It was noon, but the sky was still dark; the blue-black clouds over the gray sea hung heavy with the promise of storm. The High King of the Noldor in Middle-Earth took his way carefully along the upper shores, noting where the cliffs had shorn away in landslides to leave the earth raw and torn beneath, calculating how much farther the land would be likely to retreat before its turmoil was over. The beach below was nearly impassable because of the quantity of tree-trunks washed up on it, some blackened and burned, others with roots and branches still clinging to them where the sea had not yet scoured them off. The air was cold and the wind colder. It was faintly gritty, as it always was when it blew from the north, smelling of sulphur and smoke. He lifted a corner of his scarf over his mouth and nose.
He turned. Someone was making his way toward him over the uneven ground. Eldar by his height, and Noldor by his voice. “Your steward told me I might find you here.”
The newcomer was wrapped against the cold in a worn travelling cloak. It might have been black once, or perhaps dark blue, but it was faded by travel and hard use to the same bruise-color as the sky. He pulled the hood back and stood facing the King.
“Be welcome, traveller. The Kindler’s light upon your path.” As he spoke the words of the greeting, Gil-Galad looked at him closely. His long dark hair was tied back for travel, and there was something familiar in his face, but perhaps even more familiar in his bearing: a contained, forthright energy, a hidden fire.
“And on yours,” returned the stranger, returning his gaze.
“I know you,” Gil-Galad said. “Or it seems to me that I should know you.” How many of the Eldar had passed before him over the course of his life, fleeing the ruin of their cities?
“We have met,” he replied, “though briefly, and the world was different then. The Isle of Balar, after the fall of Nargothrond –“
He knew the stranger’s face and bearing because it was his own: the dark hair and the grey eyes and the high pride of the House of Finwë. “Celebrimbor,” he said, a note of wonder in his voice. “Celebrimbor son of –“ He stopped himself, and tried to turn the name into a cough.
A slight bitter smile crossed Celebrimbor’s face. “No, Lord King, that’s all right. Son of Curufin, son of Fëanor, of the house of Finwë. Greetings, kinsman.” He touched his fingers to his heart and then to his lips, a greeting of such antiquity that Gil-Galad only knew it from his earliest youth in the house of Fingolfin.
“Kinsman!” The smile that broke on Gil-Galad’s features was broader and almost unshadowed. “Where have you been?”
Celebrimbor raised both eyebrows, then turned deliberately towards the unquiet ocean. “Fleeing.”
“Yes, well, that’s been true of almost all of our people as far back as I can remember,” Gil-Galad returned. “Certainly true of me. From haven to haven, and now to a haven again.” He gestured back inland, although the tents and the shelters and the wooden houses of Forlind were not visible from where they stood. “Every day more arriving. Sometimes I’m surprised by how many refused the chance to return to the Blessed Realm, seeing how little we have to offer them here but hunger and thirst, toil and cold and darkness. But still they come, out of the broken places. Sirion and Arvernien. Balar. Angband.” His eyes hardened. “Where have you been, kinsman?”
“Are you asking me if I was one of the thralls of Morgoth?”
“I was not.” His voice was cold, but he did not speak in anger. Gil-Galad stepped closer to him, took his head in both his hands and looked closely into his face, studying the finely sculpted features and the sturdy jaw, the intense dark eyes that still gleamed with the lost light of Valinor. Celebrimbor met his scrutiny almost with amusement.
“If you could see in someone’s eyes,” he said, “whether they were a servant of Morgoth, the sorrows of the last war might have been less than they were.”
“Indeed.” Seemingly satisfied, Gil-Galad stepped back again. “But the survivors of Angband do not, generally, react well to being touched. Forgive me, kinsman; we must walk warily.”
“So you have many of them here, then? The Dark Power is gone; do you believe we still have something to fear from those whom it imprisoned?”
The King inclined his head; Celebrimbor could not tell which question that was intended to answer. “People fear them still, and the business with the Return of the Exiles has made things even more difficult. Most of the thralls freed from the dungeons and the slave-camps of the North went back to Aman, and may they find there the healing we could not give them here! But the whispers follow the ones who remain: why would they refuse the chance to leave the land that brought them such suffering? Have their deeds rendered them unfit for the company of the Holy Ones? Are they too marred for Aman? What did they do in Morgoth’s service?” He pulled back the cloth where the wind had whipped it over his face again. “Most will not speak of it. Some cannot.”
“There are many reasons someone might not return to Aman,” Celebrimbor said sharply.
