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you will surely be the death of me (but how could i have known)

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Celebrimbor met Annatar for the first time in the smithy. He had been polishing a cut emerald.

Annatar appeared then as an elf, and exceedingly fair. He moved slowly but elegantly, each motion chosen deliberately.  He walked towards Celebrimbor with a sense of purpose. "Greetings," he said. "I am Annatar. I do not believe we have met."

Celebrimbor did not move at first. He was the image of his father, and his father before him, if perhaps slightly more shadowed; and the face of Curufinwë has never been little-known. Yet eventually he inclined his head. "Likewise. I am known as Celebrimbor here, Annatar. Are you new to Eregion? Whence do you come?" His voice could not help but betray his curiosity; Annatar appeared almost Vanyarin, but no Vanyar lived in Eregion; indeed, no true-blooded Vanyar had left Aman, and those who married into the Noldor would certainly recognize--if not him, then his face.

"I am," Annatar said. "I come to you as one who has been a messenger of Aulë for a long time; I hail from the Undying Lands."

"Indeed!" Celebrimbor exclaimed. He had intended it to be a question. "Perhaps in time we may even prove ourselves worthy of his love."

"You are humble, Celebrimbor."

"Enough flattery; if you are here from Aulë, perhaps you may help me work."

"I may," Annatar said, and came over to the grinder. "I do not know much in the way of gem cutting and refinement; but I can help much with goldsmithing, and the creation of magical artifacts,  for in this I know techniques and subtleties that even the Noldor have either lost or never learned."

"And you wish to teach us?"

"I do." Annatar's green eyes gleamed brighter than the jewel Celebrimbor held. "Just name for me a time; and I shall meet you here, and whomever else wishes to learn.”

 

-

 

They met frequently at the smithy, and Annatar taught the metalworkers and artifact-makers of Eregion much; but a unique bond it was that formed between him and Celebrimbor. It was in private that Annatar explained his plan and laid out the creation of the rings.

"You mean to say--"

"Yes." Annatar's voice was strong.

"...But that would mean... The Elves who stay on Middle-Earth shall not remain doomed to fading."

"I am from a Vala. I swear to thee now: I am not lying when I speak to thee of my power." Annatar grasped Celebrimbor's trembling hands. "Join me in this endeavor, and you and your kin shall never have to be afraid of fading; and you may give power to whomever you wish. The Dwarves beneath the mountain could create more beautiful things than they ever have before, with our rings; and the Men shall live longer, and in both Númenor and Middle-Earth shall they grow strong, and their cities shall blossom as they never have before. We can do so much good! A new Age shall be born on Middle-Earth, where all who come forth and call thee friend will never again need fear."

"I am afraid," Celebrimbor said, then. His voice had dropped low, not quite whispering. "Is this what Curufinwë, first of his name, told himself, do you think?"

"I think," Annatar said, slowly, "that if Fëanáro created the silmarils intending to give them away, much grief may have been averted."

"It does not feel real," Celebrimbor said.

"I know. But if you cannot trust anything else, trust me." Annatar held Celebrimbor's hands tight as he leaned forward and kissed him. "With this knowledge, we have the power to create much good in this world. With the skill of your hands and the kindness in my heart, we can change the world; and if you come with me, then we shall."

"Then we shall," Celebrimbor echoed, reeling, and followed Annatar again to the smithy.

 

-

 

"I have a gift for thee."

Celebrimbor grinned. "That is kind of thee, O Lord Of Gifts! Clearly whoever named thee must have had the prophetic sight. Where, pray tell, might it be?"

Annatar laughed. "It is in my hand," and as he said it, Celebrimbor saw that it was true: in Annatar's hand was a circlet, made of elaborately twisted gold designs, perfectly shaped and sized for his head, matching the tattooed designs that snaked around his arms.

"Thank you," Celebrimbor said, but his voice had stiffened. "But I cannot wear it. I--it is a shame to waste such a kind gift, but I cannot lie to thee. Take it, and make it into one of thy rings; but I cannot wear gold upon my head."

"Why not? It is not a distaste for jewelry," Annatar said drily, looking at Celebrimbor's many adornments: bracelets, earrings, bands about his wrists and ankles.

"Come now," Celebrimbor said. "Thou canst not think me deaf--but I suppose thou would notice not. No, not thou, with thy golden hair! Never you. They should not speak of such ill things as me with thou around. Never mind that I have been in this city for five centuries ere thine arrival, and founded it; and that I have harmed none. Never mind that I was too young to fight at Alqualondë, unlike many who are doing the whispering! I am Curufinwë, in name and in face, and that is enough for them. Didst thou never wonder why I bonded so swiftly with Dwarf and Maia, and yet have so few friends of my own race? Of course not. And even anger at them I cannot hold, or else prove them right! Yet perhaps they are right, for even now as I speak of it the old flame of my house burns hot within me. My fire has touched naught but metal, which is improved by it--but even those who live in a city I have built hide their children when they see my face. And thou ask why I refuse a crown! Perhaps thou would do well to remember the name my father gave to me."  Celebrimbor's voice had gained in volume, till he was shouting, and his eyes gleamed dangerously; but he stopped then, and smiled ruefully, though he seemed not entirely calmed. "Fine; you have made me a gift, and I shall take it. But still I cannot wear it."

