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***

 

Celebrimbor unearths his bones.

Nienna had plucked them out of blood-soaked soil, gently one by one, and had washed them with her tears, cradled them with her veils, coaxed their grief out of their shell. How was trust profaned, how ambition exploited, good will spat on, the wonder of love and creation twisted into the evil that the world endured?

Questions as old as his bloodline. Answers unique to himself.

The Lady of Sorrows had walked with him through his pains, prayer after teardrop after prayer.

 

*

 

The Híri stream in the valley of Sirnúmen sings on its bed of rock, running with haste into the earth. Celebrimbor watches it rush and froth and glide from his vantage point, sitting on the rugged edges of its bed; watches it disappear into the open mouth of the ground following the path that lava once carved, during times beyond the memory of the Eldar.

A quirk of Aulë, that tunnel where water now takes its plunge. He had asked his father, once. His father in turn, long before in the years of Celebrimbor’s childhood, had asked his. And Celebrimbor’s grandfather had asked Aulë, Smith of the World.

He stands, his palms sliding over his robes on his thighs, a ghost of iridescence left behind by their passage on the dark velvet. Walking upstream, the current subsides, the crystalline waters spread over the pebbles in many rivulets, running parallel to the main ribbon of water in its deeper and more ancient path over smooth limestone.

Valinor has not changed here. It has elsewhere.

A hill has been overturned by the slopes of Túna where Tirion stands, eternal grave to those of the mortal race who fell to Thauron’s guiles. Celebrimbor only thinks of him as Thauron Gorthaur these days.

He spoke of him with Findaráto and Amarië, once, under the golden trees of Valimar. There, Amarië had taken his hands in hers and had said, « I regret that your faith and acceptance are tainted by the later betrayal. »

Celebrimbor had smiled ruefully — but Amarië’s bones have never been cleansed by the tears of Nienna and she cannot, for that reason, quite understand; and he had answered, « They are not. And moreover, I retain one lesson: I was not in the wrong for trying. »

Findaráto, who has taken back his old name on account of his wife’s language, had remained silent.

Other things are different. The land is more populated – the woods of Oromë are home to many of the elves of Endor, and the green pastures thrive under the care of new hands. In the gardens of Lórien, the body of his great-grandmother rests no more, her skills now in the service of the Weaver.

The light has changed, also: it is the white sun and the feeble moon of the round world, and gone is the mingling of gold and silver that once was.

Yet the dale of Sirnúmen lingers in the highlands with its shrubs and rocks and the Híri’s quiet song, and the juniper grows with its blue bunches of berries and its pine leaves; the dale has not decayed; it has not been ground to dust, it has not sunk, nor has the earth opened under it to swallow it underground like its stream.

Celebrimbor walks under the pink tamarisks and between the prickly bushes heavy with red berries – there are no hollies. But he might plant some, in the years to come.

Climbing the slopes, the towers rise higher, slate grey, carven and beautiful, sky-high, like blades raised to the cloudy heavens: the estate of Formenos, turned small settlement turned fortress. The rusty blood of his great-grandfather had been scrubbed away from the entrance steps, when the hosts of the Ñoldor stopped during their long march northward and the body was picked up to give dignity to the late king in his death.

But the torn gates, their twisted frames, still remain. Preserved. Untouched.

His mother stands in the vestibule, her robes opalescent and her thin dark braids falling down her back.

« So you are decided about this », she says when she hears him.

Celebrimbor joins her at her side and slowly, mildly, he smiles. « I am. »

It is the last of his bones that he has left to unearth.

 

*

 

Millennia have passed, but Formenos stands proud and silent, a mausoleum of light and austere columns, pilasters and compound piers soaring to hold airy ceilings and ogival vaults. The great arches of the main hall were once the frame for great works of stained glass, oriented south towards the lost trees. When darkness fell over Valinor, they were shattered under unnameable pressure, their fragments scattered on the polished floors, glittering.

The wind sweeps through and murmurs.

« You truly never set foot here again? », Celebrimbor asks, as the tip of his boot nudges one of the shards, a cerulean blue shaded by ferrous green.

« Of course not. »

He turns. His mother keeps her hand clasped loosely behind her back and her eyes meander, but she is otherwise still.

« “Of course”? »

« I have pride, Tyelpo. I had no plans to become the ghost haunting these halls. »

Does she, then, imply that he is? But if he is now, then he always has been. One must be a ghost, at his core, to make three rings and name them for flowing waters, high airs, and warm flames.

He paces slowly around the room, the coloured glass pieces scrunching under his boots. « Grandmother did », he points out mildly.

« Nerdanel had her reasons. »

Nerdanel had sat with him on chairs not unlike the carven seats that still populate this hall, and had asked him for the tales she had not asked anyone else, accounts too difficult, clad in thorns, to hear them from hateful lips; so she had asked him to chronicle them for her, to separate truth from slander and thus finally put her to rest.

Celebrimbor had found that letting anger seep through unbridled was easier when the ears on which it fell, the heart that received it, knew it far too intimately, and most of all knew how deeply it mingled with love. That had been the first and only time he had shouted about his father, about his uncles; though not the first he had cried.

In his calibrated walk through the mostly empty space, he carefully circles the golden harp that abandoned stands at the end of the hall, and the overturned stool by it, observing the harp’s sculpted feathers that adorn it encrusted with gems, like a peacock’s tails. He reaches out, plucking the chords, and the sound is tentative, slightly broken – the keys at the top need tuning.

But he is not a ghost. He has spent long years toiling not to be one.

And this is not a tomb.

These hands that cannot well-attune a harp may still make, and they are his hands, and this is his blood.

He lifts his eyes to his silent mother. « I think I will begin by tearing down the walls and melting the gate. I would like it if you redesigned the stained glass. »

« I may consider it. Any ideas? »

« Few. But put somewhere the star. »

 

*

 

His mother is not a woman who speaks much, but she is a woman who observes, and, in observing, understands. She shares this with his grandmother, a great observer of people and things, and even more greatly skilled at understanding them.

When Celebrimbor had grown old enough to see his father in his stark entirety, in all his facets, the diamond cut in which he’d been shaped, he had begun wondering if perhaps choosing a woman whose behaviour seemed, on surface level, to resemble Nerdanel’s had been a subconscious choice.

But his father was not Fëanáro, something that all people around him at once both very well knew and constantly forgot.

And his mother is not Nerdanel by a long shot.

His mother searches for understanding in the dark places, and what she finds, she keeps. She keeps it very guarded, under lock and key, and in her silence, she ruminates, even wallows in the muds she has uncovered. Celebrimbor had grown old enough to think back on her with clarity as well, and consider the prickles of her, prickles not unlike the holly for which she is named.

His mother, he believes, must have slipped a finger inside a minuscule wound that lay untreated on his father’s chest, and must have hooked it between his father’s ribs, and must have pressed it deep enough to find his heart. She had known him, had understood him well.

It had been too late when she had realised that his father, subtly, had done the same to her.

When those fingers, ringed with the gold of marriage, had slipped out of their respective wounds, they had left each other bleeding.

It is because of this, this clarity of mind about both his parents that was the gift of separation in space and distance in time, that Celebrimbor doesn’t think his mother’s silence is void of words. That he is not surprised when she speaks, prompted, one might suppose, by nothing.

« I do not understand your lack of hate for what he did to you », she says.

Celebrimbor turns to her and hears the name before she says it.

And the name she says is, « Thauron. »

They sit on the stone staircase that leads to the entrance gate, and into the foyer. The threshold afore which Finwë died, opening like a fan towards the valley. On a similar threshold, many centuries later, Celebrimbor also stood, and named his erstwhile teacher Thauron, and by his servants was seized.

Fish that they grabbed bare-handed from the Híri roasts on the small fire they built on the final landing and, in its light, his mother’s robe shines like glittering tangerines, and her skin is bathed in a dancing glow, the colours of a tiger’s eye.

« When the news reached Valinor », she continues, and Celebrimbor can tell how she labours to push out the words, « I asked the Powers, why was he not pursued by the Herald when he fled? Why was he let go? Why was he not cursed nor bound? I do not understand why you are not angry, Tyelpo. I am. »

Celebrimbor is silent. He lifts his eyes to the stars.

When he opens his mouth, he finds that his jaw suddenly clenches, and so he closes it again, and breathes out, and walls himself against the thoughts that boil deep into his mother’s spirit. He spoke of this with almost everyone who had the willingness and boldness to mention it to him – not with her, not yet, for his mother’s moods are slow to rise to the surface, and must do so in their own time.

« You presume I have not thought of this », he says at last, exhaling, reaching out for the skewered fish and rolling it over the flames. « I have. And then I remember who else Eönwë also let go and did not pursue. Of course, they and Thauron are not comparable, neither in actions nor in nature – but he let them go – swords still bloody. Should he not have pursued them, should he not have bound them? Were they not yet capable of harm, as in truth, somewhere in our depths, we all might be – as many who by then served me , indeed, also were? » He turns the fish. « But neither ever harmed anyone again. Both faded from history. Both never resurfaced. » The flames crackle softly. « Thauron did. Hindsight is a great giver of wisdom – and hindsight, by definition, comes too late. »

His mother’s fingers are intertwined. « You are my son – my son , and I have neither your capacity nor willingness for forgiveness, and I wish for once fate did a mother the grace of having in her hands the fiends who torment her children. For no other reason than I am your mother I deserve that satisfaction. And I wish— »

« Don’t », Celebrimbor says, the request sudden, rushing out of him, the plea implicit. He shudders, and not from cold, but rather from memory of violence, as new flesh remembers what the spirit endured. « Do not mention what you wish. », he adds, more quietly. « I do not want to hear it. »

She falls silent, taking back into herself what she was pouring out. It ought, he thinks, to be poured out in full, all the tar, all the wrath, all the tears – and perhaps one day he shall be the one to listen; but not here, and not yet. Tonight, he doesn’t wish to hear what she is capable of in despair and anger and vengeance, even those kindled by love; he saw his father, and by Ilúvatar, that was enough.

