Dedicated to the Silmfics group, which kindly puts up with all of my questions, and Joan M. especially, who suggested to me that Celebrimbor deliberately never married. Many thanks for the inspiration :-)
She had come to Ost-in-Edhil only to make a request, to commission an ornament befitting a king for her cousin Ereinion, to celebrate the thousandth year of his High Kingship. It was a sombre event, for it also marked the anniversary of the death of Turgon and the destruction of Gondolin, but she wanted at least to make a fair gift on the occasion.
She came to his forge, the birthing-place of miracles, unaware of the faux pas of such an intrusion. He was hard at work, intent on hammering a strip of glowing-hot copper to the point of disintegrating.
He glanced up in surprise at the first person to set foot in his workplace since his master-smith and teacher, long centuries ago. Amidst the dark and heat and smoke of the forge, she stood pale and cool, shining in her silken white gown, untouched by the surroundings. Her hair, bright with the light of long-dead Laurelin, poured down her slender back, spun of a gold that his crafter's hands suddenly itched to touch. In his heart, in that moment, he named her: Altáriel.
For her part, she seemed to look upon the core of Khazad-dûm personified. Eyes black as coals smouldered at her from the sooty mask that disguised his pale complexion. The candent copper cast a sheen of orange dancing over the inky soot, creating the appearance of a demon from the molten heart of the world.
She mastered her voice and inquired, "Do I address Telperinquar son of Curufinwë?"
His eyes darkened, and he frowned. "I am Telperinquar, but if you are kind you will not name me my father's son."
She flushed and averted her gaze from his burning one. "Forgive me. I spoke thoughtlessly."
"It is forgiven." He thrust the copper hissing into a tub of water, glancing sidelong at her through the steam, then set the metal aside and jerked off a leather glove, extending his hand. "To whom do I speak?"
"I am Artanis Nerwen, daughter of Arafinwë," she replied as he bent over her hand.
"Of Arafinwë?" She nodded. "Then we are cousins, or something like. Why do you use the High Speech?"
A pause, and then, "I thought it would not be unwelcome, from one descendent of Finwë to another."
"Not unwelcome, no," he said quickly. "It is good to hear the old language." Especially in a voice such as yours, he silently added. It shivered from his ears down his spine, curling deliciously in his stomach and making his fingertips tingle. Belatedly, he asked, "Why have you sought me out, lady Artanis?"
A moment passed as she recollected her errand. "You know of Ereinion Gil-galad, the High King in Lindon?" Then, reddening again, she answered herself, "Of course you know him. Your pardon, kinsman, I do not know why I am so slow of thought today."
He wanted to capture in his hands those flames leaping in her cheeks, to let their heat fire him to the creation of marvels. In his mind he saw what he would make: a pendant, a seemingly simple teardrop of mithril, as slender and strong and gracefully curving as herself. Or, perhaps, a circlet for her head, with a brilliant fleck of emerald centred in gold that matched her hair…
He returned to himself with a start. "My apologies, lady. And please, it does delight me to hear our birth tongue."
"Telperinquar, then," she amended. "I said that I would like some sort of ornament for Ereinion, for his jubilee."
"An ornament?" he repeated thoughtfully. "What sort of thing had you in mind?"
For the first time, even considering her earlier awkwardness, she looked curiously shy. "I do not know. Perhaps…you could suggest something?"
He unconsciously straightened behind the anvil and smoothed his bare hand over his dark, tied-back hair. "Something for a King's jubilee. Something not overly lavish, but elaborate enough for such a distinguished occasion. A cloak clasp, I should say, or a torque…" He rambled on, comfortable and sure of himself in his craft, and allowed his mind to wander meanwhile. She wore no adornment, he noticed; he ought to remedy that. He would deck her in jewels from head to foot, all scarce as bright as her eyes. No: that would only devalue the gems, rather than enhance her beauty. It should be a simple thing – a cap, woven of strands of gold, with sapphires at each knot. Or – she was tall and stately as a young tree – a spray of leaves, or flowers, delicately worked from silver, to wear in her hair…
She left the forge a short time later, having decided on a golden brooch set with rubies to imitate the device of Gil-galad. When he reached for his crucible, though, it was not gold that he melted, but silver, and a ring mould that he brought to hand.
He was unaware of the passage of time as he worked. When at last he sat back from his workbench and glanced at the window, the Sun was just balancing on the horizon. Walking – stiffly – to the window, he examined the ring that he had nigh subconsciously cast. A simple band, silver, polished to brilliance, painted with the colours of fire by the dying sunlight. A silver ring – a betrothal ring.
It sang abruptly against the stone floor. "What were you thinking?" he demanded hoarsely of it. "Did you think you could take a wife? Accursed fool!"