“I know that, kinsman. As do you, evidently.” He looked at him with the question in his eyes. “I cannot imagine the way West was barred to you. You repudiated your House and their deeds.”
“And the Valar are notoriously ready to welcome those who abjure their past! No, that is why I have come to you, and not to them, Lord of the Noldor. I do not wish to hide who I am. I want to take up my name again.” And it seemed to Gil-Galad that even in the darkness of the day there was a brightness about him, that in this quiet, serious man before him there blazed the same fire that had given Fëanor his name.
“What makes you think you lost it?” he replied. “And what makes you think I have the authority to give it back to you?”
Celebrimbor had braced himself for reproof or for grave acquiescence, but had not been expecting the studied lightness of the reply. “Lost it?” he said. “I cast it off in Nargothrond before its fall.”
“Fëanor and Fëanor’s kin…” Gil-Galad spoke the words with almost the resonance of song. “Are you sure that’s a name you want to bear among your people here? It’s a name scarcely more beloved, to some, than that of Angband.”
“Do you?” The lightness was fading from his tone. “Did you see what was left of the Havens of Sirion after the Fëanorians were through with them? I did. I arrived too late, Celebrimbor, too late to defend my people from my people. I have stood in ruined cities before and since, comforted the wounded, marshalled survivors, but…” His hands clasped at his sides, opened again. “That particular horror, the damage done by your own kind. The precision. The ferocity. Knowing how well they know you. Morgoth’s forces never fought like that, single-minded pursuit of a singular goal; they fight to defile and obliterate. But the Fëanorians carved through the Havens with such focus and care you’d think it was art.”
Celebrimbor did not move, but spoke in a low voice. “I am the last of my house, High King, and I am not bound by the oath my father swore. I will not bow my head in defeat and depart the world we fought for. I will not say that we are done. Not the Eldar, not the Noldor, not my family. I am here, Gil-Galad, here, on these forsaken shores, that by my life and by the works of my hands there may yet be something more to the House of Fëanor than its legacy of blood.”
For a long moment neither spoke, while the sea groaned among the wreckage below and the wind stung their eyes with ash. Then Gil-Galad spoke.
“Very well! Take up your place in the house you renounced! Do you plan to take up the kingship of the Noldor as well?”
Celebrimbor physically recoiled at the words, twisting backward away from him. Gil-Galad laughed. “I’m not surprised! I asked your cousin Galadriel the same thing, and she also reacted as if she’d been slapped.” He sighed. “I can’t say I blame either of you; the High Kingship of the Noldor has meant little but the privilege of being first ignored, later slaughtered. Starting as far back as Finwë himself, I understand.”
The question hung between them: do you mean to swear me fealty? But Gil-Galad did not ask, and Celebrimbor did not answer. After a moment he went on.
“So here you are again a Fëanorian, Celebrimbor - that’s, what, Tyelperinquar in Quenya? – I suppose being of Aman you must have a father-name?”
“I do.” He dropped to one knee before him and spoke in the High Speech. "I am the third of my name, Curufinwë son of Curufinwë son of Curufinwë1. Before you I take up again the name that I cast off. May I bear it to its healing!”
The High King lifted up his hands in the ancient gesture of blessing. “I, Gil-Galad son of-“ and he broke into a fit of coughing that really did sound genuine. “I, Gil-Galad, Scion of Kings,” he went on, “Lord of Lindon, High King of the Noldor in Middle-Earth, do hear your words and accept them. May it be as you have spoken.”
Celebrimbor got back to his feet, uncertain whether he was being made fun of and whether the allusion to the High King’s famously obscure parentage was deliberate. He met Gil-Galad’s eyes and saw the relief in them, and a small spark of merriment, and he remembered that despite his bearing and the age worn into his face, the High King was younger, by several centuries, than he was himself.
Despite the cold, the brief ceremony seemed to have lifted his heart as well as Celebrimbor’s own. “None of us have fathers here,” he said, and his tone was not grave though his words were sad enough. “We are orphans, Curufinwë III; the Noldor are all orphans now.”
Out over the sea, lightning was leaping between the roiling clouds, and the King paused, waiting to make certain the distant concussion of sound was thunder and not the rumbling of earth moving. The wind now bore scattered droplets of rain, the liquid almost black with ash where it spattered against them. He pulled his hood up.
“The Age of the Jewels is over,” he said. “The end of the war. The end of all we have known. And it seems to me, at times, that I look on the end of the world.”