His mother reaches for the fish, the scent delicate, delicious, even though his stomach clenches.

He breathes in, and out, as the wind whispers and the stars tremble.

« I have not forgiven », he volunteers. « I doubt I ever will. But I know this: some lore and craft that I learned, I learned because of Thauron. Seeds I cannot unearth from the ground of my soul, threads of him that are woven in my tapestry. But – », his hands hold onto the smooth stone of the staircase’s first step, « there are other seeds I cannot let him plant into me, and this hate you speak of is one of them. I didn’t give him what he truly wanted when I was in his hands. I will give him nothing forevermore. »

His mother doesn’t answer. She picks the fish clean of all its bones, plucking its white flesh morsel by morsel and putting it in his palm, as if he were a child again.

It is apologies the only way she gives them, and Celebrimbor eats slowly, accepting them.

He sleeps with his head in her lap, under the sky.

 

*

 

There are people who, in Beleriand and beyond, came under his own direct rule and who, in later times, left the shores of Endor to return here. Others of them died, instead, and were with time released from Mandos, according to rules of healing and laws of forgiveness that Celebrimbor wishes but cannot hope to understand. 

They return to him.

They trickle to Formenos like shards of iron sliding closer to a magnet.

Hlarindë, the huntress of his uncle’s following who had guarded retreat after retreat – from Himlad, in the rear of their flight, from Nargothrond when Glaurung came, and from Eregion, they told him, picking up sword and bow again, after putting them for so long to rest. She had once said: that of the Eldar is a tale of retreats.

She returns smiling, bringing hares strung to her belt.

Tárahathil who had lived in Thargelion, whose body Gorthaur had dragged up the steps of the guild hall like a rag doll with a torn off arm, who had stayed in Ost-in-Edhil and had not fled, expiating for the time when he had not been by his lord’s side.

He returns clad in black, having lost none of his sternness; he returns bowing.

Huorelendë, skilled Huorelendë whose trust had also been broken, and whose hands had wrought one of the Seven Rings, and whose mother had never come back from Endor, choosing to fade instead of a surrender.  

She returns allowing herself an embrace, and Celebrimbor holds the woman who had been of the Mírdain, his hand on her nape, her face on his shoulder; she returns with unneeded apologies and broken attempts at self-possession, and he holds her and treasures her tears.

There are many others.

The blueprints of Formenos had been safeguarded in Tirion, old parchments that would have crumbled to dust outside of Aman. Here, they are merely softened by use, and the charcoal is subtly faded, the sharp angles of their lines mellowed by time.

Celebrimbor observes them spread over a large marble table, hit by the light that blazes through the high mullioned windows, his fingertip hovering, following the architectural plans that had been traced by Maedhros when he still was Nelyafinwë.

He says, « Light up the forges and open these spaces, bring down the walls. »

 

***  

 

It is in this manner that things are remade.

Ercassë had never had great capacity for tears; she had not wept for deaths and had not wept for returns, and too great had been her fury in hearing what had happened to her son to pour it in wailing. But when the exiles had begun returning, when – whether willing or unwilling – she had begun stumbling upon them in the streets of Tirion and in the house of Aulë, out of all their news of Endor they had also told her of the Doors of Durin.

They had told her that in the country of holly, which was her name, her son had taken the star of his house and carved it in stone with moondust and moonlight, then had crowned that door with holly trees.

She had wept, then.

She had wondered if her son hadn’t grown into the man he was in spite of his father and in spite of herself.

 

*

 

Ercassë had met Artaresto, once, when he had set foot on the mainland from Tol Eressëa. Though some still called him Orodreth, by preference or habit, his wife now ruled the solitary island in the company of Gil-Galad, and it was no secret nor surprise that Gwidhil Durinthir would sooner be called Merillë-i-Turinqui, for she was of the kin of Ingwë and of the Teleri of Valinor.

They had not devised to meet, nor had they sought it in their private wishes, but met they had nonetheless.

« Lady Nuldavëa Ercassë », he had greeted, « you stare at me. »

« I look at you, Lord Artaresto », she had replied, still and even, « for you look at me , but only askance. »

« I expect my Lady to speak to me. »

« Wherefore? »

« Come now, Lady Ercassë. »

« I cannot begin to guess. »

Artaresto had then bristled on the sunlit terrace, in that manner of his that she recalled from his youthful days, his annoyance mingled with imminent need to retreat, to fold, while motionless she had sat languid under the light. If she had waited patiently to see whether he would press or withdraw, refusing to liberate him from the discomfort, surely she can be forgiven – for he first had decided to entrap her into a simulacrum, that of the wife, without asking whether she had desired it.

So she had said, eventually, « You expect me to speak of my son. »

« Nay. »

« My husband, then. »

Artaresto had reclined his head, the golden hair sliding to the side, with something akin to acquiescence; he had gestured, indicating that he would speak, given time enough. They both had time. « I last saw him when I bid him to leave Nargothrond. I have often wondered », and his mouth had pressed down tightly, « considering what befell us afterwards, whether saving his life was for naught. Be our hands clean or soiled, we well proved damned enough regardless. And perhaps two deaths would have been the lesser evil. »

« That is between you and Mandos. »

« Is that all? »

« That is all. I do not thank you, I do not reproach you. I do not cast judgement. »

« He is your husband, lady. »

« And where he is nested in me is not for you to know. »

« I don’t know why I wished to speak to you », he had pushed softly through his teeth.

And Ercassë had looked upon him and seen the conflict of a man burdened by mistakes, by the names of close relatives of greater renown and acclaim, who sought to rid himself of one lasting doubt. Was his caution, was his mercy, one of his mistakes?

Thus he would put the blade in her hand; he would ask her – do you spare or kill?

As though that were a question that she would ever answer.

But Ercassë had felt a splinter of pity: she knew a man who lived in another’s shadow.

« What did Nienna say, Lord Artaresto? », she had asked in a gentler voice.

« …That my choice was just. »

« Does that not suffice? »

And after a long silence, he had answered, « It must. »

 

*

 

When Merillë-i-Turinqui visits, it is not in the company of Artaresto, nor Gil-Galad, but with her are her daughter and her daughter’s husband.

Ercassë stands atop the entrance staircase where she and her son dined alone some weeks prior, as if she claimed ownership of this threshold, a lady who presides over the doors of her dwelling. But she has not yet decided whether she will linger, once her son’s projects will have come to fruition. And is she a lady, who is married to a dispossessed man? She is certainly still called such.

With her fingers joined delicately below her waist, she stands and waits.

This is how they visit: on white horses adorned with flowers and bells, accompanied by no more than two servants for each of them; Gwindor, who is Vinyator these days, clad in yellow and white, for he has married into the house of the King; Finduilas in the colour of the heavens at noontide, her hair braided with radiant quartz; and Merillë comes wrapped in the scarlet of roses and the white of lilies, which fragrantly crown her golden mane. 

And there is a statement in their colours.

But this is how they visit, also: with smiles, that on Finduilas and her husband bloom bright and devoid of deception – for certainly Ercassë’s son had been a friend to them for as long as they had lived; with grace, which is Merillë’s preferred garment, the best jewel of the Lady of Tol Eressëa.

And Ercassë knows the eyes of those who come in peace.

All ought to, in Aman – but that was never quite the truth.

As for what they find, it is this: many of the outer walls, gutted to reveal the rooms behind, where the structure could allow for the removal of stone without crumbling; great windows have been planned at the lower levels to mirror the higher ones, and the courtyard is now open, the fortress returning to its earlier shape, that of the family estate, but greater and wider to house all those who have and would yet come.

What they find: more light.

Formenos, a rib that was taken from the chest of Curufinwë Fëanáro and that her son, Curufinwë Ilvanon who was later named Tyelperinquar, took and planted into his own. She had named him perfect, and though perhaps it was too heavy a name to bear, no less heavy than Curufinwë, there her son was, picking up the pieces with peerless care.

That is what they find: beauty unburied, unearthing itself.

Ercassë smiles very faintly, daintily. « I bid you welcome, Queen of Flowers, and your daughter, and Lord Vinyator. »

« Lady Ercassë », greets Merillë, all the party dismounting.

Finduilas takes her husband by the hand and walks forward, a spark in her eyes. « Tell me, lady, where is Telpo? We have a gift for him, and I can scarcely wait to see his face. »

« In the forges », Ercassë answers, and her own smile, against her own wishes, grows. « Do drag him out, he is wholly lost in work. One might think that he needs to relearn all the tools. » And perhaps he does, she thinks, turning on her heels and stepping under the great archway, in the shadow – perhaps he rejoices too deeply in relearning the skill of his hands, after the long and bodiless years of his death.

Finduilas is led with Vinyator into the belly of the fortress, but Merillë doesn’t go, Merillë stays and walks with Ercassë through corridors that she has never before visited.

Their feet first follow in the wake of a blackened trail, soot and ash that penetrated into the stone, seeping through, charred and foul. Ercassë ought to detest walking on those tiles, but even as her spirit recoils, she finds pleasure in the knowledge that this path of seared marble will be uprooted and changed with new mosaic; that, in the meantime, she treads upon the remains of Moringotho’s ruin with the soles of her shoes.

 

*

 

« We used to have », Merillë offers, « smaller windows on the northern side of our dwellings. »

And the comment is an offer.

The corridor winds down the perimeter of Formenos, several floors from the ground, and every five steps a great window cuts into the stone, opening to the world, to the horizon where the dale of Sirnúmen rises towards the highlands of north Aman.

They walk down its panoramic path towards the main hall, deftly avoiding the construction sites that her son and Huorelendë are directing.

The comment is an offer, for they both know that Formenos is architecture from the spring of Valinor, before the Darkening came, and in the years of bliss all light that reached the firstborn’s estate was treelight. Glowing from the south, golden, silver, or mingled in beauty – the northern windows were for starlight.

And the offer is to speak of the years that Ercassë never saw, the years of war across the sea, in Valariandë.