He picked up the ring again, but could not bring himself to throw it into the furnace. With an oath, he hid it in the ashes in a corner of the fireplace and nearly ran from the forge, slamming the door furiously on his way out.
She exclaimed over the brooch, holding it up to the square of sunlight from the window, and inspected it critically. "Do you know aught of metalworking?" he could not refrain from asking.
She glanced warmly at him, her expression animated by enthusiasm. "I do," she answered modestly, although her eyes glowed with pride. "I love metallurgy, although—" her hands gestured helplessly – "it was ever much to Father's dismay."
"Dismay? Why?" His tone was coloured with incredulity.
She hesitated, looked away. "Forgive me, Telperinquar," she said, low. "It is because of—"
"My grandfather," he finished steadily. He had long ago learned to recognise that hesitation.
Absently he began to clean his workbench, wiping traces of jeweller's putty from the marble tabletop. "A regret of mine," he said neutrally, "is that because of Fëanáro's obsession, I – and all jewelsmiths, to some extent – am seen in the same light as he. Wherefore the Mírdain: we who share a love can be free to work without enduring the suspicions and scrutinies of others."
She nodded slowly, hearing his unspoken plea: I am not my grandfather, nor my father! See me for who I am! Tentatively, she said, "I, for one, should be glad to learn more of what the Mírdain have to teach."
He glanced swiftly at her. "You would…be my pupil?"
The double meaning of the exchange hung in the air, and was reflected in the softness of her response: "Yes."
He told her of the name he had devised for her – he had, she thought wryly, the same fascination with her hair as had his grandfather. But she yielded to his wish to name her thus, and in levity she abbreviated his name to mean simply "Silver."
In the end, they in fact rarely frequented the House of the Mírdain; instead they were often seen together wandering the openness of Eregion. Wiser eyes noted with approval the decreasing time he spent at his forge, hoping that this youngest descendent of Fëanor could be swayed away from the materialism that had been his grandfather's downfall. Others believed that this new devotion might cure Finarfin's daughter of her intractable pride and wilfulness. And none could help but smile fondly at the blossoming of a tender courtship.
Over the next fifty years, he made rings for her ever and anon, fashioned from all different manner of stuff – shining holly leaves, reeds from the edge of the River Glanduin, and once a small white stone, polished near the smoothness of marble. It was on the gifting of this one that she asked, lightly, "And when shall I have one of silver, Tyelpë?"
His hands, which had lingered on hers after fitting the ring on her finger, twitched away suddenly. "I – you will not," he replied abruptly.
After having summoned the nerve to ask her question, she could do little more than blink at the blunt response. "I…shall not?"
"No." Said, perhaps, a bit more gently, but still, inconceivably, a denial.
"You are jesting." The statement had more than a touch of question in its inflection.
"No." Whispered now.
The colour drained slowly, slowly from her face. "You mean not to wed me."
"Artanis—" he began desperately, but she continued, inexorable, as if trying to comprehend her own words.
"You have been trifling with my emotions – with me."
"No!" This time it was a cry, fiercely contradictive. "I would not – trifle – I would never—" His fingers flexed instinctively, wishing to convey what his less-skilful tongue could not. She made no attempt to speak as he sought for a way to explain.
"We could never be wed, Artanis, not truly, not beyond empty words. Do you not understand? I am the son of Curufinwë Kinslayer. I will not inflict that curse on a child. I will not perpetuate the Doom of Mandos."
The import of his fear dawned on her. "We need have no children, Tyelpë. I am content without," she argued. "We will simply…not…"
His hair flew from side to side, loosed from its leather tie by the vigour of his refusal. "I am of the get of Fëanáro. Think you that I do not possess the fire of his own spirit?" He was shaking, hands clenched into fists at his sides. "How, then, if I cannot control that flame?"
"I trust you," she said quietly, and he snapped a laugh.
"Doubtless, much as my mother trusted my father." Bitterly, he added, "I never knew my mother. I will not have your children say the same about you."
"Telperinquar – I love—"
"Artanis!" His hand came up in a sudden, prohibitive motion. "Do not say it!"
She stared at him, rigid, as rare tears caught in her throat. The world grew grey around the edges, until all she could see were his eyes, black and unfathomable, and she did not know whether she looked on him, or his father, or the Spirit of Fire himself. "Then I curse you!" Her own fists were clamped into the skirt of her gown, tearing finger-sized holes in it. She was aware that she was screaming, but she seemed to have lost all control over her voice. "I curse you, Telperinquar Curufinwion, to the Void, to the Everlasting Darkness that your fathers were so fond of! Find your pleasure in the arms of Morgoth, if you will not have me!"
A streak of scarlet appeared where he had bitten his lip, contrasting sharply with the pallor of his face. His mouth opened, but nothing more came than a suffocated sound. He dug the heels of his hands into his eyes and turned aside.
