7. Part Four: One Ring to Bring Them All
1. The Meaning of Mírdain.
After the night's ritual was through, the round hall of the Mírdain felt diminished. The smoky air was cooling after an intense hour of song and spirit-calling, all focused on the Rings of the Dwarves. The lamps had burned down irregularly, some blown dark, and a few forgotten items littered the floor's edge, a pair of sandals, a crumpled wrap. All the Mírdain who had aided the ritual had left to eat after fasting, and maybe to embrace the beloved after celibacy. Only the chief of the ritual's sorcerers remained, Annatar and Celebrimbor.
Annatar stepped up to the stone plinth that had been placed in the centre of the Mírdain's round hall, and picked up one of the seven jewels that lay upon it. The ring that he caressed between thumb and finger was alive with power, an earthy heat and glow. Within the mithril and gold of the ring's setting, a changeable gem flashed, to represent all the different kinds of wealth that might gladden a dwarf's heart. The rings of Men had been simpler, each with an amethyst in a setting of sleek steel, the most mortal of metals.
Celebrimbor leaned on the edge of the plinth, exhausted but still controlling, as he had been throughout the ritual. Silently, he held his hand out to Annatar, and Annatar gave him the ring. Celebrimbor placed it on the plinth with the others, then began to wrap them, one by one, in tiny suede bags.
"Once we have completed the Elf-Rings, we will bestow them," said Celebrimbor, "to the folk of the Blue Mountains, the Iron Hills, and of Khazad-dum."
Annatar knew why they waited. The rings were great now, but their full potency would spring to life when the Elves wore their rings. "Tell me again how the Elf-Rings give the jewels for the mortals even greater virtue." He wanted to be absolutely certain he understood, before he began his own work, making one ring to rule them all. He had exerted as little of his power as possible that night, just enough to add the hook of his own will to the Dwarf-Rings. Let the Elves weary and bind themselves to this making!
"The other rings bear a gift, a dream, our good will. But the Elven-Rings will fulfil our own desires, and of course we feel these most keenly. The wish is greater; the will for their making is greater; and we will draw most deeply of ourselves for them. The fire we place in them shall be returned to us threefold. So too our good will shall be magnified, and the mortals' rings shall reflect that." Celebrimbor was tranquil as he spoke, confident after completing the second Ring-making. "Yea, all the children of Arda shall be united as never before; the Firstborn, and the Secondborn, and the folk of Aüle."
"More of your selves," mulled Annatar.
"Yes. But we do this with all our works. The very word "Mírdain" has two meanings; jewel-smith, and jewel-men, jewel-people. The word for a smith or maker is the same as that for a person in the very highest sense. It is what separates the children of Illúvatar from the goodly beasts, that we think and make and are aware. Thus in a sense we Mírdain are the same as our works." Annatar held back from rolling his eyes at Celebrimbor's words. Elves were prone to these flights of etymology, one of their many distractions.
Setting the Rings aside, Celebrimbor came up to Annatar and grasped his shoulders. "Never more true than with you, fair one, man of gold. Many wonders have you wrought, and your own self fairest among them." He kissed the Maia, soft and lingering, then asked, "Do you truly have to leave Eregion - to leave me?"
Annatar's face was shadowed in the dimming hall, and he answered, "Yes. I have said before that am not just here to aid the Elves. The first two parts of your work are done, and you are on the path to power. Thus I would turn to ordering other realms."
Celebrimbor asked, "Where do you go? To Lindon? The High King might receive you better there, now." He did not mention Lorinand in the South, where Galadriel now dwelt, even though he had reckoned it as one of the high-elf realms in his count of the Elven-Rings.
"Many men dwell to the south, around a place they call Lake Nurnen," said Annatar.
"The south-men are savage. You go from the highest to the lowest," said Celebrimbor, scathingly. "It would be better to go over Sea, and take counsel with the high men of Númenor."
"That is a fair idea. I will do that when the time is best. Yet order should touch everyone. I see it in Eregion; you are governed with ease, the great work has gone forth with the focus of many of your Mírdain. You have learned as much as I can teach you. And I have learned as much as you have to give."
Celebrimbor embraced Annatar, remembering the first time he had taken the Maia in his arms, in this very spot in the hall. He had known for long years that this day would come. He would lose the wisdom that had mentored him, the power that had knelt before him, the lithe being who had warmed him many lonely nights, even without love. "Even if you go soon, tell me; were the lessons I gave you sweet?" Celebrimbor knew better than to ask for an expression of care from Annatar. It seemed to be against some high principle the Maia held.
So it was an unexpected delight to feel the Maia twine deeper into his embrace, like a serpent seeking to warm itself against his crevices. "Ah, Celebrimbor. My time in Eregion has been far more to my desiring than you will ever know." Annatar drew back and, for an instant, twined Celebrimbor's silver forelock like a mithril ring around one of his tawny fingers. "Perhaps I shall return, if my works allow it," the Maia murmured.
