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His Royal Highness, Prince Celebrimbor of Doriath

Chapter Text

The first letter was an insult.

Celebrimbor,

I’m sorry I couldn’t stay. I know you’re strong enough now to take care of yourself. I love you,

Daeron

He had torn it to shreds and thrown it into the fireplace.

Dramatic, yes, but nothing compared to the mess that he had been left in. Strong enough to take care of yourself ? His aunt was dead, he’d never had a mother, and now his father had fucked off to Eru knows where —the man who was supposed to protect him; to support him. It was hard not to take it personally, especially when he’d always been paranoid that his father was disappointed in his son’s musical proficiency (or lack thereof). Or maybe he assumed that because he wasn’t an artistic child; he was less sensitive, stoic, or perhaps unemotional. Strong. A horrible gut feeling told him it was a little bit of both.

He found himself hypnotised by the way the paper turned at the edges as he watched it burn, crumbling into ash. It was so final—there would be no retrieving it from the flames, smoothing it out and tracing his fingers over the letters. There would be no more. There had been no return address. His father would simply forget that he ever had a child, and he would learn to pretend that he never had a father, and then they would continue living, and never think about each other again.

 

 

The second letter was, frankly, incomprehensible.

The ink bled through deep, right into the back of the parchment, and it was still damp, staining his fingers as he touched it. There were words, but they were seemingly random, and some so obscured by the spillages that he could only make out a few runes. That, and his name.

Celebrimbor,

I —              

—lone—understand me      

I am afrai—no—

—ry

East—the sea—I

Maybe it was art that he couldn’t understand. Some sort of twisted poetry, but all it managed to twist was his stomach, leaving him feeling uneasy.

He left Doriath that week. Not because of the letter (or, at least, that’s what he told himself), but because of the way people stared at him, heir of Thingol, orphan, recluse . They did not treat him kindly, and those who did still treated him with caution. He was a remnant of a tainted bloodline of traitors and runaways, and then he was a remnant of just one traitor, just one runaway. He and Dior were not alike.

He didn’t bring anything with him, save a few things to eat along the way, and the long-abandoned signet ring that he had forged as soon as he knew how—his house hadn’t had one, and he felt uniquely able to make something. He never got any more than an “oh, that’s lovely.” It was a cool metal that sent a rush of chill across his skin as he slipped it on, forcing the fine hairs on his forearm to stand on end. He stood just within the girdle, waiting for the sensation to melt away into his own body heat, and to feel like a part of him. Or waiting for some rush of courage or determination that would drive his feet forwards, out through the gently shifting wall of magic that had kept him warm and safe since the day he was born.

He had only been present for one birth in his life when he had accidentally walked in on one of the maids, who screamed at him to use some of his maia healing powers on her. He didn’t have any, but he held her hand, and she seemed grateful enough for that, even if the women tending to her looked as if they wanted to kill him. Her husband had been taken by Morgoth, she said, she was completely alone in the world—no family, no lover, barely much of a job—and she’d have to give that up, too, she supposed. The baby was born still in its amniotic sac, and all he could think when looking at it was about when he was ten, and his father rode out with him to the edge of Doriath to show him the girdle. It looked the same.

Doriath was a womb, and he was being reborn. He wondered if his father would be proud of that metaphor, even if it was all he could come up with. His father had probably thought something so much more poetic, more beautiful, more unique when he had left, but he wasn’t trying to follow in his footsteps. He’d long ago found that he was no good for that.

Instead, he shut his eyes and stepped through.

It felt like a passing through a thin sheet of water, like the faux waterfalls at the public baths, except rather than falsely hot, it was pleasantly cool. He looked back at it from the other side. It was completely invisible. He was out. Melian had let him go. The thought made him feel strange; he wasn’t sure if it was disappointment or relief. Then he wondered if it had been intentional, or if she had simply forgotten that he existed, caught up in the excitement of having a new, appropriately chipper, and charismatic heir. He shook himself. That doesn’t matter now.

The forest seemed lighter outside of the Girdle—lighter and colder. He pulled his cloak a little tighter around his shoulders and began to walk.

Chapter Text

Before he found Nargothrond, he found Songbird. She had been sitting on an outcrop of stone in the centre of his route, plucking at a harp that had been carved out of the rock. The tune was strange—unlike anything he had heard before—with a sharp jolt to each note (there was probably some technical term that his father would know, but he had never learnt it). It would’ve been grating, but she played it well enough that it lulled him into coming in closer.

“What’s your name?” He had said.

She hadn’t even needed to look away from her work to answer him, almost as if she was used to the question. “If I tell you mine, will you give me yours?”

His father had warned him to pay attention to wording when speaking to strange creatures in the forest—they could be tricksy—use words to play games with you, lure you into signing away things that you really shouldn’t. His grey eyes had always seemed to darken. Like storm clouds, Celebrimbor had thought, even if all he ever saw of storms was the blurred darkening of the sky above. The rain never seemed to hit Doriath.

“If you give me yours, I’ll tell you mine.” He replied, after a moment of peace, to which she smiled, and let the final notes of the tune echo around the forest.

“Clever elf. Tell me your name, then”

“Cele—” He found himself hesitating. Was that really a safe thing to tell this creature? “Maltenbor,” he said, and she smiled. Fist of Gold . Stupidly close to his real name, just as he was now stupidly close enough to see how unnaturally sharp her teeth were, how thin her wrists seemed, to look at her long fingers as they drummed against the top of the stone harp—how could a stone harp even function? He didn’t ask. He desperately wanted to know.