Something small and hard struck his back, and she fled with a strangled sob. He glanced down: a white ring gleamed in the dirt at his feet.
The forge was dark when he stumbled in, but the quiet which he had always welcomed before now gave him no comfort. He stoked the furnace to a maddened blaze, then knelt and found the silver ring in the ashes on the hearth. It landed with a sweet peal of sound in the crucible, and he watched, stone-faced, as it softened and warped and finally melted completely.
He tilted the crucible and poured the shining, searing liquid into his palm, squeezing his fingers into the gleaming puddle. The sensation of burning metal was not unfamiliar, though he had never spilled so much at one time. There was a curious hissing sound, like a snake, like hot iron plunged into water.
He realised that the sound was his own breath escaping through his gritted teeth.
Steeling himself, he pried the cooling silver from his hand, tearing the skin where it stuck, and set the metal on his workbench – a twisted, tortuous scrap, useless and unlovely, the ruin of his dreams and longings.
He crouched before the furnace, maimed hand clenched to his chest, crying like a child.
Some sleepless nights later, he stole through the House by the light of the Moon. Stopping at a chamber door, he lifted his hand to knock, then thought better of it, and instead called softly, "Altáriel!"
After a minute, the door opened a crack, and she stood in the sliver of light that leaked into the corridor. "Celebrimbor."
He flinched at her icy tone and use of his Sindarin name, but pressed on. "Will you come walk with me?"
"Now?" Her voice warmed somewhat in her startlement. "Do you not see Isil shining? It is night, Celebrimbor, and no time for walking."
His forearm prevented the door from closing. "Please, Galadriel. Your own light would be ample to see by. Please come."
He had never pleaded with her before. Doubtfully, she relented, wrapping herself in a navy mantle before she slid from her room.
They walked in silence, crossing the courtyard of the House of the Mírdain. He stopped at the door to his forge, hesitating, then produced something without preamble from a slit pocket in his belt.
"Here is your silver ring."
She took it dubiously, turning it in the moonlight. Never one to adhere to customs, he had freed from the metal an intricate flight of birds, designed to pursue each other around the wearer's finger. "I have none to give you in return."
He waved away the concern. "It is no matter. Please, put it on."
Her heart clawed into her throat as she slipped it on; the silver was still warm, and a radiant smile softened her features.
"It is – beautiful, Telperinquar. Beautiful." Then her smile dimmed, as she felt the band move loosely. "But it is too large."
He returned a crooked likeness of the smile as he took her hand with his nearly-healed one. "It is not meant for your first finger," he said gently. Deftly, tenderly, he moved the ring from index to middle finger.
"I do not understand." Her eyes, though, spoke not of a lack of understanding, but of an unwillingness to understand.
His fingers, trembling, reached unwontedly to touch her face, her hair, all frosted with silver in the moonlight. This was what his father and grandfather had never understood – to touch a thing of beauty, to hold it in one's hands, without making, without possessing. And now, though he had handled much more fragile things before, he was, for the first time in his life, deathly afraid that he might break what he held.
Never before had he had so much doubt in his own hands' capability. But with the ebbing of his manual surety came a newfound eloquence, and he said softly, while smoothing her cheek, "This is as near to your heart as I will allow myself – as close as are your two fingers to each other, yet still separated. I love you, my Galadriel, my lady of light, and I would with my whole self that we might be wed. But I will not have you bind yourself to one who cannot love you fully."
Her hands rose, haltingly, covering his that caressed her face. It was bitter, so very bitter, that the first time he touched her lovingly was to ease the pain of rejection. "You love me…"
"Yes," he whispered.
Slowly, dreamily, she melted into his arms, and felt the warmth of his lips against her forehead, as his raven hair fell as a curtain over their faces. Thus hidden from the world, she allowed her tears to silently fall, staining his tunic; and as she wept, she felt a soft rain from above, and knew that he wept too.
For a time, a score of years perhaps, she remained in Eregion, halfheartedly learning whatever the other Mírdain would teach her. But the strain of seeing him constantly was too great, and after several smiths had remarked to her on her evident lack of interest in her work, she removed to Lindon, dwelling with Círdan of the Havens and easing her heartache on the shores of the Sea. There she spent two centuries in quiet and relative peace, until the old Elf of the Falathrim gently counselled her that she could not evade her troubles forever. So it was that she returned to Ost-in-Edhil, where she was greeted by two – him, and Celeborn.
It was no large surprise, then, some hundred years after, when there was great hue and cry in the city, and the rejoicing that ever accompanies weddings. A princess of Tirion and a prince of Doriath – none could think of a finer union; two exiles finding a home in each other, said the romantic ones.
He sought her out, a month or so afterward.
"Are you happy with him?"
"He is kind and good. I am happy enough." A beat, a breath. "What of you?"
"Oh…" His smile was secret, sad, wistful. "I am still making rings."
