A.N.: The travesty is finally over. To get over the disappointment, I treated myself to a bit of fan fiction. Not the kind of thing I usually publish here, but I am fairly content of how this one came out and felt like sharing it.
The heated knives may have marked his skin in a stark map of molten pain, but what made Lord Celebrimbor finally shudder was the wooden creak of the workshop’s door.
His eyes shot open.
His gaze was still pointed at his feet, trying to get away from the present moment, from the giddy and loathsome company of the Orcs who surrounded him with their knives, pliers, mauls and hammers, singing as they cut. The ropes securing him to the heavy anvil felt just a little tighter and stronger than before. The smell of the of workshop, the usual heady scent of coal and smelted dross mixed with his own sweat and the heaviness of regret.
He’s here. He passed his tongue over his chapped lips. Every wound and every scar the Orcs had gladly inflicted him, slowly forgetting about their orders in the glee of torture pulsated like the creases of the iron-cast, filled with liquid steel anew.
But he was still Lord, and the Orcs had damaged him no more than a few tumbles downhill could damage a stern gemstone. He lifted his grey eyes from the floor and gazed at the Orcs.
They did not gaze back, though, turning towards the door, shrivelling in fear, cowered like leaves caught in the sudden heat of an oven.
“Out,” came the sheer command, making the air ripple with its finality.
Celebrimbor himself felt it echo inside his flesh, rattle his very bones. Almost as if they were supposed to heed the compelling voice it belonged to, and they would now snap through the steely ropes and make him stand up, walk out of his own workshop, and towards the will that had commandeered him. For a crystal-etched moment, it felt like his muscles would answer the voice.
But his body made no answer. He drew in a deep breath and overcame the command, remaining still, and trapped, and motionless against the forge, spattered with the freckles of his blood.
Rather, he gazed at the blades of sunlight cutting through the windows, dust glitter silver and gold, like sparks from the forge in happier times.
The Orcs picked up whatever tools they could and scattered, running upstairs like frightened cattle at the mere shadow of a ravenous wolf.
Celebrimbor followed them with their gaze. He hesitated. What would he find standing by the door? But then he pushed through and looked upon the figure who had just entered.
He looked the same. The pain of betrayal hooked onto his heart, worse than the pain from the cuts. The same white and gold fine dress, ending in a pair of boots. The same strong hands holding a bowl full of steaming water. The same clear eyes looking at the abandoned, cold forges of the workshop, the same taut fold on the right corner of his lips as he regarded the place where they had spent decades, centuries, working together.
Every piece of furniture, ever table, every chimney by soot kissed bore the memories of their friendship, of their shared toil, of their common vision.
Of what he believed was friendship.
He shook his head and began to walk downstairs. The water in the basin did not slosh even a little. Celebrimbor was sure that if he could look onto its surface, it would appear as still as the waters of the Mirrormere.
A quick flash of Narvi pierced him like a fresh cut from the Orcs.
Now that they were gone he should feel comforted. And instead he was now altogether alone, more so than unhappy Maedhros chained onto the side of the bitter Thangorodrim.
He reached the end of the staircase, walked up to him, set the bowl on the anvil with the tiniest metal echo, and let out a long, pained breath.
“I am stricken with grief,” he said, his voice coated with sorrow like grease stained a chain. “This was not supposed to happen. I apologize for the indignity you were subjected to, my friend. Orcs are a devious bunch and misshapen, and they know naught of kindness. Here,” he whispered, crouching in front of him so that their eyes were almost level. He dipped a towel in the warm water. “Stay still, now.”
Celebrimbor felt it again. The silk of his tone hid the black steel beneath, the will that rusted iron to the core, turning will and heart into the finest dust. He winced, turning his face away from the pressure of the voice, but it took him a greater effort than he would have been happy to spend. He was left wheezing and shaking as he leaned forward anyway, as mindful of his strain as the scythe is mindful of the efforts of grass to escape its blade.
He dabbed the tip of the damp towel against his shoulder, cleaning off soot and the few drops of blood still coming out of his wound. The Orcs, as long as their cruelty did not overshadow their craftiness, had scalded the blades, but not enough to cauterize his wounds.
