Band of Gold

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'Band of Gold'


Band of Gold

In the end Maedhros was the only reason most of them were still alive. Although on the move himself, he had sent out warnings as best he could that Beleriand was about to become unhealthy and to go as far east as possible. They had banded together, an unlikely assortment of fighting men and thinkers and disillusioned smiths, who had followed Fanor into exile back in the day when they still held some share of innocence and believed they could put the world – and Morgoth – to rights. They were bound by little more than shared terror and a casual allegiance to the descendant of Fanor they found in their midst.

Celebrimbor’s case was unusual; he was in Endr because his father had brought him along – a grand adventure and part of what it meant to be Curufin’s son. He had been too young at the time to argue. Anyhow, he thought they would go home soon after, perhaps even in time for his mother’s birthday. No matter the reason, he was Fanor’s grandson and despite all that had passed, despite the horror and the disgrace, an accident of birth still appointed him leader in the eyes of these men. That plus the fact that he had needed no warning from Maedhros; he had watched the lights in the sky from the north, remembered arcane discussions with his father back when he still had discussions with his father and drew his own conclusions. He was one of the first to reach the land of the seven rivers, wondering if it was far enough.

The choice to follow Gildor and his partner back to the estuary had been his, the one deciding for the many. They were cousins but had never been close, being of different generations, and he could only hope Lalwen’s son was telling the truth when he said no one would ask too many questions of the new arrivals.

His first impression of Mithlond was that a great deal of building was going on. That and the sheer number of survivors who had washed up ashore with Orodreth’s son --- how was it possible for that nonentity’s offspring to be the acknowledged king of the Noldor anyhow? He recalled a small boy with blue eyes and unruly dark hair, and true enough the child had become a man with hair as unruly, a smile that was pure charm and shrewd blue eyes that watched the world and missed little. Ereinion had asked none of the questions everyone feared, nothing about who had sworn and who had simply followed, who had survived Doriath or been at Sirion. He just said soldiers were necessary to guard the settlement, smiths were vital in the work that lay ahead, and scholars probably had their uses too.

Then he told Gildor’s dark haired friend to see that they had materials to make shelters and went off to have tea with the Shipwright, who Celebrimbor was not the least bit surprised to find had survived.

The friend, Erestor, found them an open space with a line of trees offering some shelter from the wind off the bay and explained how the ration system worked: there was not much food but no one was starving. He also told experienced hunters and fishers where to go and volunteer, and this was not couched as a request. They built temporary shelters, laying things out after the fashion of one of their camps, and a careful few went to look at the building works and offer their services. Most were still coming to terms with recent events and waiting to see which way the wind would blow.

Celebrimbor listened to problems, made suggestions and tried to sound like a leader because people always need a leader, and Orodreth’s son was a stranger to them and had been raised by the Shipwright. He did all this with a kind of abrupt courtesy, giving instructions as they seemed necessary, all the while walking through a world that felt unreal, barely tangible. He understood this was a form of shock, but distantly as though from outside. He was sure it would pass; it just needed time. Until then, he did what was needed and started designs for a forge for the more intricate work he would return to when the grey fog that permeated his mind lifted.

He was taking a stroll one afternoon shortly after they arrived when a voice hailed him from behind.

“Gildor said you were here. I called him a liar.”

She could have been on a street in Tirion. Her robe was simple but elegant, a soft thing in shades of pale green, and her famous hair hung loose to just below her waist, its waves still whispering of the mingled light of the Trees. Her only jewellery was a few simple rings and a plain silver band that circled her forehead, making him ache to design something more fitting. As always her sea-green eyes were alight with curiosity and just a hint of amusement. He drank her in, taking in the height of her, the long fingered, expressive hands, the way her lips quirked, and suddenly the world swum back into place and reality returned in a rush, bringing with it colour and light.

“Even Gildor wouldn’t go quite that far,” he said, trying to match her casual tone. He had not dared ask their mutual cousin if she survived, had been too afraid to know and even more afraid to have that fear show on his face. “I should have realised you’d be here, though our monarch never thought to mention it.”

“Ereinion? It wouldn’t have occurred to him that you needed to know.” She had a way of putting things in their place and leaving the impression there was no other answer. “Anyhow. You’re well? You weren’t hurt during – that?” She gestured towards the sea as she spoke, but meant something further, greater, uglier.

“We were up in the hills. Maedhros sent word that they were fighting terror with a greater menace.” He paused, trying to find words. “They broke the world.”

She nodded. “Yes. They drowned Beleriand and every living thing in it that did not have a boat or a Vala to hold his hand over them on the night the sea came in.”

“You weren’t harmed though,” he said quickly. “I mean – you were somewhere safe. Obviously.” She had always been able to make him tongue tied. That mocking look in those strange bright eyes was doing it all over again. In desperation he offered his arm – clumsily – and said, “Shall we walk?”

Her hand was butterfly light. “Of course. Where are we walking to?”

“I was just looking around. You choose the direction.”

“I was on Balar when it happened. We just caught the edge of it, though the storm came close to swamping the island. The ships survived, so we took to the sea and found ourselves here. I was on my way to the palace, so if you have nothing else in mind, we could go there?

“Why does he want a palace?” Celebrimbor had no idea why he was irritated by it, by all of Lindon, by the fact that she spoke of Balar in tones that said ‘home’. “That’s his father’s blood speaking.”

“You mean the Finwan love for display?” Clipped, curt. Orodreth had been her nephew of course, making her the new king’s great aunt. Somehow it had not seemed relevant and his tongue had been careless.