"Why?" There was something more than passing curiosity in the query, and she bit her tongue silently. She would not care; she did not care. She had offered him her care, and he had rejected it. So she would not let herself care.
"I do not know," he answered at last. "There is a new member of the Mírdain, a Maia by the name of Annatar, and he is teaching us new things. His knowledge is remarkable, and he is very fond of ringmaking, and yet…" His hands, ever more expressive than his tongue, spread in a eloquent shrug. "Yet that is not why I make rings." He thought sometimes that he was searching, though he did not tell her – for he himself did not know for sure – searching for a ring that would somehow lift the Doom of the Noldor. A ring that was not meant to be kept or owned, but shared, used to serve all – one that would expiate the ills done by his father and grandfather in their possessiveness. He had been in search, long now, of a jewel of supreme clearness and purity, befitting his purpose, and had in fact found three – diamond, ruby, and sapphire – though he had not yet decided which he would use.
He sighed, then realised tardily that she had been speaking. "You are in your forge again, and not here," she surmised lightly, with a faint smile, and he laughed softly.
"I was. I apologise. What did you say?"
"Naught. It was unimportant."
"Altáriel." He gazed at her seriously. "Everything you say is important to me."
Her smile faded, and she stared at the ground. "Will you never stop tormenting me?"
"I, torment?" He looked stunned. "How, my lady?"
She did not answer immediately; when she did, her tone was low and uneven. "Mistake me not, I care deeply for Celeborn, and thought that I might give him my heart along with my hand. But…" She was mute for a full minute before raising her eyes to his face. "It seems that my heart is still held by another."
"I do not blame you. It would be terribly unfair of me to blame you—"
She was interrupted by the fall of a glimmering tear. His heart wrenched, and he reached to take her hand, holding it against his chest. Tears of his own gathered threateningly in his throat; he dared not draw her close, but stroked her cheek with his free fingers, brushing away the wet trails there.
At length she dried her eyes and tried for a weak jest. "There are few others who have seen me weep even once."
"I am honoured, then." His voice trembled, broke into a bass unlike his normal timbre.
An expanse of silence; then, "I should return…to my husband."
After a pause, he let go her hand.
He had assumed that, though Annatar was held in high esteem by the Mírdain, they would scoff at the Maia's suggestions of revolt much as he himself had. So it was to his shock and deep grief that his fellow smiths had not only accepted the idea, but embraced it enthusiastically. And it had not been enough for them to set him unwilling in Celeborn's high seat; they had also given him the miserable task of informing the deposed.
He found her on the bank of the Glanduin, gazing into the water as it murmured past her vantage point. Her shoulders were still erect and proud as ever, but her head was bowed in sorrow and defeat; even from here she had heard the tumult, and above all the smooth, seductive voice that now taught more than craft secrets.
"I am sorry," he said at last, breaking the silence. "I tried to reason with them, but they would not hear me."
"Why?" She turned to him, her expression forlorn. "Celeborn has ruled them fairly for nigh seven hundred years. Why do they rebel against him – against us?"
"I do not know," he said, hearing his words mocking him. He had perforce supplanted her, and he could not even give her a reason.
She looked out across the river again, following it eastward towards its source. "Perhaps I shall find a more friendly reception in Lórinand."
Her words struck an ominous chord. "Lórinand?" he asked uneasily, hoping against hope that she would dispel the fear that had settled in the pit of his stomach.
His eyes found hers, and his heart sank, even before she spoke. "There is nothing more to keep me here, Tyelpë."
He was unprepared for the ache that he had long ago thought deadened. "Not even I?"
"You have moved on. You have your realm to rule now; I must find mine."
Swift denial rose in his throat. "Artanis…I never wanted the lordship of Eregion. You know this."
"I know. And I do not hold it against you, Telperinquar." She paused, added, "I hold nothing against you."
He noticed the emphasis. The memory of a thousand wakeful nights flew to his mind, a host of wrongs of which he had accused himself; and here she offered absolution in one soft sentence. It was too much to credit. "Truly, Altáriel?"
She laid her fingers gently over his heart. "Make your rings, my love," she whispered. "Find the redemption you so desperately seek."
His hand covered hers, lifting it to his lips. Lightly he kissed the ring he had given her, nestled against the ring of gold on her forefinger. "And you, find happiness, nárenya," he replied. He opened her hand and laid a leather purse in her palm, then turned and walked away.
With trembling fingers, she loosened the string of the purse and drew out a green gem, dazzling in the embrace of a silver eagle. She lifted it into the sunlight, flashing with an emerald fire, and breathed, "Nárenya."
Chapter II: Endnotes, and a rather lengthy explanation of names.
Warning! MLA-style parenthetical notation! If you've ever had a bad experience with term papers, you are advised not to continue! :-)