2. An Errand-Rider's Return.
As Celebrimbor prepared to dive into the cold spring-pool, he stopped and looked along the westward road. There, as many times before, the horn-call of Lindon rang, loud and glad for the first trading party of the spring. After the Council and Celebrimbor had sent messages of fealty and peace to the High King, Gil-Galad, Lindon had continued trade and exchange with Eregion. The court of Lindon dealt chiefly with Celebrimbor. The official word about this was that the ever-changing Council was "less convenient," but Celebrimbor thought that Gil-Galad enforced his own lordship by clinging to the older way.
His keen eyes picked out the party on the grey stone road through the holly groves. Of twenty-three riders and one empty horse (either a spare or the steed of someone slain on the road), twenty-two and the horse turned toward Ost-in-Edhil, where the Council of Eregion worked and the markets were held. The twenty-third rider turned southwards, to the lowlands of Eregion. Celebrimbor peered at the rider, but could tell little about him or her, save that they were clad in sage-green, and riding on a piebald horse. A loremaster, by the guild-colours, riding to where Celeborn had his house among the sheltered oak groves. He smiled wryly.
Being the ostensible ruler of Eregion had taught Celebrimbor much. Now he was the one who had subtle workings going on behind his back, and those who were dissatisfied with the Council and Celebrimbor turned to the former ruler in his lowland house. He had known for a long time that Gil-Galad kept Celeborn in his counsels, even that he received messages that did not come to Ost-in-Edhil. He put it about that he was aware and disregarded Celeborn anyway, but he kept an eye on the thick groves of the lowlands, nonetheless.
Celebrimbor shook his head to clear his thoughts, then plunged into the deep spring-pool. The water was clear, and at the bottom, he found what he sought, and then swam upwards, reaching the top of the water with a gasp. He pulled up to the side of the pool and opened one clenched hand. A ring of mithril and adamant glittered there, as bright as the water in the sun. "Well met," he said, shaking the drops of water from the jewel that would soon be a completed Elven-Ring.
Its making had been long and slow, seventy-five years since he had bid a fond farewell to Annatar. Three times had the jewel rested in the spring to draw in all the water's virtues and powers. Two times had the Elves sung and chanted over the Ring of Water. In two days, at the Elvish New Year, they would finish the work. He had already retrieved the Ring of Air from its high perch in the mountains, where it had taken in the powers of the breeze and light. The Ring of Fire rested by a brazier in the Mírdain's main hall, always kept lit and guarded by the apprentices. Celebrimbor hauled himself out of the water, shivering in the cold of the early days of April. Spring never came as early as one might think, in the chill highlands of Eregion.
The next day, the piebald mare and her rider took the highland road again, up to the stables of the Mírdain. The rider was a persuasive fellow; though there had been no word of his coming, the stable-master agreed to let the horse remain there a day or two.
He went with the hostlers to see her set in a stable, and nicked a section of apple from another horse's feed as a treat for his own mare. "You piebalds are always good luck for me," said Pengolod, feeding her the apple from his ink-stained hand, black and white like the horse. "So give me what fortune you can, eh?" The horse licked his hand, then bumped it away.
He paused in the main foyer, marvelling at the latest work on display. It was a tall crystal urn rippled and faceted like the shimmering Sea, filled with wild rose-canes in bloom. At first he thought the flowers more wonders of the glassblower's work, but when he stepped up for a closer look, the fragrance of the living roses came to him. He touched a soft petal and wondered where the Mírdain had found the flowers of summer in the cold start of spring. Pleased to have a question to start a conversation with, he hurried on his way.
Pengolod never forgot anything he had learned, and he remembered the way to Aranwë's jeweler's studio. Gratifyingly, his friend of before was there, even at a similar work, setting an onyx cameo into the hilt-knob of a sword.
"You are as fixed in place as one of your anvils, Aranwë," Pengolod teased, in the old language of Gondolin. "Don't you ever leave?"
Aranwë looked up with a start, and spoke defensively. "You are fortunate to find me here this day. At this time of year, many of us go prospecting, before - wait a moment. I should be asking you if you ever stay home, rider of Lindon! What brings you to us again?"
Pengolod laughed, "Taking writings and messages about. And I have your book at last, a little late, I admit," he said, handing over a volume bound in red leather. He stayed silent about the rest of his errand and the messages Gil-Galad had finally seen fit to have him carry to Celeborn. As Aranwë took the book with praise and leafed through the pages, Pengolod added, "See, at the front, there is a list of all the matters you will find in the book, and each page is marked by a number, that you may seek it swiftly. What is so funny?"
"Just that each of us has our arts, and what is fine craft to one may be un-noticed by another," said Aranwë. "So it is well that you tell me how your work excels."
"I excel at many works, my old city-mate," said Pengolod, voice edged with insinuation, "and some of them I need naught but my loremaster's tongue to show you, if you will."
The other elf-man looked away at that. Pengolod cursed himself for squandering a third try with haste, and spoke lightly to cover his dismay. "I may not be thrawn enough for your tastes, and I can understand..." He fell quiet at the expression Aranwë bore when he glanced up.
"You are fairer than you reckon, Pengolod," said the smith, moving a few things around uselessly on the work-table. "But I wonder what you merit in me, that you turn to me so. You of all people know what a knave I once was."
