriador, to drawing maps, and to writing down all their tales, lest their knowledge perish with them.
Sauron had much of the Elves' lore, now. He knew how the loremasters would aid the forces of the Eldar, and told his troops of Men and Orcs that there was a bounty for the sage-cloaked teachers, whether prisoners or corpses.
In the glades of Lorinánd, fallen wood was raised into flets far from the ground. Wandering wood-elves took refuge there, and took up arms, bending choice branches into bows, fletching arrows from the reeds of the streams. Galadriel watched the shadow growing in the South. She took up her scrying then, spinning spells of warding and foreseeing, dipping into the secret knowledge another Maia, Melian, had given her long ago. If she had any aid beyond that knowledge, she never spoke of it, but the wards of Lorinánd soon became renowned.
Sauron cursed Galadriel. He knew he would not take the east-gate of Khazad-dûm, nor the pass of Caradhras into Eregion, while she warded the lands about. His road to war was made longer, and he turned his thoughts westwards.
In Eregion, stone was hewn and walls were raised. Wire was pulled, mail-shirts were ringed, and the water-wheels of the Mírdain spun to polish not jewels but blades and armour. Aranwë took up sword-smithing again, and had no idle moments. Those who made jewels made them to tempt the Dwarves, cutting stones to trade for steel and nickel, and Celebrimbor used all his wiles in trade and diplomacy with Khazad-dûm. Celeborn let the Mírdain hew down trees of his treasured lowland oak-glades to fire their forges; better them, he said, than the orcs of Sauron. He even sacrificed many of the holly trees as wood for the hardest weapon handles, but he bid the holly-hedges of the borders grow thorny and high.
Sauron hearkened to his spies, and knew the troops of the Eldar would be terrible, neither giving nor taking quarter. He lashed the Orcs to a frenzy of mad despise, and warned the Men of the cruel ways of Elves, calling them selfish and undeserving of their eternal lives, tempting would-be fighters with tales of the rich booty that awaited in Eregion.
Amongst the Elves, the fearful sought courage and the proud sought penance in the circles of ansereg. There was little lightness to it, but the desperation of old, and for none more than for the Mírdain. The tiles of the round hall of the Mírdain were swept clean of every shard, and the silver chains raised again. They could not spare to repair the glittering dome, so the hall stood roofless, and they hardened themselves with ansereg beneath the wind and the cold, starry sky.
Sauron did not plan to waste time with torment, as he had sported with elf-prisoners in days gone by. If the Elves were not his allies, he would not tolerate their disorder. He would simply destroy them. There was only one elf he would spare the time to torment; after all his patience, he thought he could allow himself the luxury.
And ever the lands about the elf-realms grew more perilous. In the wilds between, warg and wolf roamed, at war with bear and eagle. Bats and crebain-crows harried the messenger-doves and grey finches of the elves. Men took up strange sigils and spilt blood in rites of worship, or fled to the coasts of the Sea, to serve the proud men from over the water, lest they lie upon the altars of sacrifice. Grass grew tall on the trade roads, hammered flat by horses and ox-wains no more. Against all this, the Dwarves closed their doors and grew more secret than ever. But the hammering of their forges made the earth tremble.
The orcs roamed, the trolls came down from the North. The wind from the South bore strange traces of ash and sulphur-clouds. Sunrises were clouded and sunsets were blood-stained, and for the first time Elvish scouts saw and named Mordor and Orodruin. If the Elves appeared in Eriador far from their realms, they were hunted; then they were hunted near their borders as the noose drew tight.
And Sauron came forth from Barad-Dur at last, bringing a black sea of war.
A great march could not be swift, and Sauron's forces were scouted well in advance. The messenger-birds flew forth to Lindon, to Lorinánd, to the high towers of Khazad-dûm, and forester and jewel-smith united for defence. Their strategy, like the lost Rings, had three desperate parts. All knew that if aid did not come in time, then to walk in the troops of Eregion was to be walking to the halls of Mandos.
The black sea of war broke on Eregion before any replies were received.
Part 6. The Glamhoth.
"My lord, look hither," said Elrond's esquire, "The holly-hedge of Eregion still stands. Greater than I thought, twice the height of an elf."
