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A Fool's Bridge

Chapter Text

As a child Barhador had studied the blueprints of the marvellous artificial cavern in which the King of Nargothrond held his council. His father Echaben had been Finrod’s chief architect and had designed and built many of the airy underground halls, which the subterranean city boasted. Barhador remembered carefully tugging at silk ribbons that held rolls or parchment together. His father had used to sit him up on one sturdy knee, show him plans of his work and explain the meaning of the geometrical lines as the child traced over the ink with an eager hand.

Barhador had loved architecture from a very young age and had devoured every word, gazing up at Echaben's honey brown eyes, identical to Barhador’s own, with awe and adoration.

These memories were fresh wounds in the newly elected chief architect’s heart, agravated anew by the sight of the one responsible for his loving father’s death.

Never before had Barhador seen the tall figure of the man who stood beside the throne of Orodreth. Mormegil he was called and he was as dark and imposing as his famous blade. The human’s eyes shone with a cold light, alien and unknowable compared to the soft illumination of the eyes of the elves.

There was a fate hanging over Mormegil - one didn’t need the Sight to be able to tell that much. But all Barhador saw when he looked upon Mormegil was a careless warmonger, one who loved revenge and death more than he valued empathy and life.

Because of Mormegil’s actions, Barhador’s father and several other senior architects were in Mandos, having met a swift and undeserving end.

And now it was Barhador kneeling before Mormegil and the King along with his many vassals, trying to explain why a bridge over the Narog could not be built.

He recited his many reasons, as agreed by the assembled craftsmen that had come along with him. Architects, engineers, stonemasons and wood-carvers knelt behind him in silent support. However, his argument against the building of the bridge was not received well.

Mormegil leaned over the side of the throne upon which the King sat and whispered something into Orodreth’s ear. Barhador’s eyes narrowed if only slightly as the man spoke to his golden-haired leader, who was known by all to be not as gifted or as strong as his predecessor had been.

“This bridge needs to be built,” Orodreth announced when Mormegil had moved away. “If the Narog is too wide and its current too fast, then reroute it or build a dam.”

Barhador felt his cheeks warm up at the dismissal in the King’s voice and he lowered his gaze.

“If there was a way to do so without sacrificing lives for a nearly impossible effort, I would name it, my King. But your lands on the other side of the river are overrun by enemy forces. Orcs patrol the banks of Narog and to send my craftsmen north and put them to ardorous labour under constant danger would be folly, sire…”

“You will be protected!” Mormegil cut him off and his voice was no longer whispering in the King’s ear, instead it echoed through the grand council hall with a force and candance to stun. “My sword will stand between you and the enemy, if that is what you fear, great craftsman!”

Barhador had to bite his tongue to keep it from uttering an unforgivable accusation. As you protected my father, he wanted to say, but did not dare.

Meanwhile Mormegil continued in the confusing mannish voice that he possessed, at once beautiful and softly grating like sandpaper polishing marble.

“For too long powerful elves have hid behind walls while my people fight exposed and die unaided. Are you so afraid of the enemy that you would forsake your dignity and honour?!”

At these words Orodreth straightened in his seat, a faint veil of colour dusting his cheeks. Barhador wondered if he was the only one who noticed how affected their King was by the challenge in the man’s words.

“My Lord, with utmost respect,” Barhador begun again, “even if we were to take up this endeavour, we cannot hope for the haste, which you seek. The Narog can only be rerouted at the end of summer’s heat when it’s at its lowest. And then we would have to wait for winter to pass once more before finishing the works on the emptied river bed. In the meantime Nargothrond would be left defenceless and open to for enemy forces to…”

“It is not your concern fighting the armies of the enemy, Master Barhador,” the expression on Mormegil’s fair face was harsh and unforgiving as he spoke, “it is mine. While you sit in your hidden workshops cowering away, it is my warriors that defend these halls, that fight for these lands! If my warriors could fight a war and build bridges at the same time - they would! However, they don’t have more than two hands and one already holds a sword, the other a shield.”

The man’s words were cutting and unjust but the King did not speak to defend Barhador or his craftsmen. The architect felt his eyes burn in humiliation and helplessness.

“Mormegil is right,” Orodreth addressed his advisors, “risks cannot be avoided in such uncertain times. However, Barhador also has a point. The current plan of construction would destroy all secrecy and the element of surprise, which we need to retain in order to catch our enemies off guard and protect our city.”

At this Mormegil groaned and tapped his foot impatiently.

“Barhador, son of Echaben,” the King’s clear gaze fell upon him, “in the name of your father, who built so many of Nargothrond’s wonders, can you not offer us another solution?”

Barhador shook his head shamefully and a heavy silence settled over the cavernous council hall.

“Can none of you do this!?” Mormegil raised his voice again in bitter challenge, and then turned on the King, “Is this the best your people can offer? Aren’t you Noldor, renown for your knowledge and miracles? Does it extend only to shiny trinkets and empty words?”

To Barhador’s horror Orodreth had no words of retaliation for the brazen human. Istead a deep frown creased the King’s usually smooth forehead and he seemed deep in thought.

Finally Orodreth looked up and addressed one of the guards at the doors.

“Bring Celebrimbor here!”

A murmur of whispers sounded at the command and even the guard looked a little doubtful before he nodded and hurried out of the gigantic door, which slid smoothly shut behind him.

Barhador took a deep, steadying breath, hearing his heart thunder in his ears. Of all the insults dealt to him that day, that one was by far the very worst. He looked up at his King’s face with betrayal and hurt thinly veiled behind his round brown eyes, but Orodreth’s frown was directed to the tiled floor beneath his velvet boots and he looked to no one and nothing else.

The wait stretched uncomfortably long and Barhador heard his colleagues fidget on their knees over the cool marble on which they all knelt. He felt their misery even without looking back to survey their faces.

Barhador knew that he had to appear strong, for them, and for his father, but it got harder as the terse silence stretched, punctured only by the shuffle of Mormegil’s brisk pacing behind the throne as everyone waited.

With every passing minute the Feanorian’s delay felt even more like an offense and when finally the door opened again, the entire assembly turned to watch as through it came the infamous smith.

Celebrimbor was a tall, dark-haired elf with a strong built. He looked as if he had just stepped out of the forges, missing only the characteristic apron and gloves that the smiths wore while they laboured with hot metals and pungent chemicals. His face and arms appeared to be only hastily washed and yet he seemed to think himself fit to be presentable before a King.

He strode into the hall with self-assurance as if he was walking through his own house and then without waiting for instructions came to a stop right beside Barhador and took a knee.

Barhador narrowed his eyes at the informality of Celebrimbor’s exposed arms and the messy quality of the long single braid that kept his black hair out of his face. The feanorian even reeked like smoke and Barhador’s nose wrinkled in disgust.

“My King,” Celebrimbor spoke and his voice was deep but not too loud, however the impeccable architecture of the hall carried it well and made it heard at every corner of the assembly. “You have requested my attendance.”

“I requested your attendance and you kept me waiting for almost a turn of the glass,” Orodreth didn’t sound pleased and secretly Barhador approved, because if there was anyone he hated more than Mormegil, that were the Feanorians. The fact that one of them remained in Nargothrond after their bloody betrayal of Finrod was a grave offense to the late King’s memory, as well as madness to the architect’s logical mind.

“I apologize but I didn't expect this summon and was in the middle of delicate and time-sensitive work,” the Feanorian responded.

A few of the King’s advisors huffed in disapprovement and a warning appeared in the stern gaze that Orodreth fixed on Celebrimbor.

“I will not waste any more of anyone’s time by reprimanding you on your priorities,” Orodreth said, “so I will ask you this directly - can you build a bridge over the Narog?”

Not a moment passed before Celebrimbor replied.

“Of course, sire,” was what the smith answered and the shortness of his deliberation coupled with the certainty of his tone were the most obscene display of arrogance Barhador had ever witnessed.

It left the architect gaping in naked disbelief.

“Although,” Celebrimbor continued eliciting even more frowns with his next words, “such a project is purely theoretical, I hope? Building a bridge over the Narog would be going grossly against the late King Finrod’s wishes.”

Even Barhador felt a stab of sympathy for the Feanorian when Orodreth’s eyes darkened to an impossibly stormy shade and Mormegil’s nostrils flared in indignation.

“You stand before you current King,” Mormegil stepped forward with his hand already at the handle of his black sword, “and he bids you, smith. Do you think to question him!? Such loyal subjects you have, my Lord,” Mormegil turned then to King Orodreth, “No wonder you struggle to uphold your rule over this land when even a common smith dares to oppose you!”

“He is not any common smith, Mormegil,” Orodreth’s tone remained calm on the surface, “He was once a descendant of a line of Princes, although he would do well to remember that he is that no longer.”

Celebrimbor’s face remained unreadable through Mormegil’s outburst and Orodreth’s warning. Barhador had to admit to himself that the Feanorians were proving as tough to crack as they were said to be.

“I will forgive you your lack of manners if you can promise me results that even my best architects cannot,” Oropher continued. “Tell me, Celebrimbor, how would you build this bridge and how long would it take?”

“I take it all conventional methods have been already deliberated upon and discarded, if you choose to seek my advice,” Celebrimbor spoke thoughtfully, eyes briefly scanning the faces of Barhador’s craftsman before briefly stopping on the chief architect’s own. “You cannot reroute the river nor can you use beams to support the construction, because the current is too strong, am I correct?”

“You are correct,” Barhador’s voice came out rougher than he had intended.

“In that case, I propose we use machines to deposit rocks straight onto the riverbed and build the foundations this way,” Celebrimbor offered brightly as if it was the most natural thing.

Then he continued to speak ever more quickly and with an excitement that felt totally out of place while discussing the project that had plagued Barhador and his colleagues for months.

“Finrod once rerouted the river with the help of the dwarves,” Celebrimbor was saying, “Surely he had the foresight to map out the riverbed. Such a map might yet exist in the city’s archives. Yes, centuries have passed, but the water’s work upon stone is slow and little change can be expected. Even then we will deal with problems as they arise. Once I made preliminary designs of the kinds of cranes we could construct. They were meant for something else, but it matters little now. I would need to do some research but I will be ready to begin constructions in half a moon’s time and have the bridge finished before the first snows fall,” he finished before remembering to add, “that is, if you decide to assign me as the head of this project, my King.”

Barhador glanced back at his colleagues, all mouths gaping in disbelief and then back up to his King who didn’t look any more pleased with Celebrimbor than the architect felt, but there was a certain calculation in the King’s eyes, or perhaps desperation. Mormegil looked suspicious, but not nearly enough.

“The head of this project is Master Barhador, chief architect of Nargothrond,” Orodreth said slowly and Celebrimbor traced the King’s gaze to Barhador. He inclined his head in greeting. “From now until the bridge is completed you will answer to him, but you will be held solely accountable for any mistakes or mishaps that happen on your behalf.”

Then Orodreth glanced at Mormegil as if for confirmation and rose to his feet to address the council before him.

“The building of the bridge will commence in half a moon’s time, as Celebrimbor promised us,” the King announced. “Master Barhador, you and your craftsmen are dismissed from this assembly. In two weeks time we will hold a feast to commemorate the beginning of your work on the Bridge of Nargothrond.”

“We…” Barhador fought to find and reign his voice, “we will be ready, sire.”

His team filed out of the council hall as one, all eyes downcast and hearts sunken with dread. The project was impossible and two weeks to get started was a joke, a fallacy.

Barhador’s worries were interrupted by Celebrimbor catching up and falling into step with him.

“Master Barhador,” the smith begun without any real introductions, “I am thinking that a visit to the city’s archives would be beneficial for our initial research, in fact I…”

“That won’t be necessary,” Barhador cut him off, stopping in his step and causing his entire team to halt one by one. Celebrimbor also stopped and his impressive height towered over the architect.

“Disregarding the knowledge that has already been laid out for us would set us back on our schedule,” Celebrimbor begun to argue, his accent showing when he got agitated, but Barhador waved a hand to halt any more words.

“You misunderstand me,” Barhador’s tone was as cold as he could force it to be. “Your thoughts on this won’t be necessary, neither would be your expertise, nor your help.”

Celebrimbor’s spine and shoulders straightened and he glared down his narrow nose at Barhador with all the formidable light of his fiery grey gaze.

“The King assigned me to work on this project,” he said.

“The King assigned you to myself,” Barhador stressed, no doubt shaking, but standing his ground with all that he had, “and I assign you the task of staying as far away from our construction as you possibly can. Do you understand now?”

The silence that followed could make ears bleed and Barhador felt pale and dizzy, only held together by the force of his defiance. His colleagues were all holding their breaths.

Finally Celebrimbor backed away.

“I understand,” he said and turned on his heel walking off as if nothing of import had occurred.

Once the Feanorian was a safe distance away down the long corridor Barhador managed to let out a shuddering sigh of relief. His friends laughed and several cheered with restraint, touching his shoulders and rubbing his back.

“Well done,” one of them congratulated. “I bet Thalanis would swoon when you tell her how you bravely dealt with the King and the feanorian infestation!”

At the mention of his wife Barhador felt himself breathe a little more easily.

“No, under no circumstances should Thalanis know of our troubles,” Barhador shook his head. “She’s with child now as she’s prone to forget. The last thing I want is her turning up in the workrooms or working on this behind my back.”

“No one would bother her,” his colleague promised him. “Although it’s a shame she isn't here. You always work best with her by your side.”

Well, I will have to manage alone, Barhador thought privately. Our child is more important than this bridge made by fools.

Chapter Text

In the days to follow the Architect’s Hall in Nargothrond came to life with a nervous energy unlike any fervour the artisans had experienced before. With the quickly approaching deadline Barhador saw some of the wildest and most dangerous ideas on his career evaluated and considered as his craftsman struggled to come up with a building plan. They needed to present something to the King on the day when the bridge's ceremonial foundations were to be laid near the fast currents of the river Narog. But the designated day was in just two weeks - hardly any time for the elves - and the craftsmen were yet to agree on a single idea on the matter of how the bridge would be erected.