Ercassë turns her head, a hand lifting to move her fine plaits, thin like reeds, and push them at her back. Speak, she offers back, in silence. For silence is at times an opening, a hollowness that another’s words may fill.

So Merillë says, « Because of the winds from the true north, beyond the peaks of the Iron Hells. » She looks at the great openings and at the dome of the sky beyond, wide in its majesty, and the curve of her mouth is small and rueful. « Thus – smaller windows. »

The columns that frame each of them rise and change into the ogival ribs holding up the ceiling, and each of them ornamentally twists on the wall and in the empty space between building and air, like vines, and each of the vines is the shape of a letter. One might decode the poem that was there built and sculpted, after staring for long enough. An exercise of leisure for times when leisure could be afforded, and discovery was merriment for the dwellers of Formenos.

Ercassë walks past. « You never came here », she comments, needlessly.

Merillë chuckles, softly. « Of course not. I was never invited. »

Neither was she today. But perhaps that speaks less of Merillë and more of Tyelperinquar. 

« Welcome, then », Ercassë says, stepping into the great hall. « It has seen better days. »

« Haven’t we all. »

The broken stained glass has been swept away, the unstrung harp removed, the seats arranged to the left and right against the walls. Ercassë claims one, and does not check the engravings to know to whom it belonged. Merillë does; and says bemused, « The hares and the foxes, and the fan of nocked arrows crowned by stars: do I sit in the place of Ambarussa? »

« Pityafinwë, the elder », she answers, the heraldries stitched into her mind, carven, as if she were the oak wood of the great chairs.

The breeze that breathes in and out with steady softness makes a lung of this too-empty space.

And Merillë smiles. « You observe me in wait, as a heron stalking fish in low water. Artaresto warned me that you would. »

Ercassë does look, and the Lady of the island does not squirm. « Delightful metaphor », she says, in earnest. « So tell me, what is the gift for Tyelpo? »

« A gift of words. »

« No less precious. Finduilassë then comes with presents of words, her husband comes with her, and you come… »

« With a song. »

It is then Merillë’s turn to observe, her eyes keen though her lids are languid as petals.

Ercassë does not speak, does not encourage her, the indolent curve of her mouth hiding the trappings of pride and yearning, for in her heart curiosity awakens like a prickle, and she wishes, for once, that she had it in herself to simply ask. It used to be easier.

But she holds Merillë’s blue eyes, and it is hard to hide the wish to give and receive when both are so wanted. It is then, for each of them, a simultaneous yielding.

Ercassë tilts her head slightly, a birdlike nod. « The acoustics here are good, regardless of the hollowness. »

 

*

 

She sings of branches.

Branches whose airy cages had quenched and quelled in leaves the leaping sun, for in dimmed sunlight they had departed, herself, her son Artanáro Aranion, and Tyelperinquar who thereafter all had called Celebrimbor. Branches wherefrom the last of Nargothrond’s sentinels had watched them depart, hiding with enchantment in the moist half-open darkness of the trees.

The shapes of them, shadows swaying in a forest of music, walk downhill following the reed-winding banks of the Narog; the floor opens to damp earth, the tiles swept away in flowing waters. Artanáro who was afterwards Gil-Galad, a phantom, a wide-eyed child holding the hand of his mother. His mother, Queen of Roses clad in black, and Celebrimbor’s guard, woodsmen and woodswomen who had ridden with his uncle, the hunters of Himlad who now cling to their bright-gazed lord of the silver hands.

The path goes southwest in secret, as secret is the call of the badger, the flutter of the owl, the swift-footed deer, and dark prowling wolves. Celebrimbor’s guard are hunters of wolves in these unsafe lands.

The song swelling hurls green waves over the walls, the day grows clad in vegetation, the night hooded with teal, and there the shadow figures hide.

The voice of Merillë is cleft in twain by its own magic, descending to low tones as a voice of man: in a glade broken open by birdcalls Celebrimbor speaks words of power, hiding them all under the mantle of his craft. In their concealment, he sings tenderly, for the boy whom fate shall call to kingship, a wordless lullaby.

Three days later they cast off the forest like a garment, coming into the plain by Eglarest.

Celebrimbor delivers them to the care of Círdan. The images fade, threads of time plucked from their tapestry, falling apart shredded.

The song-gift softens and comes to an end.

In the silence, reclaimed by solid architecture, Ercassë’s mouth curls upwards ever so faintly, wounded by roots planted and left behind in her, deeply sunk within her spirit.

« The tune », she says delicately, « that Tyelpo hummed for your son. »

Merillë’s hands rest on her legs as she smiles. « Yours? »

Layers of things, layers of people, like robes worn over more robes; undressing them to stark nakedness, at times to stark darkness, was ever Ercassë’s pleasure and past time. A hard truth to learn that she has not shed all her layers to reach her own bare truth. That node where the tangle of herself lies.

Perhaps she never shall.

« No », she answers. « His father’s. »

And out of love, and nothing but love, she never shall try to peel away the layers from Tyelperinquar.

Merillë wets her lips. « I thought… »

« To bring me a joy, lady, I know. You have. My son has tried, over and over he has tried, to rescue salvageable remnants from the wreck, and more than that, to let them regrow in their glory – it is not in his blood to relent, to bend and yield to the plunder of doom and time. He has but recently returned, and what does he do? » Her hand lifts slowly, gesturing encompassing. « He rebuilds ruins. »

Merillë breathes out, the roses on her head glimmering with dew that does not dry. « Then I will count my choice to come to you a good one. »

 

*

 

Finduilas, taken both her husband and Tyelperinquar by their hands, is leading them into the great hall, her smile so bright.

Ercassë searches her son’s face, his expression curiously stunned, as if overcome by wonder. His thoughts expand like warmth from the hearth, leaving them all basking in his amazed delight, a delight no lesser than Finduilas’, who beams with satisfaction, encased by Vinyator’s quiet pride.

Lifting an eyebrow, Ercassë waits.

Her son takes a breath and releases his heart with it. « A dwarf came to Valinor. »

« The boat », Finduilas explains again for Ercassë’s sake, « was spotted from the coast of Tol Eressëa. We hear they docked at the harbour in Alqualondë. »

The children of Aulë’s soul, marvel of his secret flame, earth-sleepers whom her son had loved.

She smiles, faintly but not without encouragement. « You ought to go to Tirion, Tyelpo. Ask where he dwells. »

Word from the sea, that was the gift; news that is fresh, brought promptly before the passage of time in the eternal lands makes one forget that, though decay is warded off, mortality cannot ever be taken away from those who are given it.

A chance, before chance was lost.

 

*

 

When from heaven breaks open the infinite air and the swift night comes, Ercassë leads the Queen of Roses to the rooms that her son’s people cleaned for their rest.

« It was your daughter’s wish », she says, « —to come here. »

« Indeed. »

Ercassë turns, looking over her shoulder, observing Merillë’s fair face. « And your husband… »

« Was otherwise occupied. In time, perhaps, he shall come – he is soft-spoken and, these days, he doesn’t wish to waste breath. But I, Lady Nuldavëa, I try to set my grudges to rest. »

« And are you succeeding? »

Merillë’s eyes flutter close, for a moment, like butterfly’s wings. « I think I am. »

They are in the corridor, empty but for its carven poem.

But for the northern windows, that in Aman are for starlight.

 

***

 

Tirion the white-walled, Tirion the beautiful, city of diamond and marble and crystal stairs. One of the early philosophies of the Guild of Architects had been that the making of a city was a repetition of the world’s creation – and therefore Tirion had walls because Aman was circled by the Pelóri, therefore Ingwë had built himself a tower as an act of imitation and worship of Taniquetil.

Then had come matters of jurisdiction: what the walls delimit, there rules the crown of Finwë. And after, matters of lore and beauty: as we traced the lines of our camps in the long journey from the east, here we now trace the boundaries of the first of our settlements, which with the blessing of the Valar we have claimed. Be it then the greatest of our houses and the last of our bourns.

It was not until later in the history of Tirion that the atavic fear whispered into the ornate limestones when the walls had first risen had been acknowledged; later, during the feud of the princely houses. Did we not build walls and gates, went the saying in those times, to keep ourselves safe against the darkness? – Why should we then abandon them?

If ye truly trusted the Powers and keepers of Valinor, went the answer, ye would not lock yourselves in – ye would dwell in the valleys and on the mountain slopes, and put your lives in their hands.

The debates of the Guild had become meaningless for a long time thereafter, when in Endor walls, gates, and fortresses had been the necessary children of war.

Tirion is a city of memories, even now. As Celebrimbor climbs the green hill, quartz dust yet clings to his feet.

 

*

 

The building of the Guild of Architects is one of the oldest of Tirion, for whatever value age may have in these matters – it is nonetheless recognisable as the sturdy style that was employed by the Noldor and Vanyar in the forenoon of Aman, even though the façade was later covered by carven marble sheets;  its large entrance archway points southeast, towards the Ezellohar where once grew the Trees and its first and greatest hall is circular, a large stone table at the centre, upon which the first construction plans were spread by many hands.

The woman who greets him, or attempts to, wavers in sudden uneasy silence, drifting between names and forms of address; he can see them play out in her eyes and on her tongue – the true formality of Lord Curufinwë , which she cannot bring herself to say, the freedom of taking his epessë and choosing, herself, in which language it should be used, and whether she ought to pronounce it in the Noldorin or Telerin manner; and his mother-name, easily discarded as too bold a familiarity.

Tyelperinquar, the way his family said it; Telperinpar, the way it was bestowed upon him by the silversmiths; Celebrimbor, the way lore records it.

He drifts with her in her indecision; for each name is a shade of him.

Celebrimbor smiles, holding the copied blueprints of Formenos, changed and renewed, under his arm.

« Lord Telpinquar », she says at last, straightening.

His smile widens – he has not heard that shortening in some time. He surrenders to her the reconstructions plans, to be stored away in the great archive that grew attached to the guild’s hall. She bows too deeply, the slight blush on her cheeks a reminder that he, too, is one of this city’s memories.