"So our race is ended. Have we won it?" Elrond murmured. He turned back and looked over his following host of Elves; the glittering army stretched for a mile and longer, along the old road they had battened down again. They were striking for the same place that Sauron's forces sought, the southwestern borders of Eregion, a late-called rally to aid the army of Celeborn. "Where are the last of the scouts?" He peered amongst the low hills.
Even as he spoke, a rider came tearing up from the south, cloak streaming behind, three other riders following. For a moment they thought it was the full group of scouts returning, but then the rider in the lead turned and shot an arrow at one of those who followed. Elrond shouted for archers, and more mounted warriors leapt out. The sortie was swift. The elves' phalanx of riders met the horse in the lead, then turned to pursue those who had hunted the elf-rider. Soon only the returning scout was left to canter up to the great company, to the banners that showed where Elrond stood.
"My lord," he gasped, "We are shafted! Sauron has come before us, and Celeborn is pressed to despair. But half a league away they fight."
"How many, and what kinds?"
The rider said, "Ai, a very glamhoth, a seething sea of black, legions of Orcs, and many horsed mortals. Celeborn's force dismays them, for Sauron's forces have never fought Elves in their lives. They hold only by cunning, but the hedge is unbroken yet."
"We will join our force to his, forwards and fast!" Elrond turned about and roared his orders, and the elf-force swung about like a cloud at the wind's command. As they all flowed forward, he turned to the scout, on his lathered horse. "You must show us the way. The other scouts fell?"
Pengolod nodded, and Elrond cursed at that. "An ill war already for you loremasters."
"None better to scout, we who can speak with those we meet," said Pengolod, though white with grief and near-black with mud from a fall. It was no hour to mourn.
They went around the curving, brush-clad hills until they heard the shrieks and howls of the forces of Sauron. Then the heralds blew the horn-call of Lindon, and readied for the thrust. It was the force of Celeborn that they came upon from the west, tight against the endless holly-hedge. Beyond Eregion's varied livery, they saw the glamhoth, the din-horde. Elrond cursed, and cursed again, for their company, though it trebled the force still standing, was still outmanned by far.
But Sauron's commanders did not know the limit of Elrond's troops, and they took greater alarm than he anticipated. The glamhoth clambered back as Elrond's forces fell upon them. Celeborn was no craven, but retreat was all that could be salvaged for his twice-decimated troops. Soon he and Elrond, led to his banner by the scout, met in the midst of their forces. After the two greeted, Elrond scanned the confused host of darkness. "It is as I have heard, Lord Celeborn; in Eregion you do nothing by halves," and they laughed together bitterly.
"Lord Celeborn, none of the Mírdain ride with you?" asked Pengolod. "I see none in their livery."
"They stand with those who defend the city and the byres about - and their high hall," said Celeborn, grimly.
The glamhoth shrieked in triumph even as they retreated, and the two commanders turned to see what caused their glee. "Smoke?" said Celeborn. He looked up at the hedge they defended; its leaves were beginning to curl.
With a dragon's roar, uncanny fire swept from the East along the hedge, and the elf-troops jumped from it. The orcs of the glamhoth shrieked, and the men roared. Half the dark troops swung out of retreat and stamped to the East, where the fire was kindled on the broken hedge. Their Master had given them their signal.
The other half turned towards the elf-troops again.
Part 5. The Curse of Celebrimbor.
Sauron did not mind that his troops were screaming in chaos behind him. They knew their place in the order of things; that was the important part. At the midpoint between Ost-in-Edhil and the house of the Mírdain, Sauron used his keen vision to see the changes the Elves had made against him. Ost-in-Edhil was now walled and gated, and the house of the Mírdain was ringed with tall, thorn-guarding holly. It seemed that Celeborn and Celebrimbor had exchanged their crafts in each others' defence. He gestured towards the hall on the high hill, and his forces trampled forwards, yelling in eagerness, hammering at their shields, until they drew near. They fell silent when Sauron dismounted and strode up to the holly; it was eerie to be able to hear the click of his encasing black armour, and the whistling wind in the branches.
The hedge was broken once for an entry, and that was barred with felled holly trees, a road of thorns. Sauron lifted the hand that bore the Ring, his left hand, and gestured. The trees before him exploded into flames. The glamhoth renewed their din at that, and Sauron waded through, unscathed, as his fire spread to the ringing hedge. He emerged to the house of the Mírdain before him.