The waters of the Lune, once the Blue River, flowed orange and black where it emptied into the new-formed bay, and the creatures fishers drew from the waters were abominations, misshapen eyeless things of scale and slime. Even when they were recognizable as fish, no one looked at them as being safe to eat. Day after day the sea tossed the fragments of a ruined world against the shore: mostly trees, but also bones, rusting armor, the occasional piece of wrought stone or ceramic from Beleriand’s lost cities, and sometimes among the tree-trunks, larger and paler than they, the hollow bones of dragons.
But Celebrimbor was not looking at the shore, but off into the West, as if he could see all the way to the land they had forsaken. “Do you remember,” he said, half-dreaming, “how the Noldor used to strew jewels on the shore for the Teleri? “
“In the sense that I’ve heard the story,” Gil-Galad began, but Celebrimbor went on. “I don’t. My mother told me of it, but that was before my time, even in Aman. In my days – and I was younger than your steward is now, at the Darkening - our workshops were more readily employed in making weapons than in making jewels.
“But it stayed with me, that image, the jewels on the shore. That is who we are, that is what we are meant for. To see the beauty in this world, and draw it forth, and give it back again, reflected and magnified and more beautiful still. Treasure not meant for the hoarding, but for the giving, scattered on the shore, gleaming from the waters.”
Gil-Galad looked at the shore below them, clotted with the flotsam of a drowned continent.
“The fine gifts of the Noldor,” he said softly. The lightning lit the clouds over the sea like sudden glimpses of dark mountains.
“Why did you stay?” Celebrimbor returned the King the question he had offered him. “If the way West was not closed to me, it cannot possibly have been closed to you. But you are here.”
“Of course I am. I am the High King of the Noldor in Middle-Earth; what have we to do with Aman? Besides, I the High King of the Noldor am myself a son of the twilight. Let the bright land in the West remain a haven for those hurts that cannot be healed, but as long as my people are here, and as long as there is life in my body, I will not forsake them.”
At his words Celebrimbor smiled, the first full smile that Gil-Galad had seen on his face. “Thank you,” he said, and took the King’s hand, pressing it warmly in his own. His grip was precise and gentle, but astonishingly strong; a craftsman’s hand .
“Curufinwë Tyelperinquar,” he said, clasping his hand in return. “Skilled Finwë of the silver hand – your parents apparently had very clear ideas where your talents lay.”
“Silver-grasp, more like. And that name at least was well-given. I do not intend to let go.” The motion of his head took in the land around them; there was ambition in his eyes and a fierce love, strange to see in that desolate place. When that country had been Ossiriand, the land of the Seven Rivers, it had been green and flourishing, a place of spreading elms and climbing vines. Only one river flowed through it now, carrying strange waters from the other side of the broken Blue Mountains to meet the newly arrived sea. The King sighed.
“And yet it may be slipping away from us anyway. The Herald of Valinor said something to me before they departed over the Great Ocean. Morgoth is gone, he said, but Morgoth’s will is written now into the world. There is a trace of his darkness in all things this side of the sea, and all will fade and come to night at last.”
“Morgoth’s will? I defy it.” Celebrimbor released his hand, but not his gaze. “And you defy it, King of the Noldor. Your people – our people - defy it. The Dwarves defy it in their mountains. Even the Men defy it, huddled by their fires in the woods.”
“They’re remarkable,” Gil-Galad broke in, “they really are. Between the drowning of Beleriand and the exodus for Numenor, you might have thought there were no Men left here at all, but I have seen them – from time to time – still holding on in spite of everything. They suffer cruelly from hunger, though, and the cold.” He held out his hand, letting the gritty raindrops blacken his palm. “Manwe’s winds still have not cleared the ash from the upper airs. It will be another year without a summer. Spring is half-gone even now, not that you can tell.”
Celebrimbor dropped to one knee again, this time looking not at the High King but at the earth beneath them. The grasses and the mosses of Ossiriand had long since died and left the ground barren. But by the shorelines, already new plants were beginning to grow: low tough beach-heather and cloudberry, the white flowers luminous under the dark sky. He touched his fingers to the bright petals.
“No,” he said, “the spring has come indeed. Lift up your head, King of the Noldor. The sky will clear. We will see this marred world shine.”
Gil-Galad felt the warmth of his words and the fire behind them, but met them with the caution that his office had blended into his nature. “Perhaps,” he said, “but until the world shines, we’ve got to start by living in it. You have seen the encampment, I suppose, since you said Elrond sent you to me?”