“I,” she said, holding out a hand for him to shake, “am Songbird.” He didn’t take it. “I am an apprentice to another of my kind the greatest of all minstrels.”

Celebrimbor (or was it Maltenbor? How far into him could she read?) laughed. He had heard that phrase enough times to know it held little meaning. His father used to get so angry when people would bandy it around, claiming some new so-and-so was set to take that prestigious title from him, but his anger was sharp and clever and a quick lash of “if that’s greatness, then I don’t want it anyway.” He had always known where he stood. No one could beat him. No one ever would. He tried not to think about the time his father taught him to play the harp and told him that someday he might even be better than him. Celebrimbor was supposed to be the successor. A new generation of greatness. He hadn’t been.

“What is his name?” He asked.

“I cannot tell you that,” she cooed. She looked young—no older than Dior—but something about the way she spoke, and how she looked at him reminded him of Melian.

“Where are your parents?”

“Your destination is twenty leagues west of here.”

“Thank you.” Then a thought occurred to him. He had been travelling for weeks. “How far am I from Doriath?”

“Two leagues.” Her smile seemed to widen, and he knew what had happened. She wasn’t going to let him leave without a fight.

He held up his signet ring—iron. He had forged it from iron for durability, and because iron was protection; all of the gateways of Doriath were lined with it. She hissed. “If you let me leave, I will give it to you.”

“I don’t want it,” she growled.

“Please, it’s a small price to pay.”

“I don’t want it!” She stood up and backed away from him. Then she waved her hands, and the illusion around them dissolved. It had been a simple trick: the light from the end of the forest and the dark of its continuation had swapped places. He must’ve circled the whole of Doriath walking towards what he had thought was the way out. “If I had known you had iron, I wouldn’t have kept you so long,” she sighed.

“Why did you keep me?”

She chuckled. “I wanted to see how long it would be before you noticed you were walking in circles.”

Chapter Text

          Celebrimbor,

I hear that you left Doriath; I saw it coming, but I never considered that it would actually happen. I suppose your reasoning must have been more ‘logical’ than mine, owing to your level head, or something along those lines. I’m sure your mother would understand better. You were always a sweet kid, but I never really managed to grasp your obsession with taking things apart and staring at their innards. It ruins the magic.

This would be easier if you were an artistic soul, and you cared in any way at all for long prose, but I suppose my own painful attempts at straight-forward-ness will have to do for you. I am sorry. My sister was missing, and likely dead, and you were safe in Doriath. I didn’t mean not to come back. I can only hope that you have found somewhere where you can live safely and in peace by yourself.

All the best,

          His Royal Highness, Prince Daeron of Doriath

 

It had been a blight on an otherwise perfect day; he had managed to arrive in Nargothrond well-rested and well-fed, able to truly marvel at the intricately carved stone of the walls, and the enamel inlays, gold picture rails and doorknobs, and the silver designs inlaid into the wood. He had even thought that he had managed to make a good impression on King Orodreth until he was handed a letter addressed to Prince Celebrimbor of Doriath , and Orodreth narrowed his eyes, saying that he hadn’t known there was a Prince Celebrimbor until then.

He’d opened it alone, and then folded it neatly and placed it back in its envelope with a few more sheets of parchment, and wedged it under the leg of his desk that was half a centimetre shorter than the rest. Perhaps that way his father would be useful for something.

He began to suspect that the letters wouldn’t stop coming—one excuse after the next, until the day he finally moved somewhere his father couldn’t write to him.

Or until the day your father dies , some deep recess of his mind sung. But you’ll never know about that.

His first work in Nargothrond was simple; a replacement for the iron ring that he had forged as a child—he had grown in skill since then, and the woody Doriath-inspired design really wasn’t as appropriate as it had been. His first night had been sleepless, staying up until the sun rose again sketching out design after design, searching for something with meaning, but all plans seemed to slip away from him as soon as he laid eyes on the forges.

Doriath had only ever had one.

Nargothrond had six. Apparently, the place had been home to two Feanorians before they’d chosen to interfere with his aunt’s quest, and so forges had been an absolute necessity. They were huge, with high ceilings and ample lighting (were those Feanorian lamps?), and plenty of ventilation, designed so that somehow the fumes were sucked away before they went anywhere near causing any danger. There were trolleys dotted around the room, laid out with all of the tools he could ever want, and with shelves of gemstones and precious metals. If this was the kind of lifestyle a Feanorian lived, then maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to associate with them.

The assistant showing him around laughed. “Bet you’re not used to this.” He grinned, and Celebrimbor noticed a tiny scar at the corner of his lips, and then he looked up and noticed his eyes—appropriately some shade of Topaz, or bronze, that glistened in the light of the room; one slightly darker than the other. He had the same dark hair as the rest of the Noldor, but his skin was deeper, and his features softer. He looked almost-human.

“What’s your name?”

The apprentice laughed again but offered a gloved hand for him to shake. “Flarus,” he said, “it was my mother’s idea of an ‘elvish’ name.”

Celebrimbor dwelt on it for a second, trying to pick it apart. Flarus seemed to notice what he was doing and gave it to him for free. “Skin of Bronze,” he said, “or the closest she could get to it. Because she never wanted me to forget her side of the family.”

“It’s pretty.”

“Of course it is; it doesn’t really mean anything.” Flarus’ eyes drifted around the room. “Nothing this pretty has meaning; it's allowed to exist just to look nice.”

This place really was different from Doriath. His father would probably despise it.

Flarus clapped him on the back. “How about I introduce you to my master, and then you can get to work. I can see you want to.”