"And as you hear me now, you know what a fool I am. A fine match." Then Pengolod changed his tone. "This we share; we are both shadowed by the past. I am not that foolish to not see it in you." Aranwë nodded, drawn in by his seriousness. "It is with someone who remembers as I do that I can be released from memory, for a time, and draw close rather than feeling riven. What say you?"
"Hm," Aranwë muttered. "Well. Hm. I'd be a knave again to refuse you, and I have no wish to do that."
Pengolod caught the smith's hand in his, and bowed over it smiling. Before he could choose a riposte to the tangled acceptance, Aranwë continued. "But one matter that stands between us. All of us Mírdain are being celibate right now; a great rite is planned -"
"All of you?" Pengolod stood back, hands on his hips. "Every last one? 'Tis a plot. A conspiracy. An ill fate is on me!"
Aranwë began to laugh, merrier than Pengolod had seen him in Eregion. "Not so ill; the ritual is tomorrow, and then we are freed." He explained the work the Gwaith-i-Mírdain would do, fixing the last of their power into the great Elven-Rings that would gentle the passing of time and aid the other peoples.
At these words, Pengolod remembered something. "In your entry-hall, I saw the roses of summer out of season. Is this an enchantment of those Rings?"
"No, we made some lesser rings, as practice," said Aranwë, holding out his left hand; there was a plain band of mingled steel and gold there, without a gem. "Those flowers have stood there for ten years, if you will credit it."
"Do they grow?" asked Pengolod.
"No, they remain perfect forever."
Pengolod continued to puzzle over this. "What if you took them and grafted them onto a rose plant? Would the flower come to fruit, then?"
"We have not tried," said Aranwë.
Pengolod frowned at this, thinking it strange and sterile, then decided to say no more for the nonce, with an assignation to plan. "How soon after your ritual will you be freed? Or do I ask too much?" he said, giving Aranwë an arch, hopeful look.
3. All Our Will.
All was ready to complete the Elven-Rings.
Celebrimbor looked about the round hall of the Mírdain, ringed about in concourse, as it often was. Smoke traced through the air, bearing the incense that they had all come to associate with these rituals of power. The crowd of Mírdain was waiting orderly, each singer in a specific place marked by the timbre of their voice, ready for Celebrimbor to begin conducting the ritual. The stone plinth had been placed in the hall's midst and draped in black silk, the rings shining upon it like three stars. The Mírdain had lavished all their craft and love upon them, more than on the other rings, even going so far as to name them like favoured weapons; Nenya, Vilya, Narya. Extra lamps had been suspended above the centre, so that the rings were in a pool of brilliance.
Celebrimbor, in a long black cloak and the red tunic of the Mírdain, was drastically shadowed, the strong bones of his face carved dark where they blocked the light from above. He felt himself held separate in the light, as his lordship and his sorcerous power, much gained from Annatar, held him above the other Mírdain. When he looked outside the pool of lamplight where he stood, it was hard to distinguish the Mírdain from each other amidst the shadowy crowd. He would have been hard put to pin a name to a face. But they were his people, there to aid him, and he loved them for it.
The Rings were the centre of his vision, the heart of the hall, soon to be the heart of Eregion, even of elf-kind. He held his hands spread above the Rings, feeling the power they already carried, and saw all the Mírdain turn to him in ready silence. They had sung as they cast the Rings, sung as they polished their stones chosen from amongst thousands, and they were ready to sing more now.
The ritual did not begin with any hallowing or call to the Valar. Annatar had claimed that to do so made the things of power less linked to the Elves' will, and more to the fates, and said that he thought the Elves were sacred in and of themselves. Some had been charmed by that, and some consoled, to hear such a thing from a Maia - it must be true, then.
Celebrimbor sang the first notes, with words urging all to give of the spirit within them for the ritual, to call on all their will and love, their art and force, to bring it forth in song. A pure tenor on one side let his voice ring out, met by an alto woman's voice of nearly the same note. One by one, a lower voice and a higher one joined the song, until even the richest and most silvery singers had joined the music.
The singers' words commanded the will of the earth, bound fast the sight of the stars of heaven, demanded obedience of plant and stone and water, calling it all to serve their will by enduring in beauty. The song changed into more of a chant as the words of its heart were repeated, the sound growing more beautiful with each new utterance. They called it on, drew it in, fixed it to them, gave it to the one who would give it to the Rings.
As the chant rose, it took on a note beyond any other song, the echo of the music of the Ainur that Annatar had given them. The rhythm would have been harsh and clamorous, had it not been sung by so many fair voices, and with such a loving will behind it, force driven by desire, calling on.
Celebrimbor felt the song pierce him with its power, sweet as being filled and pierced in passion. The sensation was as beyond lust as the greatest love was beyond fondness; alight, alive with all the desire of the most passionate Elves, engulfing him with the flame of Anor. He flung his head back and spread his arms to the side, letting himself take all the power, even to the traces of the singers' very selves.
The song reached its depth and height, every voice at its peak, and the stained-glass roof above trembled, its rattle unheard. The concourse fell silent at Celebrimbor's gesture, and when the echo of their clamour faded, and he sang the last keen, triumphant cantrip, emptying himself of breath as he gave all the joyous energy that flooded him to the Rings below his hands. So great was the strength of that hour that, at the last ecstatic note, there was a flash of white light about the jewels.
