“Spell their names, and if you know their mother and father names I need those as well.”
Celebrimbor pressed his lips together. “I don’t see how my friends are relevant.”
Cemenon glared at him. “If you are not doing anything wrong and following all the laws of Gondolin why would you hide their names from me?”
“I already told you their names. If you need more information you’ll have to ask them yourself. I don’t like the idea of their identities living on a secret list to be used against them.” Celebrimbor gripped his chair to avoid crossing his arms; he didn’t need to look more defensive than he already felt.
“Maybe I will. Where do you spend your free time? The Moody Mole?”
Celebrimbor took a deep breath. “Why are you still interrogating me? I went to court like was asked, no one wanted any further news from me there. No one else seems to care about what I do with myself other than you.” He didn’t really want to press the issue; he had gone to court, but it had been on a public day and it had been quite crowded. He’d given his mother-name to the most frazzled clerk he could find, but he hadn’t specified that he’d come to Gondolin from beyond Tumladen. He’d then stood in the back, slouching with his hair obscuring his face.
He’d told Cemenon and Solchannar that he’d given his name to the court. Solchannar was pleased and hadn’t inquired further. Cemenon had pressed him, asking him what happened when he’d told the court. Celebrimbor shrugged and gave some answer about it being noted down. The lies just kept stacking up.
Cemenon practically growled, “I watch you because I care about the security of Gondolin and I know you are not to be trusted even if everyone else is blind. Once a kinslayer, always a kinslayer.”
Celebrimbor gazed at the ceiling in despair. “I stabbed one person who was going after me with a fishing spear. I was forty-two.” He didn’t like to make excuses, and Alqualondë still haunted him. Even today, he sometimes saw the face of the Teler he had killed in his dreams. But he also thought Cemenon was unreasonably angry at him personally for an event that many other Gondolindrim had participated in.
“It’s not about who you killed.” Celebrimbor bit back a retort; the fury in Cemenon’s face gave him pause. “It’s about the spirit of betrayal that you are steeped in.” Cemenon resumed writing notes. Celebrimbor thought the paper beneath would be just as legible as the paper he was writing on.
“Your recalcitrance and lack of cooperation is noted.” Cemenon finished writing.
“I’m sure the filing cabinet that they’re going in will mark it well.” Celebrimbor couldn’t help himself.
For a moment, Celebrimbor thought Cemenon was going to strike him. He ground out, “We’re done. Return in a week’s time.”
Celebrimbor quickly left the room. Outside he let out a deep breath, trying to release the tension he felt. He noticed Glawardir across the yard. Glawardir waved awkwardly, and seemed to look around for an excuse to leave the yard.
His mind made up, Celebrimbor walked up to Glawardir. “So, Tinnedir. You really didn’t think I needed more warning?”
Glawardir looked guilty. “I thought you could handle yourself.”
“I can. Unfortunately Tinnedir seems to disagree.” He folded his arms. “You know he’s really not an appropriate caretaker for Mam.”
Glawardir was now openly looking for an escape. “My wife and I can’t take her; we have elflings!” The noon bell began to ring. “Oh, I must report for duty, best of luck Caron.” Glawardir sprinted off.
Celebrimbor sighed. He had already finished work for the day and there were still several hours before he was due to meet his friends. Without much hope, he decided to wander around for the rest of the afternoon and look for available lodging. So far everything was out of his price range or required membership in a Guild or House. He left the courtyard and began to methodically comb the streets.
At least what Coroniel had dubbed ‘Operation Mole Mole’ was going better than his search for a new room.
He sipped his drink, still the first for the evening. The smith he was talking with was on his third. He had budgeted for five total drinks tonight, so really they were on track.
“Now I’ve told you about the color, but I really can’t tell you,” the smith paused to take another drink, “really, really, really can’t tell you about how the light is generated.”
Celebrimbor nodded gravely. “And I’d never ask that of you. I do understand trade secrets.”
“I knew you understood. I knew it. Listen, you seem great, and you seem to know what you’re talking about, and I’d looove to get you in to see his Lordship but,” and here Nenion, a smith in the employ of the House of the Mole, drifted off, seeming at a loss for words.