Celebrimbor smiled. “I'd like that.”

 

 

He and Flarus worked together for the most part; neither of them quite blended in with the Noldor around them, so they found comfort in standing out together. It hadn’t taken long for Celebrimbor to determine that Flarus was one of the half-elven—his mother had come to visit him at work one day, and she had appeared old and wrinkled, with grey in her hair and pain in her bones. Flarus didn’t seem to mind that he knew: he wasn’t the only half-elf in Nargothrond by a longshot; it had become somewhat of a haven to his kind.

“Do you think I could be a half-elf?” Celebrimbor had asked him, after one of those nights where existential curiosity kept him up and out of his room, pacing in circles beneath the stars.

Flarus raised his eyebrows. “Why do you think that?”

“I never knew my mother.”

“Celebrimbor, I love you, but there’s no way you’re a half-elf.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Look at you! You’re tall and beautiful and wiry no half-elf looks like you.”

“What about the Hadorians? I heard they look like elves-”

“Telpe ” Flarus had reverse-engineered the Quenya for his name ; they both agreed it sounded better in Quenya — “ I have to shave every single morning ; that’s the human side of me. All half-elven men shave I bet your cousin, Dior, even has to shave by now that’s just how we work.” He could tell Flarus was excluding him from that ‘we’.

He used to ask so many questions about his mother; none of them were ever answered, but the act of asking made him feel like he was learning something. He could gage some things from the quick flashes of emotion that passed his father’s features when he said certain things, or how afraid the servants looked, or how much tighter Thingol gripped the armrest of his throne when he approached him while he was taking his audiences. All it got him was that she sang at some point and that she wasn’t from Doriath, but it still felt like something.

That and, of course, something very, very bad had happened to her.

He didn’t even know her name.  

He didn’t bring it up again with Flarus, but as they finished up work together he suggested that they go and check the records room.

“Why?”

“Well, your name is pretty Noldor.” Flarus pulled him along by the wrist, and then, as they neared there, by the hand. Despite all of the forgework, Flarus had somehow managed to keep his hands perfectly smooth, save for the little, raised notch where he accidentally nicked his hand while carving. Celebrimbor had been the one to help him bandage it— “You have a talent for healing, Telpe,” he had said, and then they’d sat in heavy, comfortable silence.

“Look.” Flarus pushed through a heavy, oak door, with an intricately detailed tree carved into the front and filled with gold leaf. “There are records of all of the house of Beor and the House of Finarfin in here. All you’d need is to find a woman around the right age who went missing from the record at some point.”

“She’d have to be one of the Calaquendi,” Celebrimbor said, “otherwise she would be far too young for my father.”

“Got it.” Flarus made his way to one side of the room and started rummaging through drawers. Celebrimbor found his eyes wandering around the room: it wasn’t huge, and it was only lit by a few dim lamps in each corner—probably to preserve the parchment. He was drawn to two heavy tapestries at one end: family trees, probably of royalty. He took a few steps closer. Definitely of royalty: the Line of Finarfin and the Line of Fingolfin. The Line of Feanor, he noted, was conspicuously absent. Though the tapestries had been hung so as to cover as much of the wall as they logically could, there was no hiding that the space had clearly been designed to hang three. He wondered where the third was; perhaps folded over, or rolled up in some old cupboard, or a secret hatch in the stone wall—

“Telpe, I think I’ve found something.”

Celebrimbor turned and hurried to his friend’s side.

“There—” Flarus pointed at a line of Quenya— “one of King Finrod’s host, unnamed: an alchemist and a healer, stayed in Doriath with Artanis as one of her handmaids. She’s the only one of his staff that never came back to visit.”

Celebrimbor reached out and traced his finger over the line of print: “A common servant?”

“Were you told she wasn’t?”

“No… I—I wasn’t told anything about her at all.”

Flarus put an arm around him and squeezed his shoulders in some strange one-armed hug that he assumed he’d picked up from the human side of his family. “The chance that this is her is really low—”

Celebrimbor shook his head. “I want it to be her, I—I want to think I’ve found her.”

Flarus nodded, and then they were silent as Celebrimbor copied down the details onto a slip of parchment he’d picked up from his desk.

For the first time in twenty years, he considered writing back to his father.

 

 

          Celebrimbor,

There are rumours of danger. Please be careful. I can’t tell you where I am, but if you ask a letter be brought to the wandering minstrel, it should find me. You’re smart. Don’t let yourself get hurt.

          Daeron of Doriath

 

 

Celebrimbor had just awoken when the attack came—he dressed and armed himself as quickly as he could, but was stopped by King Orodreth. He furrowed his brow when he looked at him, almost scowling.

“No,” he said, “you’re a liability.”

“I’m sorry, your majesty?”

“I’m not allowing you to fight—you are to leave Nargothrond immediately and make your way to Gondolin.”

He shook his head. Flarus stood next to him, armed in bronze that shone in the lamplight like the setting sun. He avoided his eyes.

“I want to help—”

“I’m sure you do,” Orodreth said, “but you’re a prince of Doriath, and if you died in a Noldorin conflict it would put pressure on our already-strained agreement.”

“Flarus, I—”

“He’s right, sorry.” Flarus finally met his eyes; he was unreadable. “I’ll point you in the right direction, and then—and then you can go on ahead without me.”