He looked at him – their gazes truly meet and Celebrimbor winced again. The same bright eyes surrounded by a cascade of the darkest mane of hair. A pair of finely-pointed ears peeked out of the inky waterfall with their gentle curve.
Such a masterfully-crafted illusion.
Celebrimbor gulped with grief. His throat felt parched and tightened into a knot as the other’s hands gently dabbed the towel against his wounds. This was what it came to.
“You can drop your pretence,” Celebrimbor stated. His hands did not stop cleaning his wounds. “Your disguise worked better when it was not stained by the blood of my people.”
The other sighed, never ceasing to dab at his skin with the towel.
“Your words hurt me deeper than knives,” he replied in a murmur. His gaze moved inward and a thin frown appeared over his tall forehead. “What kind of wanton appetite for destruction are you ascribing to me, my Lord? Do you think I spend my days sitting on my throne cackling at the ruin of so many Elves? Do you think I draw any joy from condemning what once was beautiful and fair to dust and memory? Your words are like poison to me, my Liege.” A flash went off in those bright eyes. “I used to believe we shared one goal, you and I. Knowledge and Order. Or did those goals change in the time I was away? Am I wrong, my Lord? Please give me an answer that might soothe my heart, for it is troubled.”
Celebrimbor shook. His words were indeed poison, seeping into his soul. He sounded so regretful, so stricken for what had come to pass.
For what he had done.
For what he alone had done.
This was his plan from the start. A honeyed tongue would change nothing. He could have let himself lull by his sweet words, were it not for the memories of the bodies laying on the streets of Ost-in-Edhil, staining their pearly tiles with blood. And yet, the pull of that command, that demand to give him an answer, to soothe his heart, it rattled through his heart and it shook his bones.
“There was never any change,” he replied, wheezing. His breath used to hitch due to the pain, but now it was under duress by pulling away from the will that compelled him to turn his words into soothing lies, to lie to his own face even, against his better judgement.
One Ring to rule them all,
The words were still so clear against his mind, etched in the finest and cruellest gold, cast on the inside of his eyelids, so that every time he tried to tire himself enough to find sleep, he would hear them resonate through air and endless leagues spanning from the mountain of fire, as stark as the very first time.
His eyes left his face and roamed his hands. But he found nothing there, on his right one holding the towel, and on the left one hanging from his knee. No band of metal. Then their eyes met again, and for the first time he caught the tiniest crease at the side of his mouth, like a magician that has ensnared its crowd at last, and enjoys the mystified look in their eyes as they whisper and gape at his tricks.
“Was this the same?” Celebrimbor spat, now bitter at being pulled into line like a leashed dog under the pull of his own curiosity. “When you bent the knee at the Host of the West, when you grovelled at Eonwe’s feet, was the same? There was never any change in goals, yours or mine. I can see that clearly at last. The veil has been ripped off my sight. Far too late, but at last! Now take all your gifts and go back to the Black Land from whence you came, you Abhorred thing, lord only of Slaves!”
The smirk faded. He leaned back, withdrawing the towel and he folded it neatly on his lap, the angles perfectly aligned.
“You speak of goals,” he replied. His voice lowered and turned deathly cold, so that it cut deeper than the metal of the Orcs. Celebrimbor shuddered against the heedless embrace of the anvil. “And I do agree with you, my Lord,” he said, tilting his head just a tad to show a mocking echo of respect. “Our goals did not change. You regret the dross spilled to cast the forged iron, and I find it particular that you worry about it only now. Do you recall not the many conversations we had under the girdle of stars as you lamented the sad state of things of this Middle-Earth, turning all that is beautiful into dull and all that is precious into dust? Was it not your will also to fill this eastern shore with bliss and gladness? Or did my ears perhaps deceive me? Not once, not twice! But over and over and over, though the centuries I paid heed to your own desires?”
Celebrimbor struggled against the ropes. The pain from his wounds rose, but he welcomed it: it helped clear his mind from the corrosive sorrow that he was trying to use against him, to run circles around him like a trainer with his lap dog. He had been a fool, but he would not die as one.