“But what? is there problem?” Celebrimbor decided to commit himself wholly to the manipulation. He was so close. He leaned in, and placed his hand on Nenion’s knee, widening his eyes and letting his lips slightly part.
Nenion stared at him, blinked a few times, and seemed to find his way back to his thoughts. “I just don’t have any proof of your skill.”
“Oh, well I actually have on me a little something I made.” This part gave Celebrimbor even more qualms than the unscrupulous purchase of alcohol and calculated flirting. His device screamed his identity more than any actual physical feature. He was prepared to risk it though.
He drew out the device and laid it on the table. Nenion picked it up, and began examining it. Celebrimbor resisted the urge to snatch it out of his hands.
“The craftsmanship is very fine. It’s simple, but all the details are beautifully done, and so exact. I can’t detect any flaw.” Nenion closed his eyes. They flew open just a few moments later. “This… this is an object of great power.” He looked at Celebrimbor with some trepidation.
Celebrimbor smiled. “It’s really only a prototype.” It was time to discard any false modesty. “Get me an audience with Lord Maeglin, and I can show you the true extent of my skills.”
Nenion blinked at him, caught off guard by Celebrimbor’s subtle change in manner. He’d thought he’d been dealing with a poor blacksmith, someone he could string along without any actual commitments on his part. Now though, he began to wonder if the elf in front of him might actually be an asset to his House. Lord Maeglin would surely reward the person who recruited such a one, even if the device represented the peak of his skills.
“Well, maybe, maybe I could get you an audience.” Celebrimbor’s face lit up. “But, but! You can’t look like that, his Lordship would take offense.”
Celebrimbor took the meaning of his words immediately. “Yes, of course I could find better clothes. I would show up for the audience with all the stylings and manners that are customary here.” He resisted leaping up and hugging Nenion. “When do you think you could get the audience?”
“Maybe, maybe, three weeks?” Nenion didn’t really know, but three weeks sounded good.
“Great! I’ll be ready. You know I’m here at the Mole several times a week, I’ll find you next time we’re both here.” Celebrimbor snatched the device off the table where it lay in front of Nenion and pocketed it. He glanced over to the table his friends were at. Coroniel gave him a questioning look. He flashed his hand in a gesture of success. He looked over at Nenion. It would be rude to just abandon him after getting what he wanted.
“How about another drink?”
Celebrimbor wove his way back to his friends, Nenion successfully pawned off on his colleagues who were heading home.
“Success?” asked Coroniel.
Celebrimbor slid onto the bench next to her. “Yes! Nenion is going to get me an audience with Lord Maeglin.”
“Congratulations!” Côlwen looked surprised. “That took less time than I thought.”
“I’ve been taught how to be quite persuasive.” Celebrimbor snagged the last piece of flatbread from the shared dish at the center of the table.
“I had faith in you.” Alassion nodded sagely. “But, and I say this to you as a friend, you’re going to need a new outfit. There was a time when colorful patches were actually in style, but that time has passed.”
“I know, I look like a beggar.” Celebrimbor tore off a piece of the flatbread and popped it in his mouth. “How much would a nice set of robes cost?”
“Hmmm.” Alassion considered the question. Working as a steward for Lord Penlod, he had to keep up with the latest fashions and have his wardrobe up to date. “Probably fifty thuil at least.”
“Fifty thuil ?” Celebrimbor looked at Alassion in disbelief. “That’s ten days' wages! How does anyone even live here?”
Côlwen looked at him with amusement. “Well, you are criminally underpaid.”
“I know, and I’m trying to fix that, but first I need clothes I can’t afford.”
“Maybe I could lend you some of mine? You’re only a bit taller than me,” Alassion offered.
“Thank you, but I really do need to have clothes of my own. I can’t show up for the audience dressed nicely and then show up the next day for work like this.” Celebrimbor gestured at his threadbare clothes.
He sighed. “I’ll find a way to get the money together. I should probably go for a fitting tomorrow if I want a chance of having the clothes ready in three weeks.” He looked around the table. “Do any of you have any recommendations?”
“Here, I’m off tomorrow. I can take you to the tailor who does all my work robes. I bet we can get a discount, and he knows how to save money and still make it look professional,” Coroniel offered.
Celebrimbor smiled at her. “Thanks, I really appreciate it.”