Flarus took his hand and led him through the winding corridors. He hadn’t put on his gloves yet; he could feel the warmth of his palm against his; he could feel the little scar there. He didn’t want to let go. All he could think was how much he didn’t want to let go. He squeezed Flarus’ hand tighter, slipping his fingers between his, not caring that his palm was sweaty. He didn’t want to let go. They made their way through areas of the city they had never seen before, chasms and caves of jewels—the mining quarter, Celebrimbor guessed. He’d been there over ten years and he’d never gone this deep. He felt something pulling him toward them, and then he was pulling at Flarus.

He placed his free hand on his back and pushed them away.

They came to an opening right on the opposite side to the one he had first entered the city through; their breath made clouds in the air, and the sun still hadn’t risen in the sky, but the darkness was fading and Celebrimbor could roughly make out the path he would need to take to reach the mountains.

They stood, staring at the world that extended out in front of them, and not saying anything. Then he turned to look at Flarus, perhaps to beg him not to go back and fight, only to see that his cheeks were wet with tears.

“I’m sorry—” he reached to wipe his face, but Celebrimbor got their first, brushing his thumb across his cheek. Flarus caught his hand, then hesitated, and they stared at each other for a long moment before Flarus leaned in and brushed his lips against his, and everything around them seemed to fade away until that one point of contact was all there was. He didn’t even get a chance to kiss him back. “I’m sorry, Telpe. Goodbye.”

Then Flarus turned back to the citadel, and all he could do was watch his armour, caught in the rising sun, reflecting it back at him.

Chapter Text

Songbird found him again riding for Gondolin. She came up at his side, on a steed that seemed to be made of ever-shifting leaves, and he accepted that nothing that she interacted with would ever make sense to him. Perhaps his father would find it easier to understand or, at least, easier not to question.

“I hear Nargothrond has fallen,” she said. “I hear that all of its citizens are dead or captured. What do you hear?”

“You,” he said, digging his heels into the flank of his horse, breaking into a gallop: he didn’t want to play her games. She kept up with him easily. Of course, she did.

“What do you hear ?” She asked, again, and he grit his teeth.

“The rush of the wind,” he said, “like a waterfall, but made of…speed.” He let out a grunt of frustration—he was no good at Faerie games and poetry, and yet she wanted both from him. “Can’t you bother my father instead?” He spat.

“Your father?”

“He knows more words than I do.”

“All parents know more words than their children.”

Celebrimbor shook his head—even if what she said made sense, Daeron knew more words than anyone. It had nothing to do with their positions in the family tree.

“But you will not,” she added, her tone shifting so that it was almost a whisper fading into the howl of the wind whipping through his hair. “Because you will have no children.”

“Is that a curse?” He narrowed his eyes.

Songbird looked him over, her steed of leaves coming apart in the wind as she spoke, fading away: “it is a truth.”

Chapter Text

If Nargothrond was a Noldor haven, then Gondolin was a Noldor homeland. Even from the extreme distance of the edge of the city, outside of the outermost walls, he could see the tell-tale shine of gold glinting in the sunlight; spires of gleaming metal and jewels cut short just below the peaks of the mountains, barely kept out of view of the world below; walls of polished marble and doorframes decorated with jet and topaz, and others with amethyst and moonstone.

The city would’ve been blinding, but as he got closer he began to notice all of the subtler design choices. Though there was precious metal, it was used sparingly, as an accent for sanded and polished stone, and the use of those were calculated—placed in designs that meant something. He found his eyes drawn to one doorway, with a smooth, shifting surface of black opal and onyx, broken down and inlaid among strips of enamel to look like a labyrinth right there in the frame.

“What’s that building?” He asked the man who had been escorting him.

The guard eyed him. “You will find out,” he said, “if you are supposed to know.”

He didn’t ask any more questions.

The guard led him on a confusing route through side-streets and back-alleys. It reminded him of the passages through the lower levels of Menegroth, and the twisting caves Flarus had led him through in Nargothrond. Flarus. His chest ached as he pulled his cloak tighter, recalling Songbird’s words. I hear Nargothrond has fallen. All its citizens are dead or captured. But surely not all ? That would have to be over a hundred-thousand people at the very least, and he had escaped, hadn’t he?

He wanted to turn back—run back to Nargothrond and go and search for familiar faces—but he got the distinct feeling that returning was simply not an option.

Eventually they came out into a public square with a towering building of white marble and cold-gilded edges; if the other buildings had shown subtlety, then this one was showing flamboyance. The doors at the front were held open by pure gold doorstops, moulded into the shape of two eagles, and the doors themselves had handles made of polished ruby. He was led straight through them, the guard pulling him by the arm as he tried not to slip on the smooth marble floor—even the grip of his hunting boots seemed unable to find purchase there. From the fleeting glimpses he managed to steal of hall, he could see rich tapestries of expensive thread that ran floor-to-ceiling, and the glint of jewels on the dresses of onlookers.

He stumbled to his knees, falling at the centre of some sort of golden sigil. The guard prodded him in the side, and he looked up to meet the eyes of the King of Gondolin.

Turgon was dressed comfortably for the summer, in a loose-fitting white robe, clasped at the shoulders with a broach of ruby, and with gold sandals for his feet. The look was simple which, Celebrimbor supposed, was purposeful. To dress in extravagance in a place such as this would be to undermine any sense of class. It took him a second to realise that he was thinking like his father.

“Help the young man up,” he sighed.

The guard took him by the shoulders and lifted him to his feet, facing the king. Celebrimbor sank to his knees again in a deep bow, remembering himself. “Your Majesty, I’m sorry to intrude, King—”

“Orodreth said someone would be coming. What is your name?”

