1. Everlasting Darkness
The Elves of Eregion had marched against that Dark Tower soon after its construction in 1600. They had laid siege to Mordor for dozens of years. But perhaps history repeated itself. The servants of the Dark Lord had multiplied in the darkness and then burst forth from Barad-dur with little warning. The Dagor Bragollach, the Battle of Sudden Flame, was repeated with painful acuity. Flames ravaged the lands of Northern Mordor, and the Elves were forced to retreat westward and southward. Skirmishes were lost in quick succession. Celebrimbor barely knew what to do. He could see the forces of Mordor with his palantir, but there was no counterstrategy for such a situation. The few could not fight against the many. For a brief moment, Celebrimbor considered mounting his horse and riding to the very doors of Barad-dur. He would sound his trumpet and call Sauron forth to battle. The Dark Lord would not refuse, not before his servants. But sense returned to Celebrimbor ere he took this path. He'd heard the tale before, and he knew its end. Fingolfin had wounded the Dark Lord but not defeated him. Instead, Celebrimbor strengthened his troops and led an organized retreat. Once they had passed the Gap of Nimras, Sauron's army had halted their pursuit. Celebrimbor had almost expected a dragon to appear from legends of old to harass his people. After all, it had been the Father of Dragons who had broken through Maglor's Gap. But Celebrimbor's fears had proven untrue.
Now, in the safety of Eregion, the Elves prepared for Sauron's offensive. The Three Elven Rings had at last been sent westward. Why did I wait so long? Celebrimbor wondered. But he knew the answer. He had originally thought that he could defeat the Dark Lord without aid. Now, ninety years later, Celebrimbor admitted that he could not even defeat a Maia. In Middle-earth, Sauron's powers were weaker than they would have otherwise been in the Blessed Realms, but the Elves had also weakened over time. Even the Sun did not shine as brightly as it had when it'd first arisen. All things faded.
Celebrimbor had at last asked the High King for aid, but he knew that he had asked too late. The Elves of Lindon would need time to marshal their army. By the time Gil-galad's army arrived, Eregion would be laid to waste. Celebrimbor laughed and shook his head.
"Great is the fall of Gondolin," he muttered. Less impressive would be the fall of Eregion. Yet Eregion was the city of his building, and he could not abandon it.
"Love not too greatly the works of thy hand." Those had been the words of Ulmo to Turgon.
Before, Celebrimbor had not understood Turgon's folly and pride. If Maglor had not abandoned the Gap of Maglor, he would not have lived to fight again. Similarly, Celegorm and Curufin had retreated from Himlad when the battle had not gone in their favor. And even Caranthir, most rash of the sons of Feanor, had left the riches of Thargelion and joined Amrod and Amras in the south rather than die with the land that had come to be more commonly known by his own name, Dor Caranthir. Turgon had seemed a fool to Celebrimbor for clinging too tightly to Gondolin. Celebrimbor had thought that perhaps the lessons of the Silmarils had taught him wisdom. He had given freely and without expectation of any return. Yet the lesson had not been fully learned. He would not abandon Eregion.
"The dwarves hoard riches, yet you give freely," Durin II had said once many years ago, before Eregion had even been built. "It is not what I would expect of a great craftsman such as yourself. Is nothing that you craft dear to your heart?"
Celebrimbor had laughed. "Everything that I make with my own hands is dear to me. There are two reasons that I give such cherished items with little resistance. First, I wish for others to see my crafts and imitate my works. In this way, the skill of all craftsmen will improve. And, second, because I was once poor."
At the memory of those words, Celebrimbor's brow furrowed, and he remembered, against his will, those days on the Isle of Balar.
The Haven of Balar was the last refuge of the Elves. The fell servants of Morgoth could not reach the isle, for they shunned water. However, the River Sirion had been perverted since the Fall of Gondolin. The Wells of Sirion were polluted, and this foul water spilled forth from the Mouths of Sirion to surround the Isle of Balar. Dark clouds spread out from Beleriand over the Bay of Balar, and only the occasional winds of the Sea provided the Elves with the sight of the stars. Rarely did the sun rise over the Haven of Balar.