His duty in the guilt taken care of, he turns and keeps climbing, higher through the streets and upon the staircases, the waning sun a caress on the deep maroon of his clothes. He finds the great square and the house of the King, seeking Galadriel.

 

*

 

She dons white, as had been her custom in Endor, and from her neck dangles a long yellow necklace of gold and citrines. Celebrimbor reaches out and she takes his hand in hers, squeezing it, and upon her finger sits Nenya, the adamantine stone glittering. Cloudless, the copper-green sky gleams through the tall windows, pierced by the one solitary jewel-star.

« Is it Lady Alatáriel, now? », Celebrimbor asks, smiling. « The servant introduced you thus. »

« It is popular in Alqualondë – it is for their convenience that I translated it, and it seems that Tirion too enjoys it. Nay, Galadriel shall do, and let us speak Sindarin besides: I have a guest. »

She pulls a gauze curtain to the sitting room beyond and Celebrimbor steps in, not without curiosity and not without surprise, for the room seems empty. Then, from the plush chairs by the low carven table, a small figure, curved on itself like an ancient root, looks up from under a heavy brow, clutching a delicate cup between his wrinkled hands.

« Mister Celebrimbor », he exclaims, his voice fragile from his venerable age. « Pleased to see you. It is you, isn’t it? »

Celebrimbor’s smile grows with a curious fondness for the small creature with whom he has spoken no more than twice. « Mister Bilba. It is me. »

« What a pleasure. I was just sampling this little thing the Lady offered me, delightful infusion, vervain you said it is? Vervain. » He twirls a silver spoon inside the cup with a tinkle of bells. « What did you say you came here for, Mr. Celebrimbor? »

Galadriel sits herself slowly, gathering the great folds of her gowns in her hands, letting them spread wing-like to the sides of her legs, and gestures to Celebrimbor to do the same, and there are songs that rise from below as the revery of dusk advances; songs and nightingales, as it is passed from one bird to another, the whole gift of the day.

« I did not say it yet », Celebrimbor answers gently as he takes a seat of his own. His eyes find Galadriel’s and her smile is knowing.

« He is here », she says, « for Gimli son of Glóin. »

« Glóin! », Bilba startles, taken by a sudden brightness of mood. « I should like to see Glóin, but his son – exquisite lad, such gravity and steady heart, I was very glad to meet him again – he is old, however – I fear I will not see poor Glóin again, when his son is so old. Oh, but my nephew was very glad to find Gimli and his friend again – have you spoken with Maura quite yet, Mr. Celebrimbor? I should think you would like it. »

There is a malady of heart laid upon the Ringbearer, they say; he often dwells in Lórien among the silver willows, where his gardener companion delights in the flowers, where both may draw their refreshment from the many fountains and find their bodies rejuvenated. Celebrimbor’s smile grows sad. « I should think so as well. Nay, not yet, though I shall. »

« Jolly good. » Then Bilba sips, his lips subtly sucked inwards with the strange shape they take when there are missing teeth. « Gimli, then! Have you met Gimli? Lovely lad, he is. »

« I came to ask where he dwells, in fact. » He glances at Galadriel. « I hear you… pulled some strings, shall we say? »

« What an overstatement. Merillë-i-Turinqui sent word to Olwë when her mariners spotted the boat on the confines of the horizon, and my grandfather sent word to my father, who then told me , whereupon I sent word to Aulë’s people, whom I understand already well knew, for Ossë had known before Meril, and had spoken to Ulmo, who had then spoken to Aulë. So I pleaded with Aulë on behalf of Iorhael, which is to say Maura Labingi, who – it ought to be said – didn’t know a thing of it all yet. I hear that Aulë spoke to Manwë afterwards. Thus, the boat with Gimli and the young Prince Legolas was let through. »

« Legolas, also such a darling lad. His father named me Elf-friend, Mr. Celebrimbor, did I ever tell you? »

Celebrimbor blinks, picking up a vervain cup of his own. « I am afraid not. Legolas, son of? »

« Thranduil », Bilba offers with great self-satisfaction.

« Thranduil, son of Oropher, son of Elmo, brother of Thingol? »

« Well, I wouldn’t know that. »

Celebrimbor turns to Galadriel, who, statue of peace that she appears, hides the laughter at the corners of her eyes all too well.

He gazes outside, blankly. « Wonderful. »

« Thranduil is a charming young man, Mr. Celebrimbor. Have I ever told you the story of our meeting? As it happens, I was in Erebor with— »

« My, ah, sincerest apologies for the interruption, Mr. Bilba, but is this the story of the jewel? »

« Indeed. »

« Then perhaps let us... keep that one for after dinner. »

 

*

 

« How fares your mother? », Galadriel asks.

The lights of Tirion under the terrace twinkle, as far high above them the Mindon Eldaliéva casts a silver light upon the roofs and streets; and in the nightly beauty the stars tremble and the moon beckons from behind the velvet of a cloud; as above, so below.

« She is in Formenos still », Celebrimbor answers, his hands resting on the stone balaustre, the texture under his fingertips smooth, sanded to perfection by its first builders. « Designing, overseeing, building, baking, weaving gems into her hair. She fares well, I think. You ought to ask me again when the work is done. »

Galadriel leans against the balaustre, her hip cocked and her eyes agleam. « And how fare you ? »

His eyes rise to Rána, its pallid disk, Rána the wayward.

« I live, lady », says Celebrimbor. « And in living I piece myself together – the worst of it was done in the Halls, but some things one cannot face until he can meet his own again. » From the moon, he turns slowly to Galadriel again. « I was surprised to find you this side of the world. I had thought, I suppose – that you would sooner fade in the woods of Endor. »

Her long fingers tap on the railing, and Celebrimbor adds, « I do not judge you in this. One of my people says that we live in retreats – in a narrative of diminishment. I have on occasion thought her right. »

« Some ambitions », Galadriel answers slowly, « must be abandoned. I was left with no more tasks but that of lingering, and with few desires. One must know when it is time to leave the stage with grace – and at least one victory. »

Celebrimbor snorts, but softly. « I suppose I must still look very disreputable, with my claiming of the fortress and all this fuss of renovation. »

« Those who have eyes for looking shall see it for what it is. The beginning of a healing. A preparation for things to come, the tending of the ground for sowing even as it looks barren. But nay, not barren: the right hand may nurture it. At times one finds glory in loss, not by nature of character, but by necessity of circumstance. Things may yet be made great. » Her finger where Nenya sits flexes. « Even though they rot after we are gone. »

He is silent; the city breathes and, in the distance from the sea, a lullaby ebbs and sways. « When I think of how dearly we toiled and how gladly we laboured in Endor, and the loss of it all – my heart aches with a pain quite close to mourning. » A breath. « Still I do not regret a moment of it. »

« Ah – neither do I. » A flowing step, and Galadriel moves away from the Balustrade, stepping under the archway that brings back into her apartments. There she pauses. « You should know that Legolas didn’t choose to be here either. He heard the call of the gulls. And though his grandfather has returned and dwells in the forests among the rest of his folk, his parents have not come. But when Gimli was old enough that death might touch him, Legolas chose to sail. Some have deemed it strange. »

Narvi, he thinks.

Narvi whose true name was spoken aloud twice: once when Narvi gifted it to him; the second, on his bed, as he lay dying.

Deeply, Celebrimbor exhales. « It is not strange to me. »

He might have made the same choice, had he lived another life.

Galadriel smiles in the silvery dark. « Somehow, I thought as much. »

He observes her glowing shape framed by the columns, the mithril ring, and the wedding band for a husband on the other side of the straight road. Turning his back to the city, his palms rest on the railway. « Is it true, lady, that you do not regret it? »

She halts.

« Our toiling and labouring, seeking to preserve and recreate… Do you regret it? », he continues. « You speak wisdom, but do so humbled. You were not so, once; I do not remember you ever being so. Do you regret it, then? »

Her pause is long and thoughtful. « Nay », she says, at length.

« And », he continues, with steadfast carefulness, « do you regret the return? »

Her mind is locked, like the core of a mountain – a sheet of smoked diamond, opaque, impenetrable. « Your follower who says that, in our stories, we retreat, may not be mistaken. I had one last path to attempt, one last leap in the dark: through Sauron and his power. Too close did I come to the enslavement of myself, and this retreat, I think, was the lesser loss. »

Slowly, wetting his lips, Celebrimbor steps away from the balustrade; he tastes the name of Gorthaur in his thoughts and finds it flavourless, with a tinge of bitterness and the faintest crawl over his reborn skin. He takes the hand with Nenya, still beautiful though powerless. « Build something, lady, for yourself and your own, and by yourself, for no reason other than creating, no pleasure other than that of opening a door. »

Her mouth curls with a light chuckle. « Very disreputable indeed. »

Celebrimbor smiles, letting her go and taking a step inside.

 

***  

 

Ercassë lifts the necklace that was brought to her to Formenos from the chest where it slumbers.

In any land, in any epoch, no matter the change of taste or the preferred aesthetics, this necklace would be deemed beautiful for the sheer skill of its make. The hooks of the golden chain are as a fine woven willow, and from the chain hang two carved, paper-thin flames of jade, so overflowing with grace that they resemble the core of a flower, holly leaves, a mayfly’s wings. They cradle bunched red berries, rubies polished to perfect spheres and paired with minute diamonds, and from them a thread falls, at its bottom hanging a fire opal that would rest upon her breast.

Stricken by the light, the opal flares into a rainbow, dancing on the walls, on the ceiling, on the floor, its hues a warm marvel, the orange of orchards specked with green as bright as the northern aurora.

Ercassë sits with the necklace at the worktable and wastes no time observing it with the naked eye. She takes a lens and presses the stout little tube to her right eye, so that she may see things so small that not even the sight of the Eldar might otherwise uncover.

She searches for flaws.