“How about I stop by your place tomorrow after you're done with work? The shop is in the Silk District near your room.”
“That works for me.” Celebrimbor savored the last piece of flatbread. He was already calculating how he could scrape together the money for the clothes. The only thing he really spent money on was food and rent. He suspected he could get Tinnedir to reduce his rent, but was unwilling to start down that path. That only left food.
“Maybe we can go hunting for a new place afterwards,” Coroniel suggested.
“I feel like I’ve looked all over the city—there’s nothing there.”
“You haven’t looked with me yet.” Coroniel raised an eyebrow with a look of superiority.
“It’s true,” put in Lodrien. “She’s the only one of us who doesn’t live with her family or has housing through her work.”
Celebrimbor looked at Coroniel appraisingly. “Maybe I just need some help.”
After returning home from work the next day, Celebrimbor tried to freshen up the best he could and put on his cleanest clothes. He looked at his reflection ruefully in the washroom mirror. He still looked gaunt, plain, and threadbare. I truly did not think living on my own would be this hard he thought to himself.
Before Gondolin, he had never even had to think about money. He had ordered materials, clothes, horses, and other things for himself, but cost had never been more than a secondary concern and these exchanges never resulted in him physically handing any sort of coinage to anyone else. Likewise, he had been frequently commissioned to create work, but the actual payment for the work had been abstracted from him. Either the work had been for someone to whom he owed fealty, in which case the labor was part of the price of their protection, although he’d never considered it that way until now, or the commissioner would speak to one of the family stewards who dealt with the payment.
Even in Nargothrond after his father and uncle left, he supposed many things were eased for him because of his family. He had felt more infamous than anything else, but he had essentially been part of Orodreth’s household and house, and sworn to him. Now, he was learning that everything had its price.
There was a knock on the door. “Caron, there’s someone here to see you. Shall I send her away?”
“No, Tinnedir. She’s the guest I told you I was expecting.” Celebrimbor opened the bathroom door and started when he saw Tinnedir standing no more than an inch from the door.
“Excuse me,” he said, and pushed by Tinnedir. Somewhere in the house Mam began to make harsh yowling sounds, like something between a cat and grating metal.
“Hello Coroniel.” Coroniel was standing in the living room with a stiff smile on her face.
“Be sure you’re back by nine.” Tinnedir had followed him into the living room and was still standing uncomfortably close.
“Let me just grab my bag,” Celebrimbor told Coroniel.
“Wait, can I see your room?” She asked.
“Of course.” Celebrimbor hid a smile. He had described the painted rocks before, and could tell that Coroniel didn’t believe that they were as bad as he described.
“Is that appropriate?” Tinnedir had managed to stand in front of him, blocking his way forward again.
“Yes,” Celebrimbor said shortly. He wanted to tell him off, and inform Tinnedir that it was he who was in fact inappropriate, but he knew from experience that the conversation would go nowhere.
He pushed passed Tinnedir again and led Coroniel to his room. Her dark eyes widened as she took in the rocks. She slowly turned in a circle and then stopped, her attention caught on a particularly horrifying interpretation of a cat painted onto one of the stones. At the same time, Mam’s volume increased. Celebrimbor grabbed his bag and strung it on his belt. “Let’s go.”
The moment Celebrimbor and Coroniel escaped the house, Coroniel turned to Celebrimbor. “It’s even worse than you said.”
“Did you think I was exaggerating?”
“I thought there was no way Tinnedir was as disturbing as you told me, and I thought you must just, I don’t know, misunderstand Mam.” Coroniel shook her head. “No, if anything, you undersold the whole thing. Have you been upstairs yet?” She began to walk towards the shop she was taking Celebrimbor to.
“Of course not. That’s one of the Rules. And after breaking the curfew rule, well, I will not be breaking the Rules again.” Celebrimbor shuddered, remembering Tinnedir’s unhinged fury the one night he’d returned after nine. He’d actually slept with his sword that night.
“You know what’s upstairs of course.”
“What?” Celebrimbor asked.
“The stuffed corpses of all his previous renters.”
“Oh Valar, Cori, don’t even joke.” Despite his words, he was laughing.