After the flash, a strange tranquillity rippled through the hall, then spread out through the corridors, into the night. A breath of timelessness refreshed the air, lightening the burden of change. The Mírdain savoured it in silence, every face open with wonder. Their greatest making worked.
Celebrimbor turned up from where he stooped over the three treasures, all the peace and triumph in his face, and when he straightened, all their shared pride was in his stance. He looked around at the unity in the hall.
"Thank you," he said, and bowed.
All bowed in return.
On the side, he heard one Mírdain whisper, "Is this what it felt like - in Aman?"
"Very close," one said.
"Good enough for me," said a second, and a few laughed at that; then a few more. The silence was not broken, but flowed into a gentle sound of joy, chatter and wonder. Celebrimbor basked in the centre, smiling at all, speaking to none, hovering over the precious things he had made. It had been worth all the striving and the outpouring, he thought, worth the difficult changes in Eregion.
And the Elven-Rings were complete in that hour.
4. Past Perfect.
Eregion had a cold climate. The quarters of many of the Mírdain were scattered amongst their workshops, lofts above rooms, chambers tucked to one side, so that they might be warmed by the small furnaces fired for their crafts. So it was with Aranwë, whose chamber was aside the workshop he managed. When he entered through the shop, he barred the workshop's door, then added another shovel of charcoal to the low-banked furnace. The embers cast the only light into the equipment-filled room, with its tall work-table and its benches.
The time-lightening engendered by the Elven-Rings was still in the air, new enough to sense. Aranwë turned to the elf who sat silently by the window. "You could have added more to the fire, if you wished. It took me many a year to get beyond how we husbanded charcoal in Gondolin," he said to Pengolod. "Were you bored waiting?"
"Listening to your ritual's song? Do not look so surprised; yes, I heard it. I dare say every elf alive in Middle-Earth did, and every houseless spirit." Pengolod had drifted over to where Aranwë stood, in front of the furnace's mouth. Aranwë was relieved that Pengolod's mien was quiet and serious, a match for his own, still limned with the energy of the great ritual. He had been too proud to reveal his eagerness for this hour. Before Pengolod could change the mood with distracting conversation, he sealed his mouth to the loremaster's.
Much about how it might be between lovers can be divined from one kiss. Pengolod's mouth was as fresh as a draught of living brook-water, soft and strong. In a light embrace, their bodies fit together better than either had expected.
"So, d'you think we Lambengolmor are well named?" asked Pengolod.
"Yes," Aranwë rasped, his voice raw after the singing, breath drained by the kiss. "What would you have of me? You have not said." And I have been too craven to ask, he thought.
Pengolod started back. "I ...what would you wish?"
"I would please you," said Aranwë.
"And I would do the same," said Pengolod, smiling a little at their impasse.
Aranwë fell back on manners. "You are the guest, here, and the first word should be yours."
Pengolod inhaled, and his voice fell deeper than was his wont. "I want you to take me. I have heard your dark tales, Aranwë; I know well what you smiths are like!"
Aranwë ran a finger under the collar of the Mírdain around his own neck. He did not know whether to regret the wine he had drunk after the ritual, or wish he had downed more. He had pictured himself serving the lean, handsome elf-man, showing him how much he might ask for, and instead...
"Very well; to please you, I shall take you as I would be taken myself," he said.
"No greater kindness to another," said Pengolod, looking pleased and steadfast, then half-laughing, "I even brought a phial of oil."
Aranwë winced, and weighed the moment. He strengthened his grip on Pengolod's shoulders, and shook his head. He leaned down and tasted Pengolod's mouth again, drawing the loremaster's head back by his long hair, backing him against the table. "Those phials are better to look at than to use. They always run out," said Aranwë, between kisses. "Nor can I close the wretched stoppers again with slippery hands." He slid one leg between Pengolod's limbs. "And the oil spills and stains all. Knave I may be, but I have something far better to ease our way." The loremaster was agreeably breathless by the time Aranwë turned away to find the sword-grease the smiths had long adapted for such hours.
By the time he turned around and span a stoneware jar down onto the table, Pengolod had started to disrobe, showing himself lean and lithe, muscles honed tight by his errand-riding. Aranwë fought back the urge to fall to his knees and caress the virile grace revealed from top to toe, staying standing as he ran his hands over the other elf-man. He stood still as Pengolod assessed him in turn with a touch across his crotch. "True what they say about you tall ones, and about smith's tools. What about undressing yourself? It's certainly warm enough," said Pengolod, and Aranwë removed his black cloak and red tunic, leaving it at that for the moment.
Pengolod grew sombre, then, for Aranwë bore many scars. He reached up to stroke first the brand-scar on Aranwë's right arm; the rune of the elf-men of Maedhros needed no explanation. Two faint lines below the collar-bones Pengolod touched, and murmured, "From your Mírdain's rite." Aranwë nodded. Next, he touched the fine, sinister lines that cut hard at intervals along Aranwë's chest, too precise to be a warrior's wounds. "How came you by these?" he asked, softly.