In the engraving of the jade, the shaping of the gold, the cutting of the gems, the encasing of the crystals, the infinitesimally small chain links of the opal-hanging thread. She searches for scratches, unsound lines, chipping, casting blemishes, disharmonies, even the slightest lack of care in the polishing within the nooks that no one shall see when the jewel is worn.

And finds none.

The work is peerless beyond comprehension.

Thus Ercassë takes up a small chisel and, setting down the lens and straightening, looks at the necklace laid upon the working table, set in the cone of sunlight coming in from the high windows.

She wonders if blasphemy is a worthwhile endeavour, for the sake of discovery. Her husband had certainly thought so. And, if Tyelperinquar’s choice to stay in Endor is to be observed from every angle and without the guiles of love to cloud judgement, perhaps so had he. And destruction is certainly a kind of blasphemy.

She hits the jade with the chisel. It is truly as fine as parchment, impossibly fair.

This is the spark she sought: the moment in which brutally she peels away the layers of herself. What lies beyond the blasphemy of this? Her horror, or perhaps her relief?

The truth is unexpected. For the truth is that the paper-thin jade does not break. Words of too great a power were spoken in its making, and frail as it may look, it sits before her yet unharmed in its bright perfection.

Not many jewels made by the hands of Fëanáro still exist in Arda, the great bulk of them eaten by the monstrous spider – how just as monstrous an act she attempted, she reflects, coolly – to maim impeccable beauty so to discover whether it should harm her own heart.

Here lies her second chance; surely, if she took a hammer to it, it would break not unlike all other lesser things.

Ercassë sets down the chisel and stands, taking the necklace in her hand; the earthly glow of the opal sways across the stones like a slow sunset. She puts her wedding gift back in the velvet-lined chest and exhales with sudden sharpness, leaning on the sturdy oaken box, then breathes in again the cold air of Formenos.

 

*

 

« I know how to receive a dwarf », her son says. « But the kin of Thingollo, with a name fashioned in the silvan dialect – that I do not know. »

The thick black plait of Tyelperinquar’s hair falls over the chair’s backrest as her son sits in stillness, facing the window, and beyond the window, the terrace; beyond the terrace, the rugged landscape of the highlands. Daylight, a mantle, flutters in its birth upon the tiled floors, the carvings on the arch, with gossamer softness.

Ercassë undoes the plait, brushing through the long spill of ink-dark locks. « And do you terribly care about what the kin of Thingollo thinks of you? »

« Not terribly. But I care that my guests be received with the highest hospitality. »

« Which you shall provide. If they take offense to our customs, that is hardly your problem. » Dividing the locks with nimble patience, Ercassë builds him new braids, more elaborate, more formal, the likes of which they used to wear once upon a time in Tirion’s court. « Take heart, Tyelpo: they accepted your invitation. Do not overfret about the symbols you don or the words of your welcome. »

He huffs a chuckle. In the silence that follows, he acquiesces, pensive, his thoughts following twisting paths, the way Ercassë twists his hair into a weaving. Then she takes the circlet her son forged, so hastily that a lesser craftsman would certainly have failed to make anything worthwhile, and sets it upon his head, drawing the last of the raven locks around the metal: true-silver that had come from the House of Aulë in gift, fashioned into withes of holly, housing leaves of malachite and berries of carnelian red.

And why Aulë himself had sent a gift, she had not asked. Ever had the Smith loved the Noldor, and even more so the Noldor’s great artists. The chest of true-silver had come with a note from Mahtan the Aulendur – Aulë blesses your building, it had said, and sends you a token: the silver metal that you had loved for your silver hands.

A gift , they had called it.

Ercassë had thought it an apology from the Vala. Like fishbones plucked clean, a silent, timid expression of regret for what her son had endured at the hands of Aulë’s wayward monster.

Tyelperinquar stands, gathering the red cloth about him, adjusting it, smoothing it down under his palms, tracing the silver and green embroideries with his ringed fingers. He turns to her, tall and fair. She had watched him leave a young man, once; he has returned to her a lord.

 

***

 

While Celebrimbor stands on the high terrace, his brow bejewelled, there comes the cold clear dawn, growing into the glow of the morrow. Many sounds rise from around him: the rhythmic thud of the stone carvers, the calls of the builders as they haul the boulders for construction, the distant hiss of the forges, the occasional laughter, the trill of a song.

On the old path that winds up from the Híri stream, a grey horse approaches. The first rider is an elf, lithe as a beech tree, clad in green and brown, his hair a dark honey gold, but the second rider sits behind him, and holds onto him with attention and strength in the grip of his old hands.

Hlarindë, who sits perched like a hawk on the remains of the outer walls, descends gracefully and walks to meet the slowing horse. The one who must be Legolas Thranduilion dismounts and, a few words exchanged, they both aid the dwarf in doing the same. Gimli son of Glóin is a bent figure, a stout statue that curved under its own weight. His full beard is white as mountain peaks, and locks upon his head are scarce and thin; age sits upon his brow with pride, and yet it is enough to clench one’s heart.

Celebrimbor takes in a breath and turns from the wrought iron railway, leaving his rooms, walking down three flights of stairs, finally moving into the atrium, whose pavement has been torn up. He passes through the empty space where the twisted entrance gates half hanged, ruined; they have been long melted now.

In the wide courtyard, many are those who paused to gaze upon the visitors. Tárahathil, who had gained great familiarity with the dwarves in his dealings, first in Thargelion and then in Ost-in-Edhil, is standing with them when Celebrimbor arrives.

Coming to stand before them, he opens an arm in a sweeping gesture and bends at the waist, bowing in the dwarven fashion as it was the custom of Eregion. He straightens, and smiles. « I am Curufinwë Ilvanon, who was titled Telperinquar – and Celebrimbor, afterwards – and that is the name by which you may call me. I am Lord of this house, and my halls are your halls, my smithies your smithies, my knowledge your own. May the water of this valley quench you and the shadows of our trees shelter you, though they be but thickets. »

« A proper welcome! », says the dwarf approvingly, whose hand clasps the forearm of Legolas for support. « I expected no less from the friend of Narvi. And I am Gimli, the son of Glóin, once the Lord of Gilmînagâr, the glorious caves that glitter. »

« And I think you know me well by hearsay, lord, but I am Legolas, the son of Thranduil and Gwaerain, and Prince of Eryn Lasgalen – and Lord of Ithilien that is in the world left behind. » His eyes lift to the pinnacles of Formenos which rise behind Celebrimbor. « Do you know that the stones speak of you, in the lands you left? I can tell why. »

Celebrimbor’s smile grows touched by sadness. The land he ruled, the land for which he trusted against counsel, for which he bled, and with him so many others – its memory at an ocean of distance, and yet so clear in his heart. He is uncertain that Legolas is paying him a compliment, but he decides that it is too early in this visit to care. A look to Tárahathil, of quiet dismissal, and his friend and servant bows and steps back.

« Come », Celebrimbor says then, « follow me inside. »

Gimli is slow to climb the great entrance staircase, persevering step after step, the old bones moving by virtue of what seems sheer pride. The eyes of Legolas, as Celebrimbor pauses on the landing and turns, wander around with intent, as if he were grounded on the straight path by nothing but the dwarf’s presence and the help he must provide.

In a cool side room, Celebrimbor offers them seats, which Gimli takes, but Legolas does not. His walk is light as he moves to the mullioned windows, gazing outside with his head tilted in whimsical curiosity. In this silence, Celebrimbor cannot tear his eyes away from the dwarf, whose back curves as he sits at rest, whose eyebrows droop with tiredness, the frailty of him hidden by his girth; like Bilba, he is very old.

He wonders if Legolas is prepared for this kind of loss – he hopes he is.

When he looks to Legolas again, the Prince is now staring at the circlet he forged to receive them.

« Well, I thought », Legolas says, « the Lord Celebrimbor wants to see Gimli my friend. But certainly not me! My grandfather claimed you extended your invitation out of courtesy, for surely you would know we would come together or not at all. But here I see your crown and I wonder, perhaps I was mistaken? My father wore often one such crown upon his head. But it is no jewel. True leaves and berries, woven together for him each new season. »

Celebrimbor takes a seat for himself, slowly, at the marble table across Gimli. « A happy coincidence. I ruled the land of holly trees, once. And it is, also, the name of my mother. » In that moment, the servants come in with a carafe and refreshments, setting them table over a cloth of the finest lace. « But », he continues, nodding his head to his folks in gratitude, « it is more than courtesy. I thought – anyone who came to Aman with a friend such as yours is one I would wish to meet. Even though, perhaps, you both mourn the loss of the realm you left behind. »

« Mourn », Gimli says, lifting his head as if startled. « Nay. Mahal will meet me soon. Who of ours but our ancestors had the honour to speak with him in life? But he shall meet me soon when I return to him and my body is spent. My life was long, and great was my joy as I spent it with my companions, mighty my honour in Gilmînagâr, and brilliant the glory of my people. A life well spent! And a loss that would have come whether I were to behold these lands or not, or see the Lady Galadriel again at that. » He huffs a rumbling laughter. « Come!, said Legolas, come with me and I shall take you in the West. Well, I told myself, if he brings you to drown, it’s one way as another to die! Though it would have pained me to disappear under the waves, rather than rest in my beautiful gem-gardens. Nay, Lord Celebrimbor – all my mourning is that of the father who shall not be there to see how his people fare without him, and hold their hand through the years that pass. A hard notion to grasp for elves, I have found. You exist on the scale of the lives of stars. »

Celebrimbor remembers a summer morning. When lying on a deathbed he had watched the dawn remake the world in its antique pattern, and even the wind, coming down from the mountains, wandering around the still-silent dwelling, was but a sigh, as though it feared to wake the sleeper.

Against his arm, Narvi had rested throughout the night, taken by the fitful dreams of the last of his breath. In the dew-drenched garden, the birds had been speaking to the flowers.

I want you to remember , Celebrimbor had said — as your spirit returns to Mahal, I want you to remember that you kindled flames in me. And I will carry the happiness that you gave me in my heart, ‘till the world is remade.