“I’m serious, he is going to murder you, and probably do something unspeakable to your dead body. Finding you a new place just moved to priority one.”
Celebrimbor laughed, feeling better already, out of the house and spending time with Coroniel. He was relieved she’d offered to help him find some new clothes. He’d worried Alassion would offer, and take him to places he couldn’t afford. Coroniel had an air of practicality about her that made him think he wouldn’t run into the same problem with her. She also had an effortless professional style that he admired. She managed to incorporate the flowing fabric and voluminous silhouettes that seemed to be the current trend into her crisp personal style: capturing full sleeves in clean bell shapes and sharp lapels belted over frilled base layers.
“Here’s the shop.” They stopped in front of an unassuming shop on a street full of other tailors.
As they walked in, an elf pinning a hem straightened up to greet them. “Coroniel! Surely it’s too early for a new set of robes.”
“It is indeed Niquisno. I’m actually here for my friend Caron.” Celebrimbor and Niquisno bowed to each other.
Niquisno looked him up and down. “You appear to be in desperate need of new clothes.” He softened the words with a smile.
“I am indeed. I need something that will do for a professional meeting with a Lord, but I also have a limited budget.” Celebrimbor did not exactly know how to go about buying something when the primary constraint was money, but he figured it would be better to be upfront about his limitations.
“I understand. There are many ways we can cut some costs in materials but still give you some handsome garments.”
As Niquisno began measuring him, and talking about options for fabric and fit, Celebrimbor felt an unexpected pang of sadness. It almost felt like his old life, and if he closed his eyes he could imagine he was in Nargothrond or Himlad.
When Niquisno wrote up the bill though, Celebrimbor was snatched back to the present. As he’d tallied up the cost, Niquisno had winked at Coroniel before handing it off to Celebrimbor. He knew forty-two thuil was very reasonable for a set of well made robes, but he’d have to ask to pay for the robes in installments.
After haggling out an equitable split between what he’d pay now and what he’d pay upon pick up, Celebrimbor and Coroniel left the shop and started on their hunt for a new room.
Coroniel had a list of places she’d heard about, and a planned route that had minimal doubling back. Celebrimbor began to hope that maybe his nightmare with Tinnedir and Mam would be over soon.
“But it’s a shack!” Coroniel said desperately.
“It’s better than the cellar! I would also be alone, do you know how much I long to be alone?” Celebrimbor knew he was holding the last place they’d visited in too high regard, but it was the only place that was affordable, did not involve living with a stranger, and was livable in his opinion. Coroniel apparently disagreed on the livable point.
“I would have thought you’d have had enough of being alone after living by yourself in the wild.”
“I thought so too, but in the months since I arrived in Gondolin I haven’t been able to be truly alone and it's driving me mad. In my room, Tinnedir is always ready to invade my space. At work, Medlinor is grumbling in a corner half the time and I need to be on the lookout for customers. And of course, I’m so glad to have friends to see in the evenings, but it can still be draining.” Saying it out loud made Celebrimbor feel even more desperate. The opportunity to sit and read, or work on something undisturbed seemed as precious as Silmarils.
Coroniel pushed open the gate that led to the courtyard her apartment faced. “That does sound awful. I don’t envy you. What did your ancestors do to anger Vairë and give you such an ill fate?
“Ha!” Celebrimbor let out a short bark of a laugh, and decided not to pursue that line of thought. He followed Coroniel up the stairs to her apartment, grateful she had suggested going to her place after they’d seen the last of the rooms they’d toured.
The stairs seemed steep to him, but the courtyard and landings were clean and well kept. When Coroniel led him into her apartment though, he had to cover his mouth to keep from laughing.
She sighed. “Go ahead, make whatever joke you’re thinking of.”
Celebrimbor just dropped his hand and let himself laugh long and loud. Coroniel was a petite elf, only a few inches taller than a typical dwarf in Celebrimbor’s estimation. Her room, on the other hand, seemed to be built to a scale that even Celebrimbor would find somewhat uncomfortable. The counter came up to his chest, cupboards reached to the ceiling, and Coroniel probably had to leap to make it up on her bed.
“Why? Just—why?” he asked once he could speak again.
Coroniel laughed with him. “Therion’s theory is that it was built as a secret love-nest for King Turgon—he’s the only person I know of who would fit this room.”
