The summons came, a hook in an area that I was suddenly, excruciatingly aware of being my gut. As always, it tore me from the comfort of the Other Place, pared me down into myself as this world could handle it. And as always, I was most displeased about that.
But such was the price of being, a, well. Being of great and nearly unlimited power, after all. Conscription to serve whatever idiot thought themselves bold enough to summon me, and spending time on the wretched soil and tainted air of the Earth. Some might consider it a small price to pay- but those are ones who are very rarely bothered, and whose names haven’t yet been discovered. It’s all very nice until you actually get there; build a few cities and you realize that lugging stone, however magical you are, will inevitably give you back pain. Regardless of if you even have a back. That’s how bad it is.
Still, when summoned, it’s important to put your best foot forward.
Metaphorically speaking, anyway.
“Who dares to summon me, Mairon, the magnificent-,”
“Hello, Annatar,” comes a mild voice, interrupting as ever. I deflate almost instantly, and while I switch my guise over to a simpler one, all flowing silks and pale hair and golden eyes, I categorically refuse to do anything about the pungent scent of brimstone that’s still seeping into the summoning chamber. It would have been perfect with what I had planned, to scare the pants (or skin) off whatever unfortunate fool had decided to summon me, but this particular fool wasn’t going to be put off by flailing eldritch nightmares and wheels of fire. Which was more unfortunate for him than me, really; the only reason he wouldn’t be horrified by that is because he’s already been driven mad.
The fact that he calls me Annatar is especially grating, since I have yet to figure out his ulterior motive behind it.
“Who else would it be?” he asks, raising an eyebrow, as if I’m not a particularly desirable spirit by any means.
I grow several extra eyes, just so he can feel the full force of my glares.
“I am Mairon the Magnificent, I was present at the Sinking of Beleriand, I am over five thousand years old and have fought amongst the Valar, I raised the walls of Angband near Thangorodrim and I called forth the fire that boiled within them. The fact that you think I have any shortage of summoners is frankly insulting.”
“Go on, then. Regale me with the tales of all those tasks you had to do between when I last summoned you and now,” Celebrimbor says. He sounds amused, which I don’t appreciate, and I settle for simply adjusting my robes. They’re voluminous, it takes work.
“It would take too long, and I’m sure you have a myriad of questions about the Other Place that need answering instead. Where’s that notebook of yours? Joined the other full ones? Or have you somehow invented a new system where you project the information directly onto a chalkboard or something?”
“That would be quite a thing to behold,” Celebrimbor laughs. “But no, none of that. I’ve simply been doing some thinking. I spoke to Gandalf, actually- oh, wait, you’d know him as Olórin, if at all, he’s quite young as far as these things go, no real great deeds to his name, although he used to be a gardener in Lórien. Bearded, grey hair and robes, tall, pointy hat?”
“Must be some imp or the other, no self-respecting Maiar would be caught dead in a getup like that.” True, too; when we bother with guises that resemble the Eldar (or even Men, though they’re too short for my liking), we tend to go for either the grotesque or the grotesquely beautiful. Being old and bearded is neither. Maybe he’s got a history with those fellows underground.
“I thought it was odd too, yes, but he’s quite an interesting fellow. Surprisingly well-travelled, apparently he’s been attached to the caravans of Men for his first few summonings, and he’s favored among them as the Grey Pilgrim.” Again, Celebrimbor looks at me, and I reluctantly sigh.
“I recall seeing some memories along those lines in the Other Place, yes,” I admit. “Could they have been his? Quite possibly, in as much as there was him to speak of. Nothing about the beard, though we hardly think about forms to take there. As I’ve told you before.” That, I have to tack on to the end; Celebrimbor is surprisingly easy to distract with tales of the Other Place, more so than any other magician I’ve encountered before. It’s unusual, to say the least.
“Yes, you have. But- where was I? Oh, yes. He was telling me that the attitudes of Men to spirits is quite different than ours- which is not such a surprise, given the preconceptions some of the Secondborn have when they come to Eregion to learn. And those are the ones willing to learn. But the differences range from thinking of you as gods- oh, stop preening, Annatar-, to thinking of you as simply tools for a job. Apparently the men of Númenor favor the latter, whereas the caravans he’s travelled with prefer the former. It’s an interesting dichotomy.”