“A delicate embroidery such as you spin needs a cleaning maid’s rag to tell them apart,” he spat. “That you speak to me as you did before only shows how much you are still the very same servant of Morgoth, who crawled away from Huan, who hid before Lùthien, who wormed beneath the mountains as Beleriand floundered, and only when his Master was once and for all defeated, dared to crawl out once again and beg forgiveness. You are just one more string from the web of lies of the Bauglir. You carry gifts only so that they may go back to yourself.”
Celebrimbor watched as at least his lip curled away from his teeth – he could not wound him in battle, for he was not Fingolfin of old; he could not best him in wit, for he was not his grandfather; nor was his wisdom deep enough to cast him away at once as Lady Galadriel and the High King once did.
This failure rested on his shoulders only.
He could only rebuke him.
And yet, perhaps because he knew it so intimately, he saw his pride smart under the sting of his last few words, and his skin bristle.
“So you would let sheep rule themselves,” he replied in a disappointed sigh, “so that they in fear would stumble and fall down the cliff. Or eat through all the grass and starve themselves in panic. Your addled mind lingers now only on waste.” He shook his head. “I came here to see if there would be a chance to rekindle the friendship your kind has so clearly shattered. To see if we could speak as equals, once again.” A pause, as his visage darkened, his lips curling in sorrow, and mumbled, as if talking to himself now. “But the pride of the Firstborn is deep. Deep enough to erase a life’s work and all its efforts.”
Celebrimbor laughed in his face. And maybe a tiny echo of Tulkas’ mirth reached him, for he watched that frown come back, twice as deep now, as the strength given to him by his mirth emboldened him. He leaned forward, a feverish grin tugging at this lips as their foreheads were now almost as close so as to touch.
“Equals! Now that is a choice of words unworthy of your stature, o Annatar, Lord of Gifts! You who walked among us like a plump cat, amusing yourself with our best jewels like mere trinkets, who dispensed words of wisdom and unparalleled knowledge that to us were like a warm embrace at the end of the crossing of the Grinding Ice! You who paraded through our forges, who studied our craft and who whispered suggestions in our sleep so that we would always be eager to lick your fingers! Do not waste breath to say ‘equals’. Modesty fits you worse than the skin of the wolf.”
He scoffed. Tilted his head, his other hand reached for his cheek, where a deep cut from an Orc stung, and plunged his thumb deep into it, making a drop of crimson blood spill and fall down to his chin. As Celebrimbor winced at the touch, the grin was back, wider and sharper.
“And you were always so ready to listen.” He pulled back, cleaning his thumb over his ragged gambeson. “I came here with offers of friendship, but I am rebuked with blag and abuse. So be it – if that is your choice. But I came here for another reason, which you would of course be able to imagine, even if greed and folly have clouded your senses.”
Celebrimbor trembled. He knew what this reason would be.
And his tormentor leaned back, his grin curling into a cruel smirk.
“For you are right on all accounts. It was thanks to me that you managed to elevate yourselves from a bunch of leather-tanners, knee-deep in soot, and gain any semblance of craftsmanship. And now that you show me how small-minded and tight-lipped you are, I understand such gifts are ill-fitted to your ilk. They will have to be repurposed to a loftier goal.”
One Ring to find them,
Celebrimbor groaned – the memories of that day, when he saw his shape standing proud in the bitter and inflamed Sammath Naur as he raised his hands in victory, and those words, those very words roared through air and thought to slither into their minds and clasp them to the mountain of his goals. They had been swift, and taken their Rings off, all sixteen of them and even the minor ones, the essays in their crafts, all of them now bound to the same frightful chain.
They had avoided ruin, but now, laying so close to the friend who has fooled them all, he wondered if they had not simply bartered one kind of fall for another.
“So I ask of you, my Lord, and once my friend.” He leaned in. “Where are the Great Rings?”
His mind rattled once again with the pull from that will, like a tree shaken by a sudden and bitter gale. He squeezed his eyes shut, taking deep breaths.
The will that demanded him to be quiet, and so very kind, to just reply to a simple question.
A question posed by the same voice of his friend.
No, he would not have it the other way. He spoke of sheep, but as sheep they would have remained, stupefied by tinkling lights and comforting sounds, had they kept them on. One herd, and led by the wolf!
No, he would deny him.
He would deny him every one of them.
“You will not get their whereabouts from me. Not of any of the Great Rings. Not through pain nor plead. You have failed, Lord of Gifts.”