Narvi had been carried back inside Khazad-dûm that day, to lie on pillows laid upon a heavy slab of stone, under the great vaults where his kindred may gather around him. Celebrimbor had sat by him. And then had sat by his mausoleum, his hair veiled, a braid cut, as the dwarves tore their beards and wailed.

I grieve not my death , Narvi had said. But dearly do I grieve your solitude .

Had he too been gifted and cursed with immortality, perhaps things would have come to pass differently, long after, when Gorthaur came.

Celebrimbor lifts his eyes to Legolas, and he is struck by the ache that is painted on the tan face, he is struck by the gaze that rests on Gimli, and then loses focus and turns eastwards. In the last curve of Legolas’ gaze, their eyes then meet – the prince, too, is startled, Celebrimbor fancies in recognition.

At last Legolas looks away and resumes his pacing. « I have the memory. Alas, the sea called for me, though little did I want it. And when Elessar died, whom I loved, little there was left for me there but the pain of sea-longing. Gimli makes fun of me. I would never bring him to drown. »

Little, but another death, and the solitude afterwards.

Celebrimbor smiles slightly. « Quite the name did the King of Gondor take. I made that stone. Or perhaps I should say, I made the third of its kind. »

Gimli hums. « I haven’t met a lot of gem-making elves. I would have thought your kin a little less strange, I daresay, had I known your like. »

Though Celebrimbor laughs, Legolas turns to them swiftly. « The Lord Celebrimbor ought to find his own dwarf friends! »

« Would it that I could in Aman. » He stretches, taking the carafe, pouring water from the crystal. « But come, nourish yourselves. And maybe we shall speak of memory some more, and some glad things as well. »

The hand of Gimli is knobby, callused, despite the refinement of the rings that adorn it, the hand of a warrior and a mason and a smith in his late years; it reaches out carefully and takes the quartz glass, the tips of his fingers tracing its make, its cut, before he is satisfied and sips from it.

Legolas, though he steps close, resting an arm on the high back of the carven chairs, does not yet sit. « Is memory not glad to you? »

Celebrimbor sets down the carafe, a hard dull sound of solid gem against the marble. He wonders how many edges the question hides, how many subtly treacherous paths – he chooses to ignore them; he deliberates that, if there is a game of rhetoric hidden in this, then he shall not play it.

He thinks of Hlarindë, of her confession on retreats that she had once shared with him, calmly, almost bitterly. But she had shared something else also.

« It is », he answers, « more alike a weathervane, one of mine said once. You met her not half an hour ago, sitting upon the rocks as a bird of prey – she came to your horse to help you. A weathervane for our thought shards, she said, and the metal shall swirl and send our ashes in both directions, to the east, to the west, and in each horizon we shall be both spat upon and remembered. In both directions, memory shall be our legacy, and we will finally be home. Rent in two, but mended in time. » Beginning with a long inhale, Celebrimbor touches the skin of his wrist with the fingers of the other. The flesh, this flesh, does not quite recall the whole truth – some memories are of broken bones and pieces of him torn and torn, ripped and pulled, with the hope that words should be pried from his mouth by force; some memories are of bitter treason. He exhales with a slow, calculated, near-detached sort of breathing. « So I sit here, though abandoning Endor was not my choice », he says, and holds the edge of the table subtly, so that his flesh may leave the phantom of its past and stop recalling. « And I mend. »

Legolas circles the chair, takes up the glass and, at length, says, « Your metaphors are foreign to me. But your meaning is not, I suppose, whether that is to my liking or isn’t. »

Gimli remains gravely in silence. He too at last adds, « Not many glad things that you share. You are a melancholic people. »

« I apologise for bringing gloom to your morning », Celebrimbor says, and smiles. « I shall perhaps speak of Khazad-dûm and its tales instead, as it was in its glory. »

But Legolas interrupts, smacking his lips as he drinks. « Your water is fresh! What is the name of the stream that I saw trickling by the path outside? »

« You speak of the Híri. »

« It reminds me… Gimli, do you see it? »

« The Sirannon! », the dwarf exclaims. « Indeed, I see it. »

A small and sudden spark of longing joy is roused in Celebrimbor as the image of the Gate-stream that emerged from near the Doors of Durin, its bubbling noisy waters, returns to his heart. Its falls tumbled from rock to rock, and then swiftly fled away, running inside a swift channel. The soil there was like that of the dale of Sirnúmen, soil where water from the mountains at times seeped underground, and where, in the heights, it had once carved the first caves that would one day be Dwarrowdelf, a complex of grottos, and occasional limestone layers, and evaporites – not unlike the caves that in Sirnúmen hide, like chests of stone, the pure gems of Valinor.  

The echoes of Eregion had been echoes of youth, echoes that had come to him when he first had seen its red and brown stones and its holly trees, and the song of the Sirannon had called — come, it had called, come and drink of me, make a home of us, in the springs of your remembrance.

Celebrimbor had recalled a father and a mother.

« Though », Gimli continues, « the Sirannon’s ribbon was dammed, and would not have disappeared otherwise. »

« Dammed », Celebrimbor says, his eyebrows rising. « Different indeed, if it was dammed. It seems that you have just as much to tell me of it as I might. »

« You were gone a long time », Legolas answers, and sips again. « But as I drink of your water, and it is salubrious, then I will speak to you of your lands in return, and perhaps also of mine. In Ithilien, we enjoyed friendship with Gimli’s people. »

« I should be glad to hear of Narvi’s kin and of the House of Durin as he lived again. »

« And I should be glad to hear of Ithilien and Gilmînagâr. » Celebrimbor’s smile is slow, and his pleasure deep enough that it brushes shoulders all too easily with ancient love. « I have not spoken Khuzdul in too long, besides. »

Gimli’s dark eyes sparkle under the thick brows and Legolas, finally, also sits down.

 

*

 

Legolas asks, later, as Gimli rests asleep – « What do you mend? »

And Celebrimbor answers, « Firstly and chiefly, myself. With it, the rest shall come. »

 

*

 

« You offered, Lord Celebrimbor, with a generous heart, to share your lore. You ask me now what I should like to take with me for the return journey; you say you give gifts without deceit. Then I ask this only: that once, before we depart from your halls, I may see the making of the moon runes and carry this knowledge with me. »

This Gimli wants of him, standing as he grips Legolas’ arm again, the day after. There is a light in the dwarf’s eyes, a desire to see this marvel unfold, though his shoulders are slightly bent, burdened by the invisible weariness of his years.

Legolas remains silent, asking for nothing, and Celebrimbor bows his head slightly, acquiescing. « I should be glad to show you the craft of the Gwaith-i-Mírdain. Its making with Narvi was my pride. »

Changed into grey work garments and a sturdy apron, he leads the two to Formenos’ northern side, at its ground levels, patiently to account for Gimli’s slow steps: there burn the forges, old and new, great smithies tucked under a colonnade, the pillars large and strong, the ceiling’s vaults darkened by the smokes, and the breeze shudders in, fresh as the dew. Many of his people toil there under the warm, intense eyes of Huorelendë, and make metal casings for the stained glass, handles for the new windows and doors, hinges, beams, and many other small things for a life to rebuild; and in the furnaces, terracotta and bricks are cooked, while the masons cut the stones in the wide back garden.

Having claimed one of the adjoining rooms, Celebrimbor tells her to bring him the mithril; he tells her that he would be delighted to have her assist. Gimli sits down almost by dropping on the chair; they cannot know the pain of his bones, but Celebrimbor cannot imagine that Legolas does not feel it regardless. As ever do they feel it when those of the mortal races pass from their bodies.

And Legolas moves from wall to wall, as if the rigid shape of them did not sit right with his understanding of how the world works.

Huorelendë brings a cup of white powder and a basin full of water. The one is poured in the other, and the powder slowly begins dissolving.

« Silver salts », Celebrimbor says, under Gimli’s watchful eyes.

She then carries a block of mithril, its colour as silvery and yet more beautiful, and together she and Celebrimbor retrace old steps, as if with strange sorrow. Gloved, they put a tall vase of acid on the fire and immerse the lingot in it, ‘till it boils, and in boiling the acid turns red and orange as the most beautiful of sunsets, bubbling up as the clouds, its gas coating the glass vase, then extracted through the hooded chimney-like hole, made so many ages ago by the hands of his own grandfather. Huorelendë pours water, the mithril dissolves away entirely, its sunset glittering, and at last Celebrimbor speaks a word of heat, eliciting a great vapour.

When it fades, sucked away and spat outside through the ceiling hole, the glass vase has a crystal inside. It gleams with silver-blue beauty, a salt shard-like.

Gimli leans forward from this chair and whispers, « Mithril nitrate. »

Celebrimbor smiles.

This new salt, they pour into the water basin, then add a bar of copper. As it darkens in the solution, they all sit and speak of Narvi, of Narvi’s cousins, of his apprentices, those whom he adopted, and the guilds of Khazad-Dûm, of Durin the Deathless, and all the while the copper blackens and dissolves into silvery shapes like frost upon the ground on a winter’s morrow. And those too flicker, eaten away as glitter, into apparent nothingness. But the water turns as blue as the high heavens, aglow.  

Legolas, who circles the basin, suddenly says, « You unmade it! A bar of metal, and you unmade it. »

« We merely changed it », Huorelendë answers. Then beams. « It shall return under another form. »

And Gimli laughs with a low rumble, so fond that Legolas may only sigh in answer.

« Why don’t we bring in berries from the dale, as we wait? », Celebrimbor suggests, his hands sliding down the leather of the apron, feeling it known, familiar, softened by loving use.

And wait they do, as the last of the copper turns to frost, and frost to nothing, while the azure water glisters with star-like sparkles. The Lord of Ithilien plucks red currants and juicy brambles from the plate they are served, and though they speak more of the woods of Endor, as if to balance the music of the forges with talk of trees, they do not touch again upon the choice to stay or leave, nor upon the Rings of Power, or the Ring of Durin, or the others of the Seven, one of which Huorelendë had crafted. They dance their way around it, omissions for which Celebrimbor, briefly, feels something not unlike gratefulness.