“Is it? The Númenoreans only want what they can control, and with a civilization established and an empire ready to spew forth like vomit after chewing sour milk, there is not much out of their control. At least- they do not think so. Is it such a surprise that they would think of us as tools and slaves, when the caravans are instead at nature’s whim and therefore need whatever protection and favor we can offer? It’s a difference in arrogance, not in perspective. Any idiot could tell you that.” I withdraw a fan from the sleeve of my robe, gesturing at Celebrimbor with it decisively. The dialogue so far has taken place in the pentacle, and he’s gone and left the long stick near the chalkboard where I can’t reach it. This will have to do for dramatic pointing.
“Arrogance leading to a difference in respect,” he suggests, thinking it over. The only thing worse than when Celebrimbor wishes to interrogate me is when he actually listens. Some magician he is. “Yes, I suppose that makes sense. We must seem absurd to them, mustn’t we, summoning spirits to converse with and to work with as equals.”
“I’m sure the cults there are accusing you of communing with demons and corrupting the land as we speak.”
How Celebrimbor finds this amusing, I have no idea. But I’ll admit that the thought of him corrupting the land is completely ridiculous; the waste removal protocols in Ost-in-Edhil are shockingly thorough.
Of course, there is a reason he stays far, far away from the greenhouses and the botanists.
“Yes, well. Let them talk, Annatar. What has far-flung Númenor to do with my work here?” He pauses, shakes his head. “No, that is not correct. Should I succeed- should we succeed-, the world will be changed all over.”
“You still have yet to tell me what it is you’re going to succeed in doing, you know,” I tell him, acerbic. “For someone who talks so much, you’ve revealed absolutely nothing about your plans. You’re a disgrace to chatty magicians everywhere; normally they’re saying how they’ll control the city or the empire or what have you within ten minutes. Yet it’s been ten months and you’ve only asked me a bunch of increasingly bizarre questions.”
“Can you not guess?” he asks, tilting his head to the side. He seems genuinely curious, which just makes it worse.
“I have over ten thousand guesses, but none of them seem accurate, and if I were to list them out, we’d be here until Arien fell from the sky. It’s simpler for you to just answer.”
“Galadriel does not trust you, you know,” he says conversationally. He’s looking down at his pentacle rather than me, as if he’s trying to improve the design just by staring at it. From what I know of his grandfather, he probably could if he glared at it hard enough, but Celebrimbor lacks that desire to impose himself on the world. Imposing himself on me, however, doesn’t seem to elicit the same reluctance.
Also, this is not even remotely close to an answer, although he seems to think it is.
“Your cousin is Noldor through and through, and she trusts no one that isn’t. Close-minded, insular bunch, you lot are.”
“She did marry a Sindar prince,” Celebrimbor points out, annoyingly logical as he always is. No doubt that being right was going to swell his head further, and how was I going to deal with that.
“Good for her, probably less so for him,” I say, crossing my arms. All six of them, specifically. It’s quite the intimidating effect, but as always, Celebrimbor has no appreciation of any kind of aesthetics. “Is that what you summoned me here to talk about? Your cousin?”
“Yes, and no. Gil-Galad is against my summoning you, and Elrond.”
“I’m not sure what the point of summoning me specifically to tell me that all your friends and relatives hate me is,” I say, arch .
“Listen, Annatar,” he says, leaning in. His eyes are doing that big, earnest thing that I know means he’s going to get disgustingly idealistic about wanting to learn about me.
“I don’t exactly have much of a choice about listening .”
“Do you want to be dismissed?”
“And let some other poor sap suffer through one of your monologues? I don’t think so. Carry on.”
He rolls his eyes because he’s very aware that I’m right, but there’s an oddly indulgent smile on his face, as if I’m not the one indulging him here.
Never mind that I know he’d likely dismiss me if I asked, but really, I’d only get the same earful the next time he summons me.
“Very generous of you, Mairon.”
“That’s me, generous to a fault.”
“Are you going to keep interrupting me, and letting me talk?” He pauses, obviously baiting me, and I just wave a hand at him to continue. “Thank you. Now, to answer your question. I didn’t summon you to talk about my cousin, or Elrond, or Gil-Galad. I did summon you to talk about trust. It was broken between Elves and spirits a long time ago, and I would see that undone. Think of all the good we could do together- think of all the good our two peoples have done together. The Silmarils, the wonders of the Trees, the beauty of Valinor. The Sun and Moon, even- is that not an example of our crafts twined into one? Is Ost-in-Edhil itself not a testament to the heights we can reach, should we cooperate?