"Ansereg," he answered. "Not here; in Gondolin."
"Ah," said Pengolod. After feeling the scar-lines out with his fingers, he bent his dark head and ran his mouth across them, mapping out a place that now existed only in memory. When he turned back up, Aranwë was stricken by the mingled sympathy and sorrow in his face, reading the elf-man's grief that so little of the past remained.
Aranwë felt in himself again a flicker of the power from the ritual, a touch of uncanny heat in the plain ring he wore. As he had given that fire and good will to Celebrimbor then, he turned it to Pengolod now, channelling it not by song but through a deeper, longer kiss. When they parted to breathe, Pengolod turned his head against Aranwë's shoulder, leaning in, tension shuddering out of him as Aranwë caressed.
The smith whispered in the language of the lost city, honing its crisp, distinctive accent. "I remember how you were then, bright and wise," he said, drawing a hand down Pengolod's back, all the way to his hardened rider's thighs. "Wise and fair. As you are now, too fair for a knave like me. But I shall have you anyway."
"And without delay," agreed Pengolod.
Aranwë unlocked their solder-hot embrace and unbuttoned his leggings, then firmly drew Pengolod around. The loremaster, facing the table, lifted the stoneware lid of the sword-grease jar and dipped a curious finger. Aranwë leaned in, fencing Pengolod between his arms and the bench, and scooped half a handful out of the jar.
"This stays where you put it, more soothing than thin oil," Aranwë said, feeling his partner start as he applied the generous grease. He did not spare the loremaster's measure in this, delighting in the other elf-man's arousal. When Aranwë moved his touch back further, Pengolod leaned over the table; by his tightness against the smith's exploring fingers, not all the tension had left him. Aranwë was unsteady in turn as he edged in to lubricate his hardness by sliding it between his partner's slicked cleft. The friction of that narrow backside that moved to meet him was almost enough to make him spend.
"Are you certain you wish this?" he asked.
Pengolod turned back with the fiery look of one tempted to the edge. "Eictho-ni, hecilo," he half-whispered, voice sharp and sibilant.
Riven by that demand, Aranwë forced his tool inside, and they both cried out. "You asked for this," Aranwë growled, seizing his partner's hips in a bruising grip, sheathing himself fully.
Aranwë stabbed him deep, taking him hard, blinded and burning in it. He remembered himself enough to reach about for the other elf-man's cock, working him in long strokes even though he could scarcely stay standing. He started as Pengolod's hand came down over his. Beneath his hard use, the master of tongues was left with only one word, but that word, beyond all his expectations, was yes. Between sound and sensation, he lost himself and came.
The loremaster found his tongue again, leaning back and gasping, "Ai, I felt that, I felt you spend inside me, I never--" then spending himself against Aranwë's loosened grip.
They slid apart, Pengolod slumping against the table to collect himself, Aranwë staggering to lean against the solid furniture. He noted a trace of blood and braced himself for a pained expression when Pengolod turned to him. But apologies froze in his mouth when he saw the look on Pengolod's face, untouched by pain. The loremaster was still sad, but lit by peace; carrying a look that said memory was fulfilled and enough, and in that finding freedom from time.
"Are you-was that--all right?" he whispered. Pengolod closed his eyes and breathed deep, then smiled an illuminated smile. And nodded.
As they embraced again in the light of the jeweler's furnace, in his rejoicing heart Aranwë blessed the Elven-Rings, and the magics Annatar had brought the Mírdain for that hour.
5. Ash Nazg Thrakatuluk.
Sauron stood in a dry, ash-strewn land, on the slopes of the greatest volcano in Middle-Earth, and looked directly south. He was pleased; the work of raising a great tower was nearly done, the folk of Lake Nurnen both the first of his thralls and his overseers. In their past they had never ventured north to the lands of the Elves, so no word of their change had come to the immortal folk. It had been seven generations since he had bound the men of Nurnen to his service, before he took himself to Eregion, and rebellion was near to forgotten in his new order. Would that the Elves were half so easy to win and teach, he thought. On the other hand, mortals eventually escaped him through death. Binding the Elves to him would be a far more enduring victory.
As he thought of the Elves, he turned his mind their way. In his time in Eregion, he had drunk in every piece of knowledge he could about the Elves and their customs, and traced his spirit's intuition among many of them. They often did their great rites, weddings and final makings, on the day of their New Year, and so he turned his mind to them often when that day fell; he had sensed them at their Ring-making in recent years on that date. He stood there for a long time. Darkness began to fall as he closed his eyes in meditation, sending his spirit forth to feel and watch. Even if he had not been focused on them, he would have felt the echo of the Music of the Ainur, and the fine net of power that spread out over the Elves' places after their Ring-making was complete.
Sauron opened his eyes, nostrils flaring. His hour was come at last.
He turned around to face the mountain of fire, the mountain of doom, the core of his power in Middle-Earth. A fissure had opened in its side over the centuries since he had taken shape there. Walking up to it, he exerted some of his Maia's powers to smooth it into a tunnel. Then he took up the tools he had borne in anticipation and walked down it.