The golden doors reflected the fire, shimmering red. And on the red granite stairs, Celebrimbor himself stood, armoured to the teeth, sword flaming like copper, the stair's two guard-hounds baying and slavering at his side.
"Ill met, servant of darkness!" Celebrimbor cried. "Come forth and be defied, as your master was!"
Sauron removed his shielding helm, and smiled to see Celebrimbor's wrath double at recognizing him. His visage was brighter than the fire; revealed, he lit his armour like a bonfire in a furnace, his hair flowing like molten gold.
Celebrimbor recovered. "Nay, ill met, my leman! You always did keep my bed warm, and now you look like to do the same for all my hall."
Sauron hissed at that, eyes glittering green, but saw the fey mood on Celebrimbor. His leman's wiles would serve him well in this hour.
"Yea, hotter than ever I burn," said Sauron, holding up the hand with the radiant Ring. "Come! I give you one last chance to best me. Show me that you can master me truly! Defeat me here and now, and this Ring is yours, and I don your collar again." The Ring taunted on one hand, worn proudly over an armoured glove, and his other hand threatened with a black mace of steel.
With a roar of fury, Celebrimbor leapt forth to meet him, and they fought. Sauron knew that they were watched by his troops and the few who stood the hopeless siege in the hall. The armour of each defied their blows, but Sauron knew the elf's limits better than anyone. So he feinted and parried, swaying with a lover's grace even in his black armour. He knew how long Celebrimbor could strive until he tired, and then he struck out, with his mace on one side and the fire of the Ring on the other. Celebrimbor's leap away from the flame brought him smack into the mace's strike. Sauron struck again, and the mace smote the elf-man to his knees.
As they fought, a ring of orcs had surrounded them, screaming and spitting for their master. At Sauron's gesture, hooked hands reached out to grapple downed Celebrimbor, ten orcs mauling at him. They turned him to watch as Sauron walked to stand before the stairs of the Mírdain. The hounds, faithful beyond terror, were crushed by swats from Sauron's mace. Then Sauron gestured with his Ring-wielding hand, and blasted the golden doors from their hinges.
In the silence that followed, he stepped into the hall, and gestured to his minions; heaving up struggling Celebrimbor, they followed.
Sauron walked through the house of the Mírdain at his leisure. He knew where everything was, except for the Rings of Power; the elves had not changed much in a hundred years. He used his Maia's senses to track the Rings, or so he thought; only the nine Rings of Men did he find, not in one of the treasuries, but buried in a sack of barleycorn, grain reaped each year like mortals' lives. They were the only ones he was able to sense in the area. As he had planned, it was time for his indulgence. Celebrimbor was waiting for him.
Sauron ignored the tools of ansereg that hung in places, the whips and the flails and the straps, the clips, the intimate rings and roundels, and all the other devices of the elves' refined torments. What he took up, gathering in one arm, were the tools of the jewel-smiths. He took the leather straps of the polishers, reels of fine golden wire, and tongs and pincers; and he took up the acids of the engravers.
Calmly, he went to the great round hall of the Mírdain. Its air was polluted with smoke from Sauron's burning, pooling grey between the high walls. The shrieking orcs were there, and they had stripped Celebrimbor of his armour and its padding, leaving but his loincloth. They dropped silent with terror as their master entered. Sauron's metal-clad feet clicked on the tiles as he walked up to Celebrimbor, pinned and prone. Scuttling minions took his burdens from him, and he placed both hands on his hips.
"Where are my Rings?" Sauron asked.
Celebrimbor snarled in silent defiance, his glance the pure hatred of the heart-betrayed.
Sauron looked at the open roof. The steel span still hung across it, and the two silver chains dangled down, blackening as the smoke clung to them. "How convenient," he murmured.
Soon, Celebrimbor was forced to standing between the chains, with much amusement for Sauron as he ceaselessly tried to shake off the Orcs, and bound at ankles, wrists, and knees to the chains' length. A furnace-poker worked into the bonds spread Celebrimbor's legs. The polishers' leather straps drew tight as Celebrimbor struggled. Then the orcs lay the things Sauron had brought at their lord's feet, and withdrew, to ring the hall and watch their lord at his sport.