“Galadriel does not understand; she looks at spirits and only sees the past. She would rather I abandon summoning entirely, all my works, and simply focus on that which I can accomplish with my own two hands. Not- to say that I do not know where she is coming from. The opposite, in fact.” He glances down at his hands with a rueful smile, as if he can see the blood that stains them. None of it is his own, and none was his choice, but I don’t need to tell him that. “You know my family history, after all, and how it wrought nothing but evil. Yet my grandfather made the Silmarils with his own hands, distilled their light into those hallowed gems.”
“But was that light not made by both Elves and Valar? Yavanna herself called forth the trees when prompted, Nienna watered them with her tears. Was it not so wrong to wish to take their light back?”
“It was wrong to take it in that way,” Celebrimbor says firmly. “I do not believe that murder is the solution to any problem. That being said- I understand why they were taken.”
“I cannot believe you’re excusing-,” I break off, still unable to shape his name in my mouth. Doomed to the Everlasting Darkness and having your name struck off apparently is a lot more literal than one might think.
“Perhaps I am. Our city draws many contrarians,” he says, with a faint smile. “But do not mistake empathy for forgiveness; the Black Foe of the World remains where he belongs, and I cannot deny that I take satisfaction in that.
“You were there, Annatar. You saw the golden armies of spirits and Eldar, and we were together, fighting. And we won, yet the trust that existed between us was broken forevermore. Yes, the cracks were there from the beginning, and they were crusted in my great-grandfather’s blood, but what is the point of the future if not being better than the past? If I am to bend my will to the betterment of this world, why should it only be for us? We owe you and your kin a debt that cannot be repaid; it was not the Eldar alone who reclaimed the world, Annatar. And yet you must be summoned, enslaved, in order to even set foot in it. Things were different in Valinor, but we can do better. We must do better. Together, we raise this world up, and we can behold our vision made reality.”
It’s quite the speech, and I even offer some applause. His eyes are still terribly earnest, but I do not quite look at him.
“Why is it that you think that trust can be reforged? You said it yourself, Celebrimbor. It is broken, shattered, marred beyond repair. We are forced here to be punished if we don’t obey, by the few who even dare to summon us anymore. Oh, imps and goblins are fine, but anything more powerful than that sends you all into a frenzy. It’s a miracle you’re even allowed to summon me.”
“Hardly. I’m in charge, I can summon whichever spirit I so choose for academic reasons.”
“I don’t think your speech just now was limited to academia.”
He has the decency to flush in embarrassment, at least. “Well, perhaps not. But you are intrigued, Annatar, you cannot deny that.”
“What I am intrigued by is the fact that you appear to be sane, when in actuality you have lost all your mental faculties. The questions about the Other Place are tolerable and understandable, at least from an academic perspective as you claim. This is just madness. We cannot live in harmony, and while your set might treat us better than the Secondborn, it doesn’t matter. What is broken cannot be so easily fixed, and certainly not just by hope and idealism. Really, you’re a smith by training, you should know this.” Well, he should, although maybe given his entire ‘my father and my father’s father are both geniuses the likes of which the world has never see before’ history, for all I know, Celebrimbor might have skipped the basics and gone straight to trying to bend the rules of nature. It wouldn’t be unlike him.
“Fixed? No. We’re going to make it anew. What was it those who rose against the order of things said- ‘no more shall we be cringing slaves, no longer shall we bend the knee to serve those beneath us’?”
“I believe such words were uttered on both sides, although how your grandfather thought he was a cringing slave of any Valar is beyond me.” I narrow my eyes at him; this theme of his is annoying, and while it could no doubt be much, much worse, it’s almost painful to know that he’ll have this naivete ground out of him. His cousin is trying, I’m sure.
“My grandfather thought a great many things, and not all of them were right.”
“Finally, someone willing to criticize the brilliant Fëanor.”