Orodreth had called him a Prince of Doriath. He dreaded it, but it seemed clear that that was probably how he had been addressed to Turgon. “I am Prince Celebrimbor of Doriath, how may I be of service to you, my Lord.”

“Rise.” Turgon studied him. A young woman took her place next to him and whispered something into his ear. He nodded and murmured something back. “You’re free to stay.”

“Your Majesty, I must thank you.”

“I also hear that you enjoy forge work,” the woman next to him spoke with a smile. “My cousin could probably do with some company.”

“Of course, my Lady.” Celebrimbor sank into another bow.

“Take him to Lord Maeglin,” ordered Turgon, and the guide tapped him on the shoulder, gesturing for him to follow. Celebrimbor did as he was ordered.

The journey back out into the city was far more leisurely, and narrated by the guard pointing out various important buildings to him as they passed, occasionally interspersed with a “just remember you’re not allowed to leave unless if you petition the king,” which he chose not to pay heed to. He had no intention of leaving—the place was magical in a way that no place he’d seen before had been.

The guard left him outside of the first building—the one of black opal and onyx. It was newer than the rest, he now saw, and he wanted to know exactly what kind of person inhabited it. There would be forges there, he had been told, but he was cautious of how decorated the place was.

Maeglin.

He had heard the name before, but he didn’t know much else. He knocked on the door of the building, smiling as a young woman dressed in a practical black tunic ushered him in to a room with a door on each wall. An entry hall.

“I was told to see Lord Maeglin.”

“Of course!” She beamed, then hurried off through one of the doors, leaving him alone in the room. The place was fairly dark, lit by a few glowing golden orbs that hung from the ceiling on silver chains; the floor was black tile, and the walls were so heavily draped in various tapestries, and hung with so many paintings, that he could barely make out the warm, earthy-brown that they were painted. There were a few couches arranged around the room, most of which were covered in too many things for him to even consider sitting down even if he wasn’t worried about it being a potential social faux-pas. So, he stood and waited.

The woman returned behind a young man—barely older than Celebrimbor himself—with soot over his cheek, pulling off his gloved even as he entered. He thanked the woman as he handed them to her, then turned his attention on his guest.

Celebrimbor really wished that he had paid more open interested to Gondolin while he was living in Nargothrond, because then he might’ve been prepared for the fact that Maeglin really was, undeniably and plainly, one of the most beautiful people he had ever seen.

“Sir—” Celebrimbor sank into a bow before Maeglin could properly address him. As he stood again, the lord reached out to clasp his hand.

“You’re prince Celebrimbor, are you not?”

“I’d rather not be thought of as a prince.”

Maeglin nodded. “My cousin—the princess Idril—says that you’re interested in this kind of work. I’ll admit, I’m probably not the best person to employ you—” he began to walk, leading Celebrimbor through the door from which he’d entered and into a corridor—“but should you want to stay—”

“I’ll stay.” Celebrimbor couldn’t quite bring himself to be ashamed of the speed with which he answered. Maeglin regarded him with a curious expression. Not quite disdain, but something just short of respect. Reserving judgement. He nodded.

“Well, I wouldn’t really be able to turn you away anyway.” He cracked a slight smile as he spoke.

“Can we please forget about the fact of who my father was—is? I’m not a prince anymore.”

“And I’m no Sinda,” Maeglin said, his tone dark. Celebrimbor didn’t understand the reference, but he also didn’t feel like he would take too kindly to being probed, so he left it. He chose not to respond. Maeglin shook away the thought, whatever it was, then started walking again. “This way. I’m sure someone will help you sort out your board later.”

 

---

 

They worked together for weeks that ran together into months, and then into a year, and he found himself frustratingly unable to discover anything new about his smithing partner--at least not from himself. And he didn’t like asking around behind his back. He really didn’t. But he also weighed it with the potential for dire offence should he accidentally slip up say the wrong thing, so he found himself asking around.

“What’s up with Lord Maeglin?” He’d ask, and people would answer. Maeglin was a delicious source of gossip; some exotic meat to be salivated over but left untouched.

No wonder he seemed to have problems trusting people.

It wasn’t that the people of Gondolin were bad people particularly, he thought, they were just sheltered, and lacking in understanding of the outside world and all of its pain. The only people who seemed kind to Maeglin were his uncle, the King himself, and a couple of his fellow lords.

Celebrimbor found himself alone with Salgant one evening, left alone together at the end of an event that he really shouldn’t have been high enough status to attend, lest they recognise him as the royalty he didn’t want to be.

“You mustn’t judge him too harshly.” Salgant at said, suddenly, frowning out of a floor-to-ceiling window. “He’s suffered more than most people here could dream of.”

“More than you can dream of?” He’d asked, swirling the wine in his glass. He hadn’t touched it all evening. Wine was very much something for the safe. People in Nargothrond had avoided drinking when they could, particularly after Mormegil arrived and demanded they start poking the metaphorical bear with metaphorical sticks. It would not do to be inebriated when the enemy inevitably made their move. The habit--or restriction--stuck.

Salgant had merely looked at him.

A discussion for another day, perhaps. Celebrimbor wondered if that day would ever come.

 

---

 

My prince,

 

He wondered if he should tell someone.

 

I know this is probably the last thing you want right now, but I must advise you--

 

“Advise me of what, Daeron?” He muttered, staring down at the page. A servant walked in before he could read the rest.

“Anything I can get you while you wait, sir?”

He shook his head, already considering all of the different ways he could do irreversible damage to the letter in such a way that he would never be able to read the rest of it. Fire was good. It had worked before. It had been satisfying to see the pages curl under the heat but--he pondered--there was more creativity to be had there than simply throwing it to the hearth.