Celebrimbor ceased his writhing. He had known, when he stood forth at the Mírdain's gates, that he more than like went to his death, a feint to tempt Sauron's wrath away from Ost-in-Edhil. Sauron's challenge had given him desperate hope, and the defeat had smote him back into his despair. Now, the longer he endured, the longer he could stand Sauron's attentions, the less regard Sauron gave to his other forces, and the more chance others had. He lifted his hung head and glanced at Sauron, whose radiant glimmer had fallen into an evil brassy glow. With a crooked smile, he twisted his bound hands, and clasped the chains.
Sauron tilted back his beautiful head and laughed. "I wondered if you would enjoy this! Well do I remember when you asked me, more than once, if I would deal out your torments. Your hour is come. Unless you tell me where my Rings are, I will show you ansereg beyond your dreams."
"Ansereg is not torment," said Celebrimbor.
"Then how will it aid you now?" asked Sauron. Celebrimbor was silent; faced with true torment, he could not say.
Sauron took off his black steel gauntlets, and held up to Celebrimbor the Ring he had striven for, striven and failed, and ostentatiously replaced it on one finger. Then he lifted a coil of golden wire in one hand, and wire clippers in the other, and snipped off some long lengths. Celebrimbor braced as the clippers ran over his skin, then snipped at his loincloth's laces over his hips. The last of his modesty fell away, to the glamhoth's mocking cries. Worse was the dreadful, intimate touch of the one he had come to despise, handling his member, twining the wire around him there, binding and pinching.
"You betray me with your silence, Celebrimbor. What of the vaunted oath of the Mírdain? Thy works are my works, thy secrets are my secrets, and I am bound to thee." Sauron wired Celebrimbor's nipples, and the elf-man hissed as the flesh was wrapped as if with knives. "Now you are bejewelled as I once was. And I hated you then as much as you hate me now. Go on and hate me more," he urged. Sauron ran his Ring-bearing hand over him, and the wires twined around him seared like lightning. The metal Mírdan's collar around his neck blazed, a loop of pain. His entire body jolted back against the chains, and he voiced a beast's howl of suffering. Sauron repeated the gesture, and he dropped the chains, for the evil power coursed through that metal as well, scorching him.
"Where are the Rings? I have my Nine; where are my Seven?"
The lightning-pain jolted Celebrimbor again, and he felt his flesh go sickeningly dead for an instant. Then his body screamed once more, and he jerked at the undreamed-of agony, beyond any trial he had known. He sold his making for a moment's respite, hating himself as much as Sauron. "The deepest quarry," he moaned. They were hid there amongst the stones.
Sauron smiled sweetly. "And my Elven-Rings?" Celebrimbor forced himself to look at Sauron, radiant with triumph. He listened to the glamhoth's cackles, and realized that he hung in the very place he had stood to make those rings, where his Mírdain had poured themselves into him. "You never touched them; no matter what I did, they were never yours," he rasped, and turned his head to the side, biting one of the leather straps that hung from his bound hands.
Celebrimbor felt Sauron's malice as the tormentor stooped and took up a glass phial. He thought himself about to be ravished or violated, with the aid of some probing oil, and lifted his head proud to endure. Sauron perceived his thought and sneered. "Always your thoughts turn to lust, elf-man. Lust and care dissolved your torments into weak echoes, an illusion of mastery. " He stepped achingly close to Celebrimbor, his warm armour brushing naked, sweat-stained skin. "I am purer than you at the arts of pain. For I need no other pleasure."
Then Sauron opened the phial; the stopper was attached to a wand of glass. The jeweller on the chains of torture froze in recognition at the fluid's smell. He understood his torturer's sadism, and despaired. Sauron stepped back and stroked the glass softly against Celebrimbor's belly as he hung. And the elf-man shrieked as the phial's acid burned him.
Sauron stroked the frail glass wand against him, again and again, engraving even lines into his skin. Before each stroke, he repeated his question, and gave three heart-beats for a reply before the acid-glistening glass touched. Only once did Celebrimbor peer down in horror at Sauron's work on his body. As Sauron knew him, he knew Sauron. Not even this was disorderly; after Sauron had painted nine lines, he set himself to a row of seven. There would be an acid-stroke for each Ring. He screwed his eyes shut to scream further, twisting helpless on the chains, rearing back from his own flesh smoking beneath the acid.