Annatar dropped the circlet in Celebrimbor's open hand and left without a word.

 

-

 

It was late, and Celebrimbor was alone, when he put the circlet into the crucible. It was deceptively thin; he judged it would have enough gold for three rings, no more. He chose the most precious of his gems and polished them, working without regard for sleep: ruby, sapphire, diamond. Not emerald.

He hid them away. His secret, for now.

Thou hast made three great things, something inside him said, Just as thy grandfather did; and like him, thou art hiding them for yourself. Be careful that thou goest not down his path.

I shall not, he replied bitterly to himself, though his heart was unquiet.

 

-

 

“Thou needest rest.”

“We are so close--”

“Soon,” Annatar murmurs. “Soon. Soon all will be done, and as long as our rings survive never again shall the Elves fear fading; nor will Dwarves or Men suffer from lack of power. But now, thou needest rest. Come.”

Celebrimbor laid down his hammer and allowed Annatar to lead him away.

 

-

 

Celebrimbor knelt down to give Narvi his rings.

“I am not so small that you need to do that,” Narvi said with a laugh, but his voice was stronger than it might have been.

“I am not kneeling for that,” Celebrimbor says. “Is kneeling not a sign of respect in Khazad-dûm also? For thou art a master of thy work, just as I am talented at mine, and I am offering thou a gift. I assure you, friend, I meant kindness, not offense.”

At the word friend, Narvi seemed to soften. “Well, alright; if no offense is given, then none shall be taken. But I have taken thy rings--stand up now! There, that’s better. We are friends and equals, thou needest not kneel to me.”

“Then I shall not do it again. I cannot explain why I did it, truly--it felt the right thing to do. I am sorry. Give the rings to thy people, now, for they are rings of great power. I cannot control thee,” he added, a hasty afterthought, “nor do I wish to, but that is my council: that no power such as this should be hoarded, but that it should be given freely as gift.”

“Then that I shall do. Farewell. Until we meet again!”

“Farewell, Narvi! I hope we shall see each other again soon.”

Behind Celebrimbor, Annatar smiled, but it did not reach his eyes.

 

-

 

“I must go.”

“Why? And where to?”

“It is not thy concern. Thou wilt know soon enough.”

Celebrimbor sighed. For a moment, he wanted nothing more than to grab Annatar, to make him stay. To make him remember what Curufin did that Celebrimbor renounced him.

The moment passed. Annatar left, with a parting farewell. “Do not fear: I will see thee soon again.”

 

-

 

Celebrimbor had been wearing Nenya when it happened. He knew it instantly, could feel Annatar’s--no, Sauron’s --presence hovering over him.

But there were three rings left that Sauron had not touched; and Celebrimbor knew then that the time had come to send them away. Two to Gil-Galad in Lindon, one to Galadriel in Lothlórien; and none for him, none for Eregion. They had been betrayed; if the rings stayed where they were, then they would be found, and lost for-ever.

As he readied the city for war, the grief in his heart was not small.

 

-

 

“Curufinwë Telperinquar. I told thee that I should see thee again soon, did I not? Let it not be said that I break my promises.” Sauron’s voice was lilting and beautiful. It sounded--surprisingly normal. It sounded just as it had for the past 400 years.

Sauron.” Celebrimbor was bound too tightly to do anything but glare.

“Yes, that is one of my names. Now, there are two ways we can do this. Thy city is torn to the ground; thou art at my mercy. If thou tell to me now where thou hast hidden thy rings, thou wilt go free in time, and I will try to get them with minimal casualty.”

“And if I do not?”

“Then,” Sauron said, smiling slowly and deliberately as he drew a knife, “I will get them all the same, albeit perhaps slower.”

“I will tell nothing.”

“We shall see.”

 

-

 

“Thine uncle was not half so loud in his screaming,” Sauron said idly. “Though he was the same in his defiance. Then again, we are not done yet. And in the end, darling Maitimo served me better in his defiance than he ever would have as a thrall.”

Celebrimbor spit at Sauron’s feet as best he could, with a blood-filled mouth and not enough teeth.

 

-

Sauron flew the corpse of Celebrimbor over the battlefield as though it were a banner. It was scarcely recognizable in its maiming, though its death seems to have been clear enough: a flurry of arrows.

Yet still Sauron wore one ring, and one ring only.