Hot metal; molten iron--or silver, silver like the clasps of the necklaces and bracelets that they all used to wear back when they were playing at the facade of happiness. Hot metal burnt parchment as good as anything else.

 

---

 

Every once in a while, he’d find himself waiting in the Lord Maeglin’s chambers for some reason or another. It didn’t really matter to him what excuse he had concocted to the servants for why he was there.

Maeglin smiled at him--not the easy, relaxed smile of Flarus, or even the tired affection of someone who really cared--it was the expression of someone who had just set eyes on a particularly valuable ore.

Celebrimbor was okay with that. He had long given up trying to read softness into Maeglin’s expressions. Neither of them were soft. Not after everything that Eru had dealt them.

They still didn’t talk.

But they had come to an understanding.

 

---

 

Celebrimbor tried to be cautious; Valar knew that Maeglin probably was worthy of that caution (the more he learned about him, the more he realised that he shouldn’t like his company as much as he did). But he couldn’t. Not when they worked so closely together. Not when he had an equal to talk to again.

He knew it had only been a few weeks, but how had he managed to cope without?

The emptiness within him that was Flarus’ absence never seemed to change or soften, but he could distract himself, and really that was all he needed.

Over time, he found himself drawn closer and closer to his new companion; wanting to know more— needing to—every little detail about him, from his favourite metals, to whether he could sing or not (he couldn’t; the answer brought him a strange sense of delight.) And then there was the reverse. The need for Maeglin to know him . To hear the way that he spoke about his past, and the pain that he carried; all of the reasons for everything that made him who he was.

The need for him to love him.

And he hated it. He hated it all intensely.

Because even if Celebrimbor could get him to open up with a smile and an offer of some sort of respite from work and from his thoughts; even if he could be the closest friend that he had in the whole city; even if he was the only one who put blind trust in him, Maeglin wouldn’t care. He didn’t want that. What he wanted was the beautiful princess with the golden curls and the gleaming amber eyes.

And Celebrimbor hated that he cared about that, because he also cared about Flarus and he wanted to leave and to search for him more each day, in some most certainly misguided hope that there would ever be a chance of finding him alive. There were no survivors from Nargothrond, he was told, but that didn’t mean that he had to believe. That didn’t mean that he wanted to.

Maeglin was alone. Up late. Working.

“Maeglin—”

“Please don’t interrupt me.”

Celebrimbor bit his lip. Flarus wasn’t like this. He would have been glad to see him. “You’ve been here a long time.”

“This is…important.” Celebrimbor didn’t like the look in his eyes.

“So important that you can’t rest?”

Maeglin stood up, setting his work down heavily on the bench. “If I told you ‘yes’ would you leave me the fuck alone?” He snapped. Celebrimbor didn’t flinch. Maeglin appeared to fight to hide his surprise. Perhaps, in another life, he would’ve been afraid of that anger. Maybe when he was younger. But irritation didn’t scare him; it hadn’t for a long time.

Maeglin’s expression softened. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to—”

“It’s alright. I understand.” He made his way over to him, resting a hand on his shoulder.

“Why don’t you leave? Everyone else leaves; my mother, Eöl, Idril—Celebrimbor, you could always just go to Rog. You don’t have to stay here.”

Celebrimbor moved his palm up, cupping Maeglin’s jaw. “I could,” he said, with no genuine consideration, then he leaned in and laid a gentle kiss on his lips. Maeglin relaxed. Celebrimbor lingered on the contact for a moment, then pulled away. “But I wouldn’t be able to do that.”

Occasionally, usually when it was dark, and he was awake long after everyone else, Celebrimbor wondered if it was wrong to love Maeglin. He wondered if it was an insult to Flarus, to be able to do the things that he could with someone else, but never with him.

“I can’t love you, Celebrimbor.” Maeglin tensed again. “You know that, don’t you?”

He nodded. He knew. And he used it as justification; that this wasn’t a betrayal, because Maeglin wasn’t a replacement, because he would always choose the person who loved him over the one that didn’t. And he wasn’t his father; he didn’t have to be the hopeless romantic, eternally pining over a lost love and neglecting everything else.

Maeglin leaned back in, and he left his half-formed philosophy behind, swapping it instead for the sensation of their lips meeting. And hoping that the ache in his chest would go away if he ignored it long enough.

 

---

 

He hadn’t seen a city fall before. He hadn’t seen one be overrun—they’d kicked him out of Nargothrond before he could ever come face to face with the carnage. But here, he was there, right at the centre of the disaster, scrambling through rubble and trying to find his way to the exit before someone killed him.

Maybe Maeglin would. But even then, even there when everything was falling apart, he couldn’t even put in the effort to make him the one he wanted dead.

Celebrimbor ducked down, pressing his back against the cool stone of a wall as he crawled along. He could see the way to go. The way to escape.

“Don’t come after me.” Maeglin had said. “I don’t want your company.”

And he hadn’t asked questions. That was how things always seemed to be between them; bittersweet one moment, and then just bitter the next. Who could blame him? Aside from himself, clearly. He cursed under his breath. If he had tried to prize the truth out of his lover, then would he be there? Palms bloody, choking on ash and dust, trying to be non-threatening enough to make it out alive.

Would Maeglin have told him anything even if he had?

Probably not. Almost definitely not.

He caught sight of a glint of gold in the distance. Glorfindel. That had to be. He looked back; no one was watching him. No one behind and no one in front. They were all distracted with other business. He took a deep breath, then pushed himself up from where he sat against the wall and ran. Stumbling, tripping, missing steps and overcome with wave of dizziness after wave of dizziness, but he got there, in the end.