Master Noruithel proposed a system of rope bridges, suspended over the river from both shores.

“They would serve as scaffolding while we lay the foundations into the river bed,” she explained, showcasing her preliminary sketch.

“How’s this rope going to hold the weight,” one of the engineers pointed to a critical knot in the construction, disrupting the momentary sense of relief that the nis' strange idea had brought to their desperate team.

“Well,” Noruithel paused to clear her throat, “I haven’t figured that out yet.”

Barhador closed his eyes and hid his sigh behind a tanned hand. He could hear several of his more temperamental colleagues beginning to argue, while most simply walked off to their respective workstations to seep in quiet despair.

“Excuse me,” a shy voice uttered next to Barhador’s right.

The Chief Architect opened his warm brown eyes and turned them to the youth beside him. One of the apprentices, a boy named Inion, had approached him.

“Excuse me, Master Barhador,” the awkward elf begun again and Barhador was tempted to roll his eyes.

“Yes, Inion, what is it? Speak up, the glass is turning!”

“I was just thinking…” the apprentice’s voice was so quiet that Barhador had to strain to hear it.

“Speak up, I said,” Barhador prompted in annoyance. Usually he was not so curt with the apprentices, but with each passing day he feared for his reputation more and more. It brought out an edge in him, which he had never even suspected.

I said, why can’t we ask Celebrimbor to forge steel ropes,” Inion raised his voice too much and sure enough the whole Architect's Hall heard him.

Many eyes turned to the now red-faced apprentice and poor Inion flinched under the collective attention.

“That might actually work,” Master Nandir met Barhador’s eyes across the hall. He was the most senior engineer in their team and someone whose opinion Barhador usually heeded.

“Not the part with the Feanorion, of course,” Nandir continued, eliciting a sigh of relief from the Architect in Chief, “but the steel ropes… That might be an idea worth pursuing.”

They idea was met with a lot of interest and Inion got the rest of the day off from sharpening pencils and restocking parchment as a reward.

That night Barhador went home to his wife with a gladdened heart. However, in the following days his belief that the steel rope idea might actually work was shattered when the smiths they employed produced ropes that were so heavy that they were impractical to use, and his team was back to the drawing boards.

On the morning of the thirteenth day Barhador came to work earlier than anyone else. It was not even daybreak, but he had to begin as early as possible, because it was the last day for any of them to produce a plan, a first draft - anything at all! - to start off their working on the following day.

He had slept poorly in the few hours that he had allowed himself to rest, yet he was bursting with energy - the kind that only fear can grant.

He entered the dark workshop, unveiling crystal lamps as he walked through to his own desk. He begun clearing the mess he had left the previous night before going home to his wife when he noticed a stack of papers that didn’t belong to him, nor did they look like the work of anyone from his team.

Gingerly he picked up a sheet and raised it to the crystal light to read its contents. Disbelievingly he let it drop on the table, pulled the crystal lamp closer and bent over the parchment, examining the drawings and calculations with wide eyes.

“What in the Void…” he cursed, letting the sheet drop from his hand as if it burned and stepping away from his desk.

“Show yourself, Feanorion,” he challenged into the cavernous workshop, looking around in near panic, expecting Celebrimbor to appear out of a dark corner like an ominous shadow.

The echo of his words was the only thing that answered him. Celebrimbor was no longer there, even though the crane designs that laid on Barhador’s desk could belong to no one else. The work was unsigned, but none of Barhador’s collegues drew sketches with ink and the paper that was used was rougher and darker than the kind favored by the Architects. 

Confident that he wasn’t about to be surprised by a back-stabbing Feanorion, Barhador sat down again and looked over the figures. He hated to admit it, but the calculations were brilliant and looked like they might just work.

“How did you come up with this in just two weeks,” Barhador growled and shook his head in grudging admiration.

In the end the Chief Architect resisted the urge to simply torch the unsought help of the Feanorion, at least until he heard his collegues’ thoughts on the proposed cranes.

He called all the senior members of his team to gather around his workdesk and showed them the little tribute Celebrimbor had left for them during the night.

Amongst the curses and troubled exclamations, a general consensus seemed to form that they simply couldn’t disregard the help, no matter the source. They didn’t have enough time to come up with anything else and their reputation was on the line, so most were willing to accept anything in order to present the King with something solid on the following day.

“Why do you think he didn’t sign them,” Laegnor, who was an architect, asked.

An uncomfortable silence settled over the circle of artisans.

“Charity perhaps,” Noruithel suggested skeptically.

Murmurs of discontent were exchanged amongst collegues and friends and as the anxiety continued to build Barhador felt that he had to do something before panic gripped his team.

“It may be charity or it may be something more sinister,” he announced in a voice that gathered everyone’s attention. “We all know the skemes that the Feanorions are capable of. We’ve seen what happens when we put too much trust in their machinations. I’m going to personally go and ask him what he intended by this.”

“Shouldn’t you take someone along?” Nandir suggested tentatively. It was clear that no one was keen on joining the visit, but they were all worried to see him go alone.

“What for? Do you think I can’t handle this,” Barhador frowned and straightened his multi-layered scholar's robes before taking the corridor between desks and drawingboards towards the large stone doorway and the spiralling stairs that lead to the other levels.

“Master Barhador,” an apprentice called after him. “You forgot the Feanorion’s sketches, sir!”

Barhador stopped and turned to Inion.

“I haven’t forgotten anything,” he announced. “I’m leaving these here, so that you can copy them within the hour. Even if we end up returning this little offering, we still need to show the King something tomorrow. Surely I don’t have to explain that.”

At his words his collegues scurried to distribute the pile of papers amongst themselves, so that they could copy everything fast. With a sigh of resignation Barhador went out on his errand.

When the dwarves had helped design and build Nargothrond, they had implemended a lot of the art of their own city planning into Finrod’s project. Layers upon layers of residential and communual floors were carved from the pre-existing labirinth of natural caves, expanded and made beautiful through the combined art of dwarven and elven architects.

Despite being underground, most of the upper and middle floors of the city had access to varying degrees of natural light through a system of cleverly placed light tunnels with lenses and mirrors that dispersed illumination deep into the city’s skeleton. In many places small flowers and mosses were planted around these light holes to create miniature islands of green that made the elves feel more at home in their underground heaven.

Another clever thing that the dwarves had come up with was putting the forges into the lowest levels of the city. The heat that they generated warmed up the lower residential floors that were most devoid of natural light. The water that was used to cool down the forges was put to circulate in a system of pipes, that went up the levels, heating up the residential floors.

It was a good solution to the problem, Barhador mused as he went further and further down the steps. He did it to distract himself from the sting of exertion that the long decent caused in his calf muscles and buttocks. He dreaded the idea of ascending the same staircase and wondered if he’d be allowed to ride on one of the mechanical elevators that carried the goods from the forges to the communal floors at the top.

Finally he entered the large natural cavern that had been converted into one of the most impressive forges in Bereliand. There was a constant racket of hammers beating metal, fires hissing and men at work. Despite the cooling system the air in the forge was hot and dry and Barhador begun to sweat almost as soon as he entered the dark hall, illuminated mostly by the roaring forge fires.

He squinted his eyes against the smoke and acidic scent of chemicals that couldn’t be avoided in a place like this, searching with his gaze for the sturdy Feanorion smith amongst the crowd of labouring elves.

Most of the smiths were Noldorin by birth and they all looked the same - tall, strong elves with dark braided hair and utilitarian work attire. Many were bare-armed like Celebrimbor had been when Barhador first met him, and several times Barhador found himself approaching the wrong elf.

Finally he laid eyes on a familiar figure. It wastn’t the Feanorion, but it was someone he had hoped to see nevertheless. Gamben was a childhood friend of Barhador and the architect was glad to see him toiling away by an anvil.

“Long time, my friend,” he greeted and the smith grinned upon recognising him.

“Barhador,” Gamben put down his hammer on the anvil and bowed to his old friend. “What brings you to our humbled forge? Have you tired of that brightly lit solar of yours and the scrapping of quill on paper?”

“Not everyone loves working in the dark, you know,” Barhador chuckled and returned the bow. “Unfortunately I’m here on business and it’s a pressing matter, so I don’t have much time to chat. Can you tell me where the Feanorion is? I know he works here, but I’ve never been to his workshop.”

“Celebrimbor?” Gamben’s eyebrows rose. “Yeah, of course he’s here. Down the corridor on the left, second or third door to the right. He’s got one of those big private workshops… you won’t miss it.”

“Stellar. Thank you, friend,” Barhador said, but he lingered a little by his old friend’s anvil, watching as Gamben took up his work yet again and begun hammering a poker.

He walked around the anvil and when Gamben looked up at him with a quizzical eye Barhador lowered his voice to a volume barely heard amongst the racket of the forge.

“My friend, tell me honestly - what is your impression of him? Can he be trusted?”

Gamben thought about it for a moment and after looking around to make sure no one was listening responded just as quietly.

“Honestly, I don't think he’s that bad. He’s a little stuck-up, but he’s always willing to offer help.”

“Do you reckon he's scheming? Up to no good and all,” Barhador lowered his voice.

“Not that I’ve noticed,” Gamben responded carefully. “Although who knows what he does in that workshop. He keeps going on about how anybody can go in there and see what he does, but obviously, no one goes. I mean… you know.”

Barhador nodded thoughtfully.

“Alright. Thank you for the help. Let’s get merry together some time,” he proposed as he headed down the forge towards the corridor that Gamben had shown him.

“You know I want to! You are the married man with no time to drink with friends!”


True to Gamben’s words, Barhador located Celebrimbor’s workshop without trouble. The corridor was dark and there were many closed doors that looked rough and utilitarian to the architect’s, but there was one that stood wide opened, casting illumination from within like an oculus from a roof.

The smiths who passed by spared no glances in its direction, but Barhador approached it gingerly, looking through the square doorway before stepping one foot into the workshop.

What greeted him inside was total chaos. There were so many tools and baubles that Barhador had trouble focusing long enough on any one thing to assess what he was seeing. He noticed the large anvil, right by a banked fire, rolls of overfilled shelves, a jeweller’s desk and crates of materials, tools, and all sorts of bits and bobs tucked into every available corner… Books, scrolls, jars and cloth littered a worn table that separated the workshop like a bar in the middle. There were fixtures in the ceiling and strange glass objects that Barhador couldn’t identify hung from them. When he took a step inside the architect promptly tripped on what looked like a discarded shoulder plate of a suit of armour that was nowhere in sight.

His blunder sent the metal crashing and allerted the Feanorion, whose voice sounded from somewhere that Barhador couldn’t locate.

“Don’t come any further! Stay right there,” Celebrimbor’s voice commanded and wary of the chaos around him, Barhador chose to heed his words and waited on the spot.

Now that he had heard him, Barhador could finally spot the smith, who was crouching in the overcrowded space behind the worktable. Barhador could make out only the top of Celebrimbor’s head and a part of a peculiar contraption that seemed to be resting on his braided hair.

The architect waited for another few minutes, using the time to eye the rest of the workshop for anything suspicious, but very soon he lost his patience.

“I need to talk to you,” he announced, raising his voice so that the Feanorion could hear him over the noise of the forge.

“Give me one moment…”

“I don’t have time for this!”

Finally Celebrimbor rose to his feet and Barhador warily eyed the odd headset, which the Feanorion wore over his face. Dark glass covered each eye and the image uncomfortably reminded Barhador of an insect. He couldn’t suppress a cringe.

“Then speak quickly - this is time-sensitive,” Celebrimbor gestured to his feet, somewhere behind the work table where Barhador couldn’t see.

The architect tried to gather his thoughts, but the combined oddness of the workshop and its inhabitant was too much for him to ignore.

“Can you just…” he gestured vaguely, hoping that Celebrimbor would understand and remove the ugly-looking headset from his face.

Naturally the Feanorion made it difficult.

“What?”

“Can you remove that thing from your face,” Barhador blurted out quickly. “I can’t see your eyes!”

Celebrimbor tilted his head to the side petulantly, but he obliged the architect and pulled the contraption over his head, which gathered back loose strands of hair out of his face. In the wake of the device a line between the clean skin around Celebrimbor's eyes and the soot that darkened the rest of his face remained.

Before things could get even more awkward, Barhador spoke the question he had come to ask:

“Why did you bring me those notes?”

Celebrimbor blinked at him in incomprehension.

“Which notes?”

“The notes,” Barhador stressed, feeling his patience thinning out dangerously. “The notes you left on my desk last night.”

“Oh, those notes,” Celebrimbor suddenly remembered. “Did I do that last night? I completely forgot. The last few days blur together…”

“You forgot?” Barhador stared at him in disbelief.

“You know, I have other projects as well,” came the answer and the architect noticed that Celebrimbor’s movements were as unfocused as his words. Upon closer inspection he noticed that the darkness beneath the Feanorion’s eyes wasn’t another testament of the smith’s lack of proper hygiene, but bruises of sleep-deprivation.

Realising what he was dealing with Barhador stepped further into the workshop, despite Celebrimbor's sudden onslaught of warnings.

“No! Don’t - Don’t go there - Not that… Careful!”

Barhador reached behind the worktable without insidents and saw the intricate setup of tubes and jars that Celebrimbor had been working on. He had no idea what they did, and frankly, to the architect they didn’t look like they could do anything, so he ventured boldly closer, all the while Celebrimbor shouted:

“Careful with the wire! OH Valar! You nearly killed us!”

“Relax, friend,” Barhador urged in the most calming voice he could muster, getting as close to the Feanorion as he could. “Stay with me now, focus-”

“Yes, the bridge, I know,” Celebrimbor’s hands were suddenly pushing him back and away from the jars on the floor.

Barhador jumped out of his grip and crashed into the little chair beside the jewellers desk.

“Stay there,” Celebrimbor commanded and this time Barhador decided to listen.

“You know, no wonder no one wants to come in here, despite your "open doors" policy,” Barhador commented testily.