Sauron painted a last line against Celebrimbor's heart, painted it twice. As Celebrimbor hung, and screamed himself raw, the crystal insight of pain came upon him. He embraced it as a friend, known from the lesser torments he had endured in daring before. It was like finding a road beneath his feet again, and he clasped his twisted hands around the chains once more. He spoke without thinking, in the howl of a riven oracle. "Curse you, Sauron, and your betrayal of our long art! May you fall by the very things you feigned to betray us!"
Sauron sneered. "What, by the foolishness of one who kneels in your circles of watered-down torment?"
"No. By trust. Endurance. Strength. Mercy. Yea, mercy for those as the weak and crawling, compared to you, as you feigned for the Children of Arda."
"Mercy does not down power. You Elves will not conquer with it!" He struck Celebrimbor across the face, hard, and snarled to see him roll with the pain. "For the last time, answer me! Or I will torment you to your death."
Celebrimbor, breath sawing hard, tears of agony seeping from his eyes, said nothing.
"Your silence is my answer. For I know you. You always sent the fairest things you made away, to be admired by others, and spread your fame about." Sauron snapped his fingers for his gauntlets, and a minion handed them up; he donned them again, stroking the razor-claws at their tips. "I can guess who you hope to spare; your High King. I am glad to see you turn to order at last, at the end." Celebrimbor's face opened in an expression of ruin, and Sauron's laugh rang out, hollow and fell.
Sauron spread out the clawed fingers of the hand that bore the Ring on Celebrimbor's chest, below the collar-bones, where he bore two faint scars. With the gauntlet claws, very slowly, Sauron opened up the scars again so that the red blood ran, then hooked one claw under the skin. "How long will you hold onto your chains for me?"
In Lorinánd, Galadriel knelt, bowed double, one hand cupping the Elessar she wore upon her breast. The gem had suddenly burned hot upon her skin. When she touched it with her hand, the fragment of Celebrimbor inside it had been shrilling with agony. She had let the pain slide into her; it must be an evil torment, for her to feel this, when its maker's pleasures and pain had left the jewel shimmering calm before. There was no way to know what was happening to him from the gem's spark, and she staggered up, trying to collect herself enough to scry, not knowing how long she had knelt.
As she stood, the gem went cool. The pain was gone. Nothing of it was left but the tears sheeting down her face. She undid the Elessar's clasp and looked at it. Perhaps it was her tear-blurred vision, but it seemed that, though the gem bore its enchantment still, there were fewer bars of light in its heart.
Feet softly shook the ladder of the tree-house where she stood, and her daughter's silver head peered up through the entry. "Celebrían. What news of the troops?"
"They should be midway through Khazad-dûm, mustering with the Dwarves. The same as this morning, Mama. What have you seen?"
Galadriel clenched the white ring she wore on a chain, to strengthen herself for the words. "Celebrimbor is perished."
"What about Father?" her daughter cried.
"We shall find out. The hour of my wards is past! Gather a company of horse. We will ride through the pass of Caradhras - you and I shall lead them." With a shout, Celebrían rattled down the ladder.
Galadriel lifted the Elessar again, and wiped her tears away. "I have lost he who made you; by what is in you, do not let me lose him for whom I wielded you." Then she snapped the brooch's clasp shut, and turned to war.
Part 6. Mírdan and Mortal.
Aranwë was stoic about his role in war. When you were amongst the tallest of the Eldar, with a blacksmith's build, and clad in full mail and half-plate armour, you were sent forth to risks. His sword had been sent away from the suicidal stand at the Mírdain's hall to the city's defence, and he was the one who went up to the balustrade of Ost-in-Edhil's new wall to peer out at the clamour of Sauron's besieging forces.
"How bad is it?" one of the other defenders called up to him. He did not reply immediately, silenced by the sight.
Amidst that black host, a cluster of red banners were brought up to the walls, a stained white banner borne in the centre, it seemed. But it was no banner, Aranwë saw. It was a body pierced with arrows, hung from a high pole. He was nauseated to see that the corpse was gelded and much marred, and tried to distinguish the face of the fallen. The dead elf's head drooped forward, dark, matted hair distinguished by a silver forelock. Celebrimbor.
As he looked in horror, he heard the ringing of the city towers' bells; the signal that the wall was breached. Feeling slain already after the sight, Aranwë scrambled down, and his news gave keener edges to the defenders' swords. But their wrath availed them little. In the city's streets, war changed from the charges and defences many of them were familiar with to a game of hunter and hunted.