Someone wrapped their arms around his shoulders, keeping him upright. He stole one more glance back, but couldn’t see through the smoke.

And so he fled again, from the third home that he’d had.

Chapter Text

He sat alone with a stack of records. The obsession--that was what it was--with scouring every letter; every account that he could find for information on the unnamed servant that he had decided was his mother was growing out of control, he knew. But he also knew that it would be easier to get attached to someone who was already dead.

He turned over another page in the file.

It was very kind of the king to let him go through the entire records room. Ereinion was a good man. Understanding, too.

He tried to avoid getting too attached.

There was a rustle in the leaves of the bush that he’d sat himself down in front of and he tensed.

“Who’s there?”

“Only an old friend.” Came that tell-tale musical voice. Songbird. She crept round, catlike, to stand in front of him, still keeping her distance from the iron that he carried. “What are you doing?”

“Reading.” He didn’t elaborate. He didn’t want her to have any sort of power over him at all, whether that be his name or his deepest desires.

“Reading what?” She leant forward and peered over at the list he currently held in his hands. She frowned, he presumed, as she realised that it was a list of burials. “Why would you..?”

“Haven’t you got better things to do than to bother me?”

“No.” She sat herself down on the grass next to him, leaning across to look over his shoulder, as if he sifted through everything. She was so close that he could feel the heat--or lack thereof--radiating from her skin. Cold as a corpse.

“Actually,” He said, dividing the stack in two, “I’m looking for my mother, so if you’re going to stay, you’re going to help.”

Her response was to stare at him as he dropped the papers into her lap. It was satisfying to see her thrown off for once.

“All I need is a name.” One of the papers fell away, threatening to be taken off by the breeze. He reached out and caught it, then set it back onto her pile.

“I didn’t expect you to actually tell me,” she murmured as she turned her attention to the documents.

—-

One day while sitting with Narvi, he figured out how the letters kept getting to him. I hindsight, of course, it was obvious, but before he’d been too caught up in his grief and angsting to ever actually pay attention to the patterns.

He held one in his hand, when Narvi drew his attention to a blackbird, sitting just a few feet away, staring intently at them.

“You think it’s magic?” Celebrimbor had asked.

“You don’t?”

In hindsight, he remembered that even in Gondolin, birds had been able fly freely across. That the chutes through which the people of Nargothrond received mail were above ground. He’d been on duty to clean them out of leaves and nuts one week.

“Should I just shoot every single bird that comes near?” He narrowed his eyes. Narvi punched him in the thigh.

“Are you going to read it?”

He looked down at the sealed envelope in his hand. It was light--there was probably no more than half a side of writing. He’d taken to throwing them straight in the fire the moment that he received them, just because that was easier than actually looking. But he was trying to prove that he was better now, that he had matured. And, if worst came to worst, he could probably laugh at it with Narvi for at least a week after, so there was that.

 

Celebrimbor,

 

Please read the next one.

 

Love,

Your Father

 

He swallowed. “Somehow that’s more ominous than usual.” When he looked up, he saw that the bird had flown away.

“Exciting, though?” Narvi had said. By some cruel turn of fate, they never lived to see the next letter.

—-

My son,

 

You ask after your mother—word comes to me, regardless of if you mean it to or not. I know that her identity is a secret I have kept close to—nay—within my heart for many long years, but you are not the child you once were, and I do not carry the same weakness I once did. There is no place to start with your mother, but I can try. Perhaps in writing I shall find some way of expressing her true nature on paper. Perhaps not.

She was a Noldo, as you have likely guessed, and a servant, as I know you have discovered. She was an alchemist and a healer, and she sang as she worked. She either refused, or simply didn’t pay enough care to tie her hair tightly enough away from her face, and as she worked she would have to keep reaching to tuck the locks back behind her ears. Once I asked her if I should braid it back before her, and she said that she didn’t see the use. Then she complained that having it tight gave her a headache anyway.

When the future king, Finrod, first came to Doriath, she accompanied his younger brother Angrod as a member of his staff and was set up in the palace kitchens to concoct a healing salve for a cut that his young son had obtained in battle. Her singing was not extraordinary particularly—it certainly wasn’t as beautiful as any of our people—but I was drawn to the sound. It was unique. When I saw her, the first thing I said, I am ashamed to admit, was “You’re Noldor?” And she raised her eyebrows at me and told me to leave and let her work (though in far less polite turn of phrase). When I asked her what her name was, she told me that she wouldn’t tell me, just in case I was some Fae trickster looking to capture her. She was grinning. I did not see her again for a while.

The next time she was there, I sought after her specifically and we got to talk. I cannot remember what we talked of—only that I came to find her every day after that until she was called by her duty as servile to leave again. As we bid each other goodbye, she informed me that I was “not as insufferable” as she had first thought, and she at last gave me her name: Colglírel.

I wrote to her twice before she returned again, this time accompanying the lady Galadriel as one of her maids. It was clear she disliked her position, and the soft, light fabrics that came with working away from her vials and tinctures didn’t suit her as well as tunics and hunting boots—I would request to go walking with her as often as I could, and we would talk for hours. I also took up the habit of playing tunes for her to sing along to as she worked, for which she initially accused me of “showing off.” It was on one of these walks, when she smiled at something I had said that she deemed amusing, that I kissed her. I had not expected myself to do that, but I had not expected any of the things I felt towards her and so, in that way, it was almost fitting. We were married shortly after.