At last, Huorelendë stands and moves by the basin, then takes a vial from the great many they recently lined on the carven stone shelves, and droplet by droplet, like a stalactite giving beads of itself to its twin on the ground, she adds to the solution, and in adding she stirs.

« There », she says under her breath, proud as a mother, « it returns. »

Each new drop of the sulphuric acid, its smell pungent in their noses, gives the copper back its colour, dark green swirls as the clouds of Manwë’s worst moods. Thus the water muddies; thus, all the dissolved copper, growing heavy with the burden of its oxidation, falls to the bottom of the basin, and the now bluish yet clear water atop shines like the unborn children of Varda.

Celebrimbor exhales and stands from his small chair. It is as if something precipitated in him as well, mirroring, and perhaps what sunk to the bottom of his spirit is an absence. For one may forget betrayal, one might even forgive it yet, one might take the shattered pieces it left behind and weld them into a whole again. His bones, which were cleansed with tears, which he unearthed, he may take and inhabit anew. But grief which comes from love unsullied opens a nest in one’s heart — and it is hollow.

And if what he welded is a chain of rings, the empty nest of his grief is made of mithril runes and moonlight.

He circles the basin slowly, under the eyes of Huorelendë, and Legolas, and Gimli, seeing again, for the first time since his death, the radiance of Ithildin in its making.

He reaches out, his outstretched fingers sliding almost against the water, where he knows minuscule crystals of mithril float in suspension, responsive to sounds and commands. So he reaches into that primaeval space of creation where word is sheer power, and where things exist as their names. « See it answer », he says, the glitter in the water trailing after the path of his fingers without hardly even being touched. « See it follow me. Speak your spells as you draw with it, and it shall react to those only. Trace it under the waxing moon, and it shall shine under no wavelength but the very same. » He straightens. « And so forth. Now, Huorelendë, let us filter it. »

The cloth that they use is fine as spidersilk, off-white, the colour of old snow. Cup after cup, they pour the water from the basin on top of the cloth, stretched on the mouth of another vase, gathering the copper on top of it, letting the brilliant mithril-water through. Celebrimbor disturbs the copper residue with a spoon, pours more water on top of it, for even in the remains the silvery crystals might hide, too small to be perceived even by his sight.

Their hands follow the known patterns of arts other called lost.

Celebrimbor has heard that in this age, few remain who know how to craft the blue lamps of the House of Fëanáro. He supposes it is his duty, then, to teach them again.

Filtered and diluted, the solution curls and turns, and its silent currents of stardust twist and spin, milky as Tilion, as a spray of quicksilver, a broth of firmament.

Celebrimbor briefly takes Huorelendë’s hand and squeezes it. There is a scarred weapon-slash on her forearm, its edges frayed – she hadn’t died, and she yet carries Eregion on her skin.

Then he turns to his guests. « It shall now rest, so it may concentrate with its evaporation. Then we shall mix it with glass paste or silicates. » A smile. « A vial of ink for you to take away, and the knowledge of its making. I hope, Gimli son of Glóin, that you deem it a fair gift. »

« I couldn’t guess a fairer one. »

Celebrimbor tilts his head. « And does Legolas Thranduilion ask for nothing? »

« Oh, I wouldn’t know! I only came as a courtesy, after all. »

 

*

 

His mother sees Lord Gimli and Prince Legolas to their horse. It is her, Tárahathil, and Celebrimbor coming forth on the stairs bathed in the slow treacly light of the late afternoon, who offer their farewells. And as he gives his vial, so that secret words may be shared between the two of them without prying eyes ever to discover them, he thinks of Bilba’s nephew who dwells in Lórien.

He thinks of the throes of agony that he endured, with strange detachment, as if they had befallen someone other than himself, and remembers the words that, from blood-sputtered lips and with tear-heavy eyes, he had spoken.

Hear me, deceiver. I spell thy doom, which was of thine own making. Thy death too shall come, and when it comes, thou shalt not recognise it .

Celebrimbor exhales, recalling his voice in that hour, haunting and hoarse, lung-strained creaking.

« Should you meet the Ringbearer », he says then, surprised by its wholeness now, the ease with which it comes out, « bring him my greetings. Tell him that I beg to see him, if he wishes to – one day. »

They agree, with smiles on their faces, and take their leave as the sun descends, a great furnace in the sky.

It bathes the dale of Sirnúmen in quivering, ardent light. In the distance, Gimli’s whitened hair takes on a dusky tinge and Legolas’ mead blond turns reddish, like cherries plucked at midnight, and it glints, so much that it is as if he were watching a ghost ride away, and at length disappear. 

The pines, scaly and bushy, have turned black but for their tips, ablaze with the last of the day. 

Celebrimbor turns at last, and looks into the eyes of his mother and Tárahathil, into their ancient tree-shine. « So then – how does the work proceed? My guests kept me mightily occupied. »

Tárahathil unclasps his hands; a ring with an obsidian stone sits on his middle finger, of new make. « The eastern walls are all down and the stones repurposed for the terraces; the western side which you gave to your people, lord, shall turn into a large dwelling, and many smaller ones, each according to the desires of those who wish to live in communal company and those who do not. The columns to raise a promenade next to the gates are ready for carving, and the new stained glass for the hall is soon to be blown. »

Celebrimbor glances at his mother, who serenely gazes at the eventide. 

« Thank you. You may go », he says, and Tárahathil bows almost stiffly, as is his custom, and retires inside.

Alone with her, Celebrimbor gathers his thoughts, so that he will not think of memories, and clings to that single thread of wonder. He tilts his head, nearly smiles. « You finished those designs and hardly even told me? »

« I hoped you might see them when they are done », his mother answers without turning. And then, her eyes shifting in his direction, an eyebrow arching: « Mithril nitrate? »

Celebrimbor snorts, thinking of the solution he left in the forge-laboratory. « You figured it out? »

« I figured it out, he asks! » His mother laughs, a rare enough thing. « Whom did you take me for, boy? Of course I did. One but needed to observe what you used. »

Or at least, he thought, one who had knowledge enough of such matters, and skill enough to gather the clues and make of them a whole. And his mother’s laughter is an old pattern, is like the riverbed of the Sirannon, where water now is dammed, and yet would find its ancient path with loving familiarity if one only but removed the boulders from the mouth of the lake. 

He turns slowly, towards the entrance hall beyond the staircase landing, where blue lamps shine on the pavement. The soot-marred floor that was before is gone, replaced by sheets of white marble inset with coloured stones: inlays of lazurite and sodalite, and cream and yellow cloud-patterned stones that Aulë made as Manwë breathed gently into the earth, and red granites, scarlet sheets traversed by stark white veins like lighting cutting through ominous skies. Assembled in geometric patterns, they glow under the lamps and greet guests with complicated beauty.

« I named it », Celebrimbor says quietly. « Mithril. Mítherillë. It is the name that I gave it. »

And he thinks — how do our words outlast us.

 

***

 

As is her wont, Ercassë has let what she observed seep into her.

She had returned because Tyelperinquar had asked it of her, she had returned to gaze upon the ruins. And the deeper in the dusty half-empty rooms she had walked, the more they had inhabited her. The more the ghost of Formenos had donned new flesh on its bones and had taken on her own face.

Until their joint labour had given birth to a new child of glass and metal and stone, a sibling for her child of spirit and mind and blood.

Perhaps, she thinks, reclined on a wicker chair on the high terrace, she should take up poetry again, so to purge herself of her brooding thoughts.

Her son opens the door in the rooms behind her and approaches; she knows it is him.

Tyelperinquar, wrapped in pale yellow with diamonds at his neck, like a flash of dawn, and the night of his hair yet spilling over his shoulders almost unbound, sits against the balaustre. « I have a thought about what the crowning of this endeavour ought to be. I wish to carve designs into the walls of Formenos. We shall begin tonight and — I would like you to join us, Huorelendë and I. Then there shall be the feast. »

« I may consider it. »

It is no denial, though it is a stalling – but Tyelpo, slowly, wets his lips and breathes out.

Ercassë needs not to hear his thoughts to guess at them, to see his shoulders lower ever so slightly and his gaze slide far away with something like disappointment. She closes her eyes briefly, her brows knitting. « I will do it », she corrects.

He is still and silent; she makes no attempt to reach to his mind.

A faint wind moves the gauzes wrapped around her resting legs, purple yet almost transparent, woven air. Ercassë knows not what to expect now – the awareness that she had last truly seen him when he was much younger, barely come of age, is cruel and harsh.

She could well repeat – yes, I shall do it; I shall shed my spectral pains and indecisions, that for long years I disregarded with pride and disdain, and I shall do it. Like lead, words do not rise from her chest to her mouth, and he is too far for a caress.

Then, carefully, he speaks. « I have… oft wondered, my lady mother, what you thought of me, refusing to return. Whether you thought me rash and stubborn in my choices. »

Ercassë’s mouth curls. « Stubborn, yea, you ever have been; but then again, we all were in some manner. But rash, Tyelpo, you are not. »

He smiles, but his face turns ever so slightly from her, as if in hiding. « I had oft wondered if you would understand it. »

She looks at her son and thinks that he does not have the temperament to flay her bare, down to the exposed sinews of her heart. It is time, perhaps, that she does it herself at last; that she does it for him, instead.