The vegetation of the isle was the first to feel the poison that Morgoth sent from afar. The rain ate holes in the leaves of the trees and burned the flowers as if it was fire that fell from the sky, not water. The birds fled. The animals sought for food but searched in vain, as did the Elves, and they soon perished under the harsh conditions. The fishes about the isle choked on the foul waters and floated onto the shores of Balar like an ill omen. And pearls had long ceased to be found. Gil-galad was not named king in that time. There was no kingdom to rule.
The Elves of Balar retreated to the few caves on the isle to protect themselves from the burning rain. There, they found mushrooms that needed no light, and fresh water from the depths of the earth could be found in small quantities. It was not enough. Many of the Elves went hungry. At first, the strong had sacrificed their share for the weak. As the situation became worse, more and more of the weak faded from despair or died of malnutrition. Those that tried to salvage what they could of the burned fruit of the isle became sick after eating the poison of Morgoth. Some of the strong grew weak as time passed and conditions did not improve. The remaining strong stopped giving their food to others and coveted what they had for themselves. In the beginning, some traded gems or jewelry for food. After a while, nothing was valued more than clean water and unpoisoned food.
Celebrimbor was in worse shape than most. As one of Feanorian descent, he was heavily scorned by the other Elves, Noldorin and Sindarin alike. What food Celebrimbor found in the dark tunnels was snatched from him, and the thief often justified himself by saying that these woes were brought about by those of Feanor's brood. Cirdan had tried to defend him, for Cirdan was like his Lord Ulmo and had pity on all the exiled Noldor. But as soon as Cirdan turned his back, another Elf was always ready to take what Cirdan had given Celebrimbor.
Celebrimbor often slept to conserve his energy. As the years wore on, hunger stirred him from sleep. He delved deeper and deeper into the everlasting darkness of the caves in search of food that he would be able to keep for himself. It was difficult. He had no light. Often, he crawled on hands and knees, feeling as he moved into the tunnels for food along the floor or for moisture that he would lap up as a dog. The air was thin in the deep caves. Sometimes, when he slept, he wondered if he would awaken. The fate of Arda-earth, sea, and air-lay locked in the Silmarils. And Morgoth had taken the Silmarils. The prophecy of Mandos was proven true.
"The deeds that we shall do shall be a matter of song until the end of Arda." Celebrimbor laughed in his mind at the thought of Feanor's words. None would be left to sing of the days when the Elves fought like beasts for food and melted ice on their tongues for water, and it was just as well.
He would've laughed aloud if he had any voice left.
But he'd found a little bit of frost in a crevice of the wall. He was happy. It was more than he'd had in days. Celebrimbor curled up in a hopeless attempt to keep warm and slept. Maybe when he awoke, new frost would have formed in the crevice.
He did not awaken to hunger pangs, as he often did. Instead, a soft blue light shone faintly on him. Celebrimbor started and shielded his face. The light disappeared. He clawed against the wall in fear. Was this light the last vision he would see before he was summoned to the Halls of Mandos? Or was this a vision of his own sacred fire leaving his body? Now that he was faced with it, he didn't want to die. He wanted to live, even if he heaved heavily for air and ate the moss that he sometimes found on stalagmites.
"Telperinquar, do not fear me. I am here to help." The voice was gentle and soft. It spoke in Quenya, a smoother and higher language than the Sindarin tongue. Was this Namo the Judge? Would he punish him for the Oath that he had not sworn? The Oath that made the Silmarils his birthright against his will? The faint blue light returned, but there was less of it than before. Celebrimbor turned his face into the wall. His closed eyes adjusted to the light. He looked again cautiously. Perhaps he should not fear death. Perhaps he should accept it. There was naught to fear. Death was a release. His eyes rested on a Feanorian lamp, and the glowing orb was partially encased to spare Celebrimbor's unfamiliar eyes.