Celebrimbor nodded. “It will do well enough for a port, I think, in time. Do you plan to build here?”
“We may have farther to retreat. Cirdan’s settling his folk at the Eastern mouth of this bay. I think we need outposts on both sides of the bay, as far West as we can get. But the shore’s not stable.” There was yet little spirit for building among the people of the Northhaven camp, little sense of it as anything more than a place where the remnants of the Eldar of Beleriand washed up piecemeal, as the trees and the bones washed up on the shores. They were still mourning for their losses, their deep knowledge scattered, their treasures gone.
“The aftershocks will stop eventually,” Celebrimbor said. “We will build in stone again.” His eyes were alight now, scanning the shore, his hands moving as if sketching out fortifications, roads and towers and gates. “Have we lost our tools? We will make more. Has our knowledge been lost? We shall learn again. The wide lands of Middle-Earth are before us. Aman has nothing that we need.”
“If sorrow is strength, and if bitter experience is wisdom, then we are stronger and wiser than we were when the Noldor were new-come from Valinor.” Celebrimbor could not tell if the King were speaking seriously; neither could Gil-Galad himself.
“Let the Lords of the West return to their peaceful shores, and we who remain, we who have chosen this world, will yet make of it a place that they will wonder to see. Yes, in the end they will come to us. This is no idle dream, that does not count the cost in years and blood and sorrow. Who knows that cost better than we? Let it be the labor of a thousand years, we will make this world whole. I say more: we will make it beautiful. Do you see it, Gil-Galad? I do.”
“I believe you do.” The King clapped him on the shoulder. “But will you come with me back to the camp?”
“For a time, at least! I want to see my – cousin? Aunt? The Lady Galadriel, at any rate; she’s also chosen Middle-Earth and I believe we will have much to say to each other. She’s on the other side of the bay, I believe? But travel takes a great deal of time with things in this state. Perhaps roads might be a good first priority once the camp is settled, though you might be focusing on docks -”
“I’ll have you talk to my secretary; she’s keeping track of everyone who is and isn’t in the camp. It’s all memory, of course – we haven’t even got paper anymore – but that’s how the Sindar have always done it anyway. She can tell you who’s here; the Weaver knows we have plenty of skilled hands…”
They talked of their resources and their people as they took their way over the broken ground. Celebrimbor disclaimed responsibility for organizing the recovery efforts. “You need an administrator for that and that’s not my gift. But joining my skills with others, yes, I believe I can be of service. And, Lord King,” he added as they walked, “if you have anyone freed from Morgoth’s service among you, send them to me. If they want to be part of the work, that is.”
The King winced. “Do you really think that anyone who was forced to labor in the forges of Angband will ever want to take up works of craft and skill again?”
Celebrimbor paused in his stride; “We are for the world,” he said, “it is the work that we are meant for. Working for good ends rather than for evil ones may bring more healing than centuries of rest. And you know, Lord King, why I have no grounds to scorn anyone of, well, dubious background.”
* * *
The great fires flared in the camp at night, guttering and smoky, built as much for warmth as for light and still not providing enough of either. The High King of the Noldor found his steward in his usual place in the tents of the healers, sitting on his heels by the herb-chests and restocking the stores. It was not common among the Eldar to serve as warrior and healer both, but his steward did, seeming to increase rather than to diminish in his skill, and to take no hurt to his soul by the practice of the two opposed arts. Perhaps it was the blood of the Edain in him that accounted for it, though he had elected the fate of the Eldar.
“So, Elrond, it would seem there is a living ember in the ashes of the House of Fëanor. Your cousin has come among us.”
“My – cousin?” He did not, at first, understand what he meant, but when he worked out the meaning behind the King’s words, a peculiar expression somewhere between rue and relief crossed his face.2
“Yes, my cousin indeed – I wonder if I should have greeted him like that.” He set the medicine-jar down. “I cannot seem to say the right thing to him. I tried to tell him that he is welcome here, that it doesn’t matter who his family was. Look at me – I’m here, after all. But he went very cold, and I realized what it had sounded like.”
“Not one of those Fëanorians?” Gil-Galad asked, and was answered with the acute embarrassment on his steward’s face. Though he was hardened by a life spent in the turmoil of the War of the Jewels, and he was confident on the battlefield as he was in the tents of the healers, there was still something of the awkwardness of youth to Elrond when he spoke of his family.
He smiled, and took him by the hand to pull him to his feet. “You’ll set things right with him, Elrond, I know it. There will be time. We have all the world before us.”