The tunnel plunged into the heart of the mountain, to the level of its magma-pit. The pit was cool, this year, its plunge surrounded by a firm ledge of rock, and the light inside was faint from the crater overhead. On the black rock Sauron laid out his tools; a crucible on a long handle, a ring-mold ready for casting, a forming spar, several hammers, a pair of pliers. Into the crucible he placed blobs and pieces of metal filched from the Mírdain's workshops. They were the scraps from the making of the Rings of Men and the Rings of Dwarves. Then he took the golden collar, sign of his membership in the Mírdain, from around his neck. With the pliers and his hidden strength, he cracked open one, two, five of its heavy links, and added the rich metal of three links to the crucible. The rest of the collar he set aside.
Sauron placed all the tools in order again. He listened to the near-dormant rumble of the earth; the volcano was grown quiet these past centuries. It might have slept in peace if Sauron had not called it to him. Down into his own core he reached, exerting more will than he had for four hundred years, and sang a deep, grinding song, pulling magma up from the depths. The ground moaned in agony. The cooled cap of stone cracked and spread, opening up its fire. The pit refilled with glowing magma, and the power of its heat and light illumined the mountain's core and the mountain's master. Now limned in fire and shadows, Sauron continued to sing as he held the crucible to the stone-pit's heat, tilting it to blend the melting metals.
Sauron's might exceeded that of the Elves for this making. As he sang, he reached out with his mind to alloy all the different metals, steel, mithril, and chiefly gold, together into a perfect blend, locked together by his will, suffused with the heat of magma and his own will. He did not need to let the metals linger in nature to absorb the world's powers; he did not need to repeat power-bindings. His chant reached up to the roof of the mountain's crater, and ash fell from the walls, stone crumbled, obsidian was shattered anew.
What had begun as a song was now a deep, unreal, multi-layered sound. It would have burst the mind of any elf or man who heard it. All his powerful will, and his denied rage, he poured into the sound and the metal. Then the horrible music shifted to become piercing, shatteringly sweet. It evoked all the beauty and seduction he had at his disposal, and that was very great, all the desirability of power and wielding that will, the fire of his Maia's body and the fire of his will uniting.
The crucible's contents glowed white-hot, and he poured the metal into the mold. A little excess metal dripped out. Touching the mold, he sucked out the heat so that the metal was shocked cold and still, brilliantly annealed, and with the same gesture cracked the mold open. Sauron removed the rough ring, snapped off the stem of metal from its casting, and placed it around the spar. He hammered it to round it a touch, still singing, putting his will to beat down any who defied him into the hammer's blows. Then he took the Ring, warmed from the belabouring, and held it between his hands, smoothing it with the same power that had cooled it.
As the climax, with heat of his mind he incised the very words of power that he chanted into the Ring, with craft to exceed any elf. It was the first time he spoke in the new language of power he would teach his Men and Orcs.
Ash nazg durbatuluk!
Ash nazg gimtabul!
Ash nazg thrakatuluk ag burzum-ishi krimpatul!
The dim evening light that came through the crater's opening fell into darkness as the words rolled from his lips and were branded into the heart of the One Ring. One ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
The earth roared in fiery release.
Sauron stood there in the wind that whirled through the dome, carrying up foul fumes, and held his making high, the One Ring glowing red.
As Sauron stood separate from the Ring, his golden beauty was dimmed. The tones of his skin and hair became brassy, his eyes more evilly green than chrysoprase blue. The One Ring glittered and shone, radiantly lovely; much of the power that gave him his beauty had been poured into it, to be magnified. The being and the jewel were inextricably linked.
Lust swept him. So tempting to don it immediately! But such haste would be his ruin, the fall of all his plans. The One Ring was linked neatly to the rings of Men and Dwarves, and to the Elves' works, but not yet to the Elven-Rings. He needed to return to Eregion one last time to do this thing. Then the Ring would be the height of the pyramid of dominance and order.
Sauron knelt to the broken collar. He took the two sundered links and placed the One Ring between them, bidding it to shrink in size to match the other links. Then, with the pincers, he pinched the open links shut. The One Ring's smooth roundness did not match the flattened oval links of the collar's chain, but it was to the back, where it would be hidden by his long hair.
He clasped the collar around his neck again, tighter than before, so that all the links pressed into him. As he placed the Ring fully next to his skin, his beauty flared forth bright again, as tempting as before, even more so, magnified by the linking Ring, which allowed him to draw more than ever on the world's power. Once he wore the Ring on his hand, his fairness would be more terrible than the Sun, and wither lesser ones who looked on him, if he willed it.
Sauron indulged in a laugh of anticipation, and the earth rumbled in response. He turned and left that place as magma began to ooze up further and become lava. The Mountain of Fire would erupt that night. Not even Sauron could turn back the roused earth's fires, or undo work that had been done.
6. One For The Dark Lord.
A week after the Elves' New Year, the weather in Eregion was cold to the point of being unseasonable. There were some compensations. The trading-party of Lindon was glad to linger amidst the weird peace cast by the Elven-Rings, though rumour whispered that none had donned the jewels of power yet; they were still held by Celebrimbor. The strange weather and clouded days brought the loveliest sunsets of hundreds of years, the sky's brilliance rivalling the Mírdain's multi-hued glasswork.