Celebrimbor looked at that lamp for several moments. He remembered when they'd hung like stars in Formenos. They'd all been broken when the city had been laid to waste. Those that were unbroken had lost their fire. Their light had been derived from that of the Two Trees. But later, other Feanorian lamps had been made, sealing within them small bits of the light of Helluin. Yes, this was definitely one of the later models. The sliding cover should've been evidence of that. In the Blessed Realm, there had been no reason to regulate the light given off by the lamps. In Middle-earth, light sometimes attracted the dark servants of Morgoth, and the lamp had been modified by Feanor ere he died to hide its light except where it was directed. Ah, but the lamp was of steel, not of silver. This lamp was not from the Blessed Realm at all. It must've been one crafted by Curufin in imitation of his father's lamps. Once his eyes had adjusted to the blue light, Celebrimbor found the familiar sight of the Feanorian lamp a world of reassurance. He would have wept for joy, but his body had no water to spare. The light came down to him like a star falling to earth. Celebrimbor reached out to it as if he were still a child.
"Telperinquar, Telperinquar..." When he heard the words, he at last looked beyond the lamp and saw the haunted eyes behind them. It was an Elf! Or was it a Vala in the semblance of an Elf? Tears streamed down the gaunt cheeks, and Celebrimbor felt that this Elf was somehow familiar. Still, he stopped thinking of familiar Elves and lamps as soon as his mind registered that those were tears. Tears! Celebrimbor moved forward more quickly than he had in a long time and caught the drop that slid off the Elf's chin on his tongue. He licked the tears from the Elf as he would've from the cave walls. The Elf did not stop him. Instead, the Elf hugged him close and provided him with still more water.
Maedhros had carried Celebrimbor from the depth of the caves, nourishing him carefully, not giving him too much food or water at once. Maedhros chewed the food before giving it to Celebrimbor, for the younger Elf had not the strength to eat solid food. In those mouthfuls of nourishment, Celebrimbor tasted the fire of his uncle, the white flame that was defeated but still burning with passion. It kindled the fire within Celebrimbor as well. He still could not eat on his own, but his eyes were bright and alert, and his mind was slowly becoming sound.
"Are we still on the Isle of Balar? Or are these the Halls of Mandos?" Celebrimbor asked when he had strength to speak. He'd been forming the questions in his mind for some time now, and it'd come difficultly for him though he was at one time a master of lore and languages.
"We are on Balar," Maedhros said. His face was grim, and he did not even the resemble the person Celebrimbor had known in the Nirnaeth Arnoediand. If that had been a time of Unnumbered Tears, then the years that followed could only be known as the Years of Long Lamentation. Celebrimbor resolved to name it such if he ever recorded the history of the Noldor.
"It is best that we do not return to Cirdan's people then," Celebrimbor said when he formed his thoughts into words. "They will not welcome us."
"We have no choice. There is nothing in the deep of the earth, and the air is too thin to breathe."
Celebrimbor offered no more objections, and Maedhros did not speak further. They slept together, and Celebrimbor was pleased to be warm. How long had it been since he'd been warm? He could not remember. When they awakened, Maedhros slowly fed him and then carried him farther away from the everlasting darkness. Travel was slow. Maedhros tired easily. He was no longer strong enough to easily bear the weight of an adult Elf. But in time, they returned to the Haven of Balar.
Maedhros had come to Balar with a host of people, most from the ravaged Havens of Sirion for many of his own men had died in the retreat from Beleriand. They were, however, in better shape than the survivors on the Isle of Balar, for they had rations with them and canteens of fresh water. Maedhros had been quick to recognize the dangerous situation, but he would not allow for a Fourth Kinslaying, even if the Kinslaying was the doing of the people of Balar against the Feanorians. Before he had left in search of Celebrimbor, Maedhros had organized a guard of his most trusted men around the food, ordering them to give a bit of food and water to any who came but to be firm in their limited generosity.
Maedhros had then taken over one of the caves, with Cirdan's permission after a hefty gift of food and water, and, there, Elros and Elrond had worked their skill in bringing forth mushrooms and small plants from the unpoisoned earth that they had carried with them from Beleriand. Rumor of food in the cave had grown, but the armed guards had turned away the beggars. Many had murderous thoughts, for some of Maedhros's people were Men, not even Elves, and the Elves of Balar felt that these Aftercomers were less worthy of the food than them. Indeed, all Feanorians were less worthy. Grumbling led to fist fights, but the battles were resolved quickly, and most retreated once they'd received an extra helping of food.