“They can come in, but for everyone’s safety they have to stay behind the white line,” Celebrimbor sounded just as frustrated.

He gestured towards the workshop's entrance and when Barhador looked he saw a painted line on the floor. It formed a little box around the doorway, no bigger than a meter on each side.

“Well, maybe you should clean your floor from time to time. It's so dirty that people can’t see the line!”

“What exactly did you come here for?” Celebrimbor crossed his arms over his chest.

“The notes. Your crane designs,” Barhador huffed.

“What’s the problem with them? There shouldn’t be any mistakes - I checked them three times.”

“I checked them as well. That’s not my point,” Barhador shook his head. “Why did you give them to me? I didn’t ask for your help. I told you to stay out of my project. So why help me?”

“I have a knack for knowing when people need my help,” the smith shrugged. “Even if they say otherwise. Besides, I was assigned to this project by the King. You may be Architect in Chief but you can’t revoke Orodreth’s word.”

“Don’t give me that again. After how I treated you, you had every reason not to help and blame it on me,” Barhador disagreed. “Why didn’t you?”

“My reputation is on the line,” Celebrimbor answered.

“You are a Feanorion,” Barhador uttered disbelievingly. “What reputation do you think you have left to salvage?!”

“All the more reason not to add fresh offenses to my name,” Celebrimbor tilted his chin up.

Barhador stared at him for a few long moment, taking in the whole of him and trying to find any signs of malice. He couldn’t see any. Celebrimbor looked very tired, but proud and unshakable like a monolith. He was also meeting the architect’s eyes straight on, without a hint of deception.

In the end Barhador sighed in resignation.

“How did you even get into our workshop?”

“There’s no lock on the door,” Celebrimbor said matter-of-factly.

“There are sigils,” Barhador disagreed. “You shouldn’t be able to get in. The runes on the door make sure that only learned elves of the knowledge of building and construction can cross that archway.”

“The runes let me through,” Celebrimbor said. “Make your own conclusions.”

Barhador thought about that for a moment. The runes chiseled into the stone archway of the Architect’s Hall were enchanted. His father had laid them there himself, coating them in emerald and amethyst dust to hold the magic.

A sudden memory played in front of Barhador’s inner eye. He saw his kind father, with his large brown eyes and curly dark hair, standing by that same doorway, chisel in hand. He saw Echaben smiling at his younger self. He had beckoned Barhador to pass through the rune-enchanted doorway for the very first time and Barhador had felt a now familiar tug in his soul - the runes evaluating him before they let him pass.

Echaben’s magic didn’t only test an architect’s skill and knowledge - it also delved into his heart, seeking the motivation behind the creations that each artist wrought. Therefore no evil soul, no matter how artful and learned, could pass through Echaben’s magical doorway.

Memories of his late father never failed to stab him right through the chest and Barhador had to look away to hide the softening of his eyes.

Celebrimbor had passed through the archway. What would Echaben have said to that?

“If you could pass that gate,” Barhador concluded breathlessly, “they I’m guessing you are one of us. I welcome you to the team, Celebrimbor.”

Celebrimbor’s jaw slackened and he stared at Barhador with a look of utmost surprise. He seemed at a loss of words, but his mouth was working as if he was searching for something to say, and suddenly afraid that there would be words of gratitude, Barhador hurried to continue:

“Although I think it’s best that you continue to work from your workshop, for now at least,” he added. There was a little twitch of disappointment in the corner of the Celebrimbor’s mouth but thankfully it was gone before Barhador could admit to feeling guilt over a Feanorion.

“Very well,” Celebrimbor nodded. “Pass me work and I’ll get it done.”

“Stellar,” Barhador agreed warily, before getting ready to make his swift retreat. “I will send you daily briefings.”

He stood up and looked around the workshop that was essentially a field of traps.

“So, what’s the best way to exit from here?”

...

Chapter Text

On the morning that it all started Barhador was late for his job for the first time in his centuries-long life.

He was up before dawn, having watched the turnglass sleeplessly through the night. When it was finally time to rise, Thalanis got up with him to help him dress in the intricate robes of his guild.

She couldn’t accompany him to the ceremony of commencing as was customary for the family of builders, but she was to join him for the feast at the end of his first day on the bridge’s construction.

They broke their fast and for a few precious moments all was at peace. Their morning routine was comforting and Barhador forgot about the shadows of worry and doubt that hung over him from the moment the King assigned him that project.

That momentary peace was broken when suddenly Thalanis was sick. She made an expression that Barhador had never seen before and then the food and tea she had consumed came back out through her mouth.

Everything proceeded frantically after that with one frightened husband waking up the compound’s healer and insisting on her immediate attention for his wife.

Barhador was finally able to be parted from Thalanis once the healer had reassured him that morning sickness was not lethal to expecting nissies, and had promised to remain with her until he returned.

By that time the architect was already late by an hour for the randevu he had set for his colleagues on the grassy slopes over Nargothrond’s hidden caves.

He gathered his long robes in his hands and ran through the underground passages, making his way through tea-venders and market-goers as the city came to life with the first morning rays peeking through its many sun holes.

He spared no thought on how crazed he looked, nor the fact that people recognised him by his guild’s colours - the blue and white of his scholar's gown giving that away, and the gold ridges of his chaperon marking him as the Architect in Chief.

The way to the surface was long and he was soon out of breath. Upon leaving Nargothrond’s guarded gates he still had about a kilometer to traverse through natural cave tunnels before he appeared at the Northern secret exit to the surface.

He skipped all the way and finally he dashed past the bewildered guards at the last outpost before he found himself surrounded by green grass and clear blue sky.

Barhador was a city dweller by nature and due to his work he rarely ventured outside, so it was all a little overwhelming. At once he was blinded by the overly-bright morning light all around him. The blast of cool wind slapped his face and made his unaccustomed eyes water.

There was a reason why he had never envied the guards and the messengers who had to work outside. He preferred the quiet halls and the diffused light that illuminated his workplace through deep sun holes.

Despite his lateness the sun was only just climbing in the sky and the ceremony wasn’t scheduled until its angle was up to 60 degrees, so Barhador had time to prepare his team.

He let his robes drop and tried to steady his breath as he began the slow ascent up the hills under which Nargothrond was built. The island was covered in high grasses that danced madly under the blasts of strong wind, which chased away all clouds from the sky. At times the light was blinding with sun rays reflected in the morning dew. Soon Barhador’s robes were drenched from moisture as he made his way through the pathless green.

Nargothrond had always relied on secrecy as its main defence. To announce its location with roads and overground outposts had never been the late King Finrod’s intention, and until recently King Orodreth had agreed with that policy. However the bridge’s construction was going to change everything. Once elves begun to appear on the hillside daily and raising structures as they built, the enemy was quickly going to gleam the hidden kingdom’s exact location.

It was folly, Barhador though as he sought his lonely way to the steep riverbank which they had picked for the bridge. Up until that moment he hadn’t had a quiet minute to spare for reflections on the bridge’s purpose. And even then he wasn’t certain he was qualified to judge military tactics and the sanity of the decision to connect Nargothrond to the opposite shore. However he knew one thing for certain - he and his craftsmen were to be dangerously exposed as they worked.

Enemies lurked in the woods beyond the Narog. Reports of pillaging orks raiding mannish camps, werewolves stalking the night, and countless other horrors had made their way even in the quiet underground workshops where the architects worked.

He climbed over the last green mound and his vision finally opened to the future construction site. What was revealed before his uncomprehending gaze stopped him in his tracks.

He had expected to see a large gathering of craftsmen, some six dozen of them, lounging in the high grass, laughing the time away as they made jokes at their Chief’s expense, who had chosen the worst day ever to be so late.

However what he found was a site already buzzing with activity. The carpenters and masons were at work on moving the building materials into position. The architects and engineers were crawling over the tight shoreline like ants, crowding around retroreflectors and scribbling on their clipboards intently. There were some general workers gathered on an adjacent hill, erecting long tents that were going to serve for briefings, canteen and providing shelter when needed. The banners of Nargothrond’s builders’ guilds were already flying high on a pole in the middle of the clearing.

As Barhador gaped one of his apprentices ran past him on an errand to the city. Barhador stopped him.

“Where are you going?”

“I need to take a missive to the quartermaster. Master Celebrimbor thinks that the wood beams aren’t going to be enough for today and he wants more brought before the King comes.”

“And Master Tuven of the Carpenters’ approved of this?” Barhador blinked in incomprehension.

“I think so, sir,” the young elleth answered.

Barhador was too amazed to say anything more. The only thing he managed was to ask where ‘Master Celebrimbor’ could be found.

He located the Feanorion shortly after. Celebrimbor was standing on a small grassy mound that overlooked the shore. He was holding a slate with building plans clipped to it in order to prevent them from being blown away by the gale.

The wind whistled in the tall grass and lashed at Barhador’s long robes as he walked against its strong current. On such a day his guild’s formal attire was a real hindrance. He noticed others struggling with their long-sleeves, belts and chaperons just like he did.

The Feanorion was spared some of that, since he had chosen more practical robes, which could be mistaken for humble, if it wasn’t for the rich velvet of their material. They were the clothes of a prince, not a scholar or a craftsmen, no matter how understated they were.

“Master Barhador,” Celebrimbor turned to him and there was a large grin stretching his angular features. “So nice of you to join us!”

“Spare me your sarcasm, Feanorion,” Barhador bit back, “Am I to think that you haven’t awaited my presence to start bossing my people around?”

“Picking up your slack, you mean,” Celebrimbor tapped the papers that were clipped to the large slate that he held.

The plans on it looked very familiar... They were Barhador’s own! Only there were red ink marks all over them!

“What have you done,” Barhador uttered.

“I looked at them” Celebrimbor begun, “and I made some corrections that I think would benefit your design. Purely technical, mind you. I haven’t touched the overall look, which I find very pleasing.”

“Thank you for your kind approval,” Barhador gritted between his teeth.

Celebrimbor’s grey eyes lifted to him and he looked a little bewildered. The wind was causing Celebrimbor’s long braided hair to fly about him like a whip, and his eyes were cringed and watering just like Barhador’s own.

“I mean what I said. The ornamentation looks very sophisticated,” he pointed to the details, with which Barhador had filled the corners of the messy preliminary sketch that Celebrimbor held. They were unfinished and imprecise, like the rest of it.

“I particularly like the Cinquefoil motif,” Celebrimbor added. That comment calmed Barhador’s anger by a few degrees.

“It’s to commemorate our late King... Finrod,” the architect admitted, his voice catching a little on the name.

Finrod had been the best king his people had ever had. There were days when Barhador felt guilty for not having the courage of joining the doomed company that had followed their noble King to his death. He suspected many had those kind of days, but regrets changed nothing.

“Yes, I guessed that was the case,” Celebrimbor’s voice softened as he traced the design with his fingertips. “Good choice.”

Barhador bit his lip.

“You shouldn’t have bothered with these corrections,” he said at last. Reaching back to retrieve the tube he carried over his shoulder he pulled out the finished version of the design of the bridge. “I fixed the parameters last night.”

Celebrimbor had the gall to look surprised.

“Do you honestly think you are the only one with a brain in this city?” Barhador huffed in annoyance.

“It’s good to see that I’m not,” Celebrimbor smiled as he took the plans from Barhador’s hand and unrolled them over the slate. He clipped them before they could fly away.

“I see that you made changes,” he noted, tapping his finger over the novelties in the design.

Suddenly Celebrimbor frowned.

“You changed the facade,” he accused.

“I don’t think choosing Finrod’s flowers was the most diplomatic option,” Barhador argued in his defence.

“And you care about that?!” Celebrimbor looked at him with disgust.

“Not everyone can bare to be hated, Feanorion,” Barhador shot back to mask the guilt he secretly felt.

In his career he had made many changes to his plans, which he didn’t like. This was one such sacrifice. It had to be done to get the work approved by the King.

Was he really a coward for changing the design to please the new King? His wife didn’t think so.

Celebrimbor’s previously open expression closed off. Suddenly Barhador was really uncomfortable with their proximity, but he refused to be intimidated and step away.

“Do as you will,” Celebrimbor concluded, handing the slate over to Barhador and turning to walk up to the tents that now crowned the hill.

If that was a victory it surely didn’t feel like it, Barhador decided as he lowered his eyes to the bridge schemes.

There was still about a turn of the glass to go before the King arrived, so Barhador busied himself with walking around the building site, greeting his many colleagues and making sure that they knew that their boss was finally there.

As he answered the question about his lateness over and over again, Barhador couldn’t help but notice that Celebrimbor was the only person who hadn’t asked him what had made him late. He didn’t know what to make of that behaviour.

...

The wind only picked up as the morning progressed. By the time citizens began to gather to witness the King’s blessing (and later join the feasting in Nargothrond’s Great Hall,) the gale was so strong that it knocked over fixtures, scattered paperwork, and caused tears to roll from stinging eyes.

As tradition dictated, craftsmen gathered in the clearing, standing together in groups by profession, awaiting the King. Barhador was at the front of their lines.

In the meantime Orodreth had appeared over the hill, his long blonde hair flying around his head like a flame. The low sun caught in it and caused it to shine like a golden halo. In his pale green clothes he looked more like his brother than ever before.

Beside him was a dark figure - Mormegil - dressed in black and grey. Mormegil was tall for a mortal - taller than their King - and it was quite apparent as he walked nearly side by side with Orodreth. He was also the last person Barhador wanted to see.

Behind them there was another golden head and the architect was surprised that the Princess was attending the ceremony. It wasn’t safe to venture out of Nargothrond is such large groups and Barhador wouldn’t have thought that Finduilas would want, or be allowed to make such a risky appearance.

As if to protect her, an elf was walking beside her and holding the Princess' hand. He could easily be mistaken for an aging mortal by the limp, grey strands of hair that the wind blew about his shoulders and the hunch of his once proud back. It was the Princess’ unfortunate fiance, Gwindor, the sight of whom wrought pity in most elven hearts. Barhador was no exception. Gwindor had been beloved to their people once, but to witness him so hurt and so changed was not easy. It was a selfish thing to turn his eyes away and try to ignore the broken elf, so Barhador did his best not to do it.