He looked at him. Bit by bit, his right eyebrow quirked.
And he laughed.
Such a cruel sound, flapping past his defences like bats shearing sunlight with their hooked wings.
His mind stumbled and turned through nets of singing pain – it was like being stabbed by knives, and not held by hapless Orcs. These were under the rule of a keen and abhorrent mind, misshaping every thought.
He was alone, in that workshop.
No Luthien would come for him, no Finrod would lay down his life, no final echo of silver trumpets.
“I suppose I will have to set myself to work here once again,” he replied with an eager chuckle. He pulled up his sleeves and then, lo! Celebrimbor could see it at last.
Sitting on his middle finger.
A round band of the purest gold.
And bit by bit, a circle of letters began to appear, white-hot even against the burning gold.
So beautiful his heart skipped a beat in bliss, frozen in a single moment of adoration.
Then he read the same poem that had shattered his loftiest dreams, once again.
One Ring to bring them all,
He used to take long walks with the one called Annatar. They would travel outside the city, talking and discussing under the stars, just like he had pointed out. The memory of those bright eyes following his own as he shared his own crumbs of wisdom, teasing him on the way to an answer pulled at his heart. His proud smile when Celebrimbor found that answer, or turned a question in a more interesting one, that gaze full of mirth and shared companionship was now reserved for the band of gold shining on his finger, those eyes now captivated by its glitter, the lustful grin now only focused on that most precious of crafts.
And Celebrimbor shook with the awareness that maybe his friend did exist once. And had perished in the flames of Mount Doom, giving way to this shining circle of gold, the way soot falls to reveal burnished steel beneath.
The other’s hand reached for his face and Celebrimbor was shaken away from his daze.
His finger, the one next to the Ring, touched his cheek again.
Celebrimbor rattled with utter pain. His skin blistered and cracked. He pulled back, but the anvil would not let him. Only his flesh recoiled from the searing heat, hotter than the fires of the forge, starker than the flames of Udun, curling in pink splintering blisters.
For this was a fire that had been there since the Music, growing hungry, and now ravening for his flesh and his pain, in equal parts. The sickly-sweet smell of his own burnt skin reached his nose and he reeked.
He breathed out a pleased sigh and spoke again.
“You will tell me the location of the Great Rings. All sixteen of them.” He leaned forward, and he whispered against his ear. “And perhaps you will be kind enough to give back those other Three you made yourself.”
Celebrimbor’s heart sank. How could he know about those? Those were made in secret!
The chuckle resounded, mocking his surprise and his foolishness.
“If you do, I will allow you to walk out of the city alive. As a token of our old friendship, which you so foolishly cast aside.”
His burning finger trailed down, cutting a line of liquid fire that turned his skin into black flakes, and Celebrimbor, for the first time, screamed in earnest, the echoes sharp against the walls and the windows.
All around him, the sunlight was growing dim.
“For you do not know what is best for yourself, my dearest friend. Let me show you, once again, the path of wisdom.”
The Lord of the Rings gripped his jaw with his fiery hand, and his screams mixed with his delighted cackle, and he shook and trembled and burned, burned, burned, as the air filled with the stench of his charred flesh, as the oily gloom poured from the windows onto the old workshop.
And in the darkness bind them.
Author’s Notes: the travesty that was Amazon’s The Rings of Power is finally over – at least the first season. We can enjoy some peace and quiet, at least for the next two years, and clean the taste of disappointment from our mouths. As for me, I decided to channel said disappointment into something creative, and try and build a scene that I would have loved to see represented while giving justice to these characters.
I hope you did not find my mockery of the Professor’s style too tiring. I also have to say that writing villains is one of my favorite past-times, and describing Sauron’s deception and his point of view through his mannerism, tone of voice and dialogue was extremely satisfying, together with giving Celebrimbor the weight of his responsibilities.
Those of you who know the Legendarium are already aware Celebrimbor’s fate is not a fun one. My one hope from the flounder that this series has been is that more folks can pick up the pages of the Silmarillion and delight in the actually-compelling characters whose corpses were paraded onscreen.
If you came here from Ao3 and you are curious about my writing, you should start with Patina, my post-apocalyptic fantasy webnovel published for free between February and August.
As always, thanks for reading.