Long hours later, the news had trickled through that Celeborn and Elrond were in retreat, and the defence should pull out westwards and seek to join them. When that news came to Aranwë, he was still in the east of the city. He turned to look at the nearest fighter. "Think we'd make it out, Erestor?" he asked.
Erestor leaned against the city's wall, his spear in one hand, a short sword in the other. The loremaster was one of those who rattled on, spilling words when nervous. "Manwë only knows until we try. Do you know, a lot of the mortals in Sauron's ranks are the ones who lived outside Eregion, the Dunlendings? I can tell by their dialects. They'll know the country about, make it hard to pass. We Elves think that we are the only ones with woodcraft and soft feet, but mortals have their ways, too."
"What? Why do they betray us?" asked Aranwë, aghast.
"They hate us, it seems; we just never paid much heed."
"But the Rings—"
"They care little for the rumour of the Rings; it doesn't put bread on their tables. We might have given them other aid, if we cared beyond our pride, they say." Erestor's voice was thin with weariness, and he leaned on his spear. "The thing is, they are right. Too late, now; their choice is made. All too late."
Erestor tilted his head. "What are they doing outside? Listen to the din. The more that are out there, the less there are in here, but also more waiting for us later." He closed his eyes and moaned his perished wife's name.
Aranwë looked at Erestor, not the best companion for that hour, half-mad with grief. Still, Erestor was Pengolod's guild-mate, and that thought made him determined to get them both out alive. He clambered up the nearest set of stairs for a last look over the wall before they fled. Erestor guarded the stairs' entrance, for the good that would do.
This time, what Aranwë saw made his heart leap. Behind the black horde were ordered forces like wide lines of steel, marching without flag or herald. He turned to call to Erestor. "Baruk Khazad! The Dwarves are come to our defence!" He turned back to watch as the orcs flew against the Dwarves like black ravens, leaping in the battle-madness orcs lived for, and were smote back like flies. Behind the Dwarves, he saw a few airy banners; he peered to see if it was the elves of Lorinánd. Erestor called to him, his yell lost in the renewed roar of battle. He shouted back, "Wait a moment! I think—"
His words were strangled short as a chain flung around his neck staggered him, and he ducked, dropping his sword to clutch his throat. As he swayed lower, the chain's pressure painful, a strike to the back of his helm dazed him and cast him to his knees. No knife or spear could pierce the mail gorget of the Mírdain, but the choking chain might be the death of him anyway. By the voices of those he grappled with, he realized some mortal fighters must have lain in wait upon the wall, and one stepped in front of him as he gasped. Another behind him dragged Aranwë's helmet off, so his vision was clear.
Sauron's mortal soldier was not drunk on battle-madness like the orcs. He looked underfed and tired, but his eyes were sharp. And there was an arrow tipped in black steel nocked to his bow.
They stared at each other for a moment, the noble warrior of the Eldar and the hardscrabble mortal. He said something to his unseen comrades, and Aranwë felt one hand pull at his cloak, another reach for his jewelled Mírdan's collar: their leader stopped them, and they tightened the chain. Had they been orcs, this would have been the prelude to hours of torment. Instead, the mortals were quiet and deadly, following orders to the letter. A hand held Aranwë's head cruelly still, and the man efficiently shot the arrow into the elf's right eye.
Aranwë's last act was to clench his Mírdan's collar in one hand, holding it against their looting as long as he had life in him.
Part 7. In the Valley of the Riven Dell.
In the grey evening, Pengolod stood on sentry duty outside the valley of the riven dell. The troops of Elrond and Celeborn had been blocked from the aid of Ost-in-Edhil and forced back yet again, at least with a few remnants and refugees joining them. After their bitter flight, they had taken refuge in this deep-cloven valley, which had plenty of water, and only one pathway down, a fortress of nature.
Pengolod scanned the half-open country around, fretting. Three or four other sentries that week had been met by more refugees fleeing through the country. Sauron's larger forces would follow, they said, once they were done sacking Eregion. The valley would be under siege. As he looked out, he saw some movement to the south; large enough to be a company. He peered through the dusk.
As the riding drew closer, Pengolod saw that there was a white glimmer to it, and drifting silken banners, tattered but still proud. Through the twilight there came to him a silvery horn's call, the haunting notes of Lorinánd. Relieved, he took up his own horn and sent back the call of Lindon. The call repeated, and the riding slowly turned towards the valley.