There were many others with them, and a large number of guards and armed fighters that bore Mormegil’s silver crest on their black tabards.

Once the ceremony begun Barhador’s entire attention shifted to his King. As a young elf he was always present at his father’s opening ceremonies, standing at the first roll of spectators, watching as King Finrod and Echaben performed the rites.

The King would give a speech announcing the project and making promises of how it would further the prosperity of their kingdom. Then the Chief Architect would present the plan and the crew, introducing the heads of each department as each would step forward, bow and pledge their services to the project. Finally, depending on the project, the Chief Architect alone, or accompanied by chosen guild members, would lay the first ceremonial stone upon stone and sing incantations for a quick and successful construction.

As Orodreth approached Barhador wondered if the new King felt as unprepared as his Chief Architect did. The wind toyed with the King’s pale green robes and Orodreth had to raise his voice over its howling to be heard.

“Good elves of Nargothrond,” the King begun, standing somewhat humbly, as if he didn’t really want to draw the attention of the crowd. Barhador wasn’t even certain that all could hear him. “We have gathered here today to summon the will of the Valar and ask their favour in the construction of a bridge over the Narog. We pray to Ulmo to allow these craftsmen to construct a bridge over the river- a venture that was believed impossible until now.”

Barhador held his breath. Orodreth’s style was somewhat unorthodox - Finrod had rarely begun his speeches with the controversial topic of whether the Valar favoured them or not. However all were quiet as the King continued.

“Some of you may think, why do we need a bridge in the first place?” Orodreth turned to the civilians that by now populated the green hills - many standing at the front while others sat over the grass on the hills overlooking the construction site in silent expectation. “I know many of you have doubts about repurposing our efforts outwards instead of inward as we have always done,” Orodreth continued and his voice was gathering more strength, as he seemed to find his confidence in the righteousness of his cause.

“Too long we have hidden, paralyzed by fear instilled in our hearts by those who never meant us anything but harm in the first place,” Orodreth continued, and Barhador knew exactly whom his King was referring to. Secretly he wondered what Celebrimbor’s face looked like in that moment. “For we now know that it was nothing but manipulation to keep us in fear’s firm clutches - obedient and ready to be used like cattle for other elves’ wars, slaughtered for other elves’ causes that concerns us not at all!”

Their King had truly captured everyone’s attention at that point and secretly, deep down in his heart, even Barhador felt a stab of anger and wounded pride that demanded action. It demanded a rebellion, and the way Orodreth was setting it up, the Bridge over the Narog was to be just that - a spit in the face of Curufin’s manipulative politics, of Celegorm’s arrogant control.

The two Feanorian Lords had played Nargothrond’s saviours for so long - the people had begun to see them as heroes, only to be betrayed by them in the end. No doubt Orodreth felt the same, owing his life to the Feanorians at the expense of being duped into losing a brother and a good King.

“Our warriors are and always have been brave, or army is strong and the only one who has anything to fear is our Enemy, because once this bridge is built, we can send our troops and strike quickly whenever he encroaches upon our land,” Orodreth’s voice had risen to a shout, and his passion lit him up from the inside, instilling courage in the hearts of the gathered elves.

“But not only our armies will ride over this great bridge to smite orks, werewolves and all other evil creatures that Morgoth sends our way,” Orodreth continued. “No. This bridge is also for the common folk, for farmers and traders, for craftsmen, for mothers and elflings, who are confined in caves instead of laughing under the warmth of the sun. With this bridge we will win the lands around our Kingdom and provide space for farms and new settlements. We will expand our Kingdom and no one who doesn’t want to live underground will ever have to do so again.”

At that many of the gathered elves cheered.

“To compete this project I have enlisted our finest craftsmen in the art of building and construction. Many of you knew and admired the works of the late Architect of Nargothrond Echaben. To those who don’t know him, I present Barhador, Echaben’s son, elected new Architect in Chief by his guild, in whom I have utter confidence to live up to his father’s legacy and exceed it with the building of the Bridge.”

Barhador’s heartbeat fluttered madly and suddenly he felt the incredible pressure of the combined attention of all gathered nobles, commoners and colleagues shift to him. He had never imagined that it would be so scary and so hard to do this part.

“King Orodreth, Princess Finduilas,” Barhador begun, “Noble Lords and Ladies and Citizens of Nargothrond. Thank you for gathering here today to bless the foundations of our project. Here with me are the finest craftsmen of the guilds of Architecture, Engineering, Masonry and Carpentry. As the head of this project I also represent the guild of the Architects,” he gestured to the group of elves that dressed in long wind-blown blue and white robes and chaperons, such as his own.

“Master Nandir will be leading the Engineers,” he presented the senior Engineer, who stepped forward from his team of elves dressed similarly to the architects, but their colours were blue and black.

Nandir bowed low, but unfortunately the harsh gale blasted the gold-ridged chaperon from his head, sending it flying across the hill.

Nandir kept his cool and continued the ceremony as if nothing had happened, even as some stifled laughs were heard from the crowd and an attentive apprentice went running after the hat, which the wind tumbled over the dewy grass.

Barhador hid his nervousness as he continued.

“Mistress Gelbes, leading the guild of Masonry,” he introduced and a sturdy nis, dressed in the much more economical and practical garb of the stone-workers stepped forward to bow.

Her hair was braided in long thin braids that were wrapped over her head in an intricate pattern, copied by the rest of the stone-carvers. They wore sturdy grey aprons over their fronts, thick beige woolen tunics with brown leather sleeves. Some had wrapped cloaks around their shoulders to protect them from the wind while they stood in one place, however as soon as they took up their strenuous labour, they often discarded extra clothes.

Once she stepped back to her team, Barhador noticed with some horror that Celebrimbor stood between her and Master Tuven from the guild of Carpenters. He was by himself, a little away from everybody else, and unlike the others he wasn’t dressed in any guild’s attire.

No doubt other elves could see him too. Stalling, Barhador introduced Tuven and his guild first, the wood-workers being dressed in green and yellow, wearing light tunics and cloaks with hoods that flagged behind their braided heads as the wind slapped at them.

With that done, Barhador directed his eyes to Orodreth, seeking his King’s permission to announce Celebrimbor, who despite not representing any guild, was a member of the Metalworkers, as far as Barhador knew, and without whose brilliance they would have had nothing to begin working from on that day.

However, Orodreth wasn’t looking at him at all and Barhador had to choose what to do on his own in the awkward pause that was beginning to stretch.

A near panic gripped him - he suspected that it would negate the whole effect of the King’s speech to point out that there was a Feanorion working on the Bridge, but at the same time, Barhador was a craftsmen, not a politician, and he knew how he would feel if his effort on a project was not recognised.

More than ever he felt inclined to side with the Feanorion - just on this matter - but his time was up and he had to make a decision. There were murmurs in the crowd and Orodreth’s eyes were back on him.

“And that is my team,” Barhador concluded through a constricted throat. His voice came out all mangled, but he forced himself to move, forced himself to continue.

He felt guilty as he presented the building plan to the King after that. His stomach hurt as he showed the copy of Celebrimbor’s mechanical cranes to Orodreth and the advisers who had encircled them to better see the slate that the architect was showing.

He couldn’t meet Celebrimbor’s eyes when the plans were approved and it was time to proceed to the final stage - the laying of stone upon stone and the songs of magic.

Barhador didn’t like doing anything alone, so he asked the other leaders of the guilds to join him in it. The first stones were especially selected and masterfully carved with runes of incantations. They were not just building blocks - they were the magical spine of the building.

Barhador lead the King and the entire procession of craftsmen and onlookers to the riverside where the spot for the bridge had been selected. Whether it would remain the same was to be seen as problems begun to arose, Barhador thought morosely.

Once everyone was settled, Barhador and the three others approached the shore where the stones laid in wait. Together they lifted the first one and begun maneuvering it over the second with utmost concentration. They had to place it right from the very first time, because it was supposed to never be moved after that. He was so concentrated on the task that he didn’t really register the murmur of the crowd before he saw a pair of hands come into his field of vision as someone grasped the stone on his right.

Four pairs of eyes snapped up to Celebrimbor’s face, who now stood beside them.

“I must do this,” he told them as a way of explanation.

The other craftsmen looked to Barhador with shocked, questioning eyes. The Architect’s heart revolted against the idea of sending the Feanorion smith away - it was his right - he was one of the pillars of this project and to deny him a part of this was to cut him off from the work ahead. He had to lay his hands on the stones and sing with them the incantations - otherwise his will and magic would be ineffective through the construction.

There were so many onlookers, the King, there were politics to consider…

In the end Barhador was a craftsmen above all. He had done what he could to keep Celebrimbor’s involvement on the low, but it had been the King’s decision to involve him in the first place, so he supposed he could get away with it just this once.

He looked at Celebrimbor and nodded his accent. None of the craftsmen said anything else - the ritual had been disturbed enough as it was. Together they laid the stone above stone and placed their hands on the polished surface on top, beginning to chant.

Each had their own magic to imbue, and Barhador had to concentrate really hard on his part - singing about correct calculations, balanced arches, precise angles, sharp minds and stable hands, imagination becoming reality and most importantly, a safe workplace - stones remaining on stones, firm ground supporting the construction, slow waters of a yielding river accepting the elve’s intrusion.

He finished it off with a prayer to Aule and Ulmo to keep his craftsmen from harm.

When he lifted his hands from the stone he swayed - so much had been taken from him with this first, opening incantation. Out of the corner of his eyes he saw the others were in similar state. None touched the stone again, so when Gelbes lost her balance she toppled on her bottom, joined on the grass swiftly by Tuven, who sat rather than fell, cradling his aching head.

Barhador wiped the sweat off his brow and looked to his colleague Nandir, who managed to remain standing, but whose state of exhaustion was betrayed by his unfocused eyes staring into the distance unseeingly.

Finally he glanced at Celebrimbor and he saw the Feanorion wiping blood from his nose with his long dark sleeve.

“What did you do,” he whispered in sudden alarm.

It was not unusual for delicate blood vessels to rupture from magical overstrain, however what they were doing was not supposed to cause this. Celebrimbor had done something more, Barhador was sure of it, and the architect feared what magic the smith might have slipped when no one had been able to pay attention.

“Just a little extra,” Celebrimbor answered breathlessly. “I want this to succeed.”

“Because of your reputation?” Barhador asked dubiously.

“Yes,” Celebrimbor promised, but Barhador wasn’t sure he believed him.

He tried not to think of it as the ceremony came to a close with elves cheering when the five craftsmen turned to them at last and Barhador announced the success of their magic. What followed was a feast - likely the main reason so many were present to the beginning of such an unpopular venture.

As elves begun to disperse, Barhador only hoped that he would not regret his soft heartedness towards the Feanorion.

...

Most of the gathered elves left after the King departed, the ceremony having come to a completion and the feasting preparations being on the way. However, all the craftsmen remained - they still had a full day’s work ahead - the first of many to come. Most were gripped by the creator’s excitement, eager to start building. Their hands ached for their craft, as did their minds to be put to a challenging task.

Barhador agreed upon tasks with the other guild leaders and Celebrimbor, the latter in charge of the construction of the cranes, which he had designed. Once everyone was coordinated Barhador brought his copy of the project’s plans to the main tent and sat down to look over the work that needed to be accomplished before it was time to dismiss everyone to allow them to attend at least a part of the feast.

There was a lot more work than just that, and by the time he could get up from his desk and venture outside to check on the works again, it was time for the midday meal.

He called for a break and craftsmen, apprentices and general workers of all kinds headed for the canteen in the largest tent, to wolf down hot stew and grilled root vegetables with gusto born out of hard labour.

Barhador joined them, sitting at a mixed table and eating the same as the rest. There was a solidarity between craftsmen, which existed in precious few other circles of elven society. The hierarchy of their ranks wasn’t as strict as that between ministers or military leaders. In the crafting society everyone would eventually rise to the title of Master in his or her own field, as long as they were dedicated enough, so no one was looked down upon.

He sat on one of the long benches in good company. As he ate, he listened to the casual banter between Masters and casual workers alike. Some were discussing the challenges they had encountered so far, others Orodreth’s speech, others still had more mundane concerns, such as the beauty of the princess Finduilas, the tragedy of her fiance’s fate, or the heroism of Mormegil, whom most believed responsible for saving Gwindor, even if Barhador had heard tales that it had been the other way around.

Praises for Mormegil always ruined Barhador’s mood and since the little pocket of youthful apprentices beside him seemed keen on fawning over the human, the architect found himself quick to finish his stew and getting up to leave the empty bow on the washing tray.

He ventured out of the shelter of the tent. The wind was still strong, but this time he didn’t mind its cooling touch upon his heated cheeks.

The sky was impossibly blue and the architect discovered that he admired it, however soon his attention was stolen by two dark figures lingering by the foundations of wooden cranes, which now stood by the rivershore.

Barhador squinted his eyes against the wind. One was Celebrimbor. The other one was just as tall and just as broad-shouldered, but he carried a sword with a black scabbard and a dark cloak fanned around him.

A terrible suspicion squeezed Barhador’s guts and he made a brisk walk down the hill. His suspicions proved correct when the figure examining the crane foundations pushed back strands of black hair to reveal a pale face with flashing grey eyes.

In the same moment Mormegil spotted him in return and turned to glare at the approaching architect.

“Lord Mormegil,” Barhador greeted as soon as he was nearby. “To what do we owe the pleasure of your attention?”

“Master Architect,” Mormegil answered cooly, “Don’t bother with false pleasantries. I am quite good at sensing when my attention is not as wanted as you claim it to be, even without your smith here accusing me of… what did you call it-”

Mormegil turned to Celebrimbor, who was frowning openly at the human.

“Mingling,” Mormegil spat. “So, have you come to tell me that I mingle as well, Master Barhador?”