By the time Maedhros emerged from the depths of the caves of Balar with Celebrimbor, the garden of small plants and fungi of Elros and Elrond had grown to adulthood. Maedhros ordered that the adult plants and fungi be harvested once they'd given rise to fertilized seeds. Then, it was Maedhros and his people who distributed the food to the people of the Haven of Balar. Everyone was given an equal share. Though meager, it was more than what most had received before. The strict military rules prevented the early harvest of the food before the next generation could be born. Some still grumbled about the Feanorians, but none did so when it came time to receive their allotted ration of food.
And while his men still had strength left in them, Maedhros ordered the making of a well within one of the caverns. Maglor played on his golden harp in each cavern until he discovered one that was suitable for their purposes. The digging was awkward. They had no picks or shovels. But they made makeshift digging tools with what swords and daggers they could spare. The well was not beautiful, but it was functional. Again, water was rationed and distributed in small allotments.
Once Celebrimbor regained his strength, he became a member of this strange, military organization that was now the primary government of the Haven of Balar. He was allowed more food than most, but he usually felt guilty about accepting such generosity simply because he was akin to Maedhros and often gave his extra share to a child in need or a maiden who was aged beyond her time. He did not want to treat anyone as he badly as he'd once been treated. He remembered all too clearly how it had felt to be hungry and desperate.
Then, one day, scouts of Cirdan reported movement in the north. None knew what it meant, but the haze had been white and bright rather than dark, and so the people of Balar had hope.
"We should investigate," Cirdan said at the council meeting.
"I agree," said Maedhros. The matter was pretty much decided. Maedhros's words were practically law. He looked around. "I would trust none but the Shipwright to go forth for this voyage."
Cirdan bowed his head. "I will go. Only I am safe from the wrath of the Sea, and, even then, only when I am careful."
"With Cirdan will go Ereinion and Elros," said Maedhros. "Elrond will remain behind to tend to the gardens."
"I do not think that I am ready for such a great task. Why not meet them yourself?" Gil-galad asked.
"I am the son of Feanor," Maedhros said bluntly. "If, by some miracle, this is aid from the West, then I will not be a welcomed sight to them. But you, Ereinion, may claim High Kingship of the Elves, and Elros will represent the King of Men. Thus, the Two Kindreds of the Children of Iluvatar will meet the hosts of the West, and they may yet have pity on us."
Gil-galad did not look happy, but he did not object. Elros accepted his assignment without question. The council concluded and preparations were made. Gil-galad's face haunted Celebrimbor. He had seen that face before and had felt that same despair. He sought Gil-galad later and found him outside the protection of the caves. There was no deadly rain, but the isle's surface was scorched and looked like a wasteland. It had for many years now. Gil-galad sat with his arms folded over his knees and his head buried in his arms.
"What ails you, Ereinion?" Celebrimbor asked. Gil-galad looked up with tear-stained cheeks and shook his head. "Tell me. I may be able to talk to Maedhros."
"I am to go as the King of the Elves, yet I am myself no better off than any others here," Gil-galad said. "I had thought that I had put my pride aside a long time ago, but, now, faced with the prospect of meeting our mighty cousins, I feel ashamed of myself. I don't want to see them, not like this."
Celebrimbor knew Gil-galad's armor. It was of plain steel. The Elves had had little opportunity for luxury since the Bragollach, and the best armors and weapons of the Elves had been lost in the Nirnaeth or in the Fall of the Hidden Kingdoms. At the thought of these mighty Elves, jewel-encrusted and gilded with gold and silver, Celebrimbor felt his cheeks redden as well. No, he would not want to be the representative of the exiled Noldor, the Elves who had turned their backs on the riches and luxuries of the Blessed Realm.
"I will do what I can," Celebrimbor promised. This comforted Gil-galad little, but Celebrimbor was resolved.
On this isle, there was not even sugar to be found. But there was salt, in small quantities, in his sweat. He could not spare the salt in his food. He gathered what he could while Cirdan, Gil-galad, and Elros made preparations for their trip. Luckily, the preparations required much time since Cirdan's white ship needed to be brought forth from the caves. The mast was raised once more. The hull was checked for leaks, and any found were sealed. By the time the ship was ready, Celebrimbor was ready as well.