She knew nothing of harmony, or tune, or musical composition, but there was something endearing about being able to find reason to sing regardless of lack of knowledge—it was as if song was built into her core in such a way that petty concerns such as information or skill could not be used to deny it. I knew nothing of alchemy, and even less of healing, but I’d let her test her experiments on me, enduring the itch of rashes and the burn of incorrectly mixed herbs against my skin, knowing that it was the best I could do to help her. And she wanted to help people, even if she didn’t have to—not for money, not for status—not for anything.

There was a night where we sat across from each other before the hearth, as she applied cream to nick on my arm, when I looked up at the firelight dancing across her skin, reflected in her eyes, and realised that it was a crime that there should only be one person like her, as good as her, as beautiful as her in all of Eä. On that night I felt bigger than myself—as if such a meagre form was unable to comprehend the true value of what I had fallen for—of the majesty of the being that sat across from me, reaching up periodically to brush away the loose hairs that had fallen across her face.

Maybe it was because that memory was one of the last, but I still remember the way she looked at me when I asked if she wanted to have a child. She had frozen in her work and tried to keep her mouth set in place as she met my eyes, but I could tell she was holding back a nervous smile. I shook my head—said it wasn’t important, that there would be no harm in forgetting about it, but those nerves dissolved, and she grinned at me. She said she had thought something was wrong with me that whole time—why hadn’t I asked? I didn’t know. I couldn’t answer that. Besides, it didn’t matter.

There was a time when we had talked about you, and I had teased her, saying that I was sure that you, at least, would know how to sing properly, to which she responded that you would be no singer. It only occurred to me later that she had known that as fact. I didn’t care to decode her words, and I didn’t pay heed to the way her brows furrowed when she spoke about your future with such guarded language—I simply thought that there was no higher honour than to be the father of her child. I was wrong.

Celebrimbor, the highest honour I have ever received was to be the father of you.

When I first held you, I cried—partly because there was never even the slightest, fleeting chance that I would be able to hold that much love and happiness within myself—partly because it was such a great tragedy that the love I felt for you was so much bigger than myself. I had not understood the meaning of ‘unconditional’ until that moment. I had never found myself so hopelessly lost for words, and my only thought was that I would never let you go—that I never could, and that I’d never want to. Celebrimbor, my deepest regret—the wound that I shall take to my grave, should I find it—is that I let you go.

It is now—at this point, that I must tell you where your mother went, and why your memories of her are so poignantly absent.

There was an incident in a human settlement just outside of the girdle and she, three days after having given birth, was insistent that she knew how to help, and that she had a solution that should not be kept locked away, only for elvish use. She was determined to leave. The issue was time sensitive. She couldn’t be stopped. We found her hands floating upstream.

I am sure you noticed it; people treated us differently, handling us with care, as if we might break at any moment. I fear, even knowing how frustrating it felt, I treated you the same way: you never cried as much as I thought you should, and you always seemed so shut away. I feared that this barely-remembered infant trauma would consume you, should you be left expressing so little emotion, so I pushed the arts on you, forgetting what your mother had said. Needless to say, I gave up after time passed and you showed no interest in that endeavour, and I continued to worry, even as you did find your outlet. Celebrimbor, you look like your mother, and watching you work at the forge—with your hair falling dangerously before your eyes—was painful in a way that I never anticipated, and I couldn’t look. So I looked away, and I kept looking away and hoping that some day I would turn around, and I wouldn’t see the echo of that wound looking back at me. Celebrimbor, I never should’ve looked away— I was the one consumed, and I was the one who needed to be pushed to find new passions. I never should have looked away, because when I looked back, you were nearly grown, and I had let you go, and you didn’t need me anymore.

There is so much I would take back—that I would do all over again just to get right, but all I can do is tell you know. Celebrimbor, I love you more than it is possible to love a person, and I regret more than I ever thought was possible to regret, and I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.

 

All of the love I never managed to show you,

Adar

—-

Several things went wrong. Considering who he was, he never expected them to go right, but it still felt like an unimaginably cruel joke was being played on him by the universe. Bound and chained, his only thoughts were the desperation of wanting to go home. Wanting his father, however alien that concept would’ve seemed to him when he was younger.

He didn’t hold out hope for rescue.

After all, who would come after him?

Maybe it wasn’t cruel. Maybe it had been a good thing, that he had been able to repay all of his debts in time, and he had managed to keep the people he loved safe just for a little longer. In all honesty, he had never expected to be the one to die.

He stared down an arrow.

No escape now. Even if he broke his chains, even if he figured out that terrible magic that his father had been so familiar with, he would not be able to escape unscathed. He knew that the effort alone might kill him, if the arrows didn’t.

Still it was unfair.

It was so unfair.

To be there and alive and finally looking forward into the future, only to end up where he was. The corners of his eyes pricked with tears that he couldn’t see the point in holding back anymore. A braver man would have faced death with his eyes open, staring down his enemy in defiance, but he was not a braver man. He was a man who just wanted to go home.

---

He was looking into a mirror. Some of the details were off, but it had been so long since he had seen his own face that he didn’t really think that he was an authority on that. The mirror smiled at him. Which was strange.

Its smile was softer than he knew his own to be. And he’d never seen a mirror disobey the object that it was reflecting.

Then the differences began piling up; the soft amber glow of its eyes; the sweep of its jaw, squarer and softer; the birthmark above its left eyebrow; and he froze. Recognition, then shock, then acceptance, and understanding.

“Hello,” she said, offering him a hand. “My name is Colglírel. I am your mother.”