Barhador didn’t know what to respond to that. He was surprised that Celebrimbor and Mormegil didn’t actually like each other. In his mind they fell into the same category of faithless murders.

However he couldn’t afford to be as blunt with his feelings as Celebrimbor seemed prone to be - he couldn’t just tell Mormegil that yes, he didn’t want him around. So he settled on answering carefully.

“I am here merely to see if my Lord needs anything,” he answered with icy politeness. “If you have any questions, I’d be the best person to address them.”

Mormegil’s smile was closed lipped and patronising.

“I will be satisfied with merely observing, Master Architect. No need for you to exert yourself.”

Then he turned to Celebrimbor as if Barhador was no longer there.

“Now, show me those schemes! I want to know what is being built here and that you are not merely wasting time!”

Celebrimbor crossed his arms over his chest and gave him a mirror image of that awful smile.

“What use is showing our plans to you, when all you will see is drawings on paper?”

Mormegil’s lips paled as he pressed them together tightly and his hand fell on the hilt of his black sword.

“Show him the drawings, Celebrimbor,” Barhador commanded. “He’s our Lord and he demands to be informed!”

Those words stopped Mormegil’s hand, but Celebrimbor was slow to obey.

“It’s an order,” Barhador commanded, sensing that the Feanorion needed the reminder. “I’m ordering you as your Chief!”

The stubborn elf finally conceded and relinquished the rolled up plans, which he clutched possessively in his hand. Mormegil took them and unrolled the parchment. He looked at it for two seconds before he realised it was upside down and turned it.

Celebrimbor’s lip curled in a smirk. Barhador couldn’t help but feel a little vindicated as well. The human, who clearly thought himself superior in every way, was not as perfect as he seemed to think.

“I’d like a copy of that sent to my chambers,” Mormegil decreed. “I’ll take a better look at it later.”

Barhador tried not to smile in amusement at the human’s serious tone and nodded, promising that it would be done.

“Now I’m going to look at the foundations,” Mormegil announced as he slapped the parchment into Barhador’s hands and strode down the hill towards the shore.

Barhador exchanged a quick look with Celebrimbor before passing him back his papers and hurrying after Mormegil.

“Doesn’t my Lord have a feast to attend,” he called after the human, chasing his long stride through the the thick grasses and weeds that blocked the way.

“Is feasting all you people ever think about?!” Mormegil spat back.

Barhador’s cheeks reddened in indignation, but he sewed his lips shut. He would seethe about how he hated Mormegil later. He had to deal with him first.

Hearing the grass whisper behind his left ear, he glanced back and saw that Celebrimbor was following.

Barhador’s soft shoes didn’t crunch on the muddy pebbles of the shore the way the warrior’s and the smith’s iron lined ones did.

Mormegil strode loudly to the place where the ceremonial rocks were laid. He put his hand on them and Barhador flinched. The human didn’t pull his hand back as if burned or bitten by frost. Apparently his flesh didn't sting in the way elven skin would when coming into contact with objects imbued with so much magic.

Instead Mormegil ran his hand over the polished surface, a finger idly tracing the chizeled runes with nothing but a frown of dissatisfaction. His nail caught on a rune and he tried to chip at the edge.

“Stop doing that!” It was Celebrimbor again.

“Bite your tongue, smith,” Mormegil warned. “Or I’ll relieve you of its stupidity.”

“You wouldn’t dare,” Celebrimbor challenged.

This time Mormegil actually drew out his blade.

“Say that again,” he answered slowly, coldly.

Barhador’s heart jumped up in his throat. He had no doubt that Mormegil would do it. Something inside him just knew by instinct that he was faced with a dangerous creature and that Mormegil would not hesitate to make good on his threat.

He wondered how Celebrimbor couldn’t feel something so obvious, or if the Feanorion was simply so stubborn, so proud and so arrogant that he actually opened his mouth to answer regardless of the danger.

“My Lord, please, he meant nothing with it,” Barhador jumped between them before he knew what he was doing. He was not the hero type. He didn’t even like the Feanorion. But more than that, he really didn’t want to see an elf’s tongue being cut infront of his eyes if he could intervene to stop it.

“On behalf of my colleague, please accept our excuse,” he pleaded hastily and grabbed Celebrimbor’s arm, attempting to haul him away. The only reason he succeeded was because the taller elf allowed himself to be lead back up the hill, away from Mormegil, whose dark gaze was still glued to them.

“What in the Void were you thinking?!” Barhador hissed once they were further away. His grip on Celebrimbor’s arm must have been painful, but the smith did not fight it. “Do you have a deathwish?”

He released Celebrimbor’s arm with a little shove and the Feanorion turned to him.

“I have reasons to dislike him,” Celebrimbor announced.

“Truly?” Barhador mocked. “Guess what, you are not the only one! But you don’t see me jumping on Mormegil’s drawn blade now, do you?”

Celebrimbor raised an eyebrow.

“Do you claim that you care,” he asked.

“No,” Barhador returned. “You are right. I don’t. But I want none of it here!”

Then he turned back to the beach and approached Mormegil once again. Before Barhador could speak Mormegil patted the rock and turned to him with cold eyes.

“I don’t care how you do it,” the man said with a tone that broke no intermission. “I don’t care if you sing to rocks, draw shapes in the sand or sit here and braid flowers into your hair all day. All I care about is this bridge appearing as soon as possible. Get it done, Master Architect, or you will answer to your King for your incompetence.”

“Funny that a foreigner should threaten us with our King,” Celebrimbor’s voice sounded from not too far away.

Mormegil tilted his chin up to look at the Feanorion who was observing them from a little distance away.

“You’re lucky you have your bodyguard with you,” Mormegil gestured to Barhador. “I wonder if you would be so mouthy if I meet you alone.”

With that final remark he left and Barhador felt his face flush in dismay.

Once the mortal was out of earshot Celebrimbor called from where he was still standing, a little further up the hill.

“I didn’t need you to defend me.”

“I wasn’t defending you,” Barhador answered. And then to himself - I’d rather drown you into the river than defend you - but it lacked any conviction.

He was no kinslayer. He was not a murderer of any kind. And he hated violence, even that inflicted upon those who deserved it.

Celebrimbor nodded and turned away, heading back to his worksite. The hour for lunch was over and the other craftsmen were beginning to emerge from the tents.

Barhador approached the steep riverbank, looked down into the Narog’s fast currents and wondered what he had gotten himself into.

Chapter Text

Working on mornings after feasting was never popular for the elves. Nandir, Tuven and Gelbes were sour-faced and bleary eyed as he presented the briefing around his desk inside the smallest tent on the hill - the one that was to be Barhador's headquarters as the Chief of the construction. Celebrimbor, on the other hand, looked alert and brimming with energy as he leaned over the worktable, examining the schemes. It was good to see that Barhador wasn’t the only one who hadn’t overindulged at the feast. In Barhador’s case, he had needed to leave early, because Thalanis wasn’t allowed to drink and he, being the supportive husband that he was, had restrained himself as well. He hadn’t expected anyone else to be in working condition on the next morning, so having one was better than the odds dictated.

Once the Architect was finished explaining the tasks of the day he asked if anyone had something to add and wasn’t surprised that Celebrimbor was eager to speak.

“I wanted to point your attention to these,” the smith said, unrolling a parchment that he had brought.

The scroll contained a topographical map and it took a moment for Barhador to realise that it illustrated the island under which Nargothrond was built and the riverbed that surrounded it.

“This is Felagund’s work,” Celebrimbor stated. “I was right that he made a map of the empty riverbed when they rerouted the Narog all those years ago.”

Barhador stared at the map for a few seconds. His colleagues were even slower in realising what this discovery meant for them. They were blinking reddened eyes and looking too tired to be excited or impressed.

“That’s very useful,” Barhador said at last, but not in the least bit without weariness. “Mind if I ask, where did you find this map? I’m under the impression that it wasn't in the public library - otherwise we’d know of it.”

“I have my ways,” Celebrimbor crossed his arms over his chest.

“Right…” Barhador sighed and then dismissed his colleagues to their work, before calling after Celebrimbor to remain.

“I don’t like being kept in the dark,” Barhador said slowly when it was only him and Celebrimbor left. “If you don’t tell me the truth of how you procured this map we won’t use it.”

Celebrimbor took a deep breath through the nose.

“It was given to me,” he said. “By the Princess.”

At Barhador’s bewildered expression the Feanorion chuckled.

“Did you really think me so low as to resort to stealing,” he asked bitterly.

“I don’t know what to think when it comes to you,” Barhador admitted.

“You can ask Finduilas,” Celebrimbor said. “She will confirm my story.”

“I’d rather not bother the Princess. Instead, I choose to trust you this time,” Barhador decided. “I hope I won’t regret it.”

“You won’t,” Celebrimbor promised and then he left to attend to the cranes.

Finrod’s map of the riverbed greatly eased the Architect’s mind. With the information it revealed he was no longer working in the dark. In the days that followed he redesigned the parts of the bridge, which needed to be changed in order to fit the piers into the uneven ground under the fast waters of the Narog.

His days passed quickly and he barely noticed spring’s bloom around him, or Mormegil’s warriors that guarded the outskirts of the construction site, or anything else as he threw himself into the work. The Architect in Chief often missed the presence of his wife and most respected colleague Thalanis, however, in her abcense Barhador found himself more inclined to relly on his team. Not once or twice he consulted with others on how to best approach certain problems. He asked Gelbes about the optimum size of the stone blocks and Nandir about the angle of the arches. He asked Tuven about the ornamentation. He often asked Celebrimbor about daring ideas and obscure mechanics that came to his mind, and with the days and sometimes late nights that they worked together on ever more ambitious plans, Barhador begun to feel a sort of comradeship with the Feanorion.

Celebrimbor could be blunt and snappy, but he was always eager to help and as long as there was work to be done, he was easy to get along with.

They had taken to working the overtime in the Architects' Halls, since not even Mormegil thought that the elves had any business on the rivershore after dark when the Enemy was at his strongest and Beleriand became all the more dangerous. Sometimes others joined them, but usually it was just Celebrimbor and him.

The Bridge’s design had been reworked once again, and this time Barhador suspected that it would be the final change, since the first tower of the bridge was already constructed.

Celebrimbor had incited Barhador into a dream of making this bridge one of the wonders of elvendom and the current design was one of a bridge so beautiful, so elegant and functional, that Barhador loved it almost as much as he loved his wife.

However he couldn’t stay as long as Celebrimbor. Thalanis also needed him, her pregnancy being a new and intimidating venture that she was forces to undertake largely on her own. So Barhador made sure to always return home before it got too late, leaving the Feanorion alone in the Architect’s hall to work on his desk.

As he bade goodnight to Celebrimbor, Barhador sighed to himself. He had never imagined trusting the Feanorion, but somehow it had happened. Celebrimbor’s diligence, his love for work and ambition to create beauty had won the Architect over.

“Get some sleep,” he called amiably as he headed out.

“You too,” Celebrimbor answered without looking up from the calculations he was scribbling.

An unseasonal downpour begun shortly after. The construction came to a pause as the rain turned the grassy hills into a slippery slide and the Narog rose up angrily with muddy waters that boomed loudly day and night as the rain kept pouring out of the sky with vengeance.

Barhador spent a few days at home, getting some much needed respite, before restlessness took him to the Architect’s halls where he picked up old and abandoned projects.

When the rain finally stopped the elves found the construction site heavily damaged. Whatever hadn’t been brought back from the worksite had been washed away. The only thing that remained strong were the bridge’s foundations.

Tents had to be erected again and a lot of organisational work had to be redone.

In those days Barhador was busy and when Celebrimbor came to him, saying that he had some new ideas of the Bridge, the Chief Architect gave him leave to execute them as he saw fit. Barhador trusted Celebrimbor’s wisdom and vision enough to be certain that whatever improvement the Feanorion sought, would do nothing but boost the project.

Then the King decreed the Architect’s guild to fix damage done to some of the lower halls of Nargothrond, which had been flooded by the river and Barhador split his team, taking Tuven and some of the general workers, carpenters and masons with him, and leaving Celebrimbor in charge of the bridge in his absence.

For a few weeks he worked on restoring Nargothrond and a part of him was relieved to be back to the familiar caverns, which he loved. Life overground wasn’t for him. He hated the wind, the rain, the cold, and the bright sunlight. He prefered the civilized work underground.

When Barhador and his team finally rejoined the rest, he was pleased to see the progress that Celebrimbor and Gelbes had managed in the meantime.

Gelbes was leading her stone-carvers into the venture of creating a gate and a road that would connect Nargothrond’s halls to the surface and the bridge. Celebrimbor had laid all the towers into the riverbed and had begun the deck. Firm scaffolding and cranes held the unfinished project together despite the river’s still angry streams bubbling underneath.

More than anything Barhador was relieved that their construction had yielded no accidents thus far. He had no illusions that a fall into the overflowing waters of the Narog would be lethal to an elf.

Since Celebrimbor seemed to have the bridge under control, Barhador focused his efforts on the grand gate that would open Nargothrond to the world. Working with Gelbes, who was also a sculptor, they got a little carried away. Together they dreamed up arches populated with carven figures, leaf and tree motifs crowned with stars. The road that would stem from that gate would be flanked with statues of the Valar.

The more Barhador worked on that project the more he loved it and his heart filled with wonder. He had long ago forgotten his worries about the bridge gathering the attention of their enemies, or leaving the city exposed. A piece of art such as that project could do no evil - in fact Barhador believed it would inspire his countrymen to be braver, more beautiful, more worthy of their legacy.

And the Architect couldn’t help but think of his own legacy as well. He would be remembered for that magnificent project, he could feel it.

One summer day while taking his midday meal Barhador noticed Celebrimbor had a visitor. None other than Gwindor, Finduilas’ fiance, sat across from the Feanorion in the corner of the canteen, as far away from curious gazes as could be. They sat at the end of a long table, a little away from the rest and each cradled a bowl of stew as they conversed.

It was humbling to see a noble, such as Gwindor, share the craftsmens’ lunch. It only served to endear the unfortunate elf to Barhador’s heart.