The night before the voyage, Celebrimbor took the pure water that he had been saving and used it to cleanse the salt from his sweat. He boiled it and carefully formed larger salt crystals. These he carefully refined until they were as brilliant as diamonds. He smiled. His grandfather had taught him to do this long ago in Formenos, but they had used sugar then instead of salt and added color so that the sugar crystals were like rubies and emeralds, sapphires and amethysts. Those had been happy times. What had they gained from leaving the Blessed Realm? What? But Celebrimbor knew that, if he had been old enough to choose for himself, he still would've willingly followed Feanor to Beleriand.
Celebrimbor went to Gil-galad with his bag of false diamonds and said, "Here, I have a bag of stars. If you allow me to, I will decorate your armor, shield, and helm so that you would be a fitting image of a king when you stand before the hosts of the Valar, if that is what they are."
"I believe they are," Gil-galad said gravely. "Cirdan has received word from a seabird that hope has returned to Middle-earth." He drew out his gear and set it before Celebrimbor, but not until Celebrimbor drew out a luminous salt crystal did Gil-galad's face light up in disbelieve. "By Gil-estel, where did you find such a diamond? I know none exist on the Isle of Balar!" The caves of Balar did not yield such treasures, and all the Elves and Men who had fled to the Havens of Balar had traveled light.
Celebrimbor smiled. "That is my secret, King Ereinion. But do not, under any conditions, allow yourself to get wet. In later days, I may be able to fit you with less ephemeral diamonds." He carefully set the crystals on Gil-galad's armor, shield, and helm. He was a craftsman still, and his heart ached at the thought of such trickery. When the time comes, I'll set real diamonds in their place, he promised quietly.
"You give these to me willingly?" Gil-galad said dubiously.
"I do," Celebrimbor said. When he finished, Gil-galad adorned himself in his new armor. He could see his reflection in Celebrimbor's eyes, and it was marvelous. He looked as if he were aflame with the armor of the stars. Gil-galad drew himself to his full height and looked at himself again.
"Why would you do this for me?" Gil-galad said at last.
Celebrimbor tried to smile, but he felt his face grimace at the memory of the darkness of the deep places of Balar. "Because I was once poor."
Celebrimbor, atop the Tower of the Stars in Eregion, grimaced at those dark days of poverty as he had back then. Since that time, he had built for himself a great and mighty city. The great smiths of the Noldor had been lost with the people of the sons of Feanor or with the folk of the Hammer of Wrath in Gondolin, but Celebrimbor had taught the Elves anew how to craft and forge things with skill from metal and stones of the earth. He'd taught them to cut gems from their rough forms. He's shared his techniques freely and given samples of his works for others to imitate. They'd called him Mirdan, the Jewelsmith.
But why did he have to be so stupid as to teach Annatar? Why hadn't he seen through that fair semblance to the Dark Lord underneath, the very servant of Morgoth in the First Age? Without his teachings, Sauron would never have learned to forge rings of power. Yet the One Ring that Sauron had forged alone was more powerful than those that Celebrimbor forged because the Maia had put much of himself into the Ring, and the fire of a Maia was greater than that of an Elda. If only I hadn't shared my secrets with Sauron, Celebrimbor thought. What bigger blunder could there be in the history of the Elves?
A strong gust of wind blew the gold-gilded shutters closed. Celebrimbor smiled.
"No, Eregion, I will not jump from this tower. I will not abandon you, though I know the reinforcements of Gil-galad will arrive too late." Celebrimbor ran his hand along the stones next to the window and then pushed the shutters open again. "I will defend you as best I can until the bitter end." He looked out with pride at the city beneath him.
Celebrimbor had been poor. He had been without jewels made with his own hands. He had been without a white city of holly. He had been without even food and water once. Gems and jewelry he had given away. The Three Rings he had sent to safety, for the Elves would have no chances of defeating Sauron without them. But now, after raising his own city from birth, he would rather die with Eregion than run from the Dark Lord. He realized that it was the only thing that he felt was his. I would rather die here with you, Celebrimbor thought to his city of Eregion, than die alone in the everlasting darkness.
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.