When Sauron rode back to Eregion, he arrived at the doors of the Mírdain in the midst of such a sunset, his white robes hued gold in the light. There was great joy at his coming unexpectedly, but he set all aside for Celebrimbor. The twain soon retired to take counsel, as Sauron had planned. Like other unwed smiths, Celebrimbor's lodgings were in the house of the Mírdain, and they soon entwined on the bed, as Sauron had planned. And when matters began to go awry, he recovered himself soon enough.
"Have you grown fairer through your goodly deeds? You seem more beautiful than ever," asked Celebrimbor, stroking back his hair in wonder, and Sauron flinched back, lest the elf touch the One Ring too soon.
"No more fair than you are grown strong," Sauron said. "I felt your song of power even afar, and came to congratulate you, and see your fairest works. Where are the Elven-Rings?"
"Back where they lay when we were enchanting them," said Celebrimbor, and Sauron sat upright at that.
"How odd. By the radiance of your land, I thought surely you wielded them," he said, smoothly.
Celebrimbor shook his head. "I must decide which one to keep for Eregion, and they are all such wonders I cannot choose, all precious to me. I tried each in turn briefly, and..." He sighed. Sauron suffered his kiss and picked up the traces of one of the plans he had readied. If he had been able to touch one of the elf-rings, his work would have been done in an instant. Still, this would suffice, to touch the one who had worn them.
"Have you broken your celibacy yet?" Sauron purred.
"No. Not very like me, is it?" Celebrimbor laughed. "The ecstasy of making the Rings has been so great that only your love could match it. I have been continent before this last rite, as well; you have spoiled me for lesser ones."
"My love?" asked Sauron, raising one golden eyebrow.
Celebrimbor realized his mistake. "Your passion, your giving, your - " He gave up. "Annatar, I am an Elf. Not a mortal to use you for mere passion's sake, and not a Maia to be above attachments for higher matters. You have some of my heart. How could I not care for you, who made our greatest works possible, and who have taken more from me than any other?" Sauron lowered his head at the unknowing truth of his last words. Taken more indeed.
Sauron said nothing, and let the elf's anxiety rise. He rose from the bed and stood against one of the room's windows, his frame outlined against the last traces of the vermilion and violet sunset and the blue night coming down.
"Perhaps it is fitting that you love me," Sauron mused. "But there are greater things in this world than love, I ween. There is power; there is order; there is what is right. And this I would embrace in you, in the way of the body, as you taught me."
Celebrimbor arose from the bed, his expression guardless with hunger. "Will you come to me as you did before? To kneel before me?"
"Yea, and take from you everything you have to give. Walk you your circle of ansereg and take up your tools," bade Sauron.
"We shall surpass everything we have known in our congress before. Thy very spirit I will touch, before this night is through." Before the window, he fell to his knees, and Celebrimbor stood before him, both of them limned black against the evening's fading light.
They did not fall to immediately, for Celebrimbor's aide came to light the lamps and pour golden wine. The aide said little when his elf-lord stalked around the room, restless with domineering lust, and commanded him sharply to lay out some linen towels, and pour out some spirits. The aide had seen this before, and before he left laid out a small ebony coffer banded with mithril, and Celebrimbor thanked him for this. He snapped the coffer's lid open. "Kneel," he said, and Sauron stepped out of his white robe and knelt where the wooden floor had been inlaid with a varied ring of wood.
Sauron refused nothing; not a crisp blow that struck his face, not words of fealty that Celebrimbor demanded (and Sauron read him anxious still thereby), not his body's stillness beneath a whirling belt, not the blood that flowed. He put all his will to being more radiantly focused than ever before, listening for every step and shift. No, he did not love Celebrimbor. But it occurred to Sauron how it might have been if he had, when last clad in a body, given himself to the Dark Lord so, to Morgoth. What might their sport have been? That thought helped him tolerate what the elf-man did next to him.
The toys of ansereg were never more splendid than in the chamber of the lord of the Mírdain. Each flail was worked and gilded, and the coffer held devices of pure metals, picked out in pinpoints of ruby and adamant. Celebrimbor, some of his overwrought emotion spent, had taken up a chain of gold, two handspans in length, with two pinching clips at each end, fashioned in soft gold as serpent's heads. He closed the clips around Sauron's tawny nipples, and like serpents they bit. Further to this he took up more clips of gold, each one with its tiny flaring grips engraved and shaped with black wit as the wings of a wasp. Some had rough gold where they clasped the flesh, and some had tiny teeth. They made the flesh around them crawl, stung and flushed, then drain paler than the skin about.
Celebrimbor studded him with many of these cruel jewels, along his chest and flanks, along the tender sides of his arms, even, humiliatingly, along his thighs and nipping the base of his cock. Sauron felt the Ring throb against his neck, but forced his fury at the goading sensations down. "Why this torment, lord?" he asked.
Celebrimbor stood above him, his voice that of a dreamer. "These I had made against your return, fairest one; they have bitten no other. The way the clamps draw out your flesh," he said, shifting one with a finger's touch, "seeing your skin redden, less perfect, makes you more like to us Elves. And to have you endure my making reminds us both that you are of the Mírdain, one of the jewel-men. You swore your oath, and tonight, tonight I claim you anew" He drew a caressing hand about Sauron's neck and gripped the collar of the Mírdain, as Sauron had planned.