The Architect observed them for a while, trying to judge if it was a stately visit or a social-call, the first dictating that he should greet the Lord and indulge his curiosity about the construction. When it appeared that Gwindor wasn’t there for the bridge, Barhador left it alone.

A little later he deposited his dirty bowl on the washing tray and headed to his tent to sort out the work for the rest of the day. As he approached the small tent he was arrested with an agitated voice that spoke from inside.

The tent wasn’t just his. It was the place where he could be found when he needed to work, but it was also available to all the other guild leaders and of course Celebrimbor. So he wasn’t that surprised to hear Celebrimbor’s voice from inside, speaking to what could only be Gwindor.

He didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but it was hard not to overhear when Gwindor’s voice rose up with despair.

Barhador heard only bits of it “Finduilas… No, not giving up… just a gift… Finduilas… Finduilas…” but it was enough for his heart to tighten with pity for the poor elf. It was no secret that their marriage had been postponed indefinitely. Many thought that it would never happen. 

Celebrimbor’s replies were calm. As always Celebrimbor didn't speak loudly and Barhador couldn’t discern anything but the smooth rumbling of the smith’s speech. Perhaps he was offering advice, or solace. Barhador hadn’t known that the Feanorion had friends, least of all Gwindor. Celebrimbor simply didn’t seem like the type to be involved with anyone who didn't do some sort of craft.

Feeling guilty about overhearing anything at all, Barhador moved away and waited. Not long after Gwindor and Celebrimbor exited the tent. Gwindor looked wretched. He looked as if he had cried. Celebrimbor nodded to him and they parted without a word in the open.

Gwindor didn’t even see Barhador as he passed him by. Definitely not bridge related, Barhador concluded.

Still he was curious and he followed Celebrimbor, who headed down to the shore without noticing Barhador following him. The Feanorion hopped on a scaffolding and climbed up to the unfinished upper part of the bridge. He did so with the grace of someone who did that a hundred times a day. Barhador followed a little more carefully, mindful of the fall and the bubbling river bellow.

The rest of the workers were all still at lunch, so the construction site was empty save for the two of them.

Celebrimbor stopped at the drop in the unfinished deck. He was looking down from the edge and Barhador was careful not to startle him as he approached.

“At this pace we will be ready before autumn,” Barhador said in lieu of a greeting. With Celebrimbor it was best to cut to the point.

“Yes,” Celebrimbor answered with his typical certainty.

Before Barhador had thought that it was arrogance, but after spending enough time with Celebrimbor he had begun to see that it was no empty self-assurance.

“Are you alright,” Barhador asked carefully. Celebrimbor was frowning at the water and his mind was clearly somewhere else.

The question brought Celebrimbor back from his reverie and he smiled, looking back at the Architect.

“Yes, I am. Thanks for asking.”

“Good,” Barhador concluded. He wanted to ask about Gwindor and the Princess. He wondered what the argument had been about, but there was no good way to breach the subject without admitting that he had been listening.

The midday bell rang, announcing that the time for eating was over.

Giving up on the topic, Barhador turned with a quick ‘see you later’, but Celebrimbor stopped him.

“Barhador,” he said, “there is something I need to discuss with you.”

“What is it,” the Architect asked.

“It’s best if we discuss it in private,” Celebrimbor said and Barhador raised a wary eyebrow.

He was past being suspicious of the Feanorion… however such a request seemed off.

Thinking that it had to do with Gwindor’s visit, Barhador agreed.

“Meet me in my tent in a bit,” he said. “I have a briefing with Tuven now, but we can talk after that.”

“Perfect,” Celebrimbor agreed.


When Celebrimbor found him at his workdesk in the Architect’s tent, Barhador was reading a missive from the King. Orodreth wanted the gate of the city to be made wider, which meant that a lot of the work Barhador had done with Gelbes had to be scrapped and begun again. It didn't put him in the best mood.

“Can you sit down,” Celebrimbor asked and Barhador obliged him.

Celebrimbor was smiling his sweetest smile, one that was both rueful and charming. By that point Barhador had seen enough of him to know that he was up to something.

“There is no easy way to say this,” Celebrimbor begun, circling Barhador’s chair and spreading the bridge plans on the workdesk before him. He hovered behind Barhador’s shoulder as the Architect’s eyes scrutinised the plan, “...but, I had an idea while you were away,” Celebrimbor finished and at the same time Barhador’s eyes zeroed on something strange in the middle.

“What’s this,” he asked, finger tapping angrily over the strange mechanism he could see schemed in the middle of the bridge’s deck.

The more he looked at it the more he lost his cool, because it looked like - it looked like a…

“Please listen to me,” Celebrimbor’s hands fell on Barhador’s shoulders, preventing him from rising, preventing him from moving at all. Suddenly the Architect remembered whom he was dealing with and was afraid - petrified on the spot, pinned under the warmth of those large, deceptively gentle hands.

“Look at this,” Celebrimbor urged and he removed one of his palms briefly to point at a design detail that he had illustrated in the upper right corner of the parchment. “This is a key,” he said and his hand hurried to return its weight on Barhador’s shoulder as he continued to explain, “the key to this mechanism that would allow the King to destroy the bridge if needed.”

Barhador didn’t need to be told that. The shape of a cinquefoil flower glared at him from the paper. The little flower that Finrod had favoured. From the top it looked like a decorative design inlaid in the middle of the bridge’s deck. However it was actually a shape cut specifically for a cinquefoil-shaped key, which when inserted and turned, would unwind a mechanism that would cause the bridge to fall apart from the middle.

Looking at the scheme, Barhador suddenly realised that the whole bridge was built with this design in mind. The first towers were the same as they had been when he had last looked upon the project, and they would remain standing, however everything else was held by a deliberate design that relied on this mechanism for its balance. Without it the bridge could not be finished. They would have to destroy it to build it again.
Barhador was utterly speechless. He glared at the parchment and fought back tears. All the while Celebrimbor was trying to convince him:

“You know as well as I do that this bridge is folly. You know that it’s not what Finrod would have wanted. This bridge would put the entire population of Nargothrond in danger, because of Agarwaen’s madness! Orodreth only wanted this, because Agarwaen made him want it! We cannot build this bridge in full consciousness without this preventative measure!”

“You are mad,” Barhador uttered finally as tears began to fall. “Utterly, completely mad! Why did I trust you?”

Suddenly Celebrimbor pulled his chair and turned it around in a fearsome show of strength. Barhador yelped in alarm of what was happening, but Celebrimbor surprised him yet again by dropping to a squat before him and looking up at him with innocent eyes.

The effect was negated by the restraining clasp of Celebrimbor’s hands, which wrapped around Barhador’s booted shins as if to keep him from fleeing.

“Hear me out,” Celebrimbor pleaded and he shifted to his knees. “This mechanism doesn’t compromise the bridge’s integrity in any way. It is a fail-safe. It’s an extra measure. It is good!”

“It is treason!” Barhador shouted, betrayal and helplessness melting into white-hot rage.

Celebrimbor blinked at his outburst, but didn’t pull away.

“I trusted you,” Barhador begun amidst tears of anger, “I gave you this chance… And what did you do?! You went behind my back and lied to me. You defied my command over you, and defied our King!”

“You gave me leave to change what I will-” Celebrimbor argued and suddenly, without thinking, Barhador’s hand slapped him hard on the face. Celebrimbor’s cheeks blushed all the way to his ears and he glared back at Barhador with barely supressed emotions. His lips thinned and he looked on the verge of something, but he remained silent.

Barhador felt a strange bewilderment at the red mark that begun to show over the pink blush of Celebrimbor’s cheeks. He had never hit a living being before. He had never felt the urge to. Yet he couldn't regret what he had just done.

“That is not an excuse for what you did,” Barhador said slowly. His fingers hurt where they had came in contact with Celebrimbor’s cheek. Paradoxically the stinging calmed him and helped him clear his mind. “You deceived me and I curse the day I trusted you. I should banish you from this project.”

“If you do that two things will happen,” Celebrimbor answered without moving from his spot. “First you will have to destroy the bridge and build it anew. That would set this project behind with months and will make both the King and his rabbid pet-dog Mormegil angry with you. It will be impossible to finish the works before winter’s snow makes this site unworkable, not to mention all the wasted resources and labour.”

“I think I would risk that,” Barhador answered icily.

“Second,” Celebrimbor continued a little more quietly, “you will be responsible for building a bridge that would do nothing but facilitate the enemy’s attacks upon this city. You are an intelligent ner, Barhador, think about it. You know what this bridge could become. A breach in Nargothrond’s defences. Made by us! Morgoth is probably laughing somewhere as his scouts bring him reports of our construction. I’m sure he’s toasting to our names.”

Barhador took in a sharp breath and looked away. Suddenly he felt terribly confined in Celebrimbor’s close proximity and he kicked his hands away before rising to his feet and begining to pace around the small tent. Celebrimbor let him, and then rose as well leaning on the desk by the incriminating plans that stretched atop it.

As much as he hated himself for it, Barhador found himself agreeing with Celebrimbor’s words. It was really suspicious that the bridge’s construction site, left so opened and now spanning on both ends of the river, had been left unassalted for so long. It was almost as if Morgoth was letting them build it, and laughing somewhere, just as Celebrimbor had said.

That bridge was without a doubt the crowning project of Barhador’s career. However, when he ceized to think about its beauty and the immediate needs of his work, he too could see from Celebrimbor's point of view. It was a breach in Nargothrond’s defenses. It was a senseless, foolish idea. And it was born out of the pride and lust for war of Mormegil.

“You know, I hate him,” he blurted out.

“Who,” Celebrimbor frowned.

“Mormegil, Agarwaen, whatever he wants to call himself,” Barhador sneered.

“I’m sure he deserves the sentiment,” Celebrimbor said.

“Even if I agreed with what you said,” Barhador begun tentatively, “it would still be treason. Everyone involved would be banished or worse. I cannot do this, Celebrimbor.”

“Not if it’s all my fault,” Celebrimbor offered and Barhador looked up uncomprehendingly. “We will tell them that I had deceived you until the last moment. I had deceived everybody. I lied to the workers telling them that you had approved a plan, which you had never seen. You didn’t know I had changed the plan.”

“No one would believe that,” Barhador shook his head.

“They would,” Celebrimbor argued with a small smirk, “Because I am a Feanorion. We are treacherous and cunning, won’t you agree?”

Barhador swallowed pass a heavy lump in his throat. Did he agree?

“You would be banished from Nargothrond,” he concluded gravely.

“I am prepared for that and more,” Celebrimbor squared his shoulders.

Barhador looked away. It was a hard choice. Possibly the toughest one he had made in his life. Everything that Celebrimbor said had rung true to him. And protecting the city should have been his first concern. However Celebrimbor’s sacrifice sat ill with him. He didn’t want to be responsible for it.

Deep down inside he knew that it wasn’t really a choice at all.

“You crazy son of kinslayers,” Barhador breathed at last. “Don’t think for a second that I don’t regret ever meeting you.”

Celebrimbor tilted his chin up proudly as if reading himself to receive another blow. The next words evidently surprised him.

“Explain to me how this thing works - from the start!”

...

Chapter Text

Summer seemed slow to go that year and the elves were able to almost completely finish the bridge before the first cold rains of Autumn begun to fall. With the bridge in its final stages, Barhador never ceased to be amazed by its beauty every morning when he emerged through the newly reworked, and even more lavish than its predecessor, gate of Nargothrond, which lead him right on the construction site.

The Bridge was a masterpiece. Its sturdy towers were carved to look as if they were overgrown with flowering vines, the deck was wide and had a gentle slope, which curled up like the spine of cat to ensure the Bridge’s stability and correct water drainage. In the very middle Celebrimbor’s mechanism lay hidden beneath a decorative mosaic of green, white and blue tiles, lined with gilded arches and spirals of forged metal. Patterns of vines and petals curled around the golden design, entwined with writing, which contained instructions on how to use the mechanism to destroy the bridge.

At first Barhador had protested the idea of writing that on the bridge, but Celebrimbor had been adamant that the knowledge needed to be available to everyone, not just the King.

They reached a compromise, which was that the instructions were worded like a riddle. It wasn’t complicated, but still it was cryptic enough to confuse an outsider.

The bridge itself only needed a few finishing touches to be completed, so Celebrimbor had retreated to the forge to complete the final element of his design - the cinquefoil-shaped key, which they were planning on presenting to Orodreth on the day of the completion. Barhador was busy with the remaining works, mostly clearing up the construction site, deconstructing the cranes and overseeing the paving of the road on the other side of the Narog.

One evening close to the project’s completion he decided to go down to the forges to see how Celebrimbor was getting along with the key. The Chief Architect hadn't forgiven the smith for the deception, but he had come to accept the necessity of Celebrimbor's plan. Furthermore, Barhador was curious to see what had taken so long. He was under the impression that the Feanorian cared greatly about the perfection of his forging and had scrapped a few of those contraptions already, because he wasn’t satisfied with the result.

He rode the service elevator along with the wood stock that was going the furnaces in the very belly of Nargothrond. Once he was in the forges, he wasted little time to look around, heading straight for Celebrimbor’s workshop. He almost missed the familiar door, because for once, he found it closed.

A little hesitant Barhador knocked.

“Celebrimbor,” he called and couldn’t resist pressing an ear to the wood.

There was some movement inside, and the Architect was certain he heard voices exchange short words. He didn’t have time to make sense of it, because Celebrimbor opened the door.

“Barhador,” Celebrimbor, looking very much like his usual hard-working self, stood blocking the entrance. “Can you come back a little later?”

“Why?” Barhador asked, unable to keep the suspicion out of his voice.

“I’m busy,” Celebrimbor shrugged.

“With what?” Barhador tried to look behind Celebrimbor, but the smith's height and bulk was effectively blocking his view.

“I’m working on something private,” Celebrimbor said.

“Forgive me, I’m a little suspicious after that stunt you pulled with the bridge,” Barhador crossed his arms over his chest. He knew someone else was inside. Someone that the Feanorion was trying to conceal. “I’d rather if there were no other surprises.”