“I – yes, I suppose it’s a fault we all share. Though I can’t see your father diverting time and strength to a palace at a time like this.” What he recalled of Finarfin was a good-humoured man who listened, even to very young boys.

“Possibly not,” she said gravely, unreadable. “But then my father never understood the need for symbols the way Ereinion does. A palace says we have a king, there is authority, stability. After all we have been through, those are needs as strong as hunger. If you were to explore the palace, you would find only the public parts are anywhere near completion. Ereinion is all but camping in his rooms. We have a palace, but completing it is not a priority. It will get done in time.”

One never knew with Artanis. More often than not her answers were short and unembellished, but occasionally, as now, she saw fit to expand. The one response normally left him mentally rushing to catch up, the other sent him back to the days when, an average student, he had struggled to learn his letters. “I’ve never been good with symbols, I like things I can hold in my hand, see the workings of.”

“Spoken like a true smith, yes,” she laughed, suddenly warm and present again. “So like your grandfather. No use for it if you cannot take it apart. I find that lack of interest strange when your kind are the ones who created some of the greatest symbols – famous swords and seals, mighty gems... You heard what happened to your uncles, did you?”

Gildor had told him, adding more detail on a visit two nights back, arriving with roasted chicken and wine to see how he was settling in. It was unlike Gildor, but shared blood still counted for something. “One dead, the other gone south with his music, yes. It had to stop somehow, and the only answer left for Maedhros would have been death.”

“That is how I saw it, yes,” she agreed, sadness touching her flawless face. “Once it passed a certain point, only death could end it. I respect that. I would have expected more of Maglor than to just walk off as though it had never happened – all those deaths, all that blood.”

“Maglor’s a pragmatist,” he responded quickly, the need to explain overriding his urge to offer comfort. “Dying would bring none of them back, and there are no more Silmarils to reclaim. Time to move on. It would be punishment enough, exiled amongst the second born.”

She raised an eyebrow in a way that said she thought no such thing, but said nothing and they walked on in silence as though along the grand promenade in Tirion, even though in places it was necessary to divert around building rubble. Celebrimbor felt a strange peace for the first time in many years; he would have been content to walk like this with her hand on his arm for hours.

“Where are you staying?” he asked after a time. “We were given space over on the east side. It’s very rough still, but I’d like you to visit. There are people who would remember you from – before – and reminders of home mean a lot.”

“Rumour has it your camp is a hotbed of unrepentant Followers, all waiting their chance to murder the remaining Sindar in their beds and take over Mithlond.” She sounded amused, but one could never be sure.

“Hardly. A straggle of the lost, mainly those who left my uncles and my father well before the events at Doriath.”

“The events at Doriath?” She turned the words over as though examining them for bugs. “Oh, you mean the Kinslaying? Men, women and children hacked to death, Menegroth swimming in blood....? Yes, I would hope so, though I believe Ereinion hasn’t asked. He annoyed a lot of people by refusing to drag out the past and hold people accountable for it.”

“It’s the past, this is the future. And I gave them my word it would be safe to come here.” He had taken Gildor’s word and added his own to it, the promises of princes.

“It is. If it were not, Ereinion would never have allowed you to stay,” she told him serenely. “And of course I would like to see your camp and greet familiar faces – there are too few of us left. But I think the politics may be a little complicated.”

He frowned. “He would stop you? I am not answerable to Orodreth’s son, and I find it hard to believe you would allow him to dictate the company you keep.”

She surprised him again, this time by laughing. “Ereinion is High King and I show his rank respect as I did with my uncle and neither of us push the limits. I am sure he expects no less from you. No, that was not what I meant by complications.”

“I have no answer for my father’s actions, but it still means something that I am Fanor’s grandson, I hope. There are still some who feel the crown was meant to pass over to your uncle purely for the length of his life and then revert to the line with the prior claim.”

“Why, Cousin, are you here to claim the high kingship?” She shook her head, amused by his hasty demurral. “Visiting your camp may be politically unsound for more reasons than I thought. Don’t be ridiculous, Celebrimbor. Even your father on a bad day never really believed that. As for me... oh.”

He followed her eyes and found them locked on a tall man walking towards them with an air of deliberate casualness. He had the broad shoulders of an archer, the walk of the seasoned warrior, and the silver hair of Elu Thingol’s kin, something shared by Crdan the Shipwright. Pewter eyes flicked over him, down and up and down again.

Artanis gave his arm a little pat and released it as their paths coincided. “Hello, my dear, I was looking for you,” she said brightly in the social tone Celebrimbor knew from his childhood. He drew himself up, not knowing what to expect from one of Thingol’s extended family. He was inclined to believe Ereinion at least thought he could enforce his decision to let the past stay in the past, but in case the interloper had other ideas, he allowed his hand to hover in the vicinity of the little all purpose dagger he wore at his waist.

The Sinda stood very straight, his face impassive. Then he turned to her and the ice thawed a little. “You keep interesting company, Galadriel.”

Her voice was firm, brooking no nonsense. He recalled it well. “This is my – second half-cousin, I think it is? Anyhow, this is Celebrimbor, who of course never shared his father’s ambitions and was too young to swear any oaths.” Her eyes met his, held them. She was about to ask something of him – family always knew. This was ‘Be polite. Don’t let me down.’ “Brim – this is Celeborn, Elu Thingol’s great nephew. My husband.”

And then at last he noticed the simple gold ring on her finger.