“I did forswear his lineage when I left Nargothrond,” Celebrimbor says patiently. He’s explained this before, but I doubt I was listening. It’s hard to take that kind of thing seriously when he’s currently going around putting eight-pointed stars on everything he touches. Case in point, the insignia on the pentacle I’m standing in. Really, I only need to give him a pointed look. “And I took that mantle up again here in Eregion, because it still means something. Once, it stood for the pursuit of knowledge, the elevation of our craft, reaching ever higher. Could it not stand for that again?
“My grandfather is dead, Annatar, the Silmarils sunk into the earth and sea and sky, never to be touched again, and yet for all the blood and ruin that followed them, we have a star that burns bright above Middle Earth, and it is beautiful. I do not have to make his mistakes- not with secrecy, not with distrust and hatred and paranoia. That is not the world I’ve chosen.”
“It’s all well and good for you to talk about trust and love and all that nonsense, when you’re standing in a pentacle to protect yourself from me, and can incinerate me with a few muttered words,” I tell him. “This is not the world that I chose, either; in fact, I don’t recall getting much of a choice in the matter at all. The days where Valar and Eldar and Maiar worked side by side are gone, Celebrimbor, and they’re gone for a reason- it did not work. Why you think you can improve where all others have failed is beyond me; there is a wall between here and the Other Place for a reason, even if your summons can drag us through the cracks. Like it or not, you don’t trust me, and I don’t trust you. I would, in fact, bite your entire head off if you smudged that pentacle at all.”
He meets my eyes across the room, and deliberately smudges the chalk of his pentacle with one toe.
“Well?” he asks, raising an eyebrow. “I think you need a form with more teeth, if you’re to divest my body of my head.”
“Idiot,” I say. “What did you go and do that for? I could kill you where you stand now, Celebrimbor.”
“It’s Tyelperinquar, actually,” he says. “My friends call me Tyelpe.”
“You’re the first magician I’ve encountered with such a death wish,” I tell him. My voice doesn’t shake.
“Hardly,” Celebrimbor- no, Tyelpe, Tyelperinquar, that is his name and he’s just made the awful mistake of giving it to me as if he were some rookie magician instead of one of the Noldor, of Fëanor’s line, as if he probably hadn’t been around spirits more powerful than me since he was born. He just looks at me and he smiles like this is some kind of a victory instead of just something only a complete idiot would do.
“You’re insane,” I tell him. “You have completely lost your mind. All those- fumes, from the workshops? This is a result of that. Something happened to you in the womb, and then you were dropped several times on the head as a child, and then you were exposed to all the fumes, and now your brain is completely melted.”
“That is quite the scenario, Annatar,” he says, still with that smile stretching across his face. “But I’m afraid absolutely none of it is accurate. You say that your objection is in not knowing enough of this world, not being a part of it. Very well, then. You are free to come and go as you please, and I’ll speak it in Quenya or even Valarin if you so choose, to make it official.” He lifts one hand, forestalling any retorts on my part. “No, no. I do not need your answer now. Go, Mairon. See the world, and then return and tell me it is not worth it.”
Somehow, my name seems wrong on his lips, for all that I’ve complained about the nickname he’s so chosen. I wonder if this will last long enough for me to add Annatar to the list of names and titles I’ve accumulated so far. Instinct says no, but there is something about Celebrimbor that defies both instinct, and common sense alike. Must be the fumes.
I look at him for a long moment, and he looks back, serene but for the fire that burns in his eyes. He meant everything that he had said, the fool. He’s completely mad.
“But if you were to go, and return, and enjoy yourself, then I’ll tell you what it is I wish to do. No- what I believe must be done, if we are to achieve greatness and peace for this world.”
“There’s no danger of that, then, though your efforts to take advantage of my curiosity are appreciated. Learn how to manipulate better, and then you can be a real magician.” I take a step out of the pentacle, towards him, and he does not flinch.
Instead, he simply smiles, and clasps his hands together as if he couldn’t possibly be facing imminent demise at my hands, as if he does not know which side I was on during the War.
I snarl, and turn, striding across the room and flinging the window open. My form flickers into that of a raven, three-eyed and razor-clawed.
“You are impossible, Celebrimbor.”
“Tyelpe,” he corrects, laughing. He is still laughing when I fling myself from the window and into the air, the breeze ruffling my feathers. “Safe journeys, Annatar!”
His voice follows me out, borne by the wind.