“It’s nothing like that,” Celebrimbor reassured him.

“Really? Then why won’t you let me in?”

Celebrimbor let out a groan of frustration and looked over his shoulder. There was a pause then the smith nodded and stepped aside.

Barhador entered his workshop warily. He saw a suit of armour standing in the middle of the room. It was unfinished, but despite missing pieces, it looked trully exquisite and somewhat forbidding. The steel was burnished to a dark slate grey finish, with subtle decorative engraving, spiraling through it as delicate and silvery as spider webs. The chest-plate was decorated with an unusual heraldic crest that he didn't recognise. It appeared as the sun peaking behind a towering mountain peak, with four spears pointing to the four direction of the world.

“Is this your private work?” Barhador asked, bewildered and fascinated by the armor that stood proudly on display amidst the chaos of Celebrimbor's workshop.

“Yes, it is,” the smith said somewhat contritely.

Barhador made his way through the now familiar environment, which was as crowded and messy as ever, so much so, that it took the Architect an embarrassing amount of time to notice the blonde elleth, who sat on a stool in the corner of the room.

“Morgoth’s dirty sack… Princess!” Barhador choked out when he realised that Finduilas was that quiet presence. “I mean, Princess, forgive me- I didn’t see you there-”

“Nothing to forgive, Master Barhador,” Finduilas said unfolding from her seat to her long legs, her flowing midnight skirts falling in waves around her tall frame.

Barhador was too stunned by the unlikely meeting to utter anything in response. Finduilas turned to Celebrimbor.

“Thank you for your work thus far, Celebrimbor,” she nodded to the armour. “It’s perfect.”

“It isn’t, but it will be,” Celebrimbor promised.

“I will come by next week to see it finished,” she said and then she smiled at Barhador. “You must have something important to discuss. I will leave you to your work.”

The Architect managed some polite goodbye and Finduilas pulled a hood over her bright hair and was out of the door like a shadow.

“What in the darkest pits of Angband….” Barhador breathed once she was gone. “Why was the Princess here?!”

“She came to see how her commission was coming along,” Celebrimbor explained.

Barhador frowned. No matter how casually Celebrimbor was playing it, Finduilas had no business meeting with a smith unescorted. Not even one as renowned as Celebrimbor.

“Are you…” Barhador made a vague gesture with his hand. The suggestion was too obscene to say more.

“No,” Celebrimbor blushed.

“Because if you are,” Barhador trailed off. He remembered Gwindor’s visit and how distraught the poor, misfortunate commander had been after talking to Celebrimbor. It made the architect sick.

“Shame on you,” Barhador shook his head, coming to his own conclusions. It all made sense - why had he ever thought he could trust a Feanorion to be anything other than what they all turned out to be in the end...

“No. It’s not like that,” Celebrimbor answered firmly, but Barhador couldn't bring himself to even look at him.

Why would a Princess comission a male suit of armor? It wasn’t as if her fiance was ever going to ride out to battle again.

He turned to leave, but the smith grabbed his shoulder and pinned him place, forcing him to meet his eyes again.

“Believe me, Barhador,” Celebrimbor’s gaze was steady. “The Princess was only here for her commission. You are jumping to the wrong conclusions!”

“Why the secrecy then," the architect narrowed his eyes. “And why such an unusual commission?”

“Surely you could guess,” Celebrimbor lowered his voice and released him.

It was that more than anything else that made Barhador give him the benefit of the doubt.

“Who’s the armor for,” he asked and Celebrimbor sighed.

“I don’t wish to reveal it, but you will see it worn soon enough, unless the recipient is so ungrateful or conceited that he'd refuse a gift…”

“Mormegil…” Barhador guessed, because no elf would ever refuse a gift from a princess, least of all, one as sweet and kind as Finduilas. “Why... Why would she?”

Celebrimbor shrugged and looked away. He seemed regretful, but Barhador couldn’t be sure of anything when it came to him.

“Why did you agree to this,” Barhador demanded. “It’s not right- a Princess and an Adan… and no Beren is he!”

“She’s my cousin. And I understand her plight,” Celebrimbor turned his back on him and walked around the suit of armor to sit heavily on the chair behind his overcrowded desk. He looked weary. “And Mormegil is certainly not Finduilas’ Beren. He doesn’t return her feelings. Mormegil’s heart is given only to war and revenge.”

“Then why,” Barhador shook his head, “why would the Princess do this?”

“She wants to give a gift.”

“Gwindor’s heart will be broken,” Barhador accused mournfully.

“Gwindor’s heart already was broken,” Celebrimbor responded softly. “He knows, of course, and he has set Finduilas free from her promise, with hope only for her happiness. And as cruel fate would have it, Gwindor turned out to be the same height and built as Mormegil, so the armor you see before you-” the smith gestured to the suit standing in the middle of the workshop like a ghost, “was modeled on Gwindor’s body.”

Barhador didn’t know what to say to that. Celebrimbor decided to fill the pained silence in his usual way, chattering about the specifics of the design and measurement he had gone through - the way Gwindor’s lesser muscle mass had been taken into consideration and the way the suit’s strappings worked to accommodate the parts of Mormegil that the craftsman had no way to know.

“Stop,” Barhador silenced him suddenly. “For once be quiet. I don’t need to hear any of this and nothing you say will make this any more palatable to me.”

Unsurprisingly, Celebrimbor wasn’t silent for long.

“You know, you should spare a measure of pity for Mormegil,” he said. “The man is so consumed by anger and pain that he fails to notice the heart of a good woman, offered to him on a silver plate. No matter how bitter I may become, I hope I would never be so blind…”

“I hate him,” Barhador hissed, suddenly angry. “There is no excuse for what he does! The lives he wastes in his quest for vengeance… And what about us!?”

Celebrimbor raised an eyebrow uncomprehendingly and Barhador couldn’t resist his next words, regardless of how open and vulnerable they left him.

“Who will spare some pity for the families of those who died because of this Adan's reckless hate? And will pity ever bring back those who are lost!?” Barhador bit his lips to stop a sob from escaping. “No. Nothing will bring my father back. My father will never see his grandchildren and it is all Mormegil’s fault.”

Celebrimbor blinked at him from across the room, silenced by surprise, while Barhador turned away to wipe the moisture from his eyes. The rage that brought the tears had been bottled up for too long inside of him, and he hadn’t meant to let it out. A little wearily he turned back around to gauge the smith’s reaction.

“I am sorry about your father,” Celebrimbor offered softly. “I didn’t know.”

“I don’t know why I just told you this,” Barhador wiped the remaining tears from his face. “Forget about it. I don’t expect you to understand anyway.”

“Why? Because I renounced my own father?" Celebrimbor brissled. "Do you think I don’t know what a son’s love to a father feels like?”

“No,” Barhador frowned. “Because try as you might, you aren’t one of us. You are a prince, denounced or not, you have never belonged to the common folk. You don’t know what it’s like to have someone else Lord over your fate and decide what’s just and what’s not.”

“That’s not what I expected you to say,” Celebrimbor answered quietly. “I suppose that was true until recently. But now I will learn what it’s like to be a vassal and to kneel before a King. There is no going back on my decision, even if I wanted to. I have renounced my family and my privilege and that's final.”

“Your actions speak otherwise,” Barhador challenged. “I thought about what you did - how you dared to act in treason to our King and simply exercise your own will on the design on the bridge. I also thought about how easily you swayed me. And you know what?"

Celebrimbor's lips were thinning but the architect paid no heed to the indignation rising in his eyes as he continued.

"I think I finally got it," Barhador said. "I finally understand how you dare to defy our King. It's not because you are so brave or so righteous - it's because deep down inside you see him as an equal. And really, I suppose you are. You cannot drain the blood from your veins any more than you can stop being a Feanorion.”

Celebrimbor looked down, his mouth a straight line. When he met Barhador's eyes his regard was like ice.

“What business did you come for today, Master Architect,” he asked cooly.

Barhador didn't know why, but the coldness hurt. Celebrimbor had never been cold before. Blunt, almost rude, passionate or short, self-assured and even arogant... the smith had been all of those and Barhador had ceized to notice, because it was never directed at him personally. It was always about the work. But this- that was new and strangely, it hurt him.

“I wanted to ask after your mechanism’s key,” he answered with as much neutrality as he could summon.

“It’s almost ready,” Celebrimbor rose from his seat and without looking at the Architect in Chief went to the other side of the room to retrieve an intricately wrought copper flower as big as a platter. He gave it to Barhador to inspect and the architect felt its solid weight was balanced perfectly to an easy burden when held by both hands.

“I just need to plate it in gold, for a more aesthetically pleasing look,” the smith pointed out.

“Your skill is admirable,” Barhador stated matter-of-factly. It was hardly praise when it was an obvious truth. Celebrimbor flashed him a surprised look all the same.

“Let’s hope the King finds it aesthetically pleasing enough not to execute us when he finds out.”

“Execute me, you mean,” Celebrimbor corrected. “We talked about this. I will take all the blame - you knew nothing of this until it was too late.”

“Thank you for the sentiment, Master Celebrimbor,” Barhador said, giving him back the key. “I will see you at the bridge’s opening ceremony.”

Chapter Text

There was a lot of excitement surrounding the approaching date of the revealing of the newly completed bridge of Nargothrond. The underground streets of the city were filled with elves speaking in excited tones of the beauty of the architectural marvel, which spanned over one of the most treacherous expanses of the river Narog. Word had it that the bridge would be named one of the great marvels of their realm.

However the weather didn’t seem to share the people’s desire for a beautiful holiday and a feast under the sun, because heavy autumn rains were threatening to ruin the King’s opening ceremony. As the day approached the rain seemed to be getting harsher and the damp colder, until many of the craftsmen, who had worked on the construction turned into moods more foul than the weather itself.

Barhador didn’t join in the disappointed complaining and bitter cursing that seemed to fill the Architect’s Hall day and night since the rains had begun. Secretly he prayed to Manwe to send his foulest weather and snows early, if only to delay the inevitable just a little longer. Thalanis was heavy with their child and the Architect in Chief could only stomach the worry of one great peril at a time - Thalanis’ childbirth, or the King’s wrath upon finding out about Celebrimbor’s brazen addition to the bridge’s design. Assaulted by both at the same time, his anxiety made him unable to work and he mostly spent his days uninspiredly sitting on his ornate white desk, flipping through the apprentices' sketches and his colleagues' proposals, waiting for the hours to pass until he could go home.

Thalanis was worried to see him home early day after day, but wordlessly accepted his offers to send the maid away and prepare dinner himself. Barhador found distraction in cooking and pleasure in delighting his wife, who ate with the appetite for two. It never failed to put a smile on Barhador's face.

But every morning when he ventured through the streets, Barhador’s anxiety returned. On the busy passageways he saw merchants selling flags with the city’s crest, horns and flamboyant festive gear, little children playing soldiers crossing bridges, and adults, who recognised him and stopped to offer congratulations on the bridge’s early completion or it’s scale and beauty. Yet, despite the dread and foreboding, a longing tugged at the Architect’s heart and he inevitably ended up visiting the bridge’s construction site to admire his creation.

Despite the wind and rain savagely beating the decorated stones, its water flowed down carved drainage canals, which left the cleverly shaped cobblestones of the bridge nearly dry despite the downpour. In contrast, the Architect in Chief was drenched within minutes of standing on the outside of the city, shivering in his multi-layered scholar's robes and gold-rimmed chaperon, which did nothing to protect him from the elements.

Apparently Barhador wasn’t the only one to frequent the construction site, since on a few of his visits he came across a few others, Mormegil and Celebrimbor amongst them. The human acted unpredictable as always - the first time Barhador saw him, Mormegil ignored everyone around him, the other time he made an attempt to make small talk with the Architect. Barhador was secretly glad that the commander didn’t try too hard and their attempted conversation had ended quickly. He didn't know for how long he could remain civil with the one he blamed for his father's death.

Barhador saw Celebrimbor at the bridge-site just once and from afar. It was late in the evening and the only light came from the blue Feanorian lamp, which the smith used to illuminate the middle of the bridge, where the mechanism lay hidden beneath several layers of stone. Still fuming over their last encounters, Barhador turned his back on Celebrimbor and left the construction site to return at another time.

But sometimes when Barhador lied sleepless next to Thalanis and imagined the different outcomes of the day when the King would find out about what they had done, he knew that he could hardly bear to let the smith take all the blame. It was a cowardly thing to do, and he knew that at the very least the other Guild Masters would know the truth. How would he continue to live in Nargothrond with this secret after all of that?
...

On the evening just before the big day a storm blew the rain clouds away, leaving behind a clear night sky filled with more stars than any elf could count. In the morning the sun shone blindingly, bringing out the gold-sand in the yellow cobblestones that paved the road from the new Gate to the Bridge. Barhador lead his Guild to the construction site as early as it became light, and being the first ones to arrive, they got to see the bridge empty of elves in all its splendour. Tears rolled down Barhador’s eyes at the sight of his creation, washed by the rains and left glittering in the morning sun. He didn’t bother to wipe them away.

Soon the other three guilds of craftsmen, who had erected the bridge began to arrive - the engineers, the stonemasons and the carpenters, all dressed in their formal attire and quickly becoming busy with their final checks and fixes before the King arrived.

Ticking off the checklist while everyone reported to him, Barhador’s mind was blissfully full and he almost forgot to worry about the looming catastrophe, that is, until Celebrimbor approached him with his own, rather brisk report:

“Everything’s ready,” Celebrimbor said and Barhador looked up just in time to see the tall smith nod to him before spinning around and storming off in a flurry of dark red robes.

Barhador stared at Celebrimbor’s proud back as the smith disappeared amidst the crowd of craftsmen. He was used to the Feanorion’s manner, but he had never seen Celebrimbor dressed like the prince he was before. The striking figure he cut turned quite a few curious heads. But more than the conspicuous attire, it was the large, flat object, which Celebrimbor carried under his arm that made the architect stare after him.