« Your father and I », Ercassë begins, « forgave each other much. In that way in which sometimes lovers and spouses forgive each other — without so much as a word being uttered or a converse begun. Much of what I ever said against him, he could forgive, and I likewise. But when I would say that his father, your grandfather, even should his words be true, was overhasty, immoderate in his reactions, and this very excess would lose him ground and rightness until he was to lose the very fight he set out to win — that he could not forgive. He never forgave a word I uttered against Fëanáro, and it mattered not whether I agreed or disagreed theoretically. The very act was treachery. And I in turn— I do not forgive— I could not forgive to be deemed a craven for what I saw unfold with my own eyes. Far too correct was I proven when the threat to Ñolofinwë came, and by then my wisdom was pride in truth, and I would not be led while being demeaned, I would not follow as the shadows and the ghosts and give anyone the satisfaction of it, to your father least of all. I could not forgive without an apology, and an apology never came; now, I think, it never might. And when you left, Tyelpo… »

« It was a choice. » Tyelperinquar has turned, looking at her straight, intensely. « When I left, it was choice. And neither was I ever led farther than I willed to go. Never led, never collared to kneel and follow and bend. Not once, lady mother, have I been shepherded where my will denied it. »

Ercassë breathes in, an ache in her ribcage, something close to love. « …When you left, we asked that you choose, and indeed we let you. But I fear, Tyelpo— I fear that a struggle was played on your skin by us. For which — we did not apologise either. That, I do regret. Do not fear, then, whether I would understand the choices you made alone, after long fights. I understand pride; I understand ambition. I understand even, on principle, your defiance. »

Tyelperinquar is silent. Voices rise from far below, where the smithies work, indistinct sounds.

« Much happened since those days when we first left », he answers eventually, again turning slightly away. « I seldom think on it. Even in Endor, I seldom thought of it, and my choices were in part behind me. There, I led people, I built things, loved, discovered, and crafted. Indeed, it was what we had been supposed to do all along, and for a while I thrived. »

His hands rest on the wrought iron balaustre, Ercassë watches his fingers tap it silently, then curl around it. She still doesn’t reach for his thoughts.

« Ever since », her son continues, « Gimli Glóinson and Legolas Thranduilion visited, I have thought of Hollin more often. And in my solitude I recall a land that sings of me, of us all, and that now lies abandoned in ruin, caught in the web of time inexorable that, perhaps foolishly, we wished to halt, and stem the tide of decay. » His fingers’ grip tightens, and he stares at the back of his hands. « In my solitude I have thought that Aman is my failure. Here lies the end of doom, the end of all struggles, indeed where I began, and yet now lesser than I was. Nienna’s wisdom was to build my healing; make my joy; share of it as I ever have. I recall little of Mandos, but I recall those words — so here I stand, the last piece, the last attempt. I think that the hurts of our ancient exile and my childhood are keener in your spirit than they are in mine. »

The long years of separation, like the steps between them on the terrace, are a gap to be bridged perhaps only with great effort. Perhaps she shall speak to Merillë again, and to the people that were of Hollin, and who returned.

« It is said », she breathes out, « that Endor is but the pale mirror of the beauty of Aman. »

« It was truer to me than Valinor. »

« But this endeavour in Formenos is not a labour of grief. »

« Nay. Nay, it is not. »

« So I will not haunt it », Ercassë says, with strange relief in this surrender. « I shall carve its walls for you. »

The smile is slow to come to Tyelperinquar’s face, but come it does.

 

*

 

They climb upon the scaffolding – Tyelperinquar, Huorelendë, others of the carvers and the sculptors, and Ercassë herself.

It is long past nightfall, and their light is but the sheen of the moon and the blue lamps they carry with them, encased in filigree, as frail-looking as it is strong. With chisels and hammers, and small cups of paste, they each claim a wall, a column, a pinnacle, the encasing of a window, and dipping the chisel in the paste, they engrave words and etch patterns.

Chips of stone fall at Ercassë’s feet, their dust a soft rain on the tips of her boots. The chisel digs away under her careful hits.

Holly leaves and trees grow into the great wall, and firs, and shrubs and moorland beauties. And throughout bloom secret words, poems hidden between the twigs.

 

***

 

The gold harp with peacock feathers has been tuned, though no one plays it. The floors have been swept, a new great chair has been carved out of oak, the stained glass has been blown and mounted.

The main hall had been once built to mirror Tirion’s throne room; its bottom curved vault was, and rises still, as a wall of windows, their pillars rising branch-like, and, where the golden and silver sheen of the Noontide used to strike the varicoloured glass, it all would be set alight: the walls and the floors would be vivid with bright triumph.

Formenos had recreated that singular beauty, and though this hall could function as a court room, it also had been a great dining room, and a room for merriment, and for gathering, and speeches and debates, the very soul of the estate when it was not yet fortress.

This morrow, the hall is set for feasting. Long tables have been arranged there in horseshoe fashion, with many chairs, and the seat for Celebrimbor, and a seat for his mother.

And in dawn’s nacre, the glass’s delicate lustre is a retelling of the very dale of Sirnúmen: all around the hall, it stands in remaking of its rugged slopes and paths where the mountain hares hide, with their pink-flowering heathers and soft cottongrass, and their thorns and sour cloudberries, their rocks shadowed by the leathery leaves of evergreen rhododendron and rowan trees. The horizon is aflame with a gentle sunset, the sky is filled with the constellations of this age, the limestone cut through by the clever Híri’s path and its cool shallow waters, and the caves, the glass that makes the caves encased in the highland hills, glitters with gems and veins of silver and gold. And high above where Celebrimbor’s chair waits, shines in white the eight-pointed star wreathed by holly.

Celebrimbor smiles, and is glad.

In the kitchens, Hlarindë and the people she led out in the wilderness dress the deer and pluck the quails, rolled in salt and pepper and roasted with myrtle and juniper. The vegetables and fruits are cut and baked, and the bread comes warm out of the oven, the berry wines are poured in carafes of gold and rock crystal.

His mother sits at Celebrimbor’s right, and Huorelendë at his left, then sits Tárahathil, and by late midday, when Vása – Vása the Consumer – has only but rolled past the meridian of her course, all are seated with trays of food abundant among them, and liquor flows, and so does the fresh water of the Híri.

Celebrimbor lifts a great cup, observes its engravings, and improvises a ditty about the little figures of Nessa’s Maiar that run around the curved metal. And the cup is passed, and others like it, and with each sip new verses are declaimed, in jest or cleverness.

And by the late afternoon, when many hands tear open soft grape-filled cakes with seeds of wild fennel, and laughter bubbles like a mountain spring, a few are at last bold enough to rise and sit at the harp, and softly play wordless, liquid melodies. A smith rises and, in the middle of the hall, she sets her spirit to music and her feet to dance, all her jewels a-twinkling.

Celebrimbor only urges everyone to rise as the sun wanes, bathing the hall and its stained glass in a golden-red light. As if in procession, all his people walk down the northern corridor and turn towards the great staircase, descend it, pass the great vestibule and exit into the courtyard. There are no gates in Formenos anymore.

The air about them seems aglow and Celebrimbor stands still on the landing before the open arch that leads inside, looking at the many fair faces gathered.

He breathes in the cool air, listens to the call of a bird, and gifts them a smile.

« My friends and people », he cries, his voice warm and high and his hands folded just below his waist, « ye returned to me. I called for masons, and ye came offering me your sweat; for smiths, and ye offered me your skill; for hunters, and farmers, and cooks, and ye lit the fires and planted trees and strung your bows. Through death as I have, or through life if ye had luck enough, ye returned. »

He lifts his hands palm-up and his arms open to encompass the walls that grow behind him. « Ye came to a ruin. But do ye look today upon ruins? I say here are the fruits of your efforts, the dwellings that ye built for yourself, and the walls that are reborn into colonnades, and the new forges, the terraces for your joyous hours, the halls for your pursuits of craft. Are these ruins? »

His voice has risen – he now calls it back to himself, and it carries soft with love.

« Rejoice », he says, his hands outstretched, their fingers pointed down towards the earth. « I have plunged these stones into the bath of flames, and so are all their sorrows and stains washed away. Here we abide in this northern land of Valinor. Be proud in this changed world, witness the rejuvenation that ye wrought. And if not all your pains are purified, then I tell ye: weep into my hands, friends of mine, and I shall take your griefs, I shall take your tears, and turn them into diamonds for your brows. »

So the night advances, but though the light of the sun diminishes, not so the glow of the air.

And many eyes rise above him, looking past him, and Celebrimbor smiles.

The carven words and images on the stone of Formenos shine blue-white, inscribed with the paste of true-silver scripts, and as the sun’s last flare disappears beyond the edge of the world, and the vespertine stars begin trembling, the gleam of the inscriptions grows all the greater.

Thus is all of Sirnúmen suffused with a milky brightness that answers to the call of Tilion as he drives Rána, and behind Celebrimbor, behind his head, it beams refulgent.

 

*

His mother has gone to Tirion and returned, carrying back clothes and belongings. Clad in her opalescent robes, their weave from soft seafoam green to the rose of dawn, a belt embroidered with red leaves of laurel and a single star, she stands in the courtyard behind the forges, her eyes clinging to the large tiles, rising only to be lost in the garden-meadows.

Celebrimbor exits the smithy, moving the long thick plait of his hair from one shoulder to another, droplets of sweat yet running down his neck, and wraps a dusty blue robe on top of his work clothes.

« You were fast, lady mother », he calls.

She turns to him, coming closer to dainty steps. « I did not linger. But you ought to prepare yourself, guests might well come soon. Finduilassë means to return. »

« I am ever glad to receive her. »

« Mahtan and Nerdanel also. »

« Ah. I shall have some furniture put in their old rooms, then. »

His mother begins walking slowly, and Celebrimbor walks with her, farther from the door, towards the fountains and the wells. She turns to him. « Did you know — Formenos has gained a new name. »

Celebrimbor nearly halts.

« It seems », she continues, « that on the clearest nights, the glow of our walls is such that anyone within sight of the valley may see it from afar, and all of the dale is shining. It has been called Ithiltinwemar. »

« Was this said in Tirion? »

« Indeed. »

Celebrimbor, slowly and carefully, as if she might go stiff under the slightest touch, lifts his bare arm and rests it around his mother’s shoulders; and for she neither retreats nor stills, he smiles. « Tell me of it. »

She gestures with a hand as she begins the account of how the estate, turned fortress, turned dwelling, was named anew as the House of Moonspark.

 

Celebrimbor and Ercasse talk