He gave Celebrimbor long service with his mouth, then, and the elf-lord cried out to feel the Maia's hunger as he drew hard. One of Celebrimbor's hands sank into his hair, twisting and pulling, and the other one kept its grip on the collar. "Ai, many arts you gave us, Annatar, but this one I gave to you!" He pulled Sauron's head back and gazed stern and wild into his eyes. "The best of my makings is your desire, fairer than ring or gem. Take me, drink me down!"
Sauron dove, because Celebrimbor's wish matched his wiles perfectly; he had known how the stallion would run when he laid the traces, and he looked up to share his sure expression of satisfaction and desire fulfilled. Celebrimbor's grip was fading as the rest of him stiffened towards release, and Sauron placed one of his hands to hold the elf-smith's hand at his neck, so that his touch would be conducted through the collar, to the One Ring.
In brief defiance, Sauron pulled back and said quickly, "Give it all to me!" As he endured the shaft in his throat again, he thought of the notes of his music in his mind, and turned all his Maia's power to drawing in everything of Celebrimbor. With a cry like one of anguish, Celebrimbor came, a hard release and not swift after such a long denial.
Soon after, Celebrimbor cut short their rite and released the circle, weary unto staggering, grown gentle again. "Thank you, my friend," he breathed. "I needed that. Tomorrow, I shall be myself again." His hands never left Sauron, caressing where the marks faded almost instantly from the golden skin.
In the heart of the starry night, as Celebrimbor slept, Sauron slipped away. The horses quivered with terror in the stables as he came and drew his black steed to the ready. The enslaved Mearas was barely bound even by Sauron's will to tolerate him who all good beasts loathed. He mounted and rode to a stony rise overlooking the house and outbuildings of the Mírdain, then dismounted and looked into the valley below him. The dome of stained glass was lit, an immense jewel in the night, boasting the power of the Mírdain to all for miles around. Sauron dimly sensed that some elves were within at their sport of ansereg, and at that, reached up and tore the collar of the Mírdain from his throat one last time.
He cast it to the granite-stone beneath his feet, and at his will the loosened links cracked. From the collar's wreck, Sauron plucked out the one whole loop; his Ring. Savouring the moment, he held it in his hand. Patience had brought him to this hour; he could spare a moment to gloat, for once. Even without donning the Ring, he sensed the Elves more than he ever had before. The minds of those who wore the lesser rings seemed very near. Sauron looked up in hatred at the Moon and scattered stars, signs of defiance from the chaos-loving Valar, who hated the pure dark. Perhaps he would even cast the lights of heaven down, by the time he was done ordering Arda. He inhaled, and closed his eyes to salute the darkness pure. It was time.
Again he spoke his words of power and darkness, and they rang down the sloping hills of Eregion. Then he thrust his finger into the One Ring. Dark heat ran through him, and he cried out, a fell cry, and shivered as his making took him. He felt himself aligned into increased order; the smallest parts of his being were brought to greater power and perfection. Magnificent!
Sauron reached out with his mind, and felt something pulsing back at him; the myriad sparkling wills of the elven-race, as disorderly as the stars above. He grasped all he could sense in the grip of his ordering will.
And by the cries of horror that rang through the night, it seemed like the house of the Mírdain itself screamed.
He laughed in his black bliss, and then scowled. Scorched by the touch and knowledge of Sauron, the elf-minds were growing fainter. They were foregoing their power, taking off their rings. When they succumbed, when they took up the power that was waiting for them, he would have them! They might use the great Rings and fall to him; or set them aside and, weakened, fall before him. Either way, he would rule them all, and in the darkness bind them. His long anger undimmed, he lifted the hand where the Ring shone, and reached out to burn the mind of Celebrimbor. Deny me not, you who had a care; take up your Rings, and know true order. Here is a taste of what refusal will bring! Then he gestured at the dome of the Mírdain, using the Ring's power for the first time.
In a brilliant explosion, the glass roof shattered.
Sauron reeled. The magnified power was greater than he expected. He would have to master this, and then hammer his order down, starting with Eregion. With harsh words of the Black Tongue, he bid his steed kneel, and mounted anew. The black horse bolted beneath him, screaming its terror into the night like a wraith, but its fear served Sauron well. He let it carry him beyond the reach of the alarmed Elves.
Story is set in the year 1598, Second Age. The Elves' New Year falls on April 6th.
The quarters of many of the Mírdain = Based on a 9th-century layout of a monastic community's goldsmithing and blacksmithing workshops.
We Lambengolmor = Literal translation "masters of tongues."
Eichto-ni, hecilo = Literal translation from Quenya "Pierce me, outlaw." The word "eichta" means to pierce or prick; it also means to insult or goad. Used as the Gondolin gutter-talk equivalent of "Do me, you bastard."
An enslaved Mearas = A horse of the same breed as the surpassingly swift Shadowfax.
Thanks to Finch for a correction re: which Ring is the Ring of Water!
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.