She pulled off her outer robe and bent to unlace her shoes. “But, you saw what’s for offer out there if you want to find someplace to live on your own. It’s pretty, and clean, and bright, so I put up with having to use a stool to do anything.”
“It is nice.” Celebrimbor walked over to the wall covered in shelves and examined the books and interesting objects Coroniel had arranged on them. He picked up a book he’d never read before about the Aulendur.
“If you’re interested in any of my books, feel free to borrow them.” Coroniel threw open the windows to let the summer breeze blow through the room.
“Yes, of course.”
“Thank you so much. This will help make the remaining weeks at Tinnedir’s bearable.”
“So you’re really set on the shack?”
“Really. I’m already picturing the idyllic shack life I will lead.”
Coroniel laughed and took out a folder from her desk. “Do you want to help me with one of my assignments?”
Celebrimbor lit up. “Yes, how did you know?”
“I don’t know. You seem bored.”
“I’m so bored—I used to spend almost all my time trying to figure out difficult problems and working on really intricate projects. Now the hardest thing I’m working on is how to make iron brackets that the spec sheet said should be ‘delicate and crude.’”
He pulled up a chair next to Coroniel and they began to sketch out plans for a new green near the palace. As Coroniel stood up to find a reference on the path of the sun throughout the year, she heard someone calling her from the courtyard window.
“Helloooo, Coroniel, have you heard the news?”
“That’s my neighbor Helegnes; she almost always has interesting gossip.” She motioned for Celebrimbor to follow her to the window.
She stuck her head out the window. Helegnes, who was leaning the top half of her body out of the window next door, excitedly waved. “Guess who came to the city today?”
“Who?” Coroniel asked. Celebrimbor also stuck his head out the window.
“Oh.” Helegnes looked started, and then intrigued. “Who’s this?”
“This is my friend Caron. Go on, who came to the city?”
Helegnes looked like she wanted to ask about Celebrimbor, but in the end her desire to deliver her news won out. “Did you hear the trumpets earlier?”
“Yes, I’d wondered about that.” Right after they’d left the last apartment, the royal trumpets had rang out. No one around them knew what was going on though.
“They were ordered by Lord Ecthelion.” Helegnes paused for dramatic effect. “Voronwë has returned, and he brought with him a man!”
“A man?” exclaimed Coroniel and Celebrimbor in unison.
“Yes, one of the Edain! They say he is the son of one of the men who Thorondor brought before.”
“Really! That seems like a matter of great significance.”
“Yes, rumor has it they come bearing a message from Ulmo himself.”
Celebrimbor listened, fascinated. Coroniel and Helegnes were excited, but they didn’t seem very surprised about the involvement of Maiar and Valar in the affairs of their city. He tried to imagine living all his life in this hidden city, sheltered by the Valar from the woes of the world, governed by a King who spoke with the gods regularly. He couldn’t. Dealings with the Valar still held a tinge of dread in his mind, and the bright summer day and the sparkling city couldn’t erase it.
“Now, who is your handsome friend?”
“Oh, I’m just a smith down in the Iron District.” Celebrimbor smiled disarmingly.
“But why haven't I seen you before?”
“He’s a quiet fellow. Thanks for the news Hele. We’ve got to get back to work!” Coroniel ducked her head back inside and pulled Celebrimbor after her.
“You were done?’ Celebrimbor asked quietly.
“For some reason I get the feeling you dislike talking about your arrival to Gondolin with people. And Helegnes can talk for forever; I thought I’d give you an out.” Coroniel gave him a small smile.
“Thank you. I really am getting tired of that conversation.” He felt warm inside. For all his bad luck, he couldn’t believe how fortunate he was to run into Coroniel. He’d never really made a friend before who was all his own, and not also a friend of his father, his uncles, or just a family hanger on.
Coroniel looked thoughtful. “Gondolin is apparently the destination for everyone this year. First you, and then Voronwë and Tuor. You’re a bit less auspicious than the latter, but still.”
“Hm. Auspicious guests to hidden cities make me a bit nervous.”
Coroniel looked at him sharply. “I suppose you would feel that way.” She frowned, before shaking her head and going to the pantry to start dinner for them.