By the time they arrived, the commanders from the valley had come up to meet them. Pengolod watched them trail by; horses and knights, more shield-maidens than usual amongst them, ringed about foot soldiers, a handful of sturdy Dwarves, and more survivors of Eregion. Pengolod saw a face he recognized amidst them, and left his post, shouting. "Erestor! Erestor! Over here!"
Before Pengolod could greet Erestor, he saw the shattered expression on Erestor's face. He reached into his most secure pocket and handed over his flask of miruvor. Erestor was collected enough to not down the entire thing, taking just three mouthfuls. "Never thought I'd taste that again. Thanks." Erestor handed it back. "My wife is dead," he said, voice dull.
Pengolod clapped him on the shoulder. "I'm sorry." As Pengolod replaced the flask in his pocket, he brushed up against the other precious thing he carried, one of his metal pens. "Do you know if any of the Mírdain…?"
Erestor shook his head. "Your friend Aranwë - he had bad luck."
Pengolod, hand still in his pocket, realized that the pen's tip had become separated from its handle. He took the two pieces out and connected them, then wrapped the pen back in its piece of chamois and tucked it away. Hand lingering over his pocket, he spoke gently to his guild-mate. "Let's get you to a fireside. The valley's safe for now. Come along, this way." The loremasters looked up as two white horses thundered by. Shaken as they were, both bowed to the herald and leader of the riding. The herald lifted the tattered banner and a reddened lance, saluting them in return.
The riders drew up in front of the commanders, waiting regally in their armour. The exuberant herald leapt down to fling mailed arms around an astonished Celeborn. "Papa! You're alive!" Elrond was jolted by the musical voice that revealed the herald as a woman, and turned in less surprise to the leader, who dismounted gracefully, steel mail and white robes flowing.
"Celebrían, what have I said about jamming your spear in the dirt like that?"
"Sorry, Mama." The herald gave her father a kiss, then looked back and forth between her parents. She pulled her spear out of the ground and turned to Elrond. "You must be the Lord Peredhil. Can you and the esquires show me - we've got a lot of people here, as you can see, and…" The two of them went off together with the lords' esquires, Celebrían glancing back.
Celeborn looked after his daughter, smiling at her rough tact. "Why is Celebrían wearing the Elessar?"
"Celebrimbor is dead, " Galadriel said. "I gave it to her that she might have a keepsake of her kinsman's work."
Celeborn bowed his head. "His death was terrible, I heard."
"I know." Galadriel took off her helm, and her golden hair tumbled down.
"After all the treasures they heaped on us, all the fair things you had, now you have nothing that he made," said Celeborn. "It is all lost."
"You still live; I ask no other treasure than that." she whispered, reaching out to caress his face. "And he gave me this." From beneath her mail, Galadriel drew out a ring on a silver chain.
Celeborn nodded. "He told me. We had found our peace, Celebrimbor and I." Grieving, they embraced.
The siege of the valley of the riven dell, now named Imladris, was broken. Sauron's forces had been driven back by the fighters of Lindon and the great hosts of the Númenoreans. The first White Council had met; Gil-Galad, Celeborn, Elrond, Galadriel, and Celebrían. They had exchanged many sombre words. Most glad had been the bestowing of the blue Ring, Vilya, to Elrond; most painful had been the decision that shattered Eregion would not be renewed. Instead, Imladris would stay manned as an elvish stronghold, a refuge at need for wandering folk, and to hold part of the pathway to Khazad-dûm and Lorinánd secure. Nobody envied Elrond his post there in the lonely wilds, despite the buildings the surviving crafters of Eregion had raised.
Elrond lightly touched the ring he wore on a chain around his neck. The room was very peaceful, as if time had slowed and sweetened. "Even unworn, I still feel its power," Elrond said.
"As lost Celebrimbor had promised," Galadriel said.
Gil-Galad fingered the ring Narya that he bore. "You say that as long as Sauron is strong, we dare not don these rings to use them fully."
"To do so is to be in bond to Sauron, through their link to him. Yet through that link, if Sauron falls, these rings will then have no more power than an empty snail's shell," said Galadriel. "An irony it is, that we endure without fading, as long as Sauron does."