It was happening, Barhador swallowed with dread. Why had he hoped that it wouldn’t happen?

“Are you alright,” Mistress Gilbes asked. The chief of the Stonemasons was dressed in her guild’s practical woolen tunic and slate grey apron. Her hair was tightly braided in an intricate pattern that carried a meaning understood only by her guildspeople. “You look as if you’ve seen a corpse.”

“I…” Barhador stuttered. His attention was drawn to the sound of rushing water. Faster and angrier than usual, Narog was booming beneath the bridge forebodingly. “I am fine. Just dazed... by the sun.”

“I know,” Gilbes laughed. “It so bright out here - gets me every time! Yet, I wanted to thank you. Working on this project has been the most challenging and most rewarding task I had ever done.“

Barhador blinked in surprise. Gilbes had been promoted to chief of the Stonemasons back when his father had become the first chief of the Architects. She had known Echaben and had helped him complete a lot of the early projects of Nargothrond while the city was built. Her praise left the young guild-master overwhelmed. Thankfully he was saved from having to form a worthy reply when Nandir, the Engineer in Chief hurried to them.

“It’s time,” the Engineer announced, and with a start Barhador’s attention snapped to the present.

The gate of Nargothrond was opening and behind it the Architect in Chief could see a colorful delegation of nobles in their finest robes exiting the city. Battle horns sounded behind them, their song clear and filled with challenge, making Barhador’s skin prickle with electricity.

“Everyone, attention! It’s beginning,” Barhador raised his voice over the pandemonium of excitement that had come over the crowd of craftsmen, the boom of the river bellow and the sound of laughter and song that came from the crowd that was coming out of Nargothrond.

The craftsmen and workers formed a vast assembly that lined up in rolls at the foot of the bridge. Barhador and the other Guilds leaders came to the front, squaring their shoulders and holding their breaths.

At the head of the procession coming from the city was King Orodreth with Princess Finduilas at his side - their golden heads and royal robes making them impossible to mistake. Behind them walked the city’s nobility, flanked by the generals of the army. Barhador spotted Gwindor, whose light-colored armour contrasted sharply with Mormegil’s slate grey one, which the Architect immediately recognized as the suit that had hung in Celebrimbor’s workroom. Barhador pursed his lips as he watched the two generals riding on the two opposite sides of the noble’s procession, each leading a unit of warriors in ceremonial armour.

Behind the last of the nobles, Barhador finally caught sight of the spouses and families of the craftsmen, who had been awarded a position of honor to view the ceremony from up close. At the front of that mixed crowd, Barhador saw Thalanis peaking over the heads of the procession, searching for him with her light blue gaze. Their eyes locked and for a moment Barhador forgot his fears and felt relief. She was there - everything was going to be alright.

That was when the Architect noticed the looks on everyone’s faces - from the King to the smallest child, everyone stared at the Bridge with awe at it’s perfection. Music begun as a band of bards came out of the city and it’s cheerful, triumphant rhythm caused shivers of delight to shake the architect until he couldn’t suppress a grin of delight. Beside him, he heard his colleagues laughing and letting out cheerful shouts and even whistles. The excitement was contagious. A smile of pride and pleasure pulled at his lips as he held his wife’s eyes, watching her return his smile with a beautiful grin of her own. Seeing her glow with pride was the biggest reward Barhador could ever receive.

Glancing at his side, Barhador saw Celebrimbor who had come to stand beside him, at the very front and middle of the craftsmen’s formation. The Feanorian was holding the veiled golden cinquefoil key in both hands in front of him. The fabric atop it had come a screw just enough that Barhador could see its high-polished golden surface shining so brightly in the morning sun that it was painful to look at. The material appeared like some kind of reinforced metal, solid and with the size of a small cartwheel. Barhador supposed that it weighted quite a bit, yet Celebrimbor’s grip on his creation was sure and unwavering, similar to the expression that the smith wore on his face.

As if sensing the architect’s attention, Celebrimbor looked over to him and the straight line of his mouth twisted into a tense little smile.

Remembering his fears, Barhador felt too nervous to return the gesture, so he looked on to the approaching crowd again. Now that the military and the musicians were stationed outside, the rest of the city’s citizens came out, dressed for a feast, flying flags with the city’s colors, blowing whistles and cheering. Children danced and cajoled around, startled birds darted through the air, merchants pedaled their festival tiaras and masks, decorated with ribbons and feathers, but all eyes were shielded from the glare of the sun as elves looked upon the bridge, nodding in approval.

Once everyone had found a place on the large plaza outside the city’s gate the music stopped and the craftsmen took their key to take a knee before their approaching rulers.

“This is it,” Nandir said quietly as Orodreth and Finduilas approached. He sounded nervous, but not nearly as much as Barhador felt.

Cold sweat beaded on the Architect’s forehead and ran down his back as he watched the royalty slowly parading their way. A part of him wanted them never to reach, while another wanted it all to just be over already.

“The bridge turned out beautiful,” Celebrimbor spoke. Despite his quiet tone, his voice carried a resonance that was almost unnatural and Barhador was sure that every craftsmen around them could hear his words. “I congratulate everyone on your work. It’s been an honor.”

Barhador’s chest clenched painfully. Was he saying goodbye?! Obviously, a part of the Architect had hoped that Celebrimbor would end up taking all the blame, if only to spare Barhador’s family from suffering, but he had hoped that… He didn’t know what he had hoped for. Perhaps that it wouldn’t get to that at all. What if Celebrimbor could just toss the key off the bridge and keep his big mouth shut… but no. It was useless to hope for impossible things.

Out of the corner of his eye, the Architect saw Master Tuven reach over to pat Celebrimbor’s back.

“It’s been indeed,” the rudy-skinned master carpenter beamed his childlike smile. “I think I speak on behalf of many when I say that although we had our differences, we were glad to have you at our side, Master Smith.”

“Indeed,” Nandir nodded. “Without your brilliance, we would have had a hard time meeting the King’s demands - especially when he added that inner mechanism and all. I’ve never even imagined something like that before, and yet we somehow pulled it off!”

Barhador watched Celebrimbor’s face carefully and bit his tongue when the Feanorion turned his grey eyes to him.

“You two made a splendid team,” Nandir continued, “And Barhador, this bridge is very much your father’s kind of work. I know Echaben would have been proud if he could see his son now.”

“Echaben’s watching,” Gilbes agreed quietly, her eyes briefly darting west before returning to Barhador with the shimmer of unshed tears. “He’s got a front seat before Mitril’s tapestry right now, I just know it.”

Barhador’s stomach twisted into a thousand knots of shame. He watched Celebrimbor lower his eyes to the ground.

King Orodreth had come to a stop before them and all conversation between the craftsmen seized.

“People of Nargothrond,” Orodreth turned his back to the craftsmen and addressed the crowd gathered on the plaza. “You are gathered today to witness and rejoice in the new Bridge, which will hence be the true gate of Nargothrond to Beleriand…”

Barhador could hardly listen as the King made his political speech about things that didn’t concern a craftsman, but most likely made sense to the nobility. The Architect was tired of the whole charade that the bridge had a significance to the well-being of the common people, when he knew very well that it was done to appease Mormegil’s insane demands for war.

“Master Architect,” Orodreth called and Barhador looked up from the King’s feet to meet Orodreth’s crystalline eyes.

“My Lord,” the architect stepped forward, holding a decorated slate with the plans of the bridge in shaking hands, “I present you with this completed bridge, done by your decree by myself, the Masters Nandir, Gilbes, Tuven and Celebrimbor.”

Orodreth’s expression remained pleasant as he accepted the plans calmly. The Feanorion’s mention was agreed upon, as his involvement hadn’t remained a secret. However, the King’s eyes narrowed when Celebrimbor chose this moment to rise to his feet as well and approach with an air of entitlement, so natural that none of the guards stationed nearby realised that they should intervene.

“King Orodreth,” Celebrimbor begun, his resonant voice raised enough that surely the whole assembly could hear him, “we have made your design reality by completing the bridge over the Narog. You behold it now and have admitted to be pleased by it’s design and function. However, you haven’t seen all that there is to it yet. Allow me to present you with the final piece - Finrod’s Key, as I like to call it.”

Barhador’s breath caught in his chest painfully. He couldn’t believe the tone, which his fellow craftsman used to talk to the King in front of the entire city. Barhador could hardly bear to watch as Celebrimbor pulled the blue velvet cloak from the large golden cinquefoil-shaped key, and raise it above his head for everyone to see. The gentle curves and sharp angles of the flower shone with brilliant perfection, reflecting the light like a mirror, it’s glare like a small sun in the Feanorion’s hands. Then Celebrimbor lowered his arms and handed the heavy thing to Orodreth, who nearly stumbled in confusion and surprise before he quickly recovered.

“And what is the purpose of this key,” the King asked quietly and his tone was dangerous. Celebrimbor, of course, ignored the warning and he turned towards the crowd with opened arms, like an actor on a stage, commanding the audience's attention.

“This is the key to a device that can destroy the bridge. If Nargothrond is ever in need of its defences again, with this in no more than 3 minutes you can take down the whole middle section of the bridge.”

Celebrimbor turned and bowed low before their King. Barhador couldn’t decide if it was terror or relief that made his head spin when the Feanorion’s speech was met with applause. Did that mean that they would be spared a death sentence? Or quite the opposite?

King Orodreth turned to face the citizens of Nargothrond with the golden key in his hands, a frozen smile on his face. He raised the metallic flower over his head with some effort, the effect not nearly as dramatic as when Celebrimbor had done it, but the crowd cheered nonetheless.

Barhador took a knee again, cooking in his own sweat and anxiously waiting for the ceremony to continue. His heart was beating a frantic rhythm and he could hardly reign in his breath. Adrenaline shook him and he kept praying that the worst was over. Perhaps that was it? Surely the King wanted to save face and was going to let them go unpunished? Maybe that was Celebrimbor’s plan all along - the reason for his crazy performance, which had come out of nowhere - Barhador had never imagined a smith with a talent for public speaking, Feanorion or not… Perhaps he was a fool for constantly forgetting whom he was dealing with - Feanor himself had been a smith and everyone knew how the story of his rebellion went…

The ceremony had progressed without Barhador even noticing. He followed the rest of the elves, who had worked on the bridge away from the site, so that the King could finish the rites of blessing the bridge. The Architect in Chief was nearly blind to the beautiful ceremony performed by Princess Finduilas, for the lack of a queen, who made offerings to Ulmo, Manwe and Varda, dancing on the bridge in her bare feet, as she sprayed water from a vase of star-water. Then a chorus of maidens came to sing and dance with her, each carrying autumn wraiths of late flowers and colorful leaves, decorating the bridge’s towers and its arched spine.

The feast was about to begin and Barhador’s eyes were glaring longingly towards the crowd where he had last seen Thalanis, wanting nothing more than to go to her once his duty was done. He couldn’t feel safe until he had her in his arms again, embracing the person who meant the world to him.

A guard’s appearance startled him.

“Master Barhador, would you come with me,” it was quiet and politely phrased enough, but the tone wasn’t that of a request.

Barhador eyed the three elves in guard uniforms, who had approached him. They didn’t threaten him with any weapons, nor were they making a fuss, but their faces were deadly serious.

Barhador didn’t have time to look around for help or advice - the second he wasted trying to decide what to do, one of them took his arm in a steel grip and started leading him away.

“Wait,” he whispered, “Wait, please!”

There was no response as he was quickly, and unceremoniously lead away from the feast. Barhador’s eyes darted to all his friends and colleagues, finding everyone too occupied with the festivities to notice what was happening to him. The band of musicians had just begun to play and the pandemonium would have swallowed any calls for help he might have attempted.

Through the joyful crowd he was marched, into the perpetual shade of Nargothrond’s gate and through its underground passages.

As the guards took him down winding staircases to the lowest levels of the city, Barhador’s eyes and ears strained, trying to perceive if someone else was being taken away, hoping against all good reason to see Celebrimbor or some other familiar face and cling to what little comfort that lent him.

The Architect had never been to the dungeons under Nargothrond. In a way, he had forgotten they even existed. The cold, damp caverns, so deep underground and so close to the river that groaned and roared under the city, were no place for elves. At least, Barhador had never heard of an elf being taken prisoner there - those cells were meant for orcs and other prisoners of war.

The only light so deep underground came from torches and their smoky, orange light looked ugly on the colorful rock, smoothed by the river’s work from eons ago. As he was lead through the maze-like passages and bridges that connected them, the Architect wondered who had designed the place. Stairs were cut straight from the rock, moisture clung to every surface, and the cold was so bitter that he couldn’t stop shivering.

The guards stopped in front of a small cell that was nothing more than a natural notch in the rock with the size of a tiny room, and a barred iron door to guard its entrance. The Architect shivered as the door was opened, but went inside voluntarily, preferring not to get roughoused.

Once inside, the guards locked the bars and Barhador was left alone to look over his new surroundings. There was a small bench for sitting, cut from the bedrock and covered with a thin layer of wood to stave off the perpetual cold. In the back of the cell there was a small hole, large enough for waste to go down into the river, which boomed somewhere bellow. Water was abundant - streams of it ran over the smooth walls and filled a small basin that collected the frigid water before it flowed down a drain to the hole at the back of the cell.

It could have been worse, Barhador decided, rubbing his sweaty palms together and wiping them roughly on his blue and white robes. He was heavily dressed, but his cooling sweat and the whistling wind were making him shake from the cold. Or perhaps that was the adrenaline, which was only then beginning to subside.

Somewhere not too far away, the noise of footsteps echoed - the same fast marching that he had become familiar with as he was dragged to the dungeons. Barhador gripped the bars of his cell and listened intently to the sounds of another iron door creaking open and the scraping of boots over wet ground. The bars were closed with more force than necessary, the ringing of metal striking metal echoing through the caverns.

The marching steps quickly receded into the distance and in the silence that followed Barhador strained his ears in vain to hear a sound from the other cell. None came.
...