Disclaimer: this story is based on the Silmarillion, the Lord of the Rings and Unfinished Tales by JRR Tolkien. I make no money from this whatever, so please don't bother trying to sue me.
Celebrimbor heard thumping as someone ran up the stairs. He wiped his pen carefully on a piece of blotting paper and waited. The door flew open and hit the stone wall with a bang as his newest apprentice, Elcaran, bounced in. "Master Celebrimbor, Annatar has just arrived in Ost-in-Edhil. He will be here any minute!"
"Good," Celebrimbor replied. "Show him in when he arrives, but without running please. And don't slam the door!"
"Sorry," Elcaran said as he left, closing the door quietly behind him. Celebrimbor shook his head and sighed. Too much enthusiasm, too little sense, he thought. But I was exactly the same at his age, so no point in being harsh. Annatar. I should really put these papers away before he gets here... oh never mind, he's an artificer himself and will understand about having plans and drawings all over the place. I can move them aside if he has brought any plans he wants to show me.
Ever since he had first heard about the purported maia of Aule's people, Celebrimbor had been curious. Going around and helping people improve their lives in Middle-earth. Buildings things, designing everything from better forges to better mousetraps. He'd liked what he had heard. It was much more useful than hiding away in Valinor. So many people here didn't want to leave for one reason or another, or had been banned by the Valar from returning, or were Dwarves or Men who could not go to Valinor anyway. Celebrimbor never had seen why they should all have to live in poverty because they had the misfortune to live in the wrong place.
He picked up the pen again and fiddled with it. Gil-galad and Galadriel mistrusted Annatar. They were sensible people, Galadriel in particular being one of the wisest Celebrimbor had ever met. Yet even the wisest could make mistakes... and they were all so vague on what they mistrusted.
Celebrimbor heard footsteps again, at a more sedate pace this time. The door opened, and Annatar entered. Celebrimbor studied him as he rose to greet him.
Annatar had chosen to look like one of the Noldor in form. Perhaps a little taller than most, a little more luminous then even the Exiles, but otherwise very like. He was dressed simply in gray. "Welcome to Ost-in-Edhil," Celebrimbor said. "Please, sit down. What do you think of what we've built here?"
Annatar seated himself, and returned Celebrimbor's gaze. "Very impressive," he said, "especially given how little time it has stood. I like the aqueduct."
"Yes," Celebrimbor said. "It proved easier than redirecting the stream over the intervening terrain, and our closer sources of water were not large enough for a city this size."
"Where do you plan to take the city from here? Are you intending to expand it?"
"In a time of peace like this, elvish cities expand of their own accord." Celebrimbor raised an eyebrow. "I'd imagine maiar cities don't, do they?"
"No, not really. No children. So... what are you planning to build next for your expanding city?"
"It is not entirely my city. Technically, Galadriel is our liege lady, as I'm sure you're aware. Now that we have enough water, I was thinking the water mill could pump the bellows for the forges which would leave us more time to actually make objects and learn new things."
"Quite. You take a turn on them yourself, I take it?"
"Sometimes. It may be boring, but you can't leave all the unpleasant parts of Smithcraft to the apprentices or they get rightly upset and lose enthusiasm. Don't you help out?"
Annatar smiled. "Oh yes, it is important to show solidarity. On the other hand, I can quite appreciate your desire to automate that function as much as possible!"
Celebrimbor laughed. "Quite. It would leave all of us more time to do the interesting things. I got very tired of spending all my time forging swords, armour, and lanterns during the latter part of the First Age."
"Lanterns?" said Annatar, raising an eyebrow.
"I spent several decades in Nargothrond."
"Ah. I'd imagine you would need a lot of lanterns there."
"Unless you want to live with smoky torches and oil lamps day in and day out, then yes. No matter how many I made, they always wanted more. I got so sick of making them in the end that I broke Feanorian secrecy and taught other people how to make them." My father did not speak to me for nearly two months after that.
"You disagree with keeping advanced knowledge secret then?" Annatar asked. "Yet you yourself do not hand out the secrets of making ithildin for the asking."
"It's not the same," said Celebrimbor, shaking his head. "I spent a large amount of time and energy personally developing ithildin less than five hundred years ago, and it is a luxury item not necessary to anyone's survival. The secret of making Feanorian lanterns was well over two thousand years old, the people of Nargothrond badly needed the knowledge because they needed lanterns in larger quantities than we could easily produce, and they had just taken us in without asking for anything. We quite possibly owed them our lives and our freedom from Morgoth, and it was unreasonable keeping the secret from them just so that we could increase our power. Half the reason they needed so many lanterns at that point in time was because we had suddenly descended on them as refugees."
"Hmm. I do see your point, and considering the fact that I spend much of my time wandering around teaching people, I am hardly one to complain."
"Indeed, I should hope not," replied Celebrimbor, "considering that I was hoping that we could do some mutually advantageous sharing of knowledge... that is, of course If we have anything you don't already know." This is a Maia I am speaking to after all, and one of Aule's followers at that. He must know fantastic things.
"I'm certain that you do," Annatar replied. "I have learned many things in my wanderings, sometimes in the places I least expected to. It is impossible not to have heard of the new developments occurring here in Ost-in-Edhil. That cultural exchange with the dwarves was inspired!"
"I'm glad you agree," said Celebrimbor, now smiling broadly. "The number of times I have told people that the dwarves of Khazad-dum are not the same group as those who attacked Doriath and they look at me blankly and tell me that they are still dwarves and cannot be trusted!" Galadriel and Gil-galad have to be wrong about him. I don't think Gil-galad has ever actually met him. "Why don't you come down to my workshop and I'll show you what I'm working on at the moment?"
"I'd be delighted," Annatar replied with a smile.
In answer, Celebrimbor got up and headed for the door. Annatar followed him. With Celebrimbor's eyes no longer on him, Annatar's smile slipped a little and an expression of triumph mixed with sadness came into his eyes. In a few seconds it was gone as if it had never been.
A/N: This is intended to be the first of several stories about Celebrimbor, Ost-in-Edhil, Annatar and the Rings of Power. I hope you enjoyed it. They are somewhat influenced by Pandemonium_213, so if you enjoyed these stories you may like hers as well - they are over on the Silmarillion Writer's Guild website.