And the high ones of the council looked away as Galadriel said, "We are bound to him. Bound…"
Pengolod and Erestor sat at a table in the new halls of Imladris. During the long siege, the bored crafters who had survived the sack of Eregion had been ordered to create shelter. The results far exceeded the need, halls and pavilions that were almost defiant follies, high-timbered and airy, ornamented with statues, images of the lost elves of Eregion.
The two loremasters had started up a chronicle of the siege, writing on paper they made from the reeds of the valley's river. A greater task awaited them, describing the fall of Eregion. "These are all the notes I have for that tale," said Pengolod, handing over a few sheets of paper. "Strange, isn't it? After the fall of Gondolin, I wrote reams and reams, many a verse and many a word. But this time, words failed me." He looked at the notes dismissively. "Not a very good start." The fall of Eregion had a face for him, and a private loss that made the memories bitter to bear.
Erestor browsed the sheets. "Something is better than nothing, and I have not written much more myself. Will you write more in Lindon?" Pengolod was leaving with the rest of Gil-Galad's forces.
"I am not staying in Lindon. I am going over Sea," Pengolod said. He raised his hand against the protests Erestor began. "My works are done here, and the ground has no pull beneath my feet. I am the last of the Lambengolmor. This war slew those of us who did not leave. And I am near to the last of the Gondolindrim." He grew sad and silent at that.
Erestor looked out one of the wide-open arches. "Myself, I cannot leave the memories that Middle-Earth holds for me, yet. My lost wife loved the season's turns, and as I watch them, I remember her…"
Pengolod sighed, thinking of his own long lingering in Middle-Earth. "I understand what it is to be held by memory." In memory's very arms, he thought.
"And by vengeance," Erestor added. "I shall stay here and fight. Elrond will have my spear." He turned to the papers with the scanty notes about Eregion. "I shall sort this out one of these days. When I have the heart to think about it properly."
The great camp of the Númenoreans spread its tents of blue and gold around the rich pavilions of the sea-lords. In the centre of the camp, a host of their leaders and allies gathered to watch in awe as Sauron surrendered himself to their King, Ar-Pharazon the Golden. They had not expected that their foe would be so fair of face and body, more beautiful even than an Elf, behind the branching black armour.
Sauron knelt before the tall king clad only in a tight tunic and leggings of leather, with bare feet. As the first sign of his complaisance, he had shed his armour. When he had taken the measure of the men from the Sea, he decided that they were both strong enough to be a problem and proud enough to be vulnerable. He had bidden his forces to go to ground, sending news to the Númenoreans that they were fled for fear, and that Sauron himself came to surrender to them.
Everyone leaned in to hear his soft words of submission. "Your army has humbled me, King of Middle-Earth, and I kneel before you. Never have I seen one greater than you! I know when I am bested." With that, he knelt and kissed Ar-Pharazon's gilded, armoured foot. He lingered at his homage, then drew back serene.
The king of Men looked down at him astonished, then roared out for chains to bind his prisoner. As they waited, Ar-Pharazon never looked away, fascinated by the seductive being obedient before him.
Sauron dropped his head so that his long golden hair veiled his smug smile, and joined his hands together, to conceal the simple ring that was his only ornament. What he had done before, he could do again, seducing, corrupting, turning his enemies into his tools.
And it looked like it would take far fewer years, this time.
Many of the events in Tolkien's "Of Galadriel and Celeborn" from Unfinished Tales are fleshed out here; whatever reconciliation took place between Celeborn and Celebrimbor so that they were united in the defence of Eregion, Celebrimbor's counsel with Galadriel, the distribution of the Rings, Celebrimbor's torment and what is done to his body, are all noted in passing in that essay.
Gondolindhri = Person of Gondolin.
Glamhoth = A Sindarin word meaning, literally, "din-horde," used to refer to a host of Orcs.
I shall sort this out one of these days = The fall of Eregion is described in The Council of Elrond in LOTR seems to be noted almost exclusively in oral elvish tradition. Hard-core Tolkien fans are persistently unhappy about the very little information about Eregion and the Rings' making in Tolkien's notes.
Sauron's submission by choice as a hostage to the men of Númenor is noted in "Alkallabeth", The Silmarillion, and in the Tale of Years in ROTK. After he surrendered to them, he was taken as prisoner to Númenor and it is noted: "Years 3262-3310 - Sauron seduces the King and corrupts the Númenoreans."
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