1. Cold Comfort
On the side of his face closest to the roaring heat, Celebrimbor was aware of small beads of sweat starting to form and running in rivulets down his forehead. He shifted slightly, unwilling to remove his thick gloves in order to wipe his face. The task in hand commanded all of his attention, and any unwelcome distraction might mar it. A dab of hot silver here, then pull it back into the cool air to shape it to perfection.
As he worked, the Elf thought of the two rings he had already finished, resting in their quiet place in the corner of the workshop. He could feel the gentle hum of their power in his bones, and could almost see the bright hues of their stones in his mind. The elder of the two was made from the purest gold alloyed with a small part of the precious Dwarvish silver to strengthen the metal. It was set with a great star of sapphire from which light seemed to flow. He had already named it in his mind, Vilya, for in it he saw a flicker of the clear skies of Valinor, which now lived only in memory.
The distraction of thought served its purpose. A careless slip of his hand, and a small chip of mithril snapped and fell. His concentration broken, Celebrimbor laid the ring aside and bent to rescue the fallen glimmer. Removing one of his gloves, he pressed a finger to the small sliver. It was hot to the touch, but not painfully so. I am the maker of the rings, he thought as he rose to his feet, eyes on the perfect metal. They cannot harm me. He slipped his glove back on with the practised motion of a busy smith, then gently began to weld it back into place with a heated rod. As he worked it in his hands, the young ring blossomed like a lover.
Celebrimbor had always been drawn to the forge. His earliest memories were of learning to harness its power, at his father's careful guidance. He remembered the look of absolute concentration on Curufin's face as they worked late into the night together, and the forge sang its secret song to him.
There was something in the heat and the power to make that the forge wielded that reminded him of his lost grandfather. Many had described Celebrimbor as his father's son, but was the same not true of Curufin?
His mind turned back to his rings. The second was a slender band of entwined gold and silver, set with a great red jewel that sparkled as if aflame. Narya he had named it, the fire, for as he wrought it he had remembered the Light of Valinor, and the flame in his grandfather's eyes. Another memory, another Elf committed to history.
There was another fire in Celebrimbor's memory, a great burning beside the sea a long time ago. He could still feel the heat on his face, and smell the acrid smoke in the frigid air. Yet the only reflection of this dark memory in the ring was a tiny blemish in the blood-red stone. Imperfect, yes, but the work of his soul, and the soul of Celebrimbor was far from perfection.
As he carefully fixed another leaf of mithril into place, Celebrimbor considered the nature of the work he was undertaking. The making of the rings had been an extertion beyond what he had expected for such a work. Yet there was a power in the hearts of the rings, and he knew with some certainty that it came from him. He had poured his memories into the rings, parts of his own soul. He knew that in the bearing of each child, an Elven woman would give up some small part of her soul that her child might live. Celebrimbor was beginning to feel the same way about his rings. His children. The work of his hands and heart.
He took comfort in the fact that his memories were safely locked inside the rings. Lately, his mind had been clouded by shadows, a fear that he did not understand. Annatar had always been kind to them. He had helped them when they were newcomers to the strange and empty lands East of their lost homes, and he had imparted his skill with the forge. Even quiet Celebrimbor, at the time a lowly jewel-smith of diminished kin, had delighted in his teaching.
The Lord of Gifts had certainly given. He had spoken long with Celebrimbor alone, convincing him that the only way to restore the glory of his house was to lead the Mírdain to lordship of Ost-in-Edhil. He had even confessed his unrequited love for Galadriel, at the time ruler of the city beside her husband. Annatar had listened long, and then spoken.
"So you allow her to rule your people and use up your rightful power? In the past the House of Fëanor did not give in to the unworthy. There are many who would follow you if you asked it of them. If she cannot control an uprising amongst her own people, she is unfit to rule, and undeserving of your love."
It had seemed right at the time. Celebrimbor had let Annatar spread the word among the Mírdain that Celebrimbor was the rightful Lord, and by the Gift-Lord's cunning speeches, many were turned to him. It was Annatar that made the arrangements for Celebrimbor's rule, and Annatar that delivered the message to Galadriel that she was no longer welcome in Ost-in-Edhil. Celebrimbor would always remember her last glance at him as she turned away, her eyes filled with pity. At the time, in his foolishness, he had not understood. Why would he need her pity? Yet now he was beginning to see.
As he worked, he remembered the way the sunlight caught her golden hair, an altogether different light to the treelight that he had once known, but still beautiful in its own way. He remembered her voice, strong and clear enough to command silence when it was required, yet sweet and lusty in song as any woman of the Noldor. He remembered the sorrow and regret that seemed to follow her, and the peaceful calm that she left in her wake.
All of these themes he worked into the ring, at times muttering, at times speaking out loud as the ring began to take shape. He spoke of preserving and upholding, of protecting nature from the passing of time. This was a ring for Galadriel, although he was sure she would never see it or set it on her finger. He tried to imagine the way it would look upon her hand, its rhythmn of power flowing gently through her body. As he chose the finest gem from his bright shelf of crystals, he thought only of her eyes. He breathed on the cooling metal, letting his spirit flow and caress it, already feeling the pull of its power. This would be the greatest and last ring he would make.
Celebrimbor drew back at last, and realised that night had fallen outside. The fire of the forge was burning low, and a chill was in the air. A thin sheen of sweat coated his forehead, yet his hands were trembling as if he was very cold. Celebrimbor could not remember ever feeling so exhausted, but now it was done. In the dark the ring seemed to glow softly with its own light, and as he gazed into it, he felt a little of his spent energy flow back into his limbs. The rings also hold the power to heal, he thought. They can heal as well as bestow might on the bearer.
Normally, after finishing his day's work, Celebrimbor would strip off his overalls and heavy leather gauntlets, and leave his prize to cool overnight. Numbly he began to undo the fastenings at his waist and around his neck. He hung his work clothes in their usual places, and then found himself confronted with a problem.
In his hand the third ring of power was buried, releasing the last of the forge's heat into his skin. Already it had a rhythm of its own, almost a heartbeat. Celebrimbor would have laughed at his own foolishness for thinking such a thing, but he did not. He could not. Neither could he lay it aside.
Slowly and somewhat unsteadily, he left the workshop and made his way up the stairs of his home.
For a moment he almost expected to see his wife sleeping there, her face peaceful in rest, as it always was. It was only after he slipped into their bedroom that he remembered she would not be there. Of course. When Galadriel and Celeborn had taken their leave and passed through the Dwarvish tunnel, several others had gone with them, mostly those whose memories of the Ice were still sharp and could not accept a Fëanorian as a ruler. Yet Tathlin had another reason for leaving. After all, what room was there in the heart of Celebrimbor for a wife? He was married to his forge, she said scornfully. He could never give her the children she wanted, yet she could not fully understand why.
"Why?" He had shouted. "Why curse another generation? Why pass on my father's taint?"
"You are no Fëanorian." She had replied. "I heard that the Fëanorians were passionate and bold."
So they had parted. He still felt his bond to her, somewhere deep inside, the part of his soul that was still joined to her. Yet the loss had somehow got easier to bear, unlike the loss of Galadriel, which had grown sharper every year since she left.
The ring in his hand had grown cold. Celebrimbor held it to the level of his eyes, and deep in the stone he thought he could see a shadow, a memory, of the light that once lived in Ost-in-Edhil, and how it was lost.
That night, Celebrimbor did not sleep, but lay awake with the ring in his hand, and one name only on his mind.